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ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

Bingo Club: When Math is King

May 20, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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One word for it is “miraculous” – it’s miraculous how such a team came together in the right place at the right time. “It was as though someone had dropped a bag of scrabble letters, and amongst the resulting alphabetical catastrophe on the floor, one sentence lay there fully formed, ‘Start Company, Make Bingo’,” Oliver Jones, the director and co-founder of Moonfrog Labs recalls as he tells the story of their first game Bingo Club. The game was in made in six months by a team of four that grew to eleven.


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A Gamedev Startup – a Crazy Idea for Indian Business

This story is as much about game design as it is about India. Bingo Club and Moonfrog would not exist if Zynga did not open up a shop in India and hire the best talents they could find in all competencies. At the Zynga shop, our team saw the potentials of a fast-moving mobile company in an emerging market, and made the jump into founderhood. It was a bold move! Generally, Indian entrepreneurs like to start traditional buy/sell businesses. As a result, this startup idea of a gamedev company seemed far too risky for some of our family and friends, who asked us to slow down and think twice. We did neither.

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Our family and friends asked us to slow down and think twice before starting Moonfrog. We did neither.

We knew that our team’s combination of development skills essential for games is quite rare in this part of the world. In India, it’s tough to find design, product, and game programming professionals able to handle these big 1M+ player bases. It’s also challenging to find creative people who will push for awesome player experiences, and even more difficult to bring all these people together. In the hard times when Bingo Club was finding its feet on the marketplace and players riled about bugs, we would remind ourselves that we could be making a part of history. We could become the first Indian gaming startup to actually execute on both scalability and high quality. It was the idea that kept us polishing and pushing our standards higher.

Math is King in a Bingo Game

The “spit and polish” approach, however, can only be applied to a smooth, solid object. For Bingo Club, this meant some solid, smooth math. Believe it or not, the average number of Bingo balls called in a game dictates absolutely everything else! From session length to level curve, even the cost of power ups could be calculated from that single number. In order to find that number, we had to define a set of rules and simulate bingo games a couple of thousand times. While the company was still inchoate, I quickly realized this fact and knocked together a simple Bingo simulator in Flash, that you can play around with on my website. Simply input the number of players and hit play!

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The average number of bingo balls called in a game defines everything. A Flash app had been written for finding it out.

This simulator allows you to define a set of rules, such as player/Bingo ratio, XP per daub, and run it thousands of times. It outputs values such as how many bingo numbers are drawn before a game is over, and even what quantities of XP and coins you would earn per game. These numbers became my constants, my guiding star in the sea of shifting XP requirements and jackpot payouts. Of course later, we started being more creative with our game mechanics and made more sophisticated simulations with no designer-friendly UI.

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“These numbers became my constants, my guiding star in the sea of shifting XP requirements and jackpot payouts.”

Casual Means Usable, Not Easy

It may come as unfortunate news for developers and designers that you can’t launch a spreadsheet on the app store. Bingo Club only existed for a while as a glorious mashup of formulas and calculations, while our UI remained a blank canvas. As we started drafting screens, it dawned on us that perhaps we didn’t really know what would resonate with our target audience. Who were the players of Bingo? What semiotics and game patterns are they familiar with?

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Each screen was tested, scrutinized in detail, and compared with the closest competitors

To get rid of this problem, we started iterating. Above is a sample of what we greyboxed for the lobby screen before we came up with our final result. Each screen was tested, scrutinized in detail, and compared with our closest competitors. Along the rocky road to a clean interface, we also experimented with meta-games trying bizarre stuff like a Candy Crush Saga-inspired story and zoo animal collection. Along the way, we created hundreds of wireframe configurations.

Lesson Learned: Launch, Adjust, and Update

Despite the fact that we haven’t spent a single marketing dollar over the last few weeks, Bingo Club is naturally climbing its way into the top 100 in various countries, including the USA, UK, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Our reviews are averaging 4.5 stars. The future looks bright! However, we can say that we launched too late! Bingo Club could have been launched three months earlier. But instead of that, we decided to push to become more feature-complete. This was a bad idea, as our app would have become far more polished had we received precious feedback and suggestions from the players sooner.

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“Our app would have become far more polished had we received precious feedback and suggestions from the players sooner.”

One could argue that Bingo Club has already completed its mission. It has gone a long way to prove that both Moonfrog and the entire Indian indie game scene is capable of competing against the best developers in the global arena. We saw the bar of quality exhibited in current bingo games, ran, and jumped right over it. You could say that Moonfrog hopped as high as you would expect a frog would on the moon. But our journey was not entirely frictionless, and certainly had no shortage of lessons along the way. Our plan for Bingo Club however, does not end here! With continued support, we intend to see how big our little game can grow. Expect us to add fresh ideas, new levels, and more. For now, its only one small step for Bingo, but one giant leap for Moonfrog.

At the time of writing Bingo Club is available worldwide on Android, but they are still waiting to see whether or not their efforts will be fruitful and rewards, more than intrinsic. Regardless of the outcome, they feel they have proven themselves as a team.

Europe 2014Video Coverage

Rik Haandrikman: Enticing Players to Connect | Casual Connect Video

March 3, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Asynchronous multi-player is a genre that is big in the app stores and has proven to be very sticky. Yet, according to Rik Haandrikman, there can never be enough attention to the topic. At Casual Connect USA 2013, he presented a session on the genre, but felt that it needed a wider point of view than just his own. So he approached Casual Connect about presenting a panel on multi-player gaming for Casual Connect Europe 2014. The panel combined the knowledge of Phil Mansell (Jagex), Micha van der Meer (Exit Games), Jan-Michel Saaksmeier (BigPoint), Alfonso Villar (Playspace) and Haandrikman with the guidance of Paul Heydon, (Avista Partners) as host. Haandrikman believes the panel greatly outstripped anything he could have brought on his own. He hopes this panel will become a recurring part of the conference with more multi-player game developers participating in the discussion.

