Hitting the big time with an iPhone game at GDC Canada

David Whatley, President of Critical Thought Games, implored indie developers attending his “From Zero to Time Magazine: App Success”  that if they want to make a “big pile of money,” this was the session to listen to. Whatley developed the runaway hit “Geodefense” for the iPhone, and explained to developers at GDC Canada how they could do the same thing. 

The opportunity to make millions, or at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, is definitely there, though many people are making tens of thousands of dollars. Some will make hundreds of bucks, and many will make next to nothing. Whatley said he wants to tip the odds in their favour. 

Basically, it breaks down to cost vs. revenue. Keep costs really low, by constraining your scope, finding game designers who can wear multiple hats, and use existing resources.Whatley followed his own advice by “borrowing” the art style of Geometry Wars, and stuck to what he knew by building a game in the tower defense genre. 

Ads are a waste of time in the iPhone space, Whatley said, but public relations is a good way to get the word out about your game. So Whatley farmed out the PR work to a firm, then concentrated on developing the game. 

Keeping costs low also meant higher margins, and Whatley was able to get his product to market relatively fast, even though it was a “nights and weekends” project.

Another important point is to not just think of the usual game media, but to target places like Inc, Maxim and Time, because more people will pay attention to your product. 

The end result is that since Geodefense made money, Whatley then had leverage to use for his second game, Geodefense Swarm. He decided to reuse 90 percent of his work, such as the art, sound and code. The tradeoff was using the saved time to promote the game. That promotion paid off, since once the PR firm went to work, downloads of the game skyrocketed. Interestingly, downloads of Geodefense also picked up. 

But the key is to have a fun, compelling game. If you have a terrible game with awesome PR you have nothing, and if you have a great game with little PR, you’re in the same boat. YOu have to clearly establish your business goals, by assessing your skills, your resources and critically, your weaknesses. You want to constrain your product goals, focus on your audience, and importantly, use other people’s code. Write less code, and design more. “Reinventing the wheel is for wheel inventors,” he said. 

Finally, any indie developer can make games from anywhere, something that has up to now been impossible. Indie developers can now compete with big companies like EA, with products that are sitting right next to them on the virtual shelf. So do so, Whatley implored.