The Game Bakers wish a merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all our beloved players and developers friends!
The Game Bakers wish a merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all our beloved players and developers friends!
The last time I had a second of free time was over the Christmas holidays and I used that free time to write a paper about our experience making SQUIDS and the realities of budget and profitability for an iPhone game. I wrote this post-mortem because when I started as an indie, I would have loved to have such information and I felt it was useful to share with other developers.
I was amazed by the attention it got and I was very pleased to read all the nice comments about the article. And for those who asked: no, it didn’t have a visible impact on SQUIDS’ sales, but it generated 24k unique visitors to our website in three days, which made the article more visible on Google and made the information more available to the industry, and that’s always a good thing.
There’s something else I would have loved to know more about before diving into indie game development: the tools and best practices for running a virtual indie game studio. By “virtual,” I mean a game development studio that doesn’t have an office. This is a situation shared by many indies: you start your project from home and don’t have the budget for renting an office, or maybe you’re a programmer and you have an artist buddy who lives in a different place. Lack of an office might have been a problem in 1995, but it shouldn’t prevent you from making games anymore. The problem nowadays is that there are so many ways to do it, the idea of running a virtual studio can be overwhelming.
One thing I love about indie development is that it’s not only about having people play our games, but also about developers freely exchanging ideas about our work and methods. So here is a bit of information about how we’ve tackled this issue at The Game Bakers, how we are organized, what tools we’re using at the moment, and how much this stuff costs us.
When I think of a “real” game studio, I think of a traditional office with an open space shared by the development team. I call The Game Bakers a “virtual studio” because we are spread out around the world. The team works together all day, but remotely from different cities, countries, and even different continents.
When I was working at Ubisoft, of course I was working in real offices, but I also had a lot of experience working remotely with other studios. Splinter Cell Double Agent was made by three teams spread across three continents; GRAW was made by four teams in the USA, France, and China.
When we started The Game Bakers, we wanted to make smaller games with a smaller team than we had been at Ubisoft, but we also wanted to create high quality games with good production values, like the console games we had worked on. One of the cornerstones of this ambition was to rely on a network of talented people whom we had worked with before on console games, but who were now spread out all across the world. (Even our initial members in France were not living close to each other.) Working with these talented people we already knew and liked would guarantee better efficiency, higher quality, smoother communication, and it would make our work more fun on a daily basis. To set up a structure that would work for day-to-day operations, we had to draw upon our past experiences with remote collaboration.
Here is our team for SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West. Roll over the pictures (or tap them on mobile) to see the team member’s info.
The core team is made up of six people spread out in six cities, in two different countries. The total team is 19 people, five countries, and almost as many workplaces as people on the team.
The core team, working full time on the games, includes:
UI, story, audio, modeling, and PR were handled by part-time coworkers. Most of the team are freelance contractors. Working with contractors instead of employees is convenient in that it saves a bit of money for the studio, but it’s very uncertain as anyone could leave the team anytime. That’s a huge risk for a project where everyone is responsible of a key aspect of the game. One way to reduce this risk is to keep the projects short (shorter than a year). Being extra nice to them also doesn’t hurt. Managing trust is a much more important task in a virtual studio with distant contractors than in an office where everyone is an employee.
Even if you forget the part-time people and just consider the core players, this is pretty big for an indie team and a bit of work and effort is required to keep everyone moving in the same direction. The key word here is communication.
When people ask me, “What’s the most important quality in a game designer?” they often expect me to answer “creativity” or “knowing games” or “understanding both the technical stuff and the art stuff.” But I actually think the most important quality is being able to communicate clearly and to fire up a team with your concept. Programmers are some of the hardest people to get excited about a concept, but if they get all fired up after asking the game designer a question—with shinning eyes and fingers itching to start typing some code—that’s how you know you have a good game designer.
Communicating your vision and having the energy to make it happen is already difficult when your team is all working from the same place, and it can become a huge challenge when you never see these people face to face.
At Ubisoft, I had this great producer who told me once, “If your e-mail is longer than five lines, just pick up the phone and call. E-mails are for cowards, they create misunderstandings and take a long time to write. Just call. Do it!” I started to pay attention and realized that she was absolutely right.
