King has found massive success in the market with titles such as Candy Crush Saga and Farm Heroes Saga becoming go-to examples of state-of-the-art mobile gaming. Farm Heroes Saga's creative approach encourages developers to be themselves and bring their own personalities to the game leading to a market-leading, trend-setting diverse and inclusive experience for players.
We spoke with Sabrina Carmona, Head of Farm Heroes Saga at King, to discuss how developers can and should express their individuality through their games as King celebrates Pride month.
Pocketgamer.biz: Tell us about your work at King
Sabrina Carmona: I have over 15 years of experience in the video games industry, joining King in 2016 as a Midcore Producer in Stockholm. Following this, I moved to King’s London studio, where I worked as a New Games Producer and Live Games Senior Producer before my current role as Head of Farm Heroes Saga. Previously, I worked at Square Enix, as well as having my very own studio in São Paulo.
How did you first get into the world of games?
I was an athlete before starting my career in gaming, so I’ve always been very driven and disciplined, two qualities which actually align very well with gaming. However, my journey to becoming Head of Farm Heroes Saga was by no means clear cut. Technology wasn’t an industry I initially considered pursuing a career in, but it was something I was curious about.
Eventually, I realised I had the required knowledge and skills and grew passionate about making the gaming industry more diverse and representative. I felt that as a proud gay female Latina, I could bring a unique point of view and fresh approach.
What does being Head of Farm Heroes Saga entail day to day?
My primary responsibility is to grow the game and help make it as successful as possible. This includes focusing on player retention and engagement and attracting new players to discover the world of Farm Heroes Saga. It’s both a science and an art which requires a lot of creativity and a lot of decision making.
I think a key element to the game’s popularity is players' emotional connection to its characters.Sabrina Carmona
Farm Heroes Saga is a hugely popular game. What makes it unique?
Farm Heroes Saga is a game that’s incredibly well-loved by its audience. It has enjoyed huge success over the course of nine years.
I think a key element to the game’s popularity is players' emotional connection to its characters. The crops and animals have human-like features, which make players genuinely want to nurture them and be the farm’s hero. If there’s a strawberry with a smile - how could you not want to save it?!
The other secret to the Saga's success is its retro-chic aesthetic and quirky features. We have the freedom to be playful and bring our personalities into the development process, which helps keep the game fun and fresh.
What’s new right now in the world of Farm Heroes Saga?
Our product areas, including Events, Features, Gameplay, and Monetisation, consistently work on innovations to keep content fresh and engaging for our players. Recently, in addition to the Farm Heroes Saga tournament, which has generated a lot of excitement among our players, we’ve introduced a new feature called Farm Seasons, which allows players to engage in seasonal challenges to earn rewards. We’ve also been enhancing existing features, like the Fill The Basket challenge, which involves collecting certain cropsies in a basket for bonus points. There’s always something new going on!
How has the game changed and opened up more personalisation to users? What kind of thing can players now create and own in the game?
At Farm Heroes’ Saga, we are constantly innovating and building on the foundations of the game to keep it fresh and exciting for our players. We launched a team-based feature not so long ago, where players can create the team of their choice, inviting their own friends or joining new players to take part in team-based competitions or events, earn rewards and help each other out.
We’ve also added more content to our events for players to participate in. For example, they can compete in tournaments, play additional exclusive levels and take part in fun challenges such as 1,2,3 Grow! This is a time-limited feature where players need to collect items from levels to grow a cropsie and earn more rewards!
How do you embrace both creativity and diversity in Farm Heroes Saga?
There are many ways in which creativity flows into the game development process for Farm Heroes Saga, and I’m really passionate about championing diversity of thought and experience and regularly encourage my team to bring their personalities into the creative process. Each developer is able to put a bit of themselves into the game and in this sense Farm Heroes Saga often captures the passions of those who create it.
For example, our developers are able to customise new features or events and will often draw inspiration from things that are important to them. That might include adding a rainbow colour scheme as a nod to pride or changing the colour scheme of certain crops to celebrate their African heritage. It’s a subtle way of representing each other in the game while aligning to Farm Heroes Saga’s foundations.
This opportunity to personalise innovation is something I know the team really values and finds both rewarding and motivating.
What’s new in Farm Heroes Saga specifically for Pride?
PRIDE is very personal to me, and I’m proud to work for a company where we can celebrate and represent our LGBTQ+ colleagues, players and community.
While we can’t drastically change the game format of Farm Heroes Saga, there are ways we can mark events like this and celebrate them with our community. This year, for example, the game has once again turned rainbow coloured to celebrate Pride Season. We’re also marking the occasion with four special events where players can nurture Rainbow Superfruit to earn colourful rewards, soar high with Rainbow Rush to win fabulous prizes and float among the clouds with Choo Choo to unwrap gifts.
We take a similar approach to mark other significant moments that matter to our players throughout the year, from World Oceans Day to Father’s Day or Mother’s Day.
How do you ensure that the interests and needs of your entire community are catered for in the game?
Understanding what makes your audience tick is key to retaining and attracting players. This means you need to seek feedback and listen to your audience, even if this sometimes means adjusting our own vision.
For instance, when the team decided to refresh the artwork of Farm Heroes Saga to make it more modern and eye-catching we thought players would love the new look and feel. However, initial player testing indicated this wasn’t the case. So we went back to the drawing board and decided to focus on upgrading the core gameplay mechanisms rather than looking at ways to innovate and change its aesthetic entirely.
Is there a diverse team working on Farm Heroes Saga behind the scenes?
We’re proactively making strides to improve diversity and we’re making good headway toward reaching our goals. For instance, we aim to have 45% women and non-binary joiners by 2025.Sabrina Carmona
We have people from all different backgrounds working at King and on Farm Heroes Saga. One of our key values is ensuring everyone feels comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work. Diversity is hugely additive to the game development process, our player base is diverse and this should be reflected in the diversity of our people. Personally, I believe we are able to deliver our best work when we’re exposed to different thinking and experiences of our own.
We’re proactively making strides to improve diversity and we’re making good headway toward reaching our goals. For instance, we aim to have 45% women and non-binary joiners by 2025. We also support valuable student and industry programmes aimed at getting more girls and women to pursue STEM Careers and support partnerships such as the UKIE Games Industry Diversity Census and the #RaiseTheGame pledge to improve diversity in the games industry.
How does the team work together to develop the world of Farm Heroes Saga? Weekly meetings? Schedule of updates? Harvesting ideas from the community?
The development of Farm Heroes Saga is a collaborative and dynamic process. Our team holds regular meetings, including bi-weekly sprint planning sessions and monthly roadmap reviews, to ensure alignment and focus on delivering the best content to our players.
We are structured around five core areas, with each area focusing on different aspects of the game. These work in tandem to ensure a holistic approach to development.
Our UX designers and creative team employ outcome-based design, which ensures that the features and content we develop meet player needs and preferences. Additionally, we have several sessions with our players to gain insights and feedback directly from the community. We keep a close eye on player suggestions and feedback through our community forums and social media, ensuring that we are aligned with our player base and incorporating their input into the game's development.
Edited by Paige Cook