Fun and profit from a game still unreleased
Welcome to my first #iDevBlogADay post — I hope it’ll entertain and encourage you as to how projects that haven’t seen the light of day can still be profitable. This is where we start:
1. Make Game
2. Don’t release it
Wait, that’s not how that scenario typically goes, right? Well, stranger things have happened…
The Name and the Game
It all started about a year and a half ago when I started working with Unity 3D and had a name in my head — Sparky the Road Clown. I wondered what I might be able to do with a name like Sparky the Road Clown such as, would it be a game like frogger but with a clown? Would he stand in traffic and mock cars as they went past? That was my initial idea, but it didn’t sound like much of a game. Eventually, I decided that it would be a showdown between clown and car in a dark alleyway. My 6 year old son was a big part of the inspiration, and the initial conversation went like this
me: do you like clowns? him: nooooo
would you like a game about clowns? nooooooo.
what if you were running them over? <pause> yeeeaaah!
From there, I got in touch with a couple of talented friends who were happy to bring my vision of clown vs car to life by doing the artwork and doing the voicework with me doing the programming. The gameplay itself continued to evolve over time to where it’s at now, which is still based on the “joust” type premise — you get one shot at the clown per round. You hit him, or you don’t, and the round is over. Score is based on how far you knock him each round (either by hitting him with the car, or with the large spinning mallet on top of the car) multiplied by how many unique items in the level that you’ve knocked him into over the course of the game so far (that doesn’t reset each round). But all that’s not important right now.
What is important for the focus of this post is that A) it’s nearly finished and B) while it’s not released yet, it’s still helped to earn some income. As for A, we should be going to the app store within the next few weeks. Sparky the Road Clown will be on iPhones and iPads and everyone will be able to get their coulrophobia treatment for their favorite iOS device. As for B, technically, it’s been out on Facebook since June, but that’s been in closed beta and pretty under the radar. And the game hasn’t sold any copies, so how has it made me any money?
Experience, of course. I started working with Unity 3D back in late 2009 with the plan to publish my game out to Facebook and iPhone. At the time, using Unity 2.x, that was not really an easy task — Unity iPhone was a completely separate product, and I was doing most of my Unity development on the PC and then moving it over to the mac and Unity iPhone. Towards the end of last year with Unity 3 being released, that got a lot easier.
From there, with a game released on Facebook and something on my iPhone and iPad that I could show people, I started talking to people about Unity and I saw it gaining traction in the marketplace. My team recently won a 48 Hour Business Launch competition here in Memphis where I was the sole programmer, and all of the work was done in Unity 3D — I couldn’t have done that without that year and a half of experience that I had acquired while developing Sparky the Road Clown. I also recently finished up the programming of a Unity 3D project for a large manufacturer who originally wanted to do their project in Flash, but was willing to give Unity 3D a chance. They ended up with a very nice app that’s practically identical between the iPad and web versions (including rotating 3D objects with selectable sections) and with the same project also being on iPhone (sans the 3D objects, at their request). That project paid for the iPad and a fair bit more. With one major Unity project under my belt and a second (the game about running over clowns) close at hand, it’s been even easier to convince someone to go the Unity route, and I suspect more paying projects will follow.
Stick with it
Of course, every unreleased game isn’t going have the same effect, but it could. Just like boxers are only considered “as good” as the outcome of their last fight, most people are really only interested in the last couple of projects you’ve done. Being able to say, “I took this from a vague name in my head all the way to a finished, refined product with the help of some talented friends and colleagues” is huge. Often times, programmers have a reliability that ranks somewhere between artists and musicians (no offense to either group, and I consider myself a musician, FWIW) and the ability to show clients what you can do what you’ve done will often mean the difference between getting a project and the next guy getting that project. The key is to stick with it and persevere through all of the times when you’re bored, would rather be doing something else, when you’re stuck and banging your head against a brick wall — because all of these things happen with client projects, too. The people who can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done are the are the ones who are going to succeed in programming and in life.
Has anyone else had similar experiences where unfinished or personal projects have brought them paying work?