The developer behind the increasingly popular 2D social game Pixel Worlds talks to Sean Cleaver about the important of social media in game communities
Tell us a little bit about Pixel World.
Pixel Worlds is s 2D, massively multiplayer sandbox, kind of monster box. We started doing it a while back in the summer of 2015 and then soft launched in last November, and then released on mobile, iOS and Android, this January, mid January. So, we've been out a bit over four months now, and now we’ve released the PC version and Mac version on Steam.
Tell us a little bit about the cross platform capability of the game.
Like so many other developers these days we use Unity. So its relatively easy to port the game to other platforms as well, especially if you take that cross platform requirement into consideration when you start doing the project in the first place, and it's not that hard actually. It's one more platform to apply updates and to have on the loop, but updating games is easier now than it was a few years back. The App Store was notorious for the two or three week review times that they had, but now it can be less than 24 hours. Of course Google and Steam update really right away. It is relatively easy nowadays to do cross platform games, even when the game is massively multiplayer.
One kid from Germany printed up 1000 Pixel World flyers and handed them out around his hometown because he loved the game so much
Kim Soares, Kukouri Mobile Entertainment
What part does social media play in Pixel World?
From the start, we decided that social media is an important part of a game like this, especially as the demographic is primarily pre-teens and teenagers and young adults. I know from my kids, who are teenagers, that they don't read anything on printed paper. They don't read anything online either.
What they do is that they watch videos, they watch YouTube, they watch Twitch streams, all of that, and they hang out on Instagram, KIK, Twitter.
We decided that we wanted to integrate those as part of the whole experience and that makes the experience more meaningful for the players, but it also works as a marketing because it spreads out on social media.
I suppose starting on mobile helped Pixel Worlds as well, given that it's on the one platform where all of these social media platforms are as well, like an iPhone or an Android device.
Yeah, and YouTube is maybe our most important social media platform, but Instagram is a good second. You can't really use Instagram in any meaningful fashion on PC, so everybody is using that on mobile devices to start with. At some point, our Instagram page was growing 20 per cent week over week, and I think in general it's like a 6-8 per cent growth factor.
With organic growth, when you've got social media and people are promoting your game via those platforms, does that work with video games in general?
The thing, of course, with Pixel Worlds as it is a social game in its heart and its core, is that the players tell others to join in the game with them. We know people will have talked about the game to their whole class in upper elementary school and then the whole class started playing, stuff like that. One kid from Germany printed up 1000 Pixel World flyers and handed them out around his hometown because he loved the game so much. You can't have that if the game isn't inherently social to start with. People want to play with other people.
But for games in general, it depends on the game, but if it's like tacked on, like you just have high scores you can post or something like that, then it's not really deep and meaningful enough. The more social interactions you have in the game, the more you have stuff that players can probably show the others and the more it helps to be in the social media channels.
One of the things that you pointed to there is the game has to be inherently social to get that kind of reaction from people. How do you balance creating that kind of social interaction and how much interactivity do you promote in-game?
In our game, of course, there's chat and everything like that, but a good example might be that we don't want to make things too easy for the players inside the game if that would take away from the social aspect. The players themselves run the in-game economy and they build worlds that are for trading, like a marketplace. You shout out, ‘I want to buy a green hat!’, then maybe you will find a seller. Or maybe you want to sell some items yourself, again, you go to some world and tell everybody that, ‘I'm selling these blocks.’
We have been thinking about automating that, as an auction house like in World of Warcraft. That's going to take away from the social aspect, because then people wouldn't have to interact with other players, they could just manage their excel sheet. Even though it may be a bit more work heavy for players to do some things, there’s more social interaction for them, and we want to keep that in there. In real life, if you go to the marketplace, or you just buy online from somewhere like Amazon, it's more social to go to the marketplace yourself.
Does this lend itself for your players to roleplay, if they take on a role, say, like a hat salesman?
