Just like a living organism, our company is always growing and changing. We'd like to share our memories of the key events that shaped Playkot and made it the company we known and love today.
It was June, 2009, when “Vkontakte” opened its paying system for applications. First successful companies started to appear. Oleg has felt potential in it and offered to create our own game, and I agreed. We had absolutely no experience in game production, Oleg studied Flash on the go. We also had no money and no time for long-term development. Thatʼs why we had to quickly make something simple.
The first game was written in one night by two of us, sitting in the rental apartment on the suburb of St. Petersburg, where I lived. There were almost no furniture, we were drinking tea sitting on the floor of the kitchen, wallpaper was half-peeled. There was no table, too.
We set two bookshelves upright and put a wooden board on them. With our two laptops standing on this construction we were working. Oleg was programming, and I was doing everything else. We were drawing by ouselves, too, as good as we could. When we launched, we founded that our application failed - it had few players and payments.
A week later I got a call from Oleg. He said: “I think I know what we did wrong. Let's try again.” We got together again and wrote a second application in one night. Immediately we posted it on “Vkontakte” and went to sleep.
We woke up and saw, that according to the statistics we already have quite a lot of active players. With this application we started to get some small regular income, which let us grow and recruit more specialists for the team. That's how Playkot was born.
When Club Life reached 500,000 daily players, we were unexpectedly visited by the guys from "Radio Record" who said "We're holding a festival called "Transmission", let's collaborate on it". For us it was pretty unbelievable! the very same "Radio Record" that we'd listened to as kids had turned up on our doorstep to meet us!
Naturally, we agreed. We held a competition in the game: we awarded free tickets and offered a big prize for the top 3 winners - the chance to have their photo taken with DJ Paul Van Dyk. We organized the event very well. Our players liked it and during the competition we had a large influx of visits and a lot of new installations.
As art-director I had much more influence over our product. My efforts and initiatives had already been aimed at the maximum general result but it was this role that let me feel that everything I or my colleagues did had a real purpose. Any idea could pass a feasibility test and be made a reality if it was good enough.
Over time, the culture of our company began to take a form that closely resembled my world view: to be heard, it isn't absolutely necessary to be the art-director or a lead, being part of the team gave you a voice.
My vision of my own role changed too. Now my function is to strengthen the project teams at important moments by solving tasks alongside them, not passing down solutions from above and also to eliminate those factors that stop our creative colleagues from realizing their own visions.
We produced the game in 7 weeks with a team of 3 people. On release the game included woodcutter Jack. When a player clicked on a tree, the character walked over to it and started to cut it down. This was a unique feature.
There was also Caroline who did farm work and grew corn. There was Thomas the builder, a plump kind of fella. There were a few little houses in the forest but apart from that nothing else. The rest appeared later. The basis of the game was about these people and their stories.
We really tried to keep SuperCity a nice, kind game with interesting stories and a dash of magic. This was to keep our players coming back to spend time and make new achievements. What's the essence of the game, what's it about? About life, about kindness. About being able to do anything and get everything you want: all you need is patience, a wish and to never give up too soon.
This was one of the experiments we did at that time. We released small games onto what was then a new platform and watched to see the reaction from users. All the other mobile games from that time have folded but Farkle still gets 10,000-15,000 daily users.
There was a feeling of "the team can do anything". From the very beginning I insisted that a game about modern warfare needn't be dark and gritty. Instead, we always wanted to give players the feeling of being on a tropical island. As such, I convinced the team to make the graphics bright and it was the right decision.
In addition to the casual setting, Warzone had great gameplay and so was easy to play. The good design made it possible to fight while feeling relaxed and unhurried, despite having to command your troops. At that time this was also a rarity. I think most of the expriments we made with Warzone came after its release. And it was definitely the game in which we made the most mistakes in terms of game design.