Rik Haandrikman, Director of Business Development at GamePoint, attributes his success in this career to “dumb luck.” He began doing community management at GamePoint, but was becoming restless within a couple of months. The opportunity to move up in the company came and, as he says, “I grabbed it with both hands.” His team’s responsibilities range from user acquisition to analyzing game metrics to improving every facet of the business. Most of his time is involved with growth strategy and operations.

He is ambitious for himself and for the company, insisting, “I want GamePoint to conquer the world, and I want to be there to lead the charge.”

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Attendees having fun at GamePoint’s Gold! Party at Casual Connect Europe 2014

“Market Research”

Of course, not all his time is involved in his career; he loves spending time with his family, claiming every minute he spends with his two-year-old daughter is a minute well spent. He also manages to find time for the gym. And he spends a lot of time doing ‘market research’, his name for his gaming habit.

Currently, Haandrikman’s ‘market research’ has him using his iPhone to play 99 Bricks, a game by the Dutch indie, Weirdbeard. He finds the game both addictive and challenging, using the strengths of iPhone perfectly, and he is excited to see what it will do after its international launch.

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Open days at the office, where players are invited to come and talk to GamePoint

For his mobile gaming, he prefers iOS to Android, although he recognizes that Android has become a sizeable economic opportunity in the last two years, and Gamepoint is definitely developing for it. But he prefers the more curated experience iOS provides and finds the UI preferable to what most Android devices offer.

Haandrikman tells us the most interesting place he has played mobile games was in the Banda Islands, a tiny group of Indonesian islands with no real connection to any of the larger islands. They also have no TV, no internet, and lights out when the sun goes down. When he and his girlfriend passed their time in the evenings playing Civilization Revolution on their iPhones, they suddenly became very popular and the center of considerable excitement.

Even with the amount of mobile gaming he has “researched,” his favorite platform continues to be PC. Some of his favorite titles can only be properly played on PC. The title he plays most intensely is Civilization, having logged many hours on every version of the game.

His console gaming is fairly limited; he is still satisfied using his Xbox 360 and PS3. But his daughter’s desire to play Dora the Explorer usually trumps his plan for GTA V. He does plan to get Xbox One when it comes out in the Netherlands, considering it a family-friendly option.

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GamePoint is involved in more than just digital games, they also have a beach volleyball team

Intersection of Creativity and Business

Haandrikman tells us what he enjoys most about the game industry is the intersection of creativity and business. He says, “We create things that bring joy to millions and get paid while doing it.” And wearing a Star Wars t-shirt to work is an added bonus.

Gamepoint is a good example of this at work. “We don’t simply build multi-player games, we sculpt an experience that entices players to connect,” Haandrikman says. “When you play one of our games, our aim is to have you enjoy that game, obviously, but more important, we aim to have you form relationships with other players. My proudest moments have been when I got to meet people for whom those relationships have been life-changing.”

Some of the Business Development Team at GamePoint
Some of the Business Development Team at GamePoint

As an example, he points to a family with two children who wouldn’t exist without the game that helped their parents to meet, saying it puts everything GamePoint does into perspective. He spends much of his time looking at data: seeing what the players do within the games, how much they chat and how many buddies they add. But he insists, “Seeing that data turn into actual people and change actual lives is amazing.”

Haandrikman has been in the game industry for seven years, and in that time he has learned it is impossible to predict what is around the next corner. So it is critical to be as agile as possible and always be ready to respond as soon as a trend emerges. GamePoint answer to this situation is investing heavily in research on new platforms, new concepts and new audiences.  As he says, “When they pop up, we’ll be ready.”

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

The Flight of Kid Aviator: A Postmortem

February 24, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Kid Aviator is an endless flyer that launched on iOS and Android January 2014. It features Kid, a daring aviator-in-the-making willing to risk life and limb for his fans. The game was developed by two developers: Mattia Fortunati (programmer, designer and graphics rookie) and Claudia Perugini (visual artist and character designer), both hailing from Rome, Italy. Mattia shares their story.

A Lengthy Development

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Kid Aviator Development Team

Kid Aviator was an interesting project for first-time developers such as ourselves. From start to finish, the development of Kid Aviator lasted more than two years, quite a bit of time for such a small game. Not only did we experience the expected false starts and ups and downs associated with a two-person team of first-time developers, but we were busy with school and day jobs. We only had time to work on the game in our spare time. Add to this the fact that Kid Aviator was built on a self-made game framework . . . and you get the picture.

It was also 100 percent self-funded. We invested our savings from our day jobs. We didn’t even start a Kickstarter campaign because it’s (sadly) not an option for Italian developers (Kickstarter only allows projects from the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand). 

Dreams & Aspirations

We wanted to create a well-made, relaxing game, something that you could play in your spare time, during lunch breaks, or while waiting at the bus stop. We kept the game simple and full of personality. This was Claudia’s rule, and I’m glad we were able to stick to it. Kid Aviator was always meant to be welcoming and easy to learn so that players felt good playing it.

We also had a personal goal: to learn. Many teams around the world make great games year after year, but how do they do it? Our idea was to not take any shortcuts and pay attention to every single step: concept, prototype, production, testing, marketing, PR, all of it. Throughout development, we strengthened our writing, programming, drawing, interface, design, and polishing skills by asking for help and hearing war stories from fellow indie developers.

