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Exclusive InterviewsIndustry

Vladimir Funtikov: Pushing Through the Hard Times

November 6, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

Vladimir Funtikov, Co-Founder, Creative Mobile
Vladimir Funtikov, Co-Founder, Creative Mobile

Driven by a desire to create games that come alive and resonate with players, Vladimir Funtikov co-founded Tallinn-based Creative Mobile, and after only four years, it became one of the largest mobile gaming companies in Northern Europe. His passion for games began with his first PC, and almost immediately, he started creating games, beginning with basic Warcraft and SimCity scenarios, then moving to single-player levels for Duke Nukem 3D, and eventually making multi-player maps for Counter-Strike.

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Reko Ukko – Taking Games Seriously

October 7, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Reko Ukko, Co-founder/ VP Game Design, Seriously

Reko Ukko, co-founder and vice-president of game design at Seriously, admits that the company’s name is a great conversation starter. It denotes that they are serious about the work they do: games for mobile and for whatever will come next, such as wearables. They are also serious about free-to-play, a business model they are certain is here to stay.

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A Comprehensive Analysis of the Tools that Support Mobile Game Development (Part 2)

September 10, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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A managing partner of Bitfold Online Games, Mike Turner knows his way around the design and development of mobile and social games. He also plays the role of analyst at times. He provides a guide to tools that can benefit mobile game developers in this two-part article series.


This article series aims to clarify what useful tools and services exist for each lifecycle step and provide a framework for evaluating their usefulness to your product. When talking about game operations tools, it’s helpful to segment them by stage in the player’s lifecycle they address:

1. System Management Tools: Keep game servers and clients healthy
2. User Acquisition Tools: Get new users into your game
3. Behavioral Analytics: Understand users and their desires
4. Engagement and Retention Tools: Keep users engaged for longer
5. Monetization Tools: Boost the number of paid conversions & spend per user

In this second of two articles, we will be looking at the remaining three of the five segments of game operations tools: behavioral analytics, engagement and retention tools, and monetization tools. If you missed the first part of this series, you can catch up here.

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Behavioral Analytics

Behavioral analytics are critical. Everyone knows this. What everyone doesn’t know is what data they should be tracking, what tools they should be using to do so, and what to do with that data once they have it. This section will try to shed some light on what data is most important, how you should be thinking about using that data to manage your game into a financial success, and what tools will be the most effective in helping you do that.

Deeply Understand the Different User Cohorts

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Different users will respond very differently to the content and features of your games. They will also have different lifetimes and behaviors in the game. Successful developers work hard early on to determine how users should be cohorted based upon their usage patterns, demographic, and traffic source, and then they carefully manage each of these cohorts to maximize their experience and positive behaviors in your game (such as social engagement, lifetime, and spending).

Heartbeat vs. Actionable KPIs – Actionable KPIs are More Important

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Heartbeat KPIs are things such as DAU and ARPU that tell you about the general health of your game. They do not give you deep insights into behavior, however. You need to establish KPIs, specific to your game, which help you understand what your players retain and why, what features and content they engage with, and when your players monetize.

As you define what’s important, you often need to dig deeply into your data to find out what’s happening.

Experiment. A lot. Use A/B testing
Test fixes, content, and new features constantly, and test them against control groups. A lot of your guesses as to what will help improve user behavior will actually be wrong, but some will lead to significant improvements in your numbers. A/B testing will help you a lot in your experiments.

Do More than React. Model and Predict
Don’t just release and test. Predict. After a while, you will have enough data to establish trends and create mathematical models that predict user responses to specific content and changes.

Engage, Engage, Engage

What to look for in tools:

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Actively engage each specific cohort of users with content that they love and offers they would like. It increases their engagement and maximizes their spending.

A Comparison of Tools

The following is a list of analytics tools that are well suited to online game development. Each of their offerings are slightly different, so we recommend first determining the needs of your game and reaching out to them to get the details of their offerings.

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These tools are extremely helpful to your analysis. For most companies, it would take longer than is possible to create an in-house metrics solution that mimics their functionality. However, all games are unique, and none of these tools will measure EVERYTHING you need to measure.

When first launching your game and throughout its early lifetime, these tools will be more than sufficient. However, if your game becomes a huge success, you’ll want to supplement these tools with your own analysis tools that create custom metrics and analyses that these tools can’t. This will help you ensure you have the absolute best idea of what your players want and how to please them.

Finally, pair your behavioral analytics with good system metrics in order to avoid system downtime hurting your KPIs. DeltaDNA, one of the leading gaming analytics packages, cites technical issues as a top reason for users failing to engage with an app. This implies that although many game developers may be doing a good job understanding and serving users, they may not be managing their system problems as well as they could. And it’s hurting their revenue.

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To avoid technical issues damaging your game’s numbers, you want to ensure that in addition to having excellent behavioral analytics, your operations team is equipped with proper logging and server monitoring tools. This helps ensure your system remains as error free as possible.

Engagement and Retention Tools

User engagement can (roughly) be boiled down to the following components:

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Given that your game design is engaging, behavioral metrics packages are your primary tool for understanding your users and knowing how to engage them. There are, however, a few extra tools that act as supplements to your ability to engage users.

Optimized Player Segmentation and Targeting

Creating player segments and deciding what features and content suit them best is challenging. You can use simple observation of your metrics to determine this, but there are some statistical tools that can greatly improve your predictive ability. Honeylizer is one of the best tools for this and will help you determine how players should be segmented and what the best content is to serve to those segments.

Social Engagement – Integration with Established Social Networks

People like playing with their friends. In a game, if they have the option to play the game with friends, they will often do so. You can create this integration yourself with Facebook Graph’s and iOS Game Center, and if you have the resources, you should try this.

