A Deck Stacked Against You
It’s just another day to you, but it’s a big one to me. My game “Galactic Nemesis” was just approved by Apple. This is the culmination of about 8 months of long nights, weekends, and waking up at 5am to squeeze some development time in before my day job begins. With some reflection, it feels as though I’ve been slowly working on a scratch off lottery ticket for the past 8 months, with this scratch potentially worth a payout, thinking- “Perhaps… could this… is this.. at last the game to push me into the stratosphere of Indie Game Developers?”
The reality normally realizes itself with: 90 downloads, 1 blog post, a few store ratings, and 2 reviews from friends. Not exactly stratospheric.
You need to be a little bit crazy. Lucky me, I’m a bit crazy. I know the chances of earning actual money making apps and games is slim to none, with the deck stacked against you (more about that later). You still wanna make games?
Here’s my process thus far, I attempt to refine it for each game I’ve made.
- Have an idea
- Look for similar ideas on the app store
- If too many of the same idea (and executed well) exist on the store, start over.
- Prototype: I’ve made it this far. Time to build.
- The prototype is awesome! On the other hand, if you can’t prove to yourself via a prototype that the game is awesome, start over.
- Lets get some real art in this game! (hire an artist).
- Develop > Add art & fun > Play > Play some more >Play some more > Sleep for a few minutes > Repeat.
- Once you have what you feel is a REALLY fun version of your game, it’s time to beta test. I normally like to start beta testing once I actually have a half-way working product. Too many bugs, or missing features and the focus of your feedback will be on known issues and not what you want.
- Listen to ALL of the feedback and decide what is important and what is something that won’t change the outcome. Don’t be rude when someone gives you feedback you don’t like. Either use it to make the game better, or decide to move on ignoring it. Every piece of feedback will not be relevant, but each item is worth examining.
- Develop > Add more art & fun > Fix bugs > Play > Fix more bugs > Play > Fix yet more bugs > Sleep less than a few minutes > Repeat
- Find your harshest critic, go back to previous step, cry yourself to sleep, repeat.
- After you have a VERY solid product, you can prepare for the store and release.
- Get the word out. This is the hardest part for anyone (Indie, big company, etc), you normally need to spam everyone you know, and beg people to spam everyone they know. Tweet, instagram, facebook, and use all the social networks and contacts that you can. Hopefully you’ve also built in ways to share within the game itself! You can do a lot yourself, but consider paying a company with the contacts you need to get the word out. Your beta testers are a great place to start, if you’ve treated them well and incorporated their feedback, they can help you champion your release.
- Enjoy the many 1 star reviews that just say “this sucks”. Also, enjoy the sweet sweet 10s of downloads and the 15 dollars you’ll earn for the almost year of your life gone! (one day that could change).
The last bullet point is the unfortunate reality. I know this, because the brands that I work with like HBO, Yahoo, and others all struggled to get downloads and daily active users at times. Often the apps are criticized for abstract reasons that have a lot to do with the current mood / mental state of the reviewer. The difference between us and the mega corporations, is that they have hefty marketing budgets, existing user bases, a known brand, and relationships we can only dream of. So why do any of us do it? My reasoning is, that regardless of the outcome, I love the process. I do it for the thrill of it, and I get to hone and maintain my skill-set, with the worst case being that I now have portfolio pieces for the future.
Plus, who wouldn’t have fun making a video like this!
One day, maybe many many games from now, I’ll have a big hit. Maybe I won’t. But I’ll have had a great time trying!
Want to see the result of long nights of work? Try my game on iOS.
– Charles Schulze
Editors Note: Charles is an Engineer currently working with Viacom in NYC, formerly with Yahoo and prior to that, helped build the HBO GO suite of mobile products.