Kid Aviator's Xcode and iPhone simulator
Kid Aviator’s Xcode and iPhone simulator

Pushing ourselves to the limit, we often found each other performing several roles at a time. After encountering a big problem, we sometimes wanted to simply surrender and leave things as they were instead of fixing them. As an indie developer, you will be tempted to give up from time to time because you’re way too busy with a day job or other projects. It’s like raising a bonsai: with some discipline, proper scheduling, and doing just a little every day, you’ll slowly see your miniature tree grow to be a strong and beautiful specimen.

Finding the Core Gameplay

The endless runners genre is marred by clones of clones now, but two years ago, there was still room for innovative gameplay. We wondered what would happen if the player moved the obstacles instead of controlling the main character. To add some variety to the gameplay, we included objects that could be destroyed, along with power-ups. Back then, Kid would move automatically (and randomly) around the screen – like a lifeless roboaviator.

Then we noticed that every time our friends played the game, they always ended up trying to move Kid by tilting the device. We didn’t have tilt controls then, so we said, ‘Why not?’ We immediately put our friends’ feedback to use and added tilt controls. Thus, the dual control system (in which players control both the protagonist and the interaction with each object) was born. Clearly, player feedback and the use of hardware capabilities particular to mobile devices have helped us develop (and refine) Kid Aviator‘s core gameplay.

The Circus Setting (& Choosing a Title)

Kid wants to become famous. He’s like a rock star, with his audience numbers increasing each time he wins a medal. It’s not about Saving Private Brian (I guess only Ryan was saved!), avenging a long lost cat, or cleansing the world of all evil. Kid Aviator is about flying endlessly toward the sky and becoming a star.

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Early Concept Sketches of Kid by Claudia

It’s an unusual choice, we know. This simple (and somewhat basic) concept—a cute Kid flying toward the sky and encountering random strange objects along the way—was born organically. As for the setting, we didn’t take long to come to a decision. After a quick brainstorming session, we chose a more traditional “human cannonball” theme for the game—and a circus setting was a natural fit. But the title didn’t come as easily: in fact, it took us two months to choose one!

We had a whiteboard that we scribbled on everyday, looking for inspiration. Some of the early titles we considered included To the Top!, Sky-Man, and Cannon Kid. Eventually, we fell in love Kid Aviator, a variation of Cannon Kid. However, we secretly called it “scaimen” (Italian transliteration of “Sky-Man”), and the game directory is still named “skyexplorer.”

Time to Tighten Up Those Graphics!

We’ve heard that graphics are the most important element in game development. An awesome icon and beautiful, hand-drawn characters are essential to success. This is only partially true. A great game needs deep, rewarding gameplay or it will just be an average game with AAA graphics. Just ask regular players. Most of them will say that graphics are important but “gameplay is king.” I find that the gameplay is the game’s soul and the graphics are its body. Gameplay is a direct channel between game and player.

At first, Kid Aviator’s graphics were no more than placeholders (and heavily inspired by The Powerpuff Girls). Once Claudia got her hands on it though, a revolution took place. She realized that falling objects would be more familiar to the average player—and after many sketches, she made a major decision: Kid would now be based on Mr. Driller instead.

Claudia was totally new to computer graphics, and Kid Aviator was her first experience mixing art and computers. However, in no time at all, friends and fellow developers introduced us to professional tools and gave us honest and constructive feedback. We love the result! Kid Aviator boasts “cute and warm graphics”—as it should be in an Italian game. The way the game looks is a perfect translation of the studio’s ethos, and it’s a little piece of the spirit of Italy that can be played worldwide.

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Old Graphics (left) vs. New Graphics (right)

Visibility: Limited

What’s the point of making a game that no one will ever play? We knew that the game would be invisible without a good promotional push behind it. However, it would have taken years for us alone to learn the PR tools of the trade—and we would never be able to finish the game if we turned our attention away from development.

We did not surrender—despite the cold, calculating replies—and we finally found Novy PR

We contacted a number of PR agencies with a detailed message explaining our needs. It was our first time seeking PR help, and we expected professional replies, but we quickly realized that most firms were more interested in money rather than helping indie developers. We did not surrender—despite the cold, calculating replies—and we finally found Novy PR.

Novy replied in a professional, yet passionate way. They listened to us and were interested in our project as a whole. They were also affordable for our small, self-funded studio. Novy took the role of Kid Aviator’s cheerleaders, testers, marketing mavens, you name it. In hiring a PR firm, we weren’t trying to top the App Store rankings; we just wanted to avoid oblivion. Novy PR helped us avoid that.

Homemade Framework

Due to my work in development, I ended up becoming one of two core creators of RapaNui. An open-source, Lua, high-level, 2D game framework, RapaNui can be used with the Moai SDK when developing cross-platform games for iOS and Android. Initially created as a Corona SDK porting framework, RapaNui would eventually become a “college in a box” for me. I learned a great deal about both the Lua language and Moai SDK.

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Kid Aviator’s Moai Simulator

Since then, RapaNui has grown and led to a job making an AAA title. Working 60 hours a week while still fleshing out RapaNui reduced the time I could spend on Kid Aviator. At the same time, it allowed me to port my game to RapaNui. Improving the framework for the AAA project would mean improving Kid Aviator‘s engine as well—and vice-versa. Kid Aviator is bound to RapaNui, but it took much longer to develop because we relied on this exciting, but ever-changing new framework. I definitely don’t recommend going the “non-standard” route like we did—especially if you’re an indie developer.

However, I was personally willing to accept the risk, and I’m really happy with the end result. I feel closer to Kid Aviator because I built so much of it with my bare hands, a feeling I lack with my other games built with commercial engines.

Dire Straits

We were moving along at a such a smooth but busy pace handling the (successful) open beta, we didn’t realize that iOS7 was right around the corner.

