February 2014 (Back to archive)
In 2004 David Helgason co-founded Unity Technologies, the progenitor of the incredibly popular Unity development toolset, and now he leads the company in its mission to democratize game development by offering the best technology, and tools to the best community: game makers. We caught up with Helgason to chat briefly about where Unity is going, and what that means for indie developers the world over.
Q: What's next for Unity in 2014?
David Helgason: We've got a lot of big things brewing at Unity that we can't wait to tell the world about just yet. Of the things that are already public knowledge, we're very excited to release our PlayStation 4 and Xbox One tools this year, along with our Tizen tools. We're also looking forward to the democratizing distribution of games powered by the Unity Cloud, something we're all very excited to get started as it's going to be a big benefit to the Unity developer community. Naturally we also have a boatload of technical improvements and new features coming down the line, including the new GUI system which is one of the most requested features by Unity developers.
Q: Now that Unity supports the Vita, are there any other platforms that you'd like to bring into the Unity family?
Helgason: We're actually running out of new platforms at the moment! With PlayStation 4, PlayStation Now, Xbox One and Tizen all already in development, Unity developers are going to be able to deploy their games to all of the major platforms in 2014. We really want to provide as much freedom for developers to harness the opportunities in the rapidly evolving device ecosystem, and we're proud to say that we're meeting that goal admirably.
Q: Why design game makers, and not games?
David Helgason: We got into making tools after trying to make games ourselves, finding no tools that we were happy with, building our own, and then realizing that we were onto something really amazing. We believed that broadly available tools had the potential to change our industry, grow it larger and more diverse, and that a huge base of developers sharing the same tools could create an ecosystem with incredible economics of collaboration.
And I never looked back: taking part in democratizing our industry has been the most rewarding journey I could have wished for. Still is by the way, since there's still so much to do!
Q: It's arguably never been easier for someone to make a game, thanks in part to the widespread availability of tools like Unity. How do you feel about the state of the indie gaming scene right now, and where do you see it going?
Helgason: While it can be a bit overwhelming to get into the industry and compete against so many other developers, tools that allow for quicker iteration are enabling massive experimentation and risk taking. It's inspiring great creativity across all facets of gameplay, style, and storytelling in the indie scene right now. Unity is on this infinite adventure with the developers, who take our tools into hardcore action titles, deeply thoughtful strategic experiences, quirky experimental games, and on and on and on. This really is a golden age for games and gamers!
Jay Cohen, a game industry veteran with more than 17 years served across Playnomics, Jerry Bruckheimer Games, and Ubisoft, recently joined up as General Manager of World of Tanks developer Wargaming America. We spoke with Cohen about how Wargaming is approaching mobile development and how the company works to ethically deploy a highly profitable free-to-play game.
Q: Wargaming recently launched a beta version of its flagship PC game World of Tanks for Xbox 360. How was the game received?
Jay Cohen: We announced World of Tanks for the Xbox 360 last June @ E3 and saw a tremendous amount of support from both our community and the industry as a whole. In North America specifically, the console market is a huge opportunity for us to reach a new demographic of players. We are thrilled to be partnering with Microsoft to deliver a true World of Tanks console experience for players around the world. It is a huge milestone for Wargaming to extend beyond PC only gaming.
Q: What challenges did you face in taking the game multi-platform, and what did you learn? When do you think it makes sense for a company to consider bringing their game to another platform?
Cohen: Taking the game from PC to console first required us to address the UI and control schemes, and really hone in on the expectations that Xbox 360 players have for their games. Denny Thorley and his team in Chicago quickly learned we would also need to adapt our development and deployment procedures to a more structured certification process that wasn't previously designed for a frequently updated PC free-to-play MMO.
We were also able to max out the full performance of the Xbox 360 and actually enhance some of the tank physics and animations for the Xbox Edition of the game.
In the end, we have always strived to bring a level of authenticity to our titles, and as a result of a cross company, global team initiative, the same attention to detail is carried over in the Xbox 360 version.
Q: How does Wargaming plan to approach the mobile market?
Cohen: Mobile platforms are the fastest growing gaming market, and leveraging Wargaming's offerings to reach new consumers and create a strong mobile presence is among the company's strategic priorities.
At Wargaming we are passionate about creating games that will satisfy the mobile gamer's desire for short core loops that attach to extensive upgrade options and deeper strategy.
Our goal with World of Tanks Blitz is to create a mobile gaming experience that would rival anything they could find on any other platform whether it be a PC or console.
Q: World of Tanks held a spot on SuperData's recent top ten list of most profitable free-to-play games in 2013. How do you approach designing and running an ethical, profitable free-to-play title?
Cohen: We are a company delivering free-to-play online games with the purpose of giving our players experiences that are based on fair treatment, whether they spend money in-game or not. In the past, many free-to-play models allowed players to pay for advantages over other players, but Wargaming's monetization system is different; everything depends on your skill and experience.
We call the experience "free-to-win" and believe that such an approach to monetization is the most important aspect of keeping our players happy.
Daniel Fiden serves as chief strategy officer of Fun Plus, a social networking and mobile gaming company based in China and the United States, with offices in Asia, North America, and Europe. Fun Plus rose to prominence thanks in large part to its flagship Facebook game, Family Farm, which proved remarkably popular in Asian markets. We spoke briefly with Fiden about what the future holds for Fun Plus, and how he predicts the gaming market will change in the year ahead.
Q: What's next for Fun Plus in 2014?
Daniel Fiden: Since the company was founded in 2010, revenue has more than doubled every year and we remain very profitable. For us, this year is about continuing to grow the company. We're going to do that first by making sure our existing games continue to grow. We'll accomplish that by investing in nurturing our community of passionate players. Second, we're going to make great, engaging games that we love, and that we think our players will love. That's possible by continuing to hire only the best people in North America and China.
Q: How is developing games for the Asian market different from developing for the North American market?
Fiden: Analytics are an important part of crafting a successful game and enjoyable user experience. Whether analytics are used to help dissect where players are dropping off or getting stuck in a game or used to analyze how in-app purchases can be tweaked to be more attractive to players, tools like these are important to create successful entertainment businesses.
Q: What challenges has Fun Plus faced in keeping players engaged with games like Family Farm, and how have you met those challenges?
Fiden: It's always a challenge to keep a community engaged, but our secret is that we listen to our players. We know that they love the game as much as we do, and so we respect their opinions about how to evolve the game and the community. We also focus heavily on local operations. So while we're a global company that makes games that we think appeal everywhere, we also respect that localization is only a piece of the puzzle to make your game relevant. We have operations teams specific to the territories in which our games are played — for example, Italian players deal with Italian game managers and customer support, and those people are full-time employees of FunPlus. It's unique, but we think that investment leads to long-term relationships with our players, which means long-lived games.
Q: What do you think the future holds for Facebook farming games?
Fiden: Regardless of the platform — whether it's Facebook, iOS or Playstation — a genre like social simulation games can continue to be interesting and compelling to people when developers focus on innovating it. We weren't the first farm game, but we added great depth and features to the genre that people hadn't seen before. Games like Hay Day have built on that foundation and have added even more. When we decide to make a game, it's because we think we can make it better, deeper, more engaging and more fun. I don't think we've seen the final evolution of the farm game, just as I don't think we've seen the final evolution of the Match-Three or the MOBA.
Q: Why did Fun Plus join the Game Network?
Fiden: We love games, the game industry and the people who work in it. We recognize that Gamasutra, GDC and the "Join the Game Network" are a big part of that.