A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement! (Updated)

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A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement! (Updated)

Postby Ecstasy on Feb 15 2018, 6:23am

Hello! I would like to share my experience so far in the game development field. What encouraged me to write this thread is the news that SMASH is shutting down and my recent retirement from KaW after playing it for nearly 7.8 years! This thread is going to be long and a tad boring too. You were warned :P (1500 words rip) (link to SMASH shut-down announcement at the bottom of this thread!)

Link to my post on stats. Scroll all the way down to find it on page 6!!

I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science in 2017, Upon which I was fortunate to get a 6-month internship with a gaming studio that makes social casino-based games. Without naming names, their flagship Bingo game makes 50+mill USD a year and has been top 10 grossing for over a year. My internship was as a Game Design Intern. It’s easy to confuse a developer with a game designer, I will get into the difference shortly.

So, my 6-month internship involved me writing possible mechs, collection events, themes, game features and more for their new game. Example? Well, I had to write down content for a Casino styled game. New event content in detail along with themes, new game modes and the mechanics before it. (Collection events = our 40K/top 100 event structure and the lore behind it)

One of my tasks prior to this was performing in a depth market analysis of the top 10 similar genre/format games, drawing out the mechanics of each game and their similarities, differences, their player base size, monetisation balance along with other filters, were they a start-up, did they have venture capitalist funding, how big was each company, did they have other successful games etc. This alone took me a month and a half and totally opened my eyes to the cut throat competition in the gaming industry.

Along the time my internship ended, a few members (9 of them) from the company decided to leave and form a company, create their own version of the hit game. They didn’t have a problem finding an angel funder and are on track to making their first social casino-based game. I was offered a job with them as a Junior Unity Developer which I took, and I just finished my first week with them, it’s been a welcome change because I was not too happy with the creative/content creator/game designer side of the industry. It involved me doing a lot of grunt work in an area I wasn’t particularly inclined towards.
I’ve always preferred coding and working on new technology. The new job has me working on Unity C#, actionscript 3, php and a few other frameworks. With that I’d like to point out the difference between a game developer and designer, which I see quite often confused for being the same. A game designer creates the outline and content behind a game, the mechs, they are the link between the art side of the game and the technical/coding side. While a developer quite simply writes the code/framework on which the game rests.

Design, art and code are the three basic departments in a gaming company, which may be further split into other roles based on the company structure.

So, few things I would like to talk about are:

1. Development & Sentiment
I was a gullible teen who believed that companies made games to make their players happy and provide them with a means of entertainment. I was wrong. The sole aim of creating a game is to make profits. The reason why there are multiple copies of each game genre is because they work. There’s at least 15 games like ​, why? They work. They work on player psychology and demographics and bring in cash. There’s 100s of games exactly like Candy Crush, the same format with maybe a few small changes and they do well. You get the idea.
Go to your store and type Bingo, you'll find about 15 similar Bingo games that make millions a year. Their target demographic being women. Gameplay wise you and I know that Bingo doesn't have much to offer, yet a game like Bingo can climb to the top and it's only based on how well you market your product and your market research prior to creating the game.
For instance, when I was brainstorming about mechs for the Bingo game, I came up with a a space based theme. I was promptly shot down by my boss saying that most women wouldn't be interested in it(yes, it's sexist and stupid) Either way, they went with a collect dog collars from every Bingo round won and find your pet theme lol. Why? Target demographics. The puppyy Bingo event was a hit.

2. Player Psychology
Player psychology plays a key role in games being successful. I cannot stress more on this. People want to win, to be relevant, to feel significant and these games target that via micro transactions. It's shrewd if you ask me, here's an example. The Bingo game I worked on has something called a "near miss mech", where the players number on the card is off by one digit from what's called, 30% of the times. This in turn makes players spend more because they feel like they so close to winning. (PS, there's a lot more shrewd mechs behind the scenes on most games)

When I was told to write down mechs for a new Bingo based casino game, I was told my target audience were women aged 30-60y old, as 75% of online Bingo games were played by women. Why? Well, I will not go into depth about it here, but it has something to do with them being more patient. That’s what the data shows. So, from a myriad of Bingo games doing well on the store they all have soft feminine/neutral game mascots/themes and play modes with relaxed graphics that one would find “cute”. There are multiple Bingo games making millions a month. They all look the same. Bingo is boring, think about it, you tap numbers. That’s about it. Yet these games are designed with psychological hooks to bring in their targeted player demographic. You wouldn’t believe the player numbers behind some of these Bingo games and the money they make. So, games are designed with a specific targeted demographic. At least the ones that do well. Check out the top 20 Bingo games, they call have cute / feminine graphics to lure women into playing it.

Behavioural Economics: Loss Aversion
Loss aversion theory teaches that people would rather avoid a loss than reap a reward. And in marketing, it’s a powerful tool that can inspire purchases for the right demographic. By reminding customers that they could lose out of they don’t “act now!” or complete a purchase is much more effective than even offering added benefits for purchasing.
What does this mean? Well, promos. "Limited" NK promos use this same principle. We are programmed to want to do as much as possible to prevent losses i.e. missing out on that once a day or once a month promo, than chase a reward. So games use this to monetise their player base very well. How? When you see that limited 50% NK, you are going to want buy crystals, seals etc to avoid losing out on it. Understanding loss aversion helps in spotting out tactics used in games/marketing. Games work on behavioural economics!

Gacha System:
Quite simply put, loot boxes.
Loot boxes are proven to be the #1 most effective method in monetising a player base. I.e. our event royal chests. When the player feels like he owns the item he receives, he is more inclined to chase after it. There are multiple gacha models, please google to read up on it. It's quite smart and based on a social casino model and yes, it works on player psychology too.
In a way, you don't really play the game, the game is playing you.

