When small studio tells you that you’re going to make a smashing mobile free-to-play hit in just few months, be aware. There’s actually a great opportunity ahead of you, but with that comes great responsibility. And a lot of hard work, on expert level.‘Heroes of Nox’ by EVERYDAYiPLAY could be described easiest as autobattler sci-fi mobile action RPG, yet done with this genuinely easy and humourous tone found in other studio’s releases.
It’s heavily based on features found in many top grossing action games of the genre, yet we focused on creating more intense gameplay and clever use of characters’ special abilities during the battles. No turn-base, but fast-paced action founded on making quick decisions during missions and careful development of your heroes before them.
How to describe those intense three months the best? I say, let’s focus on the three most important rules I learned then, and list them here:
Rule #01: Make a lot of prototypes, and play them!
While crafting the title for its soft-launch release, we had a bunch of gameplay prototypes already waiting for their iteration phase. They were made anytime by anyone: at the beggining of project’s life, later during game-jam sessions, after work as an exercise…
It’s stunning, how many different styles of game you can make out of a simple premise! Each prototype differed with its pacing, mechanics, visual and functional appeal.
At the beggining, when I joined the team, I was pretty surprised because of that. I got used to perform the projects that were already well-organized before the development, with clear vision of what the final game would approximately look like. ‘Why none of those prototypes was developed further up until now?‘, I asked myself. My most natural designer instinct told me to just browse through all those mini-games, find out which one has a chance to hold all the needed features together — and choose the best. Simple?
Surprise that came along turned out to be a bit shocking for the team, and most shocking for me myself. None of the prototypes made during pitch development phase was suiting for our game! None was able to meet the requirements of engaging Players for longer. That’s what our research showed us clearly at the moment.
So, suddenly we had to come up with something that works. And do it quickly.
And that’s the point where focus on making multiple, expendable prototypes paid off for the whole team. Even with almost complete change of game’s mechanics and a lot of improvements to be done, it took us merely few brainstorms and test builds to establish at last what did we want from our final product. Just before the soft-launch!
Some product owners would say that it’s too risky to give the game a chance at this point. But, we got that chance — and returned our share of good job. Thanks to the prototypes, the build we worked from then on seemed clear and consistent for everyone. And thus, it was growing exponentially quick. We could focus on details, with overall idea on what our game has to be. Our workflow was smooth and gave us better effects.
This pace of work can be exhausting in long-term and requires a lot of modesty towards what you and others do. You have to keep that in mind constantly:
Everything can change suddenly. You have to stay prepared for those changes.
Proper management of work and making firm decisions is important at some point of project’s life, though with great improvising skills of your team, the more latter this point is in time, the better for the game.
Take your time with prototypes, they will pay off someday.
Rule #02: Take your time for thorough research.
Here, I can only repeat after Teut Weidemann from his brilliant ‘Doom of Analytics‘ lecture on GDC Europe 2015:
Consider hiring professional data analysts and make them work closely with your game designers. Your designers must learn to understand the numbers.
This is a must-have, especially in small teams, where at least one or few developers need to be constantly in touch with what’s happening on the market. You need to establish the attitude for seeking the most accurate data in this vast sea of information. Only this can help you to answer any ongoing problem with the precise reaction. Without this attitude, the team is left in the dark and, as for me, people can as well perform their usual dev-magic until the very release, not knowing what they’re actually doing.
This is not what you want while competing on F2P market. In a clash between your game and this huge requirements even for its sole recognition, you simply don’t stand a chance without the data analysis.
With this big competition and availability of games, Players have especially high expectations for each free-to-play game. The ability to fluently read in statistics is of utmost importance. It allows you to get a good grasp on what Players would really want your game to be, opposite of typical developer’s biases.
It’s you who should adapt to master your environment, not the other way around.
In my opinion, good game designer has to be prepared for asking valid questions on game’s future KPIs and monetization. They all have certain influence on foundations of delivered gameplay, different with every single game. If you can’t find proper information during your research — the information that you truly can comprehend in given context — you most probably won’t be able to make a good F2P game, that will keep its high position on charts.
Rule #03: Keep calm and carry on.
The most important rule for me, always. We really had to put all our hearts into the game to even make it happen. When you look at the premise of this project from outside it looks somehow like… madness.
This was relatively small project from its very beggining. And we had to make it a worthy competition for all those big releases hanging firmly on top-grossing charts. How is the group of ten people going to do this?!
Easy. It involves just the honest optimism.
It comes naturally with your deep passion for designing games.
Try to make a difference in the mid-core market, that is now dominated mostly by official games supporting popular franchises from movies, series, comic books, or even other video games. How can you embrace this big challenge to make it out successful?
You need skills, but your love for what you do is even more important here. This kind of game won’t break through the popularity wall to reach your Players, if they won’t feel your devotion and great ideas in details while playing.
That’s why even when focusing on what made your reference games so successful, never forget that Players will look not for similarities with them. They’ll search for distinctive features and true emotions in your concepts, world and narration. And those highlights can come up only from open-minded, skilled people that can improvise, never from careless repetition. No matter if you label yourself a designer, an artist, a programmer, a producer — positive mindset is much, if not the most important for you to succeed.
Love what you do and care for your Players’ experience.
With small budget and great ambitions, it may be your only way to get recognition on today’s mobile games market. Still, the way that will lead you to your success.