Jeanne Hsu, Senior Marketing Manager for Developer Relations at Samsung, chatted with Alexander Ekvall, co-founder, CEO at Snowprint Studios about their award-winning game Rivengard.
Jeanne Hsu (JH): Alexander tell us a little about yourself.
Alexander Ekvall (AE): I’m a lifelong gamer and game maker who has been lucky enough to be able to combine my passion with my career. Growing up, games had a profound impact on my life and continue to play an important role now that I have a family of my own. Experiencing firsthand how games can provide meaning gave me an incredible source of inspiration and motivation. I hope to be part of developing games and communities that can be meaningful for everyday gamers.
JH: What is your role at Snowprint Studios?
AE: I am a co-founder, CEO, and Game Director which means I have many roles. My main responsibility is to make sure every Snowprinter has the best possible environment and conditions to deliver great gaming experiences and the foundations for communities to grow, while also nurturing our company culture/ethos.
JH: What was your professional journey that lead you to Snowprint Studios?
AE: Since my early teenage years I’ve been taking every chance I could to develop games, which also heavily influenced my choices in terms of education. During my studies for a MSc in Computer Science, I teamed up with a group of fellow students and we started our own company creating games for Palm OS, Nintendo DS, J2ME etc. This was a great team. I have had the pleasure and honor to work with several of the team members since then, some as I started my second company. We had a great run and I got the opportunity to work with an amazing team which led to us being acquired by King.
Eight months after joining King we had developed and released Candy Crush, which was followed by another 2.5 fantastic years at King. King is a brilliant game developer, and I learned and grew a lot during my time there. I am forever grateful for being part of the journey at King, and that the stars aligned for my next opportunity. Teaming up and reuniting with old colleagues, and new colleagues from their networks, we ventured into mid-core gaming to create new genre-defining experiences in turn-based-battle as Snowprint Studios.
JH: Where is Snowprint Studios located and where do you live?
AE: Snowprint has offices in Stockholm and Berlin. We also have people working with us in the U.S. I live in Stockholm.
JH: How many employees work at Snowprint Studios?
AE: There are 38 total. There are 35 across our two locations: 20 are based in Södermalm, the creative heart of Stockholm, and another 15 are based in Berlin. Three Snowprinters work remotely from the U.S.
JH: So it’s still a small company. Sounds like you have some really dedicated people who follow their passion as well.
AE: Yeah. It’s also one of the cornerstones of what we believe in. Our vision is to deliver genre defining turn-based tactic experiences. In order to get there, we have small highly talented and autonomous teams where everyone has a significant and important impact on what reaches our players. This is a great way for us to always keep the player in focus during high level prioritization all the way to the smallest details.
JH: How did the relationship with Samsung first start?
AE: We are constantly looking for the best ways to reach players and we were thrilled when we got the chance to collaborate via an introduction from a mutual friend. For me it is quite simple, Galaxy Store wants to provide their users with high quality content and we want our games to appear in high quality contexts such as the Galaxy Store. And it is a huge plus to be working with the talented folks looking after games at Samsung!
Snowprint Studios Rivengard Samsung Award
JH: Congratulations on winning the 2021 Best of Galaxy Store Award – Best Role-Playing Game for Rivengard from Snowprint Studios. What does it mean to win this award?
AE: One does not make games for the awards, but it is a wonderful feeling to have your efforts acknowledged and celebrated. It was definitely a special moment for everyone who worked so hard to bring the game to market. It’s also an opportunity for us to show players, who haven’t gotten to experience Rivengard yet, that this is the best role-playing game (RPG) experience released in 2021! Which, in turn, will help bring more players in to join our great community!
JH: In what ways have you promoted winning the award?
AE: We proudly shared the award with our community, in Discord and on social media. And of course, it’s featured on our websites for the game and on our Snowprint site.
JH: What is the history of the Snowprint Studios franchise?
AE: We first opened our doors in Stockholm on April 20, 2015, with a team of old friends and colleagues who had amassed great experiences from all different parts of the industry, including key positions on the largest franchises ranging from casual mobile to AAA PC/console and game engines. We united around the idea that with the unique set of combined experiences within this team, we were in a strong position to bring genre defining turn-based battle games to a massive audience on mobile. This is a genre we’ve loved playing and see as underserved in the market.
