Ontario’s STEM talent pipeline credited for Uken Games’ success and growth Known for hits like Jeopardy!, Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Ava’s Manor Solitaire, Uken Games’ access to highly skilled Ontario talent keeps them topping the charts. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Uken Games describes itself as having a quirky, nerdy culture that fosters creativity, collaboration, quality ideas and a data-driven mindset. The company has been building cross-platform social and mobile games that everybody loves since 2009 when it launched its first smash hit, Superheroes Alliance. Now, as it continues to build out its current portfolio, Uken Games has been focusing on how Web3 and blockchain are reshaping the gaming world. “We’re very excited by the opportunities ahead at Uken Games,” says CEO and co-founder Chris Ye. From humble beginnings to big hits Soon after graduating with a finance degree from York University’s Schulich School of Business, Ye and his business partner, Mark Lampert, got their start in gaming with a gifting app they released on Facebook. “It was soon after the platform opened up to third-party developers—the game quickly reached one million users in a week,” says Ye. “We released our first game in 2009. It was called Superheroes Alliance. We began making revenue from day one, and we reinvested all our proceeds into creating a successful studio, which became Uken Games.” Choosing a location your future employees will want to call home Among the many looming decisions for a young, successful startup, the question of where to establish its headquarters had an easy answer. “What it comes down to is Ontario is a great place to live and work,” says Ye. According to him, the company’s biggest competitive advantage has always been the ability to recruit from Ontario colleges and universities. “Building relationships with the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo and their co-op programs was an important driver for us when it came to building our early team and finding people who wanted to be a part of our growth story,” he claims. What it comes down to is Ontario is a great place to live and work. – Chris Ye, CEO and co-founder of Uken Games Building a social and mobile games empire in Toronto, Ontario The studio’s first big success was a game called Bingo Pop. “It was our top-grossing game, and at its peak, we had over a million players per month,” remarks Ye. “It was so successful that it garnered attention from large studios who wanted to buy it. Eventually, we ended up selling it to Jam City.” After successfully scaling Bingo Pop, Uken Games worked with Sony Pictures to build Jeopardy! Word Tour and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which both immediately became the top two trivia games in the market. “More recently, we released Solitaire Story: Ava’s Manor in 2020. In this game, you help the main character, Ava, save her Great Uncle’s mansion by unravelling all of its mysteries by playing solitaire.” Strength in numbers: The talent to transform data into powerful insights When it comes to creating the next big hit mobile game at Uken Games, the company’s approach is still very much design-first. “We believe that great games have great designers who truly understand user desires. Our process starts with a design thesis which can come from anyone on our team but is usually driven by a Product Manager or Game designer,” says Ye. They propose features, analyze the costs and benefits of those features and compare and rank them to determine the priority. It’s a very rigorous process. Ye explains that “features then get developed, and typically, we launch most new features as AB tests. After this, we perform retrospectives on how those features performed relative to our initial estimates. We then tune the features to see if we can improve their impact.” A strong culture can future-proof your business With the emergence of Web3—a decentralized internet built on blockchain—dramatic change is inevitable in the mobile gaming space. “We’re used to building an entire game, but in Web3, you’ll have to be comfortable with not knowing everything,” says Ye, “And at the same time, you’ll need to be more transparent and communicative.” Innovating in a Web3 environment requires a greater focus on building a framework for user participation and leaving room for emergent behaviour amongst the community. “I think our culture is one that will make it easier for us to adapt to this new way of creating content because we are comfortable creating frameworks and collaborating in environments marked by rapid change.” Learn, grow, repeat: On a pathway to success So, what’s new for Uken Games? “In the short term, we have committed to continue growing our current portfolio of games, including Ava’s Manor, Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Longer term, we have a lot of new games in various phases of development, and we’re experimenting in a variety of ways, including with blockchain technology to promote digital ownership of in-game goods,” says Ye. Staying plugged into Ontario’s world-class talent supply, Uken Games has what it takes to continue to reach new heights in the global social and mobile games industry. Learn more about Ontario, Canada’s growing Interactive Digital Media industry.