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Studio Spotlight

A Day at Gamepoint

January 23, 2014 — by Carl Quinton

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Just after Casual Connect Kyiv, I visited our friends at Gamepoint in their offices. It’s a friendly little spot on the coast of the Netherlands, and frankly, I’m a bit jealous.

Gamepoint Team
Gamepoint – a friendly little spot on the coast of the Netherlands

I arrived in Den Haag Central station via train from Amsterdam. The convenient public transportation made my meetings very easy to get to. I decided to spend the time before my meeting walking from Central station to the Gamepoint offices, going from a modern downtown area through parks, historic houses and international embassies. The feel of the city was a wonderful balance of convenience, history, and open spaces.

When I arrived at the offices, I was greeted by Rik Haandrikman. If you have never met Rik, you should take the time to do so. He is a large, fit guy with a personality that leaves you at ease despite his formidable stature. We toured the offices, stopping in each of the departments, then had a nice chat with the CEO Amon Endt, and finished the morning by having lunch with the entire company in their cafeteria.

Cafeteria
Everyone enjoying a delicious lunch at the office

Downstairs, I saw the Community Management Office, run by Jeffrey Otterspoor. This group handles customer support by email, phone, and in-game. They also organize on- and offline support for the community.

Upstairs, I first met the Web Development Team, who are responsible for backend and frontend website coding; then the System Engineering group, who takes care of the hardware, as well as keeping two million monthly players connected.

One of the most interesting stops on the tour housed the Game Development Team, led by Bob Christoff, who also remotely runs the game development coding team in Kyiv .This is the group that conceptualizes the games. There were a couple of walls covered with the latest top secret games, and Bob came over to show me some of the challenges. We briefly talked about the difficulties of moving games from a big screen to small mobile screens. It was a very engaging conversation for me because it just felt like the puzzle-solving room. Have an issue, a goal, or an idea? This is the place to hash it out. Maybe they should rename it the crime-solving department.

I also met the Art Team, run by Lenart Poort, where every piece of 2D art and animation is created for the games, the website and other forms of communication, such as online ads and magazines. Currently, they are working on buses that the studio will be branding in the Netherlands. The HR Department is, of course, also very important since it pays all the salaries. This department is the responsibility of Fleur van Rijmenam.

Finally, Rik showed me the Business Development or Growth Team, which he runs. This team is responsible for all types of user acquisition, retention through CRM and product improvements and monetization improvements, both in and around the games. Rik tells me his team is highly data driven, spending most of their time with their many backend tools, looking for ways to keep players engaged and paying.

During the tour, I really sensed the energy and atmosphere of the company. The offices are laid out in a typical open office environment with conference rooms and departments separated only by glass walls. Desks are turned in on each other with only a monitor and a seam in the wood to separate you from your neighbors. With this layout, the lively and friendly interaction of co-workers solving the various issues of the day came through loud and clear. Entering a department area didn’t feel like an intrusion. I felt like Norm from the TV show Cheers, walking into a bar where everyone knew my name. Of course, they didn’t actually know my name, but that is how it felt.

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There is lively and friendly interactions between co-workers

Lunch time arrived, and I didn’t see anyone head out the door for food. Almost all of us went into the cafeteria where Anja Zoutenbier prepares lunch each day. One of her specialties is traditional Dutch fatty sausage, a favorite of the whole group. Once everyone had a plate of food, we all crowded into a spot around three long tables. Rik and I ended up next to a couple of people from the Customer Service Team. The conversation mainly focused on costumes and parties for Halloween (rarely celebrated in the area). Apparently some costumes of Sinterklaas are hanging around the office, which is an interesting story in itself.

While lunch was going on, another group was in the game room, playing Trials Evolution, intensely involved in the semi-finals of the competition. We finished eating just in time to see one of the competitors get knocked out of the tournament. Rik later told me the Halloween party included an epic competition of Trials Evolution, which had half the company crowded around the TV, watching a nail-biting showdown between the two finalists.

Tournament

Gamepoint is a place where you work hard, but you play hard, too. I could see making a lot of new friends there, given any time to stay.

