At the recent event in Singapore, Casual Connect Asia 2015, Yiwei P’ng reflected on the whirlwind of events that led to how Tiny Guardians came to be. There were things that went right and some things that went wrong. “It’s actually quite scary when you prototype something to be fun, and it turns out not to be fun.”
Marketing professionals participating in Casual Connect this year will be well aware that Asia is a giant in the gaming industry and provides many opportunities for effective campaigns in a wide variety of gaming spheres. Due to a long-standing ban on consoles in China (which was lifted last year), the market for PC games in Asia is enormous and mobile gaming is experiencing significant growth yearly. But did you know that, in the meantime, blogging is becoming a phenomenon of epic proportions in the same region? It’s time to take advantage! BlogsRelease co-founder Dani Finkelstein and community director Sophie Kouropatov explain how.
Blogging for All
Consider these amazing statistics: While 77 percent of online users worldwide visit blogs, almost half of all online users in Asia have a blog.
Nearly 60 percent of those users are under the age of 25 – a key demographic for gaming marketers. Blogging is becoming a permanent part of everyday life in countries like Japan, Korea, and India. Just like with social media, blogging platforms offer incredible opportunities for marketers and advertisers.
The Numbers Have It
With such large numbers setting up campaigns can be a trying endeavour. However, by identifying key blogger influencers, marketers can have instant access to thousands of relevant customers. In the United States alone, 61% of customers have made a purchase based on a blog post. One post by an influential blogger, if shared and promoted correctly, can turn into a whole campaign in itself.
For example, just 50 bloggers were approached for L’Oréal’s Miss Manga Mascara blogger outreach campaign. Within a week 200 content items were created (including blog posts, videos, and shares) and over 120, 000 unique views were logged after L’Oréal uploaded a request for product reviews on BlogsRelease, a platform where brands can connect with bloggers. Other big brands like Wendy’s and Ford are also taking advantage of the blogger market with successful campaigns.
Of course, trying to manually single out popular influencers among millions of blogs on vast platforms like Sina, Baidu, and Ameba is more than a little unrealistic. First of all, with every campaign, consider what kind of blogger would be interested. If you’re promoting a new game for PC, it would be more effective to target bloggers who focus on PC gaming. Sometimes niche bloggers can do much more for your product than even journalists, because they are willing to give you more coverage and their audience is part of the exact target market you want to access. Two ways to ensure this is to approach bloggers with products to review and invitations to events. This is why marketers are increasingly turning to tools like BlogsRelease, where brands can post news, product review requests, and event invitations to bloggers, in order to quickly find and reach out to influencers with relevant interests in their desired locations.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify ignoring the Asian blogging community. With the amount of gamers and bloggers in Asia, the intersection of these interests has resulted in a significant number of influential gaming blogs (such as Indian Video Gamer, KotakGame, and GameSaku, which was recently acquired by Tech in Asia). What are your favorite gaming blogs in Asia? Let us know in the comments!
Looking to reach out to gaming and tech bloggers? As proud media partners of Casual Connect, BlogsRelease is offering all participants the chance to share a free press release with thousands of bloggers around the world. For more details, click here.
As a part of their session at Casual Connect Europe 2015, Aurora Klaeboe Berg and Fredrik Fors Hansen spoke about their success Fun Run. Fredrik discussed and broke down the game design decisions behind the hit game Fun Run and requirements for the successful sequel. He explains the most important aspect of Fun Run: “The introduction of multi-player to Fun Run is of immense importance. It adds the valuable outcome, it adds the intense races, you never get bored from it, you get constant challenges, you can strive to hit the leader boards, [and] you you can have the most important of it all – the social aspect, combined with competition”.
It started as market research, turned into group therapy but, in the end, Unsung Heroes became something extraordinary. Spil Games‘ CEO Tung Nguyen-Khac shares the story of how the Unsung Heroes campaign exposed major fault lines in how developers are tackling mobile.
We were batting around ideas about what to do at our booth at Casual Connect Amsterdam when we got to talking about how many great games there are that never seem to make it in the App Store or on Google Play. There is something about how people focus on the top-rated games that stops them from noticing other games that, actually, might be more interesting to play.
Hernan Lopez of Epic Llama said it best about the launch of his game Big Bang Dust: “Releasing a game is like throwing a stone in a lake. It sinks to the bottom.”
