“If you want to acquire users, there’s a lot of people you can talk to,” Tomislav Mihajlović says while on a panel at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “Just talk to some people and try to find something that will work best for you.”
“If you want to acquire users, there’s a lot of people you can talk to,” Tomislav Mihajlović says while on a panel at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “Just talk to some people and try to find something that will work best for you.”
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.”
Jaroslav Stacevic talked about the importance of UI during Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “Interface is the handle of the hammer,” he explains. “You need it to use the hammer.”
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!”
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.”
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.
“We were not inspired by money or something else,” Nenad Tomić expressed. “We were only focused on one goal and that’s how to create the best game ever.” Along with co-founder Uroš Banješević, he described the journey of their company, Mad Head Games, during Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014.
Nenad Tomić founded Mad Head Games with Uroš Banješević just over three years ago. In just six years, Tomić has been involved in the release of more than 50 games ranging from AAA titles for Ubisoft to more casual games for numerous clients. While Tomić’s most prestigious accomplishment was being involved with the development of CG portals, the awards won as a part of Mad Head Games are the accomplishment which make Tomić the most proud, as it is what defines him as the developer he is today.
As of now, Tomić has two separate jobs. The first one, he admits “is a bit boring and not inspirational, and that’s running a company”. The second embodies the reason Tomić went after a career in game development: designing games. During the last eight years, Tomić has been a part of game and level design, 3D modeling, some basic coding, producing, writing stories, etc. Since he has been doing all of this, he has become a “jack of all trades, master of none.” And yet, Tomić has a rich overview of their work as well as “a good understanding of how to makes games that will stand out”.
For Tomić, his straight-forward, systematic nature springs from his traditional education while being trained to be a telecommunications engineer. Tomić explains, “being systematic in game development, and especially with running a company, helps a great deal, even though from time to time it clouds some more creative and innovative paths.” It is for this reason that he strives to find a balance between his systematic nature and the creativity required for game development.
Tomić does not limit his game design to work, he also claims it as a hobby, “Yep, making games for work and doing it as a hobby is kinda messed up, but it is how it is.” He also enjoys juggling, rollerblading, and participating in all sorts of sports, especially the social ones. In his free time, Tomić also plays iOS games on the phone and tablet. For the majority of his life, he played PC games, but has now shifted. Tomić explains, “The reason for that is probably the fact that I spend the most of my day sitting at my computer, and when the time for playing games actually comes, I prefer to be in a more comfortable and so to speak ‘casual’ position.” Currently, he is playing Cookie Clicker and Clash of Clans (CoC). When he first started CoC, it was for educational purposes. He wanted to learn how F2P works. However, before Tomić knew it, he was hooked and it was no longer about education. As for Cookie Clicker, it has a “madness of its own, and I don’t have a true explanation why I still play it.” As far as consoles go, Tomić doesn’t know why they were never tempting for him. The only exception: Little Big Planet and Journey for the PS3. These games are definitely on his bucket list of future games to play.
Now that Tomić has experienced F2P as a consumer, he loves how this genre has the possibility to reach a wide range of players. Additionally, F2P games have great potential for creativity and innovation towards “nailing down the proper way of producing a fun and fair game,” stated Tomić. On the flip side, he hates how often there is cloning and reusing of optimal monetization strategies with a total lack of innovation. Lazy design strategies result in redundant games, which reinforces the perception of games being evil money suckers. Tomić does have one gripe: the waiting times associated with F2P, which Tomić admits that he really hates.
The defining moment of Tomić career is when he witnessed the reception of Mad Head Games’ Rite of Passage. Although the team had worked tirelessly to ensure quality coming first in every aspect of the game, nerves were high upon release. Tomić reflected on how Rite of Passage was the team’s first casual game, stating, “We had our doubts even though we knew that we went back a thousand times to do all little improvements that were hardly noticeable.” Even though they had even rejected whole sections of the game because they didn’t meet their high standards, they were naturally anxious about the audiences’ reception. When the game hit the number one position of Big Fish Games’ top downloaded games, Tomić knew that their efforts to ensure quality first were not in vain. This moment is when they knew, “we wanted to make only games of the greatest quality and that there’s hardly a greater reward than seeing people enjoying the game you made, and hearing that in some ways it changed their lives – even if it is just for a while.”
