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Academy Spotlight – Interview with Solo Indie Developer Marcus Dobler

We were thrilled when Indie Game Developer and Academy Member Marcus agreed to answer some questions about his life and journey as an indie game developer.

Marcus has achieved so much including Apple App Store “Game of the Day” for his game AstroBlast along with multiple Apple Home Pages Features in “New Games We Love”.

Marcus Dobler - Indie Game Developer

You can see all of Marcus’s games over on his website Here.

Games Made With Passion - Marcus Dobler

Aside with recently being awarded multiple Apple features, you own 7 night clubs and you are successful businessman in the gastronomic industry. So what first drew you to this crazy world of game development?

I started programming on the Commodore 64 in my childhood. As I grew older my interests shifted and I began working as a DJ and opened my first club with two partners. Now I am partner of 7 clubs with capacity up to 2.000 people per club.

As you can imagine running clubs is a loud and hard business. Therefore I was looking for a hobby to bring balance to my life. Then I remembered my favourite childhood activity, coding and making games so I tried it out and it was a success.

I know you’re a fantastic coder, your games are all highly polished and of great quality, which software engine is your preferred tool for all your game creation?

Thank you very much!

I use different software tools when I’m developing my games.

I create all my 2D designs by working with Photoshop and Illustrator and recently I’ve started using Affinity Designer more frequently too.

For my 3D designs I use Cinema 4D. This is an awesome app that had made its debut on the Commodore Amiga and I have been working with this ever since it first came out!

When working on promotion videos, I use Apple Motion.

My SDK is Xcode and the code is written in Swift, Apples’ latest programming language. Swift is perfectly structured and fairly easy to learn. SpriteKit and SceneKit are used as frameworks which are both developed by Apple.

Since I don’t consider publishing my games on any other platform but Apple / iOS, I choose their native developing tools to make the best games possible. It always goes down well with the Apple Team also.

iOS Game Icons - Made With Passion - Marcus Dobler

Do you start off creating your titles with a strong vision in your head of the direction you want to take your game, or a particular type of player you’re aiming for. Or do you experiment with concepts and prototypes until a game comes together?

Developing a game is always a process. I usually have a very basic concept and then work it into a fun and enjoyable product. When I first started out creating games, I was satisfied as long as myself and my friends had fun playing.

However recently I have been developing games geared toward the Hyper Casual Player. I have made this change by looking at trends and evolving as a developer.

What’s your goto place for research and inspiration when coming up with the next unique game idea. Do you play a lot of games yourself that maybe spark new concepts, are there non-gaming inspirations such as architecture, films or music?

My greatest source of inspiration is my library of around ten thousand retro games!

Whenever I have the chance, I play these for inspiration and relaxation. I also enjoy watching Retro youTube channels like “Game Sack“ or “Sega Lord X“.

However, as most of these retro games require too much investment for the Hyper Casual Player and mass market, I can use parts of these classic games in my new creations.

The world of mobile gaming is forever evolving and a lot of focus in the market place at the moment is in the hyper casual style and aimed at a young audience. Do trends like this influence you to build specifically for what the market wants, or do you focus on making games that you love to build?

For me, commercial success is confirmation of a good performance, usually in terms of downloads and reviews. In order to achieve this success, I try to keep a keen eye on the market and stay up to date with current trends. Research is critical here.

To know all these trends the Academy is my main source especially the weekly Live App Store trend analysis sessions. So in summary, yes, I try to follow the hyper casual style in most of the games I’m building right now!

The trends right now tend to lean towards 3D and include levelling systems. With all that said though, I still try to create something unique and if my heart leads me on a particular route, I always trust my gut instinct I’d still build it anyways.

Once you have a game idea in your head, what’s your next process? Do you draw / sketch out rough plans and concepts the old school way, maybe put together a mood-board or palette ideas? Or do you jump straight into your software and mock up ideas on the fly?

Firstly, I’ll open Photoshop or Cinema 4D and create some simple characters. These are usually simple forms in the appropriate sizes so I have assets to work with. I’ll then start to code the prototype and bring the general idea to life. The details of the design are part of the development process and I’ll look to continually work on these as the project progresses.

Dream Bubblez™

Featured by Apple in “New Games We Love” & “Daily Brain Training.”

Download From The Apple App Store


Dream Bubblez Game iOS - Apple Featured

As developers, there is always that moment when you struggle or have doubts with whether an idea is any good. You build the prototype and are still unsure, at what point do you reach out for feedback on your game, or do you wait until your idea is rock solid and you’re happy with it before showing anyone?

