Game Business Blog

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What NOT to Do When Making Games

By | Game Business Blog | 11 Comments

Over the past few weeks, we’ve covered some of the best strategies to use when making games, but what about the ones you should avoid?

If you want to succeed in game development, it’s equally important to know what NOT to do. Below is our list of the most common game dev mistakes that you should avoid if you want to be successful at making games.

Trying To Do It All

Taking on too much and trying to do it all is a frequent mistake that indie developers tend to make. Don’t get stuck on the false concept that since you’re an indie, you have to do it all or build everything from scratch. That’s not what being indie means. Being indie just means you’re making games without a large team and financial support from outside sources.

Think about it this way, when you’re an indie developer you’re a small business, an entrepreneur. And like any other business, you don’t have to do it all. If you try you’ll find yourself quickly becoming overwhelmed, falling behind, and on the brink of giving up. Avoid falling prey to this common pitfall.

When you’re making games, you have to map out a plan for yourself. Consider what tasks you’re capable of doing and the ones that are above your skill level. Then set a deadline for when you want to have your game completed. Be realistic and weigh out your options using that timeline. If coding and programming are a skill that you lack then consider using codeless software like Buildbox or any other tool that can help you get the job done. You can also hire a coder or programmer from outsourcing websites like Freelancer or Upwork.

Do you need game art? If making your own isn’t an option look into sites like Game Art 2D, GameDev Market, or Graphic River to purchase art. Another option is to hire an artist from an outsourcing site to do it for you. You can even hire a virtual assistant to help you with small tasks that need to get done. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it either. Post on forums and get input from other developers. You can also enlist the help of friends and family members with the development of your game as well.

Remember, trying to do it all will only slow down your progress. You’re not Superman or Wonder Woman; you are human. Most likely, you’re going to need some help. Think about your budget and consider your skill level and time restraints. Try to learn what’s necessary, do what you can, and outsource the rest.

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Skimping on the Art

Don’t skimp on the art in your game. This mistake is a game killer. Poor graphics or using low-quality art to cut corners and reduce costs will only hurt your game. Your game’s art is the first thing potential players and critics see. They use their first impression of the app to determine whether or not they’re going to give it a try. If you skimp on the art in your game, your game will look unprofessional and very low quality. Players will quickly dismiss your app and never download it. Don’t let this happen. Remember your art is just as important as your gameplay. It helps sell your game.

Examine your game and ask yourself, “Does my game’s graphics look as good as some of the top games in the same category in the top charts?” If the answer is no, then you need to create, buy or hire someone else to make better game art for you. We have an in-depth article on called, ‘How to Make Game Art’ with some great tips and list of game art asset sites that you can use that’s worth checking out.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a graphic artist to make your game art. Buildbox founder, Trey Smith, used the tool Pixelmator to create all of the art for his hit game Phases. There are tons of different free tutorials online that you can use to learn how to make your game art and graphics.

Creating Clones

It may seem like a good idea at first, but making games that are clones is a BIG mistake and HUGE waste of time. There’s no real retention or value in creating clones, plus if you get flagged, there could be some legal ramifications involved as well. Making games that are knock-off versions of other games is just bad business in general.

If you want to be successful, your game must be unique but familiar. Don’t copy. Aim to make a better version of a trending game instead of a clone. Each game that you create should have something special or different about it. When you’re making games the secret is to use a proven game mechanic but present it in a new exciting way. With this method, you’re able to create a unique game that also feels familiar to players.

Using the ‘model and improve’ method when you’re brainstorming game concepts will help you come up with great game ideas. Research the top trending games in your selected category or genre and study all of the games from independent developers. Download, play them and analyze all of the different elements. Investigate and find out what’s working and what’s not in each game. Then try to come up with new ways to change or improve on each aspect in the game. Use those concepts to form an entirely new game that’s unique but based on the same winning format.

Making Games Without a Landing Page

Every game should have an official website or landing page to call its own. Making games without a homebase will put your app at a severe disadvantage. Avoid making this mistake. You need a website for your game to make it easier for fans of your game, potential new players, and press to find and contact you. Having a nice landing page will provide you with a platform to promote your app, announce updates, capture emails, and build a whole tribe around your game. In today’s high-tech world, a site for your game is a necessity.

You can create your site using platforms like WordPress, Wix, Blogger, Leadpages, Unbounce. Always include eye-catching screenshots of your game, gameplay video, and a method to capture emails. Which will give you a way to contact people interested in your game and send updates or invites.

If you don’t have the time or lack the skill to make your site, you can hire someone on an outsourcing site to create it for you. Try to set up your website during the early stages of game development, so you can use it to help promote your game throughout the entire process.

Make sure your game has a site or platform that you can use to communicate with others directly. But don’t stop there, go beyond that. Get active in the gaming community and social media platforms as well. Network, socialize and connect with others to help build a following for your game.

Promoting Post Launch

Another game dev mistake we see often is waiting until the launch of the game to start promoting. To avoid making this blunder, start promoting your game early. Your marketing should start as soon as the development of your game begins, not when it’s finished. Create your app launch strategy early so you can get the buzz going way before it’s time to release your game. Always be promoting.

There are dozens of different ways that you can market your app. You can blog about your game on your website or create a developer blog to document the making of your game. Post teasers and sneak peeks of your game on social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Post YouTube videos to promote your game. Show gameplay footage or VLOG a day in development. Just remember to start early. The earlier you start, the better your odds will be for success.

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Impromptu Game Development

Winging it or ‘impromptu’ game development is another mistake to avoid like the plague. When you’re making games, it’s critical that you have a game plan. Don’t jump in and start making games without having a concept in mind. Try to come up with at least three concepts before you start creating your game. When you have multiple ideas it’s easier to pinpoint the best game design. Options can also prevent you from getting stuck on a particular idea that’s simply not working. When game creators try to wing it, they often find themselves lost. It’s important to avoid this and hit the ground running, as the saying goes, without any major stumbling blocks. Research is paramount. It’s essential that you know what’s trending and what games are dominating the charts. Having this type of information at your disposal will help lead you towards success.

Browse through the top charts in the platform of your choice. Jot down anything that stands out to you. Read the game’s description, check out the reviews and comments. Google the game and its developers. Dig deep and find out what they’re doing that’s working so well. Also look for the mistakes that they’ve made. Use research tools like Google Trends or App Annie and discover all you can to help you create your strategic plan.

When you’re making games, always take the necessary time to do some research and create a plan for your game project.

Not Testing

Testing is an essential part of game design. However, many indie developers neglect to test their game before releasing it properly. Testing your game is important. It’s the only way you can find out if there are any obvious bugs, errors or major issues within your game. Also without testing it’s difficult to tell whether or not your gameplay is balanced. Balanced gameplay is crucial for success. You want your game to be in the middle when it comes to difficulty. It shouldn’t be too easy to the point where it’s a bore, but it shouldn’t be so hard to beat that it’s frustrating either. Testing allows you to gain valuable feedback on where your game stands on all three of these aspects.

Try to test your game using beta testers. They provide the best feedback. You can use beta tester sites or find testers on your own in gaming forums and game dev communities. Friends and family members can also help with testing. Gaining feedback from testing is critical when you’re making games. Try to get as much feedback as you can and make any changes you need before you launch your game.

Publishing Too Soon

Rushing during the development process and releasing a game before it’s ready, is a common mistake among indie developers. A game that has not been polished is a game that’s not quite finished. Never publish an unpolished game. Adding polish is an important final step to take before you present your game to the world.

Polish is a term frequently used in game development that refers to the overall quality of a game. It’s consistency and cohesiveness throughout your game. A polished game is free from errors and bugs. It has unique features that make the players’ experience more enjoyable. From the art style, UI, and controls, all the way down to the core mechanics, everything is cohesive within a polished game.

To add polish, you must first review your game. Pay close attention and look for any small details or aspects of the game that if tweaked could help improve the game’s overall quality. Polish can range from adding better characters, enhancing sound effects, additional features, color themes, button functions or placements to fixing unwanted errors. Any improvement small or large that you can do to make your game visually or gameplay-wise better will add polish.

Remember, don’t make the mistake of publishing your game too soon. Take the necessary time to sit down and examine your game. Look for any minor details that you could improve on. Also, use your feedback from beta testing to help you find weak areas in your game. Make the required changes, re-test, and review again. Repeat until your game is polished.

Going Big, Then Going Home

There’s a saying that goes, “Go big or go home.” Unfortunately, too many new game creators apply this when making games. They make these big overly ambitious plans to make this complicated game. Put all their time and effort into it. Then when they hit a roadblock or get burnout they just give up. Avoid making this mistake. When your’e making games, it’s important to keep in mind that you can always make more games. Don’t try to stuff every good idea that you’ve ever had into a single game.

Pick a game category, do your research, and decide on a game concept that will work well with your vision. When you have new ideas or features that come into play, write it down and save it for your next game. This is extremely important to do when you’re new to making games. Start small and go from there. You can work your way up to bigger and more complex game projects when you gain more experience.

To prevent burnout schedule specific times to work on your game. Try to stick to your plan as much as you can. If you’re starting to get frustrated or mentally exhausted, then take a break. Stretch, listen to music, go for a walk, watch a movie, meditate, play a game, do whatever you enjoy doing that helps you relax. Then come back to the issue or problem later with a fresh perspective. Sometimes you may need more than 30 minutes to 2 hours. Maybe you’re at a point during your game development process where you’re not sure which direction to take or have some higher priority things that you need to attend to and juggling both is taking a toll. If so, take a scheduled extended break.

Give yourself a week or whatever amount of time you need to step away from the project and clear your head. Set a reminder on your phone and calendar and schedule the day and time when you’re going to start back on your project. Don’t be afraid to take a break when you need one and step away for a bit. It’s better to take a brief break than to throw in the towel and give up completely. Never give up. Great things take time.

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Neglecting Previous Games

Lastly, don’t forget about your previous games. Remember when you’re making games, the development process is never over. You should always strive to improve and update each of your games on a consistent basis. Neglecting your previous games is a small mistake that can have big consequences later down the line. When you neglect to update, fix errors or bugs, add new levels, characters, or even features to your game your overall player engagement will steadily decline. You’ll lose players consistently over time, resulting in poor retention and less than desirable revenue.

Updates help you establish a loyal fan base. They prove to your players that you’re serious about your game. And that you also care about the player’s experience enough to maintain it. All of the successful games update on a consistent basis. So, it’s wise to do the same. Try to schedule regular updates at least once a month, even if it’s just to address a few bugs. Also make time to do significant updates introducing new levels, characters, items or game modes. This can be done monthly or every couple of months to help keep your game fresh and fun.  

You can also use updates to promote your game continually. Supercell’s Clash of Clans does an excellent job of this. They’re constantly updating their game and promoting each new update with teaser videos, announcements and more. It’s a great strategy. Another way to make the most of your updates is to utilize the release notes section for your game. Avoid writing the standard ‘Minor Bug Fixes’ or ‘New Game Mode.’ Instead get creative. Try to get people excited about your latest update. Tell them about the cool new characters and surprises. Updates are important to keep your game alive. Be persistent and make time to schedule them regularly.

Remember, when you’re making games, what you don’t do or neglect to do can hurt your success.

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5 Secrets of Game Design

By | Game Business Blog | 4 Comments

We’ve talked a lot about gameplay and level design on the Buildbox blog, but today we’re going to focus on the more obscure secrets of game design. Below you’ll find five often overlooked, but extremely important, factors for creating unique games that people want to play.

  • Surprise and Wonder
  • Character Size
  • Game Universe
  • Familiarity
  • Zen Balance

Let’s take a closer look at each of these …

#1 – Surprise and Wonder

Adding surprise and wonder to your game is a factor that’s rarely discussed, but critical for any game to achieve long-term success. It’s also the secret sauce to turning a new player into a life-long fan of your game. Surprise and wonder can help players form an emotional connection with your game. Establishing this connection is key when you’re creating a game. You want your players to fall in love with your game and keep coming back for more. Without that emotional connection, players will quickly get bored of your game, quit playing, and ultimately delete the app. As a result, your replay value and retention will be ZERO, along with your profits.