From that moment on, the team members were able to give their absolute best because they were vastly more confident in decisions during production. They were able to stay fearless and innovative with the upcoming projects. Through this experience, they also realized that if a concept doesn’t work, it needs to be revamped until it does work. Also, if there is a part of the game that doesn’t amaze them, it won’t amaze the audience. If this is the case, this part of the game must be fixed.
Tomić finds great joy in seeing the growth of Mad Head Games’ team members, which replicates throughout the company and enables an ever increasing quality of games. Tomić explains that one thing that has encouraged this growth is the fact that Mad Head Games has, “invested a lot of time and energy into working with people on their self improvement, and teaching them to embrace our initial core values as their own. Seeing that work, everyone being happy about it, and being enthusiastic about upcoming challenges is priceless.” Personal growth is important and enables company-wide growth, which benefits everyone.
If Tomić had to predict one trend which would shape the industry in the next couple of years, he would pick wearable technology. He believes that the impact will be similar to the upset of mobile. He further explained, “I’m absolutely sure that developers will come up with crazy innovations that are unimaginable to us at this moment, and I can’t wait to jump onto that train.” To further illustrate his point, he said that plans are already being pursued in this field, but it is still far too early to announce it.
George Erkhan described how he felt about his role as a developer to his audience during Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014: “Our purpose as game developers is to make pure, unstoppable fun.”
George Erkhan is the creative director of HeroCraft, a Russian video game developer and publisher. With more than 150 games of a variety of genres, HeroCraft’s primary focus is strategy games, with notable releases including Strategy & Tactics series, Majesty Mobile, and more recently: Warhammer® 40,000®: Space Wolf.
Erkan’s career began eight years ago as part of the HeroCraft team. While he had no relevant experience, he dove right in as the sole game designer in what was then a small studio. With dreams of bringing ‘real’ PC hardcore games to mobile, HeroCraft began by making java games with 100kb jar. When reminiscing about growing up alongside HeroCraft, Erkhan shared, “the company increased rapidly, a game design department was established and I headed it”. As the lead of a few teams (including HeroCraft Donetsk), each of his teams are collaborating on RPG and mid-core titles. As creative director, Erkhan is in charge of monetization, statistics, and game design.
For Erkhan, working in the gaming industry enables him to pursue many different interests. As priorities and interests change, there is a fluidity in the games industry that allows one to shift with ease while still staying in business. While this flexibility is available in other professions, the “endless evolution and changeover of your own work-flow and occupations could be considered the coolest stuff of our profession”.
Erkhan has quite the collection of interests; his favorite past times are not limited to gaming and game design. Erkhan has a deep love of literature. He sees literature as not only a hobby but also a “lifestyle or the main affair”. Right now, he is concentrating on writing short horror novels. “This genre allows to flay the armor skin of routine and to show the essence of a human being, their secret emotions, all that is hidden most of the time,” he says.
Other interests include culture and history of the ancient world, especially Sumer and Mesopotamia. As the “cradle of the modern civilization”, he is the most intrigued by the region. “It’s a pity that unstable political situation in this region makes impossible any trips there,” he says. Erkhan has delved into various types of martial arts, including Russian Sambo, BARS, Aikido, Kudo, and Kyokushan Karate, plays soccer (European football) at work every week, and is a huge supporter of the London Chelsea and the Spartak Moscow Clubs.
Lastly, Erkhan is a MTG (Magic the Gathering) player, referring to it as a genius card game. In many ways, playing it gives him new insights as a professional game developer. The competition of it give him great joy and sparks some creativity, too.
