Eforb was founded almost two years ago and started as a small team… Today there are around 50 people on board including freelancers.
Everyone recalls the time when Eforb just appeared in the world with smiles on their faces. What made them a self-sufficient startup with a clear vision of the roadmap and the products that they’re proud of? The team’s product manager Nika Paramonova shares the story of their new and cute game Let The Cat In, that turned into a social action project.
Eforb was founded almost two years ago and started as a small team… Today there are around 50 people on board including freelancers.
“Amateur – a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional. First things first. Let’s start with who I am, to provide enough background for what is to follow”, says Mariusz Szypura, the creative director of the Telehorse studio, as he shares the story of Steampunker.
Childhood Studio was started in September of 2012. Their core members used to work for the same employer, but that development house ceased its operation back in July of 2012. Sharing the same creative vision, they decided to form their own studio to carry on their passion for games. Childhood Studio’s CEO Believe Liu shares the story of Sliding Angel.
When describing their game Super Saw Bros., the developers Fouad Tabsh and George Habr simply summarized it as “an indie game by a few dudes from Beirut. Take control of two lumberjacks and their two-man saw as they rush through the forest.” Wanting to share the insights they gained from conceptualizing Super Saw Bros. to producing a final award-winning project, Tabsh was kind enough to provide Gamesauce with a unique look into the creation of Super Saw Bros. and their studio, Groovy Antoid.
Super Saw Bros.: Inspired By A Phrase Of An Old Grumpy Math Teacher
George and I have been friends since primary school, but after graduating from high school we went to different colleges. We remained friends, and on our summer break after three boring college years we stumbled upon a poster for a game development competition that was going to take place in our hometown of Beirut, Lebanon. Wanting a personal project that we could share, George and I decided to go for it.
We managed to register for the Netherlands Game Award competition in Beirut on the day of the deadline. After fully committing to this competition, George and I then began brainstorming ideas for a game. Our first idea involved a complex plot in which a neglected, old, dusty game cartridge transforms the world into a pixelated nightmare. We quickly realized that this idea would be too complicated for our first game.
One summer afternoon I was reminiscing of old school days. In particular, I was echoing a phrase our old grumpy math teacher used to orcishly repeat as the default example for almost anything he taught, “Segment…AB!” That was when I got the idea of making a game that simply involved two points and a segment. This quickly evolved into lumberjacks running with a saw through a forest. This would be the start of Super Saw Bros.
Growing a Forest to Chop it Down: Prototype and Controls
With a realistic concept for our game I picked up an Android game development book and George began studying basic pixel art tutorials, and we both dove head-first into our very first real-world project.
Prior to this I had done some programming, but had never written applications or games for mobile devices before. But after George drew a basic pixel art cube, I programmed the first prototype for the game, with just that cube for the graphics. George would go on to draw a tree and a pair of lumberjacks, and I developed a second prototype which greatly resembled what we had in mind. This prototype featured a grassy green background, two lumberjacks, some trees, and a simple line segment for the saw.
The controls for the game were designed through a lot of trial and error. We used tilting to control the lumberjacks but changed this when decided that touch controls felt more intuitive. With the basic mechanics and controls agreed upon, we dove into creating our alpha version of the game.
Feedback Opens Eyes To The Things Taken For Granted
We were pleased that after demoing our alpha version we received praise for the game’s originality and creativity from our game development community. However, before we began working on the beta version of the game, we had colleagues at our respective universities try out Super Saw Bros. This feedback proved to be invaluable to our development.
Opening our eyes to issues we had taken for granted, the second round of feedback highlighted that the player’s fingers completely covered the lumberjacks on the screen. In addition to solving this problem, the beta version had the graphics overhauled by Habr, we originally had a one-hit knockout system but changed this because it seemed too harsh towards players, and included a timing to encourage and reward people for streaks.
First Competition, Third Place – Confidence Boost and Open Door
Meanwhile, in the competition we started it all for, the beta version of Super Saw Bros. earned the third place out of almost a dozen other submissions. Considering that this was our first attempt and that we were competing against teams with experience in making games, Habr and I are proud of this accomplishment. Third place was not only a huge boost for our egos, it also won us a trip to the Netherlands and an opportunity to showcase Super Saw Bros. at Casual Connect’s 2014 conference in Amsterdam.
An artist named Samir Kazah was also a participant in the Netherlands Game Awards, and we met him during the competition. He joined us shortly after the event ended. Since then, he completely upgraded the game’s graphics. You can find the latest screenshots (as well as a couple other photos) on my blog.
More importantly, George and I look back at this experience and are not only proud of the fact that we’ve created our own videogame but also excited that we have finally made a project of our own and found a career path that we can be passionate about.
