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ContributionsPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Gamundo’s Club Galactik

March 20, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Gamundo is a cross-platform game development studio formed by veterans of multiple ‘traditional’ game studios from around the globe. The company is committed to creating high-quality next-generation, accessible and commercially successful games. Gamundo’s talented core team members have produced three titles together; including the highly recognized browser based social MMO Club Galactik. In this postmortem, Ilja Goossens from Gamundo shares with us the story of how the idea for Club Galactik came to be.

The initial idea behind Virtual Fairground, my first true gaming venture, was to build online games for kids aged 8 to 12 based on existing IP. In 2007, my business partner and I were involved with a ‘traditional’ game developer and an online community company. However, we noticed a shift from console- and client PC gaming towards browser-based gaming (remember: this was before the whole Facebook/social gaming hype and before the iPhone was released).

At the time, there were some online communities for kids and some virtual worlds (the most successful turned out to be Club Penguin, acquired by Disney for $750 million). In order to become a top 3 developer of these online worlds, we had to come up with a strategy that would give us a head start. We had several options; (a) having a huge marketing budget, (b) using an important publisher or (c) using existing intellectual property. We decided to go for the latter, since this would allow us to get a user base relatively quick and to monetize aggressively.

Identifying the property

We knew that the conversion from offline to online was huge in this target demographic

With kids entertainment you have two different target audiences: the kids (who play the game) and the parents (who pay for the game). When kids start playing our game, they will love it and want more. This is when they have to start paying for a subscription or virtual currency. Parents tend to pay more quickly when they know the brand themselves, or at least heard of it before. Go figure: would you buy a product of an existing brand, like Apple, or from a no-name tech company?

We set some criteria that the IP had to meet to be useful for our plans. A must-have was television exposure, because from our own experience we knew that the conversion from offline to online was huge in this target demographic. For example, a friend of mine is a games publisher in the ages 8 through 14 target demographic (he used to publish Runescape, amongst others) and he had a barter deal with multiple TV stations. They aired the commercials for the show and they got a share of the revenue instead. He used this as the main driver for the audience and they saw huge spikes of registrations during the TV campaigns.

The IP also had to have traction momentum in the main European countries and optionally the United States. The property needed to appeal to both boys and girls in the age group 8-12 and was preferably created by an established brand like Disney, Nickelodeon, etc.

Based on these criteria, we identified a handful of properties. We did so by attending a lot of shows and (licensing) fairs, like MIP in Cannes (a TV licensing fair), the New York Toy Fair, etc. We narrowed the selection down to the properties that had potential and we added 3 properties that were a bit off, because they were based on a book, toy line and a magazine.

Building a relationship

To make it a really good deal, we will pay for the development ourselves!

Now we had to get in touch with the IP owners and make sure we could secure the rights for the online game, meaning we had to start networking like crazy. We were a small startup, pre-funding, with just a good idea. Again, we started visiting fairs and shows and trying to get in touch with the right people. These were the owners of licenses such as the Smurfs, Donald Duck, Charly and the Chocolate Factory and Winx Club. These were IPs that everyone knew and had an established value. Our pitch: we can contribute to the success of your IP, we will drive traffic to the offline components of the product and we will create an additional revenue stream. And to make it a really good deal, we will pay for the development ourselves!

Once we established a relationship with the IP owner, we could start negotiating the deal terms. Back in 2007 and early 2008, online game were not that hot yet. But we wanted to be able to build our own product, not just build what the IP owner wanted. This is why we did not continue the Disney deal (we were quite far in the process already).

Building a relationship with the IP owner is the most important there is

There is a funny story related to the Disney deal though. We knew the online director from Disney; he was located in Burbank, CA. We told him we were ‘in the neighborhood’, but we were not even in the US. After making an appointment for a casual chat and a cup of coffee, we booked a plane ticket from Amsterdam to Los Angeles and flew in just to meet with him. Building a relationship with the IP owner is the most important there is. If they have the idea that you know what you are talking about and can deliver quality, that will be so much more valuable than a bag of money. A brand like Disney cannot afford a mistake, a bad product or complaining customers. They fully need to believe that you can deliver what you promise.

In the end, a company like Disney has many, many rules and regulations for the IP, so in the end it felt more like we would be doing work-for-hire that we had to pay for ourselves, instead of building our own product.

