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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.”

ContributionsIndiePostmortemPR & Marketing

Rocket Cube: A Side Project Becomes a Star

February 21, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Keitai is a five-people indie team from Taiwan, founded in 2005. They started with designing Java games for feature phones and have made various types of those and other apps. Keitai includes three main team members: Claire, the founder, Neil, the game producer, and Code Anonymous, lead programmer. In 2013, two new members joined the team: Ivan the programmer and Dani the business development professional. Claire talks about the development of their latest project, Rocket Cube.

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The Keitai Team

At Keitai, we all have a great passion for games; not just playing them, but also making games that can entertain other people. We believe that as long as we keep ourselves devoted to making games, they will somehow come alive and enrich the world with lots of fun. In 2013, we continued our psycho process of game development while participated in several showcases. And we’ve learned a lesson from our game, which is “A game speaks for itself.”

A Game of Flashes and Strange Sounds for Developers’ Entertainment

There was actually another project we were working on, and most of our attention was paid to it. Rocket Cube was nothing more than a recreational project. In other words, we created Rocket Cube just for our own fun. What we wanted to make was a simple game that would bring us pure excitement.

The original design concept for Rocket Cube was to add more excitement to regular puzzle games. We decided to have cubes dropping constantly and stacking up, while gradually increasing the dropping speed. When the stacks build up to a certain height, strong warning sounds appear, making the player’s experience even more tense. Removing stacks of cubes in the same color by launching them, players get the exhilaration of destroying and surviving, which goes higher and higher.

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At first, we developed the “1-minute” mode, where the player needed to complete an exciting and thrilling round of the game in one minute. We also added the speed-up button to increase the player’s experience of exhilaration.

It’s easy for all types of players to master the game because we’ve built Rocket Cube around the main mechanism of “touch to launch”. As players are getting accustomed to the increasing pace, the excitement grows, and tapping the “restart” button becomes irresistible.

Opportunity at Casual Connect USA: Rocket Cube’s Chance Showcase

The prototype of Rocket Cube was launched only a week before we set off to Casual Connect USA in July 2013, where we later encountered lots of trouble.

Of course, we thought it would be better not to showcase a game that didn’t even have a proper UI.

Of course, we thought it would be better not to showcase a game that didn’t even have a proper UI. We hoped to have our main project accomplished in time and showcased, but stumbled upon some technical issues. While Rocket Cube was still nothing more than a game just for our own fun, we asked some of our newly-met friends to play the prototype and give us feedback. We were so surprised that they liked it!

But our bad luck continued: I was robbed and the mobile device with the demo build of our main project was gone! You might think our journey to Casual Connect USA was doomed, but giving up is never an option for Keitai. We just didn’t want to think we had come all the way for nothing! At the very least, we could have fun. Besides, there’s always an alternative and anything can be possible. For us, Rocket Cube turned out to be that alternative, even though we still didn’t think it was ready, despite a recent upgrade.

“Since we had lost our primary weapon, a sidearm would do,” we thought. And the effect was fascinating! Some kept playing Rocket Cube for more than an hour, until the device died and needed recharging. Some invited us for a lunch because they loved the game so much. The just-for-fun game sent us a clear message through these new friends: “I would like to be seen by more people and be fully developed.” But we were still obsessed with “The Project”.

The Game that Makes People Want to Touch It

Now, after many versions, Rocket Cube has evolved a lot. I still remember the day we were testing a new version until 3:00 AM; all of us just couldn’t leave our devices alone! Even our business development guy Dani said, “I have never thought it could be this fun.”
 Dani didn’t like Rocket Cube when he first tested the prototype, but changed his mind after playing the updated build. He is now totally excited about the game and hasn’t put his phone down since he installed the app.

