Friday, January 10, 2014

"Yo gangsta! Get ready to gang bang!" - the catchy moments of last year's L'viv Gamedev Conference

I'm planning to attend the Gamedev Conference in L'viv on January 25th again. Last year I was fascinated by the variety of people, experiences and approaches, which I didn't see at bigger events at that time. However, now I must admit that even big scary events are adopting this approach. :)
This is the "find-Orchid" game :D
Photo from the conference Facebook page
It happened so that I couldn't publish my article about the event last year. :( So I decided to post it now to give those hesitating ("to go, or not to go? …") friends an idea of what L'viv Gamedev Conference is like. :) 

WARNING: I was aiming on providing brief notes on each talk of the conference, just like we did at university lectures. 

The article IS boring. Sorry for that. 
Yes I fucked the pictures up this time. :(

Also, I might have fucked something up since was busy with doing a Twitter broadcast at the same time. 

So, let's go back into memories… ^_^
The conference didn't happen at night of course. :)
The pic is from the evening before when my cousin took me for a walk around the beautiful city. 
January 26th has been one of the coldest days of the month in Ukraine, and also the date of the L'viv Gamedev Conference 2013 organized by L'viv Startup Club, an organization that supports entrepreneurship in the city. It's known as “Ukraine's Silicon Valley” for the great number of skilled IT professionals. Though they usually work for outsource and usually don't think further than their main professional task.

What's new about Windows Mobile 8, legal trouble Ukrainians might face while getting money from foreign companies, trending genres, localization and support were discussed this time. 

Companies and professionals were sharing their personal experience of moving from beginners to significant players of the market, and the bravest developers presented their creations to the judges to hear all the truth about their app. 



The hottest issues of modern gamedev have been put together in a panel discussion in the end of the conference. And before the after-party.

Lecture 1:  Alexander Krakovetsky, CEO of DevRain Solutions


Windows Phone 8. Doesn't work with XNA, but MonoGame is there. Test an app to see how it works for real. The market isn't overheated, though Xbox Live is the only place to sell an app for more than $1,25.  

Alexander Krakovetsky, the CEO of DevRain Solutions and the author of wp7rocks.com and msug.vn.ua websites shed some light on Windows Mobile 8.  It's faster, supports multi-core devices and has better performance, but might mess up your apps for previous versions, so better test it on an emulator or a device itself and then adjust. For example, there might be trouble with resuming a game.

XNA framework is not supported in Windows 8, though it runs in quirks mode on Windows Phone 8. MonoGame, an open-source incarnation of XNA 4 Framework is there to help the issue. Among other advantages of the latter Alexander mentions cross-platform - MonoGame can save you from rewriting things from scratch. Another tip from the lecturer is to aim no higher than feature level 9 in DirectX if you work with Windows RT architecture. (Those devices are just not meant to support a level higher than 9_1) Notify users if their device doesn't support the app.

Submitting to the Windows Store, according to Alexander, is just 2 minutes at the website - you fill a questionnaire, the team looks at the information provided and makes a decision. The store also  requires a game package with metadata that includes your game's rating. 

Xbox Live games are the only games that can be sold for more than $1,25, but even the fact a game is there doesn't guarantee that it's cool. In the Ukrainian section among various fun apps there's also... the Constitution with about 7k downloads. 20-50 thousand downloads is not bad for a non-entertainment app, Krakovetsky commented.

The WP8 market is not overheated yet, it's possible for a company to grow faster than it does. A product is relatively easy to promote without funds, though devs should prepare for smaller income.  A Windows Phone developer gets approximately 3 times less than the one for iOS ($3000 every month against about $1000).

Lecture 2: Andriy Parkhomenko, lawyer of Juscutum firm.

How to receive your money from an App Store without getting caught by Ukrainian tax authorities.
 Andriy Parkhomenko from the Juscutum law firm specializes in IT legislation and copyright issues. He started the lecture from "a bit of negative stuff" - a statement that Ukraine is "a step forward and 2 steps backwards". 

Dealing with foreign companies you'll need tons of useless papers that are only needed by the Ukrainian side.
Ukraine has no laws to regulate working with App Store. If things ever get perfect, cash legally earned abroad should flow to Ukraine without any obstacles.

