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Game Ideas

19 Ways to Come Up with Game Ideas

By | Game Business Blog | 7 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.

'mind mapping image'

#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.

'new ideas image'

#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 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 | 8 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 | 5 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 | 19 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 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.


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.


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.


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?

Ready to get started?

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.


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 was not the first book store on the internet? The first online book store was actually named Book Stacks Unlimited and owned the domain 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.


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.


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.

Marketing Your Mobile App

Marketing Your Mobile App

By | Game Business Blog | 2 Comments

Every game developer should have a mobile marketing strategy in place for their app. Creating a solid plan, using app promotion techniques, and having the right pricing structure are all essential for success.

The amount of revenue that your game earns is completely tied to app marketing. It’s a determining factor in the amount of downloads you will get and how well the game will monetize.

So, how much revenue can you expect to make on a game?

As you probably would imagine, this question has many answers. It’s as varied as the very nature of games themselves. Often it’s not uncommon for a top indie game to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars during the first few months in the app store. It’s also not uncommon for a great game to completely flop and generate next to nothing.

In the end, it’s completely related to the visibility your game will get, the viral nature it will withhold and how it will generate revenue.  To really succeed in your mobile marketing efforts you need a solid plan with all of these key points.

Let’s tackle these points individually, starting with revenue.

Game Pricing

It’s important to select the pricing of your game, before diving into monetization. Whether or not your game is going to be paid or free will have a major impact on your mobile marketing approach.

I’ve personally tested this internally many times over the years, and free games generate more revenue (and obviously downloads) every single time. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to make a paid version at all, but if you’re going to decide between the two then always go freemium.

So what exactly is freemium? This simply means a free game that monetizes with in-app purchases somehow in the game.

Freemium games do not have to incorporate complex economies or currency systems, but I do recommend at bare minimum to include a remove ads in-app purchase. Not only can this be a decent source of revenue, it will also provide a better experience for your most hard core users who choose to remove ads so they can enjoy your game more.

Regardless of your in-app purchase options, you will most likely generate a much larger share of revenue on ads. The only exception to this is if you create a massive social game like Candy Crush or Clash of Clans.

Just how much will be made in ads instead of in-app purchases? As always, it’s best to look at real numbers to gather a true perspective of the industry.

Luckily, I was able to get a hold of some valuable mobile marketing data to share, courtesy of Buildbox CEO, Trey Smith. Not only did he agree to share his recorded data for the hit game Phases, but he also provided me with some deeper insights on pricing analysis.

phasesPhases:  Pricing Analysis

“First off, we decided to initially test a paid version of the game before releasing the free version. Strangely, this was not by choice,” said Smith.

“The real reason we initially launched Phases as a paid game was because it was created with an alpha version of our game creation software, Buildbox.”

“At the time of release we didn’t have ad networks setup in Buildbox, so we decided to test out the waters with the paid version to verify the paid store still wasn’t as effective as the free.”

Due to contract obligations, Smith was not at liberty to discuss the financial monetary numbers of Phases, but he was able to further discuss the breakdown percentages of the various monetization paths that he discovered worked the best.

After testing both pricing options, he realized the free version of the game performed the best download wise.

“The paid version bombed and at this point we changed to free for 4 days (even though we had no monetization in the game) and then removed it from the store because Ketchapp wanted to publish it under their umbrella. However, Phases did really well on its own once we moved it to free. We got over 25,000 downloads in those first 4 days before we pulled it down,” stated Smith.

app marketing data

“After pulling the game from the app store, we had to get it ready for Ketchapp. This meant more than just tweaking gameplay and adding in the changes they requested, it also required us to add in true monetization paths. Luckily, by this time we were gearing up for the release of Buildbox and had many options at our disposal.”

Here’s what he decided to include for monetization:

  1. Interstitial ads (AdMob)
  2. Banner Ads (Admob & iAds)
  3. Remove Ads In-App Purchase ($1.99)
  4. Skip Level In-App Purchase ($.99)

“There are a few odd things here, starting with the $1.99 price point for remove ads. We typically go with .99 and to be honest, this was an initial mistake on our part, but it ended up monetizing decently so we left it as is.

The second odd part of this setup was displaying the full screen (i.e. interstitial) ad on the Game Over every 7 times. Originally we had this display every 5 times which would be more standard in a game like this. The problem is in Phases you die fairly often, so we decided to change it,” said Smith.

