2016 will be remembered as the year when VR touched down for consumers. While headsets have been available for a while now for those who backed certain Kickstarters or were willing to pay for expensive developers kits, it’s 2016 that they will be available to purchase by the mass consumer. The HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR will all be available to purchase by the end of the year, with more to follow.
VR is something that’s received a lot of media attention; not just by enthusiasts, but by mainstream outlets as well. It’s understandable, since the advancement of technology has made VR possible in a way it never was before (like 20 years ago, during VR’s first abortive emergence). It also shows really well at trade shows and press events, which is how most people have experienced VR so far.
VR is something that’s received a lot of media attention; not just by enthusiasts, but by mainstream outlets as well.
At a trade show or press event, typically there’s usually about 10 to 15 minutes to experience whatever the product is. A lot of the VR experiences so far have been crafted around these limitations, designed to be played and finished within the set period of time. These sorts of experiences (many of which are very limited in their gameplay aspects) are nonetheless impressive and have demonstrates how compelling VR can be.
So whether the technology works or not isn’t really in question anymore. Many in the press and hardcore enthusiasts have seen it, played around with it, and been sold on it (quite literally). That is not the core of this article; what is the viability of VR as a good short-term way to focus development resources. Before anyone gets too exited over the long-term prospects, consider these logistical issues with VR for 2016.
Founded in 2011 by twin brothers Pim and Jos Bouman, Gamious was originally created to become a traditional game publishing company, but soon turned into a game developer. Selecting specific people for each game project, they aim to create accessible games with pure and original gameplay. Producer Roy van Bijsterveldt talks about their recent project, iO, a physics platformer that has just been released on Steam and other major digital PC platforms.
“Success is 50 percent development, 50 percent distribution,” said Michaël Peiffert in his session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “Start working on how to market your game the same way you cared about crafting it.”
Maciej Mróz shared the experience his team had with growth within the company in his session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “So when you grow, things start to break down,” he says. “Obviously it’s not something that happens overnight, but it does, and it’s because you have a successful product, and the product grows in complexity.”
Vladimir Gersl discussed the transition from working in a big company to turning indie during his session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “Use AAA games rigid processes for vision, budget & planning,” he explained. “But as indie, stay flexible and iterate a lot to find the perfect process that will suit you.”
When it comes to the challenge of online games, Vincent Vergonjeanne offered this advice to his audience at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014: “Get your priorities straight. Understanding your retention is the one key to the long term success of your online game.”
“Creating games is the most complete form of expression that I know. It is also the only one that allows me to touch so many lives,” says Vincent Vergonjeanne, a free-to-play consultant, business angel, and a lean startup enthusiast.
At the young age of twelve, Vergonjeanne started programming. By age thirteen, he collaborated with another young artist. Together, they developed over eight games by the time they were twenty years old. They eventually drifted apart, but the seeds were planted. He shifted from IT jobs which paid well to video game jobs which paid much less. In 2009, Vergonjeanne and a couple other friends created Kobojo in France. With over a million daily users and a Series A of 7.5 million dollars, Kobojo grew to be one of the largest social gaming companies in Europe with up to 90 employees.
EVERYDAYiPLAY and Free-to-play Games
Vergonjeanne currently lives in Krakow, Poland. It is where he has founded EVERYDAYiPLAY, a new game studio specialized in mid-core gaming. According to their website, the company believes “in hand-crafting fun, recognizable, and beautiful games with a no-compromise-policy on quality”. They have three simple rules: stay small and do only one game at a time, stay independent forever, and recruit top talent only. Their current game is a strategy and action game entitled Vikings Gone Wild. In 2013, Vikings Gone Wild was chosen by Facebook as one of the Top 10. In fact, Vikings Gone Wild has been installed by more than 2.5 million people.
