main

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnline

Formula Wincars: Building a Racing Game Meant for Everyone

July 8, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

feature18.jpg

Founded in 2013, DragonJam Studios is a newly established Spanish video game studio in Madrid. With a team of 10, they are currently working on their first game, Formula Wincars, an innovative MMO arcade racing game full of adventures and surprises in every circuit. Jesús Luengo, Formula Wincars’ game designer in charge of game mechanics and level design, tells us about how Formula Wincars came to be.


Ready…Set…Go!

Formula Wincars started as a prototype developed by Jairo Calleja. Jairo had already been developing games on his own, when suddenly a small publisher asked him to make a racing game. Though the project was finally cancelled months later, Jairo was quite confident with the product, so he managed to keep it alive by cooperating with another interested company.

When he first contacted me, I was still living in Barcelona, immersed in the design of another game. Yet when he told me about designing a racing arcade game, I couldn’t help feeling very excited. I have always been a great fan of Sega arcades, such as Out Run and Sega Rally. And above all, Mario Kart is my favorite game. Having the opportunity to fully design such a game was a dream I couldn’t refuse, so I immediately moved to Madrid and started to work closely with Jairo. Sooner rather than later, the game design started to grow up, turning Formula Wincars into a more ambitious game than it had ever been before.

Coches
Having the opportunity to fully design such a game was a dream I couldn’t refuse, so I immediately moved to Madrid and started to work closely with Jairo.

Building Up the Team

10362280_226621114215683_421270596_n
Our little family is complete.

One of our first challenges was to build up a new team. We are a small studio, so we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes recruiting new members for the staff. Fortunately, all the people who have joined us are great and enthusiastic professionals. The first two to join us were Angel Arenas as the 3D environment artist and Eduardo Lozano as the game programmer — young talents who had a Master Degree in Games Development. I already knew them through a Game Jam in Madrid. In a very short time, Javier Pajares and Rubén G. Torralbo joined us as the concept artist and the 3D cars and characters artist.

This was the core of the team during the first months, but as the game kept growing, we quickly had to incorporate new members: Antonio Rodgríguez as backend programmer, Elena Fernández as 3D environment artist, Darío Muga as a game programmer and Javier Bargueño for the social media and PR. With all of them, our little family was complete.

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Once we had built the team, we felt ready for everything. But the first challenge we had to deal with was the online synchronization. Jairo had a hard time developing the core of our game. It is one thing is to have an online game working, and another to have it working online properly. He had to deal with authoritative servers, online prediction, and all the stuff necessary to accomplish a satisfactory gameplay. We knew that without that, we had nothing, so Jairo put in a lot of effort to reach the gameplay feeling we are proud of nowadays.

Today, he’s still trying to improve it. Physics engines are non determinist, but as long as our game is online, we need the same things to happen in all clients. This is an issue Jairo is still polishing. He is developing our own physics engine in order to accomplish deterministic responses to guarantee a better online experience.

Gameplay2
Today, Jairo’s still working to improve the online gameplay.

Design Decisions

As the game started grew and became more complex, I realized we couldn’t limit it to eight vs. Races. Formula Wincars is a free game, so it must be engaging and addictive. We cannot hope to have thousands of players just by being funny. We had to provide a deeper experience. And that’s when I thought about League of Legends. It is one of the most successful free games, so they must have done something right. I broke it down to what it is all about: strategy, team building, and progression – things players like to have.

I have a theory that all of us as human beings need targets to drive our lives. This was what we were missing in our game. Our game was fun, but we needed something else, something deeper, without ruining the core of the fun in Formula Wincars. That’s why we added such ideas as sharing skills among members of a team, upgrading them during a race, or exploring the circuits to gather emblems. All this stuff is transparent for the newcomers; everything happens naturally, and they won’t care about it. But those looking for a deeper experience will discover that Formula Wincars hides a lot of features for them while they progress through the game after a few races.

Race Track
Those looking for a deeper experience will discover that Formula Wincars hides a lot of features for them while they progress through the game after a few races.

The Kickstarter Experience

When we realized we had a very ambitious project in our hands, we decided to run a Kickstarter campaign. It seemed the right thing to do, because it could give us the extra months we needed in order to polish the game. Besides, it could introduce new players to Formula Wincars. Javier worked very hard trying to get Formula Wincars funded, and while we were close, we were unable to reach our funding goal.

Perhaps Kickstarter wasn’t the right place for us. Though we claim to bring back the classic arcades feelings, this game aims to be for all kinds of people. Besides, it is a free-to-play game. And just let me say, when we say free, we really mean free. We want our players to enjoy our game, and to pay only for aesthetic items such as skins or stickers for car customization. But it was difficult to express this through Kickstarter. However, we were able to speak with some private investors through the Kickstarter campaign that allows us to continue with our release as planned. Another benefit of the campaign was the ability to show our game to the gamers all around the world, and we hope them to give it a try once we release it.

