I have a special zone in my brittle app reviewer heart reserved for Jones On Fire. It was one of the first ever mobile titles that I absolutely fell in love with; the sheer simplicity of its premise (run the hell away from the advancing wall of flame to save the parade of kitties) made for a gleefully frenetic side-scroller. The pacing and ambiance of the game perfectly matches its mobile medium in a way I hadn’t seen prior, plus the copy is chock-full of conspiratorially goofball moments. For me, it’s a little-known classic that will forever find itself at home on my Android tablet.
My favorite firefighter comes from the mind of mobile dev Megan Fox. She and her team, Glass Bottom Games, has found indie success in mobile and beyond, creating “player-centric worlds where interactivity, exploration, and choice matter.” My kind of gaming.
I scored an interview with Megan this week. Check out her insights on who should be devving on mobile, swapping from F2P to Premium, and how to punch dudes so hard they explode.
Last week’s interview: Christian Göllner, Dev Of Flashify And Unclouded
Appszoom: You dev across many platforms – mobile’s just one of them. What advantages are specific to mobile? What’s more challenging?
Megan Fox: Mobile’s great for tiny projects and for hobbyists. The risks are super high when it comes to profitability, and there’s only so much you can do to mitigate that, but you CAN find a pretty large audience regardless. It’s a lot easier when your game is free or 99c or whatever, and you have a whole market of people who just want “something new.”
Generally speaking, I don’t advise people who want to make a business of it to jump into mobile. You can burn a LOT of money and find zero success. OTOH, it’s a great place for students to play, and figure themselves (and their games) out while they’re just having fun. The upshot of the latter is that after 5, 10, etc free or cheap games, you probably DO have an audience, and can try for surviving off your work. It just takes a lot of time to build that market up in mobile.
AZ: How’d you decide on a monetization plan for Jones on Fire?
MF: Since that was the “thing” at the time, I’d originally thought the game would be F2P. I put way, way too much time into trying to balance the economy and all of that, only to release it… and then totally flip it back to premium after the first day (and threw out the months of F2P balancing and put it back to “yeah this’ll just be fun” no IAP balance). It confused a ton of reviewers, since normally games go the OTHER way.
It worked out, though. Instead of being yet another “meeeeehhhh” F2P game, that let it be just a fun little premium game that didn’t ask anything more from its players.
Cash rules everything around me: Business Models For Your App: Premium vs Free vs Freemium
AZ: What’s great (and awful) about being an independent game dev? How’s Patreon working out for you?
MF: The freedom is great. The money is awful. I pay myself about $1500 a month right now. 😀
Patreon’s interesting. I don’t really push hard on it, because we sell games, and I don’t especially think most people want or need to do more than just, you know, buy one of our games. I set the Patreon up as an option for the super-fans that really want to see me succeed, and for that, it’s been working nicely. It doesn’t make me a ton of money, but it DOES give me the budget flex to buy a little under a game a month – which is actually really important, as a gamedev. I need to keep up with what the market is doing, and what our players expect of us.
Hopefully the number will keep going up, as we get more prominent, and eventually be a pretty significant part of my income.
AZ: “I don’t make games featuring bald, white male protagonists. I make games about lesbian private detectives with bigger balls than anybody else on the force.” Excuse me for a moment: HELL. YES. Do you think people connect with your games differently because of how you approach ludonarrative? Or are most folks just looking to play games with a kitty?
MF: I think people come for the kitties, but stay for the quirk. Most people aren’t going to read the reams of text I stuff our games with, but the off-kilter world design and weird narrative all inform the gameplay in subtle ways that you’re going to absorb regardless. It gives our games a unique feel, and I think that’s what people want to see from us.
I like to imagine we’re a sort of mini DoubleFine, in that way. Maybe someday we’ll be less mini! 😀
AZ: From reading over a selection of what you’ve published in the last couple years, ethics seem to be at the heart of what you’re doing in game design. What principles are guiding you?
- No forced crunch or other staff abuse. My peoples’ lives, families and health comes first.
- We run a virtual studio largely because it lets us be a hell of a lot more inclusive in our hiring. It hasn’t come up yet, but the structure would (for instance) allow someone to be pregnant, and keep working with us all through that AND through those first critical years where you don’t really want to be disappeared away from the kid off in a huge studio somewhere. Then of course there’s the whole “virtual studios aren’t limited by the cultural makeup of wherever they happen to be physically.”
- Our games need to be a positive force in the world, not just an easy profit. That doesn’t mean they’ll all be high-brow (our next game is about punching dudes so hard they explode), but they’re always going to push boundaries, and present a culturally vibrant world that can engage the kids/adults/etc that maybe don’t feel “immersed” in the shoes of a bald, white male shooter.
AZ: Any other titles out there you know of that are kicking the dominant paradigms’ ass?
MF: I’m told Read Only Memories is pretty incredible. It presents a kind of post-gender world, and it prompts the player at the beginning for gender pronouns (AND lets you write in your own). Apparently it’s kind of Snatcher-esque, with some light programming to play with the world and solve puzzles.
AZ: What’s next on your plate? Is Hot Tin Roof gonna come to mobile or what?
MF: Spartan Fist. It’s about punching dudes so hard they explode. First person melee game set in procedural arena complexes, kinda like a Zeno Clash meets Binding of Isaac, and still with the world and boxy style from all our previous games. It seems the animals have revolted against the corrupt society, and thrown the Boxians into gladiatorial arenas to fight for their amusement.
Hot Tin Roof probably won’t come to mobiles, mostly due to a control scheme that just doesn’t work well with touch controls at all. Spartan Fist might, though – it has fewer buttons. We shall see.