Game Theory: Q&A with Nick Coombe of Get Set Games

Jul 8, 2010

Location: Toronto Canada Notable apps: Mega Jump (99 cents), Addicus (99 cents) & Addicus HD ($3.99), Poptweets (free) Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad Specialty genres: 2D, arcade-style, pick-up-and-play games Company size: 5 people Short description of company: Get Set Games is a new game development company formed in July 2009 in Toronto, Canada. We’re focused […]

Location: Toronto Canada

Notable apps: Mega Jump (99 cents), Addicus (99 cents) & Addicus HD ($3.99), Poptweets (free)

Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Specialty genres: 2D, arcade-style, pick-up-and-play games

Company size: 5 people

Short description of company: Get Set Games is a new game development company formed in July 2009 in Toronto, Canada. We’re focused on creating totally awesome games for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.The five members of our dev team have been working professionally for years in the games and real time 3D industries. We’ve got a lot of experience under our belts and we’re putting that to good use on our projects. We have two artist/designers and three coders on board to get everything done.

How did you and your firm get into the iPhone game development business?

The 5 of us had previously worked at a small software startup in the mid-2000s. On the side we became involved in the indie game scene in Toronto.Every year for the last five years, under the name Team Awesomo, we took part in a three-day intensive game dev event called T.O. Jam, as way to try out new ideas and keep our toes in the game dev scene. We still take part in T.O. Jam, which has become more and more popular over the years as the indie gamedev scene has grown. We enjoyed it so much and had such a good response from the games we made at those events that we eventually decided to make a go of it “for real”.

We debated about various platforms including Xbox 360 (via Live Arcade) before settling on the iPhone as a natural fit for a team of our size, and for the type of games that we wanted to make. Apple offered a robust and straightforward route to get involved, which made the process of becoming an iPhone developer very manageable for a new company like ours. Surprisingly, only one of us had an iPhone at the time, but you’d be hard pressed to rip our devices away from us now.

Our coders took to the development environment of the iPhone fairly painlessly, and with surprisingly few headaches during the initial learning curve, so we were up and running with our first project, Addicus,  quite quickly.

In your opinion, how has the iPhone and Apple’s iTunes App Store changed the gaming industry?

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The App store has really leveled the playing field between indie developers and the large established developers and publishers, offering a path to decent and sustainable revenue for even the smallest dev team, as long as they are able to play their cards right.

It really does seem that we are in the midst of an indie renaissance, in no small part because of services like the App Store,  Valve’s Steam service and XBox Live Arcade, all of which cut out a huge amount of overhead costs for developers, and offer a direct route to customers via online distribution.

Apple has opened up mobile devices as true gaming platforms, and the devices themselves are a ton of fun to develop for, offering a great combination of accessible and interesting user interface options (like tilt and touch controls) in an excellent form factor. Many people may not realize it yet, but the iPhone and iPod touch devices are gradually becoming a direct competitor to “true” gaming platforms like the Nintendo DS and the PSP, and in many ways, the iPod and iPhone offer more options for inventiveness in game design because of the interface options inherent in the hardware.

Describe the differences between developing games for the iPhone and the iPad.

While there are many similarities, and some games and apps can be ported successfully as “scaled up” or “scaled down” versions for each device, there are fundamental difference between the two that can be taken advantage of or should be taken into account depending on the project.

The iPhone is inherently a pick-up-and-play device that will be used for small periods of time at a stretch – waiting for a bus, sitting in a coffee shop or any other in-between times. Because of the size, it’s not ideally suited to in-depth, massively deep games that are designed to be experienced for hours at a time. Fast, simple and bite-size is where it’s at when it comes to iPhone and iPod gameplay. The form factor and size of the device also suggest certain gameplay opportunities. Tilt-control games like Doodle Jump and Mega Jump work fantastically well on the iPhone because of the size and weight.

The iPad on the other had cries out for deeper and more luscious visual and intellectual experiences. The size of the screen and the form factor makes it much more comfortable to use for long stretches, so deeper strategic or narrative-heavy games will be better suited to the iPad. Strategy and tactical games in general will benefit from the additional real-estate in a big way, making these types of games very compelling on the device. On the flip side, it’s unlikely you’ll whip out your iPad while waiting for a bus, so it’s less well suited to many of the throw-away time-wasters that are seen on the iPhone, and although the iPad has tilt sensors, the device is a little too big to use this way for long stretches of time.

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What factors go into how you ultimately price your games?

The iPhone app store is heavily weighted toward quick, simple, pick-up-and-play games. There are deep and involved RPGs on the device, but they are rare and not nearly as popular, mainly because it’s hard to spend the time required, staring at the small screen for that long. Smaller games tend to come with a smaller price tag, so that’s the way the market trends.

Pricing an app above 99c introduces a stumbling block to the average iPhone gamer that they are often unwilling to move past in order to purchase an app, so barring promotional opportunities or funding, often the best thing a new developer can do is price their game as low as they can. We’ve tried different pricing models, from free to $2.99 (and higher on the iPad), but ultimately the biggest factor is how people respond to your game. Our most successful app to date is 99c, and we’ve certainly made up in volume what we might have gained on individual sales had we priced the game higher.

Describe what your dream game for the iPhone would look like.

I guess we would have to say our dream game for the iPhone is our current game, Mega Jump, which is finding some solid success on the app store, and which we’re focused on evolving and updating over the coming months. We have more ideas brewing though, aside from Mega Jump, and our goal is to be more than a one-hit wonder. There’s plenty more where Mega Jump came from, but that will have to stay under wraps for now…

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