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Game DesignIndustryStudio Spotlight

Plarium’s Rise to World Domination

November 19, 2016 — by Casey Rock

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Plarium started out humbly enough in 2009 on Russia’s social networks with only a poker game and a farming game to its name. Today they are the #1 hardcore game developer on Facebook and a major force on mobile that is continuing to grow quickly. How did Plarium get from one to the other? It all comes down to its content, its employees and its players – with a dash of marketing thrown in.

USA 2014Video Coverage

Leonard Frankel – Collaborations and Strategy in Plarium | Casual Connect Video

August 12, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“It is indeed very hard to keep players entertained while doing the same routine over and over, everyday,” Leonard Frankel said during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “The average mobile user installs a new game almost every month. The average mobile gamer installs a new game twice a month, so even higher. So the imminent uninstalls lurks around the corner.” He shared insight on improving engagement in games during his session.

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Leonard Frankel is head of business development at Plarium, the largest hard-core game developer on Facebook. Closing distribution and IP deals for Plarium are the times when Frankel feels the most productive and valuable in his work. Closing these deals is not easy, and, in fact, Frankel reveals that it requires more work in internal pitching than in external negotiating.

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Leonard Frankel, Head of Business Development, Plarium

Educating Yourself on the Business

It was 2011 when, through a recruiter, Frankel joined Plarium at the time when the company consisted of 160 people (versus over 500 now). He was their first business development person, so a lot of the job involved research and competitive analysis. As the company evolved, so did its requirements for collaborative relationships, and his responsibilities increased. Today, he actively helps in steering the company’s strategy. Before coming to Plarium, he founded and managed a company developing an AI engine for online real-money poker games. In its last phase, they explored launching social games based on this engine. At that point, Frankel had to educate himself on the games ecosystem of Facebook. This happened to be the exact knowledge needed by Plarium as they took their first steps on the platform.

Frankel believes that the applying of complex collection mechanisms into other game genres is well-accepted by players today. He finds that it adds a significant layer of interest to most games, so he is actively advocating for it with Plarium’s internal studios. He admits this is easier said than done, but says, “When we look into new games being developed, we debate with our internal studios which forms of engagement can be added to their game, and collection mechanisms are often one of the options.”

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Stairs or slide? In Plarium’s studio.

Telepathic Phones Ahead?

He suggests that the trend which could most affect the games industry would be the switch to telepathic phones. But as this might take a whole decade, another interesting trend he observes is the decline in online platforms which will have a considerable impact. Fewer and fewer people are buying physical PCs, and existing PC owners have drastically reduced their PC usage. They often prefer using their mobile devices to go online. It seems evident to him that web platforms are on the decline, pushing even more developers toward mobile and increasing the overall quality of mobile games, as well as the competition on player’s attention.

Not surprisingly, considering his work, Frankel prefers to do his gaming on mobile because “The quality of games is so high these days, and the length of play fits perfectly into tight schedules”. He has been playing a lot of Hearthstone by Blizzard and recently, he began playing Summoners War by Come2Us, “It is a fun RPG CCG with high production values and great animation”.

While playing F2P games, he doesn’t usually make large single-purchases. In Candy Crush, he spent about $30, a little at a time. But he was glad to pay $70 for the arena and campaign mode in Hearthstone over time. Frankel divides most of his time between work and spending time with his wife and daughters. But he does squeeze in time for a little exercise, a bit for experimental cooking and eating, and a dash of social life.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Nick Berry: Living in a Knowledge Economy | Casual Connect Video

August 7, 2014 — by Casey Rock

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“Testing always beats guessing,” Nick Berry told his audience during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. He continued on, providing his view on growth hacking.

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Nick Berry, Data Scientist, Facebook

Nick Berry has come full circle. As a kid, Berry loved loved playing with computers — including programming games. However, like many boys, he also loved rockets and airplanes. When the time came to enroll at a university, he faced a tough decision between his two passions. While a degree in video games or video game programming was unheard of in those days, degrees in computer programming and aeronautical/astronautical engineering did exist.