Receiving money through a bank is a headache for an individual — one will have to prove that's nothing else than royalty. According to Ukrainian legislation, individuals aren't allowed to do entrepreneurship. Registering as an entrepreneur might be an option, but has an annual income limit of UAH 3 million and up to 10% tax.

Good news: if you work with Apple, you only pay a tax in Ukraine, not twice. The money you get when someone else sells your app is not royalty, though if it's the AppStore you pass your rights too, it still counts as such.

Opening an account in a foreign bank isn't the best option as well. You'll need a license of the National Bank of Ukraine, they can refuse it for various reasons that makes it nearly impossible to have the paper. Once you fail — it will be succeed if you try again.

Going abroad and starting a company there also has the reverse side of proving things to the state - this time it's whether you're able to invest in a business abroad. Impossible! Because you've already invested in it if you started the business, that is - you violated Ukrainian legislation and will be unable to legalize further investments. 

Lecture 3. Pavlo Pivtoranis, game designer, Nravo.



Even if the game sucks, it will be played in Odnoklassniki. People want to read their tamagotchi.  The scary abbreviation of BBMMORPG. 

 Pavlo Pivtoranis is one of legends of Lviv's gamedev. He's been tutored by Contre Jour's Maksym Hryniv, has been making games for more than 5 years rising from support team member to an indie developer and leading game designer. Pavlo has currently settled at the Nravo company.

He started from some history shown as stages of human development:
The 70's - the era or arcade machines. No one thought of game designing, though monetization was already there through tokens.

The console era - Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, arcade machine games ported to handheld devices. 

A  page with text suddenly appeared among those bright retro ones. “Yes, this is a game!” - Pivtoranis explained.

The next era is that of interactive movies.  Cool, but not for long, because it wasn't comfortsable.

Stage 5 - game designers arrive! “Simple mechanics are for girls”, the developer added.

Then came the "QTE-apocalypse",  a step towards casual gaming. Handheld gaming devices and the infamous tamagotchis. “A telephone is a gaming platform, the fact that you can call from it is just a feature”.

"Odnoklassniki" is the biggest market for text MMOs: 140k DAU. A new game appears there every 3 days, and people play it even if it's crappy. Players are ready to read their tamagotchi - says Pavlo. Text games are good because players use imagination to create any interface they wish. If they come back for more than 10 times — they're most likely to pay.  

Lecture 4: Yevgen Galkin, Google

Social networks are getting overheated,  like Flash did before. Stats help detect bugs. Wanna grow fast? Start locally.

Yevgen Galkin works at Google Ukraine and manages IT advertising, he was talking on what one should know about their game.

Google's stats for apps is useful for improving your game. Like, the demographic statistics reveal a category of people who aren't good friends with tech. Tracking a user's way inside an app is good for improving levels that are less popular, and measuring time users stay on certain pages even helps detect bugs, like impossible tasks that make people quit the game after trying to solve them.

Yevgen suggests starting from a local market - it's a better way to start growing fast. For example, Japan which is rapidly increasing the number of downloads and already has a huge market on the App Store.

It's best to monetize through in-app purchases. It brings multiple payments, while purchasing a game users pay just once. . 

Lecture 5. Kyrylo Klimakov, Nravo.

Bigger communities - bigger trouble, game features used in unexpected ways. Stay away from the game process when solving problems.

Kyrylo Klimakov has been in app support for 13 years, and just 1 in games. He admits that they're completely different.

Types of games in terms of support:

Player vs Environment: games like Angry Birds, Stalker, Diablo -  playing within a virtual world, no communication between players);
Player vs Player: people against each other, like in online games; 
Team vs Team: teams try to beat each other using game features in a way different from their initial functions;
World vs World: all kinds of MMOs, bigger teams use features in even more unexpected ways, there's "a hive mind" and more chaos. 50% people come here for communication. 

Conclusion: it's not always possible to limit people's behavior with rules. 
Bigger community - bigger trouble. 

You can either choose admins inside the game from dedicated players (for a small reward or some virtual bonuses) or hire people, this is how you indirectly influence the community. Though solving problems should be done without intruding in the game process — otherwise one of clans might accuse you of being unfair.


Since in big online MMOs there are clans, solving problems right in the game might bring accusations of being unfair to this or that side. 

The next section was dedicated to “mini-lectures” and presentation of investors like Renatus from Ukraine and Satus from Poland as well as the Opera Mobile platform currently aimed on CIS and Asia.

