Earlier this week Joakim Achrén from Elite Game Developers interviewed Riku Rakkola about the history of Traplight and our KPI driven development processes. The discussion ranged from Riku’s journey as a CEO to Traplight’s strategy to hit the market early and validate the development direction through metrics and player feedback.
What does KPI driven development mean at Traplight?
Here at Traplight we rely on data gathered from both the product and it’s marketing efforts to help us create high quality Free to Play (F2P) games. The Key Performance Indicator (KPI) driven development combines our game development experience with relevant, reliable data. Below we have opened our most common tests and KPIs that we use to validate our work, and to keep our products on the right track.
KPIs for Prototype and Engagement Betas
At the beginning of the project we test the game prototype with internal and external testers. We want to get initial feedback, check crash rates and get data about the first session length. On the marketing side we test our theme ideas with Click Through Rate (CTR) tests to find our potential core audience. The results will support the game team’s creative decisions when going forward with the project.
When the build first goes to store, even in one country, we have started what we call the Engagement Beta phase. The goal is to develop the game based on what data we need to get first, and then improve on those numbers with every subsequent update. The focus is first on day one and day three retention (D1, D3) and what we look more than just the separate numbers is the ratio between those two: The D3/D1 curve (and later D7/D3 or D28/D7) gives us a prediction of the longevity and appeal of our game.
In this phase we also focus on improving the session count and session lengths. The goal is to create an increasingly engaging and long living game with each update (up to 30 days of gameplay), without yet adding huge social features, live ops or monetisation. The basic game itself should keep players enthralled for 3-4 weeks at least.
But as said, our KPI approach is not limited to game development only. On marketing side we focus on finding the core audience for our game: we optimise for high CTR, and seek players with high engagement and retention. On the community the engagement numbers are also much more interesting than sheer volume at this point. We want to know how many players join our community through our in-game link, how actively are they chatting, how much feedback do we get and how many people react to our social media posts.
How we’ve done so far
With our current project Battle Legion we started out by building a core game with 5 units and no progression to test if it would be fun. We ran a small campaign with the goal of seeing daily user engagement and D1 retention. With each update we have added more content to the game, with the aim of getting a solid D1 first and getting better with each update. We’ve had a couple of places where the numbers went down, but because we only make a few changes at a time we are able to quickly asses what caused the drop, and get back on track in the next update. Below you can see a breakdown of some of our numbers so far on Android in Brazil.
Next steps: Monetisation and Scaling Up
We are moving on to monetisation tests soon using the same methods we have used so far. Instead of trying to build the whole monetisation and shop at once, we build it piece by piece and run tests in between. The goal is to build a monetisation that offers something for every player segment at every stage of the game, and to do this we need tests and data.
On Marketing and User Acquisition (UA) side we start to scale up and build Return of Investment (ROI) positive UA on multiple channels, while looking for the best performing creatives and audiences. Community and social media KPIs will focus on boosting monetisation through social events and community actions, and re-engaging segmented players that are on the cusp of churning.
The KPI driven development helps us lessen the weight of “what-if”s and “I-think”s during the development: We base our decisions on relevant, reliable data instead of hunches. Of course data and metrics alone don’t create an amazing game, but they guide to the right direction in our design process. The test results help us understand what the players truly want, and this is why having the right KPIs steering our development is so important to us.
Tampere saw the rise of two new game development focused events during the last quarter of 2018. There was a definite demand for them: Tampere is the second largest game development hub in Finland, but has had no major industry events to inspire and support the local community – until now. Both events had a distinct angle towards game development, and they brought a fresh breeze of ideas and a good buzz in the local developer community. As an advocate of sharing information and helping everyone succeed, Traplight was more than happy to be part of these events as a sponsor and co-organiser. Check out the events’ descriptions and some photos below!
Tim Lönnqvist (Small Giant), Touko Tahkokallio (Supercell) and Reko Ukko (Seriously) discuss designing an original IP F2P game with panel host Taneli Roininen (BON Games) in Manse Games 2018.
Organised on 22nd of November 2018, Manse Games is a mobile game conference for industry professionals: A monetisation, UA and design oriented one day event for game professionals who are serious about succeeding in the F2P world. The free event was held in Palatsi venue in the Tampere city center. The lineup of world class speaker dug deep into designing an original F2P game from scratch, building a metrics system to help you do ROI positive UA, what can we learn from the Asian F2P market and how to turn a loved IP into a successful mobile game, among many other topics. The program for the one day event included also lunch, dinner, a party at the venue as well as an after party filled with wild karaoke singing and dancing in a nearby club.
