Disney Interactive launches storytelling app Story for iOS

Disney Story app iconDisney Interactive today launched Story for iOS, a storytelling app that accesses a user’s camera roll of photos and videos on their mobile device and automatically organizes their media into stories, which can be personalized, saved and shared.

Disney senior director of engineering Scott Gerlach told Inside Mobile Apps that “We realized that parents were collecting media on their phones at a rate even greater than the typical smartphone user. They were drowning in this sea of personal media and feeling pressure from their family and friends to share that.”

Gerlach, who works for Disney’s parent-oriented group called Women and Family, explains that although Story is geared toward moms and parents, the app is for everyone.Disney Story screenshot

Story is broken up into two sections — Moments and Stories. Moments are pieces of media from a user’s camera roll that is automatically pulled together based on a piece of media’s time stamp and location tag by Disney’s proprietary algorithm. The developers classified a moment as something that can’t span more than a calendar day, and no piece of media in a series collected within that time span can have a gap of more than a certain amount of time or distance. Once a moment is collected, a user can turn it into a story. Users can drag and drop media around, edit a title, add captions, and give their story a theme, which consists of fonts, colors, backgrounds and photo treatments. Gerlach says Disney will later allow users to add vocal annotations, music and other forms of media, to their stories. (more…)

Guest Post: Analyzing the stickiness in Nimble Quest

Editor’s note: Arcade action game Nimble Quest is the latest offering from Tiny Towers and Pocket Planes developer NimbleBit. Kevin Oke, Lead Designer at both Adrian Crook & Associates, a social-mobile game design consultancy, and PlayRank, a second screen startup, analyzes the stickiness in Nimble Quest. He previously wrote a guest post for Inside Mobile Apps that analyzed engagement in Supercell’s Clash of Clans.

nimblebit-logoNimbleBit, creators of Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes, released their latest title the aptly named Nimble Quest at the end of March. While it’s a fun game, I’ve found four key issues described below that I believe limit its stickiness and in turn, its ability to monetize.

According to AppData, after a strong start peaking at No. 6 on the top free iPhone apps chart for the games genre, it has slid to No. 217 as of this writing. Its rank on the top grossing iPhone apps chart for the games genre is at No. 190. These positions may be at least partially attributable to the issues I found.

The Compulsion Loop

This is the biggest barrier for Nimble Quest to overcome. The nature of its compulsion loop makes for a very grind heavy experience that hinders its stickiness.Nimble Quest compulsion loop

It’s a rule of thumb in game design that the shorter the loop, the more addictive the experience. By analyzing the loop (diagram above), one can see that unless the player is willing to spend hard currency, they have to restart from the beginning every time. The variable session length nature of the game means that as the player and their friends improve, it takes more and more time for them to challenge their ever-increasing high scores.

Essentially Nimble Quest is banking on players getting invested enough in leaderboard competition to start paying once the grind becomes too much to bear. This is a risky hook to rely on here, as it’s one that is much better suited to games with more of a sense of permanence and ownership, like city builders and strategy games such as Kingdoms of Camelot by Kabam. The reason being that without such permanence, it’s much easier for the player to decide to quit when the grinding gets tiresome.

As in any freemium game leveraging the player’s time for money, if the player tires of the grind too quickly and churns out, they can’t be monetized. However Nimble Quest is especially at risk here because of their compulsion loop. Fixed session lengths with level progression and difficulty determined by a party XP level would have provided more stickiness. (more…)

Google refreshes Google Play’s look

google-play-logoGoogle today revealed a new redesigned look for its Google Play app store on Android smartphones and tablets.

The refreshed look is one that’s simple, clean and aimed to help users find apps and media content faster. Notable changes include larger images, grouping of similar content and the appearance of content recommendations as the user scrolls through the app store. Purchasing has also been simplified, so users can go from checkout to enjoying their content as fast as possible.