Emotions + Rewards

However, when you add emotions and rewards into the mix you create an interactive experience that becomes memorable. Players will want to continue to explore or beat their previous score to see what rewards or special bonus is awaiting ahead. It’s all about the element of surprise and wonder when you’re trying to capture a player’s attention. You can create an emotional experience through the gameplay, characters, level design, and even with the user interface using this game design technique.

Since games are an interactive media, it’s extremely easy to evoke emotion from users. Sound effects, music, character expressions; text, movement, and even color combinations can really help players connect and get into your game. Keep your game’s theme and art style in mind and brainstorm how you can add these elements in each aspect. Maybe you can add interesting sound effects or background music that compliments your game’s pace, mood, or theme. If it’s a racing game, adding a fast-paced adrenaline-pumping beat will resonate with players. If your game is an eerie platformer you can add spooky background music and creepy sound effects that play whenever an item is discovered or platform falls. It’s the small details that add surprise and wonder to your game.

Adding More Surprises in Your Game Design

Characters are also powerful elements to use. You can do a lot with them. They can give your game emotional depth and serve as an effective reward system. During the game design process you can add different unlockable characters, give them animated actions, effects, and unique expressions that play into your game’s core theme.

Rewards can add both surprise and wonder while emotionally connecting with players as well. Unlockable characters and unlockable items can be used to create a gratifying reward system. Coins, points and praise (an often underused type of reward) can be effective too. Praise can be in the form of text or as a sound that’s played when a stage is cleared or a bonus item is found. Animated sequences or cut-scenes can be used as well to celebrate clearing a level or as a teaser to excite players about the fun new challenges ahead.

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Wonder via Power-Ups

Portals and power-ups can definitely add a sense of wonder and intrigue to any game as well. Hidden portals also add massive replay value to your game. Players enjoy discovering new gateways or orbs that teleport them into a new world that they haven’t yet explored. It’s engaging and a fun surprise. Special powers in the form of power-ups or bonuses are great too.

Nintendo’s Super Mario World masterfully used power-ups to add surprise and wonder into their gameplay. A great example of this is the mushroom power-up in Super Mario World. When it’s consumed it turns ordinary Mario into Super Mario, a much taller, stronger version of himself. Players are also rewarded additional points. The power balloon power-up in Super Mario World is another good example of how you can use power-ups to add surprise and wonder. When Mario or Luigi collects the balloon it makes them swell up like a balloon and float in mid-air. With game design, get creative. Make your game fun with features that will captivate players.

#2 – Character Size

In game design it’s essential to remember, size does matter. Bigger is not technically better when it comes to down to a game’s character size. A common mistake we see new game creators make is making their game characters too big. Your game character needs to be proportionate. Avoid making it larger than necessary. When your characters are too large it not only makes your game look unpolished and unprofessional but it also distracts players from truly experiencing the gameplay.

Gaining the right perspective on this early during the game design process is key. A good way to determine if you’ve made your character size too big is to compare it to classics like Mario. You can do this by taking all of your game’s screenshots and loading them into an image editing software like Photoshop or Illustrator and comparing it against other popular games. Mario is a classic and great standard to use. You can also compare it to popular games of your specific genre as well. If you notice that it’s off, simply adjust the size and resave.

#3 – Game Universe

One of the secrets to game design is to create universal laws for your game. These laws apply to the overall aesthetics of your game. The way your game looks and plays has a great deal to do with the universal laws that you apply. Maybe all of the buttons in your game are colored blue to match well with the color scheme and the art style that you’ve chosen. Or maybe particle effects in your game are similar for similar types of objects. There needs to be consistency so the game feels more natural and not convoluted. Try to keep the same style and corresponding theme throughout your game. Remember it’s a thin line between being creative and being tacky.

The goal is make your game as cohesive as possible. Avoid mixing multiple color combinations and wild patterns together. Pick one art style and stick to it and try to use color combinations that mesh well together. Decide which laws you want to follow in your game design. Ask yourself questions like, “What is my art style direction?” “Which colors or combinations will look best with my main character or theme?” Take your time to research various color schemes, consider your options and plan it all out.

Choosing the Right Color Scheme for Your Game

If you’re not quite sure what colors work well together start by looking at the combinations used in some of the top games. Then explore creating your own color scheme using one of the many color palette and scheme tools available. To find out what looks best you can use sites like Colourlovers, PaletteGenerator, The Color Scheme Designer, COLRD, and Adobe Colour CC. Also StripeGenerator is a helpful tool to use to come up with colors and patterns. Most of these types of tools are completely free to use. There’s also color scheme generator apps that you can use such as The Color App and Coolors for on-the-go convenience.

You can also find game design inspiration from browsing online. Sort through Google Images and look for interesting color combinations and patterns that speak to you. Pinterest also has a lot of color schemes and palette ideas.

Following the 60-30-10 color principle rule can help you when you’re selecting a color scheme for your game design as well. This color principle works well for simple style games, but it’s not ideal for more complex games since you’re limiting the amount of colors that you’re going to use. So consider your game type when you’re choosing your color schemes.

With the 60-30-10 color rule you pick one main color that you’ll use for 60% of the color in your game such as the background. Then you’ll use 30% of your secondary color. This color can be implemented in platforms or specific objects. And lastly, 10% of your accent color, which can be used as the main color for buttons, small items, details, and objects. Many of the top minimalist style games that only have several core colors, applied this principle to their game design.

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#4 – Familiarity

The familiarity factor is another vital part of game design. Your game should definitely feel unique, but it’s also good to have it feel familiar to players. Nearly all of the most successful games are based on core mechanics that have already been popular. Super Mario Brothers wasn’t the first platformer, Call of Duty wasn’t the first ever first-person shooter, and Angry Birds wasn’t the first slingshot game. If you do a little research and dig deep, you’ll notice that nearly every popular game ever made has been based on core mechanics that players are familiar with.

Familiarity is one of the secrets to game design because it makes your game easy to pick up. When you design your game this way anyone can start playing the game almost immediately without a lot of instruction. It’s important to design a game that’s easy to understand. You want to avoid putting them off with overly complicated gameplay. Strive to make your game unique but still familiar to players.

So, how do you make a game that’s unique but familiar?

The best way to do this is to use the ‘Model and Improve’ technique. This is the formula that virtually every successful app, product, and business has used to find success. There’s three basic steps to modeling and improving on a game concept. The first step is to research. Examine the App Store and look at all of the top games that are similar to the type of game that you want to make. Write them all down.

The second step is to analyze the games and figure out what aspects of each game are working and which are not. Download and play all of the games and take notes. Write down anything that grabs your attention about the game. Pay close attention to all of the different elements of the game from the user interface, characters, backgrounds and gameplay to small details like sound effects, Ad placement and monetization tactics used.

The third step is to take all of your findings and brainstorm new ways improve on the game concept. This can involve adding, substituting, removing or all three. Think about what feature or element you could add or swap out to make the game better. Consider different improvements or changes that could be made in every area of the game. Keep brainstorming until you have a completely new game concept that’s unique but familiar.

FUN FACT: The first true platformer game was Nintendo’s Donkey Kong released in July 1981.

#5 – The Zen Balance

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The final secret to game design is finding that perfect balance of difficulty, challenge and enjoyment. All great games have nailed this perfect balance, or as we like to call it the ‘Zen Balance’ factor. Classics like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Sonic the Hedgehog are all good examples of this.

Try to think of ‘Zen Balance’ in game design as a scale. On one end you have a boring easy game and on the other end you have a very difficult to beat game. The goal is to design your game to be somewhere in the middle. When you accomplish this, you’ll have the perfect balance of excitement which will keep your players engaged longer.

Often new game creators tend to focus too much on one end of the scale. They either make their game too easy or too difficult. Neither is fun for the player. You don’t want to design a game that’s so easy it quickly becomes boring or so difficult that it’s not fun to play.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to make this mistake especially when you’re the only one testing your game. The problem that many creators have is that they get to know their game too well so when they try to test it themselves it’s hard to pinpoint accurately how challenging their game actually is. This is why testing with beta testers is so important. It’s the only way you can truly determine where your game measures on the ‘Zen balance’ scale. Try to always test on multiple types of people, to make sure your game has the right level of difficulty.

Solid Game Design

Remember to use surprise and wonder to help your players build an emotional connection with your game. Try to keep your character sizes in-check and be sure to make your game’s universe as cohesive as you can. Your game concept should feel familiar but unique. And always test rigorously to find that perfect ‘Zen Balance’ of difficulty within your game.

All five of these techniques are the key to solid game design and the secret to success.

App Launch Success

12 Steps for App Launch Success

By | Game Business Blog | 6 Comments

We’ve released many articles about getting publishers, but what about launching your app solo?

Launching an app is a BIG deal, especially when you’re an indie developer. There are already millions of apps in the App Store, how do you get your game to stand out? The truth is … if you want your game to be discovered and get downloads, you have to lay the foundation for success way before your game’s release. To do this, it’s critical that you plan your app launch strategy early.

In fact, it’s important to plan your app launch strategy early on during the development of your game. The biggest mistake we see developers make is waiting until the actual launch of their game to start promoting. As Buildbox founder, Trey Smith states, “Your marketing starts when development starts.”

In this article, we’ll cover 12 of the most important steps to successfully launching your game solo. With these steps you’ll be able to create a solid app launch strategy and generate enough buzz to get your indie game noticed.

Let’s dive right in …

Step #1 – Do Your Research

When you’re creating an app launch strategy, research is the first step. It’s the best way to find out what’s working, what’s not, and what you need to do to compete. Your primary goal is to gain a deeper insight into your target demographic (player base) and what they want in a game. This information alone will lead you in the right marketing direction.

Now, you can go as in-depth with your research as you feel necessary but for time constraints, we’ll going to cover the basic research required to start building your app launch strategy.

When you’re researching you’re trying to find the answers to the following questions:

  1. Who is the competition?
  2. What are they doing?
  3. Who is your target demographic/player base?

Before you begin, you need to have a game concept and category in mind. Browse the charts in the chosen platform that you’ll be releasing your game on and look for similar games that are performing well. Write all of your findings down. Create a list with the game name, publisher/developer, and contact info. Only make a note of the games that are similar to the type of app you want to make, that catches your eye, and appear to be made by individuals or small indie teams. Big games from major companies like Supercell’s Clash of Clans or King’s Candy Crush is not your competition. Remember, you’re launching your app solo, so you’re researching others that have done the same and found success.

What’s Working & What’s Not?

Once you have a decent list of potential competition, it’s time to investigate. Go to the game’s App Store page and read all of the customer reviews. Analyzing the game’s user reviews will give you a good idea of what they’re doing that’s working great and where the game is lacking. Take notes. Then download their games and play them. Pay close attention to game’s features and those points players made in the comments. Jot down anything noteworthy.

Then research the developer. Go to their website. Do they have any social media accounts? If so, visit them too. Go even deeper and Google the game to see what media coverage if any they’ve received. Check out the images and backlinks. See who has written about the game and make a note for later reference. You should be able to get a good idea of what they’re doing and what your target player base wants in a game.

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Go Deeper …

For specific target demographics info, you can use tools like App Annie and Sensor Tower. A quick free hack that’s worth trying is using the Google Adwords Display Planner. Just log in with your Google account and click ‘Tools’ and then ‘Display Planner.’ Type the game’s website link into the landing page box and hit ‘Get ad group ideas.’ Data will appear showing demographics for individuals that have visited that site. Age, gender, and even interests. This technique won’t work for every game, but it’s a cool hack to try. Facebook’s Ads Manager is also another option that you can use in the same way for digging up data.

Once you’ve done your research, you’ll have all the information you need to use throughout your entire app launch to help promote your game.

Step #2 – Build an Online Presence

For an efficient app launch, an online presence is essential. Building one will provide you with a platform outside of the App Store that you can use to market your game easily. The best way to do this is by creating a website to serve as your home base. With an official website or landing page, you can promote your app, capture emails and build a whole community around your game.

