Long gone are the days of developing and publishing a game without the need to tweak, adjust and support it years after launch.
Here at PocketGamer.biz, we want to take the opportunity to highlight games that have bucked the trend and found an audience that has kept them thriving long after launch.
That leads us to our regular Live and Kicking series.
This week, we spoke to Playrix chief business development officer Maxim Kirilenko five years on since the release of Gardenscapes and how one game changed the match-three market and greatly contributed to the success of the studio.
PocketGamer.biz: With Gardenscapes now five years old, how do you reflect on its performance – from launch to the mature title it is now?
Maxim Kirilenko: Gardenscapes is a project that has changed the market and, to some extent, the entire industry. It was a drastic innovation for the game mechanics of 2016. Many have tried to replicate this success and not that many players are even able to come close to these benchmarks.
In the very first days after the launch of the game, all of its metrics exceeded our wildest expectations: the game was downloaded more than a million times, and lots of players posted positive feedback on social networks and the app stores. The game was even named Game of the Year by Facebook.
We have people from all over the world sending postcards to offices, making fan art, and sharing personal stories
Now we have people from all over the world sending postcards to offices, making fan art, and sharing personal stories in gaming communities.
Austin, the main character, has his own pages on social networks and over a million followers personally. Recently Zemfira, a popular Russian singer, wrote a song about Austin. (Seriously, check this out).
How big is the team currently handling live ops on Gardenscapes?
At the dawn of the project, there were only 20 people on the team. In 5 years the team has grown 15 times. Around 300 developers, artists, game designers, UA managers and others are now working on Gardenscapes to keep improving all parts of it from narrative to marketing and player support.
How important do you consider customer support and updates to be? What has been your approach to this?
Our game is a service and we think about it in the same way. We always see positive growth of key metrics when we release new updates which are adding functionality, objects, and levels. It’s also about the content. Playing the same content every day would be quite boring.
Therefore, for our game to remain competitive we have to work on it non-stop. That includes everything from fine-tuning mechanics to the narrative, which is a very important part of our game. We are working hard to make sure events and characters are as interesting and engaging as possible. We have seen how the quality of the plot and various events have grown dramatically with our experience and the rising demand from consumers.
What steps have you taken to ensure that Gardenscapes maintains a sizable and active player base all this time after its launch?
The game has a meta-layer and an event layer. We are constantly working on the meta and expanding the areas of the garden so that even those players who have been with us since the launch of the game are carried away and can always find something new and exciting.
For our game to remain competitive we have to work on it non-stop
There are two types of traditional events. First, are based on content, such as restoring rooms or redesigning a garden and there are various competitions between players. These events allow us to produce additional narrative points to make them interesting and engaging.
Events often extend the game as we’re trying to bring useful educational content to our players. For instance, this spring we launched the “Yoga” season together with the World Health Organisation to encourage people to stay healthy during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
And of course, we continue working on the core match-three mechanics, constantly adding new elements to ensure the game stays competitive in the evolving ecosystem. All of that helps us retain our players.
To what do you attribute the game’s consistently impressive grossing performance, and how do you sustain it?
I think it comes down to our game development team and the phenomenal job they’re doing, providing our customers with an exceptional level of liveops, events, and new updates.
Financial success is predicated on two factors: proper operations and great marketing
When you have a game that is great to play, its financial success is predicated on two factors: proper operations and great marketing. We are constantly looking for new creative concepts and testing marketing hypotheses. The metrics tell us that our approach is working. Quite often successful mechanics for mini-games used in ads are then added to the game.
Even the most beautiful game with a perfect narrative will not be successful without smart marketing and advertising. Still, even if you invest a ton of resources in marketing for a weak game, it will fail anyway, and that’s why we pay close attention to both of these aspects.
Any KPIs such as downloads, DAU, or retention you’re willing to share?
Over five years, the project’s DAU has grown 5.8 times, and the MAU is five times higher now. In 2020, the number of players was at its peak: 11.5 million users played Gardenscapes every day, and the average monthly audience reached 42 million.
What lessons have you learned/are you still learning from Gardenscapes? Is there anything about the game that, in hindsight, you’d now handle differently?
We are still learning a lot from the process of developing Gardenscapes and I’m not sure that one day we’ll be able to stop. Gardenscapes started as a very different game and was constantly changing, especially in its early days. Any game like this is practically a living organism. In order to survive, it has to change and adapt and we’re here as stewards, guiding this process. We evaluate how different layers of the game interact and work together and constantly make changes and fine-tune them.
Finally, how has your experience with Gardenscapes informed where you are/what you’re working on now?
Gardenscapes has contributed greatly to the success of the Playrix. Launching this game and leading to its current state gave us the experience to develop the entire Scapes series with other titles. And most importantly, that success provided us with the resources necessary to tackle even larger challenges.