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How Netspeak fostered a friendly community for mobile MMO Sunshine Days

The studio aimed for a diverse staff and to challenge themselves to build a welcoming player community, co-founder Callum and chief of staff Kyra told us how
How Netspeak fostered a friendly community for mobile MMO Sunshine Days

When it comes to community in games, all too often it means a dysfunctional or sometimes actively hostile playerbase that developers have to navigate. This is true on mobile as much as any other platform. However one company, Netspeak, has made it their business to foster a game and community with a more positive and friendly atmosphere.

This is done in their mobile MMO title Sunshine Days, a title primarily inspired not by the communities of other mobile games, but in their desire to be unlike them. Whereas some games pit players against each other, Sunshine Days instead lets players do so alongside one another, a concept that one of Netspeak's founders, Callum Cooper-Brighting says was inspired by his own children and the concept of "parallel play."

We got the chance to sit down with Callum and chief of staff Kyra Chan to chat about the inspiration behind Netspeak, what brought them to mobile, and why a diverse staff at the development studio is so vital.


Callum firstly gave us a brief overview of Netspeak, a studio founded in 2019 which works fully remotely. He noted that the inspiration for their work at Netspeak and the title that would eventually become Sunshine Days came from the experience he and the other founders had at another mobile development studio, Improbable Games. This experience led to them founding Netspeak, and from the get-go it was an enterprise driven by wanting to work with players and their potential audience in the design process.

The first hire was a researcher, and the second was a data analyst, the ambition was to take their ideas of a positive, community-driven game and discover the audience searching for that. "I didn’t want to have an idea in our heads, this one thing that we wanted to make, I didn’t want to tie our egos to it, tie us to it, I wanted it to be something for the players by the players," Callum said.

Quickly, Netspeak narrowed down their target audience of women aged 18-35, and with a throughline of one of the common anxieties shared by people in that age bracket was "I will never own my own house." This was where the idea of Sunshine Days, and the positive, neighbourly experience it would inspire, was formulated.

However, Callum and the other co-founders were well aware that, as homogenous as they were, they might not have the diverse perspective needed to create a game that would authentically inspire not just their target audience, but people of all backgrounds. That's where Netspeak's next big aspect, their strong gender diversity, comes into play.

As Kyra Chan noted, “We’ve always been aligned on what we want as a studio, we want the demographic of our studio to reflect the demographic of our audience. Having a diverse range of opinions and people from a diverse range of backgrounds makes for a better product because you come at it from more than one angle.”

The diversity of backgrounds leant itself to a unique way of pitching ideas, without having developers directly challenging each other, and instead sharing their ideas until these eventually congealed into one agreed upon direction.

We want the demographic of our studio to reflect the demographic of our audience.

But why mobile? Well as Callum explains it, “The reason we went on mobile is AAA gaming is within reach for a small team. That hasn’t been true since...forever. That’s only become true as of 2018-2019. The accessibility was the primary focus, we wanted to be where our users are, they all have mobiles. We wanted to build something that was for everyone, with a low barrier of entry.”

Of course, the decision to go with an MMO was not without its issues, but the studio was determined to tackle the biggest challenges first. "Netspeak does all the hardest stuff first – looking back over the last four years, the hardest thing has been figuring out how to onboard people who have never played an MMO before into what is basically an MMO," Callum said.

Kyra meanwhile added, "There’s a reason why they won’t have played MMO’s and that’s the cost of entry, the perceived safety of the game – so how we’ve gone about it is to set up a world that feels safe to start with, rather than make a game and then thinking about how to keep our players safe." Which is where one of the key aspects of fostering community entered Netspeak's plans. In order to make their game as welcoming as possible and maintain that cosy, interactive atmosphere, it became necessary to anticipate and understand player interactions.

Managing player interaction is much more difficult than one might expect. As Callum put it, it depends on multiple factors including how players are taught to interact with one another. "One thing we’ve learnt is the first interaction between other players is so important: One of the tutorials we killed was when we dropped players into a shared space, in the space there were trees for chopping, berries for gathering, most players didn’t like it because they felt as if the other players were stealing their trees or berries. We changed it to be the first interaction with another player was to give them a gift in their mailbox."

This simple change is emblematic of just how subtle changes can be, and the massive effects they can have. As noted by Callum, the change was also driven by community feedback, “The reason we changed it wasn’t data-driven retention, it was about the community – it didn’t feel ‘right’.”

The change to gift-giving, rather than pitting players against one another - albeit indirectly and unintentionally - helped establish the idea of cooperation and neighbourliness. "There’s an extrinsic goal which is to give 10 gifts, from a mobile point of view that’s very important for habit forming."

Whatever your opinion on Netspeak's methods, it's undeniable that it's worked out for them. Most recently the company celebrated their four-year anniversary with more than 1.5m downloads. And while it may pale in comparison to more grandiose, action-oriented titles, for a more niche game that focuses on cosy living and personalisation of a living space, it's a vindication of their working methods and design philosophy.

The studio also found themselves running into unusual, and unexpected examples of community-connection. In this case, Frog Wednesdays. In a bizarre case of happenstance, the team's decision to randomly switch the meshes of certain objects, such as balloons, into frogs inspired huge community engagement. Much of it being conspiratorial about why these frogs were appearing, but it nonetheless represented a major insight into how they could inspire community interaction.

 So what's the key to Sunshine Days' success? Well, simply that it does something better than other titles, it offers an escape and builds a community, at least according to the developer. With their ambition to create "lean back" content, it seems that Netspeak has succeeded in building a robust, and in some ways, unusually welcoming community on mobile.