Since launching our first game in July 2016 we have grown from 17 people to almost 30 strong, and at the same time we have transitioned from one project studio to having multiple teams working on their own games. With these changes come new challenges and opportunities. One of our solutions to stay on top of the game is our scalable game building tech. The roots of this tech solution lies in our product values, and it covers our needs for high quality UX, reusability and modularity.

All F2P games need certain common features and elements before global launch such as in-app purchases, player profiles and player data, tournaments, clans, messaging systems etc. We took our learnings from our previous game Big Bang Racing, and built our F2P tech stack for our future games. We didn’t just want to have easy server setup and the basic framework for client side, but to have a modular, expandable and adaptable solution that covers all of our F2P tech needs from player profiles, shop and support to on-the-fly game balancing and live operations.

To meet our technology needs, we have developed three separate technologies that form our in-house tech stack: Framework, Skeleton, and BlocksUI. Framework is the basis of everything, and answers to our need for performance and expandability. It is a custom C# tech on top of Unity, giving us an entity-component system and bunch of tools to build games in a performance optimised and mobile game specialised rapid prototyping environment.

Skeleton provides client architecture and server features that all our games share. Blocks UI gives us a modular UI architecture, that enables UI reuse between our games. Together these projects create a shared language and a cross disciplinary platform for all core members of the team, and for other stakeholders surrounding the core team.

 

Framework, Skeleton and BlocksUI

Traplight was founded 8 years ago in 2010, and Framework has been in development for 6 years, a significant part of our history. We wanted to build an expandable and effective game architecture on top of Unity to make our lives easier. Framework has a lot of effective custom solutions, which lets us use Unity in a way that is effective for programmers and allows us to go beyond Unity’s native features. Framework provides the basic system, like handling entities and components, custom 2D physics implementation, networking, sound and music handling. More recently we’ve integrated our basic analytics and crash reporting features onto Framework level as well.

Built on top of the Framework, Skeleton provides basic client and server functionality for our games, including mobile F2P game architecture and data structures, with player identification, profiles and support for game state machines and general configuration parameters. Basic player profiles with social media connectivity and support for in-app purchases in both Apple and Google ecosystems are included as well. Skeleton also gives us a toolset for running live operations and in-game events.

The second system on Framework is Blocks UI. It’s purpose is to unify the way we create user interfaces for our games. Skeleton utilises the Blocks UI to show our players features like player name changing, joining a Clan or recovering their progression. Instead of each game team designing, creating and implementing their own UI elements and ways of communicating info to players, they use the same, highly customisable modular system. Since designers are freed of the need to design the user experience of the UI components, they can concentrate on designing empowering and fun games. For programmers Blocks UI means less work as everyone has the same, ready made set of UI modules that are then stacked on top of each other and can be customised to each game’s needs.

The key feature of our tech stack is that it is flexible and easy to expand. The development is done with cross-disciplinary and cross-team effort. Weekly meetings are great for keeping everyone updated on new features we’ve incorporated into the projects and introducing new team members to the system.

 

Benefits

Having the technology stack supporting our game development result in concrete time saving: we can focus on making the games instead of things that makes games possible. Our programmers can focus on creating a fun games instead of needing to setup project with different SDKs and figuring out protocols on how to communicate with servers and third-party tools. Things like retention tracking and crash reporting are in our projects from day one. Skeleton has cut our server deployment time from days to mere minutes, and every developer can launch their own copy if they need to. Basically if any of our games need a feature, our technology stack probably has it already. If not, the designers, developers and artists from different teams will work together to develop our it further.

The tech stack makes it also easier for new recruits and team members to jump into projects. Through Skeleton all our games have similar structure, and the building blocks they use are interchangeable. This means that our new hires as well as older team members, programmers, designers and artists alike can grasp new projects quicker, even when jumping in in the middle of development. This is a huge thing considering the fact that training and on-boarding new team members takes a lot of time and effort from the senior developers, especially in a company that is growing.

Developing this type of extensive and shared system takes time, but the benefits far exceed the downsides. With shared technology we are able to react to new trends or needs in the F2P market faster: Once a feature is built into our tech stack, it becomes available for all our projects. We can start new projects faster with our out-of-the-shelf F2P kit that includes everything needed for launching a F2P game – from metrics and customer support integration to modular menus and tools to expand and balance the game from server side. This also means that our games are fast-to-proof, and the over-all development time needed from first playable to global launch is cut significantly.

