At Casual Connect Asia 2015, Sonal Patel presented ways game developers can use MoPub to add real-time communication to monetize their games and even add new users. “Publishers usually ask me — ‘The biggest challenge I have is understanding how to show my ads. When to show my ads. What type of ads to show,'” Sonal says. “That, we can help you with.”
Like many games, Exist originally began as a short prototype titled Ten Minutes, and was supposed to last for exactly that long. With a simple premise of “finding the bomber in a crowded city area”, it’s developer, Ansh Patel a.k.a. Narcissist Reality, intended to complete Ten Minutes within two weeks. He never finished that game though, and the concept eventually grew both in scope and ambition – until Exist came into being. Ansh explains how he created the game using experiential and experimental design.
He also spoke about using games to discuss real-world issues during Casual Connect Asia.
Lack of Certain Skills Means the Need of a Partner
On one of the early development stages of Exist, there was a point when I understood that the scope of the game had outgrown the space where I, as a solo developer, would be able to provide justice to it. I looked at the number of possible environment art and animations: I’d have to create a single “scenario”, and, taking into account how little confidence I had in my own skills, I realized I had to team up with someone like-minded and also equally competent.
At this particular time, I needed a person to handle the modelling and animation, a critical aspect of development where I considered my skills severely lacking. I would be killing both the game and my own confidence if I kept half-heartedly doing what I’m not really good in.
So I got in touch with Kimberly, the environment artist, animator and also the art designer of UI elements. Some mutual Twitter friends recommended her, and we instantly managed to find a lot of common ground in not just expectations from our creative collaboration, but also the possibility to fit it into our daily schedules. This was important, because we were to work remotely and in different time zones.
Having a partner changed my development process a lot. I could now focus almost entirely on design, programming, writing, visual scripting, and level design, without stressing about making subpar models and animations due to my novice skills.
It also significantly changed my thinking process: now, instead of keeping design or its visual aspects ideas inside my head, I could discuss them with Kimberly. Transforming thoughts into words gave me, the speaker, a fresh perspective on my own ideas, enabling many of the crucial creative breakthroughs we made in the following months.
Experiential Approach: Designing the Game as You Develop It
When it came to designing the game, I knew right off the bat: Exist wasn’t going to be one of those games I could accomplish by simply creating a game design document describing and finalizing all features within a day or two. A game based on real people’s experiences would require an equal amount of research, which should be further filtered through my own world view. It wasn’t something I could design simply out of my thoughts at a specific moment of time. Considering that, I decided to go with experiential design – the technique where you design the game as you develop it.
It may not be considered a “good design practice” in traditional terms, and has its fair share of problems (which I was to find out soon). But this was the only design technique that could have complemented Exist. I saw it as a form of conversation between me and the game, where I understood the game more and more as I developed it, enhancing or altering certain aspects to reflect my newly found understandings.
Same as for many designers, scope creep was always a major concern for me, especially when the range of themes I could possibly incorporate into the game was so broad. I solved this issue by listing down a variety of life backgrounds, personalities, and fears the character could have, and religiously sticking to that before creating the procedural character generation algorithm.
Empathetic design was one of the major motives behind Exist, that is, making players feel what the character is experiencing purely through the mechanics and/or aesthetics. On top of it, I was also aware that traditional adventure mechanics would not work unless they were subverted into something else. This presented me with a challenge particularly in the highly fragmented structure I ended up having for the game: one where every single thought sequence needed to efficiently convey what the character was thinking to the player – using text or dialogues only when absolutely necessary.
The subversion of traditional adventure mechanics also allowed me to incorporate a stream-of-consciousness structure. This means that each sequence would activate depending on what the player saw or interacted with in the game, thus imitating the character’s thought process. Doing this properly was important since “feedback” to player’s actions within the game is a critical component of the design, and I did not want to overlook that.
I wanted to avoid restricting Exist’s philosophy to solely its themes. Instead, leaving space for the player’s thinking and interpreting words and sequences differently would mean branching paths that would accommodate all those things, without diluting the unifying theme that I, as a developer, am trying to keep through the whole game. All these variations resulted in a massive downtime where I had to learn more about the Unity3D engine we use for development, as well as visually scripting the shaders through the ShaderLab.