So what makes Erkhan proud? “The evaluation of my work by usual players who say their thanks on Google Play and Appstore . . . all our work is totally senseless without users who love our games”. He is proud to admit that all the work of putting together a game is worthless without the players acknowledgment and happiness in the end product. That knowledge helps him stay at it and overcome the challenges he encounters at work.
While George feels we can collectively cope with challenges facing the gaming industry, such as discovering, optimization in stores, and player acquisition, the biggest challenge is a strategic one which could only be solved by the efforts of the entire industry. He calls it the “Struggle for Recognition”. This struggle embodies the need to recognize games as ranking in importance alongside movies and music. Games are not harmful. Games make us happy and enrich our lives. It is all of our jobs to explain, this not just to the geeks, freaks, and teens, but to society.
Erkhan’s primary platform for his own game play is on the iPad. Currently, he is playing an original battler from Nival: Etherlords. “It was interesting to me to examine how this old-school brand will be revived in a modern mobile F2P reality. In spite of having nothing in common with its progenitor, this game is Nival’s new successful step within the genre”. He hopes that many developers will follow Nival’s lead shortly.
Big trends within the next three to five years in the industry will be fueled by the next wave of tablets and smartphones. Portable gadgets are the future and George says they “will require their own gamepads and bring to our TVs new brand games . . . I behold how mobiles will jostle classical consoles from our living rooms.” Currently, HeroCraft is converting games to be playable on mobile devices. As people embrace mobile gaming, it has revolutionized the gaming industry.
While on a panel about indie entrepreneurship at Casual Connect USA 2014, Robin Hunicke described an aspect of people that everyone should be aware of. “It’s fundamental to our culture that we sometimes would rather think of the list of things we can get as opposed to the things we can do,” she explained.
Robin Hunicke, co-founder of the independent game studio Funomena, loves the unique challenges every day brings. Since she started the company in 2012, her work has varied tremendously from day-to-day; at different times, she can be involved in art and design tasks, production, or marketing and business development tasks. Her most recent title is the award winning Playstation Network title, Journey.
Hunicke has a background in art, computer science, and applied game studies. Although, her first love was fine art, her career began in computer science and then moved to design and production. And, in fact, she has been designing, making, and teaching about games for over 12 years. So she knows her background is varied enough that she can wear whatever hats she needs to. However, she admits, “The fact that I know a little about each aspect of game development means that I really appreciate the experts I get to work with each day. Their excellence is an inspiration.”
Winning the 2012 Game of the Year Award at GDC brought Hunicke the proudest moment of her career, one that she credits to the entire Journey team. She emphasizes, “It was such an accomplishment for this small team to make such an impact on games, and it felt great to be a part of that dream.”
Hunicke is a huge proponent of the metaverse, believing Virtual Reality is the emerging trend that will make a great difference to her business and product. But she is very close-mouthed about how she expects to incorporate virtual reality into the games Funomena is creating.
On the other hand, she is an outspoken evangelist for diversity of thought, design, and participation in both game design and game culture. Hunicke claims the biggest impact on the games industry as a whole will come as “more diverse people make games about more diverse topics and reach a more diverse audience.”
She describes herself as a curious person, so perhaps it is not surprising that she tells us her favorite platform to play on is the real world. Currently, she is playing a lot of the Twilight Struggle board game because she appreciates how elegant the game design is for a rather complex simulation of Cold War politics.
She also plays on console and owns all the last generation consoles as well as a PS4, stating, “I love playing games cozy on the couch in my living room and cherish the few games that really immerse me in that way. It’s an experience like no other.”
Her F2P gaming is quite restrained; her most expensive purchase has been $10 for a familiar (probably a Leprechaun) in Kingdom of Loathing.
Her many hobbies other than gaming include cooking, hiking, traveling and gardening. She also loves photography, comics, watercolor painting, and origami.
