Ten things to do before creating your first iPhone game

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iphone_idea_reflectLast week we wrote a post that described how Gogogic turns an idea into a game, using Symbol6 as a reference. The response to that post was so massive (THANK YOU!!!) that we figured that we had no choice but to follow up on it.

Okay, okay – we promised to do that anyway –  but 12.000 views on Youtube made sure that we couldn’t wiggle out of it.

Originally, the idea had been to write a couple of followup posts but reader feedback (via email, comments, twitter and Facebook) has made it clear that we wouldn’t be able to cover all the interesting questions and issues raised without writing two of the longest, most inconsistent posts in Internet history. And we’re kind of reluctant to do that. So we’re going to write a series – yay!

This is the first post in the series (or the second, if you include the original post) and it is intended to work as an outline for later posts – a table of contents, of sorts.

It is written in the “Top 10” style of Guy Kawazaki – mainly because currently the writer has just read a few “Top 10” posts by Guy and is stuck in the format. A recent David Letterman sketch on Youtube is also to blame…

But without further ado, here are “Ten things to do before creating your first iPhone game”:

1. Consider Your Goals

We’ve all heard the news. The iPhone is the “new black”. It’s the best thing since sliced bread. And the App Store is a one-way street to endless glory, wealth and fame. Guaranteed (yeah sure)!

Indeed, the App Store is truly disurptive and Apple has introduced a brilliant new platform with a lot of potential. They also offer a very fair deal to developers, allowing them to possibly break away from the traditional value chain and earn good money while Apple handles all the (boring?) sales and retail issues.

But before you go storming into the App Store, you should consider your goals. Are you looking for a few extra bucks or are you betting your entire future on App Store success? Are you just trying out your development skills or are you looking at this as a business opportunity? Is this “just another platform” for your titles or are you going to specifically design new games for the iPhone and the iPod Touch?

Goals are important because they are the foundation of a good plan.

2. Planning Is Important

When you know where you’re heading, you can plan on how to get there. Start by doing some research. Crunch numbers, glean stories of experience, dig until you have all the information you need. Try to figure out if your goals make sense.

At Gogogic, we decided that if the company was going to focus on this new platform, it would be a “long term” decision. This meant that we would be in it for the long haul, be willing to invest into building a brand along with a number of games that were specifically designed for the devices in question. Catering to the App Store would become a core objective. Which meant that we would truly have to believe that it was more than a phenomenon.

This is an “expensive” goal, so we had to make sure that we felt that we could “get there”. We spent a lot of time on planning and building our strategy, looking at the likelihood of success versus failure. We took our goals, broke them down and built our very own road map. Of course there is still a good chance that we’ll just fail miserably – but at least we had a map and a flashlight so we can’t blame it on not being prepared!

 3. Look At Your Resources

This is a simple one. Make sure you (or your team) can build whatever it is you want to make. If you do not have access to the resources needed to finish the project, you have a problem. Worse, you might think you have the resources needed, when in reality you don’t. Even first class programmers need a little time if they’re asked to implement something in an unfamiliar environment.

4. Think About Your Market

What audience are you going to cater to? Where can you reach them? How? Why will they look at your app? And what’s with all these questions?

Device owners are a diverse crowd so make sure you know what your niche is. It is always much harder to try to build something “for everyone” – some would say impossible – so knowing your market is important.

This also simplifies things when you think about graphics, sounds, advertising, promotional issues and communities. Your audience is at the very core of those issues.

5. Make Sure Your Concept Works

The real point of our previous post, where we talked about how we take an idea, turn it into a concept and finally into a working game, is making sure that your concept really works. Of course, this is harder than it seems because it can be very difficult for an “insider” to spot a terrible concept, simply because you’re too close to it.

The solution is to test early and test often and preferably get “outsiders” to validate the concept.

A funny fact. The game developer of Symbol6 walked around the office holding a  neatly folded paper version of an iPhone with a Symbol6 concept image on it. He argued that if it was fun imagining how it would actually play out, then we were definitely on to something.

6. First Impressions Are Important

We’re just saying. It’s something we put on our list because we wanted to build a brand and we wanted to be know for certain things – like polished game play, polished graphics and quality implementation. So we thought a lot about first impressions (still do). Maybe this isn’t as important if your goal is more “short term”… but still. At least make sure that your game works properly.

