Helsinki Hub: March gathering with Ubisoft RedLynx

Text By Giorgos Riskas and Roope Sorvo

With the winter snow finally starting to melt away, the IGDA Helsinki community came together for the March gathering at Maxine. The March gathering was sponsored by Ubisoft RedLynx, who was celebrating the release of their latest addition to the Trials franchise, Trials Rising. Trials Rising is a physics-based racing platformer with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and over-the-top action. Guests were invited to try out the game in the demo corner and there was a quiz whose winner received a grand prize. When leaving, all of the attendees were treated with a goodie bag.

The gathering was kicked off with a short seminar. Julius Fondem, an Associate Producer at Ubisoft RedLynx, started things off with his presentation Building ‘Trials Rising’ Together with the Community, Julius went through the history of the series, from its browser game roots all the way to the release of Trials Rising, which he describes as a “decided return to the series’ roots.” While the few previous titles had had more fantastical themes that were less grounded in reality, the development team of Trials Rising wanted to focus more on the three pillars at the series’ core: community, competition, and creativity.

Julius Fondem talking about the creation of Trials Rising. Photo by Jesse Eloranta.

Julius Fondem talking about the creation of Trials Rising. Photo by Jesse Eloranta.

Community has always been at the heart of the series. Ubisoft RedLynx has a history of collaborating with the series’ fans, be it through hiring top builders of custom levels, inviting groups of experienced players to the studio for workshops and actively listening to the community’s feedback through a myriad of social media channels. When asked if this kind of collaboration with the community is something any developer could include in their games, Julius’ answered a resounding ‘Yes’. “However, it depends heavily on the type of game being developed,” Julius elaborated. “Each genre and format creates its own type of challenges and limitations.”

The second presentation was hosted by Roland Kindermann, Technical Director, Mobile at Ubisoft RedLynx. His seminar Bringing South Park to the Small Screen delved into the challenges met during development of the mobile collectible card game South Park: Phone Destroyer. This included the process of replicating the world of South Park in a way that that supports the gameplay and works within the limits of a mobile platform, and the processes necessary to produce live content with an incredibly low lead time.

Gathering visitors playing Trials Rising. Photo by Casimir Kuusela.

Gathering visitors playing Trials Rising. Photo by Casimir Kuusela.

See you in April!

Helsinki Hub: An Epic Evening

Text by Giorgos Riskas and Roope Sorvo, photos by Casimir Kuusela & Epic Games / Dana Cowley

The IGDA gatherings of 2019 started off with a bang with a great event sponsored by Epic Games. The seminar featured a talk by Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, at the Aalto School of Business campus in Helsinki, that attracted a capacity audience of 600 attendees.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney. Photo  ©  Epic Games / Dana Cowley

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney. Photo © Epic Games / Dana Cowley

The first part of the seminar revolved around Fortnite, an online multiplayer battle royale game that has enjoyed massive success since its release in 2017,  with an active user base of roughly 200 million players. Sweeney went through the whole history of the title, from its inception as a game jam project to its current status, and shared his insight about what made the title successful.

According to Sweeney, one of the defining factors was changing the monetization model to Free-to-Play without forcing the players into pay-to-win mechanics. A decision that not only changed the fate of the game, but  transformed the fate of the company. The game’s cross-platform availability was also an important reason for the constantly growing user base. However, it came with the cost of a very demanding process of optimization and maintenance, since the updates are always released simultaneously for all seven supported platforms.

Finally, Sweeney talked about the social aspect of the game by sharing some impressive statistics about players’ interactions and preferences. According to the research, the majority of Fortnite players spend time with their real life friends in the game which leads to even higher engagement, asserting the game was more like a social media app than a hardcore gaming title.

For the next topic, Sweeney talked about the launch of the Epic Game Store and explained how the technology that Epic Games offers expands beyond the game industry. Epic Games Store is a new digital distribution platform in the vein of Steam, the creation of which was brought on by a need of more competition in the field. Besides the storefront, the Epic Games platform aims to be an “opposite of a walled garden”. They have an emphasis on cross-platform, cross-service cooperation, sharing technology and assets between developers, with transparency being their key philosophy. A prominent part of this platform revolves around Epic’s Unreal engine, which makes real time graphics for all kinds of industries, ranging from sports cars to architecture in addition to video games.

Sweeney answering questions from the audience. Photo by Casimir Kuusela

Sweeney answering questions from the audience. Photo by Casimir Kuusela

The last part of the seminar was devoted to a Q&A session in which Sweeney answered, as he promised, any questions that were directed to him. In some of the most interesting answers Sweeney shared his insight about blockchain in game development.

“It’s a great tool for tech and research, but a long way from becoming a game development tool,” he said, adding “Due to the propensity of fraud it would be inadvisable to use blockchain in mainstream game development”.

When asked about the future plans for the Epic Games Store, he answered that the emphasis is on quality over quantity and the system of paying Unreal Engine royalties will remain as it is. That is, taking 5% of the game’s revenue in royalties, regardless of the success of the title. “It is the most equal approach and provides a more even playing field for smaller developers,” he said.

Before the seminar reached its conclusion, Sweeney gave a shout out to Epic Games Helsinki, a recent addition to the Epic family. It started as a collaboration with Kamu, a local anti-cheat development company that Epic acquired last year. “While it’s not a huge operation, it will grow steadily over the next few years,” he said.

