Hunter Hamster Studio was founded in 2010 by Andrey Kovalishin and Maxim Yurchenko. Located in Bryansk, Russia they started out developing Flash games. Now they are focusing on mobile devices, while trying to maintain the fun and brightness of Flash games. Their AppStore debut is a game called Snail Bob, on which Andrey will be sharing some insights in this port-mortem.
The story of how Snail Bob was born on Flash
We started out by doing only Flash games. One day Maxim contacted me and told: “I have a great idea – to make a game about an automatically crawling snail. We can think out various puzzles to guide him from point A to point B.” He showed me the first Snail Bob image.
I liked the idea so I created a simple prototype: a crawling snail that you can stop and get moving again by clicking. Initially we wanted to give players the opportunity to drag physical objects, but after creating the prototype, we found out it made the gameplay too hard. In the end we settled on Snail Bob crawling by himself. The player controls Bob by using different levers, buttons and other tools in order to get him to the finish on every level. This resulted in a funny mix between physics, puzzle and point-and-click games.
We started out development of the levels by sketching several levels on a piece of paper, from which I tried to assemble them. The result looked awesome! The gameplay was simple and Snail was likeable. Maxim drew a lot of funny animations and the game got even better. We decided that players, on their first glance, needed to understand which objects were clickable in order to complete a level. So we added hints to interactive objects. And it worked really well – nobody had difficulties in playing Snail Bob.
We didn’t really have a main strategy. Everything came out on the run. We just tried to think out as many levels at the same time as we could, trying various game elements and mechanics. Afterwards it became a distinctive feature of the series of games about Snail Bob – players noted that each level is unique and never gets boring. The only disadvantage of such a feature is the longer development time, as each level is programmed separately.
To make Snail Bob more likeable for players, we thought up a simple but compelling story, which players learned from successive images. Snail Bob’s house was crushed by building machinery and Bob had to escape from the site to find a new quiet house. Now, who can refuse to help a poor little snail? To make the game atmosphere funnier and more cartoony our fellow composer Dmitry Petyakin composed some funny music on a banjo. The melody was quite catchy and kids really liked it.
When the game was released it became really popular. Especially kids loved the game. We even received touching e-mails from kids aged 5-6 which were written by their parents. Everyone asked us for new levels, so we decided to make a sequel. Snail Bob 2 was funnier, more cartoony and featured more unique levels. At this point in time, Snail Bob has 208 million gameplays; Snail Bob 2 has 200 million gameplays.
We saw the success of both our titles and decided to start developing a version for the Apple AppStore, since the industry was turning towards mobile gaming. Since flash games are free, but players pay for a mobile game, we decided that we needed to significantly improve our current game. We wanted to give the fans their money’s worth. To do this, first we added a new chapter to have 60 levels in the game.
Secondly, we started to think about a three-stars-system, since players on mobile devices are used to it. We decided on a few standard options, for example to give stars for the most rapid level completion. In the end, we came up with a completely new concept. Stars are located somewhere on the level and players just need to tap a star to collect it. But the stars were well-hidden and the player has to solve small puzzles to find most of them. It added replay value to the game and levels got longer for those players who wanted to collect all three stars. Subsequently, we received many positive comments on the new three-star-system, players noted its uniqueness and advantages compared to the boring “complete faster, get more stars”-system. On the flipside, implementing the new system resulted in more development time.
Third, to motivate players to collect stars, we added a gallery with funny cartoon snail pictures, based on Spiderman, Jack Sparrow, etc. When the player collects stars, pictures are unlocked.
Finally we released Snail Bob on the AppStore. The game faired better on the iPad. This probably had to do with the fact that on the iPad it’s easier to use various levers and buttons, rather than on the small screen. Below are the highest spots Snail Bob reached in the top lists of the AppStore.
Picking the game engine – We didn’t think this over enough. We chose Cocos2d because it provides the best performance on iDevices. But now we realize that it‘s worthwhile to try cross-platform engines before starting a project. We feel sorry, because porting the game to Android will be much harder.
In-App Purchases – Our game featured only one in-app purchase (unlocking all chapters) and it has increased our profits by 5-7%. I’m sure that if we focused more on IAPs we could have increased this number to maybe 20%. It’s better to think in advance and immediately implement IAPs, than to put it off and add in updates.
Updates – I’m sure everyone knows that you should prepare the first update before the actual game is released. And we also knew about this. While the game was approved by Apple and the publisher was preparing marketing stuff, we started working on the update. But then Apple released the iPhone 5, which meant we needed to spend time reworking the game to support this new resolution as well. As a result, the update was not ready in time, and when the game came out, we couldn’t finish it in time. I would advise to have two finished content-updates before releasing the game.
Based on our experience with Snail Bob on Flash and iOS, we offer a couple of points of advice.
Simple and intuitive gameplay
The simpler the gameplay is, the more players will be able to play it. As in many other areas of real life: throw away all the excess, leaving the basics – plain and simple.
The game should bring joy. Using humor we emotionally tie players to our game, as when they watch a great cartoon. We want players to have fun while playing our game. We want them to look forward to the next funny situation or animation.
In order to make the player want to reach the goal, you have to supply them with a clear and simple goal that the player wants to reach all his heart. The story doesn’t have to be complex. In fact, rather the opposite.
Make a Facebook community
Use your games to build a community of loyal fans. It’s not difficult, but it’s very effective and will help when an update or new games comes out.
Test your game at all stages of the development.and target your main audience: casual players, like kids or grandparents. If they understand the game, anyone will understand it.
Use statistic tools to keep track of what’s going on in your game, on which level most of the players get stuck, what is the length of the game session and so on. Use this data in your updates.
Flash as a test platform
Use Flash as a platform to evaluate the success of your game. Flash allows you to make the game very fast, quickly release and then get feedback from players.
And one very last piece of advice: Let everything inspire you: movies, music, travel, family, friends. The more diverse your life experiences are, the more creative games you’ll make.
Snail Bob is available in the AppStore. Currently, Andrey and Maxim (pictured above) are working on new chapters for the Mobile version to support the sales of the game. After that, they will be focusing on releasing the new levels for the flash version as well.