No, we don't have any roleplaying elements there in the game itself. They don't role play themselves either. It's not like they're hanging out and they might dress up like. We had a samurai update recently, and now you can see hundreds of ninjas and geishas there. They like to dress up but they don't play a character or roleplay in that sense. It's more like hanging out with your friends and expressing yourself with the clothing.
You've said before that 25 per cent of the experience of your game comes from social media. Tell us a little bit what you mean by that.
That is a number out of my hat, but what it means is that we view that social media is a very important part of the whole experience. Many of us developers interact daily with the users in game but also on Twitter, especially on Instagram. We have the weekly YouTube videos in the official channel and we do streams. Also the players themselves are making hundreds and hundreds of videos, thousands of Instagram posts, so there's like this whole butterfly. You experience the Pixel World and community even when you're not in the game.
If you're on Instagram or YouTube, there's always someone posting something. The forums are really active. The game is one part but you can continue that and chat with your friends outside the game in the social media channels. 25 per cent is just an example in that we think it's a big part of the whole experience.
Is there a point where that kind of community marketing, for lack of a better word, actually becomes greater than the sum of what it is?
It depends on the developer, how much he wants to listen to and communicate with the players. And, of course, you always have to take into consideration of does the developer know what are the resources and what is feasible to do as a feature or a mechanic in the game. But again, if you want to have an active social interaction and an active community, you have to listen to that community as well and give them ways to contribute to the game themselves. Right now, for example, we have a few competitions open there.
One is a design a block competition, so we have asked the community to design a 22x22 pixel block and we will decide which one is the best and our director will make that and we will include that in the game. with the results of our world planning event, first we get people that will make a 10x10 platform level. We got hundreds of those and we sent of the best ones and then people voted on the best one and those guys made a whole world of that.
We try to actively give the players ways to contribute to the game, and of course many of them contribute without even asking, adjusting different mechanics or features or whatever.
What's next for the game?
One thing that I think is ... well, maybe it's not only mobile games, but the mobile space, is so competitive right now. So when you make a game you see that, as a developer, it's doing okay or great, good, or whatever. But you see that it's doing okay at least. Then, let's say you need to concentrate on developing that game further years, and years, and years.
For example, Pixel World from the get go we planned again for it be active for at least five years, but maybe it will last ten years, I don't know. Previously I've had that on PC in games like World of Warcraft, but you see more and more that in mobile as well. People keep playing some games for years and years on end, like Beat or Clash of Clans. Then the game has to evolve during those years. It's really exciting because Pixel World has maybe 20 per cent of the content that it will have eventually, but that will be a journey of many years. We are really excited because we don't know what we are going to come up with during those years.
So it's very open book and also very open to what the community says they would like as well?
Yeah, that is true, because, especially on games like this, you want to listen to the community and when it's feasible, to also implement some of the things they suggest. We are really eager ourselves as well. We have a mile long list that we could never do completely, and we get more ideas and the community gets more ideas every day. Then we try to pick the best and most feasible ones to implement. I think that's not just for a game like this one, a social game, but even for single player games. You see more and more games in the very competitive mobile market that are staying there and being developed further and further.
Giving updates, like at least three times a year, or like us, every four weeks or so. I guess that's different than what it was for most games even five years. Usually, you'd do the game, you'd download it and then they play and they're done with it. But even with single player games, like endless runners or whatever on mobile, it's more and more that people keep playing that for years.
Of course, again, it depends a lot on the game and maybe single player games are not that good in that respect. But especially games with any kind of social layer, people create those communities and they play the games and, at some point, some of the games one of the most important things is that you aren't even playing the game that much but you are meeting your friends in the game.
It ends up being a place of social interaction rather than just having social elements and becomes a place where people will go?
Yeah, and I know from Pixel World, for example, that some kids aren't using Whatsapp anymore, they are coming to the game to chat with their friends because everyone is in the game anyway, so they come to the game to chat. Maybe they use Whatsapp to say, "Okay, I'm loading on the Pixel World," and then they meet in the game and play the game at the same time.