We dared to bring our creation to Tokyo Game Show (TGS). The Asian gamer’s dream is to be a part of TGS, and so was ours. But you know what? We were still thinking of “The Project”! At the same time, we had noticed the potential of Rocket Cube and decided to give it a shot at TGS. And it worked! People kept telling us Rocket Cube deserves the opportunity. They launched rockets over and over and over. Rocket Cube makes people want to touch it, especially the “Restart” spot on its UI. At last, it is not just a simple cube, but a cube that turns into a beautiful one with heat and energy.

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Since we had lost our primary weapon, a sidearm would do, – we thought.

The Best Reward Comes From Something You Don’t Mind

Rocket Cube taught us some lessons. First of all, don’t be too focused on just one aspect.
 If you are sticking to it too much, it might not help you at all. Due to the accident and unexpected network issues, we were not able to showcase our first mobile game on smart phones as planned at Casual Connect USA 2013. Rocket Cube, which was a test project at the time, stepped in and became the star. During the three-day event, we kept receiving positive reviews and feedback, which made us even more confident on speeding up the development plan. This is how something that you didn’t really pay attention to could happen to give you the biggest reward.

Secondly, make games that you really like and always keep that in mind. 
We made Rocket Cube because we simply wanted a game that would let us have fun. The origin of Rocket Cube is just a simple concept. However, it brings pleasure. We think this is also a development challenge: to keep the concept simple from the beginning to the release, without too much decoration or exaggeration.

Last but not least, let your game meet people, so that you could receive feedback. Give it a shot and find out how functional your creation is, and let people know what you have.

Rocket Cube is available for free download from the AppStore and Google Play. It’s a full version that includes three gaming modules: (1) Infinity, (2) 1-minute and (3) Cube War, where scores of players with the same nationality are added together to compete with scores of players of other nationalities. In the next version of Rocket Cube, we’re going to add new modes with the element of “stillness”.

Keitai has recently launched Rocket Cube for Windows Phone 8, and  is working on development rights for Sony PlayStation Vita. They also took part in Casual Connect Europe 2014’s Indie Prize Showcase.

ContributionsPostmortem

Williamspurrrrg HD: A Game of Cat and Mustache (iPad)

September 18, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Williamspurrrrg HD: A Game of Cat and Mustache is the first indie release of No Crusts Interactive, a studio founded by Dr. Carla Fisher that specializes in children’s and family games. She tells the tale of creating the game.

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Williamspurrrrg, my multi-touch, finger-twisting puzzle game where you put mustaches and other hipster gear onto cats.

When people play Williamspurrrrg, my multi-touch, finger-twisting puzzle game where you put mustaches and other hipster gear onto cats, they tell me, “It’s so stupid, but I can’t stop playing.”

Then they ask how I ended up making such a game. The answer is that I had to put my money where my mouth is. Or, as my friend and colleague, Amy Kraft said, put my money where my mustache is

Living By Your Standards

I frequently write and speak about making children’s games. One of my favorite things is to talk about games that are not made for children and consider how the technology or game mechanics might be re-appropriated in a child-friendly way. So while most of my work is consulting for clients, when I decided to do an indie game, it was clear that I had to step up to the challenge I so frequently presented to others – re-appropriate a game mechanic in a child-friendly way.

Two games I talk about a lot in this way are Slice and Fingle. In Slice, the player has to move knives out of the way in order to push a button. If a finger crosses the edge of the knife blade, blood splatters across the screen and the player loses. Fingle is also a multi-touch puzzler, but with sexual pvertones. While definitely not child-friendly, these games are excellent for fostering cooperation between players, largely because you have to talk in order to create a strategy for solving the puzzles.

Inspiration

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I blame the hipster angle on living in New York City.

Knowing that I wanted to make a cooperative game for kids to play with peers and parents, I knew I’d be using the multi-touch feature of the iPad to create finger-twisting puzzles.

