In this DevDialogue, we have a very exciting and detailed interview lined up for you. We talk to the developer of Find a Way Jose for iOS – an incredible puzzle game which requires you to execute a proper strategy in order to claim victory. The design of the game is breath-taking and we talk to the founder – Baruch Richter to see how the idea was conceived, the marketing strategy and thoughts on Apple. This one is a good read, get inspired.
1. How did you conceive the idea for the App?
I am a big fan of puzzle games, always been. One of my favorite puzzle genres is the Sliding-Block genre where you have to bring a key piece to it’s destination while moving all kinds of blocks out of it’s way. I have been playing for long hours with addictive sliding-block titles such as Unblock Me and Rush Hour, and at some point I felt something was missing with these games and their infinite number of clones.
(Credit for the images: Unblock Me, Blue Block, Rush Hour, Blocks)
The levels were all looking the same, the layout and the graphics were at some point quite boring and monotonous, with the same old 6×6 grid. Also the game mechanism was lacking – you could move the blocks only in 1 dimension, and it was always the same boring rectangular blocks. I thought to myself, why not take this genre a few steps forward? And so I created a simple prototype of a new 8×6 grid where I placed all kinds of oddly-shaped tetris-like blocks (L, T, Z etc.) shapes, where you could move them in all 4 directions:
I started playing around with the concept, and then decided to push it’s boundaries even further: I introduced non-movable blocks that act as obstacles, and from that addition, I could place them on the rim of the canvas, thus for the first time creating variations on a 9×5 grid, to create surprising non-rectangular level canvases. I then started to think of the graphical concept, and decided on the name “Find a Way, José!” – (a take off on the American proverb “No way José”). Thus José the Mexican came to life. I wanted this dude to have a lot of character, he is some sort of an anti-hero you can’t help but fall in love with. He is into a lot of trouble, trying to find his way to his tequila throughout 6 different worlds and 80 challenging levels. Unlike other sliding-block puzzles with just simple blend blocks, my game has a strong graphical narrative and a charismatic protagonist, and carries a lot of Mexican flavor with some Mariachi music and José’s cheering and singing in broken Spanish (These are actual recordings of myself saying silly things I learned while I was traveling in Mexico):
2. Do you think Apple’s offerings for developers for developing Apps is good? Are there any changes required?
It is a well known truth, that the app store is not ideal for indie developers with a small marketing budget. The problem is it’s very hard to get noticed on such a saturated market based solely on number of downloads. Once your game is launched, if you don’t take extreme measures marketing-wise, most of the chances are that your app store rank will plummet in just a few days. It’s a vicious cycle where in order to be ranked high you need a lot of downloads, but to get a lot of downloads you need to be ranked high. So big publishers spend 100s of thousands and even millions of dollars on marketing and advertising, including huge campaigns to buy installs, which in return translate to high app store rankings. It is very hard to compete in such an environment, and I feel Apple is not doing enough to help us small indies to succeed. It seems that their sheer interest is in the bottom-line revenue, so naturally they sympathize more with the big names, so why would they bother about us indies? The only way they are allegedly trying to help us with exposure, is through their highly sought-after “New and Noteworthy” and “What’s Hot” sections, where not surprisingly you will find the big names… again.
A big problem I am facing right now is with my game’s pricing. I made a decision not to go with the “Lite vs. Paid” model, but create only “Free” version of my game, where it has a limited number of levels. If a player wants to continue playing he would have to buy the “Pro” version using an In-App Purchase. I decided on that so to keep the game-center leaderboards unified. Having two different binaries would mean 2 different sets of leaderboards. But in retrospect, I found out since my game was free, that I can’t enjoy any price drops or Free-App-A-Day giveaways, which could have helped me considerably. Also with the Freemium Model I can’t offer pormo-codes for reviewers, because Apple does not support promo codes for In-App Purchases. So definitely, looking back that was a mistake I made, because of Apple’s lack of support for the Freemium model.
3. What is your marketing strategy? What marketing techniques do you use to promote your App in this heavily competitive application space?
