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How to start, publish and fail in 1 week*
by Rohan Wadsworth on 01/24/14 11:57:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

*Ok, that 1 week kinda dragged out to around 3 weeks. 1 week pretty much full time then some weekends and evenings spread over the next couple of weeks,  but if I didn't rewatch 3 seasons of Boardwalk Empire and so many movies in that main first week it definitely could have been done in a week.

Background

It has become somewhat of a tradition for me to use my half of my 2 weeks off from full time web design/development to get back into making games and in particular Unity, because flash is essentially obsolete and it's the only other thing I know how to use.

My first attempt at this was 1 year after finishing universitywhere I studied Multimedia Design with the aim of getting into animation, especially 3D in games. My main interest classes consisted of creating games in flash and Unity where I took the programmer role, plus animation (2D and 3D) and modelling classes. The perfect combo for becoming a garage developer.

While at uni, the Australian games industry basically imploded so when I got out there were no jobs to be had, and if they still existed, I certainly didn't have the skills they were looking for. So I ended up getting a job in web and basically let any of the skills I had slip away completely with no practice whatsoever (stupid I know).

I decided I should see if I still had it in me so I started out converting one of my flash games for mobile touch screens in my holidays. I found that through the very helpful Unity forums and answers site, that I was able to make a semi decent prototype and get it working on my phone. Due to some poorly thought-out decisions with the art of the game I burnt out my drive to finish and left it at that, half complete and almost too frustrating to go back to. The best thing that came out of this attempt was that my development environment was ready. The Andorid SDK was installed and my phone could be used for testing. Getting this ready took quite a considerable amount of time and headaches so keep that in mind when you start your quest.

After that first attempt I decided to get back into good habits and started reading Gamasutra blogs again everyday on the train to work, so if I ever did this again, I would hopefully have some useful knowledge and anecdotes to learn from.

It Begins

The week set aside for making an Android mobile game, from start to finish approached and I had decided to take on some of the advice repeated often here - "make something simple" and some of my own advice from last time "no 3D". Inspired by a previous article here, written by Denver Coulson "Designing Without Words" and his game UDLR:Swipe which I thought was fantastic but required a little more brain power than I wanted to give it.
Hence the idea for "Swipe It" or "Slidey" as I was originally calling it emerged. Take the simple swipe gesture and apply it in a kind of QTE with an increasing time limit based on correct actions. As soon as this idea was decided on I didn't play UDLR again in my best attempt not to copy it too much (I didn't want to be a clone as much as was possible when using a similar base mechanic and had at least a month gap between playing it for the last time and starting work on my idea).

First Steps

I mulled over how the programming would work and nutted out the main requirements in my head before I got anything down on paper (next time I'll write/sketch it down straight away!) and got straight into Unity. The blank canvas is a bit daunting so its useful to have some old code or example code around to remind you what you're doing. The first goal was to get the arrows to generate, ready to be swiped, then applying basic touch controls on those slides. A quick google and my small existing code base provided all I needed and the very basic prototype with the minimum features needed to be playable was finished in the first day.

As I continued working on the project in-between movies, TV and cooking dinners it became apparent my base touch controls and therefore the gameplay wasn't cutting it. The main premise of "dragging" the arrows to the sides of the screen where they would hit colliders, add score, create the next arrow etc, just didn't feel right. I decided it needed to instead work on definite swipe patterns (with a bit of dragging to indicate your touch input) so the code changed from what was basically "touch position = arrow position" to checking the input down and up position of the touch and then working out what direction (if any) the "swipe" was, then adding force in that direction to the target arrow. From there it started to feel right and not much was changed apart from tweaking the related number variables around a bit.

In Game Advertising

I have zero experience, but in my mind if an app is going to have any kind of potential to make money it needs an admission price, in app purchases or advertising. In this case in app purchases are pretty much inapplicable, it's a very simple game so the only thing I could think of as a possibility was alternate skins but that was out of scope for the time frame and nowhere near a good enough idea to bother with. There's no way I could get ANYONE to play the thing if it was priced and including ads would be a good learning experience so that's how I proceeded.

After wasting probably a day worth of brain power on research, checking out tutorials, following them and finding the results didn't even work, I learnt that ads were a lot harder than I thought to put in! So for all you other programming wannabes like me who are freaked out by using Eclipse to create JAR plugins and find your eyes glazing over when reading API documentation, there are 2 options I found: buy a premade plugin that already does it or find a service that already works in your dev environment.

