Last week iPhone game Bubble Ball, developed by 14-year-old schoolboy Robert Nay, knocked Rovio’s Angry Birds off the top of the of the iPhone free game chart, evidence of the newly democratised world of game development.
Independent video game development is becoming more accessible for would-be games designers but is not marketing itself properly, according to organisers of upcoming video game development conference World of Love, to be held in London this week.
Some cottage industry games developers will say that an entirely independent design, development and promotion process is the most costand time-effective way of bringing out games – bypassing games publishers, ad agencies and marketing and branding consultancies.
Online retail stores for independent games are becoming more prevalent and the tools to make free-to-download app and browser-based games are more readily available in what is largely a collaborative climate, industry voices say.
Nicholas Lovell, founder of gaming business blog Games Brief, has helped event founder David Hayward with curation of this year’s event. He recognises that most developers see branding and marketing ’as an evil thing rather, than integral and frankly fun’.
However, the key to what Lovell calls ’acquisition, retention and monitisation’ , is a retention strategy to encourage gamers ’to come back for more’. It can take a year for a small team to put a game together so it is important to give people a reason to come back, he says.
Designing app games which can be downloaded cheaply or for free, but facilitate ’in-app purchases’ can be a good way to ensure customer loyalty, says Lovell, who gives the examples of games Tap Zoo or Pocket Frogs where players can pay to unlock further game playing opportunities and buy items to aid aesthetics or game-playing.
Tak Fung is working in this market and has released a series of successful games with his company Supermono – him and one artist – including Epic Win and Mini Squadron for the iPhone. Fung, who worked for Microsoft gaming imprint Lionhead Studios and Sony before setting up on his own studio in 2010, will talk about how designing and developing right through and promoting the game himself, avoiding games publishers, got him to this point.
’I didn’t have time to pitch to investors anyway,’ says Fung, who focused his efforts on a promotional video, game forums and press.
One speaker, Ricky Haggett, who set up his game production company Honeyslug in 2008, will take the World of Love audience through its live project Hohokum, which has been made as a demo game in Flash for an undecided platform, awaiting further development.
Haggett says, ’It has never been a better time to be an independent developer, working in Flash and Unity.’ With three personnel, Honeyslug works largely through collaborative and freelance relationships. Hohokum – a 2D action adventure – has seen Haggett work with independent illustrator and designer Richard Hogg, who used to work as a designer for Airside.
’We learn so much more working with friends and people we meet, outsourcing for particular projects,’ says Haggett. ’The only disadvantage is, there’s no instantly recognisable house style.’
Looking to the future
- World of Love will take place on 28 January at Conway Hall, London WC1
- Speakers: Ricky Haggett, founder of Honeyslug; illustrator and artist Richard Hogg; commissioning editor of Channel 4 Alice Taylor; developer Sophie Houlden; Sam Redfern, designer of online indie MMO Dark-Wind; Phil Stuart, co-founder of games studio Preloaded; Robert Fearon, gaming accessibility expert and creator of game War Twat; director of indie developer Ella Romanos; Tak Fung, founder of games developer Supermono; Paul Taylor and Ian Hardingham, managing directors of Mode 7; and Charlie Knight, creator of the game Scoregasm