7. Do What You Do Best

For your first iPhone game, it makes sense to stick to what you do best. If you’re used to develop Flash based web games – small and casual – you should probably focus on something of similar size and content for your first iPhone game. As opposed to building a 3D shooter with 400+ levels.

There is also another level to this. Try to do what you do best, but do it better for the iPhone. Really think about how you can enhance the experience by utilizing what the device offers you.

8. Don’t Plan On 1.000.000 Downloads

Consider this a warning. Do not, under any circumstances, plan on your game getting hundreds of thousands of downloads in its first day. Or week. Or month. Or year. Expect it to get a few hundred downloads. That way, you won’t be disappointed.

The reality is that the odds are against you. Of course it is okay to expect the best – but prepare for the worst. Very few titles rise to superstar status – fewer still, if they are published by a previously unknown developer. There was a window once – when the App Store launched – but it has been closed for some time now.

This is one of the reasons why we’re in it for the long haul. We’re building a brand. We’re looking at long term success. We believe that eventually this lessens the risk of failure – but, of course, we could still fail badly (or just be terribly terribly wrong).

9. The Game Is Out There – Now What?

Think about how you intend to follow up on your game. Are you going to add features? Are you going to change the price if you’ve gone in too high or too low? Are you going to submit promotional codes to review sites? If so, which sites?

If your original goal depends on any kind of success factor (critical acclaim, sales figures, recognition) then you should plan your actions after the game is released. Building the game is just the first step in what might become a long journey. Make sure you’re not just wandering around in the desert.

10. Be Patient

This is the last point (finally)! We’re not entirely sure we’re right but our plan is to be patient. What this means is that you should probably not drop the price to $0.99 after 2 days if you’re not seeing sales figures in the hundreds.

This also means that you shouldn’t panic if you only have a handful of reviews in the App Store after the first week. Or if the only published review for your game is posted on your blog.

Instead of panicking, take a good hard look at the situation (every 2-4 days, for example) and go over your strategy. Ask yourself if there is something you should change or if there is something to respond to. If the arguments are there, by all means react. If not – don’t panic.

Finally

WOOT! Monster post, finally over. But where does this leave us?

Well. Hopefully we’ll be able to look at these issues (and others) in detail in a series of posts, as stated earlier. Those posts will also include additional thoughts on testing, marketing, promotion, tools and other issues that we feel are important to the “average iPhone game developer”.

Until then…

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26 Responses to “Ten things to do before creating your first iPhone game”

  1. Jónsi Says:

    Cool. Like the in-depth posts you make.

  2. Jon Trainer Says:

    Nice post. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

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  4. Jónas Antonsson Says:

    Hi Jónsi and Jon. Thanks for your comments. We’ll continue the series as soon as we’re able to🙂

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  7. AD Says:

    Your list does not cover:

    1) What software is needed to start programming an IPhone
    2) Can IPhone games be programmed on a windows machine?
    3) What SDK is required, and how much is the API?
    4) What books are best to buy in order to learn how to program an IPhone application
    5) Is it possible to link an IPhone app to a web service, say for example a custom built PHP/MySQL script?
    6) Lets say you program an Iphone game, but you don’t have an Iphone, Ipod or whatever — how do you test it?
    7) Is it required for you to test on different versions of Iphones to see if there is a difference?

    Thanks

  8. Jónas Antonsson Says:

    Hi AD.

    Indeed, our list does not cover these issues. They are of a more “technical” nature, while we were trying to focus on the business side of things, or the motivation behind creating an iphone game.

    But your questions are interesting. I’ll try to get someone on the dev team to address them in a post🙂

    J#

  9. Roy Says:

    Great article, Jonas.

    I would also like to see a post answering the questions AD mentioned above. I stumbled across your blog while searching for information on creating iPhone games. I’m trying to decide if it’s something I want to get involved in and a post answering those questions would be extremely helpful.

    Roy

  10. Ronne Says:

    agreed with comment above, if you could post a list of software you use to develope iphone games or apps it would be a huge help, or a future post on getting started with software.

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