Well, our drive to raise money for Child’s Play by donating half our December revenue was a little disappointing. Of course, we’re still making our donation and pushing forward with hopes to do far better next time around.
This has taught me two things that every indie developer needs to know. Not a lesson I should’ve learned this way; after all, I’ve read this many times. Sometimes, though, you have to experience a lesson to really learn the lesson.
First, marketing has to start long before delivery. In fact, once you have a solid project idea, start marketing. Don’t code, don’t draw art, don’t plan levels or achievements. Start the buzz right away and keep it going all the way through to the ship date. Make those special sneak previews of art or video demos even bigger by hyping the game before you even have them.
Second, big announcements like charity drives don’t mean much if no one hears about them. If we had announced this earlier than the first week of December, had followed the first point and had an audience, we might’ve done much better. Better to stay quiet and deliver than shout and have nothing.
Having said all that, we do have a project to announce in the next few days, just as soon as we have a name for it.
What is the Child’s Play Charity? Here’s how they describe themselves on their website:
Since 2003, over 100,000 gamers worldwide have banded together through Child’s Play, a community based charity grown and nurtured from the game culture and industry. Over 7 million dollars in donations of toys, games, books and cash for sick kids in children’s hospitals across North America and the world have been collected since our inception.
Our motto at Empress & Ogre has always been “Fun that gives back”, and we’ve always made the commitment to share at least 10% of all revenue with charities that do great work around the world. This holiday season, we’ve decided to step up that commitment and donate 50% of all revenue generated in December to Child’s Play.
How can you help, generous fan? A few ways – feel free to try a few. Giving feels good, doesn’t it?
- Head to www.childsplaycharity.org and see how you can donate directly. The hospitals they have partnered with have Amazon wishlists and you can purchase items that are sent directly to them
- Every sale of SwitchEm results in $0.35 for Child’s Play. That’s half our revenue after Apple takes their cut.
- Already have SwitchEm? Consider gifting a copy to a friend.
- Not ready to buy? Our revenue sharing includes ad revenue from our free games, SwitchEm Lite and the upcoming SwitchEm Christmas.
- Tell all your friends about Child’s Play Charity and our donation drive. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook, and tell your friends to do the same.
- Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date on our donation drive.
Remember, the most important thing you can do is help Child’s Play Charity. Spread the word about them and the good work they do, and donate to their cause if you have the ability.
Working on social media and art, plus keeping up with the latest game play on the market is plenty to stay busy with. It really can be time consuming but hopefully the research is valuable and vested.
It’s very interesting to build a brand from something that is both fun and developing in “spare time”. We have very little extra time to expend but it just seems like a very good thing to do. The idea of creating games and other software that might earn contributions to deserving charities seems like a win-win.
Doing the fun thing is easy – a few drawings, cranking out some code – both things we would do anyway. The tricky part comes when we have to put on our business hats and market and promote what we believe in. Companies have entire departments dedicated to market research and promotion. We have just us and a piece of the spare time. I think we can pull this off, it just might take a little longer than most folks, but we are a pretty persistent pair.
There are a lot of successful companies for us to model after. I like the opportunity to build a tribe and help another tribe succeed. This might not be a corporation with text book business models but that’s exactly why it’s indie and ours. -trvw
The mobile market is is booming, and part of that boom are the many platforms available. Even the iPhone / iPod Touch / iPad platform is breaking up, with developers needing to support their fans that still use iOS 3, adding support for all the cool features of the iPad and iOS 4, and making it all work on small budgets. Add in porting games to or from Android and it’s enough to drive a developer crazy (err…crazier?).
What to do? iOS 4 has 69% market penetration as of September 2010, which is a good chunk. Dropping support for older versions of iOS sure would be easy. Less worry about whether or not a game feature will work for every one, less worry about bugs caused by trying to implement multiple platforms, and less pain trying to test on all versions. Code for iOS 4 and deliver, right? But is dumping support for 31% of your fans, or potential fans, a good idea?
For small developers like Empress & Ogre, there’s also the opportunity and challenge of multiple platforms. Porting games to Android (or Blackberry, Windows, OS X, etc.) has the potential to open up new markets and revenue, but brings with it the challenge of maintaining multiple code bases. Forget simply checking the version of iOS being used; now you have to write two entirely different apps in two different languages, and keep both maintained. One new feature means two (or more) new development tasks.
So, how do you make that decision to abandon older versions of an operating system to simplify your product, or make the decision to add new platforms to break into new markets? My ideas are bulleted below. Share yours in the comments section.