The previous look of the Google Play store was more text heavy, with black as its primary color. The redesigned store changes the main colors to lighter colors, which is more akin to the look of the web-based Google Chrome Store.

The redesigned Google Play store begins rolling out today for Android smartphones and tablets running the Android Froyo operating system (version 2.2) and above. The refreshed storefront will roll out worldwide in the next few weeks.Google Play redesign tabletGoogle Play redesign smartphone

Web-based Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliances heads to mobile

Electronic Arts’ web-based game Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliances is heading to mobile, featuring cross-platform play between the web-based and mobile versions. Senior producer Martin Löhlein of EA Phenomic filled us in on the massively-multiplayer strategy title’s gameplay, cross-platform capability and monetization hooks.EA logo

“Right from the start, Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliances was designed to work on both platforms,” he says. “The size of the bases, the amount of building that you have in bases, the size of the defense and of the attacks that you’re making were designed for the mobile screen.”

Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliances, which has more than three million registered users on the web-based version (Click here to read our review of that version), is free-to-play and based loosely on the long-standing Command and Conquer franchise.

Löhlein, who’s been with the studio since 2003, has worked on other titles for the Ingelheim, Germany-based developer including the real-time strategy and role-playing game hybrid SpellForce franchise before the studio was acquired by EA in 2006, BattleForge, which mixes RTS gameplay with trading cards and web-based MMO strategy game Lord of Ultima.

Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliances isn’t reinventing the wheel for the more than decade-old free-to-play MMO strategy genre on PC, which includes the likes of Travian (2004), Evony (2009), OGame (2002) and Tribal Wars (2003). What separates Tiberium Alliances from the MMO strategy games of yesteryear is its design, which focuses on the mobile platform. Older free-to-play MMO strategy games for PC were focused on lengthy queues, which lasted for hours, even days, to complete a building or to attack an opponent and report back. In Tiberium Alliances, users can build, attack and upgrade instantly. Also, the game is more about thoughtfully setting up defenses and troops rather than click skills, which a game like Blizzard’s StarCraft II relies upon, Löhlein says.Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances screenshot 1

Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliances for both web and mobile is the same exact game with all the same features. The only difference is the user-interface, which has been optimized for both platforms — touch for mobile and mouse and keyboard for web. Users can pick up where they left off on either the computer or mobile. All the monetization hooks are the same on both platforms and virtual currency is redeemable on both platforms. Löhlein says a large part of the code is the same on both platforms, which is mostly written in HTML5 and JavaScript.

“We think that HTML5 is the technology of the future,” Löhlein believes.

 Playing for the greater good

The core gameplay revolves around constructing a base, harvesting resources and building up an army to capture territory from AI-controlled enemies known as the The Forgotten, and other players. One core gameplay loop is all about a user optimizing their base for the maximum amount of resource output. The other core gameplay loop is combat. The game is set in a large, persistent world map in the shape of a circle, where random camps with NPC-controlled baddies spawn. Players then choose the optimal target to attack and set up an army using the least amount of resources. Combat is handled asynchronously. A player can’t change their base around during an attack by an opponent, but they can spectate the attack. Spectating a battle can be helpful, for example, if the player being attacked by an opponent has a second base, that player can counter-attack by sending troops to the opponent’s base. When a user defeats an enemy — either The Forgotten or a real player — the user is rewarded with resources used to level up or unlock new units.Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances screenshot 2

Individual victories contribute to a player’s alliance, the game’s big multiplayer selling point. Basically, players join an alliance, which consist of up to 50 people, and compete with other alliances on a given server. Alliances battle each other for strategic positions, which give the alliance a bonus of some sort. Since the game world is a huge circle, every alliance is aimed at moving toward the center over time, where there’s an end-game challenge. The further alliances get to the center, the stronger enemies get, meaning strategic positions become more valuable. If an alliance defeats the end-game at the center of the map, that alliance wins the server, but other alliances can still continue playing to reach second place, third place and so on.

