Category Archives: Mobile Games

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Is Your Game Rubbish? Why Game Development Can Be A Lonely Place

It’s been a pretty hectic past couple of weeks with non-gaming related work taking up a decent chunk of my time. But a couple of weeks ago I did manage to finally release ‘Super Jumpy King’, a game that had been on and off in development for over two years (where have we heard that before…?). A ridiculous amount of time considering how simple and casual it is, although actual dev time was in all honestly maybe just over a year.

So why so long?
I’m not a full time game developer (as much as I wished I was) so it was always here and there when working on it. The initial game was developed by my colleague who then left about half way through the project. So when I took over the reigns I was pretty slow in getting up to speed as I was getting to grips with the code and at the same time learning how to actually code.

Over time my confidence grew bit by bit until I decided that I had it in my locker to try and refactor some of the code. We had used a game template which contained many methods and classes which were completely unused so there was a bunch of unnecessary code. Not great at all. However, as much as I had thought I had progressed in my coding skills, that mirage was quickly shattered as almost every change I tried to implement, every line I tried to streamline brought out bug after bug after bug.

It was a nightmare.

A huge job was on my hands. It was like a spiderweb, change one thing here, break something else somewhere not completely obvious at first. It’s always the main con when working with someone else’s code. Time was ticking and I had committed to a deadline. So I resolved to revert everything back (all those days work lost!) and try to fix it after the release. After all, I had wanted to maximise on the potential of publishing in and around Chinese New Year.

The Publishing Dream

I still released it a day later than planned, but that day later being a Saturday might have worked out better. The initial plan was to try and get a publisher, as the only monetisation (got bills to pay after all!) that I have on the game is a free ads mechanic that works in the same way as ‘Crossy Roads’ did; unobtrusive, and only there to help the game rather than hinder it. Getting a publisher would have greatly helped get more downloads to make, in theory, increased revenue from the ads.

Given the theme of game and the nature of mobile gaming in China, the ideal scenario would have been to go with a global mobile publisher with a strong presence in China. By a stroke of luck, I was contacted by one such publisher who took an interest after I had posted in a gamedev forum. It seemed like a great opportunity.

So I spent the next few days polishing the game up as much as I could and sent the beta over with abated breath.

They didn’t like it.

However, they did at least give it some feedback which was unusual for a rejection. I had nothing to lose, so I asked if I could send another version. Surprisingly they said yes, so there was still some interest there. Anyway, I spent the next few days working on their feedback (which was essentially add tapping controls instead of just swiping). Sent that version off and then didn’t hear from them again. It happens.

A Lonely Place

I went to other publishers, but didn’t hear back from any of them. So is my game rubbish? That’s probably the first question most people would go to. All the doubts and negative self assessments soon follow. The problem really is these are made louder by that dreaded silence. The zero interactions. You post your game on as many forums as you can think of, tweet and post about the development, and a lot of the time don’t get any response. You might get one or two but that’s it, something usually along the lines of “Looks cool! Keep it up!” It’s generally the exact same response when showing the game to real life friends. All very much passive. Look, it’s nice to hear and I’m thankful for them but if that’s all you ever hear you don’t really have a clear idea of where you are.

It’s not often you will find some active, constructive criticism, maybe we’re just too nice to give it to each other. It’s something that we’ve all seen in other areas of life too. At the end of the day, passive positive comments do nothing but slightly inflate your ego for a brief period of time. Active comments, what people really think, is what will help you learn and progress and improve. It’s a case of not being afraid to ask for it. I did at least have one person spend a lot of their free time play testing the game and gave really good feedback which I was very grateful for. So it can happen, but even then, it’s usually the case that several different opinions are needed to get a clearer picture.

If it’s still the case that no-one is interested, then it’s just not meant to be. It’s not a nice feeling, but it is what it is. People don’t owe you a response, and living in your own gamedev bubble and being that close to your own project can often make you lose sight of things. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his life, but he kept painting because he simply loved it. All you can do is keep going if you really enjoy doing it. Dust down. And go again.

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Launching Tacheman and the Struggle Since

Note: One of my New year’s resolutions is probably to update this blog more regularly!

A little late posting this but we finally managed to release ‘The Adventures of Tacheman’ on October 29th on both iOS and android.

Unfortunately we did not go about the marketing side well… But lessons learned and all that, especially as this is our first time trying to tackle this side properly. Posting on forums seemed to generate little interest which can be quite disheartening from a dev point of view. Although offering promo codes did prompt some people to inquire about the game (the lure of free stuff is always strong I guess!) Asking for feedback was also met vastly with tumbleweed, although the little feedback we did receive was generally positive.

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There was a spike in sales immediately after release which is pretty natural for most app launches. Trying to optimise on this too (launching on a Saturday was recommended as the best time to do so) was something we tried out and may have resulted in this spike, which is one positive to take away. Another reason was that we had a review put up on ifanzine.com. However, this spike also naturally plummeted to basically zero soon after that. We could have paid for advertising but that kind of marketing was way out of our budget and quite frankly we were not sure if it would be worth it on this game.

When we were developing the game we made the decision to make it a premium game as we were sick and tired of freemium models, and having to find ways to monetise (yes that evil but unfortunate necessity to survive) with IAPs and whatnot. As a result we did our best to polish the game up to as much as we could to justify this decision-which admittedly was a really tough ask as the three of us were pretty sick of the game by that point. In a way, I guess we were resigned to the fact that maybe our game was simply not good enough which was the most obvious reason for it’s failure so far. It is a little confusing as no one has explicitly told us that it is a bad game so we are left in this weird limbo of not really knowing the ‘why’ of anything. I am personally of the opinion that negative feedback is always better than no feedback as at least you know what you need to work on.

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Another avenue that we perhaps naively did not choose to explore was to get in touch with a publisher towards the latter stages of the game’s development. They may be some indie devs that might be of the opinion that getting into bed with one of these is ‘evil’. But the fact is they’re not and as the app store has matured they’ve become more of a necessity. It is generally almost impossible to publish a game independently and come close to matching the marketing might that publishers wield. In a nutshell, would you rather have 100% of a small pie, or 50% of a very large one?

These days you either strike lucky through word of mouth (even Pokemon Go was an example of this- and that already had the weight of the Pokemon brand behind it) or pray that you get an apple feature. In the early days it was enough to have keywords to help you reach the top but this is simply not the case anymore. In hindsight, having made contact with publishers after going live we received some interest but either they don’t republish games or they simply had too many games on their hands already. Now I’m not sure how often a publisher replies but this could have been a missed trick. At the end of the day not only can they market your game, but they can also give you valuable feedback in order to make sure your game is up to speed.

So where does this leave Tacheman? I did a little experiment (and call me crazy for doing so) and made it free during Black Friday weekend, whilst posting about the offer in various forums. Downloads skyrocketed over the two days. It’s not exactly rocket science that people will download free things but this might just be the way forward.

There was this idea that we discussed very early on, almost two years ago, but somehow that idea was lost; basically to make the game a ‘free demo’ with an IAP for the full game (e.g Super Mario Run). It’s strange that more games don’t do this as it is a very effective way to draw people in. Again, perhaps we just couldn’t wait to get it out (this really was a nightmare in on-off development that took far longer than necessary) but that’s no real excuse.

In any case, hope our experiences will help inform other indie devs out there who are still developing their games. We are taking everything we have learnt from this game, and hopefully improve on it in the next!

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