Eforb was founded almost two years ago and started as a small team… Today there are around 50 people on board including freelancers.
Everyone recalls the time when Eforb just appeared in the world with smiles on their faces. What made them a self-sufficient startup with a clear vision of the roadmap and the products that they’re proud of? The team’s product manager Nika Paramonova shares the story of their new and cute game Let The Cat In, that turned into a social action project.
Eforb was founded almost two years ago and started as a small team… Today there are around 50 people on board including freelancers.
“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.
Childhood Studio was started in September of 2012. Their core members used to work for the same employer, but that development house ceased its operation back in July of 2012. Sharing the same creative vision, they decided to form their own studio to carry on their passion for games. Childhood Studio’s CEO Believe Liu shares the story of Sliding Angel.
The explosion of indie gaming in the past decade has not only allowed for smaller companies to enter the gaming market, it has allowed for people from various background and unique games to have a place. One such person and game is Erin Robinson and her game, Gravity Ghost. To learn more about Gravity Ghost, Gamesauce has talked to Erin Robinson about her background and developing games.
From Researcher to Game Developer – Leaving the Academy for Games
“If you want to get fans and create fans from your players, its about treating them like a fan,” Morgan Hall summarized during a panel she moderated at Casual Connect USA 2014. “It is about being accountable to these people.”
Morgan Hall, co-founder and creative director at Vancouver-based mobile app studio, Hidden Door Interactive, has been involved with games since she was first introduced to them at the age of five on her father’s work computer running DOS. She believes this experience has shaped her social life, her hobbies, and her career.
While at university, she had an internship with Electronic Arts, and has been in the industry ever since. She considers herself fortunate, saying, “I am encouraged by the way it allows me to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities as well as remain in a constant state of learning. My favorite part of the industry is that it is never boring!”
Paying It Forward
Hall feels the greatest satisfaction in her work when she is able to pay it forward to others in the games industry. Her opportunity came when, on behalf of her company, she sponsored a women-in-games event in Vancouver.
With her partners, Hall founded Hidden Door Interactive to make their game, Happy Flock!. In the process, they discovered how well they worked together, and since they have enough ideas to last for a lifetime, they are on to their next project.
Hall is also a producer/designer at East Side Games, a mobile games studio in Vancouver. Prior to that, most of her experience had been with console games, starting with the internship at Electronic Arts. From these experiences, she has learned what it means to be a professional game developer and the amount of hard but rewarding work it takes to create ‘fun’.
For her own gaming, Hall is currently playing Tiny Town, saying she loves the art style and is intrigued by its design. Her first choice of platform is divided between her iPad and her 3DS. Besides these, she also owns Xbox 360, a Steam Box, and a PS3, and she plans to purchase a PS4 soon.
She appreciates both Android and iOS, enjoying the power of holding the internet in your hand that both offer. But for her work, she finds that iOS has the right combination for her team’s skill set, size, and budget. She stresses, “We’ve had nothing but good experiences developing for Apple’s platform.”
And when she is not spending her free time gaming, she loves skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and fishing and hiking in the summer.
A Fuzzy Future Ahead
When Hall considers the future of the games industry, she points out that it is particularly hard to predict. Today looks completely different from only two years ago. But she expects the current mobile-first trend will continue getting stronger, pointing out, “You can’t be successful without a first-class experience on a device you hold in your hand.” She also believes VR could be big if the technology improves, explaining that a device more like Google Glass than a fighter pilot’s helmet will be needed before VR can succeed.
She emphasizes that whether or not her predictions are correct, there is an important lesson in making them. “Thinking about the future teaches me to be nimble. We have to see the trends forming and respond to them, even if this means drastically changing plans. We’re in an industry where taking risks is a necessity.”
At Casual Connect USA, Hall announced the worldwide release of her game Happy Flock! It is an adventure and animal-collection game for all ages, available on iPhone and iPad. The game came about through a lot of hard work and long hours by the team at Hidden Door Interactive.
“Along with the in-app purchase benefits of minigames, there is a big retention component,” Ilya Nikolayev said during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “Essentially, you can use minigames to drive users back into your products.”
