GamesOnly.com is a Dutch game studio and game portal founded in 2009 by Robin Ras.Located in Amsterdam, Robin started to work with other game devs to develop Unity 3D games like the Orange Jet Fighter. “Being a big fan of jet fighter games, it was great to finally be able to develop something similar”, Robin says as he shares the story of Orange Jet Fighter.
Kid Aviator is an endless flyer that launched on iOS and Android January 2014. It features Kid, a daring aviator-in-the-making willing to risk life and limb for his fans. The game was developed by two developers: Mattia Fortunati (programmer, designer and graphics rookie) and Claudia Perugini (visual artist and character designer), both hailing from Rome, Italy. Mattia shares their story.
A Lengthy Development
Kid Aviator was an interesting project for first-time developers such as ourselves. From start to finish, the development of Kid Aviator lasted more than two years, quite a bit of time for such a small game. Not only did we experience the expected false starts and ups and downs associated with a two-person team of first-time developers, but we were busy with school and day jobs. We only had time to work on the game in our spare time. Add to this the fact that Kid Aviator was built on a self-made game framework . . . and you get the picture.
It was also 100 percent self-funded. We invested our savings from our day jobs. We didn’t even start a Kickstarter campaign because it’s (sadly) not an option for Italian developers (Kickstarter only allows projects from the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand).
Dreams & Aspirations
We wanted to create a well-made, relaxing game, something that you could play in your spare time, during lunch breaks, or while waiting at the bus stop. We kept the game simple and full of personality. This was Claudia’s rule, and I’m glad we were able to stick to it. Kid Aviator was always meant to be welcoming and easy to learn so that players felt good playing it.
We also had a personal goal: to learn. Many teams around the world make great games year after year, but how do they do it? Our idea was to not take any shortcuts and pay attention to every single step: concept, prototype, production, testing, marketing, PR, all of it. Throughout development, we strengthened our writing, programming, drawing, interface, design, and polishing skills by asking for help and hearing war stories from fellow indie developers.
Pushing ourselves to the limit, we often found each other performing several roles at a time. After encountering a big problem, we sometimes wanted to simply surrender and leave things as they were instead of fixing them. As an indie developer, you will be tempted to give up from time to time because you’re way too busy with a day job or other projects. It’s like raising a bonsai: with some discipline, proper scheduling, and doing just a little every day, you’ll slowly see your miniature tree grow to be a strong and beautiful specimen.
Finding the Core Gameplay
The endless runners genre is marred by clones of clones now, but two years ago, there was still room for innovative gameplay. We wondered what would happen if the player moved the obstacles instead of controlling the main character. To add some variety to the gameplay, we included objects that could be destroyed, along with power-ups. Back then, Kid would move automatically (and randomly) around the screen – like a lifeless roboaviator.
Then we noticed that every time our friends played the game, they always ended up trying to move Kid by tilting the device. We didn’t have tilt controls then, so we said, ‘Why not?’ We immediately put our friends’ feedback to use and added tilt controls. Thus, the dual control system (in which players control both the protagonist and the interaction with each object) was born. Clearly, player feedback and the use of hardware capabilities particular to mobile devices have helped us develop (and refine) Kid Aviator‘s core gameplay.
The Circus Setting (& Choosing a Title)
Kid wants to become famous. He’s like a rock star, with his audience numbers increasing each time he wins a medal. It’s not about Saving Private Brian (I guess only Ryan was saved!), avenging a long lost cat, or cleansing the world of all evil. Kid Aviator is about flying endlessly toward the sky and becoming a star.
It’s an unusual choice, we know. This simple (and somewhat basic) concept—a cute Kid flying toward the sky and encountering random strange objects along the way—was born organically. As for the setting, we didn’t take long to come to a decision. After a quick brainstorming session, we chose a more traditional “human cannonball” theme for the game—and a circus setting was a natural fit. But the title didn’t come as easily: in fact, it took us two months to choose one!
We had a whiteboard that we scribbled on everyday, looking for inspiration. Some of the early titles we considered included To the Top!, Sky-Man, and Cannon Kid. Eventually, we fell in love Kid Aviator, a variation of Cannon Kid. However, we secretly called it “scaimen” (Italian transliteration of “Sky-Man”), and the game directory is still named “skyexplorer.”
Time to Tighten Up Those Graphics!
We’ve heard that graphics are the most important element in game development. An awesome icon and beautiful, hand-drawn characters are essential to success. This is only partially true. A great game needs deep, rewarding gameplay or it will just be an average game with AAA graphics. Just ask regular players. Most of them will say that graphics are important but “gameplay is king.” I find that the gameplay is the game’s soul and the graphics are its body. Gameplay is a direct channel between game and player.