With November already taken hostage by two major console launches, we decided to slow things down and delay the soft launch to December.

Kid Aviator was approved and ready for sale when suddenly, we had to make it compatible with the new Game Center and status bar designs. This meant that we had to re-submit the game to Apple and postpone the soft launch and worldwide release. With November already taken hostage by two major console launches (transitioning to the next generation, no less), we decided to slow things down and delay the soft launch to December, planning the launch for January. This was a two-month delay that we could not have predicted.

The second issue was the “December Curse,” which played a big part in our poor Australian/Canadian/Brazilian soft launch. Although it was intended to test the game’s viability and help us smooth out the actual release, the soft launch yielded almost zero downloads—and we didn’t get the feedback we so desperately needed.

In hindsight, we were hitting the freemium wall—with big titles, all free, released with the sole purpose to attract players at the expense of more premium indie offerings during the holiday season. Would you download Dungeon Keeper for free, or Kid Aviator for $0.99? The AAA game is obviously not truly free, but many mobile players still don’t realize this in advance. Most will skip the paid title and try a free download, even if they eventually uninstall it after 15 minutes. Kid Aviator was not made to do battle against the frighteningly competitive freemium market, but we couldn’t re-design it to counter that threat. Our only resort was to hope for a strong launch.

Texture Packet and Physics Editor for Kid Aviator
Texture Packet and Physics Editor for Kid Aviator

At no extra cost, Novy agreed to pursue a pre-launch campaign in order to generate some buzz. We reached out to journalists ahead of launch, and a number of outlets requested promo codes and Android builds, which made us quite happy. However, we stumbled upon a huge issue when it was time to release the game on Android: a black screen, which was reported by a large number of Android users on launch day. Of course, we fixed it as soon as possible to avoid missing out on any sales—but we received a number of refund requests before we could submit a fix (fixing the Android build took two full days – 48 hours without sleep).

It turns out that the Android logcat had no errors. This was a sneaky bug because it would happen only if the game was installed from Google Play. We found a solution, thanks to friends who lent us their time and Android devices — plus the help of other developers who had experienced the same issue. It was a problem caused by the new resource path system added to Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean): the game could not find its assets. After we fixed the problem, our Android players were happy and satisfied.

A note on Apple’s approval process vs. Google Play: Apple’s approval process is notoriously time-consuming. However, having a professional QA team test your game on every single iPod touch, iPad, and iPhone gives developers much-needed peace of mind. At the same time, Google Play allowed us to upload a stable build within a few hours – versus a few days on the Apple camp. I guess both platforms have their strengths and weaknesses!

First Week: Reviews, Feedback, Downloads

Freed from a nasty black screen, Kid Aviator flew across the world, ready for the real challenge: the App Store and Google Play. During those crazy days when we were busy fixing the Android build, we still felt incredible relief and excitement because we were reading the early coverage for Kid Aviator.

Journalists produced well-thought reviews with mostly positive scores. The few negative reviews were still very honest and always included constructive feedback. Players and reviewers alike enjoyed the dual control system, core gameplay, cute graphics, and charming characters.

It seemed to us that Kid Aviator was invisible in both stores, and we don’t remember adding an invisibility power-up.

Users rated the game, recommended Kid Aviator to their friends, and contacted us with a lot of awesome suggestions. However, while we got great reviews on top sites like 148Apps, Cult of Mac, and AppleTell – along with communities like Reddit and Touch Arcade’s forums – download numbers were low. It seemed to us that Kid Aviator was invisible in both stores, and we don’t remember adding an invisibility power-up.

I guess this speaks to the dark truth of mobile development: the competition is beyond fierce at the moment–more like “dog eat dog, who then eats you.” Free-to-play took the air out of the room, making it very difficult for a game like Kid Aviator to get download numbers matching its quality. If this was 2011, we would be in the thousands of downloads at this point. But we won’t give up. After all the hard work that went into Kid Aviator, we’ll keep pushing to give the game every chance it deserves.

The Bottom Line

Developing an indie, self-funded game is difficult, stressful, and crazy—fraught with ups and downs—but it’s also challenging, illuminating, and satisfying. Just make sure to hold on and never surrender!

This is our journey, brought to you with absolute sincerity. We hope that it can be useful to others like many postmortems on the web have been useful to us. A hearty goodbye from Mattia and Claudia, the small team behind Kid Aviator!

The duo invites you to try Kid Aviator today and leave your feedback (invaluable for indie developers like them). You can also keep track of how it is going with the team on Twitter, Facebook, and their website.

Game DevelopmentOnlinePostmortem

Sir! I’d Like To Report A Bug!: A Product of Fun

November 20, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Sir! I’d Like To Report A Bug! follows a QA tester on a quest to destroy bugs that have escaped into the real world after a new prototype tech goes crazy. This side-scrolling platform game was made by a three-man team who took a break from their own solo projects to come together and make this pixelated adventure. Ash Morgan, the man who worked on the design and coding of the game, talks about the experience.

It’s kind of hard to believe that a bunch of moving images and a bit of music coming from a thin lump of plastic and metal can fill you with such pride. It was a Thursday evening in late July, and I had just merged some newly-created art assets with a level I had built, and put in some music. It was that moment where Sir! I’d Like To Report A Bug! was no longer a prototype, but was now an actual game in development.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s rewind to this past April.

One Crazy Idea

I’m one of those people who is always thinking up of something for a game, be it a character and their backstory, a neat little idea for a mechanic, or how one could advertise their creation. That’s why it was no surprise when I thought up the premise of a guy going to and from work while the world around him changed and glitched out like bugs in a game. Instead of just having a laugh about it and continuing my walk home, I actually started to concept how the game would look and play in my head. Later that evening, I had Unity loaded up on one screen and a tutorial on how to make a 2D platformer on the other.