Striking a balance between players who monetize and don’t monetize

Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliance’s monetizes in two way. First, players can increase their resource cap, which is helpful since the game limits the amount of resource packages that are produced by buildings. Users can also increase the cap to store Command Points, which are spent for attacking. Second, users can purchase extra supply crates that give them direct resources or Command Points, which allow the user to execute more attacks. The game utilizes EA’s premium currency known as Play4Free Funds for in-game purchasing. Löhlein tells us that EA Phenomic are trying to make sure that players can’t pay to win. The developer set a limit on the number of crates a player can use per session, so users can’t spend an infinite amount of money or time into the game to infinitely boost their army.

“If you’re willing to invest more time and be a little less flexible in when and how often you do your sessions, you are actually able to grind for those supply crates instead of buying them and still be able to keep up,” Löhlein says.

Currently, the game has soft-launched on the Canadian Apple App Store and it will release for iOS worldwide sometime in March. The game will also release for Android in the coming months.

Guest Post: Clash of Clans engagement analysis

Editor’s note: Clash of Clans, one of two titles from Finnish mobile developer Supercell, has continually topped the iOS charts and raked in loads of money for the studio. Kevin Oke, Lead Designer at both Adrian Crook & Associates, a social-mobile game design consultancy, and PlayRank, a second screen startup, takes a deep dive into how Clash of Clans effectively engages and retains players.
Supercell logo

Supercell’s Clash of Clans (CoC) has been a top grossing title on the iOS app store for months now, and in the course of playing (and becoming addicted to) the game, I began to unravel just how it manages to engage and retain players so well.

Meaningful Downtime Mechanics

Games relying on appointment mechanics as part of their compulsion loop typically have trouble addressing the downtime that arises in between these appointments. Specifically, how to engage players during this time, as generally the most engaging gameplay and core mechanics are intertwined with these downtime-creating appointment mechanics. In city builder games, usually the only thing available to the player during downtime is re-organizing their cities — shallow gameplay, generally speaking.Clash of Clans downtime screenshot

In this sense, CoC is no different. However the composition of the player’s village is not only vital to success, but a downtime session of moving gold mines and cannons around can directly lead to a micro-transaction.

A quick explanation for those that have not played CoC: The layout of your buildings, walls, traps, and weaponry are key, as you need to defend against raids from other players. An airtight defense quickly becomes the obsession of CoC players as they try to protect their stores of gold and elixir. Using the Replay feature (more on this later), they watch and learn from their defeats, tweaking their layout to patch holes in their defense.

In short, this is a fantastic downtime mechanic. Why?

  • It’s meaningful.
  • It creates additional, long play sessions (a level 20 player could easily spend half an hour doing a total revamp of their defenses).
  • Spurs on purchases — “I could defend the south side of the village with just these two cannons if they were upgraded. But I don’t have enough gold … But if I don’t upgrade, I’m too vulnerable.” A perfect example of this mechanic leading to a micro-transaction.
  • The player’s fortress layout is personal and unique. This attachment is great for engagement long-term.

As you can see, this isn’t just a fantastic downtime mechanic, but a fantastic gameplay mechanic period.

Loop Optimization

Loop optimization provides the player with tricks to discover and exploit over the course of their lifetime within the game. A prime example in social games is Farmville players finding and planting the seeds with the best coin/XP cost ratio. Instances of loop optimization help with long-term engagement by making a game more difficult to grok, and in competitive games, providing an edge to players with the will to unearth them. In social games with appointment mechanics, they also create more sessions per day.

Loop optimization in CoC is centered on resource collecting and raids. In classic appointment mechanic fashion, for the player to most efficiently harvest gold and elixir they need to return to the game and harvest right when the resource generating structures are at max capacity. Harvest any time past that point, and it’s the equivalent of turning on a tap to fill a bucket and leaving, coming back, and seeing the bucket overflowing — wasted resources. This is not unique to CoC in any way, but it’s still important in maximizing the number of daily sessions per player.

