We have already written the story from Azur Games and Bars Studios regarding their Sword Play game; it’s time for another case. The developers found that they didn’t need to tweak the prototype to be successful; on the contrary, they had to roll back all the changes.

Usually, the process of developing a new project looks like this: Prototyping → testing → iteration (until we are sure that it is safe to buy traffic) → game design → implementation → testing → scaling marketing campaigns → new updates, tests and improvements.

Now imagine that you had to roll back all gameplay and visualization updates to the initial stage of a prototype for one of the projects. The publishing manager of the company, Evgeny Tatonkin, spoke in detail about the situation.

My acquaintance with Bars Studios happened in early 2021. So, I found their portfolio and emailed them. I didn’t get a response right away, as the developers were busy making changes to the Sword Play – the very differences that we completely rolled back later.

Evgeny Tatonkin

Sword Play is a hyper-casual action game in which you slice enemies apart and deflect projectiles on your way to the finish line. David Barsan from Bars Studios saw the first-person action games becoming a trend and created several prototypes with additional core gameplay (slicing, shooting, and beating). The game seemed the most promising because all mechanics had higher CPIs.

By the time we met, the game had already been tested by another publisher, but he was not satisfied with the performance they saw after all the iterations. After that, the project was returned to the developers, and they brought it to us.

Evgeny Tatonkin

Every time the 1st publisher tried to improve performance, it got the opposite result. For example, the CPI has almost doubled. The numbers literally got worse with every change. The publisher decided that the game was not scalable and abandoned it.

At first, the development team could not believe their eyes: the metrics showed that the project was already ready for commercial launch at the prototype stage. The CPI was below 30 cents, the retention was over 40%, and the game session was about 7 minutes. Despite these numbers, the developers tried to change every aspect of the game, from the visuals and level design to the gameplay and NPC behaviour.

The developers did the first thing to completely roll back all the changes to the first version, with good indicators.

We signed a contract and released the game right away. Sword Play ranked #1 in the US in three weeks on Google Play and AppStore for five days without any features. This rarely happens since the charts are updated daily. After that, we had a few minor iterations that had little or no effect on the metrics. CPI grew slightly, but there were objective reasons for that – more than three months have passed, and there is nothing to carry with competition in this genre.

Evgeny Tatonkin

The basic gameplay has barely changed. The developers decided to go the other way and achieve improved (mostly) level design with minimal intervention and without changing the custom visuals. They only added a couple of touches because they didn’t want to mess up the stats: new weapons for enemies, bosses, armour mechanics, and a small variety of skyboxes. The team focused on marketing and showed fair gameplay in creative content.

We had a desire to recolour everything, make detailed skyboxes and add more enemies. Fortunately, we managed to recover and not fall into the same old trap for us.

Evgeny Tatonkin

Even without these iterations, the game reached 25 million downloads in just a few months and is still a success. To this day, Sword Play remains one of the top 10 Android games.

Global indicators have not changed much either:

  • CPI is around $0.50;
  • R1 is about 40%;
  • D0 playback time was 8 minutes.

The first thing a studio needs to do is pay attention to audiences, analytics, and real-world metrics, rather than blindly trying to bring the game designer’s vision to life.

We are currently working with a studio on our second project, and the guys continue to make games on their own.

Evgeny Tatonkin

The publisher doesn’t force us to work on games we don’t need. Here you can only focus on development. You know that if you have the potential project, experience, and publisher budget, take the game to the top.

David Barsan