A site is practically mandatory if you want your app launch to be successful. It will provide you with an easy way to directly interact with users, press and to network. You can have a full website with a blog and links, a standalone landing page, a combination of both or a personal blog and a separate landing page for your app. All of these options work great. The secret is to build your page early during the beginning stages of development. When you do, you’ll have ample time to grow a following.

Blogging about the development of your game is also an excellent app launch strategy to use. It’ll not only help you form a fan base for your app before its release, but it’ll also serve as cool chronicle on the making of your game that you can reflect back on.

Two of the most popular platforms for creating websites and blogs is WordPress and Blogger. You can start off free, but we recommend getting a domain name as soon as possible. It’s important to establish your site as the official page for that particular game or indie studio.

For landing pages, you can use sites like Unbounce, Leadpages or Instapage. Your landing page can be a powerful marketing tool if done correctly. Make sure it features attention-grabbing screenshots and a demo of your game, a message announcing that that game is coming soon, and a clear call-to-action encouraging visitors to sign up for an invite or updates. It’s paramount that your page can capture users’ emails. So you’ll have a direct channel for promotion.

blogging optionsIf you’re not skilled in making a website or simply do not have the time you can hire someone to create one for you by using outsourcing sites like Fiverr or Upwork.

Quick Tip: To establish authority make sure your website has a matching domain name (Ex: If your game name is ‘Bad Sam’ your landing page should be ‘badsam,’ ‘badsamgame’ or ‘badsamapp’ if possible.) You want to get as close to the original name as you can. Your home base should also include a contact form or email, About and FAQ sections if applicable.

Step #3 – Get Social

Now that you have a website, you’ll need a social media presence as well.

I know what you’re thinking … with all of the different social media platforms out there, where do I start?

Try to base your decision off of your research. Which platforms are your competitors using? What are the social networks that your target demographics use the most? Those are the channels you need to join.

However, in general, it’s good to have a Facebook and a Twitter account. Both of these accounts are essential for promoting your game, establishing authority and reaching out to press and potential influencers. All three are major elements of any solid app launch strategy.

There are dozens of different social media platforms that you can join, which is why research is so important. Use your data to determine which outlets would help you reach your game’s target player base. Avoid trying to take on too much in the beginning. Only focus on the two or three platforms that are necessary to give you a fair advantage. If you’re still learning the ropes, Facebook and Twitter are excellent starting points.

Quick Tip: Always add links to your social media accounts on your website and blog and vice versa.

Step #4 – Create a Marketing Strategy/Action Plan  

Okay, you’re official now. You have a website; you’re on social media … now what? Well, it’s time to get organized.

For your app launch to run smoothly and for you to keep your sanity while making your game you must have an action plan in place. Start by referring to your research. Examine what other developers were doing to promote their game on various platforms and the frequency. Did they post every day or multiple times per day? Did they blog weekly or monthly? What type of content did they use?

Then sit down and come up with your content marketing strategy. Simply set aside some time to plan out each week or month, and what you’re going to create and share to help promote your game. Try to schedule it in a calendar with reminders. You can do this using Google Calendar, Evernote, or an Excel Spreadsheet. List which days, times, platform and what you plan on sharing. You should have plenty of ideas from your research. This step is all about getting everything organized into a specific schedule that you can follow.

For example, maybe you’ve decided to blog once a week about your game’s development process. If so, pick a day and time, and topic to write about for that week. Add it to your calendar. Or you might be planning on going on Twitter to connect with fans of your niche. Create your tweets for that week and schedule them into your calendar.

If you’re overwhelmed or too busy, you can always hire a virtual assistant to help you with the task. Having a content marketing strategy and schedule ready to go whenever you need it will alleviate a lot of stress and make the app launch process easier to handle.

Step #5 – Prep for Press

Press is an important aspect of any app launch. However many developers try to tackle it too late in the game. Try to create your press contact list early.  During the development process is ideal. Refer to your previous research on similar top performing games and search for any press or media coverage. A quick Google search will turn up results. Once you have the site name, you can look up the writer and find their contact information.

Before you add them to your press list make sure they’re a good fit. Check the website’s engagement and following, and browse other articles that the writer has written to make sure your game would be of interest to them. If they meet the requirements, add them.

The next step is to find their contact information. This step can get a little tricky. You have to dig deep to find journalist emails. Start by googling their name to see what comes up. Try to find their email and any social media accounts. Often a writer will list a contact or personal page on their Twitter profile. Check out their website and see if you can find their email or a contact form.

If you’re still having trouble, try using Chrome browser plugin extensions like Rapportive, Found.ly or Find Anyone’s Email – Contact Out. There are also sites like Buzzstream, Muckrack, and VoilaNorbert that you can use. If you’re on a budget, VoilaNorbert features a low pay as you go option and 50 free leads, which is cool.

When you have your list, slowly start contacting and making connections. Follow them on Twitter. Keep up with their latest posts and use what you learn to create a reach-out email that will warrant their attention.

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Step #6 – Find Influencers

Journalists aren’t the only people who can help spread the word about your game. Don’t overlook influencers. Social media influencers on Twitter and YouTube as well as the popular game or niche bloggers can help push your app launch towards success. Influencers have huge followings. When they post, tweet, review or mention your game, you’ll instantly get exposure. Networking with them and reaching out can help you in your marketing efforts.

Try to find influencers to reach out to from different platforms. Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, popular indie game bloggers or reviewers are a good start. To avoid wasting time, focus only on individuals that would be interested in games, Indies, or your app’s particular niche. For example, maybe it has a classic retro feel, try to seek out influencers that are fans of old school games. You’ll increase your odds of a yes. Then make a list of influencers and start connecting.

Step #7 – Create a Great Demo Video

To promote your game, a demo video or gameplay trailer is a must. They are the best visual tools to have in your app launch arsenal to grab the attention of both potential players and press. A great demo video should be between 30 to 90 seconds. Try not to waste unnecessary time with long intros. Aim to immediately capture your viewers’ attention with amazing graphics and highlights.

Your demo should also be exciting and explanatory. It’s essential that anyone who watches the demo, immediately understands what your game is about. Keep it simple, engaging and focused. Remember, gameplay trailers are about showing people how fun and unique your game truly is.

Step #8 – Be Sneaky & Post Sneak Peeks

Sneak peeks, and teasers are visual reminders that your awesome game is coming soon. They can be in the form of gameplay videos, game screenshots, character screenshots, GIFs of the game’s gameplay, text posts announcing what you’re working on or even a Vlog related to the making of your game. For a successful app launch, try to create and share teasers strategically throughout your game’s development. The goal is to get people excited about your game and anticipating its release. So, always try to be sneaky with your sneak peeks and spread them out over a period of weeks or months before your release.

Quick Tip: Before you post a screenshot or video make sure it’s a good representation of your game. You want players to get excited about your game not think poorly of it before it’s even launched. When you’re still early in the development phase, try to use teasers with clever imagery or tagline to spark players’ interest until your game is ready for its first close-up.

Step #9 – Promote, Promote, Promote!

If you’re an indie developer launching an app solo, your mantra should be, “Promote, Promote, Promote.” You should always be promoting your game. There are dozens of different ways that you can promote your game on a consistent basis. You can join developer and gaming forums. Post about your game or add your app’s download link in your signature. You can also add your app’s link to your email signature with tagline and info.

Be sure to cross-promote by including links and mentions of your game on all of your social media profiles and websites. You can even add a pop-up banner on your website to your game link. If you’re not into web design and don’t want to spend money, you can add this option using the add-on feature from HelloBar.

Try to promote your game on YouTube by uploading cool gameplay videos, walkthroughs, and tips. You can also submit your app to review sites and places like Product Hunt. Try to turn promoting your games and apps into a regular habit.

Remember, when you’re launching an app solo all of the marketing efforts falls on you. There’s no big team or advertising budget to rely on. You have to make promoting your game a priority.

'Promotion'Step #10 – Use Beta Testers

Using beta testers is also an important step to take. When you’re launching your app solo, your game has to be 100% ready before you can put it out there. Testing allows you to catch any game issues, crashes, or bugs before you release your app to the world. It’s also a great tool to use to gain valuable feedback on your game in general. You can conduct testing in several ways but using beta testers instead of close friends and family members can deliver the best results. Since there is no emotional connection, beta testers will provide you with deeper insights into your game. To be able to improve your game this info is essential. It will also result in a much smoother app launch.

You can find beta testers on your own on various forums and gaming communities. There are also beta tester sites that you can use like Ubertesters and Usertesting. Try to get as much feedback as possible and make all the necessary changes before you release your game.

Quick Tip: Always make sure your game is polished, features unique gameplay, great graphics and free of errors or bugs before your launch.

Step #11 – Plan Your App Launch Date

In a successful app launch, everything is planned including the release date. It’s important to review your research and determine the best day for launching your app. A magical day that will deliver tons of downloads does not exist, but some days are better than others. Each app category varies. Refer to your research and strategically pick a date that will give you the highest chance of discoverability.

Quick Tip: Try to stay up-to-date on the latest in industry news especially concerning mobile and tech. Avoid planning your release date on the same day as a popular product or app is scheduled to launch.

Step #12 – Get Your Press Kit Ready!

“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” – Bobby Usner

You have to be prepared when opportunity presents itself. So, make sure you have a press kit ready. Press kits are time-savers and help to not only establish authority but professionalism as well. Press kits (sometimes referred to as media kits) contain promotional material (i.e. screenshots, demo video) and other information to help journalists and bloggers learn more about their app or game. Having a press kit readily available will make it easy to get press and alleviate the stress of fumbling around trying to pull something together whenever a reviewer or blogger shows interest.

A good press kit should include high-quality screenshots, banners, icons, demo video, and a press release or document with general information about your game and or indie studio. Keep it brief but engaging. Also make sure to include all of your game’s social media links, website and a contact email in your press kit. Save your press kit as a file that you can access whenever you need to or post it on your website. You can gain more exposure when your press kit link is available on your website for anyone to access. You never know who might check it out.

Final Thoughts …

Let’s be honest, it’s a lot of work to get your indie game noticed, but it can be done. When you’re launching an app solo, you have to start planning your marketing strategy early. Do your research, build a following around your game with blogging, get social and network with press and influencers. Engage with cool teasers, beta test and stay consistent with promoting your game. Remember the secret to app launch success, is to start early.

Game Ideas

19 Ways to Come Up with Game Ideas

By | Game Business Blog | 10 Comments

Are you having trouble coming up with new game ideas?

If your mind is going blank and no matter how hard you try nothing seems to come to you. Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. The truth is … being creative and coming up with game ideas is a skill that you have to hone, not a talent. Anyone can become a master at generating awesome game ideas if they apply and practice the right methods.

Although, there are dozens of different techniques that will help you unleash your creativity. We compiled a list designed specifically with game developers in mind. Each of these 19 methods will help you get those creative juices flowing again and make it easy for you to come up with a killer game idea.

Here’s how:

#1 – Play a Lot of Games

Games have the ability to transport us into a different world, entertain, and challenge us in new exciting ways. When you’re trying to come up with your own unique game idea, they’re also one of the best ways to find inspiration. It’s really important to try to play a lot of different style games, not just your personal favorites. Try to start with the classics and work your way up to the Indies and then some of the more popular newer titles. Games like Space Invaders, Tetris, Mario Bros and others is a good place to start, especially if you haven’t played many of them before.

Believe it or not, most of the games that we consider to be classics were created by individuals or small development teams. Also, many of the classics are simple style games that feature dynamic gameplay with tons of replay value. All of which are the secret ingredients to a successful game. Revisiting them can help get those wheels turning again. Notable indie games like Limbo and Monument Valley are great to play and study as well. Try to find a few of the top current games in different categories to play also.

When you’re playing, pay close attention to all of the little details that make the game fun and unique. Grab a small notebook and jot down any features, themes, color schemes, characters, effects or gameplay mechanics that stand out to you.