The more interesting loop optimization comes from player vs. player (PvP) and the threat of raids. Leaving hoards of gold and elixir sitting around makes the player a very appealing target for raids. Thus they are encouraged to check in often and do one of two things:

  • Collect their resources from the buildings that generate them, moving them into their storage units, which if the player is smart, are behind fortifications.
  • Collect and spend their resources immediately.Clash of Clans lopp optimization screenshot

As the player can only build a certain number of defenses at any given time (based on the level of their town hall), they can never provide adequate protection for all of their structures.

Thus the need to check in often and spend, or move the gold and elixir to storage units that are better protected — it’s a common strategy to keep storage units behind walls and near archery towers and cannons, and leave gold mines and elixir collectors out in the open, as they store much less and therefore are less of a loss if pillaged.

This all means that saving up for big-ticket upgrades and buildings is risky. The more time spent saving up, the bigger the loss and time wasted if the player is raided. Recognizing that a moment of tension and risk is a great time to conduct a micro-transaction, Supercell offers a shield that will protect the player from raids while they are saving up. Or the player can just buy the item in question immediately with hard currency. (more…)

Ben Cousins on DeNA’s upcoming core FPS The Drowning

Developer Scattered Entertainment’s Ben Cousins recently gave Inside Mobile Apps an in-depth look at the developer’s upcoming horror first-person shooter (FPS) The Drowning. Cousins, the general manager of the studio, filled us in on the title’s innovative controls, monetization hooks and social features.The Drowning logo

The Stockholm-based studio, which is a subsidiary of DeNA, consists of team members that had previously worked on multiple console FPS franchises including Halo, Crysis, Far Cry and Battlefield. Industry veteran Cousins is the man leading the ship at Scattered Entertainment, who had previously worked at Acclaim Entertainment, Lionhead Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment, and most recently at Electronic Arts. He joined DeNA because he wanted to work at a company where free-to-play and digital were the primary focus in terms of revenue.

“We didn’t feel like core gamers needs were being served particularly well,” he says. “Not in terms of giving them enormous single-player games that they sit down and play for eight hours, but more creating games that have the adult tone, violence, excitement, drama, and high-end visuals that they would expect from a console game.”

The Drowning’s core gameplay loops and controls

The free-to-play game, which runs on the Unity3D engine, is aimed at the core audience and places the user as survivor of the apocalypse who’s stranded on a series of islands in the pacific northwest of the U.S. The user starts with just a pistol and is soon attacked by zombie-like creatures. The player is then rescued by another survivor named Charlotte, who turns out to be a gunsmith that operates a workshop. Users are then tasked with going out to various locations nearby to clear out baddies and scavenge for parts to craft weapons and upgrade existing weapons.The Drowning screenshot 1

There are two core gameplay loops in The Drowning. First, users go to these various island environments and play a two-minute long round where they have to kill as many zombies as possible in as violent of a way as possible via head shots, chaining kills, knocking out baddies, and more, to rack up the highest score possible. The score represents how long zombies will retreat from an environment before they return. Second, while the baddies are away, this gives the user the opportunity to scavenge the environment for parts and broken weapons. The scavenge mode, Cousins says, plays like a slots game where the user presses a button and then receives a random part — such as a broken AK-47, grease, duct tape or a battery. The higher the score in the game round, the higher likelihood the player will nab a rarer part. None of these parts are useful alone, but the parts can crafted together to create a functional Ak-47, for example.

