Casual Connect USA 2017 is coming up August 1-3 in Seattle, Washington. While it will feature details on all sides of the industry, from game creation to marketing and publishing, the Design Innovation track in particular will take place on Tuesday, August 1 introduced by EMCEE Mike Hines, Developer Advocate at Amazon.
Innovation from Experimentation
Prototyping can be productive but perilous, with great rewards coming from experimental designs. Scott Jon Siegel, Indie Developer and Game Design Consultant, wants developers to not worry about failure and focus on the rewards that can be had from experimentation.
Casual Connect USA 2017 is coming up in Seattle, Washington from August 1-3. The conference will cover a variety of subjects from developing, publishing, and marketing of games for all platforms. Taking place on Wednesday, August 2 and Thursday, August 3 will be the Design & Development track kicked off by morning EMCEE Chris Lefebvre, Head of Business Development at Tapdaq, and afternoon EMCEE Macy Mills, Head of Business Development at GameInfluencer GmbH, with second day EMCEE Jordan Blackman, Founder of Bright Black leading the track on August 3rd.
The Secret Games Company was created in 2012 for the simple purpose of publishing a side project that founder Jeremy Hogan and some of his friends were working on. Since that time, Jeremy has kept The Secret Games Company alive as a vehicle to publish all of his independent work. While Jeremy is the sole founder of The Secret Games Company, he has always had key people working with him on all the projects he’s put his company name behind.
The first project to come out of the company was a board game in which the artist was extremely influential and the second was a strategy multiplayer game in which the programmer was vital. The third and most recent title from The Secret Games Company is Kim – by far the company’s biggest and most ambitious project to date – of which the project’s programmer, Lasse Jørgensen, has been “absolutely integral.”
Plarium started out humbly enough in 2009 on Russia’s social networks with only a poker game and a farming game to its name. Today they are the #1 hardcore game developer on Facebook and a major force on mobile that is continuing to grow quickly. How did Plarium get from one to the other? It all comes down to its content, its employees and its players – with a dash of marketing thrown in.
Game design is a fine art, and video games can be created by small teams in garages along with large teams in huge office spaces. During the Game Maker track for Casual Connect Tel Aviv, some of the greatest game makers on the planet will talk about their craft. Nir Miretzky, Co-founder of TheGamers.TV and Tsahi Liberman, CTO at TapOnIt will be the first in this track at the event.
Nir and Tsahi are also Chairman at GameIS and a Content Manager at GameIS respectively, a non-profit organization designed to unite Israeli game companies. As a sponsor of the Game Maker track, GameIS hopes to facilitate connections within and without the Israeli gaming industry.
Game Development in Israel
GameIS will also be represented by Tsahi Liberman moderating the panel Sound Session – Same But Different. There, Alon Kaplan, Mojo Kid Music Producer and Composer for Games Yinon Kuperstein, and Capricia Productions CEO Arnold Nesis and NivGo CEO Niv Golan will talk about what they made when working for the same client. Related to regional issues, 87 Owner and Game Developer/Designer Suhail Habib will talk about the political and cultural issues that have helped inform their game creation in the session How Being an Israeli-Palestinian Influenced My Games.
Creating the Next-Generation
Ask a lot of gaming professionals, the AR/VR scene has the most potential to blow up over the next several years. Still, nobody quite knows what form that will take, and that’s where Mark Shovman, Head of AR UX Research at Eyeway Vision, comes in. Mark will talk about how Pokemon Go might portend to the future in AR Gamers – The Next Generation.
Whatever future for VR, Valve’s Steam will surely have an impact on it. Steam Early Access is a good way to generate revenue and feedback, but some use it incorrectly or maliciously. Tomer Barkan, CEO and Founder of Suncrash Studios will discuss the hows and whys of using the platform in Steam Early Access Done Right. Similar to Early Access for mobile is a soft launch, and consultant Adir Ron will talk about what to do when launching a mobile title for To the Stars! Scaling your Game from Concept to Soft Launch (and Beyond!).
