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16 Weeks Later : Signing Mobile Developers

by Matt Powers on 02/04/15 01:54:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I spent 20 years making console games. And now, for the past 4 months I have been working on mobile games. As a producer I have a number of roles in the company. From the project signing to going live worldwide I oversee all parts of production. Just over a year ago, leaving Sega, I made the decision that I wanted to work on mobile games. How different could it be? My first 38 days were interesting and you can read about those here:

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MattPowers/20141217/232399/From_Console_to_Mobile__38_Days_Later.php

At the moment I am writing this from Pune, India where Reliance Games is headquartered. I’m spending over a month with the team here to ensure we are all in sync with our products and the process we are going through to find and sign external developers. At the end of my first 38 days, I was in California communicating with developers all over the world. Now, at 16 weeks, I am someplace entirely different.

The Day Begins

Waking up, it takes a minute to remember I am not in California anymore. Stepping onto the concrete floor and into the single room bathroom is a quick reminder. I’m in Pune, India – the headquarters of Reliance Games. I’ll be here for over a month to work at the home office.

I didn’t sleep well last night as I had a call with California at 5am. As I get ready to head to the office I chuckle at the fact I came all the way to India to have early morning calls with one of my developers in California. It is also a reminder of the shrinking world we live in. Work continues regardless of the country I am in.

The smell of spices fill the air and the familiar song of car horns accompany me on my walk to work. Two things I have learned quickly here in India are that the food is great and the locals love to honk their horns. Rickshaws and motorcycles stick into the street like broken teeth. As I wind my way around the parked vehicles I have to be careful of the traffic. The cars, rickshaws, and motorcycles flow through the roads like water. The concept of lanes seems all but lost as cars intertwine and weave together. The two lane roads somehow fit three or four vehicles across. All the while, the conversation of honking horns accompanies me to the office. I haven’t yet dared to try and cross the street by myself. Stepping into traffic is like playing a real-life game of Frogger.

Reliance has two floors of an office building near the apartment I am staying at. My office is on the sixth floor. The roof is just above us, and each day we sit on the roof and take a quick tea for a brief moment of relaxation. The other day was a festival of kites called Makar Sankranti. Someone in the office brought in a handful of small paper kites. Everyone took a break from work to join together on the roof, taking turns trying to get their kite into the air. The sky above our building was like a flock of drunken paper birds; kites floated, dipped, and fell. The rooftop was full of laughter.

A break like that was what the office needed. Reliance recently released Ultimate Robot Fighting and as it is in mobile, the work just begins after a game goes live. The team is working hard on the updates to improve our numbers.

Stepping out of the elevator and into the offices I leave India behind. Once I step through those doors I'm at work. In the conference room the design team is meeting to discuss a new feature addition to Ultimate Robot Fighting. I walk by Vishakh and Aman’s desk and see he is busy on some User Interface updates. There is a buzz in the air – an unmistakable buzz that tells you that creativity is happening. As I walk towards my desk, Abhishek asks how I am. “Best damn job in the world,” I reply with a smile. And you know what, I mean it. We are making games, can’t get too much better than that.

As I settle in at my desk I think about what needs to get done today. Today I am working with Jasmeet again to sort through potential Movie IP licenses we may be interested in. Yesterday I had a call with a developer in Poland and another in Spain regarding one of our Intellectual Properties, which they are going to submit proposals on. I need to follow-up on that. But before anything else, I need to make sure our external projects are on track. I gesture over to Rahul to join me so we can sync up. Two of our external projects have submitted milestones recently; we need to discuss their status.

I smile as I sit down; another day at the office begins. Best damn job in the world.

Average time spent playing mobile games now over two hours a day (from PocketGamer.biz)

The average time someone spends playing mobile games increased by 57 percent in 2014 compared to 2012, according to new data from NPD. The industry intelligence outfit revealed that while in 2012 most people clocked around one hour and 20 minutes of mobile gaming time every day, in 2014 that figure was over two hours a day.

http://www.pocketgamer.biz/news/60717/average-daily-mobile-game-play-over-two-hours/

The Mobile Producer

Now I am settled in at 16 weeks into the wonderful world of mobile. What more have I learned?

The actual development of a game is very similar between consoles and mobile. For both console and mobile the most important factor is creating a good game.

One difference with mobile is that we need to focus more on engagement. If there is engagement then monetization and retention will follow. Also with mobile it is important to not try and build the full game the first time. Make sure the player’s first 45 minutes is a great experience. Leverage the update strategy in mobile products by looking at Key Product Indicators (KPIs).

Compared to console, mobile games are more of a service than a product. We talk about the Live Operations and Updates, which keep the games life going, and keep players coming back on a month on month basis. So it behaves like a product in the life cycle but in mobile gaming since you have tons of data you can always optimize the games and continue to run it like a service.

In mobile, loyalties are fickle and consumers play games for snackable experiences of a few minutes. In console – the consumer is sitting at home without distractions and is more hooked in. Session times, engagement, and core loop design is key in mobile to give an engaging experience that satisfies the consumer and brings them back again and again to play the next day.