The Drowning’s control scheme is one of the bigger selling points for the game. The controls are not designed around virtual joysticks. Rather, the game is controlled using common touch interface gestures like taps, swipes and pinches. Users can tap the screen with two fingers to shoot, and the bullet is fired to the center point of the two fingers, resulting in the ability to track moving target or multiple baddies without moving the camera. Players can also tap to walk, swipe to look and pinch to zoom. (more…)

Firemonkeys on Real Racing 3 going free-to-play

Inside Mobile Apps yesterday got a hands-on preview of Real Racing 3. We also spoke with Ptolemy Oberin, one of the game’s programmers and project lead at developer Firemonkeys, about the studio’s experience going free-to-play and the game’s Time-Shifted Multiplayer feature.Real Racing 3 app icon

Real Racing 3 is the first game in the Real Racing franchise that’s developed by Firemonkeys, a studio consisting of developers Firemint and IronMonkey. In July 2012, Electronic Arts merged Firemint, the developer of the first two Real Racing titles, Flight Control and SPY mouse, with IronMonkey. Melbourne-based IronMonkey was purchased by EA in February 2010, and are known for bringing EA franchises to mobile as it did with Mass Effect Infiltrator, Dead Space and The Sims FreePlay. Firemint, a Melbourne-based studio as well, was acquired by EA in May 2011.

Modifications made to Real Racing 3

The most noticeable difference going from Real Racing 2 to the third installment is the graphics. Oberin tells us that Real Racing 3 is pushing about the same graphic fidelity seen in PlayStation 3 titles such as Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo 5 and Xbox 360 games like Turn 10 Studios’ Forza Horizon. Oberin adds that Real Racing 3, which runs on Firemonkeys’ in-house engine Mint3D, is pushing around five to six times more polygons in the cars, and that the tracks have been upgraded graphically as well. Other graphical touches include full damage visibility on cars, multiple camera angles and real-time images on the mirrors in cockpit view.

The game is broken down into multiple series, each featuring various events. According to Oberin, who was the project lead for Flight Control Rocket and SPY mouse, there are about 900 events in total. There are 46 licensed cars in total from 12 car manufacturers including Audi, Bugatti, Ford and more. Control-wise, users steer the car by tilting a device side-to-side and braking by pressing the screen — the gas pedal is automatically pressed down.Real Racing 3 screenshot 1

The biggest change in Real Racing 3 is Time-Shifted Multiplayer (TSM). TSM records a real person’s skill level and attributes on EA’s servers. That data is then used to program the AI opponents in races. This works because every user that plays the game will have their driving data recorded. If a user integrates with Facebook or GameCenter, they can then asynchronously race versus AI opponent that are programmed by a user’s friends. Oberin says the cars are not just ghost racers, he described the AI driving the cars as an “AI doppelgänger.”  It should be noted that TSM isn’t a mode, it’s in every race. Real Racing 3’s TSM will also be platform agonistic, meaning players can compete against each other’s TSM AI-controlled driver whether they are on iOS or Android devices. (more…)

Why game content is more important than quality, style and social features

Editor’s Note: Each week, Inside Mobile Apps’ Kathleen De Vere delves into evolving trends in mobile games and apps. The current topic, games as a service, is part of an ongoing effort on the part of mobile and social game developers to maximize engagement and maintain dominant positions on app rankings charts.

Some of the most profitable mobiles games available today aren’t games at all — they are entertainment services.

If that seems strange, consider the average review of mobile card battle games. The genre seems to defy all the lessons developers have learned about what makes a “good” game: graphics quality is low, the user interfaces are unintuitive or cluttered, and the battles (such as they are) don’t require any user input beyond pushing a button.

Despite all that, these “core games” titles earn incredible amounts of money. At the height of its popularity in Japan, GREE’s card battle game Driland was earning more than $26 million a month through in-app purchases. DeNA’s hit Rage of Bahamut has spent 10 months at the top of the Android top grossing chart, generating average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU) in excess of $1.00. Card battle games like Zynga’s Ayakashi Ghost Guild, ATeam’s Dark Summoner and Applibot’s Legend of the Cryptids are also immensely profitable.

These games are popular and addictive because what they are selling is not the basic gameplay, but an ongoing service that keeps players returning. A game-as-a-service provides endless additional content, a player community and a persistent competitive environment. Financially these titles are supported by microtransactions or monthly subscription fees.

