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Only the Beginning: Lessons from Greedy Bankers
This is a guest post by Alistair Aitcheson, indie developer behind Greedy Bankers for iOS. A programmer, artist and animator running his own one-man studio, he develops games for iPhone, iPad, web and PC. He writes about his work regularly on his blog, Drawn in Red Biro
I am a one-man team, dealing with all aspects of development, artwork, business and marketing. Greedy Bankers is my first commercially available game since starting out as a full-time indie developer.
The demands of a commercial product
Having spent just two weeks to develop the prototype for the Experimental Gameplay Project, I expected the iPhone version to take about a month. The actual development time was in fact over three months, from early November to mid-February.
While freeware gamers will praise you for the bits that seem polished, paying customers will feel ripped-off if the game feels incomplete. The user interface had to be clear and complete, and the visual experience had to be impressive, all of which required considerable time spent coding, testing and tweaking.
Greedy Bankers was always intended to be simple and lightweight, so to me three months is a baseline development time for an iPhone game. I would struggle to do it any faster.
Artwork takes time and energy
Using my own artwork was a conscious decision, as I knew my art style would make my work identifiable. Based on my experience of previous projects, I expected drawing new artwork for the game to take a matter of days. This took over three weeks. As I needed the artwork before I could build the title and menu screens, I ended up with a significant bottleneck.
The banker designs required extensive concept drawings and feedback to make sure they were identifiable as greedy bankers. Animating the robbers to look like they were sneaking, rather than running, was particularly challenging.
I am now well aware of how time- and energy-consuming artwork can be. This means that in future projects I will try to minimise the number of characters and objects I need to draw, and look for ways to simplify the animation process without compromising the quality.
Knowing when the product is ready
Towards the end of development I was very worried that players wouldn’t engage with the strategic side to the game. I was concerned that it needed extra features to encourage them to explore strategies, and that there was more that I could do to make playing more intuitive.
Obviously, had I not drawn the line, this could have been an endless process. The reality was that no amount of features and tweaks would change whether or not people liked the core gameplay, and that getting the product to market was far more important.
My advice here is to always look for perspective. Get new people to play it, and judge from their reactions whether it’s achieved its goals. It’s great to get advice and suggestions, but be sure to take a step back and ask yourself: “Would people notice if I didn’t do that?” Or similarly: “Does this need to be in the first release, or can I save it for an update?”
Being a one man band is hard work
Working alone to develop and market a game can be an arduous and solitary process, although I have no regrets about my decision to go it alone.
The hardest bit is dealing with the demanding requirements on all aspects of your work simultaneously. For example, I needed the artwork to be full of character, the code needed to be bug free, I needed to keep my Facebook and Twitter feeds interesting, and my websites needed to be clean and professional.
Juggling so many tasks can be draining, so it may make sense work in a team with at least one other person, to spread the load. Perhaps I could find a new way to organise my time – for example: marketing in the morning and code in the afternoon – to keep things fresh and varied. As yet I don’t know the solution, but I hope I will by the next project.
So what next?
This is only the beginning, I always tell myself. I still have a lot to learn about the marketing side of things, and which strategies work best. It’s far too early to tell what the best ways to attract players to Greedy Bankers are, so right now I’m sowing seeds in as many places as possible.
The other key question is whether or not the App Store is a viable marketplace for my work. It has a huge user-base, and no upper limit to revenue, but there are a lot of games vying for user attention. My challenge now is to make Greedy Bankers rise above the competition. Only time will tell whether I can make that happen!