Long story short: the market has changed, it has become more demanding on prototypes, and the quantitative approach no longer works. The co-founder of Azur Games, Dmitry Yaminsky, shared an interesting article.
Against this background, some studios that have not been able to release a hit for a long time fall into the trap: to make money here and now, they shift the focus from the quality of the product to the number of paid prototypes. But now, there are other rules on the market, and if you follow them, then getting into the tops is a matter of time, not luck.
Let’s go back a little to trace the whole “evolution of prototyping“. And then, we will move on to the approach of successfully cooperating as a publisher and developer in our time.
As it was before. “Monopolists” and robots
A few years ago, developers of hyper-casual games were at a disadvantage. You send a prototype to major publishers for free, hoping that the first test will show good metrics. If unlucky and the metrics are below the passing ones, then the build came back. Usually, this happened without discussing the conditions, understanding what else could be improved, and live communication. You send the project to the robot by mail and dream that it will be taken for scaling.
And if you were not lucky, then there was no feedback either. What exactly did not work, at what point the players left, and whether it was possible to somehow finalize the project – it remained to be guessed. I had to abandon the project or try a new iteration by intuition.
Several unsuccessful projects in a row and the studio could cease without cash flow. But some publishers started paying for the development of prototypes, and this was a big step for the industry.
What happened next. Competition and accumulation of expertise
The market has developed, there are more publishers, and competition has grown. Azur Games was one of the first who did not look for a ready-made hit but began to actively help developers – give feedback, share analytics, involve their specialists to improve even those prototypes that other publishers had already abandoned.
The approach has borne fruit. There were more successful projects, and the developers could choose who to go to. The internal expertise of publishers and the comfort of work came to the fore. At the same time, large publishers began to take on a maximum of functions – from tests and creating creatives to attracting their own game designers, producers, artists, and so on.
The developers did not lose anything, but they could also accumulate their own expertise through feedback and access to the publisher’s tools (if he gave such an opportunity).
Another distinguishing feature of this stage is publishers’ focus on long-term cooperation with studios. The emphasis has shifted from finding a hit to building a workflow in which a hit will appear sooner or later.
Payment for a prototype was the primary way of cooperation. If the project took off, everyone became comfortable, and the publisher took on all the costs of scaling. If not, the developers at least covered their costs and continued to make what they like (games).
And everything seems to be fair, but even this approach has become outdated over time.
What has become now? More demands and fewer chances
The GC market and mobile, in general, are no longer young. It continues to grow, but the audience has become more discriminating; because of this, the requirements for prototypes have also increased.
The chances of releasing a hit are now less. Firstly, many mechanics have been invented, and it has become more difficult to hook players. And secondly, the number of daily released games has increased many times over. We need to pay more attention not only to marketing but also to engagement with user retention.
Against this background, studios and publishers are chasing the number of prototypes, and not their quality no longer works. If earlier it was possible to calmly focus on a specific “plug” for a prototype, now we are ready to spend several times more money and time – if only the output was a quality product.
So the chance to release a hit is much higher.
What have we come to? And why the PPP model harms developers
If you work as before, then the game’s development has to be divided into stages, each of which costs a certain amount of money. For example, the development of a prototype is on average $1500-2500, each iteration for revision is about $1500, and so on.
But counting everyone in stages is exhausting and greatly shifts the focus from the quality of the product to the studio’s survival. If the cost of maintaining a small studio (salaries, etc.) costs $10,000 per month, and you want to earn the same amount on top, then with an average cost of a prototype of $2,000, you need to make 10 projects per month. Quality is out of the question here.
Why is this happening:
- Within 6-9-12 months, the studio fails to release a successful product.
- It begins to seem that it is better to make more prototypes and earn not as much as you planned at the beginning, but here and now.
- The stronger the prototyping pipeline is built, the more the quality of products suffers.
- As a result, hits either move far in time or do not appear at all. Although successful products could completely change the life of the studio.
The model of recent years has not just stopped working – now it harms developers in the long run.
PPP is the intelligent choice when the publisher and developer just want to see if they’re a good fit for each other. And if everything is good, then we, as a publisher, are already interested in the growth of the studio level and not in the number of prototypes.
To do this, it is necessary to offer a new form of cooperation that will provide creative freedom and a focus on results in the first place, and not an endless sifting of new projects.
The current workflow looks like this: we make 1-2-3-4 products according to the PPP model at the start of cooperation. Both parties evaluate how they work with each other, looking at the comfort of work and current results. If everyone is satisfied with everything and the potential is visible, then we offer to fully cover the monthly expenses of the studio without reference to the number of prototypes. It depends on many factors: both the number of employees and the level of prototypes.
Instead of a conclusion. And some internal statistics
The success of a product now directly depends on its quality – it is unlikely that it will be possible to fly into the top with a running start. By quality, I mean both the style, the effects, and the overall look & feel of the gameplay, which ultimately affect the metrics. There are exceptions, but this is more like a casino than a predictable result.
But if a developer consistently shows a cool level, then sooner or later, he will have a project that can be scaled, which will lead to the success of the entire studio.
Let’s take all the prototypes on the market developed jointly with publishers using the PPP model. The chance to shoot is about 1 in 100 (prototypes developed independently are not taken into account, the chance is even lower there). But if we take good-level studios that began to work for quality, they get into the top 10 times more projects – about 1 out of 10.
At the same time, the growth of studios with long-term cooperation is almost guaranteed when developers take into account not only “live” feedback but also metrics. Not everyone immediately gives the best result but moving from project to project, you can grow skills and internal expertise due to the publisher’s infrastructure, access to all reports, analytics, help from game designers and producers through which hundreds of projects have passed. The studio’s growth becomes a matter of time and the accumulation of expertise along with hard work.
Even after success, some developers desire to go on their own – quite a normal practice. You should not interfere; you even need to offer investments.