Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December updates

I wrote in November that there had been some unexpected events messing up my plans. Well, this month brought me even more "excitement" and surprises. Unfortunately, not all of them are positive. The biggest upset is that...

I've been laid off

December 5 was my last work day at Fandom (former Wikia). There was a company meeting in the evening, during which they told us that things hadn't been going great and that we got invitations in our calendars to smaller meetings where they'd explain to us the details of the situation. I wasn't paying too much attention to the exact words because I was working on a big programming task that I wanted to finish that day. Without suspecting anything, I went to a smaller room, perhaps only noticing that most of my team went elsewhere. There I found roughly 15 people all sitting in silence and in a stern atmosphere. Then our chief of engineering and chief of HR came in and said that they were sorry to announce that we were all being laid off. They didn't give us much explanation. The rest of the company left the building in the meantime. We were called out one by one to sign some documents while they were wiping out our computers. I went to pack my stuff from my desk and that was pretty much it.

I wasn't particularly sorry to lose the job, even though I liked it a lot; perhaps even the most from all my jobs so far. The thing that hit me the most was the way they let us go: without any prior notice, without a way to say goodbye to others, without thanking us for what we'd been doing. I'd never heard of anything similar happening in Poland before. I guess I had to learn the hard way not to have too much trust in my employer and always have a plan B. I think more people felt similarly, because they left bad reviews on Glassdoor. Around 70 people were laid off across the globe.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Surprisingly, there are a couple positive sides to what happened. Firstly, they are paying me until the end of January, even though I don't have to work right now. Perhaps it's not very long, but being on this paid vacation has been great so far. Secondly, they let us keep our computers, which in my case is pretty awesome, because my 8-year-old PC is not getting any faster and now I have a late 2015 MacBook Pro that I can use. Lastly, I think I already found a new, perhaps even better, job.

New job

I'm supposed to start at Allegro (which is like Polish eBay) in February. I haven't signed any documents yet, but it should just be a formality. I'd been sporadically going to interviews even before losing my job. I didn't expect getting a much better offer, but I'm of the opinion that knowing the job market, the questions they ask at interviews and work conditions in other companies can come in handy. This notion might have saved me from being very miserable right now. Anyway, going to interviews, I'd sometimes get a job offer that I'd reject, but it would give me a sense of security and self-esteem. Allegro was one of those offers. Fortunately, they still hadn't found anyone when I was let go of. All I had to do was ask if the position was still open.

The nicest thing, that I haven't mentioned so far, is that I'll be working part time, or 4/5 full time if you will. It means that I'll have one day off each week. One full day! How much faster can I go with my own projects right now? I think at least twice as fast. And should I decide to switch to full time some day, it should be rather straightforward. It's much harder to go the other way and reduce the amount of hours you work. Obviously, working part time will give me less money, but the salary is high enough for me as it is and I'm really excited to try my new schedule.

I'm getting married

Yes, you read it right. Me and my girlfriend decided to get married in March. It's just a bit more than two months from now. We've been together for a good couple of years now and we thought that it was high time we took our relationship to the next level. It's going to be a civil marriage, because neither of us is particularly religious. We're not organizing a huge wedding, just a dinner for the closest family. We'll think of a bigger party for friends when it gets warmer here.

Updates on my projects

Thanks to my unexpected vacation I've been able to work on my own stuff quite a lot. My Facebook Gallery project is getting to an end and I really like what I've done so far. I probably need a week or so at the beginning of 2017 to finish it, so I won't give you too many details right now. In short, I updated the libraries it was using, I revamped the UI, I sped up the synchronization process almost 3 times through RxJava 2 and I refactored the hell out of it. Left to be done is some more synchronization corrections and unit tests and then adding Facebook Audience Network. After it's ready, I'm going to try to sell it on CodeCanyon.

I completed 28% of the Unity course on Udemy that I wrote about last time. The whole thing is 52h, not counting coding time. I really like it and I'm learning a lot, but I watch it on 2x speed because of the way the instructors talk. Perhaps the only thing I don't particularly appreciate in the course are the parts explaining C# programming, because they're targeted at absolute beginners. The rest is pretty awesome. I'm not sure if I'm going to complete the course or just its 2D part and then proceed to rewrite my Blobby Volley game. We'll see. In any case, rewriting Blobby Volley in Unity will be my next big project and I'm hoping to finish, at least a basic version, before I come back to real work.

My friend got me to buy and play TIS-100. It was a part of Humble Bundle. The game is basically an assembly language simulator with a bit of a plot, so its target audience is quite limited, but I enjoy it very much. I've managed to beat 16 levels so far. I'm hoping to solve more when not working on other stuff.

That's pretty much it, folks. I should be able to show you something more tangible instead of personal life news next time. Come back in January for more updates and wish me luck for the married chapter in my life.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

November updates

This is just a quick update on what I've been up to this month. There were a couple of unexpected events that messed up my original plans a bit, but still I managed to move a step forward.


I went to Mobilization and I'm going to Droidcon Poland in three weeks. I have to say that I really like such events, not only for the sake of presentations, but also for their networking value. Every time I go somewhere I meet my colleagues and their work mates, and discussing with them often brings me more value than what the speaker has to offer. At some point I was even wondering why someone doesn't organize meetings for people from various companies during which they could discuss how they handle specific programming aspects, like storing data or testing. Perhaps I'll do it some day.

Learning Unity

I got a notification that Udemy had a huge discount on a nice Unity course so I bought it. It cost me 12 €, but the price goes up every day, so you'd better hurry up if you're interested. I haven't started watching the lessons yet, but with the coming Christmas period, I'm hoping to be able to give it a try. I'll let you know how it goes.