At first, Kid Aviator’s graphics were no more than placeholders (and heavily inspired by The Powerpuff Girls). Once Claudia got her hands on it though, a revolution took place. She realized that falling objects would be more familiar to the average player—and after many sketches, she made a major decision: Kid would now be based on Mr. Driller instead.
Claudia was totally new to computer graphics, and Kid Aviator was her first experience mixing art and computers. However, in no time at all, friends and fellow developers introduced us to professional tools and gave us honest and constructive feedback. We love the result! Kid Aviator boasts “cute and warm graphics”—as it should be in an Italian game. The way the game looks is a perfect translation of the studio’s ethos, and it’s a little piece of the spirit of Italy that can be played worldwide.
What’s the point of making a game that no one will ever play? We knew that the game would be invisible without a good promotional push behind it. However, it would have taken years for us alone to learn the PR tools of the trade—and we would never be able to finish the game if we turned our attention away from development.
We did not surrender—despite the cold, calculating replies—and we finally found Novy PR
We contacted a number of PR agencies with a detailed message explaining our needs. It was our first time seeking PR help, and we expected professional replies, but we quickly realized that most firms were more interested in money rather than helping indie developers. We did not surrender—despite the cold, calculating replies—and we finally found Novy PR.
Novy replied in a professional, yet passionate way. They listened to us and were interested in our project as a whole. They were also affordable for our small, self-funded studio. Novy took the role of Kid Aviator’s cheerleaders, testers, marketing mavens, you name it. In hiring a PR firm, we weren’t trying to top the App Store rankings; we just wanted to avoid oblivion. Novy PR helped us avoid that.
Due to my work in development, I ended up becoming one of two core creators of RapaNui. An open-source, Lua, high-level, 2D game framework, RapaNui can be used with the Moai SDK when developing cross-platform games for iOS and Android. Initially created as a Corona SDK porting framework, RapaNui would eventually become a “college in a box” for me. I learned a great deal about both the Lua language and Moai SDK.
Since then, RapaNui has grown and led to a job making an AAA title. Working 60 hours a week while still fleshing out RapaNui reduced the time I could spend on Kid Aviator. At the same time, it allowed me to port my game to RapaNui. Improving the framework for the AAA project would mean improving Kid Aviator‘s engine as well—and vice-versa. Kid Aviator is bound to RapaNui, but it took much longer to develop because we relied on this exciting, but ever-changing new framework. I definitely don’t recommend going the “non-standard” route like we did—especially if you’re an indie developer.
However, I was personally willing to accept the risk, and I’m really happy with the end result. I feel closer to Kid Aviator because I built so much of it with my bare hands, a feeling I lack with my other games built with commercial engines.
We were moving along at a such a smooth but busy pace handling the (successful) open beta, we didn’t realize that iOS7 was right around the corner.
With November already taken hostage by two major console launches, we decided to slow things down and delay the soft launch to December.
Kid Aviator was approved and ready for sale when suddenly, we had to make it compatible with the new Game Center and status bar designs. This meant that we had to re-submit the game to Apple and postpone the soft launch and worldwide release. With November already taken hostage by two major console launches (transitioning to the next generation, no less), we decided to slow things down and delay the soft launch to December, planning the launch for January. This was a two-month delay that we could not have predicted.
The second issue was the “December Curse,” which played a big part in our poor Australian/Canadian/Brazilian soft launch. Although it was intended to test the game’s viability and help us smooth out the actual release, the soft launch yielded almost zero downloads—and we didn’t get the feedback we so desperately needed.
In hindsight, we were hitting the freemium wall—with big titles, all free, released with the sole purpose to attract players at the expense of more premium indie offerings during the holiday season. Would you download Dungeon Keeper for free, or Kid Aviator for $0.99? The AAA game is obviously not truly free, but many mobile players still don’t realize this in advance. Most will skip the paid title and try a free download, even if they eventually uninstall it after 15 minutes. Kid Aviator was not made to do battle against the frighteningly competitive freemium market, but we couldn’t re-design it to counter that threat. Our only resort was to hope for a strong launch.
At no extra cost, Novy agreed to pursue a pre-launch campaign in order to generate some buzz. We reached out to journalists ahead of launch, and a number of outlets requested promo codes and Android builds, which made us quite happy. However, we stumbled upon a huge issue when it was time to release the game on Android: a black screen, which was reported by a large number of Android users on launch day. Of course, we fixed it as soon as possible to avoid missing out on any sales—but we received a number of refund requests before we could submit a fix (fixing the Android build took two full days – 48 hours without sleep).
It turns out that the Android logcat had no errors. This was a sneaky bug because it would happen only if the game was installed from Google Play. We found a solution, thanks to friends who lent us their time and Android devices — plus the help of other developers who had experienced the same issue. It was a problem caused by the new resource path system added to Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean): the game could not find its assets. After we fixed the problem, our Android players were happy and satisfied.