And so we decided to make this the focus of an event at Casual Connect which was the start of a campaign we call Unsung Heroes.
Developers Speak Out
Hernan was one of five developers involved in our Unsung Heroes event at Casual Connect. These were all people with great games who had struggled to get an audience. We asked the developers to pitch their games. At the least, this would increase their exposure. But it also helped us understand where these games were going wrong and it allowed us to highlight the problems mobile developers have in getting people to play their games.
It used to be that simple. But on mobile, Benoît’s monetisation strategy didn’t work and by the time he changed it to something better, his game already had reviews and it was too late to change people’s minds.
“You have to find the right publisher,” Benoît told us (we hope he had Spil Games in mind). “A bigger publisher is better. Mine was too tiny and my game ended up in the black hole”.
The Black Hole
This phrase “the black hole of the app store” is becoming common currency among developers. It neatly sums up their experience. They put a lot of passion and resource into creating a game and then it seems to be sucked away, out of their control and into oblivion.
“All Android versions are different,” he explained. “Some phones don’t have enough memory [to play Royal Offense, and those people downrated the game. You have to be prepared with the tech stuff.”
Shailesh ported the game from PC to mobile where the fact people are more likely to be permanently signed in to Twitter makes the game work better. We asked him why the mobile version hadn’t been more successful. His answer was frank. “I don’t know. Users like the game. We have great reviews. But we struggle to get people to play it and we struggle to get people to buy things in the game.”
Mobile Developer Frustration
His frustration is felt by many other game developers. For Neil Lai, the problem is understanding European and American audiences when you’re based in Asia.
“We don’t have the resources to take on the whole world,” he said. “I’m a hardcore gamer. I do it for the love of building games. But understanding what Europeans think about; what Americans like… that’s the hardest part for us.”
The idea of Unsung Heroes is to share knowledge about mobile game development. So here is what we learned at the Casual Connect event:
1. Creating a great mobile game is the easy part. Finding people to play it and pay for it can be baffling and frustrating.
2. Partnerships matter. You have to be working with the best people to help you build an audience for your game.
3. The technology matters too and your monetization strategy is crucial. But you have to get both right from the launch date so that early reviews don’t sink your game.
4. Understanding cultural and language differences around the world can help you reach a much wider audience. It’s crazy to limit yourself to your own country.
5. The way you market your game is vitally important. It’s no good throwing a stone in a lake — it will just sink. To attract attention in the app stores, you need to make an enormous splash.
Where Unsung Heroes Goes Next
It’s all very well complaining about how tough it is for games in the app store. We thought we’d take Unsung Heroes a stage further and do something about that. Our aim is to get people to play a broader range of great games.
So we’ve launched the Unsung Heroes Competition. We’re asking developers to submit mobile games which haven’t reached their potential in the app stores. We’ll promote the best of those ggames to users. The great thing is that, even before we get to a prize, everyone wins. Developers see the games receive a broader exposure and users get to play some awesome games they may not have otherwise discovered.
We’ll be making sure we take consumers’ views into account in deciding an overall winner. That developer will receive a publishing contract with Spil Games worth $50,000 (subject to terms and conditions).
The Unsung Heroes campaign is beginning to get a head of steam. It started so well at Casual Connect, we’re already planning more initiatives and events to highlight awesome games that deserve to be played.
Hernan Lopez recalls: “We know our game is great — it won awards. It did great on the web. But no one played it on mobile. Even I forgot that I’d made the game.”
We want to make that kind of experience a thing of the past. With Unsung Heroes, we want to change mobile development so great games get the chance they deserve.
For more information on the Unsung Heroes Competition visit its page.
Dmitry Terekhin’s presentation at Connect Europe 2015 was chock-full of advice on how to navigate the constant changes in the mobile gaming market. In an industry with constantly evolving trends, Dmitry advises that “if you see any trends in the market, you should be fast to stick to those trends and to make it a part of your strategy”.
Who among us actually remembers what a VHS is or what it was like to use one? At Casual Connect Europe 2015 Danial Karimimanjili and Florien Anthierens gave us a sneak peak at of the game Replay – VHS Is Not Dead. Danial reflected, “We looked for inspiration in different games and movies such as Be Kind Rewind and The Lost Vikings”. This small team started to work with Neko Entertainment for guidance which made a student project into a professional one.