DeltaDNA was an early adopter, so to speak, of the Casual Connect conference, knowing that it would become a great environment to build relationships, grow their network, and both give and receive value from the innumerable conversations that occur before, during, and after the conference. In 2014, they were a proud Gold Sponsor of Casual Connect USA 2014. While there, DeltaDNA CEO Mark Robinson spoke about the concept of Player Relationship Management, how the industry has evolved in the free-to-play (F2P) space, and techniques DeltaDNA uses to increase engagement and create better gaming experiences with Clark Buckner from TechnologyAdvice.com (they provide coverage content on enterprise employee engagement, customer loyalty and rewards, and gamification trends and much more).
Launched in 2010, DeltaDNA uses a Player Relationship Management platform to maximize player engagement in free-to-play games. Using this platform, developers can interact with players within the game, collect rich data based on player experience, and use that data to craft a version of the game that’s more responsive to the player.
Through his work, Robinson identified three areas in which the F2P gaming industry has trouble:
– A lack of rich data on player behavior: By balancing game dynamics to satisfy average players, developers end up satisfying no one.
– A lack of retention: Less than 40 percent of F2P gamers typically come back to a game after an initial session.
– A lack of great, creative ideas: Game developers and publishers are always on the lookout for well-executed games.
So how does DeltaDNA address these challenges in the F2P space? First, they work to understand player behavior. Developers can interact with a specific player in their game so they are able to customize game mechanics according to a player’s style or competence, using a platform such as DeltaDNA‘s. Then, they make games more responsive. Better gaming experiences stem from responsive, user-driven, tailor-made game situations. And lastly, they use analytics in an effective manner. When designers or publishers work closely with an analytics team, they’re able to obtain rich data, such as direct feedback on retention rates or why some players leave a game sooner than others. They can then devise solutions to increase retention levels as well as to create player segments for better engagement and possible monetization strategies.
By leveraging real-time data and understanding player behaviors, DeltaDNA can design and create games that are more customized and responsive, thereby establishing long-term value, increased engagement, and a better end-user experience. Robinson added that they work to ensure that players have a great experience regardless of their competency or playing style. They don’t want the free-to-play model to be seen as an inferior gaming experience simply because it’s free.
Robinson also noted the necessity for a messaging strategy. Developers and publishers need to be consistent and intelligent in terms of their messaging without inundating users with too many messages. This can be done by fully understanding the different player characteristics in one’s game, as well as by considering how to manage player experiences in a way that their players will want to respond to messaging.
According to Robinson, the most exciting and successful companies in the gaming industry are starting to adopt new skill sets in order to get closer to their respective playing communities. Developers and publishers now have multi-scaled teams with new skills and a reliance on analytics. Additionally, marketing is now a more important part of the process alongside development, design, and creative.
For Robinson and DeltaDNA, the next step in the industry is realizing that a game developer/customer relationship won’t be limited to a one-game environment. Rather, they see multi-game relationships forming between publishers and gamers, thus creating more engagement for a publisher and more value for consumers.
For more information on DeltaDNA’s features, solutions, and resources, visit www.deltadna.com. To listen to the full interview, click the play button below:
During his session at Casual Connect USA 2014, Daniel Bernstein talked about putting video ads in a game. “Whenever you put in a video, you have to figure out what it means to the player,” he said. “When a player doesn’t ask for it, that means your retention is probably going to go down because they just don’t want to see it, you are forcing something down their throat they don’t want to look at.”
Daniel Bernstein is building his second company, UpTap, after selling his first company, Sandlot Games, to Digital Chocolate in 2011. UpTap leverages shared experience, multiple shots on goal, and clear focus on the emerging market of casual free-to-play games on tablet computers. He says that just about everything he has done until now, including the year after Digital Chocolate, is paramount in his work now.
He reveals that the proudest moment of career so far was the founding of Sandlot Games, an accomplishment which was the result of “really shitty bosses and dead-end jobs.” Clearly, he was determined to find a better and more enjoyable life experience.
