Helsinki Hub: May Gathering with PlayFab

By Giorgos Riskas and Roope Sorvo

The May gathering was sponsored by PlayFab, a complete backend platform built exclusively for live games.

Brendan Vanous, head of developer success at PlayFab/Microsoft was really impressed with how inclusive the game development community is in Finland. As he said, in many other communities competitiveness make developers grow isolated and he is really happy to see that this is not the case.

In his brief talk, Vanous spoke about live game operations and how they can shape the future of the gaming industry. Live operations, or LiveOps, help games to grow according to the needs of the users, so that they can be evolve and therefore, live longer.

Vanous described how the growth of mobile games has changed the scene since the early 2000s and how LiveOps services have played their part in driving the mobile industry to the top. The said services allow developers to either complement their existing infrastructure or adopt the LiveOps platform in its entirety.

Probably the most interesting part of the presentation was the comparison between two teams of developers that followed different approaches on how to engage their audience. One of the said teams kept collecting data and tried to stay aligned with what the audience needed, in contrast to the other one that stopped their support after some early updates. The results indicate that the old way of supporting games as in the previous decades is not anymore viable in the live games market.

“The developers should always listen to their community’s feedback and build on it”, Vanous said. “That’s the way to do things nowadays, and unfortunately many people don’t understand that,” he added.

This time the Demo Corner was divided into two distinct categories: projects by Aalto University students, and independent game projects that both happened to make their second appearance in the IGDA Demo Corner.

It was the first time that Aalto students had the opportunity to gather valuable feedback outside their university. The games were developed as part of a course and is a collaboration effort between different Master’s programs of Aalto’s Media Lab. The 3 featured projects have been in development for roughly five months by teams of five to six students.

PlusMinus is a third person puzzle game in which the main character uses magnetism to fight enemies and solve puzzles. The story of the game finds the main character trying to escape from the system in futuristic dystopian world.

Metsä is an atmospheric hybrid installation game that is played while sitting in a dark tent. The player controls the footsteps of their avatar by pressing two individual buttons situated on a blanket, attempting to make their way through a dark woodland avoiding obstacles by jumping and sneaking.

Hidden Wish is an asymmetrical co-op adventure game with a combination of different mechanics. The stylized game mixes 3D segments with literally hand drawn levels where first player makes their way through a 2D platformer, meanwhile the second player uses a more cursor-oriented UI to create a path for the other player by moving around different parts of the levels.

In addition, two games made their second appearance in IGDA.

Exploding Babies was developed by Nut Farm during the Global Game Jam and is a hectic 4-player battle arena game where the players try to win by detonating the babies of other players using sound waves. The developers’ return to the demo corner of IGDA after March is part of their focus on live events where they can get people to try it in teams of 4 and test its full potential.

Another team that returned to the demo corner was LunarByte, with their first title Trail of Relics, a puzzle game where the player draws a path for their avatar through increasingly difficult mazes. The game has been in development for about half a year and it is currently on beta. As the developers said, the feedback that they receive at IGDA gatherings is a lot better than average which helps them focus on the areas that they should during the development.

See you in August!

 

Helsinki Hub: April seminar and gathering with Futureplay and AppsFlyer

Text by Giorgos Riskas and Roope Sorvo, photos by Casimir Kuusela

The April IGDA Helsinki Hub Gathering was sponsored by AppsFlyer and Futureplay.

AppsFlyer specializes in mobile attribution and marketing analytics, with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pinterest, Snap Inc., Tencent and 3,500+ other integrated partners, and clients including HBO, Alibaba, Skyscanner, and Activision.

In his seminar, “The State of Gaming App Marketing: Data Benchmarks,” Patrik Lehti, a senior sales manager at AppsFlyer, talked about attribution and how the information it offers can help the developers understand where users come from, how to maintain their established user base, and what actions they should take to grow.

His presentation covered the topics of marketing, installs, engagement, revenue and return of investment, though Lehti did a lot more than simply scratching the surface on the mentioned topics: he offered insights and dug deeper into the platform specifics of Android and iOS.

 Patrik Lehti addressing the audience. Photo by Casimir Kuusela

Patrik Lehti addressing the audience. Photo by Casimir Kuusela

One of the most important aspects of his talk was the relation between organic and non-organic engagement, and how it impacts on retention, revenue, and return of investment. As Lehti explained, both types of engagement are needed since they affect different fields of the user acquisition. Lehti also took some time to talk about the rising phenomenon of fraud: how developers can be tricked into a bleeding cash cycle and waste valuable resources on high value campaigns based on fraudulent information.  “Developers should always keep an eye for anomalies and act quickly when they show up,” he said.“They should stay close to their attribution team since their job is to protect them from cases like that”.

