10 don’ts of iphone game development

To date I’ve designed, developed, and published a couple of iPhone games and am currently knee deep in a third, and as of this weekend a fourth. Whilst I don’t yet feel that I have enough experience to advise you on what to do to ensure success, I can turn it on it’s head and tell you my top 10 don’ts of iPhone game development. Here they are…

1) Don’t give up

This is easily my most important don’t. It takes vast amounts of commitment and drive to develop games independently (especially if you’re trying to hold down a job too). There will be ample opportunity to take the easy option and throw in the towel… don’t. Hopefully you’ll get lots of enjoyment out of developing and the experience of seeing your game out there should keep you going between games.

2) Don’t leave sound design until the last minute

I have first hand experience of this. Rocket Santa had a very tight development schedule and performance issues (requiring a complete refactoring of the code) made the schedule even tighter. I left sound until a few nights before submission and the result really brings down the quality of the game. Retrofitting your game with sounds is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Iterate your sound in the same way you iterate your graphics and code.

3) Don’t copy other games

Take your inspiration from other games but try to create something unique. It will help you stand out from the other games in the App store. I think we’re all getting tired of the number of clones in the App store. Its difficult to be unique but ultimately worth it.

4) Don’t leave marketing until the last minute

Marketing is so important for iPhone games. Whilst I have had exposure for both Star Fusion and Rocket Santa, I left marketing far too late on both. The result is that you drown amidst the hundreds of thousands of other apps on the store. You need to build anticipation before your game launches and then get as much exposure as possible on the day of launch.

5) Don’t do it for the money

There’s no doubt that there is money to be made on the App store. If your game is compelling and you put the work in, the monetary reward may follow. However, this isn’t always the case and banking on it could lead to disappointment. Focus on creating a great game and getting it in peoples hands, the money will hopefully follow and means you can keep doing what you love – making games.

6) Don’t expect to have a hit

Its getting less and less likely that your iPhone game will be a huge hit. Over the past year your odds have gone from around 50,000/1 to 225,000/1. There is, however, plenty of opportunity to have some success if you can get the marketing right.

7) Don’t develop your game in secret

I’m sure some developers will disagree with this. In my opinion, when you are a small independent developer, you can’t afford to hide your game away expecting it to be a huge hit when you unleash it upon the world. It works for big companies but they often have a pedigree which almost assures them a good number of sales. This ties into marketing and you should begin talking about and demonstrating your game as soon as its in a fit state.

8) Don’t listen to the negativity of others

Whatever you do in life there’s always someone out there ready to belittle you. Its a fact of life that these people are often the ones who don’t actually have the drive to do anything themselves. It takes absolutely no effort to take the easy path but it takes guts and determination to try and better yourself. Stay true to your dreams.

9) Don’t stop learning

There’s always more you can learn and in doing so you’ll grow your skills, and the quality of the games you produce will also improve. Also, I know that most people have a discipline at which they excel but you should try to learn a little bit about all areas of game production (Game design, time management, graphics, sound, code, marketing, etc). If you work with others, this will help you to be sympathetic to their plights and will give you an insight into how other areas of game production fit into the grand scheme.

10) Don’t forget what’s important

Honestly, its so easy to get wrapped up in game development that you forget about what is going on around you. I remember reading somewhere about the founder of Digg and how he ended up alienating friends and even losing his girlfriend over the creation of Digg. I’ve also read similar things from Stephen King in his excellent book “On Writing – A memoir of the craft” (if you haven’t already, read it now!). King talks about how he has a small desk, tucked out of the way, where he writes. When he writes there, that is all he does. This allows him to separate his writing from his family life. Don’t let your game development engulf your life, it’s better that it enhances it.

So there you have it, my 10 don’ts of iPhone game development. I hope you found it useful and agree with at least some of them. Any other developers out there have any “Don’ts” they’d like to share?

15 Comments

  1. Mike Berg says:

    Don’t spend more money than you have, expecting to make it back in sales. Stay in the black all through production and you won’t be losing out. If you can’t quite make it, postpone launch and take on some more contract work (or whatever you need to do to get some extra money). This way, any money you make off the game is extra gravy you can put towards your next game. It also allows you to make the game YOU want to make… being an indie is about taking risks and making interesting games. It’s more difficult to do that if your mindset is “This NEEDS to make money or I’m screwed and will never be able to make another game ever again.”

