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From Two Years to Two Months: Transforming a Studio
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From Two Years to Two Months: Transforming a Studio

April 15, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Decide and Go

The key to delivering a high quality product in a limited amount of time is clearly defining the objectives of the project (this is not scope), dispersing this to the team, and having centralized decision making. Many people confuse project objectives with project scope. This is an important point. The objectives of a project are the concrete goals of development -- the target you shoot the arrow at. The scope of a project are the parameters of development, which must be flexible and change to ensure you hit the target.

Furthermore, with small team development, there is no excuse for bad communication. All members should not only have a clear understanding of their tasks, but everyone else's. Lastly, while I fully endorse lead and team collaboration, a single decision-maker is key to agile development. This philosophy can be applied to long term projects, but is a must for short cycle development. Decide and go.

This is an area where BFG's long background in game development was so valuable. Working with Adam Levesque (design director) and Lou Catanzaro (art director) allowed us to not only make fast decisions, but bring clear rapid vision to these changes.

Adam's ability to rapidly spec out all of the corner cases of a design and Lou's ability to create strong visualization for the work was invaluable. We often hit the mark out the gate and if we didn't, we failed fast and reoriented quickly.

Respect Your User Data

The key point where live online, mobile, and social development starts to divert from a console project is in the nature of the product launch. Live development requires that you develop the minimal components necessary for launch and then build and grow the experience based on community feedback and analytics (not what you community tells you, but what they are doing).

In traditional console development, everything needs to be perfect and final for Gold Master; a live game has no such requirements. Nothing is more powerful than your user data -- it should be harvested and respected.

A quick example of how valuable this information can be: Because of the nature of Facebook, most games have a high loss of players after first use. We were seeing this with Zoo Kingdom, but wanted to dig in deeper to understand what was happening.

On review of our data, we saw players leaving before reaching level 2. Unfortunately, the game was set up for a first time player to hit this mark. We came up with a few theories, implemented them separately, and watched the results in data. With further tweaks, we now see a significantly higher number of users progressing through this level -- though we always need to work on getting them to come back the next day.


This is a development philosophy, not necessarily "DNA." This is NOT web development versus console development. This is low ego, rapid development that starts with intent and continues with following your community and your metrics.

Tracking Zoo Kingdom's development to 10 weeks (which I detail later) was only possible with our team expertise across all disciplines. The development philosophy described above mixed with extensive development experience is an explosive combination. As more "traditional" developers come to understand this process, the quality and speed at which product is built and deployed in this social medium will redefine gaming as we know it.

User data is not simply how your players are playing the game and what they are buying. It starts with their demographic, how they come to your product, what other products they are playing etc. Creating a player profile for your different segments of users is essential for driving improvements in all major metrics: Acquisition, Retention, Virality, Monetization, etc. Don't know what your user profiles are? Look at you data! Start sorting and comparing your data to create profiles of your players.

Look for common trends in your statistics. Did they all get stuck at level 2? Why? Are only certain types of players having this problem? What are their demos? Tracking, reviewing, and deciphering your analytics is absolutely a full-time job on Facebook. Someone should be devoted to this just like someone should be devoted to improving and extending your analytics. I can't stress this enough, put someone in charge of your analytics.

This bit here can always be a struggle for traditional game developers. Most developers are used to developing in a vacuum and making decisions based on other products and personal experience. They've honed this skill over years of development. In both Lion Pride and Zoo Kingdom gameplay systems, well thought out and designed features were cut simply because casual users didn't get it or the data suggested blockage.

Once you have a sense of your users and your data you can start A|B testing. This is trying out different language, images, colors, features to split groups of users. These tests can be blind (random split) or targeted at specific groups.

As soon as you have data, it is also important to drive your team to understand the metrics and how development improves these metrics. This process needs to be driven by a fundamental and actual understanding of your metrics and woven into game development.

In traditional game development, design is driven by what the game developer thinks will be fun and/or engaging. Some teams have user tests late in development, but these are often at a point of little return. In live development, a world of information is a available and should be used -- the process looks like this:

  • Define the metric you want to drive (based on market objectives or existing data)
  • Consider all related data, and look to change a specific characteristic
  • Design a feature specifically targeted to change the characteristic
  • MAKE A PREDICTION! Your team should be required to explain the metric/characteristic and expected change they want to see. This should NOT be a blanket term like "a big increase in X." This should be a targeted value. We expect to see user retention of our US, Female, over 30 group increase 10% between level 2 and level 3 based on this change.
  • CHECK YOUR PREDICTION! After putting in the feature, check your prediction. See how close you were. See what else changes.
  • Learn and improve

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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