It is the year 2015 and some may be wondering: Where is my hoverboard? In his session entitled “Back to the Future! Gaming Startups Then and Now”, Valdimir Funtikov reflected on the fact that the future is different than we may have expected, but it is still exciting. Join him as he takes a look back at his startup days and examines what it would be like to do it all again in 2015. “If I were creating a startup today, I would still choose to produce mobile games”, Vladimir Funtikov revealed at the Casual Connect Europe 2015 conference in Amsterdam.
In his session at Casual Connect Europe 2015, Fabian Ahmadi explored the opportunities for app developers in the hardcore PC market. Fabian explained, “It’s a very fast growing market and it’s the early days for the apps in the hardcore gaming space. It would be very cool if I could raise some awareness that this market exists. It’s definitely only going to get bigger from where we are today”.
As big gamedev events are becoming quite rare in Kyiv, Ukraine, game developers themselves are organizing informal gatherings to still share experience and discuss their ongoing and/or fresh games. As for gamejams, Ukrainian devs have already got the taste of these, and just-for-fun projects become award-winning hits — think of Party Hard, for instance, who won the Critics’ Choice award at Casual Connect Europe 2015 Indie Showcase.
So the CEO of a Kyiv-based studio of Gestalt Games, Andriy Tykhonchuk, and his wife Olena decided to organize a 48-hours gamedev challenge of INDIE|48 that took place in April 2015 at the G13 project studio.
“I came up with this idea after seeing a YouTube video of some Scandinavian devs doing something similar. I felt like participating in an event of this type too! But accidentally did too much and organized one. Why 48 hours? I think it’s standard time for this type of events. You cannot do much in one day, and 3 days is a lot”, Andriy explains.
Of course he did some research before organizing INDIE|48, and discovered that no one in Ukraine is really doing this exact type of hackathon events, focused entirely on games. However, there are IT competitions like, for example, the Golden Byte contest, where there is a games nomination.
While Andriy carried the burden of all organizational work, his wife Olena helped a lot during the event itself. “We were doing this for the first time. We’re actually just a small indie company of 5 people”, he shares. “The hardest part was to find sponsors. Things are tight with this in our country.”
Nevertheless, Unity Technologies and the “Liberation” NGO agreed to support the event for aspiring developers for this first time. “I really want to believe that INDIE|48 will become a tradition and gain support of big companies. While we’ll go on developing the indie gamedev hangout”, Andriy adds.
Crocodile, Sleep, Sport
The task was to create a playable game within the 48-hours timeframe. No pre-made assets were allowed, except for sound — but this meant the team could not qualify for the Best Sound nomination.
Crocodile, Sleep, Sport — these were the keywords chosen by the judges, Tatem Games‘ CEO Igor Karev and Alexander Shtachenko from iLogos. The keywords needed to be incorporated in the game in whatever way the devs considered appropriate.
Day 1: Survivability Test
From the initial 19 teams who wanted to participate, 14 had actually arrived, and only 13 survived till Day 3. Most participants were from Kyiv, though some have made a long way from other Ukrainian cities specifically for the gamejam.
Andriy reminded the rules, announced the keywords — and started the countdown! The teams, who were at first sitting at their tables like good schoolchildren at their first lesson, start brainstorming and sketching stuff, gradually moving to all coziest corners of the studio. The best time to walk around and just peek over the shoulder and overhear bits of creative discussions!
This first stage seemed the most tense, since the keywords weren’t the easiest ones to implement and not all teams were happy with this choice.
The myth of game developers being “night owls” operating on buckets of coffee and energy drinks has been partly busted at INDIE|48. Surpsingly many teams chose the option of sleep over an allnighter. Nevertheless, those who felt better working at night were free to do so — a gamejam is not an army, so there were no limitations on sleep/work schedules. By nap time most of the teams already came up with some intriguing sketches — that, however, did not reveal their ideas completely.
Day 2: Implementation
Day 2 has been about pure work: initial ideas have been shaped, and needed to be brought to life. By this time the teams had already communicated with each other for a while, and chats became more frequent. The coffee machine-and-cookies area became the space of networking and sharing overall impressions. For some people the gamejam happened to be a test for balancing work and hobbies: one of the devs admitted that “7 days a week making games feels like too much”. What is more, for some participants INDIE|48 was the first time of dealing with games. In one of the teams the programmer was there for the sake of challenging himself in a gamejam, and he brought friends just to keep company — and one of the guys happened to be skilled in writing music and therefore useful.
