Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Submitted to Apple App Store

Okay Apple, I've dotted all my i's and crossed all my t's... and boy were there a lot of them. The worst part was when I had to get a different screenshot resolution for every single Apple device. But it's done. Now, I just get to sit and wait and cross my fingers. I keep checking my email and expecting a "what are you doing? this is totally wrong in so many ways!" email, but so far it hasn't come.

The review process takes about 7 days on average, so I'll be holding my breath until then.

Monday, December 14, 2015

iOS is nearly ready to publish!

I've gotten Social Sessions working on iOS, including the iPad! I was stoaked the first time I saw it running on an iPad because it looked great! I just had to up-res one texture so it would look better. It mostly just worked! Yay!

Now I'm on to setting up my app submission... which is a bigger task than I'd anticipated. Last night I went to upload my screenshots... only to find out how particular Apple is about their screenshots. You have to have your screenshots in exactly the dimensions of whichever particular devices you are supporting. I can't just have a single set of screenshots... I have to have a set of iPad screenshots taken from an iPad, etc. It's a little frustrating because the same is true for the promo video, and the one I created won't work at all. Boo.

Well, I'm excited to be close to submitting. I did a Unity Cloud Build of my final iOS version, but then I found out that I can't just submit that. I have to build and submit from a Mac. So hopefully I'll be able to do that tonight.

Anxious to get it on the App Store so I can really start promoting the game. I'm excited to be able to stop hearing people say "Oh you released your app? Oh well, let me know when it's on the App Store".

Friday, December 4, 2015

Big plans, little schedule

If you're wondering, I've got a handful of changes that I'd like to make before Christmas, along with getting the game on iOS. I'm also going to be away from my computer for a little while around Christmas, so I'm starting to feel a little bit of self-imposed pressure to get stuff done before then (otherwise I won't be able to stop thinking about what I have left to do).

I sat down and made a schedule of my tasks, and tried to figure out if it's even possible. I think it should be possible, but it leaves little room for testing and unknowns.

I'm also debating whether to prioritize iOS, or these new features. It'd be nice to have the game solid and ready when I release on iOS, since it's a more fertile market. But I'd also like to get my game out on iOS sooner rather than later, so I can start marketing the game harder. Right now, when I market, I hate always having to say "Sorry, it's only out on Android right now."

Also, milestone! Someone 100%'d my game. And they did it all in one sitting, no less. I think it took them 2 or 3 hours. It's actually someone I know. He had nothing but good things to say about it, which is great! He's head and shoulders above everyone else on the leaderboards!

Okay, those are my scattered thoughts for right now. If you've played the game, you have something more to look forward to in a few weeks, and if you haven't played it, go play it! It's free to try!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Moving toward first update since launch

Well, I've been getting a lot of great feedback from people coming out of the woodwork to help. This is greatly appreciated.

The first update that's going to come out of this is not anything that affects gameplay, but it'll give the game a little more character. I spent last night and tonight creating a system of speech bubbles that will appear in 3 different situations during a level: you've encouraged someone, you've discouraged someone, or you've taken too long to make a move and they're getting bored.

I've attempted to craft these to be at least a little bit humorous, and also attempted to balance the random values so they don't pop up so often to be annoying and repetitive.

Speaking of repetitive, the one thing I have left to do before I push this update out, is create a long list of these funny, short little quotes to avoid repetition, and keep the game fresh. Here are a few examples, for your reading pleasure:

When encouraging a patient:

  • "Worth every penny"
  • "You're just saying that"
  • "Am I your favorite?"
When discouraging a patient:
  • "Why am I paying you for this?"
  • "It's all meaningless"
  • "Maybe I don't get your humor"
When you're taking too long:
  • "Should I go and come back?"
  • "Are we still on the clock?"
  • "I think I just fell asleep"
I hope this helps with keeping the game interesting (and maybe a little less frustrating on those harder levels). In case anyone is reading this... thanks for reading! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

48 hours after launch

Today wasn't quite as exciting as the day before, but then again I didn't spend all day posting about my app today like I did yesterday. I can, at least, celebrate the milestone of my first in-app purchase! I'm pretty sure it was a friend of mine, but I don't know who. Thanks to you, whoever you are!