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However, the Game Center and Facebook Graph API are fairly complex and change all the time. This means your app’s social integration can break constantly. If you’d prefer to outsource the management of this, you can choose third-party packages that make integration and maintenance of social functionality easy.

Multiplayer Facilitation

Adding social networking and multiplayer elements to your game can often grow your engagement. A few tools provide libraries and services to you, which help you integrate with social networks fast and provide multiplayer functionality to your game.

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Both of these packages offer social network integration. For multiplayer functionality, Swarm focuses more on leaderboards and achievements, while Nextpeer focuses on facilitating peer-to-peer multiplayer functionality within your core gameplay.

Customer Experience Management and Help Desks

As your game grows to tens and hundreds of thousands of users, you will often become flooded with support issues that, if unmanaged, can damage your online and app store reviews. Having a system to manage support issues will help your users feel like they’re being taken care of and help you better understand what users are qualitatively thinking.

Your customer support system should include the following:
● A wiki or set of support pages with issue FAQs and support information
● A ticket system for customers to report issues
● A web portal to respond to customer tickets
● Optional customer support outsourcing to help you manage inquiries

Vendors that provide such systems include the following:

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For most games, an overwhelming amount of customer complaints are due to operational issues. If a large number of players are complaining about something, you can use logging tools to help you identify the problem and solve it immediately.

Monetization Tools

Games today are overwhelmingly free-to-play and monetized primarily via in-game purchases. However, ads can be a strong source of secondary income for a developer that implements them well.

Ad Publishing

Today, advertising providers offer a wide variety of options for apps and games. These include native ads, rewarded installs and actions, rewarded video, moment ads, rich media ads, and ad mediation and bidding. (More information on these options can be found in the first part of this article series).

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There is a lot of variety in the amount of return these ads can give you and what each advertiser pays. Before integrating ads, you should look carefully at the rates that companies pay for each type of advertising.

Maximize Payouts, Minimize Annoyed Users

You want to maximize your ad impressions clicks while minimizing the annoyance of your users.

Some good rules of thumb in this process are:
● Use native ads to imbed them directly into the UI of your game so that they are a fluid part of the game’s experience and don’t disturb the player.
● Place moment ads in areas where players can get ahead by interacting with the ads.
● Offer rewarded ads at points where extra in-game currency will benefit the user.
● If using ad tools that offer mediation, use the mediation and real-time bidding tools the ad provider offers to get the most contextual content to your users. This will maximize your user’s interaction with it and help to minimize their annoyance.

Matrix of ad publishing service each network provides
Matrix of ad publishing service each network provides

Implementing in-app purchases can be somewhat tedious. If this is tripping you up, you can use SOOMLA to help you speed this process up.

When Should You Use Third-Party Game Operation Tools?

Let’s quickly recap the strategies for choosing tools for maximizing your game’s performance at each step of the customer lifecycle.

1. System Management Tools
Online games are put under an incredible amount of stress and things fail – a lot. To keep your system at optimal uptime, you should have good logging tools to detect and solve system issues quickly.

2. User Acquisition Tools
31Today, there are a variety of advertising formats beyond mobile banner ads. If you don’t have a big advertising budget, work to get lots of organic traffic via social media, app store optimization, and direct deals with other developers through direct-deal platforms like those that Chartboost offers.

If you do have a decent marketing budget, work hard to design good native and rich media ads and place them using mediation tools with ad networks that have game-centric focuses. Continually fine-tune your campaigns until you find the best ads and the best networks.

3. Behavioral Analytics
Behavioral analytics are your primary tools for understanding who your users are, what they like, and how to serve them. In focusing on your users, you want to focus on actionable KPIs and insights instead of top-level ones like simple DAU and ARPDAU.

When searching for tools, you want to look for those that provide you the rigorous ability to segment users, define your own KPIs, track where your users came from, and data mine deep into your data for granular insights.

4. Engagement and Retention Tools
Retention and engagement is primarily a function of the developer’s ability to understand who users are and cater to their desires. However, there are tools out there that help you automate the process of classifying your users, tools that help you bring social functionality to the game, and tools that help you directly support customer issues with your games.

5. Monetization Tools

Microtransactions are the primary form of making money in a free-to-play game, but ads are a great secondary form of revenue.

Microtransactions are the primary form of making money in a free-to-play game, but ads are a great secondary form of revenue. The same options for advertising (listed above) are great for monetizing. The best way to optimize monetization via ads (ad publishing) is to make ads a seamless experience in your app and place them at points where interacting with ads is beneficial for your users. Make the same rigorous use of behavioral analytics you use elsewhere in your game to maximize your ad revenue!

Using a Decision Framework to Decide on Tool Usage

These tools are meant to automate key functions of game operations. However, they do require effort to integrate and they do cost money.

So when making the decision to use third-party tools, you want to ask a few questions:

● How crucial is the functionality the tool provides to your game? Does your game REALLY require it?
● What does your team say about it?
● How time consuming is it to integrate and maintain? Some are easier, some are more complex.
● Do the tools bring a greater revenue or cost savings than the cost of the tool?
● Do these easily work with your chosen game engine and technology platform?

Once you’ve run through this checklist with your team, you can make the decision!

 

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A Comprehensive Analysis of the Tools that Support Mobile Game Development (Part 1)

September 10, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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A managing partner of Bitfold Online Games, Mike Turner knows his way around the design and development of mobile and social games. He also plays the role of analyst at times. He provides a guide to tools that can benefit mobile game developers in this two-part article series.


When your game comes within a month or two of launch, a tidal wave of operation-oriented questions starts to run through your team’s collective brain. Questions like:

“How are we going to acquire our users?”
“What analytics tools should we use?”
“How do we handle customer service?”
“Should we integrate ads?”

In this process of preparing for the operations phase, developers look to third party tools to help them automate various pieces of the player lifecycle.