With his own businesses, he has found the fun of the games industry, an enjoyment that comes from the creativity surrounding the making of every new game. He particularly enjoys the thrill of building a new, fun experience that didn’t exist before.
Bernstein considers the biggest challenge today in the games industry to be the difficulty of making money with the free-to-play business model. The cost of user acquisition has become very high, and consumers are trained not to pay, so it is difficult to bridge the gap to profitability. As well, discovery on most platforms has become extremely problematic. At UpTap, they use their experience and constant iteration to mitigate this challenge. In this way, they can increase the core retention and monetization of a game.
But Bernstein believes that in the coming several years, there may be a backlash against the free-to-play game universe. He sees developers becoming desperate to squeeze money out of each free-to-play game, and the result may be users shunning these games. He expects video advertising to become a more important source of monetization than it is today.
For his own gaming, Bernstein still considers the PC his favorite platform. He thoroughly enjoys Age of Mythology, as he has played it since 2000 and still occasionally plays it. But he no longer owns any console. Instead, he thinks of his tablet as a console.
When not involved with gaming, he enjoys gardening, saying it has become “kind of an obsession.” He is also an accomplished music composer and composes the music for most of the games he works on.
Richard Benjamin shared the story of what Funtomic thought when faced with what of their game, Chicken Boy. “We kind of owe it to our loyal group of fans, but as a company, we owe it more to ourselves to actually keep pushing this and seeing how it goes forward,” he explained.
Richard Benjamin is the vice president of business development at Funtomic. He came to the games industry after a career in banking, and he tells us that one of the things he enjoys most about his work is telling his former colleagues that he must slot time into his calendar for playing games; it used to be the opposite. He also enjoys being a part of an industry that is at the forefront of innovative developments around user experiences. He says, “It’s awesome to witness how we cater for user behaviors being at the center of what we do.”
Producers are considered the CEOs for their games, assuming responsibility for the development process and post-release management, so for him, someone with a strategic management background, Richard loves the creative and business exchanges that surround him. His past experiences help producers think more in market terms around making games rather than focusing solely on the end product, although Richard feels he learns far more from them.
One of the proudest moments of his career with Funtomic was watching the team release Chicken Boy. He states, “We all had the most amazing time working on the game, and everyone was really proud when it came out. Hearing all the great feedback and how much fun people had playing Chicken Boy, even as we made the game better, has proven that our efforts were totally worthwhile.”
Richard tells us that the tension between generating original game concepts that satisfy desires of the producers to create innovative, fun games people will love and the need to be commercially viable is a big challenge to how new ideas are successfully discovered and developed.
At Funtomic, there is a strong focus on giving their producers creative freedom on the games they make, but they balance this freedom with building strong business intelligence and marketing capabilities. This allows them to rely on data in addition to the creative and monetary potential of a game. He has noticed, “It creates a strong yin/yang force between balancing truthful data and insights that point to prospects and the excitement a producer can have for a new title. It also allows producers to focus on areas that need improvement for game success.”
Richard believes the next big trend in the games industry will be personalized gaming. He points out that currently even the best games that aspire to be mass-market lose the vast majority of their players within the first hour of play. Rising acquisition costs will pressure companies to produce games that perform well for a larger share of the audience, and advances in behavioral science and data analytics will enable the creation of learning and personalization layers that will ensure a better experience for a longer time for a larger share of players.
He considers himself a typical casual gamer, spending most of his time on his phone or tablet. He is still amazed by the way some titles stay so high in the top grossing charts, but he regularly goes back to playing all of the big performers. He also admits he is a big fan of Civilization and is eagerly awaiting the new title, Beyond Earth.
When he has free time, he enjoys running and going to the beach, which he considers one of the best things about living in Tel Aviv. He is also an avid soccer fan, although he was disappointed in his native Australia’s showing at the World Cup this year.