By Igor Tanzil, CMO of Agate
I didn’t quite know how to start this recap without a cheesy line about a coming dawn, or the passing of a dark and stormy night. Some things just transcend the usual clichés and superlatives that would inevitably fail to express the full sum of experiences and emotions of this past year.
Yeah. This was the year of “the” pandemic, “the” recession, and all of “that” unrest. This was the year of closed doors and empty seats. A year where many of us struggled to find hope beyond the torrent of ills that laid ahead – but here we are. A little weary, a little wiser, and ever hopeful for what comes next.
For Agate, 2020 started with astounding vigor. A few key hires had bolstered the talented ranks of our studio and we charged into January with the official launch of our mobile visual novel platform: Memories. Valentine’s Day passed and distant news of an unknown plague teetered in our periphery as we capped off a busy month of February with the launch of Esports King – a first of its kind esports-centric management sim – and the soft piloting of Levio, our uniquely gamified learning platform (more on that later).
During the early months of that quarter, all three of our business divisions had been positioned at the ready line for an aggressive sprint into the next. Parallel to our game launches, the consumer games division saw the homecoming of Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story with the official South-East and East Asian releases in March. All the while, our gamified services division enjoyed a 63% increase in deal value from the previous quarter alongside the launch of our massive digital transformation project with PT Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI). This initiative took on the daunting challenge of shifting 27,000 nationwide employees into a bespoke mobile-first learning platform that merged Agate’s expertise in games and gamification with cutting-edge learning and developmental modeling. This effort would see positive reception by the company and its employees leading to 37% company saturation by May 2020.
Our early first quarter wins in 2020 elevated crew morale to new heights even as the effects of the pandemic has begun to take root. On the last day of February, GDC was officially canceled, and along with it much of our global event plans for the year. Even as worldwide cases began to climb, we would close the first quarter of 2020 with a deal valuation resting at 28% above our previous year’s performance. However, by early March, the pandemic was at our door and in the flurry of a few short, hectic weeks, Agate braced itself to weather the storm.
March 23rd, 2020, saw the official start of work-from-home (WFH) operations at Agate. Sales teams in our Jakarta satellite were recalled from the field as other businesses followed suit. Our Bandung headquarters wound down operations to the bare minimum and spent a considerable effort towards making sure that crew equipment was distributed safely to those who needed it. A new digital check-in/check-out system was implemented along with new digitally based communication rhythms were established in the span of a couple of weeks. In this aspect of the pandemic, we consider ourselves extremely lucky. Our young, digitally savvy crew adjusted well to the new systems that were put in place and production barely skipped a beat.
Digitally savvy or not, to many of us, the opening weeks of our new shared reality was surreal. There was an air of nervous adventure as work continued. Deals continued to be chased, lines of code continued to pile on, and new worlds continued to be made, and yet, Agate and her crew found themselves apart for the first time in years as all around us the world seemed to turn on a dime.
All of it was new. It was frightening, unrelenting, and strangely exciting at the same time. Through the toilet paper shortages, dalgona coffee trend, and obsessive doom scrolling, we were fortunate to find continued cause to celebrate. By the end of March, Memories had surpassed 1 million users with a solid 4.5 rating on the Play Store and an average playtime of 40 minutes a day. The 1st of April brought with it digital festivities as we celebrated Agate’s 11th year anniversary from home and indulged in the fun and games of our own making.
These small moments of digitally induced togetherness helped narrow the distance between our teams and worked to lessen the burdens of the coming recession. April would see the initial declination of new deals in our gamified services as purses tightened the world over. May came and went with ill tidings of business closures – colleagues and dear friends among them – postponed deals and deferred payments. By the close of June, Agate would see an all-time deal value deficiency of over 50% from the previous quarter.
Meanwhile, our mobile game division saw an interesting shift in consumer behaviors: Active user playtimes had increased drastically since the end of March. The usual evening peak hours for titles like Memories were replaced by a constant plateau of user activity between 08:00 AM through 11:00 PM. Across all our mobile products, data showed a spike in returning players and continued activity that would be sustained throughout the quarter. However, the effects of a global recession became more apparent as we looked at our spending data, with our titles seeing a decrease of over 50% in user spending between March through August.
The less-than-ideal mobile trends led to an interesting launch for our latest title: Code Atma. Developed to be the modern reimagining of the fantasy idle RPG genre, Code Atma merges South-East Asian mythic lore with millennial mobile culture. A promising premise, for an uncertain time. Launched on June 25th, Code Atma entered the market with a decreased marketing budget and diminished spending appetite; though it would admirably still maintain a positive 4.5 rating on the Play Store.
Agate, admittedly entered the summer months a little worse for wear as we closed our second quarter with a -23% deal value deficit as compared to 2019. The business challenges aside, the tolls of our WFH situation had begun to show. The sense of newness had been replaced with the monotony of routine. That initial air of unfathomed excitement had been replaced with the low growl of dread, and many in our crew found themselves unintentionally working longer hours as the lines between home and office disappeared. The summer days would wane, and we found ourselves in a rut. Morale was low, the business was slow, and the road to normalcy seemed distant at best.