The cats and mustaches came about during the brainstorming process. I was already thinking about cats, largely because I wanted to manage asset costs by using Creative Commons images for assets. Creative Commons is a method for the general public to release images for use by other people, under a variety of licenses. The attribution license allows you to use the image in commercial projects as well as to modify the image so long as you attribute the original artist. Flickr has a search feature that allowed me to focus on images released under Creative Commons attribution license.

I blame the hipster angle on living in New York City.

The working title was Catstatio, until my colleague and co-author on Kids Got Game blog Anne Richards suggested Williamspurrg, after the Brooklyn neighborhood Williamsburg, which is the mecca of hipster culture. I added a few more Rs, and set to work mocking up the game.

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An early mockup of Williamspurrrg

Production

Once I was comfortable with the design idea, I still had to build the team. Colleagues recommended programmer Peter Berry, and thanks to him, the multitouch puzzles play fluidly, even when ten fingers are touching the screen.

The artist, Megan Isom Smith, is a friend I met when speaking to a group of children’s magazine editors (My roots are in children’s magazines, and Megan is the art director for Ranger Rick Jr.). Megan shares my love for cut paper art, but as an artist, she actually creates it (whereas I am a strictly stick-figure on Post-Its artist.). She created all of the props from colored, textured paper, scanned them, and then further manipulated the assets digitally.

I owe the musical styling of Williamspurrrrg to attending a really fancy band camp in high school. A fellow cabin-mate from Interlochen Arts Academy in the 90s recommended Adrian Hernandez. If you’d like to get the music from Williamspurrrrg stuck in your head, it’s all online.

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Lessons Learned

Production was actually pretty straightforward. We had the usual bumps, bruises, and schedule delays that almost every project experiences, especially when a new team is getting used to each other. So the things I learned are actually largely focused on what happened after the launch of the game in June 2013.

1. No One Can Spell the Name of the Game

How many Rs? Is there an H on the end? What about the letter S? Where does that go? And who is William?

I stand by the name of the game being key to the attitude of the game, but it’s also a massive hindrance. No one in Middle America, Asia, or large swaths of Europe understand the reference. I love the name, perhaps to a foolish degree. I recognize that it likely haunts sales, so I’m considering whether to release the game under another name in geographic regions outside the U.S.

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The Evil Mustache level

2. I didn’t make a children’s game. I made a casual game that happens to be playable by children.

That’s a major distinction and quite an epiphany for me. Making a children’s game means a number of conservative decisions, like limited social media sharing (if any at all) or no in-app purchases (or heavily restricted behind a gesture gate that’s difficult for kids to navigate).

I’ve watched all ages play the game, from toddlers through the elderly. But it resonates best with teenagers and young adults (I should’ve figured that the absurdity of cats and mustaches would’ve spoken to them…). If I had this to do over again, I would be a lot more aggressive on in-app promotion and social media hooks. I’d likely have created Williamspurrrrg with in-app purchases and maybe even an ad network.

3. I started a new Web presence for Williamspurrrrg rather than running with the brand recognition I’ve built for No Crusts.

Others who succeed in the games industry have scads of money to spend on user acquisition and advertising or, most relevant to indies, they have successfully achieved a cult-like following.

If I had thought about this, I probably would’ve seen this problem coming, too. The marketplace is so crowded right now that discoverability is a major challenge. In my consulting practice through No Crusts, I work with really well-known brands who have a fan-base, television shows, and multiple channels to push their goods. Others who succeed in the games industry have scads of money to spend on user acquisition and advertising or, most relevant to indies, they have successfully achieved a cult-like following. I liken this to the record label approach, which I talked about at 2013 Casual Connect USA and is archived online.

Record labels, authors, and even book imprints are great at creating a brand that people want to follow. If you were a fan of Def Jam Recordings, you knew you could buy any of their records and get a particular type of sound. A number of game studios do this really well. They engage their fans and keep them engaged by creating the same quality and type of content. They don’t start over from scratch with each new game, creating a new Facebook page, Web site, Twitter following, etc. They leverage what they already have.

