Not too long ago, just before the start of 2016, I decided I’d start making games. I decided I would become a part time independent game developer. (cheap plug, you can find them all here: Games By Darryl)
I started out with an ultra ambitious plan to release one game per month for the entire year of 2016.
Come March, I finally released one. I released Digits! (iOS, Android) to the world on March 5th. A possibly unique game involving simple math. The initial response was pretty interesting to watch. Local friends would download it, tell people in their near proximity to download it. A classic example of “word of mouth”.
A few friends would crack some jokes “oh, so you’re a game developer now, eh?”, “mr. big time game maker!”.
One hundred and sixty six downloads later, it was pretty much over. Nothing left but the trickle that would go on for eternity of anywhere between zero and five downloads per month.
About two weeks later, I released Connexxion! (iOS, Android) to the world. This game is a remix of an older game I used to play, Chain Reaction. It was fairly simple to play, but slightly too frustrating for those who couldn’t quite understand it. It was an anti-game. It gets easier as you go, as long as you can make it past the first few levels.
I’m not exactly sure what happened but the initial downloads for this game was much higher than that of Digits. There was a lot of the same initial reaction from local friends. This game’s “word of mouth” involved a few swear words due to the initial frustration of it. But overall things were looking up.
After about three hundred and ten downloads, it entered into trickle mode.
When I released those two quickly I thought for sure I could re-target my twelve game plan. At this point I had a list. I had a list of more than enough game ideas to do this. The ideas weren’t over complicated and definitely things I could complete in short cycles. However, that plan fell flat on it’s face again.
As I started working on other games (I had at least three in-progress games at the end of March, 2016) I started getting distracted by my own other ideas. This stalled progress hard.
I released my third game, FOUR (iOS, Android) some time in May. This time based word hunt game is ugly to say the least. It had a whopping sixty-six downloads and fell flat on it’s face. It isn’t a bad game. It was just ugly and hard.
I released a two more games in 2016, bringing the total to five of my attempted twelve:
And so far this calendar year, 2017, I have released one game. A knock-off 2048 tile game; 2048 Plus (iOS, Android) – It, without going into much detail, has surpassed all of my prior games in downloads simply because I rode the coat tails of a fad.
To say the least making games requires you to ride the TIDE.
Time is critical to making games. I can make time. I did most of this stuff on weekends or evenings. The only real issue with time comes when you need to loop back and update or fix a prior game and that maintenance cycle conflicts with your forward cycle.
Ideas are cheap. Making games from the ideas is also cheap. Making them actually work and look decent enough takes design.
This is where I start failing as a solo developer. Design has a bunch of moving parts. All these parts need to work together to create a useful and entertaining user experience. I feel like the user interface elements in Digits and Connexxion were simple enough and clean enough to pass, and will likely never need an update.
Other games though suffered hard from my lack of design time. Making games like Bounce was different because of the type of game. I didn’t focus enough on design elements to make it a fun game.
Since I am not a graphic artist, I find myself using other asset packages. I pay for graphics. I build from other people’s art. There are a lot of members of the indie development community that severely frown upon this. “You’re not an indie dev, you didn’t design it all!” – it doesn’t bother me, but it probably hinders support from others. However, I will continue to kit-bash and mix and mash any of these paid assets I have or will buy, because that’s the only way I can do this solo.
When I refer to execution, I mean putting everything together. It’s one thing to make a little game, but the real nitty-gritty parts of it:
- Testing on platforms, Apple and Android
- Deploying to app stores (Apple, Android, Amazon, or more) takes time, graphics, writing. I have to not only make the game work; I have to try and sell it.
There’s also a lot of internals that aren’t game-play related that need to be looked after. Analytic tracking, ads (sorry, I want to make money too), achievements, leader boards. These are things that I thought I could leave out when I was rushing to make my first twelve. I found out quickly that I needed these things. As such, making games needs more time.
As this fast moving 2017 winds down, I still have a couple of games in progress, and an update to try and get out. I’ll just have to see what level the TIDE is at. In a future post I may talk about some other experiences with social media and the indie developer community.