Game Spotlight: Spirit Sweeper – The Minesweeper-based RPG for Mobile!

comingsoon_spiritsweeper

For most people, Minesweeper, recalls images of the mid-90s.  The game was arguably the hardest of the prepackaged Windows games that helped so many bored office workers pass slow afternoons behind cubical walls. It might not be anybody’s most favorite game, but it does have a certain nostalgia.

That nostalgia is what Seoul-based developer Wispsoft is banking on in their upcoming minesweeper-inspired mobile game, Spirit Sweeper. And they’re hoping that nostalgia will encourage people to support the game on Kickstarter.

SpiritSweeper_Wispsoft

Taking place in a fantasy world of golems, witches, and knights, players can unlock and choose from eight different characters to conquer their friends and battle internet strangers for sweeper supremacy. But rather than attempting to avoid mines, the objective of Spirit Sweeper is to go head-to-head against other players and be the first to discover 10 spirit stones. Like minesweeper, each number revealed indicates how many stones are near that tile.

SpiritSweeper2

Wispsoft has set a modest goal of reaching $5,000 in crowdfunding which will contribute to finishing the last leg of development as well as develop an additional story mode. Fans of the classic minesweeper will find themselves with a great new update to the game and lovers of casual titles like Candy-Crush and Bejeweled will find themselves right at home.

Check out the Kickstarter page and contribute!

 

tumblbug_logo_crowdfunding

crowdfunding-korea-tumblbug

Start-ups and indie companies have had a hard time getting off the ground in Korea. Indies have traditionally been associated with being amateur and in the trend driven culture of Seoul, indie doesn’t always translate into the quirky viral love affairs as it does in the United States.

Thankfully, this trend is starting to change and crowdfunding is starting to gain momentum on the peninsula. Already there have been successes in the tech world.

Opportune, for example, helped the blue-tooth accessory maker, Semi-link, increase revenue by 230%. The company gathered 130 million won through the crowdfunding platform and allowed them to begin successfully exporting their products. Cultural and art projects are now finally starting to see similar successes.

The film Another Family, for example, earned gathered 1 billion won through crowdfunding. The movie is a fictionalized story about Hwang Sang-ki, a 23- year old Samsung plant worker who died from leukemia in 2007. It was the first commercial film in Korea to be financed through crowdfunding. Now games are starting to see a slice of the crowdfunding pie.

 

Platform Type Company
Donation Tumblbug
Fundu
Good Funding
Upstart
Sponsor/Donation Concrete
Sponsor/Share Investment/ Lending Opportune
Lending Money Auction
Pop Funding

 

While there are a number of crowdfunding websites that have popped up in the last year in Korea, in this article we will focus on Tumblbug, arguably the most popular of the platforms for game funding.

Tumbling into money

Tumblbug tells you what they’re all about in their slogan, “get smart, fund art”. There is perhaps no better crowdfunding platform in Korea for art and cultural projects having trouble finding financing.

Launched in January 2011, it bears a striking resemblance to Kickstarter. The landing page features different project categories including comics and illustrations, music, photos, film, and games.

tumblbug-game-page

Contributing to projects is done in much the same way it is for Kickstarter. Users sign up with an account, or through Facebook, then select the project and donation amount. Payments can be made with credit cards or via bank transfer. Once the payment is made, contributors get a message with information about what rewards they will receive for their contribution level.

Although hard numbers for data are not available, Tumblbug has helped fund hundreds of independent artists, musicians, filmmakers, and game developers. There are currently 81 active game projects as of this writing, including board games, dice games, tabletop RPGs, and PC and mobile titles.

Some successful game campaigns include:


안녕뀨잉펫 (Hello Happy Pet)

waddle_title_think_02

와들와들팽귄즈 (Waddle Waddle Penguin)

Tree of Life

tumblbug-crowdsource-herodetected

Hero Detected

Like Kickstarter, running a successful campaign means more than just posting it online and hoping for the best. A great example of how the platform can be leveraged actually comes from one of our own clients – Owlogue.