Teut Weidemann’s session focused on early, mid and end game monetisation.
Based on the feedback that we received afterwards the event was a success. The goal of bringing cutting edge F2P knowledge here in Tampere was filled, and the 200+ visitors and 15+ speakers from all over Finland (and world!) got to network, learn and chill together – Just as we planned. These types of events are absolutely necessary for companies in Tampere region and elsewhere to get top level F2P know-how. It is needed to compete with the current wave of innovative and long-lived mobile games in the market. Events like this do their part in helping the next big hit game come from Tampere, Finland!
Riku Rakkola and Antti Ikäläinen enjoying the event.
Palatsi was the perfect venue for a one day event like Manse Games. We’ll meet there again in 2019!
The idea for Devcon was born over a beer, like many ideas here in Finland do. A group of enthusiastic Tampere based game developers, some focused on mobile, others on PC or consoles, realised they wanted to organise an event for all game developers in Tampere. The aim of this event would be to share experiences and learnings in a brutally honest and straightforward way. In addition, there was a need for the different stake holders of the Tampere game development scene to start discussing and collaborating better – And this event would be the platform for it.
The program of Devcon Tampere consisted of postmortems, practical learning cases and a panel, topped with a lunch and a traditional Finnish sauna party afterwards. Devcon was a small, but highly successful gathering, where the local game students, game developers, university researchers, facilitators and the city of Tampere got together, shared learnings and discussed how to build and cultivate the Tampere Games Hub in the future. This type of openness, honesty and collaboration is definitely needed to keep this city’s games scene thriving.
It was an awesome experience to be part of organising and hosting the two, new major game development focused events here in Tampere. The results of both were encouraging, and both events will surely keep pushing forward. In 2019 they will be even bigger and better, and hopefully also inspire others to find new ways to get together, collaborate and share information inside Tampere region and in games business in general.
Traplight sends a big thank you for all participants, speakers and staff of both events.
Why We Have Meetings Where We Look Back, Evaluate and Focus
We consider communication as a primary element in making us better at what we do. We focus on enabling communication flow inside and between teams with different kinds of habits and roles. One of the most important habits that our teams have for weekly and monthly communication, syncing up and reality checks are retrospectives.
Retrospectives are connected to our weekly sprints and the longer, 3-6 week stretches. It’s important that after each sprint and stretch we have an opportunity to look at what we set out to accomplish, if we were able to meet the goals we set, what was getting on our way, and if the product still looks like we imagined a week or a month before.
To understand the need for retrospectives, we first need to dig a little deeper into our production ideology, which has many things borrowed from the Scrum method, combined with our focus on KPI driven development. We understand that we are making our games for our players, not for ourselves. To make the games that our players want, we need to rely on market research, early feedback, testing and data to guide our game making process. To get early feedback and test results, we need to get our games out there as early as possible, and actively iterate and update them. We are also prepared to react quickly to the feedback and data that we collect to incorporate it in our products and keep the iteration process going.
These lean and quick iteration cycles need certain things to support them: We need to be objective towards and open to data and feedback we get about our products, have the skills to swiftly adapt our approach based on the input we get, have a plan that is not too rigid and can be changed easily, and have ways of clearing hindrances away. Great communication is the key to all of these things, and without it there is a real risk of losing focus while receiving loads of information from different sources.
The Structure of a Retro
Our teams have organised their work based on weekly sprints with the goal of making something that the team can test, and longer stretches that aim for releasing a build in the store or for internal playing for the whole company. After each sprint and stretch we have a retrospective where we ask ourselves how can we work better together. What was getting on our way? What things are slowing us down or hindering our progress? We focus on discussing the different ways we work and interact with each other, trying to reach even better co-operation in the upcoming new sprints. This means we dive honestly into the inter and intra personal topics as well. Anything that can hinder us from making amazing games together should be brought up and handled.
All retros start with the same basic assumption: That we are all on the same side, trying to make amazing games together. To remind ourselves of this common goal, we start every retro with the prime directive introduced by Norman Kerth in his book Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews. It goes like this: “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job he or she could, given what was known at the time, his or her skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.” This is a great message that keeps us focused on finding solutions together.
