Spiling the beans

February 2013

Two Women Looking at SmartphoneJust before the launch of its latest game, Henry Tucker MBCS spoke to Peter Hofstede, from Spil Games, about the challenges of mobile game development.

Spil Games are based in Amsterdam and have a history of making Flash games.

The teams work on games for a worldwide audience and according to Peter Hofstede, who manages the process of thinking up new games, ‘if you work for Spil for a number of years you get to know the word for game in a number of different languages.’

In the past year though the company has changed its focus towards mobile gaming and it now does full-on app development.

He says that this wasn’t that easy a process as it meant a major change in terms of the skills his developers needed.

The studio now uses the Unity game engine, which according to Peter is a very different toolkit than they had used before. And with 80 per cent of its projects now made using the engine this has meant that whereas the development for Flash games was between three and four months, it can be as much as a year with the bigger budget mobile products.

Another issue they have with mobile is that they can’t port the games between the various platforms but have to start from scratch each time. At best, Peter says, they can use some of the assets but you generally have to rethink the control scheme at the very least. This has the knock on effect of increasing the production costs, plus the projects are getting more complicated.

‘We have worked on quite deep Flash games, which sometimes took a year to produce. But in general production costs have increased ten-fold. So one of the effects is that we are focusing on doing a lot less and really only taking our best IP and not building a really wide portfolio of games,’ he added.

Free-to-play

An issue with mobile games is that they don’t sell for much compared to the boxed products you get for the big consoles. This then has an effect on the way that the games are developed. With some apps there is a more to free-to-play approach, where the game is free but you buy things in-game. At Spil they consider this, but it depends on what the game is.

‘Our research has shown parents are willing to pay for a good product. If there is a good trial version they are quite keen to invest in the product. For others it makes sense to go with a free-to-play mechanic, but it needs to fit with the IP.’

As to how much the development costs that’s still drifting says Peter. ‘We’ve been working on a number of games and Sara has been our biggest project. We know that we’re going to have quite a lot of cost after the launch as well, probably if we do well we will have to spend more after the launch than before.

‘This is because we are shifting towards games as a service and that means we are building updates for after the launch. We also need to adapt to what we see in the game. If we see things aren’t interesting we swap them out and also if we see some traction we are going to invest more. We hook the games up to an analytics back end so that we can see where people fall off, are they stuck and so on.’

When asked if he thought there is a sweet spot for games he said that deep down it’s about psychology and different audiences have different drivers.

Boys will be boys

‘We know that boys are into extreme stuff where they can experiment, see how far they can go. For girls it’s different, with things like roleplay, playing out future careers. Creativity is very important, there are themes that work; animals, beauty their future self. It starts from that.

‘Then there are game mechanics. It needs to be rewarding, needs to be a challenge. There’s this concept of the killer game loop, which is you need to have a small gameplay cycle that you can finish in two minutes.

The player completes one cycle, then they can go in and do another or they can step out. You need to be able to dip in and out. The guys from NaturalMotion Games are talking about the Starbucks queue test. You need to be able to finish one loop whilst you are waiting for your coffee. You do something then you get a reward, a positive feedback loop.’

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    Totters wrote on 4th Mar 2013

    Very useful and informative overview into the evolving world of gaming for those of us not close to the action. Thank you.

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