Maciej Mróz shared the experience his team had with growth within the company in his session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “So when you grow, things start to break down,” he says. “Obviously it’s not something that happens overnight, but it does, and it’s because you have a successful product, and the product grows in complexity.”
Vladimir Gersl discussed the transition from working in a big company to turning indie during his session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “Use AAA games rigid processes for vision, budget & planning,” he explained. “But as indie, stay flexible and iterate a lot to find the perfect process that will suit you.”
“Churn prediction works for casual games, or at least for engaged segments within your player base,” Julian Runge explained during his session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014.
“Increasing fun through data is an exhilaratingly cool task and something that nobody relates to data. But the games industry makes it possible!” says Julian Runge, who leads Wooga’s analytics team.
In 2012, Julian began working for Wooga as an analyst on Monster World, Wooga’s largest simulation game on Facebook at the time. His background in statistics and economic thinking, as well as the experience he received through internships and starting a small company while still at school, have been enormously helpful in his work. Now he is responsible for advanced analytics across games and for marketing. He also coordinates the work of a team of four analysts “to set the right impulses and derive impact from data on design and bottom-line.”
Passion Produces Results
Julian’s inspiration for joining the games industry was, quite simply, his passion for gaming. On a day-to-day basis, his greatest motivation is the opportunity to work with equally passionate people and assist them in developing outstanding products. He had no desire to work for a company that did not have its own creative process. And, he maintains, “What is more creative and fun than game development?”
Along with passion, he is tremendously energized by working with data and generating insight and impact from them. Even in his free time, Julian enjoys playing with data. But in contrast to the intellectual and virtual aspects of his work life, one of his favorite free-time activities is using his hands to build things.
In the future of the games industry, Julian sees predictive analytics becoming increasingly important, with huge implications for gameplay and marketing. He believes customized user experience will be the key success factor for gameplay. Customizing the gameplay will require adequately targeted offers, adaptive gameplay, and strategic cross-linking to other games.
Although he is personally excited about analytics and the potentially huge impact of big data on the games industry, he emphasizes that introspective game design is the key factor in success, saying, “Analytics matter, but mainly after great game design has happened.”
What he finds most appealing about the industry: its inherent unpredictability. So the future can be expected to bring surprises, possibly in game mechanics and the use of new devices. But he would love to see more augmented reality, like, for example, Google’s Ingress. He also believes there is potential in using digital technology to advance direct interaction with the physical environment for gaming.
When Julian is gaming, he prefers the convenience of mobile and considers Android as the platform of the future, especially when he factors in the Asia market. And he plays everywhere. One of the more unusual places was a speedboat in Thailand. He was trying out a Wooga release candidate on his waterproof Xperia Z1, but unfortunately, he relates, “The processor got so hot you could have fried an egg on it.”
He concentrates on playing one or two games, usually an arcade game and another engaging game, and he plays them very intensely. Until recently, he had been focusing on Clash of Clans, but he has now deleted that app. Upgrading in the game had become ridiculously expensive, as he was to the point where it took six million elixir for level six archers and dragons. Currently, he is intensely playing a new, unreleased game from Wooga, claiming “It’s gonna be big!” At Casual Connect Eastern Europe, Julian advised everyone to “Watch for Wooga’s 2015 launches!” as well as the job opportunity of quantitative analyst for his team.
Uroš Banješević, together with his co-founder Nenad Tomić, shared the story of their company Mad Head Games during Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “What we were looking for was a one-night stand with the girl called game development, and we ended up married to her”, he says.
Uroš Banješević is the co-founder and CCO (Chief Creative Officer) of Mad Head Games. Together with friends Nenad Tomić and Aleksa Todorovic, he founded this company in 2011, and now proudly claims, “We are currently the leading HOPA developer in the world.”
By the time they founded Mad Head Games, Banješević had worked with his co-founders for six years in a journey that brought them many experiences, a great history together, and a store of knowledge. With these assets, they knew they could create beautiful games. At the beginning, he was officially the art director, but as the company has grown, his position has become more difficult to define; basically whenever someone needs help, he is there to assist. He is someone who is an endless source of energy, always looking for a new adventure and new ways of doing things.
Their optimism has definitely been born out, with Mad Head Games named as the Best Casual Developer of 2013. And when their publisher Big Fish Games revealed its list of the greatest games of all time, six of the top seven were from Banješević and his team.
The Value of F2P
Banješević is a strong proponent of the F2P model for designing and distributing games, and notes as well the importance of the platform spotlight moving from PC and consoles to handheld devices. This is the route Mad Head Games is determined to follow, moving from developing primarily for PC and consoles to mobile, and from premium games to the F2P business model. He believes F2P offers the best rewards, and that Mad Head Games is more than equal to the challenges of being the best in that arena.
