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How Kiloo & SYBO built and launched a Hit iOS Game in 6 months

By on June 5, 2012

Traditional publishing is dead. Enter Co-Productions! In this guest post, Simon Moeller of Kiloo advocates a new way of getting games shipped quickly with great monetisation funnels even if your team is small. For industry news, opinions and rants, follow @simonmoeller on Twitter. For everything you need to know about self-publishing, buy the GAMESbrief book How to Publish a Game.

Traditional publishing model

In the traditional boxed-product world, corporate games publishers typically have 4 roles:

1) Distribution power, it was important to have a key placement in GAME stores and other retailers
2) Marketing power, since all the products had upfront-payments and 50$ price tags mass marketing was necessary
3) Financing the game with milestone payments to secure development
4) Quality control and market knowledge

The “traditional” publishers’ role has been significantly weakened with platform, distribution power and marketing paradigms changing. I’ve often warned against people releasing through publishers like EA/Chillingo and instead suggested that they publish themselves. I just don’t feel the “traditional” publishers bring enough to the table. They’re trying to force an App Store world into a boxed-product mindset.

New priorities in games development

As we transition into mobile and other digital distribution, there is a need for a new model that suits very different platforms.

  • Distribution power is handled by platform holders and marketing is less and less relevant (and largely handled by platform holders).
  • Teams are getting smaller; technology such as Unity 3D and (to some extent) Unreal Engine has become easy to use for everyone. Development cycles are shortening.
  • Emerging business models such as Free-to-Play change development priorities, as meta-level game components become as important as the core gameplay itself.
  • Social and monetising features are important, along with PR and community management.
  • UI design is important, since we’re in essence creating a shop experience, and implementation of UI takes longer than people might think.
  • Product testing in a fragmented world is also a complex issue, with new platforms, operating systems and devices popping up all the time.

So while a game can now be produced by a smaller team, the benefit of a larger team that can deal with all of these new issues can mean the difference between success and failure. We’ve found a way for small studios to get the benefit of having a larger team without scaling up the workforce: co-production.

Mobile Co-Production model

The Co-Production business model allows small teams to benefit from the knowledge of a slightly larger studio, with analytics teams and sales to external channels, along with the fine craftsmanship of optimizing code and build working UI’s.

We have worked on the model for a while, and with Subway Surfers, we set out to test it. Our amazing friends at SYBO Games (they worked with us as contractors on Bullet Time so we knew them well) agreed to work with us on the idea.

We quickly identified that SYBO’s strength was making cool character designs, animation, sound design and core gameplay mechanics. But given that they’re a relatively small studio of 5 people and 1 (awesome) dog, they didn’t quite feel like coding UI, doing wireframes, analytics and all the other meta-level components that make up a Free-to-Play game in todays market.

The obvious solution was to split the workload down the middle. Within ten days from starting out, we had a working prototype. And while SYBO continued fleshing out the graphics and gameplay, we started wireframing the UI and planning the monetising, social and retention features of the game. Kiloo proceeded to design, implement UI and server setup, made the launch plan, handled community and bought a marketing feature with Free App a Day.

Kiloo had 2 programmers, 2 UI artists, a producer, our Business Intelligence team working on the project, along with myself and our sales team handling external channels. At Kiloo, we spent about 2000-2500 hours on the project. SYBO spent around 4000 hours on the project.

We started designing the game on December 20th, 2011, had a working prototype in January 2012 and released May 24th 2012.

Moving on!

In terms of the Co-Production development model, I feel we have a proof-of-concept with Subway Surfers, being top 10 in basically the whole world across both iPad and iPhone. We’re moving close to 10 million sessions a day, and have significant and rising daily active user numbers.

We feel that after 4 years we’re finally starting to understand the iOS market, and we can help both ourselves and partner studios succeed in this space. I think the time is right to move into more graphics-heavy free-to-play titles that easily rival pay-to-play ones in terms of quality. With the new iPad we’re moving closer to a console level experience, and that’s something we want to work with in the future.

For industry news, opinions and rants, follow @simonmoeller on twitter

About Simon Moller

Simon Moller is Chief Creative Officer at Kiloo, a game developer working in co-production with other studios such as Sybo to create high-revenue free-to-play mobile games.