Kamibox Discusses Casual Game Design and Corona SDK

This interview was originally posted on the Fuse Powered blog.

We sat down with Corona SDK developer and publisher, Philipp Stollenmayer of Kamibox to talk about his latest releases, the games that inspire him, and what advice he had for anyone getting started in mobile.


Tell us about Kamibox. Is it just you? Or do you work with anyone else?

It is just me. I am a communication designer, basically, and work with Corona SDK, which is pretty easy to learn, so I haven’t needed a programmer yet.


Up until recently, most of the games and apps you’ve published have been paid and did not feature ads. “Sometimes You Die” did particularly well in the charts. What made you decide to start making free, ad-supported games?

In the past, I tried to make games that have a particular kind of atmosphere, and ads would have disturbed that. Two of my newer games, Pancake and Get Hi, have ads, because they are super casual games without any pretence of being somehow deep or atmospheric. After all, I want the player to have fun and not be scared off by interruptions after every game, so I try to implement them in a non-intrusive way.


In the past two months, you’ve released three one-touch-action games. Have you had these ready for a while? Or are you making a new game every few weeks?

I make games for people, and people play mostly in the subway or at boring meetings, and one-touch games in portrait mode only require one hand, and make you look like you’re working and not playing. When I have a new idea, I try to get the game done as quickly as possible, trends are changing so fast. So there is not much time between the idea and the finished game.


What other titles inspired you to start making these games? Do you have any favorites?

There are a few games that changed our expectations of mobile games. Tiny Wings creator Andreas Illigerdiscovered very early that we don’t want games that feature all the iPhone’s possibilities of super exact controls, that only a single tap anywhere on the screen is the most exact and satisfying way to control a whole game. Yet you did need your other hand to turn the iPhone sideways. This sounds so decadent that it must be true, and Flappy Bird proves that. Together with the short sessions from Angry Birds and the innovative pricing concept ofCrossy Road, I assume that my next game will also feature a bird.


What development environment do you typically work in? Why?

In the fourth semester of my communication design studies, I tried to teach myself Objective C to make a game (What The Frog). It was just too hard for me without any coding background, and I was very happy to discoverCorona SDK. The language is so much easier and I can publish games on iOS and Android without any extra effort. I recommend it to every designer that I see in my studies (who are) making concepts for apps but fail at the realization.


How much time do you spend optimizing your ads compared to development? Do you use a mediation solution, or a single provider?

I haven’t really spent much time on that yet, but I will sure have to dig into that for my next apps. Until now, I only use the standard providers for iOS (iAd) and Android (Admob). My latest game, Get Hi, features optional video ads to get an extra life.


How have your banner ads performed compared to your video ads?

Get Hi is too new to allow any statement about that, at the moment the revenue curve is extremely unstable. On some days, the videos win, and on others the banners.


What advice would you give to developers and publishers who are just starting out in mobile?

It is extremely important to know the market. Analyze successful games and win the player over in the first seconds, or your game will flop. That’s why the first levels of successful games are ridiculously easy. As a game among thousands of others, you have to distinguish through a clear and resolute design. Most developers underestimate that.


Do you have any plans to release updates for either Pancake, Okay?, or Get Hi? Or are you focused on releasing new titles?

Yes! A big update for Okay? will be released within this month, hopefully. New levels and new mechanics, I racked my brain about that.


Very cool. Thanks very much for your time, Philipp. We’re all looking forward to your next release!

Thank you!


You can find Philipp’s games in the App Store and the Google Play Store.

Dear Everyone: Learn GameSalad

Without GameSalad, I wouldn’t be working in games.

It’s not hyperbole, and what I’ve learned from this little 2D engine is just as valuable to marketers, execs, PR departments, and testers as it is to designers or devs.

I was introduced to GameSalad by a friend while teaching English overseas. GameSaladLogoForReleaseWhether we knew it or not, we had both left our respective homelands to figure out what we wanted to do with our lives when (if?) we went back. The isolation of ex-pat life leaves you with a lot of free time. We decided to spend some of it trying to make video games.

We’d both gotten our teaching gigs on the backs of our Arts degrees (take that, dad) which hadn’t prepared us for programming, or even creating assets. I think if we had found any other engine, things would have stopped right there. Instead, we started to learn.

GameSalad doesn’t let you code. You work with logic. You drag images and shapes onto the screen. They behave just like they would in a Word document. After one basic tutorial, I could make a little guy move and jump around. One more and I had high-scores, double-jumps, and collectibles. After my third session, I had a fully functional platformer.

It wasn’t going to get me any awards, but I walked away having learned something: making games is simple. That’s not to say it’s easy, but there’s no part of it that an average, motivated person can’t grasp. All games are just different combinations of logic and assets. GameSalad taught me that.

