Talk about doing a 360. When Traplight Games started in 2010, they began by publishing their own in-house game The Hero. However, after that, they quickly turned into a full-time work-for-hire enterprise — working on projects for companies such as Redlynx, Supercell, and Tuokio.
While working on others’ projects paid the bills, the company’s heart still belonged to in-house content. In the background, the company worked on technology that would give a new kind of creative power to gamers and bring user-generated content to mobile devices in a way never seen before.
Leap of Faith
The project simmered for a few years before finally taking the forefront of the company’s work in 2013 and morphing into the game: What on Earth!. At around the same time, a big outsourcing client dropped from the company — forcing them to choose between finding new outsourcing clients or working full-time on their in-house intellectual property. “We had to take a leap of faith,” says Riku Rakkola, CEO and one of the co-founders along with Sami Kalliokoski and Jari Paananen.
And leap they did — making the change from subcontractor to self-made studio. “It felt like a good time to go all in,” Rakkola says. And with that, Traplight Games came full circle.
However, funding What on Earth! was still an issue. The company created a technology demo and approached Finnish investors at the beginning of 2013. It took six months to secure funding. During that time team members relied on their sisu (Finnish for “guts” or “willpower”), working with practically no pay and sharing the workload of dealing with investors all while developing the game. “It wasn’t easy,” Rakkola says, “but working with our own IP was something that everyone in the company wanted to do, despite the sacrifices.”
With some initial funding secured, the team expanded and the company’s contact network grew. Using an improved demo, Traplight Games was able to secure another $500,000 — ensuring What on Earth! would make it through development.
What on Earth!
What on Earth! plays like a mobile racing game. It revolves around a curious extraterrestrial race who discover Voyager, a space probe launched into space by NASA in the 1970s, after if crashes into their planet. The coordinates of Earth enclosed in the probe give the aliens a reason to start researching our corner of the galaxy and, through TV transmissions, they begin studying humanity.
And while Rakkola notes that the story behind What on Earth! is “rich, versatile and intriguing,” it’s the user-generated content aspect of the game that is truly game-changing for the industry.
With a simple flick of a finger, players are able to create their own levels for the game. Rakkola says the interface is easy, fast and intuitive — “like playing with Legos” — and has been tested by players as young as 4 years old. The levels are immediately playable, and transitioning between editing and testing flows easily.
The most important aspect of the editor is that levels can only be published if the creator has been able to complete the level themselves. Once published, the levels become available for anyone to test. Rakkola says this is done in order to find out the difficulty of the levels and see if others enjoy it and the game constantly analyzes player performance data. Additionally, players can rate the level after completing it.
Levels that are universally liked get featured in the actual game’s campaign and are shown to players whose game progress matches the level’s difficulty. Even after a user-created level has been added to the in-game campaign, the game continues to analyze it and may adjust the level’s status according to new player data.
Players can also share their creations with friends in-game and there will be add-ons making it possible for people to share and view their custom levels on places like Facebook and YouTube as well.
This ensures that players are offered a wide and constantly changing selection of levels to try out and enjoy, Rakkola notes. “Traplight doesn’t want players to be restricted by a game company’s limited vision of what a game could be, but instead hopes to see the players take matters into their own hands. With players’ creativity, games can become much more than just a simple pastime; they become [places] where anyone can invent something extraordinary. It gives the players an unlimited selection of content and the game keeps evolving. Traplight is determined to bring all of these things to mobile.”
The Big Picture
Rakkola promises that, with What on Earth!’s emergent goofiness, cartoonish graphics and cute characters, the game will appeal to fans of many different game genres, noting that games like Little Big Planet and Minecraft have proven that “harnessing user creativity can give birth to thriving, active and lucrative games.” While UGC games are popular on console or PC platforms, they are notably absent from the mobile market and Traplight intends to capitalize on that void.
The company is naturally keeping an eye on trends in user-generated content — not only in regards to potential competitors, but also in regards to how online communities and social interaction may change and develop.
Meanwhile, the company is set for a closed-beta launch of What on Earth! in January and is excited about the insights it will provide on player behavior — which will help them prepare for the soft launch of the game expected to take place in the first half of 2015. If all goes well, a global launch will follow. Once the game is live, the company hopes to gradually add many more features to the game based on user feedback.
“Traplight is dedicated to What on Earth! as a game and a brand,” Rakkola says. “Creating new content, keeping the player community buzzing and producing and developing whole new ideas is something that Traplight Games is aiming for. The goal is to create a game brand that will last for a long time.”