Video conference: Tadgh Kelly, TechCrunch contributor.
The epic quote of #gdlviv. Is it worth developing for Windows Phone? No.


Tadgh Kelly admitted: the iOS market is overcrowded and just-making-games won't work. Users, he says, aren't big explorers and usually don't read more than the first 25 positions. Targeting audience and marketing are your saviors.
Mr.Kelly also recommends small companies to start from smaller markets — the chances to meet people's demands are higher. 

And here goes the most epic thing of the whole L'viv Gamedev Conference.
The Q&A time was announced. One of the questions was whether Windows Mobile is worth developing for. Due to an internet connection bug Tadgh must have heard it with a delay and not too clear, so just answered: “No”. The question was repeated, just about Windows Phone — and the expert's reply was just the same. Because he thinks the new Windows isn't ready yet.

I couldn't help making this meme.
And yes I adore Grumpy Cat! :P

Game presentations. Word games go digital and an outsource work approved by the client.
3 developer teams were showing their newest creations to the judges: Taras Tarasov, Pavlo Pivtoranis and Maksym Hryniv. And then listened to the naked truth.

After the event I approached the guy in the red jacket with a pen, a notebook and with shaking legs. Max Hryniv is the developer of my fave game Contre Jour, and I asked him for an autograph.
Specially for this event I made a jewelry set with Petite, the character of the game. I felt honored - Maxym took a photo  of it!!!

 “Svalka” by Serhiy Tyatin resembles the  popular Scrabble board game. The developer explains: decided not to risk too much and used a known idea, was aiming on creating a HTML app entirely with his own skills, without graphics and for Odnoklassniki, because even bad games are played there.
Monetization goes through purchasing additional features.

 The judges found the game exciting, but pointed out some major flaws: lack of notifications, the necessity of waiting of another player's move and compatibility issues with mobile devices.
Decision: has the right to live, yet needs more work.

“WordCube” is another word game by Yuri Rifyak and Andriy Kovalyov. They call it “an out-of-wedlock child of Draw Something and Scrabble”. A multiplayer freemium app with monetization through selling hints.
 
As far as I remember, this guy has EXCELLENT English, I was impressed!

“Pulls Track” by Semen Frish is a Match 3 Flash game made upon order of the OKKO petrol company. “If Flash runs bad on iOS, you just don't know how to write in it properly” - Semen said. He's currently making the app suitable for Windows 8.

The experts seemed a bit confused with an outsource project and suggested improving the design. “Eyes entertain users a lot”, said Maksym Hryniv. Eventually all agreed that the main goal in this case has been completed: the client is satisfied.

In the meantime I was tweeting the tastiest things being spoken out and discussed… iPad died, switched to the laptop… Now you know why I like having both. 


Mini-lecture: Vitaly Zasadnyy, mobile developer, co-founder of L'viv's Google Developers Group.


Push notifications increase retention, people like to buy funny sounds and Cyrillic characters turn into mojibake.

Features of web platforms (compared to native ones):
 More retention comes after push notifications ("Hey man, come back, you're being beaten!");
 Funny sounds - people often buy stuff because it makes sounds;
 Images are stored in the phone - less loading required;
 Unique features: pull to refresh, swipe to open previous page - "though it's not for Nokia".

 Tips and tricks:
Better don't use a custom user agent, apply custom headers instead. 
Reduce the size of apps, optimize graphics. 
Don't use Cyrillic letters, wrong encoding will turn them into mojibake, while 86% users speak English.

Lecture 6. Igor Polyakov, CEO of Team Fifty Seven, a Polish lozalization studio.

Texts and voiceovers: improve or destroy your game. "Yo gangsta! Get ready to gang bang!"


Linguistic QA is not the same as proofreading. It's not a check of translation, but a test of the text within a game. Even technically correct translation might not suit the mood of the game or characters.

Native speakers are best for localization: they find the shortest synonyms, a word might have 3 letters in one language and 16 in another. Matters when adjusting graphics and text. These people are better with dialects and punctuation peculiarities, like “Hi!” in English and “Salut !” in French with a space before the exclamation mark.

A translator should keep a glossary for each game to call same items with the same word, especially when following parts of an initial game are released. Users get pissed off when they have to look for “a coil” when there's actually “a nail”.

