Studio Visit Two: Wooga

The energetic and wildly positive Dr. Anne Seebach , a former geologist, University Relations, graciously toured us through Wooga HQ. The company is 5½ years old. The founders had been in the ring tone business together and then started a game company. They started as a Facebook only company, but now the focus has changed to mobile first and Facebook optional.

The company has roughly 275 employees with 50% of them from 40 countries, all headquartered in Berlin.  A surprising 30% of the Design and Development staff are female. The games are localized into 25 languages so having a broadly diverse group of employees helps with localization

Their design philosophy is to target the 95% of game players that don’t play console games.The games are low barrier to entry, Free-to-Play with a short core game loop.  It should tale three minutes or less to understand game. No Gambling, “kids games,” excessive violence or  sexism. They strive to match “the emotions of Pixar” with the “Metrics of Google” in their titles.
Their methodology is to shoot for 40 prototypes per yer developed generally by a team of two.  Through an internal review process that includes general employee trial and a small board of founders and staff external to the given prototype.  The product lead needs to define market and prove there’s an audience for it. Ten games will pass these filters to go into production.  Seven of those will make it to soft launch.  three of those will launch with the hope that two of these will be “hits” for the company. Killing a project is not evil, especially if you share the lessons learned.

The five titles they consider hits that have been created in the past four years are Diamonds Dash, Bubble Island, Monster World, Jelly Splash and, Pearl’s Peril. The games are monetized though the purchase of in game items to speed the game along, allow for upgrades and/or extra lives. They generally won’t change item prices but will test against different “bundles” of items to see which motivate players to a higher level of conversion. With 50 million players a month 2% pay $5-$10 a month.

Pearl’s Peril is a slightly different title for them as it is a “hidden objects” style game with lots of core loops and narrative chunks that support and move the player through the game. Players can see a new story installment once a week but can pay to see it earlier..

They have a similar process for vetting new hires as they do selecting new games. With their last hire they looked at 85 resumes, held 25 Skype interviews and followed with 6 on-site interviews to make the hire. It’s a young company with the average age  of employees is below 30.  The  founders  and the good Dr are 37-38.  Their oldest employee is 49.  New Hires get inducted in a two week process that requires that they play a number of the top 20 games in the app store for a least 30 minutes each and they have to read “Don’t Make Me Think.” In the first week.

We also heard from one of their designers, Brian, an Art Institute Grad who made some mods and got into the industry as a tester, though he doesn’t recommend that as an entry point into the Industry now. He’s been in the industry for 11 years at different companies.  He pointed out that the average game industry worker lasts 5 years in the field due to burn out and that he finds the corporate culture in Germany much less crunch driven quality of life focused.  His personal socre card of games he’s worked on stands at 44 games worked on,  32 launched,and  4 hits.

He presented a bunch of information on the role of the game designer, which is sympatico with what I teach and well-covered in the “Extra Credits” video on the role of a game designer, including the need to have a life outside of games.  Some of the standout comments were…

“I’ve never made a game where I was the target audience.”

“I wish I’d learned to script more earlier on in my career”

“Find one game that no one can beat you in, one where you know everything about that game inside and out”

“Don’t worry about architecture or graphics when you prototype, just see if its fun. Only make what you don’t know .”

“Building musical instruments has taught me a lot about about game design. Tuning a harp or a piano can teach you a lot about game balance in that it shows you how many different things can have an effect on a system”

“Learn Excel and SQL Go to the Excel help page, grab the function list and make one of every function. Learn the hard Excel tricks.

We also heard Christoph. 3.5 years at Wooga with a career that’s gone from Flash->iOS->Unity. These days a lot of what he does is build automated testing for balance and design.

One process they use  it  as follows…

Put design data in Excel which then goes into Google Docs once it s fully set.   Next Unity gets the balalnce data. Iterations run in Unity and then the data ends up back in Excel.  More advanced techniques include building AI and GA’s to exploit the system.

Afterwards we got a studio space tour (they’re housed in an historical landmark bakery and have kept some of the old equipment in the facility) and then were set loose on the T-Shirt shelves to select our preferred size and color.

A great time was had by all.




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