So here we are at the end of another year.
What I did
I went into 2015 wanting to learn Unity. It’s something that I had put off for far too long because I kept wanting to flog that dead horse called Flash. Flash had been a great tool for making 2D games but I resisted Unity because I thought I could squeeze one or 2 more games out of Flash, and even then I could just code iOS natively anyway, so no need to get into Unity. That was definitely a mistake of 2014 and by the end of that year it was obvious I was wasting time not switching to Unity as soon as I could, so in January I set about learning Unity.
I also was aware of something of an explosion of 2D pixel art platformers that had appeared during the last few years and thought that would be a great type of game to create while I was learning Unity. I started work on my own pixel art platformer called Wizardier, which was a good and bad idea.
After 6 months of hard work, I had created one large level showing most aspects of the game (as can be seen in this video ) and contacted a few publishers but by this point I started to realise that what I had done was good, but because of the saturation of these types of games, good wasn’t good enough. I could improve what I had, but as someone who works as an indie full time, I’m up against the clock, and I just couldn’t give this project 100% of my time anymore. At least though by August I had a fairly decent understanding of creating 2D games in Unity.
2015 was the year that I tried to find time to build on my knowledge of marketing. I did a great video course on Udemy called “Go Viral on 7 Social Media Marketing Platforms” which provided useful insights into how to use the various social networks. With marketing very much in my mind, after Wizardier I had what I thought was a great idea to market a game via Twitter. I realised that there were a lot of certain types of Twitter users with huge numbers of followers, that perhaps could be persuaded to tweet about a game. In return I would mention their products in my game. So I made a simple chain reaction game ( SoIMadeThis on the App store), displayed the names of their products in my game and published the game. Once the game was live I asked them to start tweeting about the game. The result? Unfortunately not much of one. It seems that regardless of the number of followers, getting anyone to download an (admittedly very basic) iOS game these days via Twitter is nigh on impossible. But it was an experiment to see if tweets to a large number of Twitter followers would have any impact on downloads, and for that game at least it had hardly any impact. I think the issue was targeting the right audience, it’s better to target 1000 people who you know will like your game as opposed to an unknown 100000.
That took me up to about mid September and with Christmas looming I came up with an idea for a simple Christmas game in a pixel art style. That game is Skyrise Santa which is live on the App store . Skyrise Santa is a great little arcade game, kind of like a vertical frogger, and I was pleased with how the pixel art turned out. So far at least it’s got hardly any downloads, not a huge surprise but I was hoping the Christmas theme would give it some kind of traction but evidently not.
Thoughts on the year
There’s been a great series of podcasts (vlogcasts?) by @ @ and @ on being an indie game developer, if you are one check them out. @oneofmoo made a comment that helped frame for me something I hadn’t kept in mind enough this year…
What is the thing about your game that you can’t say about other games
Lots of people are creating games, good games and getting hardly any sales. This is happening because they are creating another platformer, another 3D dungeon game, another “rogue-like”, another 2D shoot-em up. Yes these new games might be good versions of what’s already out there, but in a games market which is saturated, good is not good enough, you need an edge. If you want to make money from your work and you can’t develop something which stands out in some way, don’t bother starting. If you look at most of the successful “indie” games this year they are very personal. They break out of the usual genre boundaries that people expect of those types of games, @oneofmoo ‘s comment is a great way to remind you of just how important that is.
That’s what I didn’t do with Wizardier. I had some vague thoughts of what I wanted to do, and set about it. Looking back that was fine because it wasn’t just about creating a “pixel-art platformer” but also learning Unity, but from the point of view of having a clear focus on creating a successful “pixel-art platformer” it was all wrong. What I do have though with all the Wizardier work I did is a nice starting point to create something interesting, so when I have time I’m going to go back to it and have a play around.
I also think having a simple phrase which encapsulates what your game is at it’s core is important. Write that phrase out and stick it somewhere you can see it. That phrase will keep you heading in the right direction, regardless of how complex the project is.
