Seven Summits Studio is an award-winning independent game development company based out of Hyderabad, India. The studio was founded in 2013 by a group of passionate individuals who strive to create impactful experiences through video games.
Petite is an ambient experience that narrates a woman’s story while focusing on key incidents that happen in her life. Every level is a new situation, and each memory you unlock is a unique one, depending on the emotions you choose.
In recent years DFC Intelligence has focused on segmenting the diverse base of game consumer types. The most important trend that is emerging in the game market is the growth of consumers that play on multiple platforms. For example, almost all console players also play on PC to some extent. Increasingly both console and PC gamers are playing on mobile devices.
The following interview is provided by TechnologyAdvice, an Inc. 5000 company that connects buyers and sellers of business technology through meaningful relationships.
Gil Shoham, CEO of mobile advertising technology platform Supersonic, spoke with TechnologyAdvice host Clark Buckner about their recent Series B Funding, current trends in the mobile advertising space, and the role of big data.
Talk about doing a 360. When Traplight Games started in 2010, they began by publishing their own in-house game The Hero. However, after that, they quickly turned into a full-time work-for-hire enterprise — working on projects for companies such as Redlynx, Supercell, and Tuokio.
Girls and Warplanes (Russian – Храброе Звено) is the 8th project of the Minsk-based studio of Neskinsoft. It all started from a small experiment in the genre of action. Even though the company has got some experience of creating dynamic games for the midcore audience, they admit they still have room for improvement. Their previous title, Беги, Вова, Беги (Run, Vova, Run) has been praised by the players, but, despite thousands of positive reviews, in terms of monetization the product was far from even covering the development expenses. “In order not to fall into the same trap again, we decided to take a sneak peek on the solutions of more successful colleagues from the Asian market”, Sergei Neskin, the CEO and co-founderof Neskinsoft explains.
During her session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014, Martine Spaans shared facts to understanding a female audience. One such fact was “female gamers spend more time and money than males,” she says.
Martine Spaans had been working with FGL Mobile Services from the beginning eight years, then as a client, building a great deal of trust and mutual understanding with them. She was immediately intrigued when they explained their new mobile service model and announced that they were now looking to develop a working relationship with some trusted publishers. Her intrigue and interest was the impetuous that culminated in founding Tamalaki Publishing. She has been working exclusively with FGL ever since.
The division of responsibilities in this relationship has FGL handling QA testing and the integration of their services, while Spaans manages communications with the developers. Together, they analyze how a game can be improved, how the monetization strategy can be optimized, and what theme and model would be most advantageous for future projects. She uses her experience in online and mobile marketing to help optimize the advertising revenue.
Working Together in the Industry
The satisfaction of working in the games industry for Spaans comes through seeing how the fun of their products is reflecting in the people working on them, as well as through working with development teams who are so eager to learn.
Spaans sees everyone in the games industry facing the same challenges: how to get a game discovered, how to break the circle of the self-fulfilling Top Games prophecy, how to compete with big marketing budgets, and how to monetize and retain players. Essentially, the problem lies in the nature of the App Stores and the expectations we have raised within our own audience.
She decided her response to these challenges would be to focus on a niche market. Tamalaki publishes exclusively for the 30+ female demographic, mainly hidden object games, with some match-3 or time management content for variety. They ensure their games will get traction by cross-promoting and building audience loyalty through using all the tools FGL provides.
Vastly Changing Landscape
As Spaans looks toward the future of the games industry, she is keeping her eyes open to be ready to try new ideas. She notes that the industry has become very dependent on the hardware we create for. But in five years, the mobile landscape could well look completely different. Perhaps VR, Smart Glasses, or smart watches will have taken off to become a mainstream gaming medium. She says, “I’d love to imagine someone playing a hidden object game through augmented reality glasses, wherever they are.”
Her own gaming these days is generally done on her iPhone or Nexus 7 tablet since she is so frequently traveling. Her PS3 console is now neglected and gathering dust along with a complete collection of Ubisoft Games. She is a huge fan of Tamalaki’s hidden object games, but currently she is also enjoying Ruzzle Adventure, and occasionally, for a complete change of pace, she plays Critical Strike Portable.
In her free time, Spaans is a car enthusiast who enjoys relaxing in her garage, tinkering away with her cars or motorcycle. Her most prized possession is her 1974 Aston Martin V8.
George Erkhan is the creative director of HeroCraft, a Russian video game developer and publisher. With more than 150 games of a variety of genres, HeroCraft’s primary focus is strategy games, with notable releases including Strategy & Tactics series, Majesty Mobile, and more recently: Warhammer® 40,000®: Space Wolf.
