Tag Archives: featured

The SESM Method: Why we charge $2.99 for an incomplete game

In a word of indie mobile game development, we often struggle to get an early feel for a project we’re working on, to be able to tell if we can build upon the core idea and if it eventually grows wings and becomes something of its own. If we work on something for two long, we can end up missing the target completely, and the polish and finesse of a badly designed game become a beautifully crafted tombstone for a dead on arrival product.

iOS App Store gives us, however, a different option: we can develop a game, get it approved and available, then start growing a community of players and fans as we grow the game.

SESM Indie game development: typical lifespan

Phase 1 – Small community. Friends, family and acquaintances

Phase 2 – Early adopters, forum enthusiasts, journalists, reviewers, trendsetters

Phase 3 – Selective buyers, Niche fans

Phase 4 – Mainstream

So based on this list, it’s easy to figure out why, for example, phase 1 doesn’t need to be perfect: that’s because your friends and family will (hopefully) support and be positive regardless. From phase 1, however, we can learn important lessons about general first impressions, usability and general appeal (for example, your non-gamer friends may not have a lot of patience for games, if they do spend time playing it, it’s a good sign).

So that’s how it works: we create and prototype an idea, then add the majority of the core gameplay, without the full spectrum of secondary elements we so easily attach to game design without even thinking. For example, in Burning Things, I could easily get too early into building secondary mechanisms on top of the core gameplay, such as power-ups, bonuses, and the ultimate killer app – in app purchases.

However, I chose a different method. The emphasis was on getting the basic idea, in this case driving around a fire truck, splashing water and saving victims on the way, to work as simply as possible, clean it up a little bit, create graphics and animations, and get the game up and running.

This way, we could have an assessment whether the main idea works, while investing about 50% of the time generally required for a similar project to be completed.

Quickly enough after going live came the first update, which solved a couple of bugs that made it to the original release. And that was fun – I was always scared of updates, of waiting for review again, of being rejected – but the cool thing is that while you are waiting for approval, you can already work on the next version.

Version 1.2 can therefore become a more substantial update, with introduction of new gameplay elements. At this point the game is looking pretty solid, and I had some time to rework the opening screen. The stress in the week of the original release seems by now like a far and forgotten experience.

Slowly, players start responding and commenting on forums (e.g. TouchArcade’s), giving important feedback. One, for example, advised that the game isn’t suitable for kids younger than 5, while I claim the game is for ages 3-7. That may sound like painful criticism to some, but at this point there is no issue for our little game. I can listen to the criticism, revisit the game’s mechanisms and tweak things around. No reason to panic.

So how is the game going to be picked up for New and Noteworthy this way?

Thinking that my game will be featured by Apple before it reaches some level of maturity (at least phase 3) is just naive. I believe in second and third chances. I think there’s actually a better chance this way, and although it’s always easier to jump ship to a new project, once dealing with the urge to start something from scratch, it’s a lot of fun to grow with your game this way.





Tiny Fireman 1.3 update details

While our upcoming update for ‘Burning Things’, version 1.2, has mainly bug fixes and compatibility enhancements, the next version (1.3) will have a brand new gameplay mode.

The new mode will utilize Red Truck’s currently passive ladder, and allow players to rescue fire victims from the rooftops of burning buildings.

Players will have to tap or drag around the ladder to place it in the correct spot – to let Cat automatically advance to the next platform.

‘Burning Things’ gameplay trailer video

Here’s our new trailer for ‘Burning Things’ – our upcoming game for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

The gameplay trailer takes you through the intro flick, then the level selection screen.
Later on, you can watch real gameplay with lots of fire and water splashes. And finally, the end party, ending with a kiss.

[youtube id=”F3qyNFkre6E” width=”600″ height=”900″]

Creating playable content for children

What could be easier than creating playable content for kids? The truth is that the task isn’t as straightforward as people may believe. While games are naturally the realm of the young, younger children tend to understand rules, goals and fun rather differently. True, children learn quite quickly about the basic concepts of life, however they understand them in a different way. Visiting the doctor, for example, is not a routine chore, but an adventure of its own. And things we may think as being exciting, such as going to the movies, can be seen as a tedious and way too long experience for toddlers.

So what is the key for a satisfying experience for young kids?

I believe there are few:

1. Gameplay has to be satisfying in short sessions, however there should be enough depth for further exploration. Levels, modes are good, but even better if each level or mode is playable as a shorter session or a longer one.

2. The gameplay has to revolve around something you can identify with – if not a character – even a concept can do. Creating a world of faeries is great, but remember there needs to be a specific faerie, such as the protagonist, that should be playable, so the experience is not detached.

3. There can a surprise element that can be explored and tested multiple times. For example, an egg which users knock on to see different objects hiding inside.

4. Interaction should happen in a limited number of ways. For example, touch and drag an apple to a basket, then touch and drag a sheep to the yard.

5. Consistency is key when a learning experience is sought after. There are lots of games where kids can touch many things and see what they do, but nothing is learned unless there is some overall theme and ruleset that’s causing things to act as they do.

Designing app menus for kids

Not everyone can read – and some level of illiteracy is especially common within our game’s focus group – 3 year olds. This means we need to make the menus as easy to navigate as possible with minimum frustration. Our main idea is to keep menu systems simple and have least amount of pre-game nonsense. No main menu, for example. Our players will jump right into the level select screen which is quite intuitive as it shows the levels in a visual way.

Children do tend to like the occasional mysterious icon, though – and we will be using these with care, for exploration of non-essential features and ‘power options’.

To sum up the basics, here’s a list:

1. Use as little text as possible.

2. Use icons and pictograms, but make them interesting and meaningful.

3. Avoid unnecessary menus, even if they are considered standard in the industry.

4. Jump quickly into the action.

5. Animation and button visual responsiveness can add fun and purpose when used carefully.

6. Some concepts, such as arrows or “i” buttons, don’t make much sense. Children do seem to pick up touch gestures easily (my 3 y.o. daughter really likes to pinch-zoom in and out to see how big letters can get in texts she wouldn’t be bothered reading…).

7. This has to do with in-app-purchases – make these list menus least abstract if you actually want kids to understand what they are buying (or trying to convince their parents to buy). Money is an abstract concept and while dominant in grown-ups lives I believe we could spare our kids another couple of years before they have to decide whether they would ask their mom to buy them 400 bonu-credits as in-game currency. Purchases such as tools, badges or furry animals are more kids-friendly and promote more satisfaction and less addiction-based buying.

‘Burning Things’ coming soon to iPad and iPhones and toddlers

Not everything is candies and watermelons in Can Town. A massive fire runs wild, and only Cat and Dog can save the animal citizens with their old but mighty red truck.

Burning Things was created in order to address the shortage in young children quality games and content. We chose to put the text aside, and let the game itself tech a bit about the world of firefighters.

More details as well as a final launch date soon.

Praise: Cavernous receives 4.5 stars from appSafari

Our latest game, Cavernous, was given a generous 4.5 stars out of 5 by appSafari.com. The very positive review places appSafari as the first major site to take a closer look at our game and review it in depth.

Some highlights:

“I found Cavernous to be a delightfully engaging game”

“Cavernous offers more than 50 levels for hours of entertainment.”

Cavernous is now featured on the main page of appSafari.com.