Facebook Gallery

Remember my Facebook Gallery template app? No? Well, some time ago I made a couple of apps using the same template that I'd created. Each app was basically a gallery of images from a specific Facebook channel/profile. You could also adjust the theme, strings, icons, etc. for them. See Banksy for example.
My plan for the nearest future is to refresh the project a bit and try to sell the code on some portal. I've already done a bit of refactoring: I updated the libraries, I switched from Picasso to Glide and I started working on Activity transitions to make it look nicer. There's still a lot to be done, but I'm hoping to finish before the end of the year.
For the next part, I did a quick research on where I could try to sell the template. It turns out that there aren't many sites dedicated to it. I found Chupamobile, SellMyApp and CodeCanyon. The first two look somewhat sketchy though, so I'll probably go with CodeCanyon in the end. They check every submission manually, they have user comments and ratings, and they are open about how many people bought an app. The only thing that worries me is that their suggested prices are quite low (<$20). I don't know why people decide to post their apps that required months of work for such a price. Perhaps buyers choose the more expensive extended license?
If you have any experience with selling your code to people, let me know in the comments. I'll be grateful for any advice.


That's pretty much what's going on at the moment. My priority is to finish the Facebook Gallery app. In the meantime, I'll be watching an occasional Unity lesson. Starting next year, I want to commit more time to game development, because that's what excites me the most, even though it might not be the most lucrative choice. I'd like to polish my Blobby Volley, but that's a whole different subject and I won't go into it now.
I hope to see you next time with more progress updates and news. Peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Indie game developer interview: Maciej Targoni

As announced in my previous post, I had a great pleasure of interviewing Maciej Targoni, the author of best selling games: Oo, Hook and Klocki. He shares his work methods, tools, design techniques, and other cool stuff. I hope you enjoy it.


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

Maciej: My name is Maciej Targoni. Right now I'm living in Poznań, Poland. I develop puzzle games for a living :)

Bartek: How did you start your adventure with creating games?

Maciej: I decided that I wanted to learn programming and game design. So I learned from scratch, without any skills or school :)

Bartek: Did you study anything computer/game related?

Maciej: Nope.

Bartek: Did you create your first game as a side project or was it a full-time commitment? How were you earning money during that time?

Maciej: I had a part time job.

Bartek: How did you learn how to create games? What resources were you using (websites, books, etc.)? How long did it take you to do it?

Maciej: I use Google. Every time I have any problem, I just look for an answer. I did it while learning programming, drawing and game design skills.


Bartek: What libraries/frameworks do you use?

Maciej: I use Unity and Construct2D for prototyping.

Bartek: Why did you choose Unity and Construct2D? Do you have any experience with other engines/tools?

Maciej: I have some experience with CoronaSdk. Unity has the biggest community, lots of assets, it's easy and you can export a game to multiple platforms.

Bartek: What's the difference between Unity and Construct2D? Why don't you just use one of them?

Maciej: I use Unity most of the time. Construct is just for prototyping or small HTML5 projects.

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

Maciej: I make a lot of prototypes. Most of the time it takes me 10 projects to pick the right one.

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

Maciej: I make them myself. Sounds and music are made by Wojciech Wasiak.

Bartek: How did you start your cooperation with Wojciech Wasiak? Do you know him personally?

Maciej: After I'd posted a trailer of my first game "oO", he sent me an email with his work. I liked it a lot, so we started working together. We still haven't met :)

Bartek: How much did you pay for the music for your games?

Maciej: $300 - $1000.


Bartek: What other programming tools do you use?

Maciej: Just Dropbox and tools delivered with Unity.

Bartek: Do you use any tools from Unity Asset Store?

Maciej: 2dToolkit, DOTtween, ProBuilder, Master Audio, PoolManager.

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

Maciej: 4 months prototyping and looking for a fresh idea. And about 8 months to make a game. So one game every year.

Bartek: How do you design your levels? Do you do it by hand or do you build some helper tools first?

Maciej: I build them mostly by hand. I like to take it slow and let my unconsciousness do the work for me ;)

Bartek: How much production time does level design take? Is it a large part?

Maciej: I make about 1-3 levels a day.

Bartek: Have you considered outsourcing some of the work or partnering up with other people?

Maciej: Sure, next year I want to make something bigger with Michał Pawłowski ("Hamster On Coke").


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

Maciej: Just a few phones for testing :)

Bartek: How much are you making on your apps?

Maciej: I make around $10k - $100k a year. Depends on the game.

Bartek: What's your income distribution among different platforms? What's your income percentage from Android, iOS, Steam and other platforms?

Maciej: For every game it is different. But a total revenue splits almost equally.

Bartek: How do you monetize your apps and why did you choose this model?

Maciej: I sell premium games for $1. I hate ads and in-apps, that is the only reason why :)

Bartek: How did you manage to make people pay for your games in the first place? It's very difficult to make people download your game even if it's free...

Maciej: I publish a demo on Kongregate and send some emails to the press. I try to make unique-looking games. That helps a lot with being discovered.

Bartek: Do you market your games in any way, e.g. through reviews, Adwords, Facebook ads, etc.?

Maciej: Not really.

Bartek: Which one of your games is the most successful and why?

Maciej: Hook - has most game-plays.

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

Maciej: Nope, just improv.

Bartek: What are your favourite mobile games/apps?

Maciej: Uber ;)

Bartek: What game development blogs/sites do you read regularly?

Maciej: Extra Credits.

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

Maciej: Right now I'm learning videography. I want to make a short documentary.

Bartek: What's your documetary about? Can you reveal more details?

Maciej: We are going to Portugal as So we will make some videos about travel/surfing/skateboarding :)

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

Maciej: Learn from other games and developers, but don't follow them. Make something unique.