We had some great ideas for potentially successful properties. After negotiating with the owners of IPs like The Smurfs, Charly and the Chocolate Factory and Donald Duck we settled with Alphanim. Our job was to create an online game based on Galactik Football. The show was a hugely popular cartoon series on Jetix, aired in almost entire Europe. At that point in time, two seasons had been aired and season three was in development. Besides, the show was about football and the World Cup of Football was coming up. Our timing couldn’t have been better.

Club Galactik

Negotiating the deal

To close the deal regarding Galactik Football, we had to negotiate the terms. Of course, this is a very complex and lengthy process that needs professional guidance. We decided to hire an attorney that was specialized in intellectual property, so he could support us to get the best deal and warn us for the pitfalls. There are two main points to discuss: financials and content. The financial part is about (upfront) minimum guarantees, revenue share, and marketing- and development budget. This is a necessity, but can be pretty straightforward. The discussion about the content is a whole different aspect, here you have to convince the IP owner that you will do justice to their product, create length, create an additional value and can deliver a game with the same quality and look and feel as the original product.

During these negotiations, we established a very good relationship with the IP owner. Regular visits to each other’s offices and meetings with the marketing, creative and development teams were an important part of the process.

The concept for Club Galactik

Club Galactik 2

The initial concept was to create an online game with lots of real-world extensions and a presence in the TV series. We would create a training school for talents and call it Club Galactik. To create the feeling that all players were also part of the TV show, we had written a story line in the script that contained the school. Now every player of the game immediately became part of the TV series. Together with the creators of the cartoon, we designed a logo, characters and a space ship that were used both in the series as well in the online game.

Alphanim would produce a trading card game, convince the broadcasting stations to implement the game into their websites, organize real life events and create connected merchandize. This way we would be responsible for the online product, and Alphanim would take care of the physical products and the marketing and distribution. Unfortunately for all parties, it didn’t become the success we all hoped for…

We depended heavily on the conversion from offline (TV) to online. Unfortunately, Disney acquired Jetix just before we released the game and decided to cancel the show because this was a third party production. (They rebranded the channel to DisneyXD and only programmed their own productions.) The IP was not strong enough to kickstart the distribution of the game, but we still had to pay a yearly licensing fee, so we decided to cancel the game even before the full version went live.

To see what projects Gamundo’s currently working on and what other games they’ve done in the past, have a look at their website.

ContributionsPostmortem

The Global Game Jam and beyond: Pulse (2009)

December 13, 2012 — by Mariia Lototska

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The Global Game Jam and beyond series sheds light on the few brave Global Game Jam (GGJ) teams that have decided to take their GGJ projects to the next level and continue development after those challenging 48 hours. We ask each team to tell about their experiences, share learned lessons and offer advise on their attempt to turn their Global Game Jam project into a full fledged commercial product.

Pulse was made during the first ever edition of the Global Game Jam in 2009 and was the result of a highly collaborative effort of a bunch of the enthusiastic Dutch ‘Team Alfa’ during the very first edition of the Global Game Jam in 2009. The game ended up becoming the very first game in the history of the Global Game Jam to receive a publishing deal. The original Global Game Jam version looked like this:

The Pulse team won third prize at their GGJ site in Hilversum, the Netherlands and received a publishing deal with the Dutch game studio Virtual Fairground shortly after. It was launched in the Apple Appstore in March, 2010 as Pulse: The Game a year later as a promotional game for the popular Dutch DJ Ferry Corsten, who also produced an exclusive soundtrack for the game. The game received rather good scores on various popular mobile game websites, including TouchGen (3.5/5) , Pocketgamer (7/10) and many others.

The final iOS version featured above was released in March 2010 after being completed by Dutch game developer Rough Cooky, famous for their famous iOS game Star Defense.

It also forced us to make some solid agreements because not all of our original team members would put in an equal amount of work in the future development.

What triggered your initial consideration that your game was worth to continue development?
From the very moment we decided on the game’s concept during the first hour of the jam, it felt like we we’re working on something valuable. Our team was radiating with energy as each of us produced our separate parts. When everything comes together like that it just feels right. We won the popular vote through our site’s Audience award, so we knew there was an audience. Also the Dutch game studio Virtual Fairground was one of the judges and was interested in further development of the game. It was super exciting, but it also forced us to make some solid agreements because not all of our original team members would put in an equal amount of work in the future development. We solved that problem with a one contract between all the original team members and another one between us and Virtual Fairground.