Classic Games Image

#2 – Be Observant of the World

As Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

To be creative and come up with game ideas you have to be able to connect things. And to connect things you need to be observant. Start paying attention to all the little details. Notice your environment, people, and all the small things that we often overlook. The tree tops, the clouds rolling by, clothes tumbling in the dryer, virtually anything can be used as inspiration when you’re fully aware. You never know what might spark an idea for a new theme, background or interesting gameplay concept.

Try to pay attention to everything around you and come up with ways you could implement them into your game. Ask yourself, “Could this be used in a game?” If so, ‘How?’ Write it all down. The answers might surprise you. You’ll also find that your creativity level will spike as you continue to practice being observant. Ideas can spring from the strangest places.

#3 – Seek Input

As the wise saying goes, ‘When in doubt, ask.’ Always seek out input from others when you’re trying to come up with game ideas. Ask around. Try to start up a ‘game related’ conversation and sneak in some possible game concepts that you’ve been bouncing around in your head. Be inquisitive and find out what type of games people like to play by asking your friends, co-workers, family members or even strangers on the street. The more opinions, the better. If it’s a concept you’ve been thinking about but not quite sure, ask people what they think of it. Remember, you don’t have to tell everyone you’re working on a game when you do this. If you’re afraid of someone possibly stealing your idea, you can be vague with your question and still gain valuable feedback.  Asking around will help you get a good idea of which direction you could go with your game.

#4 – Use an Idea Log

Everything begins with an idea. So it’s important to keep track of them. Use a small notepad or an app on your phone to record any ideas that pop into your head. Using a game idea log can make it easier to come up with ideas. Before you know it, you’ll have an entire little book of potential hit games.

The key is finding a method that suits you best, that you’ll be able to keep up. If you like the nostalgia of pen and paper, invest in several small pocket size notepads and keep one with you wherever you go. If the paper method isn’t your style, you can use the note app on your phone to create a game idea log or download one of the many notebook based apps that they have available. Whichever method you choose, remember it must be easily accessible.

You never know when a random idea will hit. When you have a system down for capturing great ideas, you’ll never be without one.

#5 – Mind Map It

Mind mapping is a visual method of brainstorming where you use words, images, and colors to connect ideas around a specific topic. Using this technique, you can quickly generate lots of different game ideas. It’s also a fun way to organize creative ideas.

To start mind mapping a potential game idea, you’ll need a piece of paper, pen, and some colored pens or markers. Choose your game type (i.e. arcade, platformer, puzzle, action) and write it down in the center of the piece of paper and circle it. Then begin to write down main ideas using one word and ‘connect’ by drawing a line from the circled word to your centered game type. These ideas can be a theme, feature, background element, game mechanic, character, effect or any other detail. Try to write and circle each idea in a different color. You can even doodle or draw out the idea if you wish. It’s your mind map. Go through each, brainstorming and breaking down those ideas until you have a big beautiful, creative map of your next game concept.

Mind mapping allows you to connect ideas and figure out what’s missing more quickly. In fact, the brain works better creatively with non-linear techniques like mind-mapping.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking … but what if I don’t want to sit with colored pens mapping? Well then, don’t. There’s mind mapping software that you can invest in. The software allows you to create a mind map quickly on your computer. And there are also dozens of apps like Mind Vector, Mindly, MindMeister and iMindQ that you can download for free on your phone to mind map on-the-go. The apps are a cool option. Many of them utilize the Cloud and can be saved and accessed later from anywhere. You can also collaborate with friends or teammates which are great if you’re working with someone else or a small team.

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#6 – Research

To come up with a great game idea, you need to know what’s already working. Research is a necessity, especially if you’re trying to come up with winning ideas. It’s important to research which games are topping the charts, in which categories, and why, so you don’t end up wasting your time on a concept that no one is going to like or play. Researching the charts and current trends will give you a slight advantage and make it easier to brainstorm new ideas.

To research just browse the top charts in the App Store. Look at all of the high ranking games in the same category that you want to make your game in. Pay close attention to the games that appear to be from indie developers and write them down. Then thoroughly research each game. Google to find out more information about the games. Then download and play each game. Analyze the game’s features and jot down any element that stands out. Examine your notes and use them as starting points to base your game idea on.

#7 – Get Active in the Gaming Community

Being active in the gaming community is another way to spark creativity and generate game ideas. When you’re involved in the game scene, ideas automatically come more easily to you. So get involved! Become active in the gaming community. You have to do more than just play a bunch of games to do this. To be involved you need to join and actively participate on the forums. Browse different message boards and read what other gamers and developers are discussing. Post and ask questions. Get curious. The gaming community is an untapped resource that developers need to take advantage of. You can find inspiration, learn tips, and get guidance, network, and gain lots of useful feedback from gamers and peers.

#8 – Model & Improve

We believe strongly in the ‘Model and Improve’ method, here at Buildbox. It’s the secret technique that many successful developers and entrepreneurs use to come up with killer ideas. When you model and improve, you’re taking a concept, breaking it down and finding new ways to make it better. By adding something extra to it, modifying it or combining it with other elements you end up creating an entirely new version that’s unique. For game ideas, simply research to find popular games in the niche you’re interested in and then analyze them. Once you’ve broken down the game’s features and key elements, brainstorm different ways to improve on each feature. Ideas will quickly start to flow.

#9 – SCAMPER Method

David Reichelt created his hit game Color Switch (which to-date has amassed over 150M downloads) using our software, Buildbox. When asked in an interview, about his process for coming up with game ideas, Reichelt credited the SCAMPER method from the Michael Michalko book called Thinkertoys. The SCAMPER method is basically ‘model and improve’ on steroids. Instead of simply brainstorming ways to improve on a concept you apply nine specific techniques to help you reinvent the concept. Each letter in the acronym represents one or more idea triggering questions that you need to ask yourself.

To use the SCAMPER technique you have to analyze an idea and ask yourself if you can substitute, combine, add, modify, magnify, put to other use, eliminate, reverse or rearrange it. It’s an innovative way to get creative and brainstorm new game ideas.

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#10 – Focus on a Genre

If you’re having trouble coming up with game ideas, focusing on a specific game category or genre can help. The more specific you are, the easier it is to generate ideas. Try to pick a game genre that you’re interested in and begin to brainstorm ideas only in that category. Whether its arcade, action, puzzle, racing, shooter, adventure or strategy, try to focus only on that particular genre. When you’re brainstorming game ideas, look at other similar games in that category and search for ways to model and improve.

#11 – Pick a Theme to Explore

Sometimes you need to go even further and when you’re thinking up game ideas and pick a specific theme to explore as well. Selecting a particular genre and theme will help you better pinpoint the type of game you want to create. A few minor details can make a huge difference in the overall shape of your game. For example, a simple shooter style game with a space theme is now much more interesting. Adding that one extra touch can ignite your imagination. As you think more about the concept, you’ll be able to come up with more elements to add and pretty soon you’ll have a great game idea in the works.

#12 – Start-Off with a Character

Starting off with a character in mind is another method that’s worth trying if you’re stuck in the middle of a creativity block. When you select the main character first, it can make the process of coming up with a game idea much easier. You can simply brainstorm around that one core element until you have a complete concept. Your main character can be a person, creature, object or a particular place. Once you have a set character, try to think up different possible scenarios that could work. Consider how your character would interact and respond. Brainstorm alternative themes, challenges, and gameplay based around your main character.

#13 – Schedule a Brainstorm Session

Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to think up ideas. Avoid sitting for hours on end, waiting for something to come to you. You’ll burnout quickly if you do. Instead, try to break up your brainstorming sessions into manageable blocks. Pick a time of day that works best for you. Everyone is different. Some people get their best ideas early in the morning, enjoying a cup of coffee, while others prefer to burn the midnight oil. When you schedule a brainstorming session, it’s important to pick a quiet place where you can think. Set your timer for 15 to 30 minutes and then start brainstorming potential game ideas. When the timer goes off, stop. Continue to go about your day or do some other activity until your next brainstorming session. Depending on your schedule and time restraints you can do one or multiple sessions throughout the day until you’ve come up with something great.

#14 – Use Constraints

Constraints or limitations help to encourage creative thinking. If you need to come up with some unique game ideas than adding constraints is the way to go. They’ll help you narrow down your options and focus your creativity. Try to use constraints like theme, time, tools and skill to brainstorm your concept.

Start by selecting one specific theme that your idea must be based on. Give yourself a deadline to complete your game. When you know, the amount of time you have available is limited you’ll have to think up game concepts that are doable within those set limits. This will keep you from thinking in the mind frame of ‘unlimited possibilities’ which often is what leads us towards a creativity block. Constraints help to keep your design concept realistic which is important to do.

Tools and your current skill level are also restrictions you need to consider when you’re coming up with game ideas. What type of game can you make? Which tools do you need to help you accomplish your goal? What is your budget? Knowing and working within your limitations will lead you towards success. Turn your restrictions into an advantage by using them to fuel your creativity.

#15 – Draw Inspirations from other Mediums

Games are not the only type of media that you can draw inspiration from. You can also draw inspirations from other mediums like film, TV, art, music and books. What are your favorites? What is it about them that speaks to you? Search for elements in other mediums that could be used as a base for a game idea. It could be anything. Maybe a cool concept or action scene from a movie or show, a beautiful piece of art, a great song or the song’s album cover. Inspiration is everywhere when you’re looking for it.

#16 – Take a Break

Sometimes the best way to come up with ideas is to take a break from coming up with ideas. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Stepping back from the process and doing something else will allow you not only relax but to avoid burnout as well. Whenever you’re at the point where you’re beginning to get frustrated, take 20 minutes, an hour or even a day and break away. Take a long shower or power nap if you need one. Go for a walk in the park. Play your favorite game or listen to some music. Do whatever you like to do to unwind. Then when you’re ready to come back to it, you can look at it with fresh eyes.

'Game Idea Generator Image'

#17 – Use a Game Idea Generator

When you need a little help coming up with game ideas, generators are also an option. Now, we don’t recommend using them literally. Some of the results can be outlandish, but they’re great tools to use to spark your creativity. Simply take the random idea and tweak it to a realistic concept. You can also play around with it and pull different elements from each idea generated to come up with a cool idea. Game idea generators are fun tools to use to help bust through a game creation block. Two good game idea generators to try is Orteil’s Game Idea Generator and Streaming Colour’s Game Idea Generator.

#18 – Read the Latest News & Reviews

Reading the latest industry news and game reviews can also help generate game ideas. Online publications like Gamasutra, PGBiz, Polygon, IGN, 148Apps, Touch Arcade, and Indiegames.com are all excellent sources to help keep you in the know. When you have a good idea of what players like and what they don’t like, you’ll be able to come up with game ideas more quickly. Try to make reading and staying up on the latest trends a habit. To keep track of your game news, download an RSS feed reader app like Feedly or Pocket. You can also add any interesting game development blogs to your RSS feed as well. The more embedded you are in the game scene, the better.

#19 – Just Start & Game Ideas will Flow

If you’re having trouble coming up with game ideas, sometimes it helps just to start creating something. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with your own expectations on what you should be making. Diving right in and making a ‘practice’ game can alleviate a lot of the self-imposed pressure and unleash your creativity. When you’re not worried about making a perfect game, and you’re just messing around, your wheels will start turning, and ideas will come to you as you go. Just pick a random game type and run with it. You might just end up with the perfect game, by accident. You never know.

When you feel stuck, try one or all of the great tips mentioned above. Remember, making games, in general, should be a fun process. If you’re struggling to come up game ideas, take a deep breath, breathe out and relax. Play a ton of games, be observant, try different methods of brainstorming, research, work within your limitations and remember that ideas will come to you as you go.

Remember, creativity is just about connecting things and being more open and aware.

5_most_important _816x296_1

The 5 Most Important Features Publishers Want in Your Game

By | Game Business Blog | 13 Comments

How do you know when your game is good enough to pitch to publishers? 

Before you begin pitching to publishers, you need to make sure your game has all the qualities that they’re looking for. There are actually five important features that every publisher searches for when they’re reviewing games. It’s these five key factors that ultimately determine whether or not your game is ready to be published.