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That’s why it was no surprise when I thought up the premise of a guy going to and from work while the world around him changed and glitched out like bugs in a game.

I really don’t see myself in anyway as a programmer or coder, I can’t draw to save my life, and a cat can compose better music then me. This was just a bit of an experiment to see if I could actually make something, and if that something could be fun. After a few evenings of tinkering, I had a prototype on my tablet. It was nothing fancy, just a side-scroller with basic controls and some ideas I had for bugs scattered throughout some levels. Everything was basic, and the character on screen was a Mario sprite I “borrowed” from the Internet, but it was a fun few minutes of jumping and laughing at the weirdness that appeared on screen.

A few more evenings went by and I had created more. It got me thinking, “I just got a Unity license for Android, and I know about getting apps onto Google Play. Why not turn this into something and see what happens?“

Dev Team Assemble!!

As I mentioned before, I’m useless at most parts of game development. If I was going to turn this into something people could actually download and play, I would need some talent. Thankfully, I knew a bunch of talented people thanks to my days at University. After a few emails, I was able to rope in the very talented Matthew Calvert and Adam Grant. We didn’t want to spend ages talking and debating about what kind of studio we would be and how we would market ourselves. We just wanted to focus on the task at hand and make something fun.

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We just wanted to focus on the task at hand and make something fun.

With new blood came new ideas for levels and bugs, so we got to work coding, mixing and drawing. Production boiled down mainly to myself prototyping an idea someone came up with, Adam doing a few tester assets, and then all three of us looking at if it worked or not via nightly builds. We didn’t focus on team meetings and using fancy progress tracking software. Instead, we just shouted at each other via Facebook or texts. That makes it sound like it was an unorganized mess (and to some degree, it was), but it worked for us. We rarely wasted time due to lack of communication, and everyone knew what they were doing. If anyone had an idea, we were quick to make a prototype and try it out.

Hold On Chaps, We’ve Got a Problem

It’s a commonly unwritten rule in game development that something will blow up badly. The longer nothing goes wrong, the bigger the problem, and yes, it happened to us.

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It’s a commonly unwritten rule in game development that something will blow up badly.

It was just after I had that moment of pride where our game no longer seemed like a crazy idea and seemed like an actual game. Level layouts were done and all the bugs were working to a degree. Some music was missing, and there were no animations, but we had a beta to test and work upon. I decided to play the game from start to finish and record what defects I ran into, so that I could get to work fixing them the next day. There was just one problem though — I had finished all ten levels of the game in less than 15 minutes!

The game had no challenge. I had died a few times on the later levels, but was still able to blitz through at break-neck speed. You could argue that because I had designed the levels, I had a huge advantage, but after letting my brother play, I could tell the game was too short. We spent ages thinking up new ideas and levels, but they just didn’t feel right. We had worked hard on what we had, and now it felt like we were bolting on content just because we had to.

Then came a crazy idea – let’s make the game as hard as retro games from the 80s and 90s! We swapped out a few assets to make the game look more pixelated and tweaked the difficulty. What followed was an afternoon of swearing and raging, but the game was still fun, and it took us a lot longer to beat. We decided it was our hook: a retro-looking game with a retro difficulty to boot!

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What followed was an afternoon of swearing and raging, but the game was still fun, and it took us a lot longer to beat.

And Now For Something Completely Different

The game was nearing completion, and we started thinking about how we were going to sell it. I had seen the horrors of new studios charging, so we wanted to stay away from charging, and we couldn’t bolt on in-app purchasing, as there was nothing to buy in-game. We were stuck with either offering a donation version of the game or just offering it for free.

We were ok with giving away the game, as we weren’t really in it for the money, but at the same time, we wanted some kind of reward for our efforts and to start building up some capital for future ideas. It was here we pondered about combining the concepts of donating with crowdfunding, and thus our system of “Post-Crowdfunding” was born.

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We have hope in our players and the future of our little creation.

We wanted to reward players that believed in us, as well as build a sense of community around the game, so we started to plan additional content and offer it if we hit certain funding goals, much like the stretch goals on KickStarter. The system was quite basic, as it was just a link from the app that pointed to a PayPal page where players could donate, but we were excited at the fact that no one had ever tried this before. If it actually works or not remains to be seen, but we have hope in our players and the future of our little creation.

If you would like to find participate in the Post-Crowdfunding, check out their website, and find out more about the game through their Facebook.

Video Coverage

John Gargiulo: Looking at the Potential | Casual Connect Video

October 27, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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“There is no surprise that microconsoles are coming now that the mobile core technology has become a commodity,” says John Gargiulo to his audience at Casual Connect Kyiv 2013.

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John Gargiulo, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, BlueStacks

John Gargiulo, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at BlueStacks, came to this position with over a decade of work in the field. He began his career in advertising as a copywriter with Merkley & Partners, then moved to Cliff Freeman & Partners, where he created campaigns for brands that included Snapple, Quiznos and Sports Authority. Before joining Bluestack, he launched and became CEO of Switch, a restaurant company in New York, which he expanded to two locations, 44 employees, and more than $2 million in revenue.

Learning to Love the Ride

Gargiulo describes his work at BlueStacks as an incredible roller coaster of ups and downs. Fortunately, since he has been involved with a number of start-ups, he has become accustomed to the roller coaster, and claims you must develop the right temperament to cope with it, never letting yourself become too up or too down.

Mobile games will not be trapped in four-inch phones three years from now. The living room is a massive install base just waiting to be tapped.

One of the biggest “ups” in his career came shortly after he joined BlueStacks. At the time, they were working with a PR firm that just wasn’t getting them the exposure they needed. Finally, at 10 PM the night of their beta launch, he began emailing every reporter he could think of. The result of this effort was coverage in TechCrunch, GigaOM, and many other publications. The company no longer feels any need to use an outside PR firm.

