07 Oct 2017
5 min read
In less than three days of Haku Run's launch, in January of this year, the game registered more than 10,000 downloads. Those are numbers that most Nepali game developers can only dream of getting to. The game, produced by Sroth Code Games, garnered such popularity largely because it immerses players in a reality that is completely Nepali. That decision to have Nepali particulars play such a central role in defining the contours of many of Sroth Code's games is the defining vision that the developers believe will help attract users for their other games; and it should also help the company monetise their products.
Haku Run is a free-to-play (F2P), side-scrolling, endless-runner game based on the characters of the Nepali movie Loot 2. Sroth Code started out as Sroth Code Academy, a winter camp founded by Uday Gurung and Uttam Adhikari for front-end web development training. After the completion of the winter camp, the duo needed a new project to work on, and that's when they started thinking of testing the waters of game development in Nepal. Adhikari--who'd always had an unyielding passion for videogames, but lacked the coding skills required to create games--after teaming up with Gurung, decided to turn his longheld passion of developing mobile games into reality. The two recruited a team of nine developers and started Sroth Code, with the aim of developing mobile games. After releasing Haku Run, the company also added three more cofounders: Bishal Manandhar, Rizma Joshi and Nischal Amatya.
Getting Haku running
Initially, for their first game, the team of game developers wanted to create something loosely based on the Marvel movie Civil War. But that idea was promptly abandoned once the team realised that they would run into copyright-infringement issues. But just as they were starting to think that making games based on movies was not for them, the teaser for Loot 2 was released. The team decided that a game based on the popular movie could immensely appeal to the Nepali crowd. They approached the movie's director, Nischal Basnet, with the idea whilst he was at Godavari, filming the movie. Seeing Sroth Code's commitment to the idea, Basnet gave them the green light, and the team started their work on Haku Run immediately.
The tight film-production schedules meant that Sroth Code had to be very quick in developing the game. Cramped inside Adhikari's living room--their office space then--the team developed the game in just six months. The company finally launched Haku Run with Loot 2's first trailer in January 2017.
Haku Run's appeal
Different games appeal to different audiences. Haku Run's appeal lies in its being able to connect with a wider Nepali audience, say the developers. "I think what people like most about the game is the fact that they can engage with all the Nepali elements we have integrated into the game," says Gurung. "From the localities we have used in the backdrop--like Rani Pokhari, Swayambhunath, Janaki Mandir, Boudhaóto the character/s jumping off of Nepal Yatayat buses onto safa tempos, we have tried to include as many action elements as we could to keep gamers interested. We have tried to pay as much attention to the details as possible."
The game begins with the player getting to choose which Loot character he wants to portray--Haku or Gofley. Then the infinity run begins with the central character earning coins and superpowers, riding motorcycles, jumping over buses and safa tempos, and passing billboards. In the background runs a score comprising the title track of the Loot movies. Haku Run easily immerses users in the game owing to its intuitive gameplay mechanics, simple design, local backdrops and, of course, the popular Loot characters.
Unlike with app developers in the West, Nepali developers cannot work with the freemium model--the preferred option of developers elsewhere. There's no point in Nepali developers trying to insert in-app purchases in their games: developers are supposed to pay a certain percentage of these purchase amounts to the Google Play Store or Apple's App Store, but Nepal's government doesn't allow dollar flight out of the country. For this reason, even before Sroth Code had started developing Haku Run, they knew that they could not market their product as a freemium game and charge money to players for proprietary upgrades and virtual goods. With revenue from in-app purchases not being an option, Haku Run resorted to the least obstructive alternative of in-game advertising (IGA). This kind of advertising doesn't pop up every few frames and make players wait for five seconds before they can continue with their game. Sroth Code's solution was to embed the ads--flexes and flying banners emblazoned with company logo, and so on--in the game's setting.
Projects in the pipeline
Since launching Haku Run, Sroth Code has participated in StartupsNepal's Udhyami Seed Camp and received investment from the Kantipur Media Group. So far, the team has released two more games, Tile Swap and Tap Tap Turn. Both these games test hand-eye coordination and have almost the same goal--matching your object's colour to the colour of the obstacle to keep the game going. These are fairly simpler games in comparison to Haku Run. But that change from creating the more complex Haku Run to the simpler new offerings does not mean that the Sroth Code team is thinking of taking the easier route. Far from it. The team is actually working on a new game they deem better than any that they have come up with before. They will soon be releasing Top (Cannon), a tower-defense game. This game is greatly influenced by Hindu mythology and the Puranas. In this game, the ultimate goal for the player is to defend his/her territory, a castle, using cannons available in the armoury. All the cannons and the enemies that attack the castles are mythical characters inspired by Hindu mythology. For now, Sroth Code's goal is not to compete with the likes of Plant vs Zombies and Kingdom Rush, frontrunners in the tower-defense genre. Instead, they intend to make use of elements of Nepal's history and culture to create deeply immersive worlds of a unique kind--which the team believe will resonate with Nepali gamers.
As with all companies, Sroth Code hopes to one day be a leader in its sector, but it wants to grow organically--by focusing and R&D and by implementing the suggestions they get from users. They want their games to go global, but only when they have perfected the art of creating slick games that they themselves deem excellent. As for the shorter term, the team also plans to give their consumers a cross-platform experience by providing the same experience of their games not just on phones, but also on web. With games like Haku Run, Tile Swap and Tap Tap Turn, Sroth Code has shown that it has the chops to create engaging products. But the big test will be Top--for if this game checks all the boxes, it will mean that the Sroth Code team are ready to roll with the big boys.