Nikki Lannen is back with a proposition. For two years, she and her team at WarDucks have been in development mode. 

There has been no fundraising, no extensive media interviews, no announcements about what they are building. 

But the time has almost come to bring the game to the market and Lannen, who cut her teeth as an original member of Facebook’s EMEA gaming team before setting up her own studio, can now disclose what they have been working on.  

While mobile gaming is often overlooked, it is a gargantuan industry. In 2021, mobile gaming generated $93.2 billion, more annual revenue than the music and film industries combined, and is expected to reach $272 billion by 2030 according to Adjust, the app analytics platform.

Along with revenues, the number of players has risen vertiginously. Fifteen years ago, there were about 200 million gamers in the world. Today there are about 2.7 billion. 

Gaming will almost inevitably play a central role in the big tech giants’ battle for control of people’s digital lives as they release their various versions of the Metaverse, which they are designing so people will be able to do online everything they already do in real life – watch films, spend money, play games. 

WarDucks, which Lannen founded in 2013, has already had hits and millions of downloads with games like Sneaky Bears and RollerCoaster Legends. For a while in 2019, the start-up was focused on building a location-based Augmented Reality (AR) game to rival Pokemon Go.

But the tides have changed and the sure-fire industry belief that AR and virtual reality headsets are the future has faltered. Lannen and her team have strategically chosen to move away from AR and devote themselves to mobile gaming and its predicted burgeoning market.

What they’ve built is a “first of its kind” strategy game for mobile, using real-world mapping technology. It’s called Edge of Earth and is set in 2034, a decade after a monster landed on planet Earth, wiping out most of humanity. Only a small group of well-funded and powerful people remain alive. 

Promotional Image from Edge of Earth.

War Ducks’ developers have experience working on top-grossing games including Plants vs Zombies and Fifa. While other games use mapping technology, Lannen is confident they have built the most detailed and “reflective” version of the world for mobile gaming. 

The founder, who has raised $5.9 million for War Ducks to date, is positioning the game as a billion-dollar cash cow in line to compete with the top-grossing games on mobile. Free to play, its revenue will come from in-app purchases.

There is also a secondary market as the technology on its own could bring in partnerships with the tech giants who could plug it into their own metaverses– think Meta and Microsoft. 

Speaking to The Currency on a video call from Portugal, where she has relocated for the summer, Lannen won’t drop any names but says there has been “enormous interest in the tech” and War Ducks is exploring different opportunities. 

“Anyone that is building a metaverse, it is an extremely interesting product for them. You can see a lot of twin representation within the metaverse. There is definitely a demand and appetite from larger companies.”

The possibility of others with deeper pockets and bigger teams developing their own in-house real-world mapping technologies of equal or better spec isn’t one that phases her. 

“We came at it from a fresh perspective. There is this eureka moment that a developer would need and the development process takes time. 

“Obviously with any code it could happen, but some of the top tech companies have been trying to build something like this but have been unable to, so we are comfortable in that space.”

War Ducks last raised in 2019 and was backed by the Swedish venture capital fund EQT Ventures and Sure Valley Ventures in London. It is a very different market now, however, and some founders are reporting tougher terms and conditions when it comes to raising. 

But Lannen brushes off any potential qualms and says they are in a lucky position because the “product is so strong and the opportunity with the game is massive. 

“Sometimes people just don’t understand how lucrative the gaming industry is, they hear about it, but they don’t understand. We feel like we are coming into our time now.

“We are bringing something extremely fun and addictive to market.”

The money War Ducks does raise will be used to hire more developers and build out the remaining features needed for Edge of Earth.

“Real-world territory”

The game is almost at the testing stage and from there, data can begin to be gathered on players. 

Predictive analytics is where players’ behaviour is measured, tracked and predicted. Used intelligently, analytics is where a game makes money by encouraging players to stay in the game longer, engage more and spend more. It is the pathway to monetisation of any free-to-play game. 

“What must then be balanced is the return on investment, following the marketing it takes to funnel players into the game,” Lannen says. 

“For us this game has the biggest earning potential, we see a huge opportunity there. 

“Being first to market with one that uses real-world territory is a super exciting opportunity for us, to bring something out on mobile which is high-quality production capacity. We spent a long time researching similar games, what works and what doesn’t.”

One of the biggest factors affecting free-to-play mobile gaming in recent years was Apple’s iOS update last year, which reduced advertisers’ ability to track people across the internet. This has made targeted advertising more difficult and more expensive. 

But Lannen, without going into detail, says War Ducks has already developed strategies to manage and minimise the effect of  Apple’s privacy update and has different ways to get in front of gamers. 

It is expected Edge of Earth will be released next year.