Student Finds Success with ‘Freemium’ Version of Mobile Game

A Brazilian student in the online Game Design bachelor of science degree program is part of a small development team that recently released Dino Zone Action, a popular tower defense game available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch platforms. An Android version of Dino Zone Action will be on the market after April 15.

Student Nando Guimaraes is the business developer and co-founder of the five-man game studio, Cat Nigiri. The studio’s home base is a small, rented office in Florianópolis, Santa Catarina – an island on the southern coast of Brazil.

NandoGuimaraes_inlineGuimaraes described the Cat Nigiri development team: “Felipe is our tech engineer, and Rodrigo our art director. Caio is a game designer and sound engineer. Marcello is a producer and also an extraordinary level designer. I am the business developer, and I also contribute a lot with interface and user experience design.”

All of the members of the team have some previous game-making experience. Collectively, the Cat Nigiri team members have worked on at least five published games – including two independently developed games and three released by other Brazilian game companies.

Dino Zone Action is Cat Nigiri’s first game release, and it has already achieved success on iTunes, having been downloaded more than 47,000 times and listed in the iTunes Top Free Apps and Games category. At its highest point on iTunes, Dino Zone was ranked 17th in the U.S. and 32nd in Brazil in the Strategy Games category, and 158th for U.S. games overall.

Dino Zone Action Game Play

Dino_GameLike other tower defense strategy games, the goal of Dino Zone Action is to try to stop enemies (in this case, rampaging dinosaurs) from crossing a map or breaching the player’s territory by placing traps and weapons to slow them and kill them. As players complete levels, they earn credits that enable them to buy more specialized types of weapons – which become necessary to complete the higher levels.

The backstory for Dino Zone Action is that it takes place in the “late Cretaceous Period,” and the player enters the game as a time-traveling scientist who must outwit the crazed professor Nigel Racik and his stampede of furious dinosaurs.

“Players interact directly with the towers and equipment and use them to stop the dinosaur stampede,” said Guimaraes. “Careful planning and skills are used together to beat the challenges.”

Experimenting with the New ‘Freeminum’ Model

WeaponsGuimaraes said Dino Zone Action took Cat Nigiri about a year to develop and a couple of months to publish.

“We have also updated it to make it ‘freemium’ – that took us another two months,” said Guimaraes.

He said Dino Zone was not an immediate hit, which is where his skills in business development came in.

“We had our game solely designed within a premium concept, that is, the user paid once and could enjoy the game with all the content available through the traditional progression system. Unfortunately, that model didn’t work out at all,” explained Guimaraes.

“We aimed for a complete revamp on the game, making it free and implementing an in-app currency system that allowed users to get additional perks through micro-transactions,” he explained. “We also made a partnership with a local publisher to improve the marketing effort.”

Guimaraes said Cat Nigiri had a lot more success when they offered the free download version and gave users a lot more options.

Other improvements Cat Nigiri made to the game included:

3rd-inline– An easy step-by-step tutorial to teach first-time users how to play the game.

– Promotions on specific gameplay moments (such as a reward when the player finishes a level).

– Cool in-app advertisement system: the player chooses when to check ads and gets rewarded.

“These improvements completely changed how users noticed, downloaded, and played our game. Due to these changes we have greatly improved the overall ratings on the App Store and increased the number of downloads,” said Guimaraes. “If the player likes it, they’ll purchase something for sure – and that is actually what happened.”

The Future of Cat Nigiri and the Brazilian Game Market

Guimaraes said Dino Zone is just the beginning for Cat Nigiri. The studio has three more games planned, including an action-oriented platform game that is in pre-production, a siege defense game, and a puzzle game. They hope to have them ready to show off at GDC Europe in August.

Guimaraes said game studios in Brazil have a friendly rivalry but are also supportive of each other when one of them has a hit game – similar to how the entire country backs a Brazilian soccer team playing abroad.

“Some analysts like to paint Brazil as the green giant who is starting to rise from slumber,” pointed out Guimaraes. “It is already one of the fastest growing markets for mobile devices around the world. The gaming industry is still tiny, but the potential is amazing: government is investing a lot in small startups, there are cultural and financial incentives to create games, and more and more international publishers are looking for local studios to get innovative games.”