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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 -
It’s set to be packed year of mobile game releases for the team at flaregames HQ. First up, we’re busily working with LA-based developer Superweapon to bring our mobile RTS Dawn of Steel to Android and Windows PC and mobile devices, having launched the game last year on iOS devices to critical acclaim.
Benjamin Ying, Senior Product Manager at flaregames, took 5 minutes out of his day to talk about the game and what it’s been like working with the talented Superweapon team over in the States.
1.What was your original role – from flaregames side – in bringing Dawn of Steel to life?
I’m currently working as a Product Manager for the team and that more or less means I need to ensure a great game for our players. I spend most of my day looking at data and player feedback to see how they are interacting with the game and then helping make decisions on what kind of features we want to work on next. I essentially find things we want to fix in the game and set our goals. It really is the rest of the team in Los Angeles and Karlsruhe – from the engineers to designers – that make the magic happen.
2. What has it been like working with such an experienced team at Superweapon?
The Superweapon team really brings a perspective on RTS games that few teams have. We constantly challenge them and they come back with better designs and implementations than we were expecting. This is the importanceof experience and it shines through on every feature we work on.
3. What are some of the positive reactions to the game by the community that have been most pleasing?
The best reaction is when players say they like controlling their rigs while battling. This is a core part of the game and giving players that level of command over their battle is what makes the game so satisfying to me.
4. From your personal perspective as a gamer, what are your favourite aspects of the game?
Besides the control you have with the rigs, I like the fact that the game is open-ended and the battles you choose on your world map have an impact on what you unlock next. The world is alive with constant events and battles going on. What you do affects other players also. This level of immersion is difficult to pull off and the Superweapon team did a great job doing that.
5. What are some of features coming in future updates that will impact how players plan their offensive/defensive strategies?
We started working on this game with the explicit idea that this was going to be a social game with players interacting with one another. The designers have been hard at work coming up with a cool event that will take current elements of the game and expand on them. We want players to battle against each other and make it meaningful. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to play it with our players!
And there (almost) goes 2015! It’s now time for reflection and spending time with loved ones, but first I want to look back on what a great year it’s been.
Having moved a few hundred metres across the street, we find ourselves in a new Karlsruhe office, but with the same passion and dedication to delivering top quality mobile games.
Royal Revolt 2, released in early 2014, continues to reign supreme, with awards won (a Tabby!) and successful adventures undertaken, with a release in South Korea maintaining the momentum for our flagship game.
Alongside the talented team at Superweapon, we released Dawn of Steel on iOS to critical acclaim, with its intuitive control system and customisable mechs adding greater depth to the mobile tactical strategy genre. Considering the game is coming to Android and Windows devices early in the new year, and with our recent partnership with NetEase meaning a near-future release in the Chinese market, we’re excited to see how the game evolves in the coming months.
Next year is a packed portfolio for us, and looking at names such as Limbic, Subatomic, Emerald City Games and Brainz, we are delighted to have teamed up with such strong partners whose track records in developing quality games speak for themselves. As a result, new instalments in the Zombie Gunship, Fieldrunners and Lionheart franchises are at the heart of our line-up.
That being said, working with such esteemed external partners is part of the small pivot we have made as a company. Being named a Rising Star in Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 2015 competition was a proud moment for us, but to maintain company growth, we refocused all resources at our Karlsruhe HQ towards publishing. This meant discontinuing game development there, but investing instead in the development of a world-class publishing structure, enabling – as mentioned above – the strong pipeline of mobile games coming in 2016. Meanwhile, our very own Frankfurt studio continues to work on a number of projects – including further updates to Royal Revolt 2 – and we’ll have more news to share very soon.
So what’s our new year’s resolution here at flaregames? Simple – we carry through what we started and remain focused. Next year, we’ll see much of our hard work come to fruition – whether it’s taking down zombie hordes, or jumping head-first into a story-rich mobile RPG, we have an awesome portfolio to suit your gaming tastes!
