tl;dr;

I started working on a new game called A Noble Circle back in February of 2015. I was doing contract work at the time during the weekdays, so I was only able to work on my Flatland inspired work during the weekends. I didn’t want to spin my wheels in an echo chamber so I decided to release a barely playable version and iterate on it “publicly”. I’ve made $12,000 in revenue so far. The game still isn’t done (and yet I’m still making money off of it). Next time you feel like your game isn’t “ready”, go ahead and release it and see what happens. You may be surprised at the results. I ended up creating feature/mechanics I would have never thought of doing if it weren’t for the public feedback that people were giving me. Your mileage may vary of course (this seems to be working for me on mobile).

Timeline

First Release

First commit was on February 26, 2015. First release was on March 30, 2015. That’s one month guys and gals. I just wanted to get something out there, anything, just to see how it would be received. Here are the metrics for first release:

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Here is a gameplay video of the very first release of my terrible game. It’s a rhythm based game with pretty terrible hit boxes and very very rudimentary jump mechanics. But hey, I got something out there dammit.

The game was set to free at the time. The App Store description talked about what I was planning to do with the game, and that this was an early preview (which I’d start charging for once I felt it was worth the $0.99).

In addition to the App Store description. I added developer logs to the very end of this very very short game. I talk about how the App Store is broken and what I’m trying to do. It was well received. People were forgiving about the poor gameplay and terrible hit boxes because they knew that another update was coming. I think it’s important to have this kind of developer commentary at the end of your games. As an indie game dev, personal connection is one of the few things that gives us an edge over AAA game companies. So take some time to internalize what you are bringing to the table with your games/brand and make sure the people that download your game know who you are and what you are trying to do.

Aside: I compensated for A Noble Circle being free by putting an interstitial to my other game (A Dark Room). If anything I could potentially get some impressions/downloads for paid games that I already have out there. Never underestimate the power of interstitials.

Second Release

Second release was April 5, 2015. Six days after the first release.

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Here is a gameplay video of release two. I made a minor usability change to tapping on the screen. Also, Instead of placeholder boxes for enemies, I now have geometric shapes that better depict the inhabitants of flatland. I felt the sex scene was particularly funny.

Third Release

Third release was on April 25, 2015 (less than a month from the last release). I was getting a bit of feedback via App Store reviews saying the the jump mechanic was a little confusing. This is important. I’m getting feedback from people who enjoy the direction of the game and want to see improvements. Just releasing the game publicly is a lot easier to do than managing beta testers/private beta (that and you get a fresh pair of eyes as new people give the game a shot).

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Here is a gameplay of release three. So I added a small halo effect showing that the circle was ready to jump again. My hit boxes are better and there was more storyline added. This was another an important part of why this approach ended up working for me: There was always some visible changes and some additional storyline that kept people coming back to see what changed. And with each update, people left reviews stating that they liked the direction (or hated it). People were slowly getting invested in the story of the circle and my story as an indie game developer. With each update, I also tried to include more developer logs so that people would attempt to reach the end.

Fourth Release

Forth release was on May 10, 2015. There was a ton of refactoring I did underneath the scene, so storyline changes were small, but I added a really really hard section to the game to compensate (you’ll see me die multiple times in the video because of it).

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Here is the gameplay video for the fourth release. This release also made it a lot easier for people to click the interstitial for A Dark Room. At this point I had a lot of long developer commentary too. So having a means to “teleport” to different sections of the game was good for the players (and it turned out that it helped me too with regards to debugging).

It’s also worth noting that my composer partner would slate new music to be released if I needed a month worth of weekends to refactor things and keep the code from becoming a ball of mud. So even though the majority of this release was rewiring the player still got new things (in this case a new musical score).

Fifth Release

Fifth release was on May 26, 2015. An interesting outcome occurred with this “pressure” of release monthly. I had reviews talking about how difficult that last part I added was (they also mentioned it was totally worth it to hear the new piece of music). To alleviate the pains that the new section created, I added the ability to “zoom out” and see more of the stage. This was something that was a reaction to what I previously put out in an attempt to “fix” the hard part to the game, but it turned out to be an integral part of my game (a means to show the player that a difficult part was coming up).