Consistent with one of the company’s rules to recruit top talent only, Vergonjeanne took his time in hiring people for Vikings Gone Wild. Initially, he did coding himself for the first four months. This gave him the freedom to find highly talented programmers for the game. For Vergonjeanne, being a programmer allows great insight on all technical decisions of the company. When he is not programming, Vergonjeanne works as product manager. He deals with the product roadmap which includes features and content of the game. Basically, the idea is to apply the learning which occurs in game design and monetization. Designing free-to-play is challenging. Experience has helped him make more informed decisions.
As for the future, Vergonjeanne sees free-to-play games being a key part. According to Vergonjeanne, as the free-to-play market matures, “casual games will be harder to make successful as the necessity of high volumes to make it profitable is only accessible by larger companies.” There is a need for specialized games, which are targeted to specific audiences. This is a niche that EVERYDAYiPLAY fills. The targeted strategy games they make enable them to touch the intended audience on a deeper level.
Vergonjeanne is a PC and mobile player. He mainly plays similar games to what he creates: mobile Real-time strategy (RTS) games. He does this so that he can discover and understand the best features of the genre, be inspired, and be able to recognize ideal economical tensions. He describes himself as both creative and analytical. Vergonjeanne is analytical in that he believes that better decisions are made if you first analyze past experiences and thereby seek patterns and learn from them. He is creative because he finds “nothing more fulfilling than the sentiment of creation”. The process of creation, which is a way of giving life to ideas, is what motivates him. Vergonjeanne has two beautiful children. His most recent passion is Lego. Just as game developers do, he loves how Lego (specifically the Star Wars line), “reinterpret pop-culture references into a world with its own visual rules and scale”.
After all of Vergonjeanne’s experience, his proudest moment of his career was when he founded EVERYDAYiPLAY. With no venture capital money, the studio is profitable and has grown to more than 20 extremely talented people. Vergonjeanne states, “This studio is the result of many learning in process, scale, and product, and its success a tremendous validation”. EVERYDAYiPLAY’s commitment to quality product holds promise for the future.
The story of Zero Point Software, a Danish Indie developer located in Copenhagen, goes back to 2003 and has been, according to Thordis Bjartmarz, “turbulent, exciting, hard and long”. She talks about their game, Interstellar Marines, and their experience with their community while updating their project.
In 2005, Zero Point Software (ZPS) published the first trailer to test how the market would react to Interstellar Marines, and it instantly went viral. Negotiations with publishers began and the wheels started spinning. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, we suffered like so many other companies, and any chance of a publisher partnership went out the window. ZPS’ vision of Interstellar Marines, however, still burned bright and with the support of the established community of fans, we decided to continue without a publisher. Today, Interstellar Marines is released on Steam’s Early Access program and is slowly but steadily building the dream of the ultimate game with the support of a strong and passionate community of gamers.
Since the Steam release, we have been able to build up a relatively small but highly motivated team once again. In the current team, there is only one person from the original team from 2003. Kim Haar Jørgensen is the game designer and the creative director of the game, as well as the driver of the game’s development for the past 11 years. The team’s beloved leader is inspired by games like System Shock 2 and Rainbow 6, where co-op was a part of the games he enjoyed immensely. So when creating the idea of Interstellar Marines, he knew that co-op should be a central pillar of the game, making the experience for players even more tactical and immersive.
It was Kim’s passion for games that involve deep immersion, an engaging storyline, and tactical gameplay that fueled the other team members to join him in creating Interstellar Marines. Currently, we are a team of 13 full-time and part-time members, 4 of whom are interns from The Game Assembly in Malmö, Sweden. Our team is very diverse, both in background and experiences as well as in nationalities, with team members representing Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Britain, and Portugal.
At Long Last, the Co-Op Update!
In May 2014, we decided to work towards a big release where co-op would be the main feature. The technology for co-op and related features were not in the team’s arsenal, which meant that this sprint would be longer than the usual monthly updates. The production team estimated four months for the sprint, which would give enough time to work on the game mode and develop the AI, as well as work on getting the game even more immersive than before. This big update was titled The NeuroGen Incident. The name came from the research company who was conducting the research that the marines should retrieve.
