Monday, January 19, 2015

Android indie developer interview: Matey Nenov (2)

I'm not sure if you remember but back in November 2013 I interviewed an interesting developer - Matey Nenov. He had a blog on which he regularly reported his income and he was making around $300/month. Well, more than a year has passed since then. He's just released a brand new game, Follow the Line 2D Deluxe, and he made over $1500 just in the past December. I asked him to answer some questions regarding his recent work and he kindly agreed. I hope you'll enjoy what Matey says as much as I did.

Bartek: I played your new game and it looks amazng. Can you tell me something about it? Why did you decide to implement this specific idea? What tools were you using? Did you make the graphics yourself?

Matey: The game idea is old. I played a game like this in the nineties. I saw then the "original" Follow the Line. It was very popular but actually implemented pretty badly. There are lots of clones on Google Play, but they are even worse than the "original". The game looked simple enough, so I decided to implement it better.
I use Unity, so it is relatively easy to implement special effects. I did the graphics by myself and hired on Fiverr someone to do some of the audio effects (the female voice). I also hired someone for the video.
For the graphics I used Inkscape and Gimp, for the audio effects - Audicity.

Bartek: When did you switch from libGDX to Unity? Why did you do it? How long did it take you to learn it? Was it a good decision?

Matey: libGDX is a hobby tool. Unity is a professional game engine (2D and 3D). It is very easy to use and makes game development much much easier. Porting the game to different platforms is also very easy. I made my last 3 games with Unity and I will continue to do so. There are also lots of video tutorials on the Unity main page, so learning it is actually a matter of hours.

Bartek: How long did it take you to implement the game? Are you working on your projects full time now?

Matey: It took me 3 months of my spare time. I also have a family, so I don't really have much time for my projects. I have a regular job and mobile apps are still only a hobby... I live in Germany and my income from mobile apps is too low to make a living...

Bartek: Is your regular job Android related?

Matey: No, I am a Scrum Master in a JEE project. I don't develop software by myself anymore (only as a hobby).

Bartek: Did you port your game to other platforms as well?

Matey: Unity supports many platforms, so it is no problem to compile for any platform you desire. At the moment, I make games only for Android and iOS because they are the most used platforms. I was thinking of porting my games to Windows Phone as well, but the Windows Phone market is still to small to be relevant...

Bartek: What's the revenue share between the platforms? On which do you earn more?

Matey: I only have my last three games on iOS. Two of them don't earn much on Android or iOS. I plan to release a free version of Follow the Line on iOS in February, so for now Android makes almost all the money I earn. However, I sold over 100 copies of Follow the Line for iOS in December. I think that in the future (as I read on other developers' blogs) iOS will be more profitable.

Bartek: Why did you decide to use Fiverr? Was it easy to find someone reliable? Did you try other freelancing portals as well?

Matey: It was very easy to use and there were people who offered exactly what I needed with examples that showed what the final product could look like. In the past I used Elance, but it seems to be for more complex stuff. I also used Odesk. It is comaparable to Elance.

Bartek: Do you have a paid license for Unity? Can you explain how its licensing works?

Matey: I use the free version. It has some limits, but for now it is sufficient. You can use the free version for any platform until your company makes $100k in one fiscal year, then you must switch to the paid version. Unfortunately, I am still far away from that point...

Bartek: Are you planning your next game?

Matey: I am already working on it, but it is too early to say anything else...

Bartek: What would you say was the most important factor that helped you get to the income level that you have reached?

Matey: Not giving up :) and trying to make every next game a little bit better.

Bartek: Were you considering making regular apps instead of just games?

Matey: I considered regular apps, but I have no ideas what to make and how to market it.

Bartek: Are you learning anything new right now or just using your current knowledge?

Matey: I'm always learning something new. I first decide what I want to do/achieve and then learn the needed skills to do it... At the moment, I'm mostly learning how to market games. To make the things more difficult, the Apple App Store and the Google Play work very differently and Android marketing strategies don't apply to the App Store. Now I have time until February to run a good marketing campaign. Nowadays good marketing is the difference between success and failure.

Bartek: How do you promote your games? Why do you think marketing Android games is different than marketing iOS games?