Bartek: What do you think is the most difficult when trying to make a successful game?

Maciej: Trying to be unique and not following trends. Its scary and risky, but for me worth pursuing.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?


Sunday, October 16, 2016

What I'm up to at the moment

Hmm, it's been a while since my last post, so I thought that I should give you a short update on what I did in the last couple of months and what my plans are for the near future.

I finished working on Keep Streak. It's a habit tracking app that helps you do certain things regularly (like excercise or meditate). It's not my own app. I got hired to do it on Upwork. I collaborated with Eetion, the project owner, for two years, incrementally adding features to the original idea and then pausing the work for a couple of months. I have to say that I quite enjoyed the process, but I'm also happy that it finally got published. Keep Streak isn't extremely popular right now, but the app is quite well-thought-out and I recommend you take a look at it - perhaps it's something you'd like to use.

Other than freelance stuff, I also updated my metro apps: Milan Metro and Rome Metro. I removed their paid versions and added in-app payments instead, so that people can still remove ads. This way there aren't two separate versions of the app in the Play Store. I added search, so you can easily look for stops. I implemented App Invites, so people can invite their friends to use the app via sms or email. I tweaked the ads and I started using Facebook Audience Network to maximize my revenue. I added Google Analytics and Firebase Analytics to be able to understand the users' behavior. Finally, I fixed some small bugs that were reported on Fabric (former Crashlytics).
All in all, the apps' installs haven't increased much, because there's an official app for Milan now, and the app for Rome was never very popular (I still have no idea why). I learned a lot while working on the updates though, so I don't consider this time to be wasted. I still have hopes that the installs will go up to a bigger figure. In fact, after a slight bump, they keep rising slowly but steadily.

Oh, I forgot to mention, the metro apps have new material icons now too. I already published the one for Rome and I'm doing an A/B test for the one for Milan. Here's what they look like now.

So the plan for the rest of the year is to finish updating the metro apps, so they can be left alone for some time. To be more specific, I'd like to:
  • fix in-app-payments related bugs
  • reward users for inviting friends (if it's even possible)
  • finish experimenting with the icons
  • think about new features that could be added (like animations)
After I'm done with it, I want to play around with my Facebook gallery apps e.g. Banksy. They need a general update of SDKs and libraries. There are new features that I want to add as well, like sharing images and screen transitions. I was thinking that I could experiment a bit with Retrofit 2, RxJava and Kotlin in the meantime.

As to my interview series, I recently found out that the author of Hook and klocki is a friend of a friend, so perhaps I can get him to answer a couple of questions for me. I'm really excited to meet the guy. An additional fun fact about him is that he rents electric skateboards in my city (Poznań) now. Some of my work mates already went to try them.

Neither the blog nor me are dead, so stay tuned for the next posts and updates. See you in a bit.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Android indie game developer interview: Matey Nenov (3)

I had a great pleasure of interviewing Matey Nenov once again. He's done great progress since the last time. His indie income has surpassed his regular earnings and his games' quality has increased tremendously. He's sharing tons of great knowledge with us, as well as the things he's working on right now. Enjoy the read.

Bartek: Your games become better and better with every iteration. What did you improve in Legend of Eli a furry Monster that you didn't have/do in Follow the Line 2D Deluxe?

Matey: My Unity 3D skills improved a lot, so I was able to do lots of new things and do them faster. Also I have money now from Follow the Line 2D Deluxe, so I hired some professionals for the graphics, sounds, video, etc.

Bartek: What professionals did you hire? Where did you find them?

Matey: I hired a graphic designer for some of the new features of Follow the Line 2D Deluxe. I was very happy with her work, so I rehired her again for Legend of EliLegend of Eli was of course a much bigger project and, as you can see, she did a great job. I also hired some other professionals for smaller tasks. I did hire most of them on Upwork.
I also used Fiverr and direct contacts.

Bartek: Are you still using the same tools (Unity) or have you switched to something else?

Matey: I am still using Unity. I also got the subscription for the pro version.

Bartek: What made you buy the pro version of Unity? Why was the free version not enough?

Matey: The free version is actually enough. The pro version has some neat features like splash screen, profiler etc. But those are all features I can live without. The main reason for buying the pro version is the license. I can’t use the free version anymore.

Bartek: Do you use any assets from the Unity Asset Store?

Matey: Yes, I do. Some tools for the editor (e.g. xARM, UniRate, etc.)

Bartek: What resources did you outsource in Legend of Eli? Where did you take the graphics, sounds and music from?

Matey: I outsourced most of the graphics, the video and the remastering of the sounds. The music is free from I also bought some sounds online, most of them on Pond5.

Bartek: Have you gone full time with your indie business yet or are you still working in your spare time?

Matey: I still have my “normal” job, although last year my indie business made much more than my “normal” job. I am planning to quit my job soon but there are some things that must happen first.

Bartek: I noticed that you have a new logo and animation for your company. Who made it for you and how much was it?

Matey: I hired someone on Upwork. I actually do hire professionals relatively often there. I paid $50 for the logo video, but it was a part of a bigger project – the video for my new game. The game video was around $550. I posted a job and chose one applicant. I wasn’t very happy with the result, so I gave it to another one there and he did an outstanding job. Unfortunately, it is hard to find good and capable professionals…

Bartek: Why did you decide to make a game like Legend of Eli? What was your inspiration? How did you know it had a chance to be successful?

Matey: I did make some proof of concept for a couple of games and Legend of Eli just felt right on a mobile device.

Bartek: How much time did it take you to make Legend of Eli?

Matey:  Around 4 months.

