[For a long-time boxed game developer, releasing a mobile game can be a scary process. Bad Pets is a multiplayer IOS title, part technology demo, part game, part unfinished. Here are some thoughts on the process.]
Recently, we went live with my first IOS game, Bad Pets.
With over 30 years in the industry and dozens of published games, this shouldn't feel like a new thing. But the mobile market, like social games, requires a very different balancing act.
After years of thinking in terms of "polish it and pack in every feature you can before you get it out the door" I've had to think in terms of Minimum Viable Product. Complicating the picture, this game is designed primarily to demonstrate the realtime multiplayer technology and messaging my startup, Suddenly Social is promoting. It's not really meant to be a hit title (although of course that wouldn't hurt!) but rather show how we can support multiplayer gaming and cross-game messaging.
So we've launched it with what I feel is a minimal but really less than optimal tutorial section, a handful of minor known bugs we expect to fix in the next week or two, a pretty simple scoring model that needs work, and a fairly rudimentary setup for finding other players for the multiplayer games.
We could in theory have spent another month or two adding features and improving things, but in its current state it is great at showing off our technology, and that's what the startup needs at the moment.
And the game is, IMHO, pretty fun, particularly when you have 7 other friends playing with you, and REALLY particularly when they're in the room with you so you can gloat (or groan) in real time as you play. It's a variant of the old (and overused) classic, Rock Scissors Paper (RSP) - but with 8 players, it's also a bit like a standoff in a Tarantino movie.
In the game each player is a Dog, Cat, or Fish in a circle with 7 others, and picks one of the three weapons and a nearby player to aim at. Once every six seconds or so, you send an attack against your target. Traditional RSP is one on one, but when you open it up like this you have to consider not only the weapon of your target, but who else might be aiming at you, and about to fire.
It gets pretty hairy - or furry or scaly as the case may be. And when you change weapons, you add a bit of time before your next attack goes out, so lots of changes can slow your rate of fire and put you at a disadvantage. Gradually players are eliminated until only one is left.
But back to my main point - releasing a game that is short on features and has known bugs rankles. And yet I have seen firsthand that many very successful mobile games launch this way, and then are refined with the input of actual players.
I've had to tell myself that it's a bit arrogant of me to assume I know better than my players what they'll like, but should rather open myself to their input. With digital downloads and frequent updates, it's not only possible to release games early and improve them, but good business practice. Still, it's a hard lesson to internalize.
Where will we go from here? It's up to the players from here. Reminds me of sending my daughter off to school for the first time, knowing she would have ups and downs - but at least getting an IOS game out takes a lot less time than raising a kid, not to mention money!