A note on Apple’s approval process vs. Google Play: Apple’s approval process is notoriously time-consuming. However, having a professional QA team test your game on every single iPod touch, iPad, and iPhone gives developers much-needed peace of mind. At the same time, Google Play allowed us to upload a stable build within a few hours – versus a few days on the Apple camp. I guess both platforms have their strengths and weaknesses!
First Week: Reviews, Feedback, Downloads
Freed from a nasty black screen, Kid Aviator flew across the world, ready for the real challenge: the App Store and Google Play. During those crazy days when we were busy fixing the Android build, we still felt incredible relief and excitement because we were reading the early coverage for Kid Aviator.
Journalists produced well-thought reviews with mostly positive scores. The few negative reviews were still very honest and always included constructive feedback. Players and reviewers alike enjoyed the dual control system, core gameplay, cute graphics, and charming characters.
It seemed to us that Kid Aviator was invisible in both stores, and we don’t remember adding an invisibility power-up.
Users rated the game, recommended Kid Aviator to their friends, and contacted us with a lot of awesome suggestions. However, while we got great reviews on top sites like 148Apps, Cult of Mac, and AppleTell – along with communities like Reddit and Touch Arcade’s forums – download numbers were low. It seemed to us that Kid Aviator was invisible in both stores, and we don’t remember adding an invisibility power-up.
I guess this speaks to the dark truth of mobile development: the competition is beyond fierce at the moment–more like “dog eat dog, who then eats you.” Free-to-play took the air out of the room, making it very difficult for a game like Kid Aviator to get download numbers matching its quality. If this was 2011, we would be in the thousands of downloads at this point. But we won’t give up. After all the hard work that went into Kid Aviator, we’ll keep pushing to give the game every chance it deserves.
The Bottom Line
Developing an indie, self-funded game is difficult, stressful, and crazy—fraught with ups and downs—but it’s also challenging, illuminating, and satisfying. Just make sure to hold on and never surrender!
This is our journey, brought to you with absolute sincerity. We hope that it can be useful to others like many postmortems on the web have been useful to us. A hearty goodbye from Mattia and Claudia, the small team behind Kid Aviator!
The duo invites you to try Kid Aviator today and leave your feedback (invaluable for indie developers like them). You can also keep track of how it is going with the team on Twitter,Facebook, and their website.
Keybol is a one-man indie game developer company from the Philippines. Bari Silvestre has made a bunch of popular flash games, some of which were showcased at game conferences around the world. Bari is now venturing into mobile, and his first big release happened to be a hit in the form of Pretentious Game.
Contest Entry Becomes Viral
Pretentious Game started out as a small flash game created for Ludum Dare 23 accelerated game development contest. The setting is about a blue block who is in love with the pink block at the other end of the screen. He must reach her in any possible way, even if this means breaking the rules set for the game, or even introducing a new mechanic. The ending is also a bomb waiting for every unwitting player.
The game turned out to be a hit! It went viral and topped the Reddit gaming subtopic. I understood Pretentious Game was a hit not only among gamers, but also within the indie games industry, when it got showcased twice at Casual Connect and was featured at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and IndieGames. When the game was presented at the Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect San Francisco, it won the Director’s Choice award and was nominated for Best in Storytelling. Pretentious Game was also on the front page of big flash game sites such as Kongregate, ArmorGames, and Newgrounds.
The following chapters, Pretentious Game 2 and 3, were received positively as well, since the second one has a surprising ending, along with improved gameplay. The third part is interconnected and awes many players with how witty the whole story is.
I think the game gained popularity thanks to its story, but the gameplay wasn’t lagging behind too. Players liked the fun of solving new puzzles while discovering the whole story. They also found the title amusing, and some thought it was a sort of parody.
When Publishers Harbor at Forums
Since the reception for the franchise was overwhelming, I decided to port Pretentious Game to reach a wider audience. To promote the game, I needed a trailer to later post it to the TouchArcade forum. I found a very catchy tune at AudioJungle, and imagined a good trailer script with the positive reviews from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, JayIsGames, IndieGames and Mike Bithell himself – the creator of Thomas Was Alone. Rishikanth Somayaji, a developer I met at Casual Connect Asia, volunteered to make the trailer, and he did an awesome video with his own vision.
The trailer caused a brief discussion, and then Bulkypix, a French publisher, contacted me with an offer on that forum. They reminded me that mobile games need visibility to take off, and promised to help with that. Bulkypix was really giving me benefits, and I couldn’t reject their offer anymore. The most memorable thing in our discussion was when they told me what their Lead Programmer told them: “If we don’t take this one, we won’t take any game!”
After additional quality testing and 10 more languages later, the game was published on December 5, 2013.