“I solved the problem with the arrogance that only youth provides! I humbly decided that I already knew plenty about computers and that it would be a waste to go to college to be taught by some professor about something I already knew about!” Berry says. “Also, technology was moving so fast that all the books about computers at the time I read seemed to talk about paper tape and punch cards. Why learn about those antique things?”

Settling on engineering, Berry eventually emerged from university with a master’s degree. He was all set for a career as a research scientist at the UK Ministry of Defense when an old friend invited him to join a software company he was starting.

The company, NextBase Ltd., was very successful and won numerous accolades for its work in mapping software, including The Queen’s Award for Technology, presented by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. In 1994, the business was sold to Microsoft, and Berry joined the Microsoft team in America to continue work on the mapping products. Eventually, seeking a new challenge, he joined a small team at Microsoft tasked with connecting players around the world to online games.

After years and years, Berry was back in computer gaming.

Photo by Sahsa Paleeva
Nick Berry at Casual Connect USA 2014

Facebook and Gaming

Berry now works as a data scientist at Facebook, where gaming still plays an important role. Although Facebook doesn’t make games itself, “we love games (and their developers), and the scale is massive,” Berry says. “In 2013, we paid out over $1 million each to more than 100 developers.”

Currently, there are over 375 million Facebook-linked gamers across desktop and mobile devices. Facebook provides tools and services to help with login and authentication, help serialize and store game data in the cloud, tools and services for marketing and promotion, and mechanisms for players to share achievements and progress with their friends and family.

Berry notes that over 70 percent of people who use Facebook for iPad worldwide have played a Facebook-connected game in the past 90 days. There are over 260,000 apps built around Parse, Facebook’s solution to make it easy for developers to use the cloud to store data, and the Facebook ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons are viewed over 22 billion times a day.

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Berry notes that over 70 percent of people who use Facebook for iPad worldwide have played a Facebook-connected game in the past 90 days.

Berry’s job involves picking through all the data Facebook accumulates for useful information. “There is an immense fire-hose of data flowing into Facebook every second,” he says. “This data has to be refined and concentrated to make it actionable: What games are people playing? Who is spending money? How many games are they playing at the same time? If people like one game, do they like another? … and hundreds of other questions. I help boil the ocean, looking for statistically significant trends and patterns, and turn raw data into more refined and digestible summaries.”

Trust and the Knowledge Economy

Being a data scientist gives Berry a unique perspective on data, and he is an advocate of data “trust,” which he feels is a better term than “data privacy.” “‘Privacy’ is the wrong word to use these days,” he explains. “We should be using the word ‘Trust.’ We are living in a knowledge economy, and the value many of us add in this industry is in the manipulation of information — not in the creation of some tangible hardware product. We take raw data (often customer data), and add value to it. We should use this data respectfully. People trust us with it. Without trust, people will not share, and data is the fuel of the knowledge economy.”

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“We are living in a knowledge economy, and the value many of us add in this industry is in the manipulation of information — not in the creation of some tangible hardware product.”

He admits that “trust” can be hard to define, but that once it’s breached, it becomes clear. He notes that people handling data should “say what they do and then do what they say.” Transparency is extremely important — it should be made clear what a company is doing with a customer’s data and what that customer is getting in return for the data. That way, there are no surprises from people about what is being done with their information.

He adds that “sensitivities change over time, and so correspondingly, does what is considered ‘private.’ ‘Trust,’ however, is more constant. You either trust your bank, or you do not. You trust a friend, or you do not. When asked if you trust your bank, you base this on how they behave. You never hear a reply ‘Well, I read their privacy policy from cover to cover and agree with their fair information privacy practices.’ You trust your bank based on how they act.”

Away From the Datastream

Because of all the computer time involved with work, Berry spends his free time staying active and healthy. To that end, this year will be the fourth consecutive year he runs in the Seattle Half Marathon. “I’m a very slow runner, but I run the entire way without stopping. I do, however, find running incredibly boring, so I typically run and train with a media player and listen to audio books.”