Ilya Nikolayev is the co-founder of both InAppFuel and Tapinator. InAppFuel is the minigame SDK for mobile developers, powering the casino layer for mobile developers. It allows developers to quickly integrate minigames that increase revenue and engagement, while working seamlessly with their existing virtual currency. At present, InAppFuel offers slots and scratch-off games since these are the best monetizing types, but a number of other minigames are in the works. Nikolayev founded this company about a year ago. The need he saw for minigames as a developer himself inspired him to create a product to help other developers increase IAP revenue and retention.
Tapinator was created in 2013 to take advantage of the opportunity in mobile games. They are focused on operating their own titles, publishing properties where they have substantial ownership positions and making strategic investments in promising mobile companies. They have quickly become a leader in the mobile game industry, with more than 40 mobile titles and over 20 million users.
Nikolayev became involved in the application industry when he launched Family Tree in 2007, when Facebook first launched its platform. One of the greatest moments in his career was seeing this application reach 45 million users. But when he saw the transition from Facebook applications to mobile apps, he was inspired to join the games industry. Watching someone pick up a product he has designed or built is what gives him the most happiness in his work.
The games industry is fast-paced and fast changing, a situation that offers plenty of opportunity. If he were not finding these opportunities with games, he would still be building a tech startup in a different space.
He believes the industry will soon see increasing prominence of IAP and the need to improve retention. Their goal with their minigames is to help developers with both these challenges.
When Nikolayev is not involved with work, he enjoys a variety of activities, including auto racing, billiards, tennis, mountain biking, and gaming.
Currently, he is playing Balance of the Shaolin and Impossible Road on his iPad. He has been an iOS user since the first iPhone, and finds the platform, overall, more polished than Android. He plays everywhere, even in a race car at Watkins Glen, although he admits they were moving slowly at the time.
He also plays on consoles, owning both PS3 and PS4, because he enjoys racing simulators. He hopes to set up a racing rig soon.
At Casual Connect USA, Nikolayev announced that InAppFuel’s Unity plugin is now available on Prime31.
“Humans are storytelling creatures and we all seek to amuse ourselves through the means of stories,” says Himanshu Kapoor during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “They are a great form of entertainment, and they have the ability to resolve anxiety or tension by making use of invoking emotions. They have the ability to inspire us, it can heal us, and it can transform our thinking.”
Himanshu Kapoor, a game developer at Fleon Labs, has become so busy that free time is something he can only dream about. Usually, he spends any extra time thinking about new game ideas and refining the ones he already has. And free time is not the only thing he dreams of; he claims some of his best ideas have come to him in dreams.
Call Me A Dreamer
So perhaps it is not surprising that he describes himself as a dreamer. In fact, one of his most ambitious game ideas is called “Dream”. He calls it an abstract experimental thought with a simple premise: “What if dreams and reality switch places? What you thought was real suddenly becomes a dream, and your dreams become a reality.” And sometime in the future, he would like to execute it.
Kapoor started in the games industry in 2009 when he made his first flash game and submitted it to Flash Game License for sponsorship. He was very excited to find himself actually making money doing what he loves the most. He says, “The best part about making games is the feeling you get when you see someone playing your game and it evokes emotions in them based on the content in your game. It’s a feeling that can’t be put into words.”
At this point, Kapoor works part-time developing games and does not yet have a company set up; his full-time job is Front End Engineer at Wingify, the makers of Visual Website Optimizer. He feels working at this startup and facing challenging programming tasks every day, even though they are not directly gaming related, has given him valuable experience.
For his own gaming, Kapoor is currently playing Pokemon X. His preferred platform is Nintendo 3DS; he owns two of them. So he hasn’t invested in either Xbox One or PS4 because he is such a Nintendo fan.
In the race between iOS and Android, Kapoor comes out strongly in favor of iOS. He notes that, although Android has sold more devices, the number of paid apps and paying customers is higher on iOS. He has also found that the best and most creative games are iOS only or are launched on iOS long before they are available on Android. His best experiences have definitely been on iOS.
A New Reality Ahead
Kapoor believes the next big trend coming in the games industry will be virtual reality, especially since Oculus VR has been acquired by Facebook. He says, “I’m very interested in discovering how this will turn out.”