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However, the tool market is saturated, so it can be difficult to develop a proper framework to evaluate the large number of tools available for each lifecycle step. This article series aims to clarify what useful tools and services exist for each lifecycle step and provide a framework for evaluating their usefulness to your product.

When talking about game operations tools, it’s helpful to segment them by stage in the player’s lifecycle they address.

1. System Management Tools: Keep game servers and clients healthy
2. User Acquisition Tools: Get new users into your game
3. Behavioral Analytics: Understand users and their desires
4. Engagement and Retention Tools: Keep users engaged for longer
5. Monetization Tools: Boost the number of paid conversions & spend per user

In this first of two articles, we will be looking at two of the five segments of game operations tools: system management and user acquisition tools.

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These articles aim to clarify what useful tools and services exist for each lifecycle step and provide a framework for evaluating their usefulness to your product, looking at the five segments of game operations tools.

System Management Tools: Avoiding Damaging Downtime

An online game (mobile or web) is a persistent online service that must serve players 24/7. Keeping this service up and healthy presents very intense operational challenges, especially as the game’s user base grows. Back-end bugs and outages occur regularly, and each of these problems represents a hit to all of your KPIs.

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Back-end bugs and outages occur regularly, and each of these problems represents a hit to all of your KPIs.

In the best case, back-end errors only cause minor harm to your game’s KPIs. However, extended outages can often lead to thousands or millions of lost users and revenue. The longer a problem in the server exists, the greater damage it does to your game’s numbers.

The reason bugs and outages occur so frequently in many games is that they’re not properly monitoring their system’s performance and error logs, letting serious technical issues slip past their operations team. The underlying cause of a server issue usually can be found in the server’s logs, but the speed of the tools you’re using to investigate those depends on how your logs are managed. If developers have a log management service to monitor and centralize server logs, developers are able to quickly discover where the issue is and fix it before it hurts KPIs.

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Once centralized, you are able to search for any log you want to view and visualize the contents of that log or display aggregate statistics in charts. This allows a game’s live operations team to spot issues and solve them fast, thus limiting any downtime. Considering the (generally) large amount of money spent to acquire traffic and money lost when downtime occurs, integrating a third party log aggregation tool is worth it.

User Acquisition Tools

User acquisition in games is challenging because developers need to acquire users who are likely to engage with their game, and it’s often wildly unclear WHERE to get those “quality” users. They also need to ensure the return from those users is higher than the amount spent acquiring them. This section provides a list of tools for organic and paid user acquisition, as well as strategies for using them at varying levels of marketing budgets.

Work Hard for Organic Traffic; It Rocks

Organic traffic is free, and organically-sourced players often engage and retain better than users purchased with ad campaigns, so you want to put effort into establishing your own organic traffic sources.

Social Media Tools

Social media is an obvious choice. You want to put a lot of content (video, picture, conversations) out there and engage people who would potentially play or promote your game. But managing every social network can become unwieldy. To help, there are several tools that allow you to aggregate your communication to one dashboard, analyze the performance of your conversation, and help you predict when to post content and what hashtags are most valuable. Some of these tools are below:

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App Store Ranking Optimization

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If you have a mobile game, a high ranking on the app store will provide your best source of organic traffic. Recently, a new class of app store optimization tools, such as SensorTower, has become available that help you optimize your presence by researching which keyword strategies are most effective at driving app store traffic for your game.

12App Store Competitive Research

If you want to do serious research on the app store on how competitors are rising and falling in rankings across hundreds of different categories, App Annie is an excellent tool to check out.

Advertising Tools

Mobile ad tool providers have a lot of cool offerings for game developers beyond just mobile banner ads and incentivized installs. Today, there are some very rich game-specific mobile advertising offerings that can drive a lot of well-targeted users to your game.

These offerings include:

Rewarded ads: Installs or ad impressions that reward the users for viewing them. These type of ads can reliably generate traffic, but the retention rate of the users acquired via these ads is typically poor. This is because players are motivated to interact with your game for rewards but not necessarily because they’re interested in your content.

Direct deals: Making deals directly with other game developers or cross-promoting your games within other games you have made. Paired with the right partner, this can be a very cost-effective way to acquire users who will engage with your game.

Ad mediation: Game-specific ad networks. When bidding on ads, you can select specific networks on which you’d like to advertise. Different ad networks have different audiences, some far more suited to game development than others. Being able to choose a network that caters to your target customers helps greatly in driving relevant traffic.

Today, there are some very rich game-specific mobile advertising offerings that can drive a lot of well-targeted users to your game.

Native ads: Ads that are integrated natively into the UI of the mobile app or website you are visiting such that they appear as a seamless part of the user’s experience. These contrast to banner or rich media that are placed “on top” of a game or website’s UI.

Rich media ads: Ads that have advanced functionality. These include videos, full-page interstitial ads, ads with interactive signup forms, ads with playable mini-games, and more.

Targeting, segmentation, and attribution: Tools that allow you to attribute your conversions to specific sources and campaigns, segment your traffic into specific demographics and cohorts, and analyze the overall effectiveness of your campaign.

Game-specific ad offerings: Tools tailored specifically to developers, including game-only ad networks, rewards for players reaching goals, in-game news feeds, and more.
13Smaller developers with marketing budgets under $20,000 will benefit from more direct deals and game-developer specific offerings, such as those that Chartboost offers. Other paid options tend to be slightly more cost prohibitive than is realistic.

Larger developers or developers with big budgets can also make good use of direct deals and game-focused offerings. However, for larger budgets, well-designed rich media and native ads that run on game-oriented advertising networks can bring in quality players. Experimentation with various ads and ad networks will be needed to determine the best approach to advertising in these channels, so make good use of the analysis tools these packages provide.

