Don't we all dream of a hit game? The reality is all too often different, but it can be done. Here we find out how from Eugeny Butakov, creator of the successful mobile game, Psebay.
This interview takes an in depth look at the mobile gaming scene and examines a range of aspects of game development from the tools used to issues such as monetization, distribution and piracy.
We wanted the perspective of the developer, who as lone individual started from scratch, but managed to create a game that went viral.
That individual is Eugeny Butakov from Russia with his trials motorcycle riding game, Psebay.
NV: So Eugeny, tell us about yourself. How did you get into the gaming scene?
EB: My name is Eugeny Butakov, I'm 24 years old, I live in Krasnodar, Russia. In the field of game development I'm self-taught. The first time I thought about the development of games was in 2005 after having played Half Life 2. This game inspired me to search for tools for creating games.
At that time I was just wondering, and I did not even think that someday my games would be downloaded and played by hundreds of thousands of players. In 2013 I got into the development of mobile games. At the moment, this is my main and favourite business. Before that, I worked in various fields, including working in a company that develops casual games.
NV: Psebay is an unusual name? How did you choose it?
EB: When choosing a name for the game I wanted a word that was not hackneyed and easy to remember. Psebay is the name of a little known village in Russia. But it is a very beautiful place. Also near the village they often carry out motocross competitions.
NV: Psebay is a game in that the rider interacts heavily with the environment. How do you make video games that model the physics of the real environment ? Do you write your own physics engine or are you using a library?
EB: In Psebay all physical calculations are carried out using Box2D. To be honest, I did not try to make realistic physics. The priority for me was the feel of the ride, because that is the basis of the gameplay.
NV: How do you transfer the real world riding experience, the way motorcycles move, jump, climb or overcome obstacles, into the game play?
EB: There was a time when I had a motorcycle, but it was long ago. Of course, before starting to create the game, I studied this subject. Also I watched a lot of videos on YouTube which I analyzed. As I said, I wasn’t concerned with achieving realism, so I did not have any difficulties. I think in order to achieve the desired result you simply need to start doing something in this direction, and with time do further polishing.
NV: It's easy to forget that games are software too and thus subject to the development process that every software application undergoes. So what is the tool chain used in Psebay?
EB: To build the game I used Game Maker Studio, so the main programming languages were GML and GLSL ES. First I made a prototype and then I started to think about the concepts of the levels, and created my own level editor. I’ve also incorporated the Lite version of the editor into the game for the players to be able to create their own levels. For the graphics, I used "Pixelmator", and "Krita". For the animations I used "Spine", and for the sound, "Reaper".
EB: I have been working alone. But throughout the development I had support from my friends and my girlfriend, who were advising me. Work on Psebay started roughly about 2 years ago. Psebay’s first version for iOS was released after 6 months of development, at the end of 2014
NV: After spending so long developing it, making the end result known to the gaming public is the prime priority. Is it easy to become visible and be searched in Google Play? What other ways do you use for promotion?
EB: Honestly, I still did nothing to promote the game. I just published the game and gradually honed it, removed bugs and listened to feedback from the players. There is a large number of people who are searching for new and interesting applications and then reviewing them on their YouTube channel. The first players were flocking in from Youtube alone. At some point the game become viral and more people were starting to know about the game. Psebay was also hosted in Google Play’s "Trending" charts of some countries.
NV: What's most important in creating a great game, graphics or gameplay? Very popular games like Minecraft and Crossy Road do not excel in graphics quality. Does this mean that people really do not care about graphics but want other qualities?
EB: Gameplay is paramount for the game, but I can’t say that it is the most important aspect. I believe that the most important thing in the game is a combination of gameplay, graphics and sound. What is important is how they complement each other. Of course, much depends on the game genre. I like the look of Crossy Road and I believe that it has become so popular due to its graphics and style.
NV: Psebay implements in-app purchases. Why not opt for the ad supported model?
EB: I think that advertising has an adverse effect on the gaming experience, at least in this genre. Yes, it can perfectly fit into a small arcade game, but in general, this is extra noise to the player. When I selected a monetization model, I was guided by myself, I put myself in the place of players and asked myself, "Is this right for me?".
NV: When implementing in-app purchases how do you strike the balance between forcing people to pay for upgrades because otherwise they won't be able to continue the game after a certain level of difficulty, and letting them complete the whole game dodging having to pay at all?
EB: Psebay has been tested many times for the ability to be completed without buying the premium version. All levels can be finished without paying a dime. Yes, it will be more difficult and it all depends on the personal skills of the player. Some people have complained that the game was too easy, and others on the contrary found it difficult
NV: Are you satisfied with the revenue collected from the game? Is making money out of mobile games a sustainable financial model or must it be combined with other sources of income ?
EB: In general I am satisfied with the revenue that I get. Talk about making a living is still too early, because many players who would enjoy the game do not know about its existence. Psebay is currently the only game that feeds me. It’s enough income and at least I have time to continue working in calm and to think about how to develop it further.
NV: Another concern when it comes to monetization is piracy. The devs of Alto's Adventure for example, released it as free to play because of the fear that piracy would hurt their business. What is your opinion?
EB: I thought about piracy and partly because of this I made the game free of charge. Another reason was that a large part of my audience consists of children, who simply can’t buy the game. The other players, who choose the pirated instead of the official version, are not particularly valuable in terms of income. Even if you make a game completely free and try to make money through advertising, they will still download a pirated version in which the ads will be disabled. This is a matter of respect, education and world view. Therefore, I decided to focus on the honest players.
NV: The games market used to dominated by large companies, but now Google Play allows people to enjoy great releases from various parts of the world like your game or Nekkis Shadow Fight. Do you think that Play has democratized the distribution in the gaming scene so that small teams or even sole devs are able to antagonize the big players?
EB: Of course, I’m very pleased that I can work freely, without having to adapt to the requirements of the boss publisher. It's nice when you can do everything as you like from the beginning to the end. This concerns not only games, but all forms of art. This is a result of how the Internet is changing the lives of people throughout the world, blurring the boundaries between countries. Now anyone from almost anywhere in the world can express themselves and it's really cool.
NV: How do you see the mobile gaming scene evolving?
EB: In Russia, as well as around the world, the mobile game industry is evolving very rapidly. Nowadays one can easily find a job in any company that develops mobile games, even in small towns, something not easy seven years ago.
NV: Closing up, what advice would you give to aspiring developers who want to get into the game scene? What skills should they acquire? And what next for you?
EB: For me, the development of games is an art. I believe that first of all you need to love what you do, otherwise the chances of success are much smaller. I think that those who want to develop games have already downloaded Unity or some other engine and tried to do something. Also, I advise to focus on quality rather than on quantity and scale. If you have little or no experience in developing, it is better to start with something simple such as Flappy Bird, but still, everything should be done at the highest level.
At the moment I am working on new levels for Psebay. After that, I plan to release the game for other gaming platforms. I also would like to give players the opportunity to share the levels they create using the editor. After this I want to take a break from game development. With regard to my next projects I still don’t know what it will be, but it is unlikely to be the second part of Psebay!