With over a decade of experience in the game development industry, Eipix Entertainment is currently the most productive cross-platform developer of HOPA games in the world, developing more than 20 new titles a year, and employing more than 300 creatives. The company is also deep into the process of expanding onto other fields of the gaming industry, such as adventure games, text-based adventures and VR games. In 2016, it has set its sight on new territory – self-publishing and the free-to-play casual gaming industry.
New beginnings are tough. Eipix has worked on a variety of projects since its inception back in 2005, but for the past five years the company has almost exclusively worked on HOPA titles released by its publisher, Big Fish Games. These games put us on the map, and it is their success that allowed us to consider branching out and venturing into unknown territories.
Once we were able to consolidate our operations and create a steady pipeline for such a massive output of HOPA games, the next logical step was trying our hand in a different genre. Finally, in 2016 we chose to enter the self-publishing arena.
“Amateur – a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional. First things first. Let’s start with who I am, to provide enough background for what is to follow”, says Mariusz Szypura, the creative director of the Telehorse studio, as he shares the story of Steampunker.
2015 is the year Bari Silvestre from Keybol went back to his roots – Flash game development. “You can’t help but reminisce about the hay days of the browser games, that can be easily distributed and with the right polish and gameplay you can get some hefty sum via sponsorships. Times have changed though, and you have to be not just twice as good in producing quality games, but your creations should have an interesting original gameplay”, Bari recalls. That is hard to come by, so he just made little Flash games with some interesting twist on existing gameplay. They did get some positive feedback with a feature here and there, but Bari felt something is lacking. His fresh creation, Kill The Plumber, brings to life some gamers’ dreams of playing for the villains.
Seven Summits Studio is an award-winning independent game development company based out of Hyderabad, India. The studio was founded in 2013 by a group of passionate individuals who strive to create impactful experiences through video games.
Petite is an ambient experience that narrates a woman’s story while focusing on key incidents that happen in her life. Every level is a new situation, and each memory you unlock is a unique one, depending on the emotions you choose.
COFA Games is a game development company from Serbia, currently working on a pretty ambitious project for an indie studio, called Awakening of Heroes. This is an unusual multi-player game that combines elements of team fight, strategy, arcade, town development and pre-game unions. Although still in the Alpha phase, Awakening of Heroes has appeared on Steam Greenlight waiting for your thumbs up to help it enter this huge PC game download store.
COFA Games’ CEO Nikola Mitic shares the story of their game taking place in a dreamlike city, and featuring a sweet old lady obsessed with extreme sports such as tombola and knitting, a mellow-heart butcher with an alter-ego of a math genius, a sexy chimney sweeper with a vendetta against Santa, a hipster in an atypical bad mood, and a grandpa daredevil. And of course the craziest superpowers one can come up with.
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.
Pinokl Games is a Ukrainian game development studio with a team of 12 people who love games and would rather develop a game more like a service than a one-off product. Their game Mecha Titans is about tactical combats, a three-fighter team of robots. There are missions, a story, collecting, multiplayer to kill the bosses, and tournaments. “We’ve got high quality graphics, 70 robots with 4 active skills each, and over 200 types of weapons, an RPG system, characters development, skills learning and improving””, co-founders Igor Arterchuk and Oleksandr Potapenko explain, telling the creation story of Mecha Titans.
LEAP Game Studios is a Peruvian development studio founded in 2012 by a group of passionate developers that decided to create fun experiences while experimenting with game mechanics and themes. Squares was its first original, which gathered a lot of attention from the press and at game festivals. It is expected to be released on PS Vita in Q1 of 2015. Michael Barclay, the company’s CEO, tells the story.
The Best Ideas Come at Night
Sometimes, the best ideas come late at night, when you are not waiting for them. It was the Global Game Jam 2012 at Lima, Peru, a meeting where people gather for about 48 hours to prototype game ideas. I had this kind of experience just 24 hours before the deadline for the Game Jam. The idea was “How fast can a human move the mouse cursor from one side of the screen to the other and precisely click on something?” The first version was just a group of black squares and a timer. You had to click a first square as fast as possible to get to the next one, followed by another one before the timer went to zero. And time was really short. The prototype ended with around five levels, each with smaller squares and less time than the previous one. It was extremely hard, but very addictive.