Don’t Waste Your Marketing Spend!

Acquiring is usually expensive, and often when companies make big ad spends, they are wasted. Some of the main reasons for this include technical glitches, targeting the incorrect type of users, and misunderstanding the users and their motivations.

When users who come to a game via a paid ad experience a significant technical glitch, they will generally leave the game forever. Using logging tools like Loggly to keep better uptime of all components of your game can help save you thousands in marketing spend.

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Often when developers purchase ad buys, they target audiences not well suited to their content. One strategy to ensure you’re targeting the correct audiences would be to use your ad’s analytics on a minimum number or users to establish the value of various traffic sources and buying strategies. Also, if you’re using a tool that has mediation capabilities, use it to select a network proven to have game-development friendly audiences. You could also use game-focused tools such as Chartboost, which have game-only networks, and direct deals with other game developers.

Often times, users perfectly suited to your app will land on your app, but they will fail to engage or convert to paying users as much as you want them too. If you do not know WHY this is, you are in BIG trouble. Developers need to take an aggressive strategy towards understanding users and delivering changes that make them happy.

To find out how to better understand users, and the remaining tools that support game development, check out part 2 of this article series.

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“Fun Furst” – The New GIF Game YIX (Part 1)

July 30, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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Recently, Clark Buckner at TechnologyAdvice.com (they provide coverage on gamification, customer loyalty software, employee engagement and much more) had the opportunity to sit down for a couple minutes with Jenny Diggles, the president of YIX, the new mobile GIF game. During their conversation, Clark and Jenny were able to discuss the beginnings of the game, the dynamic team behind it, some of the early challenges that they faced in development, and how they were able to overcome them, in the first part of a two article series.The full interview can be heard here:


The Team of Couples

YIX was conceived in January 2014 by six friends – three couples to be more exact: Jenny and her husband, along with two other couples from the Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington areas. While the team had quite a bit of previous mobile development experience, Jenny says they did not really know the first thing about developing a mobile game. Yet, they were confident in their abilities. “We have had a lot of experience in mobile and development and marketing, and all these things that we did need,” Jenny says.  So this didn’t bother them too much. For them, it was much more about creating a fun experience than it was feeling like they had conquered mobile game development.  And so, after discussion amongst themselves, they decided to develop and release the game, beginning with the Apple App Store.

Team Dynamics

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With the entire company at this point being made up of closely knit couples, it’s no wonder that the game has been able to develop so quickly.

With the entire company at this point being made up of closely knit couples, it’s no wonder that the game has been able to develop so quickly. Because of their close relationships, Jenny states that communication is much easier and happens more often. There is no tip-toeing around each other, as she puts it. Each founder is not afraid of being blunt when they see something, because each founder feels an equal and important share in the game’s creation, which is so important when it comes to working in a startup environment. Creating a new product from the ground up takes a lot of time and sacrificing, and the entire team feels motivated towards that because of their close bonds.

When it came time to select positions and roles within the company, the team felt compelled to select a female as their president. While Jenny was well-suited for the position, the YIX founders also felt it to be a positive statement with a female at the head of their startup. So many times, Jenny says, you see women get pushed out of startups or stripped of titles. As the team made a conscious decision to select Jenny as their president, they also made a conscious decision to be bold. They wanted to make a statement, one to those who don’t think women belong in startups, and one to those who need encouragement that it can happen. As Jenny puts it, “I think there needs to be a complete balance. That’s where we really start to see magic happen.”  In her eyes, the balance of masculine and feminine energy within a company is what creates a more sustainable business model.

Expression Through a Game

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The game itself is described, in Jenny’s words, as a GIF version of Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity.

The game itself is described, in Jenny’s words, as a GIF version of Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity. The game goes like this – each round a different player acts as the “judge”. The judge selects a question or a phrase (predetermined options to select from or custom entered), and the other players then have the opportunity to answer said question/phrase with a GIF. The GIFs are presented to the judge anonymously, and after all players have played one, the judge selects his favorite. The winner is revealed, and then the next player becomes judge. After all players in a game have had the opportunity to be judge once, the game ends and the overall winner is crowned.

One thing that makes the game so enjoyable to play is the freedom that it gives players to express their personality through GIFs. While playing with several friends of mine, it’s always fun to look at the game feed (which updates in real-time as players play their GIFs, all of which are only anonymous to the judge) and see which GIFs were played by who. It becomes very apparent when someone has a certain style that they follow, and it always seems to match their personality. Players are even free to play custom GIFs, which is as simple as copying the GIF’s address and pasting it in the app. In seconds, it renders the GIF and is ready to be played. What makes the game so ingenious though is it saves all custom GIFs that are played and many of these are entered into the game’s GIF database, which is currently over 12,000.

YIX also includes a streaming feature called Party Play, which allows users to stream games to a TV using Apple’s Airplay. Jenny says that this is one of the best features of the app, as it allows friends to play collaboratively together while they are all in the same place. The game feed is streamed in real-time and everyone is able to see the GIFs as they are played, although they all remain anonymous during Party Play to prevent the judge from seeing who played what. As Jenny puts it, “People are used to being on their phones a lot anyway… so I think it’s a very natural and fun things to do.”  Sounds fitting, for a company whose self-described mantra is “fun furst”.

YIX can be found on the Apple App Store, and look forward to an Android release soon! Keep updated with the team through Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Yatzy Ultimate: A Classic Game With a Trendy Look and Za Za Zu Flavor

July 7, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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What started as a small team of six grew to be what Game.IO is today: a serious game development studio with 40 people with a passion and drive to create great games. The team has worked on multiple projects and hopes their new games will surpass the success of their first game: Yatzy UltimateMarija Keleshoska, a marketing specialist for Game.IO, reminisces about building Yatzy Ulitmate.