The Friday When Bari Woke Up Successful
It was another Friday morning here in the Philippines, when I woke up and decided to check the Best New Games. Pretentious Game was one of them! I thought I was dreaming, I almost immediately thought of hitting the jackpot.
As for the reviews, they were great. I was overwhelmed to see my game in such prestigious sites as Touch Arcade, App Advice and Pocket Gamer. In a week, even more reviews followed. The players liked the game too: more than 1900 reviews averaging 4.6 on Google Play and mostly 4 and 5 stars in App Store.
Here are some reviews:
“I really like this game.” 4/5 stars — Touch Arcade
“I instantly fell in love with its challenging charm.”- App Advice
“Concealing a deeper meaning, Pretentious Game is an enjoyable platformer with a touching message.” – 148Apps
“I can say that it’s refreshing to see something like this come along.” – Arcade Sushi
“ Pretentious Game is one of those rare games on the App Store or Google Play Store full of originality.” – Pocket Gamer
I thought App Store’s feature rotation after a week of success would bring the number of downloads down, but instead we had entered the US App Store top charts!
I believe it’s because of the review from Touch Arcade and a video of 10 Fun Mobile Games by VSauce. It’s amazing how much this contributed to the number of downloads and sales. I can say I’m now more eager to move further through the US market. In fact, we reached 110,000 downloads in 10 days.
Promotion: Festivals, Contests, Press and Direct Suggestions
I’m now pursuing the game even more, since I’ve heard from other successful mobile developers that the first two months are the most critical, because what is being done now determines how long the tail of downloads to come will be.
I’ve met with directors from IGN Asia to tell them about the game, and reached out to local media to promote a Filipino-made game in my own country. Pretentious Game has also been suggested for a possible feature in Google Play, and is in process of being included in a mobile Humble Bundle – Bulkypix met with Google as part of their weekly roadmap, possibly pitching the games eligible for feature promotion.
I had also submitted the game to IGF 2014 before it was released, and hope they’ll choose it as one of the finalists.
Kickstarter-Style Monetization: Useful, but Unclear
We’ve tried a different approach to monetizing the game: a “Kickstarter-style” of purchasing the full game for a bigger price in exchange for more rewards like wallpapers and soundtrack. It was also meant for players to support the developer if they wanted to.
It worked, bringing some extra 30 percent to the earnings. But at one point after reading a comment from a player, I understood that it confuses other players. She said she can’t pay $4.99 to unlock the game, since she thinks it’s too much for a mobile game. I had to remind her that it will only cost her $0.99 to unlock the full game. The $4.99 is an option to support the developer and get an additional wallpaper and soundtrack. In the end, because we don’t have real stats to compare with (since, as far as I know, no other game has used this approach), we decided to leave it as is and focus on content instead.
Mistake in a Twitter URL May Have Cost Downloads
It’s a good thing that I manage the Facebook fan page of Pretentious Game, and can connect with the players to advise them what to do. Once there was a slight mistake in the URL of the link shared on Twitter, but that was easily fixed by the next week’s update. I am still wondering if it should have brought in extra downloads. I also noticed the Facebook sharing feature I put in the game did nothing! At least, that was the case when I checked for #pretentiousgame and saw a total of zero users having shared the message on Facebook.
Bari is now working on Circles with multiple personalities! He is planning to start a studio and gather a bunch of local talents in his provenance. If you want to check out more of his games, visit his Facebook Page.
Founded in August 2011, Artibus is a company of 12 people with an objective to develop mid-core massively online games for smartphones. Their first and main game, Angry Heroes, was initially released on Google Play and the web in September 2012, and currently has approximately 300K installs, 10K DAU, and 1K online players on average. Daniel Poludyonny, the game’s designer, talks about what they learned in the process of its creation.
What would be the best way to share our experience? We could write about how we make games, but everyone does that. However, there are some tricks we used to increase the game’s performance that not many game companies practice. So we decided it was time to share some of our own recipe to a successful mid-core MMORPG.
What is Angry Heroes?
In case you haven’t heard about Angry Heroes (since we’ve only launched in Eastern Europe so far), let us tell you a little bit about the game. First of all, Angry Heroes is a MMORPG that makes fun of the MMORPG genre itself. We made it this way hoping that players will enjoy exploring its sarcastically-epic fantasy world with lots of gags about cliches from famous games like Diablo, World of Warcraft, or Skyrim that they know so well. We even created some Angry Heroes-related comics about the daily suffering of RPG players.
However, unlike the mentioned RPGs, Angry Heroes is easier to play. You can fight other players whether they are online or offline. If you win, you get some of their gold that lets you pump your skills and get stronger. You don’t even have to control your character: he fights automatically. In general, your goal is to get as much gold as possible while losing as little as possible, and keep getting stronger.