What do you believe was the main element of your game that allowed it to be commercially viable?
It was a game focused on experiencing dance music in an interactive fashion. It was one of the first of its kind and super casual with its one button controls. The way the audio works together with the rather trippy and colorful visuals instantly gave it that special look. We had some pumping beats and vivid colors going on from the very start, creating an experience that would make you bang your head without a doubt. A lot of people also liked the GGJ version because it was co-op, but we made sure to make the single player experience on mobile as fun as possible when we developed it for Virtual Fairground.

One of many pieces of concept art team member Samar Louwe drew after the Global Game Jam to further flesh out the game’s visual style.

How did you manage the step to go commercial in your team?
We decided to split the IP right evenly over the team members. So if there was going to be any revenue it would be divided accordingly. A few team members where hired by Virtual Fairground to work on the game at their offices. I was responsible for initial project planning before it was gradually passed on to Rough Cookie.

What were the three most important experiences/learned lessons and/or challenges that you had while further developing your game?
1. It’s hard for people to make a switch between the GGJ-mindset and a commercial mindset. It was the first commercial project for many of the team members to work on from start to finish. A lot more stuff comes at you and if you don’t have the experience to turn your prototype into a product or the proper guidance from senior developers, prepare to learn a lot of new things.
2. Good ideas depend on a lot of factors to turn into good products.
3. We were funded with €10.000 euros to turn the original GGJ version into an extended version, but that wasn’t enough to finish it completely with just a part of our original team. Virtual Fairground ended up deciding to pass on the development of Pulse to another Dutch game studio, who eventually made the iOS version. In hindsight, we could’ve made the game for mobile ourselves, if only we had more time and funds to do so without the involvement of another party. Then again, we all had responsibilities at college, a job or a company to worry about outside of our team effort for Pulse, making the further development quite tricky.

Our team was completely exhausted at the end of the Jam, but the vibe after finishing version of Pulse and the excitement of showing it kept us psyched until the very end of the jam!
Our team was completely exhausted at the end of the Jam, but the awesome team vibe after finishing Pulse and the excitement of showing it kept us psyched until the very end of the jam!

In your case, what did you learn from getting the game out to the public?

Assumption is the mother of all great screw-ups, they say. And it’s true.

A lot of things came up, but if it comes to releasing a mobile game, especially now more than ever, good marketing really makes a difference. In our case, the marketing done for the game wasn’t optimal and Ferry Corsten’s fans apparently didn’t all own an iPhone as we hoped. As for getting the game ready for the public, testing remains the most important part of development. It’s always a scary moment to show your game to new players, but you want to do this as much as possible before getting your game out.

What kind of tips would you give to other GGJ participants who might decide to continue developing their 2013 project?
1. Make sure to have a solid agreement in place with all your team members before continuing to commercialize your GGJ game, so everyone knows what to expect from each other.
2. How will you fund your game development? Free time just doesn’t cut it. You need a better plan, divide the responsibilities among your team and find more support to further develop your ideas into a real product.
3. Do you have enough skill and knowledge in your team? Just having a game designer and programmer isn’t enough. Bringing a game to the market also requires product management and a ton of PR & marketing. Prepare for it to be quite the learning experience.
4. Make good decision tools. Or find someone to advise you, like a game studio or experienced game developer.
5. Try to keep your team small. Don’t involve too many extra people in the development process.
6. Don’t create too many features. Remember how you made this game at the GGJ in the first place!
7. Try to finish your game quickly. Promote it as much as possible and put it out there. If it’s successful, you can go on building all the features you wanted to in the beginning and introduce them with updates.
8. Make very nice graphics. High polished graphics are a must to stand out in the oversaturated mobile and tablet markets of today.
9. Playtest a lot. Every build, every prototype, you should play test on at least a few people. It speeds up your process, and makes it easier to make decisions.
10. Recognize assumptions. Assumption is the mother of all great screw-ups, they say. And it’s true. If you ‘think’ something will be great, or won’t be very hard, chances are reality proves you wrong. Be honest about what is unknown and unproven.

Pulse: The Game sadly is no longer available for download after Virtual Fairground closed down in 2011.

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