Here's what we learnt about service-based projects at PC Connects London 2019's The Long Game track

Here's what we learnt about service-based projects at PC Connects London 2019's The Long Game track

Closing the first day of PC Connects London 2019 was The Long Game, a series of talks that discussed how to run a service-based project.

We had insight from the company behind one of the world's most popular games-as-a-service World of Tanks, Wargaming, with chief strategy officer Sean Lee sharing his thoughts on the subject. Joe Brammer, CEO of Bulkhead Interactive, was also on stag discussing how the indie studio built World War Two shooter Battalion 1944 and what lessons it learnt from handling its community.

And our panel discussion looked at how companies handle the different audiences on PC and mobile when operating a cross-platform game.

As with all our Day One tracks, The Long Game was sponsored by our Gold Partner Jagex. Xsolla was also a Gold Partner, with audio specialist Dolby Digital being a Silver Partner.

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  • 1 How to run a service-based game

    How to run a service-based game  logo

    If you're going to do a series of talks discussing the games-as-a-service business model on PC, there is really no better company to talk to than Wargaming.

    The World of Tanks firm has successfully been operating that free-to-play title since 2011, going on to launch two other pillar brands in World of Warships and World of Warplanes. Speaking on-stage with editor Alex Calvin, chief corporate development officer Sean Lee said that it's important to not let the business concerns run the project.

    "The difficulty comes when you let the business run the game, a lot of the live-ops and development decisions that you'd make as a studio become challenging," he said.

    "You're starting to try and figure ROI and every little advance and that doesn't allow for a very fun experience for the players. In a way, not to say you want me to want to be a business organisation, but really focusing on what's going to make the players happy and have them come back. The point is that they have to keep coming back to the game. Focusing on that is really important."

    This is arguably where many traditional triple-A publishers have run into trouble in the past, charging too much for content and appearing to be simply wanting to make money. Lee says he still sees this happening today, but the Wargaming would make similar mistakes if it was making games outside of its traditional comfort zone, too.

    "I'd say it's happening even now. If you look at the most successful triple-A publishers out there, they're really good at what they do, but what we do is very different," he said.

    "The way I sometimes describe it is it's almost like a religion; having that mentality around developing and operating free-to-play games is a religion. You have to have faith. As an organisation, you have to have belief and faith that you can do this, that it will work out. All the great teams doing triple-A games or traditional console retail games were very good at what they do and they have a fundamental belief in that. In a way, Wargaming would struggle if we were suddenly tasked with making a triple-A premium boxed game to go on console and PC, we'd struggle with that because we don't have that fundamental conviction and belief."

    Asked what the most important learning from Wargaming's eight years of operating service-based games, Lee said that it was discovering how quickly and easily fans can disappear.

    "The biggest lesson we have learnt is that if you do a free-to-play game, players come much easier than they would in a premium game," he explained.

    "They're not paying $60. But the thing is they can go away as easily - usually, they go away faster if you mess up if you don't deliver what they want. Fans will forgive you to a certain degree. But after a certain point, when you've used up all of your forgiveness, they will go away and most of them will not come back. That's the most painful lesson we've learnt over the years; people, customers, players and fans that you thought were yours are never yours."

  • 2 Transparency is a good idea, but accountability is far more valuable for game developers

    Transparency is a good idea, but accountability is far more valuable for game developers logo

    When making military shooter Battalion 1944, Bulkhead Interactive boss Joe Brammer decided to be transparent about the project, showing the firm's audience what was going on.

    But at PC Connects London 2019, the developer says that while the studio was partly correct in thinking transparency was important, ultimately it made it hard for the company to build the game it wanted to.

    "A big thing we were doing was being open," Brammer explained.

    "We used to loads of fun things and just be super open with everything and what we were working on, how the game was going. We thought that was the way to do things and the future of the industry.

    "The problem is that if you don't quite deliver on how great the game is going to be, there's no level of community management to fix that. We did these videos and all this community stuff where we were asking for feedback. Feedback is great, it's absolutely important. We developers need feedback to make a game. The problem is that we asked for it so much that they wouldn't just stop and play the game. What we had was endless streams of feedback and the game was never good enough because we were setting our community up for the fact it is going to be better.

