Learning with Werdz #12

imagesDuring the period of 2012 – 2014 I developed a small word puzzle game called Werdz Movies.  Not only was this my first attempt at developing and releasing a game for mobile devices but also the first game that I had made using the Unity 3D engine. I had a lot of challenges to overcome in terms of development, focus and organisation (as life tends to get in the way sometimes).  Nevertheless, I prevailed and I’m keen to share my experience no matter how small in the hopes that it will help others make better and more profitable games.

Design Phases Before Development

Before you begin development you should ensure you know all aspects of your project inside and out. Questions like “how are you going to monetise the app?”, “what business model are you applying to your project?”, “what is the colour of the buttons when they are inactive?” should be answered clearly, without hesitation and concisely. 

But as the world of mobile moves so quickly and you want to make sure your great app idea is out before it’s old you may feel the need to release it prematurely. Try and resist this urge. Knowing the correct amount of time to spend designing your project before you launch it is a skill that is developed over time. But with practice you’ll get it. So for those beginning their app development journey, here’s a short list of things to think about when entering the design phase of your project.

Retention

What mechanics have you put in place to make sure that, once they have downloaded, opened and had their first session with your product, your users come back every day, week, month or year and become less likely to abandon and uninstall the app.

Business Model for project

You’re most likely entering this field because you see the potential to create and grow a sustainable business. Businesses make money, so how will you make yours?

Monetisation

There are a number of monetisation methods that can be used in mobile apps to generate revenue. Not all are suitable for every project so you’ll have to evaluate which is best for yours. Some of the types available are:

Ads – These can be banners, interstitials (full screen) or videos (either incentivised or earn per view).  There are a wide variety of very easy to implement ad networks like AdMob, RevMob and Chartboost available for free.   

In-App Purchases – Selling in-app content and virtual goods.  The items can be cosmetic or those which the user can use while they progress through your app.

In-App Currency – Users purchase in-game currency using real world money.  They are then able to use this within the app to purchase in-app content.

An important point to note is that your monetisation methods should always be considered and nailed down during your design phase and not tacked on at the last minute after the product had been developed.

Good monetisation methods in products should fit in seamlessly to and compliment the gameplay. Once you’ve decided what methods to use you need to figure out how to make these attractive to users so that they commit to using or buying them.  

You can use an analytics tool integrated into your app to provide you with a greater insight into what’s working and what can be changed.

Documentation

This is another stage that’s commonly skipped as it’s deemed as boring.  Many just want to jump straight into development but documenting your design is very important as it gives you something physical and concrete to work from when your ideas run wild and free during the development phase.  It’s greatest benefit is that it can help avoid, reduce or even eliminate feature creep and helps to define the project scope and schedule.

What I learned

During Werdz, although I did think about monetization, I didn’t implement it or analytics quickly enough.  So by the time I had gained the majority of my downloads a lot of players had dropped out. Although the framework is there, I still haven’t plugged in the functionality to purchase in-app items. So I sort of feel that I’ve missed my chance here with this product but you never know. With the release of iOS 8 I could add in the ability to purchase in-app goods, resubmit my app, gain a lot more users and successfully monetise them. Only time will tell.

I also admit that I plugged in the ads too late.  I think I put this off because I thought it would be too difficult and let life get in the way. Once it was done, I realised how much time I had wasted procrastinating.  Lesson learned!

Lastly, I began documenting the project really well but I didn’t keep it up. The project was initially designed too big for only me to develop so I scaled back to an MVP which altered a lot of design.  Unfortunately, I never kept on top of documenting these changes until the end.  Next time I’ll evaluate the scale of the project more wisely.

Action Points 

  • Begin with a realistically sized MVP so that documentation is easy to upkeep
  • Know the what mechanics are you utilising to retain your users
  • Be clear on how are you monetising your app

 

Learning with Werdz is a series of short posts that I am writing to help share the knowledge that I have gained while developing my first title Werdz Movies.  Read all of the previous posts in the series.