We entered the month of July with a new rallying cry to “turn crisis into opportunity.” From a business perspective, Agate seemed perfectly positioned at the intersection of fun and digitalization – a shift that many around the wor
liquidity and appetite. Marketing officers saw the need for digital engagement but lacked the financial freedom to experiment amidst a recession. Event organizers invested heavily in untested technologies and formats to retain audiences. All the while, corporate mammoths struggled to stay agile in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.
Looking at our existing inventory, we saw an immediate solution for new-normal problems. Levio – our gamified learning platform that was built in the wake of our BNI Digital Transformation project – was an obvious solution to the disparate learning and training needs of many around the world. Nestled upon our digital shelves, products like Levio Class, Leika, and our library of minigames had been to be effective in offline crowd engagement, but now posed a clear and present benefit towards online engagements as well. For Agate, our particular strengths in connecting people through play now formed the spearhead for our recovery; laying bare a clear product strategy that hinged on bridging the distances between one another in the thick of this pandemic.
Though our gamified services would not see an immediate impact in the third quarter, the seeds for our recovery were planted – aggressively. The studio stood tall against the storm, and we embraced the small oddities and inconveniences of the new normal. Clients had returned to the virtual table, leads were ready to be chased, and the foundational pivots made within our sales and marketing teams had shored our studio up for one final sprint to the winter.
Despite our best efforts – and a quarter-to-quarter increase of 47% – we ended our third quarter at –30% deal value deficiency from the previous year. A crushing metric, were it not for the small victories along the way. New deals were won and lucrative contracts were in the pipeline. Our casual games team would strike a partnership with HAGO and put Onet Asli in front of 100 million new players in July, while simultaneously developing a standalone global release with publisher Playstack. As August closed, a pivotal new deal with Indonesian media giant RCTI would see the integration and implementation of our mini-game library to their new streaming application. Finally, a new secretive project had been ushered into production as September came into view and capped off a third-quarter that had on balance more ups than downs.
As summer gave way to fall, Agate began to rise. The 2020 award season had also come, and the accolades we earned would lift the spirits of the entire studio. Code Atma would win Indie Game of the Year at Game Prime 2020, and Best Game of 2020 in the government-run Anugerah Bangga Buatan Indonesia. The success of Memories would continue to bear fruit as it wrestled away the title of #1 Top Grossing Visual Novel in the Google Play Store from such giants as Choices and Episodes in our local market. Not to be outdone, the consumer games division would find its own spotlight as Tirta captured regional attention in the SEA Game Awards 2020 and redefined the boundaries of our local industry.
For our gamified services, Q4 became our redemption arc. By early October entire industries had acclimated to the new normal, and the appetite for digital-first next-normal solutions were in vogue. Our long-shelved interactive leaderboard platform, Leika, had been dusted off and integrated into an internal-facing webinar run by Bank Danamon Indonesia. Having used the platform to engage our own crew during our quarterly get-togethers, Leika proved itself to be a true engagement driver for online-based crowds.
On the learning front, Levio would see a sharp increase in corporate clientele as the pandemic negated traditional onboarding and training processes. Spurred on by the interest we’ve seen, the Levio team has worked tirelessly to develop client-centric features that would set new standards in the post-pandemic learning ecosystem. From brand-new content-authoring-tools to a refined front-end and back-end user experience, the many improvements made to the app would finally push our team to open the application for free public use around the world.
As we entered the first days of December, Agate would find itself abuzz with activity and our gamified services development teams at near over-capacity. The secret project that had begun in August would finally see the light of day as December 8, 2020, marked the launch of the Eastfood Indonesia Virtual Expo, housed entirely on the Venhall platform built by Agate.
Built-in partnership with one of Indonesia’s leading event organizers, Venhall is a fully interactive browser-based virtual exhibition platform built for the next iteration of events in a post-pandemic world. Complete with virtual crowds, fully customizable booths, banners, and stages, this project marked a turning point for both Agate. A true opportunity is borne from the crisis and a resounding success for our strategic decisions made in the dimmest light of the second quarter.
In all, Agate is on track to close the fourth quarter of 2020 with a surplus deal valuation of 189% compared to 2019, and a Q3 to Q4 deal value increase of 140%. Our teams will enter the holiday season worn out, but full of purpose as we ring in a lively end to the year of years. 2021 will be another start, and while we have no delusion of the challenges that remain ahead, we will move forward having been tempered by our experiences in 2020.
So ends the year. The year of “the” pandemic we faced together; “the” recession we found wisdom and direction in, and all of “that” unrest that brought us closer together.
Agate is lucky to be young, digitally savvy, and agile. We are grateful for the hardworking and loyal colleagues, friends, and partners who stood with us throughout. We wish everyone the happiest of holidays and a fresh start in the coming year.
For all of us who have indulged in the momentary lapse of hope or saw only the chaos in the world around us, Agate would like to share a small mental health aide in the form of a free Levio course. Calm Amidst Chaos is available for you, your loved ones, and friends to use and share for free.
Warmest wishes to all,
From the Agate Team