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Developing a Mobile Game for Basketball World Cup

December 18, 2020

We want to share the story about the development of one of our main games in 2019 — “Mes už Lietuvą” / Lithuanian Basketball (for iOS and Android). As SneakyBox, one of the largest game development studios in Lithuania, we had a great opportunity to be part of the most beloved sport in our country and together with the Lithuanian Basketball Federation develop a game for 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The Federation wanted to show that there are other ways to support your team while you are waiting for the next match. They asked us for help to make a fun and accessible game for everyone, to create more ways for them to communicate with the audience and their partners. This was also another way to get revenue, however, together with our partners, we decided to avoid showing ads in the game, and got ourselves a welcome challenge to make a new way to monetize the app in the Lithuanian market.

The Challenge

The mobile app that we were creating with a helping hand of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation had the ambition to make an impression of what it feels like to be in the court in a fun and quirky way. We had a task not only to create the game but to promote it to Lithuanian and worldwide audiences. When planning we broke down our challenge into 5 parts:

  1. Maintain social media communication (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube) and have a TV presence. We started with a quote from Jay Baer, NY Times Bestselling Author: “The key to effective use of influencers is their ability to cause behaviour.” We decided to utilize social media influencers promotion and, with the help of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation, started contacting Lithuanian social media stars.
  2. Develop appealing gameplay and art direction that is attractive to all audiences. Inspired by the movie The Other Dream Team our design team set up some objectives. One of them was to pay tribute to Lithuanian basketball history by showcasing the iconic Grateful Dead T-shirt.
  3. Keep a year-round interest of passionate Lithuanian fans. Lithuania (currently in the Top 10 in FIBA World Ranking) is commonly known as a basketball country and has a lot of die-hard fans who travel to the matches no matter what. The Lithuanian Basketball Federation wanted to keep them satisfied and engaged all year round.
  4. Design a customer-friendly brand presence. We did not want to clog our game with unnecessary adds in order to make the game friendlier for the audience. Therefore the decision to put brands inside the game’s world was the only possible way to make it look natural.
  5. Make basketball players recognizable to fans in a subtle way, avoiding excessive exaggeration and staying respectful to the players. Even though we were not putting basketball players’ names in the game, we kept their jersey numbers, so the hardcore fans would know who they have unlocked and who is cheering up for them.

Design Process

Our design team at SneakyBox created the game development process which varies a bit depending on the plan but is more or less applied to every project. In this case, we split it into five parts:

  1. Research. Looking at what’s already out there. Playing games and brainstorming. Scouting popular games and making ours look eye-catching, incorporating and exciting. Analysing others’ mistakes, UI and art directions, trying to make our app look better than our competitors.
  1. Moodboard. Compiling a bunch of images and putting them on the board to define the look and feel of the game.

    As mentioned, the main inspiration for the artists was the movie The Other Dream Team, so they decided to create a tribute to the Lithuanian basketball history by showcasing noteworthy yet inevitably forgotten Grateful Dead T-shirt. Even though the younger audiences might not recognize it, the iconic tie-dyed shirt might be stuck somewhere in their heads.

  1. Wireframes. Creating sketch concepts.

    The actual design process starts with a rough wireframe. Overview of the design we want to see helps us visualise how it could be shown in the game. We start from scratch creating a structured view of how our entire project layout would look like, making it easier to later build individual styles, illustrations and other parts.

  1. Exploration. Illustrating characters in a variety of styles.

    We tried different concepts, starting from more realistic details of the celebrated basketball players and changing to highly stylised looks until we found what seemed perfect. One of the ideas was making different concepts of jerseys and make them unlockable as additional skins. However, we have decided to make it simpler — keeping the same shirt and making the players as the unlockable characters.

    The hardest part was using a similar design to make each individual look exactly as they wanted. We had to find a compromise for every character, whether it was just a darker colour of their socks or jersey designs. Showcasing certain details making characters look real was a must. Whether it was a beard, accessories, new style or hair colour, and finally — their jersey number.

  1. Aural Touches. Ensuring unique experience.

    Although not everyone plays mobile games with sound on, it was very important for us to create the sounds thoroughly, as they heavily influence the atmosphere and experience of the final game. Our sound designer had to attend lots of basketball matches to collect sounds which would fit best in our game. However, there was quite a lot of fan interference, therefore we decided just to sample what we wanted to add in our game and create the sounds by ourselves in order to make them more cartoonish.

    The goal was to make the sound of the game in sync with the game’s emotion: funny and funky vibe while still acoustically reminiscent of basketball sounds. Lots of basketball hits, slams, slaps and swooshes were recorded along with throws and many bounces. These, in turn, were used not only for the obvious sound effects like throwing a ball or scoring points but for UI elements as well — every click and tap is made of repurposed basketball recordings. All of this not only adds a fun trivia to the game but more importantly creates psychoacoustic associations for the player, thus helping to glue the sounds of the game on a subconscious level.

Release and Marketing

After various iterations, we created the game that helped the Lithuanian Basketball Federation to share a passion for basketball outside of the court and traditional media channels. This way people could experience the extraordinary basketball emotions anywhere they go even before the World Cup has started.

The game includes:

  • Creative experience gaining model in which you unlock a new Lithuanian National Basketball Team player.
  • In-game appearances from Lithuanian National Basketball team players such as Domantas Sabonis and many more, as well as their coach — Dainius Adomaitis;
  • Gameplay which easily connects with the Lithuanian Basketball fans requiring quick reaction activities while embracing what is happening on the court, like making free throws, having trouble with media and other funny tasks.
  • Hyper Casual style making it look easy to play but getting harder with every level you go through.

To help spread the word and add some extra spark into the game, we asked for help from well-known influencers such as Remigijus “Remis” Daškevičius (Flying Saucer Gang rapper with more than 4,5 million views on YouTube and more than 65 thousand Instagram followers), LTU Republic (YouTube personality with more than 100 thousand subscribers and 50 thousand followers on Instagram and Facebook). In addition to that, we made promotional commercials on TV and social media.

Furthermore, the Lithuanian Basketball Federation Facebook and Instagram page “Krepšinio Namai” (with around 50 thousand followers total) were constantly uploading promotional content.

We also want to give special thanks to Martyna Marmaitė-Motum, former Kaunas Žalgiris Marketing and Communications Manager, for the help developing ideas and promoting the game on her social media platforms.

Lithuanian Basketball Federation President Arvydas Sabonis, the former Portland Trail Blazers player, said this about the game: “Simple but at the same time innovative game which lets you have fun awaiting our team’s matches while the best playing it can win original prizes.”Original quote

The game launch was also accompanied by the contest in which people could win prizes while playing the game. Players had to be connected to Facebook to compete with other users for the awards. The Lithuanian Basketball Federation selected the winners and gave away a basketball signed by all of the Lithuanian National Basketball Team players.

Our game used a unique monetization model which focused on brand promotion inside the game rather than using adds and purchases. Our team integrated all brands to appear in perfect harmony all around the court so it would make you feel as you are included in the match. It was decided that the very first contact we get will be the main brand in the game. That is when Perskindol joined us. Additionally, the Lithuanian Basketball Federation wanted to highlight former player’s Rimantas Kaukėnas Charitable Foundation which makes life easier for seriously ill children and their families.

In the end, “Mes už Lietuvą” / Lithuanian Basketball game became a nice and fun experience for everyone to enjoy completely free and have a taste of what it is to be a part of the team — The Team Lithuania — even after the championship is over. We really enjoyed creating this game and working together with the Lithuanian Basketball Federation. Who knows, maybe we’ll get back to this idea and expand it for other sports or activities in the future!