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INDIE|48 Gamejam: How Indies Support Each Other in Ukraine

April 30, 2015 — by Orchid

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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.


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The G13 project studio in Kyiv has become kinda home for over 40 developers for 48 hours

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.”

The hardest part was to find sponsors. Things are tight with this in our country.Tweet Me

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.

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GestaltGames organized this event after not discovering any other games-focused hackathons in Ukraine.

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.

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The countdown and the keywords were projected on the screen.

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!

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Brainstorming ideas wasn’t the easiest task, as well as crocodile, sleep and sport weren’t the easiest keywords.

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.

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Most teams had a basic concept by the end of Day 1.

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.

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Making games is both work and a hobby for many participants of the INDIE48 gamejam.

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.

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As Andriy the organizer initially said, 48 hours was more or less enough for creating a playable product.

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.

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Will at least someone make the crocodile a 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.

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A retired sportsman who steals crocodile eggs as a hobby appears in the game Of Crocs And Humans by Empairish.
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Don’t make too much noise at night – female crocs are sleeping and will eat anyone who wakes them up.

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? 😀

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If you don’t defeat the crocodiles in a nightmare, they’ll scare you enough for your bed to become yellow.
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The Yellow Bed game had a clear explanation of controls.

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.

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In CrocoRun you play as a crocodile who uses his chance to escape a circus.
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The handler wakes up and runs away! Chase him and bite 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.

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Help the witch get home by fighting the evil creatures that are on her way in a game called The Bed by ZdarovaBanditu.
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The final boss is 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.

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Joe is a baseball player who fights crocodiles because his son is afraid of them.
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Smash the crocodiles with the bat or shoot with the balls.

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.

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Control the protagonist’s legs and don’t make waves as you walk between sleeping crocodiles- otherwise you lose the bet and the game!
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Someone just got eaten.

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.

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The genre is survival crocodile boating, as the developers explained.
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The multiplayer version of CROCODIE makes it possible to race together with a friend – one controls the “jockey”, the other one moves the crocodile.
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Need to kill some time? Move endlessly between sleeping crocodiles in a canoe, all this accompanied by an electronic tune.
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The Garinich Game team managed to create the game even despite numerous technical issues.

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.

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A good crocodile tries to bring some sports to the world of drinkers and drug addicts. The Z.O.Z.H abbreviation in Russian stands for “healthy way of living”

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.

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A fat fairy helps you create the device to escape this dream.

“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.

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A crocodile in this game is creeping around a dark gym in order to steal some equipment to work out at home.
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A relaxing level has been added to this game with an overall tense atmosphere.

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.

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You need to fall asleep while playing this game, it’s been designed for this purpose!

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.

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You can direct the crocodile into water instead of the bed – he will swim steering with his tail.

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.

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Ambient and surreal vibes instead of colorful cartoons made the Caligo game stand out.
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And again, the crocodile is a positive character here.

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.

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Creating a decent UI was one of Diversido’s key purposes.

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.

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The idea of making something small but complete resulted in a game that won 3 awards.

“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.

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INDIE|48 became a good teambuilding opportunity for the Diversido Mobile studio.

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!”

Now I know what our performance is when we are working with passion.Tweet Me

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.

ContributionsPostmortem

Seven Summits Studio: Making Memories Through Stories in Petite

March 31, 2015 — by Industry Contributions

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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.

It is being designed by Asar Dhandala, who worked on Petite together with the writer of the story,  Vishesh Chopra, and the programmer, P.V. Sanjeev Kumar. The development cycle of the game is being mentored by Shailesh Prabhu and Nawaz Dhandala. Asar shares the story of their freshly released creation.


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The Emergence of the Western Core PC Gamer

February 25, 2015 — by Industry Contributions

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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.

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Supersonic CEO Gil Shoham on the Intersection of Advertising, Big Data, and Gaming

February 16, 2015 — by Industry Contributions

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.

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentOnlineStudio Spotlight

Traplight Games: Revolutionizing Gamer Creativity on Mobile

January 7, 2015 — by Casey Rock

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Traplight Games worked on technology that would give a new kind of creative power to gamers and bring user-generated content to mobile devices in a way never seen before.

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.

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

Girls and Warplanes: Track New Platforms and Suggest Partnerships

December 14, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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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-founder of Neskinsoft explains.


Prototype: Brave Girls On Cool Warplanes

Belgrade 2014Video Coverage

Martine Spaans: Navigating the Mobile Landscape | Casual Connect Video

November 12, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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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.

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Martine Spaans, Owner, Tamalaki Publishing

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.

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Spaans’ solution to the discovery challenge is focusing on the niche market

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.

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Martine Spaans, a car enthusiast

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.

 

Belgrade 2014Video Coverage

George Erkhan and the Domination of Mobile Gaming | Casual Connect Video

November 11, 2014 — by Emily Baker

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George Erkhan described how he felt about his role as a developer to his audience during Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014: “Our purpose as game developers is to make pure, unstoppable fun.”

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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.

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George Erkhan, Creative Director, HeroCraft

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”.

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The “endless evolution and changeover of your own work-flow and occupations could be considered the coolest stuff of our profession”.

Inspirational Hobbies

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

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Erkhan 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.

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.

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Games are not harmful. Games make us happy and enrich our lives.

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.

 

Exclusive InterviewsIndustry

Vladimir Funtikov: Pushing Through the Hard Times

November 6, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

Vladimir Funtikov, Co-Founder, Creative Mobile
Vladimir Funtikov, Co-Founder, Creative Mobile

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.

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Funtikov began with the hope of making life a little better for one person; then he would plan for the next five or ten people.

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.

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Another major difficulty they encountered resulted from the fact that Android was simply too small at the time.

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

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The studio established forums and pages in social networks where players could talk to Creative Mobile and among themselves.

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.”

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Nitro Nation, one of Creative Mobile’s title

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.”

Look forward to Funtikov’s session on risk management at Casual Connect Eastern Europe next week! Information on the session can be found here.

 

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