Publishers and developers, what is the state of your relationship? Is it great? Is it good but could be better? Or have you suffered through a miserable breakup? Whatever your relationship is like, you will enjoy the insights Mel Montano has to offer.
Mel Montano is the Senior Business Development Manager at Kongregate where their work is focused on finding the best and most exciting games on mobile, PC, console and the web for publishing partnerships. Before coming to Kongregate, Mel spent four years as Business Developer at Humble Bundle. And before that Mel worked as an Environmental Scientist remediating pollution.
At Casual Connect USA Mel’s session on publisher and developer relations covered everything: breakups, both good and bad; ghosting; and even publisher/developer speed-dating (yes, really!) This session emphasized what you can do for better networking, how to create and maintain a good relations, and what to look for in a potential publishing partner. As Mel insists, “Consider your deal breakers in advance.” If you are concerned about maintaining the best publisher/developer relationship, be sure to watch the full video of Mel’s session.
Music and sound effects are commonplace in a mobile game, but often the use of voice work is overlooked. Usual reasons include a lack of budget or experience working with voice talents. See the session video below if you want to learn about how the use of voice can bring your characters and stories to life, and if you’re taking the first steps into casting, creating a script and working with voice talents. At Casual Connect Asia, Jeremy Goh, Co-Founder of IMBA Interactive, discussed voice work, noting that “good voice work can give your game relatability and personality, as well as a source of rich feedback for your players.”
Alexis Kennedy has a storied career in gaming, literally. He has done guest-writing gigs for such prominent studios as BioWare, Telltale, and Paradox – and as the creator of Failbetter Games, he grew a two-person startup into a studio with 16 employees and over $1.3 million a year in revenue. As part of the Industry Insights track, Alexis will open the conference at Casual Connect Kyiv with a keynote lecture on game narratives and how to better marry stories with game systems. Many other experts will join Alexis in sharing their expertise with attendees over the conference’s three days of lectures and workshops.
In the beginning it wasn’t too difficult to make a profitable business making games on app stores. In recent years, however, app stores have become flooded with games. The market now demands that game designers fine tune their design skills to a high level. At Casual Connect Asia 2017, Color Switch LLC Game Designer David Reichelt discussed what it takes to make it in this industry as a game designer and what every designer should focus on in order to make games that stand out in the market. “Work on being an inspired person because what you produce will be inspired and people cannot copy or clone your inspiration.”
I make something beautiful and teach my team to do it. It makes me happy every day. - Vera VelichkoClick To Tweet
User Interface is the connection between the customer and your code. The CEO and Art Director of Owl Studio has a passion about what makes User Interface good or bad. In her lecture at Casual Connect Europe 2017 discussed this and how to build effective interfaces as well as how to direct the user’s attention to the right place at the right time. This presentation will help you whether you are an artist or not to design better layouts that help increase user engagement and retention.
One tip Vera shared was: “Passive and active colors for user interface UI needs a good balance, using gentle shades that won’t tire the eyes.” To learn more, see the full lecture and slides below.
Vera Velichko, CEO and Art Director of Owl Studio, has always been determined to have a company of her own, but for many years it seemed like a distant dream as she continued working as an employee. But finally, two years ago, the time was right. “I realized that there is no time like the present, and if I wanted to achieve my dream, I had to do it there and then.” So, with some friends, she began working on her first project, a visual novel called One Day in London. The company has developed into a team of twelve and they still work with this visual novel (an episodic project) as well as doing outsource artwork. During the past year they have completed seven projects together.
Doing Something that Really Matters
Today Vera firmly believes that the work she is doing means something; it really matters. This year Owl Studio’s online school for artists begins. Each day brings interesting tasks; each new project brings new challenges for Vera and the team. She revealed, “I can make something beautiful and teach my team to do it. It makes me happy every day.”
Almost all her life Vera has been working as an artist. While studying fine arts, she started accepting what it would be like to live on the salary a painter could make. But then Vera discovered that the game industry offered a brilliant opportunity to make real money doing what she loves. So she made a portfolio of her work and began doing freelance work as a game artist. At first she were working for almost nothing, but the work allowed them to continue improving the portfolio. And as the portfolio became better and better, the more opportunities it generated.
Building a Business
With the creation of Owl Studio, Vera entered a new stage of her career. Suddenly she must be involved in business development, networking, team building, setting up process, and many other aspects of building a business that she had never done before. Their motivation to succeed comes through seeing a goal and moving toward it. When she looks to the future and see there is something still needed, Vera just keeps moving on.
