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Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Dynamic Pixel’s Goal Defense (iOS & Android)

February 7, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Dynamic Pixels is a leading mobile games developer based in Russia and CIS. Established in 2004, the company has grown into an experienced studio with almost 40 titles for java, Android, iOS and Bada. Dynamic Pixels games are distributed by content-providers, operators and vendors across South-East Asia, Middle East, Far East, South Africa and Western Europe, reaching in excess of 5 million players across the world.

We are all fans of the tower defense genre. So when the question of what kind of game we would like to develop came up, we knew it would be a tower defense game. But knowing the genre was not enough. What we needed was at least the slightest idea of a style or some kind of plot for the game. We spent days and wasted tons of pizza trying to figure it out, but in vain. At that point, our programmer saved the project. We still don’t know how, but he did it. When everything seemed to be lost he came in and said: “Let’s develop a tower defense game based on sports!” And you know, it clicked: the turrets and creeps would be transformed into sportsmen, the battlefield into a sports ground; a humorous touch would level the usual view on sports as a protracted process.

ContributionsGame Development

The top 5 practices of running a virtual game studio by Boomzap Entertainment’s Gabby Dizon

January 31, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Boomzap Entertainment is a game developer that creates casual games for the PC, Mac, Wii, iOS, and Android platforms. It is behind some of the most successful hidden object puzzle adventure (HOPA) games such as the Awakening series, the Dana Knightstone series, Otherworld: Spring of Shadows, and Botanica: Into the Unknown. Registered in the USA and Singapore, Boomzap has 70 developers based in Singapore, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia. Boomzap producer Gabby Dizon lines up some of the most important practices that keep the  Boomzap Entertainment’team happy and their virtual game studio running smoothly.

Gabby Dizon is a producer and business development manager for Boomzap Entertainment, where he leads the production of games for mobile devices for the company.
Gabby Dizon is a producer and business development manager for Boomzap Entertainment, where he leads the production of games for mobile devices for the company.

There are plenty of benefits to having a virtual office. For Boomzap Entertainment, it has enabled us to recruit the best game developers from pretty much anywhere in the world. We also have minimal overhead, which makes sure that the company is very financially lean and can weather tough times in the game industry.

However, not everyone can imagine how to make a virtual studio work. Boomzap has been virtual since day 1 in 2005; it seems hard enough with five people, let alone seventy (our head count at the end of 2012). In the past seven years, we’ve evolved and tweaked our practices as the company has grown. Here are our top five practices that help us run our virtual studio efficiently:

1. Company culture is priority #1

Company culture

While this is true of all companies, it is even more important in a company where none of you see each other face to face and everybody interacts with everyone else from behind a computer interface. Having a shared company culture ensures that people are aware of the company’s goals, and are going in the same direction with their individual contributions.

2. Real-time team interaction is the key to successful projects

Hipchat
A key to Boomzap’s success with online teams is having a chat client with a team room function. For years this was done over MSN, the only popular instant messaging (IM) client with a persistent team function. Groups were organized by projects and disciplines so that people were interacting in real time with the teams they were involved in. Team members can also jump in and out of groups depending on project assignment or interest. The company has since moved its IM to HipChat, but the principles stay the same. The company also moved its documentation from Microsoft Office to Google Docs to allow real-time collaboration of documents by team members.

3. Have constant, immediate feedback on yesterday’s work

The daily builds are also sent out to our publishers, so they know at any point in time the progress of our projects.

Boomzap has two iron laws: Daily reports (each team member posts a daily report on work done for that day, for everyone to see) and daily builds (all projects have a new build every single working day, no exceptions). Because of this setup, the team can immediately know if someone is contributing slower than expected or if there are problems in the games being developed. The game is also constantly being tested by the team members to make sure that the daily build is fun and bugs are immediately seen and reported. The daily builds are also sent out to our publishers, so they know at any point in time the progress of our projects.

4. Invest in the right tools

Tools - Basecamp

Are you managing your virtual team completely by email? If so, you are probably doomed to fail. Boomzap has a wide range of different tools (some free, some paid) to ensure that people are working together productively. These range from: IM (HipChat for team chat, Skype for voice calls), Basecamp (project management), Google Docs (real-time document collaboration and task tracking), SVN (code repository), Dropbox (asset repository), and our own file server to host our daily builds. Don’t be afraid of paying for online tools if the financial rewards of the team’s success far outweigh the tool’s cost.