Day 3: The Variety of crocodiles, sports and dreams
On Day 3 you could already see drafts turning into actual games: the art became distinctive, and one could try to follow gameplay if they were shameless enough to peek over the devs’ shoulders for long.
As opposed to the popular belief that in Slavic countries 90% of work is done in the last 10% of time, there was no panic or rush even in the last minutes of the 48-hours gamemaking challenge.
The crocodile happened to be the antagonist in the majority of the games, though some teams gave the reptile a chance to be the hero and not the villain.
The Empairish team presented a game called Of Crocs And Humans, where you play as an ex-sportsman with the hobby of collecting crocodiles’ eggs. Not an easy task, considering that sleepy female crocodiles attack the sportsman if he gets too noisy at night.
They said – There Is No Team Name, and just called their team this way. And named their creation Yellow Bed: crocodiles here are haunting people in their sleep, and need to be destroyed with a saw. When the sleeper, that is — the player, loses the battle, everything ends with a yellow bed. Does this need an explanation why? 😀
Finally, the poor crocodiles got some positive exposure! In Revolution Fist’s project CrocoRun a circus-show crocodile trained as a sportsman wants to escape. He gets this chance when the handler falls asleep, but then luck gets bad: the human wakes up while the crocodile tries to snatch the key. Playing as the crocodile, you need to chase the handler, and bite him 3 times to win the game.
The creation of ZdarovaBanditu, with cute pixel graphics and made with GameMaker, was presented as The Bed. In this game the protagonist falls asleep in his room, and in a dream a witch asks him to help her get home, because a creepy creature gets in her way. Defeating it, you get the boxing gloves, that you’ll need to fight the final boss — a boxing crocodile.
During the presentation part of the gamejam, Andriy Tykhonchuk asked the audience to choose their favorite by applauding, the one who gets the loudest support wins. But since this small gamedev hangout turned out to be supportive towards each other, and no one was left without their dose of appreciation, it wasn’t an easy task for Andriy and judges from Tatem Games and iLogos to define who got most. Eventually, the People’s Choice award was given to the Renegades team, the authors of Joe vs Crocodiles. Here you act as Joe the baseball player who needs to get home and save his sleeping son from crocodiles, since the kid is afraid of them. The fighting happens during a baseball match — shoot crocodiles with balls or just smash with the bat.
The Renegades team welcomed one of the members right there at INDIE|48, and managed to make a game playable on iPad, and anyone from the audience could try it on the tablet.
A company of university friends who names themselves AnyKey used the keywords in BloodyBet – in some country people enjoy betting on others who dare to walk on swamps around sleeping crocodiles. In this game you only see the protagonist’s two legs, and it is them you control, each one separately. Just don’t make waves — they wake the crocodiles up, and you end as their food. If you don’t — you get a drink as a reward for an accomplished level, and move on to the next one. Surprise! The drink makes your legs shaky, and the challenge gets harder.
And these guys, the organizers say, could have won, but forgot to add sound. Anyway, the Best Gameplay and Best Idea awards went home with the Two Squares & Triangle team for CROCODIE. These devs said that their primary purpose at the gamejam was to create something fun. Their game of the “survival crocodile boating” genre, as they called it, features an abstract country’s national sport of crocodile-back riding. The animals need to eat in order not to fall asleep. They consume fish as they move along the river, and the “jockey” can knock flying birds down — and feed them to their crocodile as well. CROCODIE can be played both as single- and multiplayer: one gamer controls the “jockey”, the other one plays for the crocodile.
The Garinich Game team came all the way from the city of Cherkasy. They say there was only one person actually working on the game, while the other two were there just to make a team of three. Despite not having an artist and Unity crashing halfway the event, the guys decided to “make at least something”, which was presented as Disco Amazonka: an endless timekiller game with a catchy electronic tune, where you need to move a canoe carefully between some sleeping crocodiles.
The Best Idea winners, Rebel Dev Team, discovered their coolest artist wasn’t old enough to participate in INDIE|48 (all participants needed to be at least 18), so the art for their game Z.O.Z.H was made by another team member. And again, the crocodiles got some positive features here, These guys created a trippy world of drinkers and drug addicts, one of which is hanging upside down.