It’s crucial to maintain human relationships with your remote coworkers. Voice chat allows that (in addition to saving time and being a more precise way to communicate). Within the team, we use Skype for instant messaging and conference calls, with a set of guidelines:
This last point is very important. How much someone sees of the big picture can be vastly different from person to person, and there‘s no water cooler where you can catch up with the more “informed” members of a virtual studio. The weekly meeting lasts between 30 to 45 minutes, and everyone is updated and has the opportunity to ask questions.
- Gmail account: Free + around $8/year for your own domain name
- Skype or Google Hangouts voice chats: Free
Regarding game design documentation, I’m a big advocate of videos. If I were creating a game design scholarship program right now, I would trash MS Word and replace it with Final Cut and Photoshop. Sharing your vision for a game mechanic or a gameplay loop is way easier with a video. It gives the whole team a concrete direction… and the whole team actually watches it. Who wants to read a 10-page game design document? Not everyone on your team. But everyone wants to watch a one minute game concept video.
Here are examples of early game design documents I did for Squids.
- Sharing a video on the Internet: Free
Once I have shared my global vision of the project and I have a set of features in mind, I usually start on the “ugly” documentation, which is more project management actually.
Our use of Assembla is pretty basic. We define milestones that we split into 2-week sprints (a sort of “mini-milestone” with defined objectives and a working version). For each sprint I write a bunch of specs and break them down into tickets. We review them with the programmers at the beginning at a sprint and each ticket has a status: new, fixed, pending, closed. The usual stuff.
This works perfectly for the programmers, since their work is very systematic. For art production, we rely more on a simpler Excel task list and we try to check in on progress twice a week, in order to reprioritize and keep the project moving.
For all videos, documents, and art resources, we use Dropbox. For those who don’t know about Dropbox, it’s a great file hosting and sharing service that basically allows you to share a folder from your computer with others, and syncs it in the Cloud.
For most of the team we managed to increase the default free space (2Gigs) to around 4Gigs, which is enough so far, and for the art and design team we have pro accounts so that they can store bigger files like high-resolution PSDs.
- Dropbox 100 Gigs account: $99/year
- Dropbox 2Gigs account: Free (and Dropbox offers a lot of ways to increase the free space).
The code is hosted on Assembla, and we use Git as a source control tool. It’s proven to be very efficient and reliable. One big advantage is that everyone has a repository with complete version history locally on his or her computer, which basically means that I don’t need to be connected to the Internet to commit some work, and most importantly, if I somehow screw up the server data there will always be someone with a clean version that we can restore. For a clumsy designer, it feels safer.
We use GitX on Mac to commit our changes, an open source version control system with a visual interface, but many other tools exist too.
For beginners, what all this means is that all the team can work at the same time, on the same project, and then merge everyone’s work together on a remote server instead of having to “send manually updated files” to the whole team.
Sharing builds is a universal need within the digital industry and it’s not really any easier or harder for virtual studios, but it is something we needed a solution for.
We have several ways to distribute a development build.
Finally, one of the best ways we’ve found to improve remote work is to stop being remote for a while. We call this a Workcamp, and the recipe is pretty simple.
Workcamp recipe, for a 6-8 person team
The values of a Workcamp are numerous:
People get to work together for real, and that bonding will last and prove useful for the next six months of remote work.
It’s also extremely productive if done at the right time. Before an important milestone, work is usually well defined and everyone has a lot to do. We’ve found that in this setting, everyone is fine working 10 hours a day, with a nice lunch break and a little game time at night. For us, a two weeks workcamp is as productive as three weeks of normal work.
It’s simply the spirit. Sharing indie dev time, game time, and food and drink time with your team is always fun, but it’s especially cool when there’s something exceptional about it. The simple fact that the Workcamp breaks the routine makes it cool, and worth the financial investment.
Here is a short sample of our Workcamps:
- Transportation: Depends on your team. For us, it’s around $1200.
- Housing: we managed to borrow a place a few times. We rented a great place once for $1500 for two weeks.
- Food: $300 (everyone chips in $10/day, and the studio pays for the rest. Basically, for the wine.)
We also have celebration parties when we ship a game. Here is the “baking / squid cooking workshop” we did after SQUIDS’ release:
Here is a last bit of experience regarding virtual studios:
Every week, I find myself in a situation where I really appreciate working from home. For instance, going out to buy something at 11am is something I didn’t do for the 7 years in worked in a company office. Another example is the ability to focus on work for 4 hours without being interrupted. When I was at Ubisoft, I had someone coming to my desk asking for something every fifteen minutes. Lively for sure!