August 2014 Report

July turned out to be so busy there’s nothing much I can say I had achieved and with my birthday mid-August not much was worked on then either apart from entering the planning stages of two projects.  Progress last month was achieved after discovering Google Forms and developing two questionnaires for my new app ideas.  Now that the forms are live I’m working hard to gather opinions from a good range of people to ensure I get enough data to design my apps with the features that the audience wants.

Why did I decide to create questionnaires?

I decided to create questionnaires to test the idea out investigating whether the target audience would enjoy the product and to gather research into the best features. I think dedicating some time to this before diving into development is a good idea especially for apps that I want to see through long term so I’ll be trying do consciously do more of this even if it’s only for a few days per project from now on.  I’m not sure how long I’ll stay in this phase for as if I put a time limit on it I may not gather enough opinions, however I may be waiting for months if I wait for a good number of results so I’m going to have to find a happy medium.  Right now, I’m thinking that I’ll give it until the end of September then analyse the results.

What’s happening with games?  

I’m hoping to build a framework out to be released in October/November so that all my future small games can be built upon (yeah this again). This should hopefully tie into the career change of my day-job so I’m looking forward to this. I’m now living against a serious deadline so I need to get this completed soon.

What’s the plan this month?

I want to release a small app to the App and Play  Store which utilises NGUI, analytics and an ad network. I also need to practice getting an iOS 8 app into the store so this will help with the learning curve and prepare me for the yearly task of doing this. Whether I stick with the analytics and ad services that I used in Werdz Movies will depend on how much time I have until my deadline.

Learning with Werdz #11

During the period of 2012 – 2014 I developed a small word puzzle game called Werdz Movies.  Not only was this my first attempt at developing and releasing a game for mobile devices but also the first game that I had made using the Unity 3D engine. I had a lot of challenges to overcome in terms of development, focus and organisation (as life tends to get in the way sometimes).  Nevertheless, I prevailed and I’m keen to share my experience no matter how small in the hopes that it will help others make better and more profitable games.

Research

Some teams skip this phase before they begin development as they view it as a waste of time or are just too excited to jump right into the design and development phases.  But, if you’re building a project for a specific target audience and not a personal solution to a problem that you have identified, doing your research on whether your audience will enjoy the product is very important.

Types of Research

There are many types of research that can be carried out but the most common when seeking opinions are questionnaires, surveys, interviews, observations and focus groups.  Using secondary sources for example published works including books, journals, papers, statistical data and websites are another good and readily available resource for research.

Primary sources of research

This gathers information and opinions directly from your target audience via e.g. questionnaires, interviews or surveys.   These are the easiest way to gather first hand information. Focus groups and observational exercises are also very useful in gathering primary research, however this is usually easier to organise in situations where you have available participants such as during university or if you use companies such as Player Research who specialise in gathering this information. If you choose to gather primary research I would recommend you focus on topics that will be directly relevant to the features you’ll be building into your app such as UI, screen flow and preferred features.

Competitive Analysis

Make sure you look for similar products in the same and different markets.  Don’t just limit your investigation to the app stores, research similar products across a range of websites and high street stores.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is used when you want to gather data on two or more options using an analytics tool like Google Analytics.  Examples of this could be what image, colours or phrases appeal most to the target audience.  This is usually carried out without the audience knowing. This can be implemented in a number of ways.  The way you chose will depend on how fast you require the data and the range of options you will present to the users.

The audience usually enters the product in a similar way as before the test and are presented with more than one option on a page.  Each option is tracked by the analytics tool so whenever the user selects either option their choice is collated which developers are able to view and interpret to be used when making decisions about future features.

These tests are usually run over a set amount of time to make sure it has been exposed to enough users so that the results are representative of a good amount of users and each option has a fair chance. Examples of features that can be tested in this way can include graphics, names of options and colour schemes.