F2P and mobile are the trends making the biggest impact on the games industry today, according to Banješević. But he emphasizes, “F2P is not just about the business model, it is about the entire design of the game.” Since Mad Head Games considers game design their strongest proficiency, they believe they will be able to raise the bar and create completely new experiences.
A second trend Banješević finds exciting is virtual reality, with ground-breaking technologies like Oculus Rift, although he suspects it may not be widely accepted. Even so, he admits, “The first time I put Oculus on my eyes, I was blown away. It was a completely new experience.”
All Work, All Play
Banješević’s passion for playing and creating games encompasses both his work and his free time. As a game developer, he finds his life complex and extremely busy, so his iPhone is now his preferred platform due to these advantages: it is always accessible, the play sessions are short, and the games are pure fun. Previously, the games he enjoyed were AAA titles on PC, but the time commitment these require is no longer feasible.
He has enjoyed many mobile games, but currently the game that keeps him returning to his phone is Clash of Clans. And it is certainly the one that has enticed him to spend the most money.
Banješević has many hobbies that are not directly related to game development, although he believes these all contribute to making him a better developer. His unique assortment of activities includes playing basketball, playing guitar, writing and singing, as well as studying ethnology.
At Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014, he announced Mad Head Games latest creation, Minibang. This is the game he feels will create an entirely new world and redefine the genre of Point’n’Click adventures.
“Getting found right now really matters,” Oscar Clark explains during his session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014’s Unity Day. “It’s really important. There are more games out there than I can possibly play in my lifetime.”
As evangelist for Everyplay, Oscar Clark considers his work to be the perfect opportunity to share his passion about making games and the way communities crystallize around them. It allows him to spend his time talking about the community of players who are recording and sharing their favorite moments of gameplay on iOS and Android devices. He claims, “This form of social interaction seems to me the next frontier of game communities. The potential for asynchronous video playback of what your friends have done is massive and could eventually exceed PC-based services.”
Oscar’s time and interests chiefly involve games; he describes himself as “almost 100% gamer.” He loves playing, designing, and writing amateur tabletop games and other activities from LARP to laser tag; but rarely gets the chance with his busy speaker schedule. His work at Everyplay provides the opportunity to think about the nature of game design, discovery, monetization, and the role of social communities. With this type of job, he doesn’t feel the need for other interests. But his family helps keep him balanced, and he has great pride in his daughter as a second generation geek!
It is no surprise to discover that he plays on all platforms and owns all consoles, except WiiU. Recently, he returned to PC gaming after acquiring a Surface Pro 3, which he calls “the ultimate awesome.” He says this is the PC that lets him tell his Mac friends, “My tech is better than yours.”
Oscar came to console gaming from PC with the original Xbox. Prior to that, his passion was creating his own gaming PCs, or making his own board games and tabletop RPGs. Owning all the consoles allows him to see where the important differences are being made. His PSPlus subscription has him coming back more than Xbox One does, but playing Steam games on Surface occupies most of his gaming time currently.
The work he does now is the culmination of all he has learned throughout his career. He worked in some of the earliest online game communities, such as Wireplay from British Telecom, where he established a basic understanding of how online interactions and communities flow and function. Working as a global lead for Hutchison Whampoa’s Three UK allowed him to learn how mobile audiences consume game content and what makes players different when playing on mobile rather than on PC. His work with Playstation Home as Home Architect brought with it the knowledge of how content development attitudes have adjusted to social and freemium experiences. And his time with Papaya Mobile revealed how social mobile games had evolved. At this point, he has reached the perfect position to disseminate what is happening in the social mobile world.
The most enjoyable aspect of working in the games industry for Oscar is the opportunity to meet and work with other game developers. He says, “I’m incredibly lucky to meet guys whose talent makes me feel like an amateur. Whether they are old-school RPG designers or the newest indie genius, it’s a real privilege to be able to talk about the industry and making games.”
He has had a number of experiences that he considers highlights in his career. Unity buying Applifier was a great tribute to the work of the team in Helsinki. Speaking at GDC San Francisco for the launch of his book was another exciting moment. He also got to be part of a UK mobile veterans version of the GangNam Style video for Mobile Entertainment. He emphasizes, “It was very silly and so much fun to make with a lot of old friends.”
A Player’s Journey
Oscar notes that discovery is the problem everyone in the games industry is currently talking about, but he feels focusing on that alone misses the point. Instead, he points out players must take a journey from discovery to learning, where players decide if a game suits their lifestyle, and finally to engaging. So, in order to succeed, it is essential to adjust game design, playing style, and how we communicate value throughout the individual player’s journey, a process which requires understanding the audience and letting them help you share their values. He insists, “Look at the way Everyplay engages audiences. Look at how Unity Ads allow non-paying players to gain premium items for voluntarily watching adverts. These are not just fire-and-forget approaches; these are about engaging your players for their lifetime in your games.”