I didn’t do this, though. No Crusts has a small but decent following on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. Rather than continue to use No Crusts as the main social media identity, I started a new one for Williamspurrrrg — new Facebook page, new Twitter handle, and so on. That means I have to deal with updating a lot more places. I’ve pretty much abandoned the Twitter handle for Williamspurrrrg and use the Facebook page infrequently, unfortunately. It was too much to handle. It also presents a challenge as I prepare to launch a new game that’s not related to the intellectual property of Williamspurrrrg. I could create another set of pages to maintain or I can use No Crusts.

4. My marketing images weren’t helpful.

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I had a riot making the first round of marketing images.

I had a riot making the first round of marketing images. We had some seriously focused hipster jokes. My favorite was “We were into multitouch before it existed.” There is a hipster-ism that they are in the know about trends and events long before they happen. Yeah, I know. It was way too esoteric. But the people who got the joke really liked it…

But I started to get feedback on the images, including one from a stranger that very clearly pointed out that my images weren’t working. The email said, “When I went to the Williamspurrrrg landing page, despite scrolling through all the images, I had no idea what the game was about, who it was intended for or even what genre it is. I only got some of that info after reading several reviews.” This was echoed in my conversations with people, so I’ve scaled back on the jokes and made marketing images with descriptive text rather than jokes. That was a tough pill to swallow. I’ve lectured countless clients on making helpful images. And then I proceeded to ignore my own advice and make funny images. Oops.

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I’ve scaled back on the jokes and made marketing images with descriptive text rather than jokes.

The Road Ahead

As a consultant, I rarely have the opportunity to design from scratch and own the entire process. Williamspurrrrg not only allowed me to get back to my roots, but also made me accountable for every step of the process. I’m incredibly proud of the game for that reason. The original vision was to make a game that kids and their parents could play cooperatively. There’s no questioning that’s the greatest success of this game so far. My next game will be released in October. It’s an endless runner with a new twist, which will hopefully continue making people say, “It’s so stupid, but I can’t stop playing.”

If you want to keep tabs on their work or if you want to give Williamspurrrrg a little love, sign up for the No Crusts newsletter, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

ContributionsPostmortem

Strata: Simply Challenging

September 10, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Graveck is a small development studio located in Minneapolis. Founded in 2007, Graveck was the one of the first companies to fully adopt Unity as their commercial engine. They have primarily focused on mobile games, releasing Skee-ball, Skee-ball 2, Jump Dewds, and multiple Disney titles. Strata is Graveck’s newest game, and it’s a bit of a step in a different direction. Ty Burks, Creative Director at Graveck, shares that story.

Last January, we were deep in development on contract work. I’m sure many studios are familiar with the contract and original work compromise: you work on contract jobs for a few months to be able to work on your own original games for a few months. During this time, I was jumping back and forth on a few ideas for new titles during weeknights. I needed to work on something new. But every game idea I wanted to pursue would take a team at least double our size, heavy animation, economy balancing, etc. I decided to take a different approach. My objective was to try making a game that could be played as a paper prototype. I wanted to create a super simple game that could be played with physical objects, but that would also be enhanced by a digital version. I cut up paper, folded paper, stacked blocks, tossed objects around… basically tried to find some kind of new game with a physical feel to it.

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Layering the ribbons, matching the colors, and having to fill the entire grid ended up being a perfect combination of simple, yet challenging gameplay I was looking for.

When the idea clicked, I spent the entire night cutting up pieces of paper so I could have my fiance play it when she got home. It worked. Layering the ribbons, matching the colors, and having to fill the entire grid ended up being a perfect combination of simple, yet challenging gameplay I was looking for. The reaction of somebody understanding your game design and continuing to play without you asking them to is one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced.

