HedgeHoger’s Blog

Some of my ramblings on the story of HedgeHogers...

How to Make €100 in Only 3 Years

HedgeHogers Recipe

I launched HedgeHogers, my first mobile game, three weeks ago. I spent the previous three years making it. With the typical indie developer marketing budget of €0, I spent about five months working on social media marketing etc. This earned me about one day at the top of the Puzzle and Family charts in Ireland, with overall chart numbers 5 in Games and 8 in Apps. It was very exciting and humbling to be on the same page as classics like Monument Valley and Plants Vs Zombies. Two days later my first reports from Apple arrived. I had visualised reading those reports for the past few years, trying to estimate how many downloads I’d get and how much I’d have earned for all my hard work. 55 downloads and €100. I’d estimate 45 of those downloads were friends and family who I had threatened to disown if they didn’t buy my game. So about 10 people in the world bought the game because they actually wanted to. It seems that ranking on the App Store chart in Ireland for a short time does not require too many downloads.

So were the three years spent making HedgeHogers worth it?

From a financial point of view, I’ve done the maths and it doesn’t appear that €100 for over three year’s work is financially sustainable going forward.

It works out as a gross salary of about €33 per year or €0.09 per day. That’s before tax and doesn’t take into account any costs like purchasing an iMac, iPhones, iPads, external hard drives, software, annual apple developer membership, website hosting etc. As someone trying to make a mobile game in their spare time this might not seem all that enticing, however, as the sole income for a 40 year old father of three it’s not a sound financial strategy. Tough decisions need to be made.

From a learning perspective HedgeHogers was more beneficial but, as with the financial success, not as much as I’d hoped. I have learned a lot in three years. I may be a master of none but I’m now a jack of all trades regarding coding a game, level design, 3D modelling, animation, music composition, video editing etc. These are all areas I’m interested in and so it’s been a fantastic experience to get to grips with such a wide variety of skills within one project. However, I had hoped I could reuse more of the nitty gritty I’d learned like the game frameworks or Objective-C or the way I’d integrated a level designer or textures but, as with politics, three years in the tech world, particularly in the mobile world, is a long time. Apple’s tutorials are now in Swift instead of Objective-C. Game frameworks have come and gone, the handling of images and textures seems to change with each iteration of iOS and XCode. Game engines that support multiple platforms are now very popular, like Unity and Unreal. So while I will certainly reuse the high level skills I’ve acquired from HedgeHogers, there needs to be quite a bit of new learning done regarding the best way to proceed if I’m to make another game.

Finally, from a strategic point of view, HedgeHogers has been a great success. One of my main reasons for working for myself and choosing a job that could be done at home, was to spend as much time as possible with my three children during their formative years. People without children may want to turn off at this point. My kids are now aged five, seven and nine and I’ve been here for them growing up. My youngest can’t remember not having Daddy at home.

It’s been an honour and a privilege to be with them so much and it’s not an opportunity parents get very often.

Now, minding a three year old every day has its challenges and constant trips to the doctor with three children does somewhat disrupt workflow. However, I wouldn’t swap it for the world. I just need to find a way to improve that financial aspect.

Feedback from the complete strangers who bought HedgeHogers has been fantastic. They really enjoyed the game and even felt it should be featured by Apple. I need to get it into more people’s hands and I haven’t given up on it yet. With my three kids now in school I have more structured time to work and who knows, if the bank and my infinitely patient wife are willing, I might make a second game that could buy us a nice meal for two.

 

You Can Launch An iPhone Game In Your Sleep

HedgeHogers

The last 36 hours have been a mixture of focused work ethic and mild hallucination punctuated with spikes of excitement.

I have relearned the world’s time zones and refreshed my failing recollection of some of our planet’s more distant countries. The little iPhone test-game I decided to do in 2013 has been launched globally in all 155 territories that the App Store supports.

I now have more social media accounts than hairs on my head and when I close my eyes I can see a Like Button.

I rang my wife this morning to tell her HedgeHogers was in the top 5 games in Ireland and first in the puzzle and family categories but she informed me she had showed me that on her own phone yesterday. I may need some sleep.

HedgeHogers Chart

To be on the same page as classics like Plants vs. Zombies and Monument Valley is humbling. A huge thank you to all who bought the game and helped share it in the last day or so.

I plan on doing a more detailed piece on my launch experience but in the meantime if you would like to take a look at HedgeHogers it is here on the App Store.

The floor looks very comfy.

 

App Store Approval – Yippee!

Today is exactly three and a half  years since I started working on HedgeHogers. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? It did for the first year, after that it was suspiciously like hard work. However, I’m happy as long as I feel I’m making some improvement. There have been long periods which seemed completely devoid of any progress, or at times regression, which really drives me crazy, but today that is not the case!

I am pleased to report two significant milestones ( for me anyway ) in the seemingly endless story of the making of HedgeHogers. After many betas and triple checking everything, I finally clicked the button I’d been staring at for years: “Submit for Review”.

By the magic of the interweb, HedgeHogers was on its way to Apple so they could pass sentence.

I took the rest of the day off ( it was 9 o’clock at night anyway ) and revelled in the achievement.