This is all a dream of a crocodile who wants to bring some sport to this crazy place. You can get help from a fat fairy who, as the authors say, obviously loves sports. Items are collected throughout the game, and in the end are used to assemble a device to escape the dream. As for the genre, the game is a platformer, but the world around you spins, adding some more physical challenge.
“A mix of all that can be played in one’s free time” was how WeAreGroot defined the genre of their game Y.A.I.G 48, which is a dream of a sleeping fat crocodile who wants to become fit. He walks around a dark gym trying to steal weight plates from barbels to bring home and work out there, and fights enemies trying to stop him.
Tap The Sheep game doesn’t have any reference to crocs, sleep or sport in the title, but the authors, a 3-programmers team of Drunk Elephant Games, proved this impression wrong! Their game is for people who need to calm down and fall asleep. Control the four legs of a crocodile heading towards his bed, and count sheep on your way. Better slowly, since the faster you walk, the more you wake up, while you shouldn’t.
As well as you shouldn’t reach the bed: you need to be already asleep by this time. The developers said that for the crocodile they used inverse kinematics, not just animation. The game has no music, but the presentation was accompanied by the developers’ singing a popular lullaby from a kids’ TV show.
And Steel Midnight Finish chose Python to make the game of Caligo (“mist” in Latin), instead of the initially planned C++ that they eventually considered too complicated. The story is about a boy tortured by nightmares. His dad gives him a toy crocodile to scare bad things away in the realm of dreams. In addition to an uncommon programming decision, the game art isn’t traditionally cartoonish and bright, but on the contrary, gives some ambient and, as the devs explain, a surreal feel.
Cool Art + Catchy Sound = Winner
And the winner is… Diversido, a team from Kyiv with their game BillaBong, where you play as an aborigine kid trying to walk on a swamp not to wake up sleeping crocodiles. They became the absolute winners of the gamejam, also getting the awards for Best Art and Best Sound.
Diversido’s product manager and developer Valerii Minenko created a catchy tune that the main character whistles as she walks among the reptiles: after the team presented their game, you could hear guys whistling that same tune for a while. Valerii shares more about BillaBong.
“You cannot do many things with a sleeping someone. We found just one – wake them up!”
“Every game is a combination of mechanics and setting, it’s a world where the player needs to do something. My formula of a good game is that gameplay and setting should perfectly fit each other. If we create a game about crocodiles — the player must not ask himself why it is exactly crocodiles but not puppies or, for example, Gummi Bears”, Valerii explains.
Since the keywords were “crocodile”, “sleep” and “sport”, Valerii and his colleague Anya started brainstorming around the idea of sleeping crocodiles and tried to make them an essential part of the gameplay. “You cannot do many things with a sleeping someone. We found just one – wake them up!”, he comments. This became the base of the gameplay — the crocodiles sleep and somebody wakes them up.
“We focused on creating a small but complete project. We didn’t develop much of functionality, but tried to keep the quality of our work perfect. Also, we tried to add to the project not only basic gameplay, but necessary supporting functionality as well – like UI and sounds”.
“I think the biggest challenge was to plan our work in a way that if someone had a look at it, he wouldn’t feel like something is missing. I hope we managed this.”
The Diversido team were using Unity 5, since this is what they work with on a daily basis in their company of Diversido Mobile. Valerii adds that they still haven’t made many projects with the freshest version of Unity, so were also interested in playing with the new engine features.
For their team the gamejam turned out an excellent teambuilding opportunity: much better than investigating bars together, Valerii says. “I feel that we have become closer during the event. Hope this will be useful for our future work. Also I now know what our performance is when we are working with passion. It is very high!”
Diversido haven’t yet decided what to do with the BillaBong game project conceived at INDIE|48. Valerii shared that they’re currently preparing a few projects for release and would rather focus on that. Nevertheless, BillaBong has been added to their website, and they show it to all their friends.
In his session at Casual Connect Europe 2015, Pavel Carpov shared Spooky House Studios‘ experience in designing and developing small games and then bringing them to the top of the AppStore’s charts. One of his favorite practices in development is when they have idea meetings. “It is a weekly meeting of all the team to share their ideas for the new games and also a way for all of the team to participate in game design. You cannot opt out of it. Those with no ideas will be punished”, explained Pavel.