I like to always finish things! Of course there are ups and downs during the creation process, but even at my lowest points, I will always complete every project.

Usually I only show nearly completed games to family and friends. This way I manage to stick with my original concept and not have my ideas watered down by critics during my creative process.

This doesn’t mean I do not appreciate constructive criticism, nothing could be further from the truth, however, for me, it’s crucial to choose the right point in time during my creative process to receive exterior ideas.

An exception to this are the Academy’s TestDrives, the videos and comments help me to refine my product even at an early stage.

Good game design is all about keeping the players attention and ultimately returning to play your game time and time again. It’s about designing an interactive world for players with rules to follow to achieve the end goal. What’s your process when you start your game design ideas for keeping players attention and game progression?

I once read an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto, legendary game designer at Nintendo, in which he said the most important thing about a game is having fun playing!

This is just like the way children like to jump and run, just for the sheer joy of it, because it’s fun.

I think that’s what brings players back day after day is if they enjoy the activity and they simply love to play. I always try to achieve that!

Also, giving my players simple, small goals coupled with some enjoyable tasks. I build in “unlockables” or “level Ups” where possible along with usually including “High Score leaderboards” in my games.

The majority of your games are in the meditation/ brain training and puzzle genre, do you play these types of games yourself, or do you purely enjoy the creation of this type of gameplay?

Tetris is definitely my favourite games. I actually consider it the be the best video game ever invented, so yes, I play my fair share of puzzle games.

As already mentioned, I don’t really have a strict plan when developing my games, but often they’ll have some kind of puzzle element to them. As the designs and details evolve during the development process, it’s a pretty organic process and so my games naturally evolve too!

The market for puzzle games is a tough one.

Generally speaking, due to the natural complexity of puzzle games, it’s a difficult balancing act to reach the Hyper Casual Player with them. Right now I am focusing on creating simpler games for the Hyper-Casual market that can potentially reach a wider mass market along with broadening my creation skillset and giving me a personal challenge.

AstroBlast™

Featured by Apple in “New Games We Love” & “Game of the Day” in Japan.

Download From The Apple App Store



AstroBlast - Game of The Day in Japan

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to a novice developer just starting out in the world of game design? Is there anything you wish you’d known before you started in games?

I think the most important thing for a novice developer is to gain experience.

My best advice would be to start out with small projects and aim to actually finish them!

The biggest mistake you can make in my opinion is to do too much and not finish anything.

When I started out, I simply began programming and I didn’t know anything about recent trends and the situation on the market. I would have saved a lot of money spent on senseless marketing actions if I would have known earlier about the Academy.

I really wished I had been a member of the Academy back then when I first started out!

Lastly, we’ve been honoured that you’re a huge part of the Academy family and it’s been a pleasure to watch you grow. What’s your favourite part of the Academy and what would you say to any game developer thinking about joining?

The TestDrives are its best feature. Kevin & Jilly actually play your game whilst recording the whole session on video. They give you invaluable tips on how to improve it and it’s massively insightful and helpful to get their perspective.

This is so helpful to me and has supported me in refining every single one of my games.

It doesn’t matter if you are new in game development or if you are already successful in the market, the Academy is most definitely the place to be.

They provide you with an endless supply of resources including videos, tutorials and a ton of fantastic community posts!

You can also find ideas for your next games as well as they help you to get a publishing contract. They also advise you on how to get your games featured by Apple.

The Academy has helped me in every stage of my creational process and it will help you as well! I highly recommend you to join.

A Huge Academy Thanks 🙂
We’d like to thank Marcus for being so generous with his time and sharing his thoughts and experience with us, he’s seriously a class act!
It’s been an absolute pleasure to share a small part of his game development journey so far and it’s super exciting for us to see him reach the much deserved success on the App Store, especially as we get a glimpse of what he’s working on.
As we’re sure you’re aware, game dev can be a tough gig so it’s always heartwarming to see a fellow indie dev reach their ultimate goals through incredible hard work and wonderful talent.
We can’t wait to see what Marcus creates next and we wish him continued success in all his endeavours.

All iOS Screen Resolution Sizes 2018 ( iPhone XS, XS MAX & XR )

New iOS Screen Sizes - iPhone XS - iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR

Each September brings new iPhones and as game developers, that also means brand new screen sizes to deal with too!

Here’s the low down on all the iPhone screen sizes you’ll need to cater for in 2018 including the brand new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XR.

