Most entrepreneurs see the process of selling their company as a “black box”, and as a result are not ready for what will likely to be the most important business deal of their life. This can be disastrous rather than an opportunity. In Daniel Bernstein’s talk at Casual Connect USA, the focus is on de-mystifying the M&A process. As the vice president at Corum Group, Daniel demonstrates how important it is to be ready, “Get your projections ready. What does that mean: [have] three years historic and three years future . . . Really build out bottom up projections of what your business is going to look like when you actually fully execute on it”. Daniel broke down eight steps to follow in this process, whether you plan to sell or not in his session How to Sell Your Company.
What do you do when you have a new company but little success? You shift gears. At Casual Connect USA, George Zaloom, led a candid and fun conversation with the CEO of China’s leading social casino gaming studio, Le Xu. After experiencing little success in casual games six years ago, Le started to search for something his new company Topgame could do that would keep them in business. In his search, Le Xu discovered casino games. He played many games, a lot successful and some not so successful. With each one, he asked himself what made made it so they were or were not successful? “Each game had a special thing, [for one] you need to love your game”, he explains. From there, he was able to see the good in each game and make it better in his own work.
By Liam Callahan, Director, Games Industry Analyst at The NPD Group
With more than 1.2 million apps in the Apple App Store, it’s increasingly difficult for new games to attract attention, let alone encourage downloads. Today, it’s more important than ever to hone in on audience behavior to better drive marketing strategy. NPD Group’s Checkout Tracking offers three ways to help game developers and marketers boost brand loyalty and remain competitive in this crowded space.
“Amateur – a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional. First things first. Let’s start with who I am, to provide enough background for what is to follow”, says Mariusz Szypura, the creative director of the Telehorse studio, as he shares the story of Steampunker.
“What do you do?” I have always found this question a bit awkward, as I could never answer it in a way that would put all the puzzle pieces together. Rather, I would give a half-truth that best fit a given situation. Actually I’m a would-be architect, who dropped out of university having started recording albums. Yet I never became a professional musician. I have worked as a graphic designer and creative director. Not to mention dabbling in computer programming. That is why it’s so tough for me to give a straightforward answer.
It all started with music. I had recorded an album with my band called Happy Pills and someone had to design the artwork for the cover. Then I made another cover for a couple of friends, some gig posters and T-shirts. This landed me at a job at an advertising agency. Over a few years I progressed from just a designer student side-kick to the position of a creative director. My portfolio includes almost 100 album covers as well as countless graphics and advertising campaigns. Music has become an after-hours pastime. And, since I’m known as a workaholic, this pastime consumed all the time that others were spending partying, sleeping or any other ways. Eventually I’ve managed to release 15 albums with various bands, compose original scores for two movies and produce records and songs for other bands.
I also tried my hand at computer programming – I began developing iOS apps. And then it struck me! I could finally pull all my skills together and make a game! So I did: came up with a concept, designed it, drew it, programmed it, provided sound effects and composed the soundtrack. After a year of hard work my game was finished. I called it Steampunker.
Now, after this short background, are you really surprised that the reviewers and prize judges offer critical acclaim mainly to the artwork and music?
But developing Steampunker was not easy at first…
photoshop skills helped make art easier
I enjoy drawing but always lack time to do it. When I began working on the game, I wanted to draw it from scratch. Though I soon realized that if I did so, I’d finish the initial stage in about 3 years. I had to come up with something that would enable me to create the art, while still leaving time for programming, music and concept work. I planned to start off with very general sketches and develop more detailed ones later on.
I decided to create the dominant artwork in a way that may seem difficult at the first glance: I put together photo collages and turned them into something completely different in Photoshop, as a background. Then, based on these collages, I used a tablet to draw the boards. Over many years of work as a graphic designer I have mastered Photoshop as my main tool, so working on the graphics proved easier than it seemed. Whereas Vincent and the robots are made and animated in 3D, I think it is a nice combination of 2D and 3D techniques.
A Record You’re Listening To As You Play
I really wanted the music to be different to what can be heard in all other games. I thought of it as of a record you listen to while playing the game, which perfectly matches what is happening on the screen. I had plenty of sketches available for the new album of my Silver Rocket project, so I selected those fitting the ambience of Steampunker and wrote a few new tracks. The soundtrack was to reflect my personal style and in no way those trends currently in vogue in the gaming world.