There are two types or retros. The weekly retros give us immediate feedback on how things went this week. The weekly retros help us keep the ball rolling from one sprint to another and to keep the team in sync with each other. The focus is very much on present: What happens right now and what is hindering right now? Some of the topics discussed might relate to for example to how we had not taken the dependencies and synchrony of different tasks into account, thus making them harder to execute or follow through; Or that the flow of work got disrupted due to insufficient communication with team members or other stake holders in the face of unforeseen circumstances. The goal is to figure out how we can work better next week to avoid the challenges we faced this week and to direct the teams focus on things that they succeeded in, strengthening those emergent, beneficial habits and building on them for even better collaboration.
The second type of retro we hold after longer stretches, after we have finished our deliverables, wether they are a build, game vision, marketing materials or something else, and shared it for internal or external evaluation. These retros are for identifying things that happened over a longer period of time: defusing the stress that might have built up during the stretch and celebrating the successes we have experienced. Our aim is to improve our future processes, and to review what we have built. Did we achieve everything we aimed for in the beginning of the stretch? How does the product feel right now? Are we on track? What challenges did we overcome during the stretch? Did we fail to identify or tackle some challenges during sprints? How does the team feel right now? What are the successes that we want to carry on to the next stretch?
Benefits of Having Retros
In short, the retros are meetings where we have the chance to talk about things we have on our mind, and to keep ourselves and the whole team in sync with the reality. We think it’s important to have designated slots for discussion in addition to discussions that will happen organically throughout the development. Both forms of communication have a clear function in a well honed team. Daily discussions keep the team members on the pulse of what is happening. However, the team members want save the bigger issues for a dedicated discussion to keep the ball rolling during the weekdays, and to give room for the more quiet members of the team to speak up as well. This is exactly what retros are: A recurring meeting, where everyone is expected to pipe in; A habit of syncing and coordinating the team work in a transparent, non-intrusive and inclusive way.
In retros we stop and ask ourselves if we are focusing on the right things:
Are we achieving our Sprint and Stretch goals? Are our goals realistic?
Are we doing the things that make our product better (according to data and feedback)?
Are we making a product that our players want?
Do we have a synchronised, coherent and realistic picture of the production and the situation at hand?
Are we adapting to data and feedback we get?
What are we succeeding in that we want to focus in the future as well?
Through retros we are able to synchronise our understanding of how we work right now, and together create ways to optimise our collaboration and communication both short and long term.
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.
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.
The games industry in Finland has been on a growth spurt for a while now, and even though the amount of new companies founded every year is slowly declining, the growth still causes a common headache for all companies: recruiting. The successful companies compete to hire the rare and elusive seniors, and try make their company the most tempting option for them. For developers with less resources it basically means they can’t afford to compete for senior staff, and even bigger studios usually find their senior hires through word-of-mouth and personal contacts rather than through official hiring routes.
Seniors are not just hard to acquire, but also hard to keep: they know their worth and are ready to move elsewhere if the company doesn’t feel right. Other option out there is international hiring, but it’s time-consuming and costly, and once again not a viable option for most companies out there. As more and more game companies find success in this business, the problem called recruiting seems to be not going away.
What do game companies usually offer to attract senior hires? They compete with the obvious salary and perks, but that’s not enough anymore. You also need to show you have truly interesting and ambitious projects, both tech and design-wise. Company culture, vision and structure are also important, as more and more developers now appreciate modern, flat organisations with independent teams, lots of freedom and room for creativity. People in the games industry are not in it just for the money, but having a place where you actually enjoy spending 8 hours a day is paramount. Senior staff with families also appreciate things like good local schools, safe environment, healthcare benefits and possible company daycare, so the location of your studio also matters a great deal.
Our solution to the situation is this: instead of trying to find the most talented and experienced seniors, we grow our own. How do we do this? First, we drop the Senior and Junior definitions in our job postings. We look for people that match the job description, not the number of years or projects worked on. Instead we focus on identifying the type of personalities that fit our honest and learning oriented company culture – Those that show potential in becoming seniors with 3-4 years of work and tutelage. Portfolios and interviews are our main tools for figuring this out. The portfolios of potential hires need to show determined learning in quick intervals. In interviews we focus a lot on teamwork and communication skills, and on leadership potential.
To make our company a place where this type of systematic professional development is possible, we create a safe environment for learning, asking questions and being honest. We onboard new hires straight into ongoing projects, and give them responsibility from the get go, gradually increasing the responsibility level depending on each individual. Teams demand high quality and team effort, but offer the newcomers guidance and help. Seniors take the role of mentors and coaches, who make themselves available for the juniors. The responsibility the new hires are given is countered with relaxed, safe and flexible environment where mistakes are part of learning. It’s crucial to minimize the stress, fear and friction in the equation to enable people to reach their full potential.
