Friday, 1 February 2013

Indie Dev Insight: Retro Dreamer

Who ever thought that poo and ice cream would be a good combination but for Retro Dreamer they have had phenomenal success with the Happy Poo and Ice cream drop / jump games which has seen telephone numbers of downloads across the collection.

What has fascinated me about Retro Dreamer's approach is not the technicalities of the games but how the success is driven by a simple uncluttered game design with cross promotion across their collection. I had a chat with Gavin Bowman (@GavinBowman) to get further views on their success to date:

What got you into writing games?
I've always loved playing games. I did some hobby coding when I was a kid but never really stuck at it. I was working on regular software when the casual games and mobile games market were looking exciting, a friend asked if I'd like to make a game with him, and I haven't stopped since.

What's good and bad about what you do?
Flexible hours, creative freedom, and great job satisfaction vs. Never not working, no external structure or direction, unpredictable income.

How many people are involved in writing games at Retro Dreamer. What roles do they take on?
There are two of us, myself and Craig Sharpe. He does the art, I do the code. We try to share everything else out as best we can.

What would you do differently now given what you know from projects completed and experience from the gaming and app market?
Probably design earlier apps with a little more cross platform in mind, but I wouldn't go mental on it. I'd have tried to capitalize on successes with updates instead of prioritizing new apps, and move on more quickly from failures. And I'd have tried to finish more of the projects we abandoned and cut down the scope more on some of the projects we did.

What tools do you use. By this I mean software development kits/engines (Cocos2d, Corona, Unity3D etc), audio packages, art packages.
Xcode & Photoshop primarily. The rest of the Adobe tools definitely factor in too, and we've been using various tools for sprite sheet creation. For our Android games we use Eclipse to build them. We don't use a game engine or SDK, but we will probably be using Unity for some of our new games later this year.

What made you choose these tools over others?
We're mostly still using the only tools that worked or that we had when we got started. We're looking to Unity because mobile hardware is advancing so fast, we can take advantage of that much more easily than expanding on our own code, and I love the idea of getting another layer between myself and hardware variations & platforms.

What marketing tactics do you employ? Forums, twitter, paid PR etc
We've tried a lot over the years, we've posted on forums, sent out emails to press sites. We're active on twitter and we have a Facebook page, but we're not super active with marketing, these days we have a tendency to let the games fend for themselves a little and see what happens from there. It's not smart, but it lets us focus more on the games. We've also had a bunch of help over the years from some of our awesome indie friends. We did pay for a press release once, but it was cheap and probably pointless. We haven't tried paying for PR services, but it's not something we'd rule out for the right game, I've seen them do wonders and marketing is not something either of us are fond of taking charge of.

What effect do you think free to play has had upon your game design?
It's forced us to think a more about engagement and player retention. Which is a good thing, because those are the same factors that drive word of mouth on paid apps anyway! I think some of our earlier games we just picked a concept we thought would look appealing, attached it to an interesting game mechanic, and hoped that people would like it. Now we worry a bit more about how many people will like it, and whether they will come back and play it again.

What resources do you swear by for learning new techniques, getting more from the packages you mentioned above, news etc. e.g Books (specific titles would be appreciated), forums / websites, social media
I don't have any specific resources I use, my twitter or browser reading lists are always packed with great links people have shared recently that I'm never short of something to look into if I get a chance!

There has been a lot in the press recently that app development is going through a gold rush and that the bubble will burst soon. Do you see it like this?
I thought that was back in 2009, didn't that happen already? :). Seriously though, the market has massive potential, and there are still great opportunities. There's almost certainly too many people rushing into it though, it's highly saturated, there are great games coming out every day that none of us will ever hear of. Some of those will have been in development for months or years, some will have had someone's savings poured into them. But wherever there are a big opportunities, there's always going to be a lot of people chasing them. Hopefully someday everyone will go in with their eyes open. The big numbers that you read about in the App Stores are heavily skewed to the top earners, the curve down from #1 to #200 (or even #10) is phenomenally steep, and it doesn't end there!

Do you think app games will eventually kill off AAA titles as we know them?
I think both markets are changing, and will continue to do so, but I don't know where it ends. I just hope whatever happens there is a marketplace where small companies like ourselves can keep trying to make a living from games.

What does 2013 have in store for Retro Dreamer?
More games, more updates! We have a lot of things we're working on, we're excited for the new year. I'd like to hit the target, but as long as we're working hard and getting good things made I'm not going to be too depressed if we don't 100% it.

Any additional advice you would give for up and coming indie developers?
Start stuff, finish stuff, get it out to people. It's the only way to improve. And if people go wild for something you make, nurture it and cherish it, because you never know when that will happen again.

Download Retro Dreamer's latest game Happy Poo's Revenge on Google Play which has been written for one game a month.


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