Category Archives: Blog

Goldcraft is done

It’s been like 6 months, time for a new blog post!

I finally launched Goldcraft on iOS. iOS is a bit of a pain to submit to so I saved it for last. So I guess it’s time to start working on a new game huh? But wait, I should start at the beginning..or maybe the middle. Eh, this will be a long rambling post.

I decided to launch first on Kongregate. Kong is a pretty cool platform. You can actually interact with your players. This is a revolutionary concept coming from releasing only on mobile. The bugs they found…wow. The mobile launch would have been a disaster. And the balance issues! The exploits! Without the help from players on Kongregate I’d have a lot of really nasty bugs and exploits in the game right now. Kong players are serious about their gaming, and they are really into idle games. The initial launch on Kong didn’t go super well. I use Unity so I had to launch it on WebGL. WebGL is not ready for prime-time let me tell you. It felt like trying to optimize for the iPhone 4 back in the day. Anyone who is experienced with web development knows the pain of trying to get everything to work properly in different browsers (it’s better now, but a long time ago it was a real pain), well WebGL is like that because it’s still pretty new. So I had a lot of problems there with crashes. A lot of it was just not setting a high enough initial memory. This was weird because I could run the game on 40 MB, but after awhile it was wanting more memory so it would just crash. With WebGL you can’t allocate more memory after the game launches, so you are playing this guessing game on how much memory to require. Too little and you will get crashes, too much and the game won’t even load in the user’s browser. It’s pretty stupid really. Oh and WebGL has no error handling. Forget about try/catch, not supported. Kind of a basic programming feature. Oh well.

So I went and pooled just about everything that was going to get re-instantiated later. UI elements, characters, anything. I think this helped? Who knows, you can’t attach the profiler to a dev WebGL build because it will just hang. At least it did on my computer, but I did just buy a new powerful computer so maybe that would work now. Seems most of the crashing is fixed, but some people complain about the game just sitting there on the loading screen. Unity needs to come up with some better messaging for when a game fails to load. Right now there is no messaging. So something other than that would be nice.

So my first piece of advice, if you are launching on Kongregate, launch under their beta program first. This allows you to test with a small set of users. I haven’t done this yet but I’d imagine I would have found a lot of the issues this way. Since I was impatient I ended up getting a lot of low reviews early on. Kong sorts games by reviews so a high rating is critically important. It took a month to get the average up to the 3.75 it stands at currently. 3.75 is not actually bad. If this were mobile 3.75 would be terrible. But on Kong it’s SUPER easy to review a game, the review tab is right there on the page, so you get much higher % of people rating your game. 3.75 would be considered maybe average, a bit above average. One could be successful with a rating like that. 4.25+ would be stellar, 4+ very very good, 3.75+ decent. Goldcraft is a bit of a ‘casual’ idle game. It’s meant more for mobile. Kong players like to see a good amount of depth to their idle games. Goldcraft was never going to be super deep so I don’t think it is a great fit for the Kong audience. The retention numbers bear that out. It retains players incredibly poorly on Kong unfortunately. I think it’s gotten 100k downloads or so on Kong so far, which is sweet (getting that many on mobile is extremely hard), BUT it has like a 12% D1 retention or something like that. Not gonna make it with those numbers.

I don’t think it will end up being a top game on Kongregate, but it was definitely worth it to launch on that platform. It’s fun to be playing it with other people, having the chat tab open and seeing how people talk about the game, about what the best strategies are. As a developer you can learn a lot this way. You can’t do that on mobile. Plus Kong sent all those players for free. Could you imagine Apple or Google sending you 100k free installs? Kong actually cares about developers, it was a strange experience.

I launched on Android a couple of weeks ago. Android is one of the more frustrating platforms to develop for. Yes I use Unity so it’s technically easy enough to launch on Android, but even in 2016 there are a ton of weird devices out there that you can’t test for. Plus Google doesn’t help you much when it comes to figuring out what’s going on with your players. For example, at this moment I have 12 1-star reviews. Okay fine. 2 of them have actual text so I can see what the problem is. But the other 10? No one wrote anything. So what the hell is the issue? Personally, if I’m going to leave a 1 star review I’m going to tell you why. Who leaves a 1 star review without writing anything? Makes no sense. Seem like fake reviews to me, but there’s no way to know.

