Playkot: a case study of Unity
What did an entrepreneur and software developer who worked at an impromptu kitchen table in St. Petersburg, Russia do to produce sophisticated social games and mobile RPGs with some of the best graphics in the industry? Meet Sasha Pavlov and Oleg Sysoev, who founded Playkot Games in 2009. Since then, they have formed a team of more than 150 members by carefully combining the right people, adopting Unity and implementing the right strategies to capture a significant portion of the market in all the world.
The two founders of Playkot began their career in VKontakte, “the Facebook of Russia”. VK was released in 2007, its popularity grew rapidly, and it had more than 4 million users in mid-2009, when it introduced its payment system for applications. Sasha and Oleg realized that the trend of social networks was about to explode and was an opportunity that they had to seize. Although neither of them had experience in games, both had a lot of imagination and Oleg knew how to use Flash, so they spent a whole night designing their first game.
The reasons why they chose Unity to make the transition to mobile devices
As expected, his first effort was not very successful. However, in less than a week they corrected the errors and published another game that immediately began to attract paying players. By maintaining the flow of income, they added more resources and began working on a new game. In August 2010, VK had almost 10 million users when Playkot introduced Club Life , which attracted 2.3 million players (more than 20% of VK users) in just one month.
As Playkot continued to grow with other titles, such as SuperCity , and by becoming one of the top 20 publishers of games on Facebook for its income level, the company chose Unity to make the transition to mobile platforms ( SuperCity Mobile is created with Unity) and to develop social and informal games, until they achieved even greater success with the high quality RPG called Age of Magic .
Brighter than a Flash
The evolution of Playkot has been similar to that of many Flash-based developers. In 1996, F utureSp lash Animator (or “Flash”, before Macromedia bought it), allowed designers to create vector-based animations over a basic timeline. It was a relatively easy tool to learn, and web developers could insert simple animations with a viewer for different platforms.
Flash was Playkot’s main development tool when the company hired Aleksey Guk, its first art director, in 2011. In that year Pioneers and SuperCity were released , as well as its first project for mobile devices that did not use Flash: a game of dice called Farkle Live , which was available for iOS and Android.
According to Guk, one of the keys to Playkot’s success is its democratic creative environment. “My colleagues can turn any idea into reality if it is good enough. It is not necessary for the idea to come from the art director or a boss. By just being part of the team, you have the right to give your opinion.”
Sasha and Oleg recognized the importance of VK and other emerging social networks. This time, they recognized the enormous opportunity that mobile games represented.
The jump to mobile devices
Mobile games accounted for 18% of the video game market in 2012, and this figure is expected to reach almost 59% by 2021, according to the Newzoo Global Game Market Report published in 2018. By correctly anticipating this change in trend, Playkot accepted the challenge of developing products for mobile platforms. Although they developed enough experience to scale servers and manage hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users with their Facebook social games, such as SuperCity , the mobile market required new skills.
According to Roman, “In mobile environments, the biggest challenge is rhythm and controls. It’s a different mindset than in desktop applications.” Fortunately, by creating Age of Magic, he was able to find the right artistic and technical talent to achieve his goal: to develop a very good game with fantastic graphics. “Our team has many ‘magicians.’ Nothing is impossible with them. If I find a wall, they only say ‘no problem, we can jump it or go through it if necessary!'”
The focus on mobile devices required the use of a new development engine. The mobile market was extremely competitive and fast, so Playkot needed a tool that could generate test prototypes quickly, as well as publish production quality code for different mobile devices. The development teams knew the risks that existed when making radical changes like this, so Sasha and Oleg had to lessen their concerns.
After reminding the team that he was primarily an entrepreneur and not a developer, Oleg told them that his first reason was that “it is an honest and straightforward system: we pay a license and if we earn many millions, the money is ours and not theirs” . Second, Oleg mentioned that the large group of Unity developers (six million worldwide) would facilitate the process of finding the best talent. Third, Roman said “Unity includes all the technological tools we need to create the kind of games we want to create. We all think that the Asset Store , with its thousands of resources ready to use in games, will be very useful.”
Study of successful mobile games
When deciding to migrate to Unity, the team began downloading mobile games to study user experience standards and idiosyncrasies. They measured the time it took to load the games, the time they could play tirelessly, the decision times, etc. “Unity helps us to completely lose the player in the game and forget about mechanics,” Roman said.
Later, Playkot hired a team leader who had great experience working on games with complex graphics in Unity. “He was the mastermind, so we created a team around him. Everyone learned from him and his code, and we paid Unity courses to those who wanted to take them,” Roman said.
The training lasted a short time. “After learning the basics, they could start working on updates and correct errors. All of our developers have good overall skills, so they learned quickly.”
According to Roman, one of the advantages of Unity is the way it allows developers to focus on the art and design of the game instead of the technical aspects. “Some companies try to create technological wonders and use all possible shaders and any other tool that allows them to look more avant-garde. We think differently. In Playkot, the art of game design is the highest priority, and that’s why we chose Unity “. Another important benefit was speed. “From the proposal to the artist and the production-ready version, with Unity we can develop a character in four weeks, with all the tests and having finished all the animations and visual effects. This is quite fast, taking into account the level of quality we have. ”
In 2014, SuperCity , created with Flash, won the Facebook award for Best New Game, and SuperCity Mobile , released in July 2017, became the first Playkot game created with Unity. However, once again, Sasha, the executive director, was looking for trends rather than fame. Roman said: “Informal social games attract many players, but they don’t necessarily commit to a single game. In strategic RPGs there are fewer players, but they are much more intense and tend to spend a lot of money on their games. We love them very sophisticated graphics, so we wanted to create games that would show this and be attractive to the most intense and loyal players. That’s why we decided to diversify. ”