5. Meet up once in a while

Boomzap founders Allan and Chris regularly take the time to fly out to the different cities where the team members are based, to get to know everyone on a personal level.
Boomzap founders Allan and Chris regularly take the time to fly out to the different cities where the team members are based, to get to know everyone on a personal level.

While we love working virtually from anywhere in the world and will never have a centralized office, Boomzap team members like to meet up once in a while for coffee, lunch, or the occasional big meeting where people fly in to talk about important projects in the company. The founders (one lives in Japan; the other, Singapore) regularly take the time to fly out to the different cities where the team members are based, to get to know everyone on a personal level. This social, personal interaction reaps dividends when the team goes back to working virtually on an everyday basis.

ContributionsGame Development

Four game design essentials for developing mobile/tablet games for toddlers – by Ian Schreiber

January 24, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Ian Schreiber has been in the video game industry since the year 2000, first as a programmer and then as a game designer. He has worked on eight published games, two textbooks, two free online courses in game design, and several other things he can’t talk about since he’s still under NDA. He has taught game design and development courses at a variety of colleges and universities. He is a proud father of an almost-two-year-old, whose favorite activities include talking on the phone, going to the zoo, playing iPad games, playing in the sand, and tucking her stuffed animals into bed, although her favorite “toys” by far are mommy and daddy. From this experience of seeing his child playing with an iPad, Ian shares four game design essentials with us on developing games for toddlers.

1. Design for a child’s hand and touch

If you actually make a distinction between finger-swipe and palm-swipe, and if your hit boxes aren’t really tolerant of near-misses, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that any kids tested your app before release. Most storybook apps are pretty good examples of how to do this once you get them started – any kind of finger or palm swipe to the left or right turns the page, plus there are buttons in the corners to flip pages if you touch them.

2. Avoid having loading screens

Is there really a reason or need to have several gigabytes of 3D animations in a kids' game?
Is there really a reason or need to have several gigabytes of 3D animations in a kids’ game?

If your loading screen takes more than a second or two, my kid will think your app is broken. She doesn’t understand the concept of loading screens, but she knows how to hit the button to get out of your app and pick something else. If your game is aimed at young kids, just how much complexity do you want to have in there?

I suggest two ways of testing your loading screen. One is to set an actual metric goal, like half a second or less from startup to full load, and then you would just measure it. The other would be to test with actual young children, give them an iPad, have their parents guide their finger to touch your app in order to open it, and see what the kid does from there. I recommend you test with some kids who have iPads at home, so they know how to hit the button to exit an app when they get bored.

The trick is to not have loading screens of any noticeable duration in the first place. Most kids’ apps don’t particularly need to be all that complicated, they should not have a massive memory footprint or CPU requirements in the vast majority of cases. I assume any app that is running into long loading screens is either not (completely) optimized (i.e. the programmers were incredibly lazy with memory allocation or the use of inefficient graphics algorithms) or else it contains far too many assets for its own good.

3. In-App purchases don’t work

Don’t monetize via in-app purchases

In short: Don’t monetize via in-app purchases, I turned those off ages ago (as did any other parent who knows better). Also, if your business model relies on toddler miss-clicks when parents aren’t looking: well… you’re the one who has to live with that on your conscience.

My toddler doesn’t really grok in-app purchases yet, so the subject of how to let her buy something that she wants in a game hasn’t really come up. I’m pretty sure she kind-of-sort-of understands the concept of exchanging money for a tangible object like a toy or stuffed animal, but in-app purchases are another layer of abstraction that my almost-2-year-old hasn’t really figured out yet. Mainly, any purchase screen, subscreen, or menu that takes her out of the game, she just sees as some kind of annoyance that takes her away from the game.

I decided to disable in-app purchases after seeing far too many stories of parents whose kids made hundreds of dollars worth of purchases without the parents’ authorization. Yes, there’s a password in there, and my kid probably doesn’t have the manual dexterity or understanding to key in my password. Yet. But she’s an information sponge who has shown herself quite capable of mimicking just about anything she observes. I know it won’t be too long before she’ll be able to enter my password and surprise me. Better to be safe, than trying to fight a protracted battle between me, my daughter, some hapless developer, Apple, and my credit card company.

