To round off an exciting week where we announced a deal with Kopla Games to release Project Nonstop (working title), Dana Massey, Product Lead here at flaregames, took 5 minutes out of his day to talk about the game and his experiences working with such a talented team over in Tampere, Finland.
Over to you, Dana…
1. How did Kopla Games come into the flaregames family?
It was a group effort. My colleague Miikka Luotio knew some of the guys and even played Destiny with Janne, their Product Lead. This sort of planted the seed on their side. Late last year at GameConnection in Paris, I met Mika Kuusisto (Kopla’s CEO) who pitched me Project Nonstop.
Instantly, you could tell this was a special game. Often at shows like this, you see a hundred variations on the same theme, but Project Nonstop really stood out as something unique. I was very impressed with the game and the pitch, but even more than that Mika himself.
Instantly, I was converted, but the real test came when I got back to Karlsruhe. I was playing it relentlessly and people kept asking what it was. Within hours of getting back, it seemed like half the office had demanded a chance to give it a try. I’d never seen a game go fully viral in our office like that. At one point, I was worried I was annoying Kopla with all the requests. For a game so early in development to convert people so quickly was magnificent. Even our CFO was sending me notes!
2. What were you doing before joining flaregames in 2014?
A job I had ten years ago ended up leading me to flaregames. I was the Lead Game Designer of “Wish”, an MMORPG that was in development in the mid 2000s. There, I worked with Keenan Gividen who eventually wound up in Germany with flaregames. In the summer of 2014, I was looking at opportunities in Europe and flaregames was looking for Producers.
My background is in game design, production and journalism, which seems to be a common theme around here. I had spent the previous few years working at a startup as a Lead Game Designer and Producer in North America. It was a lot of fun, but startups can be chaotic and I wanted to move into an environment where I could learn more. Luckily, flaregames gave me that opportunity and it hasn’t disappointed at all!
Prior to that, I had spent a few years in game journalism. I was the Editor of MMORPG.com and wrote for tons of other places, like IGN and The Escapist. That gave me the chance to see inside so many studios and interview so many of the people who have really gotten it right. It was a great education.
3. What’s it been like working with the Kopla guys, especially when they are such a small and dynamic team?
Their game isn’t the only thing that’s unique. Their approach is not precisely like any I’ve ever run across and learning that has been a tremendous experience so far. Kopla’s approach is to be highly iterative, really fast and constantly evolving. They don’t like to do massive features, but instead focus on smaller ones and really push them until they both accomplish whatever goal they’re after and compliment the core spirit of the game itself.
When we signed them, our first mission was to foster and learn from what makes them special and not try to change them for its own sake. We want to work with developers and nurture their strengths, not force them into some abstract idea of what they should be. This team’s approach is really different than I’ve been used to and that’s been a great experience so far. They keep me on my toes!
4. What’s the best thing about working on such a unique title like Project Nonstop?
As a huge fan of RPGs, I’ve never been content with their migration to mobile. Project Nonstop finally nails it. That’s what sold me in the first place. We’re not just porting RPGs to a phone, it’s an experience that’s designed for that from the ground up. We’re keeping what works and throwing away what doesn’t. It’s a unique experience that plays so differently from the standard games in this space.
5. What are some of the key game-related features that are being worked on in the lead-up to launch?
We want to really strengthen the connection between the player and the Knight. Anything we can do that brings the player and their Knight (or Lady) closer together is great, in my books. The best games don’t just provide depth and mechanical fun, they really create a connection with that experience. Project Nonstop is already well on its way, but with a bit of work, I think this little guy is going to become someone that a lot of people soon really care about.
6. From your personal perspective as a gamer, what are your favourite aspects of Project Nonstop and why?
It’s in the name: It never, ever stops. It really feels like there’s a tiny Knight in my phone who is always up to something and sometimes he needs my help. It’s also a liberating game. On weekends, I can sometimes sit there transfixed for hours, playing just “one more floor”, but when I’m busy he’s busy too. I can just as easily help him along in the 30 seconds I have in line for coffee. No matter where I am and what I’m up to, I don’t feel left behind.
In the next instalment of our “5 minutes with…” series, which shines the spotlight on some of the awesome people here at flaregames HQ, meet Borja Guillan, Senior Game Designer here at flaregames.
