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Old 08-27-2014, 07:15 AM
CharredDirt CharredDirt is offline
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Default My life in the reskin industry - a retrospective

Last night, I was hanging out at Pocket Playlabs (Makers of Juice Cubes, published under Rovio Stars) and talking to the founders and really started reflecting on how I ended up in Bangkok in the game reskin industry and how far I had gotten away from my indie game aspirations to make my own games. I had a lot of thoughts so I thought I'd put some of them down. At the very least, my story could be an interesting or helpful read.

It's a little long, you can skip to the end for the bullet points if you want.

My Company Story

19 months ago, I quit my IT job in the US and moved to Thailand for family reasons. Foreign Sys Admins not being in demand, I fell back on my computer art degree and love for video games as a source of income. If I couldn't make my indie game successful, I could try freelancing. My part time programmer couldn't keep up with my full time art so I started doing freelance game art. My first game customer asked me to reskin a game for him. He provided a source code and I changed the art for him with a different theme. He happily recommended me to his private group of developers and soon enough, I was busy enough that I needed to hire an art assistant. After getting busier, I decided to take the leap and open up an office. I had 3 full time employees. We pushed and grew and by Christmas time we were up to 5 employees reskinning games. It wasn't what I originally wanted to do and the hardcore gamer in me didn't like it. But I had a wife and two kids to take care of so failure wasn't an option. In January, I had a chance conversation with my biggest competitor. She being a figurehead in the community, wanted to get into other things and was tired of the headache of managing her reskin company. So we ended up merging and I took over her reskin divison as an equity partner. We grew some more and I recently had to open a new office. We're now up to 11 full time employees and soon to be 9 incoming interns. I'm friends with app millionaires and know almost every major gaming company in Thailand and even some in other countries. My game company is providing a decent living but I'm far from rich.

Now I'm trying to get our In-House apps division back on its' feet again. At our current size, in addition to our work we do for other clients, we can self publish 30 games (reskins) a month. But really, I want to start making games again, good ones that matter. So I'm back to square one again, but this time, I have a company behind me.

Sometimes I feel like I'm in over my head. I'm in an industry with guys doing stuff for Blizzard and Disney and some making games that bring in millions of dollars a month. I've never worked for a big game company and I don't know jack about the traditional game industry. We've never had a hit game but we've at least broken even in the past with our published games. It's kind of intimidating sometimes, especially if I'm going to jump back in to make some serious indie games.

Anyway, here's some of my humble takeaways that I've learned on my journey and I'm aiming this at indie developers and/or app flippers. Keep in mind this is just my opinion, so feel free to disagree with me.

TAKEAWAYS

*Sometimes you need to make big life changes like quitting your job to make your dreams happen. If you do that though, make sure you have some cushion money. Gotta be sensible about it.

*Education is better than wild investment. You're running a business so you need to act like it. Read up as much as you can about the industry, marketing, and publishing opportunities. It's out there if you try hard.

*Are you publishing for mobile? Hurry the hell up! I recently read about a guy who spent a year and a half making a mobile game and using up over $100K making it only to get back $7k. Be reasonable, Keep the budget low and be able to turn around a game in 2-6 months tops. If you can't do that for your first project, pick a smaller project. If your app has to be a runaway success for you to break even, you haven't done a good job on the business part. If you're going to fail, fail fast and get on to the next project. Learn from every failure.

*Was talking to some Ex-Lucas Arts guys last night. They said too many people make a product (a game) without knowing how to sell it. What other industry does that work in? I.E. I made this fantasic toaster and have 10,000 of them, I have no idea how to sell them. You need someone with the business sense enough to get your app published or promoted. If that's not you, partner up with someone who can. Ultimately, you're running a business, not a game making charity. You need to think like a business man or woman.

*ASO, ASO, ASO. That stands for App Store Optimization. It's like SEO but for apps. Its the science of optimizing your app name, keywords and/or description to optimize your position on the app store. This is super important for getting organic results and it doesn't cost you a thing unlike most marketing companies. Lets face it, if you're publishing 30+ games a month, you need to do something to get seen and unless you have an army of marketing staff and a huge budget, you're going to have to find other means of getting your apps seen.

*The other buddy of ASO is market research. I'm sure your game about Skydiving Lesbian Pine Cones is a fantastic game. But if there isn't search traffic for it, it's bound to fail barring a miracle. So many developers miss this key step in making a game. Success can be somewhat predictable.

