I’ve been thinking for a while about writing up a postmortem of my first crack at making a Real Game, Chromodyne, for a while now. The worry is, of course, that someone may look at this as some sort of horrific waste of time and tell me I’m mad for trying to break into the App Store when… oh my god it has how many apps? However in all honesty, despite the less than stellar sales leading to what one might declare a failure on the App Store, for a number of other reasons, I feel Chromodyne has been incredibly successful and I wouldn’t have it any other way (well, except maybe the whole not selling well part).
What the hell are you talking about?
What I mean when I say “successful” I mean that on the whole, even considering the time I spent working on it only to have it sell a few hundred copies so far, I still learned a lot of valuable lessons, met a lot of awesome other developers, and it helped prove to me that I had what it takes to develop an entire video game from start to finish and to kick myself in the ass and finally decide that I should follow my dream of becoming a game developer.
What went wrong?
There were a few key things that I feel went wrong that, hindsight being 20/20, I would have done differently. Here they are in no particular order:
- Not enough exposure – I didn’t enter into this whole App Store dealio completely blind to the fact that in order to become successful people need to know about your app. I definitely made a decent stab at it, but my relative newness to the whole scene plus working a full-time job at the time hampered my ability to really get the word out.
- Poor branding – I fretted a long while over trying to give the game a neat and catchy title, as you should try to do, however I really didn’t think this whole “Chromodyne” thing through. After trying to explain the game to others in person, it’s definitely a clumsy name when spoken and makes it difficult for that whole “word of mouth” thing to work when people don’t know how to spell it to look it up online. Also, in retrospect, the icon could probably have used a bit more work to make it pop more on device and on the app store.
- Fiddly controls – One problem you can not ignore in game design is how your players interact with the game. If the player is constantly fighting with the controls they will never truly get to enjoy the game and you run the risk of them abandoning it for something else. In the case of Chromodyne, I was well aware of the issues with the controls and tried to minimize their impact as much as possible, but by the very nature of the game field layout it meant that the inner-most rings were difficult to touch accurately. As well, I felt that with practice people would become better at the game and that’s what many of the reviews revealed. However, as the cliche goes, the first impression is the best impression.
- Choosing an over-represented genre – Approximately 105% (or so) of the games on the App Store are match-3 games. Even though one cynical critic (the only bad web review I received, I might add) accused me of trying to jump on the App Store Gold Rush Bandwagon(tm) the reason I decided to try my hand at a match-3 game for my first game was because I felt it would be much easier for me to complete a game with a smaller scope in a reasonable amount of time. Speaking from experience, I have a tendency to come up with grand designs which would take a large team a couple of years to complete, so I had to learn to work within my own ability to actually make something.
What went right?
- Learned a lot about game development – If anything I took away from this whole experience, it was a lot of experience about the game development process, including learning things about the iOS platform, the App Store, and various new programming techniques that helped make it a lot easier when I started work on my second game, Red Nova.
- Made something I’m proud of – Despite all I’ve said about Chromodyne so far, it’s my creation and I’m really happy that I made it. It may not be perfect, but it has gotten some good reviews and on balance it may not be the best game in the world but it’s still pretty darn good. As well, I think the thing I’m most proud of are the story and characters I created for the game and maybe some day in the future Gary and Zarlax will ride again
- I’m following my dream – As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve struggled over the years trying to figure out what direction I was going to take in my life. Games and game development have definitely been a passion of mine, and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do professionally, but ultimately I had to make Chromodyne first to prove to myself that I had the ability. So Chromodyne was the catalyst of this at times scary but entirely exciting new path I’ve taken in my life. Also, it helped to show the people at the Genesis Centre, the startup incubator I’ve been accepted into, that I have what it takes to, as they say, do this thang.
- Met a lot of amazing people – Through all of this I’ve met and connected with some really great people in the game development community on the internet at large and it’s really helping me feel like I’m a part of the industry now, however small my part is at the moment.
After six months in development, I’m on the verge of submitting my new game Red Nova to the App Store, and from all I’ve learned and all I’ve worked towards I’m confident it will be more successful than Chromodyne. How successful, I have no idea, but hopefully enough that it will allow me to keep working on adding updates to Red Nova and to start making other even more complicated games in the future. That being said, I’m currently working on getting into a position where I’ll be able to hire a 3D artist early in the new year. In addition to taking Celsius Game Studios from “one guy hacking on games in his living room” status into “if you squint hard enough, it looks like a real company” territory, it’ll help me focus solely on game design and development and allow for the creation of a larger variety of and even better looking art assets than I can eke out with my meagre art ability.
Finally, in celebration of Chromodyne being on the App Store for a little over a year (since October!) I am going to, tongue firmly in cheek, declare Chromodyne and Chromodyne HD Celsius Game Studios Not-Quite-Greatest-Hits and drop the price permanently to $0.99. You can learn more about them at the game’s page.