I don't expect this experiment to make any money so the Google Play registration fee of $25 and my time was all I wanted to invest at this point. Luckily I stumbled across Revmob. To be honest, while I'm super happy to have been able to get ads into the game, the way Revmob works is hardly ideal for getting clicks in my mind - it essentially shows the same 3 full screen banner designs for "Free App" on a loop and that's it. It also lags quite a bit, so it can result in accidental clicks which is probably useful for earning 2 cents but I wouldn't be surprised if it angered everyone enough to never play the game again. Also, considering that I need to get a minimum earning of $50 before I can get access to any of this ad revenue, it probably was a terrible idea to include it at all.

Art

I love the Sin City black and white + occasional colour (red in my case) style, so I decide that I would only use those 3 colours. I cheated a little on the fading background which indicates the time you have left as it fades from white to black (grey isn't one of the colours!). I think it's a pretty striking look, but one of the first comments from a friend was that it should be more colourful so I'm not sure how good a decision it was. This leads to the next point, people other than me playing the game...

External input

After the first week I had a "finished" game, a free (lousy) web hosting account for the high scores database and a place to put the apk so it could be downloaded.

Unfortunately everyone I was able to watch play it in front of me  played it "wrong" and were dragging rather than swiping. I tweaked the code so dragging moved the arrows faster hoping that would help but I had no real other way of teaching people how to play "properly" and that is the first major fail. EVERYONE I showed it to played it that way, the art was wrong (the black circle with white arrow starts on a white background so it intuitively looks like something you have to touch and drag) and the code was wrong (dragging was SLOW and seemed unresponsive). The week was up, I was back at work and the enthusiam was fading so this was basically ignored (but will be filed in my head for next time to allow for better external testing).

Marketing

My idea was if I could get my friends to tell their friends to play my game I might get a reasonable number of players (my aim was pretty low, I'd probably be happy with 100 people!). The problem is, I don't have many friends and the few I do have, don't have Android so the plan was destined to fail.

I also appeared to over estimate my audiences enthusiasm in sharing it around and probably annoyed them so much before the actual Google Play launch begging them to test it out for me, that they probably just ignore my requests now and I can't even get THEM to download the official version from Google Play.

I made a facebook page for the game (or at least my "fake" company focusing on the game and its development - hopefully I can build of this base for future attempts) which currently has a miserable 14 likes. The saddest part is that of those 14, only 3 or 4 actually have an android device!

I have one more idea left to get some actual downloads but want to save it for a little later on so I can get some untainted data. Essentially I want to run a high score competition with a small prize to an audience I can reach of about 300 (so hopefully around 150 android users of which I can hopefully get a decent portion of to join in, download the game and like my facebook page) .

So keep in mind everything you read here about marketing is probably true and a lack thereof just doesn't work. I'm not sure how a random hobby developer is supposed to get his stuff played, but I have certainly failed completely at that. The one thing I can add to the current advice is not to pester your friends too much because they may be the only audience you have and you can't afford to lose them.

Conclusion

So there you have it, hopefully something a little different to what you usually read here where even the  failures can sound like huge success in comparison to what you've done (granted the budgets in those cases mean their failures are usually of much greater concern - when you have nothing to lose you can't really lose).

I may not have stumbled on great success (or any at all) but I learnt a whole lot of stuff that can really only be learnt by doing it and I am very grateful I was able to do this at all. I now have a published game on Google Play, know how to implement Google analytics and ads, access the devices hardware buttons and save to player prefs. All things I couldn't have said a few weeks ago.

So if you only have the time or confidence to commit to 1 week a year to chase after your passion, DO IT! It may not get you anywhere at first but at least you are storing away useful info, learning and creating a code base to work with in the future. So if you have a great idea one day, you might have a better chance of not wasting it in complete obscurity, or worse - never doing anything at all.

To see the results and do me a massive favour you can find "Swipe it" here and check out the facebook page here


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Comments


Adam P
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Congratulations and thanks for sharing. Being able to say you have a game out there that people can actually download must be a great feeling. And, the article is inspiring. Good luck with the next project. Hey, does Unity allow for easy ports to Windows Phone 8 by chance?

Denver Coulson
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Unity does have a version for Windows Phone 8, though I'm not sure if it costs money.

Rohan Wadsworth
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Thanks Adam. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner, there doesn't seem to be any notifications for comments on here! I'm glad it was inspiring for you - let me know if you end up with a finished project and I'll definitely check it out!

Personally I'm not sure on the cost, but it definitely supports both Windows Store Apps and Windows Phone 8. Checking these links - https://docs.unity3d.com/Documentation/Manual/windowsstore-gettingstarted .html and https://docs.unity3d.com/Documentation/Manual/wp8-gettingstarted.html it seems free but you'll need Windows 8.