How fast can a human move the mouse cursor from one side of the screen to the other and precisely click on something?
At the beginning, it was tied to a mouse, but Phillip Chu Joy, our lead game designer, had been playing a lot of Diamond Dash on his iPad and got the idea to use a remote desktop application like Splashtop and test squares on a touchscreen. It was much easier to break my records and felt like a blast.
From a Game Jam to a Company
Even though all of the founders of LEAP Game Studios weren’t in the same group at the game jam, we realized we could make games together. After that jam, Phillip Chu Joy, Luis Wong, Renzo Castro and I decided to start LEAP because we felt we made a good team. We started building new stuff right away, did a couple of advergames, a lot of strange prototypes, and took the challenge to make Squares our first independent game.
Sticking to the Minimalistic Squares Design
How hard is it to make a good design with just a bunch of squares? Turns out its pretty darn hard. It took us around 20 iterations to design the menus, loading screens, and animations. We changed the original time scale (a text one) to a moving gray background and switched from intricate menu designs (with too many elements to be true to the overall concept) to simpler ones made up of a few squares. We had a little fanaticism about our game elements. It used to have just gray squares. Color was taboo in the beginning. After a great debate, blue and red squares were added.
We tried to keep the core mechanics as limited as possible. The basic one is touching everything that’s blue: once for light blue, twice for dark blue. Then we added arrows. There was a debate about loss of perfection and the lesser squareness of these arrows, but they were still added and you didn’t only have to touch squares, but also needed to move some of the squares in the direction of the arrows. We had some other mechanics that didn’t make it, but felt we had to manage the maximum level of complexity with care and try to be conservative to avoid making a different game than the one intended.
We had a lot of fun designing the levels. It was challenging to have so few mechanics and make them end up as creative elements of fun. Most levels are hard enough so that you can’t beat them at your first try, but they are short enough so you will try again many times until you eventually beat them.
Approval of the Famous
We’ve managed a good level of addiction that is pleasant to see, so we aren’t offering any treatments any time soon. Squares was nominated for Best Mobile game at the SB Games Independent Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil and was among the top 20 finalists in the Global Game Stars contest in San Francisco. It also was a finalist at the Indie Prize competition during Casual Connect Europe in 2013.
We’ve had some interesting people give it a try. Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies) said that he liked Squares a lot and tweeted about the game to his followers while attending a game festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Raphael Colantonio (Arx Fatalis, Dishonored) was pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement in the game and said he is eager to try the iPhone version for the game.
Even Jonathan Blow (Braid, The Witness) said he enjoyed it since it was something different from what he had experienced before. And Notch really enjoyed the game when he played it in GDC 2014. At these festivals and playtesting sessions, we also received generous feedback that we included in updates, such as a new tutorial and a special version for smaller screens. Also, we saw that we could work more on the level design for keeping the players engaged for longer.
LEAP Game Studios is currently working on multiple projects including advergames for other companies, newsgames, and some titles of their own for different platforms. These games don’t have squares, but the team is always struggling to make peculiar stuff. However, a new update for Squares (iOS, Android) is coming in the next few months, and there will also be a version for PS Vita in Q1 of 2015, since the team entered the incubation program of PlayStation this year. The team is also establishing a satellite office in France to get to know more about the game scene in Europe.
As a developer, you want the world to think that you are a thriving company with half a dozen employees destined for greatness in the indie game scene. But Bobby Patteson, the owner and CEO of the Toronto-based company Highcastle Studios, decided to tell the truthful story of making a game that is not on Steam’s top 100 sellers list. Bobby is a former male fashion model, an inventor, an artist, a computer game developer, and in between all that, you can find him doing all the jobs that nobody else wants to do (for the minimum wage, he adds). Highcastle Studios is literally one guy making games with a little help from Jonathan, an intern from last summer, and music commissioned by Matthew Joseph Payne. Bobby defines his goal as “to make weird games that explore new ways to play and interact”. Point Perfect is his first experiment.
