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"There are several thousand indie game developers in Southeast Asia, who are creating new and innovative games. The growth is astounding and we want to see it continue."

Southeast Asia is an area of diverse game development, filled with strong titles releasing on the App Store that have a chance at impressing players the world over. Like any developers starting out, or even with dozens of titles under their belt, release is a daunting time. Can you get the attention you need for your game? Have you released in all of the markets that would like your game? Have you done enough testing? Found the right audience?

Vineet Tanwar wants to help. He, along with other members of the Google Play team, have created the Indie Game Developer Program, which is built to help developers have the best shot at success with the wonderful work they've created. Through identifying quality games, supporting them throughout development with business and release advice, and showcasing this talent in the right ways, Google Play is looking to create more success stories from the region, helping developers reach new heights with their games.

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How Can They Help?

"It definitely helped us have a good launch for Dark Dot, so we were able to have a decent amount of players install, experience, and continue to play the game. The program managers also continue to support us post-launch to ensure that we're considering the right factors in extending our game's lifecycle." says Gerald Tock of Inzen Studio, developers of Dark Dot, one of the program's first success stories.

The Indie Game Developer Program has been built to help developers put the right foot forward, giving them advice on complex areas of the business of game development, finding a place on the crowded App Store, or even things that seem so simple, such as choice of screenshots.

"The team liked our game very much and were very helpful. Some of their suggestions included: types of screenshots to use (Store Listing), User Interface Consistency (In--app experience), and implementing Play Games services (achievements and social)." says Tock.

A screenshot can seem like a small thing, but that screenshot or icon is the first thing your potential player sees. It's the first thing that will hook many players, and so it carries a lot of weight. It must communicate the tone and play of your game, and all while looking interesting and appealing. A developer might not realize just how key that single image can be, as few actually do. The Google Play team wanted to assist with these aspects, ensuring devs understood the importance of every aspect, and fully utilized the tools available to them.

Part of this work is done through live mentoring, which walks devs through many aspects of the business side of making games. "The program is designed to identify the top games developers within the region, and provide ongoing support and mentorship to help them grow global businesses." says Tanwar. "With new tools and platforms available at a lightning pace, developers around the world need more holistic support through the lifecycle of developing a quality product."

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"For User Engagements, the Google Team suggested ways to optimize the Store Listing so that it would be more attractive, bringing in more users to play the game." says Yogie Aditya of Niji Games, developers of Cute Munchies, another one of the team's success stories.

"The Google Team also gave advice on how to implement some Google Services such as Play Service, Achievements, Leaderboards, Events & Quests, Saved Games, User Experience Guidelines, etc. We have learned how important user engagement and retention are. The feedback from the editorial team was very useful in building our baseline on how we optimize the game." says Aditya.

The Google Play team did not stop at helping developers better use the tools available to them or at making good business decisions. They also set out to help connect players to their audience early, using handy tools to help players get excited for these games before their launch, helping grow that necessary early audience.

"Building a great game is only one piece of the puzzle. Discoverability is a hugely important part of the process for a developer. With programs like Early Access and Indie Corner, we help developers meet the consumer right where they are. These programs give the developer the chance to get real feedback on their games before popular release, and also provide delight to the avid gamers by giving them exclusive access to cool indie titles before they are publicly released." says Tanwar.

Through this, along with helping with distribution, the Indie Game Developer Program seeks to teach devs how to make the most of the game they're created, giving them the tools and knowledge to make the right decisions for themselves.

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Assessing What You Need

Blanket advice helps no one. What is a good idea for one game might sink another. As such, the Indie Game Developer Program tailors its advice to the game it seeks to assist, forming a collaboration with the developer rather than just trying to give them some form of 'correct' answer.

So, how do they decide how to help? "This primarily depends on the developers, and the stage they are in the lifecycle of the game." says Tanwar. "For developers who already have extensive experience releasing on Android, it's mostly about optimizing game performance. While, for newer developers, regular mentoring sessions must cover the basics of the kind of tools available to help them along the way. To name just a few: A/B testing of store listings, staged rollouts, Alpha/Beta testing and consultation on optimizing your game to suit the target customers, etc."

This advice provided some handy help for Vinh Nguyen of VGames, developers of Gungun Online. "Through continuing to receive useful feedback from the team, we focused on the store listing and first payment improvements by changing the description, using A/B testing to make sure any modification was better, using store translation services to translate the description for 12+ countries that had the most downloads from our first promotion pack, helping us approach more users, and more."

