At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, fans got the chance to meet and mingle with several of the artists behind Magic Pixel Games and Namco Bandai’s upcoming card battler, Outcast Odyssey. Considering many of these artists have worked on comics in the past it seemed appropriate, and it was also the first time they got to meet each other. We spoke with two of the artists, Warren Louw and Chuck Pires, about their careers, their work on the game, and how posting your drawings on the internet can lead to bigger and better things.
148Apps: How did you begin your careers as artists? Warren Louw: I’m pretty much just a blend between East and West. My style is a combination of Western comic artists like J. Scott Campbell, Michael Turner, and Adam Hughes crossed with some of the artists from the Far East like Tetsuya Nomura’s work on Final Fantasy VII and VIII. and Takuji Kawano who did the art for Soulcalibur. In South Africa, I got to the point where I started developing a style that was being recognized globally. Eventually I was being contacted by the bigger companies out there and started getting my work published. Things just grew and grew from there.
Chuck Pires: Around 14 or 15 I got started mostly doing comic colors. There was a studio called Hi-Fi design that did work for Marvel at the time. They were looking for comic colorists to put some stuff online and at the time all I wanted in the world was to be published so I responded. It was all just separation work, basic colors and layout, anybody could do it. But for a 15 or 16-year-old kid it was my dream come true. That got me more interested in digital art.
Touchfight Games is an exciting new indie studio that was co-formed between game journalist and author Nathan Meunier, artist Leonard Kenyon, and programmer Jon Kenyon. Their debut game Go To Bed will be released this fall, and with all the excitement we wanted to get to know Touchfight Games a little better. Nathan, Leonard, and Jon were kind enough to speak to us about their work.
Left to right: Leonard Kenyon, Jon Kenyon, Nathan Meunier
148Apps: What inspired you decide to go from writing about games to creating games? Nathan: I've always been a huge fan of indie games in particular. Covering indies was one of my passions early-on in my career, and it's been a beat that I've really enjoyed focusing on throughout the past 8-9 years I've spent writing in the games industry. There's something about the fierce DIY spirit and inherent creativity in independent games made by small studios that's always resonated with me.
Prior to kicking off a journalism career over a decade ago, I actually dabbled with creating small games using a much earlier version of Game Maker. Back then, the indie scene as we know it today didn't exist. It was a different world, and I wasn't equipped to do much of anything with the rough game ideas I was putting together. Given that journalism was my chosen career path, I got a gig working at a newspaper and eventually transitioned into covering the games industry full-time as a freelancer.
It's been a great run in the games press, and I don't plan to give up freelancing altogether, but shifting gears to explore developing games has given me an a much-needed creative boost that's rekindled my passion for games. Also, I live out in the middle of nowhere and am used to working alone, so having an opportunity to collaborate on projects with two other local kindred spirits and my co-conspirators, Jon Kenyon and Leonard Kenyon, has been a blast, too. It's something that was missing from my freelance routine.
At the time Kurt Bieg, CEO of Simple Machine, explained their reasoning in doing so: "we believe ownership is becoming obsolete, this is our way of inspiring young and old people to read, learn, and ultimately manipulate code that came from a studio known for taking chances and innovating puzzle games."
A few weeks into making LEX open-source, and given the rarity of this occurring, we thought we'd take the time to follow up with Kurt and see how things have progressed.
One such outcome was this:
Simple Machine's 'dream outcome' according to Kurt, with coder Bill Kendrick having played LEX then used the source code to create a variant for the 8-bit Atari system.
"We don't have any quantifiable numbers on how many people read it or anything, but this made it real for us. The first point to point cause and effect. Now we just have to buy an Atari for the office so we can play it," explained Kurt.
Enlightening us on their motivations, Kurt told us about Chupamobile: a site where you can buy game code, press publish, and effectively make money with little effort.
"I was horrified at first, then I showed some of the team, and one person, Anne Peng, our community manager at the time who has since moved on, actually thought it was a good thing. Insta-curious.