A Memory From Childhood Leads to Our New Game

It was a usual Monday morning, and we started sharing some interesting moments from our childhood days. Everyone had his own unique story to share, but they all had one thing in common: Yahtzee. We soon realized that we all used to play this game when we were young and no one has played it since. Later on, when we were drafting our product portfolio, it’s funny how Yahtzee was on the top of everyone’s mind. We agreed that’s the game we wanted to start with. Originally, we wanted to call the game Yatzy, but unfortunately, that name was already taken on App Store, so we instead called it Yatzy Ultimate.

To begin, we started was with research and deciding the definition of the game. It gets pretty exciting when you get to know a game better – the history of the game, its mechanics, etc. It’s played in different countries and has its own characteristics. For our version, we decided to keep the basic rules and leave space to add new unique features in the next releases to make the game more attractive. Our main goal was to create a game WE would like to play.

Yatzy Ulitmate
Our main goal was to create a game WE would like to play.

The first version of Yatzy Ultimate included “Quick game”, “Nearby Players” and “Multiplayer”. It was the perfect fit for players of all types: those who would like to play a quick game while taking a break, or play with friends “Pass’n’Play” in Multiplayer mode. The “Nearby Players” exploited the Bluetooth feature of the device for playing with friends or family. Yatzy mainly is a game you would like to play with friends and family, but at the same time, it’s a fun way to pass time when you’re traveling or waiting in line in a coffee shop.

After the launch on the App Store in January 2011, the game started landing on our players’ devices and the first impressions really exceeded our expectations. We had some goals set in terms of number of downloads and revenue, and it was a great feeling to see how the numbers go up. The reviews we got were just more proof that we made the right choice and launched a quality product on the market.

As the game gained more success, our team starting expanding, along with our desire to make the game better. And then Yatzy Ulimate received its first award in 2012: the BestAppEver award in the dice category.

Keep Pace with Industry Trends

When something is good, it means you’re on the right path. But to make something great, it’s not enough just to follow the path. Those turns on the left and right may lead to even greater paths. As the industry was growing and new technologies were introduced, we knew it was time to take a new turn in our journey. We defined two key goals and put all efforts towards their achievement: cross-platform and online gameplay.

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It was time to make the game more social (and keep pace with the latest industry trends).

We already had a stable user base on iOS and Windows Phone, but it was time to make the game more social (and keep pace with the latest industry trends). We needed to allow them to get to know each other and challenge each other to see who has better skills. This was a great challenge for the whole team and included changes in the code and a lot of testing to make sure we got it just right.

For more variety, Game.IO chips were introduced in the game as virtual currency, which can be used to place bets in Bet mode and take high or low stakes in Online mode. This needed thorough analysis for our “numbers wizards” to set the economy of the game. With the introduction of Game.IO accounts and additional login methods like Facebook and Windows Live (for Windows Phone users), we set the grounds for cross-platform gameplay, allowing players to play their favorite game anytime, on any device.

The game went through serious re-engineering, development and testing to add all these bonus features. The team invested a lot of time and worked very hard to make it happen. Testing was crucial as it was a completely new structure of the game and there was no place for bugs.

After much work it was ready! But once it was ready to be introduced on the market, a new challenge was ahead of us: to market it properly and educate the audience.

Players are Not Just Numbers, Each One is Special

We went through a bumpy road in the post-launch period. The online play had certain problems with connection, which most of the time was out of our control. Mainly, when the player would lose connection on his device, the game would pick that information with delay and the player wasn’t aware the he went offline. This was our first challenge, and our priority for our next release. A customer support team is crucial at times like this, and we were lucky to already have that in place.

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In the first release of the new and redesigned Yatzy Ultimate, we had to remove one feature due to certain problems that occurred with that function – playing with nearby friends via Bluetooth.

In the first release of the new and redesigned Yatzy Ultimate, we had to remove one feature due to certain problems that occurred with that function – playing with nearby friends via Bluetooth. Our plan was to get it back in the next release as, based on the analysis of the gameplay statistics, the percentage of the players who used this feature was not significant, and the temporal removal of it wouldn’t affect the game.

We were wrong. It turned out that this small percentage of players consisted of our most loyal players and we failed them. We learned this lesson the hard way: your players are not numbers, each one is special. Sometimes, you can have the best analysis of your target market, but it doesn’t mean you know them. Bringing back this feature was our biggest priority, and our development team worked hard to make it happen as soon as possible.

Finally, after the second release, the shaky and stormy period was behind us. Yatzy Ultimate reached its peak of glory, confirming we were on the right path. We were ready to start the new chapter.

Your Game Needs Some Za Za Zu

One of the most influential parts in mobile game development are the customer reviews. Those few sentences written by the players provide a plethora of ideas for new features and improvements of the existing gameplay. We just love our players’ creativity and their words (good and bad) are often the trigger for our most productive brainstorming sessions.

Yatzy 2
“Pretty good. Needs some za za zu”.

At one of our meetings, as we were reading the reviews, one really caught our attention. One player wrote us: “Pretty good. Needs some za za zu”. That’s right, let’s put some “za za zu” in Yatzy Ultimate.

A new challenge was in front of us. We needed to add more challenge, risk, and greater winnings in the gameplay. To do this, we introduced a leveling system and higher stakes in the online gameplay, and later on, a “Play with Buddies” feature. At the same time, we completed our strategy for cross-platform gameplay with the introduction of Yatzy Ultimate on Facebook. Our classic game now got the completely new trendy look and, according to the feedback from our players, Yatzy Ultimate has the “za za zu” flavor in it.

Today, Game.IO has proven itself as a serious player on the market. We’re no longer the newbies and with our experience and lessons learned, we’ve matured. New games and new challenges are ahead of us, and we have the passion and drive to make it happen.

