Problem-solving is a skill that demands a cool head and technical know-how, but for some, problems are not problems at all. They’re part of the work and an opportunity to get better. With millions of players playing worldwide on so many devices and networks, and with King constantly pushing the entertainment value and what’s possible in our games, things happen. Some things are more challenging than others.
We spoke to Daniel Lindkvist, Senior Technical Director for Candy Crush Soda Saga. Daniel has been with King a little over eight years and in that time he has overseen massive changes and constant upgrades and new, improved features being launched across many games; he has used his skills to turn more than his fair share of lemons into lemonade.
Tell us about being a Senior Technical Director, what exactly does that involve?
I'm working exclusively with Candy Crush Soda Saga. As the Technical Director, I get involved with all the aspects that affect the game. I also have a background in the Shared Technology group, so if I can do something that helps another game, of course, I will work on that too.
I think that the role of a Technical Director is pretty much defined by the person who does the role. I'm involved with everything from long-term strategic decisions, to helping teams in their day-to-day work, to being involved in incidents, and helping out wherever I can.
I even touch code sometimes! I choose to do so because I believe I can help the team members better when I know their day-to-day activities. It also helps me take actions on long-term decisions because I know the complications that come with it.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most with so many components?
Interacting with people, the teams I work with, and making things together, that's what I like the most. I enjoy lots of things, but mostly I enjoy solving problems with great people. For us, problems create our biggest opportunity to grow and get better.
What are the biggest challenges you're facing now?
For the overall tech organization at King, it's the move to the Cloud. I would say some immediate advantages will be the scalability aspects, lower overheads when it comes to maintenance, and getting access to a bigger toolbox. It's going to be exciting to see where we end up when everything's done.
The fact that we can't take the game offline for a week or two, or longer, a couple of months – that’s where the challenge is. But that's also the exciting part that we're doing everything in flight. The migration itself will be the biggest challenge. It's quite consuming in terms of opportunity. And it's complex. But my philosophy is that tech needs to conform to the business needs. So, you know, the product vision comes first, then the tech. Tech is an enabler but it kind of needs to go hand in hand with the product vision.
This brings us to our tech stack. Can you tell us about the development of this, and why we still use a bespoke game engine?
King’s mobile journey started with the Candy Crush Saga release in 2012, so there wasn't much else around at that time. This is one of the reasons we’re still using a bespoke game engine. We started making a lot of tools back then to release mobile games that we still use today.
With the move to the Cloud, we're looking at what kind of tools do we, as game makers, want to keep maintaining?
I think it makes sense to maintain a bunch of these because when you look at the alternatives, ours are superior in many cases. Our tools are beautifully tailored to our needs. Also, with big games like Candy or Soda, if you want to start switching things out it’s going to cost you a lot, there's going to be a lot of risks. And we have things that are really well-tailored to those games. So, it's always a consideration of what you want to get out of it.
When you're making those kinds of choices, do you think of the audience first? If your audience is enjoying it, and everything is working how you need it to, then I believe you owe it to them to carry on the way you are. As I said, the tech is the enabler, not the vision of the product. And if the vision of the product is still performing, then the tech should support it. We have our bespoke engine we use called Fiction Factory, which is something we work with a lot. Because it's ours, and we have a team to develop and support it, we can advance that as we need to make a better game for the players.
With King using so much 'bespoke' tech, what’s the onboarding process like for new people?
I’d say it's not too difficult, at its core we use a C++ and Java-based platform. For most of the newer games we use Unity. But learning new things is part of the job. It's also part of the character make-up of people in this industry. Our people, me included, need to be able to learn new things all the time. And I will say a lot of learning is done that way, being faced with a situation, and working through it. The other aspect is, of course, personal growth for our employees, which is super important as well. King maintains a budget for learning for everyone in the company, which we are encouraged to use.
You sound incredibly busy, what's your work-life balance like?
To me, when we talk about work-life balance, it's always been important that my work is something that is part of my life. I don't really separate them. If I spend eight hours a day somewhere, I want to incorporate it into my life where I feel like it blends in harmoniously. We don't work crazy long hours or on the weekend. So that aspect is great. But it is a place where you make friends, where you socialize. I need an environment where my life and work blend, and King gives me that.
What's the biggest problem you've solved?
I can tell you about the biggest one I’ve solved lately. We had a huge crash in the game about a year ago, where even the restart wouldn't help you, and the player had to restart the entire phone to fix the game, which is odd. And it only happened in a part of the game where you can ask for lives. The solution in this case was basically to ask our Customer Relations Department if we could launch a campaign for players to get infinite lives for a certain time, which means they wouldn't have to go into that section of the game. We bought ourselves time to actually catch it, get a new version out and gradually have our players adopt the latest version and get out of the old crashing one. That was a very clear incident with quite a creative solution. And a nice pay-off for the players. It was turning a negative into a positive.