Revamping Puppet Punch Post CBU
September 16, 2014
Mech Mocha Game Studios is an independent game development studio based in India. Founded by Mohit Rangaraju (Chief Mech) and Arpita Kapoor (Chief Mocha), Mech Mocha was part of iAccelerator 2013 batch and operates from an awesome co-working space at CIIE, IIM A. They are also proud alums of Chartboost University. Mech Mocha believes in teaming up with talented and passionate programmers, artists, animators and musicians to create high-end quality games that would leave a feeling of satisfaction in every players' mind. They're currently working on their first iOS title Puppet Punch.As I write this, Mech Mocha is submitting Puppet Punch to the App Store. It?s a long-awaited day for our team and we?re ecstatic about it. Since this project began, we went through numerous changes and iterations. Nearly six months ago, we thought we were ready for release, but then we were selected to attend Chartboost University (CBU) -- it was an opportunity we couldn?t pass up.CBU is a two-week-long mentorship program for mobile game startups where industry experts from different specialties such as design, production, technology, audio, and monetization dig into your product and provide feedback. As a bonus, the IGDA gave us passes to attend GDC 2014.Our time at CBU helped us improve our game immensely. The combined feedback from mentors and fellow developers at CBU, GDC attendees, and press at Pocket Gamer Big Indie Pitch was amazing. While the base gameplay and design of Puppet Punch wasn?t changed after CBU, there?ve been significant changes to the game?s backend, progression, core loop and monetization.We?d like to share the actionable insights we learned at CBU and how it helped us improve our game:Closing the Loop: How Mech Mocha Tweaked Puppet Punch?s MechanicsOne of the key discoveries for us coming out of CBU was how important it was to have loops and mini loops seamlessly tied into a game?s progression system. We realized that too many indies like us leave this component of game development until the end to figure out. Initially the core loop of Puppet Punch was pure, endless fighting similar to Subway Surfers and Jetpack Joyride, but instead of running, you fight. In the game, you punch puppets, collect coins for buying power-ups, battle for higher scores, and beat your friends? scores.Puppet Punch?s initial core loop was short and gripping, but we noticed that our testers needed a long-term goal--a goal they could aspire to reach one day. In Jetpack Joyride, players are tasked with completing all the missions and starting them all over again. In King?s Candy Crush Saga, a player is challenged with progressing through each level to reach the highest possible level. Puppet Punch also had a Mission-Rank system, but that mechanic is so overused that there?s hardly any novelty and excitement left in it for players.We also had an array of items in the in-game store but we didn?t present them well. The store featured an over-abundance of items, overwhelming players in the process. Also, purchasing and upgrading power-ups from the store wasn?t linked to the Mission-Rank system. So we definitely saw the need to change a few things.After input from mentors like Allen Ma and Chelsea Howe and a lot of iterations, we reached a progression system that combined scores, power-ups and ranks into one. We then introduced the new system with our testers and saw an increase in long-term retention. We?ll monitor the progression system again with a larger test group during our soft launch to solidify metrics.