Since our founding, we’ve developed two games based on the above idea. The first is Legend of Solgard with a puzzle-tactic core mechanic that goes beyond the traditional match-3. Our second title, Rivengard, tailors and evolves the classic hex-based tactic core mechanics for a premium mobile gaming experience.
Both games feature intense tactical battles and slick UI set in fantastical worlds inhabited by extraordinary characters. Our games let players progress through story driven campaigns, partake in events, battle each other and collaborate in guilds to take down massive bosses; all of which are enhanced by the communities being an integral part of the experience.
We have been lucky to be able to continue to grow the team with amazing talent and open our second studio in Berlin, which is where Rivengard is developed.
In addition to the continued development of Legend of Solgard and Rivengard, we are now developing our third game, Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus. We are working hard to live up to, and go beyond, the expectations of such a beloved IP and deliver a premiere Warhammer 40,000 experience.
JH: How did you come up with the concept of the War of the Five Gods for Rivengard?
AE: We were looking for a good way to divide up our Heroes and factions and get an understandable system for how they might relate to each other gameplay-wise. We also wanted to go beyond simple good vs. evil, especially since Rivengard is a game where players would collect all kinds of Heroes, from all factions, rather than picking a side. With five Heroes being the standard lineup in our core game and five being a magic number mechanically (rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock) this was a good place to start. Structuring the world and the factions around five different world views or philosophies that also inform their relationship with each other felt like a perfect fit.
JH: It’s amazing that Rivengard launched back in Jan 21, 2021, and has grown so quickly. What do you attribute to the game’s success?
AE: Gamers appreciate new experiences and new challenges to overcome, and they know when a development team appreciates their feedback. We have a very active community and dedicated players that bring their friends to the game, along with marvelous player Ambassadors who help us improve the game with every update.
JH: What made the game unique from other RPGs?
AE: The unique aspect of Rivengard comes from our mission of perfecting turn-based tactics for mobile, achieving real tactical gameplay through swift and snappy battles with an exceptional level of polish. This allows for challenging and rewarding battles that can be completed in minutes instead of half an hour or more, delivering an approachable experience with depth to last for years.
JH: Snowprint Studios wants to “create rich experiences for the everyday gamer!” How has that guided the execution of your games?
AE: First, it’s about knowing your audience. We make games for people like ourselves, people who play games every day as part of our lives. We love to talk about games, dissect them, discuss and argue over them, and play them with our friends. Games are a passion and a part of our identity, so we want to do amazing things for people who feel the same way.
Next, we want to make games that fit into busy lives, but can also be enjoyed for a few hours while sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee. We all remember marathon gaming sessions with our friends and we still enjoy that, but it’s good to have something with the same energy that fits in our pockets.
That’s why we aim to bring real depth and richness to the mobile platform. We can’t count on big cinematics to impress people, not on a screen that you hold in your hand. So while we pride ourselves on making gorgeously detailed art and design, the big thing we try to do is to create the opportunities to have experiences. Real wow moments, where you were down to your last hit points but had the chance to pull off a clever strategy. Or chances to work with your friends and execute a plan that couldn’t have succeeded without everyone’s efforts. And we always want there to be a feeling of discovery, the sense that there’s something new around every corner.
Game Ideas, Discoverability, and Reach
JH: How many games has Snowprint Studios published on Galaxy Store?
AE: Legend of Solgard and Rivengard are the two games available around the world on Galaxy Store.
JH: Where do you get game ideas?
AE: Everywhere! As with other art forms, inspiration is not in short supply. Our experiences, our friends and family, our cultures, other games, and our player communities all have something to add.
JH: How long does it take to go from concept to published?
AE: How long is a piece of string? 😉 It really depends on how much iteration the basic concept needs, and then much depends on the early testing. Sometimes it can be quite quick, a matter of months. Other games take years to come to fruition. For the types of games we are focusing on, the development time until global launch tends to be at least 18 months.
JH: With all the competition for games, what has been your strategy for discoverability?