Kurt went on to compare the situation to the Napster/Metallica issues of early 2000s. "We are moving towards an ownerless society, and the current "clone craze" in games is a path where the lines between who owns what are visibly blurring. What you have is an amazing new way for games to be distributed, where the code is available for everyone to read and learn from. Not everyone has the best intentions, that's for sure, but we feel like it's very parallel to the Napster/Metallica issues of early 2000s. Here we have a band that grew to popularity by people copying their songs on blank tapes off the radio, only to sue their fans for the very same behavior a couple decades later. In my view, we've been moving towards this sharable culture for quite some time, only now do we have the technology where it has become mainstream."
One significant issue, however, is the financial aspect of open sourcing. How is Simple Machine planning to stay financially solvent if their code is available to everyone?
Kurt explained, "The answer is, we don't have an answer yet. We believe that Simple Machine is about being a window to new ideas. With each game we try innovate in some unexplored area, like The Outcast for instance. Open source has huge benefits for everyone involved. I can't say that we've seen any profit lost from doing it. I can say that our hearts are warm after seeing some one interpret LEX and demake it for Atari. You could maybe draw a line and say that open sourcing has connected us directly to more fans and that our reputation has grown in a new direction.
"Overall, we're happy some people are finding inspiration from our code and that it makes the overall developer/customer experience more than just a money transaction. It's a bit more of a two way street, and that's our ultimate goal."
It's certainly ambitious and ultimately very positive and selfless of the folks at Simple Machine. It'll be fascinating to see how things turn out in the long term for them and, of course, we'll be keeping an eye on their progress and future titles.
Thanks to Kurt Bieg for taking the time to answer our questions. LEX is available now from the App Store, priced at $0.99.
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
Avid book readers will appreciate the dilemma. You want to buy a new book but do you want a physical copy or an e-book that you can more easily take with you while you're out and about? Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, making it a tough call.
There's a newly launched service that aims to solve this problem, though. It's called BitLit, and it hopes to revolutionize things when it comes to your ability to read whenever, however. Currently, over 120 publishers have signed up to the service with nearly 20,000 books available through it. A pilot deal has just been signed with HarperCollins, while other publishers such as O'Reilly and Angry Robot are also on board.
The way it works is that you simply take a photo of your book cover, write your name on the book's copyright page, take a snapshot of that, then send it through for your ownership to be validated. Then an eBook comes through in return; one that can be used on all of your devices - such as an iPad, Kindle, Kobo, or Nook.
We took the time to ask the firm a few questions to learn more about the service.
148Apps: How does the funding model for BitLit work? How do publishers gain from this approach? BitLit: When a publisher offers the eBook for free, then it's free (as in beer) for everybody, we take no commission and the user gets a free eBook (who doesn't like free stuff). About 30% of the eBooks in BitLit are free. If the eBook isn't free, then BitLit takes a small commission from the sale -- that's how we keep the lights on and servers running.
The upside for publishers and authors is twofold: Firstly, print books that include a free/discounted eBook sell almost twice as well in bookstores than books that don't include a bundled eBook. Secondly, for books that people already own, there is the opportunity for an incremental upsale -- less than 1% of readers purchase titles at full price in both print and digital formats, 48% of readers say they're willing to pay slightly more to get both formats. Currently you can only buy print or digital; BitLit lets the author capture value on the reader who wants both.
148apps: Are there any plans for it to be possible to validate your purchase without writing in the book? BitLit: We ask our users to validate the book by writing in it is so that the book can't be returned to a bookstore. But we know that readers sometimes don't want to have their messy writing in their book. For these folks, there's the option of using an Ex Libris book stamp to mark that the book is theirs.
148apps: How long does the process take before you can download a copy? BitLit: If you have neat handwriting the process takes about 30 seconds. If the automated algorithms can't recognize your hand writing, then it might take up to 15 minutes for a human reviewer to validate your print edition. We deliver eBooks via email download link, so even if you use BitLit on your smartphone to validate the book, you can be reading on your iPad in less than a minute.
148apps: What plans are there for expansion to cover more titles? BitLit: We have a dedicated content acquisition team whose job is to get in touch with publishers. We already have some great publishers like HarperCollins, O'Reilly, and Angry Robot on board... and we're in talks with a lot of other great publishers that we hope will be joining soon. Stay tuned.
Thanks to the folks at BitLit for answering our questions. The app is available now and is a free download. To check what books are eligible, you can consult the BitLitwebsite.