Puppet Punch?s The Progression MapTap Into the Minds of Your PlayersHumans are obsessed with completion. In games, we love the feeling of earning all the stars and medals--every game designer knows this and lives by it. We had an upgrade system for each power-up where a player could increase how long they last or to magnetize them, but the enhanced power-ups lacked enticing visuals to communicate this to players.Here?s what we have now:
Upgraded power-ups feature different visual representations.?Now, when players upgrade power-ups, the visuals associated with each power-up change. This may appear as a minor tweak, but we?ve seen a huge increase in the percentage of people upgrading power-ups after we made this change. Players now aspire to fully upgrade all of their items with three stars.The Ins and Outs of Working with PublishersChoosing whether or not to partner with a publisher is a critical decision. We were always positive about partnering with a publisher, but wanted a deal that?s fair to both parties. But, we weren?t sure on what terms should be in a publishing contract and what is fair and practical among the mobile developer community.During CBU, we met with mentors from Pocket Gems, TinyCo, DeNA and Kabam. Based on their input, we got a glimpse into the mind of a publisher, seeing what they prioritize and how they make a deal that?s mutually beneficial. The publisher-developer relationship is based on mutual trust. For both parties, it?s important to make all expectations clear.The main point everyone drove home was to make sure that a publisher is equally involved financially. If this isn?t the case then it?s a gamble where the publisher doesn?t risk any money--many aggregators do just this. You can learn more about the distinction in this informative Casual Connect Europe discussion.The best case is to partner with a publisher who can invest in development. This is a rare occurrence that usually comes at a price--i.e. publishers taking more of the revenue. At the least, a developer needs to ensure that a publisher is committed in the testing, refinement and marketing of a game. It?s an ideal scenario if the publisher is investing some money, however small, into user acquisition from the start.Post CBU, we were able to negotiate a deal with a publisher who will help take Puppet Punch to market. Our meetings with mentors during CBU helped us understand the terms of mobile publishing and the nitty-gritty details that only a publisher would know. On top of that, mentors were also available after CBU, helping us through our publisher deal, which was an added bonus.Putting the Back into BackendWe were always under the impression that extensive backend APIs such as Parse are meant for midcore and hardcore games such as Clash Of Clans. But with social features being a core component of games these days, the need for intelligent push systems, A/B testing, and backend APIs has become a necessity even for casual games.The CBU session ?Overview of Backend APIs? helped us a lot. With so many tools available, and each having specific use cases, it?s difficult to choose the right ones. From the combined input of the Chartboost team and mentors from Perfect World, we generated a concise list of tools that are cost effective or offer free plans:
- Analytics : Localytics, Flurry
- Social Integration and Saving Game Data: Parse
- A/B Testing: Leanplum
- In-App Messaging: Localytics
- Ad-Tracking : Mobile App Tracking by Tune, Adjust.com
- Push Notifications: Parse, Pushwoosh
Another good option is to go with UpSight for most of the above stuff, depending upon your budget.Picking and Choosing Where to Acquire UsersChartboost is the mecca for mobile game ads. We were expecting some deep insights about UA from them. Our primary goal was to identify the countries in which we should soft-launch Puppet Punch. Though the best answers can vary, we wanted insights from the UA cost perspective.For games that have North America as their target market, Australia and New Zealand are decent soft-launch markets. Australia is the soft-launch market of choice for a lot of big studios such as Rovio and Supercell, which resulted in skyrocketing UA costs. This fact led us to choose New Zealand as a soft launch market, due to its low UA cost and similar player demographics. Also, Australia may be a small market for big studios such as Rovio, but for indies such as us, Australia is big enough to save for our worldwide launch.In Europe, Nordic countries are a great test bed, thanks to smaller users bases and lower UA costs. For our game, we chose Sweden because many people there speak English.Developers that gear their games toward the Asian market -- chiefly China and Japan -- test in South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand. Note, that games made for Asian countries require comprehensive localization efforts.We received invaluable feedback about soft launching during our time at CBU. We?re soft launching Puppet Punch in New Zealand, Sweden and Indonesia.Make A Fool of Yourself!?Make a fool of yourself.? This was the most unexpected advice we received at CBU, but it came at the right time. GDC was right after CBU and we wanted to do something funky there--maybe dress up like puppets and Pablo? But, we were feeling shy and didn?t want to make fools of ourselves.One day while having lunch with a bunch of folks at Chartboost, we were sharing our GDC plans and how we were all too shy to do something eye catching. Omar (Chartboost, Amsterdam) came up and told us his story about how he dressed up as a shark at GDC for his game, which helped him attract the attention of curious press and publishers.This was a marketing tactic we never considered. So we threw caution to the wind and dressed up like characters from our game. GDC attendees loved it. We were able to chat with many more people, including press, than if we hadn?t done this.
Creating a mask of Pablo for GDC was an overwhelming success.Overall, attending CBU helped us understand the need for soft launch and the processes behind it. We also learned which analytics tools to use, when and how to use A/B tests during soft launch, and why it?s crucial to have a strong backend even if the game is casual. We also got actionable feedback for our game.As we soft launch Puppet Punch soon on iOS, we will keep sharing more on what we learn on our official blog. Lastly, we?d like to give a huge thanks to everyone at Chartboost for organizing CBU. It?s a really great initiative and it?s awesome that you guys do it every year!