Bartek: How many hours a week are you able to spare for working on your games?

Matey: I didn’t track the time, but I suppose around 15 to 20 hours per week.

Bartek: How much are you earning with Legend of Eli and Follow the Line? Did you stop publishing income reports on your blog for good or are you planning to go back to it?

Matey: I am not planning to publish income stats anymore and I am not willing to say how much I earn now.

Bartek: Why did you decide to be less transparent with your income? Are you afraid that people can copy your ideas or is it something completely different?

Matey: People can and always will copy ideas from each other and I’m fine with it. My indie game career is not a small hobby project anymore and I am not comfortable with anyone knowing how successful my business is.

Bartek: What did you change in your monetization strategy? I noticed that you started using video ads. What ad networks are you using now?

Matey: I didn’t change much. I just added the rewarded video ads, because they are a good parallel income that doesn’t interfere with the other ads. For the video ads I use Tapjoy, Applovin and Vungle.

Bartek: Could you share some of the CPMs that you're experiencing with different ad formats in Legend of Eli?

Matey: I don’t have any significant income from Legend of Eli now, so I don’t think that these numbers are useful. Also I only implemented AdMob and Tapjoy for now. Maybe later, when the game gets more traction and I add some other ad providers, the data will be more meaningful.

Bartek: What other things did you put in the game? I noticed Google Play Services and in-game payments. Could you say a few words about them? How are the working out for you?

Matey: I use Google Play Game Services for the leaderboards. I think that my games are actually too small for IAP to work. The income from IAP is just a fraction from what I make with ads. I also added Daily Challenges and in Legend of Eli also Missions. I think these are great features and lots of players are very happy about them.

Bartek: Did you run any paid campaigns for Legend of Eli? If yes, then where and how much were they? Did you get any measeurable results?

Matey: Yes I did, mostly through Tapjoy. The results aren’t good. The game did rank well, but there wasn’t any significant increase in organic installs. I think that the ASO is now more important than ever and paid installs are the second step…

Bartek: Did you do something else to promote Legend of Eli (e.g. get it reviewed)?

Matey: I did pay some people for ASO and I am now actively researching how to do ASO by myself.

Bartek: What ASO services did you use? Are you happy with what they did? Can you recommend anyone?

Matey: I did hire some guys on Upwork and Fiverr, but I am very disappointed with them. Unfortunately I can’t recommend anyone. I myself am still searching for a good ASO expert…

Bartek: How are you learning ASO? What sites/books/resources are you using?

Matey: I haven’t read any books yet. I registered on some sites like Sensor Tower and I am still searching online. Actually I'd prefer to find an ASO expert with experience to help me with this.

Bartek: What platforms did you publish Legend of Eli on? Which ones have more downloads and generate more income? What about Follow the Line? The last time we talked you didn't have enough data yet.

Matey: Legend of Eli is now only on the play store. The iOS version is actually also ready, but I want to prepare a good ASO for it first. Follow the Line is published on the play store and the app store. The play store is for now performing much better (around 10 times better).

Bartek: What are your plans for the near future? Did you start working on a new game?

Matey: I just finished a big update of Follow the Line 2D Deluxe with great new power ups. I plan to publish it in the next couple of days. Now I am making some ASO research to optimize the new update and the iOS version of Legend of Eli a furry Monster.

Bartek: Do you have any plans for next games or do you want to keep polishing and updating the existing ones, since they're doing quite well already?

Matey: No, not at the moment. As you said, I am still very busy with my existing apps.

Here are the previous two interviews with Matey:
Interview 1 from September 2013
Interview 2 from January 2015

You can find out more about Matey and his games here:
Play Store:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Teaching computer games development - interview with Michael Warburton from Cambridge Regional College

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

Michael: Hi, so I am Michael Warburton, in my everyday working life I’m a teacher and head of Computer Games Development at Cambridge Regional College in Cambridge UK. But with my students on the course I manage Rizing Games, releasing commercial games for iOS and Android . As far as I am aware, the only college at least in Europe that runs a commercial games company with the students?
Every year in June, I also organise a stall at E3 in L.A. for Rizing Games, where the students and myself exhibit their titles, rubbing shoulders with the giants of the industry!
Rizing Games over the last 2/3 years has gained industry support from tech giants ARM and gaming engine company Unity.
Last year at E3 2015 we had an amazing full-page feature in the E3 Insider magazine, with the ESA calling us the ‘School of Dreams’. A huge accolade that was completely humbling!
So it is a fun day job! Mostly a teacher, but also running my own indie games company teaching 16-18 year olds how to build and release their first commercial titles.

Bartek: When did your Android adventure start and how?

Michael: So 6 years ago when I was employed to teach in the games department I could see that the learners training was not really being applied to real life outputs. I have always worked with the ethic that; if you want to work in an industry, do it! Put your skills into action and build up a CV to show your professional progression.

So I began with Android due to the ease of being able to teach learners how to build and compile games due to ease of access to the OS and tool development.
Android is so accessible and easy to deliver to learners with. Plus the game engine I was teaching the learners with, GameMaker Studio, the development process with Android is fantastic and easy!

Bartek: How did you learn how to create games?

Michael: To be honest my background is in music technology as far as study goes. But during the late 90’s/early 2000’s, I was mucking around with HTML and Flash programming for website based games on
I never really took myself too seriously and saw it as a creative fun outlet.
So really I am self-taught, I have one of those personality’s that is a bit addictive and become very driven to learn and overcome new hurdles. Not always to the benefit of my own sanity or others around me when caught in a issue I am trying to solve! haha
But to be honest that is a skill I aim to teach my learners at Rizing Games about as well. Motivation and problem solving skills. You can teach yourself anything new and new ways of thinking! These are such important skills to have for employment.

