Punch Wolf Game Studios, a Finnish indie developer became Samsung’s second indie game developer partner by launching Griddle - Speed Puzzle. Game is currently available exclusively from Galaxy Apps store as part of the Games for Samsung program. It will later become available for other stores including App Store and Google Play.
Life of an Indie Developer
Being an small indie developer presents you with number of advantages. Most obvious being a that you can do whatever you want. No business hat or a draconian committee is dictating how your next game should behave and look like. You can decide all that by yourself. You also have to do it all by yourself.
After launching our previous game we had a well deserved break from Game Development. The final crunch to finish that game made us promise to never do a game again. However, the more our gamer hearts beat, the more we noticed that we were actually thinking of our next game already!
We tried and hated several different small open source game engines. Finally we switched to using Unity and that saw our productivity soar. No more spending months creating scaffolding and tools before a game proto! Still, it took us a year to settle for building Griddle. During the year we threw away hundreds of ideas and tens of working game prototypes.
The Core Loop
Griddle’s original core loop was focused on player solving puzzles and getting diamond rewards from it, which were to be used to unlock the next level. Amount of diamonds varied from single to three, scaling according how quickly player was able to complete the level. In paper this looked like a solid and well working idea, but in a long run, ever increasing price of unlocking the new levels accompanied with the fact that most puzzle adept players were able to receive three diamonds per (replayed) level, would have led into an ever constant state of grinding to advance to a next level. We did have a In-App-Store, where diamonds could be bought. But limiting players option to grind or pay-to-proceed just didn't feel right. Diamonds as the in-game currency also felt like such an afterthought. We had to return to the drawing board.
After some serious thinking, we decided to totally scratch diamonds. The game revolved strongly around the concept of time: can you solve the puzzle combinations in quick succession given very little time? We decided that the in-game currency would also be about time. So we introduced the concept of Loot Boxes and Booster Cards. Loot Boxes would come in three different types: wood, silver and gold. Each Loot Box would grant the player Booster Cards. Booster Cards would be used in the game to extend the available time.
When Do I Launch
Learning from our previous game, we wanted to launch the game when the core loop was there. No sense in spending years building bells and whistles when your core game loop is not working. But for a small indie company with no paid user acquisition, soft launching can be a long, painful and pointless experience.
Unity had already completely changed our productivity when making games. Now it also arrived to our rescue in the form of a partnership with Samsung. At the the time we were considering our initial launch, Unity and Samsung introduced their Games for Samsung program. This program requires that you haven’t yet released your game in other stores. You agree on three months exclusivity on Samsung Galaxy store in exchange for promotion campaign for your game.
After the initial quality control, our game was accepted to the Games for Samsung program and we were thrilled! Only later we found out that Griddle was actually only the second game to enter this program.
Hunting the Day One Retention
Working with Samsung has been a great experience for us. They have given us fast and friendly support and shown genuine interest and excitement about our game, it’s features and future.
The promotion campaign provides us with a steady stream of new users. This has allowed us to test our assumptions and ideas and we have taken full advantage of this. Seeing your game featured on the frontpage of an app store is also pretty damn exciting.
We use Unity Analytics to follow retention, player progress funnels, sticky factor, player behavior etc. Since our launch at Samsung, the only metric we have really obsessed about is Day 1 Retention. Initial retention numbers were definitely not what we wanted to see. So we have set a grueling pace of releasing new a new version of the game with new features every weekend. With the steady influx of new users we had more than enough players the measure each versions performance during the week following the release. Many features that we thought would have a big impact, like daily rewards, had negligible effect on D1 retention. Finally bringing in a brand new tutorial which really holds the player’s hand through the few initial levels turned the tide for us by doubling the day one retention.
We are glad and humbled that Samsung picked us for their program and are looking forward to taking full advantage of the remaining two months of exclusivity.