The Desire to Make a Game Makes It Easier to Work in Different Time Zones
Progress in the initial few months was incredibly slow, and the constant adjustments made to the UI design resulted in time being wasted. But these are the hazards which are part and parcel of the aforementioned “experiential design”. Working remotely with another team member across a massive time zone difference is going to be a challenge anyways. But both Kimberly and I are willing to incorporate daily adjustments into our routine and sit down to discuss things that need to be done (collaborative tools like Trello or Gliffy are incredibly handy in situations like this).
Exist may still be at an early stage, but its first part of the journey has been quite eventful, with the game undergoing many facelifts and changes, particularly in the structure, which is now non-linear, and the player takes in the thought process of the character, as opposed to the linear progression of the earlier build. Environments have become more beautiful and the world is now more alive with Kimberly’s contribution. We’ve used some feedback we received at Casual Connect Asia and tried making some elements less vague. Although I hope that all the drastic changes are all behind us, there is always a risk of some new ones when you’re developing a game based on a set of people’s experiences.
We’re close to finishing the first of the three “questions” of the game and, while it may have taken us quite a while to reach this point, now the algorithms and most of the backend work we’ve dealt with should make the process comparatively smoother from here onwards.
Exist will be released in the first three months of 2015 for PC and Mac. The developers say that they’re not planning any new platforms for the nearest future, since they prefer to focus on one single task at a time.
As a critic on the Game Slam panel at Casual Connect Asia 2014, Tom Sperry had the chance to review Meanwhile, In a Parallel Universe by Zombies Indie House. While there were some points of the game he disagreed with, but he felt overall that Diptoman Mukherjee did a good job.
Mountain climber and marathoner Tom Sperry is also the head of business development at Exit Games. In the last year, he ran three marathons, at Maui, Chicago, and Portland. Recently, he climbed Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, and he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro twice.
Sperry’s work responsibilities include running the US and Asia offices of Exit Games. He was recruited by the founders and VCs to help drive growth in those areas. The fact that he earned his International MBA in Asia has been a definite advantage. He states that the highlight of his career was working with the team in Europe and bringing Exit Games global.
The innovation of the games industry and the way it pushes technology are the fun factors that drive Sperry’s passion for his work.
Moving Past Facebook
The greatest challenge he sees in the industry today is moving beyond Facebook, although he definitely sees the value of mobile; in fact, this is his own favorite platform to play on because it is easy, fast, and always on. But he emphasizes that it is essential to make games that are truly multiplayer and cross-platform.
He states that because Exit Games is a technology provider, they do not directly face this problem. However, with such mechanisms as Photon Cloud, that allow the development of cross-platform scalable realtime multiplayer games, they certainly seem dedicated to providing solutions. In fact, he states that they continue to believe multiplayer and cross-platform experiences will continue to be the most important trend of the games industry for the next several years.
At Casual Connect Asia, Sperry announced great new one-time pricing of Photon for indies and New Photon pricing with their CCU Forever Plan. He also announced two new products, Photon Turn Based for turn-based games and Photon Chat.
“We were born on the web, we were born native to this space,” Daryl Webb said in regards to the Softlayer team. “In fact, we were doing cloud computing before it got called cloud computing.”
Daryl Webb, the general manager, Asia Pacific of SoftLayer Technologies, enjoys the simple life. In his free time, he can be found at a neighborhood coffee shop in Joo Chiat, sipping Tiger and puffing on an occasional cigar, watching the day go by. He is also involved with the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, working to grow kiwi business in Asia and Singapore businesses in New Zealand.
He also squeezes in time for gaming, preferring to use iOS because he always has his phone with him. When he needs to turn his brain off, he plays Tiny Death Star, saying, “The self-referential humor is great.” He admits the games he has enjoyed show his age; the last game he played with great passion was Age of Empires III on PC. In fact, he played on one of the original Pong consoles in New Zealand and still remembers poking 20c coins by the bagful into the original Space Invaders. He wrote games on TRS-80s, BBC Electrons and Micros, and the Commodore 64 in the 1970s and 80s.
As the general manager, APAC of SoftLayer Technologies, Webb oversees the business activities, from operations to sales. Much of his time is spent showcasing their Singapore DC to customers and attending events, including Casual Connect, to share the SoftLayer story.