Much of his free time is dedicated to his 10-year-old twins. However, when he gets the time, he does enjoy sharing what he knows in various ways. He’s an avid blogger, with his blog DataGenetics revolving around “data science, gaming and general geekery” — and he also mentors for the start-up/gaming community in Seattle. Two of his biggest accomplishments are also helping educate people: A TED talk on online safety which he calls a “very humbling, enjoyable experience” and a jet engine he built from scratch as the final project for his university degree — which, 26 years later, is still in use teaching new waves of engineering students.

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One of his biggest accomplishments was presenting A TED talk on online safety which he calls a “very humbling, enjoyable experience”.

The next feat he’d like to accomplish?

“I want to build a log cabin. I’ve got the land; now all I need is the spare time.”

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Richard Song Recognizes Success | Casual Connect Video

June 9, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“375 million of our monthly active users we are delivering to our app designers and game developers,” Richard Song said during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “Our partner developers made over 1 million US dollars last year.”

Richard Song, the head of APAC, platform partnerships, games, at Facebook, says, “We are the sum of our choices. Every experience we have had, good or bad, has led to us being where we are today.”

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Richard Song, Head of APAC, Platform Partnerships, Games, Facebook

And today, Song is serving Facebook’s partners, helping them to establish, grow, and monetize their businesses using the Facebook platform. Prior to coming to Facebook, he worked in the games industry for 16 years as the managing director and vice-president at Perfect World Entertainment, vice-president of global publishing at Webzen HQ, managing director of Shanghai at NHN HQ, and vice-president and head of global business at Hanbitoft HQ. Then one day a recruiter recognized the value of his extensive experience, gave him a call, and enticed him to join Facebook.

Exceptional Teamwork

The most satisfying moment he recalls in his career came in 2005 when the team he led was recognized as the most valuable of the year. He asserts, “This achievement came as a result of exceptional teamwork by every member of my team.”

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Today, Song is serving Facebook’s partners, helping them to establish, grow, and monetize their businesses using the Facebook platform.

When Song is away from his work, he likes to spend time with his family, hiking, and gaming. He describes himself as an old-fashioned gamer whose preferred platform is PC. He likes to play the “oldies but goodies”, including League of Legends, Warcraft III and Team Fortress 2.

He appreciates free-to-play for the opportunity it gives players to try a game before they commit to it, comparing it to test driving a car before you buy it.

Song does not yet own either Xbox One or PS4, although he expects to. He says he is waiting for Grand Theft Auto 5 for PS4.

Tailor-Made Success

As he considers what is coming in the games industry, he see a trend toward focused, tailor-made audiences, while standard service for everyone will diminish. He believes Video on Demand will continue to increase with YouTube and IPTV. Other trends he expects to gain strength include Mico SNS and wearable technology such as GoPro, SmartBand, and Google Glass.

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As he considers what is coming in the games industry, he see a trend toward focused, tailor-made audiences, while standard service for everyone will diminish.

At Casual Connect Asia, Song announced that Facebook will be working more closely with Southeast Asian-based developers and building up a new platform partnerships team for the Southeast Asia region.

 

Europe 2014Video Coverage

Casual Connect Europe 2014: A Sweet Homecoming

March 10, 2014 — by Clelia Rivera

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This year was a sweet homecoming for Casual Connect Europe as it returned to the city where it all started: Amsterdam. It may have started with only a few hundred attendees back in 2006, but this time, about 2000 game industry professionals gathered in the beautiful Beurs van Berlage for three days to create new connections and learn more about the industry’s current trends. Over 120 lectures were presented by international speakers from companies such as Wooga, Youtube, Facebook, Google, and GamePoint. Lectures included information useful for the current game market, such as Godus creator Peter Molyneux‘s session on design re-invention, new technology, and mobile development.