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Wrapping Up Casual Connect Kyiv 2013

November 14, 2013 — by David Nixon

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The first global conference program to recognize and serve the game development community in Eastern Europe, Casual Connect works every year to bring great speakers, the most current topics, valuable industry learnings, and meaningful connections with the most qualified, successful game development community in Eastern Europe and beyond. The show included speakers from a number of multinational organizations such as Facebook, Game Insight, Big Fish Games, G5 Games, and Unity, as well as key domestic success stories like Odnoklassniki and Creative Mobile Games. More than 60 speakers from all over the world presented information-packed sessions about free-to-play games design and operations, social casino games, technological evolutions, development methodologies, new platforms, postmortems…and the list goes on.

Sessions
More than 60 speakers from all over the world presented information-packed sessions.

In addition to the sessions, attendees at Casual Connect had the opportunity to build relationships with other businesses and create strong community ties, something that Casual Connect strives to accomplish with each conference. Networking opportunities were everywhere, including at the fun and unique sponsored parties. The Indie Prize Showcase also gave new developers a chance to talk to publishers and other developers about what they’ve been doing.

Indie Prize
The Indie Prize Showcase also gave new developers a chance to talk to publishers and other developers about what they’ve been doing.

The Most Prominent Woman in Games Award from Casual Games Association was also awarded in Kyiv to Julia Palatovska, Business Development Director at G5 Entertainment.

Julia Palatovksa
Julia Palatovska, The Most Prominent Woman in Games Award Winner

With Casual Connect Kyiv now a fond memory, Casual Connect turns their attention towards their return to the location of the FIRST-ever show, and hopes to see you in AMSTERDAM in February 2014!

If you were unable to attend the show, the presentations were recorded on video and made available for free on Gamesauce and the conference website.

Casual Connect Videos on Gamesauce:

Barak Rabinowitz: Analytics and Social Casino
Artur Sakalis: Opportunities in Eastern Europe
Oleg Pridiuk: Dare to Own the Task
Kresimir Spes Pursues Perfection
Roman Povolotski: Stabilizing Success
Oren Kaniel: Measure Twice, then Measure Again
Katia Vara: Leveraging Global Experience
Nemanja Posrkaca on Making Games Accessible for Everyone
Kadri Ugand: The Value of Accelerators
Roei Livneh Sets the Bar High
David An: Kimchi and Publishing at ProSiebenSat1
John Gargiulo: Looking at the Potential
Sara Lempiainen: Reaching and Supporting the Developer Community
Ville Heijari: The Importance of Focus and Collaboration
Maarten de Koning: Navigating the Minefield of Rapid Change
Patrick Wheeler: Bringing Mobile Gaming to China
Valentin Merzlikin: Putting On Your Game
Michail Katkoff on Staying Out Front
Dan Prigg: Moving Forward
Ivan Lavoryk: Facing the Latest Challenge

More videos can be found on the conference website.

Other Coverage of Casual Connect Kyiv:

“Mario is Out, Mobile is In” – App2Top
The Long Lasting Aftertaste of Casual Connect Kyiv – Renatus
Shorts Cuts: Why Fishing Cactus wants its next game to turn gamers into coders – Pocketgamer.biz
Big Fish Opening the PC Market to Android Devs – App2Top
BlueStacks partners with Big Fish on mobile game integration – CNET
WildTangent Expands to ASUS Tablets and PCs – App2Top
5 promising indie games from Casual Connect in Kiev – Pocketgamer.biz
Casual Connect Kiev 2013: Interview with DeNA – App2Top: Russian Version and English Version
Community spirit: Why every dev needs to foster a relationship with their players – Pocketgamer.biz
Casual Connect Kyiv 2013: App Annie will soon open an office in Moscow – App2Top: Russian Version and English Version
‘Mario is out’: Why BlueStacks believes microconsoles will fill gaming’s console shaped hole – Pocketgamer.biz
Casual Connect Kyiv 2013: interview with WildTangent – App2Top (Russian)
Short Cuts: How small studios can benefit from the power of recognised IP – Pocketgamer.biz
Casual Connect Kyiv 2013: Interview with Big Fish – App2Top (Russian)
Casual Connect Kyiv 2013 – glafi.com
Jessica Tams: People Don’t Sneer at Casual Games Anymore – App2Top: Russian Version and English Version

Video Coverage

Ivan Lavoryk: Facing the Latest Challenge | Casual Connect Video

November 7, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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Ivan Lavoryk, CTO of Joyrocks, talked about how he built the back end to support today’s traffic and tomorrow’s growth during Casual Connect Kyiv 2013.