An average gameplay session can be just a couple of minutes: launch the game, pump your hero skills for gold your loyal minions have mined for you, attack some other players, loot more gold, go in quests to get even more, then repeat. Or the game-play session can take up to an hour, as the game features lots of optional casual mini-games (iSpy, match-3, puzzles, and other genres), so the players can play longer. There is also a chat, where you can talk to other players.
Quality Before Quantity
Unlike most game companies who make games for both iOS and Android, we initially launched our game on Android instead of iOS, and there is a reason for that.
We wanted to make sure the game was fun, engaging, and can earn revenues before bringing it to the big masses. We thought: if you can make money on Google Play, you will certainly earn money on Apple iTunes. Currently, our game generates about 20 cents from a user daily, which is a noticeable performance for Android platform, where users are not as used to paying for the apps as iOS users.
We hope to double or even triple our revenues on iOS.
People who tried making their own games in CIS countries (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus etc.) probably know the problems of our mentality. Our developers are used to working for a foreign customer. They are used to implementing someone’s specifications instead of their own ideas. And each time you want someone to get creative, you might get stuck.
Luckily, we overcame this problem. We deeply believe that two heads are better than one, and twelve heads are far better than two. So we make all product-related decisions together. In fact, we generate most of our new ideas together while having a glass of beer in the pub. There are so many of them that we physically can’t implement all in the foreseeable future.
We also don’t have managers. A programmer can create a task for another programmer or a tester can create one for an artist. This, we believe, is a core power that allows us to create great products.
Be Creative at Acquisition
Everyone knows that acquisition costs. You must have a pretty neat ARPU in order to cover your acquisition expenses. What a waste of money it would be if you make a game in such a way that it pushes users away at the very beginning? You paid $1 for this user, and they just left because they were poorly engaged. What a pity! So we kept in mind the importance of the first 5-15 minutes of the game experience, as this is the time the player decides if they want to keep playing your game or not. It is crucial to improve their experience as much as possible.
One thing that is a big annoyance in most games is that you’re required to enter your name in order to start playing. Of course, some games use Facebook authorization, but making it obligatory can also push some users away. You have to remember that when giving your game “a test ride,” your new user expects to see the gameplay as soon as possible.
Sometimes, you have to improvise and select easier ways to achieve the same result. For additional retention, we added a Dragon Fight feature
We came up with an idea of automatically generated names. And not the names like “user568,” but some pronounceable and memorable ones that can be spelled without getting your jaw broken. We put together a dictionary of syllables that are common for Old-English/ Scandinavian names, wrote a script that selects syllables and puts them together according to each syllable chance, and some simple set of rules. And guess what? It turned out that about 30 percent of the players simply keep the generated names that sound like Lord of the Rings, but are completely computer-generated (ELDTHERAN, POLRAKTUR, BELUGHWOR, etc.) Besides, the script detects the selected gender and generates female names like EINA, UVORA, NALAE, etc.
Sometimes, you have to improvise and select easier ways to achieve the same result. For additional retention, we added a Dragon Fight feature: every day, a Dragon attacks the village at a random time. All players can unite to fight him, and if they win, all of them loot enormous amounts of gold. This increased players’ loyalty and the average online players.
In the meantime, surprisingly, developing our community helped us out big time, too. Since we only have one tester in our team (not enough to find all bugs, especially the ones that are related to the massively-multiplayer gameplay), we created a feedback form. A lot of players were retained just because there was a way to contact us, complain, give us some suggestions, report a bug, and get answers! They feel they are valued and loved by developers, and that makes them keep playing the game. And some games don’t even list their support e-mail!
There were numerous cases when we implemented small features requested by players, which led to retaining those players. And players that are satisfied with service are more likely to convert to paying players or bring their friends to the game, meaning it also affects acquisition.
However, we want our players to be able to play the game for years, so currently we’re making our two largest features that are supposed to increase our long-term gameplay dramatically: guild wars and forge crafting.
Be Creative at Monetization
We designed and implemented consumable, lootable discount-bonuses: the ones you can simply get from the game. By doing quests, there is a chance you will loot a small magic bottle, which enables you a 25, 50, 75, or even 90 percent bonus for your purchase.
When you launch your game on Apple App-Store or Google Play, you might notice non-flexibility of the in-app purchases. Once you created one, you keep using it. Inspired by Steam Sales, we wanted to be able to boost our sales from time to time. Therefore we designed a bonus-discount system. It allows us to enable and disable a bonus discount virtually at any time with absolutely no coding. Any given holiday (Halloween, Christmas, etc.), we just enable a discount, and it works immediately.
The sales really went up those days. And then we noticed one thing: when we launched a 75 percent bonus discount for New Year’s 2013 for a whole week, the boost of sales slowly decayed and got back to normal by the end of the week, despite the fact that the discount bonus was still active. We came to conclusion that sales only work when they’re active for a short period of time. The rest of the time, everything should be well-priced.