Even if the team works well together and everyone’s on board with the virtual studio organization, you will still miss some of the comfort of a real studio. Skype voice chat quality problems might occur, or simply feel the need to draw something on a whiteboard (game designers love white boards). Online white boards have not been a great solution so far.
At first glance it might seem like a virtual studio isn’t worth it, but the point about having a worldwide team alone makes virtual studios a growing necessity: today, making games is frontierless.
“Real studios” are great for many reasons, and sooner or later we might move to some sort of hybrid organization here at The Game Bakers. But so far, the virtual studio has allowed me and my team to follow our dream of creating our own studio, our own games, and own our IPs.
Alongside the “digital distribution,” a virtual studio organization is a major factor for why it’s now possible to make games with total creative freedom and earn a living from it. I hope sharing our methods will help some other indies who might otherwise have been scared off without even trying.
Hey Seawood boys and gals!
Wild West has been updated with a lot of bug fixes and 5 new bonus missions, one at the end of each chapter. You’ll also find 4 new helmets hidden in these missions!
Have fun with the update until we come back with a new chapter in September!
We are delighted to announce that your favorite Squids adventures will continue this summer with SQUIDS Wild West on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Get a sneak peek today by downloading SQUIDS free update with some exclusive new content.
- – - Full Press Release below – - -
Yeeeee-haw! SQUIDS Wild West Gallops Onto the App Store This Summer
Get a Sneak Peek of the New SQUIDS Game Today via Free iPhone / iPad Update
PARIS – May 23, 2012 – The Game Bakers, creators of the fan-favorite mobile RPG SQUIDS, are announcing that the next chapter of their undersea saga, SQUIDS Wild West, will release for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch this summer. Even better: eager players can get an early look by downloading SQUIDS’ latest free update from the App Store, which includes three bonus levels set on a SQUIDS Wild West map.
SQUIDS follows a band of unlikely heroes who must protect their idyllic underwater kingdom from the destructive black ooze settling over the seas. Set in the western kingdom of Seawood, SQUIDS Wild West takes the group into deeper, more dangerous waters as they regroup against oily crustacean enemies and search for a fallen comrade. They’ll help the feisty Calamary Jane save a besieged frontier town, explore native Squid lands and a volatile mine, and start to understand the evil they’re up against—but not without paying a terrible personal price.
SQUIDS Wild West will be a Universal App with more of the gorgeous cartoon art, jaunty music, and humorous storytelling that made SQUIDS a fan favorite. Like the original, SQUIDS Wild West combines tactical RPG-inspired gameplay with the convenient interface of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Although turn-based battles are easily fought using an Angry Birds-style “flinging” mechanic, SQUIDS Wild Westprovides a much deeper challenge than the average mobile game. Strategy and skill is required as players use environmental elements, the Squids’ strengths, and enemies’ weaknesses to succeed. With devious new enemies, four new playable characters, and nearly twice as many levels as the original SQUIDS, the upcoming sequel also has many fun gameplay surprises—including seahorses that you can corral and ride into battle!
In today’s free update, SQUIDS players can dive into the Wild West with three missions that take place in Seawood. This exclusive sneak peek introduces a new Squid hero: Cleef, a vengeful gunslinger with secrets to hide. And a formidable enemy, the massive Buffalo Shrimp, will rear its ugly thorax. The update also features a new Game Center achievement, a new level cap, and enhanced social media functionality. Those who own the original SQUIDS on iOS can download today’s free update from the App Store, while new players can buy the game (with the SQUIDS Wild West demo included) for just $1.99:http://itunes.apple.com/app/squids/id467904350
The original SQUIDS has been downloaded over a million times and has ranked as the App Store’s #1 RPG in 65 countries. Since its October 2011 release, it has maintained a perfect 5-star fan rating on the App Store. It is also available for Android, PC, and Mac.
To learn more about SQUIDS and the upcoming SQUIDS Wild West, visit the official website athttp://www.squidsthegame.com. SQUIDS fans can befriend the game’s tentacular heroes on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/squidsthegame) and Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/squidsthegame).
It’s finally here, and it’s splendid:
SQUIDS can be download on the Mac App Store and enjoyed on a 27″ iMac!
As the first version of SQUIDS for desktop computers, the Mac version has intuitive mouse controls and enhanced graphics optimized for screen resolutions up to 1900×1200.
