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Soon after COLOPL released “Treasure Detective”, its first mobile social game in January this year, the game found itself solidly situated on the top-grossing ranks. Until now, the company has released three mobile social games, each of which has subsequently become a hit.  In this interview we talked with Iwao Muramatsu, the person responsible for social games at COLOPL, about the company’s game development.
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-Concerning Treasure Detective which was your first social game title, how did you start the planning and development?

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Previously the focus of development at COLOPL had been games for feature phones. In that they lack rich expression, when developing games for feature phones, we worked tirelessly to refine the game mechanics. In carrying out development for smartphones, we placed an emphasis on how to best harness the rich expression of the smartphones.

We started developing from the battle screens that lie at the heart of the game. We followed up by working on the issues of character-movement and rendering, etc. through a process of creation and correction. After elaborating the battle scenes, we combined them with the motif elements. What resulted was Treasure Detective. From the outset, the project theme was a title optimized for smartphones, our intention being to create something whose game mechanics were strengthened through action, rendering and music.


-COLOPL creates its social games using HTML5, could you tell me why you use HTML5 in this role?

I don’t believe we were necessarily aware of HTML5 from the outset. We wanted to use JavaScript for creating smartphone games. However, while using JavaScript, when searching out methods for optimization, our attention was drawn to HTML5. For example, animation can be created with style sheets when HTML5 is used in place of JavaScript. It was factors like this that made us aware using HTML5.

Our attention was also drawn to the idea that calculations previously undertaken on the server side could now be executed on the client side, and this was something that we have subsequently carried out.

While having HTML as a base, our games have been created as hybrids via still incorporating sound and graphic resources on the application side. In that we bridged HTML and native code by using JavaScript, and in that we also have sounds, etc., it was pretty difficult to get such elements to work well in concert with each other.
 
 
-When you released your first social game title, you quickly saw it enter the ranks of top-selling games. Moreover, it has been able to maintain this position since.

We have had previous experience releasing casual games on smartphones, and I believe marketing through the existing titles has contributed somewhat. But I feel the most significant factor is that when it was released, there weren’t so many games like Treasure Detective in the market yet. Indeed, I think it might be difficult to achieve such success if we were coming to the market now with the same title.

Another significant factor in the success of Treasure Detective was the strong focus we placed on quality. Actually, we delayed the release until everyone of our member was satisfied with the quality. This strategy actually resulted in the planned release date being pushed back by more than a month. When playing a game, first impressions are extremely important. If users feel bored in their first play, it’s difficult to make them touch it again. By contrast, if the initial impression created is positive, players might talk about it to their friends. 


-It seems that the application icon and title of Treasure Detective have undergone a number of changes, what has been the impact of these developments?

Although there is no clear-cut evidence, I do feel that the changes made have had some impact. Concerning the game itself, it does not matter how much effort is put into game structure, etc., if no downloads occur. As such, we conduct fine tuning of our games on a daily basis right through to the point where downloads start to happen.


-The theme of your second social game is “Pro Baseball PRIDE”.  This is quite a departure from Treasure Detective. Could you tell me how you arrived at this theme?

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Because we did not have previous experience in creating a sports-themed game, a significant factor for us was the desire to give this genre a try. Also, here in Japan, baseball is so popular that we made a game on it.

Concerning the planning and development of our second social game, we leveraged the positive elements of our first title into the structure of the new game while also working on new elements such as batting actions. We made sure to recreate some of the tension associated with real baseball games.


-In coming out with these two different games, did you notice any differences in user reactions?

Because of the thematic differences; Treasure Detective has fantasy characters while Pro Baseball PRIDE has characters based upon real existing baseball stars; I feel there is a slight difference in the focus of passion displayed by players.

In the case of Treasure Detective, the most exciting is the battles against players. Meanwhile with “Pro Baseball PRIDE”, players’ passion is more on collecting cards, building a team with their favorite players. In this respect I believe that the style of play centers on something that closely resembles the collecting of trading cards.


-And your third social game title is “DINO DOMINION”, what can you tell us about that?

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In taking a different direction to the previous two titles, we took up the challenge of creating something that offered a sense of realistic fantasy. Thus, what underpinned our plans was to create something that was both different from Treasure Detective and Pro Baseball PRIDE.

With DINO DOMINION, we had much conscious on the overseas markets. As with the dinosaur theme, the game system was also created that way. When compared to previous game titles, we placed greater emphasis on both strategy and story elements.


-You have made references to being conscious of overseas?  What sort of things are you aware of in this respect? 

We felt there was a necessity for a higher degree of refinement concerning user interfaces. We made research on existing overseas games and took some elements into consideration. Furthermore, in addition to translating the language, we also carried out some cultural adjustments and changed the taste of the character images.


-Has anything come out with respect to differences between how Japanese and overseas users play your games?

Yes, various differences have become apparent in different countries. For example, in Japan, peak game access occurs when users are commuting to work or school, during their lunch breaks, and also in the evening. Meanwhile, in other countries we have not seen such pronounced differences in the access timeframes. Moreover, concerning the timing of in-app purchases and the value thereof, we have noted some distinctive characteristics for different countries. There are countries where acceptance of the dinosaur theme has proven more difficult, and countries for which the limited size of existing smartphone market has made it difficult for our titles to achieve success. Contrastingly, there are also countries which the market data generated resembles what we have experienced in Japan. However, in that we have just recently released this title, I would truthfully say there are still many facets about which we know little.


-In Japan, I heard a lot of users are acquired by cross-promotions between applications. Are there any special strategies that you are executing overseas?

Currently, we are collecting our user bases via advertising and invitations. That being said, however, the sites and social media channels that are highly effective for such purposes tend to vary by country.  As such, being able to culturally adjust our product offerings is also very important for marketing purposes as well.

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-Concerning the Android and iOS systems, when developing for each of them, what factors are you particularly conscious of?

When developing for Android, we are aware of fragmentation that exists between different Android devices. In the case of iOS, we are much conscious of the Apple’s review process. In both instances, it is very important to carry out extensive testing. The development process itself is browser-based so there is not that much difference between the platforms.


-And what has contributed to your success with the smartphone platform?

One factor has been that, via our new products, we have thought to create something generational. We added the smartphones’ rich expression to the refined game mechanics we achieved in feature phone games. We have worked hard to create games, possessing a desire to produce products that nobody else has developed.

Another contributing factor has been our quality of post-release operation. We focus on it to the extent that our post-release teams are usually bigger than our pre-release development teams. Development processes do not stop upon release of a game, rather new functions and events, etc., are added to the product offering one after the other. Game operation is like a live concert with tens-of-thousands of audiences. One of our strengths is the ability to manage things and achieve results that cannot be simply defined by figures. I believe success has resulted from directly confronting the issues necessary to induce players to play games repeatedly.


-Finally, could you tell me about future directions for the company?

This might overlap with what we have already discussed, however, from the outset this company has been motivated to do things that are new. As part of our daily routines, we research basic development technologies, and we are always thinking about what constitutes a new game. Currently, we supply games based upon the premise that browser-based options are best, however, concerning the creation of other options, we know that we must prepare to take up new challenges when and where they appear.  Moreover, in that we would like even more players to enjoy our games, in the future I feel more and more emphasis will be placed upon our overseas market.





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About the Author
Wataru Tanaka is the chief editor of Social Game Report and writes about mobile social gaming. He works at Mynet Japan, a social game developer. His vision is to create worldwide network and enhance the industry, take it to the next level where everyone can enjoy communicating each other through games.