When he takes time away from developing and thinking about games, he writes random thoughts on his blog. And because he appreciates the language and culture of Japan, he spends time teaching himself Japanese.
He tells us the proudest moment of his career is presenting at Casual Connect Asia, addressing an international conference for the first time.
Incuvo is a game development startup created in 2012 by Wojciech Borczyk and Jakub Duda. Previously, they bootstrapped an indie gaming startup and successfully exited to lead a large console development studio for a major Polish publisher. However, they decided to get back to their roots and start something completely new. Jakub shared the story about its flagship project, Createrria.
It’s Always Been Games
I knew who I wanted to be in life when I was ten. This decision came shortly after I got my first 8-bit computer and started playing games. I didn’t have this “firefighter or policeman” dilemma. I wanted to create games – these magical windows leading into different realms. Their creators were giants to me. But at that time, I couldn’t fulfill my dream. Something scary, called 6502 assembler language, stood between me and my desire to create games. I eventually learned BASIC language, dropped the game developer idea for some time, and returned to it a few years later, sometime around 2004.
When we were looking for a new idea, I discovered that Wojciech and I share the same childhood experience: fascination with early computer games and frustration with the development learning curve. At the same time, we started looking at the rising popularity of tablets and amazing possibilities of touch interfaces. That decided us. We wanted to bring the fun of game creation to millions of mobile players who have no time or desire to learn game programming and master all the other skill necessary to create a game now. They could already create great photos, music, and even shape virtual pottery on tablets, but mobiles were still missing a great game creation app.
Thus, Createrria was born.
We wanted Createrria to be an easy-to-use, fun, no-skills-required game creation app for mobiles. From the beginning, we wanted it to be 2D experience designed for touch screens, not controller/mice/keyboard input. Also, it needed to be social – everything created should be instantly shareable with friends.
When we started Incuvo, everything was new: the company, the office (We worked without walls during the first week), the team (with some long time friends who decided to share this adventure with us), the platform (we were purely consoles in the past), the engine, and even the genre. The first few weeks were crazy. Things took shape slowly. We started with a cross-platform engine evaluation (Unity3D won!), then started working on a playable prototype. This prototype was to determine if our idea was at all achievable. We were afraid of ending up with something overly complex and hard to use, just another developer tool masked as a user app. Fights over game details went on for hours and were fierce. Then we started having our first moments of triumph (“The physics engine is working!”) and despair (“it crashes every ten seconds!”). But finally, our first tech demo appeared. With four graphic themes, several different gameplay types, initial cloud sharing (added as a last-minute hack), and early iOS and Android support. The biggest success was a lack of an external game editor. We initially planned it as a support for an in-app editor – but first attempts were successful enough that we could drop this idea entirely and design everything inside our app. This was a breakthrough and our first milestone.
Createrria was growing fast. Still accompanied by fierce and passionate fights over every feature, we iterated over every single thing. Long live agile development! The biggest challenges proved to be character design and cloud backend. The first challenge was strictly a design one. How could we create likeable, customizable and universal characters, also meant to be used as avatars, without copying existing games? We went through dozens of options, ranging from hamsters running in balls (easy to animate) to fully customizable avatars with exchangeable mustaches. Eventually, we managed to work out our own recognizable style: humanoid avatars, with detached limbs, based on one shape, but extremely customizable. Yes, we love them, and yes, we want to have more. Luckily, one of the cool things about mobile games is the easiness of updates – we can always add exchangeable mustaches later.
F2P or not F2P?
Free to play seems to be a very controversial topic these days. For most developers, free-to-play means robbery. Is it really that bad? Of course not! Createrria is a pure free-to-play game designed in our way: “Game first, money second.” Don’t blame the sales model – blame those developers who abuse it. We believe that well-balanced free-to-play games may bring pure joy to the players and pay our bills by the end of the day. Still, I sometimes feel like a dinosaur when I look at how much the business model has changed since we developed our first console titles.
The Journey Ends
Createrria‘s development was a long journey and great adventure for us. Now it is ready! It will be released for iOS in the second half of October 2013, with Android following shortly afterwards. We hope you will share the fun and adventure with us – playing the games we created with it and creating new ones we could never have imagined.