SQUIDS for Mac incorporates much of the bonus content released for iOS over the past five months, such as additional missions and stat-boosting helmets—all with no in-app purchase required.
We all really hope that this deluxe version will provide you a great game experience, and that with your support, the calamar-wave-of-love will rise!
- – - – - – Here is the official Press Release – - – - – -
The Game Bakers’ Undersea RPG, Squids, Swims Onto Mac
Paris, France – March 1st 2012
Independent developer The Game Bakers today is announcing that their popular tactical RPG, Squids, is now available for Mac. Squids has already had great success on iPhone and iPad, where it ranked as the App Store’s #1 RPG in 34 countries and spent a week as the #1 paid app overall in France. Squids for Mac can be downloaded for USD $9.99 from the Mac App Store and other digital stores, including the game’s official website.
Set in a colorful underwater kingdom, Squids is a creative RPG with a humorous storyline, gorgeous cartoon artwork, and turn-based battles that pit a team of scrappy Squid heroes against hordes of ooze-infected crabs and shrimp. An accessible game easily enjoyed by casual gamers, Squids also has impressive gameplay depth and production values that will appeal to a hardcore audience, thanks to the developers’ previous experience working on AAA computer and console games.
As the first version of Squids for desktop computers, the Mac version has intuitive mouse controls and enhanced graphics optimized for screen resolutions up to 1900×1200. Squids for Mac incorporates much of the bonus content released for iOS over the past five months, such as additional missions and stat-boosting helmets – all with no in-app purchase required. The game is localized into five languages: English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.
« From the very beginning, we wanted to bring Squids to players of all platforms, so we developed it with a much deeper scope than most mobile games. Then we put a lot of effort into making sure the game plays great on the Mac, » says Emeric Thoa, The Game Bakers’ Creative Director. « This Mac release is a big milestone for us, and just the first of a series of releases on ‘larger’ platforms alongside the mobile versions of Squids. »
* US English, French, German, Italian and Spanish
* Mac OS X 10.6 or later
* 64-bit processor
* 710 MB
Pricing and Availability:
Squids 1.0 is $9.99 USD (or equivalent amount in other currencies) and available worldwide through the Mac App Store in the Games category. Squids is also available from the game’s official website.
To learn more about SQUIDS and see a full list of download options, visit the official website at http://www.squidsthegame.com.
High-res SQUIDS assets can be downloaded from http://thegamebakers.com/vip
SQUIDS is available on the Android Market!
Come on SQUIDS players, we need you to support the game, everyone matters! If you want more SQUIDS, tell your friends to take it on iOS or Android! Long live the SQUIDS!
- – - – - – Here is the official press release – - – - – -
The Game Bakers’ Undersea RPG, SQUIDS, Swims Onto New Platforms This Week
Quirky game available today for Android, coming March 1 to Mac
PARIS – February 28, 2012 – Independent developer The Game Bakers is bringing their popular tactical RPG, SQUIDS, to Android and Mac this week. These releases represent the first new platforms for a game that has already had great success on iPhone and iPad, where it ranked as the App Store’s #1 RPG in 34 countries and spent a week as the #1 paid app overall in France.
Set in a colorful underwater kingdom, SQUIDS is a creative RPG with a humorous storyline, gorgeous cartoon artwork, and turn-based battles that pit a team of scrappy Squid heroes against hordes of ooze-infected crabs and shrimp. An accessible game easily enjoyed by casual gamers, SQUIDS also has impressive gameplay depth and production values that will appeal to a hardcore audience, thanks to the developers’ previous experience working on AAA computer and console games. Both the Android and Mac versions are localized into five languages: English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.
The Android version of SQUIDS, which uses the same hands-on touch controls as the iOS original, has been rebalanced as a free-to-play adventure with a new selection of in-app purchases. A joint project with Tapjoy that utilized the publisher’s $5M Android Fund, SQUIDS for Android can now be downloaded from Android Market, Amazon’s Appstore, GetJar, and other Android stores.
Next up is the Mac version, which will release on the Mac App Store and other digital stores on March 1. As the first version of SQUIDS for desktop computers, the Mac version has intuitive mouse controls and enhanced graphics optimized for screen resolutions up to 1900×1200. SQUIDS for Mac incorporates much of the bonus content released for iOS over the past five months, such as additional missions and stat-boosting helmets—all with no in-app purchase required.