Planting a garden of fans

Owlogue is small, Seoul-based, studio built by a husband and wife team. They have released six mobile titles so far, three of which are part of the Mandrake series (the second of the series participated in the Big Indie 40 Project run together with Latis Global and the Korea Creative Contents Agency).

The games are casual, quirky, collector-sims where players plant seeds and harvest Mandrake characters to get their stories, and anime-style artwork. The goal is to collect as many of the Mandrakes and their accompanying artwork and stories as possible. As you can probably guess from the titles, the first two games – Mandrake Girls, and Mandrake Girls: Garden of Secret – focused on artwork of girls. The games catered to a small, but loyal audience, though they never made a big hit in the charts. But things changed for the third game in the series.

mandrake-girls

Realizing that there are plenty of games featuring anime girls on the market, Owlogue decided to mix it up for their third installment of the series, Mandrake Boys. As you can probably guess, the game revolves around the same mechanics, but features boys in the artwork rather than girls.

Success in alternative avenues

With a small budget, Owlogue had to take a conservative approach in marketing the game.  They knew they already had a fan base from their two previous games to work with, so they decided to make turn to Tumblbug to help promote the game. The campaign was for adding voice recordings, an added value to an already complete game. This united their fan base from the previous games and got them involved in the development of the third installment.

Though they started off with a modest request of just a two million Korean won (~$1,912.80 USD), they ended up raising 15,957,011 won (~$15,261.25 USD) from just 403 backers. After reaching their initial goal, they set a stretch goal of 10 million won (~9, 564.00 USD) with more rewards including an art book. The fans loved it and a large majority of them also happened to be avid twitter users. The campaign went viral on Twitter, hitting the top trending topics in Korea and drawing in new fans, even if they didn’t contribute to the Tumblbug campaign.

tumblbug-mandrake-boys

In the end, Mandrake Boys made it to the top 40 grossing games in Google Play, and saw similar success on the Naver App Store, where they are currently making the majority of their success. Though Owlogue attributes a lot of their success to luck, the choices they made  with their Tumblbug campaign and outreach to Twitter played a major role and were innovative choices for indie devs in such a competitive market.

Have questions? Let us answer them!

If you’ve got questions about crowdfunding in Korea, the Mandrake series, or any of the platforms we’ve talked about today, leave a comment below and let us know! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more great articles about Asia’s biggest game markets.

I Got 99 Problems, But a Publisher Ain’t One: Publisher relevance in an age of indies

publsihing relevance

With the rising number of successful independent game developers, game pros from all corners of the industry have been calling the necessity of publishers into question. While some still see a purpose, other industry experts, like Bryan Cashman over at the Consulgamer blog, are questioning publisher relevance all together.

Choosing to go it alone in your domestic market where you have home-turf advantage is difficult on its own, but launching in new markets by yourself incurs a whole new level of risk that you have to be prepared for.

Wherever you stand on the matter one thing is for sure: whether or not the relevance of publishers is diminishing, the problems they have traditionally solved are more complex than ever.

Knowledge and Experience are the Weapons of Choice

Marketing Support, financing, personnel, brad recognition – and the list goes on. Whether you are launching in the domestic market or abroad, going it on your own means arming yourself with more knowledge and tools than you had to in the past.

I often hear small indie companies heralding the success of games like Titanfall and Star Citizen as evidence that publishers are no longer necessary. The reality is, those games are backed by professionals with decades of experience and a well-established industry network. For developers taking their first baby steps, the expectation that they will reach the same heights is just short of delusional.

The communities of Star Citizen and Titanfall were built on their founders’ previous success, solving the major problem of brand recognition. New developers will have to consider the how they will tackle community building for their games and solve the dreaded user acquisition equation. This is particularly true for the mobile sphere where user acquisition is far more nuanced.