Always something to do.

MOBA games like League of Legends, Valve’s Team Fortress 2 and paper-based collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering all have two things in common. They are all extremely popular and are all ongoing entertainment services. Mobile card battle games like Rage of Bahamut offer the same experience on a simplified scale.

The real “gameplay” for many these mobile games today is in the extras: the free bonuses, daily levels, multiplayer raid bosses and limited time special events. For dedicated players, there is always something new to do and it’s easy to become addicted — not to the game, but to the never-ending stream of content and the diversion it provides. Just introducing service components to an existing game can create a huge boost in monetization and retention.

Last summer, Big Fish Games added a Daily Mode to its hit game Fairway Solitaire. Every day, the company puts out two new levels. One is free, the other is bought with in-game currency. On the weekends, the levels that need to be bought might be longer, or offer extra completion bonuses. If a player completes enough of these daily courses, they can use their completion bonuses to unlock even more content.

According to the Fairway Solitaire team, Daily Mode was explicitly created to give players a never-ending feed of new content. Big Fish Games tells us Fairway Solitaire’s engagement and retention are “outstanding.” The game’s daily active user (DAU) count has doubled since Daily Mode was introduced.

Previously, game developers have placed a lot of importance on adding social features to games, but these games aren’t popular because their players can share their high scores on Twitter and invite their Facebook friends to play. Games like Fairway Solitaire inspire great loyalty because their players can always find something to new to do in them.  

The goal of a properly designed game-as-a-service should not be to make the best, or most social game possible, but to create a game where it is nearly impossible for the player to become bored with it. That is the “secret sauce” that makes Magic: The Gathering, League of Legends and Rage of Bahamut so profitable.

Amazing Ants surpasses 1M installs in one week, ranks in the top 5 on the top free iPad apps chart

Indie mobile game developer Twyngo revealed to Inside Mobile Apps that their first game, Amazing Ants for iOS, surpassed the 1 million install mark in one week since the title’s launch on Jan. 10.Twyngo logo

“It’s been very gratifying to see the degree of enthusiasm and success about the game, Twyngo co-founder Unni Narayanan told Inside Mobile Apps. “We knew that we had built an atypically high quality product with a rich experience that appealed to a broad category of people.”

Twyngo is the second game published under mobile game developer Pocket Gems, a new business venture that Pocket Gems announced it was pursuing back in December 2012. Developer dreamfab’s Chasing Yello for Android was the first title published by Pocket Gems in late December 2012.

Narayanan says Pocket Gems was a great help to Twyngo by guiding his team through the process of creating a successful game based on a freemium model.

“There’s exceptional value delivered in the game for zero price,” Narayanan says. “Pocket Gems was instrumental in helping us see the benefit of the freemium model. The reason the game is a success is that the game is of high quality and a rich experience, but it’s also broadly accessible to a lot of people because we’re doing the freemium model.”Amazing Ants screenshot

With more than 1.3 million installs and counting, Narayanan believes the potential for Amazing Ants to continue to grow is huge.

“The potential market is very, very large,” he says. “We’re going after the same demographic that an Angry Birds or a Cut the Rope reach out to. The market size is huge. As long as at the grassroots level people like the game and are enjoying it, we can see more growth.”

Narayanan emphasizes that Amazing Ants’ appeals to people who are looking for a wholesome experience.

“There’s an untapped opportunity for people to still develop family-friendly games that appeal across multiple age groups,” he says. “The reason our game is resonating with many folks is that people want that sensibility, that rich, immersive cartoon-like experience. They want that, but they want a different mechanic than what they’ve seen already out there. That’s a sentiment that we’re tapping into.”

According to our traffic tracking service AppData, Amazing Ants is currently ranked No. 4 on the top free iPad apps chart, ranking as high as the No. 2 spot on Monday.

Check out our review of Amazing Ants on our sister site Inside Social Games here.

