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TinyBytes Games on the challenges of self-publishing, its new game and Massive Warfare’s esports

Chile-based studio TinyBytes has seen success and continued growth with its game Massive Warfare
TinyBytes Games on the challenges of self-publishing, its new game and Massive Warfare’s esports
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Chile may not be known as a centre of mobile gaming, but it’s host to numerous individuals, studios and publishers with interesting insights into the game industry and their work in it. One of these is TinyBytes Games, developer of Massive Warfare and new game Last War: Shelter Heroes.

We spoke with the CEO Andres Constantinidis (AC) and CTO Andres Ayala (AA) who took us through the company’s approach to business, development and publishing in the mobile gaming space. We covered their work back in 2018, so let's find out how things have changed after intervening years where there's been big shifts in the mobile market. Please give us a brief overview of your company, and what you’ve been up to in the last year or so?

AC: Sure, at TinyBytes we aim to build the best social action games for mobile players around the world. Both co-founders, AA and myself have over 15 years experience each in game development, and come from companies like EA, Glu Mobile and Behaviour Interactive, where we launched over 50 games, many of them top grossing titles, from great brands like Need for Speed, Real Racing, Sims FreePlay, Mass Effect and Dead Space amongst others. Our focus this last year has been mostly on two fronts. Firstly, scaling Massive Warfare, the only real time PVP multi-vehicle (tanks, helicopters and hovercrafts covering land, air and sea) third person shooter mobile game. That means increasing our user acquisition spend and efficiency, whilst improving our engagement and monetization metrics with hundreds of AB Tests, new features and content. Secondly, we’ve been in an intense process of finding our next game and we are extremely glad to say we have found it. Last War is our new game launching globally today on the App Store and Google Play. The results we’ve seen so far are really amazing, with over 700,000 downloads on Android alone and 400,000 players pre-registered to download the game on Google Play.

Speaking of which, Massive Warfare was your last major title, which you were very positive about when we last spoke to you. Has the game lived up to your expectations?

AC: Absolutely. We recouped development costs during the Early Access period before the game even launched. The game has already exceeded 30 million downloads and it keeps growing. Nearly one third of those downloads came in the last 12 months alone. We have grown annual revenues by over 60% in 2021 and this year we are projecting over 90% year-on-year revenue growth. We are now celebrating the game’s 4th anniversary, and the fact we multiplied annual revenues by 14x since its launch year. At the same time we significantly reduced the recoup window in our user acquisition efforts and managed to deliver over 20% return on our advertising investment.

You also have a new game coming out called Last War: Shelter Heroes. Can you give us an overview of what it’s about and how you came to develop it?

AA: The ideation process started by studying the market closely and finding opportunities, but also keeping in mind what we could offer to that particular audience which nobody had done before based on our own strengths and abilities. We believe in incremental innovation, so rather than completely reinventing the wheel we focus on 2-3 aspects where we can make a big difference, and make it 10x better than the competition. Small teams made up of 2 people (a programmer and artist usually) present the plans and the vision for their concepts. We then continue by prototyping all these concepts and the team votes for their preferred ones based on multiple criteria points, including fun factor, long term retention and monetization potential. We developed and iterated 6 MVPs, rich in content and features for at least 15 days of gameplay, which we then tested in Open Beta / Early Access for initial retention and monetization metrics. Five of those games were released in a timespan of seven months only. We compared metrics across all these games in order to make an informed decision and focus on one of them only. Last War came out of that process as the winning one as it performed really well during Open Beta and stood out due to its early spender conversion and low acquisition cost, so the team collectively decided to move forward with this project. We moved it to the Soft Launch stage, added more resources and enlarged the team. All other games were put on hold or got ‘stored in the fridge’ as we say internally, as we might come back to one of them in the future. Last War is a strategy, base builder, resource management game with an idle combat mechanic where you discover an intriguing story mode and PvP interactions. You build your shelter bottom up with an intuitive portrait setup, building different rooms, levelling up your dwellers, customising your squad, looting resources, crafting gear, weapons and items. As with all our games, there’s plenty of social interactions in the game for players to make friends, collaborate in alliances, compete in leagues, arena tournaments, PVP, chat and more.

What kind of business considerations do you take on when you’re developing, especially being a smaller studio in an increasingly consolidated market?

