SuperGaming's Roby John has told us about the new studio in Pune and the organization of work at the company, spoke about the secrets behind the success of MaskGun, and talked about the concept of the studio's upcoming title, Indus.
80.lv: Please, introduce yourself and your team. Could you give us a little bit of background about who makes up your team? What projects did you previously work on? Which of them are you most proud of?
Roby John: I’m Roby John, CEO and co-founder of SuperGaming. I’ve been making video games since the iPhone was released back in 2007. Our founding team includes Sanket Nadhani, Christelle D'cruz, Sreejit J, and Navneet Waraich. Along with building popular mobile games such as MaskGun, Silly Royale, and Tower Conquest, we have invested deeply in building its own gaming engine for running hyper-scale, real-time multiplayer games that included the official PAC-MAN game. We are currently working on our most ambitious project to date – Indus Battle Royale, a made-in-India-for-the-world battle royale.
It’s tough to say which project I’m most proud of simply because when we make games we don’t hold back. For us, game development is an iterative process of trial, error, and discovery. Each game teaches us something new and helps us get better at making the next one. But If I had to pick one still, I’d say Indus just for the scale of the ambition and the effort that we have put in.
New Studio in Pune
80.lv: Could you tell us about your new studio in Pune? What were your foundation goals? How will you organize teams? Will employers work from the office or will you provide the opportunity to work remotely?
Roby John: Our new studio was built on four principles: creation, community, craft, and cooperation. Every single detail and choice was made keeping these in mind. Back in the day, we built our first office space with the intention of making it the quietest place to write code.
With this studio, we wanted to make sure our developers have a creative location to craft our biggest game ever. The new space has been uniquely crafted to create an atmosphere for creativity to flourish. It is also filled with art and life-sized props from the game to align with the ambitious world being built. It also hosts our tech-like motion capture which is being done in-house for the game as well.
Teams are organized as per disciplines – art, design, code, dev, and even lore to name a few. Employees will be allowed to work from home too. We recently put up a studio tour video that you can check out below that not only gives more context to what we’re doing but also explains the uncanny correlation between dogs and game development.
80.lv: As far as we know, your MaskGun is one of the most popular mobile shooters in India and recently it reached over 62 million downloads. Could you share how you achieved these impressive results? What, in your opinion, makes mobile games successful?
Roby John: The short answer is: building a shooter is an art and craft we learned in lockstep with the community. The long answer? Read on:
With MaskGun, we struggled early on during its soft-launch phase in terms of monetization and getting users on board. Nailing the first-time user experience was critical, particularly from the point of view of making it frictionless. Even today if you install MaskGun and if you have a friend, if they’re online, it’s just one click to join that friend’s game to play together. We innovated with Autoshoot as a way to onboard folks who were mostly casual game players to start playing shooters in 2016 too.
The game itself went through several iterations. Early versions had a look inspired by Counter-Strike, we also borrowed UI cues from MOBAs like Vainglory before it finally came into its own with the look and feel you see today.
Self-expression was key to us standing out. While we may not have the resources of a Fortnite or a PUBG, we focussed heavily on ensuring our players had a way to express themselves with a host of different skins and emotes.
For us, finding the balance between relatability and being a game where the community has freedom of expression was crucial. For example, we’re one of the few games with a global footprint that actually celebrates Diwali in-game with events and sales, it’s what helps us stand out from the competition that’s focused almost exclusively on Western markets.
Aside from this, there are some key differentiators from a functional perspective for MaskGun such as the small download size, clocking in at around 150MB versus the competition which was close to 1GB if not more, which is important for markets like India where data caps are still the norm since this was days before cheap data rates, we had to make sure our download size wasn’t as big.
In addition to this, getting multiplayer netcode to work as it should, allowing a seamless experience regardless of your location had a lot of trial and error too with our server locations to optimize in-game latency. At moments, all of these felt insurmountable. We even felt like giving up and doing something else altogether with our limited time on earth. But something happened. We noticed there was a community growing around the game.
We have veterinarians in Mexico learn English and forge connections with other players halfway across the world, we have real estate consultants by day moonlight as clan presidents by night, and we even have women gamers that ended up being our biggest supporters, streaming MaskGun at every opportunity.
It’s the stories of the community that sustained us to grow to be a game that’s 62 million players strong. In hindsight, we probably bit off more than we could have chewed with MaskGun and while the learnings were invaluable, we weren’t as agile as we would have liked.
Thankfully that’s changing these days with the new 1v1 mode with Voice Chat and Spectate that we’ve launched which has seen a welcome response from fans and newcomers alike. Today we have taken all those lessons from MaskGun and brought them to Indus.
80.lv: We know that your new battle royale title Indus is currently in development. Could you share some more details on the game and its concept? What are its core mechanics? Why do you consider it the "most ambitious game to date"?
Roby John: That’s a fun question. Let me break it down for your readers.
Indus Concept and Premise
Without spoiling much, the premise of Indus isn’t even on earth. We’re inspired by space and the mysteries it holds. In fact, the entire premise of Indus is based on the singular question: What if the Indus Valley Civilisation never went extinct, and what if it just moved to another galaxy altogether and you are now discovering this 1000 years later?
So how does this guide us? Well, it aids in being able to extract elements from Indian arts and culture and create a fictional world using them to convey the feeling of being Indian at the same time as being futuristic.
