Inside Out: Thought Bubbles
The Live Ops Case Study of a Delightful Puzzle Game.
Inside Out: Thought Bubbles is one of the most popular Disney bubble shooters and a prime example of a successful Live Ops development ran by Amber. Although a complex project with a challenging scope, we could meet and exceed its demands by counting on 2 crucial items: Our Team and Our Process.
Our goal is to successfully deliver new content every 2 weeks while maintaining the game client free of technical debt and major issues. Another important aspect is always keeping the level of design quality to preserve user engagement. Moreover, we deliver new client updates every 30-45 days, depending on the agreed schedule.
4 Designers – in charge of new level creation & tuning the new levels and high churn live levels.
2 Developers – one to handle the live content pushes & one to work exclusively on the game client.
4 QA – to test the live pushes & new game clients
1 Artist – in charge of new event assets, game icons & new level maps
1 Project Manager – to rule them all
During the handover process it became obvious that with all the design, art and development work we would need to be extremely well organized. As performance and the high level of quality are some of our motivational factors. All the team members know their part and the importance of delivering quality items, on time.
With new content that must be sent every 2 weeks, we considered this to be our main time unit. We split the 2-week timeframe into: Week 1 for Content Creation and Week 2 for Content Delivery.
For Developers and QA, Week 1 is all about fixing bugs and enhancing the client. Week 2 is when we focus on the current release and make sure it hits the live date on time. In the first week, the hard work gets done – new integrations or difficult bugs. On the second week, aside from the new content we’re mostly doing compatibility checks.
If the scope of new client updates is small, QA provides a list of legacy bugs, sorted by severity and we would use that small ‘break” to work on them to diminish the ever-growing bug list.
Designers would create new levels during the first week, always making sure to create a few extra over the required target. This means that slowly but surely, we would grow a buffer zone between the newly created levels and the content that we need to push live. This in turn makes us comfortably ahead of the curve – even if during legal holidays all the design team took 3 weeks off and that barely made a dent into our buffer. For the second week, the designers are tuning both newly created levels (but not released yet) and live levels that are churning users out of the game. Those tuning days prove to be critical for the quality of the levels going out, as each team member would play all their colleagues new levels and provide feedback.
Art would simply work on any asset that is on schedule, sometimes months ahead of the actual delivery date. For events, we would guide ourselves by their name, and try to draft variants as close to the description as possible. Example “Shoot for the Stars”, “Scary Night”, “Fall Frenzy”, etc. Game icons are exciting as we must respect a specific thematic, like Halloween, Christmas or Valentine’s day. By far the most fun we had was with New level maps. These are complex beasts, that need to match a certain movie scene, but we are free to use whatever items/details we want, if it is correct and accurate represented.
The Project Manager maintains communication channels open with the Disney points of contact, through both daily and weekly status calls, while also keeping an eye on the deliverables table. We would have daily sprints for overall ticket status and prioritize work for the next day during this live face time. The calls also allow us to quickly identify original team members that can help with a specific integration or technical information that was missed during the hand over. Finally, the Disney point of contact gives us overall feedback for the project and whether we are on track with our schedule.
The original engagement between Amber and Disney was contracted out for 10 months. After 9 months, testament to the good work performed by the Amber team, Disney reached out to extend the contract for another 6 months.
Now, we are still going strong and keeping Inside Out up in the charts!