AC: We’ve been highly profitable in the past years. This year, we have grown 2x our revenues whilst increasing our user acquisition spend 3x and still managed to make a profit. That’s actually quite hard to achieve these days. In this market, if you want to do your own self-publishing, own all the net revenues and make your own product development decisions you not only need the best game development team but also the best marketing and analytics team to ensure you will recoup your marketing investment and make a return. Not many small studios have all those skills inhouse (fortunately, we do!). On the other hand, many small studios focus too much on day 1 retention, they make kill-or-launch decisions based on this metric alone or get over confident if it's a great number, and completely ignore long term monetization indicators and user acquisition costs. We do our best efforts to measure all these KPIs holistically as fast as possible.

Chile is an interesting place that we don’t hear much about in the mobile scene. Do you think it’s a potential sleeper market, and what are the advantages or disadvantages of being based there?

AA: We planted the seed in Chile around 9 years ago. Many of our first employees had been students of mine, as I’ve been a game development teacher at the university. We quickly decided to build a remote first company, being truly pioneers in this space, way before everyone else started doing it during the pandemic. We now have close to 30 people working from 9 different countries around the world and are always looking for talent both inside and outside the region. Latam is a great hub for finding game development talent. Having said this, we have around one third of our staff based in Europe. There is a great cultural affinity with the western market over here, we grew up watching the same tv shows, movies and playing with the same toys. Operations in Latam are also very cost efficient. On the flipside, there are some disadvantages, for instance it’s hard to find VC funding for gaming companies in Chile and this region. The majority of studios in this region do work for hire or depend on external publishers for their titles. And so we feel we've created something uniquely valuable in building a strong team capable of launching original content, and making remote production work even before the pandemic.

Your games have strong military themes, a topic we see covered a lot in all manner of games. Do you have any artistic or business perspectives on the use of war in games?

AC: We don’t have one actually! War games are just a means of entertainment. Our purpose is to make players have fun, same as with any other type of games. We don’t promote real war or real weapons in any way at all. We are actually quite opposed to it. We have recently made a donation to the Ukraine Red Cross to help the victims of the war. On the artistic side, we give all themes the same level of passion and professionalism. We don’t dictate a specific topic; we actually let our players decide our game themes and styles. For example, we AB Tested Last War marketing assets with different themes including fantasy, western, zombies and more. The WW2 military theme was by far the winning one in terms of user acquisition KPIs. It was something that was clearly missing in this kind of simulation-management games and our market testing showed players were really hungry for it. We wouldn't like to be labelled as a ‘military games studio’ either; I would say we are committed to action games in its many shapes and forms. We love making action games, whether that’s RPGs, shooters, MMOs, fighting and so on. We also are in the mission of making the whole genre more accessible to a wider audience. That’s one of the reasons why Last War doesn’t require manual skill and it’s actually the only game in its subgenre that can be played in portrait mode with one thumb, swiping and tapping with one hand only, so players can play it on the go, whilst they are commuting.

You’re continuing development of Massive Warfare alongside your new game. What can we expect to see, and are you still committed to the esports angle we discussed back in 2018?

AA: That is correct! We are strongly committed with our loyal player base, in order to bring to them more improvements and additional content, always fostering the collaboration and competitive dynamics inside our games.

AC: We are still interested about eSports and what it could bring to the table but have learned a few more things about it since 2018 that made us rethink our approach to it. We feel eSports is something that needs to arise organically amongst the player base rather than force it. If the game design is tailored for it and the player appetite is there we can then support it and promote it via real life tournaments. It definitely has to have a sustainable business model behind it in order for studios like us to take on a long term financial commitment of that sort with our community. Right now, players in Massive Warfare already have lots of social features like in-game tournaments, alliances, alliance wars, leagues, different types of team modes, different sorts of leaderboards, text chat and voice chat, in-game emojis and texting, friends listing and gifting, and much more. That is our real commitment to our players. And we plan to continue investing heavily in means for our players to interact with each other in all possible ways. We apply this framework or suite of social features together with our expertise in this field to all our games, including Massive Warfare and Last War.

To sum up, what does the future hold for TinyBytes, and where do you see the company being in the next year or so?

AC: We want to continue scaling and supporting Massive Warfare with live ops, bringing new exciting features and content for our players. We believe this game can become a huge established brand up there in the podium with other big action games. We also want to scale and grow the Last War community as well, and get to further discover and meet the needs of that audience in time. For us the launch of a free to play game is only the beginning. As for the mid term future, we have another great action game in Soft Launch that we are planning for 2023 which has great retention and monetization metrics already, it has 50% of female players and it's not a war themed game. And one last thing: we are very interested in exploring cross platform. We think it can become the best way to reach action loving gamers and build a highly engaged community. That’s all we can say for now. We are definitely looking forward to sharing our news with you in the near future.