Programming: in need of something visual
I chose Unity as the tool to make my game. Why? It’s probably obvious to all gamedev experts, but it was not so for me at that time.
Before that my programming experience had been limited to Basic and, subsequently, when I entered the realm of the interactive, I first worked in Macromedia Director, and then in Flash… With the advent of iPhones I developed a few apps in Objective-C.
Problems arose as soon as I decided to make a game. Not an app, but a real game. I simply could not imagine writing it line by line. This was not an option with my limited programming expertise. I definitely needed something visual. First I came across GameSalad and started to develop my prototype there. Although I was happy with the visuals, I quickly reached its limits when it comes to usefulness in my game. I also became briefly interested in Cocos2d and GameMaker, but it was Unity that hit the nail on the head. I could finally see what I was doing and the capabilities were virtually unlimited. Despite it took me too long to figure out what was going on in the code you got referred back to after a while, another invaluable discovery came with the Playmaker plugin! I am a graphic designer, a visual learner, and it is so much easier for me to work when I see what is connected and why.
The highly developed Unity forum has proved itself really useful. I was able to find solutions to all the problems that I faced during development. Another tool streamlining work in Unity is the assets store. And here comes the dilemma: should I develop the game all by myself, but for a longer time, or is it better to spend some money on ready-to-use solutions? There have been moments when I chose the latter. Mainly because of the fact that being the solo developer of the game there was no one to delegate part of the work to. On top of that, I am a passionate advocate of reaching your goals quickly and effectively, rather that savouring the path to the very end.
With a little help from friends
When I finished the game I thought I would need a bit of help to showcase it to the world at large. Jacek, my fellow Happy Pills band member since 1993, took it upon himself to deal with all marketing activities. Domaradzki brothers, famous for their Witcher posters, created beautiful artwork for Steampunker. Gabz, one of the brothers, used to be my co-worker in an advertising agency. Other Steampunker posters were designed by Piotr Ruszkowski, the co-developer of Tormentum, as well as Dawid Ryski.
When I realized I actually created a complete, functional game, I started submitting it for various competitions and showcases. Some of the events where Steampunker was showcased are Casual Connect Indie Prize, Tokyo Game Show, Digital Dragons and Poznan Game Arena. And all of a sudden the game met with favourable reception, winning critical acclaim, awards and nominations. Whereas I, travelling to all those locations and meeting game developers, sellers and players, suddenly saw all the shortcomings of my game. What was even worse, I realized how little I knew of the business side of things. I simply made a game I liked, without thinking of gamers, business models or ideas of monetization. It seemed terrible – I published a premium game, while everyone else went for free-to-play. On the other hand, I felt the same way as in the 1990s, when I released my records without any calculations, through my own independent record label. Had I treated my game development as pure business, it would have been an absolute fuck-up. Whereas now I feel it’s a perfect springboard for my next game.
Being a passionate gamer, Mariusz recalls Steampunker’s development process as an exciting game as well, “A strategic adventure, where you need to plan everything with limited resources (1 hominid). Next, you have to solve innumerable logical puzzles without losing sight of your main objective. A million decisions has to be made that will affect how the game turns out. Eventually, you reach your goal and complete the game… or rather, both games.” He admits that you soon start missing that initial excitement, and have no other choice than start making a new game!
Steampunker is currently available for iOS and Android mobile devices. And Mariusz is quite busy at the moment. New features will be added to Steampunker soon. He is also working on a new game called Steamville ,showcased at Indie Prize USA, and hopes to finish it in Q4 2015. And on August 7th
he released a new EP with Happy Pills.
Faced with low production budgets and tight deadlines, many mobile game developers often devote their scarce cash resources on marketing/discovery — but little or nothing on protecting their app from malware, IP theft and other security threats. But ironically, marketing a game actually helps make it even more vulnerable to hacking, because if it grows in popularity, hackers are much more likely to identify the game as a good candidate for exploitation. This puts mobile game developers in a Catch-22 position: If their game doesn’t earn much money or downloads, it’s relatively safe from security breaches — but when it is successful, it becomes a target for malicious attacks which can undercut any revenue the game might have earned. DFC Intelligence founder and CEO David Cole explains more.
