By Juan de Urraza, CEO of Posibillian Tech
Posibillian Tech is the game development studio behind Fhacktions, a location-based MOBA mobile game set in a future world ruled by factions of hackers. The studio is based in Asunción, Paraguay, with 12 full time employees. It was founded in 2015 by two software engineers and lifetime gamers, Juan de Urraza and Gabriel Villalba, who previously developed some small games while studying at university, but never as professionals.
The beginning of all
Six years ago, Gabriel and I worked as managers in different companies, enjoying a relatively comfortable life and financial stability. Back then we were only acquaintances, but grew closer after getting to know each other better and realizing we had a common interest: we both wanted to become entrepreneurs in the videogame industry.
We came up with an idea of making a location-based game where players would battle each other to conquer real world locations. We gathered some other friends and convinced them to work on the game in our spare time. That initial crew got together on two occasions, but by the third meeting, it was only Gabriel and I again. The rest of the people just stopped attending.
We cannot really blame them, as we soon realized that some sacrifices had to be made to continue the project. The complexity of the suggested game idea was huge, and working at the initially planned pace would have taken us at least 20 years to finish the project. We decided that the only reasonable way to develop the game would be to leave our jobs and work full-time on this project, putting at stake the stability we enjoyed up to that point. We both had families to support and bills to pay, so we decided that getting investment was crucial for this project to continue.
The first trials
When we first started, our biggest challenges were related to the limitations of our local environment. We knew the odds were against us from the start, but we wanted to tackle these issues anyway and even help developing the local game industry along the road.
No universities in Paraguay have programs exclusively dedicated to videogames, so realistically speaking, it is impossible to find a videogame developer formally educated or trained in this country. Most people with experience in the field are self-taught or educated abroad. In fact, because we had nowhere to gain these skills from, we had to train online for it. God bless Coursera!
At that time, there were very few successful cases in Paraguay. Only one studio had launched a mobile game with some success abroad. There were other small studios that were trying their best to develop games, but without proper funding they reached the same limitations as we did. Paraguayan investors are not really interested in tech, and even less in game development. There is also a particular ongoing issue with mobile games: Google Play doesn’t allow merchant accounts coming from Paraguay, limiting the app-monetization options.
Of course, we had concerns that extended far beyond the local issues. Fhacktions was conceptualized as an augmented reality 3D MOBA with geolocation features. Most indie studios started with far less ambitious projects, but in our case, we were really fixed in our idea. Particularly, geolocation in games was still a new concept, one that was considered too experimental at the time, Shadow Cities didn’t take off and Ingress was still on its beta stage. However, even if everything screamed “GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!”, we were just stubborn and wanted to do it even if we ultimately failed. We wanted to be able to at least tell our grandchildren in the future that we tried to do something different.
It took 3 years for us to get the investment and conditions to start working full-time on Fhacktions. Along the road, we become founding members of the International Game Developers Association of Paraguay. The goal was to start gathering scattered developers and convince them to work together towards building the local industry. This helped us getting to know many developers interested in our project as well.
Of course, the best thing that happened to us at the time was that some local investors became interested in our project and gave us some funding to get started. We knew we would eventually need more investment and that Fhacktions’ concept was perhaps too different to attract that; but we decided to stick to our original plan, even if it scared off other investors interested in something more mainstream.
We founded Posibillian Tech on July 1st, 2015. The initial team was of 4 programmers and 2 artists and designers, all packed in a small office with only one table, without internet or proper electricity. It took us several months to get a better office, one with the appropriate tools and resources to work. We also expanded our team and have had around 15 full-time employees since then.
Game design process
The concept of the game kept evolving over time. At first, we thought we could have traditional fantasy characters, like knights and elves, fighting over real world locations. But it somehow felt wrong, it didn’t make sense to us in the context of mobile AR. And that’s how we came up with the final concept for our game: the players would be hackers in a post-apocalyptic world where the internet has almost disappeared and their phones work as tools to hack isolated servers that provide basic resources for subsistence.
From the start, we wanted players to have real-time battles against each other. We felt that other games with geolocation focused a lot on their AR aspect, but had very simple and repetitive mechanics. We really wanted to avoid that, so the only option for us was to make Fhacktions into a MOBA. We knew that this was not a traditional genre for a mobile game, and that there would be limitations (i.e., battery life, hardware restrictions, limited interface), but we took the challenge anyway.