  2. Tom Ortega says:

    First off, I bought “On Writing” in hardcover 1st edition. Wore it out, bought another 1st edition hardcover. I may have to do a write up on that as well.

    I agree with all 10 of these. I like 3 and 7 the best.

    For #3, the game that will become our first game is something we think is a pretty unique twist on a standard game.

    For #7, as soon as we have the roughest playable demo done will be posting about it and getting your guys feedback! I saw how secrecy pretty much killed WebOS and the Pre platform. Secrecy works only for Apple.

    I also like Mike’s addition. While I’ve never started a game company before, I have started a business before. I think the reason for our success was because for the first 2 years, it was our side job. This allowed us to make decisions for in the best interest of the company and customers vs in the best interest of earning a buck. I hope to repeat that process with Area 161.

  3. Darko says:

    #3 is what everyone tries. But I think #3 should not be on this list…because I like to have 6 Flick/paper/toss games….I just choose this which is best. Doodle Jump did #3 to full force.

    Anyway. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Matt Rix says:

    Yeah #3 is an interesting one. I’m a big fan of making totally unique games, but I respect the devs that can take an existing game, put a few twists on it, and polish it to perfection. To me, that’s “Blizzard style” development.

    I’ve heard people say that if you make a completely unique game, potential players won’t try it because there’s nothing for them to relate to. Sometimes you need something familiar to anchor the player to the game.

    -Matt

  5. Chris says:

    @ Mike – great addition and definitely one that should be on the list.

    @Tom – it really is an excellent book isn’t it? 3 & 7 are definitely key points, glad you agree.

    @Darko and @Matt – I definitely see where you are coming from. Its difficult to avoid the core genre’s but putting a significant twist on these, to fit with the iPhone control scheme, can really make your game stand out.

  6. Excellent post! I must agree on all of them. I am just releasing a game with a friend and we actually did some of the don’ts but we still hope for the best on release. (we stayed in the black and we did not build any anticipation)

  7. I love your post!! I’m actually in the middle of doing research on how to market my iphone game. Like you, I feel like I’ve already done a couple of ‘don’ts’ on the list for this new release of my first iphone game. I do love what I am doing and will keep pushing my game making endeavors. If you guys are interested, check out my website for the trailer. http://www.bigbadbrush.com

    I personally feel like we’ve made a unique game! But than again, I’m sure everyone feels the same way. Great post though and I’ll keep on reading some more :)

  8. skyline says:

    I like and agree with all of these points.

    I specially like #8, in real life, “Its a fact of life that these people are often the ones who don’t actually have the drive to do anything themselves.” Hurray!!

    I am new to iphone game development, could you guys also share some startup experience with me? such as what books i should use for beginner? and so on..

    thanks alot

  9. Adam Wills says:

    Hi! Great post. I agree with that information. And I like 10# specially.

  10. My dont’s:

    – don’t be happy if you created just a demo of your game, there is a big chance you won’t finish it soon or even ever
    – don’t be affraid to share revenue with professionals (avoid lamers even if they have money)

  11. Well said, Game development itself is a great inspiration. Copying of rival can not provide you with expected welcome but something which has never been played can go viral among game player. one such best example is of angry bird.

  12. Nice list, and some good points.

  13. Jop says:

    It’s so extremely sad that #3 is so extremely obvious (it belongs to the absolute basics of videogame development) but people are still countering it. This is what makes the videogame industry crap for a way too big part over the last ~10 years.

  14. Christopher Waite says:

    @Jop

    I don’t consider myself in “the videogame industry” because I’m a hobbyist (imposter syndrome perhaps).

    When I wrote this article (over 3 years ago) I felt that this was a black and white thing. Originality vs clones.

    Now, I like to think of it in terms of shades of grey. My latest game takes huge I inspiration from the carcassonne board game but I’d consider it original due to the unique mix of genres (and game mechanics).

    Ripping off a single game mechanic and reproducing it wholesale with only thematic deference is something I abhor – I just can’t get behind it (including cloning flappy birds).

    I don’t think you need to be original with your game premise but I do think you need to be original with the implementation of of your game mechanics.

    Birds vs pigs = yes.

    Catapult birds at pigs = no.

    Just my opinion.

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