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Find out how to take an idea, make it, publish it then find out no one will play it - or tips from a noob on how to make your first game from your garage.
January 24, 2014
11 Min Read
*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.
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.
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).
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.
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...
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).
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.
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.
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