Once you’ve got your data…

Remember that while research is great because it’s gathered from the people you want to use your product, you have the last say on whether or not to use the data to define your app.  Don’t let the research define your decisions, just guide you.

Learning with Werdz is a series of short posts that I am writing to help share the knowledge that I have gained while developing my first title Werdz Movies.  Read all of the previous posts in the series.

Learning with Werdz #10

updateDuring the period of 2012 – 2014 I developed a small word puzzle game called Werdz Movies.  Not only was this my first attempt at developing and releasing a game for mobile devices but also the first game that I had made using the Unity 3D engine. I had a lot of challenges to overcome in terms of development, focus and organisation (as life tends to get in the way sometimes).  Nevertheless, I prevailed and I’m keen to share my experience no matter how small in the hopes that it will help others make better and more profitable games.

When to release updates?

The release of updates should be scheduled and planned far in advance maybe even when outlining the project schedule.  If you know the features of your MVP then you should know what’s not going into the first release and what features would be suitable as minor updates (as opposed to big releases) after the first release of your project.

My updates were too few and far between. I released an update first to increase the packs, then another to release more packs and a small awards system. I should have had updates every two weeks or month to first finish the content (pack) releases, then extend the gameplay functionality over subsequent monthly releases.

What should I release in my updates?

My problem was that by the time I got to the release I realised I hadn’t planned for subsequent updates in enough detail far too late.  I had scaled back my project too late into development so any added bits of functionality that I released later on were just features I had pulled from the development stages.  Unfortunately, because I relied heavily on favours from friends and family, some dropped out or lost interest so help doing the work for the releases fell solely on me.  I didn’t mind this but I hadn’t planned for this situation so updates were unfortunately delayed.

Action Points

  • Have a detailed release schedule listing what and when updates will occur (and even on what platform if applicable)
  • Set a realistic release schedule that’s achievable with my limited resources of people and time
  • Invest in people to do boring but necessary tasks needed for releases like data entry.  If you need to pay someone then it will be worth it once they deliver the content fast enabling you carry out sufficient testing and release on schedule
  • Alternatively, if you don’t want to pay people or can’t find anyone reliable to do the work, plan in the times to do it yourself so that it won’t negatively affect your updates

Learning with Werdz is a series of short posts that I am writing to help share the knowledge that  have gained while developing my first title Werdz Movies.  Read all of the previous posts in the series.

Learning with Werdz #9

Game DesignDuring the period of 2012 – 2014 I developed a small word puzzle game called Werdz Movies.  Not only was this my first attempt at developing and releasing a game for mobile devices but also the first game that I had made using the Unity 3D engine. I had a lot of challenges to overcome in terms of development, focus and organisation (as life tends to get in the way sometimes).  Nevertheless, I prevailed and I’m keen to share my experience no matter how small in the hopes that it will help others make better and more profitable games.

Refining the Design

When I begun working on Werdz Movies, it wasn’t even called Werdz Movies.  In fact, the concept wasn’t even about word construction.  It begun as a match-3 game that I designed for young children to play in order to help them learn about colours.  I wasn’t even developing in Unity at the time.  I first begun development using the tool Game Maker because of it’s “code-less” scripting feature, however I soon learned that if I wanted to create anything complex I would need to code.  So I began learning Game Maker Language, the language used within the Game Maker engine.  During this time I was working as a Senior Tester within a well-known games company and although I was having a great time the hours that overtime brought didn’t make me very productive in the evenings.  I didn’t even have project milestones  drafted out to help me stay on schedule so the weeks of tinkering and refining mechanics turned into months. 

Once complete, I tested my PC prototype on some designers.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get the feedback that I wanted but instead of scraping the idea totally I reworked it.  I was convinced that this would work so I came up with another concept that eventually became Werdz Movies. 

