Secrets of Quick Iteration in the Core Social Space
May 13, 2013 Page 1 of 4
Plarium was founded in 2009, when casual games on social networks were at the peak of their popularity. As long time game fanatics, the founders of Plarium -- myself included -- were excited to begin developing games driven by the growing demand on social platforms.
We started out by developing applications such as a social poker platform for Russia and Eastern Europe, initially focusing on the social network VKontakte and then expanding to other sites such as Mail.Ru. During this time, we understood that in order to become a global player in the gaming arena, we would have to create unique content.
That's when we decided to create a new experience on social platforms and began developing hardcore, real-time strategy games with deep game play mechanics. We noticed that many social strategy games that we liked had great gameplay, but basically looked like glorified Excel spreadsheets. There was an opportunity to offer something more visually appealing.
We kept the deep game balance we loved from older titles and focused on adding high-end 3D graphics, fully-voiced characters and sound production, social features, and the ability for players to customize their game with various improvements and skins. We wanted to move away from just numbers and statistics, and introduced the visual polish people have come to expect from classic PC titles.
In our experience our most successful social games are the ones that have those intricate elements -- plotlines, eye-catching artwork, well-written copy, and voiceovers that guide players through the game, as well as continuously updated content -- which keep players engaged. That's been Plarium's goal with our most recent games, which have led us to become a top hardcore game developer on Facebook.
With so many components factoring into the design and development of a social game, it is difficult for developers to make sure that the end result is engaging and impressive to a wide audience. In this article, I'll share Plarium's own strategy and recommendations for best practices, by providing an inside look into the studio culture, as well as showcasing how our setup affects the products we launch. This is what works for us, and what could work for you too.
The Bottom-Up Approach
Plarium is made up of several studios. While the assumption may be that the studios work together closely on each game launch, the truth is that each one is independently self-sufficient. They work independently on projects with dedicated teams. Each studio has the tools to create and release a game from A to Z. Each studio has an art, game design, and programming department, as well as game analysts for each game release.
We've experienced incredible growth over the past few years, and as we've scaled up, we've found what works best for us as developers, is a "bottom-up" management style. In support of this, we put ideas into the hands of those closest to our audience and the team members who will ultimately be responsible for implementing each new idea. Everyone feels very much involved, and this investment is what motivates us to create games that millions of players around the world enjoy and play.
This bottom-up process includes everyone from our community management staff, artists, translators, game designers, QA testers, and ultimately, our users. For example, our game designers will directly bounce an idea off our community management team to find out if a new feature is too complicated or undermines a game play strategy before it goes to prototyping and QA, or our junior artists can directly jump in and help rethink a new unit concept that doesn't fit with the look and feel of the title before we waste a week playing with the balance and unit statistics. The connections are very non-linear.
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