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

Michael: So I personally use GameMaker Studio or Game Maker Language, but also C# and Javascript in Unity. These are the 2 engines I also use for teaching learners with at Rizing Games.
I chose GameMaker Studio due to the complete beginner tool it can be to introduce learners to programming and games development, but can also be more advanced! At the same time it makes app development/compile so easy and accessible!

Unity I have always personally loved. I used to use it years ago, and in 2014 at E3 I was approached by the head of Unity San Francisco office that thought all our games had been made with Unity.
I said no in which he instantly insisted on helping Rizing Games with setting us up with the engine and support. I was over the moon as you can imagine, and as a result can provide engine knowledge development for my learners.
Once again as for GameMaker, Unity is beautiful to work with, and for the learners progressing from GameMaker, the language and workflow is not that scary a jump!

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

Michael: Oh that’s tricky. To be honest for me it’s that annoying moment before I fall asleep and have an idea! Haha! So I always have a notepad near by to write them down.
Sometimes it’s mucking about with a mechanic for a game that will inspire a theme for a challenge in a game which then develops into a title overall.
Haha…I did one year give away an idea for a game I had to my learners working towards a title for E3. I thought nothing much of it at first. Then a few months later another industry professional in a high up position came on a visit to Rizing Games to give them feedback.
All I heard was the industry professional raving about their game mechanic! The students later told me how ‘Unique’ and ‘Not seen used that way before’ he had told them.
I was a little gutted I gave it away now! haha

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

Michael: All assets in the titles are original developed content. The learners at Rizing Games all come with a specialism they are interested in, they learn all areas, but always excel in an area.
As a result the learners are able to form teams and practice and hone their skills, working together to produce original content titles.
It takes a while for them to develop at times the teamwork, but once there, they work like machines.

Bartek: How do you create sounds and music for the games? What tools/programs do you use for it? Do you also use any free/paid resources from the Internet?

Michael: As far as sounds and music goes for games this is a major love of mine coming from the music industry background, being a professional musician and horror film composer. Its always a niggle of mine if the audio experience has not been fully explored! haha
Games are made up of 3 main areas, visual, interaction and the audio experience! Nothing worse than as simple as a button with no sound attached to reinforce the UX.
On the course which Rizing Games learners take I use a pro audio engine called Logic Pro. This is a fantastic all round Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) that allows me to teach the learners everything from original composition with virtual instruments, audio editing with maniupulation and effects, plus the benefits of Apple Loops which are copyright free audio samples to build up original compositions and SFX.
It is a very powerful tool, and you see there eyes light up when you show them how you can create new creature sounds using mulitple animal sounds and a bit of flex time editing and mixing! Just like the old days of audio engineers creating alien or monster sounds for 'Star Wars' or say the girls demonic scream in 'The Exorcist'.
So all audio assests in Rizing Games titles are original creations which I feel adds to a more rounded final product.
Sadly Logic Pro is not a free programme and is developed for Mac Systems only. But there are some great simple free audio editing tools out there the learners use such as Audacity etc. If you are using a PC I would recommend on a simliar level using a DAW such as Cubase.

Bartek: What other programming tools do you use?

Michael: At Rizing Games we use various other development/programming tools. Adobe software such as Photoshop etc. for preparing assets, plus 3d modelling tools such as 3ds Max.
A great little tool we have been using for preparing and creating 3d models for Unity is Adobe’s Mixamo. A fantastic player model-rigging tool. It’s still developing as a package, but is fantastic for teaching learners the concept of rigging and applying into their own games.
In addition we do use Dropbox but also Unity’s Asset Server as well for team sharing of project data.

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

Michael: This really varies based on their stage of the 2-year course. When the learners start the course it is a real mixed bag of ability, and I work to bring them to the same skill level, or as close as possible.
In the first year the learners experiment with producing titles, and most my time is spent working with them to build those ideas in their head, but then on the overall UX to be developed in to their title.
The first pitfall is always thinking that once they have a playable level, that is it! I am done!
I spend a lot of additional time working with them to look at the whole package from the end users journey. Once the learners reach their second year they begin their journey to developing and applying their skills towards their E3 final product. By now they understand the premises of a rounded game and spend about 9 months working on hopefully producing a commercial title with a full UX. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t, but that’s the point of Rizing Games. It is a safety net for them to try. If it does not quite go right they can learn in the safety of the company.
With the number of learners on the course, we usually in the last year for E3 produce on average 9 complete titles from teams of about 4/5. This year for E3 2016 we are looking at releasing around 14 titles! I have my work cut out this year! Haha

Bartek: How do you test your games?

Michael: We don’t have any strong system for testing bar the learners and myself setting alpha/beta testing stages in the title development as and when they are ready to. At times we have sessions when we bring the wider college body in to test the games to get an outside opinion. Other than that it is taking advantage of iOS and Google Play sandbox to invite beta testing of developing titles.

Bartek: How much are you making on your games?

Michael: In all honesty we make around £20 a year, but for Rizing Games that’s not always the goal. Some titles have a Premium price, but more often than not the games are Freemium.
Obviously with Rizing Games sitting under the umbrella of the college, our financial support comes from there. We have won various enterprise competitions, which have provided us with collateral to provide sustainability for future titles and marketing, but this is a developing situation.

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

Michael: As previously mentioned all our games have either been Premium or Freemium priced titles due to the production time scale for the learners. But we are now moving into adding a monetization model for the titles. The main way we are going to incorporate this will be through the Commercial Break style advertising in game. For Rizing Games titles, the Commercial Break style approach is the least intrusive and fair style of model.
The main issue is time for the learners to incorporate monetization into their games. They fully understand the various ways to add in other methods being gamers them selves, but as always its time. But they can always build upon this even beyond their time at Rizing Games.
I also feel for others, Commercial Break style monetization is the easiest and fairest model to start with, after so many plays or time, pop in an advert!