Isla_Aventura
Another benefit of the campaign was the ability to show our game to the gamers all around the world, and we hope them to give it a try once we release it.

Still Working

Nowadays, we’re still working to accomplish an amazing experience. We are exploring new paths and our circuits are becoming more and more interactive, full of destroyable elements, shortcuts, secrets, alternative paths, and special events. Besides, we are including some fantasy elements which will affect the races, such as dinosaurs or skeletons. Because of this, we’re starting to say that Formula Wincars is, indeed, an adventure racing game. Up to now, it has been an adventure for us to create a game like this. But we hope the best part will start when, at last, it is released and people can download it and play. We are pretty excited looking forward to this moment.

DragonJam Studios plans to release Formula Wincars for PC, Mac, and Linux, at the end of 2014. Follow along with the team’s progress on their Facebook and Twitter.

 

BusinessContributionsGame Development

Secretly Building a New Fanbase of Literature – Through Online and Mobile Gaming

October 17, 2013 — by Industry Contributions

feature17.jpg

Ruth Wilson is part of 100% Indie, an initiative which aims to fuel the mobile games developer community and provide unparalleled revenue opportunities, supporting indie developers around the world. The initiative has been created by Chillingo, the leading indie mobile games publisher and division of Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA) and Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. She shares the story of SecretBuilders.

There’s a quiet revolution going on, reinventing classic literature for children through gaming.

SecretBuilders is the company that aims to keep the classics alive through a virtual community and a catalog of games that enable children to enter the stories themselves. “We’re gamifying the classics,” says Umair Khan, founder and CEO of SecretBuilders. “Engagement makes content much more memorable.” The company’s games allow children to create their own so they can play alongside historical and fictional figures, from Huckleberry Finn to Macbeth to Dracula.

Not a moment too soon, according to the experts. “The classics are less accessible to today’s children,” says Leila Rasheed, who teaches writing for children at Warwick University. “It may be unfamiliar vocabulary that puts them off. It may be that a relatively slow pace and gentle content fail to stir the imagination of modern, video-gaming kids.” Whatever the case, the new UK Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman agrees, and even says that children are falling out of love with reading because schools are forcing them to read the classics.

Sherlock Homes
“We’re gamifying the classics.”

In contrast, Umair is proud to declare his love of all things literary. A former math teacher from Pakistan, he wanted his three children to have the same enthusiasm, but recognized the need to change the format to ensure the appeal for some young people. He first got the idea of bringing classic books to life when reading Alice in Wonderland to his daughter. “I thought it would be amazing to actually go down that rabbit hole and experience the story in real-time, to engage with the characters,” he says.

The Journey

The route to market has been two-fold. His company first created an online community which was sold to schools, then a year and a half ago, it entered the mobile games arena. The mobile market is proving a huge opportunity for the company, as this is the way most young people play. SecretBuilders is therefore currently working with 100% Indie to bring the games to market via Samsung Apps and reach the huge worldwide Samsung mobile market.

“When I first started thinking about this, back in 1997, CD ROMS were getting popular and multimedia was starting to take hold,” says Umair. “But I didn’t actively pursue the idea for nine years, by which time Club Penguin had taken hold and NeoPets were all the rage. I knew it was time to create my virtual world.”

SecretBuilders was born in 2007; an online community where gamers could enter the world of literary legends, interact with them, and play games with them to help them retain the plot and characters. It took two years to build, and started with Shakespeare. “We considered Russian literature but decided to go lighter,” jokes Umair. Dickens and Jane Austen followed, among others.

Jack and the Beanstalk
SecretBuilders is an online community where gamers could enter the world of literary legends, interact with them, and play games with them to help them retain the plot and characters.

The economy in 2007 was in dire straits and with no money for marketing, the company relied on investors and word of mouth. After launching in the US with just a handful of schools, the popularity of the community took hold and started to spread. Teachers loved it, as it enabled them to fulfill the criteria of the literature curriculum, while children also loved it, as it brought the books to life for them. The community games included player incentives to encourage competition and school incentives through charity donations. “We knew we were succeeding in appealing to teachers and pupils alike when we started receiving emails from schoolchildren pretending to be teachers, requesting more games and access.”

A Current View

The SecretBuilders community now has over 9 million registered users and is still growing, so taking that virtual world into downloadable games was a natural move for the company. Mobile was the focus from the outset, because of the target audience. The challenge was ensuring a constant stream of content, and for that the company needed to partner with book publishers. A meeting with Oxford University press led to the world famous book publisher coming on board with over 300 titles and a rich library of content to gamify. Harper Collins is also now a partner. For SecretBuilders, it means a wealth of content ready for turning into games. For the book publishers, it’s a non-exclusive marketing tool to keep their stories alive and target a whole new generation that otherwise might never have been reached.

The model is simple and effective. Monetization is generated through additional paid game levels and in-app purchases, or through ads in the ad-supported versions of the games. The ROI is larger because of the ready-made content and rather than pay for each individual license, the book publisher gets a percentage of the profit for each game.

