Building Million Dollar Digital Products to Creating a Casual Mobile Game – There Was A Lot to Learn

Alex Matjanec CEO


The game done changed.

For the last three years, AD:60 has been dedicated exclusively to building products for its clients such a Stash, Nutrisystem, Christies, and MyBankTracker to name a few. In 2018, we decided to challenge ourselves and go back to where we started from and showcase our   creative and development prowess by entering into the mobile gaming space.. In effect, AD:60 wanted to develop the ability to make products for itself in addition to maintaining high-level execution for clients. The game we’ve created, Cutting Corners (now available for download on iTunes), is categorized as a casual mobile game; hink Tetris or 2048 rather than Fortnite. In creating Cutting Corners we’ve learned there are some key distinctions between what we’ve been doing so well for others and what creating within the mobile gaming space entails.

Key Learning #1: Purpose of the Product

In our client-focused sphere we know that our role is that of a problem solver. Our clients have a direct objective in mind and our job is to provide a method to achieve that objective. We create an algorithm, literally and figuratively, to facilitate our clients realizing their goals. In the gaming space we’re not solving any problem, which in and of itself can be a problem. The end goal remains creating a product users enjoy; however, the method to achieving that is less definitive.

Given that a mobile game does not necessarily solve a problem, one of the first things we’ve learned is that it’s a binary enterprise. Users will love it or they won’t and they make this determination pretty quickly. It’s similar to a friend recommending a television show to you when you’ve been asking for something new to binge watch. If you don’t like the first episode chances are you aren’t sticking around for the mid-season plot twist. You don’t need this show, you’re just interested in finding a show. With a casual mobile game, you have to get the user engaged before the end credits on the pilot episode. No pressure.

Key Learning #2: Games require a Heavy Iterative Process

Developing Cutting Corners required an agile development cycle because we hado get it right the first time;  Ithe constant flow of new ideas was not only allowed but encouraged. This in turn required the development team to be nimble as quick pivots are a constant occurrence. The basic structure of the game is established but the idiosyncrasies that make it unique are seemingly infinite. For example, through testing we identified changes we wanted to make which included the color scheme and sound effect. So, while the development of the foundation continued, there were changes that needed to be made in the mechanics. Let’s go back to the television show analogy. The show starts out as a concept and then is put to paper. A script is drafted, parts are cast and sets are made. s this develops, imagine making changes to certain character narratives or settings. You need the show to be a hit in its first episode and so these changes continue being finessed into the overarching concept until the show premieres. Similarly, while the development of Cutting Corners has followed a waterfall method with the building blocks being completed in succession, the need to be flexible until the final finishing touches are added has been imperative.  We won’t get a second chance at that coveted first impression and so those core mechanics had to be right.

In contrast, with a client-centric product there is a dialogue about the end result before we get there but much of the groundwork is established from the outset. We’re constantly engaged with our clients about what they want out of the product and how we can achieve this. There isn’t much guess work; Instead -there  is educated execution. We know what is expected and, given the collaboration with our client, we know what will work. The amount of variance in the process is limited because the end goal is defined. Getting to a place where the client is confident the product will resonate with their target audience is also not a one-shot deal. There is an opportunity to iron out unexpected wrinkles after the product has rolled out. While the prime objective is to get it right the first time, the method in getting there and flexibility in doing so are much different than creating a mobile game.

Key Learning #3: Mass Adoption for the Win

A key lesson we’ve learned is the requirement for mass adoption in order for a casual mobile game to get off the ground. This area of the mobile business space is volume based. Without a large number of users it is difficult to turn a game that is free to download into a profit maker. Ad space is driven by exposure and in game purchases are designed to be low cost for each individual user. This creates a demand for high usage rates. And if you’re thinking 100,000-200,000 downloads is high, Candy Crush has over 290,000,000 monthly users. So not only does the game need to be an instant hit with each user in order for it to gain traction, it needs to go viral like an Instagram post from Drake about his feelings.

With our client-based products, the size of the target audience is much different. For example, if we’re building a wealth management product for a financial institution to offer current  customers and attract new customers, it doesn’t need hundreds of millions of users in order for that product to achieve its goal. That kind of usage would be beyond even the loftiest aspirations. In order for a casual mobile game to break out, though, that kind of volume is not an aspiration but a requirement.

Success in this Endeavor is Interpretive

Developing Cutting Corners has taught us is that success in this endeavor is interpretive. Given the targets that need to be hit in order for this first foray into the casual mobile gaming space to be financially profitable, it would be unrealistic to set this as the bar for success. Having to get a smash hit on the first shot leaves no margin for error and no room to learn. In reality, the success of this experience has been gaining an understanding into how the mobile gaming space works and learning from things we’ve done well and things we can improve upon. As this was an AD:60 for AD:60 effort,, we gain something from this no matter what and our future creative efforts in the mobile gaming space will be enhanced by this experience. Even if we don’t have a hit show on our hands now, we know we’re closer to creating something you’ll recommend to your friends than we are to the cutting room floor.

In the customer driven realm, we don’t get to take such an approach. We need to ensure we’re meeting and exceeding our clients’ expectations every time with every product. Learning and improving is always part of the process but we don’t get to rest on those ideals alone as a mark of success. Our customers don’t work with us because we get something positive out of the experience. They do so because we are able to produce the results they want and need. Success isn’t interpretive; it is clearly defined by our clients’ response to our product.

Despite the key differences in building for clients and building an AD:60 independent product, the process of developing Cutting Corners has also reminded us of the importance of remaining focused on our hallmarks: creating accessible, engaging products for users. So, while the game may change our values remain the same.

It would mean a lot if you could download Cutting Corners and let us know what you think.

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