Stu­dio pro­file

A re­spect for its cre­ative staff has seen Ger­many’s mo­bile games stu­dio Wooga thrive.

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The world of mo­bile games de­vel­op­ment may be in­cred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive, yet Wooga has qui­etly es­tab­lished it­self as a ma­jor suc­cess story since be­ing founded in 2009 in Ber­lin, where it’s still based. Rather than spend­ing mil­lions on lav­ish tele­vi­sion advertising cam­paigns fea­tur­ing un­re­al­is­tic CG, the com­pany prefers to con­cen­trate on mak­ing the best games it can. And nur­tur­ing the cre­ative tal­ent within its 250-plus staff spread over 40 coun­tries.

Wooga’s ti­tles in­clude the likes of Jelly Splash, Pearl’s Peril, Diamond Dash and most re­cent suc­cess Agent Alice, across a va­ri­ety of plat­forms in­clud­ing iOS, An­droid and Face­book. “Our busi­ness is cen­tred around be­ing able to sus­tain­ably pro­duce hit games,” ex­plains Jens Bege­mann, CEO and co-founder. “In the past five years we’ve had five hit games and our de­vel­op­ment ap­proach is de­signed to foster the de­vel­op­ment of more.” In­deed, the stu­dio em­ploys what it calls a ‘ hit fil­ter’, start­ing with many dif­fer­ent pro­to­types and grad­u­ally whit­tling them down so that only the best ideas re­main on the ta­ble.

Ob­vi­ously the art depart­ment makes up a ma­jor pro­por­tion of its staff, with around 60 artists cur­rently on board. Nick Martinelli, head of art, re­veals that, “There are a large amount of projects be­ing worked on at any one

There are a large amount of projects be­ing worked on at any one time

time, so those peo­ple can switch be­tween stu­dio or pro­ject on a semi-reg­u­lar ba­sis depend­ing on what’s needed.” Although most of the artists are full time, there are a sprin­kling of reg­u­lar free­lancers who help out with spe­cial­ist tasks when needed.

“Artists here have a lot of free­dom,” says Nick. “They’re able and ex­pected to give a lot of cre­ative in­put into the projects they work on, but with that also comes a cer­tain level of re­spon­si­bil­ity that I think is a good chal­lenge.

“With that in mind, we’re very fussy with the artists we hire! We look for peo­ple who can bring a lot of energy and tal­ent to the ta­ble, and we’d rather hire a very tal­ented ju­nior artist than some­one who per­haps has more ex­pe­ri­ence but isn’t as tal­ented.”

Lead artist Nikita Fe­dorenko rel­ishes this free­dom when it comes to cre­at­ing con­cepts for new projects. “Depend­ing on the timeline of the pro­ject, and which phase it is in, it’s pos­si­ble to bring some of those ideas to life and in­clude them in the pro­ject,” he says. “The ones we don’t use are archived to use in the next pro­ject or at a later stage of pro­duc­tion.”

player feed­back counts

He adds that fan feed­back is a vi­tal part of de­vel­op­ment, with many play­ers be­ing par­tic­u­larly pas­sion­ate about what they do and don’t like. “For in­stance, we had a pro­tag­o­nist drawn up and fin­ished in a pre­vi­ous game, but users re­ally didn’t warm to her,” he says. “We tried re­design­ing her whole out­fit, ev­ery de­tail you could imag­ine, but it just didn’t work. In the end we switched her with the side­kick – and found our lead­ing lady.”

Cre­at­ing games that need to run on a huge amount of dif­fer­ent de­vices, all with dif­fer­ent ca­pa­bil­i­ties, is a de­sign chal­lenge. “Other than the hard­ware it­self, a lim­i­ta­tion for the art part of the game is screen size," says Nikita. “It’s im­por­tant to not only make a game look good, but be clearly read­able on as many de­vices as pos­si­ble. So we’re do­ing a lot of work and test­ing in this di­rec­tion.”

We look for peo­ple who can bring a lot of energy and tal­ent to the ta­ble

Although spe­cific art teams are as­signed to each pro­ject, there’s plenty of scope for other artists to get in­volved with their own ideas, says Jack Gil­son, lead artist. “Live games are con­stantly up­dated with new fea­tures and art, so your in­put could al­ways help a new game as it con­tin­ues to flour­ish.

“There are also ex­pert pan­els that all add their in­put to a game dur­ing its de­vel­op­ment process. So if you’re part of a dif­fer­ent team there’s no rea­son why you can’t talk to the pro­ject leader or the lead artist dur­ing a show and tell ses­sion, or over an of­fice beer in the evening.”

The stu­dio also al­lo­cates a set train­ing bud­get to ev­ery team mem­ber, who is then free to spend it how­ever they like to im­prove their skills. “Wooga is con­stantly or­gan­is­ing in-house work­shops, ex­pert lec­tur­ers and ‘ brown bag’ ses­sions where em­ploy­ees can share their learn­ing with each other,” Jack says. “There’s a big fo­cus on shar­ing here and you can learn a lot by just show­ing up.”

It’s this sort of friendly col­lab­o­ra­tion which has clearly con­trib­uted to Wooga’s on­go­ing suc­cess – and with the com­pany con­stantly look­ing to bring in new cre­ative tal­ent among younger artists, that looks set to con­tinue for a long time to come.

The mu­si­cal vik­ing and the colour­ful archer are two pro­to­type de­signs for a game that may – or may not – be de­vel­oped.

Some of the many Woogans do­ing their thing at the main Ber­lin of­fice, watched on by game char­ac­ters. Wooga artist St­effi Schütze pic­tured work­ing on a char­ac­ter from Agent Alice. A back­ground scene from Pearl’s Peril, which is filled with hid­den ob­jects to find. De­signs for Pocket Vil­lage, Wooga’s early Face­book game that’s just com­ing to an end.

Agent Alice is another game of the type that has be­come so pop­u­lar on mo­bile: hid­den-ob­ject find­ing. More con­cept art for a pos­si­ble forth­com­ing game, cur­rently at the de­vel­op­ment stage.

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