Erkan’s career began eight years ago as part of the HeroCraft team. While he had no relevant experience, he dove right in as the sole game designer in what was then a small studio. With dreams of bringing ‘real’ PC hardcore games to mobile, HeroCraft began by making java games with 100kb jar. When reminiscing about growing up alongside HeroCraft, Erkhan shared, “the company increased rapidly, a game design department was established and I headed it”. As the lead of a few teams (including HeroCraft Donetsk), each of his teams are collaborating on RPG and mid-core titles. As creative director, Erkhan is in charge of monetization, statistics, and game design.
For Erkhan, working in the gaming industry enables him to pursue many different interests. As priorities and interests change, there is a fluidity in the games industry that allows one to shift with ease while still staying in business. While this flexibility is available in other professions, the “endless evolution and changeover of your own work-flow and occupations could be considered the coolest stuff of our profession”.
Erkhan has quite the collection of interests; his favorite past times are not limited to gaming and game design. Erkhan has a deep love of literature. He sees literature as not only a hobby but also a “lifestyle or the main affair”. Right now, he is concentrating on writing short horror novels. “This genre allows to flay the armor skin of routine and to show the essence of a human being, their secret emotions, all that is hidden most of the time,” he says.
Other interests include culture and history of the ancient world, especially Sumer and Mesopotamia. As the “cradle of the modern civilization”, he is the most intrigued by the region. “It’s a pity that unstable political situation in this region makes impossible any trips there,” he says. Erkhan has delved into various types of martial arts, including Russian Sambo, BARS, Aikido, Kudo, and Kyokushan Karate, plays soccer (European football) at work every week, and is a huge supporter of the London Chelsea and the Spartak Moscow Clubs.
Lastly, Erkhan is a MTG (Magic the Gathering) player, referring to it as a genius card game. In many ways, playing it gives him new insights as a professional game developer. The competition of it give him great joy and sparks some creativity, too.
Overcoming the Challenges
So what makes Erkhan proud? “The evaluation of my work by usual players who say their thanks on Google Play and Appstore . . . all our work is totally senseless without users who love our games”. He is proud to admit that all the work of putting together a game is worthless without the players acknowledgment and happiness in the end product. That knowledge helps him stay at it and overcome the challenges he encounters at work.
While George feels we can collectively cope with challenges facing the gaming industry, such as discovering, optimization in stores, and player acquisition, the biggest challenge is a strategic one which could only be solved by the efforts of the entire industry. He calls it the “Struggle for Recognition”. This struggle embodies the need to recognize games as ranking in importance alongside movies and music. Games are not harmful. Games make us happy and enrich our lives. It is all of our jobs to explain, this not just to the geeks, freaks, and teens, but to society.
Mobile Games and the Future of the Industry
Erkhan’s primary platform for his own game play is on the iPad. Currently, he is playing an original battler from Nival: Etherlords. “It was interesting to me to examine how this old-school brand will be revived in a modern mobile F2P reality. In spite of having nothing in common with its progenitor, this game is Nival’s new successful step within the genre”. He hopes that many developers will follow Nival’s lead shortly.
Big trends within the next three to five years in the industry will be fueled by the next wave of tablets and smartphones. Portable gadgets are the future and George says they “will require their own gamepads and bring to our TVs new brand games . . . I behold how mobiles will jostle classical consoles from our living rooms.” Currently, HeroCraft is converting games to be playable on mobile devices. As people embrace mobile gaming, it has revolutionized the gaming industry.
Driven by a desire to create games that come alive and resonate with players, Vladimir Funtikov co-founded Tallinn-based Creative Mobile, and after only four years, it became one of the largest mobile gaming companies in Northern Europe. His passion for games began with his first PC, and almost immediately, he started creating games, beginning with basic Warcraft and SimCity scenarios, then moving to single-player levels for Duke Nukem 3D, and eventually making multi-player maps for Counter-Strike.
He is delighted when he hears of players enjoying his games: “On one of my Counter-Strike maps, I placed a catchy music loop near a camping spot. Later, I heard a player tell how he overheard another guy hum a song at an LAN party, recognized the music, and went to the spot and killed him. They both had a good laugh afterwards. Words can’t describe how I enjoyed hearing this story.”
For four years, Funtikov produced content and managed communities for Counter-Strike without realizing this could be a real career, so he decided instead to become a software developer. But the first company where he interviewed was doing post-production for games, and immediately he was developing games again.
Taking a Risk
Funtikov grew up surrounded by the entrepreneurial spirit as he witnessed his parents start a small family business; as a result, he had always been interested in starting something of his own. Also influenced by Paul Graham’s essays describing life in a start-up from a perspective he could relate to, he knew that it was just a matter of time. In 2008, hit with a personal crisis when he lost his job, he recognized the right time came to take a huge risk. The result was the founding of Creative Mobile.