You can lose yourself in contracts with fine print and hundreds of pages legalese. Abe Geiger, Ceo of Shake Inc., wanted to simplify it all and make legal documents less scary. Shake is an app that creates legal documents by offering templates or allowing users to create their own by answering a few simple questions. The app is designed to walk small business owners through the process using simple language and allows the parties involved to sign the document electronically.
In a day and age where people sell items on Craigslist or want to loan a friend some cash, not everyone can find the time or the money to hire a lawyer for every small transaction. Shake makes these smaller contracts possible. The Shake blog also offers a ton of educational posts about legal issues and contacts.
After learning about the Shake app at the Northside Tech festival in Brooklyn, we had the pleasure of speaking with Abe Geiger. about Shake's history and its future.
148Apps: What made you decide to make an app specifically designed for legal documents?
Abe Geiger (AG): My background was in start-ups and small businesses in the New York and Bay area, and I saw that a lot of entrepreneurs paid a lot of money for legal documents. I wanted to get rid of the headaches of creating contracts and simplify the language using plain English. I wanted to make Shake as easy to use as possible.
148Apps: How secure is the user's information with Shake?
AG:Shake's security has high standards. Using encryption and password protection, it is more secure than most email where you would be sending a document around to be signed. We are planning on increasing the security in Shake for Business with a new feature that allows you to take a picture of the person along with their signature.
148Apps: What sort of expansions or updates do you see for Shake in the future?
AG: We are currently working on a lot of updates right now. We should have Shake available for Android coming very soon, and we are working on Shake for the web. We have introduced a pilot, business-focused mobile app for parties who already have their own contracts. We're working with 15 different partners currently to create Shake for Business with forms like photo releases and sale contracts. It will have premium features for small and medium businesses.
Thanks to Abe Geiger for taking the time to answer our questions.
We're big fans of inkle's work here at 148apps, even if the lower case "i" does make my Grammar Hat twitch uncomfortably. So, the news of a new project coming from the studio was bound to get us excited. That project is 80 Days, an ambitious narrative-focused game inspired by the work of Jules Verne that utilizes a fairly cool steampunk theme.
Players take the role of Passepartout as he helps (and suffers) Phileas Fogg on their epic journey around the world in 80 days. Set for release this Summer, 80 Days promises plenty of different paths to success with many decisions to take, much like in the Sorcery! series of games. Perhaps most interesting of all, there'll be a networked live feed ensuring that players can keep track of what's going on with other players, all in real time.
Fascinated by the general premise, I was able to discuss the game with inkle's Jon Ingold and Joe Humfrey, as well as the game's writer, Meg Jayanth, to learn more.
After Phil Hassey's release of BREAKFINITY, the fast-paced endless Breakout game, he's taking another stab at the world of free games: by releasing a free version of Dynamite Jack, his explosive 2012 action game - creatively entitled Dynamite Jack Free. While plenty of developers are starting to release free ad-supported games thanks to Flappy Bird's success, this is one of the bigger attempts at such a release. As such, I spoke to Phil Hassey about what he's doing with Dynamite Jack Free.
148Apps: Many of the games that have gone with the free-with-ads route are simpler games: ones like Flappy Bird, and your own BREAKFINITY. Why take this route with a deeper game like Dynamite Jack? Was BREAKFINITY's performance a motivator in this regard?
Phil Hassey:Dynamite Jack came out almost two years ago, so it's sales have run down pretty thin at this point. Since I did all the work to set up ads in BREAKFINITY it was pretty trivial to set up Dynamite Jack with the same thing.
I am really curious how well it will do. It's definitely totally different from your typical ad supported game. I guess we'll find out soon enough if the free crowd is ready for this kind of experience or not!
148Apps: Why did you go with the continues-as-monetization IAP system?
Phil Hassey: I'm not really an ad monetization guru or anything, since BREAKFINITY is my first ad supported game, and it's only been out for over a month. Over the past year I had given thought to doing a F2P version of Dynamite Jack, with various ideas like "buying bombs" or whatever. However, changes like that would have seriously impacted the gameplay in ways I wasn't too excited about.
So doing the continues is nice, because it doesn't change the gameplay at all. If anything it makes the death experience sightly more intense because the penalty for death is greater than in the paid version of the game. I think the monetization will actually make the game have a slightly greater emphasis on stealth than the paid version.