As with both console and mobile, everything begins with finding the right developer for the project. For this article I have decided to focus on one part of my job, which is finding external developers to be partners with us in the creation of a mobile game.

Signing a Developer

Reliance has an internal development team and we work with external developers. When producing games with an external developer the very first step is determining what potential project is the best fit for the developer. To ensure everyone’s success it is important that both the publisher, Reliance in this case, and the developer are in alignment on what needs to be done and that there is a suitable match between genre, IP, publisher and developer. To ensure this, there is a lot of preparation on my part before I even speak with a potential developer.

STAGE 1 - Support Materials

The first phase is internal research by Reliance to determine all the factors involved to create the final Matrix of Needs. There are four parts involved. These parts are:

1.  Genre Analysis

2.  IP Overview

3.  In-Market Examples

4.  Developer 1st Due Diligence

Genre Analysis

Reliance is continually examining the top grossing games and which genres are trending. We make sure there is internal alignment on which genres are most important for Reliance to be involved with (and clear definition of how those genres are defined). Reliance analyses existing top grossing games and determines which game genres we plan to get involved in next.

Risk Well Worth Taking (from Deconstructor of Fun)

Supercell’s winning recipe in game development hasn't been a secret. First you take an existing successful social game theme. Then you benchmark and reverse engineer the best titles in that genre in order to create a strong and natural core loop. You follow up by building the game around the solid core loop. Sprinkle some new and improved gameplay twists and dress it up with stunning graphics. Finally, you polish the game to perfection via soft launch in Canada. Once the game is polished and the KPIs look solid, it's time to come out with a bang and take app charts by storm. 

http://www.deconstructoroffun.com/2014/01/boom-beach-developing-of-next-big-thing.html

Intellectual Property Overview

Reliance reviews existing Intellectual Property (IP) and potential IPs to make decisions on what genre matches which IP best. Pairing a great IP or license with the target genre is an important step for us. Recently I went through an exercise with Jasmeet here in the Reliance offices looking at all the Movie IPs coming out the second half of 2015. We looked at each Movie IP to determine if we felt it would be an IP we should pursue.

Here is an example of part of the spreadsheet we are working on reviewing potential Movie IP licenses:

Movie IP              Genre                       Confidence?          Possible Genres             References
Movie IP 1          Simulation/Builder         Super High             City Building                         
Movie IP 2          Family, Animation          High                       City Management           Tapped Out
Movie IP 3          Epic                               High                       Tower Defense                   
Movie IP 4          Adventure                      High                       Brawler, CardBattle           
Movie IP 5          Adventure                      High                       Casual                            Frozen
Movie IP 6          Action                            High                       Action, City building          


Reliance Games has a very close relationship with a number of Movie IP studios that allows us to get access to great Movie IP licenses. Reliance has a number of existing IPs both Movie IP and game related. With our existing IPs we review internally and come to agreement on what game genre we think would be best for each IP. Here is a simplified example of a spreadsheet Reliance may use to define our existing IPs:

Existing Reliance IP                              Target Genre
Reliance IP #1                                         Match3
Reliance IP #2                                         Brawler
Reliance IP #3                                         Empire Builder / Tower Defense
Reliance IP #4                                         Sequel / Action+Shooter
Reliance IP #5                                         Casual Racing - CSR

In-Market Examples

To further define the expectations for the potential game further, in-market examples are gathered to provide direction for the art and game play. In-market examples are gathered to help further detail the expectations for the genre and the IP.

Summary of Top Grossing Game Trends

Looking at the Top 200 Grossing Games from January 2014
Parameters                                                     Findings
Free Vs Paid                                                 83% Free
Client Sizes                                                   59% <50mb & 87% <100 mb
Additional D/Ls vs One time D/L                   31% Additional D/Ls
Orientation                                                    63% Landscape
Controls – Taps/Swipes Vs Buttons              71% Taps/Swipes
1 or 2 handed                                                89% 1 Handed
Artstyle                                                          76% - Casual & Toon
IP/Non IP                                                       53% Non-IP, 36% Gaming IP

Developer 1st Due Diligence

Reliance investigates currently known and potential developers to determine genre expertise and to verify they meet Reliance Games’ minimum developer requirements. It is important for us at Reliance that we do not waste anyone’s time preparing and presenting proposals. We recognize it takes a lot of work for a developer to create a proposal and that not every developer is suitable for every project. To that end, we have come up with the minimum developer requirements that we verify before we even discuss a proposal with a developer.

Minimum Developer Requirements

  • Have signed NDA
  • Have delivered proven monetization and retention models for other publishers
  • Developer has strong belief and passion for the IP
  • Previous experience developing on mobile platforms required
  • F2P experience required
  • Unity experience required
  • Previous experience developing a game of this game type required. NOTE: if a game in the genre has not been released then an advanced Alpha or Beta would be acceptable.

NOTE: exceptions can be made but it should be made clear to developer that any deviation from the above is an uphill battle for developer. Basically, while it might be possible to work with a developer without proven experience in a genre, it is highly unlikely.