Interested in what Game.IO has in store for their players? Find out by following them on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Shaun Britton: Retro Games and Opportunities on the New Tablets | Casual Connect Video

June 9, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“We like to make games using parody and satire, so we’re always challenging ourselves,” said Shaun Britton during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “We really think about a sentimental sort of game-play as well, so we design games that look like they were designed in the 80s. People will look at the games that we’ve got and enjoy the experience because they had a game that was similar.”

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Shaun Britton is one half of the two-man team that makes up Clicker Interactive, an interactive design agency based in Melbourne, Australia. Britton does the art and design while Bill Trikojus, the other half of the team, is responsible for the coding and development. The business began when the two met at Swinburne University of Technology, where they both teach game design. They both had a keen interest in old retro games, especially those from the 1980s, and decided they would start making games, as well as teaching others to do it.

Shaun Britton, Art and Design, Clicker Interactive
Shaun Britton, Art and Design, Clicker Interactive

Balancing Act

Britton finds that his work is very much a balancing act between game design and academia. He teaches game design and animation during the day and designs games after hours. He has discovered these complement each other well, because effective design teaching comes from practicing designers imparting their knowledge. He says, “At the university, we are constantly surrounded by discussions about best practice techniques from peers, the latest use of technology from design departments and current gaming community trends from students.”

For many years, Britton worked for Warner Bros. and Walt Disney, surrounded by the best in storytelling, animation, and character design, a background which has given him a huge advantage in Clicker Interactive. At these companies, he had intense training in design from the best designers in the business. As a result, he still has a very international involvement in the character design industry and an attention to detail in everything he does in character and game development.

Clicker Interactive is still a new business, but there already has been considerable interest in what they are doing. They won a grant from Film Victoria, a government film body in Australia; they expect this will make a big difference in moving forward with their game releases. Britton states, “We’re very proud of what we’ve done so far, and to receive this sort of help really cements our confidence in the business we are doing.”

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Snip and Chu is one of their games, and winner of Most Innovative Game at the Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect Asia 2014

Britton’s simultaneous careers, teaching animation and designing games in the mobile game industry, leave him little time for other interests. He insists, “I still try to design characters every day, but with so much on, character design sometimes turns into more of a hobby now!” But he does make time to play a few games to make sure he knows what he is doing with game development.

Recently, he has been playing Minecraft on Xbox 360, finding it a great game to play with his son. They both enjoy the time spent together building in their worlds. The retro feel of the game appeals to him, while the mix of construction and danger makes for a unique experience. He prefers, as a character designer, to play games with strong characters and great graphics. The Halo and Oddworld series are games of this type that stand out for him.

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Britton would say designing characters is a hobby of his.

More Mobile Opportunities

Britton sees more opportunities coming in mobile game development as the use of higher resolution tablets grows. “Even in 2D game design,” he says, “the opportunities to develop characters and environments with greater detail is very exciting. When we did our first two games, we tested them on various tablets, and the experience playing on the tablet with double the resolution of the others made all the hard work worthwhile.” Because they are experimenting with retro handheld “demakes”, the modern, lighter tablets made the game experience “seem more like the original handhelds, especially when we used one closer in size to the original devices.” He insists that lighter, more powerful tablets allow designers to present players with what they intend to show them, and not have to compromise on the quality of the gameplay and the graphics because of the technology at the end of the process.

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“Even with the 2D graphic presentation in retro games such as ours, the higher resolution and lighter tablets mean that our games are played in the best possible environment.”

Britton will now be looking closely at what is possible with these newer, more powerful tablets and mobile devices. He expects that these devices will have the capacity to support many of the design choices that have been challenging in the past, including added character animation and animation effects, more detailed characters, backgrounds and levels, and more sophisticated gameplay. He maintains, “Even with the 2D graphic presentation in retro games such as ours, the higher resolution and lighter tablets mean that our games are played in the best possible environment.”

Britton believes the greatest impact for the games industry in the next few years will come from these tablets. He says, “The use of tablets for more than just mobile gameplay looks interesting, such as, for instance, the tablet feature in the console game Watch Dogs. Imagine a tablet used to enhance these sorts of AAA games, by giving a player control over a portion of the gameplay, or displaying maps or other elements. Tablets used as windows to display virtual or augmented reality as part of any sort of gameplay is an exciting advance as well.”

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Jason Yap and Helping Others Make It | Casual Connect Video

June 5, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“Why the Supremacy Engine? It’s a 2D grid-based engine for now, and we are hoping to grow into more framework and more robust kind of regime for rapid prototyping,” Jason Yap explained during Casual Connect Asia 2014.

Jason Yap is a producer at Games Solution Centre, an initiative of the Media Development Authority of Singapore which is managed by Nanyang Polytechnic. GSC is a resource center for medium to small game companies; it assists them by providing a rapid prototyping development environment. Jason was previously the design director and COO/Lead Producer at Red Eye Studios.

GSC
GSC is a resource center for medium to small game companies; it assists them by providing a rapid prototyping development environment.

Connecting People

Jason describes himself as a helpful person, so GSC must be the perfect place for him to exercise this quality. He uses his past experiences to assist local developers to be more efficient in terms of connecting with publishers, co-developers, and tools. He is also responsible for mentoring the developers.

The greatest satisfaction in Jason’s work comes from seeing GSC clients make it big on the App Store. Recently, they have had one that topped the charts.

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The greatest satisfaction in Jason’s work comes from seeing GSC clients make it big on the App Store.

Much of his free time is spent gaming, and he enjoys gaming jams and cooking. He prefers gaming on PC, but he also owns Xbox One, PS4, and Wii.

The New Console

Jason sees TV game consoles as an emerging trend that might change the mobile gaming landscape. To respond to this trend, they plan to acquire more publishing partners in order to assist Singapore developers to bridge over to this platform. But the trend he sees most affecting the games industry as a whole is the continuing importance of free-to-play.

