How it all started
I have always made prototypes and small games in ActionScript and Flash and then switched to Unity3D. None of these projects really made it to the public. I have even started on a complex 3D project and I had quite some progress with it - 2 levels, dialogue system, houses and characters models all made in 3D on my own. I still have that project on my list as to do "when I have time". The project is quite interesting, but is massive how much content it needs.
Here is an example of one of my Flash games: "Buzz Bee"
Here is an example of my 3D World Unity Game: "Hitar Petar"
Then I decided that I need to get experience with self-publishing a game, any game, anything that doesn't take long time to do. My goal was to just put something on the Google Play Store. That's it. So, I had a good structure for a game at my disposal already - it was a waste sorting project, which I had done before for a job interview (didn't get the job, but a default answer: "we will not be progressing with your application at this time"). The whole game was actually made in a week during my spare time and the concept was really simple: you have 4 bins on the scene and some trash on the ground and some basic animations like moving the bins and opening. Drag and drop, would make the trash jump inside the bin, the wrong bin won't open. I was looking at this game, I liked the code base and how simple and good candidate for going to the store actually was. But was not fun enough and very boring. So I needed a way to make it more interesting...
I started making the trash items move away and try to escape the screen, make them feel more "alive" and the whole thing more dynamic. I added ability to tap to destroy. And that actually felt quite fun when I was testing it. I love bonus levels - those special areas where you can just release yourself and collect items, gather points without punishment or game over. I try to put such an area in most of my games now. So I added a bonus level to Trash Invasion as well. In this level, you have only one bin and you cannot lose if the trash escapes or if the wrong trash is thrown.
I am not an artist, but I know my way with tools like Photoshop and 3D models, but due to time constraints, I looked at some free models and assets and from my side I only adapted and modified them (I credited the authors in the game). I was probably two weeks away from releasing this to the store, when my wife one time casually looked at my screen and said "wow that is good". She is not a gamer and from all my prototypes and trials, she has seen, this one captured her. So in a later conversation with her about the game we decided to take the time and make it better.
But it took 2 years (working during the evenings, maybe 70% of the times) after my day job as a game developer at a games studio. I became greedy, hah. In a way that I had so many ideas and features, that I wanted them all in. Started adding more levels, different behaviors for different levels, monsters, achievements, difficulty system for game progress, collection of coins, complex dialogue system, localization system (the game currently supports 5 languages, some of them I or my wife knew and it is very easy to add more, if I open my pocket for localization), rating&feedback system, in-game shop with IAP and ads (which I removed and never gonna use those again in this project, I promise), in-game messaging system, and many more in-game utilities and other well crafted code (I am proud of it), mobile optimizations, mobile touch, and many more...
Changes to the game
The game had complete rework of the main mechanic. Since the feedback I got was that the bonus level was really fun, I decided to make all levels with similar gameplay as the bonus level. This took quite some effort to update the whole concept and code. Many other things I worked on, like achievements, got dumped as well. I even had a feature, in which the player could feed their monsters and this was increasing their abilities and gave more bonus. So the more you play with them the hungrier they get and eventually reduce their ability. Sadly, it did not fit well, was not easy to understand and was removed. Other features like it were also removed or reworked. The whole process was: get an idea how to make the game more interesting and fun, implement something quickly with boxes, show it around, if fun, polish on top of it. If not fun, re-iterate on it, brainstorm, rework, show it around, ...you get the idea.
Example of the Monsters Feed Dialogue
Different Way Games
I needed a brand name when I decided to publish in Unity and upload to Google Play. You know that identifier "com.company.game". I have always been different in almost everything, so kind of a nice identity. That is why is the joystick flipped as if you would hold it in this way when playing. So I just checked if there is such reserved website or Gmail account and if not, I just took that. The same thing was with the app name (Trash Invasion), but that required for me to do a bit more research and I actually browsed through the store to see if there is such a name or similar. Luckily there was not. It is important to be unique, because if you choose a name like "Battle something" or "Puzzle something", it will be buried 50 screens below by other similar apps with such names.
It was only me working on this and I was doing all the design, coding, music and art modification. I was so short on time. I was keeping track of features on a Word Doc (no Trello, Bugzilla or automated builds). I used Bitbucket for source control. All features were just plain text with a status next to it: "done" or "in progress". For bugs "fixed" or "cnr" (can not reproduce). The game was made in Unity3D and C# and for the music I used my guitar for composing with CakeWalk by BandLab for music arrangement. In total, I have developed 194 features and had 1295 bug fixes. I found the tracking in word so easy and it saved me a lot of time. Even when I tested on a device, I could open the doc on the device and input my bug findings or ideas on it and evaluate later. I also outsourced the game's feature graphic and part of the localization to third parties for a fee and it turned out really well and it was an interesting experience. Also composed 8 music themes + 1 theme for the trailer. Those can be found in my SoundCloud space.
Going on itch io.