- Loyalty: Who cares if 69% of iPhone users have upgraded to iOS4? If your fans still use iOS 3, then you still support iOS 3. A little extra work is worth the goodwill from the fans of your product.
- Quality: Your fans deserve a great product. If maintaining several versions of the same product means introducing or overlooking bugs because of the extra work, trim back to your core product.
- Buzz: More platforms means more potential users, which leads to more people talking about your product. This means more loyal users (see the first bullet), but also means more work to maintain quality (see the second bullet). If you can’t maintain loyalty and quality, forget the buzz factor.
- Consistency: This is part of quality, although it deserves an extra bullet. Before making the leap to another platform, think seriously about how well that platform can support your app. Android users should get the same base experience as iPhone users. A few extra features to take advantage of unique abilities of a particular platform are OK, but avoid making different apps that happen to share the same name.
We’re aware of crash issues with SwitchEm and devices running iOS 3.1. Unfortunately, those issues were caused by a mistake I made in setting up the executable for distribution. My fault, and I am sorely embarassed.
The good news is that a fix is coming very soon. Until then, please be patient with us and accept our heart-felt apologies. Fortunately, we will not be requiring an update to iOS 4. That would be easy for us, but not good customer service.
We are excited about our next game. Actually, we’ve put the next game on hold so we can make you a Christmas present. It’s a surprise but we just want to do a little something to entertain you if you get caught in those boring holiday get togethers.
Also, we want to make it merry for charity too. The proceeds will benefit an organization that we hope will make you proud to support. Keep watching for the announcement. Peace. -Empress
Did you notice the name change? During the process of prepping SwitchIt SwitchEm for submission to the iTunes App Store, we discovered that just 5 days earlier, another game had been released for the iPhone with the exact same name. Another lesson learned for us in the process – submit your app without uploading a binary, and you can “reserve” the app name.
A couple hours of graphic and code changes later, and our game is now called SwitchEm. No problem. That worked out well.
After another three hours of sorting out the code signing process, SwitchEm has now been uploaded to the iTunes App Store for review. The waiting game for approval has started.
SwitchIt is in final testing this morning – finally. We’re looking over art and text, colors and shapes, and generally making sure the game doesn’t crash at the wrong time. Or at all, really.
We hope to have SwitchIt submitted to Apple this afternoon for approval and release to the app store. When that will happen is up to Apple, of course. We’ll let all of our eagerly awaiting fans know as soon as the app is ready.
Here’s a screenshot for your viewing pleasure:
The last few months have seen Empress & Ogre hard at work on writing, drawing, inking, coloring, tweaking and fixing SwitchIt, and every day has been one day past our original self-imposed deadline. I won’t mention what that deadline was – just read back a few posts and you’ll see how embarrassingly late we are. In all that time, though, we’ve learned a few things about running a small start-up studio and building great games.
- Don’t worry about deadlines, worry about quality. Your product will be done when its done. Don’t rush development to hit a date, and don’t drag the work out to make it perfect. If the game is fun, you’ll know it is done.
- If you can’t describe the rules of the game in three sentences, trim it down. Big, complicated games are for big, complicated studios.
- You can’t stay on top of every upgrade of every code library you are using. We spent more time at one point upgrading Cocos2D, OpenFeint and the iPhone SDK, and working out all the kinks involved, than developing. Upgrade later and get all the fixes done at once.
- Focus on your strengths, and only your strengths. With only two people doing all this work, we had no choice but to cut features we couldn’t handle and max out what we each did best (and realize we still had some learning to do).
- We’re doing this in our spare time, while working full time elsewhere. Many small developers do, at first, at least until they score a huge hit and get incredibly wealthy (that’s our plan). We had to learn not to beat ourselves up when a deadline passed, or a work session for our game got overrun by errands and day job overtime.
- Enjoy the work. If you are making a game, make one you want to play. At the very least, you’ll enjoy the testing. For utilities, make something you’ll use, for the same reason.
Wolfire Games is offering a great bundle of games with a twist in the pricing. Order the bundle, which contains World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru HD and Penumbra, and pay what you want. That’s right, pay whatever you want. But the deal gets even better – you also get to pick how you want the payment divided between the developers and two great charities (the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child’s Play).
As indie developers that believe in giving back to charity ourselves, we definitely like seeing offers like this. Plus, World of Goo is a game that I’ve happily wasted many hours of otherwise productive time on, and the rest are equally good.