At that time I was the lead programmer on the SuperCity project. Once, Roma asked me to join him in the foosball room (it was at the old office) and told me that "it's time for me to start learning how to lead a project". I agreed and right then came up with my two main expecations for this new responsibility.
The first: if there's something that needs to be done for the project, the producer should find a way to do it. A project should never perform any work that's outside its own sphere of responsibility. I would either have to perform the task myself or find someone more qualified to do it.
The second: In many situations the producer can say what is most important for the project and should play an active role. He should constantly be ready to implement changes.
I love games and love making them (I have to say, I don't ever consider working in another sphere). This love for games helps me deal with the difficulties and solve issues, even if I sometimes feel I'm not fully qualified.
A Producer appears!
Of all our games, Warzone was the first to show that games initially made for a Russian audience could also be popular on Facebook. We realized we could successfully compete for the attention of audiences worldwide and felt more confident in our abilities.
The "Knights" saw several important factors come together: the first was a fairly serious fantasy setting which the designers liked and was interesting for players.
The second was the desire of all of us to "create something awesome" (that's why, even though we missed our release deadline, we finished with a high quality product with beautiful graphics).
The third was an assortment of unique gameplay elements that had appeared while we were fixing mistakes in "Warzone". As a result, we produced an original game which, even now, has no direct competition.
I was really worried when we were starting to work together. Back then, neither Alexander, Oleg nor I had any idea of what needed doing. To be more accurate, they expected me to cover recruitment and that this was the main priority. I, however, had the nagging thought that I should be performing the whole range of HR tasks.
After almost a year we all came to the decision that our main concern should be internal processes. That experience provided the understanding that the easiest way to "get into" the company in terms of HR was by doing recruitment: that way you can get to know the processes, the teams and better understand the needs of your colleagues as well as learning about the product and the market.
Now my focus is spread all round the company, including recruitment. We got the added bonus of finding out that HR isn't only about posting vacancies.
I came to Playkot from a start-up. I had heard some intriguing rumours from my colleagues about this company, suppposedly they had a great system for advertising on Facebook. I was intrigued. Personally I wanted to learn new skills for that platform and in return was ready to offer my marketing expertise. We created a mutually beneficial partnership which lasted throughout my tenure at Playkot.
Recently I found out that almost 97% of Russian companies don't think at all about which clients they attract. In those conditions a marketing manager's work basically comes down to "spending money". It's like going shopping. The system at Playkot allows managers to evaluate the situation more carefully and attract users who are actually interested in playing our games. Well-developed instruments and buying technology allow them to focus primarily on searching for the appropriate audience and view all marketing expenses as investments with a clear return schedule.
A marketing department appears!
Most of my knowledge of in-game analytics I learned, like many of my colleagues, from scratch. This, and I'm not exaggerating, was the most fascinating quest in my life. In time I grew to understand: by itself, analysis can do little to influence a project. Parts of the problems discovered using analytics couldn't be solved due to external reasons or because of ambiguity from a game design perspective.
Now I think we performed a lot of tasks "with our bare hands", not understanding how the results of the research would be used or what we were actually grasping for. If we'd known, it's likely we wouldn't have tried and my work would have been dull, with no drive or challenge. The questions were difficult but always interesting to work on.
SuperCity's release on Facebook
At first the game was called "Reign" and was a military strategy game about a post-apocalyptic future. But then at some point Dima Novikov, our future creative director, joined a project meeting and said "it'd be cool to do a game about giant robots". Everybody thought for a while and agreed: "Yeah, huge robots, that's really awesome!" After some time we changed the name to Titans and everything fell into place.
This time for our new game we decided to use tried and tested mechanics. Our team, which had gained experience from making "Warzone" focused on doing everything correctly and not missing anything out. We had the possibility to choose the right instruments beforehand. And we, with our love for programming and system engineering, used this opportunity by implementing many ground-breaking solutions during the game's development. In this way, TropicStorm became a long-standing source of technical innovation for the other projects.