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OmNomster: What Works And Doesn’t Work In Shake-Based Mechanics

September 8, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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The developer of OmNomster, Olaf Morelewski, is an architect by trade, has worked as an art director making TV commercials, and since 2013, he’s been a game director making mobile games. This might look as if he can’t decide what to do in life, Olaf admits, but then explains: he always wanted to create or invent new things. A choice of the particular creative field wasn’t that important. Now Olaf runs Made It App, a studio based in Warsaw, Poland. “This is what I decided to do since I found that in making games, all creative fields meet together,” the developer says as he shares the story of OmNomster.


Feed OmNomster – The Hungry Monster [Official launch trailer] from Made It App on Vimeo.

A Game To Practice Programming

I decided that I’d try to make games on my own. I don’t mind working in a team, but after several years of doing only that, I wanted to make something by myself. The problem was that I had no programming background at all, so I enrolled for a programming methodology course at Stanford University on iTunesU, and after a month of studying a whole semester of lectures, I decided it was time to start making my first game.

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Practicing programming on Censored Files

As I was a programming noob (I still am BTW), I thought it would be better to start by making a simple text game. That’s how I came up with Censored Files – the game where a player reads crime stories and has to guess the blacked out words. I made the graphics and wrote the code, and my beloved wife wrote the crime stories (OK, so we were a team after all).

Two months later, the game was released on iOS… and didn’t sell at all. As I was doing it mainly to develop my programming skills, I wasn’t disappointed that much.

No Success in AppStore? Enter competitions!

„Fail harder”, says Nike’s headline. And so I got up and started making my second game right away. Still simple, yet more complex than the first one. It was OmNomster – a casual arcade game about a hungry monster who eats trash. I came up with an idea of shake-based mechanics. The player needs to shake the phone to bounce the monster on the walls and feed him trash.

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Shake the phone to feed trash to OmNomster the monster

I did the game design, UI/UX design, game art, and programming, and this time also decided to record all the SFX. So when you hear OmNomster eating trash — it’s me biting a watermelon mixed with me biting cornflakes. The sound of OmNomster hitting the walls is made of nine mixed tracks with different sounds of metal and wood items which I slammed against each other.

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Olaf creating sounds OmNomster makes in the game

Then I composed the music. “Composed” with a small “c” because it’s more of a 30-seconds quirky melody than real music, but anyway, it fits the game style.

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OmNomster eating trash: the sound of developer biting a watermelon + sound of developer chewing cornflakes

In three months after the first pencil sketch, the game was finally ready and the iOS release day was approaching. The Big Day! The game was published as a freemium one, and on the first day, it had 2k downloads, which I considered not a bad number. But since I didn’t invest in any serious marketing (apart from making a professional website, a game video, and emailing reviewer sites), every following day the download number was cut in half. In a few days, it came down to 10 downloads. Watching OmNomster drown in the Apple AppStore was really sad. He was alone and hungry.

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In three months after the first pencil sketch, the game was ready for release on iOS.

Even though the game didn’t do well on the store, I decided to submit it to some indie game competitions that I found on the Internet. The game was chosen for Indie Prize Showcase Amsterdam 2014, but first, I got selected to participate in Chartboost University (CBU) classes in Fall 2013. This was the game changer! In San Francisco, we were consulted by the top professionals from the game industry on how to design and monetize games in a sustainable way.

Through Chartboost, I met some super cool indie game devs from around the world. I remember a day when I heard about the AppCampus funding program from the devs from Wayward (Canada) and Headnought (Finland). It’s Microsoft and Aalto University joint funding for Windows Phone apps. So after I came back from San Francisco, I decided to submit Feed OmNomster – The Hungry Monster (aka OmNomster 2) with exclusive content and new features that we came up with during CBU sessions.

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The improved version of OmNomster got accepted by AppCampus three months after submission, when the developer already thought it didn’t fit.

But I had no answer from AppCampus for several weeks, so I thought that my idea didn’t fit in the program. Though three months later, when I was visiting my newborn son in a hospital, all of a sudden I received an acceptance email! That moment I felt that all my previous work was finally acknowledged, and it gave me hope that what I had been doing for the last year had sense.