As we get new hires to jump straight into projects, we also need to be able to communicate project goals and requirements quickly and comprehensively. Keeping and interpreting huge, hard-to-update design bibles is an outdated approach that complicates onboarding to new projects. Instead we communicate the project’s vision, focus and design with short, easy-to-digest presentations that help new people to jump into a project at any point. Our weekly update meetings, Monday Breakfast and Friday Open Mic are wonderful tools to get new people up-to-date on other things we are working on, and our team days, retrospectives, workshops and one-on-ones help them get immersed in our company culture straight away.
Our approach brings with it a unique set of challenges, and home-growing your own seniors is not the fast and easy fix to all your recruitment problems. It takes time and effort to build a company that enables people to grow from junior skills and mindset into leadership, great communication and true talent. We are encouraged by our experiences so far, and have already seen a handful of people grow in 3-4 years into central senior positions in different areas in the company. We are definitely excited to continue on this path, and build together an even better environment for growth and learning here at Traplight.
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!
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!
Traplight’s debut mobile title Big Bang Racing is as UGC as a game gets: since it was launched in July 2016, the Traplight team has created only 0,002% of the 10 million levels in the game, while the players have created the rest. By using a clever voting system in the game the players constantly curate the top content.
To understand our Creators, we asked ourselves: Who are the people behind the Top Creators? What makes them tick? We set out on a journey to understand them and we discovered some interesting facts.
Which players enjoy creating content?
Almost 10 years ago, Minecraft’s sensation gave way for a new generation of players to create with a lot of freedom. It created a shift in paradigms where peer pressure to perform was lowered as everyone was creating, and not only a select few. The goal was not to create one single masterpiece, but to have fun in the process of creation. These players have grown to be known for their ability to dive into creation platforms with ease, and quickly adapt to different technologies and platforms.
While we understand the effects of the phenomenon and its impact in the UGC genre, we have observed that not only the younger generation of players are ruled by this increased creative participation, but it seems that they permeate the game and also facilitate other players into being able to create as freely as they do.
We have studied the BBR player participation and behavior since launch, and our data shows that players in all age groups participate and consider themselves creators. According to a survey we conducted in early 2017, the largest age segment that considers themselves as creators is between the ages of 11 and 15. However our Top most Liked creators, voted by the community through social validation, are between ages 15 and 48. The largest concentration in this age range is around mid twenties.
Big Bang Racing is targeted at a male audience with 70% of our player base being male. Yet, we’ve noticed that female players tend to participate more in creation. According to our poll, 71% of the females consider themselves creators, while males scored slightly lower at 65.5%. With these indications in mind, it’s only natural we consider tailoring UGC games for female audiences targeting their creative expressiveness.
BBR’s Top 30 players have made 1685 levels combined, which have amassed 31.4 Million Likes. This translates to roughly 470,000 play hours on these levels in total, with an average of one minute per game. Our studies also show, that these players are 15+-year-old males, with the median age range being between 25 and 30.
We interviewed some of these Top Creators, and they told us that they started creating just to see what happened, and to see if they could get some Likes. Others started to make simple levels for their children to play on. All in all, players create to express themselves in one form or another. And naturally, after getting used to the process of Creation, they grow to love it.
Below: Toy Factory was one of the themes in the Level Creation Competitions that we organised for the Big Bang Racing community.
Serving the creators drives the whole community
The Top Creators not only produce amazing quality content for all players to enjoy, but they also activate the community in ways that we as developers can’t. For example, by strengthening their relationships with other creators, they encourage each other to increase the quality of their creations.
We can see this very clearly in our Level Creation Competitions, which have been running bimonthly since October 2017. In these competitions players are challenged to create a level under certain restrictions and following a Theme. The first time we ran an event like this, we had a low 25.4% of the entries considered of high quality. We tested their fun-factor, play-ability, flow, visuals and design, and adherence to a theme. In the latest event, in comparison, the high quality content percentage rose to 42.3%. This number has been steadily increasing, even considering that some participants are new and had not participated before.
The Top Creators also change the Meta of the game. When a creator figures out a novel new way to use an Editor item, many newer creators begin copying this new method and create trends that change over time. This is because the Top Creators have a large audience following their every move.
The other creators start following the Top Creators and start looking up to them so they can learn how to become better creators themselves. We encourage our Top Creators to become Stars in the game by featuring them inside our games. We also do collaborative events where, for example, players are encouraged to follow our hand picked Creator in exchange for exclusive in-game content such as Hats, like we had in one of these events. Some of them, with their in-game popularity, even began their own Youtube channels and started their Youtubing careers.
