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Magnetic Billiards

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Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint



Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Wed, 06 Apr 2011
Subject: Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint

Ste Pickford

I've been asked quite a few times recently when Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint for iOS will be out, by people who are looking forward to playing the game.

My honest answer is that I reckon we're a couple of weeks away from submitting to the App Store.

Anyone who knows me and has asked me this more than once will know that I also said we were a couple of weeks away from submitting just before Christmas, and a couple of weeks away at the and of January, and at the start of March. It's sounding like a bit of a joke, but I really mean it every time I say it.

I've been making games long enough to know that the hardest part of the process is finishing off (there's an old saying that when a developer thinks they're 80% complete, they've still got 80% of the work left to do), so I shouldn't be fooling myself about how long the final stages take. In truth, neither John or I are very good at predicting timescales, and when you're designing an original game at the same time as developing it, it's even harder to predict when you'll be finished than with regular development, but what's been happening with Magnetic Billiards is slightly different.

We've been tweaking and improving the game on a daily basis. We've been tidying up the UI, expanding existing features and adding new ones. We've been watching people play the game and responding to their initial reactions by making dozens of tiny, but time consuming, adjustments, each of which make the game that little bit better. Polish, basically.

The illustration shows a screenshot of the game from the beginning of this year compared with one today. I guess some people might not even spot the differences, but there are lots of little details that have been improved, and the cosmetic stuff is only a small part of the tweaking - John has been making lots of subtle but effective improvements to the feel of the game and the inner workings of the game system.

So what, that's what all game developers do, right?

Well, that's what we always did when making expensive console games, but when we started making an iOS game we were seduced by the attractive new idea (for game development at least) of 'release early and often'. Supposedly the way to success was to iterate in public, by releasing as soon as you could (basically releasing your alpha version, or beta), and then improving your game with regular updates, in response to player criticism and reactions.

This was why I thought we were two weeks away from releasing at Christmas. I knew that there would be lots of tidying up to do, and tweaking, and improving of the game, but hoped that we could do that post-release via updates, while the game was out there and selling.

As well as the chorus of people saying you should 'release early and often', there is also a growing army of indie game developers complaining that you can't make any money on the App Store, as games just don't sell.

There are a lot of rough looking, half-finished, slightly shoddy games on the App Store, and I can't help thinking that there's some correlation between games being released as basically alpha versions, and games not selling.

Each time we get close to a just-about releasable version, we learn of one more not-quite-perfect game that was released on the App Store and died a death. Our reaction each time has been to focus just a little bit more on getting the game closer to perfect before release.

I know that making the game as good as we can is no guarantee of success, but we're determined not to fail because our game wasn't good enough.


Permalink to this post: http://www.zee-3.com/magneticbilliards/blog/view.php?post=542


Ste Pickford

As a little post script, I wrote this blog partly in response to yesterday's post on the excellent "What Games Are" blog: http://whatgamesare.com/2011/04/you-need-100000-game-development.html


As a longtime adherent to the 80/20 rule, I agree that 'polishing' anything is tough and can take an undefinable amount of time.

I disagree that lack of polish directly relates to success tho - because there are simply too many other factors involved.

Marketing something on the AppStore is like trying to be heard at a football match - it's impossible unless other people take up the chant. What makes people chant something - who knows, but a great idea wrapped in slightly ropey materials can still succeed.

Indeed the nature of the mobile market with it's derisory prices almost REQUIRES people "cut their cloth to suit" - we can't all be Rovio and spent 20 times on marketting what we do on developing a game we stole the idea of wholly...

You guys from a console (you get no chance to fix it) background to a mobile (positively encouraged to release half a game and charge for the other half(s!) later) one will be an interesting experience I'm sure :)


Ste Pickford

Yeah, I'm not saying that a game without polish can't or won't succeed. The fact is that most games don't succeed though, or don't get noticed, so we want to try to remove as many of the possible reasons for our game not getting noticed as we can. If someone doesn't like the game, then fair enough, but I'd hate to be passed over because someone doesn't like something that we knew about and were planning to fix at a later date.


You have a MASSIVE headstart on 99% of AppStore games in that you're already well known game developers ofc. Through that, you have access to publicity and promotional opportunities which the vast majority of other developers can't even dream of.

I think it's sometimes good to have 'coming soon' features too - because it keeps people interested and shows them they're playing an evolving thing - that it's worth coming back to it to see what's changed...

Otherwise, the only real way to profit from mobile games is to create simple and addictive games you can pull together quickly and build-on indefinately. There's no point in making a wholly polished and 'feature complete' game when it sells for the cost of a loaf of (slightly posh) bread anyway.

I'm guessing shaking-off the console 'it must be perfect' mindset isn't easy tho?


Ste Pickford

We've actually got a quite extensive list of extra features, game modes, and other improvements planned for inclusion post-release. It's just all of the polish and tweaking that we've decided needs to be done before the first version is launched.

But yeah, shaking off the console mindset isn't easy. Perhaps polishing our game more isn't the correct response to reading about other games not selling well, but it's the only thing we know how to do?


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