How to Make Games for Everyone
Before games are launched in any form, most are displayed at public and private events, which brings particular problems that can be hard to account for. Shalev Moran, Games Program Director for Print Screen Festival and Steamer Salon Festival, will talk about showing off your games in these settings at the session Exhibition Mode: How to Prepare Your Game for Exhibitions. Ultimately, it’s best to convey as many features that are important to the game, including how the narrative and gameplay are woven together, something Fireberry Studio Game Artist and Developer Stav Goldstein will talk about during the session Combining World, Story and Mechanics in The Splitting.
Women are huge consumers for the mobile game industry, yet they are often underrepresented in games, something Shulamit Ferber, Game Developer at Helen Doron will talk about in the session No Need for the Pink Hair Ribbon. Also on the docket will be Amir Dori, Senior Game Designer at Matific, at the session Kids, Technology & the Future of Education where Amir will talk about using games to make education fun and Ohad Barzilay, Producer and Game Designer at Sidekick Games, will talk about what works in Asian mobile games for the west (like Gacha mechanics) in Asian vs. Western Games: Successful Gameplay and Design Elements That Makes No Sense.
Make it out to Tel Aviv
Plenty of game creators and game publishers will be in attendance for Casual Connect Tel Aviv on November 1-3, many of which will be seeking networking opportunities. Info about the Game Maker track and move can be found at TelAviv.CasualConnect.org.
When it comes to the actual process of developing a game, a question often arises: how did those “big guys” make their creation THAT successful? What is that secret that makes their players press that button again and again, and how exactly did they made that button that enjoyable to tap? The Design and Development track at the upcoming Casual Connect USA has been put together in a way that both experienced and aspiring devs can exchange experience. Let’s have a closer look at who will be there.
Games have long helped people on a personal level by providing entertainment, mental exercises, exposure to different ideas, and even new connections. But as social consciousness grows across the world, some are looking to the unique interaction games offer to build awareness, activism, and relationships on a variety of issues.
Among those who are attempting to use games for more altruistic ends are studios like Bandura Games, Moocho Brain Interactive and Neopix. While they hail from different parts of the world and have different goals, all three are seeking to use games to improve the world around them in significant ways.
Unity Technologies has branched out to touch many parts of the world. Headquartered in San Francisco, it also maintains offices in Canada, China, Columbia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Singapore, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. The Unity community includes over two million large publishers, indie studios, students, and hobbyists. The company continues to emphasize innovation, and its deployment capability allows developers to publish simultaneously to all the most popular platforms.
Unity Technologies’ new 4.3 version of the Unity multi-platform engine and development tools may be just what developers need to enhance their 2D games. This version offers not only dedicated 2D development tools, but also additions to the Mecanim animation system and an upgrade to the Umbra 3 occlusion culling. But Unity didn’t stop there. It has also brought in analytics tools through their partnership with GameAnalytics.
Optimizing Work Flow
The 2D development tools and metaphors the 4.3 version offers were designed to streamline 2D work flow with a new Sprite Texture import mode, and automated atlasing, optimizing 2D rendering, and drag-and-drop functionality for scene creation. Better performance and stability, as well as smaller game builds, are possible with Box2D physics integrated into Unity. As well, polygon collider generation allows faster creation of accurate, fully editable physical collider meshes for refined physical response between objects in a scene.
Improvements to Mecanim, Unity’s character animation suite, support Blend Shapes, to provide accurately blended complex geometry between model states. Animators will now have the ability to create realistic emotional facial animation.
Mecanim is fully integrated with the Animation Window and its dopesheet functionality. It is now a powerful all-purpose animation solution through support for animating simple scene elements, 2D sprite animations, camera settings and more.
The upgrade to Umbra 3 incorporates a rewrite of Occlusion Culling. Developers can now expect much faster baking and more accurate and better performing results. The rapid iteration will allow more sophisticated environments with highly detailed graphical content.
Other important changes offered by Unity 4.3 include major improvements to dynamic Navmesh creations, the “Optimize Transform Hierarchy” which reduces characters to a singular object rather than 100 pieces, MonoDevelop 4.0.1, editor layouts saved by project, multiple shader enhancements, Plastic SCM integration, as well as many Windows Store Apps updates.