We designed and implemented consumable, lootable discount-bonuses: the ones you can simply get from the game. By doing quests, there is a chance you will loot a small magic bottle, which enables you a 25, 50, 75, or even 90 percent bonus for your purchase. You can also craft these bottles using the in-game crafting system. What it did to our monetization was basically the same thing the temporary discount did, but on a constant basis.
Every indie studio has its two major pros and cons: they are creative, but they don’t have enough resources. Always use your creativity to your advantage. Listen to your users. Try to experience what they do. Make sure users enjoy your game before bringing it to big masses, and you’ll be a success.
Angry Heroes is currently preparing for their initial iOS release. Keep up to date with information from Artibus through Facebook and Twitter.
Acquiring high quality users can only happen when you choose the right partner to work with.
Wai Cheong Choy is the Director and COO of Metaps Pte Ltd, the Singapore-based subsidiary of Metaps Inc., where he focuses on building strategic alliances and business growth in Southeast Asia. Choy finds great satisfaction in helping game developers make it to the top of the rankings, eventually becoming the top grossing app in the Google Play store. When this happens, it proves the direction his company has been giving has been exactly right.
He believes focused events like Casual Connect are the most productive, allowing those in the industry to discuss opportunities together. Where better than Asia? As Choy claims, “Asia is where the money is!” He tells us Japan and Korea represent two of the top three markets for Google Play in terms of top revenue share. Choy sees massive, untapped potential in the Asian market for mobile games. “It is the fastest growing market both in online and mobile, and many of the PC online MMORPGs are moving towards mobile. As cheaper Smartphone devices are adopted in Southeast Asia, the potential for the games industry to grow there will be exponential.
Asia is where the money is!
To fellow game developers, Choy points out that user acquisition is only the beginning and a part of the entire marketing plan.. “User retention is the real challenge,” he says. “Always think about what is required in your product to make sure the users are satisfied and keep coming back for more. There are plenty of materials online to learn from. But it’s important to recognize the best basket for your eggs.”
He believes acquiring users is not difficult when you have a budget,but acquiring high quality users can only happen when you choose the right partner to work with, one that can give you what you need. Choy encourages developers to connect with Metaps, “From marketing to user retention to monetizing, we are here for you. Just concentrate on what you do best, which is to develop great games!”
The Voxel Agents are developers of original handcrafted games for “on-the-go” fun. They are one of the most exciting indie teams in Australia, and are situated in the game development hub of Melbourne. Creators of the smash hit Train Conductor series and Puzzle Retreat, The Voxel Agents are proud producers of addictive game substances for millions of players worldwide.
How Puzzle Retreat Started
Puzzle Retreat has gone through many iterations and has changed a lot from it’s inception 21 months ago. Yangtian Li, our in-house artist at the time, pitched to the team an elaborate design for a lumberjack-come-carpenter game. The player had to fell trees in a forest, bring them home and make furniture.
Henrik Pettersson, one of our former designers, was immediately inspired by the puzzle potential of felling trees in a forest. His first design was a puzzle game where the trees fall into each other and knock each successive tree down like dominoes. The second design, and eventual winner, focused on your player character who stands behind each tree to push it over. There must be enough space to stand behind the tree to push it down and there must be space for the tree to fall into. This puzzle design requires you to find the right order to knock all the trees down whilst keeping the appropriate spaces free, and not locking yourself in.
The team really liked the potential depth of puzzles this mechanic presented, and the simplicity of the interaction in the very first playable prototype. The theme of cutting down trees in a forest on the other hand, did not rest well. We decided to explore over 20+ designs in art styles and themes and finally decided to stick to the original forest theme, but instead of cutting down the forest, the player was saving it by cutting down evil degenerative trees.
We’re BIG on Playtesting!
Our development process has always had a significant emphasis on playtesting, whether it be in-house within the studio, taking our tablets out on to to the friendly people of Melbourne in the city streets, or even amongst other local game developers. Playtesting can be heartbreaking at times, because it can reveal the hard truth that your design does not work. Being mobile players ourselves, we understand the importance of designing games that are easy to pick up and play straight away and playtesting let us verify this.
Early on, players struggled with understanding the objective and how to interact with the game. Some players were able to work out what the objective was and how to progress. However, some players weren’t able to without any assistance during playtests.
Players were also getting confused between what they could and couldn’t interact with on screen. For example, the affordance of non-interactable wooden logs, produced after cutting down a tree, made players try to pick them up and move them. We discovered that wood cutting wasn’t a great metaphor for the game mechanics and that the third-person character was a major distraction from the actual logical puzzle solving.
A Minimalist Design Approach
In the end, we adopted a minimalist design approach and stripped the game back:
– We removed the third-person character.
– We replaced the core mechanic with one of it’s variations, where trees were covered in ice and could slide over icy logs.
