This is a post to reintroduce HomeLabs, a passion project my co-founder Marc and I decided to pursue after our failed attempt with our first startup called Remini.
As our decision to finally let go of Remini was drawing closer; our biggest regret was the unfortunate circumstances that denied us the chance to even attempt at publically launching. It was during that time however, that the idea for HomeLabs started to take shape.
We’re all similar in a way; there are many reasons that compel us to venture into entrepreneurship, but oftentimes passion is the main reason — This is exactly where HomeLabs stood for us:
A passion project that would not only help us improve our skills, but that would also force us to get active again and test our abilities in a race against the clock. The objective was therefore to launch in a short period of 3 months, right in time for “Parkinson’s Awareness Month” during April 2015.
Having said that, HomeLabs’ story goes even deeper; our mission essentially consisted of two things:
1- First to try and raise funds by giving away 100% of our revenues to the Michael J.Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research which has done a tremendous job on that level, consistently funding research and raising awareness. Established by actor Michael J.Fox (who is himself a PD patient), the foundation has invested more than $450 million in research to date, making it “the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world”.
2- Secondly but even more importantly, our goal was mainly to raise awareness for that disease which is often misunderstood. They say that “knowing is half the battle” and at HomeLabs we couldn’t agree more.
ColorBlast was the very first brain game of the HomeLabs series. Our roles were pretty clear from the start: Marc would be in full charge of development and creating awareness, while I would turn my focus on designing the experience.
ColorBlast was inspired by neurocognitive tests that challenge your selective attention and ability to control impulses.
Here is a quick preview of the game in action:
The goal is simple: Pop all the colored dots before they reach the bottom of your screen. You pop a dot by swiping towards the wall matching its color while avoiding distractions.
As you play along and start accumulating points, bonus dots will appear that you can activate to help you improve your score:
I’d like to point out that a common theme throughout the HomeLabs initiative was the simplicity of our designs:
As mentioned earlier, we had a few months to launch a non-profit and create 2 games with no real prior experience in that area — We understood early on that at some point, we also needed to focus our attention on educating our follower base about Parkinson’s instead of going out of our way to create the most immersive experiences, an endeavor that would have considerably slowed us down.
In spite of that, we also knew that a well-executed product would go a long way in helping us achieve that goal. We therefore spent much of our time conducting usability tests; I’ll quickly share one example of many findings from one of our earlier versions:
We both felt that this earlier design was just visually more appealing due to small details such as the more pronounced use of bright colors — Feedback however didn’t confirm that assumption.
ColorBlast’s game mechanics were already intentionally pretty hard to cope with in order to better challenge the players’ focus. While our initial design did seam more appealing on a static art-board, the in-game reality proved much different.
Because of the lighter background, color contrasts were not distinguishable enough. This meant that when a player used his peripheral vision to match fallings dots with colored walls, red and orange borders were very often confused with one another, which simply made the game too difficult. By too difficult, I mean that it made impossible to put our players in a state of “flow”, as defined by famous professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
While there were some alternatives such as decreasing the game’s speed, they rendered the experience too boring in most instances. We accordingly switched to a simpler darker tone throughout the game.
You probably consider the above to be a minor design challenge, and you’re right; my point however was to emphasize again on the fact that time constraints played a major part for us sticking to simplistic design in whichever version we chose to work on. We decided to prioritize neurological arousals over emotional design arousals.
We designed Flanker to challenge your planning and problem solving skills. The game involves thinking ahead, evaluating options, and choosing the best course of action.
Here’s a quick video preview:
Again, the goal is straightforward: Make your way through 5 different worlds for a total of 75 levels and test yourself as you play along. The objective is to get the ball to the exit in a minimum number of steps.
The real challenge with Flanker definitely was coming up with all 75 levels in such a short period of time. The idea was to create 5 worlds each containing 15 levels and with each world a new element was introduced, here are some examples:
As you can assess, levels increase in difficulty and complexity as new elements are introduced with the goal being to use them in tandem and take advantage of each elements’ distinct property.
In contrast with ColorBlast, the whole process from ideation to implementation was smoother with Flanker. This was mainly due to our acquired knowledge as well as our insistence on keeping the brand identity consistent (simplistic design, dark colors etc.).
We did however face some difficulties with respect to technical implementations with more complex animations such as swoosh effects to name one; that however was mainly due to the game engine we had been using that had its own limitations.
All game developers usually face this conundrum. In the case of HomeLabs, for the obvious reasons I mentioned earlier, revenue was an important aspect of what were trying to achieve.
A freemium model with virtual goods was initially out of the question; time and game mechanics limitations restrained us from going that route. Instead, we were faced with two options before our launch: 1) Free to play (Ad-Supported) or 2) Paid Model.
We did invest a significant amount of time figuring out what would be the best strategy for HomeLabs based on our potential market. However, I can now say without a doubt that primarily going for a paid business model wasn’t the right move.
Our main argument at the time was that ads would clutter the gaming experience; we were therefore initially inclined towards pricing ColorBlast (being our first release) at 0.99 cents. But very importantly, we also wanted to make sure that each player knew exactly how and how much he was contributing to the Parkinson’s cause.
Our metrics however proved us wrong and we inevitably switched towards a Freemium model providing users with the option of upgrading to an ad-free version.
That decision eventually led to improvements in different areas mainly with respect to user growth. Retention & Engagement had the opposite effect as we noticed a slight decrease in those metrics. Indeed, early users who committed to the initial upfront payment felt more ownership of the game and ended up playing it longer.
Ultimately, despite the game mechanics limitations I mentioned above, we did introduce in-app purchases but much later — That however ultimately proved to be futile from our part.
It’s important to specify that we made sure those changes were implemented before launching Flanker. In a way, with respect to revenues, ColorBlast was sort of a testing ground that helped us understand early on what strategy to use with Flanker.
Overall, it was undeniably a really fun experience. HomeLabs did eventually win 1st place at “Les App Awards”, an annual French competition recognizing the best mobile games. Maybe the results weren’t as ambitious as we would have liked, but we sure hope we played our part in at least raising a certain amount of awareness around Parkinson’s disease — Optimistically, maybe this post will also help towards that.
Giving back has always been a goal of ours; I’m certainly looking forward to take on similar challenges at an even bigger scale sometime in the future.
If you like what you just read, please recommend 💚 this post so that others might stumble upon it. To see more of my work, you can go on edsab.com