For that reason, I recommend it to anyone interested in working in games. GameSalad gives you the tight feedback loop you need to get your ideas down fast and have fun making stuff. Feedback is the lifeblood of the industry, and when you’re trying to figure out if the medium is right for you, it’s the most important thing there is.


Follow Evan FP on Twitter

6 Tips For Effective Push Notifications

This post was originally featured on Gamasutra.com in May, 2015.

There’s a fine line between a helpful reminder and an annoyance, and your game’s push notifications have the potential to register as either. That said, there are plenty of players who look forward to hearing from their favorite games because their publishers have taken to the time to learn what their players want and when they want it. Here are a few tips to help make sure your players look forward to hearing from you.

1. Know How and When to Ask Permission

All games need permission from the player before they’re allowed to send push notifications. When the user agrees to the request, a token is supplied which allows the game to contact the player in future. Few games time their push token request properly. Most drop it in at the start of the very first session, when the player’s knowledge of the game is limited to its name, icon, and whatever they may have read in the store description. Active players get bombarded with these requests and the majority of the time, it’s not a great experience. Many publishers take a shotgun-approach to notification delivery that not only hurts performance in their game, but in all games that rely on push notifications to communicate with their players.

To stand out, wait until your players have had a chance to play the game before you ask, and contextualize the request so that players know what they’re signing up for.

Crossy Road does this perfectly. Instead of requesting permission on start up, they wait until the player has had a chance to associate the fun of unboxing new characters with receiving free gifts. As soon as they’ve opened their second character, the game asks if they’d like to be reminded when the next gift is available. Agreeing prompts the token request and players can make the decision with the understanding that they’ll be contacted when the next bit of fun is available.

IMG_0817 IMG_0818

2. Get Specific

From the outset, think about why you’re contacting your players and decide exactly what you want them to do when they receive the notification. Do you want them to complete a purchase? Is there a specific mechanic you want them to engage with? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you measure the effectiveness of your promotions and write effective copy.

3. Know Your Audience

Having a thoroughly segmented player base is half the battle when it comes to running effective push campaigns. The more certain you can be that you’re talking to the right players about the right offers, the more successful your campaigns will be.

Don’t message non-converted players with offers for $50 IAPs. It’s extremely unlikely that any player’s first IAP would be so high-priced, and you’re demonstrating a lack of understanding for their play style. Likewise, don’t reach out to your whales with discounts on small IAPs that wouldn’t be of any use to them. Over time, these kinds of nuisances can cause what would have otherwise been an engaged, attentive player to deactivate your game’s notifications.

4. Get the Timing Right

In order to capture as much attention as possible, time your push notifications to coincide with hourly spikes in session counts. Sessions are typically highest in the mid-afternoon on weekdays and in the evenings on weekends, but always check your analytics to see what time is most popular for your players. Games geared towards younger audiences are often most active around 3PM to 5PM, during the after-school commute. This ensures that a good chunk of your players will receive the notification around the time that they would typically engage with your game anyway.

5. Omit Needless Words

Notifications get truncated around 110 characters, or roughly 4 lines of text, so make sure you get the important details included up front. The shorter you can make your notifications, the easier it is for players to scan during moments when their attention is elsewhere. Longer notifications risk not getting the message across and can result in fewer engagements.

6. Provide Details

As mentioned in one of our recent posts on Gamasutra, the players who complete an IAP will only ever be a subset of those who are made aware of the option. In between awareness and completion, players need to evaluate whether the offer is of value to them. Your notification copy can help.

“Come on back! We’ve got a great offer for you!”

Notifications like these don’t provide the player with the information necessary to immediately evaluate the offer. It baits them into returning to the game before they can get the details, which can end up feeling like a waste of their time if it turns out it’s not for them.

Instead of giving your player more work to do, include all the details of the offer directly within the notification. Shoot for notifications like:

“Big Bags of Coins are 50% off this weekend only! Buy Now!” 

They give your players everything they need to decide whether or not they want what you’re offering the moment they read it. They might feel pushy, but if you’re segmenting effectively and only delivering relevant offers to the appropriate players, you’ll be doing them a favor.

7 Easy Changes to UI That Improve IAP Sales

This post was originally featured on Gamasutra.com in May, 2015

For indie mobile devs who spend their time perfecting gameplay, marketing concepts like sales funnels can seem like black magic. That said, if you’re lucky enough to get featured, small changes to your game’s merchandizing strategy can have exponential benefits. If I had one bit of advice to offer any small studios working on a free-to-play title, it would be this:

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for super-pushy sales strategies. What I am saying is that the players who complete an IAP will only ever be a subset of those who are made aware of the option. Before launching, ask yourself three questions:

  • Are my IAPs easy to find?
  • Are they easy to evaluate and understand?
  • Are they easy to buy?