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Ivan Lavoryk is head of technical development at JoyRocks, a social free-to-play game development company focused on web and mobile platforms. He started his career in 2005 as a game developer with FriendsGames. While there, he participated in the development of over nine game development projects, including PowerTV and PC. He moved to the outsourcing company SoftServe in 2007 and from there to JoyRocks in 2013.

Lavoryk’s excitement about the games industry is evident when he tells us that for him the biggest challenge is always the latest challenge and that he derives huge satisfaction from solving any of them. “After spending a number of years in an outsourcing company, I am very proud and happy to be back in the games industry again.”

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“After spending a number of years in an outsourcing company, I am very proud and happy to be back in the games industry again.”

It’s Time to Synchronize

The most important trend that Lavoryk sees in the games industry today is allowing players to play the same game on mobile devices, as well as the PC, and synchronizing their game progress across all of their devices. He points out that this is easy to do if these devices are always online and can communicate with the back-end. However, many games are also played in offline mode, storing the game progress on the device, and then synchronizing the data to the back-end. As a result, they must solve the problem of merging the data from the users’ different devices. He recognizes that this problem has not been solved for all types of gameplay. For example, Candy Crush Saga has solved the problem, but The Tribez has not.

Lavoryk emphasizes that this problem is not trivial. He feels the easiest way to solve it would be to make sure all mobile devices have access to the internet in any place. Solving this problem would allow users to play the same game, showing their game progress on any device, whether or not the device is online.

Ivan Lavoryk
Ivan Lavoryk, CTO, JoyRocks

Always Evolving

Considering the future of the game industry, Lavoryk underscores the difficulty of making predictions in a rapidly evolving industry. He claims that, while it might be possible to identify a coming trend for the next six months, no one can say what will happen in three years.

When Lavoryk is not occupied with his work, he is still often involved with games, particularly playing video games with his sons. Another of his special interests is caring for his fresh water aquarium. He says, “It is very interesting to organize life in the fresh water tank, helping the plants and fish to grow. It helps me to calm down.”

Video Coverage

Dan Prigg: Moving Forward | Casual Connect Video

November 1, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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Dan Prigg joined a panel of publishers from around the world to discuss the state of the game publishing landscape at Casual Connect Kyiv 2013.

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Dan Prigg, Head of Studios for Spil Games, began his career as a tester in the games industry in the 1990s, an experience he describes as a leap of faith. The greatest challenge he has faced is figuring out what he wanted to do in his career. He dealt with this by remaining both flexible and open-minded. He says, “I continued constantly evolving myself and self-educating because trends in the industry moved so quickly.”

Spreading Out

Dan Prigg
Dan Prigg, Head of Studios, Spil Games

Spil Games emphasizes the importance of creating localized games, not surprising since they have people playing their games across six continents and platforms with 180 million monthly active users. They have two studios in the Netherlands and one in Shanghai, for which Prigg is responsible. Because he has previously run studios and content road maps, he is very comfortable in this position.

Now, he is enjoying exploring Amsterdam after moving there from the US. His wide-ranging interests have him spending free time playing the guitar, writing and, when possible, indulging his music preference for 80s Hair Bands and becoming involved with photography.

Shifting Trend

The most important trend in the games industry today, according to Prigg, is the shift from traditional laptops to tablets, the device he sees coming to dominate our living rooms. He believes tablets on WiFi will have more impact than anything else for his company. At Spil Games, they plan to respond to this change by developing heavily on HTML5, which they believe will become more and more prolific in the future.

Video Coverage

Michail Katkoff on Staying Out Front | Casual Connect Video

November 1, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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Michail Katkoff described important mechanics of retention, virality, and monetization in the mid-core genre during Casual Connect Kyiv 2013.

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Michail Katkoff, Director of Product Management, Scopely

Michail Katkoff has recently joined Scopely as Director of Product Management, where he works with developers in all phases of the product development cycle. Since some developers are closing to a soft launch, some are in pre-production phase and others are out with a live product, his contribution varies depending on the product phase. At different times, he is building game economy and core loop, going through numbers and reviewing traffic performance, optimizing user flows, or putting together user tests to see how the current build performs with real users. He says, “I get to do daily the tasks a normal product manager would do during a year—and that’s awesome!”