148Apps: You have an IAP for unlimited continues for $4.99. Was there any thought given to making this a higher price than what the main game is available for?
Phil Hassey: About 6 months ago I changed the iOS price to $4.99 for the paid version. So the IAP for unlimited continues just matches that. I upped the price on Dynamite Jack because I think it's a solid game and people definitely get their $4.99 of entertainment out of it. Some of the players who have gotten into the game have played for hundreds of hours thanks to the community maps.
148Apps: Is there a particular threshold where you see this being worth the time and effort put into it?
Phil Hassey: I really only spent a couple days putting this together, so it doesn't need to do a whole lot to break even on my time. But really, in terms of being an experiment with how well a hard-core iOS game works in the ad supported market, the answer to the question "Will this work at all?" is going to be worth finding out.
If it's found that you can make more heavy games and support them through ads, we might see more games going that route. Or maybe we'll find out that this sort of game just works best as a paid-only title.
148Apps: If this is successful, do you fear that perhaps it could be part of a movement where players expect more free games, monetized primarily with ads? And if so, do you think that it is good for the App Store market?
Phil Hassey: I think anything that helps indies find new ways to support their art is great! The more avenues there are to being able to make games full-time the more chances there are that great games are going to be made. Another great thing about ad supported games is how they can reach a wider audience. People who don't have the means to purchase paid games can play free ad supported games.
148Apps: Depending on how this does, would you ever consider releasing a future game initially with a free version like this? Perhaps even one of the Galcon games?
Phil Hassey: I'm still working on Galcon 2, which is going to be F2P. I'm still working out the details, but my experiences with BREAKFINITY and Dynamite Jack FREE are certainly giving me more insight into how to make it work out. I expect Galcon 2 will contain "earn more Galcoins by watching videos" options for those who want more in game currency but don't have the means to pay for it.
Isolani, the latest first-person shooter from DeNA and Scattered Entertainment, creators of The Drowning, is a curious game. It tries to bring a story-based FPS into the structure of games like Candy Crush Saga, particularly with recharging lives and a linear progression, as opposed to the mission-based structure of The Drowning. David Simard, a producer on Isolani with Scattered Entertainment, took some time to answer questions about the game.
Frank Condello is the solo developer behind Chaotic Box, now well-known for dEXTRIS, which has surpassed one million downloads and become one of his most popular games. Condello has been at work on the App Store for years now, but this stands as one of his biggest releases yet. Condello was gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions about dEXTRIS, and what it means for him.
148Apps: What was the impetus behind bringing the Transport Tycoon back now in 2014? Chris Sawyer (CS): The latest mobile and tablet platforms were perfect for the game with their power, high resolution screens, and touch screen interface. It just made sense to bring the game to these platforms.
148Apps: Did mobile change the way that you approached the gameplay of Transport Tycoon? CS: We set out to keep the complex and detailed gameplay as unchanged as possible because that's what's at the core of Transport Tycoon, and the technology in modern mobiles and tablets allowed us to do that. We improved the user experience with the touch screen interface and enhanced display of the game world as well as other in-game information.
148Apps: What is the one aspect of the 1994 game market that you think 2014 needs? CS: A reliable way for players to find the good games amongst the not-so-good. In 1994, the information about new games was quite limited, but also very thorough. By reading magazines, you could find out which games might appeal and which were worth spending money on. Nowadays, there are so many games being sold (or given away) and marketed in so many ways, it's very difficult for the good games to shine based on merit rather than clever advertising or social media manipulation.
148Apps: Conversely, what would the 1994 market be improved by something in 2014? CS: Back in 1994, there was only one way to publish games, which was selling boxed products through a publisher and distributor. Now there are dozens of ways of publishing games and most of them mean a more streamlined and cheaper distribution channel.
148Apps: Free-to-play is obviously a huge deal now, but Transport Tycoon has launched at a premium price. Why was this chosen? CS:Transport Tycoon always was and still is a premium game. It is a game with considerable detail and depth of gameplay, and making it free-to-play with in-app purchases would have ruined the depth of the game. We wanted players to be able to become immersed in the gameplay and not be faced by frustrating restrictions or demands for payment while playing.