SoftLayer was founded in 2005 in Dallas by a group of hosting industry veterans; since then, it has become a leading global IaaS provider. The gaming space is a key market that SoftLayer has served from the beginning, building the best infrastructure available to gaming companies and gamers. They entered the Singapore market directly in late 2011 and in July 2013, they were acquired by IBM. In January 2014, IBM announced a $1.2 billion investment in the expansion of SoftLayer, which will allow them to double their data center footprint this year.
Gaining Access To New Markets
Webb says, “Being acquired by IBM is a game changer for SoftLayer, giving us access to new markets, and driving massive global expansion into new geographies. We knew we had a great company, a great platform. IBM confirmed that.”
The achievements of the people Webb works with and has worked with are what give him the greatest satisfaction in his work. He insists, “The first role of a manager is to help their people be the best they can be; to help them develop, grow, and shine. I have worked with some amazing and gifted people in my career, and what they have gone on to do is what makes me proud.”
The Cloud: More To Come
Webb believes the next few years will bring continued growth of cloud platforms at the core of gaming infrastructure and deeper exploitation of cloud capabilities, with global connectivity and footprint, speed of provisioning, and user analytics becoming native capabilities. He also sees the requirements of games driving the evolution of cloud capabilities. He asserts, “Gaming is one of the toughest tests of cloud infrastructure. At SoftLayer, we believe if you can meet the needs of gamers, you can meet the needs of any business. As the needs of game developers change, so will cloud platforms.”
“Looking at the US market overall, obviously it’s the biggest gaming market in the world for mobile games,” said Robby Yung during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “I think if you separate it out by platform, a lot of people think of the US as really an iOS-driven market, but in fact the US is number 1 for downloads on both iOS and Android.”
Robby Yung, CEO of Animoca Brands, says this adventure grew out of a long friendship he has had with Yat Siu and David Kim, the founders of Animoca. All three have much in common as serial entrepreneurs. As CEO, Yung oversees the day-to-day operations of Animoca Brands, spending much of his time on licensing, M&A, and corporate development, all of which he has previously done at other media and technology companies he started.
The most satisfying aspect of his work is closing rounds of funding, whether private or public. He claims, “From the first time in 1999 or the twelfth time in 2014, it just never gets old.” And how has he become so successful doing this? “Practice, practice, practice!”
A tipping point in his career came in March 2013 with the adoption of Candy Crush in Hong Kong. He describes the phenomenon, “Literally a quarter of the population was playing it, and you couldn’t sit in a restaurant or ride on public transport without seeing someone feverishly crushing those virtual candies. The user demographic seemed indefinable, it was just ‘everyone’. It’s moments like that when you are staggered by the power of mobile distribution.” He states that the massive success of apps like Candy Crush validated for him Animoca’s strategy: focus on casual mobile titles for all audiences, including women, children and adults.
Believing in F2P
Yung is a proponent of F2P, believing it is the logical transactional format in the app world. He points out that allowing consumers to try the product is far more compelling than advertisements, game trailers, and reviews, and says, “I love the fact that F2P allows everyone to enjoy our titles, whether or not they choose to play.” He does dislike the automatic negative comments that F2P seems to generate in the app industry. While some F2P implementations can be obnoxious and greedy, he insists that overall it has hugely expanded the market for countless developers and publishers. Because of that, he considers F2P a positive force in the games industry.
For his own gaming, Yung prefers to use his smartphone. Currently, he is playing Doraemon Repair Shop Seasons, one of Animoca’s brand-based time management games. He says, “It’s driving me nuts—it gets quite hard—but I will not admit defeat.”
He does not own a console; he would rather be gaming on his smartphone or tablets. However, he does take the opportunity to play console titles from time to time at work or at friend’s homes.
When at home, Yung spends his time in the physical world, with his family, and finds his young daughter takes up most of his time. He also likes to run, including the occasional marathon, something he claims is necessary to offset his other hobby of eating.