With their success and encouragement from their followers, some of the Top Creators even approached us with much more ambitious plans. One of our most recognized and loved Creator is also an artist and wanted to create his own 3D hat to use in the game on a competition of his own. He created the assets and we revised and included them in the game, making our first asset collaboration: The Time Traveling Hat.
Top: Original concept created by one of our Top Creators, Bottom: The final 3D hat in game
Building a player community around mutual collaboration and friendship
These are some of the reasons why we believe that working together with our players creates the most satisfying relationship, and as a byproduct: a game that nurtures creation.
We at Traplight have created the tools to offer our players this creative freedom, and cultivated our community to be built around mutual collaboration and friendship. We strive to understand our players needs and build features for them.
We know first hand that our players can create amazing content beyond our wildest expectations. Hence it’s easy for us to trust our players with the enormous responsibility of developing quality content for the whole player community.
Players can be driven by many different motives, but ultimately, we at Traplight want to give them the means and opportunity to express themselves to their potential.
Traplight Games started creating User-Generated Content (UGC) games about five years ago somewhat by accident, and since then we’ve studied the genre and player behaviour quite a lot. Here are our key takeaways we wish to share with you, including some reasons why it may be worthwhile for you to consider adding UGC content to your mobile games, too.
Our first UGC game Big Bang Racing, launched in July 2016, approaches UGC from a social media perspective: the levels are designed and created by the players for the players. Like in social media, the level creators receive social validation for their work in the form of likes and follows. Top Creators have amassed tens of thousands of followers and millions of likes inside the game.
Through our experiences with Big Bang Racing we have realised that some specific emergent features of UGC makes it extremely valuable for us. Here are our top five reasons to develop UGC-based games:
UGC means HIGH-QUALITY CONTENT
Our debut title Big Bang Racing has 8 million user-created levels, of which our team members have created less than 0.002%. Around 100,000 of all the levels are of extremely high quality. Soon after launching Big Bang Racing in 2016 we realised that neither the amount nor quality of levels created by the players were going to be an issue. To have even a fraction of players creating content results in tens of thousands of brilliant levels. The Top Creators create so much high-quality content that a game studio could never compete with their output.
UGC is ENGAGING
In Big Bang Racing players who create levels are twice as engaged and monetize better than non-creators. By creating you participate, and participating makes you more involved with whatever you are doing. You put a little of yourself into everything you create. There is something called IKEA effect in play; people who create or participate in creating something, value the end product higher than they would otherwise. Players who create also invest a lot of time and social energy into the game, which makes them even more engaged.
UGC is INHERENTLY SOCIAL
When players in Big Bang Racing create levels, they expect to get feedback on their levels from other players. Feedback happens in the form of social validation: likes and follows. Players are also interested in seeing what others have created and want to give out social validation about those creations. One of the most requested features by the creators was the possibility to edit already published levels based on feedback they received from their clan members. This tells us how inherent the expectations for social validation are for players of UGC games.
UGC keeps your game FRESH
Players get inspired by other players’ levels. They iterate and combine things found from the game, keeping it fresh. This behaviour also forms trends when something new and exciting is found: everyone wants to take part in that movement. In Big Bang Racing we had a few moments where players had exhausted the potential from the available tools. We decided to add creative tools that gave new functionality and repurposed some of the old. The result? The game was instantly fresh for non-creators and full of potential for creators to invent new trends.
In social media, where the creation tools (eg. cameras) are completely in the hands of the users, it’s much harder for developers to contribute to keeping the content of the platform fresh. In UGC games however, the creation tools are part of the game, and by releasing new updates the developers play an integral role of setting new trends and helping creators innovate.
UGC makes your game STAND OUT
A game that is based on UGC has a unique feel to it. It has a promise of something more than just playing. Highlighting these creative aspects of the game makes it easier to distinguish from the competition.
UGC has also given us synergy with social media influencers. YouTubers, like Nickatnyte, EthanGamer and Annoying Orange, have created videos about the Big Bang Racing, and many others have hosted tournaments with their custom-made levels.
We feel that UGC games have a huge, yet undiscovered market potential. Lately this has shown in successful storytelling, home decoration and fashion designer games targeted at a female audience. There are still many genres and markets to be discovered with UGC games, so it’s definitely worth considering adding UGC elements in your games as well.