At ICT Hub on August 13th 2016, several top Serbian indie developers presented their games at an event Serbian Game Community which is organized by companies that included Bincode Entertainment, Thoril and COFA Games. Judges from several veteran Serbian game studios picked Kiss Hero, winning a spot to present at Casual Connect Tel Aviv as a result.
Filip Žarković has used Indie Prize as a motivating factor, pushing them to raise the quality of their games. “I found out about it two years ago when it was held in Belgrade, my hometown,” Filip said. “I’ve been following Indie Prize ever since, and participated in CC Tel Aviv last year.”
For Filip, representing the Serbian game development community at Casual Connect means a lot and its a huge validation. “We’re a recently formed studio, and this really feels like a verification that we’re doing something right, especially because the day we were chosen to go to Casual Connect Tel Aviv, our first game, Nukleus, was getting some great results on the AppStore,” Filip noted. “It also means a lot to us because the competition in the Serbian part of the contest is really awesome!”
'Metrics aside, reading positive reviews from people you don’t know is still a treat.' - Niel DagondonClick To Tweet
The growth of the Southeast Asian mobile game market has been touted for many years, but the revenue base has been small compared to more established markets. Could 2016 be the year of the fastest-growing region in games? At Casual Connect Asia, this panel of experienced game publishers in Southeast Asia will discuss strategies for growth and revenue in the region. Niel Dagondon, general manager for Philippine-based Anino Playlab, suggests: “If you optimize the payment enough and if you have the right product, and if the game is social enough especially in countries of the Philippines and Thailand where people are social media addicts, it gets to the point where it starts to be profitable for us.”
'Be proud and be excited! We are a part of the future and future lies in our hands!' - Robin NgClick To Tweet
Southeast Asia (SEA) is a quickly growing region where many publishers and game companies are growing and expanding their publishing efforts. With so many available, this creates strong competition for game developers in licensing or finding a publishing partner in SEA. In a session during Casual Connect Asia, Robin Ng, Director of International Business and Strategic Development for ASiasoft, addressed the many factors publishers look at in a game which makes them ideal for publishing in SEA. Robin also explained what kind of games that are appealing in the SEA region. Robin explained, “Licensing of a game is more like a marriage between two parties so it is not a customer and client relationship. It is more like a marriage relationship.” For publishers, they have to be choosey and careful. Learn more about how they choose.
Poki is a cross-platform casual games publisher, on a mission to create the ultimate online playground for kids of all ages. The Amsterdam-based company reaches more than 30M monthly active users on Poki.com and has recently launched their first successful apps.
Working in a smart, iterative way has helped Poki to offer a great user experience to their global audience in 50+ markets. The company in its current form was founded in 2014, works with a team of 30 and goes on a yearly company retreat to a tropical island in January. They are now opening their way of working to game developers.
Kurechii Studio was just a team back in 2009, and was officially established in 2011. From three members, the company grew to four: Yiwei P’ng, the founder, Zyen, an artist, Lydia, a copywriter, and Nick, the animator.Working on their debut iOS project, King’s League: Odyssey, they also had a few others, so used extra help from Ritchie the graphics artist, and two more programmers – Shin Hean and Pei San.Since the Kurechii team initially had experience with Flash, having someone familiar with iOS was extremely helpful, Yiwei recalls as he shares the story of the game.
Lost the Feeling of the Game? Launch and See Whether it’s Good or Not!
The first version of King’s League (Flash-based and playable in the browser) was completed within a month just by myself to fulfill the goal of creating a monthly Flash game, something I set to stay motivated. The game was beta tested by a friend, who found it rather short. At that point in time, only simple quests and sieges were available, and the interfaces were pretty confusing.
With that conclusion, the game obviously wasn’t ready for a proper audience. I decided to scrap that version and rebuild a whole new one with better graphics and interesting features, the major feature being unique characters. In hindsight, that one feature has greatly impacted the game in a positive way. We had cool-looking characters, with better stats! And they can only be unlocked by fulfilling some special requirements.