Family Support for Sega

Katkoff’s fascination with games began as a very small child. When he was only five years old, his family moved to Finland and immediately made a huge sacrifice to give him a Sega, which he feels was an investment that has proven immensely valuable. Without a background in programming or art, he didn’t realize he could have a career with the games industry. But in 2010, he discovered an opening for a Product Manager with Digital Chocolate, applied, and was excited to get the position. While there, he developed, managed, and launched Facebook games. Two years later, he joined Rovio, leading games monetization, and then Supercell as Product Manager for Clash of Clans and later Partnership Lead, building the business side of games. He emphasizes, “My experiences at Supercell and Rovio have given me a unique window into everything that goes into scaling a mobile game into a global success.”

What worked a year ago just doesn’t move the needle anymore. You have to be learning and evolving all the time to stay ahead of the game.

Attacking Social Games

The most gratifying time of Katkoff’s career was the launch of his first game, Army Attack. He found the road to that moment long and filled with doubts as he thought over and over that the project would be killed. He states, “When it was finally launched and we saw really good numbers coming in, I was extremely proud.”

Agile Not Just for Development 

When Katkoff joined Supercell and was asked to do business development rather than building games, he experienced his greatest challenge. He responded by creating targets and establishing a strict timeline for reaching these targets. He explains, “Basically, I created a mini SCRUM for myself with two-week sprints.”

Katkoff revels in the pace of the games industry as it evolves and grows at enormous speed. He points out, “What worked a year ago just doesn’t move the needle anymore. You have to be learning and evolving all the time to stay ahead of the game.” And this is what keeps him in the business.

Michail Katkoff
When not involved with work, he indulges his love of sports

Rising Production Value on Mobile

When not involved with work, he indulges his love of sports, especially mixed martial arts, and is at the gym daily. He also enjoys listening to Rap for the confidence boost it gives him. No wonder he describes himself as driven!

When considering the future of the games industry over the next few years, Katkoff emphasizes the importance of mobile devices, with high level production hitting the market as soon as smartphones are able to run them. He doesn’t expect console-type gaming to be a big factor on mobile. Instead, he claims, “We’ll be seeing more of the deeply engaging casual titles that conquer the hearts of the vast majority of people who don’t consider themselves as players.”

Video Coverage

Valentin Merzlikin: Putting On Your Game | Casual Connect Video

November 1, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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Valentin Merzlikin shared his thoughts on what Eastern European developers need to accomplish in order to hold onto their place in the global games ecosystem during Casual Connect Kyiv 2013.

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Valentin Merzlikin, Director at Prosto Games

Valentin Merzlikin, Director at Prosto Games, first became interested in the games industry in 2004, when he was looking for a new business, possibly a shareware products company. Two friends approached him to market the game they had developed. He decided to give it a try and soon found himself addicted to this entirely new world.

So Happy to be Here

“This is the most interesting industry I have ever been involved in!” Merzlikin declares. “Games are fun! Besides that, you are learning new things every day, surprising both colleagues and competitors. You receive almost immediate responses to the results of your work from hundreds and thousands of people. And the industry keeps changing and growing.”

We will see more convergence between phones, wearable computers and in-house entertainment. Wearable computers will broadly employ Augmented Reality experiences.

But if he were not in the industry, he sees himself running some sort of mobile startup and trying to reach millions with his apps. He claims, “That sounds fascinating.”

In his free time, he enjoys wine tasting, travel, and playing mobile games. But with the intensity of his work, he admits it is a good thing he can do all three at the same time.

Helping Indies

Office Work
At Prosto Games, he helps independent developers distribute games of different genres on different platforms and finds unique product niches.

As Executive Producer at Neskinsoft, he has the opportunity to share his vision, as well as the things he has learned at CGA’s Casual Connect and GDE sessions. Although he claims he still has a lot to learn, his knowledge is helping to create better games. At Prosto Games, he helps independent developers distribute games of different genres on different platforms and finds unique product niches. He also consults on effective marketing campaigns in the mobile market. He believes that both his biggest challenges and the greatest moments of his career lie ahead. Everything he is working on, the new games and platforms, excites him, and he is looking forward to seeing what will happen next.

Interactive Adventures and Wearable Computing

Merzlikin believes the next trend coming to the casual market is interactive quests. This is the direction hidden objects games are evolving. He does not see large changes in gaming habits, although he expects people to play more and to spend more time with personal entertainment devices. He tells us we will see more convergence between phones, wearable computers, and in-house entertainment. He also believes wearable computers will broadly employ Augmented Reality experiences.