148Apps: Has the premium price worked out for the game? CS: It is working out for the game, but it's proving a challenge as we're perhaps the first to try publishing such a detailed strategy game as a fully-paid app. We have also published a free Lite version with limited gameplay, which helps a lot too. The Lite version allows players to get a feel for the game before moving towards purchasing the full version. We've also found that keeping the game well-supported is important. The development team is continuing to fine tune and enhance the game with regular updates and support for players.
148Apps: iOS versus Android, what do you see as the biggest difference between the overall worlds of games on each platform? CS: The main difference is the distribution model on each. iOS is considerably more controlled and streamlined and Android is less controlled, but each has their own benefits.
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
Source: dirkhayhurst.com Bush League is, on its surface, a curious game: it's essentially a baseball take on Puzzle Quest, featuring crude parodies of famous players and figures around the sport, using performance-enhancing drugs that serve as the game's special powers. But it's the creator of the game that is particularly noteworthy. Dirk Hayhurst is a former baseball player who's become an author of several best-selling books about his life in baseball and some of the things that fans don't necessarily see about the culture. He's also become a provocative analyst, and was part of the post-game show on TBS for the 2013 MLB playoffs. And now he's a game developer, and he took the time to talk to me about this baseball parody he's helped to create.
The genesis of Bush League came about when Hayhurst noticed that "There's no good baseball game out there that kind of trolls baseball. You have all these scandals every year, but you never to seem to have a game that has all these players and all the drama they get into. And it's such a big thing right now in Major League Baseball to get caught using steroids, right? I thought, why can't we just make a game where you have to use steroids to win, and just troll the entire industry? I'm kind of like a black sheep of the baseball world anyways, and I always have kind of shown the other side of it, I thought, this is a great premise for a video game. Let's make Candy Crush with steroids."
The hook to Bush League is in the way that it tries to parody baseball. Famous players and other figures around the sport both past and present are the opponents that populate the game, and their personalities and dialogue make light of things that, say, MLB: The Show or RBI Baseball 14 would never touch.
Hayhurst's unafraid to make fun of situations that he was involved in. There's one character, Purcey Tweeps, who parodies David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. Hayhurst criticized Price's performance after a playoff game he lost, and Price insulted Hayhurst's playing career and said "SAVE IT NERDS.". Purcey in the game makes reference to social media and to the nerds comment. Everything is a bit crude and over-the-top, but meant to, as Hayhurst says, "troll baseball" and "[service] that idea that baseball takes itself too seriously and needs a good mocking every now and then just to keep things even."
While Hayhurst financed the development of the game and his name is on it, he didn't just slap his name on it - he played an active role in development. "I was in charge of the art direction, the music direction... all the powers, I had to nest all the AI development, I had to decide the way it was going to look, the way it was going to feel, I had a say in all of that. At times I frustrated the guy doing the code, but it was a learning experience. And so there were things that I learned taking a shot at making a game that I never would have learned had I pursued a degree." Hayhurst says he realized his strengths were "the writing, and designing the characters and how the game should feel, and my coder had his strengths, which was taking all these wild ideas I had, parsing them down, teaching me the ropes, and making them work in the actual game.
Hayhurst doesn't want Bush League to be a static product either: he wants to, over time, update the game to incorporate other notorious events and scandals as characters and powers. He says he would love to tackle other sports in a similar way.
But given that he's created this media career for himself, is Hayhurst afraid of the blowback that could come from this parody of the sport and its players that he's created? He says "I don't think of the church of baseball as some holy sacrament that everyone has to be reverential to, especially guys like me that didn't have long careers. This kind of stuff deserves to get picked on a little bit, because it's quite ridiculous when you think about it. I have always done that. And I understand because I'm in the sports entertainment field, I'm criticizing the sports entertainment field. I'm not criticizing these individual players, I'm criticizing the Franken-player that we've made out of them by knowing very little about who they are and taking what we know publicly and hyping it up, and turning it into something it isn't. That is what I've always done, and that's what got me on TBS and ultimately keep it from it at some point, but that's who I am, and that's the style that I like to work in."
Thanks to Dirk Hayhurst for his time. Bush League is available now.
