The biggest Russian social network is now working on its own store for indie developers

We asked Maxim Babichev — Head of Games at VK – what the new indie game platform will be ready to offer after the release and how VK plans to work with indie studios.

Бабичев

Maxim Babichev

VK is the biggest social networks in Russia. It is responsible for 67% of social traffic in the country. In comparison, Facebook is on the second place with around 13% only. VK’s game platform for social and mobile games has been operating for many years. Today the network is ready to go futher launching the platform for PC games made by independent and individual developers.

Concept of the New Platform

The announcement is out, but there are few details. Tell us about what the VK indie game platform will be like.

So, let’s go back a bit. The VK game platform appeared a long time ago. In 2007, we were able to integrate flash games with basic API features. In April 2008, the App 2.0 platform had the same basic functions that are now standard on social platforms, such as invitations, requests and the ability to share results. For a long time, social web games were the only platform where developers could reach players that use social networks.

In 2014, after joining the game platform team, I started working on the development of the mobile game platform, and at the beginning of 2016, we started developing the concept for Direct Games, a mobile HTML5 platform.

Around that time, we had the idea to do something for PC game developers. It was only an idea, and sometimes it popped up in conversations with developers teams Many people asked why we haven’t launched a platform for PC games since we have a lot of desktop traffic. But it would be a mistake to launch a platform just because there’s a bunch of users. The platform, in addition to its key function, should address the needs of both users and companies connected through the service.

With this approach and the desire to solve some of the problems of modern platforms, we are moving towards the launch. Instead of working with major game development companies, we decided to focus on independent developers and small companies because they are the ones who really feel the heavy hand, unfriendliness and lack of attention that other platforms treat them with. We are not launching an indie platform, but rather a platform that puts the happiness of small developers and companies first.

How, exactly, will the games be distributed? Are we talking about making product keys available through other stores, going through DRM distributors or something else?

The platform and the distribution of third party stores keys are uncorrelated, therefore distributing through distributors is what’s left.

It was announced that the platform will be introduced on vk.com/apps. Does this mean that it will be a new section in the current store?

Yes and no. Why yes? The platform will be featured on the web as well.

Why no? We are launching a PC app with Play Machine games. Even though embedded games from the app’s web catalog aren’t going anywhere, the new platform will eventually take the lead.

Let’s talk about the platform’s place in the general PC ecosystem. Where do you see your platform’s place in this ecosystem?

The main VK audience is in Russia.

You recently launched the Game Store (marketplace for selling game keys). Why did you decide to develop the new platform separated from the store?

The platform and the store are two completely different things. The platform, just like the store, unites developers and players. However, fan culture can’t be formed around the store, but it will definitely be created around the platform through its gaming infrastructure. The platform’s infrastructure makes the publishing process and the content spreading way easier, as well as it runs network effects that stimulate players, creating their new habits. The platform could pave the way for the new things created by players themselves such as new communities, memes, and live streams and many many more. All the store can do is sell you a key.

Opportunities for Developers

Will indie developers be able to launch early access games?

The platform is being designed as a place to launch finished versions of the games.

These days, special things like presales, special editions and DLCs are quite popular. Will your platform provide such things?

Spaceships aren’t built in one go. I would happily say that we are creating a spacecraft with normal gravitation and a warp drive. But first, it is better to launch earthly functions, still keeping our intergalactic plans in mind.

In comments to our colleagues from other media, you mentioned that developers will get an access to the same kind of analytics that Direct Games (VK platform for HTML5 games) developers have now. Could you give a little light on this?

Just like I said, we want to give developers the ability to learn as much as possible about their audience using a service that’s already good to go.

If I understand you correctly, you will integrate your analytics into all distributions or will the developers have to do this themselves?

The main thing we want to do at this stage is to collect as much information as possible. It’s important because we want to analyze it and make informed decisions, as well as to give developers convenient access to data. We’ll wait a bit before giving details about its technical integration.

Do you plan to make the platform completely transparent? Will you add tools similar to Steam Spy?

It’s important for both players and developers to know the number of sales and the size of the audience (in one form or another), so we will make this data available. These statistics will let you know where you stand among your competitors. Whether we do this in some super convenient way, for example by making the API for this data available, is still something we are discussing.

Partners and Projects

Knowing the retention rate of your product and its ARPU is a must. And naturally, what confuses me is your position. You say that the platform is for indie developers, but indie developers don’t work with Games as a Service. Isn’t this contradictory?

It’s a radical claim to say that they don’t.

Continuing on the same line of thought. Who will be able to publish games on your platform and who won’t? If your parent company, Mail.Ru Group (who are definitely not an indie), asked for a place on your platform, what would you say to them?

