Bumpy Road developer on creating iOS games with a soul

Aug 5, 2011
Games

The best games for the iPhone and iOS devices involve more than just killer graphics, great mechanics and an awesome soundtrack. While Bumpy Road by Simogo possesses all these things, the $2.99 game has a very human story that should help it attract universal appeal. As Appolicious Advisor Andrew Koziara explains in his video review, […]

The best games for the iPhone and iOS devices involve more than just killer graphics, great mechanics and an awesome soundtrack. While Bumpy Road by Simogo possesses all these things, the $2.99 game has a very human story that should help it attract universal appeal.

As Appolicious Advisor Andrew Koziara explains in his video review, “You can’t really put a price on originality like this. The symbolism of a relationship as well as life itself being represented by a bumpy road is obvious, but if you stick with the ones you love, you’ll make it fine.”

In this edition of Game Theory, we tap into the insight of Bumpy Road developer Simon Flesser, who reminds us that it is still all about the gameplay. Flesser also shares his thoughts on the value of this $2.99 title, why he is hesitant to go with a Freemium model, and the importance of doing the “right thing” when it comes to game development.

Appolicious: While Bumpy Road’s graphics and mechanics are top-notch, what really impresses us is the game’s story and not-so-subtle analogy of life. Explain your process in merging the narrative and gameplay elements.

Simon Flesser: The story sort of grew naturally with this game. The gameplay idea with making bumps inspired the title of the game and that in turn inspired the story.

For us, or at least for the games we have been focusing on until now, gameplay always come first. We try to come up with fun gameplay mechanics, controls and such, and then the whole feel of the game sort of grows from there. I’ve always toyed with the idea of incorporating some down to earth, melancholic story in to a game and I’ve wanted to try and do so without being intrusive to the gameplay. To tell it in a way where the player can choose for themselves if they want to enjoy it or not. I like that we have this very light-hearted arcade game with a more emotional side to it; I think there is just something very interesting in the contrast there.

APPO: What was the biggest surprise you encountered after debuting the game earlier this year?

SF: The way a lot of people reacted to the game honestly surprised me. I thought a lot of people would find it to be a cute and fun game, but we’ve been getting a lot of response both in reviews and from players that they were touched by the story and the general feel of the game. I didn’t think the story and the vibe would have the kind of impact.

APPO: How did you determine a $2.99 price point?

SF: The amount of work and time put in to the game first of all. Personally, I find it hard to say that $2.99 is a premium price since I can’t even get a coffee for that price, but we are fully aware that a lot of the App Store consumers thinks that this is indeed a premium price. I believe what we offer in Bumpy Road, with all the different modes, the story and everything in the package is a premium product.

Also, it’s risk minimizing. We tried to go with 99 cents for Kosmo Spin, and the amount of games we have to sell at that price point to break even is just very difficult to achieve. It’s to bit of a gamble if your plan is to make a living out of it. Basically, you need a smash hit in that price point, selling hundreds of thousands.

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APPO: Are there are any plans to bring this to Android or other mobile operating platforms? If so, when? If not, why not?

SF: There are no plans as of now to bring Bumpy Road to Android, although it is something we talk about constantly.

One thing that we really like about iOS is that there are still so few devices, resolutions and aspect ratios to make sure everything runs fine. It’s important for us that our games run well on all devices, and on Android it is impossible for us to check on every device available. For me personally, I’m very confused about the different marketplaces that are available on the Android platform. And if I’m confused as a developer, I can’t imagine what the average smartphone user would be. That said, I wouldn’t close the door on Android. But right now it’s better and more exciting for us to concentrate on making new games rather than porting our existing ones.

APPO: In your opinion, aside from creating a great game, what can a game developer to do drive downloads upon launch?

SF: I don’t think there is a magic formula. Scream as loud as possible, I’d say. As a small indie developer it is hard to get the word out. But I think it is super important to dedicate a lot of time to get the word out, in one way or another. Spend time on making sure the first impression from a possible consumer makes them go ”wow.” Be that in a nice trailer, good screens, teaser art or whatever. Getting a promotion in the App Store so that your app is visible is good, of course, but to even get that promotion you have to put in a lot of time to generate buzz. And as you said, to even get the buzz going you have to have something that is buzz-worthy in the first place.

APPO: What about driving downloads over time?

SF: This is of course trickier, and I honestly don’t think we are there quite yet. I think very few developers can manage that, actually, so it is very hard for me to say. I’d love to say that updating our games for free have helped to drive our sales, but they haven’t. It’s still good to do updates though, since we want players to keep enjoy our games. By showing them that we care about them in different ways by doing the right thing, we hope they’ll continue coming back to us when we release new games.

We’ve also been very careful about making our games free for a limited time or putting them on sale, as we are firm believers in the value of our games, and it is important for us to communicate that our games are not throwaway products. Even so, for Simogo’s one year anniversary, we celebrated by giving away Kosmo Spin for free for some days. And while we got almost half a million downloads, it didn’t result in a mentionable difference in sales after the promotion. If it will make any difference for future game sales that 500,000 people saw the Simogo logo during those days is hard to say, but my guess is that a lot of these people would never buy our games anyway, making the free promotion pointless.

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APPO: Tell us about any upcoming updates or new titles?

SF: We have no updates for our games planned at the moment, although there are some fun ideas on the table for spin-offs of Bumpy Road. It’s still up in the air if those will ever happen as we really enjoy to work on new things. We will soon finish a Mac version of  Bumpy Road. We’re concentrating on our third game, but it’s still very early to talk about, as we are still in the design phase. It’s going to be level-based and less action oriented than our other games. Rhythms, puzzle, stealth and thievery are the keywords!

APPO: What are the three biggest trends in the mobile gaming space keeping you up at night these days?

SF: We try to do our own thing and by that way always surprise the players. So in a way we try not to focus too much on gaming trends. We see ourselves as a gaming company, not a mobile gaming company. That said…pricing and the Freemium model is something that’s being discussed a lot. Freemium is working for a lot of people, but I think there’s a consensus that it’s the lone future for gaming. It definitely suits some games, but for the kind of thing we are doing right now, it doesn’t fit. In a game like Bumpy Road where a lot of the value comes from a certain soulfulness, it would feel completely wrong to prompt players to buy a hat. I’m also strongly against the trend of selling numeric values for real money, like in some games where you are literally paying to not play, just to advance faster. I play because I want to enjoy the game, or have some kind of thought-provoking experience, not to be able to achieve something. A lot of these games are only produced and designed to play off the worst sides of people and trigger some kind of Pavlovian behavior, to make people pay up and that is disturbing to me. I think doing the right thing is important, and we try to think about how we would like to be treated as consumers, and treat our consumers in the same way.

Another thing that is often talked about is that the smartphone will kill the traditional handheld or console game. I don’t think so. The gaming landscape has changed and is constantly evolving. People did not stop going to cinemas just because they got TVs in their home and I don’t think people will stop playing on their dedicated gaming devices all of a sudden. There is room for both. But I think Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have slow-moving machines that are becoming less and less attractive for (indie) developers, as it’s complicated, expensive and slow to even get your foot in on their devices. The traditional game publishing model, in which a developer works with a publisher to get funding for their games, is becoming less important than it used to be, and the big three need to realize that. I do understand their strict quality control and I think that’s important as well. But they could take a few cues from a certain fruit named company in how to attract interesting small studios doing unique things.

That’s only two things, but I’m pretty sure you’ve had enough of my ramblings.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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