+Universal & Apple Watch App - Designed for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch
Even the most organized of people will admit that it's messy and often cumbersome to organize one's paperwork. It also feels increasingly outdated with more importance placed upon digital storage than ever before. This is where digital assistant of sorts, FileThis, comes in handy.
It's an app that's part of a smart file management system that can grab your digital statements, bills, and other important information for you, before filing it all away safely for later reference. Supporting over 300 different account connections and a Smart Labels system sure to make it easier to organize things, it should be an ideal solution for those keen to have a paperless life.
With FileThis having been in development for the past couple of years, we were able to have a chat with CMO, Martin Stein, to learn more about why you should pay attention to this service.
148Apps: What was the inspiration behind the service? Martin Stein (MS):FileThis is based on a personal experience of founder and CEO Brian Berson. He and his brother had to move their mother to an assisted living facility, where they were overwhelmed by working through 20 years of her paperwork. Brian realized that while living in the 21st century, in a digital world, we all are still faced with a lot of paperwork. Even worse, some documents are available digitally and some documents come to us in the mail in paper format. Important information is scattered all over the place.
The idea behind FileThis was to give the control back to the consumer: to help them save time with their daily paperwork by getting all their statements automatically and storing them where they want, not leaving them scattered around the web, or on bank or insurance websites. That’s why FileThis is a digital mailbox and filing service - much more than just a digital filing cabinet.
FileThis is about saving time and convenience: in order to automate the process as much as possible, we developed features such as email check-in, FileThis Drop (a dropbox style folder on your desktop), or our iPhone app that lets users take photos of receipts or documents and turn them into PDF files within the FileThis Cloud. FileThis is about freedom of choice. We let our customer decide where they want to store their data.
FileThis is also about privacy. Because our product is a freemium service, we depend on upgrade sales based on connections and don’t mine or resell customer data, and never will. That is an important differentiator between us and other “free” services.
148Apps: Given the amount of sensitive information involved, how secure a service is this? MS:FileThis is a read-only service that uses bank-level security (256-bit encrypted data and communication). We also apply bank-level security practices besides encryption: this includes auditing, logging, and back-ups. We utilize third-party services to test our service for security issues – including scanning our ports, testing for SQL injection, and many other potential security weaknesses. We have also received the Verisign security seal as well as the McAfee Secure badge.
148Apps: Are there any plans to expand to other countries? MS: With fetching and delivering digital statements at the center of the service, we are focused on the US market at this time. But, we will let you know when FileThis expands to other markets.
148Apps: Are there any other plans for expansions or new features that you're able to divulge? MS: The FileThis app for iOS has just been released. With first maintenance release from last week we improved the image capturing and added a flashlight mode.
Thanks to Martin Stein for taking the time to answer our questions. FileThis is available now from the App Store.
Rather impressively, FileThis is free to use for those who want to use up to 6 account connections with updates running once a week. For those who want a more powerful service, they can opt to pay $2 per month for up to 12 connections or $5 per month for up to 30 connections, as well as a daily update. That sounds like a pretty good value for the money to me, thanks to its timesaving potential.
148Apps: What's the story behind Grammar Girl? What made you decide to embrace that title? Mignon Fogarty (MF): When I was a science editor, I saw my clients making the same mistakes over and over again - little things, such as using "a" when they should use "an" or misusing commas. Podcasting was new at the time, and I decided to also do a quick, simpler writing show because I saw that there were so many people who needed writing help.
Much to my surprise, the Grammar Girl podcast took off right away and essentially took over my life. I worked like crazy for about six months trying to do both Grammar Girl and the science writing and editing, since that work paid my bills, and when I finally got my book deal with Macmillan and we formed the partnership to grow the Quick and Dirty Tips network, I was able to switch to Grammar Girl full time.
The name Grammar Girl just popped into my head and I knew it was perfect right away. I believe it works because of the alliteration and because "girl" is a nonthreatening word. People have a lot of anxiety about their writing, and a lot of the grammar advice out there is delivered in a high-brow or condescending way. Being Grammar Girl sends the message that I'm friendly and approachable.