 

Device Portrait dimensions Landscape dimensions
12.9″ iPad Pro 2048px × 2732px 2732px × 2048px
10.5″ iPad Pro 1668px × 2224px 2224px × 1668px
9.7″ iPad 1536px × 2048px 2048px × 1536px
7.9″ iPad mini 4 1536px × 2048px 2048px × 1536px
iPhone XS Max 1242px × 2688px 2688px × 1242px
iPhone XS 1125px × 2436px 2436px × 1125px
iPhone XR 828px × 1792px 1792px × 828px
iPhone X 1125px × 2436px 2436px × 1125px
iPhone 8 Plus 1242px × 2208px 2208px × 1242px
iPhone 8 750px × 1334px 1334px × 750px
iPhone 7 Plus 1242px × 2208px 2208px × 1242px
iPhone 7 750px × 1334px 1334px × 750px
iPhone 6s Plus 1242px × 2208px 2208px × 1242px
iPhone 6s 750px × 1334px 1334px × 750px
iPhone SE 640px × 1136px 1136px × 640px

 

026: Hyper Casual Games – Retention, Mobile Publishers and the Domination of Hyper Casual Mobile Games.

Hyper Casual Games & Retention

It’s certainly official, Hyper Casual games are dominating the App Store Top Charts.

In early 2017, we saw the rise of Hyper Casual games going main stream with publishers like Voodoo.io leading the way with their smash hit paper.io.

Apple recognised the genre in their 2017 roundup by including the Hyper-Casual Trend in gaming.

Apple 2017 Trends of the Year

Apple Trends 2017 - Hyper Casual Games

 

These usually lightweight games, consisting of nothing much more than an addictive core loop on launch, are typically a few steps ahead of a MVP ( minimal viable product ) or prototype. Mostly monetising through Ads rather than IAP’s, it’s unlikely you’ll see many of these games in the top grossing ranks, or indeed often even the publishers are not recognised as top performers as those charts are traditionally curated through platform revenue, but this is super big business.

Pushed heavily via social media / influencer campaigns ( Snapchat / Instagram / Facebook ) top mobile publishers can achieve extremely low CPI’s ( cost per install ) and thus propelling these simple, small mobile games to the pinnacle of the App Stores with a relatively modest budget.

Because if this, they are highly scalable and massively sharable and can often go viral pretty fast.

 

Hyper Casual Games

7 out of the Top 11 Free iPhone Games are Hyper Casual as of 30th July 2018.

 

This really is a Win/Win for both Publishers and Game Developers alike. Publishers can measure retention metrics to see if the game has potential fast and cheap, whilst developers can produce games way faster than normal as these stripped back games generally have little actual content or depth.

As Jilly was sadly unwell today, I stripped out a section of a recent webinar we held talking all about Hyper Casual Games, the retention benchmarks the Top Mobile Publishers are looking for and how, as game developers, we go about tracking this data.

Top Hyper Casual Game Publishers

VoodooVoodoo.io

Lion StudiosLionstudios.cc

Crazy Labs | TabTale – Tabtale.com

TastyPillTastypill.com

KwaleeKwalee.com

PlaygendaryPlaygendary.com

KetchappKetchappStudio.com

Gram GamesGram.gs

Hyper Casual Game Retention Benchmark Metrics

Hyper Casual Game Retention Metrics

 

We go way deeper on this subject and deconstruct some of the most successful Hyper Casual Games in our Course “Seriously Snackable” but there’s some real actionable content from the webinar too. I expand on some of the ingredients we need to put into our games to elevate our chances of success.

Whilst in essence this all sounds rather easy and fast, achieving these numbers is super tough. The winners are the games that you generally look at and think “jeez, that’s so simple why didn’t I think of that!”

We’ve yet to try and build a Hyper Casual game ( ours all fit into the Casual genre ) but we’ll soon be on the case and it’s super exciting.

If you want to dive deeper into all this, be sure to check out the Academy where there’s tons of great video content, courses, detailed deconstructions and epic game dev conversations going on.

 

Thank you so much for listening! You’re Awesome.

We truly do appreciate you taking time out of your day to listen and hope you got some value.

If you enjoyed today’s show, it would go such along way if you hit that Subscribe button and also Share via your favourite social networks. You can use any of the buttons you see on this page.

We’d also be forever grateful if you’d consider sparing just a quick minute to:

Leave us an Honest Rating & Review in iTunes.

We always read each and every one personally and it always makes our day!

Thanks so much, Kevin & Jilly.

Kevin & Jilly RisingHigh Academy

018: Top 5 Hacks to Stay Motivated When Building Your Games.

