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.
Tap Tap Tales is a company devoted to educational apps for children. They started in 2015 with the app Maya the Bee and have since been publishing around 5 apps per year. They currently have 12 published apps.
Tap Tap Tales’ background includes extensive experience developing, publishing, and distributing applications and video games. The team aspires to keep releasing educational games with high quality contents that will contribute greatly to the developmental process of children.
The growing gaming industry offers a multitude of opportunities for developers. Grossing $100 billion in revenue worldwide today, by 2020 that figure is expected to reach $120 billion and with emerging technologies like virtual reality, the gaming industry is hotter than ever, and in need of more developers. The first steps for those looking to dive into this exploding field can be daunting. With learning to code online, several different programming languages, new terminology, mathematics, and software to learn, how do you know where to begin and which learning platform to use?
Online tutorials like those on YouTube are valuable resources, but they will only take a new developer so far. I picked up some good tips on YouTube but still struggled to grasp essential concepts. I wanted to internalize what I learned along the way and figure things out for myself, not just be spoon-fed the answers. So, I started making my own videos that include interactive challenges that helps others learn to think like a game developer.
Eight years and a few thousand views later, I’ve taught thousands of students the basics of game development. As an instructor on Udemy, I’ve come to realize that everyone learns in their own way, but if you’re looking to learn to code efficiently and successfully, you should look for a program that offers the following three things:
1. Interactive Exercises
All seasoned coders know that the best way to be a great coder is by doing—the more you practice, the better you become. So when video tutorials offer lessons with spoon-fed answers, it doesn’t actually help you learn the skills necessary to work independently.
Instead, aspiring coders should look for lessons that let them practice their skills along the way, with feedback after they complete a challenge. This grants students the ability to address issues they will face once they’re on their own, while allowing them to problem solve the solution with access to expert support, if needed. This helps coders understand the logic and concepts behind these solutions, as well as the “why” behind their code. When a student understands why they’re writing code, they’ll be able to apply what they’ve learned to future scenarios.
2. Supportive Community
There are countless benefits to working in a group, but one of the biggest for developers is the ability to collaborate and learn from peers. Working with developers who are going through the same learning process allows you to ask more questions and share tips and tricks, which ultimately makes the whole experience easier (and more fun) for everyone involved.
Sharing the learning experience also opens the door to making new connections and meeting people with similar interests. You could meet a mentor, future colleague, or business partner—the opportunities are endless.
3. A Real Game as the End Game
As I mentioned earlier, coders learn by doing. As an aspiring developer, it can be difficult to demonstrate your skills to a prospective employer before you have work to showcase your knowledge. That’s why I recommend novice developers look for courses that culminate in a tangible piece of work that demonstrates your understanding of the entire game development process.
If you plan to invest in learning, especially learning to code, take the time to make a list of non-negotiables you hope to get from your coursework. This will help you determine what type of course is the best for your learning style and ensure you’re getting the most out of your experience.
Jonathan Weinberger is a self-taught software engineer with more than eight years of experience and the author of Learn Unity Programming with C#. He has developed several Unity games for the likes of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, as well as enterprise AR applications for companies like GE, Coca-Cola, and ThyssenKrupp. Find him on Twitter: @GameDevJon.
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.
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.
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.
But it’s true: even though the advertising industry has come incredibly far since the early days of the mobile banner, the way we deliver advertising experiences and messages to consumers in apps still has significant room for improvement. And the shift from fixed-budget, brand awareness advertising to highly measured, performance-based campaigns is only further expanding this gap. Advertisers are expecting more from mobile than ever before – and publishers must be able to support the ad experiences that drive these outcomes.
The ideal ad experience
What are these ad experiences, though? Is it full-screen video, leveraging the power of sight, sound and motion? Is it interactive and sensory experiences, using features like haptic effects and 360-degree video? The answer is yes, yes and yes – to all of the above. The best mobile ads are those that integrate multiple elements and formats, that are truly a hybrid of everything that is possible on mobile today.
However, there is one component that, whether it’s the foundation of the experience or simply an added component, consistently improves the quality – and hence performance – of every mobile advertisement. “Gamification,” or introducing elements of fun and competition (e.g., points, rewards, scoreboards, levels, rules) has long been proven to deepen engagement and satisfaction with ads. It makes an ad participatory and draws in the user (pull tactic) versus simply illustrating or explaining (push).
That’s why playables ads are here to stay. They attract and engage mobile users not just because they are new and different, but because they are truly opt-in. Rather than interrupt the content experience, they give the user the option of seamlessly moving into a different one – and when they’re done, moving right back, almost like an interlude.
Poised for massive growth
So it’s of little surprise that in an app developer survey we ran earlier this year, we found that playable ads were, by far, the mobile ad experience that gaming advertisers were most excited about in 2017 – much more so than full-screen video or social video. Already, more than half (64 percent) of app install marketers are using playable ads, and 7 out of 10 of them find playables to be effective.
On our platform, we’ve found that they can drive 100 percent higher install rates for mobile apps – more than double the rates of full-screen HD video ads. The demand is so high that many ad companies cannot build playables fast enough to keep up with it.
Not just for gaming advertisers
While app install marketers were the first to fully harness the power of playables, creating mini-games that drive downloads of their game, we’ve seen other verticals quickly catch on. Entertainment companies have started to “gamify” their movie trailers: For Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Disney’s campaign let players go on a treasure hunt for specific items hidden inside a video, and they were rewarded with additional video content from the film for everything they found.
For Transformers: The Last Knight, users had to “wipe away” the dust that was accumulating on the screen in order to keep watching trailer content. Brands in other verticals, like QSR (Buffalo Wild Wings), are also integrating game elements into their mobile ad experiences and seeing stellar results. Users are not only fully engaging with the ad (versus multi-tasking or passively viewing) but they are choosing to replay it over and over again – which multiplies the awareness impact and is a clear indicator of developing real brand loyalty.
3 reasons publishers should embrace playables
With so much positive advertiser sentiment and user engagement, you would think that publishers and app developers would be excited about playables, right? But the most common complaint is that they are almost “too good.” That is, the mini-game competes with their own, and users could be drawn away from their app.
I’m here to tell you that is no reason to eschew playables in your app – playables can have many positive impacts to your monetization. Here’s why:
Playables enhance user experience. Playables can add to the positive experience that users have in your app, not detract from it. And, just as mobile users became accustomed to value exchange (rewarded video) ads and started looking forward to using them in certain apps to build virtual currency or unlock gated content, they will also return to app environments that offer enjoyable mini-game ad experiences (versus annoying banner ads).
They pay a lot more. Playables have extremely high conversion rates, and users that do convert are less likely to uninstall the app, since they’ve already tried and enjoyed the game. Free trials work! They are also more likely to spend money and engage in high-value activities within the app later. This all means high value for advertisers, and therefore much higher eCPMs for publishers.
Incremental revenue stream. Playables can immediately run inside an existing video or interstitial display zone, but as they grow in popularity with users and advertisers, savvy publishers will begin to build a specific home for them as a “demo center” for discovering new apps. Since this essentially compartmentalizes the playable ads, giving them their own section, it’s a great way to address concerns from publishers that they distract the user from the game experience. With higher payouts for publishers, users could try new apps to get more points and even larger rewards than exist today with video.
As mobile users ourselves, we all get excited when we discover a new app. We tell our friends, family and everyone about it. But what if ads actually become games themselves and allow us to “play” instead of just see and hear? All of our lives could become a tad bit more exciting with some much-needed play.