Test Your Skills While a Friend is in a Starcraft or LoL Match
The idea of Point Perfect comes out of my love for real-time strategy games and the eSports culture that surrounds it. I noticed that there can be a lot of downtime between games of Starcraft or League of Legends. I thought – wouldn’t it be great if there was a casual game to test your skills while waiting for your friend to get out of their 40-minutes game? And so the concept for Point Perfect was born: the casual game for the hardcore gamer.
At the time, I had a passion for designing games, but absolutely no idea of how to program. So naturally I gravitated towards Gamemaker Studio to build my game. Because of the technical limitations of the engine, I decided to go for retro aesthetics. What is more, I always felt that Point Perfect should have been thought up sooner, and belonged in the 80’s with Tetris and Pong.
Making Fun of Losing the Game
There were many changes and updates of the game during its development. The original idea was to have the player only avoid obstacles with the mouse pointer. It dawned on me, however, that the game would be too similar to free titles that people could play online. There just wasn’t enough depth in mouse-avoidance alone. So I decided to allow the player to fight back by drawing boxes around enemies and blast them to bits with a laser from your mother-ship.
This was the turning point and the most exciting part of doing the game’s design, but it also created some new issues and concerns. After initial playtests, it was evident that people were having extreme difficulty with the two competing tasks of both avoiding obstacles and aggressively selecting enemies to destroy. However, I also noticed that players were keen to figure it out, and there was a strong “just one more try” element to the game.
After a while, the player would adapt and be able to understand the gameplay, but the initial learning curve was very steep. That’s why I decided to add probably the most controversial element to the design: “making fun” of the player for losing! After all, the players who might get offended by this are not the people who would be playing my game in the first place. So the decision came to embrace the difficulty of Point Perfect and try to get the player to laugh about it.
Graphics Define Audience Range
I am very happy with my final product, but there are some things I may have done differently a second time around. The most notable is the importance of the game’s graphics to appeal to all audiences.
It’s very easy for a game to be discriminated because of the graphic design.
It’s very easy for a game to be discriminated because of the graphic design. There’s so much depth and content in Point Perfect, and it breaks my heart when I hear things like “is this a Flash game?” or “this should be free”. Believe it or not, it’s also very easy for the media to have the same opinion based on a first glance. The retro look fits my personal taste and vision for Point Perfect, and while there are many gamers who love it, there are also many demographics that I have found despise this art style, unfortunately. Maybe a better fusion of old and new would have made a difference in making my game more appealing to different audiences.
Point Perfect was picked up by a publisher, Plug In Digital, and distributed over all the major online stores such as Desura, Humble Store, and Steam on July 17, 2014. It has quickly gained the reputation of one of the hardest PC games out there and has been somewhat of a cult hit with YouTube celebrities because of its unique design and crazy sense of humor.
Overall, the game has been received quite well by the game media and reviewers. And while the sales are not blowing the roof off, I am told to be above average for an indie release. I am currently developing a new game labeled as totally top secret, for now. I’ve decided to venture into the realm of 3D and put more artistic abilities to use this time around.
Point Perfect is now available only for Windows PCs, and Bobby might make it MAC and Linux compatible in the future.
The year before last, Jeremiah Alexander had two new game ideas. The first was a card collecting game, conceived in response to an emerging trend – let’s call it Project A. The second was based on an impulse to make a minesweeper game – let’s call it Project B. “Project A was approached in classical fashion: production of an extensive and detailed game design document (40 pages to be precise), sent on to a potential publisher”, Jeremiah recalls. “Project B had no formal design, more of a hacked together prototype that then became a game”.
Project B is now called Grave Matters. It was selected for the Indie Prize showcase and publicly unveiled at Casual Connect USA in July 2014. Project A is still currently just an expensively bound design document, gathering dust in the corner of a publisher’s office on the other side of the world. Jeremiah shares the story about two different approaches to making a game.
