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Level-Up : Conversations with Friends & Developers

Posted on January 07, 2015
By Sohan Maheshwar

At InMobi we love games. Interestingly, we are also a collection of people who love talking and conversations. Put the two together and you'll know what our new blog series "Level Up : Conversations with Friends and Developers" is all about. Do chime in; did I mention we love participation as well? ☺

This week we have a chat with Jonas Raagaard, a veteran of the game industry who just released his free-to-play game SOAK. He sits down with us to have a heart-to-heart conversation about SOAK, the indie scene and his favourite mobile games.

Sohan: Congrats on the launch of your new game - SOAK. Tell us about it.

Jonas: Thanks! SOAK represents a new fresh take on the endless runner genre. A game with highly skill-focused gameplay. And about the best damn game about water fights the world has yet seen ☺

You play as Mike, woho’s on a splashing revenge against the nasty kids at school who soaked his little sister, Mel.

In many ways the game follows the genre conventions found in runners. But it also diverts from the formula. The player has a higher degree of free movement using tilt or touch controls. And will be able to take aimed shots with water balloons and blast enemies with water guns.

We’ve also implemented a range of boss fights. Bosses will have to be defeated in order to advance to the next map. The score multiplier increases on each map per boss defeat. And the combined map scores is displayed in the uberscore.

It was developed on a 100% self-funded budget by 2 people over period of some 8 months of main development.

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Sohan: You have been in the games industry for a while now, what changes have you seen with the advent of mobile?

Jonas: Since my humble beginnings back in 2000. The world has changed a few times. It has never been easier to create a game and get it out to a worldwide audience. It is still hard as ever to create a sustainable business. The advent of mobile has brought in masses of people who had never touched digital games before. The process of finding and installing a game for your mobile device has just been streamlined to near perfection.

Essentially this is fantastic. But this has had some consequences as well. The amount of useless ad-infested shovel ware is astounding. The big players can totally dominate their categories for years. And the meta-game of discovery is completely unbalanced.

Designing games for the Freemium space is more about designing the perfect skinner box rather than designing worthwhile experiences for their own sake. The field is highly metric-driven. But in a way I find it interesting and challenging. To incorporate what I would describe as production science into a game.

We are indeed ourselves trying to go down this road. However, perhaps, with a naive sense of trying to focus on doing something new. We should be able to make a difference. And with the hope of success, would be able to grant us the freedom to develop new and exciting game concepts.

In the short term. If I can pay the bills for the next game and get rid of the loan in my apartment. I’m sort of a happy camper. Though my ambitions are clearly higher. For me personally. SOAK is a grand bet I am willing to take. To potentially land me financial freedom and independence.

But essentially it’s all about freedom. Freedom to create the best games I can possibly make.

Sohan: What are the challenges faced by indie developers such as yourself?

Jonas: Oh boy! Pretty much every aspect of indie development is a challenge. That is also part of the fun, if you find enjoyment in that.

From scoping the right type of project to begin with to having an end result you can could make a living from. And betting on just the right project for the right platform. When it comes to scope. Over-scoping is just so damn easy. Imaginations run wild with possibilities and over estimating your own teams speed and output is a certain encounter.

Then there is risk-evaluation. How much should I divert of course to design a game. Will I risk designing something that is so innovative that only very few people will understand it. Or take the risk of going down the beaten path and clone whatever game mechanics is known to work. With SOAK I chose to bet relatively high on everything from the IP, controls and game mechanics. I would call it incremental innovation above average.

Next challenge. Finding a team. Finding a real hardcore dedicated team that won’t run at the first sign of adversity is another challenge. Especially in indie development. Where you only have your own company, skill, time and crazy ideas to offer at first. So the simplest way was to keep it incredibly small. 2 people - Niels Jørgensen and me.

Funding is a massive challenges as well. Most small indie team are sort of self-funded. Working besides their day job or studies. I am in the fortunate position that I am the saving kind of person. And had a nice chunk of money (though still limited) saved up through all my life. That has allowed me to stay focused on the project for an extensive amount of time. Niels has been consulting on the side to keep his boat afloat. Personally I have not received any kind of salary for almost 2 years now. SOAK is the fifth game project I have spent my time on. Following some failed attempts of public funding from local support organisations.

There are numerous other challenges. But all is eclipsed by the boss challenge. Getting people to play your game and making a living from it. Making a kick ass game was the easy part. The real challenge is getting sufficient numbers of players while retaining and monetizing them..

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Sohan. What strategy are you using to get users for SOAK?

Jonas: We have been trying out a few methods. Ad networks, social media, contacting press and YouTube channels. The method of manually contacting press and YouTube channels is a daunting task that will consume incredible amounts of time with only very limited results. It’s nearly impossible to poke a hole through normal channels. Smaller ones will ask for what you can give in return. Which upon a bit of extrapolation might land you a few relatively cheap hundreds of installs. On some occasions micro channels will be super nice and do a mention of your game. But to almost no measurable effect.

If you have the funding hiring a specialized game PR agency should yield better results. A few threads in online forums. But nothing rocked the boat for us. But we got some nice and useable feedback. We always appreciate that.

So far experiments with ad networks has yielded the most reliable and time effective source for finding players for SOAK. Mind you, this is will quickly become incredibly expensive if you need scale, like anything in a free-to-play game would require. For a two man team running on limited self-funding. We are simply unable to compete with any of the giants out there. So putting your own money into ad networks should only be seen as a way of testing your game in a live scenario.

But players in numbers will yield data for analytics. A vital piece in the game of Freemium. That in turn can be used for talking with publisher or partners.

The most viable strategy for a small outfit like us is going for revenue shared partnerships. With publishers or any other channels with fairly easy access to millions of players. So far SOAK has been very positively received.

Sohan: Lastly, what are some of your favorite games? Mobile and otherwise.

Jonas: One of my all-time favorites would be Another World back in the Amiga days. Such a great game and cinematic experience for its time. Far Cry 3 (almost unbiased opinion having worked on it). Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Half-Life series. Portal. Deus Ex +Human Revolution, Monkey Island, Star Control 2, Limbo, The Stanley Parable.

In this modern day of mobile gaming. It gets a bit harder. Clearly Monument Valley is a fantastic design.

On the F2P side I recently enjoyed Spymaster, Adventure Xpress and Mini Warriors. In my recent life, the tablet has taken center stage as the primary gaming platform. Above phablet and PC laptop. But the lack of quality experiences is sort of a letdown. I hope to play a small part of changing that in the future.

The game of life also has its moments ☺

...

SOAK is out now on the AppStore.