After reading so much about the Unity engine, I decided to try my hand at the free version.  Luckily, I jumped on this just as they were giving away free Android and iOS licences so I was able to build a prototype on my mobile.  Once I had a prototype I began showing my game to anyone so I could to get their feedback.  This yielded some promising results as many people seemed to enjoy it but unfortunately it never revealed the crucial factor of retaining their enjoyment.  But, as my goal was to just get an app out into a store this didn’t discourage me.  I’ve now released this app and a few updates into the Play Store and App Store and I think it has served it’s purpose of teaching me the basics of the Unity engine, game development and uploading to the App and Play Store.

Action Points

  • Keep your first project release as small as possible with the key features built in.  So, create an MVP
  • Have a specific goal in mind of what to achieve
  • Build retention mechanics into every project (even if it’s your first helping you learn about the submission process for mobile app stores)

References:

Definition for MVP

Learning with Werdz is a series of short posts that I am writing to help share the knowledge that I have gained while developing my first title Werdz Movies.  Read all of the previous posts in the series.

Learning with Werdz #8

testing

During the period of 2012 – 2014 I developed a small word puzzle game called Werdz Movies.  Not only was this my first attempt at developing and releasing a game for mobile devices but also the first game that I had made using the Unity 3D engine. I had a lot of challenges to overcome in terms of development, focus and organisation (as life tends to get in the way sometimes).  Nevertheless, I prevailed and I’m keen to share my experience no matter how small in the hopes that it will help others make better and more profitable games.

The bumpy road of Testing

Where should you get playtesters?

I should have searched further and wider to gather more feedback for my prototype.  Instead I relied on friends and family to playtest my app. You need a bigger audience and a lot more of your target audience to test the app with than a handful of people before you release so you get a more informed idea of how your product will be received.  Try putting messages out on Facebook, putting banners up on your site (if you have one), going to forums that have people who are interested in the type of game you’re making to gather more people.

When should I stop playtesting and gathering feedback?

This question will be impacted heavily by a few things:

  • Is your game getting good feedback from playtesters proving that it’s not just fun for you but others too?
  • Is your game achieving it’s goals of retaining players still keeping them entertained and challenged over short and long lengths of time?
  • Are you on target to achieve your next milestone?  You can’t afford to continuously get feedback and miss your milestone.  Ensure you avoid crunch as much as can be helped.  Get into good practice!

If the answer to the above are all yes then you can start thinking about moving on from playtesting and gathering feedback.  You will now need to assess the feedback and judge what should be implemented within your game within the MVP, what to release as future updates and what to scrap.

Should I implement all feedback from the playtesters?

No.  While all feedback is useful remember that you are gathering feedback from individuals so only a minority of your audience may agree with these comments.  If you want to further investigate how many of your target audience agree with specific points of feedback you can carry out follow up questionnaires and surveys.  This will give you a more accurate result of the thoughts from a larger group of people.  But remember, that this is your game so you make the last call.  Don’t feel pressured to add in every little feature as it will overload your schedule, push back deadlines and, depending how big the change, may not even be noticed by the majority of players.  So pick and choose wisely.  Remember, you want to avoid feature creep and crunch as much as possible.  Keep this in mind at all stages of the project but create a balance of delivering a good product and meeting deadlines.

Alpha and Beta testing

Android now has a great way to distribute your Alpha and Beta builds to testers via the Play Store in the same way that people download a product from the Play Store. The difference is that when you upload your latest build to the Android Developer Console you choose the appropriate tab (either Production, Beta or Alpha) and then upload your APK file here.  Unfortunately, this handy feature didn’t exist when I first used the Developer Console but now that it’s here I will definitely take advantage of it.  Before, I had to email out the latest build to my testers so having the build located here makes this process a hell of a lot easier.  I can simply send an email to everyone telling them to download the latest build and supply them with a simple link pointing them to the location.  Easy!  Also, now that TestFlight has been acquired by Apple the process of sharing new iOS builds to your testers has gotten easier.  Every time a new build is uploaded the testers will receive an email telling them that a new build is available to download.  So I will definitely be utilising both of these features when testing my future apps.