Mitigating this challenge is the reason Everyplay exists. The team in Helsinki is entirely focused on finding ways to help their partners be more successful. Oscar believes, “This is why our integration into the Unity Team has been so painless; both teams share a fundamental passion for making the games industry a place with better tools to allow developers to reach their potential.”
A Great Time in the Industry
He claims that there has never been a better time to make games. The tools available, including Unity, are spectacular. The communities that develop games are creative and collaborative as never before. Audiences are now global and are continuing to grow, both in number and in potential revenue.
However, the growth in content means there are now more games than any one player could possibly play in a lifetime. It has become essential to find new ways to be discovered, build brands, and develop a better understanding of what works and why. He sees Unity in a unique position to assist developers through allowing them to easily leverage all the available platforms, access new markets, adjust and build quickly, and continuously improve the aesthetic quality of the game experience. Oscar points out, “Even people like me, who don’t think of themselves as coder, can do amazing things in the platform.”
Oscar thinks Unity is already preparing for the future, they have invested in ways to help developers become even more successful in this extremely competitive space. Earlier this year, they acquired companies including Applifier for Everyplay and its Video Ads platform; Playnomics for their detailed player analytics; and cloud collaboration tool provider Tsugi. He exclaims, “What an amazing team to be a part of!
Dmitry Shkolnikov provided case studies on ad monetization in his session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. When it comes to ad monetization, he says,” Be Cool! Monetize with smart mobile ads.”
Dmitry Shkolnikov is the product manager at Mail.Ru Group, where he is responsible for advertising API, custom solutions, and custom audience targeting. At Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014, he announced the launch of Mail.Ru’s mobile advertising platform. This product, created especially for mobile developers, has brought him an entirely new view of this company. The team had only three months to create this network, and with hard work and focus, they were able to deliver it exactly on time. He reveals, “It has been very exciting to recognize that everything was executed precisely as we intended and we had produced an excellent product.” He felt particularly gratified because as the project manager, he was responsible for delivering the product. This platform has since been used to build their advertising network.
Shkolnikov brings considerable expertise to his work. He has 10 years of experience in IT, and before coming to Mail.Ru Group, he was at Begun Advertising Service. His time with Begun brought him the proudest moment of his career, when they were able to achieve a large-scale integration with Yandex, one of the largest internet companies in Europe. This project arose suddenly; the team had only one and one-half months to meet every requirement and deliver the result to market.
In the games industry, Shkolnikov foresees a new impact coming from growing synergy between the mobile segment and advertising through Real Time Bidding. He also sees data mining growing in importance. Companies will soon be realizing greater value from player data for user acquisition.
Away From Work
When Shkolnikov is not working, he can be found at the gym or riding his bicycle. He is a curious person, always wanting to know how things are work. He has only to see a new device to be investigating exactly how it works and what is inside; in fact, he can’t sleep until he succeeds.
And, of course, he enjoys gaming. His preferred platform is iOS. He appreciates F2P games when the gameplay is well-balanced, but too often, right from the beginning of gameplay, players are enticed, even inveigled, into making purchases.
“The foundation of a sound user acquisition strategy is built around explicit KPIs and rigorous measurement,” David Maret explains. He moderated a panel which discussed lessons on acquiring new players while at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014.
When a developer friend introduced David Maret to Chartboost, he was immediately impressed with the energy, ambition, and culture he found and after meeting with Pepe Agell, head of international at Chartboost, he realized this was where he wanted to work. And today, he is still excited about working for Chartboost as the head of developer relations, Europe.
At Chartboost, Maret is responsible for overall developer satisfaction and for assisting top companies to reach their full potential. Previously, Maret held a variety of positions at eBuddy, YD World, and Distimo (now AppAnnie), giving him a strong foundation in business development and account management, as well as the ability to identify the strategies needed to reach goals. He believes, “Combining these three elements of my role within a highly ambitious environment has contributed to the value I can add to this highly ambitious company.”
Maret’s personal philosophy of success includes being passionate about what you do, sharing knowledge, and always being open to learning new things. He is constantly questioning, wanting to learn more and dig deeper. And, since his philosophy aligns with Chartboost’s, it offers a stimulating environment for him to work in.
In his leisure activities, Maret is anything but relaxed. He loves sports and the outdoors; his latest passions are kite surfing and mountain biking. He also enjoys windsurfing, rock climbing, competitive cycling, and running. He reveals, “I guess you could say I enjoy anything that gets my heart racing and my adrenaline pumping.”
