Thursday, October 31, 2013

Android indie developer interview: Jeremiah McLeod

Here's yet another interview from the series. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Without further ado, let's get to it.

Bartek: Tell us something about yourself. Who are you? Where do you live? What do you do in life?

Jeremiah: We’re a two man game development team who loves making games. I (Jeremiah McLeod) do the coding and Chris Binder does the art, sounds and videos. We both have regular jobs and work on our indie game development in our spare time.

Bartek: When did your Android adventure start and how? Why did you decide to do it?

Jeremiah: I’ve been programming since I was young. In college I learned Java and started making applet games for my website. Then I got into making mobile games with J2ME back in like 2005. Around 2010 I got my first Android phone and loved it. Immediately I started making apps for it. Only thing I was missing for making real games was the art work. I have no art skills, so I posted in some forums that I was looking for someone to partner with to do the art for android games. That’s when I found Chris, and we’ve been working together since then.

Bartek: How did you learn how to create apps?

Jeremiah: I pretty much taught myself the basics when I was around 12 years old, from books I could find. I made some copies of games like Tetris and Breakout on my old 286 computer I had when I was a kid. In college I took a class on Java and was enamored with it. I spent a lot of time learning Java mobile before there was an iPhone or Android. It didn’t take me long to learn Android, mostly from online resources.

Bartek: What libraries/frameworks do you use and why did you choose them?

Jeremiah: For our first apps, all we used was the plain Android API writing all the game code ourselves. I didn’t even use Eclipse, just a text editor and batch files to run the Ant builder. Now we're using libGDX, Spine, and Unity. I chose libGDX because it’s cross platform and also because while it handles a lot of the low level stuff for you; you aren’t limited by what it can do. With some frameworks you are out of luck if the framework doesn’t do it for you or there is no plugin. libGDX gives you a lot of freedom to do just about anything. Chris is working on our first 3D game in Unity and he’s also doing the coding on this one. Spine is a great tool for animation, we backed their kickstarter when I heard about it from some of the libGDX contributors I follow. We haven’t finished a game with it yet, but were working on one currently using Spine.

Bartek: Have you tried any other frameworks before? Which ones? What are your experiences with them?

Jeremiah: No, we haven’t tried any other frameworks. I looked at AndEngine but decide to go with libGDX instead. AndEngine looked good, but libGDX looked like it was less restrictive.

Bartek: Where do you take app/game ideas from? How do you know if they have a chance to be successful?

Jeremiah: We both played lots of games growing up, on everything from Nintendo to a computer. A lot of the games I like to do are the 2D retro style games. Chris has been doing 3D animation and games for years now and likes to do more modern games. It’s hard to say if a game will be successful, there’s a lot more to it than just making a good game. You have to market well and ASO plays a big part of it now.

Bartek: Where do you get resources from (graphics, sounds, music)?

Jeremiah: Chris makes all of our graphics, sounds and music. He uses tools like Photoshop, BlenderSpine and even an iPad app called Figure for making music loops.

Bartek: What other programming tools do you use?

Jeremiah: I use git, mostly just for keeping backups of each version of our apps. We share Google Docs for collaborating.

Bartek: How long does is take you to make a single app?

Jeremiah: It can take a few months to over 6 months for us. We work on our games in our spare time. It’s more like a hobby for me. I enjoy doing it, so I put a lot of my time into it, but it still probably takes us longer than most development teams.

Bartek: How much are you making on your apps?

Jeremiah: We don’t make enough to quit our day jobs yet. But our earnings have been going up for the last year. We put a lot of our earnings back into advertising when we release a new app. Most of our income comes from free apps with advertising.

Bartek: How do you monetize your apps? What ad networks do you use if any? Do you have any advice on it for others?

Jeremiah: We use AdMob exclusively, and without any mediation. This may sound ridiculous to some but we make great eCPM’s with AdMob alone. We are trying to build our brand so we never used push or aggressive advertising. We only use banners and interstitials. We also have paid versions of some of our apps, that don’t have any advertising in them. And one of our games has IAP where you can buy additional levels to play.

Bartek: Why do you use AdMob exclusively? Have you tried other networks before? What eCPM’s do you get?

Jeremiah: For the first two years or so of developing we weren’t focused as much on the monetizing and AdMob was the simplest ad network to add and not worry about fillrate. I tried Millenial Media at the end of 2012 for a couple months, but by that time AdMob was beating their eCPM for us. I don’t know if AdMob rewards loyal developers or something, because I hear that a lot of people get very low eCPM with them. For the first two years or so our ECPM was around $0.40 to $0.60 But for the last year it has been around a $1.00 ecpm and last month it averaged $1.47 eCPM for banners! Our users are in good countries too, but not just the US and UK. When we buy installs from AppBrain I go back over my AdMob geo stats for the last 6 months and pick the top 15 or so countries that have given us the highest eCPM’s. Then we buy installs from those countries. You would be surprised by some of the countries that give us good eCPM’s. We just started using AdMob interstitials, so most of our revenue has come from banners.

Bartek: Could you specify the revenue percentage for ads, paid aps and IAP?

Jeremiah: Ads is about 90% of our revenue and paid apps together with IAP is about 10%. I grouped paid apps and IAP together because I don’t have separate stats for them. I believe there is a lot of potential in IAP but I personally don’t like games where you have an advantage because you spend money for upgrades or extras. We may try some of those types of IAP in the future, but initially I was really against them, since it’s not the type of game I would want to play. The IAP’s we have in our game now give the users extra level packs, which I believe is actually worth spending money on, but these are not the type of IAP’s that make the big bucks for most developers.

Bartek: Which ones of your apps were the biggest success and which ones were below expectations? Why?

Jeremiah: Party Light Free is our biggest earner. And it has been earning steadily for 3 years without slowing down. I think it’s our biggest success because it was our first app and was in the Google market when it was still young. I kick myself for not making apps for Android earlier, like 2008 when it first came out. There are apps in the market that have been on the top of the charts for 3-4 years just because they got early momentum and snowballed. Our breakout clone, DagazEhwas is our lowest earner for the amount of time we put into it. It probably didn’t do well because the name is never searched for in the market.

Bartek: Do you use any marketing techniques or ASO to promote your apps?

Jeremiah: We try to promote heavily in the first 30 days of app launch as this is when you will get the most bang for your buck. If you can get an app high in the Top New sections you can expect more organic installs. We sometimes buy installs from AppBrain to give our apps a start and then we see up to 10 times organic installs than what we paid for.

Bartek: What are your favourite Android games/apps?

Jeremiah: Sketchbook Squad by Orange Pixel, Final Fantasy 3, Pew Pew.

Bartek: What Android devices do you own?

Jeremiah: Currently I have a Galaxy S3 and Nexus 7. I’ve owned an HTC Hero, multiple Motorola Android phones and a Dell Streak.

Bartek: What Android blogs/sites do you read regularly?


Bartek: What are your plans for the future? What do you want to create/achieve?

Jeremiah: We’re going to be making our games for more platforms, like IOS, and working on some 3D games.

Bartek: What advice would you give to other developers (something that you wish you had known before yourself)?

Jeremiah: Choose your app names with ASO in mind. Choose a good framework that can build for multiple platforms.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet? Give some links to your blogs, apps, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, etc.


Come back for another interview next week and if you're interested in how I'm doing with the game... just wait until the weekend (or perhaps Monday). I'm going to the mountains tomorrow morning, so I might not implement so much, but still, I like the progress so far.

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