4. Do you monetize through in-game ads?

I just can’t imagine ads working on really young kids (1.5 to 2.5 years) in any conventional sense

My kid doesn’t grok ads. She might click on it by accident or on purpose because it looks colorful, but then you just take her out of the game and confuse her and she’ll shut the thing down and try something else. If you use a third-party ad server that asks a 2-year-old if they want to find a date on Zoosk, your app is getting deleted. (No, “it’s a third-party component, we have no control over it” is not a valid excuse. Your app, your responsibility.)

I just can’t imagine ads working on really young kids (1.5 to 2.5 years) in any conventional sense. Perhaps an advertising expert would disagree, but just from observing my (pretty smart) kid right now, she really just does not understand the concept of ads in the way that advertisers would like. It’s like designing all-text ads in the Japanese language, to an audience of monolingual English speakers: 99% of your meaning is lost. And if you’re asking how to interest the advertisers, I’d say you’re asking the wrong question! The real question here should be: “Okay, so in-app purchases and ads don’t work. What’s the way to monetize a very-young-children’s app, then?”

The answer: monetize via app sales. Make a free version of your app that shows what’s cool about it, just enough for a kid to play around and get engaged and interested (and for the parent to observe this). Then make a paid version with the full feature / content set unlocked. If it’s a ridiculously simple app that kids just find fun anyway, like a set of interactive flashcards or a counting or drawing app or something, I’d expect to pay 99 cents for it. If it’s a more full-featured app, like an interactive storybook that will either read itself to you, let you read it, or let the parent record it in their voice, plus some minigames related to the story, I’d expect to pay $4.99 for it. Those seem to be the price points of the successful apps I’ve seen, and why spend more when there are plenty of great apps at these prices already? Only time I’ve seen anything go above $4.99 is when it has a golden IP like Disney.
Alternative monetization if you have a whole series of apps: make one app totally free, charge for the other ones as above. A lot of storybook apps do this, but I’ve also seen it for apps that use the same core engine with a number of different themes.

But… there is hope!

If you want to know the best apps out there, instead of just taking my word for it (after all, I’m just a random developer who’s never made a kids’ game, mouthing off about this because I have a toddler and am frequently frustrated by the apps I download for her), I’d recommend searching on Google for “Best apps for kids” or “must-have ipad apps for toddlers”. Then just find a number of top-10 lists from other random parents mouthing off and take note of the apps that seem to be on a lot of the lists. Besides that, you can try the top-selling kids’ games in the App Store or look for other articles on kids’ games.

That said, there are some games I would put forward as positive examples (and one mixed example):

Toca Docter HDToca Doctor HD – similar to the Trauma Center series or the Operation board game but for a much younger audience. First of all, it is a perfect example of a game that is designed for kids. There are basically no loading screens and the main menu is a giant button that takes up most of the screen so my daughter can start it on her own. After pressing the giant button, you’re taken to the main game menu where the only controls are things that flash or animate so it’s pretty obvious where to touch (and the hitboxes are generous). Each touch takes you to one of a variety of WarioWare-style minigames. Playing it for the first time, the minigames were hard for her to figure out on her own, but once I guided her hand with each of them she was able to do most of them on her own. Each minigame also has an exit button that’s always in the same corner, so it’s easy to exit a minigame when you’re stuck.

Toddler CountingToddler Counting – a very simple app where it just asks you to count some number of objects using your voice. Touch an object and it counts 1, then 2, then 3, and so on until you’ve touched them all. When done, it gives verbal praise (and in some cases an additional sound, like if you’re counting kittens it’ll meow at you). The free version does this like 4 or 5 times with fixed content and then locks up; the 99-cent paid version has more content and keeps going forever.
Again, there are no noticeable load times. Besides that, the main menu has two really big buttons: “easy” for counting 1-10, and “hard” for counting 11-20. No other controls at all, just touch the objects. About as simple as it can get.

I Hear Ewe Animal SoundsI Hear Ewe Animal Sounds – another simple app. No main menu at all – it just throws you right into the app. The screen is divided into 12 large buttons, each one with an animal icon on it. If you tap an animal, the graphic will enlarge. Then a voice says “this is the sound an owl (or whatever animal) makes” and it plays the sound. You can sweep between three pages worth of animals with a finger or palm swipe.