Casual Connect isn’t just about the handy lectures, but also the professional relationships that are built through meeting and sharing with close to 1000 other companies in attendance. Whether during the day at the show or the sponsored parties at night, there is always the opportunity to reach out and help foster the growth of the game industry community. This was true not only for the seasoned veterans, but new developers as well. Over 100 indie developers displayed their work at the Indie Prize Showcase held at Casual Connect Europe. In addition, 13 teams won various awards, from Most Innovative Game to Best in Show. The winners can be viewed on the Indie Prize website.

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The Winners of Casual Connect Europe 2014’s Indie Prize Showcase

Looking forward to returning to Amsterdam next year, Casual Connect is currently focusing on the preparations for Casual Connect Asia, held in Singapore May 20 – 22, 2014. Check out the conference website if you are interested in more information: http://asia.casualconnect.org/

If you were not able to make it to Casual Connect Europe (or if you want to relive fond memories), videos of the presentation are available for free on Gamesauce and the conference website.

Casual Connect Europe Videos on Gamesauce:
Erik Goossens: Indie Developers and Advertising
Vicenç Marti: Community First
Inna Zaichenko: A Passion for Games
Scott Foe’s Evil Hilarity
Sebastien Borget on Educational Social Gaming
Yaniv Nizan: Don’t be Afraid to Win
Chris Natsuume: Making a Difference
Robert Winkler: Standing out with Substance
Cristi Badea: Opportunity for All, Even Underdogs
Teut Weidemann: Understanding Why Equals Win

More video articles can be found here.

Other Coverage of Casual Connect Europe:
 7 upcoming indie treats from Casual Connect 2014 in Amsterdam – Pocketgamer.co.uk
Video: Evil Game Design Challenge winner pitches F2P Evil Minecraft – Gamasutra
5 things we learned at Casual Connect Europe 2014 – Pocketgamer.biz
The DeanBeat: Developers need platforms that aren’t always in flux – Gamesbeat
14. Februar: Casual Games Association zeichnet Indie Games aus; Microsoft muss Schlüsselpositionen neu besetzen – Making Games
What Games Are: Going Small – TechCrunch
Spil Games will trigger ads at ‘cliffhanger moments’ in games by indie developers – Gamesbeat
Casual Connect Europe mit neuem Besucherrekord – Gamesindustry.biz
Mobile game Shapist was inspired by ancient Asian block games – Gamesbeat
GameDuell: “Spielerbindung deutlich gesteigert” – Gamesindustry.biz
If you want to score a good publisher, you need to think like a publisher – Pocketgamer.biz
Nextpeer makes it easy to challenge your friends in mobile multiplayer matches – Gamesbeat
Molyneux: “Geld zu verlangen ist kein Recht. Man muss es rechtfertigen.” – Gamesindustry.biz
Casual Connect feiert in Amsterdam erfolgreichen Neuanfang – Gamesmarkt
Is Christmas losing its sparkle? Flurry points to drop off in yuletide download growth – Pocketgamer.biz
The Dutch want gaming startups to sprout like tulips (interview) – Gamesbeat
Casual Connect 2014 • Drie Nederlandse winnaars bij Indie Prize award show – Control
Portrait of a Pretentious Game – Rappler
Casual Connect 2014 • De succesfactoren van Reus, de godgame met een indieprijskaartje – Control
Grand Cru: Console devs are ‘utterly failing’ at in-app purchases – Pocketgamer.biz
Game makers beware: Virtual goods purchases are about to be regulated – Gamesbeat
Casual Connect 2014 • Een bedrijf opstarten doet niemand voor je, vergeet niet te relaxen en wees een ster – Control
Asian companies account for nine of the top 10 game mergers and acquisitions – Gamesbeat
The Godus amongst us: Molyneux talks free-to-play farces, winning without chasing whales and his top score on Flappy Bird – Pocketgamer.biz
Peter Molyneux believes ripping people off with free-to-play games won’t last (interview) – Gamesbeat
Size matters: How to scale your game for overnight success – Pocketgamer.biz
FlowPlay helps developers like Joju Games differentiate their social-casino titles – Gamesbeat
Molyneux: Free-to-play is like ‘smashing consumers over the head with a sledgehammer’ – Pocketgamer.biz
Dandelions benoemd tot beste indiegame Casual Connect – Gamer.nl
Share and share like: Why developers need to care about their sharers – Pocketgamer.biz
Mimimi gewinnt Indie Prize – GamesMarkt
Flappy Bird was the perfect accidental guerilla marketing campaign, says Creative Mobile – Pocketgamer.biz
Casual Connect Amsterdam – Freegame.cz
Mech Mocha Founder Arpita Kapoor Wins Most Prominent Female Indie Award at Casual Connect Europe – Animation Xpress
Casual Connect Europe 2014 – Амстердам – ITC.ua