    He continued: "Our biggest mistake was the fact that we didn't say what it was, commit to that and risk losing a few sales because someone thinks it's a realistic shooter when it's not."

    Rather than transparency, it's accountability that is valuable to the games audience, Brammer said, explaining that he had a desire to explain problems with Battalion 1944's online infrastructure but ultimately the community just wanted an apology.

    "Accountability is really important to players. My job at the time was to keep everybody sane. We were working 16 hour days at one point - it was a very startup experience in ramping up the number of people we had - and I'd go in front of the media and say: 'I'm sorry this has happened, it won't happen again'," he said.

    "When we launched we had massive matchmaking issues and a few months later we had another big update and matchmaking broke again. But this time, I couldn't just take the bullet anymore and say I was sorry. It was actually a problem with Google, and I tweeted that out a lot. Instead of saying: 'Thank you for being transparent' like I stupidly thought the fans might, they were actually really frustrated that I was just shifting the blame. Ultimately, people just want you to be accountable for your problems. They don't want excuses, they just want an apology because then you get people calling for your resignation from your own company."

  • 3 Managing nostalgia is very tricky

    Managing nostalgia is very tricky logo

    Pitching a game project based on nostalgia is a really risky strategy, says the CEO of Bulkhead Interactive, Joe Brammer.

    The developer said that the Kickstarter for their World War Two shooter Battalion 1944 - which raised £317,281 from 11,096 backers - was very much pitched as a new version of older shooters like Call of Duty 2. The issue is that everyone remembers those games differently, meaning that it fast becomes hard to please everyone.

    "We were basically saying: 'Back our Kickstarter, we used to play games like Enemy Territory and Call of Duty 2, we're just like you, we grew up on these games, we love them and they're amazing'," Brammer said.

    "That was all true and we used phrases in the Kickstarter like: 'Handcrafted by the kids who grew up playing the game'. People really liked that and I felt they were true statements. The problem was everybody remembers those games totally differently. Right from the start, it was never going to end super positively for us. Someone was always going to be mad for not doing it the way they remember it. That really started to hurt us."

  • 4 How to manage PC and mobile communities for the same game

    How to manage PC and mobile communities for the same game  logo

    How to keep users on PC and mobile happy

    As mobile hardware gets more powerful, it becomes more likely that PC titles could also be on these portable devices. In fact, this is already true for many games. But managing these two fan bases presents a number of different challenges - one of which is the different styles of monetising games on mobile versus PC. For example, projects on the former platform tend to be free-to-play, so charging an upfront fee might be an issue.

    "The problem is what the consumers' expectations are," Handy Games CEO Christopher Kassulke (pictured, second from right) said.

    "We are developing games not only on PC but also on mobile and partly it's exactly the same game. The funny thing is consumers on mobile always complain that the game isn't free and even if you tell them that you have exactly the same game for half the price of the PC version, they don't care. Yes, consumers are price sensitive at the end of the day and you need to take care of that when you're releasing a game. Normally what we are doing is releasing a game first on PC and console and as soon as it's going down in price with all the price promotions you do on Steam and console. As soon as we see it's coming down to $9.99 then we releasing the game on mobile."

    It's also important to be careful who you are getting feedback from and how you use this information.

    "You really need to listen to your community, that's for sure," Imperia Online marketing and biz dev manager Mario Vasilev (pictured, far right) said.

    "We keep mobile and PC separate because on mobile we are getting less feedback. If you are getting only feedback from PC and you're treating both sets of users the same way, mobile users might feel like they're not being listened to enough."

    The opposite is true for Jagex, who launched Old School RuneScape on mobile at the end of last year. For the Cambridge-based firm, this audience is far more likely to take part in the community polls that Jagex puts out to get feedback on proposed changes to the MMO.

    "With the mobile version, the number of people taking part in the polls has risen by 70 per cent," director of social and player engagement Pete McKay (pictured, second from left) explained.

    "More people than ever are having a say. We built in functionality so that the community can interact directly so they can start implementing change themselves."

    He continued: "Since we've launched we've had over five million installs on mobile, but in order for you to be able to participate in the polls, you need to be playing at a certain level and you need to be a paying member. You can't come in as a Day One free-to-play player and affect the poll. We have set it up in such a way so that you actually have to have an investment in the game."

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.