– We removed the ‘stand behind rule’ to cut down trees, this helped with opening up a larger space for puzzle designs.
– We reworked the theme into something much more simple and understandable.
The game received a much more positive response from playtesters after removing rules and making the game much more simple.
We managed to get the game down to two simple rules:
1 Slide the blocks to fill the holes.
2 Use all the blocks.
Relax, Unwind and Focus
While we were stripping back the design, we took the opportunity to look broader at who plays these types of ultra-minimal, logical puzzle games. We found that the audience of these games is more mature and predominantly female. The majority of logical puzzle game players solve puzzles to relax, unwind, de-stress and get some “me time,” the same reasons why we play. With this in mind, we crafted a world free of stress and distraction. By letting the gameplay be the focus, and pushing the art into the background, the game could really shine.
Through our journey, we have learned that the very best logical puzzle games leave very little in between the player and the core problem. All the information to solve the puzzle is directly in front of you, and you just have to solve it. By carefully handcrafting each puzzle and cleverly pacing out the puzzles in each pack, we have been able to give players a great euphoric feeling and make players feel really smart after solving each puzzle.
Puzzle Retreat is available on the AppStore and Google Play. The Voxel Agents still have a dedicated team adding more content and features to the game. The plan is to bring Puzzle Retreat to more platforms in the future. The Voxel Agents also have another game in development that is planned for release later this year.
Hashstash Studios is an independent game development studio from India working to develop and bring innovative and entertaining games that will hopefully tickle you to death. Their new game Circulets is an easy-to-learn family game designed for interactions between the players and includes a lot of playfulness. Kinshuk Sunil, the lead at Hashstash Studios, tells the story of creating Circulets.
My name is Kinshuk Sunil and in April 2011, I started an independent game development company with two friends of mine – Yadu Rajiv and Mayank Saini. We spent the next year working on an Android game, Zap the Knight, which is out there as an unfinished game on the Play Store and would perhaps be best described as a vaporware for now.
As the calendar turned to 2013, our priorities had shifted from making games to just plain survival. Around that time, Yadu jumped into Global Game Jam 2013 with a few friends and ended up making ‘less than three’, a local synchronous multiplayer for the PC. ‘less than three’ (a play on the heart emoticon <3) was an experiment on a concept we have been planning to work on for some time and was received very well by friends at the Jam.
One Game A Month? Can We Do It?
During the Jam, we all started talking about taking part in One Game a Month experiment. less than three became our 1GAM entry for January, and the XP boost was relieving. We internally joked and poked fun on each other about our XPs. This led to us starting to discuss what our project should be for February.
It was evident that we needed it to be very simple, because we actually wanted to finish it in February. So before anything, we decided that the release date would be February 28. Vidhvat Madan, Yadu and Vasu Chaturvedi then actively started exploring ideas about what that simple game should be. The breakthrough came on February 3rd, when Vidhvat came up with a simple prototype of collecting circles.
The idea was simple: a circle pops up on the screen and two players fight to collect it. The one who gets it, gets a point and the cycle repeats.
Wait, What Are We Making?
It was an interesting prototype, but not a game yet. Vasu, Yadu and Vidhvat were hard-pressed to find a game here. Yadu went ahead with experimenting with the idea of multiple circles instead of just one. But that made it a little confusing. There was no conflict anymore, each player could collect their circle at their leisure.
That was about the time when we set our first design objective: “It’s not about winning, it’s about who you play with”. And so we defined two factions. Each player was now assigned a color and they had to collect only their own droplets. That was what the game was called then, “Droplets”. Along with the two sides, we introduced a bonus color that was the bone of contention between the two players. With the addition of a timer and limited time, the game instantly became a riot.
Building a Game…
Around the same time, I finally jumped on board the team, primarily to take care of sounds. We were now four – Me (Kinshuk), Yadu, Vidhvat and Vasu. Between Yadu and Vidhvat, all game programming was taken care of and a huge chunk of design. Vasu added on top of it with more design. I brought sound and production to the table.
The game did not undergo any major changes since then. The base premise persisted. We did explore a different arc with a radical UI-redesign and a possible scenario where there were many more types of circulets and different behaviors in an effort to bring some tactical gameplay to the game. By this time the game had changed its name from “Droplets” to “Circulets” and that was going to stick.
…is not easy
By this time, we were fairly done with the game and started showing it to friends. The responses we started getting were amazing. A lot of them requested us to consider this as a game and treat it accordingly, and not just as a 1GAM project. Finding sense in the argument, we formally brought in the game to Hashstash and announced it to the world on February 24, 2013. At the same time, we opened up a beta with about 25 people testing out the iOS version and about a 100 for Android, we submitted the game to 100% Indie program by Samsung & Chillingo and they graciously accepted us, and Casual Connect Asia selected us for the Indie Prize Showcase at Singapore.
