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Reflecting on 3 years in mobile development, what's your story?

02-17-2012, 12:36 AM
Joined: Jun 2009
Location: Hollywood, CA
Posts: 1,869
Reflecting on 3 years in mobile development, what's your story?

It just occurred to me that next month marks 3 years since I've been an independent developer, coming off of a long run of being "another cog in the machine" at bigger studio development since 1997.

I never wanted to get into indie dev, hell I'd barely looked at a smartphone for longer than a moment (even though my live-in girlfriend had one for over 6 months!) and a programmer friend asked me to partner with him to do some development, on a whim. Sure, why not?

After about 4 months of development (and never having done any kind of "small team dev" before - let alone promotion and all of that) we released our first game onto the iTunes App Store. It was extremely small and simple, we had no idea how to get the word out, and almost nobody downloaded it Still we had a lot of fun "learning by doing" and in the process figured out how to make something bigger and way more enjoyable.

Project #2 was supposed to take 3 months, but unfortunately ballooned into a little over 6 (well, my programmer took a job less than halfway though and so we drifted in and out of limbo for ages). By the time we wrapped it up and launched, our new game - a puzzle game - arrived onto a marketplace that was sick to death of puzzlers. If not by the time we'd intended to launch, then certainly by the time of our actual release! Still, we were very proud of our app; those who did give it the time of day heaped praise on what we'd done, and I was very happy to deliver something with a strong aesthetic and nearly infinite replayability, a far cry from our earlier effort.

The rest of year #2 feels like a blur - I spent so much time in "follow-up mode," drifting apart from my programmer and just concentrating on learning how to market and promote. Things always seemed like they were "just out of reach" - and though our game's release had come and gone, strangely there was still enough electricity and interest around it to keep me pushing it. As the year wound down, our game somehow found a strong (if brief) surge in promotion and we blasted up high in the charts to close 2010 out with a bang. We didn't see much money out of this, but we did get a phone call from Google who saw our game and requested a meeting with me; I got together with their rep and he asked that we put our game on the Android Market. After scoffing at such a notion previously, I set out to find a suitable coder and we rebuilt the game for Android (in HD no less).

Thus, year 3 became "our Android year," and what a year it was! Trying to apply all of the lessons I'd learned to put out "the puzzle game" on what was perceived to be a particularly unfriendly market, we got our game released and finally featured (after much work!) in the Big Time! This still did not mean "a big pay day" but it started to open a lot of doors and more opportunities. I realized that iOS was not the only game in town, even if it was honestlythe most important one.

And so, here I sit at the beginning of the 4th year, nearly 2 years since any "new product" has left my desk, and that same amount of time since any iOS release either. I have 2 games actively in development across multiple platforms and a 3rd just getting underway, with expectations to see release of at least one of them before the quarter ends. I regularly fire up my WIP and smile knowing "at last I finally have something that will be WAYYYY easier to market" between how it looks, how it plays and how it controls - but just the same, I am weary of the overall unpredictability of the market.

These past 3 years have indeed been soul-crushing, humbling (at least!) and decimating to my savings (remember those things, I sure don't!) but it's absolutely been a blast. I've seen much and learned so much, and now I am working on the projects that I've always dreamed about with a good mind (and feasible network) on how to sell them. As for "the little puzzle game," it's finally found an enduring legacy and making steady money and generating enough word-of-mouth to keep consistent, which makes me a happy guy

What's your story? Hit it big early on and then had trouble recreating that initial success? Had a crazy falling-out with your partner (and maybe a reconciliation?) Did you unknowingly randomly find yourself working on an app "for the hell of it" and suddenly get a lot of downloads... or have you been continually scratching your head and putting out decent product for several years, yet with no downloads to speak of whatsoever? What do you have to say?
02-17-2012, 01:39 AM
Great story, and one that probably reflects the stories of many devs here, myself included.

I was also a 'cog in a big machine' from 1999, until a couple of years ago when I quit to go it alone. Similarly, I started eating into savings while I got started on my big idea to try and make it big on the App Store (and still trying ).

I had actually had a taste of the one-man-dev studio back in 1998 when I made a little game for the Net Yaroze (a black PlayStation 1 you could develop at home for). The aim then was to get it onto the Official PlayStation Magazine coverdisk which luckily it did.

The whole time I was one of those small cogs though I longed to go back to being in complete creative control of my own game, doing all the design, programming and art myself - I loved doing that for the Net Yaroze. When the App Store came along that was my cue to jump ship and give it ago.

I currently have just one game in the App Store though, and have been updating it regularly since it first came out adding big features each time. Each update does seem to sell more units than the last, so it's going in the right direction, although it's probably far too unusual and niche to ever make it big in the charts.

Got a few other projects work-in-progress of course, one of which will be my next game. I'm naturally going after the mass market this time though with a simple (but hopefully unique, and of course very "addicting!") puzzler game.

Apps: Lead Wars (TA Thread) | Super Grav (TA Thread) | 3D Spinner (TA Thread)
DemonStudios Ltd | Indie Game Dev
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02-17-2012, 01:39 AM
Joined: Sep 2009
Location: Kansas
Posts: 5,338
Interesting read. I started developing As a hobby about a year ago. Initially I would come up with some ideas/art and then pay someone to make it work. I put out around four games that when I was making thought were good but ended up hating the completed versions. Needless to say none of those games sold, so I sold off the rights to all of them.

I thought about giving up but decided to try again and whil I am not making much money my games are getting better and they are performing well above my precious efforts. Recently I decided to make a game that I would really want to play(Slide Golf Mini) for the iPad and this game has by far been my best seller. It is actually the first game I will be updating with new content.

I worked with a number of people over the last year and was surprised at how much personalities can clash when making something from scratch. I never went into this expecting to make much money but I was surprised how hard it is to even get noticed.
02-17-2012, 01:50 AM
Joined: Apr 2011
Location: Adelaide, Australia
Posts: 111
Hehe DemonJim, thought I was the only one irritated by that particular bit of non-English...
02-17-2012, 08:51 AM
I've been a Flash game dev for about 6 years I think it is now, and worked as a Flash dev for ad agencies in London for years before that. Havn't made any mobile games yet, but I'm about to take the leap into that world
02-17-2012, 10:10 AM
Great inspiring stories! And indeed, not everyone can pull an "angry bird" on his first app .

Hopefully, we will tell our success story next year on this forum hehe

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