At the recent event in Singapore, Casual Connect Asia 2015, Yiwei P’ng reflected on the whirlwind of events that led to how Tiny Guardians came to be. There were things that went right and some things that went wrong. “It’s actually quite scary when you prototype something to be fun, and it turns out not to be fun.”
Yiwei P’ng has been constantly inspired by the games he has played throughout his life — ultimately spurring him to make his own games. While he started out making Flash games after work as a hobby, he decided to bring gaming to the forefront of his life and make it his full-time job after two years.
When Yiwei decided to make the big switch, he was working as a multimedia designer and lecturer. While he tried to find openings as a game developer at companies in Malaysia, there weren’t a lot of companies to choose from and there were no openings available. “Since I couldn’t find an opening for a game developer, I decided to start my own game company instead,” Yiwei says.
So, in 2009, Kurechii was officially launched. The skills Yiwei knew as a multimedia designer — namely drawing, designing, and coding — came in handy right away. His drawing and designing skills helped him create game graphics and build satisfying user interfaces and his knowledge of web programming helped him pick up game programming languages quickly. In addition, the creative thinking and online marketing trainings P’ng went through would become useful in game promotion.
Joys and Pitfalls
Yiwei manages both the creative and technical sides of Kurechii, giving him a unique perspective in the gaming industry and the joys and pitfalls therein.
He notes that there are countless challenges as an indie developer, and that they never really go away — from new technology to gaming trends, the learning curve is continuous and ever-changing. However, he notes that his major challenge has come as he’s taken on business management at Kurechii. “As I came from a creative background, I have a lot more to learn and grow when it comes to business and management. I am constantly upgrading myself through online research.”
On top of the technical challenges that come with the business, there are emotional challenges as well. One of the most painful experiences Yiwei has had to deal with in the gaming industry is parting ways with those who have shared in his vision and worked with him to make games.
“The journey of indie game development is rough and bumpy,” he says. “There are times where the journey seems too hard to pursue, no matter how passionate or determined you were at the start … People come and go, but I think it will be something I can never get used to.”
Luckily, the gaming industry isn’t all woe. His employees rally behind him, calling him an “an understanding leader” and one they can follow and trust with their goals as game makers.
For Yiwei, seeing their goals reached and seeing their games come to life is one of the best things about his job. He calls his employees “passionate people (who create) games beyond our imagination” and says that “seeing our imaginations come to life” is the funnest part of being at Kurechii. “The worlds that we have created in our minds are alive when the game is completed, and the characters that were once figments of our imagination are not just static images anymore, but something players can interact with.”
Technicals and Testing
Yiwei believes that in order to create a great game, one must first be a fan of that game type. So, when the question arises of whether to do a free-to-play game or a premium game, Kurechii chooses the premium route for one simple reason: “We all enjoy playing premium games.”
Once an idea for a game has been hammered out and there is a working prototype, internal testing begins. Yiwei notes that non-developers will judge a game directly based on what they see and experience, so having feedback from players at an early stage can give the impression that the game is weak and should be scrapped — when really it’s simply that the game’s full potential hasn’t been implemented yet.
It’s for this reason that Kurechii has been very careful about when they choose to test a game — and who to test a game on. “So far it has been very effective in helping us identify problems in the game,” Yiwei says.
Once a game is far enough along, the company will do play-testing — which can sometimes give the game developers ideas for game controls they never thought of.
Yiwei notes that in one of their games, Tiny Guardians, players are required to drag a card upwards to be released when they want to upgrade a unit. During play-testing, players started picking dragging various other interface elements that weren’t meant to be dragged. Kurechii adapted the game’s controls to fit the player behavior. “If we don’t need a tutorial to teach players about a certain control, it will be more natural for them to pick it up during play.”
Yiwei’s attitude towards gaming and his employees — and Kurechii’s attitude toward games and gamers — has paid off. The studio currently has eight games under its belt, including award-winning titles like the King’s League series and Reachin’ Pichin.
One of Yiwei’s personal highlights was when King’s League: Odyssey won IGF China’s Best Game and Indie Prize’s Best Mobile Game in 2014. “Receiving these awards made me feel that all the hard work and effort from the team had paid off,” he says. “They also encouraged us and helped us prove that game development is a viable industry in Malaysia, especially to those who doubted so when Kurechii first started back in 2011.”
Yiwei predicts that the gaming industry will continue to become increasingly competitive, making the discoverability of a good game extra hard. He notes that, on top of this, many players are also expecting games to be free.
Kurechii isn’t shying away from this challenge though, Yiwei says. They are facing it head-on. “We are trying our best to grow our fan base to solve the discoverability issue while also exploring new ideas on the best ways to deliver a premium game experience through a freemium model.”