A Minesweeper Game to Rest From Project A
This story begins in my office, an open plan space I share with two other games companies (Fluid Pixel and Whispering Gibbon). We have a very different attitude to most things, nevertheless, we try hard to help each other out. We have no formal partnership agreements to this end, but just share the belief that it’s better if we all succeed. Your lawyer and business consultant might tell you this is foolish, companies must operate in independence, with NDAs and policies to conserve secrecy and intellectual property integrity. Whilst I am occasionally forced to deal with these legal formalities, I do prefer handshakes and IOUs.
One (probably rainy) day, I walked into the office and said, ‘I want to make a minesweeper game’. This sort of random idea outburst is common and most often ignored, as it was in this case, too. However, I had a bit of hiatus in paid projects, and was bored of writing documentation for Project A. So, I cracked open Unity and just started making the game, designing it as I went along.
In a rather short time, I had a basic version of the game. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but a couple of rewrites later, it became much better! These rewrites included a complete grid structure change (from squares to hexagons), and some different ways of representing danger. Generally, the gameplay design was just a process of experimentation, this project wasn’t about doing things by the book, it was about just letting off some steam.
Not long afterwards, I stopped working on Project B and went back to working on the design document for Project A, the card-collecting game. I was convinced that if I picked an emerging market trend, designed an amazing game within it, and produced the most beautiful game design document ever to illustrate it, then we’d be onto a winner. We did this, then we sent it to the best suited games publisher and waited…
Digging Grave Matters Out of the Dropbox
… and waited. I soon returned to Project B, which was quite fun at this point but looked appalling! So, I borrowed some of Gareth‘s (Fluid Pixel’s art lead) time to help me out with the graphics. I had already enlisted his help on some steampunk designs for Project A, so it made sense to stick with the theme. At the time, I was also working on an educational project around 19th Century English history, which included some interesting research into grave diggers and resurrectionists such as Burke & Hare. This became the inspiration for the game and Project B became “Harey Burke”, later to be renamed Grave Matters.
So the Grave Matters game already had a name, some graphics, and was fun. But then the clients started calling again, bills needed to be paid, and the game was put on the shelf where it sat for a while. Not long after this, Project A was rejected both by the publisher we had sent it to and also by a small prototyping fund we had applied for. At this point, both projects seemed to have fallen into the abyss. Time passed. Client work was done. Bills were paid. Life went on.
Late in 2013, over coffee, Stuart, the CEO of Fluid Pixel asked me, “What ever happened to Grave Matters?” I responded: “It’s sitting in my Dropbox, along with the tea-making app and football game and other half-finished endeavors.” He suggested Gareth and Chai, who had some downtime, to pick that game up for a while. We were aiming on what could be called proper development, but our approach to this project lacked anything close to finesse.
Thanks to working on a lot of client projects, I’m well-versed with project management, source control, quality assurance, and so forth, yet Grave Matters employed none of this. New design ideas were often scribbled on the backs of envelopes containing letters from creditors (I will pay, I promise).
The complete source code was hurled back and forward across the room on memory sticks to whoever was working on it at the moment, and we generally made it up as we went along – it wasn’t lean or agile project management, it was blasé. Closer to the end of development, we started using a board on Trello, but for nothing more than a list to remember what still needed to be done when we’d not been working on the project for a while.
After about six months of development intervals interspersed between client work, we had Grave Matters, and now it was time to get it out there.
Here’s where I’d love to say: we self-published the game and it became a huge success, shooting to top of the App Store and making millions. In reality, as I’m writing this, we don’t yet know how this story ends.Grave Matters was released as a Halloween launch in October 2014. The game is still in it’s early days, and we’ll see how it goes in a few weeks.
Project A would probably have been a better game: it’s definitely better designed, more innovative, and has a better business model. Yet, we never had the resources or connections to get it off the ground. Grave Matters, on the other hand, has been released independently and, if early impressions are anything to go by, it could do really well (at least with fans of Minesweeper).
If Grave Matters is a success, it will challenge much of what I thought I knew about the right way of developing a game: comprehensive GDDs, robust planning, well-formulated business models, strict project management, etc. This might make me a little sad, but I’d have a successful game instead, so I’m sure I’d get over it 🙂