For the last couple of months, I've been working closely with a struggling indie developer in Korea to help launch their game on iOS and Android. As part of the process, the dev has started a blog about his feelings in the run-up to the launch. We've translated it into English as he has some great insight into the stress of launching a game on a shoestring budget, as well as trying to launch globally while based in Asia.
Here is an excerpt from his most recent post:
Spirit Sweeper is a PvP game, and so we’ve been working hard over the weekend to make sure the server stuff is working correctly.
Unfortunately, we’ve had some bad news from our stress tests. We’ve been getting DeadLock (failure) results from 3 separate sources, and it’s going to require fixes on the server level. Because of this, I don’t think we’ll be able to launch on the 4th as we had originally hoped. T.T
Why were we aiming for the 4th? Well, by the end of November we expect to be financially unable to keep on developing, so we wanted to launch the game early in the month so we could follow up on any bugs or development issues. Pushing the week back one week isn’t too bad, but it’s not ideal…
The server issues have left me pretty frustrated. Now might be a good time to re-visit my reasoning for developing Spirit Sweeper. First, the Korean mobile game market has exploded over the past few years thanks to Kakao Talk. It’s to the point that the defining criteria for a smartphone is whether or not it can run Kakao. And in the beginning, the Kakao Talk era lead to huge downloads and huge success stories for games. But this is no longer the case, and there’s 2 reasons why:
- Kakao Talk allows gamers to invite non-gamers to their game. In the beginning, this function had no limits, and people were spamming their acquaintances left and right. And so Kakao Talk added limits to the invite system, in some cases limiting invites to 20 a day, or limiting the number of incentivized invites to 30. (Incentivized invites are when the user is given in-game currency prizes for a successful invite.) This caused the price of incentivized invite to escalate, marginalizing indie developers with low marketing budgets.
- In the beginning, Kakao was very selective about the games it carried on its platform. This is no longer the case. Perhaps it was because too many games had applied and they grew tired of filtering through the games, but somewhere along the line they severely loosened there standards. And so these days, you can see a lot of copycat games and other low quality games on Kakao. This has lowered expectations from Kakao users, thereby increasing the need for marketing. In fact, it’s nigh impossible for games to get downloads these days without marketing. This is in stark contrast to before, when the Kakao platform was so strong that it made marketing unnecessary.
Mobile gamers in Korea these days are pretty much set in their ways and don’t really have interest in new games anymore. To pique their interest requires a huge marketing budget, and the price for such marketing is ever-increasing. Without a publisher, or without outside investment, it’s nearly impossible to get Korean users to play a game. I came to this realization around December last year, and upon realization I was severely tempted to close up shop. But, because I had yet to approach the global market, I thought I’d give it one last shot.
Of course, the global market also requires a lot of marketing, but with so many users I am hoping that it’ll be easier to gather a significant number of hardcore users and achieve virality. If only I could find a game that would resonate with global users… as I pondered about this, I suddenly thought back to my Windows 95 days and all the time I had spent playing Minesweeper. I remember how in 2003/2004, there was a game called MineSweeper Flags that allowed for pvp Minesweeper play on MSN messenger. I searched for a game like this on mobile and to my surprise, couldn’t find any. Why not? It was a really fun game, and sure to work well with a global fan base. Maybe I should make one…
Of course, I didn’t want to make a copycat game. In my next blog post, I’ll detail how I made Spirit Sweeper and how it differs from Mine Sweeper. Blogging is fun, but it takes away from my dev time. So, back to work I go..