In the next few years, Yung believes we will see the “next five billion” get onto smartphones and smartphone gaming, saying, “Seeing how this audience and these gamers will shape the future of the games industry will be interesting indeed.” He emphasizes that Animoca have always seen themselves as a gaming company for everyone; they were one of the first Android game developers, and they were one of the first to establish a strong foothold in developing markets. And he maintains, “We will keep trying our best to stay on top of trends as they arise.”
“Sometimes it’s a miracle, sometimes you don’t really know it, but in a way you can plan it or you can also structure it,” Tung Nguyen-Khac said in regards to getting your game up in the app stores at Casual Connect Asia 2014. “But it is one of the hardest things to do, to get into the app store, to get into the top grossing charts, but also to get into the top installs charts.”
Tung Nguyen-Khac, CEO of ProSiebenSat.1 Games, feels the major achievement of his career was when the company acquired Aeria Games. ProSiebenSat.1 was the first company to close a large M&A deal in Europe. This was an especially satisfying experience for him because he had the idea, initiated the talks, and, together with their M&A team, he negotiated and executed the transaction. He says, “We made the impossible happen! Only a few in the industry would have expected this from ProSiebenSat.1.”
Love For The Industry
Nguyen-Khac became involved in the games industry after meeting Heiko Hubertz, founder of BigPoint. When he came on board, BigPoint was a rather small company, but he immediately began expanding, growing it from just a handful of people to a few hundred employees; it became a big player for online browser games in Europe. And he has never regretted the decision.
He emphasizes that he loves the industry: it is never boring, and, as in a big family, you can exchange views and opinions, even with competitors. He particularly appreciates the way gaming connects people, whether old or young, or from the East or West. This is especially important to him because of his Asian background.
Taking The Helm
Nguyen-Khac assumed leadership of the management board of ProSiebenSat.1 Games in December 2012. He tells us, “The story which led to this position includes a good mixture of startup experience, media, and finance know-how, and naturally, a good portion of luck. It helped a lot that I’ve learned the intricacies of a big corporation in the past, so I was well prepared when joining.” As CEO, he is responsible for strategy, M&A, and all online games publishing departments. It is not surprising that he thinks of himself as someone who can make things happen.
When not involved with work, Nguyen-Khac pursues several interests. He is an avid reader, especially of biographies, and he loves traveling. But doing activities with his family is the best quality time he can think of.
Most of Nguyen-Khac’s gaming is connected to his work. Currently, he is playing the internal beta of Goal One, the football manager they have coming out this May. He also has fun playing and testing mobile quiz games and mobile eLearning apps—he is always looking for the best ones for his children. An iPhone is the device he uses for his gaming, although he believes both Android and iOS have their distinct advantages from a business perspective.
He must be a very dedicated gamer, since he describes playing while sitting in a ski lift last December. He was losing when the lift made a swift movement and his phone fell about 30 meters down deep into the snow. Of course, he never found it again, although he says, “The person who found it may be a happy mobile game player!”
For the next few years in the games industry, Nguyen-Khac sees free-to-play continuing to be the dominant business model and mobile becoming the number one platform, with eLearning more and more relevant, especially in Western markets. He also believes we will see more and more highly involved communities forming around specific gaming concepts, uniting different kinds of gamers, from casual to core gamers of all ages.
At Casual Connect Asia, Nguyen-Khac announced that with the acquisition of Aeria Games, ProSiebenSat.1 Games formed Europe’s number three publisher, SevenGames. He also discussed Goal One, their new football manager which will be at the launched internationally at the end of May.
“So stories are dead right?” Simon Newstead asked during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “I think what this talk is about is that no, story games aren’t dead, in fact there are some very successful ones which are making quite a lot of money now, but the rules have changed. The challenges and what worked five, ten years ago is not working in the mobile, free-to-play generation.”
Simon Newstead, CEO and lead game designer at Frenzoo, claims the most important moment of his career was when he decided to leave a steady job with a great company for the perils of entrepreneurship. He says, “Life was too short not to do something creative and take hold of my own destiny. It was some years ago now, but I am glad I did it.”
From Virtual Worlds to Games
Newstead first started Frenzoo many years ago to create virtual worlds. Later, he pivoted the company to begin creating 3D mobile games. Prior to starting Frenzoo, he worked for the Asia region of Juniper Networks running the Advanced Technology Group. While there, he learned how to assess a market and how to work with a team of engineers and understand their point of view, abilities which he still finds useful at Frenzoo.