Redesigning Controls and Monetization

I started developing new features which I promised to Microsoft right away. The changes were crucial. First of all, to the rather chaotic shaking game mechanics I added a more controllable slow motion mode, where the player can tilt the phone to move OmNomster more accurately. This was due to repeating feedback I got for the first version: shaking is fun, but it’s not skillful. In this new, better version, OmNomster is getting bigger and unlocks new features as the player’s experience grows.

And, finally: OmNomster now has the ability to shoot, and there are five diverse levels instead of just one.

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Now OmNomster can shoot, and there are five different levels instead of just one
Shaking is fun, but it’s not skillful, the players said.

I also redesigned the monetization mechanics. In OmNomster 1, there were several appearance customizations that could be bought, but it didn’t give the player any real benefit. Now the player can buy shields, unlock weapons, and upgrade time warp mode, so everything he/she buys is making the game easier. “Pretty obvious”, many might say. True, but for me, it was a huge progress that I made thanks to the CBU course. Now playing the new game is much more fun.

Feed OmNomster has been exclusively released for the Windows Phone Store, and the first game of OmNomster can be found at Made It App’s website. Meanwhile, Olaf has submitted the game to some more competitions and believes that the furry monster character design gives an opportunity to make physical merchandize toys. But he’s first going to focus on marketing Feed OmNomster in Windows Phone Store properly.

 

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5 Actionable Insights from Dengen Chronicles’ Experience on Windows Phone

June 2, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Mangatar is an Italian game company that specializes in social and mobile games development, and is currently an Intel Software Parnter. They stood out with their first game Mangatar Saga, an MMORPG set in the Manga universe. Afterwards, the team launched Dengen Chronicles, an ambitious browser game flavored with Manga inspiration. Sara Taricani, the web and content strategist for Mangatar, provides the lessons they learned from Dengen Chronicles.


Developing For Mobile

In 2011, Andrea Postiglione, Raffaele Gaito, Enrico Rossomando, Michele Criscuolo, and Alfredo Postiglione were inspired to build their own company using the experience they earned in the digital entertainment field. They officially became a company in 2012 under the name Mangatar, and our first game was launched a few months later. We experienced rapid growth, following up our first game Mangatar Saga with Dengen Chronicles around a year later. Then we made the decision to develop a mobile version of Dengen Chronicles for Windows Phone after making the trip to Finland for the exclusive AppCampus, the mobile application accelerator program financed by Nokia and Microsoft and managed by Aalto University in Espoo.

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Some of the Mangatar group relaxing on the green carpet

Since Dengen Chronicles is our very first exploration on mobile devices, you can bet we’ve been learning a lot. As with all new explorations of this kind, we equipped ourselves with a whole lot of studies and statistics. In part, we knew what to expect, and yet, in part, we absolutely didn’t know what to expect. As a matter of fact, the gaming realm is extremely unpredictable and challenging: you typically start off your adventure with tons of maps, but once you left your comfort zone to explore the new, you quickly realize that you just have to keep your mind open, your heart humble, and your brain sharp. Although it may seem quite trivial, your attitude makes the difference.

Advantages of Windows Phone

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Since Dengen Chronicles is our very first exploration on mobile devices, you can bet we’ve been learning a lot.

Remarkably enough, the ever-growing Windows Phone platform guarantees multiple advantages to app developers. Furthermore, Windows Phone Store is definitely more interesting in terms of revenue. According to the latest data, Windows Phone developers earn on average $0.23 per download, versus only $0.04 per download on Android. On iOS, the number is closer to $0.24 per download.

That said, we’ve picked the five most important lessons we’ve learned from our three-month experience on Windows Phone so far:

UI First, Then Gameplay

More often than not, users are promptly influenced by UI. The game’s UI stands as a watershed for mobile users who usually are very quick in deciding to keep playing, or just delete the app.

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The game’s UI stands as a watershed for mobile users who usually are very quick in deciding to keep playing, or just delete the app.

Considering the huge offer of brand new games available every day, the game’s visual elements play a key role. When casual gamers have to deal with too many (and sometimes too polished) game controls, they just run away. They want immediacy; that is to say, the game must be easy to understand and only require a few taps to get started. In comparison, the hardcore gamers instead seek perfection, coherence, and the possibility to manage each and every detail. If they find too much difference between the UI and the game’s characters (as it happened to us), they will feel entitled to enhance their prejudicial hatred towards the mobile.