Sadly, Fouad got caught in college work and George in “normal” work, so they had to put the project on hold for quite a long time, leaving it in beta status. However, Fouad graduated and George quit his job, so they’re about to get back on the wagon and see Super Saw Bros through until its release.
The team is also having workshops in game development to give back to the awesome game dev community. “We gave the first workshop on Feb. 27 at AltCity, the guys who hosted the Netherlands Game Award and took us to Casual Connect. We might be giving one next month at the American University of Beirut, the college I graduated from”, Fouad shares.
They have also attended the 2015 Arabic Game Jam, a 30-hour game development hackathon that took place at AltCity in March 2015. This time they didn’t get in the top 3, but got honorable mentions! More importantly, they’re going to polish their entry, a game called Brane, and release it very soon on Android and iOS.
During his session about maximizing revenue at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014, Andrei Dementjev also provided a bit of advice to those listening: “Stop ignoring 50 percent of your audience.”
Andrei Dementjev works within the mobile operator relations department as the vice president of operations at Fortumo. When Dementjev first started at Fortumo, the company was just getting started and the team was relatively small. The business idea was much more local and targeted at very specific markets. Even though the company and its goals were small, it was still a challenging opportunity for Dementjev. Now, he has been the leading Fortumo payment coverage expansion strategy for the last five years. When asked what he does at Fortumo, Dementjev says, “operations is all about stress, incident management and expansions. [There is] unbelievable multitasking and project priorities changing every day.” Some of these changes which Fortumo has faced over time were when they shifted from desktop to mobile and then from dumb phones to smart devices. Both of these changes presented completely different challenges in payment flow, UI, and use cases.
Fortumo currently covers a network of 300 operators in 81 countries from Albania to Vietnam. Fortumo is unique as it focuses on emerging markets in Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa. It is in these areas that mobile payments can make a tremendous difference. According to Fortumo’s website, “Fortumo is now enabling developers to effectively make money from more countries . . . than any other mobile payment provider”. A large part of this success is that Fortumo was the first to fill the niche in emerging markets, and it offers instant activation and self-service setup.
With millions of new smartphone users in existence (and prior to released games), Dementjev strongly believes that emerging markets are coming on strong in the gaming industry. As the use of smartphones spreads, game developers are faced with all sorts of new challenges. These challenges are occurring because the product is new to the audience. The “normal” or expected behavior of people whom are introduced to these products for the first time is different than the challenges the gaming industry has tackled before.
Favorite Passions and Past-times
Dementjev stays positive because it keeps him motivated and able to conquer the challenges he faces. In his free time, he enjoys cycling and photography. His favorite subjects to photograph include big city nightlife and beautiful Estonian nature. He also likes all varieties of active team sports. When asked about F2P games, Dementjev said that he has both a love and hate relationship with them. He loves them because they bring “great games to the masses.” His hate of F2P games springs from the fact that “it kills smaller games, genres, and niches.” Andrei’s favorite gaming platform to play on is Xbox Kinect because it is fun and it is a great way to play with friends. In fact, the only console that Dementjev owns is Xbox 360 because of the Kinect.
The Future and Fortumo’s Role
The single event which changed how Dementjev viewed Fortumo was the first popularity boost of Android devices. The Android devices had a “very quick market share rise and ecosystem development”. Fortumo embraced this and was the first company that released a mobile payment product on Android. The proudest moment in Dementjev’s carrier was when Fortumo launched payments coverage in 80th market, saying “every new expansion is unique and unforgettable, with it’s own problems and solutions”. In Dementjev’s opinion, in the next three to five years, the many variations of smart devices such as phones, fridges, wearables, tablets, glasses, and cars will keep growing. These new devices will interact and communicate with each other in innumerable ways. Fortumo’s role in this will be to ensure proper content and game monetization in emerging markets around the world.
Driven by a desire to create games that come alive and resonate with players, Vladimir Funtikov co-founded Tallinn-based Creative Mobile, and after only four years, it became one of the largest mobile gaming companies in Northern Europe. His passion for games began with his first PC, and almost immediately, he started creating games, beginning with basic Warcraft and SimCity scenarios, then moving to single-player levels for Duke Nukem 3D, and eventually making multi-player maps for Counter-Strike.
“Along with the in-app purchase benefits of minigames, there is a big retention component,” Ilya Nikolayev said during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “Essentially, you can use minigames to drive users back into your products.”
Ilya Nikolayev is the co-founder of both InAppFuel and Tapinator. InAppFuel is the minigame SDK for mobile developers, powering the casino layer for mobile developers. It allows developers to quickly integrate minigames that increase revenue and engagement, while working seamlessly with their existing virtual currency. At present, InAppFuel offers slots and scratch-off games since these are the best monetizing types, but a number of other minigames are in the works. Nikolayev founded this company about a year ago. The need he saw for minigames as a developer himself inspired him to create a product to help other developers increase IAP revenue and retention.
