GDC 2012: Pocket Gems' Ben Liu on launching games fast and iterating even faster for App Store success

#gdc New content weekly, new features every 2 weeks

GDC 2012: Pocket Gems' Ben Liu on launching games fast and iterating even faster for App Store success
The best performing free-to-play mobile developer in 2011 was Pocket Gems.

It had the #1 and #4 top grossing iPhone apps of 2011 in the US with Tap Zoo and Tap Pet Hotel.

Kicking off the second day of the Smartphone & Tablet Gaming Summit at GDC, Ben Liu, Pocket Gems' COO spoke about how the majority of its development is done post-launch.

Entitled 'Hit Reset: Release is day one of the development cycle', he said the company's focus is, "How can we make a game feel as fresh and new as the day it was launched?"

Fast, faster

Liu said its basic development cycle is to release earlier and then iterate quickly.

"As soon as we feel we have the kernel of the gameplay, we want to release it and see what the reaction is," he said.

"In terms of Tap Zoo, we've created a new game out of what was very pure zoo gameplay."

Once a game is live, Pocket Gems tries to release one new feature every two weeks and new content every week.

"New staff are surprised how fast we operate," Liu said.

Tools for the job

Technology-wise, Pocket Gems uses an in-house engine for all its games, hence it's been iterated over 14 projects.

"Server-wise, we can make changes on the fly to all game art and data, plus we have our own world-beating analytics tools. These are the foundation of our company."

In the case of Tap Zoo, additions over time include the ability to cross-breed animals, collect different animal types, have multiple zoos plus a mission structure so players can make their own way through the game.

With Tap Pet Hotel, Liu focused on the feature of party rooms for multiple pets.

When it was launched, close to 100 percent of users tried the feature, but repeat engagement (1 day and 7 day retention metrics) wasn't so good and monetisation wasn't great either.

Hence, the team iterated the feature, especially in terms of the gifting method, which resulted in a two-fold increase in retention, although the update process took over a month, something Liu said was too long.
Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.