He expects to see marketing become even more difficult, although there will still be opportunities for new entertainment platforms that gain and retain the gamer audience. This is one of the things he is currently working on with his partners.

Video Coverage

Patrick Wheeler: Bringing Mobile Gaming to China | Casual Connect Video

October 31, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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“China is big, we all know this,” Patrick Wheeler tells his audience at Casual Connect Kyiv 2013, “but to deliver games there, you need to be wary of the regulations and choose Chinese partners carefully.”

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Patrick Wheeler, CEO of Smartions, describes his company as a provider of comprehensive game and app adaptation services for the Chinese mobile market, supporting their clients in effectively monetizing games and apps, as well as increasing user acquisition and retention. Their goal is to make China accessible to foreign game developers, so they act as a business enabler through providing services in adapting, publishing and monetizing games in China, as well as a technical enabler with their China SDK and tools. Patrick says, “Bringing great mobile games to China and making the experience as painless as possible is what we are all about.”

Patrick Wheeler, CEO of Smartions
Patrick Wheeler, CEO of Smartions

He explains that his experience while working with Aeria Games in Berlin taught him a great deal about the economics of free-to-play games since monetizing in difficult markets is something Aeria Games excels at. As well, every member of the Smartions team brings an understanding of the B2B market in the West and the B2C market in China. As a result, they are working with more and more great publishers and developers to bring their games to China.

Establishing a Business

Patrick started his career as a developer many years ago, at a job where his focus was on the details, the components of a problem, and finding a solutions to complex code level issues. He found running a business naturally requires a broader focus, looking at the big picture and the road ahead. Finding a balance between these perspectives took a lot of discipline, and being able to see enough of the detail in the day-to-day challenges, while at the same time keeping an eye on all-important business objectives was difficult. He maintains, “You learn that being a perfectionist is a sure way to bury yourself with stress, so sometimes a little compromise is required in order to get things done.”

Founding the Smartions Berlin office in June of this year with his colleague, Rajmund Balogh, is the time Patrick feels has brought him the greatest satisfaction in his career. They had both worked with Smartions China CEO, Fang Liang, and with their combined industry experience, as well as the increasing focus on the mobile gaming market in China, it made sense to use their shared passion for the business to establish a presence in Europe.

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Both Patrick and Rajmund, founders of Smartions Europe, work closely with Smartions China

Regulation

Since the focus for Smartions is mobile gaming in China, their greatest challenge is regulation, especially possible changes in regulation. In China, the only model that works for mobile gaming is free-to-play. As a result, developers are centering their attention on increasingly aggressive free-to-play monetization models, some of which cross the line between free-to-play and pay-to-win. But China already has regulations governing foreign games, virtual money, gaming consoles, and online gambling, as well as legislation requiring anti-fatigue and addiction mechanisms in online games. So the industry in China must police itself with regard to monetization methods in free-to-play games or risk the potential for more government regulation.

“To thrive in China, one typically needs a more robust free-to-play monetization model than in the West. And if a game lacks well thought-out monetization, it can be difficult to retrofit without diluting the gaming experience.”

Whilst Patrick does not see self-regulation as being likely for the industry in China and believes that this may prompt further intervention in the Games market by Chinese regulators, he emphasizes, “To thrive in China, one typically needs a more robust free-to-play monetization model than in the West. And if a game lacks well thought-out monetization, it can be difficult to retrofit without diluting the gaming experience.” Patrick reminds us that although China has a history of issuing broadly worded notices that impose strict regulations affecting various aspects of the gaming industry, he also expects the west, including EU, may also start looking at more controls on free-to-play gaming in the coming years.

He suggests that in China, app stores may play a part in responding to this situation through their approval processes, possibly mitigating the perceived need for more regulation. But it is up to individual developers and publishers to make sure they stay on the right side of the line between robust monetization mechanics and monetization mechanics that verge into grey areas, either legally or ethically. It is especially important to self-regulate when bringing a foreign game to China via one of China’s local publishers.

Bringing a Game to China

Patrick describes the process Smartions goes through in bringing a game to China:

“When we look at a game and the market-fit in terms of China, we take a look at all aspects of the game, including monetization. We will evaluate and adapt the monetization model for China and, before making changes to these mechanics, we consider how these changes will impact (positively or negatively) the player experience, and if there may be any “harmonization” issues. In other words, we need to calibrate the monetization model to the market and be responsible in doing so.”