 

Miss Spider’s Tea Party, and Toy Story Read-Along – both of these are interactive storybooks and similar in format. The main menu has relatively small buttons and does require my input to start off, at first. However, she’s seen me do this enough now, so she can start up the app and select what she wants on her own. The app features options to read the story manually (finger-swipe, palm-swipe, or touch a button on the side of the screen to turn pages); have the story read to you (basically playing a video, pages turn automatically, voice reads to you, words highlight as they are read); and play some mini-games with the story theme (small jigsaw puzzle, card matching, etc.).

Miss Spider's Tea Party
Miss Spider’s Tea Party

While neither of these seems to have any load times, both have a brief intro animation on startup (same way the Sega Genesis always started up with “Seeee-gaaaaa!”) so I suppose it’s possible that it’s doing some loading while that animation plays, without announcing that it’s doing that – if so, clever for them.
So both of these apps include a lot of rich content and lots of stuff to do, which is pretty impressive for free apps. The other storybooks in the same series cost – and cost a lot – but they do show how you’re getting your money’s worth with the free app.

Play Phone – this one, I have a love/hate relationship with. Every time my daughter starts it up I debate whether I should delete it. On startup, first thing it invariably does is pop up a small text dialog asking if I want to leave the app, for reasons I don’t understand. Tapping ‘no’ reveals the main menu, which has three buttons which are all horizontal and spaced fairly close together. One of these takes you to the actual game, another to the developer’s page, and the third pops up some kind of announcements page (and they like to make frequent announcements that are, of course, completely meaningless to a toddler). So, a play session of this basically starts with my daughter starting the app then calling me over to help her past the main menu.

Play PhoneOnce you get past that, it’s a simple app where you have a standard 12-button phone layout. Hit a button and it plays a short animation. My daughter finds quite fun, even if I find it grating to hear the same sounds over and over. Additionally, the app includes one button where the parent can record their own message for playback on one of the buttons. This is done by hitting a two-button combination, in order to prevent the kid from recording over it accidentally. Great idea for a feature, but there are two problems, which I assume came from a simple lack of field testing. First, hitting the playback button before anything is recorded leads to the app locking up for 30 seconds or so. Second, hitting the record button on its own pops up a small text dialog that explains how to record properly. which is fine for me, but meaningless to my daughter, and difficult for her to dismiss if she brings it up by mistake. The app is free though, so I guess you get what you pay for.

Currently, Ian is (again) under an NDA. However, you can check out some books he co-authored: Challenges for Game Designers and Breaking Into The Game Industry. Be sure to check out his blog as well.

ContributionsPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Ticklebot’s Super Sub Hero (Flash)

January 23, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Ticklebot is a tiny independent game studio, located in Serbia. The idea for Ticklebot formed soon after the meeting of its only two members, Stefan and Milica, and came to life in the spring of 2012. The name “Ticklebot” is derived from the founder’s true nature, as Stefan is a real human resembling robot and Milica is sort of a tickling maniac. This article is on their soon-to-be-published game Super Sub Hero.

Super Sub Hero is a puzzle platformer with an unusual kind of mechanics, a wintery atmosphere and a laid-back feel to it. What we started with, six month before its release, was a funny little ballet dancer hopping around and doing silly jumps. We wanted to make a game that would make players smile and relax while using their brains as well.

Studio Spotlight

Studio profile: Nikitova LCC in Kyiv

January 27, 2011 — by Vlad Micu

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Nikitova's Business Development Manager Natalia Makarova, VP of Strategy Maxim Zasov and CEO Olya Nikitova
Nikitova's Business Development Manager Natalia Makarova, VP of Strategy Maxim Zasov and CEO Olya Nikitova

Nikitova is not only one of the first art outsourcing studios in the Ukraine, but is now considered to be the largest game development services company in the Ukraine. They have built up quite the rep sheet with companies such as EA, Activision, Sony, Namco Networks, Oberon Media/Iplay, Trion Networks and Triumph Studios as their clients. Their main activities are not only art and engineering outsourcing for well-known titles, but also creating full games for PC and consoles. With the company prepping up to release a new line of casual downloadable titles themselves and a possible studio in China, we had the pleasure of paying their Kyiv studio a visit and find out how the company is dealing with moving from outsourcing to distributed development, what it’s like to have their own game development academy, befriending China and have a true 50/50 male/female ratio inside the office.