When we were deep in co-op development, the team was discussing co-op games during lunch one day and one member started wondering why co-op was more interesting than other game modes. During those discussions, we realized that many of the team members had some inspiring stories to share about good co-op moments, playing with friends and having a different sense of achievement. The idea to create a video where the team would share what co-op means to them was born.
It became clear that co-op is more than just an awesome game mode; it makes the experience a million times more awesome as you get to share it with friends. There is a different sense of success when you complete a game with friends, and the experience becomes more valuable.
After creating that video, it became clear that the goal was not just to increase gameplay options by introducing co-op to Interstellar Marines players, but to enhance their experience and make Interstellar Marines worth playing and sharing with friends. The team wanted to make sure that the awesome feeling they had when playing other co-op games with friends would be translated into the experiences Interstellar Marines’ players would have.
That is why co-op became such a huge sprint. We wanted to include everything possible into the update that could impact the experience for players. But sometimes motivation and aspirations do not always go hand-in-hand with deadlines.
Learning From the Co-op Update
The planned four months sprint meant that the deadline for release was in mid-September. However, we were unable to reach the deadline mainly because the content update was too big and therefore, the testing period had to be longer than originally planned. The consequences of not reaching the deadline were huge for the team. We felt defeated. As our CEO Maria Boye said, “We learned the hard way that you should never put yourself in a position where you depend on one big update, and where pushing it a few days risks to alter the whole company. You should really be prepared and try to predict things like that months in advance!”
The impact on the marketing initiatives planned around the date of the update was also major. The change of date left the media, as well as the fan community, hanging in the air, with the loss of a number of bigger media outlets a serious consequence.
A new deadline was set for the following week, when we released the largest map we had developed (so far) with single player and the co-op game mode. The team was ecstatic and the feedback from the community was great. It was also well-received by the media, but we were aware that the change affected some bigger media plans to cover the release. But overall, we are seeing increase in media coverage, and we are excited about that.
All that hard work and the emotional roller coaster had paid off.
One thing that came out of the whole The NeuroGen Incident process was the knowledge that the team needs to be more focused on realistic deadlines. That is easy for some to say, but it can be so hard in practice. There are always more and more features or developments you want to add in each release which will give the player a better, more awesome experience.
The next release date is just around the corner (at the time of this writing), and the great thing is that this deadline will be met. After the intense learning experience that came from The NeuroGen Incident’s release, the whole team sat down and analyzed what had gone wrong. After a long discussion, we came to the conclusion that the work method had to be more focused and organized. When planning a sprint, there is a need to think realistically about what the team can develop within the time frame and make sure that enough testing time is put into the plan. Since the co-op release, our focus and structure has changed dramatically, and the feeling at the office is becoming more confident. Reaching the next deadline will give us the confirmation that we can hit deadlines if the work is realistically organized and structured.
When asked, the team had some clear learning points they took from the sprint. One of the biggest is that “1 hour of planning saves 1 day of work,” according to Kim. For our CEO, the sprint was a time to grow into her role, as previously her role involved more of the coordination between others in management. That was a huge learning point, both for her and for the rest of the team. Another learning point is not to get yourself into a position where you need to sleep at the office in order to reach a deadline, but if you do, make sure you bring two days of spare clothes to the office instead of one, or so says Paul Allen, our the whiplashing producer.
Not reaching a set deadline, especially when you have promoted it to media and the fan community, can have devastating consequences, more so if your community decides to turn their backs on you. This was one of the fears everyone had at ZPS when we realized we would not hit the deadline. One of the most important things we work towards on a daily basis is great community involvement, and we aim to be transparent with our fans. When we told them about the missed deadline, there was, expectedly, uproar in the community. People had been waiting for this release for a long time and we had been building up a hype around it. And then we missed the deadline.