This is not just a problem for low-budget indie developers, by the way — colleagues in the mobile security industry tell me that they regularly encounter obvious security vulnerabilities in apps from major publishers and top tech companies.
In any case, the stakes have never been higher. Revenue from iOS and Android games is expected to reach $20 billion in 2015. DFC Intelligence forecasts that the mobile game industry could equal the revenue generated in PC and console games within 3 years. However, few mobile users actually pay for games. As discussed in our interview with Peter Dille of Tapjoy, advertising is becoming an increasing source of revenue for mobile games. Unfortunately, advertising can create even more opportunities for hackers.
To help developers better understand the security matrix they’re facing, here are some key points to understand:
The App Stores Are Not 100% Safe – Not Even Apple’s App Store
Thanks to Apple’s stellar reputation and the company’s rigorous app review process, many developers assume that their games are quite safe from tampering on the App Store. However, as security expert and SEWORKS CEO Min Pyo-Hong has written, iOS apps aren’t secure, with Apple’s review system a major vulnerability: “Unless a reviewer has infinite time to research every single app that has ever been submitted and published,” as he puts it, “it’s simply impossible to catch and filter out copycat apps… this process [also] misses a lot of hacked or cracked apps — a serious security liability for users, and a grave economic blow to honest app developers.” (DFC profiled Min last April.)
Security concerns are even greater on the Android platform, as most developers know, and existing solutions, even from Google, are far from perfect. Google Play does have a server-side malware scanner that reviews apps in Google’s store and third party stores. However, as Min recently told me, it is still far from thorough: “In repeated tests,” he said, “we have found that [Google Play’s scanner] doesn’t thoroughly block malicious apps. A few have been able to slip through the cracks, and malware developers can sometimes upload corrupted apps faster than Google can block them.”
Which takes me to our next point:
App Vulnerabilities Are Rampant
With app stores so insecure, it’s no surprise that the most successful apps (even from major publishers) face near constant attack: Gartner Research estimates 75% of mobile apps fail basic security tests; according to security firm Arxan, 100% of top paid Android apps and 73% of free Android apps have been hacked. (iOS fares only somewhat better, with 56% of top paid iOS apps and 53% of free iOS apps targets successfully hacked.) Among the most rampant exploits is decompiling the mobile app to reverse engineer and extract the source code, then using the source code to produce copycat apps — commonly known as app piracy or app cloning.
Mobile Game IP Theft Isn’t An Asia-Only Problem
Another common misunderstanding among many developers is that game piracy is an “only in Asia” issue. And while it’s true that China and other major Asian markets must contend with a disproportionate threat level, it’s a mistake to think these problems will stay in Asia.
Mary Min, head of business development at SEWORKS (my fellow panelist at Casual Connect 2015’s session on this topic), recently explained it this way: “The first game to a new territory, copycat or not — becomes that territory’s ‘official’ version of a game. The trouble is, most games are usually first released to a limited number of countries.” Because of this, a copycat version of a Western game often gets launched in Asia months before the developer has the time to localize and launch the original title in that market. By then, however the copycat may have already become extremely popular and earned a lot of revenue. So ironically, the late-to-market official game not only misses out on making that money, but is sometimes accused of being a pirated game!
Free and Financially Scalable Security Solutions Exist
The good news is there are a number of reliable and relatively economical security solutions on the market, many of which developers can implement with just a nominal amount of extra work or additional costs. Google offers a free obfuscator/packer for Android games, which most developers can install in a matter of hours; real time verifications, which shield against IAP fraud, also take a few hours or days to implement at most. (Read Mary Min’s break-down of vulnerabilities and their solutions here.) For added security, developers should strongly consider third party security solutions, including mobile vulnerability analysis services (NowSecure, VeraCode, etc.), DexGuard, the paid version of Google’s free obfuscator/packer, or SEWORKS’ cloud-based SAAS. Whatever your choice, an investment in security is no longer a “nice to have” feature, but a basic cost of being in the mobile game business.
What impact can a business executive have on entertainment? If that executive is Michael Eisner, the answer is decades of industry domination and dozens of iconic pop culture properties. Gamesauce interviewed Michael, the founder of Tornante Company and the principal owner of Topps, prior to his keynote at Casual Connect on topics ranging from the importance of partnership to his strange strategy of extracting game-changing ideas with long, grueling meetings.