Distributed development > Outsourcing

Just when I visited the Nikitova offices, an entire new section was opened to accommodate a new division of programmers.
Just when I visited the Nikitova offices, an entire new section was opened to accommodate a new division of programmers.

Outsourcing has become quite the dirty word in Eastern European countries, even though it’s been one of the main livelihoods of most game studios based there. “Most of the studios here, they use outsourcing as help, to stay alive,” VP of Strategy Maxim Zasov says. At Nikitova’s offices, everyone has stopped talking about outsourcing and have started calling their work distributed development instead. “We feel that outsourcing is evolving into a more mature form of development service we see as distributed development,” President and CEO Olya Nikitova adds. “Clients started to realize that treating your development services partner as a part of their team will add a great value to the quality of the product . In certain ways, the team has to feel a sense of belonging.”

“They’ve finally started to realize that not treating us as a part of their team will influence the quality of the product as well. In certain ways, the team has to feel a sense of belonging.”

Vice president of production Michael Vatsovskiy has enjoyed the use of the word even more. His team has had a great boost in motivation seeing their names actually appear in the credits of some western games they’ve done distributed development on. “We are still something like 7 or 8 years behind software outsourcing,” he admits. “But with distributed development, in a production sense, we are partners now. It’s great for the team’s motivation.”

The Nikitova academy

 All the participants of the Nikitova academy receive a legitimate certificate once they graduate and the top candidates are offered to take up a position inside the company after graduation.
All the participants of the Nikitova academy receive a legitimate certificate once they graduate and the top candidates are offered to take up a position inside the company after graduation.

In 2006, Olya Nikitova decided to open a small game development academy to create more educational opportunities for young people in Ukraine that wanted to explore game development and become a part of an exciting industry. “Introducing something like an academy gives kids a chance to have a choice,” she explains. “If you compare it to the other job markets, game development itself is one of the highest paid industries here.” Nikitova’s academy is currently schooling 30 students at a time, testing people for their aptitude on both art and programming.

“We feel responsible for the lack of support for education on the government side.”

“We feel responsible for the lack of support for education in game development field on the government side,” she adds. “We aim to be a good example of a nice place to work, develop yourself and get excellent career growth opportunities.”

If you can’t beat em…

Senior staff inside the Nikitova offices can be easliy recognized by their abundance trophies and other spoils of battle.
Senior staff inside the Nikitova offices can be easliy recognized by their abundance of trophies and other spoils of battle.

With outsourcing to China becoming popular, even Nikitova is feeling pressure from the East. “They put a lot of money into education, and that counts as government-financed help,” President and CEO Olya Nikitova says. “So, that by itself requires us to be on our toes.” The challenge to keep costs down and retain a high-quality standard has become even bigger, especially since Ukrainian studios lack any kind of government support or quality education for game developers at all.

“You don’t compete with China, you just open up there.”

Aware of the quality of education and work in China, even an Ukrainian company like Nikitova is strongly considering to create a presence in China. The decision to open an office in China within the next six months is already on the table. “There are also advantages here [in the Ukraine] and the cultural connection is much closer to western clients,” Zasov adds. “You don’t compete with China, you just open up there.” The goal is to find a company that can complement their own skills and allow them to create a stronger international organization. “It’s a tendency for outsourcing companies to start and understand that we are stronger together than we are separately.”

Collaboration in Kyiv

Many starting game studios in Kyiv are founded by former employees who had their first taste of professional game development at Nikitova.
Many starting game studios in Kyiv are founded by former employees who had their first taste of professional game development at Nikitova.

According to many Ukranian developers, there appears to be a certain Ukrainian mentality still subconsciously active in the minds of some game studios that sharing information and being collaborative while exchanging ideas and visions is a bad thing. Five years ago, Olya Nikitova and some other developers took the initiative to start an IGDA chapter in Kyiv. “The idea of the IGDA chapter was to bring down those fences between studios and talk to each other to find the benefit,” she explains. “Anything that has a collective origin is always better than being individualistic. That has been my message for over 10 years.”