Someone accurately described the App store recently as a “hosting solution” and that’s exactly what it is, no more no less. As soon as you fully take onboard the implications of that, life becomes a lot easier as to what games/platforms to work on. The chances are your game won’t get “discovered” on the App store without Apple featuring you. Without being discovered, no downloads, no downloads no revenue. Of course this is extremely true of premium games, and there’s no doubt that F2P has won on the App stores.
I think it’s still possible for a game dev team to make enough to survive on the App store, but you can’t be starting from scratch. You will need a substantial marketing budget which you will need to use cleverly, and you’ll need to create high quality, solid games which will take time and money, so it’s doable if you have the means, but it might be wiser to pitch your tent elsewhere early on.
I’m pleased with the amount writing/blogging I’ve done this year, it’s something which you know you should do but never find the time. With all the life/work stuff swirling around I’ve still managed to put my thoughts on various topics out there (Gamasutra/Quora/Linkedin). Hopefully I’m in a routine now and it will continue in 2016.
What comes next
There’s many ways to waste a year. You can have the view that you need to focus all of your time into one thing, because that one thing needs to be “great” but if that one thing isn’t “great” then you have wasted that year. You can have the view that it’s a numbers game and try to work on lots of things, the problem with that is you end not getting anything of worth completed, again the year is wasted. You can have the view that you should spend the year learning, and it’s true that increasing your knowledge certainly is a good use of time, but at some point you need to stop learning and start doing. But I think there are 2 things which are never a waste. These are the people you have met and the work you have done that you are proud of (whether it took 1 month or 10). These are 2 sentiments I’m taking into 2016.
Something I’ve never done enough of is get out and about and meet fellow game devs, so that’s something I want to correct in 2016. As well as game shows/conventions there’s lots of other conventions based on subjects I’m interested in which I want to get too. The more you explore, the more people you interact with, the more ideas, sights and sounds you absorb the more unique your vision will be for whatever you create.
Game projects of 2016
I must have at least 20-game ideas per year that I’m tempted to spend my time on. But from now until 2017 I’m just going to spend my time on 2 game projects and one of them should be done by the end of January.
First up is I’m working on an “Idle clicker” game. My first reaction to seeing “Adventure capitalist” was something along the lines of “What on earth is this”, but then 30 mins later I’m still tapping away wondering why my lemons aren’t going faster. On the face of it, idle games seem non-games, but there’s a very good series of videos by Extra Credits on YouTube ( here and here ) which explain how idle clicker games might be a whole new genre of games, and that’s actually pretty exciting and doesn’t come along that often. So in mid November I started my take on the whole Idle clicker game phenomenon. It’s going well and should be publically available early Jan, although I haven’t decided what to release it on, I think I’ll start with WebGL on Kongregate and go from there.
Most of the year though I’m earmarking for a game which actually started life as a graphic novel idea I had. It comes from a certain area of maybe you could call it pop culture, maybe you could call it pseudo-science or maybe even the truth, but either way it’s a great basis for a graphic novel and a game. It’s not something which is going to be done quickly, and I’m going to need the entire year to do it justice. It will be a strategy game.
That’s another lesson that’s been made clear to me this year, work on your ideas long enough to do them justice.
A big change from previous years is that in 2016 I will be getting back into contract work. Roughly 6 years ago, I used to do a lot of contract work, but that stopped when I had a hit game. With over 10 years of casual game experience I’m looking forward to helping others create great experiences again.
Cracking the discovery nut
I’ve been watching what’s been happening to indie game devs for many years, from the halcyon days of Flash games (which I wrote about here) to the “Indiepocalpyse” (which I wrote about here). The problem was obvious, it was discovery, or lack of and throughout 2015 I started to formulate an idea to help solve that problem. It’s not really something I can totally get off the ground myself, but it is needed so I’ve been thinking of how to make it happen. The best answer I can come up with is a Kickstarter campaign. It will be a great opportunity to get feedback on the idea. If all goes according to plan I’ll be launching the KS campaign in March/April.
I hope the above was a useful read, and 2016 brings you all success!