"Numbers post" - $500 game
Written by miechu   
Monday, 29 August 2011 00:00

Every now and then you can see a "numbers post" from developers that have either been very successful with their game and want to inspire other developers, or from the ones that have failed big time, investing time and money and not getting much back.

This numbers post will be different mostly because the game hasn't even shipped yet (it will in a week if all goes according to plan). I just want to spare some details on how this game was created and how much it cost me. This way you'll have a pretty clear picture of how it works for part-time indie game developer, and how much money will allow Frosties to break even. 

To give you a little background, I'm a one man dev-team doing my iOS games development in my spare time. In "real life", I'm a regular game-dev professional working on AAA games, but I enjoy very much every opportunity to code anything not-AAA related. So being an indie game developer is my hobby or part-time job. Only recently Jacek joined my team (increasing its numbers by 100%) to help me out with some marketing. He has no background nor experience with it, but he always makes up with enthusiasm and the will to learn.

Obviously I haven't written any music nor have I drawn any art for Frosties, but there will be more on this later on.

So, without further ado, to bring out the numbers first: I've spent $540 while developing my game. I'll repeat: 540 USD (approximately, depending on PLN/USD exchange rate ;)) Here's more precise division: 

  • $330 - contractor Artist
  • $170 - contractor Sound Engineer & Music Composer in one person
  • $40 - tools - I'm planning to write a separate post about it

I'm not counting the $100 iOS developer licence, since renewed it anyway before I even decided to develop Frosties.

But there's a catch (of course!). I worked with people who do contract jobs for me on a regular basis, so I had a big discount for their services. Also, I'm not counting the time I spent developing the game, since all that time I've had a regular full-time day job. I think about the process of developing Frosties as my "hobby time". And it took me a while to implement it, since my initial prototype was ready in late December last year. I didn't spend every day working on my "hobby" project, and I even had like two months off, but still!

EDIT: After a discussion with other developers on TouchArcade forum I decided to also add time I've spent developing Frosties as development cost. It's very hard to estimate how much time I've invested in my game, especially that until late phase of development I've been doing it sporadically. And at no point I intend to place $ next to my hours. Time was a resource I used and although limited quantities of it were available at one time it was free for me. So I would estimate time spent developing Frosties to around 270 hours stretched across 9 months of development. A lot of time come to think of it ;)

As you can see, the development cost of Frosties was very low. But I'm still worried my game won't break even. One of those irrational fears everyone has, I guess ;) I do games for fun, but I do admit I'd love to see those games make some money - even if only to convince my wife that me sitting at a computer most of the time is not a total waste of time! ;)

 
Frosties Open Beta summary
Written by zill   
Thursday, 18 August 2011 22:14

Frosties beta test has concluded, and the game is heading for submission.

Thanks a lot to all sixteen participants! Your contribution was extremely valuable, because you didn't just keep an eye on bugs. As game's authors, we're sort of blind to entire category of issues, namely - usability. We're too used to the interface, and everything is too obvious to us.

Among other things, you made us aware of how unintuitive our icons were. There are several approaches to fixing this, but we're going to use a little less pure icons, and a little more text.

You also told us a win simply didn't feel rewarding enough. The game essentially just says "you win!", and that's it. But winning is a very special event that deserves more emotional engagement. After all, if you care about winning, then so should we (and we do, we just aren't showing it). Long story short - we would like to end a game with a little more bang. 

 

There are also a few things we've learned about beta testing. Firstly, if you ask someone personally, they're more likely to help you than if they receive a broadcast. Secondly, there is a tradeoff involved with posting your call for beta testers on forums (ones that allow this kind of advertisement, of course). On a small forum, hardly anyone will read your message. But on a big one, the message will not stay on the front page for long, and it's not very polite to keep bouncing it up. Thirdly, while everyone tends to be helpful and constructive, some people put so much effort in their feedback they basically help us move our work in a new direction!

A very optimistic outome of the beta test is that there were no showstoppers. The game doesn't crash every five minutes, and it doesn't set your phoneon fire. We're done fixing the bugs, and we've submitted Frosties to Apple.

