Today’s post will be a classical one: postmortem of New Sokoban. New Sokoban was officially launched around a month ago and I think that it is enough time to write this post. Basically because I think that things are not going to change a lot in the future concerning New Sokoban. So, here you have what went right and what went wrong.
What went right
Early prototyping and choosing a small project
I prototyped some different ideas during the firsts weeks of this project. Not all the ideas were puzzles because I have a couple of genres that I like very much and that I think are very suitable for iOS platforms: puzzle and arcade-action games. However, when prototyping those ideas I realized that they were huge projects taking into account that it was my first game for Apple devices.
Finally, I chose a prototype that involved a game mechanic based on classic sokoban logic game. However, that original game design was quite more complex than the actual New Sokoban game that I finally published. Luckily, I chose a simple game and then I have been simplifying it until reaching a project that I could manage comfortably and that I could finish and publish. This is the most important thing: to finish your projects.
Starting from a classical, elegant and well designed game mechanic
Related to the previous point, I think that starting from a well designed and elegant game mechanic was a right decision. Creating a new game mechanic for a new game is incredibly difficult. I guess that this is the reason because the majority of the games that are launched for any platform nowadays haven’t got completely new game mechanics. They are all platform games or fighting games or car simulation games or whatever already exists. They work on those ideas and improve them to launch a new game with a non-new game mechanic in the core. So this is exactly what I finally done.
Using Cocos2D an other existing tools
At some early stages of the development process I was thinking about developing my own game developing tools, including the 2D sprites engine and the puzzles editor. Luckily, I finally didn’t. I finally used Cocos2D as my sprites engine and Tiled as my puzzles editor. You have more information about that on this post.
I think that this decision was crucial. Probably, if I tried to develop my own 2D sprites engine I would never finished the project and probably gave up all the iOS indie developing thing. So… phew! 😀
Try to fix the target audience
From my previous experience on iOS platform projects, I learned that try to fix your target audience on early stages of development is crucial. It is very difficult because doing it right is basically and issue about experience. However, trying to do it is useful and can help you keep your project simple and focused on a narrower audience.
Beta-testing, play-testing and paying the game
Beta-testing is important to discover weird bugs. Play-testing is important to discover game design problems. However, actually playing your game is important to feel the experience. It is very difficult to freely play your own game because you always are thinking about finding bugs or balancing gameplay. But with a little practice you will learn how to freely play your game. And it will make the game much better on the long run.
I technique that worked for me was to challenge my friends. I sent them a testing build of the game and challenged them to improve my records. Some of them did it! When seeing my records beaten I automatically switched to gamer mode and played my own game with only one thing on my mind: beat my friends records that had beaten mine. This is playing freely! 😀 That was really pleasing and finally I felt the experience of playing New Sokoban. And I liked it! 😀
Assisting events a giving talks
That was very important. Assisting events and specially have the opportunity to give talks in them had important benefits for me. The first one, I met a lot of interesting people. This is very important for an indie developer to share experiences and to talk about things you are interested on.
However, from a more pragmatic point of view, assisting events and giving talks has allowed me to get known in the local iOS community, around where I live. That has given me the opportunity to get some contract projects that have allowed me to get some incomes. Yes, unluckily, at the end of the day, the only important thing is always the same: money.
Spent enough time on content creation
This is, probably, the most important one. This is the thing that makes me to still have some hope on New Sokoban. All the puzzles in New Sokoban are carefully crafted one by one by me. I have not developed any algorithm or AI that generates solvable puzzles for New Sokoban.
This is what makes New Sokoban really special. When people play the game they really enjoy the experience, and it is basically because of the time I spent designing and creating each one of the puzzles that are included in the game. People get really surprised about the high quality of the puzzles design and the overall game experience of New Sokoban.
This is the positive part when talking about New Sokoban as a product. People really like it. The reaviews on the App Store are incredibly positive all around the world. Actually, New Sokoban gets a 4,75/5 taking into account all the reviews in all App Stores. That’s really good! Moreover, web and blog reviews are also really good. So, I think that people that really play the game, really enjoy it.
What went wrong
Probably the worst. I really thought that I could manage to create some decent artwork for New Sokoban. However, it seems that I was completely wrong. I had the opportunity to talk about New Sokoban art with other developers and artists and everybody says that this is the worst part of New Sokoban. Specially the icon.
Improving New Sokoban art will make it to get more visibility and downloads? Who knows…
Time distribution and planning
I started developing New Sokoban without planning anything. It was very difficult to push the project towards the end without planning, so I finally decided to start doing it. And it really made a difference. Planning made easier to avoid procrastination and helped me to better distribute my time among the different tasks that must be addressed on indie game development.
I have documented nothing. Apart from the comments on the code, I don’t have any kind of documentation about New Sokoban. I am afraid of having to work on New Sokoban after 3 or 4 months working on another project… Will I remember all the important things? We will see…
Create a good product
This is very difficult to analyze and explain. However, I think that if you don’t get commercial success is because you don’t have a good product. New Sokoban has got very few donwloads and the incomes generated are low. Moreoever, I don’t think that things are going to change. So, I don’t have a good product. But why?
It is very difficult for me to precisely answer this question. As I said, people really enjoy playing New Sokoban and the reviews are really good. However, on the other hand, some professionals pointed out that the art is not good enough. However, nobody on the App Store and on the web has complained about the art on New Sokoban. So, maybe is an issue about attracting the attention? Maybe, the art of New Sokoban is not that bad but it is unable to attract the attention of potential customers and bloggers. This is my guess: the art on New Sokoban is good enough from an artistic point of view but it is terrible from the marketing point of view.
Marketing and promotion
I think that I have done the right job on marketing and promotion. However, sales don’t agree with me 😉 That’s why I have put this point in the “What went wrong” section. I have made a product web page, promotional trailer, facebook and twitter account, facebook and twitter buzz, this blog and have sent a well crafted press release and press kit to about 250 webs and blogs.
All these things worked really well on my previous project paintingWalls. However, didn’t work well for New Sokoban. Why? Maybe because New Sokoban is a game? Maybe because of the problem with the art that I talked previously? I really don’t know but I’m working to get an answer.
So, the pragmatic conclusion is that New Sokoban has not got the desired commercial success. However, I have got some other benefits that are also important. I have completed my first iOS game. This is very important! I have met interesting people. I got known in the local community and got some contract projects. I learned a lot about game development, …
And the most important thing: I’m still indie!! 😉