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May 30, 2014

DEVELOPER SPEAK: Vladislav Spevak using new Windows Phone 8.1 features to expand audience for his game, Darklands

Less than six months ago, Vladislav Spevak, the CEO of Prague-based Mingle Games, published his game, Dark Lands, to the Windows Phone platform. Dark Lands, funded by AppCampus, has been hugely successful in a rather short time, accruing 1.7 million downloads. Spevak’s first Dark Lands release was feature-light, and now, he plans to use Windows Phone 8.1’s newest features to release a feature-rich update and reach Windows customers as well. He also plans to take advantage of the convergence built into the platform to engage consumers across devices through a consistent experience.  In this interview, Spevak shares his plans to achieve even greater success with Windows Phone 8.1.  

What excites you the most about the Windows Phone 8.1 release?


Darklands Screenshot

When I launched Dark Lands on Windows Phone last November, I expected that I would accrue 100,000 downloads over a couple of months. In fewer than six months, 1.7 millions users downloaded the game and rated it an average of 4.64/5; and 45% of users come back to play again and again. So, in terms of reach, the platform has already exceeded my expectations. Now, I can port my game to the converged platform without writing any new code, and I get to expand my game’s reach to 1.3 billion Windows users. That’s exciting—thinking about how many users will be able to play Dark Lands and my other forthcoming games.

The best part of these numbers is that they reflect the use of our feature-light version. If our feature-light version is this successful, how much more successful can a full release be? ‘Less is more’ is basically our mantra: we get an exciting idea, build a prototype, test it, and launch a basic game in a few months without investing a lot of time in features. This strategy has been successful for us because we don’t invest a lot of time in a game that users don’t love. Now, we’re developing (and soon releasing) more features for Dark Lands because we already know it will succeed. I am excited that Windows Phone 8.1 aligns with our strategy: in the future, we can use 8.1’s rich development features to enhance our core feature-light releases and to make our existing games more engaging.


Darklands Screenshot

The changes to the notification center are exciting, too. In the digital world, everyone is screaming for users’ attention. As a game developer, I will be able to use universal C++ code to customize my notifications to engage users across devices—phone, tablet, and PC. And I don’t have to worry about becoming intrusive because users can access the action center to control which notifications they want to receive and on which devices, creating a consistent experience with which they will feel comfortable.

Creating a consistent experience across devices is a huge concern, especially with regard to Android, because they have so many different kinds of devices: it’s painful to support them all. In contrast, with Windows and all the new capabilities of 8.1, it is far easier to develop and scale across devices.

How do you plan to use the features of Windows Phone 8.1 to make your game even more successful?

“Windows 8.1’s new Live Tile templates offer a lot creatively and technically that will help us retain even more users.”

The feature I’m excited to try first is the Live Tile. User retention is incredibly important to us, so we’ll leverage live tiles to visually inform users that their “character has improved” or has obtained new “equipment”. A picture really is worth a thousand words, and by placing a game visual on a Live Tile, we can connect with players personally. Windows 8.1’s new Live Tile templates offer a lot creatively and technically that will help us retain even more users.


Darklands Screenshots

We are also planning to release a multi-player version of Dark Lands, in which we will use background triggers to notify users about when other players want to play with them. And with the geofencing capability, we’ll connect users in the same geographic area who are interested in getting together and having a Dark Lands game competition. I’m not ready to discuss the details of our forthcoming games, but we’ll use background execution and triggers to allow users more opportunities to interact.

Finally, I am happy that 8.1 has improved Facebook integration. Facebook is a vital place to reach users, and it’s important that our game be seamlessly accessible within that interface.

Do you have any advice for developers?

“[Windows Phone 8.1] is an investment you won’t regret.”

Developers need to think first about their audience. If you aren’t thinking about your users, you are shooting in the dark. Then make great games so that everyone falls in love with them. And don’t copy. Why should a user choose to play your game if there are a thousand others just like it? If you’ve considered all that, hop on because Windows Phone 8.1 is a great space for developers and for our audiences. It is an investment you won’t regret.


Darklands Screenshot