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Here is the gameplay video for the fifth release. You can see the “cool” zoom feature during that hard part from the last video. I used it for story progression too. On top of that, the player received another “vista” in the form of more music. I feel this is worth reiterating: for this “public” development approach to work, every release has to have something visibly different. Something that gets the player to come back and check out what’s changed.

Sixth Release

It was crunch time at work, so I couldn’t develop for a long long while. This release came out August 30, 2015 (three months since the last release). I had some major updates to make to A Dark Room and The Ensign during this time period too. So I just had to put ANC on the back burner.

June is when I felt that the game was worth purchasing. I set the price to $0.99 and decided to see what would happen (a full breakdown of revenue and downloads is at the end). I also ended up pushing for A Dark Room to get featured (given the recent updates I made). ADR’s feature helped the sales of A Noble Circle. Given I had to update A Dark Room and The Ensign anyways, I took the opportunity to put an interstitial for A Noble Circle in both games.

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Here is the gameplay video for the sixth release. People were still complaining about the jump mechanic and that it was confusing. So I attempted to solve that problem by adding a “how to” image. Turns out that these images were also a great way to tell the story (they ended up serving as additional “vistas” too). It really was beautiful seeing the evolution in public like this/incorporating the feedback of the players. I still wonder today if the “zoom out” mechanic or the custom drawings that I did would have been there if it weren’t for this approach in development.

Aside: During this time crunch period, developing on A Noble Circle ended up being centered around drawing and storyline as opposed to new game mechanics. I really love drawing and this was a means to scratch that itch (this is also why game development as a creative outlet is so wonderful). If you’re interested in how I go about sketching all this stuff, watch this video and this video where I use an iPad Pro and Pencil (if you can shell out the $1,500 for the device and stylus, do it, it’s totally worth it).

Seventh Release

The seventh release went out on September 28, 2015. People were STILL complaining about the jump mechanic. So I added a tutorial section, plus changed the mechanic so that you didn’t have a “cool down” to jump again. This was the change that needed to be made, I felt like the game’s musicality opened up by removing the “cool down” on the jump. This turning point in the game mechanic came eight months into development. One that I wouldn’t have figured out if it weren’t for the feedback I was getting through the reviews.

Around this time I also ended up releasing A Noble Circle - Prologue. This was a free version of the game with a limited story (I still included the developer commentary and the end to encourage them to buy the full game).

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Here is a gameplay video for the seventh release. With this release, I felt the game was good enough to pitch to Apple for a feature. Taking this iterative approach to development gives me many more opportunities to get featured. With every new update, I can ping Apple and tell them about all the new cool stuff I added. Through out the 12 to 15 months of updates, Apple has featured A Noble Circle many many times (something I feel wouldn’t have happened if I just released the game “once”).

The Eight Release

The eight release came out on January 1, 2016. People were STILL complaining about the jump mechanic. So I made one final change to how the circle moved (I removed the side to side acceleration of the circle and made it a constant speed), and it made a world of difference. From here, the engine of the game was complete and all that was left was storyline/content creation. I had to take another break from releasing ANC. I came down with “walking pneumonia” back in December, plus holiday season and crunch time at work kept me from working on it.

After all that was over, I was then dealing with porting A Dark Room to Android (my contract was ending so I needed to make sure I had additional income coming in… sometimes you have to put the creative side of game development down and just survive).

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Here is the eighth release showing the game engine as it exists today. There were some minor changes with regards to particle effects and camera movement, but the jump mechanic was (finally) perfect. This was also when I moved over to using sprites as opposed to drawing vector shapes (I love my iPad Pro and Pencil).

This video shows the musicality of the game using the “final” engine with multijumps and constant circle movement (before I added the sprites in).

More Takeaways

Revenue and Download Numbers Life Time

Revenue is after Apple’s 30% cut.



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15 August 2016