Futureplay is a studio that in their own words believes in playfulness and fast shipping instead of rigid processes, endless iterations, and burnout epidemics. They have released six games in the last three years, and show no signs of stopping.

Jami Laes, CEO and co-founder of Futureplay discussed soft launches and early access in his presentation “Creating a New Category of Multiplayer Games by Launching as Early as Possible”.

The presentation shared details on how the company’s “View-to-Play” monetization model has worked out so far, as well as their ambition of creating a new category of casual yet competitive multiplayer games. Multiplayer Online Casual Competitive Arena games, or MOCCA for short, combine elements of .io games, MOBAs, and battle royale games.

Laes also explained the importance of soft launching their games very early. The purpose of the so-called ‘minimum awesome product’ is to realize early on if the game works, and whether or not to develop it further. That way they can validate the direction, and updates are developed based on data and feedback from the community. “The biggest risk that we take by releasing early, is that a game won’t work. But that’s exactly the point of trying it!”, Laes said. When asked about the seemingly big transition from idle to MOCCA games, Laes answered: “If there is a good level of experience and a solid plan on the correct direction and technology to be used, the transition becomes a lot easier to make”.

“There had been a research period of six months before we started development,” he added

After the seminars ended, everybody had some time to relax, socialize and enjoy their evening. The speakers seemed to be very popular, so they were constantly trying to make space for everyone that wanted to talk with them.

Tristin Hightower, the Director of Operations of IGDA also attended the event. She is spending the month in Europe for personal reasons, but while abroad, she is doing outreach with IGDA Chapter and SIG leaders at various events, Her first trip aboard was to Finland in 2016, so it has a special place in her heart. She always enjoys being part of the IGDA community, and she has attended various events in Helsinki and Turku and has a fondness for Porvoo, which she visited in on her first trip.

Also visiting  Helsinki was Felicia Prehn. She is a manager and accessibility adviser at Nopia, as well as an active crewmember in IGDA Finland’s Satakunta Hub. Nopia is an animation and game company that has worked on ads for the likes of Mercedes Benz and Tactic, as well as games like HALO 5 and Wolfenstein II.

The day prior the gathering Prehn gave a presentation called “Looking Bright – the Current Landscape of Accessibility for Gamers with Disabilities” as a part of Aalto University’s Games Now! lecture series. The presentation focused on raising awareness for accessibility, and how it is an issue that touches everyone. She was on hand during the gathering ready to discuss accessibility issues in games with anyone interested. “Approaching accessibility only as a problem of the few who need it is a wrong way to think about it”, Prehn says, “Accessibility features can be beneficial also for those who do not need them.”

 Attendees absorbed in a session of LaserGrid. Photo by Casimir Kuusela.

Attendees absorbed in a session of LaserGrid. Photo by Casimir Kuusela.

The month’s demo corner was occupied by two titles. From Village to Empire, has been in development for 1.5 years by the one-man company Witch Laboratory. In this turn-based strategy game the player assumes control of a civilization and advances in a procedurally generated map in order to grow and take control of it. The game should be released on Steam in the coming months. LaserGrid is a multiplayer SHMUP where up to four players take on one another in a four-way fight to the death. It is being developed by a  five-person team of Metropolia students.

See you on May 15th.

Helsinki Hub: Non-Commerical March

By Giorgos Riskas and Roope Sorvo

The March IGDA Finland gathering at the Helsinki Hub was a non-commercial celebration. It was the first unsponsored Helsinki event in a number of years and opted to focus on other non-profit game initiatives taking place across Finland.

The seminar highlighted the work of industry wide game consortium that has been working together to address the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation. The talks were an introduction and warm up for a bigger GDPR event that will be held at the Supercell office on March 28th. Anyone working for a game development studio interested in joining the upcoming GDPR event, should send an email to gdpr (at) neogames (dot) fi.

Neogames Senior Policy Analyst Jari-Pekka Kaleva, presented six steps to prepare your company for the upcoming changes. He highlighted the practice of implementing “privacy by design”, which will require both big companies and indie developers have to adopt a new mindset when it comes to handling data and how the new rules  affect their revenue. “The fact is that this is a new situation and it is hard predict how exactly games industry will change ”, Kaleva said, “But we definitely have to start implementing the new rules now  and see where that leads on the long term.”