He had no illusions that his business would instantly change the world. Rather, he began with the hope of making life a little better for one person; then he would plan for the next five or ten people. Starting a free software company gave him that opportunity.
A Bumpy Road
Though he felt it was the right time, Creative Mobile initially had a difficult beginning. Funtikov admits, “Frankly, the games just weren’t good enough. We didn’t have any innovative vision, brilliant game ideas, great technology, or stunning artwork.” However, they did have enthusiasm and dedication, the qualities they used to figure out the business.
Another major difficulty they encountered resulted from the fact that Android was simply too small. At that time, it consisted of a promising OS with only a handful of devices on the market. In addition, monetizing the audience was almost impossible with no in-app purchases or reliable ad inventory.
When Creative Mobile did release its first breakthrough game, they faced new problems. Funtikov relates, “Our main strategy was to work really long shifts and pray nothing breaks while we sleep!” Growing the company proved to be a challenge, with skepticism from potential employees and local media not taking them seriously. He remembers, “One of the first articles to appear in the Estonian press poked fun at our small office and relaxed culture and dismissed our business model as irrelevant.”
But the employees who came on-board during this period were some of the most entrepreneurial and forward-thinking, helping to preserve the team’s values while it grew ten-fold over the next few years. Funtikov emphasizes how lucky he feels to have built the company with this group.
A Community Focus
Convinced from the beginning that game community is critical, the studio established forums and pages in social networks where players could talk to Creative Mobile and among themselves. The goal is to ensure that every complaint and feature request reaches the production team. Although challenging, it was also rewarding to create a system that could process hundreds of messages every day. Now the community guides them in determining the new features to create, and when something breaks, they often know within minutes.
Funtikov notes that to support a community, “It is absolutely essential to establish a ticket management system to avoid being swamped with messages and to make sure everything is tracked and responded to.” Creative Mobile also uses third-party software to manage such things as newsletters and polls, but they have discovered supporting the community is more about people than tools. He insists, “It is very important to have the right attitude in the team and respect the players no matter what their LTV is and what kind of language they use to communicate with us.”
Some Friendly Advice
For indie developers creating for the Android market, Funtikov offers this advice: “Play to the strengths of the platform by launching early and iterating a lot. Google Play offers great tools for beta-testing, processing user feedback, as well as for assessing the stability and robustness of an app almost in real time. There are powerful analytics integrated with Google Play and solutions for multi-player, cloud storage, and social features that are free to use and reduce time to market. Finally, there is no review process at submission stage. Although players always expect top quality, it doesn’t hurt to be in soft launch mode as long as you need to validate the concept and the business model to ensure you are working on the right thing.”
The biggest challenge he sees facing game developers today is working in the now mature games market, where customers want quality, games rarely succeed without marketing, and being featured has far less long-term impact. Responding to this condition requires making more focused games and aiming to understand and fully satisfy a specific audience to achieve a higher LTV.
At Creative Mobile, new tools such as all sorts of smartwatches, VR headsets, and microconsoles are spread over the office, but they rarely make new devices and platforms their top priority. First, they investigate whether there is sufficient demand from their players. If customers don’t want this game on their watches or on 3D, it is better to put the emphasis elsewhere. The greatest mobile games deliver on their promises through great game design, top-notch production, and well-designed UI. Funtikov insists, “New technology can make a good game better, but it can’t make a mediocre game great.”
He tells us the future of Creative Mobile will bring “better games and lots of annoying photos of our new, ultra-cool office.”
bytecombo is a two-person indie game studio based in Berlin, Germany founded in 2013 by Katja Krone and Lars Quentmeier. It was formed in order to produce small, cross-platform mobile games. Their first game Bronko Blue, the kitten copter just hit the stores on July 2014. Lars looks at the journey of the game, the importance of feedback, and what they learned from it all.
Before we founded bytecombo, we were both working as full-time software developers (mostly web projects) in Berlin. This is where we got to know each other. Both of us were interested in developing casual games and came up with thousands of ideas just talking about it, so we decided to simply go for it and try our luck in developing mobile games. To do so, we both reduced our day jobs to part-time jobs and started working.
Too Many Concepts
Bronko Blue, the kitten copter is bytecombo’s second project, but our first real game. We started working on it in May 2013. Our very first idea was to create a really simple copter clone with some nice toony graphics and release it as soon as possible. But we felt that such a game would be too boring and small to earn any money, so we extended the concept with physics, interactive elements, enemies, and a small storyline. Actually, this was so much fun that it was hard to stop. It is just too tempting to include another cool feature into the concept!