Find out more information about Createrria on Facebook!
Winning Blimp specializes in science-fiction themed games with a 16-bit era flavor. Based in both Osaka, Japan and Florida, USA, Winning Blimp was founded in 2012 and is headed by Bear Trickey, a former game designer from Kyoto-based studio Q-Games, and Alex May, a multi-discipline graphic artist and musician. Alex May tells the story of Mosaique, a cerebral puzzle game.
The Birth Of The Blimp
Mosaique was a critical project for us as a team, as its development runs parallel with the formation of our company and solidified an excellent collaborative relationship between us as developers. Despite Mosaique being our second title, it was actually the first game prototype that we worked on together. Bear had been toying with a simple mechanic that involved a shooting device that traveled around a spline and shot projectiles at various obstacles, somewhat like an orthographic Tempest.
Bear was working with an old iPod Touch at the time and was having difficulty with the layout logistics of the smaller screen. It just wasn’t possible to get both controls and captivating level design into that small screen area. He decided to shift the concept from an action game to something more cerebral, his hope being that the puzzle genre might accommodate the limited screen area better. This resulted in the next prototype; the shooting device was now rotating around a square grid and the objective was to shoot objects in the middle with a limited number of shots.
This was the first prototype that Bear showed me, and incidentally the catalyst for the beginning of our relationship. Like many other game companies, it all started with a “Hey, could you help me out with some graphics for this?” The Blimp was born.
Without any concrete ideas for the context, we just threw together a quick placeholder virus-buster type setting where you control some kind of TRON-like unit zapping viruses on a grid. Highly unoriginal, but as Bear says, sometimes it pays to just jump first and think next. We coined the name “VRAXIS”, which was a mash-up of “Virtual” and “Axis”. I knocked up some quick graphics to get some momentum going.
For about two months, we wrestled with this idea, but it was like a greasy pig, constantly slipping from our grasp. After numerous iterations, we just couldn’t seem to find a good direction to take “VRAXIS”. Bear experimented with ideas involving disappearing and reappearing targets as well as a few other quirky twists, but in the end, we concluded it was all just feeling too ordinary. Who knew that Blimp cockpits had shelves that were so handy for storing sad, failed prototypes.
From The Ashes Of A Brick-Breaker
One day during a session working on “VRAXIS”, a frustrated and distracted Bear was struck with an idea for an action game that was a mixture of Pong and Breakout: a dual-paddled brick-breaker game that was played on a vertically scrolling play field. Bear showed me a loose prototype, and we both agreed that this idea had the potential to become something great. Our first pivot ensued (airships can turn really quickly when they need to, you know). For whatever reason, ideas came fast, and before we knew it we were releasing our first ever title: Ambi-ON.
Ambi-ON was less than successful. We had produced a game that looked good enough, had a killer soundtrack, and played well, but due to a few key shortcomings in the game design, too little effort put into marketing, a lack of practical experience with freemium models, and perhaps just a general lack of attention for the entire brick-breaker genre itself, Ambi-ON simply failed to secure any lasting attention.
This was the birth of Mosaique. Frustrated that our beloved Ambi-ON failed to garner any popularity, we wanted to seek revenge on the entire industry and create Ambi-ON‘s exact mirror image; an “anti-Ambi-ON” if you will. Where Ambi-ON was a dark action game with a particularly sadistic tone (it even has an “Ultimate Pain Mode,” as well as a cyborg that pops up to insult you and all humankind at Game Over), it was only fitting that Ambi-ON‘s opposite should be something that was serene, calm and light. We concluded that with some judicious massaging, “VRAXIS” had the potential to become this. Back onto the workbench it came.
Our Music-First Approach
For no particular reason, during Ambi-ON‘s development, I actually created the music first. As it turned out, doing it that way served us very well. We found that using music as a guide to keeping the various elements of the game consistent was actually extremely effective. Compared to post-it notes on a whiteboard or concept art, music has a far stronger capability to evoke emotion, and it’s that emotion that can be used as a compass to guide the design of a gaming experience. In addition, centering a game around the music also makes the planning and tweaking of game pace and momentum very easy. To fit with the profile of being Ambi-ON‘s opposite, I created a 10 minute long semi-ambient electronica track in 5/4, aiming for a peaceful, sophisticated and also accessible feel. This would become the spine of the game.