A Personal Touch

The next week or two was spent mocking up the main game layout on the computer, and putting together some interface screens in a similar style. The approach with the visuals was to keep it minimalistic, but maintain a sense of tangibility without going overboard on textures. It’s a very simple game mechanic, and I wanted to reflect that throughout the entire game. Every aspect of the game is at a 45-degree angle to follow the gameplay visuals. The interface uses the same mechanic as the gameplay, so you understand how to interact with the game even from the title screen. I wanted to really maintain the physical feel of laying ribbons down on top of each other, so it was important that we nailed the feeling of dragging ribbons. It was a test in discipline to keep everything consistent, but we’re proud of the result.

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After I was happy with the mockups, I pitched the game to the team. Matt Gravelle, Graveck’s Co-Founder, began a prototype almost immediately. At this point, Strata was a side-project at night, since we were still deep into contract development. We both continued to iterate on the game, and Matt developed the ribbon transition between interface screens. I was putting together color palettes and testing out some of the bigger puzzles. The game was coming together quickly.

05 Strata-5x5Nick Miller, our Lead Engineer, jumped on the project when things started slowing down with our contract work. Nick and Matt developed a level designer that allowed me to place ribbons, and then sort of “print” it to a grid. I could then go in and manually remove colored squares from the grid, but still make sure that each level had a nice balance of color. We had an automated level creator at one point, but I didn’t feel right using it. Strata is a somewhat intimate game for me, and I wanted to create each level by hand. I wanted the control of the difficulty and making it look good as a completed puzzle. Nick also created a level analyzer algorithm that will test every combination of successful ways to solve the puzzle, and spit out a difficulty rating. This helped a lot in pacing most of the game. Early on, we were a bit worried about not seeing any obvious strategies in the game. As you play through the game, there are a few things you can pick up on to finish those difficult puzzles. We call two of the strategies “Lock In” and “Solid Row”, but you’ll have to figure out what they mean for yourself!

We started testing the game on willing participants. A lot of times, we got the same response (and still do): “It looks really nice, but I have no idea what’s going on.” We went through quite a few iterations of our tutorial, both functionally and visually. By constantly testing on people, we were able to focus on what the core items the player needs to know are. An early tutorial gave players a bit too much freedom to experiment, and we seemed to lose them. The last iteration of the tutorial has the game show you how to fill the grid, places a wrong ribbon, pulls it back, and then completes the puzzle. It makes sure you understand, and then asks you to give it a try. This seemed to get the best response, as it gave the players a peek at what the game looks like completed as opposed to having them struggling to guess.

The Result

06 StrataTableWe decided to release Strata as a desktop version on the Mac App Store, Desura, Chrome, and Steam Greenlight. We found during development that it was still quite an enjoyable experience to play on your desktop. Releasing on these platforms allowed us to gain feedback before our main release on mobile platforms, and test out some new markets. Strata was featured on New and Noteworthy and What’s Hot on the Mac App Store for a couple weeks, and reached #1 in the Games category.

Strata was a fun departure from the types of games we’re known for. It came from focusing on designing a game I believe in, and then sticking to the design. There are no star ratings, objectives or currencies. Strata is a simple game where you challenge yourself, and get out of it what you put in. We definitely learned a lot about keeping things simple and are applying it to our current games. With Strata, I found the user experience was complete when we couldn’t simplify it any further. I believe that to be the biggest lesson learned from development, and something I will carry to future projects. Sometimes, less can be more.

Strata was featured on Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect USA 2013, and was nominated for Most Innovative Game Design. It was also a Finalist in the Unity Awards 2013, for Best 2D Visual Experience. Strata will be available for iOS on September 12, 2013.

Video Coverage

Tadhg Kelly: The AAA Trap | Casual Connect Video

September 5, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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At Casual Connect in San Francisco, Tadhg Kelly spoke to the emerging trends of “Microconsoles” like Ouya, Bluestacks and Gamestick. His talk, Welcome to the Microconsole Generation, touched on the potential broad reach and appeal of microconsole and how it is different from the AAA Console market of the past. “You see the same adoption pattern for games as seen in music and books,” Kelly believes, “this is not the Xbox audience.”

