By Marina Sapunova, Marketing Content Manager, yellowHEAD
At Casual Connect Kyiv last month, yellowHEAD hosted an insightful panel titled “Accelerating Your Game Growth into 2020 with Key UA Techniques”. The participants were Javier Castro of Google, Jan Chichlowski of Vivid Games, and Alex Keselman of AppsFlyer.
During the panel, they discussed the future of user acquisition, the impact of app store optimization, the growing role of creatives, and the major changes that happened this year which will influence UA strategy in the future. They also touched on the constant challenge of rising CPIs and shared strategical approaches on how to overcome it and get set for growth moving forward into 2020.
The role of AI and machine-learning technologies with predictive algorithms were particularly in the spotlight of the conversation. A lot of insider information was shared by Google regarding Universal App Campaigns, how to adapt to the shift of all mobile app install campaigns coming together under one umbrella, and what to expect from this change.
It was a unique opportunity for the audience to get a 360° view of the industry and learn from the experts on how to overcome the current UA challenges, while seeking innovative ways to fuel app growth going into the near future.
Kaigan Games is a 6 person game company based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Founded by two brothers, Sharizar and Shahazmi along with Jeremy Ooi, the team started working on their first game together before the company was even formed. Wanting to break the mould from making casual games, they decided to take on a more serious approach and make narrative-heavy games designed specifically for the mobile medium. A pitch was drafted and a demo was made. Jeremy shares the story of Sara Is Missing, the Best Mobile Game of Indie Prize Asia 2017.
When I met my partners, we were all burnt out of making casual games mostly for other people. Thirsty for a new project, I jokingly pitched a game concept that was as far away from casual as possible. A game set in a phone, like Replica, combined with the mystery theme and realism of Her Story. I said “jokingly” because the logistics of filming with live actors and designing a game where you replicate an entire phone in form and functions feels like a huge undertaking for us at that time. However, after some discussions, we were serious about the possibility of it happening. A few days of brainstorming – and we settled on the idea of a found phone horror game called S.I.M – Sara Is Missing and started working on the demo.
While “phone simulator” games are starting to become a genre of its own as of the time of writing, we didn’t have much to start with during the early months of development. We had no point of reference and pretty much had to come up with everything from scratch.
The vision was big at first. We want to fully simulate a phone, with chats, galleries, call features along with popular apps like Tinder, Uber, a web browser and a music player. We were strapped for resources at that time and couldn’t bear the risk of making these features and failing. So we went just for the core features and shelved the rest. A chat app for players to make narrative decisions and learn about the characters, and a phone assistant (like Siri or Google Assistant) to guide the players along the way. We added filler features like a gallery, emails and music player to give the characters more personality. Just enough to make a game out of it and prove the concept.
The story was particularly challenging, as none of us is a trained writer. We knew we wanted to make a horror game so that YouTubers would pick it up, but we didn’t know what would be the best way to do it. We used an obscure Japanese urban legend called the Red Room as a base for the story and built the rest from there, where the titular character Sara gets caught up in a technology-based supernatural event. A non-linear story of exploring a phone excited us, but having no writing experiences, we settled on a linear one instead. We decided to focus more on creating game mechanics while we sought the help of a writing team to flesh out the narrative and film the in-game videos. Whatever we couldn’t film or write, we asked for permission from other creators to use their work and incorporate it in the game, like the creepy videos and some of the filler texts.
We wanted the game to create a sense of eeriness and evoke a voyeuristic experience for the player.
Gating the game’s content through gameplay was something we spent the most time on. We wanted to make the gameplay as close to using a phone as possible, trying not to introduce unfamiliar mechanics to the game. The most logical solution was to block the player through password puzzles, but that proved to get quite repetitive. We used the supernatural aspect to justify the phone being limited in data and explored different mechanics on how to unlock them over time. We even experimented with a keyword-style puzzle where players enter notable keywords to “restore the phone” but that proved to be confusing and it also breaks our own rule. While not the best solution, we settled a tap and hold feature which allows players to progress and find clues by tapping and holding on interesting text or images.
We wanted the game to create a sense of eeriness and evoke a voyeuristic experience for the player. For the most parts, we did it. But the flaws of the game became very apparent once the novelty wears off. Since this game was a proof of concept, we took many of these lessons to our next game (more on that later).
The realism aspect was a double-edged sword. Some people were really immersed in the experience, drawn deep into the game with little effort, while others got genuinely freaked out by the game. At the beginning we asked the player to reset their “phone”, as a meta scare, making players second guess if their phone was really corrupted. This turned off plenty of people and telling them “it’s part of the game” inspired very little confidence.
