By Merav Katz Gershuni, Head of Growth, yellowHEAD
yellowHEAD staff had the opportunity to emcee the Social Casino track at Casual Connect Europe in London, where some of the social casino industry’s best and brightest came together to help you get the most out of your gaming apps. yellowHEAD’s Merav Katz Gershuni and Marina
Sapunova compiled information from the event that can help you navigate the waters of this
competitive vertical, from little things that you can do to boost your game growth, to common
mistakes that may inhibit your success.
We heard from seasoned directors, supervisors and CEOs with years of experience at leading
brands in the gaming industry, including Product Madness, The Stars Group, KamaGames and
Whow Games. They shared key insights about different areas of the field – from creative to legal
to data science and more! Among the lessons shared, the experts discussed best practices
from real money casino that can be applied in social casino, maximizing performance with game
economy prediction, common mistakes made at different stages of a game’s lifecycle, effective
creative team management, successful A/B testing of creatives, revenue growth success
stories, localization, gaming vs. gambling, and virality.
It was a great opportunity to learn from real experiences gained through tried and true strategies
or failed attempts. For more on optimizing your games in the social casino space, read the full
synopsis at yellowHEAD.
In this interview, yellowHEAD’s Marina Sapunova speaks with Olga Khomenko about her life as a drummer in an indie band, what exotic places she wants to visit and why she loves playing board games.
Marina: Hi Olga! So we are at Casual Connect Kyiv. Could you please share with us what you do?
Olga: First of all, I want to say that I’m so excited that Casual Connect is back at Kyiv because it’s my native city and I adore it. A lot of new people come to your city and see how cool and beautiful it is. I work at PlayToMax and we create HMTL 5 games. We develop our own games, as well as provide outsourcing services. And I’m also here at the conference together with my friend – he’s an indie developer who’s working on his own game and I’m helping him, so please vote for him.
Marina: Sure! I still haven’t voted so I will do it. Are you a gamer?
I guess that every single games developer in the world could say that everything started when they were kids and, with gleamy eyes but steady hands, played their first game. But I’d like to finish this post before the year is over, and that’d be a bit cheesy anyway, so let’s fast forward a little bit. In some sense, everything started when I decided to found a small development company. But then I would have to talk of 10 years of hard (but rewarding) work, during which we developed more than 50 products and saw many of our clients succeed – one of them sold his product that we developed for him for 50 million USD to NASDAQ!
So, fast forward again to the moment when we decided that the time had arrived to create our own “baby,” to make a game for us and not for others. The idea had crossed our minds before, but it wasn’t until some random day, having some coffee, when I saw a beautiful demo that Oren Rubin and Alon Simon had created. Back then it was something really tiny, but I instantly saw that it had something special – it was eye-catching, quirky, and funny. So I contacted them and told them that maybe we could make a mobile game out of it. We all agreed that it was worth a try.
And here we are, one year, one nomination to the Google Indie Prize, 20 times featured by Apple and Google (even featured once in the “Today” tab), and 4 million downloads later. It was definitely worth the try, don’t you think? But let’s see how we got here – the path is as important as the destination!
We are SignSine – a two people game studio from Kyiv, Ukraine.
We are developing PROZE, an atmospheric survival adventure game focused on telling a compelling story “about friendship with massive Cold War conspiracy background” and providing an immersive experience in VR.
Where did everything start?
In August 2016, we went to a countryside house (dacha) nearby Kyiv with a company of old friends. After getting lost in the woods we were very inspired telling the story to each other from a different perspective. Some time after we decided to turn our memories of that evening into a game screenplay, that’s how the initial idea came together.
We weren’t sure about genre, setting or technology. It was just a draft story and we kept developing it, collecting ideas and references for everything, drawing early sketches, describing game mechanics and creating puzzles — basically doing what we could.
We knew exactly what kind of experience PROZE should be in the end – a unique story with massive background, characters, which you love, hate and empathize. Cozy and at the same time – scary atmosphere that will be left imprinted in players memories for decades. Our sights of what the perfect game should be and on many other things was uncommon, that’s why we settled as a team and kept progressing on the development.
The decision of making a VR game was not instant. However while putting our design document together we realized that this technology can fully project our idea, thoughts, and emotions that we have put into the screenplay. To embody those moments as it could happen in real life we decided to make a VR game at first place.
Going for technologies that we are using in the game creation is a bigger challenge for us, as we are trying to reach really stunning quality of visuals and audio with no budget.
So pretty much all the things that we are doing, we are doing ourselves, including photogrammetry, motion capture, spatial sound design, 3D modeling.
The hardest part was to combine the development with our day jobs. We have to support financially ourselves and the project. We have to spend tons of time on doing things and learning new as we set this unreachable goal of making an uncompromised game.
There were 4 of us in the very beginning, but only 2 of us left carrying the torch. All of us have motivational, financial, family, time and other problems from time to time, it makes huge impacts on the progress of PROZE development, nevertheless we work as a team and support each other during the hard times.
Today we went for full time development, rented a small office, upgraded some gear.
That’s not fine when we can’t afford buying food everyday, but we truly believe that things will change and PROZE will be a blast when it’s done.
We have spend a lot of time on crafting the cinematic story trailer, which is not completed yet today. It still lacks of visual effects and expensive 3D character models.
Perhaps it was a mistake starting from such complex footage that required all states of technology and art in itself ignoring the actual gameplay.
However we’ve learned a lot and gained big experience with
The new game engine.
Motion capture, which we were recording with 2 soldiered Kinects in the rotten basement of the 18 story building. Where we were disturbed all the time by the tenants that were looking at us as on aliens trying to steal their gigabytes of internet.