Now let’s see each of these monetization steps broken down:

Ad data and mobile marketing stats

As you can see, AdMob had the lion share of the revenue. That’s because AdMob is where he served the full screen interstitial ads. They typically by far make the most money.

AdMob also shared a majority of the banner placement, though iAds converted very well and brought in an extra 8% revenue.  iAds is no longer an available option, but Admob is still a very popular choice that serves banner ads.

Another hidden benefit of AdMob is the vast reach they hold in smaller countries. With AdMob you rarely have to worry about inventory because they have such a large network. You might find iAds won’t show up in Turkey because they currently don’t have any advertisers in that area, where AdMob is extremely consistent.

According to the data, remove ads was a lowly 3%, even though it was at the $1.99 price point, but this is actually fine.  The goal of remove ads is not to generate revenue, it’s to please your hardcore players who really like your game.

It’s quite surprising, that skip level was responsible for more than 20% of all revenue from Phases.

“This was a shocker, and what’s even better was we threw it in at the last minute. We literally decided to add this option in 2 nights with the night before submitting the final build. We were shocked, but probably shouldn’t have been. The psychology behind it makes sense. People prefer to spend money on things that advance their gameplay,” said Smith.

“We did not include banners on the game field of Phases. This was a design choice because we felt it detracted too much from the game. We did put banners on the game field of Bounce and it increased the revenue by a larger percentage. If monetization is your main goal, then you might want to keep this in mind from the beginning,” added Smith.

Your Monetization Plan & Mobile Marketing

Now that we’ve examined some excellent data analyzing ad techniques and pricing, it’s time to develop a plan. When it comes to mobile marketing and app promotion having a plan is key. I recommend following what Smith did in Phases. Try using an interstitial on the game over screen in conjunction with a banner.

Remember to design your game around a game field banner. If this is something you want to incorporate, and in some cases (like Phases) it definitely does make sense to leave it out.

Think about your game’s design and interface. Consider the gameplay type as well when you’re deciding which ads and tactics to use.

It’s a great idea to add an in-app purchase to remove ads. Think about what in- app purchases you can add that will increase the gameplay experience. Some popular examples are special power-ups, continue playing options on the game over screen and skipping levels.

Have a strategy in place and know what you want to integrate. Write everything down and test it out as you go. Following these steps will lead you in the right direction for mobile marketing success.

How to Make Game Art Image

How to Make Game Art

By | Game Business Blog | 5 Comments

Game art design is another aspect of the game development process. In order to make your game stand out and really get noticed, having quality art is a must. You can create your own game art using various tools or find free art through different game resources available online.

You can also outsource an artist to make game art for you. As a game dev, I’ve tried all of these methods at various times. The method you choose depends primarily on your personal preference, allotted time, and budget.

Game Art & Sound

The following three methods are the most common ways to get game art and sound for your projects:
1. Make it yourself
2. Buy pre-made game assets
3. Outsource an artist and sound designer

Let’s further explore each of these options and best practices for each.

Making Game Art & Sound

You don’t have to be Picasso to make your own game art. However it does require some patience and a little creativity. If you choose this route, then you’ll want to keep things extremely simple especially if you’re a newbie. Try to start off by creating a minimal style game with a nice bright color palette. Buildbox founder, Trey Smith, did this with his game Phases.

He used the tool Pixelmator to create simple shapes. Pixelmator is an image editing alternative to Photoshop but either tools can be used to make quick game art. There’s plenty of tutorials on YouTube that show you in-detail how to design various shapes.

If you decide to go with a minimal art style then check out palettes from sites like Colour Lovers or Adobe Color. They are great resources to help you choose the right color combinations to use so you’re game will look more polished.

For sound, you might be surprised what you can record just with a simple mic and some ingenuity. For instance, the ball bouncing in the game Bounce (created by Trey Smith and Buildbox customer Mike Davidson) was a sample of Trey thumping his mouth. The breaking noise of the green lines was multiple recordings of clicking the tongue layered together. Often times when you need sounds, you can just turn on a mic and try to emulate the sound you need. The trick here is to always layer. A single thump or click will sound awkward, but if you put five different ones together, it will work in your game.

