Hello to everyone, my name is Anastasios Katopodis and this is my friend and colleague Mayu. I’ll let him talk about himself but my love for games dates back to when I was a kid playingSierra’s adventure games and got an Atari console as a present from my dad. Between then and now I’ve done pretty much everything from localization to being a producer.Lately I work as a senior producer for Rovio Stars and do some external productions on the side. We are here today to talk to you a little bit about interesting thingswe’ve learned while working on Rovio Stars titles production wise.Let’s hit it off.
Alright, so your passion is games and you’ve decided that’s what you wanna do professionaly.First off congratulations for an awesome choice and secondly buckle-up it’s not easy.Luckily there’s enough good people out there like myself and Mayu that are more than willing to share their troubles so that you know where to start and what to avoid. So yeah, where to start....Play a lot of games, not only the ones you enjoy.
Don’t be an elitist, try evertything, try even games that are bad and spend time thinking how you could improve them given the timeKnow what is popular and try to understand what makes it soWhen you hear someone talk about a cool game or a horribly bad one, write it down fast and give it a go first chance you getRead articles about it, try to find figures and analytics and spend some time to understand the data you’ve collectedEven if you do not have access to all the fancy tools out there today, the internet is full of useful information and game related dataDo not only and always trust your personal judgementThat is the only way to come up with something unique
Also, do not try to re-invent the wheel but rather find where there is space for innovation in what you already know people likeDefine the parts of your game that will be important and prove their appeal at an early stageIn the age of excel game design, it is still important for gameplay and story to be engagingAsk your friends, mom or kids to try it out your core game and take their feedback seriously before you decide to move into the production stageWhen you’ve done all that, ask yourself about what you’re about to start...
Is the gameplay fun?Is the concept clear?Are the characters memorable?Is there any monetization potential?Is there a unique twist?If the answer to all or most of the above is yes, you will feel confident to move into production.
Aaaand you’re off.Like with everything else you do in yout life in an organized manner, start with a list.Here is my suggestion:Make sure you have the right people for the right job. You cant always find or afford super experienced people but having someone who hates F2P and has never played one such do your F2P design can be a bit of an issueThen before you even start coding or designing try creating a picture to convey your vision in a single image
Here’s the key artwork for the latest addition to the Angry Birds family, Angry Birds Go!For those of you who haven’t heard, it is right now in soft launch and it is pretty awesomeThe idea of Key Artwork is to capture a feeling you are aiming for and cannot necessarily put in wordsNow, I can possibly explain to you a bunch of things I like about Go! which are easy to convey using words, like UI, economy balance, art polish and so onBut the feeling I get by playing the actual tracks, I need this image to explain it to you
Alright, moving on, of course you need a preliminary list of what this game should include, something I like to call features list and then...
Service integrations!So many choices out there, ad networks, analytics, user aquisition, AB testing tools, sharing SDKs, you need to plan ahead what you find meaningful for your game. It takes time and you need to campare your choices against the technology you are using and the benefits you will be getting.Cut throught the sales pitches and decide based on your research what will suit your game best and once you’ve made up your mind...
Remember to do meaningful and unobtrusive integrations!Here are 2 examples:One on the right shows how messy and unatractive you can make your interface if you skip the planning bit. You need to look at game services as part of your game experience and integrate them in an unintrusive way. On the left you see what? Correct, an interstitial.Generally thay are a bad idea. No one likes to be interrupted.BUTWhat if you have a F2P game and this is a means of earning some coins?What if you tweak the frequency and offer something really awesome?Say you got an RPG and the interstitial is about discounts on a certain board-games brand?It’s all about planning!
Finally, Legal, platfroms and maybe a bit of scheduling.Check if your app name is available and has appeal, check which technology you will use and based on that which platforms you can target with little effort. Also remember to check you wont get sued for the Font you decided to use and that you’ve purchased the right license. And then you start.And do good work.And spend time.And get excited and then disappointed and then excited again.But before you go crazy... There comes Alpha.
Alpha is important in 2 ways in my opinion.You check your progressIf you are happy with your progress and do not need to take a few steps back, then it is time for a battle plan that’ll get you to the finish lineSo, what yt check?Does your game feel it has the monetization potential you hoped for?I wont dig deep into this one since I’ve got Mayu with me, I’ll let him do the monetization bitThen, check your first time use flow.Take your watch and set the stopwatch to 1min.Start fresh and see how far you got and how much you understand of your game.Then do the same but this time set the stopwatch to 2min. Running into trouble?Check your UI.
Alpha is a good time to look into what can be improved.On the left you see how the events screen of Angry Birds Go! Used to look like and on the right how it looks at the moment. If you think the one on the left looked alright, well then, better is good’s worst enemy!
