[PressOK's VP of engineering describes how iOS App Store success Finger Physics was conceived, greenlit, developed, and marketed -- with tips on how to change small side-projects into big successes.]
At PressOK Entertainment, our product strategy is pretty simple: make games so fun that people want to share them with others. As most developers or publishers will tell you, this is much easier said than done. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but the goal never changes.
One of the biggest challenges we face in meeting that goal is making sure that the team working on the game is invested in it, not only because it's their job, but because it's their baby. As anyone who has kids or friends who have kids will tell you, no one is as interested in your baby as you are. It's no different in game development.
In an attempt to overcome this challenge we instituted the "Rogue Development Project" program. The idea is simple: let our developers spend a certain amount of their time working on whatever game idea they want.
If the resulting ideas or prototypes fit our broad product strategy, they become full-scale projects, led by the developer or team who came up with the idea. Six months after the program started, it was already paying dividends.
Vladimir Agafonov and Efim Voinov, who work in our Moscow, Russia office, were the first to submit a rogue project called "Block-it" to the review team three weeks after the program started.
The process for reviewing games submitted under this program is not scientific by means; it is really basic: is the first five minutes of the game fun? Do we believe the can game be marketed? If our management team answers yes to both questions, then we are off to the races.
Our initial feedback included several points that could be improved to help turn this game from a good idea to an outstanding, marketable contender in the puzzle genre.
Starting with the name, we suggested a change from Block-it to something that better described the mechanics and play style of the game itself; ultimately concluding in what we think was a home-run of a title in Finger Physics.
The original game also featured just one basic game mode. Our suggestion of adding more content would help Finger Physics stand out from the crowd of "stacker" games and countless other puzzle games on the App Store.
For the interface and overall look of the game we listed a few improvements that could help bolster the game's appeal and a player's likelihood to be entertained for longer periods of time. First off, we opted for more backgrounds and different visuals to keep the player intrigued.
The original background was a stark contrast to the moving pieces of the puzzle and we felt that the "hard" background should blend more with the game to help minimize any distraction from the gameplay itself. The UI underwent a major overhaul; everything from the main menu to the level selection mode was reevaluated and redesigned to polish the game, preparing it for the market.
Agafonov and Voinov took our feedback and ran with it, all while completing development on other projects. Three weeks later, they provided us with an updated build that integrated all of the suggestions, including multiple game modes and addicting gameplay -- needless to say, they quickly changed our opinion of the game.
The following week, Agafonov and Voinov teamed up with Anton Antonov, Ilya Koryakin, Dmitry Chernenko, and Grigory Kireev to further develop Finger Physics and make it into the game it is today.
Typically, the entire team, from top down, is involved in a game by defining features, driving scope changes and shaping the game; this is not the case with rogue projects.
Outside of a few suggestions, we left the development, art, and game play entirely up to Agafonov and Voinov and the team working on the game. I felt that giving this amount of leeway would lead to a more invested development team and, ultimately, a better game.
In the case of Finger Physics, this process worked wonders. Once the game went in to full production the total development time was approximately three months, versus six months for a typical development cycle.
As with most products we develop, we review builds weekly and provide feedback up to the beta of the product, after that point we review builds at least every other day as we make minor changes to the game play, menu UI, et al to improve our likelihood of success. With Finger Physics, this process lasted approximately two weeks before we were satisfied that the game met all business and end-user requirements.