"We took the lean mindset to the extreme" - lessons learned, community-building and flying islands
A blog post from June, 25 2020
Today we’re talking to Armin Windlin and Robin Hedinger, who are part of the Kickbox team behind the new massive multiplayer online (MMO) game “Rise in Time». The project recently graduated as a successful GoldBox from the Swisscom Kickbox program for intrapreneurs. Armin is participating in Swisscom’s practical bachelor’s degree program in Computer Science, and Robin is an intern in Interactive Media Design at Swisscom. Having successfully completed both the Red and BlueBox phases of Kickbox, they are now continuing the development of "Rise in Time" in their spare time. We spoke to them about the importance of community, the lessons they learned during the Kickbox process, and their vision for the future.
Armin, you had the original idea for “Rise in Time.” Tell us more about it and where the idea came from.
Armin: Rise in Time belongs to a particular sub-genre of MMO games called MMORTS (Massive Multiplayer Online Realtime Strategy Games), which I have been a fan of for many years. But as I was playing, there were quite a few aspects of these games that I felt could be done better. So, I came up with the idea for “Rise in Time”.
To summarize the concept of "Rise in Time": You basically start out in a world of flying islands with just one piece of land. It’s then your job to rule that land, build up an army, and capture more land. You can team up with other players and then continue to expand and travel from island to island, battling other teams and collecting objects, treasure, and artifacts along the way. The final goal is to reach the center of the world, conquer the central island, and hold onto it in a siege for 48 hours to win the game.
You’re now running the beta 2.0 version of the game, how was your experience with Kickbox up to this point?
Armin: The idea for “Rise in Time” had been in my head for a while, and I had started working on it about a year before I heard about Kickbox at Swisscom. I was very passionate about the project already and wanted more time to work on it. And so, I thought, I have nothing to lose, I’ll try applying. I discovered that through Kickbox, every Swisscom employee gets the opportunity to boost their idea during the 2 months RedBox phase. This was great for me, as I was given one day a week to work on the project as well as additional coaching, which was excellent. “Rise in Time” then made it to the BlueBox phase, at which point we were given even more time to work on the project and were able to put together a team made up of other apprentices from Swisscom.
It’s fantastic that Swisscom offers this opportunity with an innovation program like this. The whole process was really great and a very valuable experience. I’ve been able to develop entirely new skill sets such as leadership and teamwork, in addition to software development.
Now that you have a full team working on “Rise in Time,” how have you split up tasks within the team?
Armin: My primary role in the “Rise in Time” project is software development, but I’m also a kind of product manager, coordinating everything and ensuring that tasks are completed on time. I also take care of marketing and community building, which are crucial aspects for us.
Robin: Since I already work in the area of design and UI, I’ve taken on those aspects of the project. So basically, I tell the developers how things should look. Alongside Armin and me, we also have Lorenz and Mark, who are on the same work-study program as Armin. Lorenz is responsible for DevOps, operating the servers, etc. which is critical when scaling. Mark is a developer like Armin but has also taken on a lot of marketing and community-building tasks and turned out to be the text-whizz of the team.
In fact, wearing different hats like this was a crucial part of the process. We soon realized that we would need to take on tasks outside of our core area for the project to work. This was an excellent way for each of us to widen our scope and expand our skill sets, as we had the opportunity to try things out that we would not have been able to on an ordinary project where things are structured more rigidly. This also improved our teamwork overall because we learned about the work that the others are doing rather than simply viewing it from our own field of responsibility, which essentially makes the final product even better.
What sets Rise in Time apart from other MMOGs?
Armin: While MMOs are a huge genre, we’re already a part of the small sub-genre MMORTS. So the strategy element already sets us apart from lots of games. Within this subgenre, I’d say that three main things make us stand out. The first is automation, which means players don’t need to waste time on the boring stuff and can focus on strategy, team play, and battles – the fun parts. Secondly, we have a strict no pay-to-win policy because we want to make skill and strategy the deciding factors, not how much you’re willing to spend. Finally, the graphics, which Robin can tell us more about…
Robin: Well, we started in 2D, before moving to fake 3D, and finally to real 3D. Most MMOs are in fake 3D and haven’t aged very well. They have their die-hard fans who continue to play, but they aren’t able to attract new, casual players because they’re not appealing aesthetically. This means that they’re missing out on a lot of potential players. With “Rise in Time,” we were able to get lots of players on board, who were new to the genre because they liked the graphics.
You talk about the importance of community on your Kickstarter page, which steps are you taking to
actively build the community?
Robin: You could even say that community is the most important thing – they’re almost a part of the game. It’s what makes it fun. So far, we’ve been using the Kickstart campaign to build up the community, as well as reaching out to streamers on Twitch, using social media e.g., Twitter and online advertising. We then bring them all together in the Discord channel, which now has more than 300 members. Here, players exchange ideas, report bugs, make suggestions for improvements. It’s almost like a huge team – they give us ideas, and we can then respond directly, which is a great opportunity for us to get a wide range of input on the game. Of course, our long-term goal is to achieve organic growth, and part of that will be the launch of our full-version mobile apps on the Google Play and Apple stores in addition to the browser version.
What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from the Getkickbox process?
Robin: I think I learned the most from the style of development we used for the project. In my design work, I’m used to creating a final piece and then passing it over to the developer - then I’m done. But with “Rise in Time,” we worked very dynamically. We made something and put it out there to test out without overthinking it. And I think that’s why we made it this far because we focused on the essential things. The game might not be “finished,” but I now know that’s not the most important thing. Creating “Rise in Time” showed me that it’s not the goal to have everything 100% finalized before putting it out there, but to make a game that’s fun to play and a polished UI isn’t the most crucial factor in achieving that. You could say that we took the “lean” mindset and the idea “fail fast, learn faster” to the extreme (laughs).
Armin: I’ve learned so much in this project, but one of the key lessons is the value of learning from mistakes. In contrast to learning about things theoretically in class, when you actually do something and then find out it didn’t work, you’re forced to rethink the situation to improve it, making the lesson so much more memorable.
We’ve also learned a lot about the gaming industry and how difficult it is to establish yourself in this market. It’s such a vast industry, and there are thousands of games out there. It takes a lot of hard work and persistence to gain a footing there.
What would you do differently if you were to go through the process again?
Robin: At the beginning, we were focused on getting as many users onto the Kickstarter page as possible, so we launched the beta 2.0 version, started the Kickstarter campaign, and began online advertising simultaneously. But we soon realized that we first needed to get people enthusiastic about the game by playing it before asking for their support, so it would have been more effective to go through the steps above successively. Now, we’ve changed our strategy slightly to first let users play the game directly, fall in love with it, and then engage with them in the community to improve the product and build up revenue streams.
Armin: The Kickstarter campaign certainly wasn’t all bad; it drew some attention to the game and even led to us being featured prominently in a blog about upcoming MMOs. As I mentioned before, nothing goes to waste.
What are the next steps for “Rise in Time”?
Armin: Our current focus is on creating a stable version of the game. We’re still learning and fixing bugs, and there are small improvements to be made. Then there are several features we’d like to add. This is something we want to get our community actively involved in, so they can tell us which features they want and maybe even vote for the features that should be added. And of course, our goal is to build up the community even further. After all, the better the community, the more fun it is to play the game.
We’re hoping to launch the full version of the game in a few months, including a monetization model. And since competition is a crucial aspect of the game, we want to organize the first Rise in Time World Championship next year to bring together the best players from across the globe to compete in one big tournament.
Well, it sounds like I need to get playing and prepare for next year! Thanks for your time, guys.
You can play Rise in Time here!
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