With only enough budget to put three people on the development team (one artist, one developer and one producer), the flash game Snowfort came to life. Juan Gril, Joju Games’ Studio Manager, describes Snowfort as an ‘arcade comedy’. It’s a squadron-based RTS game based on a snowball fight, one that has been nominated for the ‘most creative’ game at the Flash Gaming Summit.
Snowfort was quite a challenge for the small development team. Even though it’s a flash game, tons of features were built in to the game. The Joju Games team of one developer, one artist and one producer had to create a single player campaign and allow for leaderboard play. The latter also had to include complete customization for your squadron. “And if you’re playing the game I [can] go to your profile, see your team and raid them. Your team, who [are] going to be managed by the AI, is going to defend,” Juan Gril explains. You can play asynchronously with your friends, and the developers are also working on the multiplayer right now.
The process of developing Snowfort has been an interesting one, Gril shares. “In general the problem that we have in the flash game industry is that it’s a five minute game. You have tons of games being released each day so the audience gets accustomed to play this game and never come back to it. We’re trying to change that with Snowfort”. He describes Snowfort as more like a social game than a regular flash game. It lives in a game portal and it uses a free-to-play system with a shop. “We’re basically taking concepts from social games and putting them in a normal game.”
Game play for gamers with families
“There’s nothing wrong with competitive games”, Gril says. “I like creating collaborative games, but gaming has always been competitive. You look at the oldest game we’ve got and it’s a competitive game”. But not everybody likes this kind of competition. For example the competition you can find in multiplayer games. You can still find plenty of people who buy a game just for the single player campaign and don’t even touch the multiplayer. “A lot of people don’t play multiplayer games because they go into a multiplayer shooter and they get shot in the face”, Gril offers as an explanation. “They get t-bagged or they get insulted; there are no nice places to play together”.
The solution? “The key is to create games that are accessible to everybody.” Joju Games wants to focus on two groups in particular, groups who are often forgotten by big game productions and pose a perfect target group for Flash games:
Gamer #1: Those who were hardcore gamers when they were young, then got married, had kids and jobs, and don’t have time to play for three hours straight. Juan Gril sees this first type of gamer as a perfect focus. “If we can come up with game mechanics like Snowfort where we can play synchronously AND asynchronously, that makes a huge difference for people like us. If we can play with OUR friends in our own times, then we can still be gaming”. Out of experience, Gril knows that this type of gamer often has a high income which could be spending on games; if only the time barrier could be circumvented.
Gamer #2: The hardcore gamer who is taking his lunch break. Who’s not in front of his Xbox, PS3 or high-end pc and just wants to play for 15 minutes.
The Joju Games team
The Joju Games team now consists of 30 people, which is big in flash game terms. The games they create take a lot of commitment. As Gril explains, they are always thinking of an environment into which they can throw different mechanics. So the success of the game comes by maintaining it, by thinking of new features and mechanics to add to an existing environment. For Gril, this is why it’s important to have a steady team. “When you have monthly releases you have a lot of processes that you have to do in order to add a new feature. Like, make sure data is migrated successfully, and that a new feature isn’t affecting anything in the old environment. You team is constantly busy with maintenance”.
So crunch time is something that isn’t unknown to the team, Gril is aware of that. Although his team is passionate about what they do, the sacrifices that are made in their personal lifes are not unknown. Gril himself has dealt with them as well. Fortunately, Joju Games offers a way for the devs to still stay close to their families.
“We are [mostly all] over 30, and a lot of us have families and kids, and we know that game devs crunch all the time. We’re passionate about what we do and we have to stay late and get things done. And at the same time it’s very difficult to raise a family as a game developer. So we wanted to have a virtual office environment so that we could be closer to our families. What I always say is, ‘look, we may have to crunch a few days, but at least we’ll always have dinner with our families’. And all our guys have worked in the industry before, in a regular game industry job, and they just wanted to have a different life”.
The virtual office has given Gril himself a different average working day that the normal game studio manager. He works from home in the small office he has there. On a typical day, he looks at e-mails, has a conference call with his producers and takes a look at their current project. “We have four games at a time,” Gril says. “I sync up with each [of the producers] on how the game is going. Based on those conversations I can go and think of ideas [or solutions for problems]. I can record video’s while I’m talking, which I’ll then upload and send a URL to whoever I want to see it”. The rest of his day pretty much consists of the tasks familiar to every studio manager: talking to clients, publishers, team members, and thinking of new ideas. But Gril can keep his family life close.
Fortunately, his work doesn’t just take him to virtual office spaces. During his visit to Casual Connect Europe 2011, he had the opportunity to be reminded of why he enjoys working with games so much. “Something that gives me a lot of satisfaction every Casual Connect is the Games for Gamers Track, all these small games are very creative games. And they can come from the indie scene, the Game Jam, from flash games, etcetera. But the greatest thing is the fact that most of these games are not copycats, not an evolution of a FPS or an evolution of existing genres. They’re trying to come up with new genres, think of new ideas. Look at Joe Danger or Kingdoms of Camelot. It all shows that we can do a lot more.”
Vlad Micu is managing editor of Gamesauce.org. He previously has been a freelance game industry professional for over five years and traveled around the world while running his company VGVisionary. Starting VGVisionary during college, Vlad was able to work independently as a pr & marketing consultant, event manager, industry journalist, speaker and game developer. He just returned from Bangkok, Thailand, where he pursued his dream of making video games as the game producer at arkavis, an up and coming casual game studio.