Seeing Potential, Not Popularity

Gargiulo feels the most difficult aspect of his work is getting people to see the value of something when it is not already popular, to catch the vision of potential when it is not easily apparent. He says, “You have to paint a picture of the future that is practical, but also inspires.”

He sees a parallel between the console industry in the mid-1980s and the mobile industry today.

The biggest challenge in the games industry today is growth. He sees a parallel between the console industry in the mid-1980s and the mobile industry today. At that time, there was a dip in the money developers and platforms were making. People began to assume this was the end of the business, when it turned out to be only the beginning.

Risks are Crucial to Progress

He insists that the way to meet the same sort of challenge today is by taking risks and continuing to innovate rather than replicating the last thing that offered a slight improvement. He insists, “If everyone is chasing their tail, we won’t get anywhere.”

BlueStacks is an example of the risk taking that is so essential. Gargiulo reminds us that in 2011, they were the only ones who thought Android was exciting or that people would want to play mobile games on PCs or TV. Now they have 13 million users.

Mobile Games Invade the Living Room

He believes the next big trend in the games industry will be seen in our living rooms.

He believes the next big trend in the games industry will be seen in our living rooms. He insists, “Mobile games will not be trapped in four-inch phones three years from now. The living room is a massive install base just waiting to be tapped.”

BlueStacks has now built GamePop, a mobile game console intended specifically to capture this trend and promote their developer partners through this channel.

When not occupied with work, Gargiulo enjoys being involved with all sports, particularly the sailing he grew up with.

Chocolate with a Cookie Crunch 🙂

And his sense of humor is evident when he suggests Bluestacks’ next innovation will be a Kit-Kat flavored Android phone. Why? Well, shouldn’t your phone experience be delicious?

Video Coverage

David An: Kimchi and Publishing at ProSiebenSat1 | Casual Connect Video

October 27, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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While participating in a panel discussion at Casual Connect Kyiv 2013, David An says, “We are seeing casual games being mingled with hardcore elements, so there seems to be no limit to the genre of games which can go free-to-play.”

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Mmmmmm……Kimchi!

David An describes himself as Kimchi-eating. For those of us unfamiliar with this delicacy, Kimchi is fermented cabbage with garlic and hot pepper, and is a daily part of every Korean’s diet. He is also involved with Kendo in his free time and enjoys classical jazz music, as well as the music of Mozart and Bach’s partitas and sonatas.

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David An, Director of Mobile Games, ProSiebenSat1

An is Director of Mobile Games at ProSiebenSat1. His responsibility is to build their mobile games publishing business. He has always been entrepreneurial, either with his own startups or as an entrepreneur, and sees this as the leadership profile that is needed today, incorporating execution-incorporation, low fear of failure and seeking for pragmatic and quick solutions.

Heroes War

At Casual Connect Kyiv, An announced the release of Heroes War, a mobile action RPG developed by Com2Us, one of the top Korean game developers. ProSiebenSat1 will be publishing it in all the major European territories.

Heroes War
Heroes War, a mobile action RPG developed by Com2Us

The Project of His Life

An’s career goal is to steadily improve and become a better entrepreneur and leader each day. The most challenging time of his career occurred when his first startup failed. The business received huge national PR, but never monetized. He learned a great deal from the experience including the importance of business-model thinking as well as attempting to see products in a holistic fashion. He also emphasizes, “There should not be, and never is, ‘The Project of My Life.’ In the end, it’s just a company.”

He also expects Google’s domination of all aspects of digital business to occupy all our minds for years to come.

Open Ecosystems Rule

He has noticed several directions in the games industry that he believes will continue through the next few years. From the time he saw the first Android prototype, he expected it to take over because of the openness of its ecosystem, creating massive network effects. He also expects Google’s domination of all aspects of digital business to occupy all our minds for years to come. On the dark side, he notes that as more transactions are entrusted to mobile devices, users will become subject to more and more cyber attacks.

ContributionsPostmortem

Createrria: All About the Games

September 9, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Incuvo is a game development startup created in 2012 by Wojciech Borczyk and Jakub Duda. Previously, they bootstrapped an indie gaming startup and successfully exited to lead a large console development studio for a major Polish publisher. However, they decided to get back to their roots and start something completely new. Jakub shared the story about its flagship project, Createrria.

It’s Always Been Games

I knew who I wanted to be in life when I was ten. This decision came shortly after I got my first 8-bit computer and started playing games. I didn’t have this “firefighter or policeman” dilemma. I wanted to create games – these magical windows leading into different realms. Their creators were giants to me. But at that time, I couldn’t fulfill my dream. Something scary, called 6502 assembler language, stood between me and my desire to create games. I eventually learned BASIC language, dropped the game developer idea for some time, and returned to it a few years later, sometime around 2004.

When we were looking for a new idea, I discovered that Wojciech and I share the same childhood experience: fascination with early computer games and frustration with the development learning curve. At the same time, we started looking at the rising popularity of tablets and amazing possibilities of touch interfaces. That decided us. We wanted to bring the fun of game creation to millions of mobile players who have no time or desire to learn game programming and master all the other skill necessary to create a game now. They could already create great photos, music, and even shape virtual pottery on tablets, but mobiles were still missing a great game creation app.

Thus, Createrria was born.

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Createrria was born!

We wanted Createrria to be an easy-to-use, fun, no-skills-required game creation app for mobiles. From the beginning, we wanted it to be 2D experience designed for touch screens, not controller/mice/keyboard input. Also, it needed to be social – everything created should be instantly shareable with friends.