Launching in a new market means finding out what the life-time value (LTV) of your game is in that specific region, what kind of budget you’ll need to expect for marketing, and how to run a proper soft launch to test market interest.

Crowdfunding is Not a Panacea

“But,” you say, “I can always build my community and funding on Kickstarter!”

I heard this multiple times from young studios I met at GDC this year, but I also had the pleasure of listening to a rather sobering talk from Simon Strange about crowdfunding games. He drove home a very important point: both fundraisers and backers don’t know how to use Kickstarter. Not only is it a horrible way to raise money, according to Strange, but crowdfunding isn’t necessarily a viable option in all markets (particularly in Korea and Japan).

Even if you do choose to go this route, there is no guarantee you’ll meet your funding goals, or that the money you do raise will go as far as you expect it to.

So How Do You Remain Indie and be Successful?

A strong team and strong partnerships. While, every now and then, the odd two-man studio has breakout success in the mobile sphere, the honest truth is that we don’t yet fully understand the formula for viral games.

Avoid setting unrealistic expectations and take a measured approach. Set reachable goals and make sure your team includes someone with marketing experience and someone with user acquisition and community expertise. This can mean bringing people on full time to your team, or hiring an agency to work on your behalf. The agency route may be particularly advantageous if you are choosing to enter a new market and you want to do it without a publisher. There are several organizations like KISS, who act as a bridge between Europe and Asia for the PC market, and even Latis Global ourselves.

A Final Thought

I’ll end this with a quote from a Pocket Gamer article I read this week about this issue:

“The thing about publishers is, they do have to take risks,” added Revolution’s Charles Cecil.

“That really shouldn’t be underestimated. If you don’t have a fanbase then going through a publisher is a valid idea – I’m not anti-publisher in the least.”

There are lots of avenues to be successful. While remaining independent and protecting your ideas from the influence of publishers may be your ideal, it’s also worth it to consider publishing contracts while you are earning street cred and getting over the learning curve.

Now it’s your turn

Have you published your own game before? What lessons did you learn from going indie? What do you think about the future of publishing: will it continue to be as relevant as ever, or are we witnessing its gradual decline into irrelevance?

We love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment. Remember to share this article and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Testing Market Interest: Tips for Entering New Markets on a Budget

mobile game testing

To Test, or Not to Test?

Why are indie developers shy to enter new markets? We’ve heard the same answers from indies all over the world: it will cost a lot of money, success is a gamble, and they just might not have enough knowledge about a particular market to feel comfortable making the investment. Patrick Yip over at the OneSky blog wrote a great piece about how to use crowdfunding and localization to help you test your games. He’s got some great advice that applies to Western markets, but what about Korea and North East Asia?

We often hear of developers eager to take on the opportunities in Korea and China, or conquer the Japanese market and compete with the hall-of-fame IPs of Sega, Nintendo, and Sony. But financial and mental roadblocks always seem to prevent them from taking action. Just like Patrick says, it doesn’t have to be expensive and risky. If you’re looking to enter Korea, it just requires a bit of tweaking to your strategy. In this post, we’ll give you some tips on testing market interest in Korea on shoestring budget.

Test in App Stores, Don’t Try to Crowdfund

While Kickstarter and Indie-GoGo have certainly cemented their value in western markets, in Korea and Japan in particular, crowdfunding indies have a tendency to be viewed as amateur beggars. One look at the Kickstarter projects page for Seoul and you can see that it is a ghost town. Rather than look to crowdfunding, there are three common strategies for testing interest in your games in Korea:

1) Find a partner company and get them to run focus group testing for you. Latis Global provides focus group testing at extremely affordable rates based on the scale our clients need.

2) Run a focus group test through a technical college that focuses on gaming and have students and professors provide feedback.

3) Soft launch in a small app store and see the kind of attention you gather. Some excellent options include:

LG logoAs a carrier store, LG U+ is much less popular than Google Play or Apple, while still providing you with a large enough user base to see what kind of early traction your game can generate.