Bear started to work through ideas for puzzle mechanics that were more relaxing and fitting with the music. A game that came to his mind was one of his old SNES favorites Zoop, which had a great colour-matching mechanic, but was time-based and very stressful. He injected that Zoop colour-matching mechanic into “VRAXIS”, but left out the other white-knuckle aspects of the system. Our game was to have no time limit and very little pressure put on the player, but still needed some way to get a Game Over. We resurrected the original limited shot count idea from “VRAXIS”, and added it as a gauge style shot counter.
In line with the music, the mantra was “sophisticated yet accessible”. Puzzle games are all too often totally abstract (with good reason, in most cases), so to retain some sense of accessibility, we decided to ground the visual interface firmly in reality. This called for a design that resembled an actual hardware device instead of a software interface. The idea was that you would hold in your hand an actual functioning puzzle game, not a mobile phone running puzzle game software. This was the result:
Further tweaks were made to the colour scheme to pull it closer to the music’s slight tinge of sadness and melancholy. And finally, the name “VRAXIS” had to go. It was an awkward remnant of the old setting. We decided on the name Mosaique, intentionally choosing the French spelling for no other reason than it feeling more sophisticated to us (you guessed it, neither of us speak French) without seeming inaccessible or foreign.
The core mechanic to the game was completed, the music was done and the interface was in place. Unfortunately it was at this late stage that we realized this game would be a great experience once, but didn’t inspire much incentive for replay. Bear then had the idea of introducing a mechanism that would encourage the player to play the game every consecutive day for bonuses. As the game was completable in 10-minutes (to match the length of the soundtrack), this was the perfect complement. The short game length would impart little burden on the player’s daily schedule, and directly giving them incentive to play just a bit every day would keep them coming back.
Again, as a reaction to our inability to create a successful freemium game in Ambi-ON, Mosaique was to be proudly premium. 99¢ would buy you the entire experience. No limitations, no wallet-fondling, just good old fashioned value for money.
Mosaique Takes Flight
The release of Mosaique went extremely well. It was featured on a number of high profile sites (including Gamespot, C-NET, Joystiq, Gamezebo, and Touch Arcade), and also had a consecutive run of three weeks on or near the top of Apple’s App Store (New & Noteworthy, What’s Hot and Popular Puzzlers). Also, this:
Yes, that is Mosaique in Craig Federighi‘s demo of iOS7 during the Apple’s 2013 WWDC Keynote. Of course, an accolade like this does not lead to much in the way of downloads (who would see that screen and then go and buy the apps on it?!), but it certainly was a thrill for us and makes for a great story.
The 99¢ price point has meant that Mosaique hasn’t been hugely profitable, although it has successfully recouped all of our marketing costs. Regardless, we are simply happy to have achieved some modest success with a “proudly premium” game in the casual puzzler genre; a genre that is so saturated with high quality freemium alternatives. It’s also been a deeply gratifying experience having some degree of popularity for something we created together. It showed us that there is merit in the process we followed, and also great potential for the future of our creative relationship.
Patience is a Virtue
There was one interesting road bump in our development process for Mosaique: when you follow a process that involves a rough playable prototype that is eventually refined with finalized graphics, do not lock down the graphics too early. If there is any additional work required on the prototype to improve user experience, game features or replayability, by adding final graphics too soon, all you are doing is creating inflexibility and possibly reluctance to consider all options.
The visual and interactive elements of Mosaique were all fully formed at the time we realised the game needed more replay incentive. Had the game still been in a light, flexible and adaptable prototype stage, I’m sure that there would have been potential for a far greater range of solutions to the problem of replayability, and also greater freedom for brainstorming.
So for our future games, we intend to try and complete a fully encapsulated prototype prior to adding any finalised graphics. Hopefully this way, all the core elements of the game will be more visible without the distraction of pretty graphics, and drastic changes can be more efficiently applied if necessary.
Winning Blimp is gravitating towards platforms that are conducive to more interactive bandwidth and extended play sessions. They are always looking to connect with players, developers, and artists, so feel free to get in touch through Facebook or Twitter.