Tapinator was created in 2013 to take advantage of the opportunity in mobile games. They are focused on operating their own titles, publishing properties where they have substantial ownership positions and making strategic investments in promising mobile companies. They have quickly become a leader in the mobile game industry, with more than 40 mobile titles and over 20 million users.
Nikolayev became involved in the application industry when he launched Family Tree in 2007, when Facebook first launched its platform. One of the greatest moments in his career was seeing this application reach 45 million users. But when he saw the transition from Facebook applications to mobile apps, he was inspired to join the games industry. Watching someone pick up a product he has designed or built is what gives him the most happiness in his work.
The games industry is fast-paced and fast changing, a situation that offers plenty of opportunity. If he were not finding these opportunities with games, he would still be building a tech startup in a different space.
He believes the industry will soon see increasing prominence of IAP and the need to improve retention. Their goal with their minigames is to help developers with both these challenges.
When Nikolayev is not involved with work, he enjoys a variety of activities, including auto racing, billiards, tennis, mountain biking, and gaming.
Currently, he is playing Balance of the Shaolin and Impossible Road on his iPad. He has been an iOS user since the first iPhone, and finds the platform, overall, more polished than Android. He plays everywhere, even in a race car at Watkins Glen, although he admits they were moving slowly at the time.
He also plays on consoles, owning both PS3 and PS4, because he enjoys racing simulators. He hopes to set up a racing rig soon.
At Casual Connect USA, Nikolayev announced that InAppFuel’s Unity plugin is now available on Prime31.
Zombies Indie House is an Indian game development team formed in 2013 initially by three students – Diptoman Mukherjee, Pranjal Bisht, and Rahul Salim Narayanan who met while playing Duel Masters, an online trading card game. Since then, they’ve created some jam games together, and are currently working on their second major title, with Meanwhile In A Parallel Universe being their first. Casual Connect Asia 2014 was when the team members first met each other in person – until then, all communication has been online only. Diptoman, one of the company’s founders, tells the story.
Casual Connect Asia 2014 Presentation:
Nothing to Do on Summer Holidays? Make a game!
Meanwhile In A Parallel Universe started late in May 2013, when I had my summer holidays at university and nothing much to do at hand. I found out that Yoyogames (the creators of GM:Studio) was hosting a competition for developers to create a game for the Windows Store, with pretty awesome cash prizes. It was worth a shot, and also looked like a good chance to expand our portfolios. So I called Pranjal, who I had worked with on a few game jams before, and, since he was free for the summer as well, we decided to go for it. I also got in contact with Rahul, who, although busy with his internship, said he’d help us with background art.
Castle Defense for the Zombies Against People
In the beginning, we didn’t have any fixed idea of what we were going to create. But the goal was clear: make something that stands out somehow. After a lot of brainstorming, we chose a pretty rare genre to build stuff on – castle defense.
Zombie invasion seemed like a very cliche topic, and we decided to build our game based on just that – except reversing the roles of zombies and humans this time. I wasn’t aware of any existing games like this, so we thought it was a pretty decent idea to enter a competition with.
Since it’s hard to have a game which would give direct control over the protagonist character on touch devices, (and we really wanted to avoid virtual DPads), we chose not to let users control the battlefield at all (the initial idea was based on Caveman Craig, where, in addition to managing resources, you had to control one main character). Instead, the player’s duties are to maintain the conditions of the battlefield – gather resources, build the armies of the type they want, and use the defense that suits them.
How to Test a Mobile Game Without the Necessary Device
Our biggest challenge about controls was giving the player a full view of what was happening on the battlefield while offering a load of options: building/upgrading/creating etc. The only proper way looked like having the GUI buttons on a transparent surface, which we eventually ended up with. We didn’t have the correct device to test the game on, as none of us had a Windows smartphone. So we performed it on our laptops (with a mouse) and hoped that the ported game would work on touch devices.
Touch-specific controls like swiping haven’t been used in the game for the same reason – because they’re hard to test with a mouse. Instead, there’s tapping for everything, which was sure to work on Windows mobile devices.
We had around 15 days to playtest, balance, and create all the levels for our competition game. At this point, I asked my friend Anirban Gorai to help with the level design, since Rahul and Pranjal were busy finalizing the menu. This was obviously very little time to get all balancing right, so there were in-game strategies which, in the end, which worked much better than the others. For example, using ranged attackers with a few basic melee units to protect them, and also as a bait, was a pretty foolproof plan for any level.
A Game That Isn’t Completely Ready Can Become a Competition Winner
Meanwhile, our summer holidays were over, and we had even less time to work on the game. Nevertheless, we somehow managed to submit the game in time, albeit with a lot of rough edges: only six levels with a lot of new things crammed into each, and the player couldn’t get properly used to those.