Nguyen's turn-based artillery game benefited from Tanwar's specific advice for them, which helped them better target users they had previously impressed, streamline the description of the game to better describe it to its potential players, and add more languages to the game's description to help it reach audiences in new areas.

The team's guidance also helped Nguyen retain players once he got them to play, and helped him find new ways to coax them into making some small purchases as they played. The team's advice talked him into "allowing users to buy any Mobiles and Characters directly, helping to increase revenue a lot." They also suggested "adding and adjusting tutorials to keep users longer, increase the retention rate." Their advice helped him find ways to get funding from players who wished to support him, as well as keep the players he'd gotten interested to begin with. The journey did not end with getting people playing Gungun Online, but in help grow a perpetual audience.

They also suggested keeping an initially-high price when the developer considered lowering it. Rather than strive to make the product appear cheaper, they would seek to add value for the users instead, making the paid version seem more appealing even at its current price. "The more value the user saw, the more respectful they were and the more likely they were to stay in the game longer. By providing more benefits for paid users instead, we showed them that they got more when they paid more." says Nguyen.

And the results? "Every bit of feedback from the review team was very useful. They have helped us go in the right direction and improve our game drastically. Before, we had been counting, day to day, until we spent our last penny. After 2 promotion packs, we are not only more financially secure, but also thinking of extending our team to put more quality into Gungun Online." says Nguyen.

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"The suggestions from Google helped us polish several aspects." says Tock. "We highlighted the best bits to players first (that encouraged downloads), and our in-game menu flow improved as we thought more about how the flow from the different menus could be more consistent (that helped players have a smoother in-game experience)."

"Our communication with Google Team still continues via emails and video calls." says Aditya. "We got a lot of useful information and tips about monetizing in Cute Munchies, such as localizing IAP prices in some countries."

A price, which a dev might put together on an off-the-cuff moment, can be a breaking point for some purchasers. By creating a set price rather than looking at the value of the currency of each market, developers might accidentally set a price that would be far too high for some of its players to pay. It's in paying attention to these finer details that developers can make the small tweaks that make a huge difference, and the members of the Indie Game Developer Program sought to make sure they knew about all of them.

"Cute Munchies had been launched already on Google Play when the team attended the workshop, but it was not able to successfully engage the users. Through the Indie Games program, the team learned to optimize for user engagement, created several features and used Google APIs, including saved games, events and quests, etc, to optimize for game engagement. As a result, they saw great improvement in their user retention and engagement metrics." says Tanwar.

"Dark Dot was launched exclusively on Google Play. The Play team worked with the developer to successfully launch by advising on improving the game installs by optimizing their store listing on Play. Developer was able to improve conversions by 25%."

"Gungun Online successfully monetized their global audience through the learnings from the program. They introduced a VIP package to cater to some of the highly monetizing users, localized the game, and optimized the pricing for better monetization in different countries, especially by using sub-Dollar pricing. The developer was able to improve revenue by over 100% through introduction of these features, and is now one of the most successful mobile game developers from Vietnam."

Through their involvement with the program, these three developers were given specific, concrete, and continuous advice throughout release that helped them make the most of their audiences and expand to new players. They all saw gains and growth through the program, and stand as testaments to the hard work Tanwar and his fellow team members do to help these developers succeed.

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Helping In The Future

Those three success stories are the start of what the Indie Game Developer Program is looking to do in Southeast Asia. "We see this as just the beginning of our journey with the Indie Developer community in SEA. We are already organizing the 2017 Indie Developer Workshops. The program has expanded this year to 300 developers. This year, we will hold 3 workshops: Bangkok on March 20th, Ho Chi Minh City on March 22nd and finally, Singapore on March 24th." says Tanwar.

Developers will be able to learn from industry experts at these conferences, learning handy tricks and things they might not know to do on their own. Several of these developers will also be chosen as the next games for the Indie Game Developer Program, honing the already-great projects they're working on in order to help them reach the large audiences their solid games should be reaching.

In doing so, they hope to continue the growth of development in Southeast Asia, helping developers from the area succeed and inspire the next generation of developers from the area. As, above all, it's hard to deny the joy they get from watching the developers they help succeed.

And the joy a developer feels at watching themselves succeed.

"Working with the Program really does give you that final polish and push that your game needs before launch. That said, I'd definitely budget enough time to enable changes given the feedback from the team. First impressions matter a lot in a crowded market. Working with the Program will help your game stand out. And you definitely want that :)." says Tock.

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Developers interested in the program and its workshops can sign up to attend them in Bangkok on March 20, Ho Chi Minh City on March 22, and Singapore on March 24.