Interview

Making Of: How Tilting Point made SpongeBob Krusty Cook-Off ready for soft launch in 10 months

Making Of: How Tilting Point made SpongeBob Krusty Cook-Off ready for soft launch in 10 months

The process in creating a game is a difficult, long and often stressful process, but it's one that can reap many awards alongside actually seeing your ideas come to life.

No matter the size of the game or how long it ultimately took to make, each new title involves a lot of hard work, hard decisions, and a little bit of luck before it even gets out the door and onto devices. And in the current mobile market, that's only the first step in having a successful game.

To highlight all of the hard work that often goes on unseen in the background, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to developers to learn more about the general rigmarole of releasing a video game, with our 'Making Of' series.

This week we spoke with Tilting Point vice president of product Yang Wen regarding the development, soft launch, launch, and aftermath of SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you start off by telling us about SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off?

Yang Wen: SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off is a cooking simulation game that takes place in the quirky world of SpongeBob SquarePants. Playing through the game's collection of original stories, players are able to take SpongeBob’s apron and become part of the diverse and fun adventures of the happy bunch. Players can cook secret dishes while exploring iconic restaurants from the world of SpongeBob, from Bikini Bottom to Goo Lagoon (and many more to come).

Using game and market data analysis, as well as internal forecasting tools, we built a pitch for the game that would become SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off
Yang Wen

Players can also unlock their favourite characters from the show and interact with them as they visit their restaurants; they can also customise the characters that they unlock with unique costumes and accessories inspired by the show, as well as decorate and upgrade their restaurants with a variety of furniture, creating their own take on SpongeBob's world. Our game also features a variety of daily and weekly single, multiplayer and competitive events offering many ways for players to enjoy the progression.

Where did the initial idea for the game come from?

Tilting Point's Progressive Publishing model has built a strong R&D process over the years to help identify high potential game genres and themes/IP. It all started with our partnership with Food Truck Chef's development studio Nukebox, as we took on the game's publishing and helped it grow.

Based on Food Truck Chef's success, and our strong partnership with Subir Agrawal and the Nukebox team, our Progressive Publishing model led us to research new game concepts. Using game and market data analysis, as well as internal forecasting tools, we built a pitch for the game that would become SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off, further reflecting where we felt the sub-genre was heading.

How long did development take, and how many people worked on the game?

This was a great collaboration of both Nukebox and Tilting Point teams who came together from multiple disciplines across multiple locations to bring this game to market successfully. From concept to soft launch, it took about 10 months, with a full team of 38 people (28 people on Nukebox's team and 10 people from Tilting Point).

As Nukebox Studio, led by Amit Hardi, took over feature development and integration, the Tilting Point Product team supported the vision of the game with art direction and production, design specs as well as live ops setup and analysis.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome during development?

Like almost all game development, the biggest challenge was maintaining an efficient and adaptive production velocity with a well-defined final product vision. The definition and scope of MVP (minimal viable product) changed a few times during the development as we tested, iterated and developed clear player journey modules.

SpongeBob: Krusty Cook Off was in soft launch for six months before launch

The Nickelodeon team was very helpful with setting up the brand frame, while at the same time giving us plenty of freedom to define the game flow.

At what stage in development did you feel you had a game that you were happy with?

While I would like to say early on in development, I think the honest answer would be at the very last moment. Soft launch tests and feature polish are always almost infinite when it comes to game optimisation.

Putting all our learning and balancing together the last few weeks before global launch was a very satisfying realisation of how well everything had come together. Our store ratings (4.7 on iOS and 4.2 on Android at the time of publication), confirm that this satisfaction was shared among all our players.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted development or launch in any way?

Since we already had a tight remote production collaboration between Tilting Point in New York and the Nukebox development team in India, the lockdown deepened our interaction even more without too much impact on the development itself.

The first month was a little challenging, rolling out 100 per cent remote work for literally everyone involved in the project, but we all found our pace and granularity needed in daily communication. Today, we have managed to create a pretty efficient workflow across the whole team, including external vendors.

Was the game soft-launched? If so, what did you learn from the soft launch period, and what were the biggest changes you enacted as a result?

Yes, the game went through about six months of soft launch. First, we confirmed how the brand and game genre really appealed to our audience. Shortly after we entered pre-registration on Google Play, where we had millions of pre-registrations.

This was the strongest pre-registration performance that any Nickelodeon game had ever achieved, which confirmed our analysis for the game concept tied with the SpongeBob brand. We ended the Soft Launch period with a total of 17 million pre-registrations.

We hit top 10 in terms of downloaded games on iOS in 97 countries and 79 countries on Google Play
Yang Wen

While the pre-registration confirmed that the game we were creating had a great global audience appeal, we also realised that we needed to refine our player journey modules differently to cater to each audience segment. From a casual fan to a seasoned gamer familiar with the Cooking Sim genre, we wanted to maximise the engagement for all.

How happy are you with the game's launch so far?

We are very happy with the first month of launch! The game's performance is on par with our analysis and final design decisions. We are also testing and refining a few areas of the game, as well as building our next feature-set prioritisation based on the behaviour and feedback of our current player base.

SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit recently launched on Apple Arcade, how do you look to differentiate the two games? Do you think both games can survive being launched so close to one another?

While SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit released during the same launch window as SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off, we see both games as having very different experiences. SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off offers a permanent world experience that evolves and grows over time. From fresh content to unique events, the game will be alive and constantly immersive for years to come.

How are you approaching live ops? What can you tell us about your plans in terms of updates?

Our live ops strategy is built on three axis (and sub-teams to support each): 

  • Events, content creation and rotation to maintain the core loop lifecycle
  • Feature improvement and new feature development to increase engagement loops: we are currently working to improve the character collection system, as well as to deepen the game's social features.
  • Experience polish that includes quality of life and bug fix items: visual improvements, technical optimisation (performance and compatibility) and more

Can you provide any download or financial data? Any DAUs or other stats?

We hit top 10 in terms of downloaded games on iOS in 97 countries and 79 countries on Google Play reaching top 100 grossing in 66 countries on iOS and eight on Google Play as well - and reached over 2.2 million DAU within the first week.

What can you tell us about your future mobile projects?

Tilting Point is currently working on multiple future releases, based on the same Progressive Publishing model we have previously adopted with our partners. We are planning to release some games in test markets by the end of this year. We will be announcing these releases once production time is confirmed.

Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is the staff writer for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about Smash Bros. and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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