“The beauty is this simplicity and the turnaround time,” says Umair. “We already have the content, the visuals, the audio and the characters. The narrated plot is placed straight into the game with additional breaks for relevant challenges, such as helping Sherlock Holmes find a clue in a room. We can create a game in less than three weeks.”

The games range from spelling challenges to hidden objects and adventures, and Umair is aware the style will not appeal to older or more experienced gamers. But for the target market, it works. “I recognize that many gamers might look down on the old school illustrations and styling, but we’re not trying to produce the world’s most polished game artwork. We stay true to the style of the books.”

1
“I recognize that many gamers might look down on the old school illustrations and styling, but we’re not trying to produce the world’s most polished game artwork. We stay true to the style of the books.”

Since launching just over a year ago as a mobile games company, SecretBuilders has created 25 games with several million downloads and 175 SKUs across different platforms. Success for the full range has mainly been in the US and UK, with pick up in Australia and the Middle East with plans to go global. The fourth quarter of 2013 will see the launch of the first non-English speaking games, in Spanish and Portuguese.

And it doesn’t stop there. Umair is in discussions with publishers of cookery books and car books, who are inquiring about how to bring their content to life. “For us, it really is all about the content,” he concludes. “In the future, we’ll look into multiplayer options for mobile, too. It worked on the web for us, and we’d like to bring that aspect into our games. That way, we’ll have a whole new generation playing in classic historical and fictional environments together, using the wonderful world of gaming to help prevent these worlds from being forgotten.”

Video Coverage

Jonathan Flesher on Focusing on the Product First | Casual Connect Video

July 1, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

Feature2.jpg

As soon as a few developers begin making considerably more money than those who are monetizing solely through virtual currency, real money revenues will become essential as acquisitions costs rise.

Jonathan Flesher is the Executive Vice President for Business Development at Betable, a company that is changing entertainment by merging the worlds of gaming and casino-based entertainment. For developers who want to offer real-money play in their games and apps, Betable legally enables them to do so without having to acquire their own licenses.

Jonathan runs Betable’s business development and partnerships. Because Betable is an early stage start-up, he is involved in many aspects of the business, from signing development partners, to working to obtain licenses in new jurisdictions, to signing vendor contracts. His previous work with Zynga and Electronic Arts has given him valuable perspective in this new company, which is a platform that partners with game developers. He came with a set of contacts and friends in the industry, as well as an understanding of what it is like to be in their shoes and what issues are important to them.

He joined Betable when he realized how deeply the social and mobile gaming ecosystems would be affected by real-money gaming. As soon as a few developers begin making considerably more money than those who are monetizing solely through virtual currency, real money revenues will become essential as acquisitions costs rise. He has already seen the signs of this happening in the UK as online gambling companies start to view virtual as an attractive customer acquisition channel. Betable offers developers a new and complementary way to significantly monetize their user base through real money play. The worlds of real money play and virtual currency are now starting to converge and Betable provides developers with the tools to succeed in this new landscape.

betable-new-frontier

Asia’s Role in the Industry

Asia, as a leader in online and mobile gaming, as well as home to some of the top development talent in the world, is a key component in the game industry as it moves to include real money play. Jonathan believes these outstanding developers will play an important role in making real money content for the global market place. Since online real money play is a regulated industry and not currently allowed in most Asian markets, conferences such as Casual Connect are essential to make connections with local developers that have been successful on a global scale.

Jonathan emphasizes that establishing strong connections in Asia is crucial to Betable’s business, with the ability to partner with developers in this part of the world a major success factor in their real money platform. He says, ”We hope to catch up with existing partners and meet developers interested in learning more about how Betable can help them grow their businesses and offer consumers the best possible real money play experiences.”

How it Works

What’s the Best Deal?

One of the most significant points in Jonathan’s career came when he learned that the product has to drive the deal or partnership that a company enters into, rather than the reverse. He tells us, “A very smart mentor of mine once said to me that he didn’t care how good the deal was if he didn’t believe in the product. Start with the product first and the deal will naturally follow.” And, Jonathan maintains, your engineering and product teams will thank you.

The best advice Jonathan has for making a better product is to make games fun.

The best advice Jonathan has for making a better product is to make games fun. He claims that, although this idea is simple enough, we often lose sight of the intangible quality that makes a game entertaining. He quotes a great game developer, Mark Skaggs, who told him, “I wasn’t successful in game development until I stopped making games I wanted to play and started making games other people wanted to play.” Jonathan adds, “Once you have that essential element of fun, then you can leverage all the great analytical tools to make it even better.”

Jonathan came from financial services before joining the video gaming world. But it took him a long time to understand that the “best” deal was not necessarily the “right” deal. He insists, “In many ways, getting the best deal terms on either side of the table can be counterproductive to a long-term partnership. It’s not a zero sum game.” He feels the best deal is a “balanced deal”, one which each partner can lean into and invest in the relationship. But there is an art to figuring out this balanced deal and it often requires considerable creativity.

logo
SUPPORTED BY