The lights are on
We gave 10000000 our Mobile Game of the Year award, and I consider it a "near-perfect mobile game." We're big fans here at Game Informer, so we decided to
speak with the game's lone developer Luca Redwood about creating the
game and its surprise success, and where it's going in the future.
How much of the development did you handle yourself?
Pretty much all of it. I did the design, the art, and the code. I don’t really have any musical talent, so I bought a couple of stock tracks, and the main theme I actually got for free (CC-BY) from opengameart.org, a resource for indie developers.
I was most lucky for testing: During development I also had a day job software engineering in finance, and I worked with a lot of great testers there who were happy to test and break the game. Also, my wife isn't a big gamer and her advice was therefore fantastic. She can point at something that makes sense to me because of gaming tropes and say, “That isn't very clear," or, "That doesn't make any sense," and she's pretty much had a 100% hit rate.
The game took about a year to make, but the process was really iterative. The main skill I had to learn was to be OK with throwing stuff away. I probably have a 5% accept rate on new features, which makes a better game, but can be really disheartening after spending a few weekends on something. If you took snapshots during every few months of development, you would barely recognize the game.
How did the game do overall? How many downloads, sales, review feedback, etc.? Were you surprised by the feedback?
From my perspective, It did ridiculously well. I really messed up on the marketing (i.e didn't do any) but I was lucky that TouchArcade picked it up and really loved it the day it came out, and the coverage snowballed from there. I think it sold over 10,000 copies in the first few days and over 50,000 in the first month. Great numbers for iOS games without an Apple feature.
Being a new dad I was quite risk averse so I still kept my day job until it had built up enough money to fund at least another game, plus contingency. I tried to still do both jobs like I did pre-fatherhood but there just wasn't enough hours in the day. In retrospect it would have been better to leave earlier because I could have had the update out for Christmas. No regrets though.
Critical response is overwhelmingly positive - there was only one particularly negative review from Tom Chick at QuarterToThree, but i really agreed with the criticism – controls being a bit finicky – and pushed out an update that took care of it.
Overall, I was very surprised. I still can't really believe it. I still expect someone to say, "Hey, this game is rubbish! This guy is a fraud!" And then everybody says, "Oh yeah!"
Are there plans to add additional content to the game?
Yes, I'm approaching this very warily though: The biggest praise and the biggest criticism for the game is that it ends. The game does need to end, because of the narrative the game is trying to tell, but I think I can still have a clear endpoint and stuff you can do after. At the moment it just says "Endless Mode Unlocked," which is a bit of a cop out. You can keep playing, but because of the nature of the game there isn't really isn’t a reason to.
It’s still going through iteration, but to this end you'll be able to refit your rooms after finishing the game to unlock various challenges, leaderboards and the like. I teased a couple of things about it on my blog.
My main motivation for this update was that I wanted to give something to the people who had completed by the game and showed their friends to help make it the success it was, so it had to be new stuff.
What about ports to other devices, Android, Windows Phone, etc.?
Because the game is written in Unity, working on different platforms is theoretically not that hard, but Android is particularly tricky. There are a lot of different resolutions and aspect ratios to work with, and because it's just me, and I have one Android device, an S2, it's difficult to make sure it works on all the possible Android devices. I've been giving betas out and collecting feedback though, so that will be coming soon.
I'm also really keen for Windows Phone. The Unity game engine is going to support Windows Phone sometime soon, and as soon as it does I'll make sure it is on there. Now that Nintendo has struck a deal with Unity for the Wii U I'd love to go there, too.
On top of that, it will be coming to PC, Mac, and Linux probably within the next month. I needed to do some massaging to support a landscape screen, but other than that the game plays really well on the desktop. Indeed, the original control problem was because I did it all on PC and the mouse is way more precise than the finger. Big mistake.
Was the decision to not have online leaderboards a matter of time, budget, and resources? Or was it a gameplay decision? Also, why no Game Center interactivity?
Straight up time I think. I had a very hard deadline when it came to getting the game out because my wife was nine months pregnant. I also never expected to have enough players that those features would add much value. I was definitely wrong. I see people comparing their scores on twitter and it really would have made a difference. The Big Content Update is going to add all of this stuff.
Did you wrestle over the price-point? Anything above $0.99 seems to be too expensive for the average mobile gamer. What goes into the logic of setting the price for a mobile game?
I definitely wrestled over it, but I'm happy with going for the $1.99 price point. I ruled out $0.99 for a couple of reasons. The game provides an average of 6-8 hours of entertainment, so I think a $1.99 price of admission is a pretty good deal. After sales taxes/VAT, Apple's cut, currency conversion, and personal tax, you have to sell a hell of a lot of copies at the lowest price point to cover your costs. The game isn't super niche but it isn't super mass market either, which is where the $0.99 games do really well on pure volume. You have nowhere to go at $0.99. You don't set a specific price on the App Store, you set what tier your app will be at. The only place to go from Tier 1 ($0.99) is Tier 0 (free). This means you can't really do sales, and that logic has paid off. The game still does pretty well, but has obviously tailed off since launch to a couple of hundred copies per day. But I did a half price sale for Halloween and got over 10,000 sales in two days, almost beating launch. At tier 1 all I could have done was give it away as free.
I can't say what would have been better. I received a lot of advice at launch when the game hit top 30 in the App Store to cut price. That is the point where volume starts to take over and sales increase exponentially, but it seemed a bit disingenuous to the people who bought my game yesterday and helped put it at that position. I'm happy with the choice.
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