“When we look at a game and the market-fit in terms of China, we take a look at all aspects of the game, including monetization." Game Screen from Magic Beanie
“When we look at a game and the market-fit in terms of China, we take a look at all aspects of the game, including monetization.” Game Screen from Magic Beanie

Evolution of Mobile Gaming

There are now several trends that Patrick sees converging in the industry. The console hardware that will soon be available to gamers will provide more immersive gaming in free-roaming worlds. The consoles themselves, head-mounted displays, and motion controllers are all components of this trend. He is also interested to see how cloud computing will be harnessed to complement the processing capabilities of consoles and smart devices. The increased power of smart devices will allow more sophisticated AAA titles to be targeted toward mobile gamers.

He emphasizes, “The evolution of mobile games and development environments, whether Unity, Marmalade, Game Maker, native etc., means we have to constantly ensure our teams’ skills are sharpened and expanded. We need to maintain both a broad and deep skillset internally. To incorporate this in our planning means a lot of time is dedicated to training and ensuring we do what we can to retain knowledge internally. The basic principle here is simple: we hire great developers who love games and do what we can to make sure that they are happy in their work!”

At Casual Connect Kyiv, Patrick announced that Smartions will be releasing some great mobile titles in China in the coming months. According to Patrick, they have signed Czech publisher Craneballs and will be bringing their highly popular shooter Overkill 2 to China on Android, as well as Magic Beanie, a beautiful 3D endless runner built on Unity made by Byte Rocker’s in Berlin. In addition to the multitude of character customizations within the game, Patrick says, “The launch itself is unique in the fact that it’s a China first launch, and we have been lucky to have been able to work closely with the Byte Rocker’s team to develop some really engaging China focused content and mechanics within Magic Beanie, so we are very excited to be bringing these and other games to China in the coming months.”

Overkill 2 is just one of the games Smartions will be releasing on mobile.
Overkill 2 is just one of the games Smartions will be releasing on mobile.

Also, before the end of the year, they will be making Smartport China SDK available externally. This SDK provides mobile game developers with direct access to popular mobile payment services in China (both carrier and independent) as well as Social Media platforms such as WeChat, Sina Weibo and others. Supported by their China analytics platform, the SmartPort SDK enables developers to monetize their games and build their player community in China. Plugins for Unity and Marmalade will follow close behind. SmartPort is an important component of the solution they are building to open up China to foreign developers.

Video Coverage

Maarten de Koning: Navigating the Minefield of Rapid Change | Casual Connect Video

October 31, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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“The biggest incentive for developers used to be funding; now you need to bring additional services,” Maarten de Koning said during Casual Connect Kyiv 2013.

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Maarten de Koning, Director of Business Development Europe, DDM

Maarten de Koning is Director of Business Development Europe for Digital Development Management, the world’s leading consultancy and talent agency for video games and digital entertainment. DDM has three divisions: Game Studio Representation, Game Industry Services and Game Production Services. All are dedicated to servicing development studios and the games industry across all platforms of connected entertainment.

De Koning is responsible for overseeing the overall management of DDM Europe and its clients. He has a financial background, as well as experience in games development as a producer, so he is in a good position to listen and to understand the needs of their clients and to help them do what they do best: making great games.

Keeping Up

De Koning is well-placed to observe trends in the games industry. He says, “Keeping up with the insane speed of new trends and business models, and adapting to them as a development studio is very challenging, to say the least.” But he thinks that the one thing that will most affect the games industry in the next few years is having one universal (mobile) device, allowing users to play any game from all formats anywhere they want, streaming over the cloud.

He believes there is no easy way to respond to the constantly changing industry because these are the result from external factors and influences on the market in general. However, he suggests that developers, and sometimes even publishers, should specialize in things they have done well and stick to that. Trying to change with every new trend makes up for a poor long-term strategy.

Mitigating the challenge of adapting to the changing needs and trends of the games industry is what DDM does. They advise clients on what they should focus on and support them in their business development efforts, making sure they get the right deal with the right partner. De Koning emphasizes, “We help them to navigate the mine field, as this is what I feel the industry sometimes is. It’s simply a hit or miss.”

Ninja Theory
Ninja Theory’s “Fightback” is one of the games DDM has been involved with.

