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Postmortem: Llopis and Friginal's Casey's Contraptions
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Postmortem: Llopis and Friginal's Casey's Contraptions


June 22, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

2. Social Features

Creating something is fun, but creating something and being able to share it with people is twice as much fun. We wanted to make Casey's Contraptions a very social experience from the start. Not something that you played through and put away, but something you could share with friends along the way.

Since Casey's Contraptions uses a full physics simulation at its core, it's possible to come up with very unique, chaotic, and often unexpected solutions to most puzzles. Weeks after launch, we're still amazed at how some people are solving some levels, coming up with item combinations we never thought about during development. Since these solutions are very unique and fun to watch, they were a perfect candidate to share with friends.

With that in mind, we designed the game with sharing from the start. After you complete each level, you can share your solution with all your friends just with the tap of a button (and, in the latest update, the default is to autosubmit a solution if you improved your score).

Your friends' solutions are equally accessible, as cropped thumbnails in the level completion screen, and tapping on any of them will bring up a full-screen view, so you can even replay and watch the full solution.

In addition to sharing solutions, we also included a level editor to allow players to create their own contraptions from scratch. This was the same level editor we used to create all the levels in the game. Nothing like eating your own dog food to make something solid and usable.

Initially, players were able to share these levels through email, and, in the first update, we also added the ability to share them publicly through a web site (http://shared.caseyscontraptions.com), effectively giving players access to hundreds of new levels.

As it's the case with most games that include level editors, we were aware that only a small minority of players would take the time to create their own contraptions. But it's also those players that are really devoted to the game, and take it upon themselves to spread the word about your game and champion it to all their friends.

3. Iterative Development

For Casey's Contraptions we used a very stripped down and relaxed form of iterative development. We had short iterations and in each iteration we aimed to fully implement what we considered the most important features at the time.

We didn't do any real estimating of tasks (other than, "yeah, we think we can do that in about two weeks"), and we didn't set a hard-limit on the iteration (they varied naturally between one and a half and three weeks). The most important concept is that at the beginning of each iteration we would make decisions about what to work on next, and those decisions were made with all the knowledge leading up to that point.

For example, we didn't start the project by coming up with the full list of items we were going to have in the game. Instead, we had a list on the wiki of possible items (to which we would add more whenever we thought of a new one during development), and we only decided which new items to add to the game at the beginning of each iteration.

That allowed us to make good decisions based on what we had learned so far: "Most objects we have so far fall down. We need more items that add forces upwards", or "The magnet is fun, but we need more metal items to make it more useful".

This mentality applied to everything: From level creation, to menus, features, etc. Looking back, we can say there's no way we would have made the same decisions early in the project than we did as we went along.

4. Strong Launch

In less than 24 hours after launch, Casey's Contraptions worked its way up to the top 10 paid apps in the U.S. and in over 20 different countries. A day later, it reached the number 2 overall spot in the U.S. and had great initial weekend sales.

This strong launch wasn't just pure luck. It was something we planned months in advance and worked hard to achieve (although we did need a dash of good luck). We wanted to build awareness and buzz around the game, but given the short development cycle for iOS games, we would have to do it in a shortened scale.

We started out by announcing the game more than six months before release (25 percent of the way into development). During the following months, we continued talking about the game on Twitter and our blogs, often showing work in progress or outtakes. The next big milestone was showing the game around at GDC. Not only did we get a lot of other developers to play it and give us invaluable feedback on it, but we also met with some of the game press, and that resulted in some very nice previews afterwards.

The final push came as soon as we submitted the game to Apple for review. We decided to set a fixed release date three weeks after the submission, which would give us enough time to do all the PR work: creating a video, putting together a media packet, contacting media outlets, etc. In the weeks leading up to the launch, we also stepped up our blogging of different interesting aspects of the game.

As a result of everything we had done up to that point, we were very lucky that Casey's Contraptions attracted Apple's attention, and they featured it prominently on launch day as iPad Game of the Week worldwide. We had given the press enough time with the game, so a lot of very positive game reviews came in right around launch day, helping get the word out for the game.

Even though we had been originally thinking of pricing the game at $4.99, we decided to shoot for volume instead and priced it at $2.99. That turned out to be the right decision and immediately put us on the top 10. Sales on iOS charts follow a sharp, exponential drop off, so being in the top 5 represents a huge increase in sales over just a few positions down the chart.

Looking at the App Store today, it's apparent that it's becoming harder for small, quick games to be really successful and top the charts. With over half a million different apps on the App Store, and hundreds of games released every day, you really need to stand out from the rest to be noticed. Most of the games that manage to do that are ones that required significant time and effort investment and have good production values. The App Store gold rush is over.


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