[size-120]3. CPA / Ad Sense / User Targeting[/size]
There are two ways you can grow your player base when your game launches and during its lifetime. Organically or via an ad agency. Organic methods include open/closed betas, bonuses on their other games to try the new game out, simple advertising on reddit and other gamer focused sites.
A game ad agency is a whole other ball game, most of these very successful game companies believe in one thing: you must spend money to make money.
With that comes CPA, cost per user acquisition. I.e., I can spend 10 dollars acquiring a user if the return is 50$ per user in say a year. The ad agency uses machine learning to target the specific type of player. Why? Well, If I saw an advert for a game based on barbies I wouldn’t try it out lol.

So companies like Supercell and even the company I interned for, focus heavily on multiple ad agencies. Like a selection stage in a game, the company can choose filters on what kind of player demographics they want and how much it would be per player. Companies analyse player base data over 12 month-18 month lifecycles and the game grossing metrics to refine this constantly and find a balance between in-app purchases and the free to pay angle.
Organic growth brings in F2P players majorly, while going through ad agencies gives you a much higher chance of players that will spend.
I won’t get into the details of game adverting, but the two main types are games have their ads displayed on other games and the ones that have their ads displayed on unrelated apps. Like MX Movie player showing me Supercell ads based on their machine learning patterns that tell them I’m more inclined to try out a game based on strategy than barbies.
Fine tuning targeted ads takes a few months of the game being up, analysis of its player base(F2P,P2P), monetisation balance and other criteria.
As you can see most of ATA’s marketing strategy is focused on organic growth, hence the small player bases on most of their games.

4. Popular game formats
Bingo? Boring af but makes the most money on the store. Which is why there so many copies of successful games of each genre. Most companies outright copy everything from mechs, graphics and more because it ensures profits. Money is what it’s all about. ATA did very well with the Heckfire build a city model. Unfortunately, as always, they did not do much advertising. So now the game is seeing players trickle in organically, but its not enough in the long run. It does not matter how good a game is, a great ad campaign can make a game with horrible game play do well.
Take the boring af Bingo games out there. The successful ones are successful not because of the gameplay but due to the targeted player base growth through advertising. Look at the top 100 grossing apps, some of them have the silliest generic game play with barely any depth. Yet they’re there because they have analysed their market well and advertise. Imagine a simple tap a number Bingo making 100mill a year, it’s through advertising and constant market/player base analysis and fine tuning.
I would like to end with this. SMASH is very close to my heart, I spent a few years on it. Watching it go is horrible but like ATA said, they cannot remake the game in Unity(a game engine)
as the time and resources it would take wouldn’t be worth the money it would bring in.
The juice would not be worth the squeeze. The game runs on an older ATA propriety engine and framework that cannot be updated anymore. Unity is the future. There is no room for sentiment when it comes to running games, they will end. Just like KaW that is on it’s last legs. The day it stops bringing in the profits, it will get pulled. Enjoy the time remaining, at the end of the day ATA is just a business like every other company. An inept one at it, but a business nevertheless.

I think ATA absolutely lacks foresight with their games and that they seem to make the same mistakes on every game. The same patterns, the same disgruntled player base on all their games. Ignoring the community, bringing out random unasked for features lol (furniture), the lack of targeted advertising. The list goes on.

Eh, well. Regardless I am thankful for my time on KaW. It has thought me a lot about what makes a good developer and not. I’ve made bonds here that I well will carry into real life.

Disclaimer: This post is purely subjective and based on the last year of my life in this field. In a way, this is my sawn song. My last thread before I leave KaW and move onto another phase of life.

Thank you all. Keep it real.

Link to SMASH shutting down post.
Last edited by Ecstasy on Feb 20 2018, 10:53pm, edited 14 times in total.
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Re: A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement!

Postby Titan_God on Feb 15 2018, 6:53am

All I can say is you nailed it to the “T”, if this thread was in the olympics you would have gotten a perfect score! Thank you for posting this and sharing your knowledge with others, as long as it is... it’s well worth it.

To see you go, you will be missed but I do appreciate all the time you’ve put in here and wish nothing less than the best for you and your future wherever it may take you.

Thank you for being a part of Kaw. :)
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Re: A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement!

Postby Owl on Feb 15 2018, 7:02am

Thank you for this. I am currently majoring in CSE (Computer Software Engineering). We have worked with developing games for Android. It's quite fun and can be a bit of a challenge at times. I wish you best of luck with whatever it is you decide to do. :^)
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Re: A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement!

Postby ShadowFenix73 on Feb 15 2018, 7:23am

Very interesting read
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Re: A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement!

Postby Bluejay on Feb 15 2018, 8:16am

Wish you the best, a great read and something to take into account.
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Re: A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement!

Postby xXD3mOnXx on Feb 15 2018, 8:22am

/lock for low effort? 
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Re: A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement!

Postby ________G_D_M_F_S_O_B_____ on Feb 15 2018, 8:58am

xXD3mOnXx wrote:/lock for low effort? 

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Re: A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement!

Postby jbaker7 on Feb 15 2018, 10:17am

Probably the best thing I have read on the forums in months. Well done, it was very interesting to hear your story.
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Re: A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement!

Postby -KoK-_Soup31_-KoK- on Feb 15 2018, 10:55am

Hope they don’t lock it but probably will cuz it is pointing out hidden (yeah right) flaws of kaw .
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Re: A week as a Game Developer and my KaW-retirement!

Postby iDeception on Feb 15 2018, 11:45am

I only need one hand to name the number of companies that genuinely care about their consumers. good thread btw.
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