The biggest challenges she has faced recently is making decisions for the company. Vera reveals, “How can I find out that my decision is right? How can I be sure it doesn’t hurt my team?” She has realized that, although there is no way to be sure something is the right decision, it is still her responsibility as the leader. This continues to be the most complicated aspect of running the company.
Building the Team
For the members of the team Vera searches for those who can combine creative talent with responsibility, but it is a rare combination. This is because the art that Owl Studio makes is much more than a job or a way to make money. She explains, “We are trying to make a graphic with soul and spirit, that will take a user to a new world. It’s impossible without talent. And we work with customers and abide by deadlines, and this would not be possible without responsibility.”
The most difficult positions to fill are the team leads. This employee must have the very unusual ability to be a leader while also being a team player. And next most difficult to find are the UI designers.
Vera has discovered that there are no standard methods of how to work with the team members because everyone is unique; an individual approach is necessary. So she tries to find a way to connect with every employee, but recognize that is also important to know the moment to let them go.
Her commitment to team members is evident when Vera relates the proudest moment of her career. It was when she realized what an apprentice had accomplished, something more than Vera could do alone.
Developing and Testing a Visual Novel
When Owl Studio began working on their own project, they used play tests of their first demo to form the final vision of the project. They were testing UI, storytelling, sounds and perception of the image, and as a result of these tests they made changes and adjustments. As they tested this visual novel, the most interesting results came from seeing the differences in feedback from the different story lines. The choices the users made changed their perceptions of the entire story. It was a very important discovery.
Now there are no longer significant changes to the project mechanic from episode to episode, so Owl Studio is no longer doing play tests. However, they do get feedback from users on a daily basis and use this information to constantly improve the project.
The monetization method Owl Studio uses for One Day in London is premium. This is simply a result of the visual novel genre; there is no opportunity to monetize within it for using the free-to-play principle.
Vera has seen dynamic growth in mobile games, as well as hearing many colleagues talking about new trends in this sector of the game industry, and expects this to continue over the next few years. In response, she is teaching the team and students to understand the specifics of mobile art.
The Essential Skills and Attributes of Good Interface Design
There are two essential skills to the basis of good interface design. The first is understanding the features of the project and the target devices. The designer must be able to imagine how the user will use this. The second is understanding the topography and visual design. As Vera points out, not every artist can understand how to work with texts and infographics.
Vera describes the difference between UX and UI design this way: “UX design is the process of establishing the logic system that controls the application. UI design is the process of making this system beautiful.”
The software to design good graphical user interface will vary depending on the artist’s habits and preferences. Some possibilities include Photoshop, Illustrator or Animate. The only essential is providing a portable network graphics set.
For someone who is considering UI design as a career, Vera emphasizes the importance of playing games while thinking about how you do it. Also, study the topography design. These are the two most significant steps toward becoming a UI designer.
Rock‘n’roll is here to stay, as the old song says – but in the mobile era, getting people into brick-and-mortar businesses can be a challenge. Like brands of all kinds, Hard Rock is seeking to connect with mobile users. The only question is how – and Hard Rock found its answer in the game developed in collaboration with our team here at Ilyon Dynamics: Hard Rock Puzzle Match.
Petri Ikonen, Creative Director at tracktwenty, joined EA in 2012 when they opened their mobile game studio in Helsinki, Finland. With responsibilities that include supervising the studio’s design team as well as doing many hands-on design tasks, he is vitally involved in developing tracktwenty’s creative culture and processes. At Casual Connect Europe 2017 in Berlin, Petri discussed the challenges of creating SimCity BuildIt.
Kevin Beimers fulfills a lot of roles for Italic Pig: writer, editor, producer, director, animator, artist, designer, developer, coder, and storyteller. He has helped create Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark with Italic Pig. He noted that what he learned from this was: “the weirder the idea, the less likely it is to be stolen”, which led to the development of Mona Lisa, a game where the titular character is a Renaissance robot art thief.
“I’ve always found Da Vinci fascinating – I think everybody does at least a little bit. I mean, here’s a guy so far ahead of his time, with buckets of ideas, talented in every facet of art and science from inventing to sculpting to painting to engineering to botany to anatomy… and that’s just from the codices that he let everybody have a peek at,” said Kevin. “The thing is, for every time he dropped a bomb on human invention – ‘Here you go, folks: I call it a helicopter. That’ll blow your mind.’ – how many of his ideas never saw another human face? I would imagine that for every codex he felt comfortable putting on display, there’s another 10 back in his basement he never told anybody about, and more than a few that he probably had to set fire to.”