Matey: Because the stores function very differently. On the Play Store the first 30 days are very important to kick start the app as are all the ratings (from the beginning). You can update your app very quickly, so you need to monitor how the apps perform and how people react and make changes/fixes accordingly as fast as possible.
On the other hand, the App Store functions very differently. You can't make quick changes, because there is at least a one week wating period for an app to be aproved by Apple. I also read that not all reviews are being taken into account for the final rating. If you fix a problem the negative reviews caused by the bug will not affect the ratings as much as on Android... There is also no "new" section for apps less than 30 days old, so you can market whenever you want... although I am not entirely sure about all this. That's why I am trying now to gather as much information on the subject as possible, e.g. the Android paid version was number 1 in the top new casual paid games and I was getting about 3 to 5 sells a day. After 30 days the sells dropped to around 3 per week. On iOS I am still getting around 3 sells a day... and I didn't do any marketing there...

Bartek: So you just try to fix any bugs that arise and reply to comments? Do you do anything else?

Matey: I did CPI campaign in the first 30 days. Now I'm just fixing bugs and replying to comments. For iOS I'm planning to do something like this as well, although I am still not sure what it will be.

Bartek: So how much did you pay for such a campaign and was it really worth it?

Matey: Yes it was worth it. I am not an expert and it was the first time I made a campaign. My plan was to concentrate on a small region and try to push the game there to the top new lists and I succeeded. I invested around $850 and I already got it all back (as you can see in my income report for December).

Bartek: Do you use any analytics in your games?

Matey: I always implement Google Analytics in my games.

Bartek: What are you measuring? Have you tried other analytics libraries as well? I find Google Analytics a bit confusing.

Matey: I find it very easy to use and very useful. It is integrated in the Google Play Services, so you don't need any extra libraries. The official Google Play Services Unity plugin has analytics integrated...

Bartek: How are you monetizing your games?

Matey: For monetization I mostly use interstitial ads. In my new game I also have banners, but they are not very effective. I don't use AdMob any more. I started using StartApp.

Bartek: Why? Is their CPM better?

Matey: Yes.

Bartek: What CPMs are you getting?

Matey: $2.8 to $4.

Bartek: How many installs and active installs does your game have right now?

Matey: Now my game has around 60k installs, 20k active installs, and around 8 minutes of average session length. I think this is also a very important metric.

Bartek: When are you showing the ads? Have you tried video ads?

Matey: I show interstitial ads after the game is over (but not every time) and banner ads on pause. I have video ads in my other games and they are very effective, but I don't think that they are well suited for this game (play time is probably too short to show long video ads).

Bartek: Are you planning on outsourcing more of your work in the future (like graphics, music, and perhaps even programming)?

Matey: I want to, but it is hard to imagine how to outsource game programming... Graphics and music are probably easier...

Bartek: Where did you get the music from for the Follow the Line 2D Deluxe game?

Matey: I got the music from incompetech. They have lots of great stuff with the CC license.

Bartek: How many different obstacle types are there in the game?

Matey: The obstacles are divided into two categories: moving and static. The moving ones are mostly rotational, but there are also some with other kinds of movement. I created around 30 different obstacle types. The game starts with just one and then every level another one is unlocked.

Unfortunately, the interview ended here, because Matey had to go feed one of his kids. Nevertheless, he managed to share a lot of extremely useful information. I hope you found it as inspiring as I did. If you'd like to ask him something else, let me know or just ping him on his blog:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Beginner Android developer interview: Gianluca from Frank Games

A month ago I got a mysterious email from a novice Android developer trying to promote his game - WHIZZY. I quite liked his first creation and I decided to ask him some questions about his programming experience, going back to my somewhat neglected tradition of publishing interviews. I was thinking that it could give you some inspiration for 2015. What struck me the most in Gianluca's answers was how little it requires to create a fairly decent game. I hope it'll give you some food for thought as well.

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

Gianluca: My name is Gianluca. I'm 23. I live in Sardinia (Italy). At the moment, excluding programming, I'm not doing anything special.

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

Gianluca: My adventure as an Android programmer began by accident a short time ago. My goal was to create programs for Windows, but, talking with friends, I realized that at the present time the future of applications concerns the world of smartphones. Although, in my opinion, the applications for smartphones are no longer the future but the present. If we want to look even more forward in time, I believe that in the future programs for robots and modern devices like Google Glass will become very important . In any case I started Android programming for fun.

Bartek: How did you learn how to create apps? What resources were you using?

Gianluca: As the first point, I learnt to program in C++ thanks to the book by Stroustrup, various programming tutorials online and websites. When it comes to video game programming, I usually do not study all functions. I try to understand how the framework works and learn only the functions I need.

Bartek: Did you study something computer-related?