Additionally our tech stack has improved our communication and cross-disciplinary work: Through these shared tools our programmers, designers and artists are able to work efficiently together, as they have a shared language to communicate with. In addition the tech stack has helped other stakeholders like marketing, support and analytics get their needs heard. Features requested by these parties are added to the toolset and from there they will find their way to each project. The tech stack enables us to build comprehensive F2P game services that take the customers perspective and needs into account from the very beginning of the development. 

At this stage, our Framework, Skeleton and Blocks UI have already been battle tested with multiple game projects at different stages, and we have been able to prototype potential game ideas very fast. Getting prototypes out in the hands of real players early on enables us to focus on KPI driven game development and make development decisions that are not only based on our expertise, but also real, reliable data. As Skeleton and Blocks UI expand, the amount of saved time and added value is becoming bigger, and the time needed for developing the system is getting smaller.

This type of approach to development creates the right excitement in a team and eases bottlenecks at the most critical time in a project, right at the start. Our technology enables our KPI driven development ideology, saving our energy for creating engaging, empowering and innovative F2P games. Instead of creating games in the dark without real data to guide us, we are able to deploy even our most complex ideas to the early users in a matter of a few months. This is nothing short of amazing.

 

At Traplight we value learning and sharing of information. We also believe that we have the best chance of making amazing games when everyone can give their input in our learning process. We organise company wide workshops several times a year to enhance our internal learning, and to update our collective understanding of how we make games.

The topics of the workshops are tight to F2P design, understanding of the current mobile game market and the vision for Traplight’s games. The goal of the workshops is not to teach or share ready-made information, but to ask questions and find solutions together. The outcome of a single workshop can be for example game concepts, theories, presentations about findings or riveting discussions about the topic at hand. Game concepts are typically the most common outcome, as they enable us to understand complex issues from a very practical point of view.

Our workshops involve all our employees regardless of job description. Putting our heads together to figure out how to best make games just makes sense: Collectively we can find ideas and solutions that would be hard for a single employee to find. The typical workshop starts with a creative brief that help us focus and get inspired about the topic at hand. After laying a common ground we divide into small teams. These teams decide independently how to tackle the topic, and what kind of tools and working methods to use. At the end of the day we will share what we have found.

After presenting and discussing about our findings we suggest how to continue. The next step might be for example:

  • To have another workshop about a new, important topic that stood out

  • To have a team look more closely at a game concept that was born during the workshop

  • To implement newly found information or good practice into our production processes

Another reason to organise these workshops beside learning together is to take a break from our routines. Little distance to our office environment and working together with people that are normally not in your team does wonders for your brain! We get to know each other better, tackle challenges head on with a tight schedule and jump into unknown without fear of being judged. And of course at the end we will have a very Finnish company party complete with sauna, hot tub and lake swimming.

Below you can find some pictures of our latest workshop which we held on 6th of June in a cabin complex near Tampere. This time we learned together about player empowerment, and the different progressions that enable that in F2P games. We’ll post more about the topic in our blog later, so stay tuned!

And finally, if you made it this far, enjoy this great .gif taken during the infamous hot tub malfunction incident at the workshop!

Traplight <3 New Devs event

What do you get when you combine developers with years of F2P mobile games market experience, and a group of students and beginner developers eager to learn? A very nice evening of open discussion, information sharing and new interesting contacts.

On Wednesday 30th of May we had our first ever Traplight <3 New Devs event at our Office. The idea was to connect with the local developers who are just starting their career, and help them avoid the pitfalls that may come when you go headfirst into creating F2P games without prior experience on launching, metrics or marketing.

The topics of the evening where:
What does a great product deck look like?
– ABC of (soft)launching your F2P game
Game marketing with zero budget
– Portfolio feedback sessions

The feedback we received from the attendees was encouraging: It seems there is a need among young developers to hear more about the things that are not so directly related to the making of the actual core game. These topics are important for any F2P developer out there, but are not frequently covered in game studies.

We here at Traplight want to help educate the next generation of amazing developers in Finland, and Traplight <3 New Devs was the first step. Overall the evening was a great success, and we will definitely start planning for Vol 2. as soon as possible.

P.S. Check out some of the Topic slides from the links above!

P.S.S. Pictures below!

