It is often said that nothing is truly finished and it's a saying the games industry has taken to heart in recent times.
Long gone are the days of developing and publishing a game without the need to tweak, adjust and patch it after launch, with new titles requiring constant operation and updates to keep them at the forefront of consumer thought.
Here at PocketGamer.biz we want to take the opportunity to highlight games that have bucked the trend and found an audience that has kept them thriving long after launch.
In this entry of our Live and Kicking series, we spoke to SEGA Hardlight studio director Neall Jones ahead of the seven-year anniversary of Sonic Dash, while also tying in quite nicely with the big screen adaption of the Blue Blur.
PocketGamer.biz: With Sonic Dash now more than 7 years old, how do you reflect on its performance - from launch to the mature title it is now?
Neall Jones: We’ve all been surprised at the longevity and success of the title. The game was originally conceived as a paid app on iPhone only, with no plans for long term support and here we are nearly seven years later.
It’s fair to say that at the moment, the interest in the Sonic movie is driving more players into the game - especially with the exclusive content.Neall Jones
I think one of the biggest challenges for the team over that period of time has been to keep it relevant, and they’ve done a fantastic job in that area. It’s fair to say that at the moment, the interest in the Sonic movie is driving more players into the game - especially with the exclusive content. We’re really happy that we can support the wider Sonic brand and will look to continue to do so.
How big is the team currently handling live ops on SEGA?
Internally at Hardlight, we have a team of around half a dozen who work on the live operations side which is integrated closely with the development team for Sonic Dash. The wider SEGA business then has further live operation’s team members predominantly on the comms and customer service side.
How important do you consider customer support and updates to be? What has been your approach to this?
Incredibly important. Updates with new content and features keep the game fresh for players and interesting to the platform holders. Good customer support is essential and us reacting to issues that players encounter shows that we’re listening and paying attention to the game.
What steps have you taken to ensure that Sonic Dash maintains a sizeable and active player base all this time after its launch?
I touched on that above with the new content that includes characters from the Sonic universe and occasionally some crossovers from other IP, and new features such as the Zone Builder have meant that the game stays relevant.
This is important for the platform holders to demonstrate that you are regularly updating your app and contributes to getting numerous feature spots that mean we’re being seen by lots of new players consistently, and a sizable portion like the look of the game and install it.
To what do you attribute Sonic Dash consistently impressive grossing performance, and how do you sustain it?
You can hand the game over to pretty much anyone and they instinctively know what to do.Neall Jones
Using a famous IP really helps and through the years we have been able to see how Sonic has been a perfect driver for organic downloads. Obviously, this has a very positive effect on all KPIs down the line!
What would you consider Sonic Dash’s biggest achievement in its seven-year lifespan?
I think retaining the fun and simple gameplay that the original release had. You can hand the game over to pretty much anyone and they instinctively know what to do.
There have been times when we’ve had suggestions to change that core and evolve the game into something else, we’ve resisted those and built around that experience rather than stomping all over it. I believe that has been to the benefit of the game over that time.
Has there ever been any consideration to create a Sonic game based off the upcoming movie?
With Sonic Dash and Sonic Forces already out there, along with a number of other Sonic mobile titles, we felt that the best way to support the movie release was to promote it in the existing games. The combined DAU for the two games and the number of new daily installs is a compelling way to get millions of players interested in seeing the movie.
Any KPIs such as downloads, DAU or retention you’re willing to share?
Not going to give specifics, let’s just say that more than 350 million players have downloaded Sonic Dash already (262.7 million installs since January 1st, 2014 and $10.1 million from user spending via Sensor Tower), with millions continue to do so every month. Our retention numbers are what you’d expect within the infinite runner category too.
What lessons have you learned/are you still learning from Sonic Dash? Is there anything about the game that, in hindsight, you'd now handle differently?
We’re constantly learning about our players and how to improve their experience in-game. Some of the other games developed by Hardlight have had server backends that have made running live operations a lot easier. We’re finally getting around to taking some of those systems across to Dash, which we definitely should have focused on earlier.
Finally, how has your experience with Sonic Dash informed where you are/what you're working on now?
Well, out of Sonic Dash, came three other titles: Crazy Taxi: City Rush, Sonic Boom and Sonic Forces. The game helped to form a great base for creating those other titles and expanding on ideas that we had for Dash, but never came to fruition.
We’re committed to supporting Dash for years ahead and players will be seeing lots of new content and features over that time.
We previously spoke to Sega Hardlight’s James Back on how to get a job as a director of product as part of our Jobs in Games series.