Interview: How Outfit7 started a virtual pet revolution with its new game

"What's been wonderful is that the final product is actually very similar to our first concepts"

Interview: How Outfit7 started a virtual pet revolution with its new game

My Talking Tom Friends is the latest and highly anticipated mobile game from Outfit7 and is now available for download on Google Play and the App Store. This immersive mobile game is the most advanced game of its kind to date, and generated over 13,000,000 pre-registrations.

To find out more about the creative process behind My Talking Tom Friends, we spoke to Barbara Erman, senior game designer at Outfit7, who played an integral role in bringing the game to life.

What is your background in games and at Outfit7?

Ever since I was a kid, I’d look for the interesting games and play patterns around me and try to evolve and improve them, as well as invent a few of my own. I brought years of playing, analyzing, and creating game experiences with me to Outfit7.

My journey with the company started five years ago, when I took part in the very first edition of Outfit7’s Talent Camp. Back then, I’d just completed my Masters in Games at the IT University of Copenhagen and when I got to Outfit7, I immediately saw that it was the perfect fit for my ambitions.

Outfit7 was full of exciting tasks for a Game Designer and I jumped right in. Over the years, I’ve been part of the creation of games like Talking Tom Gold Run, My Talking Hank, My Talking Tom 2, and multiple other projects.

Why did you feel that now was the time to bring all the Talking Tom characters together in one game?

Having all the Talking Tom and Friends characters in one immersive game has been in the works quite some time. But it had to happen at the right moment. It’s been a process of gradual evolution, with flashes of insight and inspiration!

'We used this illustration for a concept test before the start of production. We printed a huge version of the environment, cut out the characters, and invited our target audience to play pretend. We asked them to describe their expectations for a game like this and they gave us plenty of valuable insights.'

We actually gained some really important insights from some of our recent game releases. For example, in My Talking Tom 2 we took a step forward with character interactions, the environment became much more dynamic, and players were able to move Talking Tom around the room. All of these features would later become vital in the development of a game with multiple characters like My Talking Tom Friends.

And then one day, Eran, our Art Director, showed me a concept drawing of our characters and it was incredible. Instantly, we both knew that we had to make that happen.

How long has My Talking Tom Friends been in development, and how many people are working on it?

The first gameplay and art concepts were made in the summer of 2018, with the official concept phase taking place later that year. The production phase lasted about a year and the team size tended to vary based on the needs of the project at the time.

At the peak of production, the core team consisted of about 50 people – and we collaborated with at least another 50 more on and off. But the whole company actually took part in the development as we frequently peer-checked and hosted company-wide play sessions.

What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome during the game's development?

My Talking Tom Friends includes familiar concepts from our other games, but they’ve been upgraded and given a new spin, which will excite existing players.
Barbara Erman

Development went really smoothly, as the core team had three key things going for it: we trusted each other and the strength of the game we were creating; we were aligned on the game’s vision and our tasks; and we weren’t afraid to try something crazy fun and new. Playfulness is so important!

Actually, speaking of game design tasks, one really stands out in terms of complexity. We had to invent a new system of generating and controlling the behavior of all six characters at once. We wanted to make it feel as lifelike as possible, with the characters moving around the environment on their own, having some level of autonomy, but still acknowledging the user and reacting to their input.

The game had to feel energetic, but not chaotic. Actionable, but not overwhelming. And there had to be that spark of distinct character personalities throughout, while making sure the app size didn’t skyrocket.

Creating that system was an ambitious task – we were experimenting, upgrading, and tweaking it throughout the production process. And we’re so proud of the final result. We evolved it into a strong and flexible system that gave the designers a lot of power to control the character behavior through utility curves, creating links between hundreds of different gameplay parameters.

But there are no rules or special equations for game systems like this. We had to use our knowledge, our creativity, and ultimately find what felt right. That's why it was so satisfying to me when the six little characters started to feel like they had minds of their own.

There are countless funny "coincidences" that can happen as a consequence of the different parameters, and they never fail to make me laugh! It’s worked out perfectly.

Who are you targeting with this game - existing Talking Tom and Friends fans or new players who may not know about the franchise’s games?

All of them! This game was created with multiple audiences in mind. We just want to share the fun! My Talking Tom Friends includes familiar concepts from our other games, but they’ve been upgraded and given a new spin, which will excite existing players.

'How it all started. The first sketch of the game. These are the sketches from the very first My Talking Tom Friends brainstorming session between the Game Designer and Art Director. They show the early pillars of the game's vision.'

And if My Talking Tom Friends is someone's first experience with our Talking Tom and Friends games, they will discover a magical new world of adorable characters that they can explore and make their own.

How has the Talking Tom and Friends animated series inspired this game?

Talking Becca – the newest friend – made her debut in Season 4 of the animated series. She’s a fantastic addition to the group and, as such, she’s moving into the new My Talking Tom Friends house. Just like in the series, when the friends are together, incredible things happen. Adventure is around every corner!

But while the series delivers a scripted storyline, My Talking Tom Friends gives the players the tools to create their own experiences and feel like they’re right there in the house with the characters themselves. There are also some short cinematic moments in the game to emphasize some big events… But no spoilers!

What are you adding to this game to differentiate it from previous My Talking Tom games?

Five other characters! But all joking aside, the game has evolved and expanded in a variety of ways.

First, it’s about the game environment itself. The whole house is one open, scrollable place, filled with interactive items – there are no separate rooms. The characters can freely be moved around by the players.

We’ve been happy with the game since the very beginning – we strongly believed in it when we pitched the high level idea in the concept phase.
Barbara Erman

The characters’ needs also have a new spin! Players don't have to keep an eye on every character’s need meter anymore – the characters will let you know what they need. For example, when a character desperately needs to use the toilet, they’ll express it through a thought bubble and some straightforward, fun animations.

But they have feelings and ideas of their own – sometimes they won’t want to play with a specific game. And they’ll let players know that as well! In those cases, it's up to the players themselves to decide if they want to follow through or not, but they might get a house full of moody characters if they don’t pay attention to how a character feels!

At what point in development did you feel you had a game that you were happy with?

What’s been wonderful is that the final product is actually very similar to our first concepts, both in terms of gameplay and art. We’ve been happy with the game since the very beginning – we strongly believed in it when we pitched the high level idea in the concept phase. And as we moved forward, that passion and optimism stuck around.

The big reality checks usually happen in the months leading up to the soft launch, when we conduct user tests. This is when the features get polished and the game, hopefully, shines in the way the team imagined all along. Happily, this was the case for My Talking Tom Friends.

Seeing how players interacted with the game and how much it aligned with what we wanted to achieve was a great confirmation that the game was going in the right direction.

What have you learned from the soft launch period, and how has this changed the game for the full release?

The soft launch period gave us a huge amount of data. We were able to identify a couple of small tweaks to make on a few existing features and reprioritized some that were planned for later. But we only needed to make minor gameplay changes, which was great.

The majority of work was done on the additional content that was already in the pipeline for the full release, like adding exciting mini-games, and streamlining the skill star process. Players will also spot a bunch of new animations and the game progress overall will feel even better.

The characters in 2020.

What do you think makes the Talking Tom series such a stand-out in the world of virtual pet games?

We put our heart and souls into every game we make. The whole team tunes into the same frequency, pushing for the best possible quality, thinking things through, and keeping clear goals in mind. This is how we approach everything we do, whether it’s about the overall game experience or a tiny feature. For us, attention to detail matters. And, of course, the funnier and more joyful we can make things, the better!