Moving On and Growing Up

De Koning finds his work at DDM very fulfilling. He tells us that one of his greatest accomplishment of his career was selling his company, Green Hill, to DDM and joining them as Director of Business Development. He was able to leverage Green Hill’s previous presence and success in Europe, growing DDM Europe significantly with new, top tier clients.

One of the most challenging things De Koning has done was managing multiple development teams as a producer, since each team had its own culture, management methods and bottlenecks. He discovered that game development is research and development in its purest form and is extremely difficult. This experience taught him that every day is a new opportunity to learn, for both the producer as the individual team members. He became fascinated with agile management methodologies, which made his work as a producer previously and now as a Director much easier.

During his time away from work, De Koning can be found traveling, collecting and drinking good wine and enjoying good food. As a dedicated Mac enthusiast, he likes to collect old Macs and accessories.

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Cyto’s Puzzle Adventure – Breaking Out and Evolving Ideas

October 31, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Ukraine-based Room 8 Studio‘s mission is to break ground in the mobile games space. With the big sense of purpose and effort, they created their first game, Cyto’s Puzzle Adventure. The Room 8 team tells the story.

For about a year, the Room 8 team has been working on Cyto’s Puzzle Adventure, but the development process turned out to be longer and harder than we expected. Still, our whole team looks back on that time in a positive light, and we received invaluable experience.

A Sticky Start

The story of our game begins in late 2011. None of our team had experience in developing for iOS, or game development, for that matter. What we did have was a great desire to make a really high-quality product that we could be proud of. We came up with a great idea about a cute little creature with tentacles that could cling to different objects. Without thinking twice, we started to develop this game we called Sticky. The plan was to make it in a couple of months to be just in time for the Christmas sales, but in the end, the process was somewhat delayed.

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The first demo we sent to Chillingo looked like this.

By creating the first working demo, we immediately sent it to Chillingo, our prospective publisher. There were no levels or design, just the bare prototype with a brief description and some concept art. This is a very useful practice. The mistake of many developers is that they give publishers an almost complete, or even completely finished game, when publishers can also be beneficial to noticing a promising project at an early stage. The sooner they join in on the development process, even if it is at the level of general council as to which direction to go, the better it is for everyone.

However, we were disappointed. After looking at the concept, Chillingo said that the mechanics of the game was not new or original, and forwarded us several variants of such games. Although these examples had little resemblance to our concept, we started to think about alternatives. Looking back now, we realize that the publishers helped us a lot. If development of Sticky was not delayed, it’d be lost among the other similar games, many of which have become quite successful.

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If development of Sticky was not delayed, it’d be lost among the other similar games, many of which have become quite successful.

Just a couple of months after freezing the project Sticky, Chillingo released the game Munch Time, and in October 2012, Microsoft introduced Tentacles: Enter the Dolphin. The appearance of these two games blew away the novelty effect we would have liked to achieve with Sticky. Then a new game Tupsu was released, which included some features we had planned to implement, not to mention the gameplay itself.

This happens all the time in the App Store: as long as you think through and develop some “brilliant” idea, someone has already started to implement it. Or, even worse, you can see a clone of your game in the Store just when you have done about 80 percent. You have to be ready for this and not delay the development of applications for iOS.

Character
The main character Tentacles is almost the exact opposite of Sticky

Changes in the Concept of the Game

At the close of the Sticky project, we had approved the concept art and character, and had finished the physical model. We didn’t want to start from scratch, so as a basis, it was decided to take the ready developments and modify them qualitatively. On one hand, this limited us in making some decisions, but on the other, it saved time and, although in a different form, helped us realize what we originally intended. After several days of stubborn brainstorms, we prepared a new concept. Among the sketches of the Sticky character, we liked this one the most:

Sticky

The idea is that the character itself is inside the gelatinous envelope. We can see an expressive little face with different emotions, surrounded by a deformed envelope from which the tentacles can be drawn out. Such a character perfectly suited our new concept: we don`t pull the tentacles from the outside, but rather, the character itself deforms the envelope in which he lives.

At first, it was assumed that the character would stick its shell to multiple objects and move around in this way. But after some thought, we abandoned this option because there were no interesting mechanics with it. After observing the behavior of the different elastic objects (don`t get it wrong, haha), we came to the conclusion that the best thing would be to make the skin more elastic, like a rubber band, so the character could run itself like a slingshot. Such game mechanics have already become clear and familiar to many people, but with our approach to the game, it does not look like a clone of Angry Birds. With this in mind, and with enthusiasm, we started to develop.