148Apps: How did Grammar Pop come about? What was the inspiration for creating a game like this? MF: After finishing my last book, I wanted to do something different. People were playing games on their tablets and phones - I was playing games on my tablet and phone - and it seemed obvious to me that there should be a game in which you match words with their parts of speech. In fact, I was incredulous when I looked for such a game and found that it didn’t exist.
So on a plane on my way to Macmillan for a different meeting, I sketched out the initial idea for how I thought the game might work. They wanted to do it, so we went about investigating ways to make it work. I ended up coding it myself with a tool called Game Salad and working with Margo Goody, an artist at Macmillan.
148Apps: How important do you think it is to make learning fun? MF: Grammar Girl is all about making learning fun!
148Apps: What has the feedback from players been like? MF: I get great feedback from parents and teachers who use Grammar Pop and say it has really helped their kids learn parts of speech. It's not a chore to get their kids to play it; the kids love it and learn parts of speech without even realizing they're learning.
148Apps: What's next for the Grammar Pop series of games? Are there any plans for new installments or updates? MF: We came out with a special Winterfest edition for the holidays, and we're getting bids right now to expand the game with more levels.
Thanks to Mignon Fogarty for taking the time to answer our questions. To find out more about Grammar Girl, check out the Quick and Dirty Tips website.
Roadhouse Interactive recently announced the upcoming Warhammer 40,000: Carnage. Roadhouse is typically known for free-to-play games of the mid-core variety, meaning that they target more of a traditional PC/console gamer audience, as opposed to a casual one like many of the simulation and casino games that free-to-play has become known and often reviled for. But Roadhouse is going to release Carnage as a paid game. I spoke with Tarnie Williams and Kayla Kinnuen of the Vancouver studios recently to discuss just why they went this route.
First off, they say that they wanted to put together a cohesive game experience that players could just sit down and enjoy. "We really wanted to put together a game that didn't have an energy mechanic... or any social pay walls, because we really wanted to deliver a great experience with players... you could buy this game, and if you wanted to just punch through the game in one sitting, ten hours, twelve hours, whatever it takes you, you can do that. You don't have to wait for status bars to refresh or invite five friends to pass this gate. And we think that the gamers that want this game will really respect that, and I think that the price point supports that."
Now, the game won't be without in-app purchases, but Roadhouse claims that "it makes for something that can be used, but it's all on your ability to play." This decision to design the game this way may be in part because it won't be paid everywhere. Roadhouse claims "there are places that cannot support a premium model. Certain territories just won't buy it. But we believe that, actually, in a number of western countries, there's actually an aspect of free-to-play fatigue in some cases, and there's some interest from players to have robust experiences. And we're trying to deliver one of those. To be frank, I'm really excited at what we're delivering." As well, they claim that with the free-to-play version that some markets will get that "both aspects of the experience as well as the manner in which players are allowed to consume and unlock content will be different."
As well, this sort of "paymium" model, which games like Infinity Blade have used, have paved the way for the acceptability of games that launch with a paid price but also in-app purchases. According to Roadhouse, they claim that "there's an expectation, for especially those small percentage that are spending lots of money, they want the ability to, at times, push further ahead or circumvent some of the design that's been put in to place, and to be able to move at a different pace."
"So fine, we understand that. But I think there's also a big chunk of gamers, who when we look at the Warhammer 40,000 audience, they are gamers. And we have a lot of people in that are who are interested a full experience, without being limited to playing for six minutes. So we didn't want to limit it in that way."
And gamers that pick up the game will likely have a lot to play with over time: the plan is for the game to launch with 50 levels, and for updates down the road to possibly multiply the content of the game by four times what it launched with. And while they are working with Graham McNeill to craft the game's story and world, they say "we think the title stands alone on its gameplay. And its structure, and its campaign, and its story, even if you didn't have the Warhammer 40k brand on it, someone who's never heard of Warhammer 40k is still going to be able to engage with this title, and still have a satisfying and rich experience as they go through a very detailed and rich world and have that experience."
But ultimately, while Roadhouse is taking a different path for the company with this, they say "We're not [saying] go kill free to play. It's absolutely a viable business model, there's lots of reasons to do it in lots of cases. But in this case we've chosen a different path and one we believe is very viable."
Warhammer 40,000: Carnage is expected to release this May for iOS and Android. Thanks to Roadhouse for their time.