The Challenges

When we started Incuvo, everything was new: the company, the office (We worked without walls during the first week), the team (with some long time friends who decided to share this adventure with us), the platform (we were purely consoles in the past), the engine, and even the genre. The first few weeks were crazy. Things took shape slowly. We started with a cross-platform engine evaluation (Unity3D won!), then started working on a playable prototype. This prototype was to determine if our idea was at all achievable. We were afraid of ending up with something overly complex and hard to use, just another developer tool masked as a user app. Fights over game details went on for hours and were fierce. Then we started having our first moments of triumph (“The physics engine is working!”) and despair (“it crashes every ten seconds!”). But finally, our first tech demo appeared. With four graphic themes, several different gameplay types, initial cloud sharing (added as a last-minute hack), and early iOS and Android support. The biggest success was a lack of an external game editor. We initially planned it as a support for an in-app editor – but first attempts were successful enough that we could drop this idea entirely and design everything inside our app. This was a breakthrough and our first milestone.

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Eventually, we managed to work out our own recognizable style: humanoid avatars, with detached limbs, based on one shape, but extremely customizable.

Createrria was growing fast. Still accompanied by fierce and passionate fights over every feature, we iterated over every single thing. Long live agile development! The biggest challenges proved to be character design and cloud backend. The first challenge was strictly a design one. How could we create likeable, customizable and universal characters, also meant to be used as avatars, without copying existing games? We went through dozens of options, ranging from hamsters running in balls (easy to animate) to fully customizable avatars with exchangeable mustaches. Eventually, we managed to work out our own recognizable style: humanoid avatars, with detached limbs, based on one shape, but extremely customizable. Yes, we love them, and yes, we want to have more. Luckily, one of the cool things about  mobile games is the easiness of updates – we can always add exchangeable mustaches later.

The other challenge was purely technical. We had painfully discovered that a world of server-side cloud-based backend development was seriously different from what we used to do in games. Server-side javascript? No-sql sharded databases? SSL certificates? We didn’t even have tutorials for this. This one required quite a lot of social skills and persuading to solve. One of our old friends who coded games with us in early Nintendo DS days, and has since that moved to enterprise scale cloud-based business software development, had all the skills. Now all we had to do is convince him to abandon the boredom and safety of a corporate job for a rock-style life of a game developer.

F2P or not F2P?

Free to play seems to be a very controversial topic these days. For most developers, free-to-play means robbery. Is it really that bad? Of course not! Createrria is a pure free-to-play game designed in our way: “Game first, money second.” Don’t blame the sales model – blame those developers who abuse it. We believe that well-balanced free-to-play games may bring pure joy to the players and pay our bills by the end of the day. Still, I sometimes feel like a dinosaur when I look at how much the business model has changed since we developed our first console titles.

Createrria Avatars

The Journey Ends

Createrria‘s development was a long journey and great adventure for us. Now it is ready! It will be released for iOS in the second half of October 2013, with Android following shortly afterwards. We hope you will share the fun and adventure with us – playing the games we created with it and creating new ones we could never have imagined.

Find out more information about Createrria on Facebook!

Video Coverage

Roxanne Gibert: Behavior Analytics | Casual Connect Video

September 5, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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“The framework for analysis that I use when I go into any game is taking a look at what is the metric that is suffering the most right now that can contribute the most to my gross revenue,” Roxanne Gibert told her audience during her session, Monetization Toolkit: Tuning Game Design Using Analytics, at Casual Connect USA.

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Facing Distribution Challenges

Roxanne Gibert is a Product Manager of User Acquisition for DeNA. She is currently working on driving new viral, cross-promo, and user acquisition targeting features for the Mobage platform. She believes the biggest challenge the games industry currently faces is becoming truly cross-platform and finding new distribution sources outside of the social networks. The industry needs to create new networks that can connect developers with distribution sources other than Facebook and the Apple store.

Mobage
Roxanne currently works on driving new viral, cross-promo, and user acquisition targeting features for the Mobage platform.

Her previous experience as a developer with an emphasis on user behavior analytics will help her create more seamless discovery experiences for players on the Mobage platform.

In Roxanne’s free time, she enjoys spending time with various activities around San Francisco, a city where she loves living. She takes urban hikes through the city or Golden Gate Park, explores the restaurants and lounges and drives around Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley. She also enjoys wine tasting, playing poker, and cooking for her friends and family. She occasionally likes to dabble with playing the piano and guitar.

When you realize what flying blind really looks like, you want to find the answers, and the process of coming up with those solutions is really enlightening.

Analytics from Scratch

When Roxanne tells us about the greatest moments of her career, she describes starting a mobile gaming studio two years ago. They published a midcore strategy game that wound up hitting Top Ten Strategy in US and Canada, and they make their own analytics platform. She describes this time as an incredible learning experience.

Roxanne Gibert
Roxanne Gibert

Creativity vs. Data

The biggest challenge Roxanne has had in her career was trying to merge a culture of creative design with a metric-driven business strategy. Although she doesn’t claim to have overcome this challenge without a few bumps in the road, she did learn how to merge the two over time. She tells us, “This process led me down the path of diving really deeper into user behavior analytics and forecasting than I had in my career. When you realize what flying blind really looks like, you want to find the answers, and the process of coming up with those solutions is really enlightening.”

Android Emergent

Roxanne believes the next important trend in the games industry will emerge as Android opens up a whole new way of looking at app development and discovery. She says, “I am excited to see how developers grow on Android.”

Video Coverage

Vladimir Funtikov: Wastrels and Vagabonds | Casual Connect Video

August 21, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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When speaking on the potential of and best practices for the Android games market during Casual Connect in San Francisco, Estonian games studio founder Vlad Funtikov commented, “The players’ attention span is milliseconds, so you have to come up with an icon and a title that sells a game immediately.”