Microscopic World

As for the setting of the game, it was decided to put the character into the microscopic world. Its shell could stick to organic objects (cells), and float around different crystals, viruses, and other poultry. Of course, we had to abandon the backgrounds that were drawn for Sticky.

The first concept art, collected from real macro-photos
The first concept art, collected from real macro-photos

In some sense, the nature of the game world dictated the design requirements. It was supposed to be rich, “juicy”, and minimalist at the same time. So we thought to make the whole design monotonous, almost monochrome, and play with only a few shades of the base color. Also, it was planned to present levels in the form of macro photography with a deep background and a set of realistic small details. However, these locations poorly suited the cartoon character, and so it was decided to simplify them, too.

Our approved version of the concept art
Our approved version of the concept art

Naming the Game

When we came up with the name of the game, we wanted to convey the microscopic nature of the game world, make it unique, like a biological term, but short and well-remembered. A perfect example is the term Osmos: it has all of the above, plus, in some way, a description of gameplay. There were not so many options, but among them was Cyto. This is not an independent word; it is a prefix meaning cell and is used in compound terms, such as cytoplasm.

It was a good idea for the working title of the project, so we went with it. More than once, we tried to come up with a new title, but in the process of development we got so used to Cyto that we could not imagine it being called something else. We even decided to name the main character Cyto, even though we had assumed that it would have its own name.

Revealing Cyto’s Puzzle Adventure

CytoIn the end, after many revisions and improvements, Cyto Puzzle Adventure finally came into existence. In this regard, we would like to advise novice developers to assess their strength and timing realistically. We planned to make the game in a couple of months, but spent much more time on it. We were lucky, and were able to complete the project. For most startups, unfortunately, the overestimation of the forces is equivalent to failure.

Optional, but very desirable, attributes of high-quality games are the little details, like sailing bubbles and particles on the background, beautifully appearing buttons, and all sorts of invisible (at first glance) animations and effects. For example, has anyone tried “to tap” on Cyto’s face? 🙂 Start your fabulous journey in microcosm now by downloading the puzzle!

Cyto’s Puzzle Adventure took part in Casual Connect Kyiv 2013‘s Indie Prize Showcase. To stay up to date on the workings of Room 8, like them on Facebook.

Video Coverage

Sara Lempiainen: Reaching and Supporting the Developer Community | Casual Connect Video

October 30, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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Sara Lempiainen was excited to talk about WebGL during Casual Connect Kyiv 2013. “WebGL is the biggest leap in browser technology and will unlock creativity,” she says.

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saralempiainen
Sara Lempiainen, Evangelist, Goo Technologies

Sara Lempiainen is an evangelist for Goo Technologies, where her work involves engaging the community of Goo Engine developers. She came to this work with a background in leading teams in a variety of projects, where she developed the ability to support and transfer energy to others. She also emerged with the confidence necessary to reach and inspire this community of developers.

The Power of Listening

She tells us the greatest challenge in her career has been learning to understand how to influence and get through to different types of people. This critical skill requires her to truly listen, and she is still learning every day.

Her greatest satisfaction comes through reaching someone with the speeches she gives.  “When someone comes up to me after a speech and tells me they felt inspired by my talk, I feel truly humble and thankful that people take the time to listen,” Lempiainen says.  “I make sure to put hard work and energy into my presentations so the audience gains value and walks away with new energy.”

Colleague at Work
A colleague working on the Goo Engine

Lempiainen describes herself as curious, an aspect of her personality which explains her preferred music genres of alternative rock and progressive metal. She enjoys their excellence in creating interesting sounds combined with strange and thought-provoking lyrics. In her free time, she prefers to play games, read novels, draw and code.

Cloud-Based Gaming

Currently Lempiainen is following the rise of cloud-based gaming and distribution channels for games and apps made in WebGL and HTML5, feeling that this is the games industry trend that will most affect Goo Technologies over the next several years. They plan to respond to these developments by making sure they are able to give content creators the support and care they need in order to produce and get out there the games they have built on top of Goo Engine.

At Casual Connect Kyiv, Lempiainen announced that Goo Create will be released November 1st. This is Goo Technologies’ tool for creating browser games on top of Goo Engine through a user interface on the web.

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