Indie Game Developer Interview: Jon & Bob (Waggle Games)

This week we have one of our best (due to the really comprehensive replies to the questions) Indie Game Developer Interview segments, this time with Jon & Bob from Waggle Games. The guys are responsible for coming up with match-2 title Spin Gem for the iPhone, and that is one game which has received high marks from (check out the review here). Without further ado, here’s the interview:

Nine Over Ten (9/10): Tell us more about yourselves and how you started developing mobile games?

JON: Well – The core team of Wagglers go way back and we’ve long been talking about setting up our own shop.  The delay of the Nintendo Wii-U, the exponential rise of mobile gaming and the simplicity of the iOS platform in particular meant the time was right for us to start making our own games without the red tape you find in larger teams.

BOB – Yes, that’s right, I started developing handheld games in the 90’s.  After a decade of working with large teams on long projects I was hankering to get back to my roots of smaller teams making original games with quick turnaround.  We have spotted so many opportunities in the iOS space it made sense to get going!

9/10: What was the idea behind Spin Gem? Why of all things a Match-2 game?

BOB: I’ve never seen a match 2 game!  We wanted something original.  Something that was feasible for Waggle as a starter project.  We wanted something with universal appeal.  A game that was easy to learn but could offer value for money and keep you playing for months down the line.  We wanted a game that people of all ages and gaming background could enjoy together.

In some respects, Spin Gem is a very casual game, but it’s also a great challenge for core and old schooly players like the Wagglers.  We wanted a game we could play with our partners, our parents, our kids, nieces and nephews. We enjoyed Bejewelled and Zuma and all those sorts of games and we wanted to offer something fresh for that audience.  Something that felt uniquely familiar!

9/10: How has the response been to Spin Gem on the iTunes App Store? Could you describe the process of marketing your games?

JON: The App Store is a tougher environment than I think most people give it credit for.  Most users will start at the top 10, check out featured app, and if you are lucky they may do some deeper digging to find something new.  The rest is word of mouth recommendation, spotting something that catches your eye.  Eye catching you can influence with an icon that stands out, a strong name that gets to the heart of the app quickly, and if you are interesting enough with those, the description comes in next.

If you get a download, and the game is good enough you might get a recommendation. PR releases get you some traction in online searches, and a degree of presence.  Mostly that has just led to companies asking us for money so they can advertise for us.  Reviews are also positive as it’s an independent viewpoint on the game.  We welcome the feedback – good and bad.  Without both we only have our opinions on what’s working or not.  Constructive criticism always helps us to be better.

Marketing is the one thing that’s become clear is less on the radar of indie developers.  Having met many indies at events in the UK, the instinct is to go all out for the game.  Clearly the game is important, but it’s then released into the world, and great games can not receive the sales they deserve from the sheer amount released.  TIGA (industry body in the UK) commented to us that there are about 85+ games put up on the app store each day.  That’s a lot of noise for games to cut through.

We’re still learning, as the app store is a unique evolving environment, but we look to make sure that the marketing will run through from the initial game idea.  You need to have a clear idea of what you are doing is different.  Beyond price point, the two key areas that need to be delivered for consumers is meeting a need, being as unique as possible.

Meeting a need sounds simple, such as “let’s make an arcade puzzle game”, but then how is that different from what already exists? What angle as a developer are you applying, and how does this differentiate your product from all the other apps looking to target your customers?  Knowing who you want to aim for is important, as this can guide the artwork, sound, music, PR tonality, even how you frame the tutorials.

Taking Spin Gem as an example, we knew that making something compelling for the arcade puzzle enthusiasts and also meeting a need for gamers who may not automatically look to the puzzle genre for their quick, lighter gaming fix is a lot to ask.  On top of that there are some big hitters in the genre too – Bejeweled is a great example of a very successful brand.  The initial idea came from our in-house walking, talking game encyclopedia and Production Head Bob.

To me the power was in the absolute reduction of matching pairs.  Connect 4 – done.  Match 3 genre – done, and done very well by some, as I’m a big fan of Zoo Keeper.  Beyond that it’s the relentless dial turning in Spin Gem, no respite, total focus. These are the elements that make the game what it is, and should run through the core of the marketing.  Ask yourself next time you’re out shopping – why do I buy this brand over the others?  Price? Product features?  On a special offer?  You saw an advert?  What the brand says about you as a person?  All the rules that apply to how big brands market their products, compete with other brands, and how they innovate also apply to game development.

BOB – Yes. I’d agree with that ^_^

9/10: Could you share with us a little on what you’ll be working on next? Any plans for releasing games on other platforms?

JON: Next up…  Loot Lust.  An exciting concept from the collective heads of Matt and Bob, much larger and very different to our top game Spin Gem.  Its something I’ve never seen before and after 30 years of gaming, I cant wait for the vertical slice!  We’ve reached out to Professors and Masters level artists in the world of academia to collaborate with Waggle and forging these links has been invaluable for everyone involved.

BOB – Yup. We’ve got a really full pipeline.  We could use another 30 developers tomorrow!  One of the amazing things about the Wagglers is the unending creativity – in terms of technical innovation, problem solving, artistic direction, the production process itself and above all, games, gameplay and interactivity.  We already have enough ideas to keep us busy for years!  We have 3 games in live production – 2 are in the pre-production stage, getting fleshed out, and of course we have Loot Lust in full development rapidly approaching vertical slice.

It’s a very exciting time at Waggle and Loot Lust once again aims to capture the imagination of a wide audience with a uniquely familiar design.  In production, we all have practical hands-on experience with pretty much every platform since the Amiga!  Everything from GBC to Wii-U!  Sure, we are interested in taking games to other platforms in future but our ideas are best suited to the iOS right now.  We like to play to our strengths and to the strengths of each platform.

9/10: Any words for aspiring game developers out there?

JON:  My advice is nothing ventured, nothing gained – give it a go and see what happens.  I’m so pleased with the effort and the creation of Spin Gem.  But it isn’t easy.  There will be disagreements, frustrations, and setbacks.  But that’s life, and if it’s easy, it’s likely you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.  Polish, polish, polish your idea, your code, your art, music.  The amount of things made, critiqued and then redone is not to be underestimated.

Relish the evolution of the product, as where you start may not be exactly where you end up – some compromises may be necessary. Be clear who you want to buy your product, and let that guide you.  Lastly – play games!  It’s only through seeing, playing and examining what already is out there will you know what you like and dislike, what other gamers say they like and dislike and learn from that!

BOB – Never give up!  Just… one… more.. go!

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