And then we realized a major problem in the game. While we were developers and understood what was happening inside the game, the beta players did not. What we observed was that most were not partaking in the conflict and only concentrating on their own colors. Even the bonus colors were being ignored. So began our crusade to bring a little chaos in the game world.
Over the beta, we explored different solutions but what did the trick for us were some subtle changes in visual and audio feedback within the game. Some of these were:
– while the circles popped up in their own sides, we made them slowly move towards the other side, unless they were moved by one of the players
– by throwing their circles in the other player’s side, players could now make the other player lose points
– we experimented with many audio cues for positive, negative, bonus score contributions and the current 8-bit sounds had the best influence on players
– the soundtrack samples were structured such that the pacing increases every 30s and becomes more frantic (the gameplay is structured in tiers of 30s)
To Infinity and Beyond
We also introduced a new “Infinite” mode in the game, which reverses the complete time mechanic. While the game was originally about collecting as many circles as possible in limited time, the Infinite mode lets you collect a limited number of circles in infinite time. What this does is give players an open sandbox to explore with another player. However, it is not much incentivized yet.
The whole minimalism of the game has proven to be a double-edged sword. While it brings a level of hypnotic beauty to the game and the simplicity makes it very intuitive for players; at times, it also leaves our players bewildered and confused. The limited beta was not a good enough sample for us to do anything about it quantitatively, but we are looking forward to real players and their behavior to bring in more gameplay to Circulets. Some of the concepts high on our priority list is exploration, interactivity and engagement between players.
That Hazy Glow…
All development come to a close on April 6th and we finally submitted for certification on the App Store, Samsung App Store and the Amazon App Store. We were certified and ready for sale on all our marketplaces by the 18th of April and the PR process kicked in.
Next came our trailer, the objective of which was to focus more on the interactions of people through the game, and not show the game itself. The end result proved to be pretty interesting.
Hashstash Studios is actively working on getting Circulets out to the world, as well as started work on their next project titled Vertigo, which will also be showcased at Casual Connect Asia 2013 along with Circulets. Connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.
This is a guest post by Yaniv Nizan who is the CEO and Co-Founder of The SOOMLA Project, the platform for Creating In-App Purchase Stores for Mobile Games. You can follow Yaniv at @y_nizan.
Since Apple launched its In App Purchase functionality, it has been supporting two types of virtual goods: Consumables and Non-Consumables. With consumable items, the developer expects the user to consume the goods over time and possibly replenish the supply. Tokens, Coins and points are usually consumable goods. On the other hand, Non-Consumables are expected to last forever and can be used to implement extra levels, remove ads feature or upgrade to a premium version of the game.
One might note that this definition only applies to virtual goods that are sold as a cash transaction through the Apple In App Purchasing functionality. The Consumable items allow more flexibility to developers who can use them to design many types of virtual goods with different consumption models, including ones that last forever. The Google Play terminology of Managed Items (equivalent to Apple’s Non-Consumables) and Unmanaged Items (equivalent to Consumables) is more respective of the fact that developers can manage the consumption of their virtual goods based on different models.
Using In-App Purchase in mobile games requires more types of virtual goods then what is provided by the App Store, and many game designers find that there are at least four additional types: Single Use, Lifetime Use, Equippable Items and Item Upgrades.
Here is a short description of the different types:
Virtual items that the player can only use once before he has to purchase more are often called Single Use goods. These goods can normally be accumulated so the user has a balance of them. This type of goods is very similar to the original meaning of Consumable items but since Consumable now has a wider definition, we need to redefine these goods as Single Use. Another difference is that a developer can limit the accumulation of Single Use items. For example, you can only carry eight bullets in a cartridge. Good examples of Single Use items are shots, fuel and fish food.
These are virtual goods that are available for the player for as long as he plays the game. They are somewhat similar to Non-Consumable products with one big difference – they are not purchased directly as an In-App Purchase but with virtual coins. From this reason, the developer can’t rely on Apple’s Non-Consumable type and has to design it’s own way of preserving the goods for the user. Race tracks, Game Upgrades, and Buildings are good examples of Lifetime Use Goods.
Equippable items are a sub category of Lifetime Use items. The main difference here is that the user has to choose a virtual good before he enters the game play mode. Cars and Characters are usually implemented as equippable items.
Unlike upgrades to the game itself that are normally defined as Non-Consumables (Remove ads) or Lifetime Use (Double Coins), these items upgrade some attribute of another virtual good. There is usually a strong bind between the original virtual good and its upgrades so that an upgrade is only applicable to a specific virtual good. In some games, a Tire can be an upgrade for a Car while in others, Coin Magnet Level 2 will be an upgrade for the basic Coin Magnet. Item Upgrades are normally implemented as Lifetime products.