At Casual Connect Asia, Jason announced that the Supremacy Engine, a turn-based mobile game engine, will be available for local development studios when they register with Games Solution Centre.

 

ContributionsDevelopmentOnline

5 Actionable Insights from Dengen Chronicles’ Experience on Windows Phone

June 2, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Mangatar is an Italian game company that specializes in social and mobile games development, and is currently an Intel Software Parnter. They stood out with their first game Mangatar Saga, an MMORPG set in the Manga universe. Afterwards, the team launched Dengen Chronicles, an ambitious browser game flavored with Manga inspiration. Sara Taricani, the web and content strategist for Mangatar, provides the lessons they learned from Dengen Chronicles.


Developing For Mobile

In 2011, Andrea Postiglione, Raffaele Gaito, Enrico Rossomando, Michele Criscuolo, and Alfredo Postiglione were inspired to build their own company using the experience they earned in the digital entertainment field. They officially became a company in 2012 under the name Mangatar, and our first game was launched a few months later. We experienced rapid growth, following up our first game Mangatar Saga with Dengen Chronicles around a year later. Then we made the decision to develop a mobile version of Dengen Chronicles for Windows Phone after making the trip to Finland for the exclusive AppCampus, the mobile application accelerator program financed by Nokia and Microsoft and managed by Aalto University in Espoo.

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Some of the Mangatar group relaxing on the green carpet

Since Dengen Chronicles is our very first exploration on mobile devices, you can bet we’ve been learning a lot. As with all new explorations of this kind, we equipped ourselves with a whole lot of studies and statistics. In part, we knew what to expect, and yet, in part, we absolutely didn’t know what to expect. As a matter of fact, the gaming realm is extremely unpredictable and challenging: you typically start off your adventure with tons of maps, but once you left your comfort zone to explore the new, you quickly realize that you just have to keep your mind open, your heart humble, and your brain sharp. Although it may seem quite trivial, your attitude makes the difference.

Advantages of Windows Phone

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Since Dengen Chronicles is our very first exploration on mobile devices, you can bet we’ve been learning a lot.

Remarkably enough, the ever-growing Windows Phone platform guarantees multiple advantages to app developers. Furthermore, Windows Phone Store is definitely more interesting in terms of revenue. According to the latest data, Windows Phone developers earn on average $0.23 per download, versus only $0.04 per download on Android. On iOS, the number is closer to $0.24 per download.

That said, we’ve picked the five most important lessons we’ve learned from our three-month experience on Windows Phone so far:

UI First, Then Gameplay

More often than not, users are promptly influenced by UI. The game’s UI stands as a watershed for mobile users who usually are very quick in deciding to keep playing, or just delete the app.

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The game’s UI stands as a watershed for mobile users who usually are very quick in deciding to keep playing, or just delete the app.

Considering the huge offer of brand new games available every day, the game’s visual elements play a key role. When casual gamers have to deal with too many (and sometimes too polished) game controls, they just run away. They want immediacy; that is to say, the game must be easy to understand and only require a few taps to get started. In comparison, the hardcore gamers instead seek perfection, coherence, and the possibility to manage each and every detail. If they find too much difference between the UI and the game’s characters (as it happened to us), they will feel entitled to enhance their prejudicial hatred towards the mobile.

This makes screenshots very important. When users take a peek at the game’s screenshots, they get a sense of the game. Even before testing the gameplay, users can decide whether or not it’s their kind of game. So be sure to choose the best screenshots.

Gamers’ Behavior Will Surprise You, and Make You Work Really Hard

The same game on different platforms can have different behaviors. As we synced the mobile and web versions, we’ve found some clear differences: there were fewer gaming sessions on web, but they were much longer (up to 10-15 minutes). Mobile had more gaming sessions, but for a much shorter time-frame (1-2 minutes). Since we noticed that attitude, we’ve been working hard to get the best out of the two behaviors and achieve frequent and long sessions on mobile. Through a series of focused modifications over time, we’ve managed to double the duration of mobile sessions.

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Hard at Work

Gamers’ Behavior Affects Your Revenues

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Generally speaking, mobile transactions are smaller than purchases on web.

Other differences we noticed involved in-app purchases. We specifically noticed that web users prefer bigger purchases (up to €20 on average). Mobile users instead opt for multiple small purchases (between €1 and €20). This trend was expected as, generally speaking, mobile transactions are smaller than purchases on web. We accordingly tried to better balance the game’s economy itself. Short and sweet, don’t ever underestimate the power of a top-notch user experience and do diversify your strategies.

Email Alerts Vs. Push Notifications: Epic Battle, Easy Winner.

We’ve given users the options to disable both push notifications and emails. Numbers don’t lie: mobile users are less willing to disable push notifications than web users, who just don’t want more emails in their inbox. As minimal as it is, push notification works fine to call users’ attention. You don’t even have to worry about the deadly spam folder.

When the mobile version of our game was about to come out, we had push notifications already in the cradle, so we didn’t have to change design. In fact, push notifications simply replaced email notifications. Admittedly, the mobile version has more notifications. We decided to keep as few emails as possible in order not to bother users.

Feedback is in the Air, Everywhere Gamers Look Around

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The most important feedbacks got us to create the option to delete one’s account to start a new saga with a new bloodline.

We absolutely suggest to provide gamers with an easy tool to leave feedback (we are happy UserVoice users). Much to our delight, mobile users are very active with suggestions, compliments, and bugs reports. Keep in mind that each and every feedback is a unique chance to dramatically improve the game. The most important feedback got us to create the option to delete one’s account to start a new saga with a new bloodline, while others made us work to simplify some mechanisms in the deck. Lots of feedback asked for offline matches in addition to PvP fights. Last but not least, the proactive bug reports enabled us to perform an amazing amount of bug fixes, much to the advantage of gamers.