By the time I got around to implementing a proper league system in the game, it was already four months since I started the revamp! As I was already rather numb to the changes (I couldn’t tell if it was entertaining or bad anymore), I decided to launch it on Armorgames and see what the response would be like.
Surprisingly, many players picked it up, and the game gathered about 2 million plays in the first month. Users were really generous with their feedback, so I kept note of the comments. Regrettably, I still had tons of ideas that weren’t included in the game due to my lack of experience, particularly technical, and time – I was still working alone.
For that same reason, I had to cover both the artistic and technical aspects of the game. If there was ever going to be a sequel, I thought – I wanted to focus on the programming and game design. But I would need someone who really excels in game art and enjoys the genre King’s League is: simulation and strategy. Ritchie fit the picture perfectly, and that’s how we began working on King’s League: Odyssey.
Listen to Feedback and Follow Your Path
While working on the sequel, many features were sacrificed to complexity and the game pace that we wanted to retain.
One of the most desired features (according to the feedback we received) was a pause button, or a button to manually control when the players wanted the next day to come. However, we chose not to add that. Instead of letting the players control the pace of the game, we wanted them to stick to ours – to keep the feeling of thrill as a league match approaches, and when every decision matters.
Another feature we did not provide (again, after some feedback), was to have auto-assigned training. It would’ve been convenient, but would also highly reduce the player’s choices in decisions to make and actions to perform.
For more depth, we also wanted to include a Spy upgrade – a feature allowing players to check what units the opponent team will have, and to make captured cities upgradable. In theory, these were interesting things to have in a game (and after the launch, some players were suggesting them, too). However, they hadn’t been implemented, as this would add a lot of complexity to the project. We tried to avoid making the game too hardcore to appeal to casual players.
We tried to avoid making the game too hardcore to appeal to casual players.
Our decision to withhold these features did not negatively impact the sequel, but managed to help retain the pace we wanted for King’s League: Odyssey.
We revamped the Upgrade Facilities three times in terms of mechanics and design before settling on the final version. The first few versions were rather complex and confusing, and did not give a solid sense of progression. Using icons in the interface also helped players in deciding which upgrades to go for.
Asset-wise, we initially wanted all the units to have animations for every training option available – but that would mean a total of 495 extra animations. In the end, we had to forgo it because of the size.
The Pains of Going Mobile
If we planned everything ahead for the mobile version, things would’ve gone smoother. On the other hand, we did not entirely forget to prepare for porting; it’s just that we were more focused on the visual aspects (interfaces and graphic ratios) than the technical ones. Nevertheless, we had the UX ready for touch screens, so didn’t have to redesign the UI during the transition from PC/web to mobile.
Prior to this, we had no experience in mobile game development. The “3-months-with-1-programmer” plan to port the game grew into “11-months-with-2-programmers”.
One of our biggest struggles was definitely the file size. High quality graphics were something we really wanted to deliver, but that just served to increase the game’s file size. In Flash, it would not have been a major problem, since vector graphics were used. The raster images used for the mobile version at first caused a delay in loading and also memory problems. Eventually, we managed to cut the game install size on iOS from 1GB to about 500MB, but this cost us a few extra months and was still not the most satisfying file size for players: it was always at a high risk of being deleted if a player needed more space on their device.
We didn’t change anything about the save system when porting the game from Flash to iOS, but later, we understood we’d better had it updated: compared to the browser version, mobile players were more likely to quit at random points in the game due to phone calls or other device activities. Another month was spent to patch up the things we had missed.
Mobile players are more likely to quit the game at random points due to phone calls.
We could’ve saved up a lot of development cost and time if we did not go through these mistakes – as inevitable as they seemed then. It’s a price to pay for inexperience, and definitely a lesson learned to be applied to our future projects.
Walking in Your Teammates’ Shoes
Everyone in the team has been exposed to developing for iOS in certain aspects (coding, visuals, design, etc), but none of us has gone through it from A-Z. During this project development, everyone has tasted the responsibilities and tasks of different roles: programmers learned how artists manage and export art assets, while artists got more than a hint about how certain codes work. This helped everyone work in a way that would benefit others, allowing for a more efficient workflow.