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

Michael: That’s a hard question! The students put their hearts in to all the games they make and I get just as excited as they do seeing their first commercial title come to life, it’s a great moment to share with them. But obviously being their first release it is hard to gauge success for their titles beyond a learning experience, albeit a complete title experience.
So none of the titles have really been below expectations as such as they are all complete games built by the students and released.
But one game called Lily Pad Leap which was a game built about 4 years ago which in all honest was not quite perfect and released, has gone on to have over 3000 downloads and still growing! It seems to have been a hit with parents for younger children. The ex-learners and myself have discussed that it does need a re-build as so popular.
Apart from that, a title called ‘360 Invasion’ built by 2 learners around 4 years ago during a 36 hour game jam we annually hold called ‘Nerd Rage’ has had great success and consistent downloads and lifetime on consumers devices. A great rework of Space Invaders but in a 360 degree attacking style by the aliens towards the Earth in the middle! Hours of fun! A classic reworked can’t go wrong!
Bartek: Do you use any marketing techniques or ASO to promote your games?

Michael: Sadly we don’t have any marketing techniques at all. We just don’t have the collateral to invest into any marketing. It would be amazing if we did and really would have a major impact on our user acquisition and retention if we did.
Currently our only techniques are good old word of mouth and social media! It is a slow burner as far as growth, but we have a solid base. Hopefully in the future this is something we will be able to grow.

Bartek: What are your favourite Android games?

Michael: Oh blimey that’s a hard question too. I loved Angry Birds myself, and if honest over the last month or so I became addicted to Hungry Shark! Haha I loved being able to evolve your shark. The comedic pop ups as you eat different items in the environment are brilliant! My 6-year-old nephew showed me that game and is still on my phone!
I don’t play too many games myself if I am honest, I am more addicted to building my own and developing new mechanics that inspire an idea for a new game, much to my learners shock and disappointment!

Bartek: What blogs/sites do you read regularly?

Michael: I mainly am on IGN or similar sites as such or anything that provides collated feeds of information. Other than that is social media sites picking up on latest trends of information.

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

Michael: Well Rizing Games is preparing for E3 2016, currently building our titles for our third year there. After last year with the ESA calling us the ‘School of Dreams’, it is hard to imagine where to go from there?
I would love to build in our monetization model and develop funds to market the learner’s games; they deserve to have more support for their efforts.
I’d love to set up more Rizing Games style studios and support other colleges to do so. As a result I am starting the UK’s first educational (school and college) based gaming competition/festival to encourage this called FXP (Future Experience Points)
It’s gaining loads of support from the technology and gaming industry such as ARM and YoYoGames to name a few.
As for Rizing Games we have a Sony PlayStation Develop license now as well, so hopefully we shall be entering into console title releases as well at some point, watch this space! Haha
There is always something new I am working on with Rizing Games, well, many new things at once! But all are great fun ventures. 

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

Michael: Just don’t be scared to try something if your not sure how, its fine you wont break it! Also just talk to industry experts for advice, people are more than happy to give you guidance! It seems daunting if not scary at times when trying to develop games/apps, but you can only learn by your mistakes. They are the greatest learning moments as long as you persevere and not become disheartened. To assume you are going to get it perfect first time is kidding yourself, we are always learning and the industry is always developing. That issue that is causing you weeks of pain trying to get something to work, when it does you will have learnt so much more than just the issue to solve, but also how to persevere as a professional. It really will pay off! It really is one of the hardest lessons my learners encounter in Rizing Games, and makes them strong rounded professionals with excellent soft skills beyond the specialist skills!
The last piece of advice is show your friends your ideas, but really get some good feedback at every stage of your title development! You will naturally love your idea, but you need that external view who will be honest. Listen to them, they are your consumer, and don’t take it to heart if they say something you don’t want to hear, it may save you months of development on an idea that is not really going to go anywhere.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?

Michael: All over the place! Haha We have a website that is in need of an update, we are on the case! And from there is links to the Google Play and
Apps Store for our games. Plus we have the Twitter and Facebook page @RizingGamesUK, and we are on YouTube as well. If you Google Rizing Games
you cant miss us! Haha

Bartek: How can someone sign up for your course? Is it part of a broader curriculum? How much is it (or perhaps it totally free)? Do you know of any similar courses in other places, that people might want to sign up for?

Michael: The course is a mainly a BTEC Level 3 Games Development Course run from Cambridge Regional College, but has evolved to mainly be known for the games company Rizing Games. Anyone can sign up for the course, we have school leavers from 16, returning University learners who have changed professional progression and individuals returning to education after time in employment wishing to change career. It really is a mixed bag due to the applied industry skills and development provided on the course.
I always tell applicants, yes you are coming to study a college level course in Games Development, but mostly I am hiring you to be part of my company and produce commercial games!
The course cost depends on the age of the learner. For learners pre 19 the course is free, but beyond 19 there is a cost but nothing in the way of University fees!
As far as I am aware Rizing Games is one of kind. I am working with other colleges in East Anglia to help them do the same, but this is obviously a long journey to help them. We are the only student games company building commercial games at either College or University, and certianly no other educational course goes to E3 let alone release games built by the learners!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Android indie game developer interview: Gokce Balkan from Mind Drawer

Here's another interview featuring a person I met during the Apps World conference in London. Two more interviews are in production right now. I hope you find them as inspiring as I do. Enjoy.