We released a first prototype to our friends in June 2013, asking for feedback and their thoughts on our game. It was at this point that we realized most people didn’t get all aspects of our concept, so we had to reduce the functionality. Back then, we had one extra button to control the player. The basic idea was that, once in a while, lightning would strike, and the user had to press this button in order to protect themselves from the lightning while simultaneously collecting the energy to use some of the other functions (shoot energy balls and use the torch). Unfortunately (while I still like the idea), this proved to be much too complicated. So the idea of collecting energy was completely removed from the game so that the player could concentrate on flying and avoiding obstacles.
Work, Work, Work
We definitely underestimated the time necessary for us to produce Bronko Blue, the kitten copter, and so we had to learn to keep calm and continue working. At the end, we worked for more then one year, spending two days a week on it in order to finish and publish the game on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Blackberry World. But sometimes, keeping calm and pushing forward proved to be very hard.
Especially annoying was the fact that the actual development of the game was done within three to four months, but fixing cross-platform issues, fine-tuning, testing, and optimizing the concept took a lot more time and energy than expected. It often felt as if for every fixed problem on one platform, a new problem on another platform occurred. But nevertheless, development with the feature-rich programming language HAXE and the frameworks OpenFL and HaxeFlixel at the end worked out for us, as we were able to target several platforms including iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Flash with one code base. However, it proved to be more difficult to get the game running stable on each platform than expected.
Listen to Feedback
Another difficulty was getting proper feedback. It was a lot more difficult to get feedback while developing than expected, especially from friends and family. They are very nice about things, and criticism isn’t always very specific. It’s hard or even impossible to match the taste and level of difficulty for everyone as their gaming habits are so different. Of course, you can get useful feedback from other gamers and developers like bug reports, but more often, it’s only a negative or positive rating, which doesn’t help a lot.
In order to get some more opinions, we first published the game as a free flash game on Kongregate. We received some useful feedback that we used for fine-tuning our app before we released the game to the mobile app stores. Actually, we should have listened more carefully to all of the voices on Kongregate, as we unfortunately missed fixing one very crucial bug before releasing to iTunes and Google Play.
I had implemented a small system to localize our game to different languages. But unfortunately, we never really tried to set the system language of our devices to any other language than German or English. So the game simply crashed on application launch for every person who did not have an English or German language set on their device. Of course, this is a really nasty and unnecessary bug. Especially because it takes a lot of days to be able to publish a bugfix release in some of the appstores. The same error actually occurred and was reported in the flash version, but we simply could not find the reason why some people seemed to have problems running our game. We thought it must be some problem with the flash player and definitely not our stupidity
A Learning Process
Yet our biggest challenge was and still is marketing. It proves difficult to get some visibility in the appstores with so many awesome contenders, especially with a small budget. Although we received some very encouraging reviews from the press at launch, we haven’t been able to reach any noteworthy visibility in the stores so far. But we still have some ideas to promote Bronko Blue, and will be implementing these ideas soon.
We have worked in the software industry for some years, with a number of projects under our belt. But in all of these projects, we were only programmers. Game development doesn’t only consist of programming, but of an awful lot of tasks that you will have to do on your own if you are an indie developer with no money to pay anyone else to do it. For us, it was a very long way from the initial idea to the published product, involving a lot of different tasks that we knew next to nothing about (and sometimes still don’t) when we founded bytecombo. Luckily, Katja is able to produce some lovely graphics besides solving complex logical problems. But our marketing skills still suck!
Love What You Do
Since game development (or any software development at all) usually takes a lot of time (and you can’t be sure if you will finally succeed financially), you should love what you are doing and be aware of the risk that you are taking as an indie developer. You should love playing games, love being creative, love implementing, and even love promoting it. What you need is patience and some solid funding. Working part time in our own company and the other half of the week for other companies proved to be rather productive for us. Sometimes a break and change of focus is very useful, and of course, it is a really good feeling to be sure that you will always have enough money at the end of the month, even if your current game might fail commercially.
It has now been two months since Bronko Blue, the kitten copter has been released to the mobile appstores. Reading the first customer and press reviews was an exciting feeling. So far, the desired success is not reality, and the sales are still low. But nevertheless, we are awfully proud of our game, as we do think that it is a good and fun game and a nice start for bytecombo into the interesting and challenging world of game development. We are currently brainstorming and will soon start working on a few game prototypes to decide what will be our next project. I’m so looking forward to coding and being creative again
Find out what comes from bytecombo’s brainstorming by following them on Facebook and Twitter.