Our planned release date is September 1.

 

 
Now Looking For Testers
Written by zill   
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 00:00

A bug renders all software equal. In that spirit, our new puzzle game Frosties has jut entered beta.

We're doing this with help from a fantastic web service called TestFlight. It lets you download an app directly to your iPhone and give us your feedback via e-mail.

We're now looking for testers. No skills required. The deal goes like this: you get to play our game, we get to know your opinion about it, and all bugs you find get a death sentence. And it's not only about bugs - any feedback is welcomed!

If you're new to Frosties here's the game in a nutshell: Each turn you can unfreeze one creature. If your move creates a line of unfrozen creatures stretching between two edges of the board, you score points. You win if your score is better than your opponent's when all the Frosties are freed.

You can play against AI or another player, via Game Center or on the same device. The game is a Universal app, meaning that it works with iPod, iPhone and iPad. You need iOS version 4.1 or newer.

We could really use your help! In order to sign up for beta test, follow this link to TestFlight.

TestFlight requires you to register your device. Here's how it works:

  1. Click the link
  2. If not already a member:
    1. Register.
    2. Open registration confirmation e-mail on your mobile device.
    3. Click the "Login" button in the e-mail - this will open a webpage in Safari.
    4. Click the "Register Device" button - this will leave Safari and you'll be asked to install TestFlight Access profile, which is necessary for the whole thing to work.
    5. Click "Install" on the profile overview screen - this will install said profile.
    6. Click "Done" - this will take you back to Safari and display available builds. There won't be any initially, since your device needs to be added manually by the developer using the info you've sent.
    7. TestFlight will create a shortcut icon on your home screen.
  3. Once we've received the data we need to include your device in our development profiles, we can generate a build and put it into TestFlight.
  4. You will be notified about the new build via e-mail.
  5. In order to give us feedback, just respond to the new build notification. Enter your feedback at the top of the mail.
  6. Thanks!

Feel free to register more than one device.

The beta is open to everyone until we reach 30 testers or 50 devices (whichever comes first).

 
Finally on Facebook!
Written by miechu   
Monday, 08 August 2011 00:00
Finally, we're on Facebook. Feel free to us! ;-)
 
 
Knowing Is More Than Half The Battle
Written by zill   
Sunday, 07 August 2011 00:00

Hi! My name is Jacek, and my task at Eyecog is to encourage people to buy Frosties.

As someone with no experience or background in marketing, I used to have a somewhat misguided notion of business. Namely: that business is about making something, and then selling it. I never thought ?selling? would be my part of job, because, frankly, advertisements often feel like thinly veiled lies, and no one wants to be a liar.

Only how do you actually advertise games to people? I had no idea, so I started looking for advice. A great thing about Indie developers is that they're eager to share their experience. They all happen to say the same thing: it's not really about telling everyone how good your game is. People will figure it out on their own ?  but they need to first notice your game at all.

And that's the hard part, because there are literally hundreds of thousands of games for iPhone alone. Two hundred thousand apps were published in the last twelve months ? that's over five hundred releases a day. Even the biggest review sites cover about a dozen. That's two per cent. It usually takes a lot of effort (i.e. money) to make your message louder than that of 98% other developers, and thus make your game known to everyone interested.

Fortunately, ?everyone? is more than we need. I mean ? letting everyone know about Frosties would be nice, but we can break even with help from a far smaller audience.

A rule of thumb says an independent artist needs only a thousand devoted fans to survive. For instance, if a singer records one set of new songs in a year, tours the country with live shows, and also sells mugs and t-shirts, it's not impossible for each devoted fan to pay a yearly total of a hundred dollars. A hundred thousand dollars a year (from a thousand devoted fans) makes for a decent living.

Granted, a game like Frosties costs only a dollar, and there are several people involved in its creation. But you can create a few games like this in a year, so a tiny team like ours still needs only ten thousand devoted players, rather than ten million.