The UI was also a tricky thing to balance. We recreated a phone UI as accurately as possible without much thought, but it turns out to be disruptive to the experience. Our notification bar served no function and was was there for purely aesthetic reasons. And when the player’s real messages came in and sometimes overlapped with the NPC’s messages, they were confused if that was part of the game. We also based the navigation on an iPhone UI, where the back button is on the top left. People who played the game on Android kept pressing their home buttons, with the hopes of going to the game’s home screen, but instead made them exit their app.
When building a narrative game, there are some expectations you have to meet, and one of the most important ones is multiple endings, which we didn’t really have. We only spent 2 weeks on the story and ended up with a pretty short game, with an average completion time of 15 to 20 minutes. However that should not pardon us from at least trying to create more endings. Speaking of which, the biggest criticism from players was that our ending was pretty weak and abrupt, further robbing them of their satisfaction when they complete the game.
When you make a game that feels real, some players will explore how “real” it is.
One of the biggest surprises for us was that we didn’t expect players to dive in so deep into game game’s lore (there was no lore). When you make a game that feels real, some players will explore how “real” it is. Most of our dates and times don’t match up to the character’s actions, which left the hardcore game theorists dissatisfied. Some players tried to connect the creepy videos with the game’s story, but they we’re really just placeholders made out of random videos from the internet. Others think there is some ARG (alternate reality gaming) elements to the story. Some players realized that one of the in-game coordinates is of a real location, but it is more of a hint to where we, the developers, are from, and nothing to do with the story. We even had players calling our fictional phone numbers in the game, where one of them turns out to be real.
More Than A Concept
Sara Is Missing could have easily crashed and burned, and we accepted the risk. Thankfully it paid off. While Sara Is Missing is a free game and we made no money of it, but the value of the project is still there. It brought us plenty of opportunities and support for our next title and grew our team to 6 people. The novelty of a “found phone” games is starting to wear off as many other games are trying to have their own go at the medium. The challenge for us today is to elevate that concept and transform it into a proper genre, with a deeper story, tighter mechanics and making things fresh again.
Sara Is Missing was a valuable lesson in more ways than one. SIMULACRA is the true vision of the game with all the cut features incorporated and all the lessons implemented. We believe we have pushed the boundary of what this game genre can be, and are excited to see how our fans will enjoy it.
By Marina Sapunova, Marketing Content Manager, yellowHEAD
yellowHEAD will be hosting a panel at Casual Connect Kyiv this week to discuss user acquisition techniques for developers and publishers to fuel their game growth into 2020. At Casual Connect USA, yellowHEAD’s Head of Social Acquisition, Ori Meiry, joined a panel on user acquisition and retention to talk about unique approaches used to help app developers meet their marketing goals. In Kyiv, experts from Google, AppsFlyer and Vivid Games will join Marina Sapunova, yellowHEAD’s Marketing Content Manager, to talk about the future of UA and what can be implemented today in order to help companies succeed tomorrow.
The main goal of the yellowHEAD’s panel in Kyiv is to give the audience an ability to look at the future of user acquisition from different perspectives: A major advertising platform, the biggest attribution and game analytics company, and a fast-growing development company. The topics to be discussed will try to paint a 360-degree view of user acquisition for the game developer community, as well as make predictions on what is waiting for app marketers down the road, so that they can prepare for the changes to come and implement the right marketing mix in their 2018-2020 marketing strategy.
The panel will start with a current reality check, providing a unique opportunity to see how it is viewed from different angles in the industry. This holistic approach to the panel was not a random decision. It’s the guiding vision of yellowHEAD as a company that allows their clients to reach impressive results by implementing an overarching view of UA, combining proven paid and organic solutions across various platforms.
Followed by valuable insights on the key changes and challenges that user acquisition has seen this year, the discussion will move towards predictions for the future. This direction of the discussion is not accidental either, as yellowHEAD has been dedicating itself to a future-facing vision. Last month, yellowHEAD announced its unique and powerful predictive technology, Alison, that now fuels the growth of their current clients, together with an in-house creative team and top experts in ad campaign management and app store optimization. It not only allows to predict how well your campaign is going to perform, but also to spot any problems or data issues caused by ad platforms in order for marketers to optimize and take actions ahead of time.
Meet & Greet
Besides the panel, Casual Connect Kyiv is a great opportunity for yellowHEAD to meet game developers and share expertise that will help them improve their mobile marketing performance, as well as find new effective solutions to grow into new markets. In an industry that is changing so fast, it can get quite challenging to stay up-to-date and understand how these changes will affect the app marketing of tomorrow.
