Dynamo Games are nestled just off the centre of Dundee in an old fashioned tenement which serves them well. Starting as Dynamo Computing, they made the transition from pre-iPhone apps, “We created mobile apps before the iPhone was even a twinkle in Steve Jobs eye”; to creating a game during down time. They successfully marketed this to Eidos whose;, “enthusiasm for our product outweighed the fact we hadn’t released a game yet”; gaining the lucrative Championship Manager title for mobile phones and later developing it for other mobile platforms.
Now the direction of the company is changing and SquareGo wanted to catch up with Brian McNicoll (Managing Director) and Richard Wood (Producer) about the transition to social gaming and what they felt the future held.
First we asked about how the transition had impacted on the team and Brian was clear when he told us, “It was a huge change for the team. Not just technically but the mindset of social gaming is very different. Traditional console gamers may look at a social game and think that it looks very simple. Once you can get your head around the way in which these games work it is much easier to understand the appeal that they have to so many people.”
“Gaming has been relatively niche market until now; you’ve had to buy a console to play a game in the past. Now many people have a computer and access to the internet, most browsers support Flash or HTML5 and the games are free so there is no real barrier to entry. Traditional console game, with control pads, numerous buttons and rules to understand have previously alienated a lot of people from playing games as non-gamers find them difficult to navigate. Social games are easy-to-understand, point and click, available on many social media platforms and mobile devices and you get rewarded for every time that you fulfil an objective. You engage with your friends in a lot more welcoming environment and a lot of people don’t see even realise they are playing a game, they’re just looking after their farm, dressing their shops etc.”
Range of ages
The demographic of social gaming certainly shows Dynamo understand their research with Brian noting the expanded age range of gamers in this medium. Some of the change he directed at Nintendo’s Wii and the Game Boy, involving families in gaming but there was also time to mention the ubiquitous Tetris.
“Tetris did well for mass market gaming. A lot of people picked it up on the Gameboy which is a contrast to most other games which are generally more hardcore.”
“Social gaming has an ease of play and the people that we are targeting aren’t generally what are seen as traditional gamers. They really enjoy playing these games however. It’s the first taste of this type of entertainment for them and that can only be good for gaming as a whole.”
“The first move for us during this transition was getting the whole team in the mindset that this was the direction we would be going in. I think it was a benefit that we are a mobile company because it made that step a lot easier. We were used to smaller projects with smaller development teams and this was suited to social gaming. A much larger console development team would have had a lot more issues as there wouldn’t be a requirement for their 3D graphics or cut scene teams for example.”
Developing the database
“Another benefit was that technically we had had a lot of database development experience in the past with mobile versions of Championship Manager, dealing with thousands of players at a time. We were getting the PC database of players from Eidos and then had to manipulate that in order to create a subset of that data for the mobile version.
With reviewers saying the interface they had created on mobile devices for Championship Manager was like a, “tactile symphony”, we wondered how you convert something so huge onto such a portable device.
Richard explained, “It’s a very big game. You want something that mirrors what Champ Man players are doing on their laptops and PC’s, but you have a much shorter time period to develop it. You need to check on player stats – small things like your strikers finishing not being that good, can put people off. It’s a case of play testing all of these things with a smaller team than the PC developers have available.”
Brian added, “The sheer amount of information you have to display on the screen is so vast that trying to get the same message of the PC version onto the small screen is really tough, especially on a mobile phone. It has advantages, compared to a lot of mobile games however, as you can just pick up the game and go. It doesn’t depend on your reactions just on your decisions, so as long as the interface is well designed the game should be a joy to most football fans.”
“For our move into social gaming we therefore had a strong history of database, server and website development so that was a big benefit, but there were a whole load of other things we had to learn, such as: scalable servers that had to support hundreds of thousands of users if demand picked up, user acquisition, engagement and retention and monetisation – understanding the whole micro-transactions payment system.”
Of course Dynamo need to turn a profit in order to survive and Brian went on to discuss monetisation further, as this new gaming demographic have disposable incomes and can afford some spare time and money to get drawn into these types of games.
“You need to know how to get money out, how to predict people who are going to buy and pay for things within your game and constantly keep a handle on all of the analytics tracking – seeing what’s going on in your game and being able to tweak it to make it the most fun experience for users, and then trying to put people as possible through this payment funnel.”
“We used to get payments through Pay Pal but Facebook have now added Facebook Credits and from July that will be the sole form of making micro-transactions on the Facebook gaming platform. Facebook credits are also seamless now meaning a pop-up will appear allowing players to make payments directly into the game without taking them away from the game itself.”
Dynamo’s first game on Facebook was Soccer Tycoon which they admitted was polished but missed a few fundamentals. Even so it had 200,000 registered users and more than an average percentage of these users were paying on a daily basis. The learning experience from this project is now helping the development of Soccer Tycoon 2 and has also been particularly invaluable with their current project Beauty TownTM, to be released in conjunction with Channel 4 and Creative Scotland.
Dundee has a strong attachment with the Scottish games industry that has taken some hits of late with Denki, Realtime Worlds and Cohort Studios all being affected by economics. Brian and Richard felt the environment was still very positive though.
Brian told us, “The community in Dundee is first-rate and there are many similar sized companies that we have grown up with over the years. It shows that small and mighty can work.”
Whilst Richard added, “With what has happened you can see what can go wrong. You have to share roles like research and marketing within the company and work hard, constantly bettering yourself.”
Brian finished the point saying, “You have to be constantly innovating as this is a hit-driven business. You need to cover as many bases as you can and be ready to diversify at all times. We’re covering two different strands of gaming currently in mobile and online social. As a smaller start-up company it’s an invaluable experience to share roles and I would encourage people, graduates or anyone with an interest in starting their own games company to come try and get a company going in Dundee. There is a lot of support, it’s a great climate and there are a lot of companies that will provide help and advice.”
“It’s a tough road but it’s worth it in the end and it has been brilliant for Dundee and the industry here so far.”
It’s a good looking future
In closing, we asked what the future held beyond Beauty TownTM. Brian had alluded to a US Office and becoming more internationally known with ground work already being done this year at the Mobile World Congress, GDC and upcoming attendance at E3, WWDC, and a Silicone Valley trip arranged with visits to Facebook and other high-tech companies, but at this time their complete focus was with Beauty TownTM, set for release in June.
Brian said, “This year is a big year for us. We think Beauty TownTM could raise the profile of the company and open a lot of doors for us. As I said we are working with Channel 4 and Creative Scotland for this game and they’ve hired a marketing agency, Realise Digital from Edinburgh, who are handling all of the marketing for this game, hopefully providing us with huge exposure which we hope to capitalise on this summer.”
“We’ll still continue to develop sports games, as not many companies work on this genre of game, but fashion could be another area we can exploit as well. We also see a real cross-over between both of these genres with sports-fashion, and this will help us to make sure we’re not following the crowd.”
“It’s a tough market. We need to make sure that Dynamo stands out from the crowd and continue to position ourselves as a smart thinking company who are creating innovative games, this will be our secret for success.”
They definitely seem to be on the right track.