Archive for the ‘Industry News’ Category

Latvian gamedev conference

Friday, April 13th, 2018

When my husband and business partner Jake Birkett is invited to speak at a game development conference in Latvia, my interest is piqued. I realise that my knowledge of the games business in this part of the world is extremely limited, and of course I want to find out more.

Thanks to generous sponsorship from GameInsight, the one day event in Latvia’s capital, Riga, is free to attend, and attracts over 100 game industry professionals and students.

What about Latvia?
Latvia is a little country with big ambition. This small Baltic nation has a population of fewer than two million and an interesting cultural mix, partly as a result of historical rule by neighbours such as Sweden, Russia and Poland. Even so, Latvia has retained its own Baltic identity and language.

The Latvian Game Association (LSIA) was founded in 2014, although some of its members had been active since 2007. Its remit is to promote the development of the Latvian game industry and mutual cooperation between game developers, in addition to education. The industry also gets support from sources such as the Latvian Agency of Investment (LIA).

Getting started
Riga is famous for its nightlife and so some of the speakers were out late sampling the local beers and karaoke scene. Our hosts from are generous with their time and have the event well organized.

Imants Zarembo kicks off with his recent experience of getting a game on Steam and working with a publisher. Zarembo works at Soaphog Game Studio, a team of eight that spent around four years developing roguelike dungeon crawler Rezrog, which won the Latvian “game of the year” award back in January.

One of his key takeaways is to throw out early prototypes: “we made practically all the mistakes we could make,” he admits, “we kept building on the same base.” He also advises other devs: “be serious about your marketing.” The publisher experience still boosted the project and facilitated localization: despite various twists and turns taken by the business, the game has broken even.

PR and marketing advice

There is no shortage of great PR and marketing advice on hand, like the excellent PR primer for gamedevs by Agnieszka Szóstak, founder of PR Outreach based in Warsaw, Poland, complete with a launch timeline.

Further marketing advice is on hand from 11 Bit Studios’ senior writer, Pawel Miechowski, based on the strategy deployed for standout pacifist game, This War of Mine.

Miechowski has over 20 years’ experience, and goes into detail on how to create a “brand book” for your game title, the significance of selling emotion to create a marketing impact, and the importance of a consistency through all communications.

His strategy paid off in terms of garnering considerable coverage from the mainstream press, he says. The takeaway? Set the marketing tone from the very start of your project and don’t be afraid to market only to a specific audience: “If you try to make a game for everyone, it’s going to be a game for no-one,” he concludes.

A tale of two studios
Next Brjann Sigurgiersson (Image & Form Games) and Jake Birkett (Grey Alien Games) offer contrasting talks on game studio survival and strategy. Sigurgiersson describes using the same game world and intellectual property (IP) and switching genres to create a series of games, as Image & Form has done successfully with its Steamworld games.

The company increased the price of its later games, such as Steamworld Dig 2 and says the advantages include reusing the same tech, creating for the same, engaged community and continuing to iterate.

The downside of making a game series? “If you aren’t careful then it can be boring, your skills don’t evolve much and it feels like creative suicide,” says Sigurgiersson. “You could be restricting your consumer base.” However as a business model incorporating self-publishing and a growing studio in Sweden, it works well for his team. “Strong IP is key – life is too short to make bad games,” he concludes.

Birkett’s talk drills down into the revenue per hour for indies as a key metric when judging the success of a project. Using data harvested from a large number of other developers as well as from Grey Alien Games’ recent projects such as Shadowhand and Regency Solitaire, he shows that there is considerable risk for many indie developers in over-long development times, and also shows how to estimate future sales on Steam based on the first week of sales. (There is also a version of this talk on YouTube.)

The takeaway is that remaining light and agile and keeping project turnover brisk is a sensible strategy in the current market.

Ari Pulkinen then treats conference attendees to a talk on branding through music, followed by a retrospective on a significant career in concept art by Bjorn Hurri. The final, high-energy talk is by Riga-born Anatolijs Ropotovs, CEO at GameInsight, with almost 20 years of game industry experience.

Leaving on a high note

Ropotovs started out operated his own gaming community site, then went on to develop games and user experience on various platforms, including social city-building games and current mobile mega-hit, Guns of Boom. He manages large teams and has many millions of players.

The key advice from his talk was that it’s OK to fail. Keep innovating and moving forward because anything is possible.

I’d go again
It’s an invigorating message for the developers gathered in Riga. The quality of projects in the prize gamejam is high, and as we spill out to the local bar the talk is animated and the ideas continue to flow.

The afterparty in full swing

For many, the next stop is a similar event in Tallinn in neighbouring Estonia, and after that, Casual Connect in London.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this event in future…I have learned a lot, met some great people and have also caught some of their energy and enthusiasm, which leaves me brimming with ideas and ready to dive in to work when I get back home.

by Helen Carmichael

A bonus picture of Jake REALLY enjoying the Latvian dumplings

Zuma Blitz – Spin to Win Analysis

Thursday, September 8th, 2011


I love playing Zuma Blitz on Facebook – I think it’s way more fun than Bejeweled Blitz. It’s a very carefully constructed game that I’m sure monetises very well as a result; well worth studying if you want to see a shining example of a competitive social game.

Recently they added a Daily Spin option where you can win mojo. Mojo is required if you want to use powerups which are great fun and often increase your score. You get one free daily spin and can buy more spins for Facebook credits. I’ve never bought any extra spins but this week there’s a promotion on where you can get extra spins for just one Facebook credit and also the payouts are much higher than normal.