You don’t always have to resort to mouth recordings either. Any type of object or tool is fair game. It’s possible to record sticks breaking, stomping on the ground and even revving an engine of a car to get that perfect sound effect. Of course, if you know a musical instrument that is always a bonus. You can record a few key notes for various aspects of your game.

The Best Sites to Find Game Art, Game Assets & Game Development Resources

Everything you need to make 2D games, from game assets to sound effects can also be easily found if you know where to look. Searching game resources or free game art sites is the easiest and most popular approach to getting assets for your game. There are a multitude of sites that sell both art and sound files. Here are some great places to look:

Game Art Asset Sites:

Graphic River – Great game art site with decent prices
Shutterstock – If you buy a lot of art, they have a subscription plan.
Fotolia – One of the largest sites out there for stock images
iStockPhoto – Another large and notable stock image site
Scirra Store – Graphic store for Construct
Game Buffet – New site dedicated to game graphics
Open Game Art – Site featuring free game art that is open source
Atelier Store – Few pixel art items here sold in sets

Free Game Art Assets at Dumbmanex Image

2D Game Art & Assets

Dumbanex – Features a handful of free game art assets that can be used commercially if given proper credit.
Kenney Assets – Kenney has free 2D game art, 3D assets and audio available for download.
GameDev Market – Large marketplace for high quality affordable game assets.
Reddit/GameAssets/ – Reddit subcategories are a great place to find free or relatively low cost game art. – Over 1200 game art assets ranging from free to $15 or less.
Game Art 2D – Site dedicated to royalty free 2D game assets. Nice selection to choose from.
Reiner’s Tilesets – Reiner has wide variety of free game graphics plus 3D grapics and sound fx.
Craftpix – Craftpix offers free and reasonably priced 2D game assets, icons, sprites, tilesets and characters.

Game Art Assets at gamedevmarket image

Sound Asset Sites:

Audio Jungle – High quality sound effects and music
SoundSnap – Massive database of commercial sound effects and music uploaded by users – Free sound database (not all offered/verified royalty free)
Public Domain Sound – Public domain sound database (not all offered/verified royalty free)

Outsourcing Art & Sound

It’s not the cheapest or quickest, but if you want a truly custom game, then this is the best option.
Price is extremely interesting with art. Different artist value the price of the work on vastly different planes and it’s not always relative to quality. You can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $2,000 for game art, so it’s very important to get multiple quotes and shop around.

Sound is similar in the battle for quality and cost, but it’s less widely varied and the cost is much cheaper.
As for the hiring and interview practices, the rules apply that were posted in the “How to Hire Your First Employee” post. I’ve found the best outsource sites for design and sound are Upwork and Freelancer, though most of the others provide these services as well.

The final place you can look for artist and sound engineers who might be above the average quality seen on outsource sites is places where the elite hang out. Check out highly rated designers on sites like Dribbble and Behance. For sound engineers you can check forums like GearSlutz or FutureProducers.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November 2016 and was updated in February 2017 for accuracy. 

If you want to learn more about game art and how to make your own games check out our free tutorial course called ‘Make Your Own Game.’

outsourcing hiring first employee

How to Hire Your First Employee

By | Game Business Blog | 2 Comments

Outsourcing is one of the most popular ways to hire an artist, coder or both. Using the right strategy, you can hire talented people from outsource sites to create games for you and jump start your business. There are multiple outsourcing websites available online that you can use. When you’re hiring your first employee, outsourcing is a cost effective method. Personally, I’ve used nearly every outsource site available during the beginning stages of my game business.

The following sites have great support and a fairly large database of programmers, artists and designers:

Outsourcing 101: Writing the Ad

Once you’ve selected the outsource site that you want to use, you’ll need to create an ad. Here are some tips to help you craft ads that will attract the right type of employee:

  1. Write ads quickly – You’re about to see a very common thread in all of this: Don’t get bogged down and move quickly.  This starts with the ad.  Keep your ads short and sweet. Avoid discussing in-depth project details. Instead focus on the fact that the project is unique and discuss the core details.  Try to write your ad in one pass. Take about 5-6 minutes to do this. Review and edit if needed.
  2. Don’t search for people, wait for them to come to you – This reason is simple… people that respond to your ad are hungry for work and interested in what you are doing.  Random people you contact probably are not.
  3. Post multiple ads – Post on multiple sites and post multiple times.  Sometimes you’ll need to post 10 ads before hiring someone. Most of the time when someone is having problems with hiring, they’ve only posted just a few ads.  Think about it this way. If every time you hire someone you go through 200 applicants and someone else goes through 20, who do you think will end up with the best guy?
  4. Always go with your gut – If someone doesn’t reply quick enough, gives a strange answer or just doesn’t make you feel comfortable, then don’t hire them. If you automatically just “click” with someone, then you might want to give them a shot. Your gut is extremely important in the hiring decision.
  5. Move quickly though applicants – It’s better to scan 200 people quickly than review 20 people slowly. Don’t get bogged down on each one. One tip is to ask a few questions, if all questions aren’t answered then skip immediately. If they don’t take the time to apply correctly, they most likely will not benefit your business.

hiring via outsourcing writing your adYou’ll want to post these ads in as many relevant categories as possible. If there is an option to post in game development and mobile development, then post in both. Your main goal here is to cast a wide net so you’ll have many applicants to sift through at a fast pace.

By the time you’re done with this task, you’ll be able to take a closer look at a handful of perfect candidates.

Interview Tips and Techniques

Before you interview an applicant, you should have a few things in place:

  1. Your basic design document describing the various sections of your game
  2. An idea on what your budget is for this game (expect to pay $2,000 for a simple game and up to $5,000 for a more complex game).
  3. A list of questions which you will discuss
  4. Bonus: Have a screen recording of a PowerPoint presentation describing your game idea. This isn’t required, but can be helpful and make the interview process smoother. Jing is a great free screen recording platform you can use.

I prefer to interview applicants using Skype, but you can use any chat based software that is publicly available. It’s completely up to you.

Another quick interview technique that I recommend is sticking with text chat instead of voice chat, as voice chat can be awkward for both parties, especially if the native language is different.

Here’s a few tips to use during the interview process:

Interview Tips for Skype

  1. If they don’t respond quickly during an interview, close the interview immediately – This happens more often than you would think. Don’t wait around longer than 3 minutes for each response.  If you notice that it is taking longer than normal for them to respond during the chat, simply tell them it’s not working out and move on. Remember, this interview is the first impression you’ll see of their communication style. Communication is extremely important when working via Skype.
  2. If they are sarcastic, close the interview immediately – This one is rather baffling, but does happen.  Sometimes, more often than you might think, we have situations where the coder has a poor attitude and is sarcastic or demeaning. This advice is very important for the people who might not be technical. It is 100% OK if you are not overly technical. Just like most people in a leadership position, you’re job is to hire someone smarter than you in certain areas and for them to explain things to you when needed. You’re job is to manage them, not to know more than them.
  3. Dive deep into their answers – This is a very important one to follow when you’re outsourcing. The premise is simple, once you ask them a question you dive deep into the answer. If you ask them “What was your best project to date?” then don’t answer with “Ok great”. Instead answer with “That’s interesting, how long did it take?” When they tell you how long it took, dive deeper into that answer as well with something like “Interesting, what took the longest? Did you feel it could have been shorter?” Like the movie Inception, you keep going deeper into their answers until you’ve hit the bottom and there is no where else to go. Then move on to your next question. You’ll not only learn more about the skill of the candidates, you’ll learn more about them as a person. You’ll suddenly start understanding how they work and find out if you’re truly compatible.
  4. Play their previous games – Extremely important, very simple, yet often overlooked. Before you interview someone, test out their previous games. If you’re hiring a programmer or coder, don’t worry about the art. Focus on how buggy the game is. See if it moves quickly or feels sluggish. If the game is not good, then cancel the interview.
  5. Only hire people that you bond with – There is more to a successful working relationship than skill, especially with games. Games are art and for you to create something amazing you have to be on the same page as your programmer. If you don’t feel like this is someone you would want to spend an enormous amount of time with, then don’t hire them.
  6. If you are unsure of either the price or their ability, offer a small portion of the project – This is for the time that you’re on the fence and don’t have any strong gut feelings about the applicant… and you haven’t found anyone else. When this combination of events happens, then you might want to offer a small portion of your game for a very cheap price to see how well you work together. Maybe just have them create the basic user interface structure and go from there.

Hiring your first employee is a major step in any business, especially in a business where you’re making games. You can find a large number of books not only on outsourcing, but also team creation and hiring. Following these tips will give you a solid strategy to find the right employee to help you build your game.