For the next year, the biggest impact on the game industry will be made by microconsoles. There’s no escaping how much that story has resurfaced this year.

Jawboning about Jawfish

Tadhg Kelly
Tadhg Kelly

Tadhg Kelly is the Creative Director of Jawfish Games, a company focusing making on real-time multiplayer games a reality in mobile and tablet. As Creative Director, Tadhg is head of design and product strategy, as well as filling various related roles. His career has always involved game design in some form, so the position with Jawfish Games is the ideal situation for him. Participating in creating the next big move ahead for games is an exciting opportunity for him.

Writer and Entrepreneur

In his time away from work, Tadhg enjoys reading and exploring his new city of Seattle, as well as experimenting with cooking paleo food. He prefers listening to electronic music, especially ambient or super heavy bass, for the interlocking patterns this music creates. His most time consuming non-work interest is writing the game design blog What Games Are. He has also written the book What Games Are and writes for other publications, including TechCruch, Edge and Gamasutra. Among the notable articles that Tadhg has written is “The Four Lenses of Game Making”.

Smarter Devices and More Players

The most important trends Tadhg sees emerging in the game industry today are the rise of multiplayer gaming on smart devices and what he calls “the rising storm of microconsoles.” Jawfish is entirely focused on figuring out multiplayer gaming, with an outstanding team that has already developed the necessary architecture. Although the company is not presently working on microconsoles, Tadhg is “something of an evangelist on the subject and keen to see how we might work with them.” He believes that for the next year, the biggest impact on the game industry will be made by consoles. He maintains, “There’s no escaping how much that story has resurfaced this year.”

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Jawfish is entirely focused on figuring out multiplayer gaming, with an outstanding team that has already developed the necessary architecture.

Springing the Trap

Tadhg believes the biggest challenge he has faced in his career was changing his mindset to get out of what he considers “the AAA trap.” He had spent an especially difficult year working on failed projects when someone close to him died suddenly, and he confronted the realization of how short life is. He decided he had to make a change. This painful experience taught him how important it is to set your own course.

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.

DOWNLOAD SLIDES

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.

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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

Ryan Merket: Customer Development | Casual Connect Video

September 4, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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When presenting Guerrilla Marketing and Other Non-conventional Ways to Get Your App Discovered at Casual Connect in San Francisco, Ryan Merket defined the topic elegantly, “Guerrilla marketing is when the public can’t tell what’s advertising and what’s not.”

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Minding the Gap

Ryan Merket
Ryan Merket

As Director of Product at InMobi, Ryan Merket does a little of everything. He learned to code at an early age and has a degree in Visual Design, so he is in a unique position to be able to bridge Product and Engineering. He sold his company AppStores.com, to InMobi, and is now the Director of Product for AppGalleries and the corporate InMobi.com website. He is also Head of North America Marketing, managing a team that handles events, messaging, collateral and all North America marketing activities. During Casual Connect USA, he announced a new product that will help developers get more organic installs and advertisers get extremely high quality users.

Innovation in India

Each year, InMobi holds a catalyst event in Bangalore, India in which they fly in over 100 employees for an intense three-day conference. Merket attended the conference for the first time this year. “Seeing the passion, ambition and determination from people all over the globe was truly inspiring,” he says, “and made me believe even more that InMobi was going to win.”  He believes the next big trend in the games industry will be native ads on both mobile and desktop. Users are increasingly suffering from banner blindness, especially on the mobile screen. Allowing publishers to format ads to look more like their content and making the ads more relevant will unlock new inventory and increase eCPMs for publishers.

Merket tells us, “At InMobi, we are working on our own native ad integrations and are looking forward to announcing this soon.”

Just having a product designer pick up the phone and talk to their customers would go a long way toward making the product easier to use.