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Vladimir Funtikov
Vladimir Funtikov

An Awesome Company

Vladimir Funtikov’s feelings about Creative Mobile, the company he co-founded, are clear. He says, “My company is awesome!”  As Co-Founder of a startup, he has had to be involved in every aspect of the business. Although his experience as a game programmer saved some time in the beginning, everything else had to be learned along the way.

Funtikov’s hobbies are playing video games and traveling. Since these things are also important parts of his job, he claims he has solved the problem of not having free time.

Early Experience with User Generated Content

At the age of 12, he was browsing in the games folder on his family’s PC, and launched a program called “build”. It turned out to be a level builder for the shooter game he was playing. He was excited by the ability to create game content, and quickly became addicted. For the next five or six years, he spent at least half an hour every day making game levels, usually for Counter-Strike or CS: Source. After he finished school, he stopped, thinking it was time to grow up and get a real job. But the first real job he found happened to be with a company porting J2ME games. And only two years later, he co-founded Creative Mobile. He says he stays with the games industry because he has never found a single reason to quit.

Wasting their Lives on [Making] Games

The first year and a half after starting the company were quite difficult. Funtikov admits, “We struggled to make any money and explain to our families what we were wasting our lives on.”

The first year and a half after starting the company were quite difficult. Funtikov admits, “We struggled to make any money and explain to our families what we were wasting our lives on.” But the period of growth following their breakthrough games was an even greater challenge. Scaling production and bringing in top talent proved very difficult. He asserts, “I believe we managed to make it this far through dedication, focus and a healthy financial situation which allowed us to recover from mistakes we made.”

The result of this dedication and focus was what Funtikov feels was the greatest moment of his career, when Creative Mobile won the award for national “Startup of the Year.”

Funtikov believes that mobile apps will continue to be the hottest thing in the games industry for the next few years. But he finds it more exciting to consider what may come within the next five to fifteen years. He foresees possibilities such as an elegant way to get rid of the “screen size vs mobility” trade-off (perhaps Oculus Rift capabilities in Google Glass or even contact lens form factor), and revolutionary portable energy sources.

Video Coverage

Ken Asakura on Party Track | Casual Connect Video

August 20, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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At Casual Connect in San Francisco, Ken Asakura opened his presentation on Asia Expansion: Mobile Trends and User Acquisition Strategies in Japan and Korea by exclaiming, “Self publishing in Asia is possible!”

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Opening Doors and Finding Gamers in Asia

Ken Asakura is General Manager of Adways Interactive, specialists in mobile app distribution and user acquisition with 80 percent of their clients in the gaming industry. Adways Interactive’s home company, Adways Inc., runs the largest CPI ad network in Asia. Adways has a proven track record of helping Western developers succeed overseas.

Announcing “Party Track: User Acquisition Analytics for Games”

Aside from distribution, Adways Interactive has been hard at work developing a powerful analytics platform. At Casual Connect USA, they announced the launch of Party Track, a user acquisition analytics tool for games. Party Track enables game developers to discover where their most valuable players are coming from. Utilizing a single SDK and reporting dashboard, Party Track enables developers and advertisers to accurately track, attribute, measure and compare all of their UA campaigns and their impact on user acquisition, retention, in-app engagement, ROI and life-time-value(LTV).

Party Track has been in closed beta, working with the likes of Square Enix and Namco Bandai, and is now officially ready for launch. Ken is responsible for all business decisions for Adways Interactive, including product management for Party Track.

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Adways’ app UA measurement tool, Party Track.

Change is the Constant

In terms of mobile user acquisition, I think it’s impossible to predict the future because the industry changes so quickly. Who knows what’s next?

As Ken looks toward the future in the gaming industry, he contends, “In terms of mobile user acquisition, I think it’s impossible to predict the future because the industry changes so quickly. 2011 was the year for Tapjoy and incentivized CPI networks. 2012 was the year of non-incentivized CPI networks such as Chartboost. Now it’s all about Facebook. Who knows what’s next? I believe when the mobile industry matures, it will become more like PC.” He considers that OS will become 65 percent Android and 25 percent iOS, as iOS takes their share of premium users and the remainder use Android. He also sees this becoming the most accessible global market ever, with content providers from South America shipping contents to Asian consumers within hours of release. Why? Because mobile is affordable and Apple and Google have become a global gateway for all. In his opinion, the primary internet interface for 95 percent of people will be on mobile sooner than expected.

He believes many fragmented rules and standards, and particularly privacy issues, must be settled as this globalization occurs. He sees brands becoming more active in providing content and increasing spends on mobile advertising.

His final suggestion is directed to Google and Android – “PLEASE accelerate UX optimization for GooglePlay!”

Establishing a Company 101: Teamwork is Everything  

“Go with your gut feeling… not what your supervisor says.”

Ken believes the most important emphasis for his company is to build an energetic and motivated team. He has been able to form a well balanced team, which is a critical aspect of meeting their clients’ needs. Leading this team with optimism and a willingness to take action is what energizes him in his everyday work.

Ken tells us the greatest learning curve in his career occurred when he signed a highly lucrative deal which indirectly victimized another entity. He is determined to ensure that this never happens in the future. The most important thing he learned from this unfortunate experience was, “Go with your gut feeling… not what your supervisor says.”

About Ken Asakura

Ken considers his analytical proficiency as his main strength, which is undoubtedly a tremendous asset in his varied responsibilities. However, work is not the only emphasis in his life. In his spare time, he enjoys golf and is currently studying Business Management at UC Berkley. He is also passionate about music and appreciates many different genres including rock, hip hop, electro and house.

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