If your goal is to get a publishing deal, your game must have all of the following:

  • Unique Gameplay
  • Amazing Graphics
  • Intuitive Experience
  • Viral Potential
  • High Replay Value

Let’s take a closer look at each of these …

#1 – Unique Gameplay

Publishers are interested in games with unique gameplay. Make no mistake about it, your gameplay must be unique. However, it also must be based on a proven game mechanic. This is important to publishers because they only have one shot with your game to make it a success. So, they want something that players will immediately be able to pick-up and understand. A game with crazy control schemes where you touch the corners of the screen to control your character might be fun and seem ‘unique’ to you and your friends, but to a publisher, it could also appear to be too risky. Try to make a game that is different but still familiar.

The ‘Model and Improve’ technique is one of the best methods to use when you’re trying to come up with unique gameplay concepts. We’re big believers of ‘modeling and improving’ here at Buildbox. It’s the secret to successfully making games. We discussed this method in detail in our previous post, ‘Making Games with Model and Improve.’ If you’re not familiar with the process of modeling and improving, it involves studying a product or in this case a game, then thinking of ways you can improve different aspects of it to turn it into something new and more innovative.

Model & Improve

When you’re applying this technique to generate game ideas, you start by researching and analyzing popular trending themes. Make a list and record your findings. Try to break down various parts of the game such as the gameplay, art style, monetization etc. Then brainstorm ways to improve or make those elements better in a new way.

The research process in this method alone will provide you with a nice list of proven game mechanics that you can base your game on. Simply model and improve on those concepts and you’ll be able to create a unique gameplay style that publishers will want.

#2 – Amazing Graphics

Have you ever noticed that every published game has amazing graphics? It doesn’t matter what type of game it is or the art style used, the graphics are always eye-catching. There’s a very important reason for this. The art in your game is what players and potential publishers will use to form their first impressions. Which can make or break your game’s success. Having amazing artwork is mandatory if you want to succeed. Publishers are looking for high-quality games that look polished and well put-together. Game art is also an extremely powerful selling tool. So, you have to bring your A-game in terms of art.

Remember, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’ and so is the graphics in your game.

When you have great graphics your game is able to transport players into that world to interact and explore. The art style and theme should set the game’s mood and provide players with entertaining experience. Your game’s artwork and style should be cohesive with your gameplay as well. Games like Clash of Clans, Bowmasters, Pixel Drifters, Subway Surfers and Color Switch are good examples of this.

Do Not Skimp on ArtDon’t Skimp on the Art

Your art is as important as your gameplay, especially to publishers. You simply can’t skimp here. Cutting corners when it comes to graphics is probably the biggest repeat offender we see with games. Take a long hard look at your game’s artwork. If you don’t feel like your graphics are as good as other Apple featured games or games you see in the top chart, then you need to think of ways that you can either improve your skill or consider hiring someone who can help.

There’s plenty of tutorials available online and on YouTube that will teach you how to make your own game art. We have a few helpful tutorials on making graphics also. If you have the budget you can buy graphics or hire an outsourcer from sites like Upwork or Freelancer.

#3 – Intuitive Experience

Everything in your game, from the UI screens to the gameplay itself, should be extremely intuitive for the player. People should be able to completely understand how to play your game from just seeing a video, and anyone you hand your game too, even children should immediately understand how to play it. This can be achieved a few different ways: You can have a very simple game in the style of Ketchapp, Nanovation or Fortafy, or you can have a really great tutorial like you would see in popular top grossing games such as Candy Crush and Clash of Clans.

Let’s quickly break down both of these methods …

The first method to creating an intuitive experience is to just make a simple game. Simple games have been dominating the charts since casual gaming became the norm. Many of the top current games are simple based tapping style games. Not only is this type of game popular among players, but it is also easy to pick-up. Instructions are usually minimal.

The Magic Formula … for Publishers

Simple style games with unique gameplay are also BIG with publishers like Ketchapp and Nanovation. Stack, Hop, ZigZag, Gyrometry, Brain Breaker, Endless Sky, and the Line Zen are good examples of some of the successful games that they’ve published. But here’s the interesting thing, each of these games are not only intuitive but they all have unique gameplay based on proven game mechanic, plus amazing graphics. There’s definitely a magic formula in the works here.

The second route that you can take is to add a tutorial. Not just any tutorial will do, it has to be a good game tutorial. A good game tutorial is always short, sweet with the intent to excite. Your tutorial will be a guide to all first-time players. So you need to nail it, right off the bat. You have a limited amount of time to show players how to play your game before they completely lose interest. Try to keep your tutorial short and to the point. Remember, your goal is to teach the player what to do. A good tutorial should explain the controls, quickly cover the most important or relevant game mechanics in text and also provide a visual display of how the game is played. The visual display can be in still screenshot or interactive tutorial similar to Candy Crush.

clash of clans tutorialGame Tutorials 101

If your game is more involved and keeping it short, isn’t that simple. Try to show them how to do the bare minimum to help them get started. And then as the game mechanics change introduce another short tutorial. Always try to shorten the tutorial when you can or break it up into smaller segments to appear throughout the game.

It’s also important to not come off rude or patronizing in your tutorial text. Avoid sarcasm and be careful with your wording. Keep your players’ demographic in mind when you’re creating your tutorial. Unless your game is actually geared towards a younger demographic, avoid using phrases that you would with a child such as, ‘Good Job.’

A good game tutorial should also excite. You want your players to be excited to play your game. It’s important to showcase your game a little bit during the tutorial. Think about what makes your game unique and cool and try to incorporate a sneak peek of that into the tutorial. This could be as simple as using an unlockable character or interesting power-up in the in-game tutorial to explain how the game works. Make your tutorial fun!

#4 – Viral Potential

Publishers want games with viral potential. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “How do I make a game with viral potential?” Well, it’s easier than you may think. All you need is an ‘it factor’ or ‘wow’ feature that’s worth sharing for your game to have real viral potential. Anything can possibly go viral if it’s able to spark enough interest. This is yet another reason why having unique gameplay and great graphics in your game is so important.

Your game’s ‘wow factor’ can be a number of different things. Maybe your game has stunning graphics, cool special effects, creative unlockable characters, humorous sound effects, or a killer soundtrack that’s worth tweeting about. A might could also have virality if it has a hard-to-beat level that players find fun but extremely challenging.

Remember, they’re not looking for a game that’s gone viral, just one with potential. Your game should have sharing options built in, and a gameplay style that encourages sharing. If you can create one of those games that are hard to put down, then people will most likely want to share that experience with their friends.

What You Need To Go Viral

Focus on the experience, and try to build something that is more than just a “pick up and play game” … create something that gives a lasting feeling to the end user. Have a game that evokes an emotional response. Have a game that has a relatable character, a deep atmosphere, or perfectly balanced gameplay that drives people mad as they try to get to the next level. Evoke emotion and people will share.

Dong Nguyen’s Flappy Bird is a perfect example of how a game can evoke enough emotion to go viral. The simple-tap based arcade game was so challenging that players began to tweet and post about their frustrations on social media platforms. The game quickly went viral. People who had never heard of the game started to play the game out of curiosity. Within a week of going viral, Flappy Bird hit #1 in the charts held the position for 22 consecutive days.

#5 – High Replay Value

Replay value also called retention, has become the single most important factor to Publishers the past year. All publishers we talk to want to sign games that have a crazy high replay value, as this has a direct effect on two very important parts of their business:

  1. The success of their game
  2. The success of their future marketing efforts

The more people play your game, the more it will monetize. They’ll make more in-app purchases and see more ads. Also, this vastly improves the publishers marketing ability, because these active users will see the next game the publisher is releasing when they advertise the next game. This is the lifeblood for many publishers and will ensure the growth of their company. You want to always help facilitate that in any way possible!

Adding Replay Value

If you want to get published, create a game with a high replay value. To do this, first, you need to review and analyze your game. Then ask yourself, “If I was a player, why would I continue to play this?” If you can’t come up with a compelling enough response, then you’re missing that ‘replayability factor.’

Your game’s retention can be improved by increasing the overall challenge or through implementing a better reward system. Try adding different modes with increasingly higher levels of difficulty. If your gameplay is already challenging enough, integrating a high score tracker can help boost replay value also. Players enjoy competing against their friends’ scores and their own, especially if the game is fun to play.

Crossy Road

Another option to the road to higher player retention is adding or improving upon the reward system. Hipster Whale’s Crossy Road is a great example of this. The game’s endless bonus rewards for continuing to play and unlockable characters encourages players to stick around and keep on playing. Adding a variety of interesting unlockable characters that players will want is a sure-fire way to add replay value to your game.

Publishers want games that have unique gameplay, amazing graphics that’s intuitive with viral potential and a high replay value. Make your game with all five of these key features in mind and getting published will be a breeze.

Color Switch Interview

How to Make a Hit Game in One Week

By | Game Business Blog | 8 Comments

Believe it or not, making a hit game doesn’t have to take years. David Reichelt famously created Color Switch in just a few hours. Within one week, he had completed all the levels and finished the game. This was the version that hit #1 in the App Store. It was ranked #1 in not only the games category but also #1 in the All Apps category in over 50 different countries. The game went on to break the mobile record for holding the number one spot for the most consecutive days in a row, an impressive 27 days.

Currently, Color Switch is still in the Top 100 and has reached its biggest milestone to-date, amassing over 150,000,000 downloads worldwide.

In the exclusive Color Switch Interview, David discusses exactly how it was done, let’s dissect it here.

Spawning Ideas

First David had to come up with an idea. As we often urge developers to do here at Buildbox, he started researching top performing games and trends. Then he created a list of different inspirations. Games on his inspiration list for Color Switch included Flite, Dot Up, Doodle Jump and Bounce. Reichelt also investigated any games that he found where the character was moving up the screen or that had colors or shapes as their theme. He even jotted down the Google icon that features a color-changing ball when you open up GMAIL, on his list as inspiration.

Game Inspiration (1)

Once David had done his research and made a long list of inspirations, he needed to spawn some new ideas. He did this by using different tools from the book called Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko. In the book, Michalko breaks down several different Thinkertoys, which are creative techniques that show you how to get ideas.

The SCAMPER method from the book Thinkertoys is what David uses to come up game ideas. SCAMPER is an acronym for a checklist of idea triggering questions that you can ask yourself in order to transform any product into something completely new. Buildbox founder, Trey Smith, refers to this method in the interview as the modeled and improved version of ‘Model and Improve.’

Although similar to the ‘Model and Improve’ method, Michalko’s SCAMPER takes things much further, with 9 specific techniques that you can apply to help totally reinvent any concept.

Let’s take a closer look at this method in-depth:

S – Substitute something

C – Combine it with something else

A – Adapt something to it

M – Modify or Magnify it

P – Put it to some other use

E – Eliminate something

R – Reverse or Rearrange it

Each letter represents a set of questions that you need to ask yourself to help new ideas emerge. The first technique is substitution. This experimental approach involves substituting one thing with another repeatedly until you find an idea you like. When you’re applying this technique to game creation, you’re looking at one of the games on your inspiration list and brainstorming which feature or theme could be substituted. What else could you do instead? Maybe change the rules, switch out the theme, power-ups or main character with something different. The second technique is combining. Think of ways to combine or merge one idea with another to transform it into a completely new concept. A lot of these techniques are in-depth laser focused ways to model and improve which is key for creating a hit game.

There’s a quote that goes, “Good artists copy, and great artists steal.” What this quote means is that although you may not have been the first to do it, you executed it so well (modeled and improved) that everyone thinks it’s something original and yours. This quote summarizes the third technique which is adapt. When you’re applying this method you must ask yourself what features could be adapted. What else is out there that’s similar that would work well for this too? In terms of games, this could be a cool backdrop or a special effect that particularly stands out.