So I wanted to compare the cost of buying mojo through the usual method versus gambling on the Daily Spin. Here are my findings:

Normal Cost

You can buy 100,000 mojo for 90 gold idols, and you can buy 100 gold idols for 19 Facebook credits. A little maths tells me that 90 gold idols (for 100K mojo) costs 17.1 Facebook credits.

Daily Spin Results

I decided to burn 20 Facebook credits in an experiment to see how much mojo I could amass and if I could get MORE mojo this way than from buying it the normal way. It’s easy to think that the payout is truly random, but I bet it is not – it should be carefully balanced to be a bit more than you would get buying it the normal method.

It should be pointed out that buying extra spins is actually a bit slow as each spin requires multiple clicks and delays whilst your Facebook credit is spent. It would be way better if you could buy a whole bunch of spins at once. So it feels a bit like “hard work” getting mojo using this method.

Here’s what I got (numbers are in thousands of mojo):


Total = 212,000 mojo

At first I thought it was going to be all 8Ks and 4Ks, with mostly 4s, which would have resulted in a poor yield. But the 20Ks and 40Ks really made a big different. I was sorely tempted to carry on after spending 20! Maybe tomorrow…


Buying mojo the normal route gives you 5847 mojo per Facebook credit.
Doing the Daily Spin gave me 10600 mojo per Facebook credit.

So roughly double the normal amount. Of course I could try again and get all 4Ks and 8Ks, or maybe some crazy high amounts. Based on this I might do another 20 spins before the promotion runs out as it does seem like a cheap way to get mojo.

If you try it out, let me know how you get on!

Casual Connect Summary

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

VancouveritesPhoto by John Geoffrey Newman

I went to Casual Connect in Amsterdam back in early 2008 and it was an awesome experience. I met tons of fellow casual game developers and there were lots of great talks that were relevant to me.

This week I went to Casual Connect in Seattle, which I’d never been to before. When I worked at Big Fish Games I kept asking if I could go but they typically only send “biz dev” types to it. This time, however, I was a speaker on an indie panel and so I got to go for free, which was awesome.

This post is about my experience at Casual Connect rather than being a comprehensive overview or something.

Flash Gaming Summit

On the Monday before Casual Connect I went to the Flash Gaming Summit. It was pretty informative. There was news about Flash’s molehill (now called Stage3D) which is coming soon, and Unity’s forthcoming ability to export to Flash via Stage3D.

Also there was a very interesting talk about Everybody Edits which is an online multiplayer microtransaction game made in Flash that seems to be doing well. Seeing as there’s kind of a ceiling limit on how much money you can make from Flash Game License, making an online multiplayer game and using stuff like PlayerIO to do the backend stuff is probably something we’ll be seeing more of in the next few years.

Casual downloads really are dying now

Things have changed a lot in the casual space over the last few years and now download games for PC/Mac are not the main topic of Casual Connect at all. Mobile and Social games are what everyone is talking about. In fact I’d say that social mobile games (free to play games with in-app purchases) were the darling of the show as people are realising that it’s very hard for small teams without a crazy ad spend budget to make Facebook games

Also a new term floating around is midcore – this means games that aren’t hardcore or casual, somewhere in between. I’m going to be making some midcore games soon too.

Big Fish and iOS

Paul Thelen, founder of Big Fish Games, did a talk about their iOS distribution stuff which was very informative. He said that the iOS counterparts of good HOGs (Hidden Object Games) make about half as much money as the download versions, which was $500,000. Pretty good. Every one of their games is linked to other their games so the cross-selling potential is massive and works very well.

Geordi La Forge

I got a photo taken with LeVar Burton! Recently I got one with Sulu and Uhura form the original Trek series and so I thought I’d better get LeVar while he was in the area.


There weren’t many talks about game design which was a shame, and there weren’t many indie talks. Most talks were about social or mobile and the last day had talks about sound and investment. I didn’t got to a ton of talks and panels anyway because the networking was so good (more on this later).

Portals should stop ripping off developers

The PopCap CEO said that he thought casual download portals should stop ripping off devs and pay them a similar amount to Apple or Steam (70% instead of 35% or less basically). I applauded that.

I also heard that some casual portals are going to be distributing more non-casual titles. If that’s the case then then they’ll need to boost their royalty rates to compete with better established non-casual portals anyway. Also BFG said they are going to be distributing more “outlier” content on iOS which means non-casual titles that fit into the midcore category I mentioned earlier.

Networking and Indie events

Casual Connect is great for networking. I kept on bumping into people I knew and also got introduced to many more people. I was there for two reasons: to talk to casual game portals about opportunities for existing IP and to meet up with indies. There were two indie events on in the same week, the indiegamer forum dinner which was cool, and a large gathering of indies showing off great games at the Seattle Indie Expo, which was way cool.

I also hung out with lots of Vancouverites including Shane Neville and Stephen MacDonald (we all crammed in the same hotel room), and Andy Moore from Victoria, and they kept introducing me to knew people, which was cool.

I got some Grey Alien Games T-shirts printed so I could wear them every day at the conference and this helped people quickly identify me. I’ll be wearing them at PAX Dev later in the year too.

Oh and there were LOTs of great parties with free drinks, plus I kept getting free food because I was a speaker, which was awesome.

Spring Bonus on iOS

I also had a meeting with Big Fish Games and some other publishers to show them Spring Bonus on iPad. It was well received and I hope that it will be accepted and launched soon. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months.

Overall a great week, but tiring as I find all conferences are. Glad to be home typing this up and relaxing.

How was your experience?

Did you go to Casual Connect? How did you find it?