Google shows that I have a total of 41 installs. And 8 ratings, with an average of 4.9 reviews (again, mostly from friends). I'm happy about the installs. Google shows your number of installs in increments. From 5 to 9 installs, it shows that you have "5" installs. From 10 to 49 installs, it shows that you have "10" installs. I'm excited about passing 50, because "50" is going to look a lot more credible than "10", even though I really have a lot more than 10.

I've been doing a lot more thinking about the feedback I'm getting. Multiple people have suggested I come up with ways of making the meta game more interesting, and adding some more "flavour" to the game. I'm considering adding in a little system where comment bubbles pop up over people's heads during a level with an excited or depressing comment when you do an action. I think I agree that it'll add a little something extra to the game. I'll have to channel my inner Strong Sad and come up with some depressingly hilarious comments to pop up occasionally.

Another thing that's been suggested, and that I've been thinking a lot about, are alternate ways for people to continue the game besides just a single upgrade purchase option. For example, the ability to watch ads to keep playing, or earn a resource that would allow you to unlock further levels. I actually like this idea. Because, really, all its doing is giving players more options. Instead of being totally locked out of more levels for those that don't want to pay, they still have the option to purchase and continue playing unobstructed, but this way they would have other options as well. I need to think more on this, though. My goal is for the best player experience, and NOT for maximum profits. I hate to see someone genuinely interested in the game, and then just drop it because they won't (or can't) pay for the upgrade. It's heart breaking. I want to give those people a chance to keep playing one way or another.

Hope you're enjoying the game!

Monday, November 30, 2015

24 hours after Android launch

So here I am. Nothing has exploded. 24 hours after launch. Life actually does just keep going.

I've had a slow-but-steady flow of installs throughout the day. Anywhere from 1 to 3 downloads per hour.

(If you're wondering, I'm using Game Analytics for metrics tracking. I'll post more about them later)

This download rate was actually pretty encouraging, as I hadn't exactly pulled out all the stops with trying to market myself. I basically blasted on Facebook, and to everyone at work, and on this blog, and on a few applicable subreddits. But other than that, I hadn't sent my app into any app review sites or anything like that. Partially, I want to see how it does, and if anything might need to be changed... and then also publish on iOS. Once I do that, I'll be blasting as hard as I can for sure!

I had a few people give me criticisms and advice, both of which were valuable. One person said they almost didn't download my game because of how horrible my icon was. I was honestly a little embarrassed. I was going for simplicity, but when I really thought about it, it did look pretty out of place in the app icon world. I spent some time tonight making an upgraded version. I wouldn't call myself an artist really, but I try.

There, that looks a little more appy.

Other advice related to adding some more interesting meta game, and adding ads in there somewhere. I'm on the fence about the ads thing. I don't want to annoy players, but... then again... most players will never cough up even a couple of dollars for an in-app purchase, and yet they're able to enjoy much of the game for free. It would be nice if I could benefit slightly from their enjoyment, while finding a way to do some very minimally intrusive monetization. I don't know. We'll see what happens.

I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about how to advertise my app most effectively. Obviously, I don't want to pester everyone on places like Reddit (I may have done some of that today), but it's hard to find appropriate venues. I wonder if anyone has ever just gone out and stood on a physical street corner and told people about their game. Hmm... could be fun.

