Nordeus's CEO on how Top Eleven became number one [Interview]

Nordeus CEO Branko
Nordeus CEO Branko

Being number one feels good, doesn't it? EA has been the most recognized name in sports games, even on Facebook--until a little game called Top Eleven came around the bend. Created by a small Serbian studio known as Nordeus, Top Eleven has quickly become the number one football (or soccer for you American folk) game on Facebook with over 4 million monthly players, according to AppData.

The game, which overtook EA Sports and Playfish's FIFA Superstars this summer, takes a far heavier simulator approach to the sports genre on Facebook. Oddly enough, this take has done quite well for Nordeus thus far. We sat down with Nordeus CEO Branko Milutinović recently to find out why the company took this approach to sports games on Facebook, how it has made it this far, and what it plans to do to stay on top. (Here's one: Top Eleven is available in about 27 languages, and it's all thanks to player contributions--now that's dedication.)

Noredus' motto seems to be, "Bringing desktop gaming experiences to social networks." Was this always the company slogan, and why did you decide to take this approach to social games?

It's probably my fault we still haven't changed it. Now, times have changed. When we got into social games at the moment, we though social games weren't complex or engaging enough, and someone who could translate the complexity of desktop games to social networks is going to be a huge success.

It has proven to be correct, because nowadays you see The Sims Social and Zynga is becoming less and less casual. Back then we thought we could differentiate ourselves from the competition by creating games that aren't completely casual or shallow, but complex and addictive. That's what we've done rather successfully with Top Eleven.

Our mission statement is a bit different--in a few words it would be something like 'Unifying gaming experiences throughout devices and platforms.' That's what Noredeus [has been] ever since we published Top Eleven.

How exactly will Nordeus connect the gaming experience between devices?

The idea is to provide users unique gaming experiences in that they can simply pick up where they left off. This would mean if you're, say, in the office and playing a game on Facebook during your break and you have to commute back home, we'll provide a way users can still interact, which is very important to them. You're going to be able to play the same game, with the same account, on different devices and platforms.

Top Eleven in action
Top Eleven in action

Of course, football is huge in Europe, South America and some of Asia, but why did you go with a far heavier simulator approach to a Facebook game surrounding it?

There's a long and complex answer to that, which equals a lot of research we did. It comes down to the idea of providing users with a social game that's a bit more challenging than simply the relaxing, action-packed casual type. In short, people are managers at birth--everyone always thinks they would be able to run the country better, the team better.

And they simply don't get the chance to show how good they would have been doing the job that the other idiot is doing. That's the case in Europe, and I have a lot of American friends, so I think it's very similar back there as well. So, it's a characteristic of mankind [laughs]. In Europe, we're always having long and detailed discussions regarding football tactics or whether the manager chose the right lineup.

The idea is to fulfill users' natural need to show everybody else how good they would actually be, given the opportunity, by providing them a virtual plot that is only theirs. They're running the show, competing with other people, and Top Eleven really forces people that are friends to play together. Rather than the crew dynamics movement since day one of social games, we've taken it to the next level in that you're competing with friends synchronously.

It's also something that the rest of the industry is moving toward, but I think I can be very proud of us for picking some key elements of where social gaming is going to get to in the beginning--becoming the pioneers of what the social gaming scene is today over a year ago. I think that's the reason why a really small company from Serbia, which doesn't really have any tradition in building successful games--so, a very small company with very young people, and without any funding, we managed to build something that's rocking the boat now.

Now, will Nordeus remain focused on sports simulators, or does the company have an interest in pursuing other desktop gaming experiences on Facebook?

Without revealing too much, I can definitely say that we're going to remain in the sports genre. But we also have some plans to enter some other areas as well. Not in the distant future, but it's something to [look forward to.]

Facebook games have been largely a genre dominated by large American publishers (aside from Wooga). But I'm ready to see more culturally diverse social games. How do you think that as internationally-based companies gain global notoriety, the culture of other countries will come through in their social games?

I guess it depends on the publisher. From our side, our vision is to build global products, so we really want to cover as many countries in the world with a specific product. Of course, you can't always have the full coverage, but like with Top Eleven we have users from 140 or so countries. From our side, I don't think our culture is going to [influence] what we develop. Our vision is definitely global.

The Nordeus Team
The Nordeus Team

Generally speaking, how does Nordeus plan to capitalize on this success? What can Top Eleven fans look forward to in the developer's future?

First of all, in a few weeks you're going to be pleasantly surprised by what we have been doing for many months. The game is going to evolve a lot--at the moment I can't share many details. But there are many improvements on the way, and we think the game is going to become exactly what users are passionate about.

And we have been conducting a lot of research and interaction with our user base. Our users are also very passionate about [Top Eleven], as our daily to monthly player ratio is one of the highest in the world: between 22 and 24 percent. And we have been working with them in polishing the feature set and building a product that's going to be super.
Thanks for sharing some of Nordeus's secrets for success with us, Branko.

What do you think of Top Eleven on Facebook? Do you prefer sports games on Facebook with the simulator approach, or something with more action? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.

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