“From the very beginning, we wanted to bring SQUIDS to players of all platforms, so we developed it with a much deeper scope than most mobile games. Then we put a lot of effort into making sure the game plays great on the Mac,” says Emeric Thoa, The Game Bakers’ Creative Director. “This Mac release is a big milestone for us, and just the first of a series of releases on ‘larger’ platforms alongside the mobile versions of SQUIDS.”
To learn more about SQUIDS and see a full list of download options, visit the official website at http://www.squidsthegame.com.
High-res SQUIDS assets can be downloaded from http://thegamebakers.com/vip.
About The Game Bakers
The Game Bakers is an independent video game studio based in Paris and Montpellier, France. Founded and staffed by industry veterans whose credits include numerous AAA console games, The Game Bakers focuses on creative projects that combine traditional gaming values with the emerging opportunities afforded by touch devices and the mobile market. Their first game, SQUIDS, is available now for iOS, Android, and Mac, and is coming soon to PC. To learn more, visit the company’s website at http://thegamebakers.com. The Game Bakers are also on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/thegamebakers) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/thegamebakers).
We are super happy to announce the official release of SQUIDS‘ soundtrack, amazingly composed by our friend and sound genius Romain Gauthier. The soundtrack can be downloaded on bandcamp for a « pay-what-you-want » fee, which possibly means 0$, if Christmas gifts left you broke. You can listen to all track directly on bandcamp, and I shall advise you to do so, or at least give a try to SQUIDS’ main theme.
The OST is packed with a digital booklet showing the great art works of Jerome, our Art Director.
Last but not least, SQUIDS is on sale for two days, with a price of 0.99$ instead of 1.99$. Time to give it a try if you didn’t already!
The Game Bakers.
Emeric Thoa is the creative director and co-founder of The Game Bakers, an independent game studio that recently released the turn-based action RPG SQUIDS on iOS.
Twitter: @emericthoa ; company twitter: @thegamebakers
_ _ _ _ _
Eighteen months ago, when I left Ubisoft to start an independent game studio and focus on making my own games, I looked online a bit to get an idea of how much income I could expect to make as an indie. At Ubisoft I used to work on big AAA console games, and I had some figures in mind, but I knew they wouldn’t be relevant for my new life: $20M budgets, teams of 200 hundred people, 3 million sales at $70 per unit… I knew being an indie developer would be completely different, but I had very little information about how different it would be.
Angry Birds had taken off, Plants vs. Zombies was already a model, Doodle Jump was a good example of success, and soon after I started my “indie” life, Cut the Rope was selling a million copies a week. But except for what I call the “jackpots,” there were very few public stories or numbers on the web, and this meant we were a bit in the dark when we started SQUIDS. I have been tracking figures since then, and I’m writing this article to share what I’ve learned with my fellow indie dev buddies who might be in the same position I was, a year and a half ago.
In this article, I will present all of the post-mortems and figures I’ve found interesting, and I will also explain how SQUIDS fits into the overall picture. But first, I would like to quickly give my opinion on few of the App Store myths you may believe if you’re not an experienced iOS developer. There are plenty of ways to view the App Store, but my point is that you might be a bit surprised by what the App Store really means in terms of money.
This is an easy mistake to make when you try to do the math with your dev buddy during a coffee break. “Okay, there are 200 million users on the App Store. You just need to reach 0.1% of them with a $1 app and you’ll make $200k!”
The point here is that the user base might be huge, but a lot of people never pay anything on the App Store, so don’t get blinded by the potential and stay rational.
Compared to making Assassin’s Creed or Red Dead Redemption, this one is actually true. Making an iPhone game shouldn’t cost $50M and take 4 years. (Well, neither should a console game, if you ask me.) But unless you’re aiming for a Doodle Jump clone, it’s still a bit of work. If you make it cheap, you’ll have a very small team (say 2 people), and it’ll take AT LEAST six months to get something polished out there.
A quick estimate of an iOS game budget:
All in all, you can’t be serious about making games and “earning a living” out of it without at least a $40k budget. (And I’m really being cheap here; I think to be competitive today on the App Store you need $100k.)
This is probably the story that most people have heard and that everyone keeps telling you about at parties. When you tell someone you just made the move to become an indie and develop for iOS, they usually put an arm on your shoulder and say, “Hey man, it’s very different from the traditional game industry. Even if you fail at launch, if you keep updating the game it’s gonna take off eventually. You’ll earn more money after six months than during the first week after launch. Look at Angry Birds, man.”