This makes screenshots very important. When users take a peek at the game’s screenshots, they get a sense of the game. Even before testing the gameplay, users can decide whether or not it’s their kind of game. So be sure to choose the best screenshots.

Gamers’ Behavior Will Surprise You, and Make You Work Really Hard

The same game on different platforms can have different behaviors. As we synced the mobile and web versions, we’ve found some clear differences: there were fewer gaming sessions on web, but they were much longer (up to 10-15 minutes). Mobile had more gaming sessions, but for a much shorter time-frame (1-2 minutes). Since we noticed that attitude, we’ve been working hard to get the best out of the two behaviors and achieve frequent and long sessions on mobile. Through a series of focused modifications over time, we’ve managed to double the duration of mobile sessions.

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Hard at Work

Gamers’ Behavior Affects Your Revenues

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Generally speaking, mobile transactions are smaller than purchases on web.

Other differences we noticed involved in-app purchases. We specifically noticed that web users prefer bigger purchases (up to €20 on average). Mobile users instead opt for multiple small purchases (between €1 and €20). This trend was expected as, generally speaking, mobile transactions are smaller than purchases on web. We accordingly tried to better balance the game’s economy itself. Short and sweet, don’t ever underestimate the power of a top-notch user experience and do diversify your strategies.

Email Alerts Vs. Push Notifications: Epic Battle, Easy Winner.

We’ve given users the options to disable both push notifications and emails. Numbers don’t lie: mobile users are less willing to disable push notifications than web users, who just don’t want more emails in their inbox. As minimal as it is, push notification works fine to call users’ attention. You don’t even have to worry about the deadly spam folder.

When the mobile version of our game was about to come out, we had push notifications already in the cradle, so we didn’t have to change design. In fact, push notifications simply replaced email notifications. Admittedly, the mobile version has more notifications. We decided to keep as few emails as possible in order not to bother users.

Feedback is in the Air, Everywhere Gamers Look Around

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The most important feedbacks got us to create the option to delete one’s account to start a new saga with a new bloodline.

We absolutely suggest to provide gamers with an easy tool to leave feedback (we are happy UserVoice users). Much to our delight, mobile users are very active with suggestions, compliments, and bugs reports. Keep in mind that each and every feedback is a unique chance to dramatically improve the game. The most important feedback got us to create the option to delete one’s account to start a new saga with a new bloodline, while others made us work to simplify some mechanisms in the deck. Lots of feedback asked for offline matches in addition to PvP fights. Last but not least, the proactive bug reports enabled us to perform an amazing amount of bug fixes, much to the advantage of gamers.

These are just a few of the lessons we have learned so far. Other great lessons are yet to come, and we’re ready to welcome them and share them with you.

Dengen Chronicles is available in the Windows Phone Store. Currently, the team is working on the Facebook version; the iOS and Android apps will be released within 2014. Feel free to get in touch with them for more details on their Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Dark Lands: Making a Game True to Ourselves

April 9, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Mingle Games is an independent game development studio with main focus on mobile gaming. Based in Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, the company was founded in 2012 by two experienced game developers Vladislav Spevák and Jiří Formánek, who worked for game companies as Disney Mobiles, Centauri Production, or Lonely Sock. Vladislav shares the story of developing the company’s third game, Dark Lands.


Before Dark Lands, Mingle games released two gamesa physics-based logical-action game called Save The Birds and a hammer tossing game called Dwarven Hammer. While Save The Birds had some success with over 1.7 million downloads, Dwarven Hammer was pure failure. It was our good learning process though, where we put all the lessons and experience into Dark Lands. I am a programmer turned game designer and producer, while Jiri Formanek is still focusing mainly on programming. We hired Pavel Konfrst as artist to be part of a team.

After we failed with Dwarven Hammer (which was simple and quickly made), it was like a cold shower to wake up and stop doing things that we believe might have been popular, and instead focus on something that is a part of us and what we wanted to really play.

Creating Our Own Feel

We are all fans of fantasy as well as dark and horror themes, so we wanted to make something that would have unique look and artistic feeling, while not spending too many resources on complicated art. At the time, I was playing Limbo and was fascinated with the possibility to make a very strong atmosphere with just silhouettes. From that moment, I felt so inspired that I decided to also try to make a silhouette game, but with a different approach than Limbo. We also love Frank Miller as an artist, so we were inspired by his Sin City and 300!