 

Europe 2014Video Coverage

Nick Berry: Growth Hacking | Casual Connect Video

March 3, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“If you are not doing A/B testing, go directly to jail! Do not pass Go, do not collect $200,” Nick Berry told his audience at Casual Connect Europe.

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Nick Berry is a Data Scientist at Facebook. He describes Facebook as the company that defines the concept of “big data.” He spends much of his time “boiling the digital ocean of data looking for statistical significances, trends and patterns.” Being asked to give a TED talk in 2013 is an experience he considers one of the highlights of his career.

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Nick Berry at TED in 2013

Keeping It Fun

Nick Berry, Data Scientist, Facebook
Nick Berry, Data Scientist, Facebook

Berry ends up spending a lot of his time in front of a PC, and the people he gets to interact with at conferences are what he enjoys most about being involved with the game industry. With a young family, although his free time is very limited, he still manages some time for game play. His laptop is always available whether he is at work, at home, or on a plane, so this is his most used gaming device. His next most used device is his iPad, followed by his (Android) phone. He doesn’t have much time for playing console games so he doesn’t own either a PS4 or an Xbox One yet, but his children use an Xbox 360 at home

Being Visible

The problem of visibility is the greatest challenge in the game industry today, according to Berry. Because there are so many products in the app stores and online, it is becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive to acquire customers. “Having a great game is just the starting point,” he says. “You need to have a great game, and make people aware of it!”

Creating awareness and marketing your product efficiently is going to make the difference between success and failure, according to Berry. The art and science of cultivating users quickly, on a small budget, is given the title “Growth Hacking”. This was the topic of Berry’s Casual Connect presentation this year.

Berry says, “Facebook is also pilot launching a publishing platform to help developers get over this distribution ‘energy barrier’. You deliver great games; we deliver qualified users in great quantities, and we can proportionally share the revenue and benefits.”

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Tech Gets Better and Better

Tablets and smartphones are getting more and more powerful, according to Berry. He notes that new mobile devices already have more power than the previous generation of consoles. At the pace that new models are coming on the market, they may soon overtake consoles even in the core gaming genre.

He doesn’t expect to see another new generation of dedicated consoles on the market within the next five-ten years, possibly not ever. However, he maintains that PC gaming market is not dead or even dying; as long as there are computers on desks, people will want to play games on them.

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Social connectivity will be baked into all games.

Berry also believes there will be increasing use of cross-compilers, allowing games to be simultaneously developed and released on multiple platforms. And, of course, social connectivity will be baked into all games. He emphasizes, “There is no such thing as a disconnected device these days. All devices can be connected to the internet, and all successful games will leverage this.”

Keeping Up

Berry is also an active blogger, and you can read his regular posts about gaming, data science, privacy, and general geekery here: http://www.datagenetics.com/blog.html

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

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

February 26, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Game Should Have its Own Identity

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

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

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

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

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

Saying No

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

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

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

Remember Who the Game is For

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

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

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

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

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

Player Base in the Beginning: No One to Play With

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Tweaks

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

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

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

Europe 2014Video Coverage

Amon Endt: Be Ready for What Happens | Casual Connect Video

February 19, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Amon Endt is Founder and CEO of GamePoint, a developer and publisher of synchronous multi-player social games. Endt describes himself as determined, someone who makes things happen. Since GamePoint, after starting out in the Netherlands, now has a strong presence not only in The Netherlands, but also in Germany, France, Spain, the UK, the US and Canada, he clearly is someone who makes things happen.