Connecting with Customers

Merket’s advice on making a better product emphasizes the importance of customer development. Just having a product designer pick up the phone and talk to their customers would go a long way toward making the product easier to use.

Blood and Sweat

Founding this company was a tremendous challenge: raising money, operating it and exiting it. There are many nuances and learning on the fly that a first-time entrepreneur must do to succeed. When Merket sold his company, AppStores, he walked a long, hard road, pivoting twice, but still keeping revenues high. He created an outstanding exit for his stockholders and investors and reached what he considers the proudest moment of his career.

He states, “I overcame it by busting my butt nineteen hours a day, every day, non-stop. It was one of the most stressful times of my life but also one of the most educational. I learned what it takes to be a good leader, husband, negotiator and entrepreneur.”

Video Coverage

Levi Buchanan: Believable Worldbuilding | Casual Connect Video

September 3, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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Levi Buchanan believes a great story is at the heart of a believable world. When Buchanan presented Bite-Sized Narratives: Conveying Impactful Narrative with Emotional Hooks at Casual Connect in San Francisco, he advised, “Find the core of your story down to the bone, then deliver on that.”

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Levi Buchanan is the Director of Sales for Chillingo. Levi first became involved in the game industry as a staff writer for Nintendo. He says, “I’ve been a lifetime fan of games, so this was a great start to pursuing a lifelong dream.”

World building in a game offers so many tools you don’t get in books, movies or television. I feel this industry still has so many places to go in terms of how to explore the ever-changing human condition.

A Storyteller at Heart

Levi has completed one young adult novel and is at work on his second, so it is not surprising to discover that he is fascinated with the story-telling aspect of games. He maintains that even in their fourth decade, games are one of the most exiting mediums for telling stories. He says, “World building in a game offers so many tools you don’t get in books, movies or television. And I feel this industry still has so many places to go in terms of how to tell narratives, explore themes not traditionally seen in games, and create characters that are reflections of the ever-changing human condition.” So, for him, working in the industry is just fun!

Digital and Analog

Levi Buchanan
Levi Buchanan

When he is not involved with his work, Levi spends his time bicycling around the city, hanging out with friends, traveling and, of course, playing games. Mobile games are his most frequent type of gaming, but he also finds PC and console gaming exciting ways to tell stories. And certainly this devotee of storytelling spends considerable time writing.

Levi also enjoys a number of music genres, including NewWave, Britpop, and early electronica such as Kraftwerk, all part of growing up in the Reagan Era. Even while listening to new music, he can see the connection to the music that was the soundtrack to his growing up years.

And if Levi were not involved in the game industry? He would definitely be participating in some other hyper-creative field.

Video Coverage

Aaron Walz: Games & Audio | Casual Connect Video

August 30, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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Aaron Walz, Owner, Lead Composer, Sound Designer and Producer of Walz Music and Sound, tells us he is “so proud and honored to be at the helm of the audio track and bring it to my home territory and a new audience for Casual Connect in one of the hearts of mobile and social technology and game creation.”

AudioInspired by John Romero

Aaron has been a game fan since the age of six; naturally he knew the work of John Romero. So he feels the greatest time in his career was working alongside him to compose the music for the top ranking Facebook adventure, Ravenwood Fair, a game which received 30 million plays each month at the height of its popularity. He insists that many things led up to this, reminding him that he had indeed arrived at his dream.

Audio will always be extremely important for a game, and hopefully will continue getting more and more recognition, appreciation in the industry, as well as budgeted dollars.

For Love of Music

Aaron had been freelancing since 1997 in game audio, but the greatest challenge Aaron has worked through was starting Walz Music and Sound in 2007, his childhood dream and a move which required leaving his career in HR. It took him between two and three years to make his new career sustainable full time. In the process, he had to learn to delegate better, spend better and not underestimate the value of his worth and his time. He also had to say yes a lot, learn new skills and hone the ones he already had.