Crawling through the dungeons and caught cold standing on the windy highways and fields and lakes to record authentic ambiances and sound effects.
But wrong moves were made right. Using the experience and groundwork we started from scratch creating a playable game episode in VR. Not much time has passed and we are showcasing PROZE pre-Aplha at our first conference. So many gamers that have never played anything like that before were extremeley excited.
After 2 months and huge update we are getting 2 main prizes during our second in life conference.
We’ve been awarded the Audience Choice Award and the Best Indie Game Award. Now as winners from GameDev Lviv (an Indie Prize Partner event), we are Indie Prize London finalist at Casual Connect Europe and the game looks and feels like never before.
The mistake that we won’t regret if you can call it a mistake is that we are not following the trends.
The development of such complex project takes a lot of time and the industry changes every now and then. PROZE is not social, it is not a multiplayer. It doesn’t have loot boxes or similar things.
It may sound strange, but it is designed mostly for introverts that want to relax after a busy day, spend a few hours alone and take part in the breathtaking story, experience the situations that might be related to them, but in an extraordinary way and get the emotional connection with the characters.
Hopefully we will connect with our audience and together we will prove that there are no such thing as unreachable goals. And the higher you aim the more you gain. That probably would be the main tip for other developers trying hard to bring their worlds to life.
It might be early to judge if our approach repays.
In this interview, yellowHEAD’s Marina Sapunova speaks with Jessica Tams about her life behind one of the most successful events in the games industry, why she moved to a farm and what she was like in high school.
Marina Sapunova: Hi Jessica! I’m happy to have you with me. I don’t think that you need an introduction for our audience, but it would be great if you could say just a few words about what you do.
Jessica Tams: I’m Jessica Tams – I am the Managing Director of CGA. We have a couple of things that we do: Casual Connect; we also organize Indie Prize, which is the scholarship program for indie developers; and a media outlet – Gamesauce.biz. We’ve been doing this for 13 years. We do 4 shows a year. So that’s what I do.
Marina: Nice! And you are so good at what you do! But let’s talk about Jessica. Who’s Jessica behind her title?
Our team is called Nord Unit and there are 3 of us: Fedor, Denis and Dmitry. We are true indie developers and Hyperforma is our totally first experience in developing and releasing a game.
Fedor Danilov creates art, game design, interfaces, writes a story and does CEO stuff.
Denis Dorokhov does UI, creates animations and scenes, makes sounds and works with freelancers.
Dmitry Konarev does programming, creates levels, compiles the game in Unity3D. So he deals with the technical side of the game.
And of course, we discuss game balance and mechanics together, so it’s a constant game-design-team-work.
Fhacktions is a location-based mobile MOBA game developed by Posibillian Tech, a Paraguayan startup founded in 2015. Set in a near future where the world is ruled by factions of hackers, players must battle each other to maintain control of strategically placed servers that provide them with currency and power. The core of the game is its location based mechanic, with servers placed in real world places, like your local coffee shop or the laundromat next door. Conceived before Ingress and Pokemon Go were launched, Fhacktions had an uphill road to follow in order to finance, code and promote a game with mechanics no one yet understood.
The game received several awards, like winning the “Best Audio” category in Indie Prize USA, and being finalist in Indie Prize in Asia and Europe in the “Best Multiplayer Game” category. Google selected Fhacktions as one of the 15 best games in the Google Indie Games Festival LATAM in 2018.
Founded in 2016, Miracle Tea is an independent game developer made up of Bradley Smith, Tom Andrews, Enrico Ercole and Gav Amante. Based around Ipswich, they met at the University of Suffolk and Brains Eden game jam. The team aspire to make games that tap into deeper emotions to touch players in meaningful ways. Ruyawas their first release. Bradley shares some insight.
Tom and I were both freelancing on the same project together. He showed me an old prototype he built from Uni. I had just competed in the Indie Speed Run and produced some artwork that I thought had some potential, so we pretty much combined two. Our goal was to re-imagine match style games with positive vibes and bring elements into the genre that you might not normally see.
We submitted the original prototype to the Tranzfuser programme back in 2016 – it’s a national funding scheme for graduates in the UK. We were fortunate enough to be one of the teams selected with a successful pitch for funding. This floated a chunk of our development. The team that rxun it have been lovely to us and amazing to work with.
In 2015 a young Syrian artist who had just arrived in Austria bumped by accident into a game designer that had somehow specialized in political games. He joined the designer and his team first as an apprentice, but soon after they decided to embark on an adventure: to make an autobiographical adventure game about escaping from the Syrian Civil War.
The project in a nutshell:
Path Out is an autobiographical narrative adventure, that allows the players to follow the journey of Abdullah Karam, a young Syrian artist that escaped the civil war in 2014. In the game, Abdullah is giving insight to his real-life adventure via video comments that appear throughout the game. While looking like an adorable retro RPG the game attempts to draw the players into the harrowing experiences that Abdullah had to endure during his journey. It also wants to function as an empathic connection between the player and the all too real protagonist. The first chapter of the journey was made available for free on Steam, itch.io and Gamejolt in November 2017.
In this interview, yellowHEAD’s Marina Sapunova speaks with Javier Castro, Head of EMEA Apps Gaming Sales, to find out about the person behind the title, what interests him in life besides work and what brought him to Casual Connect in Kyiv.
Marina: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Javi. Could you kick things off by sharing with our audience what company you work for and your title?
Javier: For the last 5 years, I’ve been working at Google. I started working at the Google Cloud team and then I moved to the Google apps business. Currently, I am managing a team of colleagues who are working with gaming companies across EMEA, so pretty much working with most of our top gaming companies.