With a broad view of the industry and a large variety of clients with different game genres, yellowHEAD has an ability to benchmark performance results against similar apps and spot trends in the market. UA experts at yellowHEAD run large-budget marketing activities for companies like Playtika, SpaceApe, Scientific Games, and Zynga across Social, Google, and Media Buying channels and improve their user journey with effective ASO methodologies, thus delivering great results on all spectrums.
For those interested in joining yellowHEAD’s valuable panel, it will start at 11:00 AM on Wednesday, October 25 (Day 2 of the conference). If you would like to learn more about how yellowHEAD can help you grow your game with top effective UA strategies and techniques, set a meeting with Marina Sapunova.
The three of Wisageni Studio team members decided on starting their own company after meeting at Gamelan, a local game developer community in Yogyakarta, Indonesia back in 2014. Each of them has previously worked for companies that make games for PC, Flash, or do outsourcing. “So when we started Wisageni Studio, we used our background experiences and created some Flash games and worked with some sponsors”, recalls Wisageni Studio’s co-founder Vania Marita. As the Flash games market declines, in November 2016 they finally tried to redirect development to the mobile platform with the release of their first mobile game, Nonstop Show.
Raiders of the Lost Island is a local co-op party game for up to 4 people. Well, technically it is a semi-cooperative one, as you will soon find out. Alexandru Simion, the developer behind this title, has been in the industry for almost 20 years. Even though his dayjob as a lead gameplay programmer is to make AAA games shine, he never lost his passion for making indie games and expressing his creativity through such projects in his free time. Raiders of the Lost Island has won the “Best game of the show” and “Best design” awards at the Dev.Play convention in Bucharest, Romania, and will be showcased at Casual Connect in London in 2018.
IT ALL STARTED THAT NIGHT
It was a cold winter evening when I teamed up with three friends of mine and we stepped in the tech pub where Bucharest Global Game Jam 2017 was taking place. We were prepared and ready to survive the long weekend. The jam’s theme was “waves” and, as it always happens to me at such events, I was set to come up with a game that would not only be fun to make, but could give us many hours of fun playing it long after, with friends and family.
I didn’t have many board games when I was young and I can say I developed a passion for them quite recently. But one thing that board games have been doing so well for a long time is bringing people together, creating special chemistry between them. It doesn’t really matter if they’re happily working together towards a common goal, or if one betrays, or if they’re all at each other’s throats, but I’ve been really fascinated by this social interaction and I think video games have many lessons to learn from here.
So, drawing inspiration from board games like Forbidden Island and Small World, I managed to sell these ideas to my friends and convince them this was what we must do to worth the effort of the next 48 sleepless hours. We bounced a few ideas, and the game shaped pretty quickly this time.
Let me tell you what it is all about.
You and three other buddy adventurers of yours just found the Lost Island and you’re not there on a vacation. No, you’re gonna get filthy rich, because the island is full of silver and gold coins, and the most precious diamonds. You just have to grab them. But there’s a catch! You know the island is going to sink in about 4 minutes. The waves are already going up and down fast, and soon the water will rise, flooding the whole place. You will all lose, unless… you all work together to build a raft and escape in time. If you manage to survive, the richest raider stands in front, while the others just help them win.
So, everyone wants to collect as much gold and diamonds as possible to win the game, but if they don’t work together and build the raft, they might all lose! The gameplay mechanics are simple enough, but the fun moves to the couch, where the real players are. No one wants to carry sacks and work hard on the boat while others are stuffing their pockets with treasures and can win the whole game. So, if you feel you’re in front of others, you still have to convince them to stop chasing you and put their efforts to some better uses, like building the boat.
That was the original idea. But at the end of the Game Jam, after 48 hours of hard work and no playtests, we didn’t really know what we had and if it actually works. We were pretty tired and had been fixing bugs until the last minute. I don’t know if the game made much sense when presented to the other developers who were probably as tired as we were. But we were proud of our baby and still believed we made the right choice.
However, when I got home and gathered the family to play daddy’s endeavor of the last 2 days and 2 nights – in that moment I knew the game really works! It was a blast! Kids reacted exactly as I hoped, gathering gold coins like crazy, trying to push each other in the waters and steal their treasures. I had to calm them down and tell them we can actually survive if we cooperate to build the boat at least once.
THE ROAD AHEAD
As it usually happens to me with game jams, if I feel I came home with something special, I want to finish it. I must finish it! I knew from my experience that this won’t end soon. I was coming from another project, a game for kids on iOS, named Bathtime Toys, which took me almost 2 years to finish in my free time and I was hoping to finalize this one faster.
After a short break I started to work on the game to refactor the code architecture and make development and marketing plans. I was a total noob on the marketing side and still am, but I knew I had to start early this time and learn it.