How does this reveal itself to the player? For instance, Virlok, the island on which all the action in Indus takes place, is a mix of old and new as you can see from this early art exploration below that was done to capture the tone and vibe.
Another example of this is the Jatayu. It’s a symbol of valor across India and we found it to be a welcome representation of bravery amidst impossible odds. These are some explorations of what it could look like keeping indo-futurism in mind.
Also as a Mythwalker, your player character, you are not bound to a single form and you can expect to play in a form that resonates the most with you. One of these is Mor-Ni, a player skin inspired by stylings of that era along with a touch of sci-fi chic.
Indus runs on Unity and utilizes our fully custom-built sandbox shooter tech stack called the Indus Engine. For us, working with Unity, it’s significantly easier and faster to target mobile devices because of its feature set, toolchain, and relatively lighter runtime footprint compared to some other commercially available game engines.
The team has extensive experience working with Unity over multiple shooter titles. We made a conscious choice of going with Unity so that we can leverage our expertise working with it and deliver the game to the hands of players as soon as possible.
That said, it works in concert with the Indus Engine which is a necessity for scalability, networking, and well, allowing us to bring the game to mobile with ease. Mobile is the biggest segment of the global gaming market and we want to treat players on mobile as first-class citizens rather than an after-thought.
Indus Core Mechanics and Gunplay
Like your typical battle royale, Indus follows the traditional loop of drop, loot, shoot, collect, and win. However, the devil is in the details. At a deeper level, Indus has the most nuanced ballistics and weapons system we've crafted. There are thousands of parameters that affect each gun's functionality, behavior, and personality positively resulting in what we believe is an impactful and authentic experience of firing guns. Granted, ours is a game with a sci-fi setting which allows us some creative liberties, but audiences want something that they can feel and relate to with each press of the trigger in-game.
Unlike our counterparts in the West that have ready and almost easy access to firearms in order to gauge how their in-game weapon systems should behave, guns in India, for our use case, aren't really easy to come by and are layered with an exceptional amount of red tape. Our solution was a mix of quality time spent at local firing ranges along with a lot of inspiration from every shooter we loved from Call of Duty to Valorant and even the likes of Destiny 2.
So why do we think this is the most ambitious game out of India? Well, it’s for all the aforementioned reasons above plus the most obvious one of all: scale. Right now we’re laser-focused on bringing Virlok, our first map to life. It’s an ambitious task, to create a map this vast and detailed to scale and look good on all platforms: PC, consoles, and mobile. The process is akin to planning an entire city – except we’re optimizing it for the best ways for players to explore and shoot each other in the face instead of well, making it liveable as you would for a real-world city. And that’s before you consider that each platform has its own intricacies to deal with like input methods and visual fidelity to name a few.
Keeping on Top of Trends
80.lv: Spotting new trends is a key challenge in developing and publishing. What do you do to keep on top of the trends? What are the current trends in the mobile games space?
Roby John: There’s no denying that keeping on top of trends is crucial. However, from our perspective, there’s no harm to be just a step or two ahead of the trend whether it’s our games or tech in general. We added a new Squid Royale mode inspired by Netflix’s popular show, Squid Game. It was the most popular mode in the game and during this limited-time mode, close to five million new players downloaded the game worldwide at the time.
80.lv: It is crucial nowadays to have a good UA strategy. What is your approach here? What do you do to gain audiences to succeed in the hyper-competitive gaming industry?
Roby John: Aside from ad spends, we’ve been deeply studying the content creator space and how that could help us add to our user bases.
Silly Royale, for example, was our first game with voice chat and we wanted to leverage the community that grew around this feature. It reached a point where players would hang out on voice chat to meet their friends and forge relationships – usually the kind of behavior we’ve seen in MMOs rather than a title that’s perceived to be casual like Silly Royale.
With that in mind, we set out to find the right fit for the game on hand. For Silly Royale, we partnered with popular Minecraft and a variety of streamers like LiveInsaan, and Rachitroo.
They were the right fit for us on almost every parameter – from the games they streamed to the audience participation they had and even the kind of audience they cultivated. Of course, it helps that they have huge followings, but in our experience: that means nothing if the audience isn’t a right fit. In fact, we spent more time researching them than we did signing them on. The audience fit matters and it is one of the reasons why Silly Royale has over 18 million players in under a year since launch.
80.lv: What monetization models do you use in your games? Do you ponder mobile game monetization from the early stages of game development?
Roby John: Our current games feature a mix of in-app purchases and ads. For MaskGun and Silly Royale, our ads are voluntary – you don’t have to watch them if you don’t want to, but if you do, you’re rewarded with certain in-game entitlements. Silly Royale and MaskGun have more focused audiences that may not have the patience to watch ads, which is why they’re voluntary in these games. We think deeply about how to monetize our games and believe that much like our decisions regarding game design and development, this too needs to be approached from a player-first perspective
80.lv: What's your current roadmap? What did you plan for 2022? What will we hear again from you?
Roby John: Both MaskGun and Silly Royale will receive ongoing updates. The former will get more modes that build on established gameplay while the latter will get its most ambitious update to date which we’re referring to as Devil’s Playground internally. That said, the biggest thing that we are looking forward to is the playable launch for our game Indus Battle Royale, our first mobile, PC, and console title.