His gaming has changed over time. He used to love playing Forza or Gran Turismo on Xbox or PS3, and would, in fact, spend entire weekends playing them. But these days, although he still keeps a few consoles in the house, time constraints limit his playing, so he now finds mobile games a great alternative. Playing games on his iPhone is ideal because these games can be played in short spurts. And working at Chartboost exposes him to many exhilarating games. His current favorites are Lumosity, Asphalt Overdrive, and Real Boxing, which reminds him of his sessions playing Fight Night when he was younger.
Find the Balance
Free-to-play is a model Maret appreciates as a gamer since it allows you to play many different kinds of games as opposed to the restrictions inherent in paid games. He insists, “It opens up gaming to a huge audience, so game developers need to make sure their games are sticky and really well thought through. This just drives innovation and more creativity across the industry.”
However, Maret has seen F2P games that go too far in attempting to monetize users with in-app-purchases and ads until they jeopardize the user experience. He emphasizes, “Game developers have to strike the right balance between making a compelling game that can be enjoyed for free but, at the right moment and in the right moment, hooking the player to pay for in-game items.”
Within the next several years, Maret foresees automated trading and smart bidding will play a much bigger role for game developers. The keys to succeeding in this environment will be knowing what to pay for a user at any given time and engaging with users at the right moment. He also believes that multiplayer online battle arena games will become extremely important during the coming months. After the success of Clash of Clans and Game of War – Fire Age, players are looking for similar games that allow them to wage battles against other players with less time spent on regeneration.
When it comes to the challenge of online games, Vincent Vergonjeanne offered this advice to his audience at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014: “Get your priorities straight. Understanding your retention is the one key to the long term success of your online game.”
“Creating games is the most complete form of expression that I know. It is also the only one that allows me to touch so many lives,” says Vincent Vergonjeanne, a free-to-play consultant, business angel, and a lean startup enthusiast.
At the young age of twelve, Vergonjeanne started programming. By age thirteen, he collaborated with another young artist. Together, they developed over eight games by the time they were twenty years old. They eventually drifted apart, but the seeds were planted. He shifted from IT jobs which paid well to video game jobs which paid much less. In 2009, Vergonjeanne and a couple other friends created Kobojo in France. With over a million daily users and a Series A of 7.5 million dollars, Kobojo grew to be one of the largest social gaming companies in Europe with up to 90 employees.
EVERYDAYiPLAY and Free-to-play Games
Vergonjeanne currently lives in Krakow, Poland. It is where he has founded EVERYDAYiPLAY, a new game studio specialized in mid-core gaming. According to their website, the company believes “in hand-crafting fun, recognizable, and beautiful games with a no-compromise-policy on quality”. They have three simple rules: stay small and do only one game at a time, stay independent forever, and recruit top talent only. Their current game is a strategy and action game entitled Vikings Gone Wild. In 2013, Vikings Gone Wild was chosen by Facebook as one of the Top 10. In fact, Vikings Gone Wild has been installed by more than 2.5 million people.
Consistent with one of the company’s rules to recruit top talent only, Vergonjeanne took his time in hiring people for Vikings Gone Wild. Initially, he did coding himself for the first four months. This gave him the freedom to find highly talented programmers for the game. For Vergonjeanne, being a programmer allows great insight on all technical decisions of the company. When he is not programming, Vergonjeanne works as product manager. He deals with the product roadmap which includes features and content of the game. Basically, the idea is to apply the learning which occurs in game design and monetization. Designing free-to-play is challenging. Experience has helped him make more informed decisions.
As for the future, Vergonjeanne sees free-to-play games being a key part. According to Vergonjeanne, as the free-to-play market matures, “casual games will be harder to make successful as the necessity of high volumes to make it profitable is only accessible by larger companies.” There is a need for specialized games, which are targeted to specific audiences. This is a niche that EVERYDAYiPLAY fills. The targeted strategy games they make enable them to touch the intended audience on a deeper level.
Vergonjeanne is a PC and mobile player. He mainly plays similar games to what he creates: mobile Real-time strategy (RTS) games. He does this so that he can discover and understand the best features of the genre, be inspired, and be able to recognize ideal economical tensions. He describes himself as both creative and analytical. Vergonjeanne is analytical in that he believes that better decisions are made if you first analyze past experiences and thereby seek patterns and learn from them. He is creative because he finds “nothing more fulfilling than the sentiment of creation”. The process of creation, which is a way of giving life to ideas, is what motivates him. Vergonjeanne has two beautiful children. His most recent passion is Lego. Just as game developers do, he loves how Lego (specifically the Star Wars line), “reinterpret pop-culture references into a world with its own visual rules and scale”.
After all of Vergonjeanne’s experience, his proudest moment of his career was when he founded EVERYDAYiPLAY. With no venture capital money, the studio is profitable and has grown to more than 20 extremely talented people. Vergonjeanne states, “This studio is the result of many learning in process, scale, and product, and its success a tremendous validation”. EVERYDAYiPLAY’s commitment to quality product holds promise for the future.