AE: We work very hard on performance-based marketing, but grass roots development is very important to us. If someone who loves the game brings a friend to the table, their friend is a lot more likely to love the game than someone who saw an ad.
JH: What platform do you use to develop your games?
AE: We develop our games using the Unity game engine.
JH: What has been your strategy for generating revenue?
AE: First, make sure that we have an amazing game that continuously keeps providing new and valuable experiences; by focusing on this, we deliver experiences that players will want to pay for.
JH: What challenges have you faced when it comes to designing, publishing or marketing?
AE: We are in a highly competitive part of the market, competing with companies sitting on huge marketing budgets where breaking through requires much more than a great game. But it’s not a bad thing that we need to be as creative in our marketing as in our game development! We need to leverage the design, publishing and marketing all together.
In the early days we were very focused on the design of the game and worked with partners for some of the areas of publishing and marketing. We have since then transitioned into an independent studio working on all three of these areas in unison and we are now getting closer to having the stars aligned.
A related challenge is to find the best way to operate our games in regions that are outside of our area of expertise.
JH: How do you source your music?
AE: Everything in Rivengard and Legend of Solgard has been made in-house. But we also work together with partners for some of the sound effects and might look to them for music too.
JH: Why is it important to offer your game on Galaxy Store?
AE: We want to go wherever players are, and we’ve seen more and more Samsung players joining our communities. We’re delighted to have them.
Feedback and Advice
JH: You mentioned you’re in touch with the players. How do they give you feedback? Is there a regular channel?
AE: We have the usual forums and Facebook groups for the social aspects of it. But we also have a very active group on more direct chats such as Discord. We also invite our more engaged players into our Ambassador Program; we stay in close touch with the players, have them play test builds and test out new features to obtain input before we go live to the larger population.
JH: What advice would you give developers looking to bring their games to Galaxy Store?
AE: That’s a good question. We want our games to be where players are. We want to be associated with high quality standards. And we want as many opportunities as possible to reach players to give them great experiences. The Samsung store is a good fit for all of those things. And it’s not that big of an extra effort to get on Galaxy Store. All our interactions with the team at Galaxy Store have been great as well. We are there and we think you should be there too.
JH: What is in the future for Snowprint Studios?
AE: We’ll continue to operate and develop innovative, interesting, deep turn-based tactics for as long as people want to play them. And continue to develop or games in a direction where the players are a more integral part of the experiences, there is a lot of interesting opportunities here!
JH: Where can we find Rivengard on Galaxy Store?
JH: What are some of the ways you promote Rivengard?
AE: Here are our websites and channels:
Company Culture and Fun
JH: What is Snowprint Studios doing related to diversity and inclusion?
AE: We find a lot of value in having a diverse team to get as many different kinds of inputs and angles that influence the gaming experience. We are also very focused on kind of getting the best functional teams together. So in our hiring, we work on being as inclusive and open as possible when we create the job listings, our postings, and design our ads.
JH: How do you promote fun with your teams?
AE: The main thing is we have our Snow Day where we get together and combine work and fun. It’s basically like our conference. We look at the big picture and ask where are we heading? Are we going in the right direction? We take a look at our ethos, we discuss our ethos, and we refine it. And we also kind of just have fun together, do a bunch of different activities that we plan out each year. So it’s new activities for each Snow Day, including escape rooms, VR, or gaming competitions.
JH: Escape Rooms? That sounds really fun. Is it virtual?
AE: No, we’ve done real escape rooms. And also the kind where there was a big hall where you could go on a VR adventure. Although, this was before the pandemic.
JH: Sounds like you’re keeping the team together.
AE: Yes, we try. It’s definitely a challenge during Covid. Before Covid, we used to do spontaneous gaming get-togethers at the office. “Who wants to stick around for this gaming session or board game?” That’s hard to replicate during Covid.
JH: What do you do for fun outside of work?
AE: Besides playing games? 🙂 I love seeking out new types of experiences that I can grow from. In more recent years that has included jet skiing (wave runner) and FPV [First Person View] drones. Finding opportunities to enjoy new experiences with family and friends is the best combination.
JH: Thank you for your time Alexander. Congratulations again to your team!
AE: You’re welcome and thank you!
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