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Endt now spends most of his working time on high-level matters such as strategy, finances, and planning. However, he admits he has a tendency to micromanage, and he also values interaction with the employees, so he can often be found on the floor working directly with his team.

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Taking a Break at Gamepoint

The company also knows how to have fun. At Casual Connect Europe, GamePoint hosted the official Casual Connect party, Gold!

A Growing Company

Amon Endt
Amon Endt, Founder and CEO, Gamepoint

The most exciting time in his career came in 2008, when GamePoint first started to generate revenue at a noticeable scale in a foreign country: Germany. It was a pivotal moment, marking the beginning of their international expansion.

The rise of Facebook as a games platform is a very significant development for the company, with a far reaching  impact on GamePoint’s distribution and internationalization. In response, they have changed their internationalization strategy from partner- and joint venture-based expansion with local partners to international expansion through Facebook.

When Endt considers the future of the game industry in the next three to five years he says, “It will be either make or break for all the walled gardens. We either see the end of the ‘web’ as we know it, or the walls come crashing down and we all turn to HTML5. The one important thing to us as a company is to be ready when that happens.

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“The one important thing to us as a company is to be ready when that happens.”

Life Away From Work

Away from work, he has a variety of interests, including skiing, racing at the track, spending time with family, and, of course, playing games. His favorite platform for games is still the PC, but he is currently playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a turn-based strategy game on iPad. And a PS4 is on the way.

Endt loves free-to-play, saying it is wonderful because it is free and widely accessible. But he is much less enthusiastic when developers balance their games wrong and consumers feel pressured into paying.

EventsIndustryNewsVideo Coverage

Wrapping Up Casual Connect Kyiv 2013

November 14, 2013 — by David Nixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casual Connect Videos on Gamesauce:

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

More videos can be found on the conference website.

Other Coverage of Casual Connect Kyiv:

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

ContributionsPostmortem

Cyberpunks vs. Syndicates: Exploring Another Life

September 6, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Mososh was created in 2010 by Christian Primozich when his previous company, Challenge Games, was acquired by Zynga. He is passionate about working in a creative environment that encourages everyone to try their best, and has a love of games and comics. He talks about Cyberpunks vs. Syndicates, his third MMO.
Office
Christian Primozich working in his office

Where Did CvS Come From?

Cyberpunks vs Syndicates (or CvS for short) is the third web-based MMO I’ve done after hitting the indie scene as Mososh. CvS has been in development for about two years, as I’ve been running and enhancing my previous title, Chronicles of Herenvale, in addition to doing the development on the new game. Mososh is largely me plugging away – days, nights, weekends – doing design, writing and development, as well as customer support, server administration, accounting and all those other things associated with running a business – gah!

The inspiration behind CvS can be found in old-school titles like Syndicate Wars, tabletop games like Shadowrun, books like Snow Crash, and movies like The Matrix. There’s something alluring about that dystopian image of the future where the hacker dons the role of hero to fight against corporate corruption. I myself am a hacker. I want to be a hero. CvS lets me explore themes that are personally relevant and inject my own perspective into them. That is the fun part.

What Makes A Mososh Game?

Early Concepts Sketches
A few early sketches of CvS

Finding the right artist is a key to the quality of my games. I suppose it’s a reflection of what appeals to me when I choose what game to play. I won’t work with anyone whose art I’m not looking forward to getting in my inbox. At my last company, one of the developers used to say getting art from our lead artist was like Christmas. That’s how the player (or me) should feel when they see new stuff, whether that’s exploring new areas, finding new gear, or fighting new enemies. It’s important I find an artist that really has the same eye for detail that I have, as well as a distinctive style that’s going to set the game’s visuals apart from (and hopefully above) games of a similar play style.

