Pixel Fighters: A Post-Mortem
🕓 Apr 20th 2012
Allow me to get straight to the sales juice of this post, the rest can come from there. This project cost me a total of $5000 for the original game and $2000 in my second major update. As you can calculate from the numbers, I've made only about $2250 in the past year and a quarter.
(Click for a larger image) I imagine that this data might be shock to some, either that I spent so much on art to build my game or that I would announce a $5000 net-loss almost proudly. Well that's because this game has singlehandedly changed my career landscape and paid for itself many times over. In less than 3 years since I left my job in market research as a project manager with only the programming knowledge of a light hobbyist, I've increased my annual income by 75%. I actually hate talking about my income but at the risk of coming off as a pompous ass, I need to make a point. This app has meant so much more to me than the code that it's comprised of or the money it's earned. The wealth of experience, the people I've met, the blogging, and seeing a project through from start to finish - these are the elements that have helped build who I am today; Pixel Fighters was just a catalyst.
I've written several previous entries on my experience along the way, so I will skip the "story of" and discuss only end results and reflections. Entering the market in January of 2011, I set a personal goal that I felt was reasonable based on what I thought market conditions were at the time. I just wanted to sell 30,000 copies and pocket enough after taxes to pay my rent over the year. Before the second update, Pixel Frenzy and lite version, I blogged a goal of 9000 more copies on my ~3000 so far. My second goal was to hit the developer job market with my new "resume maker". While I did not come even close to my first goal, and that has been hard to accept at times, I think I knocked goal #2 out of the park.
Developing an app in your own name is a well respected accomplishment. It provided an interesting topic of conversation during my search for a job that also demonstrated my capabilities in a number of important fields. Between the iOS app, the promotional website, the designer/musician I hired and managed, the personal market experience and the blogging, I had a number of strong talking points. Following the release of my app in January 2011, I've been occasionally contacted by recruiters and HR reps; One of these actually led to my current position with TC Media.
The iOS community and personal growth
In addition to the positive impact on my career, I've also enjoyed the benefits of just being a part of the iOS development community. Entering the market, I don't think I had a profound enough appreciation for just how full of brilliant people this marketplace is; I am empowered by the entrepreneurial energy. I've been humbled time and time again and I'm sure I will continue to be. In particular, I had one experience early in my #idevblogaday days when I wrote an entry about not releasing your first app. While my blog isn't visited nearly enough to say this was "widely panned", it was panned enough. I listened those who scorned me, asked some to help me understand why they disagreed and absorbed as much as I could from the experience. Reflecting now, I do reject my original hypothesis completely and I'm happy to have had Pixel Fighters to blog about so that people could help slap the silly out of me. My experiences with Pixel Fighters helped shape the way I look at software development, there's nothing to regret or be ashamed of.
Do's and Don'ts
DO spend something on art; art matters. I think that many of the sales I do have been thanks to the quality of the art. I also learned a lot from the experience of hiring and working with a designer.
DON'T spend so damn much on art though, especially on your first app! My original budget was $2600 for all my art, which was pretty high, and I let myself totally blow that, overconfident that I could at least break even in-market. That said, I invested in art to motivate myself, take my project seriously, see it through to the end and sell it for $0.99. You can probably get that kind of motivation for under $500 though. Learn to be strategic with art if you're operating with a tight budget. Can you make this yourself? Does that really need a new graphic animation? Is there another way to animate or draw this programmatically?
DO have a plan. Plan and plan and plan. Then plan some more. The original 9 months of my development were just crazy. I was building the game on the fly, incorporating what I wanted when I wanted. Planning is quite difficult, particularly on your first app, when you lack the experience to outline the 'how' and the 'why' - but do your best to roadmap your intended improvements. Also, try and build in testable cycles, so you don't leave a massive mess of issues until 2 weeks before submitting to Apple. (I did)
DO think about all the extra value you get from building your app. Look for ways other than the obvious that your app can help you. For me, it was about moving into a development career. As an independent, it's for the portfolio. People are going to be impressed by the fact that you've personally built anything for iPhone - Use that to your advantage.
DON'T get discouraged. This past year it has not always been easy accepting my app's results. I tried several different ideas. I invested in an update, released a separate themed mini-game and I finally created a lite version. While originally I had thought any one of these things might give me a massive boost, the reality is that none have. Still, I have to say I'm not discouraged and just glad to have tried and learned. At this point, I just need to accept the results and focus my time and energy on new and exciting opportunities. So much has been learned in the last few years, and I really look forward to taking this experience to my next personal game project.
DO blog. Blogging is a wonderful way to grow. When you blog you share with your community, you learn from your peers and you demonstrate professionalism/expertise. I'm so glad I started blogging and participating in the #idevblogaday community because it's another skill I've picked up thanks to this experience that I don't plan to stop.
I didn't want to overload this blog with information or story but please ask me anything in the comments. Nothing is too personal and I want this information to be as whole and useful as possible.
This year I'll be working as an iOS Developer for TC Media in Toronto, making apps mostly, maybe a game if I'm lucky and probably a couple web projects. On my weekends and after hours I have a few things planned, some of which I will discuss at a later date.
TOJam - The next game(er... prototype?)
I'm really excited to register for TOJam this year (when registration opens soon). I've assembled a team of 5 including myself, my musician and artist from Pixel Fighters as well as 2 other developers from work. We are going to be making a mini-RPG (surprised?). I'm really looking forward to making a new RPG based on my past experiences and working on it with a team - it's going to be a great experience. I also look forward to meeting face to face with the game development community in Toronto. I'll post on how it went in a month's time.