Open source devices for the disabled

In one of my mobile games I had used music from Eric Skiff, and I heard he is starting a new company which makes open source devices for the disabled. So I thought I would give a link for everyone to check out if you are interested.

Here is the video which talks about their aims. Pretty cool stuff!

They have a Kickstarter campaign as well in case you are interested in helping out.

 

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Fallout Shelter – What’s so great about it?

Fallout Shelter was released a little over a week ago on iOS, supporting iPhone and iPad devices. This game developer, Bethesda Softworks, owns the rights for all the previous games, the first of which goes all the way back to 1997. I am a big fan of Fallout 1 and 2, and after catching sight of a few reviews that said Shelter was great I decided to try it out.

Fallout Shelter, like the rest of the games in the series, is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where the remaining humans have to do their best to survive in harsh conditions. You play as an overseer of a shelter in the wasteland, and must manage it’s various buildings and inhabitants.

You start by bringing people found outside into your shelter, and assign them to various rooms and roles, for example a diner or power plant. Each of them has their own set of unique stats which influences their performance in their assigned role. As you gather more resources you can eventually build more rooms, unlock new types of rooms, and expand your shelter both horizontally and vertically. You can also assign characters to explore the surrounding wasteland.

The game’s main screen consists of a cross-sectional side view of the habitat with it’s various rooms. The visuals are quite beautiful with a combination of striking 3D and cartoon-shaded characters, though the base view in XCom: Enemy Unknown on PC is quite similar in terms of overall appearance. You can freely zoom out to the point you can see several rooms at once, or make an entire room fit the screen (I played on an iPhone 6).

So far, so good – up to this point the game probably sounds to you like it has great promise. Unfortunately, I saved the worst for last.

After playing this game for around two hours off and on, I got rather tired of it and wasn’t very motivated to keep playing. I tried again a day later, but after 5 or 10 minutes quickly got bored again.

Although I am a big fan of detailed simulation games like SimCity, this game’s scope is just too limited for me to get into the game world. For example, when you explore the wilderness, your are only shown the results of your character’s actions via a textual log. The rest of the time you are sitting staring at your base, which while pretty, gets old quick. I can see how the resource gathering can be addictive for some, but ultimately this game falls in the bucket of “games you play when you aren’t playing”, which means that to gather resources you have to wait minutes, though there is a “rush” option which can speed up production if it succeeds. I can see how someone could turn on notifications and just play this game in spare moments here or there, but I’m just not into those types of games. Of course there are ways to speed up the process by using actual cash via in-game purchases, but this game pushes these a bit less aggressively than other mobile games I’ve played in this genre.

I think Bethesda has done a good job of making a casual time-wasting mobile game in the Fallout universe, and from the looks of it they have addicted a great crowd of people. In all fairness, I think they built the exact type of game they intended to, and the usability is overall pretty good (except for a few times when I had trouble selecting a character when I was zoomed out).

But for me, the real allure of the Fallout universe was the element of exploration and adventure, which is mostly missing from this game. Having characters upset due to lack of food or electricity is much less exciting and engaging than being chased by a giant scorpion, and reading about that in text form doesn’t count.

For the younger generation who is already into these types of games, I can see how it became popular. But for those who are old enough to have played and appreciated the first two Fallout games, I have a hard time believing much satisfaction could come from playing Fallout Shelter. Though I’m sure Bethesda spend a good amount of time developing this game and will make some profit from the in-app purchases, ultimately I think it’s primary purpose is to act as a marketing tool for Fallout 4, which should be released near the end of this year.

[If you enjoyed this article, please consider checking out my latest mobile game, a unique puzzle game for iPhone]

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallout_Shelter

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a1/XCOM_Enemy_Unknown,_illustration_of_the_strategy_UI.jpeg

Three tips to be an effective hobby game developer

Being a hobby game developer is fundamentally difficult, since you have to divide up limited time between the rest of your life and game development, which is inherently a time-consuming activity. In this post I’ll discuss three ways to help maximize your time to be effective as a hobbyist game developer.

Use idle time wisely

In almost everyone’s life there are moments where we don’t have an opportunity to do proper game development, and yet our brain is free to think. These include when you are in the bathroom, shower, commuting, or putting a child to sleep.

During such times, assuming I have some mental energy left, I try to think about a game I am working on, either planning what I will code next or sifting through ideas that might improve the game. By doing such pre-planning, when I actually do have a few minutes of free time I can start working almost immediately.

Pipeline projects

When working on any project, there are usually times when you have to wait before you can proceed. For example, you might be waiting for app store approval, or feedback from a tester.

To make effective use of such times, it’s good to have a second or third project to fall back to so you can avoid wasting time. In an extreme case, you could be thinking about how to market a game that is already released, waiting on a second game to be approved for an app store, and planning what time of game you’ll develop next.

Say bye to TV

This time is really a good one for life in general, but it is especially true for hobby game developers that are time-limited. TV is really addicting and can be load of fun, but generally it is not a great way to learn new things or even exercise the brain (this is true even if you are watching a story with a complex plot). To avoid watching too much TV I don’t subscribe cable at home. Even though movies may seem more intellectual, I feel the are equally wasteful. The only good exception I can think of is if you are studying dialogue, camera angles, or editing techniques to apply to a game you are working on.