You still need to earn player devotion, of course. But it's surprisingly simple: you find players you understand well, and then you create a game just for them. No lies are necessary. A skilled liar may get people to buy a game they're not going to like once, but those buyers will soon leave. The bulk of income comes from people who stick around. The only way to keep them interested is to make them happy.

Finding your future fans remains the tricky part. Few sites specialise in a specific kind of games, for example. Most cover all genres more or less equally. From my point of view, a perfect world would be one where players advertise themselves, saying thngs like ?here I am, I love tiny puzzle games with cartoon graphics, why don't you make one for me??. This kind of information is much more valuable than sales!

This is where I'm going to ask you for a favour that won't cost you anything. Give Frosties a spin and tell us how you like it ? especially if you don't! Tell us how we could make it better suited for you. And if you know someone who likes puzzle games like this one, then by all means, tell them about us, please. :-)

The release is a few weeks away, but we're planning to commence beta tests real soon now. Thanks in advance!

 
Almost Beta!
Written by miechu   
Friday, 05 August 2011 00:00

 
Nearly there - stay tuned! 
 
Trying to make AI fun
Written by miechu   
Thursday, 28 July 2011 00:00

Being an experienced Game AI programmer I'm well aware of that AI in game needs to be above all fun. Intelligence is optional. In fact, having an AI opponent that makes no mistakes and reacts in milliseconds is not fun at all (well, not for the most players anyway).

Frosties gives you an option to play against AI. Making AI fun in Frosties was not at all a straightforward process - not that I claim it's as fun as possible, but does a good job at tutoring and making you think. Let me tell you about iterations I did while creating AI for Frosties.

Frosties is a kind of game you can write an unbeatable AI for. [Warning: geek talk] It's game tree is shallow enough you can write a full Mini-Max on it and get [geek mode off] unbeatable AI. This is not fun. But still "hard" AI in Frosties does some deep search so it's very tough to beat. Possible, but though as hell - I haven't managed to beat it ;) But this is the easy part - how to make a fun "easy" or "normal" AI is the tricky bit!


Hard AI kicking my butt 

I've started off by making "easy" AI pick the worst possible move. I've found it amusing to use an old and respected AI technique to find the most wrong choice ;). It worked like a charm - it was impossible to loose against it! And it was not at all fun :( 

Next iteration: do worst move with some probability, otherwise pick the best move available at the moment. Result: inconsistent behavior :( If you were lucky you beat him badly, if out of luck - high chance of loosing. It's not a good property of easy AI ;)

While looking for a solution I accidentally stumbled on  info on how game Greed Corp managed its AI difficulty levels. Not getting too much into details it boils down to picking the best possible move for "hard" AI, not the best one, but still good for "normal" and the worst one from a set of good moves for "easy".

And that's what I did. I've modified finding best move algorithm to retrieve not one but best three moves, and use the second best for "normal" and third best for "easy". This results in AI not doing totally stupid things and occasionally surprise player by scoring decent points.

So while looking or ways to implement "easy" AI I've also found a solution for "normal"... Almost. Using above solution "normal" AI was doing better than "easy", but was too easy, and was doing many obvious mistakes. But I've handled it with a bunch of special cases. Now "normal" is a bit challenging to a point you need to pay attention what's going on on the screen, otherwise you'll loose.

And no, I won't tell you the special cases - find out yourselves :P 

 
New game... finally!
Written by miechu   
Monday, 18 July 2011 18:05
   

After 6 months in little-spare-time-development, countless hours, many short nights, I announce my new game... (drums)... Frosties! High time I've started talking about it if I want people to even know it exists ;)

What is Frosties? It's a head-to-head puzzle game which you can play versus AI, your human buddy on one device, as well as vs anyone via network (both cell and wifi using Game Center). Game's being powered by Cocos 2d for iPhone game engine (I'll have a separate post about it). It's Universal and has really nice graphics drawn by a real artist this time around ;) Sound is also done professionally so it's the best looking and sounding game/app I've ever done! See for yourselves (disclaimer: still not final!)