“The idea of the IGDA chapter was to bring down those fences between studios and talk to each other to find the benefit.”

For Olya Nikitova, it has become clear that in this day and age a collaborative attitude would allow her countrymen and women to achieve greater things than ever before. “You cannot stay by yourself, you need to look around,” she argues. “It’s all about being social. It’s a social environment, a social network: games for everyone.”

Girlpower

Nikitova's art department is dominated by female artists for a reason.
Nikitova's art department has recently provided art support for many big titles, inlcuding The Sims 3, Overlord I & II and Supreme Commander 2

Being at the head of her own company for almost 10 years, Olya Nikitova once took the plunge into the game industry after become tired or running a foreign exchange company. “I quickly realized it wasn’t my cup of tea,” she says. “I just like creativity and was looking for an industry that can get me inspired.” Applying her knowledge of how to start and run a business she aimed at game development industry with the goal of becoming a premium services provider and learn from the best game development companies creating best practices in the area game development outsourcing. The desire to learn has stayed with the company throughout its growth and has given Olya Nikitova the possibility to share attracts and fosters more female talent as well. The company possesses almost a 50/50 ratio of women in most of the teams in the company; a rather unseen feat for most western studios. “Being a female, and not being afraid to attract female talent, I have no reservation towards what females can do,” she says. ”The idea was to look at what women do best, because game development is such an abundant area where females can work.”

“Being a woman, and not being afraid to attract female talent, I have no reservation towards what women can do.”

Olya Nikitova especially noticed the value of a woman’s touch in the growth of her own art department. “Especially on the texture side, certain types of modeling work, certain assets, women flourish, they’re just so good at it,” She says. “They have better eyes and a better sense of color. Intuitively, they’re better on many levels. […] I really like the fact that women want to work in game development and aim to support it on every level.”

Nikitova recently celebrated it’s decade long existence. With one of Kyiv’s largest studios sharing her name, Olya Nikitova aims to move the company forward by letting her employees learn new things, make new new friends, explore opportunities and create their own story in the world of games.

Exclusive Interviews

Writer Toiya Finley Talks About Text-Based Games and Paths to Game Writing

January 25, 2011 — by Gamesauce Staff

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Freelance writer Toiya Finley discusses writing for Academagia and shares her story of hope for other freelance writers who want to write for games.

Text-Based Games Live

Text-based games are making a comeback in the world of smartphones, handhelds, and good ol’ cell phones. Finley, who fairly recently transitioned her writing skills to the game industry, started in browser-based games. She is now looking ahead to the future of texting games.

Finley writes for Academagia: The Making of Mages, which was released a couple of months ago by Black Chicken Studio. This PC game, aimed at audiences ages 9+, combines mechanics from life simulation and text-based role-playing games.

Academagia, although not a console AAA title, has been a great learning experience for Finley as a freelancer. Undoubtedly writers, especially those working online, often struggle to be fully included in the development process. “It’s a vast game, so I was able to add a lot of my ideas to the universe,” says Finley.

”I was able to add a lot of my ideas to the universe.”

Finley is currently writing the downloadable content adventures. Soon, she will be starting design work on the sequel. Above all, player feedback drives her as she thinks ahead to the sequel. “It’s been a pretty awesome experience watching the community on the forums respond to the game and discover the elements which I contributed.”

Shortly after working with Black Chicken Studio, Finley also picked up a contract as an Interactive Story Designer and Game Designer for Slooce Technologies. Slooce creates single-player and multiplayer text-based games over Short Message Service (SMS). She gets to spend her days writing choose-your-own adventure style stories, albeit within a tight word count limit.

”I’m also playing around with new game concepts, which enable friends to play with each other, even if they don’t have smartphones,” Finley shares. Of course, she can’t talk about those, but their impending releases will demonstrate the exciting possibilities of the text-based game genre.

Freelance Beginnings

Academagia: The Making of Mages is both a life sim and a text-based RPG. Players characters live through their first year at the Academagia.

Finley’s journey into the game industry started with literal journeys to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco.

“I’m one of those ‘I’ve been writing since I was three!’ types and I’d been playing games since I was five,” says Finley. About four years ago, she began to explore how she could combine her two passions. A friend of hers who was an owner of a game development studio suggested she check out GDC. Although she enjoyed the event and met with several very helpful Human Resource representatives, there weren’t any openings for game writers, let alone studios with in-house positions or freelance contracts.