Denver Coulson
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Nice job getting a game complete from start to finish! I would try it out but don't actually own an Android device :P I'll get my friend to download it and give it a shot.
Testing is always a hard time. Your experience sounds somewhat similar to mine in UDLR:SWIPE. I had to constantly play test with new people to make sure the controls were tight. 50% or more of my development time was working on the controls. Additionally, if you do something simple, keep in mind EVERYTHING is under scrutiny. It's a lot harder to ignore a flaw when it makes up a huge chunk of the game.

Rohan Wadsworth
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Thanks for the kind words! I admit from memory your game swiped perfectly so I'm a bit jealous and of course it's much prettier than mine ;)

I'm really relieved that you aren't worried I stole your idea and many thanks for inspiring me to create something I could actually finish. It doesn't matter hugely to me that I'll probably cap out at 20 downloads, the learning experience and just having something available is good enough on it's own. I light up every time I check google analytics and find I have a new download and it's really interesting how all these different countries pop up like India, Sweden, Austria, China, Spain and El Salvador! I'm not sure where they're coming from (maybe here?) but it's awesome to see!

Tom Sexton
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Congrats on completing the game and learning so much!

I downloaded and tried out your game. I agree with you in that I really like the ascetic you choose. I especially enjoyed that you had a fade from white to black instead of a timer. It's a cool idea and I found it to increase the tension of running out of time while playing.

I also agree with you that the ad that pops up after each game shouldn't have been included as implemented. As you said, it lags significantly causing me to accidentally activate it multiple times within the space of a few minutes. To me it made the game pretty unplayable.

Apart from that one misstep, I think you did a great job. If you enjoyed making that game, you should try and carve out some time the rest of the year so that you aren't so constrained and can devote more energy into making a deeper more polished user game experience.

Rohan Wadsworth
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Thanks Tom!

I'm glad you like the look and especially you picked up on the background fade. I was pretty pleased with myself when I came up with that and I think it works nicely to increase the difficulty as it gets harder to spot the arrows on the black, especially when the random scaling comes into effect.

You are completely right about the ads, there must be a better way to implement them to be less annoying. Because I know the pattern, I have learnt to wait after failing for the ad to pop up before doing anything else. Sometimes it takes forever and sometimes it pops up pretty quickly. I guess it has to do with the network. The lag does have the one upside of causing the accidental clicks as you've experienced yourself so that gets me a few cents at least, I'm pretty sure no one would click those generic ads on purpose to be honest!

Right now I'm focusing on the marketing side of things and learning all I can on that side, spending all my time adding old acquaintances on facebook hoping I get a few more downloads and some kind of base to build on for future attempts.

I'm not sure how you other "after work indies" manage it. I think I enjoy coming home and not doing anything too much, but I think in a few months I might try and do something over a longer period of time. Most likely going back to that original project I kind of scoped my self out on. It's still pretty simple but I have a bit more to learn before going for something more noteworthy.

Leo Ziteron
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This sad story is not the first of its kind, it's everywhere on the internet. At least you haven't lost tens of thousands of dollars into it, many others have.
I've been listening to the mobile app flipping podcast, the majority of the episodes have guests that went through it and managed to get to the next level. I won't link you the podcast URL cause I'm too lazy to do it after writing this paragraph. Dang!

Rohan Wadsworth
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I am well aware of that and I am thankful I've only really had to invest a measly $25USD and a bit of free/holiday time. The kind of failures you're talking about definitely hit a lot harder and are usually games that don't deserve to fail, but the flipside is there too and you hear of game jam creations (which is more closely related to what I've done in this case) going crazy and the dollars rolling in. I admit I was hoping for that instant millionaire status but I certainly wasn't expecting it ;)

I'll have to check out that podcast, it sounds pretty interesting!

TC Weidner
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Congrats for jumping in with both feet, what I dont understand is why you only have 1 week a year to do this. Do you have a lot of kids and second job or something? There are 168 hours in a week, even if your working 50 of em, still leaves plenty of time to do what you love to do.

Rohan Wadsworth
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That's a decent point. I don't have a second job and I don't have kids, I'm not a particularly social one either so it's not as if I'm always busy.

I did do some calculations based on your figures for fun though. With travel time included, work takes more like 60 hours, then assuming 8 hours of sleep a night I'm left with only 21 hours free a week. Mix that with laziness, a job where I'm sitting in front of a computer all day using up all my programming and design brain power, other occasional commitments, the pessimistic view of failure and a bit more laziness and you probably have your answer.

I admire those who do forgo all spare time and sleep to follow this dream (especially those who are game devs for work, then come home to work on their won games!!) and now I have at least published something, I am definitely more open to trying this again soon after work and on weekends. Now I just need to come up with an idea that I'll be able to follow through with ;)


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