Building a 'Minimum Awesome Product' in less than six months

Building a 'Minimum Awesome Product' in less than six months
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

January 7th 2016 at 1:53PM

Futureplay CEO Jami Laes discusses the studio’s fast-paced development cycle and how it avoids feature creep-related delays

Few mobile games today are finished when they launch. Not in a bug-ridden, Early Access kind of way, mark you. Instead, a relentless tide of updates and content expansions means that a title downloaded on day one is rarely the same if download months or even just weeks later.

Finnish studio FuturePlay has embraced this reality, and shunned the notion of pushing its games’ releases further and further back in order to achieve launch day perfection. Instead, it focused on the most fundamental elements of its debut title Farm Away, launching the game less than six months after development began.

The title – a farm management game that breaks up the tedium of waiting for timers by constantly given players crop to collect – has already attracted and monetised a strong community of users. It has already garnered more than 2,200 reviews on the App Store, 92 per cent of which are positive, and the team is already hard at work on adding more to the game.

CEO Jami Laes, formerly of Angry Birds studio Rovio, attributes this quick development time to a unique and highly focused method of creating games.

“We had a very clear and tight focus and we didn't allow any feature creep to ruin our intended schedule,” he tells Develop. We wanted to get out early and build what we call a Minimum Awesome Product.

“Farm Away didn't have the gacha collection and unlocking mechanic at launch or many of the social features and other things that we are thinking of adding next year. We didn't make any hard compromises during development that weren't already planned from the start. We launched with the feature set we intended to."

Laes adds that the team were ahead of schedule for most of the project but third-party bugs pushed the game’s development-to-submission time to a still rather speedy five months. Having achieved such a rapid turnaround, the Futureplay team are now determined to continue making games to this timescale.

We didn't make any hard compromises during development that weren't already planned from the start. We launched with the feature set we intended to.

“For our next projects we are intending to keep to an under six months development cycle, even when we will be launching with more features and content at initial launch than Farm Away had,” says Laes. “For our next game we don't need to start everything from scratch and we can fast follow ourselves.”

So how can studios build their own games in such a speedy way? What’s the secret to launching a game less than six months after you have begun working on it?

“Before you even start, you have to agree on a genre, mechanic or type of game you know how to make and that fits with the team and your product thinking,” advises Laes.

“Then, make sure you know really well what game you are aiming to develop before you start. You can't achieve short dev cycles if you have a vague concept and if you are trying to find out during development what game to develop. Make sure the tight focus and launch scope is understood by the whole team and everybody is a 100 per cent committed to it. 

“Finally make sure you know early on what your Minimum Awesome Product scope is, and what you have planned post launch and stay focused on that. Plan well, with buffer and vacations and so on. No matter how short your dev cycle, it is still game development and you need to take those things into account.”

Monetisation is also important to consider from the beginning. And while it might be tempting to copy the business models that generate millions for rival games, Laes advises that developers ignore their competition for the most part.

“Don't focus only on what works in other games or right now, but think what else could work in your game,” he says. “Build your game in a way that you have options on how to monetise more players, more from paying users, more from ad viewers and improve your performance with platforms and ad partners.”

Futureplay’s business model has been a hit with mobile gamers. While 75 per cent of Farm Away’s revenues are generated by ads, little to no consumers have complained thanks to the use of incentivised rewards, and Laes reports that the money made by in-app purchases is growing.

“We are humbled, thankful and thrilled that the market, players, partners and platforms have taken our game to their hearts and shown us with their love that we are doing something right,” he says.

“We aim to keep it that way and we are going to do even cooler things going forward thanks to the support Farm Away has been given.”