“Butter bei die Fische” – How we create features for Goodgame Big Farm

Since lately Goodgame Big Farm brought you several new features like fishing and the world map, we decided to dig a little deeper and explore the process of feature creation at Goodgame Studios. Therefore, we talked to Dennis Schulz, Product Lead of Big Farm and asked him to guide us through the creation process, mostly with regards to the latest fishing update.

Dennis and Marten
Dennis (l) and Game Designer Marten(r) discuss a new Big Farm feature

Dennis, could you start with explaining what a Product Lead does?

As a Product Lead, I have a multitude of responsibilities and I’m involved in all domains of game development. Most basically, I’m coordinating all the different parts of our team so we can keep Big Farm on track and keep expanding it together. When I joined Goodgame Studios, I started out in the Monetization department and I can transfer a lot of knowledge from this time to my current job.

What would be the first step in creating a new feature for Goodgame Big Farm?

Most of the time, the first step for me is to meet with our Community Managers and get feedback about what players currently want or what they dislike about the game. To bring in the economic perspective, I usually coordinate with our Business Intelligence team and check our KPIs, which allows me to line the player’s feedback with numbers. Once this is done, we can proceed with brainstorming for fitting features.

How did you come up with the idea of adding a fishing feature to Goodgame Big Farm?`

While talking to Community Management and Business Intelligence, we noticed that Big Farm had an entertaining main aspect with managing your farms, but players needed some kind of second strand to work on while their farm was busy. Thus, players wouldn’t need to log out but could stay inside Big Farm, further exploring our world. It was clear, though, that the new feature had to be around from beginning to end, so new players and high-level ones could both profit. We asked ourselves: What fits the farm concept but enhances it simultaneously? Consulting one of our key focus groups, the Japanese market, we quickly found out that fishing is quite popular over there (they even have urban fishing ponds). In general, Japanese people living in those big cities seem to enjoy playing Big Farm for the sake of escaping the noise and engaging with a more rural lifestyle. Fishing then brings back childhood memories and it’s actually quite similar to farming: You invest some time and material to later harvest a certain yield.

After settling on a certain idea, how does the feature get on its way to implementation?

Once we decided on fishing, I met with our Balancing team to check the possibility of adding certain aspects and what obstacles could hinder us from doing so. With a long-running game like Big Farm, everything is intertwined and a new feature can affect or even disrupt a lot of the existing ones. Thus, we have to be very careful in advance. After the O.K. from Balancing, a Game Designer usually creates a basic concept and discusses its feasibility with our Art and Tech teams. Two obstacles we encountered in this process where that we had never created a mini game before and that animating vector graphics, which we use for Big Farm, took quite some time. Thus, the Art and Tech teams both were challenged but managed to find appropriate solutions. What follows is a back and forth between me and the game designers, where they present their ideas and I try to give constructive feedback to make the basic version even more enjoyable for our players.

Junior Vector Artist Berta
Our Vector Artist Berta animating loads of fish

How many concepts do you have to drop before you decide for one?
Over the course of production, we generally run through about three concept iterations in which we adjust for player enjoyment and economic feasibility, followed by a final optimization. This encompasses the User Experience and Art departments improving the look-and-feel (e.g. the user interface), our balancing team investing tons of time into fitting the new feature in our general game structure as well as our writers creating funny text snippets and our Localization team translating these snippets to the different languages Big Farm is available in.

And after all that, the game goes live?
Well, we haven’t yet covered one of the key parts in game production: development / coding. All the cool feature ideas, artworks and texts have to be implemented in the games code by our developers. As I mentioned before, we didn’t have experience with creating a mini game before the fishing feature, so coding it took quite some time and produced a lot of initial bugs. This is where Quality Assurance comes in: These guys and girls test our new features to the core and show us what we have to fix or improve to make the feature playable. Though, not only QA assisted us in this endeavor. Before bringing the fishing feature to our live servers, we implemented it on our beta server, so actual players could test our new addition, too. This generated very valuable feedback which helped us polishing the fishing update before finally introducing it to our live servers.

Junior Client Developer Anton
Our Client Developer Anton working on some code

Can you give us a rough estimate on how long it took to implement the fishing feature?
The initial idea actually came up in February. Around the summer season, the design was mostly finished and production started. As you might have noticed, we implemented the feature just a few days ago in October. So for the fishing feature, it took about eight months from start to finish. It’s important to note, though, that the production time greatly differs between features. The fishing feature mainly took so long because of the aforementioned obstacles. If we can use mechanics that are already in the game, say a wheel of fortune, the whole process goes a lot faster. From one day of brainstorming over a week of conceptualization and about two weeks for production, we might end up with a new feature in a little over three weeks!

Now that we know everything about feature production for Big Farm, what’s in the pipeline for the near future?
Production wise, we’re currently optimizing the fishing feature so players can enjoy it as much as we want them to. Furthermore, we’re working on the implementation of the coop village alongside tons of coop features to encourage players to socialize and work together. For the upcoming Christmas season, we’re optimizing and renewing our Christmas features so players can enjoy up-to-date content. On the design side, we’re discussing new features for the horse paddock and a new permanent farm based on a volcanic island.

We hope you enjoyed this extensive tour through feature creation at the Goodgame Big Farm team!