While the folks at Mighty Mill explained how they thought going freemium without hassling players would "maximize potential users and only those that would love it would pay something", they've found themselves in an awkward situation. Last week, the developer announced that Tanuki Forest in its free guise had achieved 8.72k downloads but a mere $65.52 before Apple took its cut. With not much chance of being able to survive on such low earnings, the firm took the difficult decision to increase the asking price for the game to $1.99, I chatted more to Jake Gumbleton to see just how they felt about how things have turned out.
148Apps: What do you wish you'd done differently with Tanuki Forest's initial release? Jake Gumbleton (JG): If we were doing things over we would research F2P a lot more carefully and had a more informed decision about the relative merits of indie premium vs F2P monetisation. As you (and a few others) pointed out in your review of TF, the game was very unaggressive with its freemium monetisation. It basically never asks you for money and everything in it can very easily be acquired without ever spending actual money. We went free so that we would have no barrier to entry and achieve the largest possible amount of players. We hoped those players who loved the game would buy the currency doubler as a thanks. This behaviour is true of forum users etc. but maybe not so true of the wider, more casual games player.
148Apps: Did you consider adding more intrusive in-app purchases at any point? JG: Not pre-release, no. We really did not want to taint the experience of Tanuki Forest. The game has an immersive, absorbing style and we did not want to harass players to make purchases. After the hard truth of seeing that the game was basically only going to make enough money to buy us lunch we, of course, discussed potential changes and improvements to the in app purchasing.
We would never want to take our games to a very aggressive place with monetization but I do think there is a lot of potential to improve the ‘retention game’ of Tanuki Forest. We have consulted a few F2P experts and have a list of things that we would love to implement in TF that would give the players much more reason to return to the game for more from one play session to the next.
148Apps: Do you think going on sale upon first release would have helped? JG: I think it might have made us slightly more money but not enough to really change our circumstances. The only real potential benefit would have been that the game would have been perceived as more premium than it was? I think the same elephant in the room is still there whichever way a small indie dev chooses to go, free or paid: Getting meaningful amounts of visibility with the App Store players is extremely difficult indeed.
148Apps: Why did you opt for $1.99 rather than $0.99? JG: Two reasons: to give us room to go on sale if we want to at a later date and also, in my reading up of F2P monetisation since release, I have read a few times that at the low end of price points it makes very little difference to the number of purchases that get made. The difference in units bought at $0.99 or 1.99$ is pretty negligible. $0.99 does not have the relevance that it did before the dominance of free games since there are so many free games now.
148Apps: Have things improved financially yet? JG: We are making more money than we were as a free app but still virtually nothing. The big problem now is that Tanuki Forest has dipped in to obscurity just like all apps do after a few weeks on the app store if they don’t go viral. All of our coverage through reviews etc. happened while we were paid. Once an app dips in the charts it submerges in the million other apps and that’s pretty much that!
148Apps: Has there been any kind of backlash? JG: None at all. People have been incredibly supportive. Ultimately, gamers can’t really be angry for being early adopters and getting the game for free. If it was the other way around I can see reasons for people to be annoyed.
148Apps: What do you think you've learned for future titles? JG: To push ourselves to have enough originality and content to ensure we can confidently go indie premium up at $5 or so. If Tanuki Forest had been something bigger than a runner we would have just gone the indie premium route straight off the bat. Our next game will be more original and idiosyncratic of us as developers and we will ensure it has enough content to be a real premium indie app like Sword & Sworcery et al.
148Apps: What do you think of the App Store economy? Does it work for developers or is it a consumers' market? JG: It works just fine if you are Supercell! As a small developer unless you go viral or make a masterpiece then you are in a pretty impossible position. Obviously the guys at the App Store submissions department must face a deluge of content every day. From their point of view I can see why they go for more known quantities. The only games that break the trend and get the features are pretty much the very best games. So my rather obvious advice to indie devs out there is to make sure your game is utter brilliance.
Thanks to Jake Gumbleton for taking the time to answer our questions. Remember folks, if you love playing a free game, sometimes it's a good move to buy an in-app purchase or two from it. Not all games are so desperate for your money that they'll push you into it. That doesn't mean that the developers behind it don't need to be able to eat!