Creating a sequel can be tricky. As a game developer, you strive to have something true to the original but also fresh and new. During his talk at Casual Connect Tel Aviv, the co-founder of Upopa Games, Niv Toubol, spoke about the lessons they have learned from the creation of Hopeless 2. In his talk entitled Sequels: Dealing with Fan’s Expectations, Niv explained, “Understanding the challenges and preserving the original style and mechanics is crucial for successful sequel”. Since the conference, Niv is proud to announce that Hopeless 2 is featured on the App Store and at the moment they are ranked as #4 on the US App Store.
In 2012, Niv Touboul co-founded Upopa Games, a small indie mobile game studio. This was actually his second game company; previously he founded Moon Active and created the game Bitter-Sam. His inspiration for starting his indie projects was a strong desire for the independence to create in his own way. It was 2010 when he started work on Bitter-Sam, and he recalls at that time mobile games were so new that every idea had to be invented from scratch.
In 2014, Upopa Games was acquired by ironSource Ltd. Today, as head of Upopa Games, Niv wears two hats. While wearing the first he manages operations and creates the business plans. The second involves his work with the team as Art Director, Animator and Sound Composer for all the games.
Creating, Inventing and Improvising
Niv developed an understanding of what would interest kids and teenagers at an early age. As he was growing up, he worked for years with them in summer camps and youth movements. He was an ODT guide and spent much of his time playing games with groups. His favorite aspect of this work was inventing and improvising games with random things he found along the way, something that certainly foreshadowed his career today.
Before he began his career in the game industry he had two other short careers. One was as a graphic designer and the second was as a musician and composer. Both of these reveal his passion for creating a ‘new world’. And he believes that his work in videogames simply refines this quality.
Today, what he enjoys most about his work is the variety. On one day he will be creating funny characters and animating them; the next he will be planning the yearly budget.
When Niv was a child, his greatest dream was to create video games. He recalls, “I remember waiting for the years to pass until I would be a grownup and could start developing video games.” He was very young when he began inventing card games for his siblings and only twelve when he created his first video game using Klick & Play. He says, “It was top of the charts at my parent’s house!”
Making It Dynamic
Learning basic Flash coding opened up many design options for him. He was creating art from an early age, but when he learned to code he discovered how to make his art dynamic. He now insists that coding is a basic skill for anyone who wants to make games.
Niv’s creations begin with the cheap black pen and notebook he always carries with him. His initial process is with a hand drawing; he claims, “There’s something about sitting and sketching that makes your brain work.” Once it is on paper he moves to his computer.
He finds his inspiration in the connection between two unrelated things. He believes new, surprising things make the most interesting creations, for example, something half bunny and half bus, or a Leviathan with two floors or a basketball game where the baskets are kangaroos.
The Development Process
The development process can cause tremendous stress, usually when the time for each task is limited. Stress blocks his creativity! When this happens he finds it best to travel and get some distance from his daily routine.
The greatest challenge he finds in developing a game stems from the fact that the process is limited by the available resources and the schedule. So, sometimes parts of a game must be eliminated. But if he could have unlimited time and resources, he would create a top down MMO “with a huge and live exciting world.”
The most rewarding part of the experience comes when he sees players reaching amazing scores in the game. He has discovered, “No matter how many times you play your game as a game developer, the audience will always reach higher, unbelievable scores.”
The release of a new game can be a frightening experience; this was especially so when Hopeless: The Dark Cave was released. The first two weeks passed with only 128 downloads, which was almost all the people he knew. Then the unexpected happened, a fantastic review from Android Police, and suddenly players were rushing to the game. Niv recalls this as the proudest moment of his career.
After the success of Hopeless: The Dark Cave, the team decided to create a bigger project they called Mutation Mash, a match three game. After six months they released it on a soft launch. Unfortunately, players were frustrated by the long learning curve. The only way to fix this problem was to delete large portions of the game and redevelop many others. But since this process would take so much time, the team made the painful decision to end the project. Especially difficult was the realization that, although the learning curve was definitely too long, players who kept going for longer than five minutes fell in love with the game and couldn’t stop playing.
Working with a Team
Niv and his team have been working together now for three years and have developed a deep knowledge of each other. He believes they would describe him as a bit unexpected, constantly surprising them with crazy ideas.
For members of his team, he looks for people with passion and a love of the profession, as well as a willingness to work hard and to work together as a team. Frequently they must work late nights to complete their goals. Niv emphasizes, “Video game development is all about combining the right components and that’s why it’s critical to have good communication within the team.”
Just Because It’s Upopa!
These days Niv is seeing a huge increase in CPI, with the common model of user acquisition becoming harder and harder. Creating a game with high ARPU requires a large budget, something available only to big companies. So Upopa plans to create a strong network, based on a strong brand that will bring new, organic users. Niv insists, “I want our users to look for the new Upopa game just because it’s Upopa!”
For someone who wants a career creating games, Niv believes the best way to start is to create something, whether it’s the concept of the art or the actual product. He realizes that dreaming is a big part of this career, but if you want your dream to become reality you have to make it happen. Whether the game will succeed or not is a different question, but you will always need persistence. He says, “Don’t give up and be willing to try and try again.”
When Niv is not working, you will find him playing his guitar or piano, working in his organic garden or playing soccer.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.