Shipping a Mobile Game - By James Bowling

It was a over a year ago I shipped Astro Attack on iOS and Android. The game was met with critical success, a great Apple feature, and healthy number of downloads. I supported the game for about 6 months post launch, but after a dwindling return on investment (both time and money), I decided to take a break from being a part time indie developer. 

Now that I’m winding up my next project, I’ve decided I’d take some time to reflect on some of the lessons learned while creating Astro Attack. 

Lesson 1 - Start with the core loop

Astro Attack was ready for playtesting from a very early stage in its development. The moment the game launches, the ship is shooting, and it’s inviting you to play. Move the ship, enemies start spawning. The core loop is fast and obvious. I found the majority of people could pick up and play the game without me looming over their shoulder, prompting them how it works.

Lesson 2 - Make the most of your community

I was lucky enough to work with some fantastic play testers who helped shape the game into something I’m proud of. Releasing the game to the community wasn’t as simple as pushing to Test Flight and posting to Touch Arcade. I needed to be very mindful of how I communicated with the play testers. The release notes would highlight three important areas of information. What has changed, what’s still broken, and what I’d like them to test.

Lesson 3 - Plan for Post Release

As much as I wanted the game to be a mega hit from the start, I was mentally prepared for the launch to fall flat. I made sure to have a string of updates in the pipe to keep the ball rolling post launch. While these updates didn’t keep the momentum I’d hoped for, I was successfully releasing big content updates every 6 to 8 weeks.

Lesson 4 - Optimise the content pipeline

Astro Attack was well designed to support new content, themes and gameplay features, but the content pipeline was not. Adding any new content took way too much plumbing. In future, I need to make sure getting assets in the game is as quick and easy as possible.

Lesson 5 - The game needs to make money

I somewhat idealistically stuck to a “Fun before Funds” philosophy, and avoided any forced advertising or paywalls in Astro Attack. While a noble goal, the reality is I should have spent time ensuring players were exposed to more monetisation opportunities, and that enough people were engaging with them.

Lesson 6 - Give people a reason to share

Astro had the option to share post game screenshots to Twitter and Facebook, but only a few players engaged with it. Simply having screenshots wasn’t enough. I needed to focus on the ‘why’ of a screenshot, finding the moments players would most like to share with their friends.

I could go into more detail about how I dropped the ball on audio, or failed to maintain work/life balance, but those could be articles unto themselves. Hopefully this brief summary provides some insight into a few of the the lessons I learned developing Astro Attack, and you can avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into.

This was first published in the November 2017 issue of Brisbane Byte magazine. Subscribe below to get future issues delivered straight to your inbox.