Well, this might have made some sense two years ago, but it’s not the case anymore—unless your launch fails. If you really mess up your launch but you keep pushing for the game, then it will probably get better, that’s true. But you don’t really want your launch to fail. There is a “launch effect” on the App Store, now more than ever.
Your initial launch—along with special events like being featured by Apple, or promotions, or winning an award and getting some sweet coverage—that’s what will make your downloads go up. Content updates won’t (unless they are crash-fixes). Content updates like new levels are good to secure a user base and to build a community, but they don’t increase the user base. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do content updates, but don’t expect the wrong benefits from them.
Once you have a good game, the key to success is visibility on the App Store. Another tale I’ve been told many times (and that I actually wanted to believe) is that you can leverage big communities with a nice forum post or a cool and cheap video. I believe now that this is a waste of time. You can’t influence a community unless you’ve already been in this community for a long time. And viral videos suffer even more from the “jackpot syndrome” than the apps themselves, in the sense that you can’t at all predict if they will get 12 million views or 300 (although 300 is more likely).
Just accept it: being visible will be a long and tough battle that you’ll have to fight from the day you start to code, to a year after the launch.
Some indie devs think getting featured by Apple is a bit of luck. I don’t think so. Sure, the guys at Apple are honest folks who showcase the games they like and think are quality products. But like any publisher, they have their editorial line and they manage risks.
It’s not random that Infinity Blade 2 was featured at launch: it comes from a well known publisher, it’s a sequel of a hit, it’s an iPhone 4 showcase app, and Chair/Epic have probably had beers with folks from Apple more than once.
On a scale that’s more relatable to an indie developer, the same rules apply to Jetpack Joyride, coming from Fruit Ninja’s devs. Or Tiny Tower (the Pocket Frog devs). Or even Bumpy Road (the Cosmo Spin devs).
The point is: if you are an indie with no publisher backing, if it’s your first game and if it doesn’t particularly show off the new features of the iPhone 5, you won’t get featured. The good news is, it’s actually a VERY GOOD THING that App Store featuring isn’t random. That means we can do what it takes to reach that goal.
Knowing that the App Store is not a mine full of gold ready for the taking, there are still ways to earn a living with that dream job of being an indie game developer. So let’s take a look at who is successful on this distribution platform.
Exactly like in the console game industry, there are certain games that are simply too big to fail. Most of the time they are made by a small dev team but backed up by a big publisher, securing the Apple featuring, PR support, and press coverage. Here are a few examples with figures:
Infinity Blade: developed by Chair and backed up by Epic. $10M in 7 months with 40% coming from iAP, according to Epic. In January 2012, the Infinity Blade franchise (1+2) reached $30M in revenue.
Cut the Rope: developed by Zeptolab and backed up by Chillingo. They did everything they could to make it an Angry Birds killer (they even made a better game), but “only” managed to sell 3 million games in 6 weeks.
Jetpack Joyride: developed by Halfbrick and backed up by Fruit Ninja’s notoriety. They had 350k downloads in a week and we know it was the start of a long-term success.
Order & Chaos: developed by Gameloft (and inspired by WoW). They made $1M in 20 days with a $6.99 game, which comes out to about 7,000 downloads a day if we exclude iAPs.
These examples are what make many people think that, when well done, an App Store game is bringing in a lot of money. There is no doubt these games are profitable, but even if $1M in 20 days is certainly a lot of money, I bet O&C cost more to develop. These games are the Call of Duty and the Skyrim and the WoW of the App Store, but they don’t bring in as much money, even proportionally to their budgets.
Along the same lines, there are some games that are truly indie successes but that can be considered blockbusters because, as opposed to Jackpots, you could tell they were going to be massive hits before they even launched:
World of Goo – Link to World of Goo post mortem
The Heist – Link to The Heist post mortem
So yes, it’s possible to kick ass on the App Store, but if you start from scratch, you probably won’t achieve the same figures—unless you have a “jackpot” app.
Here are the real winners of the App Store lottery: the Jackpot games, the ones we could have expected to make a decent success, but not THAT INCREDIBLE a success. Angry Birds is of course the most famous example, but Doodle Jump or Fruit Ninja are crazy jackpots as well.