Infinite Mode didn’t (and still doesn’t) have a proper scoring system – it just counts score on the basis of maximum number of waves survived. The UI had a lot of blank spaces since we didn’t get time to implement all the features we planned during that time. As for now, they have been redone. It was a free game in the Windows Store, and we had absolutely no plans to expand it further or to monetize it in any way.
Going the Tizen way
We got 2nd place in the competition, winning a cash prize of $5000. This changed many things for us – including the game’s future. Now our team had the money to invest in the full version of the software (which would mean we could port to other platforms), and that’s what we did. Shortly after, The Tizen Project announced its App Challenge, and we decided to join with the newly acquired opportunity of Tizen export. The game was updated with new content – more levels, enemies, zombies, and buildings. We balanced it up more and submitted for the challenge, as well the Tizen Game Drive – another competition hosted by Yoyogames. To our surprise, we received an honorable mention in the App Challenge, as well as 3rd place in the Game Drive – which gave us a lot of momentum to continue as a team.
One huge difficulty for the team was that none of us had actually met the others in person at that time. Collaborating online is rather hard when you can’t even Skype due to low internet speed. That aside, we didn’t pay much attention to memory management and handling different resolutions, since we didn’t originally have any plans for the game aside from making it for Windows. And this is something that we heavily regret now. Huge texture pages mean the game can’t run on low-end devices, and, since we made the GUI for a 16:9 resolution specifically without proper planning, we currently have to alter it in some places to make it handle different aspect ratios.
Another issue was that our friend who made all the soundtracks for my previous projects couldn’t find time for this one. So we had to search for a composer halfway through development, and were eventually lucky to meet James (of Refinery Audio) to fill that role.
Developing specifically for Tizen, though, had only one major problem – again, we didn’t have any mobile device to test on initially. So there were a lot of assumptions involved. Just like in the original competition, we only believed that stuff would work on the device.
The Zombies Indie House team is currently working on an Android port of the game which is still in beta stage, and have already planned iOS versions – but still without any monetization. While doing their best to complete all this as soon as possible, they also have another yet unnamed infinite-action game for mobile devices in the works. This one is to be monetized: the young developers want to see how far they can go with a well-planned project being made with no rush.
“Humans are storytelling creatures and we all seek to amuse ourselves through the means of stories,” says Himanshu Kapoor during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “They are a great form of entertainment, and they have the ability to resolve anxiety or tension by making use of invoking emotions. They have the ability to inspire us, it can heal us, and it can transform our thinking.”
Himanshu Kapoor, a game developer at Fleon Labs, has become so busy that free time is something he can only dream about. Usually, he spends any extra time thinking about new game ideas and refining the ones he already has. And free time is not the only thing he dreams of; he claims some of his best ideas have come to him in dreams.
Call Me A Dreamer
So perhaps it is not surprising that he describes himself as a dreamer. In fact, one of his most ambitious game ideas is called “Dream”. He calls it an abstract experimental thought with a simple premise: “What if dreams and reality switch places? What you thought was real suddenly becomes a dream, and your dreams become a reality.” And sometime in the future, he would like to execute it.
Kapoor started in the games industry in 2009 when he made his first flash game and submitted it to Flash Game License for sponsorship. He was very excited to find himself actually making money doing what he loves the most. He says, “The best part about making games is the feeling you get when you see someone playing your game and it evokes emotions in them based on the content in your game. It’s a feeling that can’t be put into words.”
At this point, Kapoor works part-time developing games and does not yet have a company set up; his full-time job is Front End Engineer at Wingify, the makers of Visual Website Optimizer. He feels working at this startup and facing challenging programming tasks every day, even though they are not directly gaming related, has given him valuable experience.
For his own gaming, Kapoor is currently playing Pokemon X. His preferred platform is Nintendo 3DS; he owns two of them. So he hasn’t invested in either Xbox One or PS4 because he is such a Nintendo fan.
In the race between iOS and Android, Kapoor comes out strongly in favor of iOS. He notes that, although Android has sold more devices, the number of paid apps and paying customers is higher on iOS. He has also found that the best and most creative games are iOS only or are launched on iOS long before they are available on Android. His best experiences have definitely been on iOS.
A New Reality Ahead
Kapoor believes the next big trend coming in the games industry will be virtual reality, especially since Oculus VR has been acquired by Facebook. He says, “I’m very interested in discovering how this will turn out.”
When he takes time away from developing and thinking about games, he writes random thoughts on his blog. And because he appreciates the language and culture of Japan, he spends time teaching himself Japanese.
He tells us the proudest moment of his career is presenting at Casual Connect Asia, addressing an international conference for the first time.