Unfortunately the original team didn’t stay, as after the game jam people got back to their busy lives. They simply didn’t have time to put into the game any further. It’s hard to come home after 9 hours of making games and push yourself further up until late in the night, making more games. But I am that kind of guy, and I know this game deserves to see the light of day. I hope to catch them back from time to time though, to help me with some feature or making new levels.
According to my plan, I had to get a demo ready as soon as possible, to build a nice website and to make an awesome trailer. With these in hand, I was to register for Steam Greenlight and grow the game’s visibility through this campaign. After that, when the game had a good base of players, I planned to launch an Early Access campaign and finally release it in about 1 year. And so I started working.
GET THAT DIAMOND!
Perhaps the most important addition to the game was the diamond! This was planned from the beginning but we didn’t have time to add it in the Global Game Jam version. To understand what this is about, imagine that one little silver coin scores 1 point, one shiny gold coin scores 3 points, and then you have this magnificent bright white diamond worth 10 points! It was blast! Everyone was chasing to grab it. And when someone had it, everyone else was chasing after them, to steal it. Not many boats were finished during those days.
In fact the diamond was so powerful, that it made players invent new grief mechanics that I never had thought of. If my kids couldn’t get the diamond, they would start jumping off the island’s edges, drowning into the ocean while carrying the sacks needed for the boat, so they would be lost forever and no one was able to escape anymore.
“I’m throwing sacks, if you don’t give me that diamond!” was the warning you hear just before realizing that chances of surviving are dropping down fast.
Some sessions were so intense that they ended up in tears. Once I even had to order real glass diamonds from an online shop as a final solution to calm things down. All this excitement confirmed that I’m on the right track with the game, so I kept going.
MISSING the greenlight TRAIN
Making the trailer was a heavy milestone. I didn’t have proper skills, and it took me almost a whole month to finish it. But it was really fun and it motivates me every time I watch it.
I invited some friends for a playtest, we had some beers, wore some funny hats and I filmed them while they were playing. It was a successful playtest, everyone had a lot of fun and I got some good feedback.
As I said, making the trailer and implementing the most important suggestions took quite some time and while I was pushing hard to get these things done, Steam decided to drop the Greenlight feature. That happened earlier than I expected and I felt pretty upset at the time. It was like missing a train you were running after.
After a while I got over it and felt really happy for my efforts with the trailer. That playtest created some of the game’s biggest fans. In fact we did it again when the demo was ready and I know they can’t wait to return and raid some more in the future.
The marketing side is really tough for me. Building the website, Facebook page, videos on YouTube, preparing images, posting online, answering emails, writing articles – it all takes me more than half of the development time. But I know I can’t get the whole project right without it and I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t.
One of the first lessons I’ve got in online marketing was when someone wanted to “help” me with a Facebook post that would gain thousands of likes. I thought I can spare $30 to see what happens. And I saw it going down the drain. From all those likes, not a single person visited the website, since they were all coming from kids at “like farms”. Well, it was cheap enough for a lesson and I got a story to tell.
The first real challenge was to get to the Dev.Play Eastern Europe Conference which had a partnership with Indie Prize, the sponsor of their Indie Expo contest. The conference is like a smaller GDC organized in Bucharest by RGDA. Being accepted to show my game there, among so many other really good indie titles, was a big thing for me. I put a lot of effort in finishing the demo in time and preparing the advertising prints and everything for the booth.
All the efforts paid off when my wife and I presented the game and saw so many people enjoying it for 2 full days. It was the reassurance I needed, because until then, most of the playtests were conducted within the family, with kids and some friends.
The extra bonus came when the jury decided to award the game as “The Best Design” and “The Best Game of the Show”. My trailer was played on a huge cinema screen and my friends were the actors. The big prize was a place for my game in Indie Prize London 2018, and I have much to do until then.
After the success at Dev.Play, the game visibility was boosted quite a lot. I released the Alpha Demo on Itch.io so everyone can try it, and we’ve even been invited to tell about it in a famous Romanian television show.
BACK TO WORK
Passing the Alpha Demo stage puts me back to work and I can’t wait to unleash my creativity and shape the game further. In the next couple of months there will be a few more events, like a talk at Game Anglia conference and some local festivals. But the main focus is now on adding new features, new gameplay mechanics and new levels.
There have been almost 9 months since the game was conceived and, even though human babies see the light of day by this time, baby games tend to be more like elephants and stay in development for quite a bit longer.
“Play the Raiders of the Lost Island and be part of its story, tell me about your experience with the game, stream your play sessions and help it become a success!”, the developers invite.