A good company has a portfolio of accomplished tasks, has access to the latest versions of dictionaries of terms, like those of Apple, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony,  and knows what it's really like to make and publish a game: that a missed deadline means loss of money. Working with a reliable company is a single spending, anyway smaller than what you'd pay for a test to fail because of awkward localization.

Choose the outsourcer to localize your game wisely, because you pay only once if it's done properly. A test you'll fail because of awful localization will cost you more than working with a good studio. 

Some  bad and funny examples:
Bust-a-Groove: "Yo gangsta! Get ready to gang bang!"
Metroid: "Destroy the mother brain the mechanical life vein"
Zero Wing: "All your base are belong to us."

The most sophisticated localization is transcreation - adjusting the creative side of the game to another language. Requires people with a wider range of skills - creative and social. 


Lecture 7. Andriy Tabachin, CTO at Nravo.

How a developer becomes a publisher. Or at least how the Nravo company did it. 
 The Nravo company now creates, publishes and supports games.

It all started from a hobby based on a childhood dream to make games, Andriy confesses. They chose a promising yet empty market, made the "Vikings" game, then "Heroes" based on the previous product. After this the meni.mobi catalogue and studio appeared. 2 more games — and the guys got absorbed. Within a year became publishers and investors, and grew to 70 people in 4 offices in Chicago, Kyiv, Moscow and L'viv. 10 mobile web MMO games are ready for now. 

 Aside from uniting people who play together, a game should provide full communication capabilities. Sociality of a game starts from proper communication inside the developers' team. 

In the beginning Nravo had 2 successful projects, 2 new unknown ones, and a team of 20 people.
Becoming a publisher brings independence from other companies, the possibility of promoting your new games through other successful projects and controlling the number of daily registrations. 

Their portal time2play.mobi has a single user profile for all games, single currency, integration with social networks, a platform for working with partners and an external API to support others' games. 

A company grows through localizing existing projects, looking for partners and other publishers, marketing and analyzing results. Like it happened with Heroes on mobile Facebook. Nevertheless, not without a fail - the game didn't work with iOS. 

 Difficulties.  Finding people - L'viv is "an outsourcer's heaven" - professionals are good in completing tasks but have no idea of how to do other things, finding a programmer who is also a producer is extremely hard. Balancing and supporting ready projects — how it turns out depends on the audience you don't really know. There's lots of paperwork needed and legal issues arising while working with partners.
"Make your own projects, sell them yourself" - Andriy Tabachyn's advice to start-ups who want to be publishers when they grow up. 

Panel discussion: people began playing just as 2 apes sat down together, 9 of 10 won't complete the project, restroom games and where money is. 

4 experts sat down to discuss something that might sound too general: modern gamedev. 

Taras Tarasov who has been in the industry since 1999, founded several companies and is now known as a successful consultant for various start-ups and companies, Pavlo Pivtoranis - one of the legends of L'viv's gamedev, Nravo's CTO Andriy Tabachin and Maksym Hryniv, the indie developer famous for Contre Jour and Huje Tower. 

People who say they don't play games don't tell the truth - the game for them hasn't been developed yet, people have been playing since the day 2 apes sat down together.  - Taras Tarasov

9 out of 10 won't finish their product, 9 of those who manage this will earn nothing on it. - Maksym Hryniv

Talking about markets and which one has money, Maksym Hryniv who already got some success and reward said that "money is not where everyone is looking for". Not on Kickstarter either. One has nothing to do there without a recognizable name. Social market is already overheated, only Zynga survived. Same is about to happen to mobile. 

"Overheated [market] doesn't mean non-available", Taras argued. "Depends on how deep you dig". He added that failures usually happen because of people's personal features. Making good games and doing business is different. Being a programmer is good in business, though you need to know what to program.

"The game designer who doesn't want to become a producer is a bad one. Don't make a cool game", Pavlo Pivtoranis advices. 

 Augmented reality is a nice toy, but unlikely to last for long: people don't like wearing additional devices, and the majority is too lazy for running around. Those who need adventures will find enough in reality. 

If there are several games of a certain kind, why should people play yours? Picking up popular game mechanics will only work if you have a carefully considered strategy.  - Maksym Hryniv.


But things are not bad nowadays- Taras Tarasov concluded.  “that this is the wonderful time when you can try anything, and it's cheap”.

In the end of my trip I tried. A lot of things. Climbing a monument, for instance. XD


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