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I felt so inspired that I decided to also try to make a silhouette game, but with a different approach than Limbo.

We started designing the art style and felt it was the way to go. Pavel did a great job bringing all our ideas to life and also putting little details in it that matters. Finally, we believed we had what it takes to be different and still minimalistic with a noir feeling. As a big fan of old games like Another World and the first Prince of Persia, we wanted to make more complex movement so we chose to use skeletal animations instead of sprite, as this allowed us to make way more animations without a great loss of memory.

As I love to play runners, I was playing with an idea to twist the gameplay a little and bring in a fight mode to the game to make it a hack-and-slash runner. I found that games like Punch Quest have a nice fighting model inside, but wanted to make it little more tactical while still using full scale of movement such as slide, jump, double jump, etc. Gameplay was the biggest challenge in the end. We decided to use gestures for running, so a simple swipe up was set for jump and double jump, while swipe down was used to slide, just like in games such as Temple Run. Incorporating a fighting system to this was the most difficult. We tried to use gestures over enemies to slash them (think Fruit Ninja), but that produced chaos in the control and was mixing with other gestures. We even tried virtual buttons for attack and block, but again, it didn’t feel good to mix virtual buttons with gestures. After many fails, testing, and changing of gameplay, we ended up with the simple control we have now: swipe up to jump, swipe down to slide, tap to attack, and two fingers hold to block. It just felt natural, and people we have tested it with finally liked it.

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It just felt natural, and people we have tested it with finally liked it.

Finding Funding

The issue with all development processes is always budget. We wanted to create a high-quality game, but time was ticking, so we could not spend too much time on it. We knew that creating another fast game would just result in failure, and we could expect to close the company right after that. Then came AppCampus, and everything good happened from there.

We applied for funding from the AppCampus program, and we were lucky enough to be selected! This was something that we needed, as we believed we had a great idea in Dark Lands and while we put all our knowledge and skills into its creation, we also knew we needed extra time to make it stand out from the rest. They helped us not only with funding, but also mentoring and education that helped us spend way more time on the game and brought in new ideas. We had to release Dark Lands exclusively for Windows Phone for period of three months, so we focused on this part first.

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We believed we had a great idea in Dark Lands.

Feature Hell and the Release

As we knew from our past projects, it is very easy to slip into feature hell and get killed by it. So we have been very strict with Dark Lands, making only the core gameplay, a limited amount of bosses and enemies, and two worlds. We wanted to release the game to see if our ideas and our game were what people actually wanted. It is always easy to think that your game is great, but the truth is, only the players will decide if the game is good or not. So we took all the necessary features we believed were needed to make the game feel complete and made those as perfect as we could as fast as possible to release it. Quality is always more important than quantity.

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Quality is always more important than quantity.

After a few extra months of development (six months total), we felt we finally had a core game that was ready to release. We self-published on Windows Phone (WP), and we had just a small marketing budget. The game went live on December 12, 2013 just before Slush 2013 in Helsinki. Before release, we were so scared of releasing another failure that we spoke loudly about closing the company after its release. But luckily, the game gained popularity right away. With support from the press as well as promotional help from Nokia and Microsoft we reached over 1,600,000 downloads to the date and became the most successful project of AppCampus. We reached the Top 1 Paid App spot in most of the countries, and also the Top 10 Free spot (we have been setting the game free for promotion). With thanks to all AppCampus team, namely: Paolo Borella, Timo Mustonen (Nokia), Ron Ellington, and rest of their hard working team, we had our breakthrough in mobile gaming.

What’s Next

We’ve been lucky that our game has gained mass popularity in a mostly organic way, so we didn’t have to spend money on promotion. But we released just the core game, and people wanted more. We felt it was time to bring in all the extra features we wanted to do: a level based mode, multiplayer, and new art, enemies, bosses, worlds, etc. Also, we needed to port the game to iOS and Android, so that after the three months WP exclusivity, we can release the game there as well. As the game has had great success on WP, we have had offers from multiple world class publishers for Dark Lands. We chose to go with Bulkypix, as their offer sounded fair, and we’ve known them for a long time. Now we have finished the port, and soon we will bring the game to the iOS, followed by Android, while we carry on updating WP.