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

Gokce: I'm Gokce Balkan, living in London. I'm a freelance Unity Developer working on mobile games, AR and VR applications.

Bartek: When did your Android adventure start and how?

Gokce: I was at the beginning of my game development career. I left my first short contract job with HTML5 game development and was looking for another related to web technologies. But I wanted to focus more on games rather than web. After a couple of unsuccessful interviews, I decided to change my path, learn Unity and make mobile games. Android was an easy choice since I had an Android phone and Android had been dominating the mobile market. But that doesn't mean I won't go for other platforms, especially after being able to develop for multiple platforms with Unity.

Bartek: Do you work full time on your games? If not, what's your current occupation?

Gokce: I work full time on my games if I don't have any contract work. At the moment I'm working on a 360 degree video virtual reality project, I'm spending less time on my game.

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

Gokce: I watched all the Unity tutorial videos on Unity's website and YouTube. I was finding my solutions on the Unity forum and Stack Overflow. Meanwhile I was reading general software engineering and game development books to improve my skills, like Head First Design Patterns, Game Programming Patterns, Code Complete 2, Game Coding Complete, Refactoring, Clean Code, etc.

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

Gokce: Unity. The cross-platform publishing ability, huge community, lots of resources and demand of Unity developers on the market are the reasons. I might try other engines or tools later, but I aim to excel at Unity first. Unity is in its golden age with its expanding usage in industries other than gaming such as integration with augmented reality and virtual reality APIs and devices.

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

Gokce: Usually I tend to look at successful apps or games and visualize them in a different perspective. For example, if it is Tetris, I would think how it would work if the bricks were 3D objects. Some of my ideas stem from problems based on real life experiences and thinking of appealing solutions for them which brings fun to the user, such as a scuba diving game/simulator I thought about after I had dropped my weight belt around 30 meters underwater. Even if the idea is a different representation of a successful concept that may give an intuitive idea of the app's potential success, I can't know the chance of success until I test a prototype with people and hear them saying "I would definitely like to play it when it's finished". I think a successful app/game is based on a successful implementation of multiple brilliant ideas around a concept, not just the concept idea itself.

Bartek: Where do you get resources from?

Gokce: Usually I get the graphics from Unity Asset Store, but a friend of mine helps me with models as well. I get my sound and music from AudioJungle. Lately I worked with a music composer Rob Northcott. He did a very good job with the intro and the cut-scene music of my game.

Bartek: What other programming tools do you use?

Gokce: I use Git with Bitbucket for version control, Trello for organizing my tasks, MonoDevelop or Visual Studio for my code work, Unity Remote app for immediate testing on my device. For profiling I use the built-in profiler of Unity.

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

Gokce: It depends on the content of the game. I and a friend of mine worked on a small word game for which we had a clear road map. It took 6 weeks to complete and release. On the other hand, I am working on a memory game which is changing throughout the development with new features and ideas. I have spent more than a year working on it and still there is some more work remaining.

Bartek: How do you test your games?

Gokce: If the game is in the alpha/beta testing stage, I do my testing with my testers in Google Play Alpha/Beta testing. Before that stage, I send the apk files to a few friends and get feedback from them. Personally, I test my apps with my Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Galaxy Note Tab. For screens with different resolutions, I see the results in Unity's Game screen after setting different resolutions. Also I test my progress on an Android device with Unity Remote app.

Bartek: Where did you find your Google Play beta testers?

Gokce: I show my game to my friends, people I meet at meetups or conferences. If I see anyone showing a genuine interest in the game and would like to play it after it's released, I ask them whether they would be interested in testing, and add them to the testing group if they say yes.

Bartek: How do you plan to monetize your games?

Gokce: My monetization model will be based on interstitial ads, rewarded video ads, offer walls and in-app purchases. I will decide on the ad networks later when I finish working on the core game experience. Probably it will be a combination of many.

Bartek: Do you want to release your game on Google Play only or other app/game stores as well?

Gokce: I'm planning to release on the App Store as well. I haven't decided about the Windows Store yet.

Bartek: What are your favourite Android games?

Gokce: Monument Valley. It's like a piece of art, Esher's work presented as a game...

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

Gokce: I can't give a site focusing specifically on Android, I read more general game/app industry sites. Rather than having a regular read, I receive new posts from Gamasutra, Develop,, UploadVR, etc. from their Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn pages and read the most interesting ones for me. Otherwise, I can get lost in the news and reduce my productivity during the day.

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

Gokce: First I would like to come to a position where I can generate sustainable income with my apps. Then I would like to slowly expand my business focusing on games, AR and VR apps that bring the best value to the users.

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

Gokce: I would advise them to focus on their skills, start small and listen to the users. Focus on the skills because you definitely need them for your super idea that makes people's lives better. At the point when you think you have learned enough you may discover how inefficient you are and how much more you need to learn. Start small because life was difficult for me after I started with my very ambitious game as my Unity learning project. It was an amazing learning experience, but now I think it could have been better for me if I had worked on smaller tools or tutorial projects for developers and had published on Unity Asset Store. I could have improved my portfolio and it could have been a more sustainable business with less effort and marketing. Listen to the users because you want them to download your app and use it as long as possible. When you confidently think your app/game has very good features and strengths and you enjoy using it, your user may struggle to understand what is going on and get confused with too much information, which happened to me. You won't want them to uninstall your app after a frustrating experience.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Android indie game developer interview: Ben from Leda Entertainment

I haven't done any interviews in a while, but I met some extraordinary people at the Apps World conference in London and I decided that it would be great to share their experience with others. Today I'm happy to introduce to you Ben from Leda Entertainment, whose game - Bopscotch - I had a chance to play (against a girl who beat me as if I were a complete amateur). Ben talks about his tools and the game creation process, but what I found perhaps the most interesting is his general approach to the indie business - very fun oriented and not letting the financial side take away what's the most important. Without further ado, enjoy your read.