I’ve been getting a couple hundred downloads a day on Android. But I always wonder, where are these downloads coming from? Certainly I’m not in any top charts and god knows none of the gaming review sites are writing reviews for any game my tiny studio makes, so what gives? I wish Google would give you some insights on this. “65 downloads from the similar games tab, 100 from the new rpg games category”, etc. It would just be cool to know. Also, it would be really cool to know how the game is performing compared to its peers, I mean assuming Google uses performance metrics to determine rankings in the store. Is Goldcraft performing well? Poorly? Who knows. I guess if it took off I’d know it was performing well. It’s just you have to know when to give up on a game. If Google said “Hey your retention numbers are dog shit compared to other idle games in Google Play” then I could either try to work to improve the game or quit and start a new project. Instead I’m left wondering “time to kill it?” I think the retention might be average. It’s about 40% D1. My best effort I believe. Probably not good enough though.

Okay, back to iOS. Just launched a few days ago. It’s actually getting more downloads that I expected (600 yesterday). New games get a boost to search rankings. This used to be for 7 days, after that you dropped off the face of the Earth. It might still be 7 days, I’ll know 2 days from now. Retention is a tad better than Android so far, but I was hoping for 50% D1 (still an arbitrary number to me to be honest, I have no idea what kind of retention you really need to ‘make it’).

I want to start mentally distancing myself from this project. It’s hard though. It’s like you’ve been in a relationship with this game for months and now you have to end it. There’s really no point in working on a game that doesn’t basically take off pretty quickly. You aren’t going to transform it into a hit game. It’s done, over. Time to move on. But it’s hard to do that. You want your game to succeed damn it! So I will continue to stare at the analytics, check for new reviews, and basically obsess like I always do. Within a couple of weeks I’ll know where I stand.

One good thing about games is you can always make a new one. I mean you get pretty tired of working on the same project for months. So even if this game doesn’t do great, at least I can start thinking of what to make next!

After a 2 year hiatus, Blade Fire is back baby!

So we released Dragon Drop Frenzy about 2 years ago. I love it. I think it’s a really good game. Unfortunately it never really found its audience (that’s a nice way of saying it failed miserably). It’s a casual game but the mechanics were apparently too complicated for the casual user. Bad design on my part I suppose. Who knows. What I do know is the game industry is a very very tough business. I think there are literally over a million games in the App Store by now, with thousands more being released every week. I thought if we made something unique that was fun, polished, and showed really well in the App Store (i.e. had a pretty icon and beautiful screenshots) we’d manage to get over the hump and have some success. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

My personal (and perhaps jaded) opinion of the mobile games industry is that if you are an indie developer, success is 100% random and based purely on luck. It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how good you think your game is. Unless you are very lucky it will fail. No one will play it. It will waste away at the bottom of the App Store getting 10-20 downloads a day. The only ways to be successful are:

1. Be a large publisher

2. Have a successful game already published

3. Get lucky

Most small developers start off with #3 then move to #2 with their next game. If they are successful enough then over time they can move to #1 and continue their success indefinitely.

Why am I convinced it’s luck? Because even the biggest publishers can’t duplicate their success. King could never duplicate the success of Candy Crush. Super Cell can’t duplicate their success with Clash of Clans. If the biggest, most experienced, knowledgeable publishers can’t duplicate their success then that tells me they don’t really know what they are doing. They are throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks just like you and me (only they have lots more spaghetti to work with). Maybe “luck” is the wrong word. The truth is there are just too many variables involved to know if a game is going to be successful. It simply can’t be predicted ahead of time. Basically the same thing as luck in my opinion.

So if you are a small studio or a one man shop, the only way to success is to just keep releasing games and hoping for the best. Keep your overhead extremely low, don’t spend too much time on any one game, and don’t quit your day job. Maybe some day you will release a hit game and then build from that.