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We released just the core game, and people wanted more.

As our company is very young, we learned that only hard work and dedication is the key to success. It is necessary to analyze heavily every step and decision to make things happen. Everything we do, we ask yourself why we want to do it, why it is important, and how that can bring interest to the game. It is also important to try it on other people before it is decided for full development. Prototyping is the key and throw ideas away as soon as they doesn’t look as perfect in reality as they do on paper. Not only have we been learning business by our mistakes and failures, but we are also learning how to be more effective, how to not get overworked, and how to not lose time on things that are not important. All this also comes with a large amount of stress and starting a game company is definitely not for everyone, so I would not recommend it if that person doesn’t feel strong urge to do it and is ready to fail and to learn from failure and keep improving. It is a tough business, but it is a beautiful and worthy effort. We are very proud of Dark Lands and how we were able to cooperate to bring it to success and we are so happy to have positive feedback from players. It is so pleasant to read all the mail fans send us. Having the game rating over 4.6 is fantastic and unexpected. But we are only at the beginning of the journey and many hard obstacles are in front of us. We have won this battle, but the war is not over yet.

Mingle Games is preparing lots of updates to content, gameplay and features to Dark Lands, with the iOS and Android version coming soon. Keep in touch with them on Facebook and Twitter.

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Company of Tanks: Bringing an Arcade Multiplayer Tank Experience to Mobile

February 26, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Based in Kajaani, Northern Finland, Critical Force Entertainment is the town’s first independent game company. Tim Spaninks was brought in as producer and lead designer to direct a young team in the development of a cross-platform game: Company of Tanks. In this article, Tim shares his experience of working with a fairly inexperienced team resulting in a very successful outcome.

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Initial goal: a high-quality tank game for the mobile platform

When I was brought into this project, World of Tanks (which is a massive online game developed by Wargaming.net) had fairly recently become insanely popular and managed to open up a completely new market segment for a new sub-genre called tank games.

Anything put on the Google Play Store featuring the word ‘tanks’ seemed to gather up to hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of downloads, seemingly regardless of the quality of the game. Therefore, the initial goal of Company of Tanks was to “create something like World of Tanks for mobile devices” with a quality that would outmatch the existing competition.

From left to right: Ville, Lassi, Sampsa, Mikko
From left to right: Ville, Lassi, Sampsa, Mikko

Sampsa, Mikko, and Lassi came to Critical Force Entertainment as interns, and managed to get a simple prototype up and running very quickly.
Right after I joined the team, we brought in our artists Ville and Thanabodi a.k.a. Viola from Thailand, and I knew we needed a change of direction.

Every Game Should Have its Own Identity

Right from the start, I didn’t agree with the mentality or the spirit of the project. Firstly, I believe that every game should have its own identity and bring a new experience to the player. It wouldn’t feel right to try to duplicate a game’s experience, even if it’s on another platform. Secondly, we were mainly developing for the mobile platform, which has a completely different target group and lends itself to different gaming experiences than PC and consoles.

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At first we were going for a more slow-paced, realistic style game

At first, we were going for a more slow-paced, realistic style game, but then decided to adapt the gameplay to the platform: the game would become faster and way more arcade-like to have shorter game sessions with more action. We also decided to change the visual style accordingly. The game was to become stylized to set the right expectations: it’s not a tank simulator and sure as hell isn’t a World of Tanks clone. This way, we would still appeal to a very large market segment aching to play 3D tank games, but at the same time differentiate ourselves from the competition in terms of style and gameplay.

It was now time to prototype, test, reflect, prototype, test, reflect, and so on to find the right way to make the game as fun as possible!

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The game was to become stylized to set the right expectations: it’s not a tank simulator and sure as hell isn’t a World of Tanks clone.

Saying No

Often in a game’s development, it’s the designer who says “Yes!” and the producer is who says “No!” to gameplay and feature suggestions. One of my toughest personal challenges in this project was to have to take both of these roles at the same time. Many awesome-sounding or even almost crucial features such as an in-game chat, friend lists, clan support, ranking lists, player stats, or simply the ability to completely customize your tank by drawing on it, placing emblems, etc. had to be put on hold or scrapped completely in favor of finishing the game on time. I was only going to be in Finland until mid-December, and the entire team would end up only working part-time on the game shortly after: we had to release a playable Android version before that time.