Rock‘n’roll is here to stay, as the old song says – but in the mobile era, getting people into brick-and-mortar businesses can be a challenge. Like brands of all kinds, Hard Rock is seeking to connect with mobile users. The only question is how – and Hard Rock found its answer in the game developed in collaboration with our team here at Ilyon Dynamics: Hard Rock Puzzle Match.
In 2014, eLearning Studios was invited to be a partner in a European partnership project called Stay Active which was a project looking at reducing stress in older workers in the workplace. As part of this project we worked collaboratively with Dr. Gail Steptoe-Warren, Occupational Psychologist and Principal Lecturer at Coventry University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences and Nigel Wilson Principal Lecturer at Coventry University to research and explore ideas for the development of a new game designed to reduce stress for those over 45. This initial project was later to evolve and develop into Soar: Tree of Life.
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.
By Ori Meiry, Head of Social Acquisition, yellowHEAD
Earlier this month, yellowHEAD had the pleasure of discussing user acquisition and retention for mobile games at Casual Connect USA 2017 in Seattle. Together with three leading players in the social casino arena – DoubleDown Interactive, Zynga and Playtika – we shared the latest trends we foresee developing in 2018 when it comes to maximizing acquisition campaigns.
Loteria Latin Bingo started as a bargain between Jeff Jensen of Megafuzz in Denmark, and myself in El Paso, Texas. We met at PAX South 2015 in San Antonio, Texas, and exchanged contact information. A few months later we agreed that I would create art for Jeff’s game (not released yet), while Jeff would program for my game, Loteria Latin Bingo. I chose to make this game because it is a link to my Mexican roots and I wanted to bring the old game of Loteria to a new audience in a new light. I wanted to give it my own take on the art, as well as update the gameplay for a satisfying mobile experience. So, I created art for two games at at the same time. In two years, the project was complete and on July 20, 2017, Loteria Latin Bingo was published.
I had the idea of making a small game – just something to put up on the App Store – but it seemed ridiculous to just make a game and not go as big as possible. So, after thinking about it, I added all the features that I could think of to the design of the game. I added in-app purchases, helper characters, a map to encourage progression, and XP system to level up and unlock abilities, multipliers, different modes and in-game currency. Then, I talked to Jeff and showed him what I was thinking. It blew him away, I could hear him get nervous. He had agreed to a small game and then I came to him with a huge project. “Hang on”, I told him, “I don’t expect you to do the whole game”. I explained to him that this was the grand vision for the game. I wanted to see how much he was willing to tackle. At this point, I had already done a large portion of the art for his game, so, he knew I was not going to go back on my end of the deal. Being the awesome guy that he is, he agreed to add a map, helper, characters, multipliers, a leader board, a store, an XP system and star system. I was amazed by his generosity. In exchange, I did more artwork for him as well.
So we got right to work, sort of. We both have clients and other projects to do to pay the bills, so this was sort of a side project. Over the span of a few months he worked on the first playable build and I created the art he needed for both games. We communicated over Skype and shared files via Dropbox. Being on opposite sides of the globe, Jeff was up at crazy hours talking to me most times. There were changes I made to the game design that pushed Jeff’s buttons, but we worked it out and kept going. As we worked, we found that we had to reduce the scale of the game, We were using the Game Maker engine because that’s the platform Jeff knows. It happened that at that time support for in-app purchases and a leader board was lacking in Game Maker, and since we had to cut the store and leader board out, things like XP, levels, a map and star system made no sense. So, the game changed once more. We took all of it out and made it a points-based game. It hurt to do that because the programming for most of it was finished and so was the art. But, looking back, it makes the game easier to get into. Sometimes, games have too much going on and that takes away from the experience. Also, we wanted to finish this journey we had embarked on.
Finally, after many ups and downs, we finished the game! It is now up on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. It’s my first game, outside of a studio, and I couldn’t be more proud. I’ve had the privilege to work on great games like Peggle, Bejeweled3, and Plants vs Zombies; but Loteria Latin Bingo is special – and not just because it’s mine. The collaboration between Jeff and I across opposite sides of the world, as well as the voice actor, Fernando Lamb, and musician from Venezuela, Lion3l, whom I found on Fiverr, made this an international collaboration. I’m blown away by what is possible not just with the technology available, but by trusting people and following through with promises. Trust is a difficult thing to give; I’ve been burnt many times. But, when mutual trust works out, the end product is much more valuable. I don’t just have a game that I can monetize and potentially expand, I also have a friend in Denmark. Now that I have to market this game with an “indie” budget, more friends are showing up, more connections are being made, and more opportunities are available.