I’ve chosen to work on web-based MMO’s for the last six and a half years, because I like to combine aspects of adventure games with asynchronous PvP and co-op features like guilds. Players will often gravitate towards one aspect, but expanding beyond a single dimension gets more people involved. Multiple aspects also give them somewhere to go if they get bored with one part of your game (as opposed to loading up someone else’s game).

What’s With The Web?

One of the challenges of being an indie developer is distribution, which is why I love the idea of web apps because they are accessible. Developing on the web ensures you can reach the widest possible audience and take advantage of open publishing platforms like Kongregate and Facebook. Without platforms like Kongregate, I couldn’t do what I love to do.

All of these languages are largely just tools. You can build crap with the right tool and something amazing with the wrong tool.

I wrote my first game on a TRS-80 back in the 80’s, but I really dove deep into development during the explosion of the Internet in the 90’s. I’ve written Java, C, Perl, Visual Basic, C# and most recently PHP. I’ve written stand-alone apps, libraries, and web apps. I’ve listened to debates rage about which language is the right language, but I don’t think that’s the point. All of these languages are largely just tools. You can build crap with the right tool and something amazing with the wrong tool. You learn that quality is largely not dependent on the tool when it comes to software.

So what are my tools? L-inux + A-pache + M-ysql + P-hp = LAMP. One of the best things about LAMP development is how free it is – no really, it costs zero dollars. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have its downsides, the biggest being the complexity (or perhaps perceived complexity), as most developers don’t have a lot of experience with web technologies. Running a web server, a database server and gluing everything together can be a bit daunting at first. The good news is services like AWS and Rackspace have made running servers in the cloud relatively inexpensive, easy to set up, and very test friendly in that you can launch and tear down servers quickly. There are also tools like MAMP that really help when getting your development environment set up. Personally, I use HTML and Javascript as my front-end. However, that can limit some elements of the game. Animation is challenging at best and real-time synchronous play can be difficult. You have to adapt the gameplay with these limitations in mind.

Why Did It Take So Long?

I started on the idea of doing CvS in 2011. I had been running my fantasy RPG, Chronicles of Herenvale, for about six months and figured it was time to think about my next title. Running a live game and working on a new one can be a real challenge, though. There are always bugs to be fixed, improvements to be made and new features and content to be added. I put together some rough ideas and set out to find someone to breath life into them.

Early Examples
Early concept designs of female characters in CvS

I found an amazing artist, Don Ellis Aguillo, through craigslist in the summer of 2011. Craigslist has worked really well for me in finding talented contractors in CA. I live in Austin, TX, and we just don’t have the density of art talent the West Coast does. He put together some concepts based on my descriptions, and we were off to the races! But it turned out to be a marathon, not a sprint. My original asset list doubled, then tripled as I didn’t have time to really develop the game – and I didn’t want to lose all of our momentum.

Focusing is crucial to building anything, but can be so hard in this tech-driven, interrupting world!

Early 2012 didn’t actually show much progress on my new game, as I was spending a lot of time in Herenvale. Through the summer and fall, I buckled down and concentrated on constructing CvS based on top of the framework I had built for Herenvale. I then started adding features and modifying other features until I was buried (again!) – so much for a late 2012 release.

Finally in the Spring of 2013, I set aside a lot of time to focus almost exclusively on CvS. I was still adding quests, items and other things to Herenvale in addition to answering support emails, monitoring the servers, etc. Days of essentially uninterrupted time were necessary to finish work on the new game. That meant putting things I usually took care of every day on hold for days at a time or just checking email in the morning, or any other means I could find to focus. Focusing is crucial to building anything, but can be so hard in this tech-driven, interrupting world!

By June, I was ready to run a beta of CvS for some of my hardcore Herenvale fans – it’s great to have players who are willing to help. By end of July, I was ready to launch! That last push is so hard, but so rewarding when you reach the finish line.

Final Character Art

Shall We Play A Game?

CvS can be played here. The game is also on Kongregate and Facebook. I love connecting with other game developers, and I’m happy to share my experience, especially if it’s helpful. It’s almost time to figure out what I’ll be working on next if I can fit something in between running two live games.

You can reach Christian on Twitter!

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