However, to our surprise, most of the feedback we received from the community was more in the form of support rather than critique. Of course, there were disappointed voices sharing their opinion, but generally, we received encouraging words from our fans. They were still looking forward to our update, and it was clear that quality was more important than quantity to our fans. The fact that the community supported us in times like this meant the world to us. The fans were so excited about trying the co-op game mode, to experience everything the team had to offer to them, that one week was not a deal breaker for them. But that also made us want to do right by the community in the upcoming releases, and make sure we hit the deadlines we announce.
The Road Ahead
We are continuing our work. The quality of our leadership is a testament to our resolve. Kim has had this dream-game for years, and now we all share it with him. We are also fortunate for the community we have. They never cease to push us forward and always offer great critiques. They deserve the best we can give.
For the love of the game.
To stay updated with Interstellar Marines and the team at Zero Point Software, you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Last year, on a scenic summer day next to the Susquehanna River, AgeCheq morphed from an idea into a company. Roy Smith, founder and CEO, had just finished some research on the new COPPA law that was put into place by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Wondering how every game company that targets kids would be able to comply with this new law, he gathered his then three-man team together at their HQ (a picnic table). Everyone decided that this was a business that needed to exist to help the mobile industry work with the law. Tyler Smith, director of game developer relations, talks about COPPA and what to keep in mind as a developer.
What is COPPA?
If developers don’t comply with COPPA, they can get up to a $16,000 fine per user that is under 13, along with up to 20 years of privacy audits by the FTC.
If developers don’t comply with COPPA, they can get up to a $16,000 fine per user that is under 13, along with up to 20 years of privacy audits by the FTC. When you’re a developer serving millions of users, this can become a big headache fast.
The New COPPA
In the past five years, game developers have had to make a lot of changes in how they conduct business. From mobile gaming becoming one of the top grossing markets, to fighting for exposure inside the crowded app stores, adaptation has been key to pushing the industry forward. With all of this innovation in a burgeoning mobile space, the regulations on how business is to be conducted when concerning children grew outdated very quickly. This new shift in technology prompted the law known as the “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act” or COPPA to be updated in 2013.
There are six main steps to the FTC’s newly updated COPPA compliance plan. Developers have to comply with each to make sure they aren’t in violation of the law. Let’s take a look at what the steps are:
Determine if your company is a website or online service that collects personal information from kids under 13
Notify parents directly before collecting personal information from their kids
Get parents’ verifiable consent before collecting information from their kids
Honor parents’ ongoing rights with respect to information collected from their kids
Implement reasonable procedures to protect the security of kids’ personal information
In order to create great games for education and learning, as well as casual games that could be directed at kids, these new rules need to be followed.
The Big Six Breakdown
The first step is to determine whether or not your mobile game or app collects Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from any kids under 13. If you don’t collect any Personally Identifiable Information – which includes any unique identifiers like IP address or device ID – or if you have a foolproof method of making sure that kids under 13 aren’t using your game or app, you are in the clear.
Obtaining verified parental consent is by far the most complicated step. The law defines four different ways that a parent can be verified.
Have the parent sign and mail in a consent form
Require the parent to do a monetary transaction through a credit card
Have the parent call a toll-free telephone number
Check a government-issued ID
At AgeCheq, we use the two most practical methods: a consent form, and a monetary transaction. After parents sign up for an account and verify themselves via one of these two choices, they are able to approve any privacy disclosures that are in their dashboard. We link the parents of children directly to the information they need to decide if the game controls its data collection.
Now, even if parents have agreed that you may collect information from their kids, parents have ongoing rights — and you have continuing obligations. Not only must you continue to give parents a way to review the personal information collected from their child, but you must also give parents a way to revoke their consent if they refuse the further use or collection of personal information from their child. Once they do that, you must also delete their child’s personal information from your databases.
Finally, the FTC’s plan requires that you establish and maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from children. This is all pretty common-sense stuff. Keep the data you collect secure.