Despite the setback, Finley attended the event again the following year and met a community of supportive writers. “After spending time with them, I was pretty confident that I could work in the industry,” Finley shares.

It took time and lots of posting on message boards and mailing lists, but eventually Finley found a request on a writer’s forum for lore writers, which turned out to be Academagia. Her enthusiasm and skills led to a position and later promotion.

Freelance Life

Map of Mineta: A conceptual map of one of the game's major regions, the City of Mineta where the Academagia resides. Many of the landmarks appear in random events and adventures.

Now, Finley is balancing the age-old challenge of freelancing—continuously seeking new work while completing contracts. Each project is different, which means that Finley can’t recycle writing samples time and time again.

“When applying for a job, you need to create all new samples that show you tailor your work to the project’s genre, tone, and style,” advises Finley. This can take a lot of effort and energy, and doesn’t guarantee getting the position, but it does build a portfolio for future work.

” When applying for a job, create all new samples that show you tailor your work to the project’s genre, tone, and style.”

Notably, freelance writers also face the unfortunate reality that their supportive community can also be their competition. One strategy for handling this situation involves finding a unique niche and sticking with an established client base. The other strategy requires developing your skills by focusing on getting a position using tailor-made writing samples and then learning along the way. After all, writing styles for games are just as unique as the mechanics themselves, as Finley has learned.

Finley is looking forward to unveiling her latest writing that involves unique game concepts for phone-based games.

PR & Marketing

KidZania’s Cammie Dunaway on Nintendo’s Influence in Her Work, Applying those Lessons, and Change through Fun

November 17, 2010 — by Gamesauce Staff

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KidZania's Cammie Dunaway

Cammie Dunaway saw a future for games emerge when she ran Sales and Marketing at Nintendo of America. She recently took a moment with Gamesauce to share where she’s been, her current work at KidZania and where she’s going in large part because of the games industry.

Marketing a Vision


Nintendo sparked Dunaway’s attention in many ways. “I was attracted by the vision of expanding video games outside of the traditional audience. I really responded to [Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata’s] belief that everyone from 5-95 is a potential gamer,” Dunaway shares.

”I really responded to [Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata’s] belief that everyone from 5-95 is a potential gamer.”

Dunaway’s background involves connecting with customers. She isn’t exclusive to the games industry, having also grown large brands such as Doritos and Cheetos. That valuable experience, not to mention her tenure as CMO of Yahoo!, made her appealing to Nintendo of America. Recently, she left Nintendo and was appointed the US President and Global CMO of KidZania, but she has taken valuable lessons with her.

Lessons at Nintendo

Working at Nintendo was a natural fit for Dunaway, partially because of her interest in branding, but also because of her family’s interest in games. “My son thought it would be really cool to have a Mom who spent all her time thinking about video games,” she admits. “He loved it when I brought work home!”

When Wii Fit launched, Dunaway was inspired. “Who would have imagined that a video game company could become the world’s largest seller of bathroom scales! Wii Fit really taught me that if you make something fun, you can change people’s behavior. It is pretty powerful to use gaming mechanics like achievements and unlocking content to encourage consumers to do something positive like exercise.”

”[…] if you make something fun, you can change people’s behavior.”

Applying Lessons


The importance of learning and changing behaviors through gameplay stuck with Dunaway. When she took her position at KidZania, she had bountiful experience to draw from and special insight from the games industry.

KidZania’s parks are much like live-action video games. The company builds kid-sized cities where children learn about jobs and economics through role-playing. They can be anything from doctors, to fireman, to veterinarians, to fashion designers, and more in a real world setting. Much like games, achievements are awarded. However, there’s an added value of education when tasked with using awards. “Kids get paid for their work in our currency [KidZos] and make decisions about saving and spending,” Dunaway explains.

At Nintendo I saw the potential for education and entertainment to come together and make a difference in the world.”

The parks are hugely successful in cities like Tokyo, Dubai, Lisbon, and Mexico City. Dunaway’s job is to bring them to the US, as well as to build new global revenue streams through merchandising and the web.