Prioritizing was essential, and through continuous debate and feedback, we were able to pinpoint what needed to be done to get everything ready on time. This often meant going for the absolute minimum viable options. No fancy customization and putting together your tank of parts collected throughout the game, but simply a very basic upgrade system.

Sometimes, it’s demotivating not to be able to make the game as awesome as you dreamt, but knowing that we could keep adding features and content after release and strive to make the game as perfect as possible is something that made it bearable.

Remember Who the Game is For

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Showcasing our game at the Northern Game Summit in Kajaani and DigiExpo in Helsinki was an extremely enriching experience

When we had our first playable version ready, we got some great opportunities to receive crucial feedback to pinpoint what aspects of the game we needed to work on. Showcasing our game at the Northern Game Summit in Kajaani and DigiExpo in Helsinki turned out an extremely enriching experience. I’ve learned a lot participating in the Northern Game Summit conference’s pitching competition. And winning the €5000 prize for the development of our game allowed us to speed up, acquire some needed licenses, additional testing devices, and invest in a custom-made soundtrack and sound effects.

The most beautiful moment of the entire project for me was at the DigiExpo 2013 event in Helsinki. A young kid picked up our tablet and immediately understood how to play, and got completely immersed in the game. At some point, he glanced over at his friend next to him with a grin and said “hyvää peli!” (meaning “good game!” in Finnish). This nearly broke me. This kid stayed at our booth playing the game for nearly an hour! When getting lost in the development process and reaching your deadlines, it’s easy to forget what you’re actually doing it all for. This was the moment when it became tangible for me that after all of our hard work, we were actually making this for someone. And that someone really loved our game! This is why I love my work, and those tiny moments make it all worthwhile.

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This is why I love my work, and those tiny moments make it all worthwhile.

The rest of DigiExpo was sort of a blur of wonderful moments with many people (mainly kids) playing the game. Besides providing us with a lot of feedback to pinpoint what aspects of the game needed work, it was a massive motivational boost for the rest of the project.

Player Base in the Beginning: No One to Play With

There was one thing throughout development that I was dreading the most: how are we going to get players? It’s known that it can be hard for smaller online indie games to gather enough people because nobody wants to play a game that doesn’t already have an established player base – which complicates things even more.

Before our Android build was ready, we decided to Beta test and soft launch our game on the web platform using Kongregate and Facebook. This would allow us to build interest and gather some players without any marketing budget and get some valuable feedback at the same time.

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There was one thing throughout development that I was dreading the most: how are we going to get players?

Testing the game on Kongregate revealed one massive problem: when a player wants to start an online match, he is thrown into a lobby to wait for enough players to start the game. Because we started out with a non-existent player base, as soon as someone tried to start a game, they found that nobody (or not enough players) was in the lobby, and simply disconnected. This led to a situation where there were continuously one or two players online who didn’t have enough people to play with.

Arguably, the biggest mistake made in the development process was the way we dealt with this. We figured that if we decrease the minimum player requirement to two and interest in the game would pick up later, the problem would vanish. Surely, when the Android downloads would start streaming in, the problem would fix itself? Well, it didn’t.

Shortly after the Android launch, we noticed the problem still existed, and released a patch changing it to a drop-in, drop-out kind of system that would throw the player immediately into an already running game. Thankfully, this worked and we now have an active player base!

Additional Tweaks

We’ve just reached over 240.000 downloads and with around 7000 downloads every day, the project has been a tremendous success for such a young team so far. Based on the numbers and received feedback, it’s safe to say that many people are playing and enjoying our game, which is a fantastic feeling!

In our eyes, the game is far from finished though. It’s lacking end-game content and goals to strive for. There are many features and content to be added and many in-game tweaks to be made. We’re working hard to implement metric systems to collect tons of data using various analytics plug-ins to determine where our focus needs to be. So far, we’ve basically been working in the dark, and shedding some light on the impact of changes we make will allow us to work more efficiently and improve the game where it counts.

In the meantime, we’ve applied for Microsoft & Nokia’s AppCampus program to be funded with €50.000 to create a Windows Phone version of the game with custom content for the platform. We plan to use those funds to further tweak the game and get ready for a later iOS release!

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