I have always postponed publishing something and putting it out there. I would personally prefer to have really polished game, than just a rough prototype and then publish. And one day, after I realized that my next half an year would be so much occupied with other things and I would not have time to work on or publish my game anywhere for such a long time, I decided to press the button on itch io. It felt great that I finally had the courage to show my work out there. I have read lots of articles that marketing your game is very difficult, but at the same time you see all of these one shot success stories of other indies. And I know from experience very well that without initial building of a following and audience this project won't go anywhere. I would imagine either no downloads or lots of them. But you never really know until you try it, experience the whole thing and self-publish. After publishing on itch, the game appears on top and I could see some views and a few downloads. The next few days, the game was completely buried under other titles and slowly disappeared. That was it. It was good first test and to know what I can expect later from a fierce place like Google Play, where you get buried the moment you publish. You might not even show in the search results or would be few pages down.
Going on Google Play
I was always thinking that publishing on Google Play is very complicated process and one needs very in-depth knowledge, while in fact it was a breeze (I am disappointed, haha). It took some time to make the right images and video trailer for it, but that's basically it. The most time I spent in there was working on the in-app purchases, like preparing consumables, prices, testing payments in the game, etc. I've got the best results on Google Play with 650 downloads in the span of 7 months. It was out of my expectations. I was thinking that the game would get 100 downloads for 1 year or so and that was my goal actually.
Going on Amazon
In total my game got 12 downloads on Amazon, no ratings or comments. If you are indie and want lots of downloads, I would not bother with that store. But it feels and looks good on your portfolio that you are published on X stores. So definitely do that for your image.
I was very much aware that I was doing this project incorrectly from the start. It was supposed to be quick and dirty going to the store. However, later on, I was too deep into it and it was too late to say no or stop. There was no market research, there was no business case. The goal was to publish at least one game on Google Play and get at least 100 downloads. I indeed did some research on recycling games competitors and saw that there is potential, because all of them do the same thing - put trash in the bin (just like how my game was before I decided to change it). Also I really believe that Climate Change and awareness about pollution is very important and hot topic nowadays, so definitely I would love to help in this direction. Besides this, the project was for learning, experimentation, self-publishing and building a portfolio. As you can see from above I started building more robust and complex project after all.
I established presence on itch io, Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud. From all of these platforms, I think Twitter has given me the best results in terms of getting a following and also getting downloads. I was able to reach 1200 followers on Twitter by just being active during my breaks. Not exactly sure, but to me it seems that itch promotes titles, which are for desktop and are also paid or have some donation involved. Facebook to me seems very difficult for users to even know about you as a studio, because it is all personal there, so even if you start posting, it will be just your real face and not associated with a brand. And it takes quite a lot of work to actually click through profile in order to get more info about someone's brand. I even made an Instagram account and YouTube accounts, but never had the time to develop those accounts and build following there. It would require me to be full-time on it. Recently started blogging on Gamasutra, but that doesn't have analytics to see what is really happening there. I am seriously considering TikTok now and have to do it quick before it gets way too flooded with other studios. Besides those, I contacted some press websites and alternative app stores and review platforms. What I got from those was, no answer or a redirect to some other company, which asks for a few thousands of dollars to write reviews for you. I also made a Reddit account, but I did not get any pleasant experience there. You get banned, rejected, down voted, abused for every post. Could not post even sometimes: video not correct, image not correct, text not correct... No offense for Reddit fans, it's quite good, I am using it regularly to get news and info, but it simply requires quite a lot of effort to actually get anywhere. I was probably posting on the wrong groups I guess.
The most downloads I got was after being contacted and featured by MyAppFree (big thank you to those amazing guys there). It is an app and game discovery platform with lots of games and solutions for growth for gaming studios. My app was for a week on their main page and after that it got first place in their May Collection of best games. From that campaign I got about 100 downloads with conversion rate of about 30%. So this leads me to think that my game has something to offer to the players, but is very difficult to draw conclusions just from that.
Looking back at that one week game, now it has become a monster and I can say that it was worth it - all of it. I am continuously making fixes and adding new features. I personally believe that there is a moment when a feature or a twist in a game that could make a difference and get the attention it deserves. So I will keep experimenting for a while with such features.
I recently started a new project with the same code base and it was very easy - in a weekend I could complete the basic structure of the gameplay and did not need to bother with other things like making a dialogue system. New dialogues are added very quickly by copy-pasting components and changing the graphics and content. I have built quite good mobile code base, which can be reused for many projects (too bad or too good, I don't know, coz I also wanted to move towards Godot, but yeah we will see). As a little teaser, I would mention that for the next game I got a very young artist now and it will be an adventure game with a story and very weird, funny things happening to the main character and the world around. So stay tuned!!!
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you would like to support me, please follow me or say hi on social media. The best support would be to spread the word about Trash Invasion and if you like it, give it a rating and a review on Google Play. Thanks a lot!
This is link to the original article, where can be found more articles about the project:
Trash Invasion: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.differentwaygames.trashinvasio...