The gathering was scheduled right after the seminar in the familiar location of Maxine where developers networked and socialize, while playing two games that were in the demo corner.

Demo corner. Photo by Casimir Kuusela

Demo corner. Photo by Casimir Kuusela

Chain Lightning is a fast-paced mobile game developed by Origame Studios using Unity. The three-piece team (coder, artist and a marketer) have been working at the game on-and-off since September, and plan to release it for mobile devices in a few months. A demo version is already available at Google Play.

Oceanhorn 2 is an action RPG game inspired by the classics of the same genre and it has been in development for by Cornfox Bros for the past five years. The game is a good example of what the Unreal engine is capable of when it comes to mobile gaming, since it will be released on iOS. The official release date of the game has yet to be announced.

Helsinki Hub: Xmas with Veikkaus

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

It’s that time of the year again, when developers congregate to bid their farewells to the departing year in good old IGDA fashion. The final Helsinki Gathering of 2018 was sponsored by Veikkaus and in addition to the usual free drinks this event included physical loot boxes and a fun non-traditional Christmas feast where the main ingredient was hot dogs. Their new, pirate-themed game Kultaranta occupied the demo corner, and featured as the common center point for the presentations.

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The seminars were opened by Veikkaus studio head and a game development veteran Henri Lindgren, whose presentation Veikkaus Game Studio in a Nutshell went into detail about their development cycles, team structures and company philosophy. The focal point of the presentation was the shift from slot machines towards the mobile-first game design Veikkaus has been doing for the past year.

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Lindgren’s previous experience in mobile F2P games has proven to be a powerful tool in leading his current studio to success. When asked to share a few hints on how to inspire teams instead of simply managing them, Lindgren used safety, freedom and responsibility as the key to success.

Following Lindgren was Sakari Tiikkaja, lead game artist at Veikkaus. In his presentation, Our Approach to Game Design and Creative Design, he went through the journey of a Veikkaus game, from raw concept to finalized, concrete assets. A key component on this journey is a 5-Step Design process influenced by Tim Brown and Roger Martin and further based on the work of designer Feng Zhu.

Tiikkaja believes that the aforementioned process could definitely be applied to games outside the field of gambling as well. When asked to name the biggest benefit of their workflow, Tiikkaja answered: “It is important to crystallize the concepts and find the boundaries of an IP early on in the development. This way, the developers don’t need to blindly grasp in the darkness.”

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After Tiikkaja the stage was given to lead game artist Senja Heikkinen and senior game artist Henrik Hackenberg, whose presentation Case Study: Kultaranta delved into various trials and tribulations the game had during its development. While primarily a recitation of the art design for Kultaranta, going from early sketches and mood boards to the finished product, the presentation also explored topics such as designing a game simultaneously for three different types of slot machines and working with the ever-changing, yet endlessly strict Finnish gambling laws. However, at least when it comes to the latter, Hackenberg thinks that the situation has improved. “Instead of handing each gambling company an unique monopoly, the Finnish law has recently been unified so that there’s less fear of stepping on one another’s toes”, he says.

Happy holidays and joyous new year. See you in 2019!

Helsinki Hub: November Gathering

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

The November IGDA gathering at the Helsinki Hub was a non-commercial celebration. There wasn’t a specific agenda for the evening so developers had time to meet with friends and relax while discussing their plans for the year that is rapidly reaching its conclusion.

With no sponsors or presenters, the most visible banner of the night belonged to the documentary The Name of the Game. The film tells the story of Nex Machina, the collaboration between the legendary arcade game designer Eugene Jarvis, and the Finnish game developer Housemarque. The movie was shot over the course of three years in five different countries, resulting in 200 hours of footage detailing the creation process of the game. “However, it is more about the characters and their journey than a straight up documentary about the game’s development,” emphasized Heikki Kareranta, co-writer and producer of the film. “We wanted to make a good story rather than just a documentary.”

When asked about how much the subject will resonate with general audiences, Kareranta replied, “People in Finland are especially interested in video games on a large scale, but the average Joe has little idea about their creation process. This gives them a sort of a peek behind the curtain.”

The first press screening was arranged earlier in the day prior to the IGDA Gathering.

The Name of the Game premiered on November 23.

In addition to the Hollywood bigwigs, a wig of another kind also graced the event with their presence: IGDA Women In Gaming (WIG) was among the attendees joining the gathering, as they have done many times in the past. Its main goal is to build a support network for women in the industry and the group recently reached the milestone of 1000 members in Finland.

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Two developers presented their games in this month’s demo corner:

Stone is a story driven ‘stoner noir’ game developed by Convict Games. The player assumes the role of a hungover koala detective in a colourful society of anthropomorphic Australian fauna. The game draws inspiration from pieces of media of the same genre such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Big Lebowski.

The game was in development for about a year and is now available for purchase on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/agecheck/app/907770/

Chopball is a competitive multiplayer party sports game, currently in development by a studio that is tentatively calling itself Kanto Games. The gameplay combines elements of soccer and pinball while introducing a few interesting twists, such as breakable defenses in front of the goals. The game has been in development for a couple of months and aims for release in late 2019 as the studio’s first title.

See you in December!


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.