I had the pleasure of speaking and showing off our game at Apps World 2014 in the Moscone Center of San Francisco. Below, you’ll find a transcribed version of the speech I gave discussing the hurdles small development teams can face in the mobile and particularly F2P platform moving forward. Want to add something or discuss? Drop me a line, or ping me on twitter.
So Wozniak just got off this stage, glad I don’t have to follow that act! ..but I am up soon.. -Still super excited to talk mobile games!
— Dylan Jones (@the_DylanJones) February 5, 2014
Thanks, I’m Dylan Jones and I’m a Game Systems Designer.
I’m currently at Bane Games, which is actually a small game studio in Brisbane Australia. Ironically, I telecommute in from SF, as does our artist in Tokyo, which creates the hurdles that follow any virtual workplace. But recently I’ve become an advocate in reminding people that in 2014 we shouldn’t be afraid of collaborating over these long distances. If you work from home, you might as well travel and work from any paradise with an internet connection, and if the time difference works out, you can report a bug before you go to bed -and wake up with it fixed!
-That’s of course not to encourage outsourcing, because even with our small completely flat managed team, communication requires a lot of effort, let alone with outsourcing. But such distance does force you to stay organized, and gets you in the habit of using task management tools like Trello. Trello is free, and for those who don’t know, lets your team create virtual post-it notes and their priorities on the virtual office wall. There are other tools for this, but I recommend Trello as it’s mix of usability works for programmers, artists, designers and even producers, who all need very different features. (we’ve also started to use Slack) It’s a great place for everyone on the team to see what others own.
And when I say own, I really mean it. Of course in an indie or medium sized studio, everybody wears a few hats. But I think it’s important that each member ‘owns’ a field. I’m a fan of Joel Spolksy, who speaks upon this briefly in his blog, how it doesn’t make sense to have a talented designer and a smart developer have a debate about a features priority, and then let the manager settle it, when in reality, the manager may know the least about the issue at hand. That’s a big problem with hierarchy based creative teams. What we and I’ve seen others try to do, funnily enough, is adopt what the early Microsoft vowed to do, never settle on talent. Originally they only hired the A people, they never settled, because as soon as you hire a B person, that person has the opportunity to thumbs up a C person and then it’s all over. So do whatever you can to motivate or offer benefits for that top quality talent you can meet and recruit in your circles. Then these people all work for the good of the project, and everyone makes those notorious release dates.
But it’s absolutely not all about holding to those schedules and I know as indie game devs, we all have that passion and that love for what we create. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the official-documented-strategic plan to “make a good game and that will sell”, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves that even on passion projects, design always boils down to a series of compromises, including what we have time for. -and as transcribed by John Passfield onto our walls of the accelerator down under, “days of development can save hours of planning”.
And that phrase is even more important as the mobile market quickly matures, every day we’re seeing bigger teams enter the field. Just 15 minutes ago at the booth I got a great question about indies and F2P. Because F2P is a numbers game, for every 1,000 players you might get a whale who helps pay your bills. Big budgets can obtain and gamble on those 1,000 players. -And they do, we’ve seen CPI reach 7 bucks trying to position themselves on Apple’s holiday chart freeze for a minute, which this last holiday lasted for literally a minute. I’m a designer that lives for that passion and love, but at the end of the day, when a studio or devs follow the trends of F2P, we have to admit that and admit what we’re making. If you make a F2P game and have bills to pay which is an important distinction, you are basically making a machine. You feed this machine with cohort acquisition, after some LTV and k factor, your machine has to pump out at least X+1. Essentially, if you put 1,000 dollars into acquiring users, they have got to spend and/or get other friends to spend at least 1,001 dollars. Unfortunately to stay afloat in F2P, how efficient your machine is at doing that is a huge if not, the factor of success.
And as indies, we sometimes don’t have the budgets to buy those installs to reach the top of the charts where the real organic downloads happened. And personally, and as I’m sure is the case with a lot out there, it’s about the passion and the game. I come from the experimental indie game scene where it’s all about experience and the message we as developers can relate to players. But I don’t think that passion and machine have to be mutually exclusive all the time. We all read, play and are all too familiar with how F2P goes wrong, as an industry we can abuse those psychological tricks and make the wrong compromises on gameplay in exchange for sometimes pretty ruthless monetization. So please do not think I’m in bed with F2P, that is not who I am. But with that, the strongest argument I think for F2P is allowing players to pay for content as they deem fair. Like personas in web and software dev, if some rich dude winding down after work in his mansion in the Marina comes home from work wanting to blow off steam, and views 100 bucks as a drop in the bucket for entrainment, not many people I know would have an issue with him spending it on their gold coins. If he thinks that’s a fair price for some fun for a night, I wouldn’t stop him either. But if little Timmy with no credit card and only 25 cents of lemonade money thinks a dollar is outrages, thats fine too, we need to be aware of that and forever-conscious of that when we design our loops, and maybe Timmy can tell his friends about your game. It needs to be noted that despite F2P, theres nothing wrong with allowing people to pay what they think is a fair price for your content. The controversy if of course, what’s fair.
Mobile can be hard for indies, let alone free to play. But theres many of us in this room who keep shooting for the starts, and that’s awesome, I like to think we’re not in denial, we’re just very selective over which realities we accept, right? -and as that community in this room, in this industry, it’s important to always remind ourselves that if, or rather when we fail, failure and success is not a boolean right, its not either you fail or you win, failure is not the opposite of success its what leads to winning as long as we keep creating. So, just keep making great games.
(After we discussed panel questions that ranged from Flappy Bird’s success, marketing as an indie, team management structure and more)
Want to hear more about the booth and the milestone of the Battle Group 2 pre-alpha? Read all about it on the blog.