Aaron Walz Choir
Aaron loves being involved with all types of music

Aaron describes himself as zesty and full of life. He likes to use Pop-Dance music to keep him moving in the gym and alert while driving. His many free time adventures include bowling, tennis, singing in a chorus, yoga, food, wine and rooftop gardening.

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The emerging trend offering new opportunities for Aaron’s company is the development of audio middleware that makes sound programming in casual games more dynamic.

Creating More Dynamic Music

The emerging trend offering new opportunities for Aaron’s company is the development of audio middleware that makes sound programming in casual games more dynamic. He plans to make use of this trend by working with developers more closely to change how audio is implemented, and, as he says, “It won’t be just thrown over the fence.”

Games Need Better Audio

Aaron claims the trend that will most affect the industry as a whole is “The slow possible eventual death, or massive rethinking and restructuring of the console systems and portals as well as the exodus to mobile.” But he believes more unification and standardization of software and hardware, especially with audio, will also be very important. “What I know is that audio will always be extremely important for a game, and hopefully will continue getting more and more recognition, appreciation in the industry, as well as budgeted dollars.”

Creating Another G.A.N.G, Designed for Casual Games

Aaron is very excited about creating and strengthening an audio community for Casual Games, similar to what G.A.N.G. did for consoles back in the day, in order to raise the quality, standardize systems, rates and expectations, and raise developer appreciation and compensation. This organization is Game Audio Alliance. It is their audio design company that is branching out to include membership, networking, education and resources.

Video Coverage

Kevin Flood on Listening Your Audience | Casual Connect Video

August 29, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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Kevin Flood spoke at Casual Connect USA in San Francisco. He participated in a key panel discussion entitled The Gamble of Social Casino Game Distribution. During that discussion, Kevin advised that, “Developers should embrace social casino gaming development, but tread cautiously into Real Money Gaming.”

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The Adventurer

Kevin describes himself as an adventurer, and his free time activities clearly show his penchant for adventure. He is an avid cyclist, usually going to the last stage of the Tour de France in Paris in July. He is also an avid mountaineer and climber, having climbed many well-known peaks in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. And he is a musician who appreciates many different music genres and has played the guitar since he was ten years old.

Mt. Everest
He is also an avid mountaineer and climber and has climbed Mt. Everest.

Kevin is CEO of Gameinlane, the second company he has started. As a result of his earlier experience, he was familiar with the process, risk and challenge of beginning a new business entity when Gameinlane launched.

The exposure to launching and managing a game product in another culture and economy helped me understand how different consumer preferences and business processes are in various geographic regions.

Listening to His Audience

He had previously launched an online gaming platform in Europe. He tells us, “The exposure to launching and managing a game product in another culture and economy helped me understand how different consumer preferences and business processes are in various geographic regions.” Gameinlane now does most of its business internationally because Kevin has learned how to work, communicate and address localized preferences and business practices.

The advice Kevin gives on making a better product relates to his experience addressing product needs within different business sectors and in different regions around the world. He emphasizes, “Listen and adapt your product or service to the needs of your target audience. Do not assume that the product you have previously created or envisioned is automatically going to be accepted in all markets and by all potential customers.”

Kevin Flood at Mt. Everest
Kevin Flood at Mt. Everest

You Never Forget Your First Time

Kevin feels that starting his first company was both the proudest and the scariest moment of his career. He was attending MIT, working on a research project on behalf of a tech company where he was employed at the time. When the company began to struggle, Kevin started his own company with other members of the team, based on the research they were doing. The biggest challenge was turning a research project into a business and a product. He had to transition from being a “tech” guy doing research, and develop the skills needed as a business manager, a marketing manager and a financial manager.

Globalization and Virtualization…

…These are the trends Kevin feels will strengthen in the future. Flexibility will be the critical asset to meet these trends. Products, services, business operations and workers will all have to be flexible enough to achieve objectives without any physical contact while serving a broad spectrum of consumers.

 

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