Playspace: A Unity case study
How do you get a disparate team of game developers to work more closely together for mutual benefits? Playspace was a Unity shop for the engineers, but the artists didn’t know how to take advantage of its capabilities, and the collaboration just wasn’t there. That’s why the studio signed up for a Unity Training program. And after just a few sessions and a fun hackathon, things turned around.
To increase collaboration between artists and engineers, and speed up production and time to market
Android, iOS, browser (Facebook)
Palma (Majorca), Spain
From Flash to Unity
Alfonso Villar started Playspace in 2011 with casual, Flash-based games for Facebook. After transitioning to mobile games, the Playspace team grew to over 40 and now supports 12 different cross-platform games. Its Parcheesi is the most social version on the market, and Loco Bingo is the top-grossing bingo app in Spain and Italy, making Playspace a substantial player in the global $850M social bingo gaming market.
“Adopting Unity was a huge milestone for Playspace. We rebuilt Loco Bingo from base code to Unity in a few months, and we consolidated all 12 of our games in Unity within a year. Unity let us develop once and then immediately deploy to multiple platforms,” says Villar, the CEO. Instead of maintaining specialists for different platforms, everyone could now focus on gameplay.
The tailored training plan provided the following benefits for Playspace:
- 6x reduction in the amount of time artists spend on new game versions
- Significantly improved collaboration between developers and artists
- More consistent and accurate estimates of development sprint durations
- Higher quality artwork and games due to learning how to master Unity tools
Identifying studio process and expertise gaps
When Playspace initially migrated to the Unity real-time development platform it helped them nail down cross-platform production, and the engineers soon became experts working with it. “The problem was that our artists were used to working in Flash,” says Villar. Playspace had one artist who worked with Unity, but otherwise the collaboration simply wasn’t there. Designers would assign the artists tasks for what they wanted, the artists would create files and hand them off to the engineers, who would import them, and that was that. It’s a typical but dated and inefficient workflow.
And this inefficiency affected quality. “There were very few iterations of the artwork, if any, so there was little continuous improvement,” according to Juan Gómez, the team’s lead artist. Developers and artists weren’t using the same tools, and artists had no idea how to leverage Unity’s considerable feature set to improve game quality. And after the one artist who knew Unity left the company, Gómez and Villar realized they had to find a better solution.
Discovering Unity Professional Training
Villar learned that a Unity Training Workshop had helped another team fill in specific gaps in their Unity skills. Villar did some research and found that the program was affordable and quite convenient. After speaking with a Unity Instructional Designer about their specific needs, Villar arranged for a training program delivered in three stages that would specifically train artists how to use Unity’s built-in tools and improve how the artists and engineers collaborated.
The first training, delivered live online over eight days, provided basic training for the artists and more advanced content for the engineers who were already well versed in Unity. The second training, a month later, was even more fun: a three-day, 12-hour hackathon.
Teams Fire and Ice hack their way to mastery
A Unity training hackathon is self-directed group work that reinforces classroom learning. In this case, the project was co-designed by Unity’s Instructional Designer and Playspace to allow the participants to use their new skills in a relevant and meaningful way. Assigned to either Team Fire or Team Ice, they worked to build a game using the tools and techniques they learned in the first training phase the month before. The mixed teams of artists and developers collaborated – without the pressures of commercial projects – to forge relationships, learn how to speak the same language within Unity, and understand each other’s roles better.
The teams started with the same template and a set of goals. During the sessions, the Unity trainer worked one-on-one with each participant to solve problems and guided them through every stage of production. “The artists had never touched Unity before the training. In the hackathon, they worked with their team engineers and together made two unique, working games in 12 hours,” shares Gómez. Two months after the hackathon, the team attended a third training where they built on their new skills with more advanced topics and techniques.
Improvements across the board
“Before the training, the team’s main worry was that our only Unity artist had left the company. While we miss her aesthetics, now all our artists can use Unity effectively,” says Gómez. Indeed, now when they hire artists they can focus on aesthetic and design skills and know that the artist can quickly learn from their coworkers how to work in the Unity development environment.
The Unity training improved production in virtually every Playspace workflow. Artists can create in a month what used to take half a year. Teams can accurately estimate the duration of development sprints. Previously, estimates could be off by weeks, and now they’re consistently on target. Sprints accomplish much more work, and because engineers and artists are communicating better and working with the same platform, they’re able to iterate much more. Gómez says, “In Unity they prototype something, iterate on it, improve it again, and it all happens so fast. All our games are incrementally getting better. Not to mention, getting to market faster!”
Helping Playspace create and operate their games
As Playspace looks to expand its presence globally, they’re using multiple Unity products and services to enhance production, acquire the right users, and generate revenue along the way.
On the monetization side, according to Villar, “Unity Ads opened our eyes to what could be done with advertising.” That’s just one of the reasons why they readily trusted Unity Training Services, and why they expect to succeed by leveraging the wide range of Unity products that go far beyond just creating a game.
They’ve also been working with deltaDNA, now a Unity product, for over five years. DeltaDNA combines deep game analytics and engagement functionality so that developers can personalize each player’s experience based on deep and rich data.
Playspace is additionally participating in the GameTune beta to use machine learning to optimize their game, such as their bet multiplier. GameTune continuously learns, adjusts, and iterates to deliver a better gameplay experience.
Professional Training made the difference
Unity had been an integral part of Playspace production for years, but it took something extra – Professional Training – to learn how to get programmers, designers, and artists collaborating effectively. With better communication and easier back-and-forth as they created more iterations, Playspace teams improved quality and sped up their production cycles. Villar says, “Especially with engineers, there’s a tendency to want to figure everything out yourself. But letting someone teach you a few tricks can save a lot of time and money. Unity Professional Training helped Playspace take a giant leap forward.