Thursday, December 12, 2013

Android indie developer interview: Lasse Hakulinen

After talking to developers from hot countries, the time has come to interview someone from Scandinavia, where they work on some cool stuff as well. Lasse Hakulinen, my guest today, has a very solid academic background in programming and computer games theory. In fact, he's doing a PhD on applicating games for unusual tasks - in education, work and everyday life. I hope you'll like what he's doing and what he has to say.

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

Lasse: I'm the founder of Metka Games, as well as the junior game developer, novice graphical designer, and marketing apprentice of the company. I'm a PhD student from Finland and for my thesis I am researching the use of games in computer science education. I have also two sons that keep me pretty busy nowadays.

Bartek: Could you tell us some more about your PhD?

Lasse: Basically I'm interested in researching different gameful methods that are (or could be) used in computer science education, including alternate reality games, card games and gamifying existing learning environments. You can see my publications here: Roughly saying, I think it takes a bit over a year until I'm finished. After that, one interesting possibility would be to do games full time.
Bartek: When did your Android adventure start and how? Why did you decide to do it?

Lasse: The idea to develop games for Android came from my co-worker. I've always liked making games and Android seemed like a nice platform to get something actually published. So I just decided to go for it and see what would happen.

Bartek: How did you learn how to create apps?

Lasse: Being familiar with Java and programming in general, learning to make basic apps was not a big task. I mainly used the Android developer documentation to get started, but also searched additional guides and examples for more specific stuff (e.g. audio processing for the Rhythm Sheep game).

Bartek: Do you remember any specific sites that you used to learn more complicated Android programming?

Lasse: Stack Overflow has been useful for many things. Also, as an example, I used this site to learn about the wav format because I need to do some basic audio manipulation on the fly in Rhythm Sheep.
Bartek: Do you use any libraries/frameworks?

Lasse: I use just the Android SDK. In the future, I should check if I could make my life a bit easier with some good frameworks.

Bartek: If you're not using any libraries/frameworks, how do you draw and animate objects? Do you use OpenGL, just a simple Canvas or something totally different?

Lasse: The animations are quite simple so I just use Canvas for them.
Bartek: Where do you take app/game ideas from? How do you know if they have a chance to be successful?

Lasse: I have some game ideas (that I haven't implemented yet) that I have had for years. Usually I talk to people and see if they find the idea interesting. I have also got many ideas that first seem excellent but not so good on the next day. So the first test for an idea is the first 24 hours.

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

Lasse: I have done all the graphics for my games myself. At the moment, I don't have any music in my games, but the next version of Rhythm Sheep will have some music composed by a friend who is fortunately more talented in the area than me.

Bartek: Does your friend who made music for you have a website or is there some way other people can contact him if they want something similar done?

Lasse: At the moment, he is focusing on something else and not looking for new game music assignments. However, if you have an offer that you think he can't refuse, you can ask him:
Bartek: What other programming tools do you use?

Lasse: Nothing special. Eclipse for programming and Inkscape for the graphics.

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

Lasse: At the moment I'm not doing this full time (or even anywhere close to it), so it takes a lot of calendar time to get even the updates done. The first app took about couple of months from start to publish. However, I have made several updates for it later.

Bartek: How many hours a week do you spend working on your apps?

Lasse: That is really hard to say, because it varies a lot. At the moment, 0-3h a week.
Bartek: How much are you making on your apps?

Lasse: Enough for financing the domain and hosting fees of but not enough so that I would want to calculate what has been my hourly wage so far.

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

Lasse: I monetize with ads and paid versions of the games. Currently I use only AdMob for showing ads. I tried some banner exchange networks before, but decided to stick with one ad network at the moment just to keep it simple.

Bartek: What banner exchange sites have you tried? What are your experiences with them?

Lasse: Tap for Tap, Applifier and WaveX. The first two worked technically fine, but I had some issues of clicks not registering with WaveX. Overall, I didn't see any effects worth mentioning and therefore I decided to stop experimenting with different networks now that my developing time is really limited.
Bartek: Which ones of your apps were the biggest success and which ones were below expectations? Why?

Lasse: Rhythm Sheep has been the most successful app. I think its strength is that the gameplay is really simple but the idea of the game is not used anywhere else (at least I haven't seen it). Also, you can actually train your rhythms skills by playing the game so it is also beneficial in addition to the ultimate enjoyment it brings.
Shape Fitter has also been doing ok, even though the idea of the game is not that new. However, the levels are surely different than anywhere else as they are all hand crafted by me.
On the other hand, Color Match has not been very popular, but then again I haven't put nearly as much effort in it than in my other apps.

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

Lasse: Not much. Just try to describe the games in my webpage and Google Play listing as well as I can.

Bartek: What are your favourite Android games/apps?

Lasse: I just installed Chess By Post and I also like various puzzle games.

Bartek: What Android devices do you own?

Lasse: Samsung Galaxy Gio and Denver 7" tablet.

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

Lasse: Android Developers Blog fairly regularly and then some other sites more irregularly.

Bartek: Could you list other sites/blogs that you read other than the Android Developers Blog?

Lasse: Your blog, blogs in GamasutraMobile Icecube.

Facebook groups:
Indie Game Developers:
Play Finland:

…and occasionally these forums:
Making Money With Android:
AndroidPit forum:

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

Lasse: At the moment I haven't been able to put much time for Metka Games, but I'd like to do games more seriously in the future. Possibly making a living out of it. I put "Awesome games for awesome people" as a motto to the Metka Games website and basically I'd like to make good games that people have fun playing, and maybe even find them useful in addition to the fun part.

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

Lasse: There're still lots of things I wish I would know now. If I did something different, I would not rush publishing my games, but do some more testing and get more feedback before the launch. I would also do the marketing part better (but how?).

Bartek: Why do you think rushing to publish your app/game is bad?

Lasse: I think that it would be easier to market a new game when it is polished, complete, and well tested. Also, getting a lot of installs in the beginning could make some nice snowball effect going on and increase the total visibility of the game. Anyway, that's what I'm planning to try in the future and we'll see what happens.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?

Lasse: Pick your poison:
Metka Games website:
Games on Google Play:
...and if you want to stalk me personally:

I'm proud to announce that I almost finished my Blobby Volley clone and I should be able to release it at the beginning of next week. It's still a beta version, but I'm excited to see if it's going to be successful. The next progress report will be a little late (I'll probably publish it on Tuesday), but it will contain a Google Play link to the game. Wish me luck!

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