We asked our staff what makes Traplight a great place to work. The answers varied from breakfast perks to having great people around, but one thing stood out very clearly: We love working at Traplight because of our strong user-generated content vision.

According to the poll, it gives us ‘an exciting design challenge with extra difficulty’. We really enjoy creating games with the players, taking gaming to another level and seeing the things our players create.

A clear, unifying vision is essential for a great work environment. However, a clear vision on its own won’t make a company appealing, if all basic stuff is not in order. Based on our experience we’ve gathered a list of things we feel a game company should have to be a truly great workplace for all it’s employees.

 

Environment

Great office

This has already become sort of an inside joke: games companies need to have a great office, and there’s almost a competition on who has the coolest and most unique space.

It’s no wonder though: we spend at least a third of our day in the workplace so we should feel comfortable there. We have invested in a central location and a creative, cozy and spacious office that fills all our daily needs from teamwork, design and big meetings to napping, gaming and relaxing.

Home-like atmosphere

One of the things we gathered from our poll was that Traplight’s people love our office because ‘it feels like being at home’. In the morning we leave home, only to enter another. How cool is that! We included the whole company in the design process of our office and talked about what kind of an atmosphere we want to set. The end result is a place that everyone feels connected with and want to hang out in even after hours.

Perks

On top of having a great physical space it’s also important to invest in perks. We have masseuse and other fun benefits, but according to the poll, our most liked perks are actually our Monday breakfast and our parties.

Why? Because in these occasions we hang with each other and have great discussions. We start our week with a breakfast delivery every Monday, get everyone around the same table and have a relaxed meeting where we share our week’s goals.

 

People

The perfect fit

When asked what makes Traplight a great place to work, one of the most common answers relates to us as a group: ‘people’, ‘great colleagues’, ‘my co-workers’, ‘friendships’, ‘passionate peeps’ etcetera.

Hiring the right people is really important, as we all know. Being a perfect fit for our culture and having social skills and the right personality are the most important things we look for in a candidate. You can always learn new skills needed for a specific position, but learning an open mind, communication and trust in yourself and your team are way harder.

Growth and learning

In a workplace where trust is at the centre of all interaction, people can be themselves and they trust others to accept each other as they are. Being yourself takes a load off your back and releases resources for more important things, like making awesome games!

In a workplace like this you can also make mistakes. Through mistakes you learn, and learning makes you better at, guess what, making awesome games! We think that growing and learning are a part of work life as well, and they make coming to work every day more meaningful.

Friendships

People hanging out after work is not necessary, but it is a great sign. It means that the work community is knit together and it’s not just a group of people who work together.

Based on the poll, we here at Traplight put high value in having real friends and friendships at the workplace. We have lots of hobbies and free time activities we enjoy with each other: doing sports, hanging out at the office after hours, having parties and get-togethers as well as playing online or tabletop games.

 

Working habits

Independent and autonomous teams

Having the right environment and people are the basis of a good workplace, but the working habits are the thing that separate a well functioning company from a ragtag group of friends.

At Traplight the cornerstone of our work are our small and autonomous teams that design their own schedules and roadmaps. Having a lot of freedom doesn’t mean no responsibility; the teams answer to the whole company and show their progress every week in our Friday Open Mic meetings.

Through feedback, questions and help from others they make sure the project stays on target.

Mutual respect and trust

Trust and respect were things that came up as one of the key factors why people like working at Traplight. We trust everyone to be an expert at what they do, and that they are always doing their best.

In practice this means that ‘no one is watching over your shoulder as you deliver’. It also means ‘freedom’, ‘flexible rules’ and ‘mutual respect and appreciation of each others’ effort’. People taking leadership over their own and their team’s work is a result of building the company culture around trust.

Common vision and challenge

Out of all things that you need to build a great workplace, this is the hardest. It’s also the most important: A unifying vision that each and every person in the company can stand behind.

The vision of a company should excite, give promise of an amazing future, and most importantly give a challenge. If there is no challenge, it means whatever the company is aiming to do has been done a million times before.

At Traplight our goal is to crack the secret code of user-generated content gaming on mobile. It’s a great challenge that makes us all raise the bar for our effort. It is what gives Traplight it’s flavour, and what keeps us with the company through thick and thin.

The intrinsic motivations that a unifying vision bring are the final touch needed to get from a ‘good working place’ to an amazing one.