David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies, proudly announces, “4.3 is a huge update in the history of Unity. The addition of 2D tools is an important milestone that will help developers make incredible 2D games, and with major improvements to Mecanim and greatly increased performance, this is a weighty, productive update that we’re thrilled to release.”
Bringing Analytics to the Unity Asset Store
Unity Technologies has also partnered with GameAnalytics to bring analytics tools to the Unity Asset Store Online Services Strategic Partner program. GameAnalytics, created in 2012, with headquarters in Copenhagen and a data engineering team in Berlin, provides a highly successful free analytics service for game developers. Since launching its analytics service in January 2013, it has tracked more than 125 million players, adding 30 million new players each month, and now has over 4,000 games on its platform. According to CEO Morten Wulff, GameAnalytics’ purpose is to enable developers to monitor and optimize everything from user acquisition to game design with hard facts. He emphasizes, “Improvements based on performance metrics are essential to success in today’s free-to-play marketplace.”
Helgason agrees, saying, “Analytics is an important part of launching a successful game. With GameAnalytics working with us in the Unity Asset Store Online Services Program, it will be easier than ever for development studios of all sizes to access the information they need.”
James Hursthouse, CEO of Roadhouse Interactive, describes the effect of the two companies partnering this way, “For us, the deep integration between GameAnalytics and Unity meant that we were up and running, with 45+ important metrics, within a few hours of development time. We log on to GameAnalytics every day to check KPIs on everything from player acquisition and engagement to in-game monetization.”
Zynga’s Chief Creative Officer Tim LeTourneau suggests that there are a few basic questions that every developer should ask before designing a free-to-play game. “Why are we doing this, who are we doing this for, and how are we going to do it?” LeTourneau asks before setting out on a new project. Meaning, what is the business opportunity, who is the audience, and how can the team accomplish its goals with the available resources.
“It’s simple,” LeTourneau said, “I’m constantly surprised that there are companies and teams that don’t answer those three questions. You might know who you’re making something for and how you’re making it, but you’ve never stepped back and said, why are we making it, what specifically do we think this addresses? And sometimes developers make a game because they think it will be awesome, but there’s little consideration for who they’re making it for.”
LeTourneau started his career in the games industry in 1990 working at Electronic Arts’ customer support department. From there, he went on to a 10-year run of producing The Sims games and eventually became VP & GM of The Sims Studio. “I came to Zynga in 2011 because I thought that social gaming was not a fad,” he said. “I watched my wife, who never played games with me, all of a sudden have a daily gaming habit. I wanted to understand how it works.” At Zynga he started learning on the FarmVille team and ended up leading the team that created FarmVille 2, Zynga’s current, biggest hit. As CCO, LeTourneau spends most of his time consulting with all of the different game teams at Zynga, helping them understand what their focus is by following his philosophy.
It’s very much about understanding who the audience is, and understanding that they don’t bring any knowledge of what you’re making into the experience.
LeTourneau explained that the approach to the audience was a key difference between The Sims and The Sims 2. “It’s amazing how many games are taken out of the hands of the gamers they were intended for, mainly because of the people making the games. We get bored with what we’re doing and we continue to make them harder, and we have knowledge that the gamer doesn’t have. Sims 2 is a great example of that. There are so many things that I would go back and do differently. We ended up making the game for people who were still playing The Sims, but the reason The Sims ultimately worked is nobody had proven knowledge of it. It had to be a game that worked for everyone.”
This lesson guided LeTourneau and his team going into development on FarmVille 2. It’s not a game made exclusively for current FarmVille players. It’s a FarmVille game that’s targeted specifically at the players that maybe never played Farmville before. “It’s very much about understanding who the audience is, and understanding that they don’t bring any knowledge of what you’re making into the experience. You have to introduce them to it in a way that they all feel like they belong.”
While his “who, why and how” philosophy is applicable to all projects, there are issues and questions that arise specifically when designing a free-to-play game. During his lecture at Casual Connect, LeTourneau will also discuss how to build a functioning in-game economy, plan for the future of the game and create meaningful social connections between players.
Find out more about Casual Connect’s lectures and sessions here.