Strictly speaking, I could include other hobbies like reading, but at least those things exercise the brain better and it’s good to take a break from game development once in a while.

I’ve seen a recent study that says the average person the US spends almost 3 hours watching TV. Just imagine how much more could be learned, and created, if  even a fraction of that time was used for something more productive.

Inspiration/motivation for creating PTF and being a hobby game developer

In the past I’ve briefly touched on how Play The Field was inspired by classic Real Time Strategy games such as Age of Empires and Starcraft. I was especially into the latter of these for many years (including expansions and follow up games), and for me when I really enjoy something I tend to want to make my own version of it.

Taking something like Starcraft, which typically takes several hundred people (including artists, developers, sound engineers, testers, managers, etc.) several years to make, honestly I would never have a chance to make anything close. Having said that, I enjoy game development (and software development in general) to the extent that whether my game would be popular is secondary, and in my college years I created a pretty detailed RTS game for the PC. In retrospect, it wasn’t that great but if you search around you may be able to find it online.

Now that I am into mobile development, it was only natural to try and make a RTS game for the iPad, but this time around my time is mostly taken up by my great job and my great family. However, I still have an hour or two in the evenings, and some time on weekends, so I decided on creating a very minimal game which captured some of the essence of RTS games. The fact it was made on a shoestring budget (both in a money and time sense) is why the graphics are also so simplistic. And due to the smaller scale and shorter timeline, I decided to group this game in the “RTT” (Real Time Tactics) category rather than RTS.

Just as with my RTS games on the desktop (I actually made a few if you go back far enough), the joy of coding a game is my primary motivator, but if people happen to download and enjoy my game, all the better. The game is completely free with no ads or in-app purchases.

To be honest, with a app store oversaturated already with nearly every type of game and app imaginable, I count every download as a tiny miracle (:

At some later point, I may talk in more detail about how I developed the game quickly with limited time, as it may be of use to some aspiring game developers.

[PTF on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/play-the-field/id985621862?ls=1&mt=8]

Apple App Analytics Beta and a new, very valuable metric

I was fortunate enough to receive an email from Apple this morning telling me the beta of their App Analytics program was now available for my testing. This is a free program – all I did was to say I was interested in participating in the beta after I received an email a few days ago from them announcing it.

I’m not going to do an detailed report of this new service here, but I will say there is several new metrics available and everything is displayed very differently compared to their normal Sales and Trends page on iTunes Connect.

One of the new data points which immediately caught my eye is “App Store Views”, and I’d like to spend the rest of this post discussing it.

If I understand correctly, this metric represents anytime someone on an app store manages to stumble upon your app and clicks on the icon, showing the detailed page with App description, screenshots, and optional app preview video. I’m not sure if this includes looking at the page from a web browser, or only within the app store itself.

I think some who see these numbers may very happy at first, especially if you are an experienced blogger. They’ll think “Wow, I got this many hits!”, but it’s a bad idea to compare this to blog hits since, unlike for a blog, the page is only a middle step through the process you are trying to accomplish. I recommend you subtract the number of actual downloads from the number of App store views, like this:

  • (App Store Views) – (Actual Downloads)

If you do this for a specific day’s figures (or a longer period of time), you’ll now have a very valuable metric, those who were not impressed enough by your application’s app store page to actually try it out. Here is another figure you can easily calculate:

  • Percentage of downloaders = (Actual Downloads) / (App Store Views)

For one of my apps, this number is about 13.5 %. I haven’t compared this to anyone else’s number yet, but it seems quite low.

So what to do with these metrics? It turns out this is very important information to help you market and advertise your game.

If you parallel mobile app downloading to the fast food industry – first you have to get them in the door, inside the restaurant so they can see the menu. Next, they have to like the prices, pictures, and description of one or more items on the menu enough to buy it, or take it if it happens to be free.

If you have a very low percentage of downloaders, ironically it doesn’t necessarily mean your game is bad, or uninteresting. All it means is that the screenshots, app preview, description, and price are not enticing enough to tempt the user to try it out. If you think your game is really great (and you’ve showed it to some people and they agree), then it’s probably worth spending more time making a superb app preview and set of screenshots. I feel the description is much less important, since the preview and screenshots should be strong enough to tell a story on their own (possibly using some descriptive text overlays). I’m not going to go into the process of creating these now, maybe another time. To be honest I am still learning about this stuff myself.

If you have a fairly high percentage of downloaders (say 80% of greater), then you know your app store assets are top quality and you’re convincing almost everyone who sees them to try your app. In order to try and further increase your downloads, your next step should be investing in some good advertising. For cases like this I’d say to seriously consider paying a company to advertise your game, assuming that you have some revenue generation method such as a non-zero price, in app purchases, or adds.

If you have a free mobile game with in app purchases, download count is no longer your final goal, and you have to now analyze the ratio of in app purchases vs. downloads. Even if you can drive thousands to get your app, if this ratio is low you are unlikely to succeed making much money. This figure is the hardest to increase because it’s hard to fake it – hiring someone to make a professional app preview just won’t cut it anymore. The user has to really appreciate your game’s visuals and gameplay enough to want to take it to the next stage, and that means you really have to polish these things.