These are just a few of the lessons we have learned so far. Other great lessons are yet to come, and we’re ready to welcome them and share them with you.

Dengen Chronicles is available in the Windows Phone Store. Currently, the team is working on the Facebook version; the iOS and Android apps will be released within 2014. Feel free to get in touch with them for more details on their Facebook and Twitter.

 

AudioContributionsDevelopmentGame Audio ArtistryOnlineSpecials

Best Practices for Fine-Tuning and Polishing in Casual Game Audio Implementation

May 2, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Matt Bruun is the Studio Director at SomaTone Interactive. He has worked on hundreds of games, including some of the most successful titles in social and mobile gaming. He shares his ideas on polishing casual game audio in this next installment of the Game Audio Artistry series.

Matt Bruun
Matt Bruun, Studio Director, SomaTone Interactive

The Circle of Development Trends

Casual and mobile game development tends to be cyclical, with a big hit game leading developers to create games with similar themes and gameplay. In the early and mid-2000’s, we worked on a lot of Match-3 style games that followed in the wake of the success of titles like Bejeweled and Zuma. Then came a period of games with a Time Management theme, riding a wave of popularity that likely had a lot to do with the success of the Diner Dash series from Playfirst. After that came a long run of Hidden Object games that were successful in both the downloadable market and in mobile. Now the Match-3 is back, with quite a few popular titles available in the App Store, and many more in development.

It’s just as important that the sounds and music are created from the ground up, with the goal of having these elements work seamlessly and smoothly together.

With any Match-3 game, it is not especially difficult to create serviceable audio that covers the basic events in the game. However, simply adequate sound design in this type of game is not enough to make a gameplay experience that stands out from the crowd of other similar titles. While the sound design and music composition must be the highest quality, of course, it’s just as important that the sounds and music are created from the ground up, with the goal of having these elements work seamlessly and smoothly together. Then, there needs to be excellent communication and coordination between the individual(s) who will be implementing the assets into the game and the audio lead who oversaw the creation of them.

Creating Great Music

On a title in the Match-3 genre with a major publisher last year, we were able to partner with a great composer whom we hadn’t had the chance to work with before, Grant Kirkhope. From the start, we designed our sound effects to work seamlessly with the score that he would be creating, and made sure there was a cohesive overall plan for how the pieces would fit together. I really like what Grant came up with, and it was a lot of fun to create sound design around that music. His score is simultaneously melodic and engaging, while not being distracting or fatiguing if heard on a loop while playing a longer level. This combination is what makes for great casual game music.

Creating Audio
From the start, we designed our sound effects to work seamlessly with the score that he would be creating, and made sure there was a cohesive overall plan for how the pieces would fit together. Pictured here is Dominic Vega, Sound Designer, who contributes to many games at SomaTone.

For this project, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the development team in Seattle for a few days to assist in the implementation of the assets, once production on our end was complete. This is a luxury that time in a developer’s schedule does not always allow for, but we take the opportunity to conduct on-site work whenever possible, as the polish at that stage of implementation can make a huge difference in the final product.

Simple Steps Lead to Great Results

Until recently, most casual and mobile game developers would have considered audio middleware tools such as Wwise to be out of reach for the budget in a game of this type. Audio Kinetic, the makers of Wwise, have changed that. They now offer a pricing structure that accommodates developers who are producing games with modest budgets (more details on this can be found in this blog post from SomaTone Executive Director Michael Bross). With middleware in place, the audio team is then free to make all of the many small adjustments that are needed to get a polished result. Even without the use of a great tool like Wwise, good coordination between the audio team and the person doing the implementing can assure a good final product.

Good coordination between the audio team and the person doing the implementing can assure a good final product.

For example, at the end of a level in this particular game, there is a bonus sequence that takes over, making matches for you and adding to your score. The length of this sequence depends on the number of moves that you have left when you beat the level. At first, we had the gameplay music loop just continuing during the sequence, but for the player, it was a little confusing. The gameplay music was still playing, but the mouse would no longer respond to input, because the sequence was automated at that point. So we created a second loop just for this sequence, and then a music sting for the score count-up screen that appears as that sequence ends. Once these were implemented with smooth crossfades and sound effects to help cover the transitions between them, the problem of confusion about the automated sequence was solved. The “level complete” experience in general was much improved. These are simple changes to make – a crossfade here, a fade there, adding a sound effect to cover and smooth a transition, etc. – but they go a long way in making a polished game. It’s these many small, simple steps that add up to a quality result.

Balancing Sounds and Music for the Most Polished Effect

The overall mix between the different audio assets (the music, sound effects, and voice effects) is critical. We often need to have audio implemented into the games we work on without being able to go on-site with the developer. In these cases, providing the assets already mixed and ready to drop in the game is helpful. Getting a good balance between the sounds and the music before sending it out is the goal. Our usual process involves us making detailed video captures that demonstrate the way that the sounds and music are meant to work once properly implemented into the game, so that the person handling the integration can refer to them, sure of what was intended by the sound design team. Having the audio lead involved closely at this stage with the person doing the implementation is the difference between an average audio experience in a game, and something polished and compelling.

Audio Design
Having the audio lead involved closely at this stage with the person doing the implementation is the difference between an average audio experience in a game, and something polished and compelling.

Knowing how much there can be on the game development team’s plate, it’s understandable to us that there is a temptation to have some of these audio implementation details made lower in priority. This is especially true at the end of a production cycle leading up to a release, which is usually when the audio team is most critically involved in the project. Considering the huge improvement in the overall experience for the player, it’s well worth the effort!

Next month’s installment will explore the role of game audio and discuss the creative journey, so look forward to it!

 

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