Creating games with mass appeal and longevity isn’t child’s play. As part of our Mobile Gaming in March series, we interviewed Sabrina Carmona, Senior Producer at King Digital Entertainment. Sabrina is a team lead for the Farm Heroes Franchise, one of the world’s most popular free-to-play mobile games. She shared some insights on how to create a game that you can continue to build on for years to come. Read on for some great tips to help your game out-play the competition.
How did you get into developing mobile games?
I started in Sao Paolo 10 years ago, when the gaming industry was fairly new. I was part of the first ever class that graduated in game development in Brazil and the second female to start developing games in the country. During the program, my passion for gaming led me to form a research group on game development and I became the first person in the country with a Master’s degree in gaming and processes.
From there, I had an investor approach me to help him open a game studio as the producer and to carry out the vision and manage the team. After that I started my own studio, but sold it after a couple years because I wanted to learn more about production and play in the big leagues.
I then worked at a few larger game studios like Square Enix in Mexico, Behaviour Interactive in Chile, and Goodgame studios in Germany before landing a job at King in Stockholm. That was when I really started to learn about how to create free-to-play games and mobile gaming. Today I lead a Farm Heroes team here in London.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you started developing mobile games?
I was working in an environment where there was hardly any support for the gaming industry. It was up to us entrepreneurs to define success and how to make the gaming industry work in Brazil. There were few resources available to help determine the right direction for a game or how to maximize user acquisition with no money. During that time, we all leaned on fellow game developers to figure things out. I also looked at what was being done in other markets for answers and attended conferences like GDC.
What is your process for developing mobile games?
With any game you make there are three basic questions to answer – who it’s for, what it is, and why it’s like that.
There’s a lot of people who have ideas for games, but in today’s super competitive market you need to have a very clear plan of who you’re targeting and what motivations you’re tackling. From there you create a vision that a team can get behind. Then you establish clear milestones. Making a game is an incremental process, especially with a game that has no definite end. It’s mandatory when you’re making a free-to-play game that the vision you have can scale as much as possible. You don’t want to have a limit on players, levels or puzzles.
When it comes to releasing the game, I believe in starting tracking and A/B tests as early as possible. I like to take an MVP (minimum viable product) approach and put the game into market as soon as possible with a soft launch to start collecting data from players. The data we collect helps us make an informed decision on what else we should build, improve or even rebuild. Once we feel that from both a quantitative and qualitative point of view that we’ve created the best experience possible, we make the game live to everyone.
After that, we continue developing the game in two different areas. The first is business as usual, making sure the game is playable, seamless and is engaging. The other side is innovation, what else we can put in the game that would increase players, monetization or engagement. We continue testing to see if features are performing as intended to make sure they’re maximizing value for the game and player.
What is the most important UX consideration when developing mobile games?
UX is about more than just where to place things, it’s about figuring out how to tackle player motivations in a game. A good UX designer understands player behavior and motivations and they’re able to translate that into the product. The feedback we provide players in the game is crucial to a positive experience. For example, if you’re playing Farm Heroes and you make a great match, it’s the UX that makes it feel special, while also communicating why it was a good move. UX design really comes down to managing the satisfaction a player feels during an achievement, and the frustration when they fail.
What are some unique challenges when developing for a mobile platform versus a gaming console or CPU?
There’s a number of tricky things when developing games for mobile that you wouldn’t have in a console environment. The first thing is supporting many different devices around the world with varying battery life, computing power and memory. This creates a super challenge for our technical artist and graphic developers, because we need to optimize the game for the current version of the phone, while also have it work on older versions. Ultimately, we want to take advantage of new phone features without isolating too many gamers.
There’s also the constant requirement to update games on mobile that you don’t have on consoles. Most games or apps release an update every two weeks to fix bugs. There’s no such thing as a bug free game, but you want to make sure you have the most stable product possible. So, we need to make sure people update the game, but they don’t always do that. While we have to force updates, we also have to be careful and not disrupt the game to the point we lose players.
What are the biggest technical/design hurdles you had to clear when developing for Farm Heroes?
A design challenge is keeping the game relevant. We’re not just competing with other mobile games, we’re competing with all other entertainment. To keep our players engaged, we’re constantly thinking about what kind of live ops we can offer. The challenge, our leader boards, and the competitions keep Farm Heroes exciting day after day. We make sure that the player feels like they’re going to achieve better things, better rewards, and have a better experience if they keep playing.
We have one of the biggest user groups in the world. When we’re developing new features or ideas for Farm Heroes, we look at what would benefit the player first. We’re constantly balancing making the levels challenging, but not impossible. Farm Heroes has thousands of levels which lends well to creating game features that appeal to both a heavy or casual player.
What is one piece of advice you would give to young females interested in the gaming industry?
Don’t change who you are. You have to be resilient to fight through the challenges ahead, but eventually you’ll find a space where people acknowledge that both your strengths and weaknesses add to the team.
And don’t be afraid to ask for support and mentorship or help when you don’t have the answers. Remember, it’s a sign of strength not weakness.
How has Samsung supported your game development?
A large number of players are on Samsung devices. Every time we’re doing a new game or testing features, we always want to make sure they perform well on Samsung devices. It’s great that Samsung continues to push the boundaries of tech, so we can push things on our side to offer a fantastic gaming experience.
Thanks to Sabrina Carmona for sharing her insights on mobile game development. Follow us on @samsung_dev to keep up-to-date on the latest in mobile gaming. Make sure to sign up for the Samsung Developer Program to take advantage of exclusive benefits and access helpful developer resources.