Episode 018 - Finding Motivation

This week we discuss our Top 5 hacks to ensure you stay motivated during your game development cycle. Keeping energised and focussed is critical to meeting those deadlines, however loose they may actually be. We all struggle with motivation from time to time, it’s inevitable, however  you can definitely influence your own motivation if you can actually figure out what you want, set and commit to your goals and try and push through those difficult phases.

Make That Commitment

Set the goal and just start! Often starting off can be the biggest hurdle. Once you have something working and moving, the hurdle will suddenly feel less of a huge obstacle. Often, and especially if you’re a solo developer, game creation needs to take place between family and / or other work commitments. It’s a very fine balance to achieve.

Try setting a daily / weekly time ( say between 8pm and 10pm ) where this becomes your regular game building session, and don’t deviate from this. Pretty soon you will be accustomed to turning up at your computer and you will start to see results.

Set Bite-Size Achievable Goals

Set small goals. Your frequent progress can be super rewarding when you hit each mini milestone. Write down no more than 3 tasks to complete at any one time as long, exhaustive lists can be massively overwhelming and daunting. These will blast your motivation out of the window so avoid them at all times. Small, manageable lists will move yourself forward faster. Period.

These do not have to be anything major however, but by making 3 small steps in progress each day or session, will move your project along at a healthy, steady pace.

Public Accountability

Write a contract to a friend or you can even make a pledge and donate the proceeds to charity if you lose. This is quite out there and controversial so really depends on your personality type.

There are many people who I know have done this and it works really well for them, but it’s not something I have ever done. That said, there have been plenty of times where we’ve put rewards in the air to motivate us into completely a certain task.

Think of this like a pretend competition:

“If we finish this by 4 o’clock today, then we take tomorrow off – deal?”

or

“if we can get this done by the end of the week, then we’ll have that fancy dinner”.

Using this Punishment / Reward tactic, albeit slightly left-field is pretty powerful and to be honest, kinda fun. It’s really whatever works for you.

Don’t Break the Cycle or Skip

Turn up everyday no matter what. Showing up and doing something is great to push through any barriers you’re procrastinating over. This is a great way to form that habit of working on your game.

When you begin to string together these consecutive days or sessions, you’re way more unlikely to want to break this sequence that you’ve built up. It’s pretty powerful stuff.  Again, this comes back to habit forming behaviour and well worth experimenting with.

Join a Community

Big Tick! Go you 🙂

Get around likeminded people who won’t let you quit – be vulnerable and open, it actually really helps!

Post your game progress / Set up your own Devlog to track progress and be accountable.

Thank you so much for listening! You’re Awesome.

We truly do appreciate you taking time out of your day to listen and hope you got some value.

If you enjoyed today’s show, it would go such along way if you hit that Subscribe button and also Share via your favourite social networks. You can use any of the buttons you see on this page.

We’d also be forever grateful if you’d consider sparing just a quick minute to:

Leave us an Honest Rating & Review in iTunes.

We always read each and every one personally and it always makes our day!

Thanks so much, Kevin & Jilly.

Kevin & Jilly RisingHigh Academy

014: 5 Ways to Make Money with Games and the best way to Monetise Your Mobile Game.

Episode 014 - Make Money with Mobile Games

So you’ve built your game, spent countless hours crafting each and every pixel, polished it to the end degree and now you’re ready to launch it to the world! But, just how are you going to make money from your brand new mobile game?

You should be thinking about monetising your mobile game from the moment you start to build, and this can have a big effect on how you actually end up constructing your projects. As game designers and builders, it would be absolutely fantastic to serve up our games with no ads, but as small indies, we need to earn money!

Ads are a necessity in our world unfortunately, but if done with the least amount of intrusiveness and a little thought towards our players, we can still monetise well. Let’s go over some of the popular monetisation methods open to us indie game developers today and ones we’ve used ourselves in our hyper casual / snackable games.

Simple eCPM Equation

eCPM = ( Cost Per Mile Historically ) How much per revenue per x1000 impressions.

Example:

The eCPM is $5.00.

For every x1000 times the ads are displayed, you receive $5.00.

Interstitials

Interstitials can be shown after game over, so for an endless running game these serve purpose from the off. Just how many game overs is acceptable? In theory you could show these after every single character death, but this obviously depends on how ‘brutally’ hard your game is. If your character dies often, your player is going to end up being bombarded with ads and this will almost certainly end in a game ‘delete’ from their device. As a rule of thumb, interstitials set at every 5 – 7 game overs is much more digestible and a little more friendly to the player.

