[History] Small Giant games- Empires and Puzzles
Putting this here so I can link to it.
When we built Empire and Puzzles back in 2016, we were just a team of 12," Soininen tells us. “It must be some sort of record that such a small team created such a big game like that in 11 months from scratch. We were really driven, and we did a little outsourcing, but it’s a really remarkable achievement.” (linky, linky)
Soininen also reports Small Giant achieved profitability by November 2017, and has never made a loss on user acquisition. This is in part due to the effort poured into performance marketing, with plans to do $80 million in marketing this year.
He continues: “But it’s also the combination of being really good at marketing. In today’s world, even if you create the best possible game out there, it’s not going to fly automatically. That’s why you have to get all the bits and pieces right. The good news for us is we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of market penetration.”
“Well, we didn’t have that marketing budget,” Soininen observes. “We were literally in this predicament, we didn’t have huge amounts of cash. We pretty much had to know very quickly whether the numbers were correct. If the numbers didn’t add up in terms of retention and monetisation, we needed to kill this baby quickly so we still had one more shot. You have to be really on top of the numbers.”
Preparing the marketing model while the game is still in development is also essential to getting investors on board. When Small Giant raised $6 million in an early funding round, it used metrics and the business model it had prepared to demonstrate how well it could perform with more investment.
With Empires & Puzzles now established, Small Giant is ramping up work on its second game. While Soininen can’t tell us anything about it, he does reveal the project is currently in early consumer testing and may be ready for a soft launch later this year.
However, he stresses that 90 per cent of the studio’s efforts are still focused on the roadmap for its flagship game. The recently added Alliance Wars, for example, “saw massive improvements in our KPIs” and the studio is keen to explore this further. Plus, new levels, new heroes and new gameplay modes are all in the works to keep those millions of players engaged as long as possible.
“We basically have a continuous flow of events, activities and quests to keep the game fresh,” he says. “There’s no reason why this game couldn’t have a lifespan of five to eight years.”
==Acclaim but not profitable==
But we started out over three years ago, working on casual games because some of our graphical designers are super talented – they almost have a Disney-like skill set – and we had an interesting concept for a new type of endless casual game. So we launched Oddwings , a beautiful type of flying game with sort of new control mechanics and lots of other smaller innovations – and we aimed to really change the paradigm of casual game retention, offering a little bit more than what most casual games were offering.
We got several millions of downloads but in terms of monetization we didn’t do a good job because we were too ambitious in our project. One very blunt conclusion was that it’s very difficult to break away from the conventions in the casual games F2P-market. You have to follow the existing conventions almost to detail and only do select few micro innovations there because consumers have gotten so used to a certain flow of things in games, which makes trying to divert from that extremely difficult and risky.
We were too ambitious, changing too many things and some sort of complexity started to creep in where, in hindsight, shouldn’t have been too much complexity. So basically, after a deep analysis we had to ask ourselves: Do we really want to, let’s say, open up the hood, go back to tweaking the “engine” and try it again?
The conventional wisdom and our own conclusion was that such a step is very difficult. Once you’ve done a new game, the live soft launch results will give you get the read if the game’s going to fly or not. As a rule of thumb changing and redesigning things is a very risky business because you will spend a lot of time, probably many months on fixing things, then have to go back into testing mode and all that without any guarantee that any of this will work.
==12 prototypes before Empires prototype==
So then we started working on new concepts in late 2015 and, very quickly, we created around 30 new game concepts, from casual to more or less midcore games and we created 12 prototypes in literally a month.