When Frenzoo launched their first game, Style Me Girl, its enormous popularity forever altered Newstead’s outlook on his company. He now had the confidence to go on and invest in more games for that audience and to try to build up a portfolio. His confidence was well-placed, as the company has gone on to create the very successful Me Girl series.
These days, Newstead’s personal gaming consists of playing the games Frenzoo has in development, as well as many others in parallel. One of these he particularly enjoys is Little Empire. He also has nostalgia for some of the old remakes and ports to mobile, including such games as Kotor and Baldur’s Gate. Usually, he can be found playing on his Nexus tablet.
He especially appreciates free-to-play because it allows him to sample so many games. He also enjoys seeing so many free-to-play games arise out of nowhere to become blockbuster hits. However, he detests seeing excessive in-app purchases within a paid high end title.
He has very little time to play on console currently, but he does enjoy some Grand Theft Auto on his Xbox 360. And he plans to get both Xbox One and PS4 soon.
Virtual Reality Boom?
Newstead believes the most important emerging trend in the games industry is virtual reality. He says, “We’d love to do something for that platform. We’ll be playing around with it more this year. It seems like a great fit, since we’re 3D avatar focused.”
“We spend a lot of time in front of a screen, whether it is a TV screen, or even a mobile screen,” said Robin Ng in regards to Southeast Asia during his presentation at Casual Connect Asia 2014. “We are actually higher than the global average.”
Robin Ng is the head of international business at Asiasoft, a leading game operator and publisher in Southeast Asia. He tells us he got started in the games industry because gaming is his hobby and, as part of the industry, he would get to play games for free.
Evolving With Technology
Ng began his career in the early 2000s with SMS games for mobile phones, just as mobile phones were beginning to expand their global reach. From there, his career progressed along with the evolution of mobile gaming, and he still loves his work, saying, “There is much more to look forward to.”
Ng leads the business development team for Asiasoft, taking charge of games acquisition and licensing for them to publish in Southeast Asia. He also is responsible for strategic partnership development.
He says, “The ongoing excitement in the games industry keeps me on my toes; there are always new things that come about, not only in gaming, also in the surrounding services.” He notes that games are no longer pure games; they incorporate a number of non-gaming elements which make the games come alive. And these draw him in.
For Ng, the greatest enjoyment in his work comes from meeting all the creative and talented people and following the exciting developments they bring to the industry. And, of course, the fun of playing free games!
He emphasizes that his work has brought him many moments of great satisfaction. Because he is in business development, each deal that is signed or closed is one of these moments. For every deal, understanding the needs of the customer or partner is crucial to finding the right solution. He admits, “I don’t win all the time, but I try my best.”
Currently, Ng prefers to play 2048, a simple puzzle game that doesn’t require him to think too much, but passes the time. But the nature of his work has him play testing games constantly. He has no strong preference for either Android or iOS, but uses iOS more because he prefers to play on his iPad.
His dedication to gaming is shown by the fact that he was playing in the forest during military training. He claims he was just trying to pass the time while waiting for the “enemies” to appear.
But he owns neither Xbox One or PS4, believing if he had one he would get no sleep, but would spend nights playing non-stop. He says, “Once I start, I find it hard to stop before the game is completed.”
More Mobile Growth
For the next three to five years, Ng expects mobile to continue to grow because there is still so much room for expansion. New trends he believes will emerge are wearable technologies and TV setup boxes that incorporate games and entertainment. Although these technologies are still in the infant stage, he will be exploring potential ways to bring them to Asiasoft’s users.
“We all know for games, we need new content to keep our players entertained, but the key thing here is not just to push out content, but to figure out the right cadence of content releases,” Weiwei Geng said during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “If you do it too soon, too fast, your players will actually get burned out, but if you actually do it too slow and too late, your players get bored and they might quit playing the game.”
Weiwei Geng, the executive producer at Kabam, believes the games industry is the perfect spot for art, science, engineering, interaction design, and music to come together as a true multidisciplinary industry. He joined the industry just as social games were taking off on Facebook. He started off in a friend’s company, helping them to set up their North American operation. What he enjoys most about being a part of the video games industry is that he gets to work with talented people all the time and that the platforms he works on allow him to interact directly with their players.