We are starting to work with independent and small developers who are ambitious enough to launch their new project exclusively on VK. If some large companies, such as EA, Ubisoft, Mail.Ru Group or others, are equally as ambitious, we are sure that all sides, especially players, will only benefit from this.

So, let’s talk a bit about projects instead of teams. Will there be any harsh requirements for them? Which kinds of projects will be preferred and why?

When selecting projects, we ask game developers, “If this were the last game that you could launch, would you want to be known as its creator?” Buggy, boring, depressing projects that are made without any soul being put into them and games that bring a feeling of deja vu won’t pass our internal screening.

Single-player and premium games, pixel art, original ideas, tested mechanics, brave choices, realistic graphics, cooperative games and free-to-play games will be encouraged.

How do projects get launched? Will the launch be automatic after the testing period or will it be on a case-by-case basis like GOG?

We will get to know everyone who wants to launch something with us on our platform personally, so yes, it is on a case-by-case basis. For now, the spaceship is confidently flying in this direction.

How many projects are you planning on adding a month, or are you not setting any limits?

Quality is more important than quantity, therefore not many.

Visibility and Findability

One of the central problems big markets face is that of visibility and findability. How do you plan to deal with this?

Platforms focused on a small amount of high-quality content don’t face this problem.

Will developers have their own pages like on Steam?

This has been missing for a long time, for social games as well. So yes, we plan on adding developer pages across the entire VK game platform.

There is a trend in game stores of having collections that attract attention to thematic projects. Will these be on your platform as well?

The VK catalog has been actively using collections, thematic sales, discounts and special offers for a long time. All of this will be on our new platform as well.

What about managing prices and discounts? Will developers have the ability to control this?

We will work with developers to create a system piece by piece, using the best practices from other services, getting rid of what’s not needed and adding our own.

Terms and Opportunities

Earlier you said that you will prioritize projects that haven’t been published anywhere else. How will you reward this exclusivity? Will this be made by featuring the game on the platform, having a set minimum of traffic, something else?

We are still figuring out all the organizational and procedural aspects and will be ready to discuss them closer to the release. Currently, we are focused on the preparatory stage of development, working on concepts and goals. The games, of course, would receive our full support. They will be featured on the front page and will receive media coverage.

What share of the income will VK take?

You’ll have to wait until 2019 to find out. What I can say right now that we will most likely offer developers several models of cooperation, and the financial aspect will depend on which they choose.

Will it be possible to promote games using VK tools?

This can be done even now without our involvement. Most game developers already use it.

Will there be any discounts if you buy traffic through VK?

It’s likely there will be.

In general, will you feature the games? Have you calculated how much traffic this should bring in?

Of course, the games will be promoted. It would be better to talk numbers after the launch.

Are you planning to have a referral system?

We’re still thinking about it.

In general, will it be possible to monitor traffic using the analytics?

Yes.

Time for the most important question: the platform’s potential. probably you have already estimated the size of your potential audience. Could you please share this information?

The platform is limited by the number of people using VK on their computer. It amounts to tens of millions of people every month. Unfortunately for us, not everyone plays games. Therefore, a very rough approximation of the most realistic scenario would be an audience of several million players a month across all games sometime after the beta testing is completed.

What would you consider to be good in terms of downloads? Have any calculations been made to analyze how much an average project could receive at some N-price?

We have of course made calculations, but we aren’t ready to discuss them before release.

What would be considered a success for your platform?

It would be a success if it all turned into an interesting adventure, making both players and developers go ‘Wow!’ along the way. If we manage this, then developers and companies will be happy to launch brave, unique, breakthrough projects for VK players.

On the platform, will a game’s audience be able to interact with each other and with developers in the game profiles?

We’re holding back this information until the launch. There is something planned, and as usual, not everything planned right now will be the same by the time we get to release.

Will there be a rating system for users?

We plan on having a star-based rating system. It’s something used on social games, and we will just carry it over to the new platform.

Will game developers be able to provide support through VK?

We have tons of tools for this. The most native and convenient way for players to get support would probably be by messaging the game’s official community. Community messages have a full range of great abilities, such as integration with the CRM by the API or the ability to make a chatbot that can answer frequently asked questions.

In general, what will be the minimum number of impressions on the main page?

Games will be featured at least once as part of basic promotion.

Will users be able to get a game refund on the platform?

Almost certainly yes, but there will be certain limits for refunds (such as time from the moment of purchase, time spent in the game, or something else).

If a developer releases several games, will they be able to sell them in a bundle?

This is a very interesting mechanism which could be easily promoted both in the catalog and on the developer’s page. This opportunity will definitely be available in time.

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