If you’re feeling bereft that E3 came and went, don’t worry, as the Casual Connect conference will take place in San Francisco on 11-13 August with even more exciting gaming news, panels, and lectures. Casual Connect is dedicated to supporting game developers, particularly in the indie field, to foster new talent and titles that push gaming forward with innovative ideas.
As any gaming enthusiast will tell you, a big part of gaming culture is blogging. Developers and marketers are discovering the power of the blogger review and are reaching out to bloggers who are consistently producing quality articles and reviews for their audience. Rotem Dahan & Dani Finkelstein from BlogsRelease have explored just a few notable influencers in the indie gaming world.
News, reviews, features, regular updates, what’s not to like? The site is very user-friendly and has several features that set it apart from the others. Crowdfunding Weekly, for example, is dedicated to showcasing the developers currently looking to fund their games through platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Spotlight Post: In A Brief Overview of the Indie Comedy Game, Contributing Editor Erin Hyles takes us through some notable joke and comedy game titles and why they’re popular.
Indie Gamer Chick
Brutally honest reviews and opinions of a large variety of games on different consoles. The posts are long, in-depth and well-written.
Spotlight Post: One of the most recent posts, Shenmue’s III’s Pitch Just Plain Sucks is a great example of Indie Gamer Chick’s entertaining, pull-no-punches style.
Indie Game Enthusiast
Short, concise, and organized, Indie Game Enthusiast is a great blog to consult when looking for a quick game review.
Spotlight Post: PC Review #116: Subnautica showcases the straightforward style of this blog, with all the information you need to know about the game.
Alpha Beta Gamer
This is a blog for fans of indie indie, including alpha, beta, and student games. Who knows, you might just discover the next Super Mario.
Spotlight Post: Sam – Beta Demo gives a short description of an interactive comic game in beta.
A blog covering not just indie games but the indie cultures that comes along with them, including comics, films, and more. Boasts a great design and a lot of quality content for indie gamers.
Spotlight Post: Not strictly gaming, Let’s Talk Open Source – The Future of Technology, takes a macro approach and discusses where we’re headed with technology.
Work in Beta
Another blog on games in beta, with a particular focus on developers, including interviews and podcasts.
Spotlight Post: Actually a spotlight podcast – check it out here: BetaCast: Episode 47 – It’s nothing like candy crush.
Are you interested in promoting your game with bloggers? Join BlogsRelease – the #1 PR marketplace where brands connect with influencers by uploading blogger review campaigns for products, events, and news.
Did we miss your favorite blog? Lets us know in the comments!
Casual Connect returns to the US on August 11th-13th in San Francisco. Featuring dozens of leading speakers from the world of mobile gaming, it’s not surprising that the schedule reveals a number of interesting themes attendees should anticipate. To help you know which trends you can’t miss, here’s our roundup of three major themes likely to dominate the conversation.
Gamers and game developers can seem like they’re on different planets. Developers wonder why deserving games don’t get noticed. Gamers wonder why popular features don’t make it into many of the games they play.
Publisher Spil Games is looking for a solution. At Casual Connect USA in San Francisco, they’re hosting a roundtable discussion between a mobile games player, a developer and a publisher to help suss out what gamers want and what makes a game successful. The discussion is part of the publisher’s Unsung Heroes campaign, which includes a already-underway competition for indie games. More than 300 games were entered, and the winner, which will be announced in September, will receive a publishing deal worth $50,000.
As a mobile game developer, you want to create the best game possible. You have most likely thought long and hard about gameplay and story — two of the most important aspects of a successful game. And the established story likely influenced the art style you chose to fit the world you are creating.
Often forgotten at the development stage, but equally important, is to consider the best way to generate revenue from your hard work. The mobile game market is crowded to say the least, and that’s why effective monetization is so essential for success. Games represent almost 22% of the total number of apps in the Apple Store — every month more than 12,000 new games are submitted. The mobile games revenue global market is also estimated to reach 30 billion USD this year, representing 30% of the total games market. Despite the competition, revenue generated from mobile games lead when looking at app revenue.