It was certainly a tough journey, but a great one. We grew as a team with the same goal in mind. As a more mature team, members now know how to use their expertise to help ease the tasks of other roles, too.
IAPs Done by Players as Support for Devs
Saying we did not hope that King’s League would do well would mean we didn’t believe in our own efforts. But with the help of our publisher, Gamenauts, the game got much more coverage during its launch than we could’ve managed to get on our own. Gamenauts dropped us an email after playing the first version of King’s League on Kongregate. Not many publishers were contacting us at that time, while this company made us an offer at an early stage of the sequel project. We agreed, and, as devs with little experience, we thought having a publisher can help us a lot in many ways, from development to monetization.
Initially, we wanted the game to be fully premium and without in-app purchases (IAP), but Gamenauts suggested having some better-looking and stronger units for sale. After some careful crafting, we included premium units that would not cause game imbalance, but still had unique features. Firstly, we made sure the game is playable without any IAP content. I can say that the advantages of our IAPs mostly come from aesthetic side. For instance, the characters-to-buy are slightly more powerful, but still require training like common characters to make them really strong.
The sales of these units surprised us – they were actually quite good! Many players bought the items after finishing the game and left comments letting us know it was an act to support us. We were very grateful for that. It also encouraged us to continue producing premium games, even though the freemium model is believed to generate more revenue.
King’s League: Odyssey also did well in the App Store ranking of various countries, serving to be a huge motivation boost. The Android version has been released in May, but, since Google Play is favor to freemium games, the sales there are not as good as on Apple’s App Store. The game also won the “Best Mobile Game” prize at the Indie Prize contest at Casual Connect Asia 2014.
Joel Breton has been working in the video game industry since the mid 1990’s. He began shortly after leaving college in San Francisco, and has been working as a developer and producer since, always focusing on the design side of games. Among the games he has most enjoyed working on, Breton lists Sea Dogs and Bomber Man Live. Recently, he relocated to London to work with game publisher 505 Games, setting up a free-to-play (F2P) games business unit.
It All Comes Down to Fun
When Joel Breton describes the creative process involved in his work, he says, “For me, everything just comes down to fun.” As a producer he is “non-stop checking it to make sure the fun factor is in there.” And as a developer, he is equally focused on making sure the game flow is constant and to avoid elements that make the game a chore.
Breton plays games constantly; as a result he can identify what those core fun factors are. For him, multi-player games are much more enjoyable than any single player experience or playing against the artificial intelligence. He particularly enjoys games when players from diverse areas of the world can play together.
Fun in F2P
In the free-to-play games model, it is essential to offer immediate enjoyment for the player. As Breton says, “The beauty of the free-to-play model, the casual online games model, is that you can try it out and see how well you can engage with it.” Then, if the player is enjoying the game, there are ways to become more deeply engaged with the game by monetizing. For the consumer, Breton believes it to be a great business model that will most likely grow.
In the free-to-play space, it is more important than ever to get the tutorial and the first experience right.
But free to play requires us to look at game design in a completely different and often challenging way. “In the free-to-play world, the first time user experience is absolutely critical; if you don’t get that right, the game is not going to work.” Breton emphasizes, “If they’re giving away the game for free and hoping to monetize you later, then they just have to make sure you get really engaged in that first session that you play and get you to where you really love the game.” In the free-to-play space, it is more important than ever to get the tutorial and the first experience right.
Breton maintains that it is up to the game designer to figure out what’s fun and how to put it into their game no matter what the mechanic is. Avoid elements that make the game seem like work; instead, surprise them with unexpected fun features to allow them to really enjoy the experience. Breton states that the developer’s job is to create a fun and compelling game. The publisher then should focus on getting that game to the widest audience possible. When he is analyzing a game to decide whether this game is one to distribute and market, he looks at it first as a consumer and considers if he would enjoy playing it. He asks himself if there will be an audience for the game and if it is on the right platform. However, he emphasizes that “The absolute first question you gotta answer is, is it fun? And if no, then cancel.”
505 Games is focusing on building a portfolio of entertaining cross-platform games. Keep an eye out for more announcements.