I knew that without decent marketing, it will be virtually impossible to succeed. So before launching the game, I hired a marketing agency that made huge promises and charged me accordingly. I had the bad luck to stuble upon an incompetent marketer who didn’t know what he was doing. I definitely haven’t researched this field enough before hiring him. On the launch day he went for a BBQ with his family, neglecting to let me know in advance that he would not be available on that day. I had to launch my game by myself, sending hundreds of pitch emails to bloggers and reviewers. I told the marketing agency I hired I am terminating our relationship, and continued doing marketing on my own. I created a Facebook fan page, and a Twitter account, both are easily accessible from within my app. I try to constantly engage fans with contests and online help when they get stuck with a certain level. I have created a dedicated website (www.findawayjose.com) for my game, with an embedded video trailer made by an Ukranian company (www.meliorgames.com). I am posting on forums and blogs, and printed business cards for my game with a QR code, I give away to people I see with iPhones. A week ago my game was promoted with AppGratis.com, these guys are really great. After they promoted my game, it rocketed to be #1 overall app in Brazil and Spain, and #1 game in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It’s amazing how a single marketing maneuver can have such an intensive impact. My game was downloaded more than 150,000 times during the past week. I also installed the BuzzDoes.com SDK into my game, that allows players to recommend my game to their friends. I plan on releasing a vesion of my game where I will incentivize players to invite their friends in return for in-game currency. We’ll see how that works.
4. Can you describe your “Eureka” moment while developing the App?
My game was originally developed for the Samsung Bada app store. It is a not-so-known mobile OS, Samsung has started shipping around 2 years ago, and I happen to have a Samsung Wave phone which supports this OS. So my game actually started as a fun test I created with a friend I met on one of Samsung Wave’s forums. I invented the game and took care of the graphics while he developed it in C++. We never even spoke over the phone, only chatted using MSN messenger (I live in Israel, and my partner Sudipta lives in India). We shared a DropBox folder, and so the project was materializing on it’s own, without any specific plan. Once the game launched on the Bada app store, we started getting incredible feedback from gamers, who just got addicted to our game. At that point I realized that I might have a solid game in my hands, and decided to make the move over to the iOS App Store. From then I started to “shop” around for development studios and came across Mobiversal, a very talented and fun to work with Romanian company. Again, same as with the Bada release, the project was run by me (I also did all the UI, illustrations, animation design, level design etc.) while the development part was outsourced, this time to the Mobiversal team. The music was composed by an extremely talented Israeli guy called Sangit Segal. All in all I think I had the luck to have an amazing team, and a great time working on this demanding project.
5. How did you come to decide the price that you would be charging users to purchase your App?
I just decided on the usual prices, which are common on the app store: 0.99$ for the iPhone version, and 1.99$ for the iPad version. Since my game is not one of those with 3D openGL graphics and tons of textures, I thought that players will be reluctant to pay more than that for a puzzle game. I plan on creating a better monetization model within my game. I want to create a shop where you can change José’s costumes, add sunglasses, change his mustache’s color, change his hat, make him sing etc. I also plan on adding a hint system where you spend 5J (J is the in-game currency used in my game) to see a hint. You can earn J’s in 3 ways: either complete a level with a 5+ rank, complete all kinds on incentivized tasks (such as recommending the game to friends) or buy 50 Js for 0.99$.
6. What gave you the kick to convert your idea into reality? What kept you awake all night long?
I have been a gamer all my life since I’ve been a young child. I played the Atari when I was 5, and at the age of 8 my father bought me a Dragon 32 computer. I learned to program in basic and made all kinds of silly games and painting apps, and had a huge game collection (over magnetic tapes). At the age of 10 my parents bought me a 8-bit Sega Master System, and I was spending hours each day playing and since then a game addiction began. So naturally my dream was to create games, and now I finally made it come true. Throughout the project I felt like this game was just striving to get born, and I had no other choice but to let it happen. Now after releasing this game, my appetite to create more games is even stronger, and I have several new ideas already running through my head.
7. Your thoughts on paid marketing? Paid ads, reviews, sponsorship and more. What made your App’s marketing plan successful?
I paid for a few reviews, most of them I don’t think paid off, but a couple were great, and helped me considerably on the Russian market. I tried advertising on Facebook, but it didn’t pay off. I think this platform is not good for advertizing iOS games. I might try RevMob.com in my future update, I heard they are pretty decent. Anyways, so far I don’t consider my marketing plan a success, but I’ll be getting there