We also wanted Fhacktions to have a unique aesthetic and diverse gameplay, but we didn’t understand how complex merging those two aspects would be. We had a very talented 3D modeler and animator in our studio, but seriously underestimated the workload the artistic process entailed to reach the standards we wanted. Therefore, we took the decision to have fewer characters, denominated avatars, but with far more abilities (over 20). We designed avatars specializing in short range, long range, healing, tanking and laying traps; but each still had a very different play style, depending on which abilities the player selected. We also scrapped the idea to have AI controlled avatars at this point.
In Fhacktions’ main mode, the conquest mode, players must join factions and walk around the city to hack servers spread around their area. We decided to add a quick battle mode, so that players could gain experience and practice. We would later find out that this was one of the most important design decisions we made, as it helped casual players to get on board and was also useful to get our hardcore players to enjoy the game even when they were not outside. We wouldn’t have gone as far as we did only with the conquest mode.
The beta launch
We launched an open beta in Paraguay in June 2017. The idea was to test the game in a market we had direct contact with. Only a fraction of the game was complete back then, but we managed to develop it to a far more complete version thanks to the beta process.
Growing our player base to a reasonable size was the first trial. We had no marketing budget, but our PR team devised several strategies that took a more organic approach. The word-of-mouth was really important in the initial stage. We also had a lot of positive press and many brands were willing to sponsor our project. Social media was a big help as well, as it was the perfect way to promote the game and help players understand the mechanics. The multiplayer aspect of the game itself was a natural promotion tool, since our first players invited their friends to play the game and join their factions.
At that point, our biggest challenge was to learn how to listen to the players’ concerns. These actually ended up being a great resource to help Fhacktions reach a mature stage. Fixing bugs, balancing the game and preventing cheating wouldn’t have been possible without all that. However, as our development process went on, we also had to relearn how to keep our own voice strong and trust our decisions.
A common issue was our players becoming so competitive that in the end a few factions took almost all the resources and were the only ones truly competing. Smaller factions and players started feeling left out, so we had to implement changes to prevent these situations.
We also found several exploitable mechanics that we had to patch as the players discovered how to break them to get advantage. Before the beta, we made jokes about toasting with champagne the first time a player managed to cheat in the game; it took only a few days after the launch for that to happen.
During the beta stage, we also tested our monetization strategies. Besides the traditional in-app purchases, we also wanted Fhacktions to be a marketing platform for brands. The idea was to get sponsorships from brands in exchange for premium servers that would encourage players to visit their stores. We managed to get several international brands to support our project and got great numbers from the users from it.
While we took many great risks, most ended up turning out fine for us. However, we made many mistakes on the way as well. For instance, we tried to make a smaller unrelated app while developing Fhacktions. Unexpectedly, it ended up taking a lot of resources from our company and delayed Fhacktions’ development. However, in the end it did allow us to have a published app and learn lots of things before launching Fhacktions.
Another big mistake was not looking for a faster solution for our Google Play issue. We still cannot monetize through their platform and that is becoming seriously detrimental for our business plan. We are opening a subsidiary in another country to launch and monetize the game, but that is going to take a lot of time and will increase our fixed costs.
In spite of all this, we look back and feel that most of the things ended up working out against all odds.
Fhacktions around the world
As our development process was still ongoing and we knew we would need to be better prepared for the global launch, we decided to extend our PR strategy to the international scene. We attended different conferences and fairs to get more exposure. Our team participated in SLUSH in Finland, GDC in San Francisco, TNW in Amsterdam, and then Casual Connect in Singapore and Seattle. We had long talks with experts, attended very insightful conferences, and had interesting business meetings.
To our surprise, we were nominated to several awards and even got one for Best Game Audio at the Indie Prize. It was the first time a Paraguayan game received this kind of international recognition. We have also been selected for an acceleration process by the LevelUp program in Finland.
We are currently wrapping up a new version that will be soft-launched in Latin America. We will evaluate our success in a bigger market and, hopefully, get more players and revenue. We believe that the soft launch and acceleration process will allow us to get more investment and even a publisher, so that we can confidently launch Fhacktions worldwide by the end of the year.
“We keep working hard towards our goals. This journey, that has already taken over two years, has truly been amazing”, the developers say. While Fhacktions can already be downloaded for iOS and Android.