Gianluca: Depends what you mean. I never did a computer science school. I'm self-taught, but I believe that the Internet offers enough content on the subject. Without doubt my training is not comparable to that of a computer engineer, especially when it comes to knowledge of programming languages such as C/C++. I do have a small base on low-level network programming using sockets though. It was very nice to start with these programming languages because they make you understand how a computer works, which does not happen with higher level languages. As a next educational goal I wanted to learn a high-level programming language. I was undecided between Java and Python.
Bartek: What libraries/frameworks do you use if any?

Gianluca: I use the win32 api for Wwindows and Cocos2d-x framework for Android.

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

Gianluca: I usually try to invent something different. Even if my ideas are always influenced by the ideas of others. It's normal and it works well for everyone. Up to now I've made just one game. It's not anything special. I created it while learning Cocos2d-x. I saw that there are other games similar to mine, perhaps because it is a type of game easy to make for a beginner. During the creation of my game I have not copied from anyone. In fact, I think it is similar to others but not equal.

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

Gianluca: Unfortunately, as you can notice, I'm not much of a designer. I work alone. I learnt the basics of Photoshop. Regarding the sound I try to take resources not protected by copyright, so from YouTube or specialized sites.

Bartek: Could you give some examples of sites that you take your graphic resources from? Also, what did you mean by writing that you were taking them from YouTube? How can you do that?

Gianluca: From YouTube I take only the audio resources. I download a music video or a sound that I like and I convert it to mp3 or ogg. As for the graphic resources, at the moment I create them with Photoshop. I'm not very experienced with it. I only know how to create basic shapes - spheres or cubes with light and shadow.

Bartek: Do you use any other programming tools?

Gianluca: In general, I use Code::Blocks, Notepad, and Visual Studio. When I program for Windows and with Cocos2d-x, I use Visual Studio. When I use Ubuntu, I program with Code::Blocks as well.

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

Gianluca: It took me two months to create my first app, but that's because I was good at programming with the console. Included in these two months are also all the days I was learning Cocos2d-x. If I had to recreate a similar game with the present knowledge, it would take a few days.

Bartek: How many hours a week (on average) were you working on the game?

Gianluca: Sometimes I stayed at the PC all day, sometimes for only three hours. If I'm inspired to create something, time limits don't exist for me. In general, I'm at the computer for a long time even though I'm not planning to.

Bartek: How do you test your apps? What devices/tools do you use for it?

Gianluca: I test my apps in BlueStacks emulator and on Android devices.

Bartek: How much are you making on your apps?

Gianluca: A few pennies. I've just started. Before I can earn some money, I should at least make people understand that I exist, I should also create a more diverse portfolio of video games.

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

Gianluca: I've been monetizing my game through ads, but I have not yet found a decent ad network.

Bartek: What ad networks have you been using? Why do you think that you haven't found a decent one yet?

Gianluca: For a short period I was using RevMob. Its banners were beautiful and full-screen, but their size was too big. They were slowing down the execution of the game and they were appearing too late - often in a wrong moment. Currently, I'm using Millennial Media. The loading speed is fine, but the banner quality is bad and it's not full-screen. I don't know if it's my fault or theirs. I'll try other networks in the future, but I am in no hurry at the moment, because I don't generate many ad requests anyway.

Bartek: What do you think has been the most/least successful aspect of your game?

Gianluca: It's too early to talk about these things.  With the first and only application that I created, my expectations weren't very high. It was made for the purpose of learning. With time I'm hoping to improve my skills. Meanwhile, I'm working on another game that should be more innovative and have lower hardware requirements.

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

Gianluca: Not for now. Just a bit of promotion among friends and on forums.

Bartek: What are your favourite Android games/apps?

Gianluca: I really enjoyed Geometry Dash.

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

Gianluca: None. I read a bit everywhere, but can't remember the name of a particular site.

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

Gianluca: I am creating a new game. It seems to me there are no similar ones on Google Play yet, so it should be quite innovative. I hope not to be wrong, although sometimes, because there are so many games on the Play Store, you realize only later that your idea was not so unique. But one thing is sure. I'm not creating the game trying to emulate someone else's. I'm modeling my way, with my way of thinking. It's important to me that my work is not a copy of another game.

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

Gianluca: I can recommend to follow this profession only if you have passion. If you believe in getting rich, you'll probably lose time. Few developers earn money with applications when compared to the number of them publishing on Google Play. I think that things need to be done only if you enjoy doing them.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?

Gianluca: Now only via email: Twitter and Facebook will come with time.