Make it Better

Just about anything can be modified. The fourth technique is all about brainstorming possible changes. Look for aspects that you could change in the game to make it better. Does it have a boring interface? Perhaps you could modify it with animations, interactive buttons or sounds. Magnify is also part of this technique. Think about what you can do to magnify or add to your idea. What can be extended or used to give it additional value? Let’s say, for example, a game that inspires you has very subtle sound effects or minimal music. In your game, you might want to add a custom soundtrack that compliments the game and louder sounds to draw more interest.

The goal of the sixth technique is to find other uses for an idea. Ask yourself, what could I make from this? Try to think of new ways to use certain game aspects or features. For the seventh technique, ‘Less is more.’ In this step you must examine what you have so far and ask yourself, what could I eliminate? Is it anything that is redundant, cluttering up your interface or just plain not necessary? If so, don’t be afraid to eliminate it. You can always save it for another game idea.

Think Outside-the-Box

The eighth technique is a really fascinating one. It’s the reversal principle which requires you to brainstorm different ways to mix things up. Think of ways to add the unexpected to your game’s gameplay. Perhaps you could make the ball or character in your game go in the opposite direction or up instead of down and vice versa. An awesome example of this is the 2008 indie game called Braid. Designer Jonathan Blow added an unusual game element that gave players the unlimited ability to reverse time and rewind actions in spite of dying. He may not have been practicing the SCAMPER method like Reichelt when he came up with the game concept, but he was definitely thinking outside-the-box. And that’s the whole point of this technique, to shake things up.

Old Ideas into New Ones 

Combining isn’t the only sure-fire method to transforming old ideas into new ones. You can also rearrange concepts to turn one thing into something entirely different. In the ninth and final technique of SCAMPER, you have to conjure up new arrangements. This involves thinking of different layouts, sequences, patterns and components that could be interchanged.

As he mentions in his sit-down with Trey, it’s not about how to build a hit game. You have to be more focused than that. With these methods, being focused is key for achieving the best results. You have to be precise in what you want to accomplish and execute. Reichelt made his goal, ‘How do I build a game that you tap on the screen and the character goes up, that’s different.’ He did his research, dug deep, captured as many ideas as he could and jotted down every possible inspiration that caught his eye. Then he studied those games and model and improved using the SCAMPER technique from Michael Michalko’s book until he spawned a great game idea that he wanted to pursue.

Creating the Game

David started with a preset in Buildbox and started playing around with different ideas. He took the concept of the game Flite, with an attribute of an object opening up and started brainstorming. Using the third technique in SCAMPER (Adapt or Add), he asked himself, “What can I add to this idea to make it even better?” His answer to this was, “How about multiple openings?” Then he came up with the idea of also adding different colors. The ideas just kept flowing. As the saying goes, ‘the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.’ Reichelt did just that, using the SCAMPER technique.

In Just 10 Minutes …

It only took him about 20 minutes to whip up some basic circle shapes to use as graphics in his game. After he dragged and dropped the art into Buildbox, David made 3-4 adjustments to the settings in the presets. 10 minutes later, Color Switch was born.

“When I thought of the idea for Color Switch, 30 minutes later I had a demo in the software,” stated Reichelt.

To make a game that’s successful, all you need is a good idea and the right tools. Reichelt had both. He was able to spawn great game ideas by using Michael Michalko’s techniques. He was also able to quickly create an early working prototype of his game in just 30 minutes due to Buildbox’s rapid development features and ease of use. Both were key factors in his success.

Color Switch

Getting It Released

Once Reichelt had a completed his game, he decided to seek feedback. When you’re trying to make a game, seeking feedback before release is important to do. Feedback gives you additional insight on not only how your game is perceived by others but also on your players’ overall experience. It’s a critical tool to use to help improve your game’s features and performance.

David wanted feedback on his game and what could be improved. He also knew he wanted to go the publisher route with his game but wasn’t sure the best way to go about it. So, he posted on the official Buildbox forums and asked, “Does anyone know any publishers or anyone I could talk to I think I made an A+ game.” The first to respond to his post was an indie developer, Florian Porkert (creator of the hit, Ball Jump). He shared some helpful tips on color palettes for Reichelt to try. Then another guy on the forum referred him to Zeb Jaffer, the Co-founder of Fortafy Games.

Pitching to Publishers

When he pitched his game to Zeb from Fortafy, he sent him a 30 second gameplay trailer of his game. This is important to do whenever you’re pitching to any publishers. Screenshots don’t give people a good feel for your game. Trailers are great visual tools to use to give publishers a better understanding of your game and it’s potential. The team at Fortafy was impressed after seeing Reichelt’s game trailer and signed him. In just a week after signing with Fortafy Games, Color Switch had hit 1M downloads.

In our last article, called ‘10 Things Indie Game Developers Should Know’, we mention the importance of networking for indie developers. Similar to the way David was able to find answers and connections via the forums, the gaming community is one the richest resources developer have at their disposal. Being an active part of the gaming community to learn and network is key. Forums are an excellent platform to use to find valuable feedback on your game. It’s also good to use for networking and to help build potential relationships. Due to David being active in the gaming community, he was able to find feedback to better his game, plus several important connections which opened up opportunities that ultimately led to his success.

The Secret …

During his interview with Buildbox founder, Trey Smith, Reichelt was asked, ‘What piece of advice he’d give to anyone wanting to create an amazing game?’ Instead of just one, David decided to share three pieces of advice that he believes are essential to creating a hit game. You’ll have to check out the full interview to hear all of them, but for now, I’d like to share with you one little tidbit of advice that he mentions in the interview. Reichelt had created over 40 different games that had failed before he found success with Color Switch. “Too many people quit when they get to a certain number of failures. And that’s a mistake,” he states. His advice to developers is, “You have to L.A.F. throughout everything, which is an acronym for Learn, Apply, Fail. And repeat until you reach success”, said Reichelt.

Color Switch Success

His success was very systematic. He studied and applied many different techniques and tools to create his hit game. It’s important to study success so you can create your own versions of it. Analyzing popular games can give you a road-map to how it was built, monetized, and marketed. This type of research is key. When you reverse engineer similar games that are doing well, you’re able to find out what they’re doing that’s working and emulate that. This is the secret to making a hit game.

Modeling and improving will help you make a game that is unique. Reichelt found different ways to model and improve his game concepts using the techniques in the book Thinkertoys. He was able to use Buildbox’s rapid development to quickly create his game. David networked through forums and made the right connections that helped his game gain massive exposure.

You probably won’t be able to copy the exact steps he used, but they can definitely lay the groundwork for your next release … what did David do that you are not?

10 things indie developer should know

10 Things Every Indie Game Developer Should Know

By | Game Business Blog | 21 Comments

Indie games are a great mix of passion and business. Unlike the more corporate versions of the gaming world, these guys and girls strive to create something truly unique, with their own flavor, and hopefully something that resonates with audiences worldwide.

Here at Buildbox, we’ve had the opportunity to work with many indie developers, and here’s what we’ve learned over the years.

1. You must be part of the community

If you are having a hard time coming up with game ideas, then most likely this is the problem. You are probably not that involved in the indie game scene. Being active in the gaming community can really help you in more ways than one. For instance, it opens up the floodgates for brainstorming new ideas. When you’re playing new games, browsing the message boards and staying on top of the latest trends, ideas will naturally come more easily to you. As the great, Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” The more involved you are in the indie scene the easier it will be to connect different ‘ideas’ and come up with a concept that’s unique.

Another reason to get involved is to learn. The gaming community is one of the biggest resources out there for an indie developer. You can learn almost anything. Ask questions and gain valuable feedback from your peers and fans. And you can also network, building relationships or opportunities for potential collaborations later down the line.

A simple way to get started is by actually playing indie games. If you haven’t played Limbo, Stardew Valley, Monument Valley, and at least heard of Kerbal Space Program, then you need to start here. Each of these games is notable Indies and feature interesting gameplay, art style, and themes. Also, join the Indie Games subreddit and try out some new innovative games on Steam, iOS, and Android.

Indie Games to Play

But of course, don’t just stop at gaming. Really get involved with the scene. Start reading online publications like Gamasutra and Indiegames.com. We recommend downloading an RSS feed reader app or extension, to help easily keep track of the latest game news. Feedly, Pocket or Flipboard are all great options. Add some of the top game development and industry news sites, and some interesting indie developer blogs to your RSS feed app. Get active on the forums as well. They are good places for learning about game design, best tools or tips to use and more. Try to turn playing, reading and browsing forums into part of your regular routine.

2. Research is absolutely key

Even if you are actively in the scene, you will still need to research before finalizing your new game idea. Always do your research. As an indie developer, it’s important to know what games are performing well on the charts, in which categories, and why. Knowing what’s already working will help lead you in the right direction. If you create the type of game that players are actively searching for, it’ll dramatically increase your odds for success.

To begin the research process, select the App Store of your preferred platform to analyze. Examine all of the games in the same category that you want to make your game. Keep an eye out for titles that appear to be from indie developers and jot them down. Analyze the various themes and trends that you notice. Write down any type that you happen to see repeatedly. Once you have a list of games that have sparked your curiosity. Download each one to further investigate. The goal is to gain deeper insight on exactly what they’re doing that’s working. So you need to go beyond simply playing the game and ‘reverse engineer’ it. This technique is extremely helpful when conducting game research.

 

App StoreTo start, simply grab a notepad to record all of your findings and open up the game. Pay close attention to the menu screen layout, button positions, and features. Make note of anything that stands out to you. See if you can find that ‘fun factor’ about the game that players seem to enjoy. Does it have a reward system, unlockable characters or cool gameplay concept? Also, make note of any monetization methods that it uses including Ads or banner placements.

You can even break down this research into a few sections like gameplay, art style, and monetization. Each of these will follow different patterns and trends, and your goal will be to create a game that is currently trending upwards. For example, you’ll see that premium-priced games are still popular on Steam, but not as much on iOS. You’ll also notice that dark background games like Limbo and Twisted Shadow Planet aren’t as common now, so this could be something that is trending downwards. For further analysis on patterns and trends, you can use online research tools like AppAnnie, SensorTower and Google Trends.

3. Multiple concepts are great for early stages

While we all have that “one great idea”, we strongly advise people to come up with at least three concepts before starting to break ground on their new indie game. Why at least three, you ask? — Because options are a good thing. Brainstorming multiple concepts, especially in the early stages will help you nail down your core game concept more quickly. It’s also a smart strategy to use for creative thinking. You might come up with an idea that is just infinitely better. Maybe, you have a cool pixel art theme idea that you can build on by incorporating some of the features from one of your other ideas. The more options you have to pick and choose from the better.

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Also, some games are harder to make than others, so you must balance risk vs feasibility. Ask yourself, “Can I really do this?” Consider your skill level, tools, resources, and time to help determine whether it’s actually worth pursuing. Remember, there’s risk in everything that you do, so choose an idea that is attainable for your skill set and resources. You want to pick a game idea that is unique but at the same time is something that you can make without any major obstacles. Whether it’s via coding, using a codeless software, or hiring a programmer your game concept must be doable. Avoid taking on more than you can handle. Nothing is worse than discovering too late, that your grand idea, just isn’t going to work. Take your time to weigh your options.

Trends are constantly changing. So some ideas might be ‘trending’ more than others. Depending on the type of game that you’re thinking of making you might need to change up your concept. Having multiple ideas on the sideline to choose from can help. Before you decide on a game idea run all three ideas by friends and family to get their feedback as well!

4. Your art is as important as your gameplay

Every successful indie game has a great stylish look. It’s one of the things that separates indie games from other types of games (like flash games, normally illustrated style games, and commercial games.) Having great artwork is important. Whether it’s a minimalist style like Geometry Dash, pixel based like Terraria or a cute style like Cuphead the art is just as vital as the gameplay. These titles are all great examples of this. Each of them has interesting gameplay but equally captivating art. This is essential. To be successful as an indie developer you can’t make your game’s artwork just an afterthought.

Indie Game Art Styles

The art style is the first impression, and it’s important to nail that. If they don’t see something that is enticing, they will NOT give your game a chance. The art in your game is much more than simply what you see as you play the game. It’s also the icon and screenshots. All of these elements help to sell your game.