Making A Hit
At Kabam, Geng is leading The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth and Kingdoms of Camelot franchises. He joined Kabam in 2012 just as they were beginning their mobile effort. His previous experience in understanding the free-to-play business, including design, live-ops, marketing, and customer service was a tremendous benefit; he says, “I couldn’t have done my current job without it.”
The successful launch of The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth for mobile and ramping it up to quickly shoot up the top grossing chart is what Geng considers the proudest moment of his career. He believes, “A true dedication of the team and the seamless teamwork led to this moment.”
Geng’s spare time activities include sports, music, and spending time with his family. And don’t forget gaming! Currently, he is playing Boom Beach, which he calls elegant, simple, and engaging: a step up from Clash of Clans. He prefers playing on iOS because of the indie community Apple is trying to foster on the platform.
His intense focus on mobile games had him playing on a high speed train going 350 kilometers per hour. He says, “Due to the high speed of the train, my cell phone had to keep switching to new station towers for reception. It was quite an experience!”
Geng sees globalization as the next important trend in mobile free-to-play. He notes that Asia is known for being advanced in the free-to-play business. He claims, “With the growing market in the West and global hit titles such as Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, a merge in understanding free-to-play will happen on the global level. Companies and talent will try to leverage the learnings from all markets, and those that can take advantage of these key learnings will become valuable.”
In 2012, James Barnard from the Springloaded studio left the glittering world of AAA game production behind for a life of creative freedom and indie developer dreams. The first five games he made failed to gain any real market traction, so James was surviving on a part-time teaching job while coding almost every minute of the day and night. He shares the story of Tiny Dice Dungeon, the game that evolved Springloaded from just James Barnard and a laptop to a fully-fledged company with employees and a slightly cramped office.
James also presented at Casual Connect Asia 2014:
Survival Mode Teaching
One of the patterns you can see in game development is people getting bored and wanting to start something new. As a teacher, I always ask students to finish what they start, because completing a game is the hardest part, and what good are two unfinished games compared to a completed one?
Nevertheless, working on your own means you can ignore even the best advice, so I ignored my own and decided to take a break from my ambitious space game. Instead, I planned to spend a weekend building a small, fun thing to release as soon as it’s done. After two days, my idea of a dice-rolling dungeon crawler came to life as a bad-looking Mario-style character with a sword walking through one room after another fighting monsters. As I worked on the game, more and more ideas started to flow, and I realized that this quick recreational project probably deserved a little more time…
So I ended up with two games with something I thought was a lot of potential. I had to pick one to focus on. Having just started the RPG, and believing it only needed about five more weeks, I went on with this one. It’s amazing how with hindsight you can see how utterly wrong you can be about things.
Casual Connect Asia as a Totally New Experience: First Conference Ever Attended
Despite being in the games industry for 15 years, I had never attended a conference. I was always staying in the studio crunching on something or working to hit our next deadline. When Casual Connect Asia came round, I somehow ended up on an email thread asking for entries to the Indie Showcase. With a belief that my business wasn’t really going anywhere and was quickly devolving into a hobby, I understood I needed the help of a publisher, and this opportunity to meet some was too good to pass up.
I applied successfully, and was given a table in a room with 50 or so other developers. I rescheduled my classes and went along with several of my previous games, and my Tiny Dice Dungeon prototype to show to potential publishers. I had no idea what to expect, but was looking forward to finding it out.
Before the event, I arranged as many meetings as I could through LinkedIn and printed my first ever business cards (for a company that didn’t exist yet).
The conference was a world of opportunities, and I showed my game to every random person I met. I didn’t care about NDA’s or any kind of secrecy, I was just having a bunch of fun showing Tiny Dice Dungeon to people, and they seemed to be enthusiastic, offering plenty of feedback and making suggestions.
Without actually realizing it, I had designed a game that sat in line with certain demographics and trends that monetize and retain well. Therefore, Tiny Dice Dungeon happened to be interesting to publishers and even some investors. After a few discussions, I signed with Kongregate, who seemed to see things a lot like I do. I had to turn down some other offers, despite being tempted to sign two games. I stuck with just this one, which I think kept me from ending up dead.
