Make Your Game a Purple Cow
Seth Godin points out in his Purple Cow book that no one will pull over, take pictures and call their friends to see a cow that looks just like all the other cows you’ve ever seen. However, if you were driving along and saw a cow that was purple… you’d have to stop and check it out, call your friends, take pictures, etc.
Check out the Disgruntled Fowl App!
With all of the apps in the app store today, it’s not enough to make one more Angry Birds clone. Or one more block dropping clone. Or one more doodle jump clone. Or one more… well, you get the idea. Seth defines a purple cow as something that’s remarkable — and his definition of that is simply that someone will make a comment (or a remark) about it to someone else.
People think that taking a successful idea and copying it will give them success. In some limited ways, they might see a little bit of return on their investment, but for the most part, you never hear about “that fantastic new game that’s identical to but not nearly as nice!” because most clones are not nearly as nice. The games that really stand out and do well (both in a hurry and long term) are games like Tiny Wings.
Stand out with excellence
Tiny Wings wasn’t completely unique, but it does what it does really, really well. There’s a ton of polish, a ton of character — excellence just oozes off this game. Even if you could copy everything it does and do it the same, the next thing you know, they come out with an update that’s more of the same abstract, hard to define essence that just says “quality”. It seems effortless for them (this is just an example, it could be any game) and you’re off trying to play catch up. Why?
Don’t just copy the movements
Jesse Schell has a story in his excellent book, The Art of Game Design, about an old man who was juggling and someone else who was trying to copy that old man. And they copied the movements, but it still looked “off” somehow and for some reason. The old man explained to the gentleman he was talking to that while the fellow on the other side of the park was copying the moves, he didn’t have the inspiration. The old man had taken the inspiration for this particular movement from a flock of birds that was taking off, and no matter how much the other guy tried, he didn’t have that inspiration — he was just copying movements.
So often as game (and software) developer, I think we end up just “copying movements” from the people who have gone before us, without their inspiration. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re learning game design or development, and can actually be quite helpful to try and learn how to re-create Tetris if you’ve never written a game before, the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily need to see it in the App Store.
The Art of Game Design (and that story, in particular) encouraged me to try to take inspiration from places that it wouldn’t normally be found (like a man who took inspiration from a flock of birds taking flight and turned it into a juggling routine, which I still have trouble picturing…) — I started with an idea about making a game about mowing the lawn. Doesn’t sound very exciting, right? Well, it wasn’t. But it didn’t stay there. The technology that I ended up developing spawned a number of other ideas and eventually morphed into a vacuum robot that was cleaning up a toxic spill on a space station. Terribly original? No, not really, but it’s not Columns, either. At the time I was developing it, I got held up in a certain part of the code and paying iPhone projects started coming in, so I ended up never finishing it. I may still revisit it at some point, because even with the simple playable version I had, everybody who tried it really enjoyed it.
Stand out by being different
I wrote my blog post last time for #iDevBlogADay about the evolution of the idea for my indie Unity 3D iPhone game, Sparky the Road Clown. While I’ve been accused of many things over the course of writing the game, imitation isn’t one of them. And no, I’m not the first guy to make a game about running people down or hurting clowns or even running over clowns (I don’t think) but if there are other “run over the clown and whack him with the big spinning hammer” games out there, I haven’t seen them. Maybe there’s a reason for that… I don’t know if anyone beyond my immediate family with iPhones will buy Sparky, but there’s been quite a bit of interest from a lot of people, primarily because most people don’t like clowns, it seems. Some people think it’s too violent and that it could be insensitive to people who have been in car accidents, and I suppose I can see their point. However, I have to stay true to my idea, even as it continues to morph and change. I’ve got a lot of ideas for things I’d like to add onto Sparky, but at this point, I’m just trying to find the time to finish it up and get it out the door. Too many other exciting (and paying) projects going on, which is a good problem, but I feel bad that I haven’t released it yet and I’ve blown so many self-imposed deadlines that at this point, I’m just saying it’s coming Real Soon Now as is said so often in the game development world. Or “it’s done when it’s done”.
Your very own purple cow
Sparky doesn’t have a ton of polish like Tiny Wings, but it’s not Angry-Pocket-Doodle-Columns-Craft, either. My point is that you can make something remarkable — that someone will remark about to someone else — by having a high level of polish (like Tiny Wings) or by being off the beaten path (like Sparky). You can’t go too far off the beaten path or you’ll find yourself alone out there, but it’s good to try something new and go in a different direction. You’ll learn more that way, and maybe even find yourself with your very own “purple cow” in the app store.
This blog post is part of the #iDevBlogADay initiative for indie iOS developers. Click here to read more posts from the iDevBlogADay website.