This is the first episode in our new series for indie developers called, “what I wish I knew when.” Host Melissa Zeloof welcomes Gabriel Coriiu, Co-Founder of Seenax Oy and the developer behind the hit game, Hide and Seek. Gabriel will be talking about what he wishes he knew when choosing a publisher and about his journey to launching a hit hyper-casual game.
Listen to the full episode here, or read the transcript below.
2:25 Gabriel - “I have to say that, right away, there was nothing special about the hyper-casual genre… gamers have this perception of the hyper-casual games being cheap because they have quite a bit of ads in them but I gradually started to enjoy making them. Now I see them as this personal project, or experiments, that I work on for one or two weeks before I test them. I also try to add some technical challenges when possible.
3:50 Gabriel - “The reason I ended up picking hyper-casual games was due to the risk - reward ratio, especially for solo developers.
Lose some to win some
4:04 Melissa - “Your first attempt at building a game, which was Boopie if I’m right, didn’t end up quite the way you hoped it would.”
4:20 Gabriel - “The first big failure that I made with Boopie was putting way too much energy into making it a fun, finished product. There was no way, in my mind, that could have failed, and when it did, I was devastated and I didn’t want to accept it as a failure. What I did after that is started testing it with multiple publishers because I thought at first that there was an issue with the first publisher but they got more or less the same results. After testing it with the first publisher, after seeing the KPIs, I went to every analytics platform, GameAnalytics, Unity, and Facebook and got the best KPIs from them. For instance, I got the day 1 from GameAnalytics analytics, the day 7 from Unity, and the day 10 from Facebook or something like that, and I put all of them into a big image and sent them to the publishers… Eventually, I just had to accept it as a failure. This was confirmation bias at its best which was a really big mistake, basically making decisions based on personal beliefs as opposed to actual data.
The ideal publisher
6:24 Gabriel - “I was looking for what I think everyone was looking for, even now: fair terms, transparency, and mutual respect. I remember back then that there were not many options. Let’s consider this situation: I come to you with the winning solution for the lottery, like the winning numbers, but I just can’t afford to get a ticket and because you can afford to get a ticket, you will not split the revenue fairly. I don’t think that’s a good way of handling developers.
7:18 Gabriel - “All of the above still stands. I don’t think I know more than I did then, I just wish there were more options overall.
Trial and Error
7:48 Gabriel - “I don’t think there was too steep of a learning curve, we just learned together gradually by trial and error. I think the most important takeaways would be that people love power ups. I remember that after adding the teleport gates into the game, the engagement increased so did the retention, also, the visibility with rewarded video, which is also a power up on its own. Having no loading screen in between levels also helped a lot. Initially, there was a small duration in between levels because it would have to load the next level but now I have skipped that and fixed it. Last but not least, put clarity over beauty. I think these are the most important. I would also like to thank Supersonic for all the effort they put in.”
How publishers can improve
9:18 Gabriel - “It’s hard to be specific because each publisher acts in a different way, like they all have different terms and workloads. But I just wish, generally, not only for publishers but for all the people, to understand the purpose of a currency and realize that non-monetary values are more important. At the end of day we are together on this beautiful spaceship, so, we should help and respect one another.”
Why do you need a publisher?
10:12 Gabriel - “Unless the studio doesn’t have the resources and knowledge to promote the game, I’d say there’s just no other option. With a studio for making a hyper-casual game, the minimum would be to have a gameplay programmer, an artist, having someone to make videos (creatives), someone to handle UA, and then you have to have some back end developers to implement some A/B testing tools. You also need to make sure that the people you hire and work with are skilled. For instance, if I want to go on my own, how am I going to pick a good UA guy because I don’t know much about UA, so, that’s also kind of a problem. On average, I’d say that at the beginning it’s a wise decision to go with a publisher.”
Hide and Seek on my mind
11:15 Gabriel - “The concept has always been in my mind. It’s nothing new. We used to play it when we were kids a lot. But, I just didn’t know how to properly represent that virtually on a mobile device. One day, I watched a video on YouTube called, ‘Two Minutes Papers,’ which is about AI in general. It was a video about how the AI basically learned from scratch how to play hide and seek… the representation of the game was pretty much identical to what it’s like in hide and seek. So, that’s how I got the idea.
12:38 Gabriel - “I downscaled the levels quite a lot, so I made them way smaller. I also simplified the levels from real world representations to labyrinth style, removed the loading screens from in between levels, and then started the next level in front of it and smoothed the camera transition from one level to another… after those, the retention increased by 50% and play time by around 30% which is quite nice.”
The growth loop
15:42 Gabriel - “Now take this with a grain of salt because I’m not specialized in UA and monetization and I’m still learning a lot in that area but I still treat them as two different areas.”
Final advice to devs
16:06 Gabriel - “Most importantly, stay safe in this period and pick your partners wisely… fair terms, transparency, mutual respect.”