In this guest post, Michail Katkoff combines his game analytics wisdom with the hands-on experience of Timur Haussila, Product Lead at Supercell, to tell you the story of the studio’s game Hay Day, from the very first idea to launch. Read on to see the results of this uncanny balet of ideas.
Hay Day’s Player-First Approach
I started writing this post some time ago as I do with all of my deconstructions. First play for 2 weeks, then do the core loop, break down the core loop, analyse the difference between benchmark titles etc. But what I noticed with Hay Day is that the magic isn’t just in the core loop or features.
Hay Day is an awesome game and we all know it. It’s a farming game but it’s not ‘just another farming game’. It feels fresh, despite not really having anything innovative or new. In my opinion, what makes Hay Day so good is that the team who made it took a step back.
Instead of slapping new elements into an overworked genre, Hay Day actually emphasizes those key elements that made the whole genre successful. And as a cherry on the top, it’s made tablet first, which is a difference you can truly see and feel.
The magic of Hay Day is in the way the game has been designed — with a player-first approach in mind, which is sadly something we developers tend to forget too often.
A chat with Timur
Timur, out of all genres how did you end up doing a farming game?
We wanted to create an entertaining game for a large audience and nothing really says mass market in social games more than farming. Of course, we knew that we were about to enter the most competitive segment in gaming, but at the same time we saw it in a bit different light.
I mean, there are a lot of farming games simply because people enjoy farming games. The opportunity was there because no one had developed farming games specifically for tablets. Farming games that really made use of the large, stunning touch screen.
So you saw the opportunity in tablet specific farming games. How long it took the team to develop Hay Day and what was the team size?
You know that at Supercell we keep our team sizes relatively small, emphasizing more on the experience and the dynamics of the teams instead of the sheer size.
But to answer the question, throughout development our team size has been between 5 to 10 developers and it took us 6 months until the first submission, which was limited to the Canadian App Store.
After 6 months of production you soft launched Hay Day exclusively in the Canadian App Store to see how the game performs. What kind of changes did you make during soft launch phase?
We kept Hay Day exclusive in the Canadian App Store for about two months and this phase proved to be crucial for the global success of the game.
Firstly, we were able to significantly improve the first-time flow of users, as well as to prove that players understood all of the game’s features.
Secondly, we were able to tweak the game economy a lot. We changed roughly all of the initial values in the economy during the soft launch phase.
And thirdly, the live environment showed us at which points in the game players ran out of content and we were able to fill these gaps of inactivity with new content and thus improve retention.
What was the growth like after the global launch?
As you can see from App Annie, our growth was very patient and we actually broke the TOP 10 grossing list only four months post-launch.
This is mostly because we wanted the game to grow organically, relying on player retention and word of mouth. Sounds corny, but we wanted to prove that Hay Day could grow just because it’s that good of a game.
Talking about retention. At one point AppData showed DAU/MAU of 55% for Hay Day. How did you guys reach this kind of engagement rates?
As I said before, retention is something we really focused on in Hay Day and the results have been pretty amazing.
I personally think that it all has a lot has to do with the fact that we don’t teach our players how to play Hay Day. Instead, we give our players the freedom to learn to play the game themselves.
Our game updates have also increased the retention rate. This is because the updates were designed to reinforce the core loop and to add meaningful social features, instead of adding new elements to the game.
What do you think makes Hay Day so successful?
I believe the success can also be linked to our approach, as we avoid teaching players how to play the game. There are no forced tutorials, missions or quests in Hay Day. And there’s no ”right way to play” the game or punishment for playing the game in different way. We wanted Hay Day to be extremely logical and thus easy to understand and enjoy.
For example, when players collect chickens they gets eggs instead of coins. To get coins, players have to sell the eggs. To get more coins players make up more valuable goods to be sold by combining eggs with various other resources, thus producing waffles, cookies etc. That’s logical. You don’t need a forced tutorial with spotlight, arrows and instructions to teach that.
Hay Day has been constantly in the TOP 10 grossing list for months now. How come the game monetizes so well?
This might sound crazy, but we designed the game so that it could be truly played for free without ever having to pay in order to progress.
At the same time, we understood that some of our players will want to speed up their progress at some point and we simply made it easy for them to do so.
So, in short, we sell players convenience without ever forcing our players to pay or get viral to progress.
Hay Day is really strong in IAPs but what everyone doesn’t know is that the ads also bring a hefty chunk of revenue. Can you talk more about ads in Hay Day?
We wanted to give our non-paying players a chance to earn some hard currency and ads were the perfect solution.
But ads are also a great way to ruin the game experience. So we set out with an aim to avoid turning Hay Day into a Christmas Tree by slapping interstitials, banners and popups on it.
The way ads have been integrated into the game follows our overall strategy where we aim to keep things logical for the player. In addition to keeping things logical, we also approached the ad integration from the game side, instead of pushing the ads from the marketing side.
So we got the game team interested in finding great ways to show ads to our players which resulted in awesome ad integration.
With clever ad integration, you must also be boasting strong CTRs?
All I can say is that the ratio of ad revenue out of total revenue is substantial.
In fact, it could be more, as our players’ demand for ads currently exceeds the supply.
That’s why we’re actually looking for additional clever ways to integrate ads into the game.
You’ve passed the torch of Hay Day some time ago and you’re currently working on a new title. What is different in the development of your upcoming title compared to Hay Day? What did Hay Day teach you?
Our approach has stayed pretty much the same. We work in a small and experienced team where everyone carries true passion for the game.
The only major change in the development approach this time around is the profound emphasis on the first time flow.
We really want to nail it from the get go as it’s probably the single most important part of a game.
About the author
Michail Katkoff is product manager at Supercell and specializes in metrics and user driven service design, building and managing virtual economies and deconstructing moment-to-moment gameplay. He's exceptional at creating fun while providing options for monetization.