Try to make your artwork cohesive with your gameplay. It should accurately set the mood for your game. If you’re creating an action based game, your artwork might be more colorful and full of energy, for example. While a horror based game would have darker tones, colors, and a more ominous atmosphere. The art sets the mood, tells a story and makes it all come alive. In order to truly captivate players, good quality art is a must-have. Always remember that it is just as important as the gameplay mechanics.

5. Make your game unique, but familiar!

For success, create a game that is unique but still has the same familiar characteristics that players enjoy. The best way to do this is to study similar games and look for ways to model and improve. Buildbox founder, Trey Smith, has a mantra about Model and Improve that he believes all developers should follow. “Every game that you put out should have something unique or different about it, even if it’s just a small tweak,” says Smith.

When you practice the model and improve technique never copy, clone or reskin. Just take a concept or style, breakdown the elements, and come up with new ways to improve on each feature. The key is to add something special to it. Always strive to make your version of the game different. Even if it’s just a minor tweak to the game’s physics like increasing the speed, try to make improvements wherever possible. When you successfully accomplish this, you’ll have a completely new game that’s better than the original concept.

Modeling and improving is the secret technique that most of the top successful game developers and even entrepreneurs practice.

6. Your time is extremely valuable

Time is as important as money when creating a game. In fact, your time IS money. Time is a valuable resource. Your time could be spent doing anything in the world, so don’t waste it. Remember when you’re making games, you’re creating a product. It’s a business and managing your time well is critical for success. If you’re like many indie developers than you’re part-time and probably working a full-time job during the week. If this is you than the amount of time that you have to devote to game creation is limited. Getting sidetracked or overwhelmed can be a huge setback, costing you valuable time and money. To avoid this, it’s important to have a clear-cut plan and schedule before you start the development process. Take some time to draw out a solid plan. Create a schedule that works best for you as an indie developer.

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There are a few simple tips to follow when you’re doing this. First, examine your current schedule. Decide how many hours or days you want to dedicate to focusing on your project. Then list the tasks that need to be completed and schedule them by priority. Try not to overload your schedule. Make realistic deadlines. Also, add in time to relax and pencil in breaks to avoid burnout. A great rule to follow is to focus primarily on what you can do and outsource the rest. So, if you have neither the extra time nor artistic talent to create game art, instead of wasting hours or days trying to figure it out, buy the art or hire someone to make it for you. Concentrate on the tasks that you know you can complete and outsource the remaining.

Also, the biggest reason a game bombs is not because people don’t like it … but because it’s never released! There are more unreleased games in eternal development than the ones that get published.

7. Don’t fall victim to the unfinished monster

Most games that people start working on do not get released. In fact, for many indie developers, their first game is the hardest to make. It’s easy to fall victim to the ‘unfinished monster’ and end up abandoning a game completely. Don’t let this happen to you. Remember, your first game is more of a learning experience than anything else. With each game create you’ll become a better developer and more skilled. Avoid putting unrealistic expectations on yourself or your game when you’re just starting out.

Like the famous Nike slogan, “Just Do It!” The secret to getting things done is to just do it. You’ll learn as you go. No game is ever perfect, especially if it’s your first one. There will be mistakes, weird bugs, and things that could be greatly improved. But you’ll never get to the point that you want to if you never finish your first game. Being overly ambitious and trying to create a complex game with every possible feature will only result in you becoming overwhelmed and eventually giving up on your game altogether.

Just Do ItTo make sure you don’t fall victim to this early demise, focus on creating games that are easily manageable by your team. Try to start small. Remember you’re still learning how to conquer the game business. So, avoid going over budget and stay organized. Use team management apps like Teambox, Dropbox, Slack, Basecamp, or Trello to help keep your team focused and on track.

If it’s just you, then make sure you’re using a development platform that is known for being rapid (*cough* Buildbox *cough*) and also keep the game simple so it can be completed in a timely manner by a single person. Simple games are excellent for beginners. It’s a great starting point because those type of games seldom requires a lot of resources or time to create.

And remember, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to work on a game forever for it to be good! David Reichelt created Color Switch in only a week!

“When I thought of the idea for Color Switch, 30 minutes later I had a demo in the software”, stated Reichelt.

8. When you’re done, you are not done!

We have a rule here at Buildbox games: The game is not ready to release until we hate it. Why? Because it’s very hard to make a TRULY polished game. A game that looks, plays and feels fantastic. A game that doesn’t show any bugs, clipping or bad level design. And by the time you’ve done this … by the time you’ve made it perfect (or as close to it as you can) … it’s nearly impossible to like the game at that point. And that is when we know it’s ready.

Making sure your game is polished is a really important final step to take before releasing your game into the world. The objective is to really look over the details of your game and search for any areas that are in need of improvement. During the polishing phase, it’s critical that you check and make sure your art style is consistent. Having an inconsistent design is an easy and very noticeable mistake to make. Check to ensure that all of your game’s graphics and screens appear to be cohesive. You want to avoid having conflicting art styles within your game. Look for any signs of slowness in your game’s overall performance especially with loading screens and animation transitions.

Testing is another critical step to ensuring that your game is polished. Always test your game with multiple people who can judge it objectively. Get play testers, have friends and family members test it out and give feedback. When you’re doing this, be sure to ask everyone to be as brutally honest as possible. You’re searching for flaws, not praise (although, a little bit now and then won’t hurt). Try to get as much honest feedback as you can. Then set aside some time to make the necessary tweaks.

Feedback

9. To solo or not to solo?

As an indie developer, there’s really only two routes that you can take – releasing your game solo or working with a publisher. Each of these options has their share of pros and cons. When you release your own game you have total control of every aspect of your game and its marketing efforts. The downside to this is that you’re on your own. It’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to promote your game. Getting your game noticed can be a lot of hard work but it’s doable. In the article titled ASO is Dead, Buildbox founder, Trey Smith, shares some of the top strategies that are currently working right now in the mobile market.

If you decide not to do it on your own, then you have to go the publisher route. This is the option that we use the most to help get traffic to our games. When you work with a publisher they handle all of the marketing efforts for your game. The biggest benefit to using a publisher is not having to stress out or worry about how you’re going to promote your game and get it noticed. You only have to focus on the creating your game. However, the downside to getting published is that you have to meet and follow their guidelines. Remember every publisher differs in how they do things.

10. Market yourself like a champ

If you do go at it alone, then you really want to focus on the feature teams for Steam, Apple or Android. Luckily, they all really like indie games so it’s very possible. The key here is to really start working the indie media. It’s a much smaller scene than the regular gaming world, so the best way to do this is to let people follow along with your development. Post development screenshots on touch arcade and your Facebook. Build a community and pitch your development story to indie game journalists. Make videos, put them on YouTube, and share them with video game journalists. Use Kickstarter solely for the marketing advantages. Heck, you can even start a blog and walk people through the full development cycle like Notch did with Minecraft and post about it on Reddit. It worked out pretty well for him ;)

The key here is to start very early if you want to do the marketing yourself without a publisher. Your goal should be to build a community that is excited about the release of your game way before it’s actually available. You really can’t start too early.

I hope this helps you with your indie game creation, be sure to share any additional tips you might have with us in the comments section below!

'Make Isometric Games'

How to Make Isometric Games

By | Game Business Blog | 5 Comments

In our new ‘How to make isometric games’ video series, you’ll learn how to build your own 2.5D style game with Buildbox. You don’t need to create 3D graphics, and in fact, you won’t need any game art at all. We’re going to show you step-by-step how to start from the beginning.  You’ll see how to create isometric game art from scratch using free vector graphics tools available online.

In this series, led by instructor Heath Close (a professional game developer and co-founder of MindCarve Studios), we’ll make a simple 2.5d jumper game using the ISO Jump preset in Buildbox.

There’s no prior coding, design, or technical skills required for this course. All you need is Buildbox. ;)

This course, called ‘How to Make 2D Isometric Games’,  is broken down into three in-depth tutorials covering:

  • What is Isometric Art?
  • How to Make Your Own Isometric Game Art and the Tools to Use?
  • How to Make an Isometric Game in Buildbox?

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Building Isometric Games in Buildbox

Part 1 – What Is Isometric Art?

In the first video of this 3-part tutorial series, led by instructor, Heath Close, you’ll learn all about isometrics, how they’re created and why developers use them in games. You’ll then learn where the word comes from, its origins and some interesting terminology commonly used when working with isometric art.

There’s also a few fun facts included in the lesson, just for those trivia buffs out there.

In this tutorial, we’ll also closely examine what makes an image isometric. You’ll learn the most common angle measurements necessary to create them. Plus, you’ll gain an overall better understanding of isometrics and how they’re used:

 

Part 2 – How Do I Make Isometric Art?

In the second video of our Building Isometric Games series, you’ll learn step-by-step how to make your own isometric game art. We’ll also take a look at two different program options for making isometric art, discuss their features, and walk you through a complete isometric game art tutorial.

The first tool is the free open source 2D vector graphics program called Inkscape. Since it’s completely free to use, the lesson will primarily be focused on Inkscape. The program is available for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

The second tool is called Hexels 2. It’s a 2D grid-based painting tool for creating game art. Hexel 2 is a paid tool, however, they do have a free 14-day trial available for both Windows & Mac that you can try. This program is slightly more advanced but both are great options for making isometric art.

In this tutorial you’ll learn how to download the programs, setting up your project’s properties and settings. How to use the pen tool, add layers, create a platform for your character to run on and much more:

Part 3 – How Do I Make an Isometric Game in Buildbox?

In the third and final video in our tutorial on Building Isometric Games, you’ll finally learn how to make an isometric game within Buildbox. We’ll walk you through the process of exporting your game art from Inkscape, which we made in the previous video. Then you’ll learn how to use the creator tool to start quickly building out levels in your isometric game.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to correctly set up your collision shapes, edit animations, get the right scene length, and add advanced character moves and more. And we’ll also reveal some helpful sizing and collision guide tips.

By the end of this tutorial you’ll be able to create your own isometric games like a Pro:

 

NOTE: If you’re new to using Buildbox be sure to check out the ‘Make Your Own Game’ series also led by instructor, Heath Close. It’s a 10-part video course on making games in Buildbox that we highly recommend for beginners to really learn the ins and outs of the software.

appstoreoptimizationisdead

App Store Optimization Is Dead

By | Game Business Blog | 20 Comments

We’ve seen the app store go through a lot of changes over the years, but this could be the biggest one.  I really didn’t think there would be a day when I would make a post like this, but I’ve been researching, analyzing, and talking to successful developers… so I’m going to come out and say it.  App Store Optimization (ASO) is dead.

To create any successful business you need two things:  traffic and conversions.  This is true regardless if you’re a SAAS company like Buildbox, a car company like Tesla or if you make mobile games.  In theory, conversions are pretty simple.  You have to have a great product and some system to convert that product into dollars.  With mobile games, this has always been either a premium or freemium business model.  Either charge the money up front, or make money with ads and in app purchases.  Pretty simple, but the traffic side of the business?  Not simple at all.

When I started in 2010, there wasn’t a lot of competition in the app store.  My first game, which was OK, but not amazing, got featured by Apple.  If you got featured on Touch Arcade, you would be in the Top 100 games.  I could email my newsletter list and break the Top 100 of a game category.  Now, that might seem like the “golden years”, but that’s not really true.  While it was easier to rank, it was also a LOT less people on mobile devices.  This year, Apple announced it had sold 1 billion iPhones.  Not only that, including iPad, they have over 1 billion different devices currently active.  That is insane. To put that in perspective, in 2010 when I started there were only 42 million iPhones sold.

So, was it easier to rank in 2010 than 2016?  Yes, but your app was seen by 4% as many people.  Easier launches, much less top side.  This is one reason we’ve generated more revenue in the past 18 months than we have the previous 4 years. The other reason is, the traffic model…

App Traffic

Now let’s discuss traffic, because this is the real lifeblood of any business, and it’s always been sketchy when it comes to apps.  There has often been some sort of short lived “secret” that people would figure out and run as hard as possible until it quit working, and typically this worked around ASO.