So far, Dunaway’s biggest challenge is seeing how quickly she can get her team built and get a park open in the US. “Inspiring and equipping kids is critical to our future so I want to get KidZania here as fast as I can make it happen!” says Dunaway.

Dunaway is excited about the potential for change and the forward motion in her career. “At Nintendo I saw the potential for education and entertainment to come together and make a difference in the world. At KidZania I get to make it happen in a very powerful way.”

Cammie Dunaway is hard at work building her team for KidZania US.

Business

PopCap’s John Vechey on Why People Make Every Game Better

November 7, 2010 — by Gamesauce Staff

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Keynoting the IGDA Leadership Forum in San Francisco, PopCap Games vice president of corporate strategy and development John Vechey told the audience that in 2004 and early 2005, he and his fellow co-founders were offered $60 million to sell the company.

While PopCap was known for extremely successful titles like Bejeweled, the offer came as something of a surprise. Says Vechey: we didn’t start PopCap to make money, we started it to make games. They declined the offer, ultimately feeling that it didn’t value the capacities of the team that had been assembled.

But the offer did serve as a wake up call. After having been offered millions, and refusing, Vechey says, “We knew we had to change, we knew we had to grow.”

Today, the company is 375 employees, still privately held, and as Vechey says proudly, focused on great games. “We get to control our destiny,” he adds.

“But even with the success, there were a lot of mistakes,” he continues. Alongside an influx of new people was “a lot of firing.” Vechey says that while some people were incompetent, some were great — but not a fit with the company, even during the times of change and transition.

“If you take advantage of the social graph and the friends list, every single game will be better.”

Vechey says that PopCap helped create the business of downloadable games, but that his company has changed enough that they’ve become irrelevant to the company today. “We have to look at how games are made,” he says of the future, adding that there’s a way to improve. “If you take advantage of the social graph and the friends list, every single game will be better.”

World of Warcraft, states Vechey, would be a lot better if he could log into Facebook and see which of friends were playing.

Social games, he continues, isn’t about spamming your friends on Facebook, but something Vechey calls “social relevance.”

“Every game can get more social relevance inside it,” he stresses. “And it’ll be a better game.”

He also suggests a strategy of experiences that are more connected. In future, Vechey says, “Whenever you’re playing a Pop Cap game, it’s like you’re playing an MMO.”

Vechey further encouraged an audience of senior developers and production leaders to rethink the correlation between purchase and fun. “Item buy can be fun. Buying a $60 game in a store isn’t fun,” he says. He discusses ways that gameplay mechanics and rewards make the spending of micro-payments a pleasure. “You can actually make the act of buying your product be fun.”

But the one constant that Vechey sees is change. He concludes: “If we’re successful, in the next five years, PopCap will again be unrecognizable.”

Development

THQ Digital UK’s Don Whiteford on big studios going from retail to digital, borrowing brands, and making publishers see money in digital downloadable.

November 2, 2010 — by Vlad Micu

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“We looked at Idle Minds, the makers of Pain,” THQ Digital UK’s creative director Don Whiteford tells me when I asked him where he looked for examples of developers that understand digital downloadable games. “They’re listening to the customers, they’re learning and they’re feeding it back to make it an enjoyable experience and keep that thing going.” Currently heading the Red Faction: Battlegrounds project, Whiteford hopes to show THQ the greater value of developing digital games in smaller teams with more rapid development cycles. He sat down with Gamesauce to talk about his findings, the challenges of adapting a game studio to developing digital downloadable games and how a publisher like THQ has a growing interest in it too.

Studio Spotlight

Studio Spotlight: Frogwares in Kyiv

November 1, 2010 — by Vlad Micu

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Frogwares's Pascal Ensenat, Anna Poperko, Olga Ryzhko and Volodymyr Gorodnychyi
Frogwares's Pascal Ensenat, Anna Poperko, Olga Ryzhko and Volodymyr Gorodnychyi

Celebrating a full decade of development this year, Frogwares has become one of the largest independent game development studios in the Ukraine. Though they’re known for their multi-platform adventure titles starring Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, their new ventures into casual games and even an MMORTS are just getting the momentum they deserve. We paid Frogwares’s studio in Kyiv a visit and found out how the company is dealing with all these new projects, while still sticking to their adventure game roots.

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