Game Dev Interview Series 002: Jonathan Bencomo

By February 23, 2018Buildbox, Buildbox Notes
Game Dev Interview Arctic Smash

Benfont Limited, an indie studio based in Dublin, Ireland has been successfully making games since 2016. Their recent hit, Arctic Smash was selected by Apple as ‘Game of the Day’ during January and February of 2018. Since the game’s feature, it’s amassed over 320,000 additional downloads and was ranked number one in the adventure games category in more than 40 different countries.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Jonathan Bencomo, founder of Benfont Limited, about his game dev journey, the creation of Arctic Smash, and some of the core strategies that have helped him to achieve success in the app business. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started as an indie games developer?

Jonathan Bencomo: My background is completely unrelated to video games. I have a business degree and have worked in banking and finance-related fields since I left college about eight years ago.  It was not only until a couple of years ago that I started making games in my spare time.

What are your biggest influences as a game dev?

I grew up in the 90’s playing with game consoles like the NES and the Sega Genesis. So I believe those two consoles and the games I played in them are my biggest influence as a game developer. Of course, I have also played a lot of computer games in my life, so I guess it is hard to pinpoint a specific game or console. I would say that in general, the 2D arcade-type video games are my biggest influence as a game developer. I love 2D games (especially with a good soundtrack like Streets of Rage 2).

How long did it take you to make Arctic Smash? How has using Buildbox helped with your development process overall?

Arctic Smash was originally released in November 2016 and was completely different back then. It had multiple game modes, several UIs, over nine levels, multi-language selection and a story mode. I worked really hard on that version, but people did not like it much. I remember I sent it to a lot of publishers and they all said no (some of them did not even reply to my emails).

After releasing it, I kind of left the game alone in the App Store without updating it much, until September 2017 when I first pitched a new publisher. They really liked Arctic Smash, and they wanted to test the retention. But to do so, I had to do a full update of the game (make it more casual).

So, I removed all the game modes except for the ski mode. I polished the main menu and the game over screen and reduced the total amount of obstacles. Then I made the game easier and changed the music. Also, I added a new logic to the gameplay, I made the character smaller and polished the game in general – trying to make the game as casual and as chill as possible (the game went from like 80mb in size to only 11mb). In the end, a publishing deal was not signed, but I kept the updated version in my iTunes account.

Long Story Short …

A month after that I received an email from Apple saying that they wanted to feature my game as ‘Game of the Day’ in the App Store. They asked me for some artwork in a specific size, and I contacted my designer and we sent the required art that same week.

After that I did not hear anything else from Apple for over two months, so I thought the feature was never going to happen. Until one Saturday morning in January when I woke up and checked the App Store, and saw Arctic Smash featured ‘Game of the Day’ in Ireland.

Now to completely answer your questions:

It took me more than a year and a half or hard work, and constant learning to get to the final shape of Arctic Smash and Buildbox helped me a lot to achieve it. Using Buildbox helped me to focus on making the game more fun and casual instead of focusing on technical issues. Buildbox in my case makes the creative process more fluent, and that is what I like the most about the framework.

Arctic Smash has exciting gameplay with giant rolling snowballs, trees used as obstacles, and a Yeti monster. What was your inspiration for the game?

I remember when I was a kid I used to play a computer game called “SkiFree” on an old windows 95 computer. That game was amazing!

With the version 2.0 of Arctic Smash, I tried to replicate the feeling you get from playing SkiFree but also added my own ideas to the game, to make it more appealing to younger generations of players.

Arctic Smash is available for download on iOS.

Apple’s editorial team recently picked your game as ‘Game of the Day.’ In your opinion, what are the best strategies to follow to get a game featured by Apple?

Well I am not an expert on getting games featured by Apple, so what I did is to use other successful games as a benchmark for my own work. Apple likes super polished games, games that have a simple user interface, and games with nice artwork. So those three categories I believe are the most important to get a feature with Apple.

Anyway, there are plenty of people out there that have gotten their games featured multiple times by Apple, so I would recommend anybody reading this to go and hear their advice and check their games. There are quite a few examples in the Buildbox showcase.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a game dev so far? And what lessons have you learned?

I would say that the biggest challenge I have faced so far is to learn how to make a game fun.
It sounds like something easy to do, but it is hard. Making a fun game takes a lot of thinking, and hard work and the chances are that when you’re finished with your “fun” game, most of the people that play it are not going to think the game is fun at all, so you have to go back to the drawing board. It can be quite frustrating sometimes.

How do you approach marketing and app promotion? Any essential tips?

Apart from having active social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) we do not do much marketing nor paid promotions. What we do, however, is that when we are releasing a new game, we try to contact as many video game magazines as possible. That strategy used to work fine until mid-2017 but nowadays seems harder to get a review in a magazine without paying for it – and we do not pay for reviews.

What’s one piece of advice that you think every game dev should follow for success in the app business?

Do not get stuck in a trend. The video game industry changes at a rapid pace, and it is your job as a developer to be constantly learning, and adapting to the market (stop making flappy clones!)

What can we expect to see from Benfont Limited in the future?

I am about to finish a programming boot camp in which I have learned a lot about programming and development in general. At the moment I’m not working in any game in particular but what I can say for sure is that I will be developing in the near future. Making games and developing apps and websites is something I enjoy a lot and I will continue doing so.

You can learn more about Jonathan Bencomo and Benfont Limited on their website.

Tiana Crump

About Tiana Crump

Tiana Crump is a journalist and social media manager at Buildbox with a passion for inspiring others and driving brand awareness. As a gamer and creator, she enjoys sharing game development insights, tips, and success stories from the Buildbox community.