Several days later I woke up, took my iPhone off Airplane Mode and down popped an iTunes Connect message – “Your app status has changed to Pending Developer Release”. YIPPEEEE! I was sure it would get rejected at least once because I forgot something crucial or the code was so old it no longer qualified. I was over the moon, as this milestone meant the game was complete for the moment and I could concentrate on telling as many people as possible about it.

 

Beta Testing – Will it explode?

After replacing 5 levels and tweaking about 60, based on the results of play testing, it was time for beta testing! From the start of the project I’d been a bit obsessed about bugs that would sneak past me and somehow crash people’s devices when they bought the game. I had done all the analysis, profiling and snap shots galore, but was still worried.

I got HedgeHogers up and running on TestFlight and sent an initial build out to my wonderfully patient testers. The majority of issues identified were from assumptions I had made about how people would play the game; like the Help section only filled up after you had unlocked items, so if you went in at the start of the game it was empty and looked broken. The feedback allowed me to add more polish and to ensure the player did not get confused. The beta testers also found spelling mistakes, which again you can’t see after spending more than 3 years on a project. After waiting 3 or so days to allow TestFlight to process crash reports, I checked and there were none.

I was delighted but hoped that there weren’t other issues that didn’t actually cause crashes. Reports from the beta testers after a few weeks indicated that the game was very stable with no slowdowns, jitters or crashes. Thanks so much to all the beta testers for all of the hard work and detailed reporting. I’m delighted the beta testing has not thrown up anything major yet, but am still wary about a larger deployment!

 

Play Testing – Scary but Fun

A great way to start the new year was having friends and family play HedgeHogers and seeing what they really thought about it. As I watched them play, it was very difficult not to tell them how to do something but I kept my mouth shut and learned from what was going on. Most people got stuck on the first slightly tricky level, which was good. However, some people sailed through some harder levels first time, which was not so good. Tweaks were needed to many levels. While play testing is probably always a good idea, it’s especially important when you are one person designing the whole game – you need outside input. Some used their finger, some used their thumb, some turned the sounds off, some bobbed their heads along to the music. One of my favourite quotes so far from a player is: 

“My left leg went dead from sitting on the toilet playing HedgeHogers for far too long.”

While I gathered a lot of useful insights into how people interacted and played with HedgeHogers, my most exciting take-away was how much they enjoyed it. Nearly everyone commented that they loved the gorgeous graphics and funny sound effects, which was nice. But every single one of them laughed out loud, punched their fist in the air with satisfaction and would not put the game down when asked to. In one case the iPhone had to be physically removed from the player’s hand as they had to leave!

I want to say a big thank you to all who play tested HedgeHogers and most of all for the excitement of watching the game create fun and frustration.

 

H Day – One small step for Hedgie

The day was finally here. After 3 years of only existing in my head and on my computer, HedgeHogers was being released into the wild. I had put together a teaser trailer and prepared the 307 versions of the graphics needed for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. I uploaded everything, then sent off my first emails to journalists and bloggers to share with them the wonderful birth of HedgeHogers. Needless to say, the response was deafeningly….quiet! Which in fairness was to be expected and wasn’t going to put me off.

Over 3 years ago I was made redundant and took it as an opportunity to spend time with my 3 children during their formative years while also pursuing a childhood dream of making my own video game. After researching the mobile market ( way back in 2012 ) the least viable option was to make a game. A casual game. A physics-based casual game. So that’s what I did. Because I really wanted to. Which is just as well, as there is no way I would have kept going this long if I was making some niche time-management app for people who take care of badgers. As it is, I’ve pulled most of my hair out.

Lacking any experience in how to make a game or any of the required skills, I decided the best thing to do was make it entirely myself.

I’m stubborn and somewhat of a control freak. So, while looking after my 3 little darlings I taught myself what a Mac was, Objective-C, 3D modelling, animation, graphic design, audio recording, level design, music composition and all that good stuff.

I also like things to be right, so what started out as a learning project turned into a high quality, polished game. I couldn’t leave anything alone. I’d do the animations, then go on and do some more coding, then look back at the animations and think – they’re making my eyes bleed! So I’d update the models and redo all the animations, then do some more coding. Then I’d look at the graphics and say – what was I thinking?! Then I’d update them to look less like they were done by one of my children, blindfolded. Due to the slow progress of learning, iterating and bringing children to the doctor ( a lot! ), my target release dates kept getting pushed back. This meant that I had to adjust for each new iOS, from iOS 6 to iOS 7 to iOS 8 and now to iOS 9, with iOS 10 only down the road. I also had to redo my graphics when the lovely iPhone 6 and 6 Plus arrived with their 4.7” and 5’5” screens.

After the 1st year when I realised this wasn’t quite the 6 month project I had envisioned, I started a diary to keep me sane.

When the 2nd anniversary of starting the game came along I nearly lost it, but I read back over what I was doing the year before and realised how much I had progressed. This helped me to keep going and was even more beneficial on my 3rd anniversary.

Finally the end is in sight. I was determined to get HedgeHogers into the public domain before the end of 2015, so that I could feel I had achieved at least that much and progress was being made. So just before Christmas 2015, I went live with the social media and sent out that first barrage of emails. There is a lot still to do, but 2016 is game launch or bust!