Action points

So what did I learn from this process.

  • Get a prototype built early and fast. Then get feedback on it.

Decide whether to scrap it or iterate and make it better and fast.  The more you procrastinate, the more time you waste.

  • Define your audience and get them to playtest your game

Their feedback is even more valuable than family or friends so try and gather lots of people that aren’t afraid to tell you their true thoughts and feelings.

  • Create a project schedule from the beginning and try to stick to it

If it turns out that you’re spending longer in one area than your thought, rework the schedule.  Make sure feature creep isn’t the reason because if it is you need to scrap the work that’s holding up your schedule.

  • Make sure retention is built into the design from the beginning

This is easier said than done but now that I can see the outcome of not having this nailed down and implemented within my product this will motivate me to get this into my future products.

  • Use Test Flight and Android Developer Consoles Alpha and Beta testing solutions

For all the above reasons.

Learning with Werdz is a series of short posts that I am writing to help share the knowledge that I have gained while developing my first title Werdz Movies.  Read all of the previous posts in the series.

 

What I learned about app development from Hong Kong

During July my husband and I were on holiday in Hong Kong or one of his friend’s wedding.  We also used this as an opportunity to take a well deserved break.  So unfortunately, the end of the month report will be quite short for July, but while staying in Hong Kong it actually gave me a good insight into the people there and their uses for technology.  From what I have learned, I hope to use this information to create apps and games that will appeal even better to the eastern audiences.

Technology

Hong Kong has a lot of free Wi-Fi access in hotels but access to normal 3G network is what is truly brilliant.  You are able to get onto the internet from pretty much anywhere in the city, even on the underground system called MTR!  London has been trialing this on specific lines for  a while but the network is extremely slow and, as far as I’m aware, is still only available on the Vodafone network.  Because of this constant connection to the internet people are always on their phones, not much communication is made between people other than when getting off.

So as everyone was on their phones all the time I could see that the majority of devices sold to those in Hong Kong was undoubtedly Samsung devices.  And, unlike those in Western society  who prefer smaller devices for phones, I saw a great many people using Samsung Note’s, and Galaxy S4 and 5′.  It’s seems that the bigger device is favoured over there.  I personally didn’t see anyone with anything smaller than a Galaxy S3.  I’ve recently been able to upgrade my phone so I’ve been researching the best model to next dedicate the next two years of my life to.  I narrowed it down to the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact (as a Z2 Compact doesn’t exist currently).  So I looked in various shops to test out my chosen device and was shocked that not only did the majority of shops not sell it but the guys in there tried to change my mind to getting a phone with a bigger screen!  They couldn’t make me change my mind.

So with Samsung being the dominant device that means that Android is the dominant operating system in this part of the world and not iOS as in the western part.  Very interesting.  And with everyone using bigger devices this means that the games and apps developed, appealing and being interacted with by eastern people can contain more details and features as you have more screen real estate to play with.  

Games and Apps

So what was everyone doing on their phones?  I really tried not to gaze over too many shoulders as I don’t speak a word of the language and making someone annoyed with me in a cramped space in very, very hot conditions didn’t appeal to me.  Luckily, because the screens are so big I didn’t need to lean over so far.  Most people where on WhatsApp, Facebook, a messaging system that took Cantonese characters or on small short pick-up-and-put-down games like Candy Crush Saga. 

Every app interacted with was bright and colourful.  This theme continued within advertisements on TVs (for example they often showed a card/sticker collecting game on TV) and games posters.   What I gathered was that because everyone is always connected, sharing mechanics in games and apps are vital to marketing your product and a necessary feature if you are targeting these audiences.   You took part in the card/sticker collecting game by watching certain TV programs and when a QR code appeared you would scan it to obtain an in-app item.   The graphics on this were also bright, playful and cartoon-like. 

