Interview: We discuss The Walking Dead: No Man's Land's sixth anniversary with Next Games

Interview: We discuss The Walking Dead: No Man's Land's sixth anniversary with Next Games

Next Games and AMC are celebrating the sixth anniversary of their strategy game The Walking Dead: No Man's Land this month. It has proven to be an exceptionally popular title for them since it first launched in 2015, racking up 23 million downloads and 131 Million euros in lifetime revenue.

To commemorate the occasion, the game will host several in-game events throughout October. Among those celebrations, a three-week campaign will take place that offers players a chance to net themselves exclusive rewards, Legendary anniversary weapons, and an Anniversary Radio Call for unlocking fan-favourite characters.

We recently had a chance to chat with Teemu Huuhtanen, CEO of Next Games, Sergey Lopyrev, Product Owner at Next Games, and Van Chu, Product Owner at Next Games. We discussed the community's involvement with the game over the last six years, the challenges they've faced and the lessons learned in that time.

Could you please introduce yourself and your role at Next Games and, by extension, The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land?

TEEMU: My name is Teemu Huuhtanen and I am the CEO at Next Games. The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land is our first published licensed game. I’m really proud of what we created back in 2015 and how the game has evolved throughout the years. The game has certainly taught us a thing (or three) about how to work with world-class IP and an ongoing live operation.

SERGEY: I am Sergey and I work as a Product Owner here at Next Games. I started from Player Support and moved on to work with No Man’s Land’s Product Owner for a couple of years. I feel very passionate about developing and maintaining live mobile games, making sure that me and my team provide the best experience to our players and fans of the IPs. I love the fact that we have a great opportunity to work with various franchises here at Next Games, such as The Walking Dead and Stranger Things, as connecting fans of the universe with their favorite characters and worlds is something that really inspires me.

VAN: My name is Van and I currently work as the Product Owner for No Man’s Land. Before my current role, I was a Community and Player Experience specialist on the team. I'm a strong believer in user-centered design and development, so it has been a pleasure to work with my team on an IP as remarkable as The Walking Dead, to continue developing a truly great game with a delightful community.

The Walking Dead: No Man's Land has proven to be a highly successful mobile game. What do you believe has contributed to its ongoing success?

TEEMU: The game lives and breathes The Walking Dead. Augmenting on the original series and respecting the world of The Walking Dead was something we really took to heart. Of course, the game mechanics and live operations around it were and are well-thought through, but the biggest factor was that we were able to capture the spirit of the show together with AMC.

VAN: We have a unified approach towards cross-collaboration - between various disciplines within the game team, art, live ops, player experience, analytics, branding, and user acquisition - we all share a collective goal which is the success of the game. I'm very glad to be in such an environment, where everyone makes an effort to build understanding and alignment of each other's work and objectives. This mindset extends to AMC and our players, and it really shows in the game and every release.

SERGEY: Very close collaboration with AMC and mutual trust is undoubtedly a big factor here. Then, successfully adapting our own development cycles to the live ops calendar is something that plays a significant role in our success: it allows us to bring content to our players at a consistent pace. And, of course, listening to our community and engaging them has always been important in picking the right direction of development for No Man’s Land.

Do you notice the player base rise significantly whenever a new series of The Walking Dead begins on TV, or do the concurrents numbers remain fairly consistent regardless?

SERGEY: We can definitely spot an increase in organic install numbers during The Walking Dead series runs. There are both new and returning players flocking to the game. With the TV show-related content, events, and promotions we are able to maintain a very good level of daily and weekly activity and engagement among the playerbase and The Walking Dead fans. I would say that a focus on live ops and a tight connection between the TV show and our game are the main ingredients here.

VAN: Of course, every new season has had a positive effect on our DAU. This is helped by our strong marketing efforts, and the kind support from AMC to promote our game during these times. We give good reason for such promotion, as one of the key offerings, especially for TWD fans, is that we release content based on each episode of the season.

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Throughout the six years that the game has been available, what challenges have you faced in that time, and how did the team overcome them?

TEEMU: I think one of the strengths of Next Games is how the whole company pulls together as one team whenever we’ve faced challenges. It’s a privilege to work with a team as resilient as Next Games. Throughout the years, the No Man’s Land team has set the bar high for themselves. It has not always been easy, but at the same time rewarding when we’ve accomplished many of those goals. Also, our partners at AMC have been absolutely supportive all these years, and we couldn’t have done this without them.

SERGEY: Of course, as for any live game there have been quite many challenges that had happened suddenly or had been building up slowly over time. As in some sense we are tied to the release schedule of The Walking Dead show, for us it is a constant scheduling and prioritising exercise of what to include into our TV season-related updates, how much development time it takes, how do we make it exciting, because it’s not always an easy task. One other pretty significant challenge for a game of No Man’s Land age is to make sure that knowledge and experience stays within the team, when people move on to e.g. develop other projects within the organization.

Similarly, what lessons have you learned from The Walking Dead: No Man's Land that you have applied or will apply to future games you develop?

TEEMU: We have learned a lot and the company has really grown up with No Man’s Land, if you will. No Man’s Land was our first licensed game and the biggest learning is that we have truly learned how to bring entertainment franchises to mobile. There are many other aspects the company is more mature with now though. We excel in operating our games live and we have improved capabilities to make data-driven decisions. We have also learned a thing or two from production, early testing and validation to marketing. Essentially the whole “package” has evolved quite a bit along with No Man’s Land, as it should in this fast-paced industry.

SERGEY: One of the biggest learnings is the understanding of how important it is to have a dedicated and motivated team working on a game together, with everybody actively involved in the development process and all sorts of discussions. This is definitely something that we will focus on in our future projects in Next Games. From the product management point of view, my personal favourite lesson is that it is vital to always combine creativity and data-driven approach to achieve the best results, and to make the best decisions for the players and for ourselves as developers.

How involved is the player base with any changes or additions to The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land, and how much do you value the community's input?

VAN: We interact with our community daily and value their feedback highly. There are countless features that have made their way into the game thanks to discussions, ideas and suggestions from our players. We also frequently involve a group of players under NDA in the design or balancing of certain features, to ensure that they would be appealing. Our relationship with the players is very close, to the point where they can run self-organized events and rely on support from the dev team, in terms of live events, communication support, and rewards.

SERGEY: As I mentioned earlier, we do rely quite a lot on community input when planning our sprints, and we actively engage with the community via forums, social media, chats, update videos, community events, etc. Besides the balancing changes, feedback on features, polls, and other input, we also monitor which heroes (or villains) from The Walking Dead universe the community would like to see in the game next!

The Walking Dead: No Man's Land is available now over on the App Store and Google Play. It is a free-to-play game with in-app purchases.

Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen brings both a love of games and a very formal-sounding journalism qualification to the Pocket Gamer team.