Anyway, I'm excited and anxious to see how downloads progress, and anxious to start working on getting on iOS.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

My Facebook Post

Just thought I'd share what I posted on my Facebook, in case anyone is interested:

2 years ago, I had an idea for a game. In order to bring that idea to life, I learned programming and game development in Unity. Last month, I formed a company, Hester Games LLC, and today I launched my first mobile game on the Google Play Store.
But this isn't really a success story. Not yet. 20,000 apps are released every single month. Most of those are "zombie apps". No, it's not an app about zombies, it's an app that almost no one has ever played. If no one spreads the word, no one will find it or play it. I've spent at least a thousand hours, and hundreds of dollars from my own wallet to make it happen. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but sometimes knowing how much time someone put into something helps you realize how important it might be to them that you at least give it a try.
Last year, many of you tried my game in a web browser, and I'm grateful for your participation. It was a great learning experience. The game was rough at that time, and I've spent the last year bringing it up to a better, more polished experience, so I hope you'll give it another go.
I'd love it if you'd download it and give it a try, but more importantly, share it with anyone you think might like it. The game is free to download, and offers 28 out of the 120 levels for free before asking for an upgrade, but playing it and sharing the link is honestly the most important thing right now.
Right now, it's only available for Android (phone or tablet), but I'll be sure to update when I release my iOS version, hopefully before Christmas!

Get it on Google Play

Social Sessions is LIVE

Here's that thing I made:

Get it on Google Play

I had to go out for a little while after publishing the game, so I held off on making any announcements to social media until I got back.

My plan now is to spread the word via:
- My own social media accounts
- Posts to Reddit, and things like that
- Messages to app reviewers to see if they'd like to give the game a try

The idea is to get it in front of as many people as possible (obviously). From what I've seen in user testing, over half of people who actually give the game a chance (as in, actually play it), find them selves sucked in and not wanting to put it down for at least 15 minutes on the first session. I know that the game isn't for everyone (for example, my wife won't play it because she hates puzzle games), so my goal is to cast the net as wide as possible.

I do wonder if publishing on Android and then iOS later will end up hurting me. My fear is that I make a big announcement to everyone I know, and the half that don't have an Android device hear me and are interested, but can't play it. Then, by the time I get it on iOS, they're not as excited about the idea because it's not new any more. I hope that's not the case.

Thanks for keeping up. If you're reading this, then the most important things you can do to help me is to give the game a try, leave me a rating, and share it with anyone you know that might like this kind of game.

Commemorating Me Hitting the "Publish" Button

It takes a little while to sync with the Google Play Store, but I just wanted to commemorate me hitting the "Publish" button on Hester Games' first title: Social Sessions

I have a slew of things to do once it's live to let people know "I exist!", but for now I will wait.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Localization, Clear Save Game, and Offline Play

I ran into a couple of things that I'm trying to slip in at the 11th hour (still trying to make my personally-imposed Sunday night deadline!).

First of all, I decided that I had enough friends from around the world, that I could probably localize my Google Play game description and summary into a couple of languages. I don't know what the pay-off for this is going to be, but it doesn't cost me anything to ask a few favors, and I hope it'll convince a few people to try my game. I imagine that if I was a non-English speaker, then I'd be at least more interested in trying out a game whose description I could understand. I'm not doing any localization of the game itself, though. That would be a much bigger task. My languages so far are English, Spanish, and Korean. I'm waiting on someone to see if they'll translate it into Japanese for me. I lived and taught English in South Korea for 3 years before getting into game development, so that helped me build relationships with people all over the world.

The other thing is a "clear save data" feature. I mean, this is a puzzle game, and you can always go back and replay earlier levels. I was resisting adding this because I didn't want someone to accidentally hit this button and then email me angrily wanting me to restore their data. Hopefully that won't happen, but I've decided it's worth throwing this in. I can imagine scenarios where maybe someone's spouse or kid wants to try the game on the same account, and wants to clear all progress so they have a fresh experience. So I'm gonna throw that in this weekend.

The third thing is offline play. Obviously, this isn't a game that requires the internet (except for the cloud save feature), but someone actually tried playing the game yesterday completely offline. Turns out that every time they completed a level, the Google Play Store login dialog appeared and asked them to try to log in, and then would of course fail because they were offline. Every time. So, I see now that I need to remember if the game doesn't log in on game start, and then not ever try to connect again that session.