*If you can't do it, outsource. If you suck at something and can swing it financially, outsource that function. As much as I try, I'm not good at everything but my time is worth something. If my time is worth more than something I'm doing, I hire or outsource that function. Outsourcing doesn't magically make you profitable but it's a means for growth.

*Be flexible and look for business opportunities. Network. Figure out if you're making games for the love or money. Occasionally both paths cross but it's rare and sometimes you really need to suffer to get there.

If you made it this far, you're amazing and awesome. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I'm happy to help anybody or provide insights if I can help you out. And likewise, if you are in the industry and have advice for me, I'd love to hear it.
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  #2  
Old 08-27-2014, 02:44 PM
Planetman Planetman is offline
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Default thai

Wish I could move to Thailand
Don't have job I could do there.
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  #3  
Old 08-27-2014, 03:16 PM
Nullzone Nullzone is offline
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Awesome story, thanks a lot for sharing!
As you are running your own company now, you definitely are successful and hopefully have a good income as well.
If I read you right, you have enough surplus revenue to slowly get back into making your own games. So, even if it was a bit of a twisted path, congratulations are in order, I guess

Sidenote: I am not a developer, "just" a gamer
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  #4  
Old 08-27-2014, 09:56 PM
CharredDirt CharredDirt is offline
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Thanks guys, yeah, I suppose I am successful but I've burned through a lot of savings to get here. Growth is awesome but buying lots of mac workstations really hurts the wallet. I did just buy a house by the lake which is pretty nice. But now I've gotta work my butt off to make sure I can make the monthly payments. Thats why I really need to get our in house team rolling again. It's the only way I'll ever get rich.

Oh, and Thailand is awesome. Love living here. You can always teach english if you want to live here. That wasn't my path though but maybe it is for you.
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  #5  
Old 08-28-2014, 04:43 AM
Planetman Planetman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CharredDirt View Post
Thanks guys, yeah, I suppose I am successful but I've burned through a lot of savings to get here. Growth is awesome but buying lots of mac workstations really hurts the wallet. I did just buy a house by the lake which is pretty nice. But now I've gotta work my butt off to make sure I can make the monthly payments. Thats why I really need to get our in house team rolling again. It's the only way I'll ever get rich.

Oh, and Thailand is awesome. Love living here. You can always teach english if you want to live here. That wasn't my path though but maybe it is for you.
Good luck
You need a degree and a TEFL to work as English teacher and that takes a few years to get
I don't have those
I was hoping you would employ me as full time tea boy )))
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  #6  
Old 08-28-2014, 09:25 PM
CharredDirt CharredDirt is offline
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LOL, teaboy. You can also study in Thailand as a student. School is very cheap here. There's different ways. If you really want to go you can go. Some people just come on a visitors visa, get an extension, do a border run which then resets. Pain in the but but its the easiest way to stay here. Right now, I only hire Thai people because of how our business is set up. I theoretically could hire another foreigner but it would have to be a higher position to justify the required salary. Right now we just expanded and I'm not hiring anymore. Bills are killing me. My buddy who works in my office is looking for a skilled Unity or Cocos2D dev so there's that if you got the skills.
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  #7  
Old 08-29-2014, 04:02 AM
CharredDirt CharredDirt is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theone9999 View Post
Very nice article! I love to here story from different developer, we are all doing the same job but we are all doing it differently! Thank you for your sharing!

I actually want to know how's the reskin industry doing?
I mean do they really make hell lot of money?
and as an artist like you doing arts for those project, do they pay you well enough?

I am a designer on my own i am working on a game now with a freelance programmer, but I really want to know every part of the developing business around, as i am the one who is running the company, I think every bits of knowledge helps in the future!

and i really appreciate your suggestion, they are very valuable!
i am totally agree with you about the marketing, I think most of the indie developer like us are missing the marketing part seriously, that's is the most important parts to sell our piece of work.

great stuff!
I'd be happy to answer your questions. My service is more of a premium reskinning service so we charge more than other developers but people use us anyway because we have excellent artists and a smooth order system. I make about as much as I did in the US on an average month but sometimes I make more on a promotion. Needless to say, a US salary in Thailand puts you in the top 5% income bracket. So life is pretty good. As far as the reskin industry, yes it can be very profitable. Like I said, I'm friends with app millionaires who just produce apps full time and are good at it. But there's no guarantee of getting up there, it takes a ton of hard work, market research and smarts to get your apps on the top of the app store. Then again, the idea is numbers so even though your apps might suck or be unoriginal, if you have 100 apps out there, you're making something. Hopefully I'll cross the 100 app mark personally in the next month or so. The fundamental idea of reskinning is that development costs a lot of time and money. You can buy a license for a source code, reskin it 5 times with different themes and produce many apps a month instead of one app every year. It's a pretty brilliant idea to make money but there's not as much passion in it as would be with an indie game. I do miss the passion in making games you love though. I'd like to add that as another department soon.