This is a lot of information to digest, but hopefully you now have a better understanding of what COPPA means to the mobile gaming industry.
Knowing that there is a lot of information, Tyler welcomes questions about COPPA or AgeCheq’s solutions via his email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or feel free to check out AgeCheq’s website.
Jaroslav Stacevic once thought of games only as his hobby, yet today, he is the lead game designer at Nordcurrent, Lithuania’s largest international game development and publishing company. Previously, he worked with a non-governmental agency preparing volunteers for development work in Africa. But his passion for games caught up with him; he applied for a games designer position, and almost immediately, he was creating games.
After participating in the development of many of Nordcurrent’s games, he now leads a team responsible for the development of external projects in close cooperation with various studios from Eastern Europe and Russia, among others. This team ensures players get the highest quality product, one that is fun to play and worth paying for.
Stacevic calls himself an obsessive person, but usually he finds this quality an advantage, since his obsession comes from an open-minded attitude coupled with the ability to take in new experiences and invest himself in them. However, he admits at times this inhibits his work when it causes him to burn out on an idea by focusing on it too intensely.
With this intense focus, every time a game he has worked on is released and begins climbing the charts, he has a moment of personal pride. He says, “I can’t say which one has influenced me the most, but whenever I see my ideas succeed and my efforts recognized, it sure feels good!”
His View of Games
When he is gaming for enjoyment, his preferred platform has always been PC; he feels it is unique in the way it empowers the user to take a more personal approach to gaming. PC games offer great possibilities for customization, allowing the user to tweak and create. Third party modifications, “game mods”, are only currently possible on PC. And Stacevic enjoys building the game rigs that PC allows.
He also greatly enjoys console play, and besides the old-school consoles, he owns a Wii U and a Playstation 3 for their worthwhile games that are not available on PC. These include The Last of Us and Journey, his all-time favorite.
However, most of his gaming is now on mobile, which he appreciates for its convenience and accessibility, as he plays titles such as Ruzzle Adventure, Plague INC, or Banner Saga, and of course, Nordcurrent titles, including Cooking Fever and 101-in-1 HD. His currently favorites among hard-core titles include Dwarf Fortress and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Stacevic enjoys free-to-play games, but rarely makes in-app purchases simply because he sees too many publishers whose only goal is to extract money from their players. On the other hand, he emphasizes, “I treasure studios that do not sacrifice fun for money and understand that a happy user is a paying user. Publishers that invest in their player base instead of going for the fast cash grab are the ones that get my money most often.”
A Shifting Industry
The games market is now undergoing a major shift from West to East. He asserts, “I don’t just mean China, but also the emerging South-East Asia markets such as Malaysia and Indonesia, and mature markets, including South Korea and Japan. To succeed in these markets, localization is essential, and the game must be adapted to Asian tastes.”
He also sees freemium and free-to-play games maturing along their user base. As the quality of games goes up, players are demanding more quality titles. This development is of benefit to any developer willing and able to provide the audience with a great means of entertainment, and makes for healthier competition in the market place, requiring many companies to rethink their strategies.
In this atmosphere, he insists, “Nordcurrent is more than happy to offer our users great and affordable games.” They are actively working on localizing their games to the Asian market, not only translating them, but adapting the art style to the cultural specifics of the Asian market. And they are constantly working to raise the bar on their titles to satisfy growing community needs and demands.
Stacevic notes that the games industry today is on the threshold of a wide array of new platforms. An entirely new environment is developing as wearable electronics become mainstream, with smart watches the most prominent example, and Google Glass just beginning to make its presence felt. Another trend, virtual reality will probably become closely integrated and rapidly make its way into the mainstream. “These developments will certainly shift and shape the games market,” he claims.
When Stacevic is not focused on gaming, he is involved in photography, which he considers closely allied to game development. Both allow him to create experiences and even entire worlds. While his game development focuses on the end user, he views his photography in a much more personal way, something he does for his own enjoyment.