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Kabam refocuses attention on high-end games

The video game maker will beef up imagery, animation to compete against the top titles in the industry.

One of Kabam's biggest hits, Kingdoms of Camelot, is one of the most successful strategy games ever. Kabam

Game maker Kabam has its sights set on the top of Apple's App Store charts, and it has a new plan for getting there.

The San Francisco-based video game developer, best known for strategy game like Kingdoms of Camelot, said it is reorganizing its teams to help it make a stronger showing against the likes of Supercell's strategy game Clash of Clans and King's puzzle sensation Candy Crush Saga. To do that, Kabam will add imagery and animations that look as if they could come from an Xbox or PlayStation video game console, though they're played on a smartphone or a tablet.

"We are going after the top of the market," said Kent Wakeford, Kabam's operations chief. "The prize is the billion-dollar opportunity."

Remaking operations also helps Kabam to match rivals Supercell, King.com or Machine Zone, each of whose titles have spent months atop charts for the highest-grossing games in Google's and Apple's app stores. And it will need to. The company no longer plans an initial public offering in the foreseeable future -- which means it needs to boost revenue by appealing to more gamers and, in the process, spruce up its business for investors as much as possible.

One way it will do that is by taking on the biggest names in its industry.

Kabam's first steps in that process: Kabam has already cut investments to games running on websites and terminated some employees. (The company declined to say how many.) There are currently 825 people working at Kabam.

Plan of attack

Kabam is also reducing the number of games it makes. This year, the company plans to launch only four titles, down from 12 last year and 20 in 2013. Those four titles are expected to notch more users and generate more revenue than the whole company's product line did last year.

The company will also spend more time creating its games. It currently takes the company about 18 months on average to bring a game to market, up from 12 months in 2013 and nine months in 2012.

"The game has to be across-the-board excellent," Wakeford said.

Kabam is also dividing its company into groups dedicated to specific game genres, all led by Nick Earl, a former general manager at Electronic Arts who joined Kabam in November. Aaron Loeb, another EA veteran, will oversee games such as its action fighter Marvel Contest of Champions and its racing game Fast and Furious. The group responsible for strategy games -- such as its first big hit, Kingdoms of Camelot -- will be run by Mike Verdu, who was head of a game-making startup called TapZen that Kabam bought at the beginning of the year.

Another group, headed by Kabam co-founder Michael Li, will transform the company's Western-focused games for the China market. Finally, Paxton Cooper, a former product manager at Web browser maker Mozilla, will head up a team that's building game-making tools and software.

Kabam said it's also revamping its marketing efforts. In the past, game makers would release games to small audiences, and rely on cross-promotions and targeted ads to build sales. Companies like Supercell and King.com have changed the dynamics: blanketing TV, radio and Web sites with advertisements for their latest titles.

"It's a reshaping of how the industry is operating," Wakeford said.