Live ops and long soft-launches: Wooga's CEO Jens Begemann on its renewed focus for 2017
t's not unfair to say that Wooga had something of a difficult 2016.
Following the underperformance of titles such as Futurama: Game of Drones it cut 40 of its jobs in August 2016 and re-structured into three distinct studios focusing on specific genres of casual games.
This also led to the closure of its mid-core studio, Black Anvil Games, while its office in Japan was also shut down during the restructuring.
But it all seems to have paid off, and Wooga CEO Jens Begemann is happy with how the company is performing so far in 2017.
"This focus that we did a year ago, the re-focus on casual, is really good and really positive," he says.
"You can clearly see how it makes us more successful running our live games, more regularly updating them, a bigger focus on live operations, new content, events – that all plays a bigger role."
This focus is even tighter than previously thought – Wooga is now focused on just hidden object games, like Pearl's Peril, and puzzle games such as Jelly Splash, because according to Begemann "that's where we've had our success".
Wooga has also turned more of its attention to live ops and maintaining existing titles over releasing new ones. Begemann states that around half of the studio is working on live ops, while the other half is developing new games.
"The live operations focus, and the constant improvement, is definitely something we're doing much more of than we were two years ago," he says.
"We see how our players are really loyal to the games, and they demand constant updates and improvements."
One example of Wooga's live ops strategy is that of hidden object game Pearl's Peril, launched over four years ago but which Begemann says is still growing.
"We still have a 25-person team on it and they do updates every single week. They still do new content, new features and technical improvements," he says.
"These games have a much, much longer lifecycle than most people thought a few years ago."
This dedication to live ops is extending into Wooga's upcoming games too, including Pearl's Peril sequel June's Journey, which is due in October 2017.
The game has been in soft launch for six months, allowing the studio to gather as much feedback and data as it can and plan accordingly. In this case, early feedback suggests the game has a long life ahead of it, and Wooga is prepared.
"We've made a big commitment to launch in October, and we have a very, very big commitment to content and story," says Begemann.
"The game launches with 20 chapters in October and then we're adding one new chapter every single week, like a TV show. But where a TV show may have a break, we are 'on air' every single week."
The team has calculated that each chapter takes around 1,600 man-hours a week to create – this includes fully localising and polishing each scene for launch, as well as leaving room to iterate when the game is actually live.
But Wooga isn't shying away from the task.
"Our writers are currently writing chapter 72, which will launch in October 2018," says Begemann.
"You need that to be able to think about what direction the story will develop in, you want to be able to re-evaluate that and potentially rewrite it, set the characters, set the scenes and produce everything to a very high quality."
The high level of commitment to a game extends to its soft launch too. Wooga soft-launched June's Journey knowing that it would be in testing for a long time, to make absolutely sure it was the best it could be.
"The mobile games market is now so ultra-competitive, you want to iterate with player feedback and player data," says Begemann.
"If you sit around and then you put it out on launch day, that will not go so well."
Wooga may be focusing on mobile casual games for now, but it's not forgotten its roots. June's Journey will launch simultaneously on Facebook, and the studio is keeping an eye on HTML5 games and Facebook's Instant Games platform.
"I think it's interesting. At the moment we don't have any projects in that area, but I'm in constant contact with Facebook and am talking to other developers, and we're closely observing what's happening there," says Begemann.
As for the rest of its 2017 plans, the future is undecided. Wooga does have another game in soft launch, Tropicats, but it still has a way to go.
"We're still evaluating it. It soft-launched a little bit later [than June's Journey]. It's not as far down the road yet, and we're currently looking at that," explains Begemann.