Here is the level-end screen from the same game. One on the right is a festival of elements and an overload of information.One on the right is cool.Did you need in the first place ALL those friends there?Are you going to have this many friends while playing the game to begin with?
Finally it’s probably time to take a hard look at your backend if you think your game is going to be super successful and see how well it will behave and once more take a look at your schedule and modify it appropriately!
Alpha good?Good to go?Then you got Beta, Soft launch, release and support coming up and like the well organized lad you are, you should start thinking a bit harder on couple of more things.Reserve time for polish so you stand out from the sea of apps out thereMake sure you’re not going to miss important deadlines because you forgot localization and QAPlan a round of usability if you can set up one – the findings of other people trying out your baby are invaluable.Make sure you reserve time for soft launch, especially if you are F2PThink how you want to support your release and how much time it will take you to do itAnd last but not least, if it makes sense, plan couple of updates in advance, cause people just love more game than just a game
Finally, none of the above will be possible if the team is not happy and I hope this is not news to anyone!Once people connect then look for the following:Make sure people enjoy the project they’ll work on and choosing competencies is important for this to workIn your daily stand-ups make a habit out of thanking another team member for something they did for youyesterdayDon’t have design brainstorming sessions on top of a programmer’s head. Do not change the design while you implement. Respect each others hard work. If you are a programmer and need something specific from the artist of the team,make sure you explain what you need well enough so that the artist will not need to do things 100 times over.Don’t keep your troubles to yourself. People around you can help.Being an ass is the best way of demotivating everyone and eventually failingAlright, that was all from me. Time now for the hot topic of our times Mayu.
Feeling about freemiumHow does your team feel about it? What are their concerns?What are their biases or impressions?For example, some people may think that freemium games are designed to “rip off players” when really data paints a different picture
Survey done with 3000 people who have made purchases in freemium games
Knowledge about freemiumHow much do they know about ARM?If general knowledge low, invest in increasing it across the entire team (From QA to Executive Producers)Is there already someone in your team that could take on the role of an economy expert?Different way of thinkingBiggest challenge is to step into the mindset of the different types of freemium players (minnows, dolphins, whales)Often times developers find themselves having to develop a game that they wouldn’t necessarily play them selvesGenre competenciesWhat types of games is your team familiar with buildingNot all genres monetize equally (story driven f2p? Hasn’t been figures out. Card battlers? Very high ARPPU but low user numbers and high churn. Runners? High downloads but lower ARPPU)
Some people may think this is a big differenceHowever, not true, in fact IMO making a fun game is even more important in the freemium world
Others may think this is a big differenceAlso not true in my opinion, some of the motivations and implementations are different but not the concept of frictionJust because I can play a game for as long as I want doesn’t mean there is no frictionPremium games have friction in terms of increased difficulty, need to grind soft currency, etc (Example Vanilla WoW – why not start at Max level?, why does it take endless boss runs to get the item I want?)Freemium games have those as well the difference is that freemium games offer an option to remove friction via IAPs
Biggest difference is that in freemium you need to appeal to very different types of customersYour game needs to provide value for all players starting from free to whalesYou are able to and you should treat players differently depending on their needs and behaviorsAnd this is a big challengeYou need to find the very fine balance between providing enough free value that all players have fun for a very long time and provide enough incentives for some people to be willing to spend moneyRemember, your main goal should always to keep players engaged as long as possible
Ideally your game would have a perfect balance of these elements, however that is unrealisticWhen prioritizing, focus on Retention, Engagement, Ease of Entry and Social Layer
Look at the games that are doing well, analyze and learnBut, don’t just look at top grossing, those games are doing lots of things right and it doesn’t always pay off to try to emulate one of the top successesExample: Clash of Clans vs Samurai Siege(grossing #86, DL below 500), Marvel: War of Heroes vs Supreme Heroes (below 500 for grossing and DL)Games are more than the sum of their partsLook at the top download games as well- Check games with high downloads but low monetization: what could you do to improve on that concept?
Who?Once you figure out your audience it will inform many of your design & monetization decisionsGood example: CSR racingHow will you communicate?What systems do you have in place to inform players about special events, promotions, surveys, etcToolsHow will you gather data and segment your playersRegionsYou don’t have to launch everywhereIf you do, that doesn’t mean the game needs to be equal everywhere (pricing, content, etc adapted to regions)Who is actually playing:Use data to verify your educated guesses and adapt accordinglyWhat?What is your strategy for keeping the content fresh (special events, special store promotions, new content, etc)Custom contentOnce you have the tools to segment your players, you should think about how you want to treat players differently (we don’t have to treat all players equally like premium games have to)Specific regions- Localization, special content, special events during regional holidays, etc
- Free players can acquire users for you, can be a source of ad revenue, can provide an audience for spenders