For you as a designer, this is perfect (I'm a designer too) It cuts out the expensive programming part, still allows you to be creative and you can make your own game. Sometimes I can make a game myself in a day if it's small enough.
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Old 08-30-2014, 04:08 PM
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batgirl717111 batgirl717111 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CharredDirt View Post
*Are you publishing for mobile? Hurry the hell up! I recently read about a guy who spent a year and a half making a mobile game and using up over $100K making it only to get back $7k. Be reasonable, Keep the budget low and be able to turn around a game in 2-6 months tops. If you can't do that for your first project, pick a smaller project. If your app has to be a runaway success for you to break even, you haven't done a good job on the business part. If you're going to fail, fail fast and get on to the next project. Learn from every failure.
oof. this one hit so close to home it hurts! wow.

i was really good a that for a while then got wrapped up in some extended projects and deadlines wound way out. trying to whip myself back into shape, lol.

i'd love to read that 100k/7k article if you still have the link!!
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  #9  
Old 08-30-2014, 10:52 PM
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Touchmint Touchmint is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CharredDirt View Post
I'd be happy to answer your questions. My service is more of a premium reskinning service so we charge more than other developers but people use us anyway because we have excellent artists and a smooth order system. I make about as much as I did in the US on an average month but sometimes I make more on a promotion. Needless to say, a US salary in Thailand puts you in the top 5% income bracket. So life is pretty good. As far as the reskin industry, yes it can be very profitable. Like I said, I'm friends with app millionaires who just produce apps full time and are good at it. But there's no guarantee of getting up there, it takes a ton of hard work, market research and smarts to get your apps on the top of the app store. Then again, the idea is numbers so even though your apps might suck or be unoriginal, if you have 100 apps out there, you're making something. Hopefully I'll cross the 100 app mark personally in the next month or so. The fundamental idea of reskinning is that development costs a lot of time and money. You can buy a license for a source code, reskin it 5 times with different themes and produce many apps a month instead of one app every year. It's a pretty brilliant idea to make money but there's not as much passion in it as would be with an indie game. I do miss the passion in making games you love though. I'd like to add that as another department soon.

For you as a designer, this is perfect (I'm a designer too) It cuts out the expensive programming part, still allows you to be creative and you can make your own game. Sometimes I can make a game myself in a day if it's small enough.

Interesting read for sure and hats off for making it but to me reskining is the devil of the app store. Filling the store with crap making search hard for users and developers. its very hard for new indies to get their foot in the door and this is a big reason (getting noticed).

You make some really good points about people not knowing how to market or sell their app. Im guessing I am one of the worst programmers on these forums but I atleast have a slight idea of what people want so that gives me an edge. knowing your market is a pretty big deal just because you can make something does not mean you should.

Anyways some good insight for sure and props for the business skills its just too bad its at the cost of other indies (then again if you werent doing it im sure somewhat else would). Not to put you out but it would be nice if apple cut down on accepting clones like this. =/

Last edited by Touchmint; 08-30-2014 at 10:57 PM..
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  #10  
Old 08-31-2014, 12:45 AM
AH_Phan AH_Phan is offline
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Firstly, congrats on your road to success. I firmly believe if you try hard enough, eventually luck will reward you.

About a year ago, I quit my job as a science researcher (with no prior programming or art experience!!) to pursue my dream to be a gamedev, living on the savings.

A few games later, I've learnt a lot. If in another year's time and my games still can't pay the bills (I've got a wife and 2 kids!), it's back to finding a "proper" job. But hey, you at least got to try to chase your dreams! Life is too short to slave away in a job that doesn't make you happy.

Believe it or not, this was the first game I wanted to make with completely NO SKILL and basically learning as I went:
http://halfgeekstudios.wordpress.com...l-rpg-defense/

It's completely foolish looking back, but taking on such a big project really taught me a LOT so in that sense, it was worth it.

Last edited by AH_Phan; 08-31-2014 at 12:52 AM..
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