Banner Ads

UI Screens: A great way to monetise for both portrait and landscape games and typically set at the bottom of the screen.

In Game: Again, typically placed at the bottom of the screen for portrait games  Most players, including ourselves find this method of advertisement the most unobtrusive and ‘comfortable’ just make sure you don’t unfairly place your in game play button too close to the banner placement! Players will feel cheated and you may well end up with another delete on your hands.

Banners can be set at the top in a portrait game depending on what your gameplay is all about, for example, if you have a downwards scrolling or static play game. It’s possible to make banner placements on a landscape game as long as they don’t effect gameplay.

When we’re thinking of ideas for a new project, being game developers of mainly casual, snackable games, we will always try to head for a portrait version if it fits, because of the great benefits banner ads offer.

Rewarded Videos

Players love rewarded videos because they offer complete choice and remind the player that they are in total control over whether they watch an ad or not. The option to watch a short video for the reward of double coins, or time, or an ‘instant’ character or world unlock, is utterly at their command. Most players will embrace that ‘get it now’ offer, where some will prefer the challenge of completing objectives of the game knowing they have done so without a quick fix.

Rewarded videos can potentially increase retention in your game, players know there is a way to achieve game advancement without the grind of playing for weeks to get the same rewards. It can be the difference between getting bored with the grind and deleting, to unlocking a great new character or power up that refreshes the interest to play further into the game.

In App Purchases

These come in many forms, buying characters, coin packs, gem bundles, power ups or upgrades just to name a few. Offering your player the first couple of characters for example as a free reward for completing the first few levels or objectives in your game, can open up their curiosity to the rest of your In App Purchases.

If they have enjoyed the experience of something new for free as a bonus, then they will see further offerings as a fair exchange for making a purchase and potentially that ‘feel good’ factor. It gives the player the chance to settle into your game before being bombarded with ‘buy now’ pop ups and the like.

Sponsorships

Although not too common in the realms of us Indie Dev’s, making partnership deals with Youtube or Instagram influencers can be a great way to leverage audiences and ultimately drive traffic to your games. Typically, these deals are secured on a revenue share basis where you’ll handle all the building and technical side and they take care of the marketing side.

Often these can be instigated via simple DM’s and generally these influencers will be open to a conversation at the very least. It’s a good idea to have something pre-built to show them when crafting your pitch, as this can increase the excitement and make the project proposition a real thing.

There’s also product placement, IP collaborations with famous brands and even celebrities to throw into the mix. However, there’s a ton more hoops to jump through to make a deal of this nature happen, but hey, thinking big never actually hurt anyone!

Highlights, Quick Wins & Takeaways:

1. Interstitial Ads – Full screen pop up ads typically shown on Game over screens.

2. Banner Ads – Ensure these do not interfere with the gameplay and/or UI buttons.

3. Rewarded Videos – Used to reward players by gifting Coins, Lives, Level Unlocks, Characters etc.

4. In App Purchases – For Hyper Casual games be sure to include a “Remove Ads” consumable IAP at least.

5. Sponsorship – Team up with Influencers or Brands for an Epic Partnership!

Links & Resources mentioned in this Episode:

 

Ad Network SDK’s


Chartboost
https://www.chartboost.com/

Admob
https://www.google.com/admob/

Applovin
https://www.applovin.com/

Revmob
https://www.revmobmobileadnetwork.com/

Facebook
https://developers.facebook.com/docs/apis-and-sdks

Leadbolt
https://www.leadbolt.com/

InMobi
https://www.inmobi.com/

Reward Video SDK’s:


Vungle
https://vungle.com/

Unity Ads
https://unity3d.com/unity/features/ads

Adcolony
https://www.adcolony.com/

Ad Mediation SDK’s


Fyber ( Formely Heyzap )
https://www.fyber.com/

TapDaq
https://tapdaq.com/

MoPub
https://www.mopub.com/

Ironsrc / Supersonic
https://www.ironsrc.com/

Appodeal
https://www.appodeal.com/home/

 

Thank you so much for listening! You’re Awesome.

We truly do appreciate you taking time out of your day to listen and hope you got some value.

If you enjoyed today’s show, it would go such along way if you hit that Subscribe button and also Share via your favourite social networks. You can use any of the buttons you see on this page.

We’d also be forever grateful if you’d consider sparing just a quick minute to:

Leave us an Honest Rating & Review in iTunes.

We always read each and every one personally and it always makes our day!

Thanks so much, Kevin & Jilly.

Kevin & Jilly RisingHigh Academy