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.”
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”.
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.
“Make your game easy to play, but hard to master”, explained Mike Swanson during his session at Casual Connect Europe 2015. He shared his experiences with the audience in managing game production and designs while striving to appeal to different player types on Age of Empires Online and the upcoming Game of Thrones from Bigpoint Entertainment. Ease of entry (also known as the funnel) is intrinsic in hooking a player. He states, “Keeping this funnel really crisp coming in is key. It doesn’t matter how big the game is”.
Animoca Brands‘ CEO, Robby Yung, shared his thoughts on leveraging brands in mobile games in his session at Casual Connect Europe 2015. One of the key challenges in his job is to keep brands at the table. “We try really to maintain close personal relationships with the people,” Robby says, “so that they are aware of our schedules, pipeline, and products. The better informed they are, the less likely they will be to look around to better opportunities”.