KT logoAnother carrier store, KT offers the same opportunities as LG U+ while offering a bigger user base.

 

samsung app store logoLaunching in the Samsung store provides the extra bonus that your game will be automatically QA’d for all Samsung devices. This is due to a corporate policy that all games in the store must run on all Samsung devices.

As Patrick noted in his post, it is highly recommended that you localize your app store pages into your target languages if you want to get an accurate gauge of interest in your games.

Find Feedback in the Local Gaming Community

Last, but not least, find feedback in online forums and gaming portals. Their users are often excited about gaming and eager to participate. This is one area where sourcing from the crowd is possible.

Probably the most active app forums in the country, HungryApp and Inven offer a massive user base to tap into for feedback. Once your game has been posted to some of the smaller app stores, you can open a forum on these sites and see what kind of feedback you get. Note that both websites are run in Korean, so it will likely require you to hire a point person to handle it, though this can be done for relatively cheap.

In Summary:

While crowdsourcing is a great tool that can be used to tap into new markets, taking a measure of the Korean market requires a different strategy. If you have to test on a budget, consider soft launching in some small app stores with a localized product page and gauge interest through community forums. The audience you’ll reach are more likely to be game hobbyists that are genuinely interested in providing feedback and evangelize your games.

Tell Us!

Have you tried testing your apps in Korea or Asia? Were your strategies successful? Why or why not? Leave a comment or tweet @CurtisFile. As always, make sure to follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn to learn more about making your games a global success.

Lessons From GDC

Game-Developers-Conference-2014

 

With GDC well underway, the Latis team would thought it would be a great time to share some of the lessons we have taken away from the seminars and meetings we have attended.

From Social Whales Understanding and Leveraging a New Kind of Player

  • Customer to Customer marketing involves leveraging your most loyal players as a magnet to your game.
  • C2C strategies are equally as important as B2B, and B2C. Make sure you give them some thought.
  • Focus on keeping your most loyal players happy, and they in turn will make other players in your community happy.

From A Survey of the Modern QA Department

  • External QA service providers can find value in providing usability testing and build testing

From The Future of Localization Testing

  • Give your localization service provider your assets and deliver your files in one batch to increase efficiency.
  • The majority of quality issues are implementation issues (clipped text, overlapping text, corrupted text, untranslated text, wrong language, missing audio, etc.)
  • Non-native localization testers and functional testers were equally good at picking out errors as Native localization testers (except for Asian languages). You can leverage this to keep costs down.

From A Journey to the West: A Chinese Localization Primer

  • To solve UI constraint problems, provide a UI/UX analysis before translation begins and use German as a baseline length limit.
  • If the plot doesn’t appeal to the target culture, consider re-writes using in-house game writers.
  • If you have perpetually changing in-game content, ensure that you have a nimble localization processes.

From You Own the Game but the Community Owns You

  • Don’t reveal time lines. You will probably never be right and ultimately frustrate your audience base. Only reveal when you know you are ready.
  • Use your audience to your advantage and bring them into the creative process. They can help create all manner of promotional material for you (e.g. Kerbal Space Program used a fan to create cinematic trailer for a new release)
  • If you are honest with your fan base, it will pay off in the long run.

From Kickstarting Your Company, Your Game, and Your Community

  • Kickstarter is horrible for raising money, and this should not be your main goal in using it.
  • Most people don’t understand Kickstarter and treat it like it is an amazon store.
  • People expect something in return immediately after giving money to you. Make sure you have some value to give them once they have put money up for the project.
  • Kickstarter is about creating community and buzz around your game. Be sure to engage everyone that participates in your project and find ways to bring them into the process.

We will be updating this blog as GDC continues throughout the week, so please make sure to check back.

What lessons have you learned at GDC? Share them in our comments or tweet @CurtisFile. Remember to follow us on  LinkedIn and share your ideas with us there.