We also have a Developer Tracking Worksheet where we capture the information about each developer we come in contact with. While a certain developer might not be applicable today they could be just what we are looking for in the future. The Developer Tracking Worksheet contains the most important information regarding a developer. This includes: dev website, dev location, contact information, genre specialization, links to game, etc…

MATRIX OF NEEDS

By using the above criteria Reliance can determine what developers we would like to be working with in what genres on which IPs. It is critical for us that we have internal alignment on all assumptions before moving forward.  At this stage there is understanding of what best genre fits an IP, there are in-market examples of the art style and game play for that genre, and a matrix of developers that are “best in class” for that genre.

STAGE 2 - Proposal

After Stage 1 the developer is approached and asked to submit a proposal to Reliance. It is critical that all homework has been done so both the developer’s and Reliance’s time is not wasted.

Stages for Request for Proposal include:

  1. Verification of minimum requirements
  2. Send developer the Request For Proposal Overview Document
  3. Receive proposal and review
  4. Internal review should produce feedback and a “go”, “no-go”, or questions to be answered.
  5. Have call with developer to clarify any items in proposal
  6. Updated proposal or additional supporting documentation may be required.
  7. Decision to move forward.

The Request for Proposal Overview Document outlines what is expected from developer in their proposal. Some of the items I make sure are in every overview include:

  • Company information – why should Reliance consider this developer for this project?
  • Key personnel – who are your best team members and what is their background? Reliance wants the “A” team.
  • Experience within the game genre? Team and company experience.
  • Demonstrate understanding of IP and how it will be translated from original game(s) to mobile.
  • Outline monetization, engagement, retention, and acquisition plans.
  • Outline of social features.
  • Rough plan for social/viral activities.
  • Outline of achievements and leaderboard implementation.
  • Brief outline of story. Include your vision for the overall theme. For example, would it be realistic, or cartoony, etc…?
  • Description of the first 5 minutes of the user experience.
  • Outline of the controls. The approachability of the game is important and we are interested in how the player will control their units.
  • Summary of existing games on market that could be considered as references.  Providing reference games that help explain/define both the game play and art style is critical.  NOTE:  We define “reference game” as any free-to-play title that has spent three months or more in the top two hundred charts in iTunes or Google Play.
  • Provide any information that will help Reliance understand the developer’s vision for this game and IP

At Reliance we will often create a specific Overview Document for each of our IPs that outline what our expectations are for that license. This overview helps provide direction to the developer for their proposal.

STAGE 3 – Business Decision

This third and final stage in signing a project is Reliance making the decision to “go” or “no go” with this developer and this proposal. We try to make this decision quickly so the developer knows the status.

Requirements to get to this stage:

  1. Reliance wants to make a game in this genre.
  2. Reliance has identified any potential IP for this genre.
  3. Developer has met min. requirements.
  4. Developer has been delivered the Request For Proposal (RFP) and/or IP/genre overview that takes into account sample Statement of Work (SOW) along with Proposal requirements.
  5. Developer has delivered a proposal that satisfies first pass

Business discussions now occur between developer and Reliance regarding time, scope, and cost.

iOS Top Grossing Genres from 2010-2013

Tier 1   = 67%              Tier 2  = 15%                         Tier 3 = 18%
Builders                        Racing                                    Others
Strategy                       Collectable Card Game      
Gambling                     Action RPG                            
Puzzle                          Simulation                           
                                     Tower Defence                    

Summing it Up

As a producer that has worked with external developers for many years, it is important to start that relationship out right. And the “first date” between publisher and developer is the Project Proposal. Ensuring that I, as the publisher, can provide the potential developer with as much information as possible regarding what my needs are is essential. Developers are busy folk and I don’t want to waste their time. Also, we all want to make a great, successful game. Ensuring everyone is on the same page from the beginning is essential to success.

Mobile Producer?

A handful of months into my adventure as a mobile producer and I wonder, “Am I a full-fledged mobile producer?” I have learned a lot about the mobile industry. Learned some of the key similarities and differences from my previous life as a console producer. Looking back over this article I see I have begun to throw about the mobile jargon like a practiced mobile professional - KPIs, monetization, and engagement are now part of my daily vocabulary. But I still have a lot to learn and I’ll continue to take you on that journey.

Input from You

I am very much interested in your comments and feedback. And I am especially interested in questions you might have which I could cover in future articles. I enjoy writing and what I enjoy about it most is the idea I am creating something both interesting and useful. Are my articles interesting and useful? What could I write about next that would be helpful to you? Let me know.

Would you like to meet the author?

I will be attending GDC in San Francisco this coming March. If you are a developer interested in working with Reliance, let me know. If you enjoy my articles and want to sit and chat, let me know.

About the Author

Matt Powers has been making video games for over 20 years. Until recently that time has been spent producing games for console. Now he is hard at work producing mobile games. If you liked this article or have any questions about it, please leave a comment. 

You can find more articles on Gamasutra written by Matt here: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MattPowers/951858/

If you would like to contact Matt you can email him here: [email protected]

You can also find him on LinkedIn where he would be happy to connect with you.


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