 

Next couple of weeks are looking to be busy. Need to start telling people about my game, plug in remaining assets, close remaining little bugs, polish, organize beta-tests, create a dedicated web-page... And all that by myself... not anymore! I've  managed to talk one of my friends into taking part in marketing Frosties. Full of ideas and enthusiasm - and he's "just" a game designer! ;)

 
Things to remember next time
Written by miechu   
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 15:45

I've found this article to be very interesting. Some things written there are obvious to game developers with any experience (like Why do the houses containing pigs shake ever so slightly at the beginning of each game play sequence? - eee... physics? ;)). But there are some very good points as well. I'm putting together below list to not forget it (I'm too lazy to read that long article again ;)).

  • Response time - indeed sometimes it's desired to give player a chance (or even force him) to look at results of his/her action. In mean time brain tries to figure what to do to perform better - making it more engaging, which is desired! Faster is not always better.
  • Short-term memory is a thing to play with and take advantage of
  • Adding complexity over time - it takes some tweaking when to introduce new elements in the game. Sounds obvious but still, worth keeping in mind.
  • Fast "reload level" option, easily accessible.
  • Visual and audio feedback to any player action - another obvious thing, nevertheless crucial.

So I've finally took some time and downloaded free versions of Angry Birds. BTW, yeah, versions, there are like three of them! Anyway, all have the same mechanics described in the article so who cares. I haven't played Angry Birds before since it's a gameplay concept that has been around for at least three years and I've already wasted enough time playing one of many flash implementations of it.

Anyway, I've played it and tried to pay attention to all that stuff mentioned in the article and my notes. General conclusion is: it's a well executed robust design, which in most cases evolved while iterating implementation until it felt right (disclaimer: it's my personal opinion ;)). And that's the way it's being done in 'da biz', so no rocket science there. "All" it takes is good idea (they've taken someone else's, proved idea) and a skilled team (programmers, artists and a sound guy) to do everything "just right".

So again, my main conclusion form this and other success stories from AppStore (with exceptions) is that a game needs to be polished, consistent and fun. These three values together with lots of marketing guarantee a success. There, I've just formulated a success recipe! ;)

 
iFader and Internet Radios
Written by miechu   
Thursday, 03 February 2011 14:15

I've received an email the other day from a guy considering purchasing iFader for one purpose - fading in and out internet radio app's volume. Sadly the answer was that iFader won't help him. He proved to be a curious person, wanting to know some details, and I was kind enough to give to him ;)

So the thing is all iFader does is fading in or out iPod app's volume, that?s all. There's special API for it. And since iOS SDK doesn't have any API to modify just any app's volume, or device's volume, functionality desired by (lets call him) Tim is impossible to code... legally.

Now, since iPhone, iPad and other iDevices are, in the end, just a piece of hardware, it is possible to control it directly, but that would require hacking SDK, or doing ugly (illegal) things to your device, so I won't write about it - who knows who'll be reading this ;)

 
High time to implement something
Written by miechu   
Wednesday, 02 February 2011 10:32

So finally I've re-acquired all certificates needed to develop iOS apps and I'm getting ready to implement something. Like I said before, I have lots of ideas to implement. A list that will never be done in full, so why not share it, right? I'm still not ready to do that just yet, though. ;)

I've decided to start simple. I'd like to implement one of those numerous games we used to play with pen and paper instead of listening to whatever teacher was saying. And by 'we' I mean current 30-or-so-year-olds from Poland ;) Of course the fact that I wanted to start simple doesn't necessarily means I did! So instead of doing a simple "Human vs AI" gameplay I'm already implementing a local 'hot seat' multiplayer, not to mention looking into ways of doing regular network games! So I've found this article good starting point to have low-implementation-cost multiplayer. And speaking of Apple's Game Center, as a registered Open Feint developer I'd found this to be a convenient way of mixing the two. Although I've found this post alarming - I need to investigate it a bit.

I'm posting all those links mostly for my own reference - I need to keep those things somewhere so why not on my dev (we)bLog :) I'm a kind of person that keeps all found interesting links in opened browser's tabs, which can get messy pretty quickly - so maybe from now on I'll have it organised better :D

 
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