Finland is home to many game companies. A picturesque country with stunning views and wonderful people, it’s no wonder it attracts some of the best game developers from around the world. In the capital of Helsinki, PlayRaven has made a name for itself in mobile by specializing in excellent strategy games and focusing exclusively on touch screens.
We met with Robin Squire – PlayRaven’s Marketing Director – to discuss what makes them so successful in a genre where competitors have celebrities appear in ads during the big game, and what it’s like venturing into uncharted territory with creative new innovations.
Making the Most of the Talent
“There are only 21 of us,” Squire said, “We’re very international. We actually have more expats working with us than Finns, which, aside from heavy hitters like Supercell and Rovio, is quite unique for a Helsinki-based game dev!”
To maximize the pace at which PlayRaven innovates in the mobile strategy space, they’re split into two game teams, which operate and make decisions independently. That may seem like a recipe for diverging ideas, but the culture of transparency at PlayRaven has made it a force multiplier for both teams.
“There’s a lot of discussion between teams,” Squire said, “feedback and ideas are regularly exchanged, and we all get together at the end of each week to share what progress we’ve made and what we’ve learnt. But at the end of the day they’re 100% doing their own thing.”
“Both teams are often working on wildly different types of games, so we learn twice as much, twice as fast!” Squire explained.
PlayRaven definitely makes sure potential employees know what the culture is like up front. Their current job listing (Senior Games Designer) includes the requirements “Special skills must include coffee drinking, Rocket League and a deep-seated resentment of the status quo.”
That kind of tongue-in-cheek open and fun, open culture leads to great games.
Pop Culture Inspired
PlayRaven leans heavily on Western pop culture for inspiration in their titles. “Winterstate is skewed heavily towards an American audience,” Squire said. The game uses iconic US imagery like flags, landmarks, and an alternate version of Uncle Sam known as ‘Knuckle Sam’ in the world of Winterstate.
“We try not to look too closely at what’s hot on the top grossing charts”
“We feel it helps differentiate the game, as well as making it even more relatable while still delivering on that cinematic cars-with-guns fantasy, not just for US players, but for those around the world who are fans of US films, books, and other media,” Squire said.
PlayRaven recently launched Robocide and Winsterstate within one month of each other (as noted by PocketGamer.biz) and both jumped up the App Store charts around the globe. “It was hugely validating – especially since these were totally new styles of games” said Squire.
PlayRaven is constantly looking to keep ahead of the curve, too. “We try not to look too closely at what’s hot on the top grossing charts,” Squire said, “We feel that just represents what’s successful now, not what might be popular a year from now.”
Clearly it’s working for them – Spymaster, Robocide and Winterstate all hit the top 10 strategy charts in over 120 countries following their App Store launches.
Acquiring Users and Making the Providing Value
“Making a great gameplay trailer will ensure you have a solid foundation for promoting your game” said Squire. For PlayRaven, differentiation and quality is key to sustainable user acquisition – with a high quality gameplay trailer putting their fresh new games at the heart of their user acquisition campaigns.
“Marketing is a hugely important factor with self-publishing”, Squire said. When asked about the biggest lesson they’ve learnt so far, he further explained, “When you’re running games-as-a-service, the best marketing and community building initiatives should start from within the product.”
“We’re always looking at new ways of approaching events, social, and other slick ways of building marketing hooks into the product,” Squire said. He even had a huge compliment for a fellow publisher when it came to this strategy; “Seriously do it fantastically well with Best Fiends.”
Video performs best for their user acquisition campaigns because they’re so unique and unlike anything else on the App Store, he explained.
“Marketing is a hugely important factor with self-publishing”
“We’ll often create a full length trailer with all the bells and whistles, and then break that down in different 30 and 15 second cuts to use on various ad networks,” he continued.
When it comes to engagement, PlayRaven also tries to lead the way with out-of-the-box strategies.
“In Robocide, a trader refreshes his stock of in-game items and special offers every few hours or so,” said Squire. This kind of rotational hook to bring players back has been proven to work exceptionally well across platforms and genres.
Finding the Fun
When talking about self-publishing their games, PlayRaven has one of the simplest philosophies we’ve come across:
“Focus on finding the fun,” Squire explained.
“Before even venturing into soft launch, the game must be something that we are addicted to playing internally – if not, then there’s a problem! In the past we’ve also experimented with running early access beta programs, so we can easily get feedback from family and friends in the industry during early development phases.”
It’s important to go into soft launch with a clear set of goals. For PlayRaven it’s about finding the fun, so we focus primarily on retention, “We’re constantly evolving our methodology – one thing that’s important for us is to have a dialogue with the players as early as possible, Squire said.
“Focus on finding the fun”
PlayRaven has some cool stuff on the horizon.
“We’re all really looking forward to the next Spymaster,” Squire said. The original was PlayRaven’s very first release. Since that time the company has grown and learned a lot, whilst still changing and evolving with the explosion in the mobile gaming space. In fact, PlayRaven is so determined to evolve and adapt, that the new Spymaster is being developed by an almost entirely different team to PlayRaven’s original.
“It’s going to be awesome to revisit the world and offer players a completely new spy experience,” Squire said.
Rebooting a mobile game isn’t something many (if any) studios have done before, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s PlayRaven. After all, it’s not their first time trying something new.
Follow the Developers
PlayRaven keeps their fans as up to date as possible via a variety of sources, starting with the the PlayRaven Blog. Naturally you can also follow @PlayRavenInc on Twitter, or Like them on Facebook as well.
Join the Conversation
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