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If you haven’t heard about Seriously Digital Entertainment you’ve been probably living under a rock for a while. This new company from Finland managed to create one of the fastest growing mobile titles of 2014. The game Best Fiends recently achieved 10 million downloads and we were lucky enough to discuss this success with the company’s co-founder Petri Järvilehto.
We all know that your company has a lot of talented guys from Rovio. Could you tell us in short how did your company come to be, what kind of people work there and where are you guys based?
We started up Seriously with the core idea that in creative fields small, focused teams can be a lot more effective than large organizations. We’ve been building the talent base by focusing on just getting the best people in their respective fields, so we have people with backgrounds in companies such as 20th Century Fox, Natural Motion, Rovio, Remedy, Supercell and so on. So far, I think we’ve been very lucky getting such an amazing team together.
All the development is done in our Helsinki studio, and business dev, marketing and similar functions are headed from our Los Angeles office.
Your game Best Fiends recently celebrated 10 million downloads. This is quite an achievement for a new mobile title. What do you think are the main points that helped you to gather such user base?
We set out to build a game that’s fun and super approachable, but that also provides a compelling new twist to the classic puzzle genre with the leveling up mechanics and introduces a compelling character cast. I think the combination of great characters and refreshing new take on puzzle gameplay is working out really well.
What kind of tools helped you during the development?
Our tech stack is a fully integrated combination of Unity, Parse, Perforce, Jenkins, Flowdock and Redmine to name some key components. One of the things we’ve prioritized is super fast iteration times. Let’s say an artist checks in a new texture, he can check it instantly inside Unity, but also our Jenkins setup will start instantly building a new game build. And in a minute everyone on the team can do a over the air download to see how the latest build looks on the device. Fast iteration times result directly into being able to build better games.
Best Fiends looks and feels like a big budget title. Could you share some info about the production budget of the project? Was it expensive to build? And if this info is top secret, what are your general estimates to building a nice mobile title these days? How much does it cost? We think a lot of people still have some illusions, believing that “mobile games are cheap games”.
The game came together really fast – core development from zero to soft launch was basically six people, six months. Given the focused team size and the really, really fast execution the cost was pretty reasonable. Having said that, we go out of our way to really push the creative angle and find the best creative talent (both in-house and external partners) and we really invested in best of class production. For example, the soundtrack was composed by Heitor Pereira (Despicable Me and 20 other movies) and recorded live with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra.
Could you share some information about your development process? Do you start with prototypes, art, bare game mechanics? How do you flesh out the game and when do you decide if the title is worthy or better be thrown away?
Once we have a concept, we go to a playable proto as early as possible. And from first playable onwards, we try to maintain the game always in a playable state and keep working with highly iterative process. In many cases, I think it’s just best to get a (or even any) version of the feature or asset into the game so that you can get a feel on how it’s going to interact with the rest of the game as early as possible. It’s not uncommon that we’ll just plug in v0.1 of a feature in the game, then “let it simmer” for a few weeks so that we’ll have a bit more time to play around with it to make sure we know where to go with the next iteration. With Best Fiends, we had the game fun, playable and addictive already well before we started making it pretty. Once you have something fun, it’s easier to prettify. As to the decision making process, we don’t do “design by spreadsheet” – rather we trust our creative process and experience and then validate with data. With Best Fiends, we have hours and hours of gameplay video on each development build with test audiences that we keep analyzing. Watching the audience play your game is one of the most effective ways of evaluating whether people actually enjoy what you’re trying to achieve. And obviously, once you soft-launch and get the first bigger cohorts into the game, you can then track actual behavior data and keep improving based on that.
How do you manage 1 million active users a day? This is a huge responsibility and a lot of work. Could you name some of the tools that has proven most useful for work with audience and mobile users?
Yes, it’s definitely a large responsibility. With every update, we’re always improving the game, reviewing whether the audience at large is having a good time and is engaged, and we also put a lot of work into analysis difficulty behavior, number of retries per level and so on to really keep everything balanced “just right”.
We also try to really push the engagement angle and provide the players constantly with new updates and new varied content. Best Fiends today is a lot better game than what it was at launch, and there’s lots of great new twists and great new content on the way. We’re just getting started.
We’ve also been putting more and more effort into social and support. We’re engaging people on Facebook and Twitter and nowadays, we’re also very active with direct support, making sure everyone e-mailing gets an immediate response. We also integrated Helpshift in-game service into the game, so you can just hit Settings / Support to read FAQ’s or reach out to us directly from within the game.
What kind of systems to you use for analysis? Do you agree that sometimes it’s more reasonable to use a couple of analytics systems to recheck everything?
We’re currently using Omniata. And yes, it’s not a bad idea to integrate a few overlapping systems to validate and verify your data.
A couple of words about game dev scene in Finland. There are so many great studious over there. What do you think helped you country to become one of the biggest producer of highest quality games in the world?
Mobile gaming scene over here is super exciting. There’s so many different studios, so many different teams working on various interesting new approaches. I think it’s been pretty much a perfect storm of gaming. We got started initially with the demoscene, then Nokia was instrumental in building up the mobile ecosystem. Games industry started over here in the mid 90’s and since then the local game industry has been very active community. For example the monthly IGDA meetings draw hundreds of developers every time. Nowadays, the ecosystem over here is pretty amazing.
Last question. What are your plans for the future? What should we expect from Seriously in the future?
We’re very happy with the way the audience is getting into Best Fiends and now it’s up to us to take it to the next level from here. On many levels, it feels like this is just the beginning. There’s so many exciting new things that we have planned for the first title that we’re dying to share with the audience. At the same time, we have a focused core team already making awesome progress with the next (completely different) Best Fiends title and a few other surprises coming shortly.
Will be an exciting year. Seriously.