Eugene Yailenko, from ZeptoLab: “We try to soft launch as soon as we have a minimal viable product”

September 12, 2018

No matter how many kids you ask, they all have their own dream job for when they grow up. Some want to be astronauts, others doctors or firefighters. In Eugene Yailenko’s case, his dream job was to make videogames. “My father is a programmer and I used to play on his work computer; he took me there several times. One day he showed me a really cool, fun game and then he said he’d made it. That was the turning point for me”, Yailenko tells us, smiling. From that moment he knew what his goal was: to become a videogame developer. 

I really liked games and I wanted to make them”, he says. “I started making levels for games like Counter Strike when I was at school, and eventually I ended up working in the games industry”. Since then he has worked for companies such as Lucky Soft and ZeptoLab where he’s created games as successful as Cut The Rope 2, King of Thieves and CATS: Crash Arena Turbo Stars.

With more than 11 years of experience and success behind him in the videogame industry, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask him a few questions during his visit as a mentor at the F2P Campus in Vitoria-Gasteiz.  

F2P Campus (F): Why choose free-to-play as a business model?

Eugene Yailenko (EY): Free-to-play as a business model is great because it allows you to reach a lot of people, and you remove the big barrier that is paying upfront. 

As an artist you want as many people as possible to play your game; you want your art to impact people’s lives in a good way. And to do so in videogames, the best way is using the free-to-play business model.

Eugene Yailenko from Zeptolab

F: ZeptoLab started making really successful paid games for mobile like Cut The Rope and then transitioned to free-to-play; what was the hardest part of this conversion?

EY: It’s definitely a challenge. It’s hard to say what was the hardest part because basically we needed to learn all the stuff from the beginning. Because to make a game for free-to-play you need to design it from the beginning as a free-to-play game. We had to learn a lot and we’re still learning.

You have to learn everything, see how it works and get all this experience slowly.

F: Why did you choose to convert a paid game like Cut The Rope into a free-to-play one?

EY: With our old titles it’s a little bit different. The market was changing, it was getting harder to get people to pay for a game and was more profitable to switch Cut the Rope to an ad-based model. We still have paid versions of the game for those old players who bought it and don’t want to have ads.

In general, ads work better than paid upfront and that’s why we converted our first games. But we didn’t change the design or anything like that. 

Eugene Yailenko from ZeptolabF: The prototyping and production phase of CATS took 7 months while the soft-launch period was 14 months. Why did you spend so much time soft launching? 

EY: In our case we try to soft launch as early as possible. We do it when we have a minimal viable product, so sometimes we soft launch even without the tutorial or without the in-app purchases. We want to get the feedback from players as soon as possible to see if the game is interesting to them or not.

Thanks to the soft launch, when we’re finishing the game we’re getting some data and we’re able to see if the game is too difficult…or how many players are reaching the end of the content.

We don’t know how they‘re going to react. Sometimes we release several days of content and they finish it in one day. And that’s why we do it as early as possible. So we can realize how the game is. Is it easy? Is it hard? Do people like it or not? How fast are they progressing through the game? It gives us at least some basic understanding.

We’re releasing different updates, we’re trying different monetization models… That’s why it takes time. 

At the end, when we know that the game is ready to go global, we still need at least two months to prepare it because you need to localize it, you need to make bugfixes, you need to prepare servers, you need to implement some protection from cheating… A lot of work.

F: Why is ZeptoLab focusing on asynchronous multiplayer games lately and not on real-time multiplayer or single player?

EY: We started making King of Thieves in 2013, and at that time the mobile market was not ready for real-time multiplayer.

I would say that real-time multiplayer on mobile took off when Clash Royale and games were released. At that point everyone realized that it was possible to make them and that people, devices and mobile connections were ready. Before that it was not the case.

Actually, I’m a big fan of asynchronous multiplayer, because it allows you to have a very small condensed experience. You don’t rely on matchmaking, you don’t have to wait for other players, you can play at your own pace. With real-time multiplayer it’s heavily dependent on the other player’s motives, if he will drop during the game…so it’s much more restrictive. Asynchronous is more flexible.

Different types of games are suited to different types of multiplayer.

Eugene Yailenko from ZeptolabF: What advice would you give to someone who is taking their first steps in the industry?

EY: It depends on the situation and the people. For some people who have just graduated, you can say: go work in a company that is already making games and get some experience, and then start making something on your own. 

Other people might prefer a different approach: finish university and then start doing something for yourself, form your own team… I would advise them to find what they’re good at, what they’re passionate about, and also what other people want to play. If you find the intersection between these three things, you have a really good chance to make something great. It’s really hard to do; but if you don’t have all three things, you can substitute one direction with other people who will help you.

And if you find the right people, just hold on to them. Great people are really rare.

Many thanks to Eugene Yailenko for coming to Vitoria-Gasteiz to answer our questions and advise the F2P Campus teams.

Until next time!