If you weren’t 100% sure about any of those, here are a few fast, cheap ways to make notable improvements. Each strategy is designed to increase the number of product impressions you’re able to deliver by getting your game’s IAP-related UI to stand out.

1. Use Common Visual Language

As the App Store’s heavy hitters get more deeply entrenched and acquire more players, you can reasonably assume that anyone playing your game has also played at least one of the games in the top grossing charts. This can work to your advantage.

By employing the same visual language they do, you can more reliably illustrate to players how to make purchases in your game. Seen below, almost all of the top grossing games employ some derivative of the “+” symbol in the UI element that takes players to the in-game store.

By using the same iconography, you can be sure that the majority of your players will understand which UI element will take them to where they can complete a purchase.

2. Use Light and Motion

Talk to a UI designer and they’ll tell you, humans are naturally attracted to light and areas of high contrast. When running a promotion, use bright spots in your interface to attract eyeballs and clicks to your offers.

Combined with rapid motion like the animated effects used by Game of War in their promotional offers, you can expect a reasonable percentage of your players will click and investigate further.

3. Use “The Blur Test”

While not the most high-tech solution, “the blur test” has been a handy hack used by UI designers for ages. Simply squint your eyes when looking at a UI layout. If an element remains clearly visible, it means it has high contrast relative to the rest of the layout, and will attract attention.

If nothing on your layout pops out at you, consider upping the contrast on the UI elements that produce product impressions. There are plenty of tools online that can help you select a more effective palette.

4. Use Badges To Illustrate Value

Within your storefront, whatever products offer the greatest value should be marked by badges and any effective discounts should be clearly shown. Never ask your players to do math if it can be helped.

Adding labels like “Most Popular” or “50% Off” let your players quickly and effectively evaluate what’s worth their money. Make sure to employ the blur test when designing your badges to ensure that they’re high enough contrast to attract the attention you’re after.

5. Ask Playtesters to Make a Purchase

While playtesting might not be in the budget for every publisher, even a quick trip around the office or home can yield incredibly valuable information. Have your playtesters make their way through the opening stages of gameplay and, when it’s applicable, ask them to make a purchase. If it’s not clear to them where they should navigate to in the game’s UI, you can reasonably assume that your layout needs some work.

6. Count Clicks

If you’ve ever taken a close look at granular UI analytics, you know that with every interaction, you lose people. Whether the objective just isn’t apparent or their attention has been pulled away, minimizing the number of user inputs necessary to complete a purchase will benefit your sales.

As an exercise, go to every major screen in your game and count how many interactions it takes to get to the storefront and complete a purchase. If you have to enter a password before completing the purchase, stop counting at the input before you’re prompted. If this number is ever more than two, consider reorganizing your UI so that it isn’t.

7. Use Full Screen Interstitial Offers

Some deals are simply too good not to share. In any effective monetization strategy, you should be making special offers and running promotional sales for different player segments. For these high-value deals, put up a full screen interstitial early in the gameplay session with all of the relevant details and benefits clearly presented.

Be sure to include a clear call-to-action that leads directly to the next step in the sales cycle, not just a page in the store. Including a countdown timer adds a sense of scarcity that can further improve your sales.

6 Things I Learned From My First Big Failure

This post was originally featured on GameCareerGuide.com in July, 2015

My first major game project was a spec job for a major Canadian music label during college. The label, in search of new revenue sources, got to roll-the-dice on some free development and our postgraduate class got to work with media-industry professionals and (potentially) kick-off our careers with a prestigious credit under our belts.

Unfortunately, the project was never completed. After 8 months of development, communication between our studio and the client ceased, and we graduated with portfolios consisting of whatever respective indie projects we had been able to put together.

Despite the project’s failure, the majority of my graduating class is now either gainfully employed in the games industry or happily working on personal projects. Three of us work together at Fuse Powered, where we make tools that help mobile publishers build better, more approachable free-to-play games. One of us went on to become a AAA 3D level designer. One of us is at Riot.

They were (and continue to be) a very talented bunch of guys, and though we might not have finished what we set out to do, the experience afforded us an accelerated education in the absolute fundamentals of game development that I am often surprised to find lacking even among veterans. The lessons from our collective failure that year are among the most important for anyone in the early stages of their career, and they have contributed to the success we have all since enjoyed. I thought I’d share a few.


1. Start Small

Our program afforded us free labour from other college students working towards their diplomas in game development. Working on our project earned them class credit, and our smaller postgraduate class was not only charged with putting them all to work, but also evaluating their performance and ultimately assigning each of them a letter grade. For many of us, that level of authority was unprecedented, and for a few it proved intoxicating. Having a such a huge labour pool at our disposal led us to believe we could accomplish something great, but it quickly went downhill.