Any changes this close to launch are dangerous, I know that all too well. Especially since these two changes affect save data. Dangerous stuff. I'm gonna try to get this done and over to my testers to get as much coverage as possible on it before Sunday.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Some Background On Social Sessions

Social Sessions, going live on the Google Play Store next week, and on the Apple App Store soon after that, is a simple puzzle game with a "group therapy" theme of making everyone happy amidst interconnected relationships. Each level is a group of 3 to 8 people that you try to make happy by "encouraging" or "discouraging" them one at a time. The tricky part is that each person has relationships with others in the group, and so your encouragements extend to your target's friends, and get twisted into unhappiness to your target's "enemies". It's kind of like a twisted up version of the classic game, Lights Out. However, the game has gone through several iterations and designs before ending up with what you see here.

The original idea, about 2 years ago, had the game centering around some public space (a school playground, a college quad, etc.), where everyone had relationships with everyone else. The key would be that there were some popular kids, and you were trying to get "in" with them by being nice to their friends and being mean to their enemies. Ultimately, having more than a handful of people became a nightmare to try to keep track of all those relationships while solving the puzzles!

So I scaled back the idea and went with just a few entities. In this concept phase, the game wasn't set in any particular environment, and so it was just cubes and lines. The relationships weren't completely positive or negative; instead, they were a gradient from red to green (negative to positive), and when you did a positive action to someone, you moved their color a little from red to green, and affected their relationships only as much as they had strength.

I quickly found, however, that when people played, they almost always just went click-click-click really fast until they made the entity either completely green or red, and the same was true with their relationships. So I decided to drop the gradients and just go with a straight up "happy" or "sad" or "nothing" for the entities, and "positive", "negative", or "none" for the relationships. This really simplified the game down and stripped away unnecessary clicking and calculations about how much an action would affect someone. This is around the time when the gem within the idea started to shine. The game was now just about a simple sequence of actions that led to a success. And if the relationships fell in the right layout, you could really get some twisty and interesting sequences. Now it was a good puzzle game.

The therapy theme just kind of grew out of the way that I was thinking about these entities in my own head. I was making them happy and sad, and trying to get them all to get along and be happy. It just seemed natural that I slap faces onto the cubes, a diploma wall in the background, and skin it like the player is a therapist going throughout their day. And something about seeing those weird little faces get happy and sad is just so satisfying. ;)

You're probably wondering how it took me two years to make such a simple game. Well, first of all, this is a one man show for crying out loud. I've learned the hard way why people tend to make games in teams and not as lone wolves. But also, it's been on and off. When I first started toying with the idea, I didn't say "I'm gonna make a mobile game and publish it". I just toyed with it for several months, among other ideas. It probably wasn't till about a year ago when I decided to do something with it. I actually released an older version of this game on Kongregate last year. Looking back, that version was extremely rough. It looks basically the same, but the game progression was so bad, there were hardly any instructions or explanations. There's a pretty steep learning curve, and it's easy to lose players in the first few levels because they just don't get it. Holding players' hands a little at the beginning with tips and instructions has proven to be a huge necessity in getting people into the game, because it's a little hard to wrap your head around the puzzles at first. Kongregate saw an exciting first week (about a thousand players, about a 3.5 star rating, and front page attention for about an hour), but after that it faded into obscurity. In hindsight, I don't think that's really the right market for a puzzle game. This is the kind of game that you want to pull out occasionally when you're going to the bathroom, or sitting on a bus, not the kind of game that you want to play while sitting at a desktop computer on a browser for hours on end. And plus, it wasn't nearly as compelling with a mouse and keyboard.

It's also the first game I've made with Unity, and the first real game I've made, period. I couldn't write a line of code 3 years ago, and making this game, and playing with a few other ideas, has been what's taught me programming and game development. So, as you'd expect, the game saw several "rewrites", which were fairly major refactors of the entire game, as my programming skills matured. But if you need a confidence boost, I'm now a full fledged Game Designer and Game Scripter at a tech startup called MaxPlay (www.MaxPlay.io) that is doing exciting things in the gaming industry.

