Starting from scratch: how and why would a game company remake an already released product
Revenue, gaming market, risks and results of trying to give mobile game a second breath on example of Dig Out!, a mobile platformer from ZiMAD
The reality of the gaming industry is that it is impossible to release the perfect product: force majors occur both in large corporations and in the one-story bedroom slash office. But, if the deadlines have already passed and the product is out, how can you tell when it should be left as is, and when you should start working hard on an update?
ZiMAD faced this question when they decided to change their Dig Out platformer. The product faced a paradox where users complained very little about specific flaws but didn’t want to play and support developers at the same time – so it was decided to take a risk and make a chain of updates aimed at global changes in the product.
Updating or leaving behind?
Dig Out! – is a platformer the main idea of which is that the player has a destroyed bastion, which needs to be restored. To do this, the player needs to dig down to different locations, extract resources and destroy monsters. With the help of resources, you can restore the bastion and improve the character.
“From the very beginning it was a promising project with original and interesting mechanics, but, as is often the case, monetization was not a strong point of the project. In December 2018, I offered to help the development team, and we started to implement the first features, which very quickly led to the significant growth of KPI’s,” explains Maxim Mishansky, Head of GDD. “Having significantly strengthened the Dig Out team, ZiMAD decided to quickly release several global ideas that could take the project to a new level of quality.”
The development team started updating the game almost from scratch: they changed the game’s graphics, reworked meta and improved core gameplay in dig mode. It took the team about three months of hard work. As a result, ZiMAD was able to preserve the digging mechanics – the main mechanics around which the entire story and design are built – and surround it with the necessary features to engage, hold and monetize users. The main metrics of the product began to grow, which made it possible for the company to increase its investment in the project.
But not all players liked the gameplay update and the addition of the storyline component. After the release, negative reviews appeared on Stores, which lowered the average Dig Out! score – and the main complaint was aimed at a complete zeroing of progress. “It was a necessity because the system of progress in the game had completely changed and it was impossible to keep the old one. We tried to give a decent compensation to everyone who had played in our project for a long time. Someone was satisfied, others were not,” Mishansky explains the situation. “By introducing a number of restrictions, we caused a flood of negative feedback, but at the same time the project revived, and the users began to play more and longer. They don’t forget to support us by shopping in the game store.”
New version vs. new product
One of the most common complaints against developers in this community is: why did you have to zero all progress and change the game so radically when you could just release this version as a separate product or as an extension of the series? The solution depends not only on the developers but also on the company as a whole. Is it ready to allocate funds for the release of a new product, where will these funds come from, how will the game progress, who will be responsible for marketing, from which existing project will you take the developers to support the technical part? And what do you do if the update fails?
Users do not think about the complexity of the game when they see a new notification with a description of changes. But that’s absolutely fair; almost no one thinks about how the book and translation business works when they read a book.
“It was possible to release this update as a new project. But at the time, there was no 100% certainty that all of the proposed changes would really work and give the right result. Any new project requires additional investment, which I did not want to request, because I myself did not fully believe that it is possible to revive iap monetization in a project that has been on the market for 4 years and has always worked on ads monetization. That’s why we chose a tough approach – testing all new features at once on an active audience,” explains Mishansky. “We always had a backup of the old version at hand, which we were ready to return if we failed. But after the first update, we got an inspiring feedback from the analysts and overcame fear. If we had made all the edits under the new title, the old one would have gone into maintenance and the users would have been left without updates, which would have led to their departure as a free-to-play project cannot exist without regular releases of game content.”
The sudden introduction of restrictions also affects scores in the App Store and Play Store – and this, according to Mishansky, cannot be avoided. “Many people are so used to it that Dig Out! during its entire existence was a game with advertising, but without payments, that they didn’t hold back at all, asking developers to return the opportunity to play without restrictions. Unfortunately, in order to further develop the product, we had to take such measures, and the drop in evaluation on the tables was obvious and expected. However, this is a temporary phenomenon, as new players that helped restore the score came quite quickly. I am sure that this trend will continue in the future. The real losses from a low score are not so significant and are reflected in some decrease in the conversion rate to the installation and a slight decrease in the number of organic installs,” he says. “In fact, despite the huge amount of feedback that foreshadowed user leaving, many continued to play and soon even changed their feedback to positive. The upgrades did make a significant difference to a game that had been without major releases for a long time, and even the oldest users were glad to see something really new in the game. But we won’t resort to such measures anymore, because it’s a rather aggressive approach, which could have had unfortunate consequences if our expectations of the quality of new content hadn’t been met.”
The insides of advertising
For the existence of any project requires funds, and without them, the game will simply not be worth supporting. In the sphere of mobile games income is based on in-game advertising and in-game purchases – for which mobile developers are often criticized.
“The main complaint of users of free-to-play games is the restriction of the number of lives and time for their recovery,” says Maxim. “Previously, Dig Out! did not limit users and allowed them to play as many games as they wanted at any time of day. It sounds cool, but users absorbed the content very quickly and left. It’s simply impossible to deliver new content at this speed, no matter how big your team is. With such volumes and speed, a huge investment is required, significantly reducing the return on the product. That’s why the restriction on the number of lives has given ZiMAD time to develop and deliver content and new features, and at the same time has increased the lifetime of users.”
The second problem for most users is advertising. “There are indeed quite a few, but these are the realities of free-to-play products that haven’t yet come up with enough iap ARPU numbers to completely disable forced advertising. Now we are actively testing the disabling of all advertising for users who have made at least one purchase in our game, while maintaining all the functionality of bonuses from watching videos.”
There is no hiding from mobile gaming
Often users complain that mobile games are only aimed at pumping money out of the user – and that they have absolutely no value as products. If this were true, the market would weaken every year and the industry would gradually lose its value – but this is not the case at all.
Statistics say the opposite: according to App Annie, it is clear that by 2021 the mobile gaming industry will exceed the cost of 100 billion dollars – which is twice as much as in 2015. This growth makes mobile gaming the most popular form of gaming in the world. And the category “games” in the App Store occupies 24% of the total number of available applications – this is given the fact that the number of applications in the App Store for 2020 exceeds 1 800 000. This indicates a growing interest in mobile gaming among users.
The developers of Dig Out! are of the opinion that despite monetization, the content should always be at the right level. This is caring about players and showing the desire to make a really good product. “On the positive side, I can say that many people liked the new graphics. Some players liked the scale of the bastion compared to the old small village. The game has charismatic enemies, and the digs are filled with new interesting mechanics. The new balance helps the game to remain challenging in the late stages, while maintaining the pace of the character’s progress,” Mishansky explains the main changes affecting the players’ progress. “We are working on updates all the time. Since there are a lot of ideas, we try to introduce them gradually and monitor players’ reactions and KPI’s changes. We try to spend no more than three weeks on small features, and no more than three months on global changes, such as meta processing.”
The mobile gaming industry, contrary to cynical commentators, is at its peak. So you can understand the situation in which mobile developers are trying to revive a stagnant project and give it a second breath and catch the user with new content. The final decision on updating is made taking into account various factors affecting both gameplay and the possibility of monetization. Sometimes developers eventually succeed, but sometimes they do not. According to Dig Out! graphs, we can say that processing can bring its results and give the product a basis for further development and improvement.