Borja recently took the time to discuss how he came to be a video game designer, plus which exciting game in the flaregames portfolio he is currently working on. As it soon became clear, Borja has great experience in designing “zombie-related” experiences…
1. First off, how did you get into game design?
It started as one of those childhood dreams like being an astronaut, a firefighter or something like that, except I wanted to design games other people would want to play. Then in my late teens I got my first job testing AAA games and that set everything in motion. Being a game designer gives you the creative license required to craft memorable experiences that players will enjoy and get excited about, and that’s what makes this job attractive to me. Designing mobile games in particular, it’s especially rewarding being able to use community feedback to define and perfect a game over time – it’s like a collaborative experience between developer and player.
2. What were you doing before joining flaregames in 2014?
Before joining flaregames I was the Lead Designer on Plants vs. Zombies 2 at EA PopCap, in Seattle. Building on the success of such a popular franchise was an incredibly rewarding experience as well as a challenging one, since we had to keep up with the player expectations set by the original Plants vs. Zombies. We achieved that goal through a resolute dedication to quality and by upholding a strong sense of identity. In the end, I believe that is what creates the difference between excellent games and just good games. That approach is definitely one that I continue to apply to my work here at flaregames.
3. What have been your main projects at flaregames to date?
The main project so far has been Dawn of Steel, where I worked together with our LA-based partner Superweapon to create what, in my opinion, is the best RTS experience you can get on mobile.
The guys behind Superweapon worked on multiple games within the Command & Conquer series, and that is one of my favourite video game franchises of all time, so I was delighted to join them in making Dawn of Steel. Their amazing prowess in the strategy genre has made this a highly formative project and the outcome of our collaboration is something we’re all very proud of.
4. What is your main project you’re working on behind the scenes now?
I’ve recently started working with our partner Limbic and we’re quickly ramping up development on Zombie Gunship, Inc.. This is set to be by far the biggest installment in the Zombie Gunship franchise, which means both long-time fans and new players alike have a lot to look forward to.
You will command an AC-130 attack gunship in a post-apocalyptic world riddled with zombies. Expect a game with immersive console-quality visuals, gorgeous explosions, powerful weapons, and thrilling battles for survival.
5. What’s it like working with the experienced team at Limbic on this next Zombie Gunship title?
I was super excited when we partnered with Limbic to bring their next game to the market; their commitment to high-quality gameplay is something I strongly identify with. They’re diligent, engaged, and understand exactly where this game needs to go. I’m actually pumped (can I say this?) to be making this game together with them!
Some interesting mobile gaming player observations to share from research flaregames conducted last year on the eve of the Dawn of Steel launch for iOS devices.
This particular research was based on a sample of 1000 predominantly male respondents from the USA, aged from late teens to mid-thirties. Respondents were also required to have played a number of well-known mobile action strategy games.
While the majority of the research was centred around consumer sentiment towards mobile real-time strategy games (we were working on Dawn of Steel after all!), the findings gave an insight into how these respondents discover new mobile games and what impacts their ultimate decision to download them.
Word of mouth was the single most frequently cited route to discovery, with 44% of respondents citing how they picked up information on new mobile games by talking with friends. Not far behind, however, browsing through the app stores on a mobile or tablet (43% of respondents), exposure through Facebook (40% of respondents) and watching videos on YouTube (39% of respondents) were also stated by the recipients. Surprisingly, considering the relatively few mobile gaming companies having made this leap, 37% of respondents noted that TV advertising was where they got information about new mobile games.
The next step is when these respondents were polled on the strongest influences when making the final decision to download a game. In this case, peer recommendations were most powerful, with 33% of all respondents citing reviews and ratings from other players in the app store and 18% citing direct recommendations from friends. These percentages are particularly interesting when only 13% cited the reviews a game receives from professional reviewers as the strongest influence upon their decision to download. Other factors such as the app icon, description and pictures in the app store (14% of respondents), AppStore/Google Play features (12% of respondents) and endorsements from favourite YouTubers (7% of respondents) were also identified by the respondents as their strongest influences.
While these findings were produced on a specific segment of the mobile gaming player base, it is nevertheless noteworthy to see how peer recommendations reigned supreme when it came to the respondents both initially discovering and finally downloading a mobile game.
As a concluding nugget from this research, for those respondents who cited how they “browse the App Store” in search of new games, here is a handy word cloud showing the most popular terms inputted. The size of each term corresponds to the relative frequency with which it was cited -