Anime was very prevalent in Hong Kong.  Comics and magazines sold in markets, tourists areas and general very busy places usually depicted anime characters and shows.

Lifestyle

Other than land, the cost of living is very cheap out there.  So when pricing your app I would recommend that you should aim to sell either at a very cheap price or simply make it free making money from in-app purchases and incentivised ads.  This will make your app easy for the audience to get into and if the in-app items are priced well, will be a cheap hobby for eastern society’s to maintain.  For example, if you had a card collecting game you could give the player free cards obtained via things that people do everyday i.e. MTR rides so that every station contained a different QR code and will provide the player with a new card at each station.

Hong Kong was a great place to visit and this has given me a lot of first hand experience about developing apps for eastern cultures that you could learn via reading but why not go on a holiday if you can at the same time ;)

Learning with Werdz #7

During the period of 2012 – 2014 I developed a small word puzzle game called Werdz Movies.  Not only was this my first attempt at developing and releasing a game for mobile devices but also the first game that I had made using the Unity 3d engine. I had a lot of challenges to overcome in terms of development, focus and organisation (as life tends to get in the way sometimes).  Nevertheless, I prevailed and I’m keen to share my experience no matter how small in the hopes that it will help others make better and more profitable games.

Marketing and PR

Where, when and how to promote my game?

So the major road block was the fact that I had no money to promote and market my game with.  Luckily we live in an age where the sites Facebook and Twitter can provide even the most humble indie dev with the means of basic advertising by promoting your projects on Facebook Pages and sharing your news on your Facebook wall and to your followers via Twitter.  The creation of these accounts are all free so it’s a no brainer on whether to sign up.  So I set to work setting up a Junction 5 Twitter account and two Facebook Pages, one for the studio profile and one for the game itself.   I learned quite quickly that if you don’t have a process in place, the work to maintain all of these social media outlets becomes very difficult to keep on top of alongside continuous testing and developing new features for your project.  So my advice to anyone in the future is to pick a few social media channels to target (only have one Facebook Page) and if you don’t have each one feeding into the other, work out a schedule of when you will post to all of these.  Create calendar events if it helps, but get into the routine of doing it and keeping on top of the work.  Remember that this is usually a full time job for someone in companies.  You don’t have enough time to dedicate to it full-time so coming up with a logical practice will help you increase your presence and help people to discover your project.

Forums and other sites

Not satisfied with just Twitter and Facebook, I took to various forums e.g. Unity, Game Career Guide and other sites posting about Android games.  I also utilised this website by posting about the game’s release and adding a banner to the sidebar.  I hoped that the unique name I chose would help me stay within the first page of Google results so that when I typed in “Werdz Movies” links to my pages and forums that I had posted to would be the first ten search results.  I think that this was a good idea and would encourage others to do the same.

Unfortunately, the searching for the title in Google did not bring back the search result linking to the Play Store page until one week later, but by that time I had effectively promoted the game on Facebook pages, the development website, Take Initiative, Unity Forums and the Play store that out of ten results on the first page, 6/10 were mine :)

So when is a good idea to post to these social media channels?

In the beginning I posted when I was drumming up downloads so I posted to Twitter and the Facebook page whenever I could.  After the first month, I started posting whenever I had an update which was where the problem began. My updates started fairly frequent but then as life intervened, the time between them grew further apart.  This is down to me not having and sticking to a update schedule which is something that I will be setting in stone at the planning stage on my next project.

Action points

So what I learned from this experience of development is:

  • Focus on two key social media outlets
  • Update them regularly but not so much that you get annoying
  • Work out a schedule for what social media channels you will post to and when
  • Work out your post-release schedule so your marketing posts (and updates) aren’t few and far between

Learning with Werdz is a series of short posts that I am writing to help share the knowledge that I have gained while developing my first title Werdz Movies.  Read all of the previous posts in the series.