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

Ben: I'm Ben Pritchard, and I'm one of the two designer-developers that make up Leda Entertainment - the other being Paul Harman. I'd describe us as a "grass roots" studio - we believe that "Indie" has become an insanely broad term in recent times! We work on our games in our spare time around families and day jobs - I'm a web developer by trade - although it would certainly be both amazing and very challenging if we were able to go full time as game developers...

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

Ben: We started experimenting with Android in early 2013. Ironically it was Microsoft who pushed us down the Android route when they deprecated XNA - we had been pretty much exclusively Windows Phone until then, so we decided that whatever toolkit we chose to replace it should also allow us to take our games cross-platform.

Bartek: How did you learn how to create games?

Ben: We've been making games since the early 90s, so a lot of our theory of coding and creating games has evolved over many years. Obviously mobile has presented its own challenges, but normally a bit of dilligent web searching puts us on the right track - we've also had some great support from user groups and forum communities for the tools we use.

Bartek: What frameworks/engines do you use? Why did you choose them?

Ben: Our primary framework is Monogame, running on top of Xamarin for Android. Monogame ticked all our boxes in that not only does it run cross-platform, but being an open source implementation of XNA, all of our old XNA code and knowledge could be re-used - we did not have to effectively start over with a new toolkit.

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

Ben: Since we are not a full-time studio, we have a lot of freedom to be creative: we make the games we want to make simply for the enjoyment of making them. Unfortunately, the climate of "indie" games has changed greatly in the last few years - so "being successful" in a financial sense is incredibly challenging. On the other hand, taking your game to an expo and seeing people queueing up to play it does give a certain sense of satifaction...

Bartek: Where do you get resources from?

Ben: Almost all of our graphics are created in-house. Sounds and music depend very much on what style of game we are aiming for: a while back we made a series of simple retro-style games in tribute to the stand-up video arcade machines of our childhood (the Leda Arcade Collection), so we used tools like BFXR and Audacity to generate the sounds effects and tracker packages to make the music, while for more "polished" titles like Bopscotch, we use creative commons resources.

Bartek: What other programming tools do you use?

Ben: Xamarin software is the backbone of our development, as this allows us to develop in C# cross-platform, so we only have to maintain one core code base, with a few platform specifics round the edges - in-app purchase APIs and the like. We also use git for source control, and ANTS profiler for performance analysis.

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

Ben: It largely depends on the style of the game and the amount of content that needs to be generated. Bopscotch took over a year due to the sheer volume of levels that had to be created; on the other hand, Galaxy Raiders and Crack the Crypts (from the Leda Arcade Collection) have procedurally generated levels and were made in about ten weeks each.

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

Ben: We attempt to test on device as much as possible - the standard Android emulator is horribly slow, and while there are others out there that are much better, we have yet to find anything that offers the performance needed to properly test a game! We have a number of test devices of our own and when we are at expos, we usually offer access to beta versions of our games in order to get feedback. We have also recently started looking at the Xamarin test cloud as an option, where we could potentially run scripted tests on over 1000 physical devices - but this is currently in its infancy for us.

Bartek: How much are you making on your games?

Ben: Not much! But then, that's not really what we're about...

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

Ben: Our simpler titles (such as the Arcade Collection) use admob; we're considering expanding this to other networks. With Bopscotch, we tried the "premium" model ie: a free trial version with a single one-off payment to unlock the full game - however this has proved unsuccessful, to the point where will soon be switching to free-to-play. Considering that some 30 years ago, we used to spend £1.99 (approx 3USD) on a game, often with little more than a magazine review to recommend it, we find it very sad for the games industry as a whole that so many people are now unwilling to pay less than the price of a coffee for a game that someone has put a lot of time and effort into creating, and I would certainly recommend avoiding "premium" pricing to other developers unless they know their target market supports it.

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

Ben: Galaxy Raiders from the Arcade Collection was surprisingly successful, considering how long it took to make! And while financially, Bopscotch has not made the returns we were hoping for, having people queueing up to play it was certainly something we were not expecting! However, Bopscotch also gave us our biggest disappointment, in that it proved to us that the idea of paying a one-off price for a game was essentially dead...

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

Ben: As a part-time studio, time and money are two resources in very limited supply for us! We have run a number of social media campaigns and post semi-regularly on Facebook, Twitter and the like, but at the moment, any large-scale marketing campaign is financially out of reach for us. We also believe in "hands-on" marketing - taking our games to expos and letting people play and get the feel for them.

Bartek: What are your favourite Android games?

Ben: I can't speak for Paul, but I am a huge Battleheart fan!

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

Ben: We are very keen on the idea of games that bring people together: the cross-platform phone-to-phone race mode in Bopscotch, for example, was created in order to let people play against each other in real-time regardless of what devices they had. We would like to extend this idea further, and we have another game in the planning stages which we hope will allow encourage the building of in-game communities. Ideally, we are also looking for partners who would be willing to assist us on the marketing side on a revenue-share basis, or some other means of working around our current resource limitations.

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

Ben: The games market is incredibly tough at the moment, especially for mobile. Thousands of games hit the markets every month, so think long and hard about what you are trying to achieve by writing a game - if you are looking for commercial success, your game will have to be different enough to stand out, and you will have to be prepared to invest a lot more resource in marketing than in the actual development of the game.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?

Ben: Our website is - we're also on Facebook ( and Twitter (@LedaEntertain), and our current Android catalogue can be found on Google Play:
The Leda Arcade Collection