“Then you’ve got the mystery of Mona Lisa: Who was she? Oh sure, historians think they’ve got her pinned down as either the wife of a Florentine cloth merchant, his secret same-sex lover, or Da Vinci himself. In other words, nobody’s got a clue,” he continued. “I asked the question: what could be the culmination of Leo’s work? All of his sketches of engineering works, all of his sketches of the human body, what if Mona Lisa the Painting was not his greatest creation, but Mona Lisa the Girl?
Loteria Latin Bingo started as a bargain between Jeff Jensen of Megafuzz in Denmark, and myself in El Paso, Texas. We met at PAX South 2015 in San Antonio, Texas, and exchanged contact information. A few months later we agreed that I would create art for Jeff’s game (not released yet), while Jeff would program for my game, Loteria Latin Bingo. I chose to make this game because it is a link to my Mexican roots and I wanted to bring the old game of Loteria to a new audience in a new light. I wanted to give it my own take on the art, as well as update the gameplay for a satisfying mobile experience. So, I created art for two games at at the same time. In two years, the project was complete and on July 20, 2017, Loteria Latin Bingo was published.
I had the idea of making a small game – just something to put up on the App Store – but it seemed ridiculous to just make a game and not go as big as possible. So, after thinking about it, I added all the features that I could think of to the design of the game. I added in-app purchases, helper characters, a map to encourage progression, and XP system to level up and unlock abilities, multipliers, different modes and in-game currency. Then, I talked to Jeff and showed him what I was thinking. It blew him away, I could hear him get nervous. He had agreed to a small game and then I came to him with a huge project. “Hang on”, I told him, “I don’t expect you to do the whole game”. I explained to him that this was the grand vision for the game. I wanted to see how much he was willing to tackle. At this point, I had already done a large portion of the art for his game, so, he knew I was not going to go back on my end of the deal. Being the awesome guy that he is, he agreed to add a map, helper, characters, multipliers, a leader board, a store, an XP system and star system. I was amazed by his generosity. In exchange, I did more artwork for him as well.
So we got right to work, sort of. We both have clients and other projects to do to pay the bills, so this was sort of a side project. Over the span of a few months he worked on the first playable build and I created the art he needed for both games. We communicated over Skype and shared files via Dropbox. Being on opposite sides of the globe, Jeff was up at crazy hours talking to me most times. There were changes I made to the game design that pushed Jeff’s buttons, but we worked it out and kept going. As we worked, we found that we had to reduce the scale of the game, We were using the Game Maker engine because that’s the platform Jeff knows. It happened that at that time support for in-app purchases and a leader board was lacking in Game Maker, and since we had to cut the store and leader board out, things like XP, levels, a map and star system made no sense. So, the game changed once more. We took all of it out and made it a points-based game. It hurt to do that because the programming for most of it was finished and so was the art. But, looking back, it makes the game easier to get into. Sometimes, games have too much going on and that takes away from the experience. Also, we wanted to finish this journey we had embarked on.
Finally, after many ups and downs, we finished the game! It is now up on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. It’s my first game, outside of a studio, and I couldn’t be more proud. I’ve had the privilege to work on great games like Peggle, Bejeweled3, and Plants vs Zombies; but Loteria Latin Bingo is special – and not just because it’s mine. The collaboration between Jeff and I across opposite sides of the world, as well as the voice actor, Fernando Lamb, and musician from Venezuela, Lion3l, whom I found on Fiverr, made this an international collaboration. I’m blown away by what is possible not just with the technology available, but by trusting people and following through with promises. Trust is a difficult thing to give; I’ve been burnt many times. But, when mutual trust works out, the end product is much more valuable. I don’t just have a game that I can monetize and potentially expand, I also have a friend in Denmark. Now that I have to market this game with an “indie” budget, more friends are showing up, more connections are being made, and more opportunities are available.
Tara Mustapha is currently a consultant after spending over a decade in the game industry as a game designer at Playabl, EA, Microsoft and Foundation 9. Tara’s fascination with esports began with Starcraft: Brood War, to travelling to Las Vegas for IGN Pro League events, Madison Square Garden for League of Legends, and achieving 12 wins in Hearthstone Arena 1x.
Tara is also vitally concerned with the progress of women in the games industry and has been a board member of Women in Games Vancouver. At Casual Connect Europe Tara and Christina Dunbar participated in a fireside chat discussing the challenge of finding leading women in the industry and how they can thrive in the world of esports. Recently Tara described her life and career with Casual Connect in this exclusive Gamesauce Q&A.