So it’s been several months since the initial release of my free iPhone game Superflick, which this original post was written about and I decided to let you guys know what I’ve learned and done since.
This first version of Superflick worked well enough, and did meet the requirements for the 10 day game. But being done in such a short period of time certain things were simply left out to make the deadline. I still truly believe that a game can be made in 10 days, but like all great things they generally are not great the first time round, it’s a learning experience for me as an iPhone games developer.
So I decided to give the project another 10 days for an update to improve the overall user experience to do this I focussed on the following points:
- The Core Mechanic
- Visibility and Accessibility
- Achievements (or lack thereof)
- Graphics + User Interface
The Core Mechanic
Probably the single most important aspect of any fun iPhone game. This is essentially the fun bit that everything else is build around in an effort to make things even more fun.
Having played the game a great many times during development my perspective was very narrow and I just got used to the mechanic as it was. Which users reported to be too sensitive once released to the app store. This also scored me some low ratings on the app store. In hindsight this could have been picked up by using more beta testers, and later in the development process. But given the time constraints, this just wasn’t an option. Never mind, lesson learnt, issue fixed! Make it less sensitive and more natural
One point I’d like to make here, is even though I did have some close friends as beta testers from the start, they too had a narrow perspective. I now ALWAYS try to test the game on new people and actually watch their first 5 minutes of play, which is where you really win or loose your users… Very very very important stuff!
WOW! What can I say about this one? Ever tried to walk around in your house in the dark and do your normal day to day tasks? Well games development without analytics is just like that!
Using analytics (Flurry in my case) is a game changer (lol), no really it is! I’ve learned more about my users in the week since release of the Superflick update than I have in the whole time I’ve been making games. Every decision I make now will be based on how users use my games, because now I REALLY know what they are doing and what they are NOT doing! Gold people, gold!!
Visibility and Accessibility
Superflick was designed as a free iPhone game from the start, using in-app purchases as the a way to pay the bills. Three levels were available in the first version but they were pretty hard sells and only converting at about 2%, because all the user could see was a plain text button with a download icon. The conversion rate wasn’t too bad considering, but that meant 98% of users didn’t get to experience the rest of my game. So I wanted to do a few things.
- Add an in game currency, to be earned and also bought via in-app purchases
- Show tiles with screenshots depicting the level, so users could see what was for sale.
- Give users an option to ‘Try’ levels before purchasing them
- Give users the ability to earn levels
Check out these before and after shots of the level selection screen:
In Game Currency = More Cool Stuff
With the user being able to earn in game currency (i.e. coins) they were going to need more than just levels they could purchase. This was good, because I wanted to steer Superflick away from the straight out ball game and add some cool crazy stuff. So each level got new items to throw like UFO’s, Wedding Plates, Snowballs and of course lots of new sports balls. To go along with the new throwable items an array of new goals were added too.
Simply adding new items and goals would of course not be enough. So the game was set up in such a way to make certain combinations allow the user to earn extra points thus giving the player a path of progression to earn more and more, whilst having kick arse fun at the same time
Whats a game without a sense of achievement? All of the best iPhone games have them, but Superflick didn’t and they are a great tool to improve the user experience and keep them coming back for more. So I set about adding 27 new achievements just to spice up things a bit and give players a little more to do. As an added incentive, some achievements required the user of certain item/goal combinations and also give the player bonus coins when earned. Woot!
Graphics + User Interface
The original menu system was lifted from RAMPage Soccer and took less than 10 hours from start to finish. But I wanted to deliver a really kick arse new menu system because of all of the new features, the old code simply didn’t cut it. So to save time I started looking at 3rd party Unity packages and the most popular one I found was EZGUI. This is super cool and super feature rich, but unfortunately also has a number of quirks that had a steep learning curve.
This learning curve cost me 70 hours which ended up forcing me to extend the project time from 10 to 20 days. A fair bit of code along with all new graphics assets was need to get the menu working and looking just right. The code thankfully can be transported to any of my new games, so lets hope next time I only need to spend a day or two on the GUI
Working in Bursts (on the road)
Like the previous version of Superflick this version was developed in bursts. This time because I was travelling (yes I worked while on holiday). I think this is probably one of the most important aspects of getting things done quickly and with good quality. You need to let your mind rest and have time for ideas to mature before getting to your tasks.
But to effectively be able to work in bursts you really need to break your work tasks down to the smallest possible pieces, if an item takes 8 hours to work on you will burn out halfway through! But if it’s broken down to 4 two hour parts you will nail them in no time flat!
The other beauty of working in bursts is, especially for indies, it gives you the opportunity to do all of the other non-development tasks. Like updating your blog, marketing and taking hard earned breaks (e.g. enjoying your holiday with the family!). Indie life doesn’t have to be about the 9-5, so don’t force it to be!
In my first few game attempts I really struggled to get users to rate the game in iTunes, let alone actually write a review (unless something was really bad, then it’s easy! haha). In the first version of Superflick and also in RAMPage Soccer I used a popup message to ask if people wanted to rate the game. This really didn’t work… And I think the main problem was users were being interrupted while navigating the games to ask for a rating.
So I tried a new tact with the new version of Superflick, a button hidden away in the options menu to rate the game and a message (amoung many other hints) displayed on the loading screen to ask users to rate the game if they like it via the options menu. This method is killing it! I’ve had a just over 250 ratings world wide in the last week compared to 20 in the first version!!
Making an iPhone game in 10 days isn’t an easy task, and sometimes it simply blows out and takes longer. There are always going to be unknowns in a project, but the less unknowns the more likely you will be to succeed in getting things done in time.
This time round my achilles heal was the menu GUI, but it also was one of the strengths of the project and I really think it speaks for itself. Dont forget to try new things and dont be afraid to fail. If you’re not failing, then you’re not winning!
Using analytics is critical, without them you really are playing in the dark. So give yourself the advantage and get serious about your work!
Oh and the best iPhone games to develop are free games with in-app purchases, which is the way of the future, especially for unknown indies! You get a nice big user base, plus some sales. Better than some sales, and a small user base right?