Okay, this post is probably long enough. Hope to see your name on the leaderboards soon! Enter your email on the side panel to subscribe to updates if you want to stay informed!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Monetization! Yay!

I just wanted to be up-front about the monetization in my first mobile game, Social Sessions, and explain why I went with the method that I did.

Social Sessions is a free-to-download game which allows players to play until they reach "Day 9" (out of 30 days) before they're asked to upgrade (for $1.99) to continue. The first 8 days will probably afford a player several days of occasional play.

I decided against using advertisements because, well, that's basically just going with the annoy-players-until-they-pay-you model. I don't want to annoy my players. I realize that for many developers this is the best option, and it's possible some very understanding players even appreciate this model and understand why it's necessary in many cases, but it wasn't right for my game.

I also didn't want to fill the game with micro-transactions. There are no extras or cheats or premium currencies in the game to purchase. You just pay to unlock the game once, and all 120 puzzles are yours!

The other decision was, okay, I'm going with the "Freemium" model (upgrade to play full game), but when exactly should I ask players to Upgrade? Some suggested that you do it early, as soon as the player is interested in the puzzles. But in my own experience, I always appreciated when Freemium games allowed you a bit more time to enjoy the game. It allows you to really get into it and play it over a few days so that when you get to the Upgrade point, you really feel like you've played a game already, and upgrading for more levels is just icing on the cake (granted, the icing on the cake is 5 times as many levels as the cake in this metaphor). But then, even if you don't upgrade, and you put the game down there, you feel like you were able to play and enjoy a full game, so you are more willing to go tell your friends to go download and try this game, because it's free, and you can actually enjoy the game for a little while totally for free! And who knows, maybe one of your friends will like it enough to want to upgrade? So everyone wins!

And to those who say that games should all just be offered to players for free, well... I'm not even gonna start...


Game Play sneak peek!

Hester Games... The Beginning!

Horray! Hester Games, LLC, exists, and is a real and legally verifiable entity! :D

This is exciting to me, but maybe not to you. What should be exciting to you is that I'm going to be making games you will hopefully find creative, compelling, and awesome!

Social Sessions (Hester Games' first game that will be released in the coming weeks on the Google Play Store, and soon after that on Apple's App Store) started a few years ago when I started to teach myself Unity game development and C# programming. Suddenly, my imagination came alive with ideas of what I could make! Social Sessions took form slowly, and went through several iterations. At first it was just an idea that I found intriguing, and surprisingly, hadn't seen anything else quite like it.

The puzzles were challenging, for sure. That was what I liked, but that was the main hurdle: getting people to grok the puzzles right away. Playing that balancing game between challenging and fun. Lots of people threw up their hands and said "I just don't get it!" So, with that in mind, I worked hard to give useful tips to the player along the way, and chose a progression of levels that would slowly introduce players to the more difficult concepts. Eventually I began to see that spark of determination in people's eyes when they really got it and were self-motivated enough to buckle down and solve the puzzles (and even try to get a 3-star rating on all the puzzles!).

I've spent the last 2 years developing this mostly in solitude, but I hope to connect with the community of gamers who might be interested in this or my future games, from now on.

I'll post more about Social Sessions more specifically (video soon!), and also keep you updated during and after launch, but for now, here's a rough draft of the Play Store description:

Be the therapist you always knew you could be and try to make all your patients happy by manipulating their feelings and relationships!
Social Sessions is a group-therapy-themed game that will seriously challenge your puzzle-solving abilities. Make your way through the calendar as you right the wrongs in each group of dysfunctional relationships. Push yourself to perfection by figuring out how to solve each session in the most efficient way.
Then, just when you start finding your groove, you'll be challenged by four new special level types, introduced each new week in your therapist's calendar.
 Leave a comment if this sounds like something you'd like to play!