Here are two others worth mentioning:
Tiny Wings: developed by Andreas Illiger. Sold more than 3 million copies and took first place in the US for more than 2 weeks. It’s any indie’s dream: a great game, great critical reception, a great commercial success. A game made by one guy in 7 months. It was well done from start to finish, but try to mimic it and I bet you won’t end up at #1. It’s the reference jackpot.
Trainyard: a puzzle game that made a crazy streak to first place for a little while and made us all dream. The dev wrote a super post-mortem here, and as you will see at the beginning it was not all that successful. He also gave the interesting figure of $40k to $50k a day if you’re the #1 paid app in the US.
I’ve been looking at the French App Store charts for almost 2 years, and Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Doodle Jump, and their spin-offs have not left the Top 25. What that means to me is that even Tiny Wings and Trainyard didn’t manage to stay in the Top 25 despite their great success, and that no game since 2010 has made it, either. It might happen again, but I feel that App Store “brands” have been created already and it will take new tech or a new feature from a new Apple device before newcomers have a chance of staying high in the charts for a long time. Maybe the next killer app will use Siri (haha).
This leaves us with the real world. The world you and I play in, with all the other indies and the other lesser publisher-backed games. Here are some numbers and stories I found that might help you. I want to thank all the devs who posted these post-mortems—it really helps guys, so thank you!
Hard Lines – Link to Hard Lines post mortem
Then got featured by Apple (not Game of the Week, but New & Noteworthy).
Other interesting facts:
Portaball – Link to Portaball post mortem
Punch a Hole – Link to Punch a Hole post mortem
Wooords – Link to Wooords post mortem
Dapple – Link to Dapple post mortem
FishMoto – Link to FishMoto post mortem
Flower Garden – Link to Flower Garden post mortem
Big Mountain Snowboarding – Link to Big Mountain Snowboarding post mortem
Ow My Balls – Links to Ow My Balls post mortem
QuizQuizQuiz – Links to QuizQuizQuiz post mortem
Some conclusions after reading those post-mortem:
Dapple’s dev Owen Goss did an interesting survey about App Store game revenues. The findings are exactly what I expected when we created The Game Bakers.
1) The more games you make, the more money you’ll earn from one game.
Meaning experience matters.
2) 80% of devs earn 3% of the revenues.
Meaning there are about 20% of developers who can earn a living from their games, and 1% of them have a very nice car.
Edit: a pretty good analyse from Owen Goss research by Dave Addey here. Says that 19% of apps make $24k. 80% $300. Seems realistic.
Taking risks to reduce the element of chance
Our strategy with SQUIDS was super bold. We would spend more to develop it than Angry Birds, and earn less. That was the plan.
We would also spend more than Tiny Wings and earn less. We knew that and we aimed for that from the beginning. But what we wanted was to remove the “lottery” factor. The strategy was pretty simple:
That leads me to two other models I want to bring forward that don’t fit into the Blockbuster category or the Jackpot category. Although we didn’t base our strategy on their models at the time, I can say that these guys go where I want to go with The Game Bakers. They make deep games that target a niche audience and end up hitting much more.
Great Little War Game by Rubicon Development
These guys used almost the same strategy we did. They made a very good game with a big scope for an iOS release. They targeted the turn-based war game niche. They took a little bit less risk in their setting and title than we did (little soldiers might have a bigger mainstream appeal than SQUIDS, but I love my Squids nonetheless). Overall, they managed their brand smartly and have recently launched on Android with great success, taking the spot Nintendo refused to take with Advance Wars on smartphones.
Sword & Sworcery by Capybara Games and Superbrothers
Capybara and Superbrothers did everything right with this game. They did the exact opposite of what you’re “supposed to do” and made it a hit. They released a teaser a year before launch, they targeted a niche of click-and-play retro gamers, they priced the game high ($4.99), they didn’t have any iAP, they released on iPad only. The budget was $200k and they took a big risk overall with the game’s context. It’s as if they were indie PC developers who mistook the App Store for Steam. And yet they sold more than 300k in 6 months and won many awards, making it both a critical and commercial success. Respect.
My little addition to all of the post mortems listed above:
Even if the App Store is not a goldmine that will turn any game developer into a billionaire, it is still a revolution in the industry. It has allowed very small teams to make fun games relatively cheaply and commercialize them in a very simple way, potentially reaching millions of players. Never before have we seen so many indies and such a great creativity in the indie world.
SQUIDS will very soon release on PC, Mac, and Android, which was part of the plan from the beginning. In my mind, being multiplatform is really where the indie developer has a future as a studio.
