TIPS and TRICKS for outsourcing app development.
After 12 long months, we've just finished development on our first game, What it Takes, for iPhone and iPod Touch...
What it Takes is a round-based social word and number game, the gameplay of which has roughly the same complexity as Words With Friends and Scramble With Friends, but is more expansive in the sense of having 3 different round types, personal profiles, and it allows players to earn XP points.
For reference, please check out our video trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPucPMBTd0o&feature=plcp
Because the project didn't go as smoothly as we naively hoped that it would, we thought we’d write about our experiences, so inexperienced people can gain some extra insight into mobile game development, and in particular; outsourcing to places where work is cheap. We made a fair few mistakes along the way, so hopefully this thread will help any budding game developers to avoid making some of the same mistakes we did. We certainly don’t consider ourselves experts, and any criticism or advice from other Touch Arcade users will be graciously accepted. We’re still learning ourselves, so any further information on the subject will most probably be useful and is definitely welcome.
In the beginning we were incredibly naive, as probably most people with no experience of game development or outsourcing are. Basically, we believed that after writing the requirements, the only work we would have to do was testing and marketing! This wasn’t, and from our experience will probably never will be the case.
We have omitted the names of the poor quality companies from this post as it is not in our interest to publicly ruin a company’s reputation. If any of you wish to know the names of these companies please send me a personal message. Obviously we’ve left in the details of the good companies we worked with.
Make a round-based social word and number game with the following criteria for less than £7,500 by outsourcing development and design:
1. The game must have 3 different round types.
2. Players must be able to earn XP points for playing well in the game. XP points then amount to badges, titles and levels.
3. Players must be able to complete challenges during gameplay.
4. The game must contain a personal profile where player statistics and challenge awards are recorded.
OUR EXPERIENCE (split into sections):
2. Obtaining Quotes
5. Game Sounds
6. Creating a Video
7. App Icon Design
1. Requirement writing...
You've got an idea for a game? Great! First thing you need to do is write the requirements for it.
Use a wiki. We found that using a wiki to write requirements was the easiest way to do things. A wiki has a nice layout and allows more than one person to work on the requirements at the same time (from different locations). Due to the nature of the wiki, it is extremely easy to structure the requirements and split up the different aspects of the game.
You can get started on creating a wiki here: http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki
For an initial proof of concept we created mock up wireframes using a program called Balsamiq, and added these to our requirements in the wiki. The program allows you to create your own ‘screenshots’ by providing you with small graphical assets which you can add to create a rough pictorial image of what the actual game might look like. Because of the minimal 'sketch' style of these assets, they work really well as they act as guidelines to allow you to use your imagination to create mental pictures of how the game might look.
Balsamiq worked really well for us, but it might not for everyone. Luckily you can trial the program for 1 week before you commit to buy.
You can check it out here: http://www.balsamiq.com/
When writing your requirements, make sure they are as detailed as possible. Any screen that you imagine there to be in the game, include it. This is essential for a few reasons:
1. When attempting to outsource your work, companies will read your requirements and base their quote on that (well they should in theory - but we didn't find that for the majority of people we outsourced with. Good, respectable companies will though).
2. Because the companies will base their quote on your requirements, it serves as the perfect document to prove that certain work must be done - many times the developers we outsourced to would 'complain' saying that we were adding additional requirements. Having a 100 page requirements document allowed us to quickly quash any complaints they had.
3. It's important for you to understand your game (and game flows) inside out - Only when you fully understand your game will you be able to get a true feel of whether it'll work or not.
2. Obtaining Quotes...
At the start of the project, the only place we were aware of to acquire cheaper development and design work was from www.elance.com, a site that allows customers to connect with freelance developers and designers from around the world. For those of you who don’t know, Elance has become extremely popular in recent years as it brings affordable development and design to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it.
Whilst obtaining quotes, our main concern was the possibility of getting our game idea stolen. Because of this we were quite cagey for a little while about what information we allowed people to see. Our worries were basically futile - there are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of somebody stealing your game idea, but really, if someone wants to steal it, they will. An idea is only an idea.
However, all is not lost, and the chance of you having your idea stolen is extremely slim. Firstly, it is incredibly unlikely that there is someone out there willing to make a game purely off the back of a game description from an unknown indie developer – the risk is too great, and a simple game description really doesn’t convey what your game is about. They might steal your idea once you have a working prototype, but stealing the idea before its birth is highly unlikely.
Still, being protective over your idea is good, it shows passion. So, if you're still worried, there are other safeguards you can employ too:
a) When creating your pitch on Elance, don't give away any of your major game details. e.g. For our pitch we noted that it was a 25 screen, social word and number game, with recorded statistics and XP points. At no point did we ever describe the mechanics of the rounds - it was just a loose, generic pitch.
b) Obvious, but when companies quote, check out their portfolio. Any work you like the look of, try and contact the owner of the game, and ask them for some feedback on the developer/designer. That way you can verify their legitimacy. It also gives you a decent idea of the company's abilities, allowing you to make an informed decision about the company that you decide to pick.
c) After choosing the company, insist that they sign an NDA. An NDA is a Non-Disclosure Agreement which is basically a statement of intent- by signing the company agree not to use or share any of your requirements that they read. In reality, an NDA is practically worthless at this stage because you have nothing more than an idea. Unless your game was copied exactly, these companies wouldn't be doing anything legally wrong, only morally. Despite this fact, you are lucky in the fact that most (almost all) companies do not operate in this manner, and as an addition, the NDA seems to act as a decent deterrent, regardless of it not actually carrying much weight. Another simpler reason that an NDA is useless to an indie dev, is that you simply would not be able to afford the courtroom fees when attempting to take legal action against the plagiarising company.