Let me give you some examples:

In 2010, people got traffic from Apple features or outside sources like press mentions or email lists.  Again, it was easy to rank then, but less upside because of so few people on mobile devices.

In 2012, people started figuring out App Store Optimization (ASO).  This started earlier, and used to be called App Store SEO, but this is around the time it really took off.  If you’re not familiar, ASO is simply showing up in search results in the app store.

If you can figure out how to rank #1 for “running game”, then your running game is going to get a lot of downloads. Around this time is when people started figuring out tricks. For example, we found out that for a short while Apple was ranking the developer’s company name higher than anything else.  If you made a company called “Best Game, Inc”, then you would rank #1 for the extremely competitive keyword “best game”.  We also found out if you named your app a single name with a period after it, that you would rank #1.  I had a game called “Games.” and another one called “Music.” and ranked #1 for both terms.  To be clear, I didn’t make these up, as a community we were all figuring it out and sharing.  The problem is, it turned into a game of cat and mouse.  None of these tricks work anymore and Apple was constantly trying to shut down the loopholes it created.  They took this very far the past few years making insane changes to the way search works on iPhone.

What App Search Looked Like When ASO Wasn't Dead

In 2016, Apple continued to make changes until they completely killed App Store Optimization as a business model.  At the time of this writing, I do not personally know a single person who is significantly growing a mobile game business based on ASO.  Even the people who had legacy rankings (i.e. they ranked high for terms in 2012) have slipped down the search results.  This proposed a major problem for developers.  App Store Optimization is how I got my first 10,000,000 downloads, and was the de facto way for indie entrepreneurs to make it in the game market.

Now we’re in 2017.  This is a new era, and as typical in these situations, a few other options have risen up to take place of the falling model.  Yes, App Store Optimization is dead.  It’s a crowded market that now gives the games on top even more leverage, but this does not mean it’s the end for the indie game owner.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  I’m happy to say our business is growing faster than ever and the new model that has replaced ASO for us is here to stay.  It’s actually consistent, which App Store Optimization never was for us.

Before I explain exactly what we’re doing, let me show you every option that is currently working for people right now.

What Works Now

There are a few things that work right now in the mobile market.  Some are harder than others, but I’ll list them all out below, then explain what we’re doing (as well as our most successful customers).

Social Influencers

We’ve seen a lot of people doing well by either hiring or partnering with social influencers.  Obviously there are the really big deals done with Kim Kardashian, but this has also worked out on a smaller scale.  We’ve seen people partnering with Vine (RIP) stars, Instagram famous people and more.  It’s a good approach if you have a big following, are great at networking or don’t mind spending some money to promote your game.

App Store Feature

This is a tough one to base your business on, but I do know one person, who is not a publisher, who does it.  He literally has built a business solely based on getting featured.  The key here is to first meet someone from the editorial or business development team, and then make sure to add as many new features to your game as possible, and create polished products. Even then though, it’s a bit of a lottery.  If you can somehow make yourself desirable – and have Apple or Google chasing after you – then you have a real strong shot at getting lots of features… but again, easier said than done.

Buying Installs

Buying installs is a huge market dominated by big players like MZ, makers of Game of War, and King, makers of Candy Crush. Because this upper echelon of developer has nearly unlimited financial resources, it’s made purchasing traffic extremely expensive for game developers.  I’ve heard you can gain chart position buying Facebook ads for some more obscure non-game app types because they are less competitive, but as a general rule, it’s not easy at all to get profitable buying installs on arcade games.  The one exception I often see is the Piano Tiles which is now owned by the Chinese company, Cheetah Mobile.  I haven’t quite figured out their strategy yet, but they often advertise what seems like a pretty simple game.  Probably worth investigating ;)

Getting Published

The final option you have to get traffic is also the most consistent one.  The only other option that might match it in consistency is partnering with a social influencer, but that largely depends on the outside success of the influencer themselves overtime.

Regardless, probably at no surprise to anyone, getting published is our option of choice to get traffic to our games.  The reason we pick this over other models is because:

  1. Diversification – You’re not locked down to one single source (Apple Feature) or the monetary value of a market (buying installs).  Just like every other major media market, there are many publishers to choose from and the list is only growing.
  2. Creation Guidance – We create games by analyzing what is working for publishers.  This vastly helps us decide what to create, and ensures that we have at least a decent shot of the game doing well (we don’t always hit home runs, but we almost always make it on base).  If you get featured, partner with a celebrity or buy installs, you are pretty much on your own.  There is no roadmap to follow or guidance on what you should make.
  3. Ease of use – Not having to worry at all about the marketing has been a huge stress relief on our company.  I used to stay up all night trying to figure out the latest ASO hack when we would get delisted.  Now we just focus on one thing:  Making good games.

Most importantly, it’s been the most consistent way to grow a game business that I have ever seen.  This is how every Buildbox customer who is crushing it has dominated the App Store.  In fact, 70% of the games on our All Star list were published.

'Making Games'

Making Games with Model and Improve

By | Game Business Blog | 5 Comments

What’s the secret to making games? How did some of the mega apps like Angry Birds, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush and Minecraft climb their way to the top? Was it through raw innovation or blind luck?

The answer might be surprising. They did what every major company from Hollywood movie studios to Ford Motor Company has done, they modeled and improved.

How to Model & Improve

The concept behind model and improve is very simple. A company first does research and identifies a very successful previous product in a related market. After studying the product, they figure out what they can improve and bring this new innovative product to market.

For example, did you know that amazon.com was not the first book store on the internet? The first online book store was actually named Book Stacks Unlimited and owned the domain books.com. In the early days of the internet they had 500,000 books for sale and were delivering to hundreds of thousands to people around the globe each month. They were first successful e-commerce website ever launched.

Amazon came along and decided now that the e-commerce was a proven market, they could beat Book Stacks Unlimited by modeling and improving. Not only did they offer a larger variety of books by brokering with publishers (Book Stacks was stocking every book sold where Amazon was not), they also implemented many never before seen innovations including suggestions feature based on purchases, one click checkout options and faster delivery service.

Even more interesting, Jeff Bezos’ goal from the beginning was to create a store that sold everything “from a to z”, but he knew the path to success was to model what was already working and first conquer a small niche before branching out. Their growth was astounding and within 2 years they became the largest e-commerce site on the planet and today they generate more revenue than Google.

If you dig deep, you’ll start seeing this trend in nearly every successful company ever built:

  • Walmart wasn’t the first big box store, Meijer pioneered the superstore concept more than 20 years before Walmart opened their first super-center.
  • The Graphical User Interface (GUI) concept, made famous by Microsoft Windows was originally created by Xerox.
  • Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, band-aids didn’t create the first band-aid, and Kleenex didn’t invent the tissue paper.

You would be hard pressed to find a popular product that didn’t supersede something less successful, but it should be noted, there is a huge difference between modeling and cloning. We do not endorse or encourage cloning of other people’s products in any way. With modeling and improving, you always want to try and improve what has already proven to be successful. Whether you’re launching a new product or making games, this method works. Using the model and improve technique when you’re making games will give you an advantage over other apps. This method is exactly what all four of the most well-known games on the app store did.

'making games that are popular'

Angry Birds

Angry Birds sparked a global phenomenon and is often credited with kicking off the true forward movement of the app store. While it’s debatable if it was truly the game itself or just the timing, the significance of this game is so huge it’s hard to comprehend.

Not only did Angry Birds lead apps into being the largest media category in the world (overtaking all of Hollywood in 2015), it also single-handedly created the video game merchandising space. Before Angry Birds there were no huge merchandising runs for games except for retro games to marginal niche markets.

With all of these accolades, they had to invent the whole gameplay idea by themselves right? Actually no, they didn’t. They modeled — in some opinions too closely — a very popular flash game called Crush The Castle. While it is a similar game, they definitely did improve the original with better graphics, smoother gameplay and a much wider theme that would appeal to all ages.

Crush The Castle predates Angry Birds by 6 months and was one of the most played flash games of all time. At the time of this writing they rank #4 on Armor Games with 25,699,831 plays.

How similar is it? Take a look for yourself:

'Crush the Castle and Angry Birds Making Games' 

Clash of Clans

Now we know that Angry Birds closely modeled Crush the Castle, but what about the legendary app store ruler of grossing charts, Clash of Clans?

As you might expect, they also closely modeled a game, but their story is a little different. Clash of Clans is created by Supercell. On their old website, you’ll notice 4 of the 6 founders were from a previous game company called Digital Chocolate.

The founders all left Digital Chocolate to pursue their own game, Clash of Clans, and little did they know they were about to create one of the most valuable companies ever. Supercell grew from zero to a $3 billion valuation in just 3 years.

That’s great, but where did they get the initial idea?

The company they left, Digital Chocolate, happen to make a successful game called Galaxy Life. Not only does Galaxy Life look like Clash of Clans, it plays like Clash of Clans. The premise is exactly the same, you hold down your fort and attack the enemy’s fort. However it goes beyond that. It’s so similar the original Clash of Clans tutorial was nearly a scene for scene remake.

So did they rip it off?

No, they added in a lot of unique features including multiple villages, better multiplayer support and most importantly a better theme. As we’ll soon discuss, theme is extremely important to your game. Fantasy is one of the most popular themes ever in gaming and bugs are notoriously difficult to sell.

They modeled and improved. They took a game they thought was good and made it even better. This is the key to making games.

Candy Crush

Possibly the best example in these games is Candy Crush. Candy Crush is based on the time tested and proven gameplay style called Match 3, but did they invent Match 3? Not even close.

Match 3 games evolved from the more broader tile match gameplay type seen in everything from Tetris to Mahjong. So how long has tile matching games, and more specifically match 3, been around?

Believe it or not, Match 3 style games are believed to have been around since the Roman times. It’s one of the oldest game design principles of humankind. It dates back to the creation of checkers, chess and backgammon.

The first video game version of Match 3 was made in 1974 in Japan. It was called Doku-Go.

Doku-Go

Why did Candy Crush become so successful?

It’s no secret wildly successful games such as Super Puzzle Fighter, Puzzle Quest, Bejeweled and countless others made popular games with the match 3 style years ago. And while they were all hit games, none of them came close to the global phenomenon of Candy Crush.

Similar to Clash of Clans before them, Candy Crush came out with a new game based on a proven gameplay type and put an insane amount of focus on the theme. Candy, similar to Birds as we’ll soon discuss, is the ultimate theme. Everyone loves Candy including boys, girls, adults and children. It’s possibly the widest demographic known to mankind.

Of course, they also created a very solid game with mountains of levels and carefully crafted gameplay mechanics. They definitely modeled what worked, but they spent years consistently improving until they reached perfection.

Minecraft

Now, Minecraft made its beloved owner a billionaire and has completely taken over the lives of millions of kids across the universe. It was also heavily based on another popular game before it.

'Minecraft image'

The picture above is not of an alpha version of Minecraft. It’s from an open source game created by Zachary Barth called Infiniminer.

Minecraft creator, Markus Persson, has directly stated this is where his inspiration came from and that after playing Infiniminer he “decided it was the game he wanted to do”.

You’re probably wondering how Barth feels about Minecraft becoming bigger than Infiniminer. He’s stated in interviews it’s complicated, but when talking with Paper, Rock Shotgun he said, ”The act of borrowing ideas is integral to the creative process. There are games that came before Infiniminer, and there are games that will come after Minecraft. That’s how it works.”

Ready to Start Making Games …

Always remember when you’re making games to take time to really think of a great idea. Study other similar games and look for ways to model and improve. Picasso once said “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. Borrowing ideas from successful games should be mandatory when deciding your game idea. Try to respect the original creators and never copy, clone or reskin. Add something special to it. To do it correctly really breakdown the gameplay elements and then think of ways to improve each aspect.  You’ll have an entirely new game that’s much better than before. Not only will it keep you out of hot water, it will also vastly increase your chances of success.

This technique is the secret ingredient that all of the most successful game developers and entrepreneurs use. If making games is your goal, using the model and improve method is important.