Merry Christmas and a happy new year,
CEO & founder of flaregames
2016 is set to be a busy year for flaregames, therefore great timing to welcome both our new Marketing Director and Operations Director into the fold!
Everyone, meet Mickael (on the left of the sofa) and Chris (on the right of the sofa)…
The full press release goes into more detail, but Mickael Bougis comes on board as flaregames Marketing Director after four years at Electronic Arts and over two years at Microsoft. Meanwhile, Chris Hinton has taken over as flaregames Operations Director after 10 years of gaming industry experience, working at companies ranging from Disney to Zynga.
Here’s a bit more from Mickael and Chris as they introduce themselves and answer one particularly important question (see end of interview).
Interview with Mickael Bougis, flaregames Marketing Director, and Chris Hinton, flaregames Operations Director
1- When did you first get involved in the gaming industry?
(Mickael): I started in the industry in 2007 at Harmonix, working on a Rock Band project. I then moved back to Europe in 2009 and joined Electronic Arts. I spent 4 years there: 2 years as a Brand Manager, and 2 years as a Partner Manager working on producing and publishing games from external studios. In 2013, I joined Microsoft to create Microsoft Studios European Publishing. And here I am now.
(Chris): For the past 10 years I’ve had the pleasure of working at the knife’s edge of gaming exploration. From Electronic Arts and Perpetual Entertainment, focused on the early days of online gaming as Head of User Experience & Community Management. Then to Zynga and Playdom, where social gaming grew and matured with the success of platforms such as MySpace and ultimately Facebook. Most recently I spent time as Vice President of Central Services for Disney’s Interactive Media Group, and then Chief Operating Officer for Wicked Fun Games.
2- What attracted you to come on board the good ship flaregames?
(Mickael): Two things: vision and people quality. I fully share Klaas’s vision around mobile game publishing and how flaregames will disrupt it. Then I came here for a couple of days, spent time with the leadership team and the marketing team, and on my flight back to London, I realized: This is it, these are the people I want to work with!
(Chris): There were two primary reasons I decided to join the flaregames team: firstly, the people and culture and secondly, the portfolio. Good people, making great games!
3- Moving into 2016, what are some of the challenges and opportunities that excite you as a flaregames director?
(Mickael): I am super excited about our line-up for 2016. We have hundreds of thousands of players every day playing Royal Revolt 2, and there is a lot of cool stuff coming in the game. We are bringing Dawn of Steel to Android and Windows early next year – our community has been screaming for this.
We are also working hard with external partners to bring back IPs that fans want: we are working on the next Fieldrunners game with Subatomic, the next Lionheart game with Emerald City Games and the next Zombie Gunship with Limbic. We are also working with Brainz on a new IP.
2016 will be a very busy year, but all of that is very exciting. I can’t wait to show these games to the world.
(Chris): One of the biggest challenges of being a part of a growing company is figuring out how to evolve and grow a company’s culture or DNA as it goes through the normal growth phases. Having experienced both positives and negatives of rapid success and growth, I’ve learned how important it is to the long-term success of a company.
4- What does your history in gaming look like? How did it all start out?
(Mickael): Gaming is that very social experience to me: I remember nights playing Goldeneye 007, Mario Kart, Counter Strike, Age of Empires, FIFA or racing games all night with my friends. I also like playing very immersive story-based games by myself.
(Chris): Being in my 40’s my love of gaming goes back to the 1980’s starting around the Commodore 64 and arcade days. As a long time gamer I tend to lean toward immersive story-driven games like Beyond Good & Evil, the Uncharted series, Deus Ex, and Mass Effect to name a few.
5- Lastly, and most importantly… who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman, and why?
(Mickael): Spiderman, definitely, because he wears glasses!
(Chris): Oh this is easy, Spiderman! Spiderman has the holy trinity of superhero skills; strength, speed, and the most important weapon, spider-sense. While Batman does have his gadgets, those would all be nullified with his ability to dodge, allowing him to be easily captured with his web.