Bringing a game back from the dead: How Brainz saved its quirky tower defense title Vampire Season

Columbian developer Brainz’ debut game Vampire Season is shaping up to be an unlikely success, even after launching, failing, seeing its publisher implode, going back drawing board, and making a counter-intuitive switch from free to paid. The new version of the game has found its footing, and is seeing higher engagement, retention and better monetization than the old one. Much like its cast of zombies, mummies and monsters, Vampire Season seems to be back from the grave.

One of the first mobile developers to sign a publishing deal with 6waves, Brainz’ had high hopes for its first mobile game. Its tower defense title Vampire Season combined quirky humor, solid gameplay and high production values. Unfortunately none of that can guarantee a hit — although the game received overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its release, it didn’t find much of an audience, and the audience it did find didn’t pay.

Then things went from bad to worse. As Brainz was trying to fix the game, its publisher was collapsing. By September, 6waves had laid off everyone Brainz worked with, including the SVP of publishing and the associate director of products. There was a new version of the game, but there wasn’t a publisher. Brainz did the only thing they could; they took the game back, releasing the new version as a paid title on Oct. 16.

Rebuilding for retention

“We were very happy with the critical reception,” explains Jairo Nieto, Brainz’ head of games. “But we still found that across the board there were certain things that could be improved.”

With 150,000 downloads under its belt from the first version of the game, Brainz began doing a deep dive into Vampire Season — seeing where users churned, what levels seemed to be too hard, and how people behaved while going through the game’s story mode. Brainz took what it learned and used it to revamp the tutorial. Pinch zoom gestures were added improve the controls, and the whole experience was made much more epic.

“We were falling short of giving users an experience that felt rewarding when they unlocked new units,” says Nieto. “Stuff like that makes people go from level to level and enjoy the game more.”

Brainz also took a big gamble by rebalancing the gameplay. The toughness of each enemy was reduced by two thirds, but the number was increased substantially in order to make players feel like they were constantly under siege. Player units were overhauled to make them seem more powerful and exciting to use.

“I wanted the player to feel powerful, that he’s constantly killing stuff. We really wanted to have the sense of accomplishment you get in Diablo when you kill a big horde,” says Nieto.

The results were immediate, reports Brainz’ CEO Alejandro Gonzalez. The game has gone from having 30 percent retention on day two to having 50 percent.

Bucking the trend and going from free to paid

Brainz also completely overhauled the way they tried to monetize the game, switching from a pure free-to-play model to making the game a paid app with optional in-app purchases.

Even though it’s now far easier to earn money in the game, generosity seems to have boosted Vampire Season’s average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU), not reduced it. According to Brainz, the game is actually seeing much higher ARPDAU as a paid title than it was when it was free-to-play.

“I think it was a big mistake that we were making the first time around, telling people to monetize all the time,” says Gonzalez frankly. “Finish a level, why not get more coins? You did this, get more coins. More coins! more coins! It’s not about the coins, it’s about the user feeling that they can move faster through the game by using the store.”

“Maybe it’s just me, but maybe there’s a relationship between paid players and high ARPUs,” muses Nieto. “Something in my head makes me want to finish the game because I paid for it.”

On publishers, and hindsight

Brainz doesn’t hold any ill will towards 6waves for the initial performance of Vampire Season. The two companies parted ways amicably, knowing each tried their best.

“The market changed very quickly and I think that was the biggest issue. A lot of what we managed to do was no longer viable because acquisition costs are so high,” Nieto says when asked to comment on what happened with 6waves.

Nieto also feels that Brainz inexperience in the mobile market was a factor. Without knowing what they were good at, they didn’t know what they needed to look for in a publishing partner, he says. Its not enough to just get a cheque and some analytics. In his opinion publishers need to fill expertise gaps as well.

“We were expecting them to teach us everything, and no publisher knows everything,” he says. “You need to find a publisher that will let you know what’s going on with the product. You cannot give away your product to a black box and wait for something to come in.”

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