That last question had been rearing its unwelcome head for a while now. At what point should we just cut our losses, get jobs elsewhere, and pay back the money we had borrowed from amazingly kind friends and family?
We had a lot of unhappy discussions about this, but in the end we determined to have one last throw of the dice -- call it collective delusion if you like, but we knew we were getting better at making games, and we simply loved it so much that it was incredibly hard to let go. It was, frankly, a drug: the lows were frequent and extreme, but the highs were so easy to fight for.
Towards the end of 2011, we prototyped a bunch of game ideas and soon discovered the one that would become Monster Flip. The fact that it was a match-3 game was a surprise to all of us, but we found a few twists on the traditional gameplay that made it interesting enough to develop.
This time around, we signed up with local iOS developer and publisher PikPok to help us with our game. We knew we needed more marketing muscle behind us if we wanted a shot at surviving, and working with the talented folks at PikPok turned out to be a uniformly positive experience. They helped make the game better, through QA, the amazing audio of Jeramiah Ross, and the great work done by Mike Cosner on the trailer.
Most of our games are associated in my mind with the flat I was living in at the time. I have very strong memories of the late nights we spent at each and every dinner table in those places. When James came on board to re-draw Scarlett, we spent two consecutive weekends crunching in my lounge (I was living with a very kind and patient flatmate). We set up tables for myself and Tim, while James was using the PC that was hooked up to my flatmate's 55" TV. It looked a bit ridiculous using that setup for Photoshop, but we had to make use of whatever computers we could.
When you're working out of home, it becomes incredibly important to keep it separate from your home life, for the sake of your own sanity. After years of doing this, I'm not sure I ever managed to properly find that balance, so it was a huge relief when -- as Monster Flip kicked into life -- we finally got an office to call our own.
We had a lot of fun in this office -- what developer hasn't blasted out AC/DC at 4am with the windows open while they're frantically finishing a title? -- but we were all too aware of how desperate the situation was, and how burned out we were all getting from sheer worry.
Monster Flip is, to my mind, the most tightly designed of our games. You can chart a huge amount of improvement from our first titles to this one, whether in the unified color palette and art style James created, or the sheer slickness and amazingly bug-free coding Tim produced, or the system and level design I strived to make as good as possible.
Despite that, though, the game came out and promptly sank without a trace. In this case, we released in what ended up being a very busy week, minimizing the amount of feature coverage we got from Apple. And being a casual match-3 game, Monster Flip didn't manage to snag much in the way of press.
The game itself, meanwhile, is probably too much of a subtle slow burner in a genre that really demands bright colors and a ton of audio/visual fireworks to stand out. I think the gameplay systems we put in place are really solid and deep, but it could take a while for the game to reveal those systems. This could probably have been solved with a longer development cycle, but -- again -- there simply wasn't enough money to develop for longer than eight weeks.
When the game didn't do well, I think we all just felt resigned. I was amazingly burned out by this stage, having invested a huge part of my own self worth and identity in the fortunes of the company -- as so many developers have done in the past, I'm sure. We released one update to Monster Flip (again enjoying a high App Store rating if nothing else), and officially called it a day and put Launching Pad Games on hiatus.
Good and Bad
To me, the story of Launching Pad Games is one of pursuing enjoyment over sensible decisions -- and of often never even knowing what a sensible decision was.
We started this company with very little knowledge of finishing and releasing high quality games, and were sometimes too slow to recognize our own limitations or knowledge gaps and seek to overcome them. When that was combined with a huge amount of idealism, it resulted in a large number of missteps and often painful lessons learned.
It's all too easy to list those lessons: Don't jump into full time positions before the numbers add up. Be more pragmatic and analytical about the markets you target, even if you're unwilling to compromise much with the game itself. Reach out to fellow developers at every opportunity instead of repeating mistakes they could have helped you avoid. Consolidate your skills instead of forever starting afresh in completely new genres or markets. Seriously consider alternate monetization schemes like free-to-play even when you have a natural aversion to them. And for God's sake, acquire better marketing skills.
As developers, you'll be able to easily look through our titles and pick out the flaws, whether in the games themselves or in the genres/platforms we chose to target, and see why the numbers never added up. I find it all too easy to do that myself.
But despite all the setbacks and hardships, this has also been the single most enjoyable time of my life.
The Viking, the Hipster Nerd, and the Emo: playing dress-up at the Mighty Fin launch party,
We've all learned so much about game development over the last few years -- these are skills that will help us out for the rest of our careers. The lessons were both retrospectively obvious and excruciating, but they're learned now.
These years also helped focus us and crystalize what was important to us in this industry. I now have a very clear idea of what I want to contribute to the medium throughout the rest of my life, which is a surprisingly big comfort.
And most important of all: I got to work with two really amazing guys and enjoy the support of so many fantastic friends and contractors. Together, we had so much fun, even in the face of a mountain of stress caused by money worries and short deadlines. That stuff can wear you down until you're nothing but a husk, but having the other two around me never stopped being anything but great.
I feel extremely lucky to have been part of a good team. I've known people who've never managed to find decent collaborators, who have been burned so many times by people they've worked with. Tim, James, and I managed to instantly click, and keep clicking all the way through the darkest times. There wasn't a single day -- not one -- where I didn't want to get up and go to work.
I personally emerge from my time at Launching Pad Games a hell of a lot wiser (I hope), with a clear idea of what I want to achieve with video games. We're a cautionary story, perhaps, of what happens when you combine beginner's ignorance with a desire to follow your heart instead of your head. But for all that, I am so, so glad I did it, and always will be. So keep an eye out for the three of us in the future, because wherever we are, we'll be striving to do great things in this young, exciting, confusing, frustrating, diverse industry.