As for the money itself, even though SQUIDS hasn’t made us rich so far, revenues from the iOS version have almost covered our development costs and we are confident that its upcoming release on other platforms will make the game profitable and allow us to develop a sequel. And for The Game Bakers, that’s what all of this is about: in the end it’s not about getting rich, but about being able to make the games we want to make, independently.
Hello dear SQUIDS players!
Maybe you are aware that, for some players, the recently released universal update for iPhone and iPad, v. 1.3.0, is crashing at launch, right at The Game Bakers’ logo. We are tremendously sorry about that crash, and we have been digging the code like crazy in order to find what was the cause of the crash.
Thanks to your help – you were many to send us feedback and help us with information, especially John and Jeremy who sent us the crash reports – we managed to find the bug. It was linked to some code in the achievements that made crash only those of you who had found all stars of one category.
We have pushed the fix to Apple right away and now we are waiting for them to greenlight it. You’ll just have to take the update 1.3.1 to have the game working again. If anyone of you has lost its progress, please contact me and I’ll see what I can do. And in order to apologize about that, if you read this, you can also write to me and I’ll give you little present.
Thank you all for your support and please, if you have rated the game 1 star because of the crash, update your rating when it’s fixed! We need your 5 stars rating to support the game!
Also, to keep being informed about SQUIDS or about this kind of issues, you can follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
Peut-être êtes-vous déjà au courant, mais le jeu crash pour certains joueurs depuis la mise à jour universelle 1.3.0. On est vraiment désolé pour ce crash, et on a cherché comme des poulpes d’où ça pouvait venir.
Grâce à votre aide – vous avez été nombreux à m’écrire pour me donner des infos complémentaires, et notamment John et Jéremy qui m’ont envoyé leur crash reports – nous avons trouvé l’origine du crash. Il s’agissait d’un problème dans les achievements, ce qui fait que le crash n’a touché que des joueurs qui avaient débloqué toutes les étoiles d’une catégorie donnée.
Nous avons soumis une correction du problème à Apple, qui ne devrait plus tarder à la valider. Il suffira de prendre cette mise à jour pour que le jeu fonctionne à nouveau. Si vous avez perdu votre sauvegarde durant ce cafouillage, écrivez-nous et je verrais ce que je peux faire. Et pour nous faire pardonner, vous pouvez aussi nous écrire et nous vous enverrons un petit cadeau.
Merci à tous pour votre support, et s’il vous plait, si vous avez mis 1 étoile au jeu à cause du crash, mettez-à-jour votre note quand ce sera corrigé, nous avons besoin de votre support et de vos 5 étoiles !
Aussi, pour être informé des dernières nouvelles de SQUIDS ou de ce genre de problèmes, suivez-nous sur Facebook ou Twitter.
When I was a kid and played video games, I had no clue about how games were made and I didn’t care very much. When I was a student, and while I kept playing, I started wondering how the magic was done, but I thought that somehow everything started by the graphics, the universe, the cool characters and SFX, and ONLY THEN the code was added to turn everything into an interactive game.
Guess what: it’s not how it’s done.
Most of the time, it’s much more efficient to start with very simple graphical assets that we call « placeholders », that doesn’t take long to produce and that can be replaced later on by newer and better versions. It allows to get a feel of the game much sooner, it allows to be flexible in the design and make big changes like the controls or the character abilities. As a designer and creative director, one of the hardest challenge is to share your long term vision of the game with your team and partners with low-fi graphics. Making people dream about a game with crappy graphics is hard, but it’s really worth trying. The game will keep evolving until very few weeks before its release, so flexibility is key if you don’t want to be handcuffed with a bad design or redo everything from scratch and throw away months of work spent on polished graphic assets.
However, searching for the right art direction, the right tools, the right production pipeline, is a work that can start from day one. Here is a little overview of what we did on SQUIDS. In the video below you’ll get a quick look at our research, starting by a poorly edited video made by myself at the very beginning of the project. It was a great help to explain the project and the game to everyone in the team, especially with everyone working from all over the world. Communication is key especially at the beginning of a project.
Then, our star Art Director – Jérôme Reneaume – took the lead and tried a few things with our initial plan of making a tiled based game. Eventually we evolved towards a much better looking solution that was also tied to a better gameplay with smoother collisions.
Hope you’ll like this little video of the birth of SQUIDS.