So for now I’m just going to build games on my own. That means learning how to be a game programmer. I’ve been programming on the web for 15+ years so I hope I can pick up game programming pretty quickly. My first effort is Breaky Blocks. It’s a simple, Breakout style game with a couple of new twists. I actually kind of like it. When it fails at least I know I didn’t spend any money to make it. Hmm, yeah I sound jaded don’t I? Oh well, maybe some day I’ll change my tune!

Our new game is finally done!

Well that was a tough 6 months! We’ve been hard at work on our first title. It’s called Dragon Drop Frenzy and it will be available for iOS and Android in the very near future. We’ve submitted to the App Store for our Canadian soft launch, so hopefully next week it will be available there.

Dragon Drop Frenzy is a match 3 game. I can hear you now, “Not another match 3 game! I see candy in my nightmares!! Noooooooo!!” Don’t worry this isn’t like Candy Crush. We tried to take the match 3 genre and re-invent it to create a fresh new experience. I think we’ve succeeded in that and hope people will agree.

The basic premise of the game is this: Spark, your lovable dragon, is trying to hide all of his treasure in his secret cave. He needs your help! He’ll drop groups of gems into his cave and your job is to match them with other gems. The goal is to match for as long as you can. Spark is an impatient young dragon so he’s going to keep dropping gems faster and faster so you’ll have to be quick to keep up. The game ends when the cave is full. You’re trying to get the highest score you can. Simple enough concept, but oh so fun!

We added weekly tournaments that you can play in with your friends. It’s quite satisfying to beat your friend’s high score, knowing he is getting a notification on his phone at that very moment telling him how much he sucks. We also have leagues that group similarly skilled players together so they can compete for the cup (and some nice prizes).

We’ll be doing some beta testing over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully things look good and we can release to everyone. We’re super excited to get people playing this game. It’s been a ton of work for everyone involved. We started with nothing and built a team and a great, polished game in 6 months. Not too shabby.

Thanks to the team at Blade Fire for working hard and creating something we can all be proud of!

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Vending machines have arrived, woot!

After a very long journey, our brand new vending machines finally arrived!  I must say, getting these beasts into the lounge was no small feat.  They each weigh about 600 lbs, and conveniently they have no wheels and are extremely awkward to move.  We didn’t have much room to fit through the glass doors, it look 3 guys (plus myself, hovering nervously about) to get them through.  We were not without casualties, but overall I declare it a success.

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Take a look, truly a beautiful sight.  Dozens of choices at our fingertips!  Did I mention everything is free?

While we’re in the lounge I might as well post a few more pics.  We’ve got a pretty sweet setup, if I do say so myself.  Excuse the low quality of my iPhone camera.

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If you’ve got skills, send us a note.  We are looking for the top talent in Sacramento.  If you want to work in a great environment with a small group of cool guys and make games all day, this might be the place for you..

 

Moved into new offices

Well after many months we finally have our shiny new offices done.  I spent quite a bit of time last year designing them and with the help of our architect (Borges) and designer (Karen) I must say they turned out even better than I could have hoped for.  I’ll post pictures pretty soon.  Right now there’s a bunch of boxes laying around, waiting to be unpacked.  Mostly furniture.  I couldn’t decide on furniture so I just bought a bunch of stuff from IKEA for now.  It’s cheap enough so when I find something really cool it’s no big deal to replace it.  (You can’t beat a desk for $50.  Sure it’s a bit rickety and will probably collapse as soon as I put my monitor on it, but hey, it was FIFTY dollars!)

Vending machines are on their way.  Gotta keep people fed and hydrated right?

Coolest part of the office has to be the whiteboard wall.  One entire wall is a whiteboard, you can just write directly on it.  At least I think it’s a whiteboard wall, I haven’t tried erasing anything yet…hmm…

It’s really cool to have offices at the Fountains.  Anytime I want I can just go outside and walk around.  There’s a lot of places to eat so you don’t even have to drive for lunch.  It’s almost like being in a city, except without all the homeless people!