PocketGamer.biz has partnered up with US developer Pixelberry Studios to highlight its candid stories on the trials and triumphs of a startup game studio whose debut title High School Story stayed in the top grossing top 100 chart for a year.
This series of articles will provide a mix of drama, detailed learnings, and actual numbers from their experience launching and supporting a top game.
Since the conception of High School Story, robust support of the game was always the plan.
Even before the game was live in the App Store, we already had plans for our future updates - and if you've been following along with this series of articles, you'll know that we were already working on what was next for High School Story.
We hoped the game would be successful enough that we could keep the game going for several months of updates.
What we didn't know then was that two years later, we'd still be working on High School Story!
30 updates and counting…
We released our first update to the game about a month after launch, and since then, we've continued to release regular updates at a pace of at least one per month.
In August 2015, when High School Story officially reaches the two-year mark, we will have released 30 updates.
In August 2015, when High School Story officially reaches the two-year mark, we will have released 30 updates to the app.
Not just 'bug fixes'
These updates usually contain a variety of new features for players.
Each update includes one or more new Classmate types. Every type can be unlocked without paying, though some types are more rare than others.
Nearly all of our updates include a seasonal treatment where the game world gets a makeover to reflect the real world and include holiday decorations - such as leaves changing color in the autumn, snow in the winter, and red and pink hearts everywhere for Valentine's Day.
Most updates now also contain a new set of outfits available in our store, as well as new hairstyles.
In addition, many updates include major new types of gameplay. Past articles have gone into detail about how we gave players a voice in our game, or how we're encouraging teens to learn SAT vocabulary with our Education feature.
But as we're closing in on two full years of robust support, the challenges that we faced in the early days are much different from the issues we're dealing with now.
The reality of 30 updates
Space is now a major factor to contend with. While we continue adding to the game, decorations and buildings are squeezed tight on space, so any new additions are carefully scrutinized and pared down to the minimum size possible.
For example, in the early days of High School Story's updates, we would introduce lavish new decorations and buildings.
In an upcoming release, we'll introduce the Fantasy Photobooth - which unlocks a new feature. In the past, we've used the Isle of Love to introduce dating and Party Central to allow players to throw parties and recruit new Classmates.
Both of those buildings are sized at four tiles by four tiles. By contrast, the Fantasy Photobooth was designed to fit on a single tile.
One of the major gameplay mechanics of High School Story is the ability to throw a Party with two characters and recruit a third, hybrid type that is a combination of both types.
When we launched High School Story, the combinations were obvious: a jock and a prep would create a cheerleader; a nerd crossed with a jock creates a gamer.
Now, with over fifty unique types in High School Story, the combinations are getting more exotic and complex, along with the base components.
For example, if you combined a nerd with a musician, you might get a DJ. Or if you party advanced types, you can even unlock crazy combinations, like a surfer, the school mascot, or even a werewolf.
The complications of a narrative-driven game
With High School Story in particular, there was also another factor to consider: the story.
Because the narrative world is so tightly integrated into the gameplay, and also because the narrative is central to what makes High School Story special, we always need to take into account how new features and updates will interact with the narrative.
We still update High School Story at an aggressive pace of at least one release per month.
For example, when we released the Education feature, we knew we needed a robust narrative to not only make the feature feel like a natural part of High School Story, but also to make it compelling to those who wouldn't have any interest in studying for the SATs.
But how would we integrate this into the already complex narrative of High School Story?
The easiest solution would be to put it at the end of the already existing content, however that would require players to spend months playing the game before they encountered this new feature.
It had to unlock earlier, but that meant that players would be encountering this feature at different points in the narrative, depending on where they were at in the game.
For players who had been with us for over a year, they would be in the later portion of the game's story. New players would encounter it very early on. As a result, our writers' hands were somewhat tied with what narrative developments and even what characters they were at liberty to use.
In this particular case, the solution came in the form of creating a new character and centering the story on her. That way, we were able to craft a compelling and unique journey that didn't contradict the main quests and storyline of High School Story.
Rather, Kallie's story could run in parallel to the events of the core storyline.
Why keep updating?
For all of that, it might seem like the smartest move at this point would be abandoning support of High School Story and moving on to another game.
And yet we still update High School Story at an aggressive pace of at least one release per month with new Classmates, quests, and outfits. And we also frequently have updated with new features, with more new features to come.
What we've seen is that our proven track record for supporting the game builds trust with our players. They know that we plan to keep the game going… and going.
And whenever we do release an update, it's easy to see from how the game jumps in the Top Grossing charts that players not only appreciate the new content coming in, but they're willing to pay to support it.
Kara Loo is the COO of Pixelberry Studios.
Through partnerships with non-profits, Pixelberry's hit game High School Story has taught millions of players about tough teen issues, like cyberbullying and eating disorders.
Pixelberry recently released its second game, Hollywood U.
You can find out more at pixelberrystudios.com