The sheer volume of assets we had to deal with would have been a challenge for an experienced project manager, and we had just adopted the title of “producers” a few weeks prior. The swollen team made for impersonal communication and many hours of development time were wasted or lost in the shuffle. Many team members, rightfully frustrated with the lack of organization, stopped showing up.

In the beginning, you don’t need more resources. You need the right resources, and you need to have the skill to manage them. When building a team, whether you’re working with freelancers, game jam partners, or even hiring salaried employees, invest the time in sorting through what’s available/affordable and find the effective communicators who hit deadlines and ask questions. You will accomplish more with a SWAT team than a barbarian horde. If you are weak, the horde will turn on you, and they will be right to do so.


2. Learn Everything

We ran into issues in the pipeline where people on both sides of a blocker threw their hands up and said, “Not my problem. I did what I was asked.” When the issue was eventually resolved, 80% of the time it turned out to be a case of one team member chucking their contribution over the fence without knowing enough about how it affected the work of other team members down the line.

No matter what role you play in the world of game development, learn enough about every other discipline that you can carry on a meaningful conversation with the other members of your team. Knowing the key terms, especially in the area where your two disciplines overlap, will make you far more valuable than just being very good at what you do.


3. Ideas Are Worthless, Execution Is Precious

It’s a shame ideas can’t be sold, because they’re absolutely everywhere. Ask any major developer who has had a contact form up on their site for any period of time and they’ll tell you how many unsolicited game ideas they receive every month. Unfortunately, your idea for a game is inherently worthless, both commercially and artistically. Ideas are only the seed of an accomplishment and have no value without time and energy invested in their realization. Sharing your ideas like they’re qualifications is a good way to get ignored.

What gets attention is proof that you’re able to deliver on your ideas. No one ever risked anything coming up with an idea. Risk only becomes a part of the equation once time and energy are put into execution. It’s the ability to push through this risk and create something that has value. Investors and prospective employers are looking to minimize risk, and any evidence you can provide to suggest that you’re capable of doing what they need done is to your benefit.


4. Who’s Having Fun?

Early on, we settled on doing some version of an endless runner. During prototyping, one of our classmates was able to analyze the volume of a song to create a particle trail that the player’s avatar had to follow to earn points. The client was impressed, which made us feel very clever, so we ran with it. We invested time and effort into polishing the mechanic, never once looking for a second opinion. If we had, we would have learned that the mechanic was absolutely no fun.

Music is best enjoyed through participation, as evidenced by games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Short of being an actual on-stage musician, most music listeners participate through rhythm by bobbing their heads, tapping their toes, singing along, and dancing. Our mechanic did not require the player to participate in rhythm, only trace a line and avoid obstacles that were derivatives of the song they were listening to. It was novel, but boring. By the time we realized it, it was too late.

To paraphrase freemium game design consultant Mark Sorrell, “(Successful games) are a subset of games that are fun.” Not all fun games are successful, but very few successful games aren’t fun. We allowed ourselves to invest resources in a faulty design because the client was impressed with its novelty, which made us feel good. Understandable, given that we were new and desperate to impress, but making games is not about having fun, though it’s hopefully a pleasant consequence. You’re making games so your players can have fun. Every step of the journey, repeat this mantra: “Who’s having fun?”


5. Respect Yourself And Your Team

Our personal failings aside, there were issues maintaining communication with the client. Our design required audio assets that we agreed would be delivered to us early in production. Deadlines for delivery came and went, and even after 8 months of development we never received the assets we had been initially promised, and we had to make due with placeholders. Members of our team grew rightfully frustrated while I advocated for patience and flexibility, afraid that we might lose the credit. In our efforts to retain developers, I argued for how valuable the opportunity was, and how it would strengthen our resumes upon graduating.

I’m ashamed we didn’t deliver on the promises I made to our team members. There was enough blame to be shared between ourselves and the client, as is often the case with this sort of breakdown. Them for not thinking enough of the project to deliver on their original commitment, and us for promising our devs a credit that they wouldn’t ultimately receive. My advice is to respect your team enough to hold clients (and yourselves) accountable for commitments. Work it into contract wording wherever possible and don’t be afraid to walk away from a partnership that is not proving to be mutually respectful. Execution is precious, even in novices.


6. We Learn More From Failure Than Success

We don’t naturally ask ourselves “What did I do right there?” Our failures frustrate us and so we dissect them, and with the right attitude, learn from them. When failed projects come up either in job interviews or pitch meetings, don’t divert the conversation. Address them head-on and don’t waste breathe assigning blame. Demonstrate a clear understanding of where the breakdowns occurred, even if it involves you, and explain ways you’ve learned to prevent them. It’s likely these explanations will be among some of the most valuable things you have to say.

– Evan F.P.