Hound13: A Unity case study
How does a Korean indie studio integrate innovative gameplay and gorgeous graphics while rolling out versions for players around the world? Since 2014, Hound13 has focused on developing one game: Hundred Soul. Now, after over 1.6 million mobile downloads and top Korean Google Play and AppStore ratings, this fast-moving, action role-playing game (ARPG) with near-console graphics quality is ready for its North American launch.
Consolidating all gamedev on one platform
The studio launched Hundred Soul as a mobile-only ARPG in Korea in January 2019, later adding English, Chinese (simplified/traditional), and Japanese versions. For years, they’ve succeeded with consolidated Unity tools and resources.
“We chose Unity because we wanted to overcome some typical game development issues such as artists and programmers working in silos,” says Hound 13’s lead programmer Kim JinSol. “As well, we were using a number of non-Unity SDKs and other tools that weren’t compatible, plus we wanted additional tools for marketing and monetization purposes, so we looked for an end-to-end solution that could solve all of our development needs as the game evolved.”
- Better graphics and mobile experience from tools like HDR, Motion Blur, and Memory Profiler
- Fast content updates for the demanding Korean market
- Seamless integration of resources such as decals and text-rendering from the Asset Store
- Increased sales of costumes and adjunct characters with easy-to-use Unity IAP
- Easier recruitment and training due to large pool of talented Unity developers
Delivering spellbinding mobile graphics with top frame rates
JinSol attributes much of Hundred Soul’s high-fidelity art quality to the strength of Unity’s capabilities for mobile. One Reddit contributor commented that it’s “one of the best looking games to date on mobile, and it runs at a smooth 60 fps on my phone at max settings.”
High dynamic range (HDR) rendering and Motion Blur are two important post-processing effects that Hound13 leveraged to create the game’s captivating imagery. HDR adjusts light levels to more accurately reflect what’s going on in a real scene. For example, outdoor colors appear different in the late afternoon than during midday, and HDR accommodates the shift.
They use Motion Blur to add speed effects to GameObjects that are moving faster than the camera’s exposure time. JinSol says, “it’s remarkable how Unity’s Motion Blur feature can make swordplay look supernaturally fast yet completely realistic.”
Ever mindful of how the game will look and feel in the hands of mobile players, Hound13 does in-depth testing with built-in Unity tools. “We’ve used the Unity Memory Profiler extensively since beginning development. It helps us understand exactly how different parts of the game – like textures and meshes – use memory.”
They like the Asset Store too. “We also take advantage of many resources offered by the Unity community, including Cinema Suite for cutscenes, FX Maker for particle components, TextMesh Pro to minimize memory requirements, and Easy Decal because it lets us place decals on the roughest surfaces,” JinSol adds.
High quality and fast updates provide competitive edge
Gaming in Korea is huge. It’s a significant contributor to the country’s GDP, and over 20,000 gaming cafés – called “PC bangs” – are social and cultural hubs. Seoul is an eSport nexus too, and its champions are well paid and train as intensely as pro athletes.
With all that competition for players, Hound13 prioritizes rapid content updates and extensively tested gameplay. “Korean players don’t have patience for incremental bug fixes – they want new releases that work, and Unity’s flexible tools and mobile platform support help us deliver,” says Cha PoSeok, Hound13’s general manager.
According to JinSol, “When the game first launched, the most important KPI was the number of crashes caused by the use of multiple non-Unity SDKs. As soon as we replaced them with Unity code, the crashes stopped. Our current KPIs are Day 7 (D7) retention and how many players reach five battlefields.”
Growing the game via showcases and online campaigns
As part of their marketing strategy, Hound13 has showcased Hundred Soul at a number of game developer events, starting with Unite Los Angeles in 2016 and Game Developers Conference in 2017. These conferences have been an opportunity for the studio to impress players and the media with the game and its technology as well as to learn from the industry’s top experts.
The company’s marketing tactics also include Universal App Campaigns (UAC) through Google and Facebook, and interviews with major webzines. They used influencer marketing, and it definitely raised awareness. However, they didn’t see measurable changes in the number of daily active users (DAU) or long-term retention, so they moved their efforts to YouTube videos that focused on gameplay and building their reputation. “Ultimately, our goal is for players to try our game based simply on the strength of the Hound13 brand – and Unity helps us keep it strong,” says Hound13 CEO Park Jung Sik.
Additional benefits on the road to a global game
While building their game into a major international success, they’ve engaged with the Unity Korea tech team to check code performance in the mobile environment, and with Unity’s Integrated Success Services (ISS) for animation help.
As well, Unity Korea's field engineers have provided consulting services to Hound13’s development team. Since then, Unity Korea has been operating the Unity Indie Clinic Program, an important resource for Korean developers. The clinic, staffed by Unity field engineers, helps solve development issues by reviewing code and finding solutions together. Sessions typically run from three to four hours.
In terms of monetization, they have resisted adding loot boxes to gameplay, favoring instead selling costumes and adjunct characters, which they’ve set up using Unity IAP.
As the game has grown, Hound13 has enjoyed access to a deep pool of Unity talent in Korea. “That’s another big benefit of being part of the Unity community,” says Jung Sik. “We can easily find the talent we need and we don’t have to spend a lot of resources on training. That’s good for everyone at the studio.”
Jung Sik sums up their experience: “For a Korean indie studio like Hound13, having the broad combination of Unity’s built-in features, support, ads, analytics, distribution and marketing resources has made all the difference. We are so proud of what we’ve done with Hundred Soul, and we’re equally proud of our partnership with Unity.”
With success like this, it’s not surprising that Unity is used by 58% of the top 100 Korean AppStore games and 52% of the top 100 in Google Play. (Apptopia)