Petri Hyökyranta, CTO of Rovio Games, has recently been busy interpreting how to best implement the GDPR requirements into games. He shared how Rovio is approaching the upcoming changes. Over the course of last few years, Rovio has worked alongside several other Finnish game studios and policy analysts to create an industry wide GDPR task force where game developers can get info they need regarding the upcoming changes, exchange thoughts and seek opinions and views, all in one convenient space. Hyökyranta says that as of now there are no definitive right answers regarding the best plan going forward, but game teams  need to understand what data they are collecting, why it is being collected and how it is being processed. It is clear that the best approach to addressing the GDPR is working in a collaboration with and between  game developers all over Europe and new companies are joining the task force daily. Anyone interested to joining the task force, should contact J-P or Petri to get things started.

Kaisa Salakka, Product Director at Unity, talked about how GDPR will affect monetization in games, using Unity as an example. Like Hyökyranta, Salakka believes that at the moment everything is a bit blurry regarding the legislation, and that it might take a few years for companies to adjust to the changes. The procedure of getting there might have some revenue impact for both indie developers and bigger companies. She also believes that change of regulations in the European Union might be a disadvantage to those in competition with companies outside the EU.

The presentations sparked a lot of conversation and questions in the audience, which featured noticeably more top management participants than usual. The audience and speakers concurred that the regulation will impact student projects and educational institutions will need to adapt their curricula to adapt to the upcoming changes.

The serious tone of seminar was lifted, when Jonne Harja, board member of Finnish Game Jam Association and super jammer Samuli Jääskeläinen gave a lighter presentation about game jams the activities of the Finnish Game Jam (FGJ). The entertaining duo showcased many of the weird jams and stunts the association has organized jamming in a bus, in a remote cabin in the middle of wilderness (Survival Jam), and on back of a bike (JamBike).

Appropriately, the Demo Corner featured games from two events organized by FGJ, the Sami Game Jam in February, and this year’s Global Game Jam, featuring the theme of ‘transmission’. My Turn to Pew is a turn-based SHMUP where the player moves in 1-second bursts, and the world around the ship only moves during that same time. Incoming Transmission is a simple 2D game where the player pilots a ship with an increasing delay between the player inputs and the ship’s response, asking the player to be able to predict and calculate further and further ahead. Wasteland Trader is a post-apocalyptic exploration game where the player trades items with other entities they encounter in order to collect pieces required to repair a radio tower. Exploding Babies is a hectic 4-player battle arena game where the players try to win by detonating the babies of other players using sound waves.

Despite the lack of a sponsor, nearly 300 people turned out for event.

 

Helsinki Hub: Bravo, February, Bravo

By Giorgos Riskas and Roope Sorvo

IGDA’s first gathering in Helsinki in 2018 IGDA started with a blast.

London-based BRAVOCOMPANY, stepped in at the last moment to sponsor the February event and showed cased their tactical team combat game Forces of Freedom. The company have coin the term “Coffee Break eSports”, which they use to describe a competitive real time team multiplayer games that can be played in 4 minute sessions.

In his seminar “Forces of Freedom in Early Access: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly!”, Florian Stronk, the co-founder and CEO of BRAVOCOMPANY, openly discusses the development process of Forces of Freedom, the company's first game.

In his presentation he didn’t shy away from the things that went wrong in development; sharing anecdotes that serve as learning moments and advice for the future.

Much emphasis was given to the importance of the community. When BRAVOCOMPANY first started, the team was short on resources and experience but full of ambition and passion for what they were doing. Now they would like to let other people benefit from the experience they gave gained throughout their development process.

Heavy emphasis was also placed on communication between the developer and the players. According to Stronk, the most important aspect of this communication is honesty, admitting one’s mistakes and taking whatever action is required to handle issues at hand.

Forces of Freedom was also available for play in the traditional IGDA demo corner. The team-based third person shooter pits two 5-person teams against each other over multiple game modes, with matches clocking in around four minutes. The full version is planned to feature multiple classes from scout to sniper, with maps spanning around the globe and covering over 50 years of history.

Despite the game drawing from real life military history, the game’s purpose is to bring people together across national borders. The matchmaking system used puts people from several different countries in the same team.

The game has already attracted more than 10 million players in Google Play’s Early Access. Based on organic traction and reassuring metrics, the company is focused on evolving Forces of Freedom into an entertainment product to be enjoyed over the years.