Maybe he never consciously decided to work in the world of videogames, but Jake Bales has never worked in any area that wasn’t related to the industry. “I started working at a games store when I was 16 and I’ve worked for gaming companies since then”, says Bales. These days he wouldn’t even consider doing anything that wasn’t connected to videogames.
Among his successes at Scopely, where he holds the position of Vice President of Game Design and General Manager, are games like Yahtzee with Buddies, a free-to-play title which, after seven years on the market, is experiencing its peak in terms of revenue (top 40 grossing in the US) and players.
That’s why we wanted to take advantage of his stay as a mentor at the F2P Campus in Vitoria-Gasteiz to find out more about the secrets of this success and his experience in the industry.
F2P Campus (F): What’s the key to creating a successful development team?
Jake Bales (JB): Great people that are great at what they do and great to work with. You can have a lot of brilliant assholes that don’t work together well and don’t have good harmony. Getting everybody on the same page with the goals, making sure that everybody is incentivized for the same thing, is key to building a successful development team.
The team should focus on the game, not on politics or getting recognized. That can hurt the team. Great people, trust, no egos, no jerks, very clear goals, open communication, honesty, transparency…are key to having a good team.
F: Why choose free-to-play as a business model?
JB: If you make a great game it is, easily, the way to have the most people experience it. You can make a great thing and put a $60 price tag on it and that’s totally fine for some business models, but I love that people can check out a game and then vote with their time and money if they like it.
And also, of course, you have the opportunity for people who really like your game to spend a lot of money. In AAA games you can be the biggest fan in the world and you spend the same amount as somebody who played it for an hour. That’s why some AAA game developers are bringing free-to-play mechanics to their games.
We couldn’t convince so many people to play a game if this business model didn’t exist. It has brought a lot of new players.
F: With the competition that exists today, how do you convince people to spend their time on your game?
JB: By creating the most delightful experience possible in the genre that you’re in. If you like casual games, for example, there are a lot of titles that are very similar. It’s hard to compete unless you have something very, very new or you have the best version of the thing.
Having a great marketing team and creating interesting brand identities helps to get the word out there, but at the end of the day that’s only about getting people to come have a look. Ultimately, they’re only going to stick around if the game offers a delightful experience.
F: Is it helpful to have an existing franchise that people know instead of creating a new IP?
JB: Of course. There’s no doubt that an existing franchise generates a lot of organic interest because they have an existing fan base that’s been worshipping the brand in some cases for decades. And if you can create an experience that matches that brand and lets people experience it in a new way it’s very, very powerful.
At Scopely we like partnering with these brands like WWE or The Walking Dead because they’re evergreen brands.
F: All the mentors agree that one of the keys to a successful F2P game is retaining players for a long period of time. In your opinion, how do you achieve that?
JB: The most important part is that the core game is great. For example, our game Yahtzee With Buddies is having its best performance seven years after its release. Yahtzee is a very old game, I played it as a kid with my family; it also happens that it works very well with mobile gaming because you can play a turn very quick, send it back and have a relationship build over time.
So some of it is about evolving that game, thinking about how Yahtzee on mobile would feel, creating new ways to play; but ultimately, if you ask players why they stick around for so long, it’s because players have been playing with friends and family every day for almost a decade now. It’s about the important place that game has in their life, and that’s normally something social.
F: What advice do you wish someone had given you when you started in the industry?
JB: Work hard and be good to people. Take what you’re doing seriously and have fun doing it.
Many thanks to Jake Bales for coming to Vitoria-Gasteiz to answer our questions and advise the F2P Campus teams.
Until next time!