An Official Company Created for the Sake of a Bank Account
I set up Springloaded as a company to have a bank account for something other than my name. And then I put my head down and started building the game for a September launch. Being a teacher helped me recruit a couple of people from the University: one person to do the networking and another one to help with balancing and art. My initial plan for the Tiny Dice Dungeon game was to use a few new features that weren’t there in my previous games, like very light network play through Gamecenter, and a Facebook “Like” button. But very soon, I realized that I needed to do a hell of a lot more in order to create a competitive product.
A Publisher is an Ally
Kongregate really helped me understand the freemium world better, and their input felt more like guidance and not forcing their will on me. It’s like we were both working together to build something. It’s totally opposite to my previous experiences, where the companies I worked for treated the publisher more as an enemy than an ally.
Therefore, I don’t see myself self-publishing on mobile again. The increased risk, lack of a second opinion, and inability to leverage a network of connections and options to help the game grow just make it impossible. Developers are always the first to mention Flappy Bird or some other self-publishing miracle story, but I feel like the chances of that happening again in the indie free-to play space are so minimal that you may as well call it impossible.
Interns: A Blessing and a Curse
As the project got bigger, our schedule became busier. The game I originally planned as a sole developer working alone wasn’t really going to cut it against the feature sets most players were probably expecting, and all the exciting ideas that would normally be called feature creep were somehow getting implemented with the belief that they would improve retention.
My team was expanded with interns from the university, which was both a blessing and a curse. Interns take a while to get up to speed, and just when they start being useful, they have to leave!
Testing the Markets
The science of metrics and refining your game through trusted data seems obvious, but I think without the push of our partners, I would have been lazy and just forced the game out early, killing our chances of maximising our impact at launch. That said, even with the analysis at work, we found our ARPU not high enough, and, due to adding all the fun new content, we had overrun our original global launch date by nearly six months. So, with the development money all gone, and the company running on fumes, we just had to release it.
All these careful adjustments had pushed the retention up and steered monetization in the right direction, but we hadn’t hit our targets. That’s why in the last moment before release, we agreed to add a couple of large new features. It was a calculated risk, but we all believed it was worth it. Stability wise, this step was dangerous, with us launching a new multiplayer mode just days before our global submission deadline. But the importance of drawing retention/ARPU up before the initial launch cannot be underestimated.
Eventually, we would be releasing Tiny Dice Dungeon globally some 13 months after starting, which is quite staggering for a game that was intended to take 48 hours to make.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
We made an original and fun free-to-play game that people seem to enjoy. Having a good grasp of all elements of development meant I could work pretty much uninhibited throughout the development of the game. As a passionate team all working together in a single space, we somehow developed the most relaxed and fun office atmosphere I’ve ever experienced, which made making the game pure joy (most of the time).
Hiring a full-time QA person (who is amazing at his job) really made the difference in the last month, because we were so busy adding features and fixing bugs that we simply didn’t have time to play the game.
Last but not least, we’ve achieved a great publisher-developer relationship that validated our decisions and helped us focus on what was best for the players.
There’s no project without the bad sides, and here they are: Tiny Dice Dungeon wasn’t originally intended to be this big, which meant we had to make some big design changes along the way, costing us some time. Integrating metrics and SDK’s too late created crash bugs that went out to the public in early builds. Not fully understanding what works in free-to-play from the very beginning is the reason why some design decisions were slower to nail down than they would be now.
Mind the Work-Life Balance
I did my best to protect the team from too many long hours, but my personal dedication to the project meant that I pushed myself as hard as possible, without much sleep and with no days off (including weekends) for almost a year. Because of the impending deadlines, I always promised myself it would only be for a short while more, but, as each deadline loomed, we decided we could make the game even better and did more and more changes. The result was an additional six months of development that left me very tired and laid waste to our finances.
The game was launched on iOS and Android globally in April 2014, and thanks to getting great features with Apple and Google has had nearly 2 million downloads already. While the game hasn’t been a raging success financially, it became very popular with the fans. Springloaded is now ready to do bigger and better things with their next title, and hope to continue working on Tiny Dice Dungeon for the foreseeable future, adding more content and new platforms.