Gizmodo's Developers Cubed series offers a behind the scenes look into Australia's up and coming dev scene. This week: We talk to Nathan Runge of Genius Interaction who has some sage advice for developers who want to turn a profit in the app markets.
Who are you and where do you work?
My name is Nathan Runge, and I'm the Managing Director at Genius Interaction Pty Ltd, a small interactive media developer in Sydney, Australia. It's a nice title, but it really means I take care of all the paperwork and headaches, on top of being a designer and programmer.
Why do we know you? What have you created?
We've actually just released our first game for the Windows Phone 7 platform, Viking Burger. One colourful commentator described it as 'Cooking Mama with chest hair and 'roid-rage'. It's a game about balancing your culinary skill and your blood-lust. It's a simple game, but we're very proud that it's met with such high praise from consumers and critics alike. Those involved in the Australian game development industry might also recognise my name from many heated debates.
What platforms do you develop for?
As of this moment, our first commercial title is only available on Windows Phone 7. In the past I've developed for PC and Xbox, as well as consulted on titles for PlayStation 3, iOS and Android. Viking Burger will also soon be coming to iOS and Android, so it would be fair to say I develop for those platforms too.
What are you working on right now?
I've got a pretty full to-do list right now. We're actually preparing an application for the Interactive Media Fund to develop something a little larger. We've got some pretty interesting interactive components planned for the pitch, which we'll be making public.
Following that, we'll be porting Viking Burger to iOS and Android. We expect to be finished within a few weeks.
In not too long, we'll be working on a cross-platform title under the working title of 'Smith'. It's a little more ambitious than 'Viking Burger'. We're basically trying to distil the essence of 'crafting' from MMO's down into a fun and creative game of its own. Obviously it'll be a bit more involved than 'click to combine ingredients', with each activity in the process having its own interactions.
We're excited about the customisation and 'creation' potential of a game that's about adding to a world, rather than removing from it. Players can expect some interesting social comparisons, with rankings for such achievements as crafting the deadliest weapon, the weapons that's slain the most innocents, and so on.
Fans of the art from Viking Burger, of which there are, apparently, many, will be thrilled to know that the art will once more be done by Liam al Kamraikhi.
What do you think about the rise of App Stores? How has it influences your titles?
One could write books about the impact of the rise of 'App Stores'. There have been some interesting impacts on how software and games are valued, but the most obvious impact is on the accessibility of the industry to independent game developers.
It's often said that it's never been easier to be an 'indie', but I've also seen some interesting information that indicates that, while you're certainly much more likely to get a game released today, the likelihood of turning a profit is actually lower. The majority of App Stores are over-crowded, which is why we targeted the Windows Phone 7 platform, which we see as a growth market. Obviously, we did choose use an App Store to get our foot in the door though.
Personally, I think that, if possible, it would be better to hit less crowded markets first, and leverage successes there to gain sales in the crowded mobile market. The catch, of course, is that your chances of gaining access to the funding and agreements necessary for these less crowded markets are much reduced without prior credits.
What's your favourite app that you didn't create?
I'll be a little bit cheeky and choose two. My favourite mobile game has to be 'Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP'. It's just unerringly beautiful. In terms of productivity, I can't go past the calendar on Windows Phone 7, but because that's a first-party, non-optional 'app', I'll also mention Nokia Drive. It's gotten me to and from places of which I had never heard.
I should also mention Halfbrick's Jetpack Joyride. I was pretty harsh on it when they first showed it off, but they put a lot of work into after that and turned it into a really solid title, as evidenced by their recent Apple Design Awards success.
What phone do you use?
I use a Nokia Lumia 800, partly because I needed a Windows Phone 7 developer device, but mostly because it's a damn good phone. As with any device there are some small niggles, but it's just a really solid package.
What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there?
Those that know me will tell you that I'm constantly giving advice to budding Aussie (game) developers, usually without being asked. Considering the limits of my knowledge, I'll keep this relevant to game development specifically, and just a couple of points.
Firstly, game development is business, and it's hard. If you're looking at going independent, do your research, prepare a business plan, formulate a marketing plan, seek advice from anyone from the industry or the world of business. Know what you're doing and how you're going to pay for it. I think this also applies to travelling for work or undertaking education. Know what you're getting yourself in for, and don't assume that because "it's fun" or "it's art" that it will pay your bills.
Secondly, be independent. This doesn't mean be an independent game developer, don't dismiss the wonders of paid employment. What I mean is that you should have your own ideas, and exercise your own initiative. There are many experienced and talented individuals in our industry. Listen to their opinions and their experiences, but judge each idea on its merits and form your own opinions. You'll often hear it's a small industry, and you shouldn't offend anyone. This is true, don't be an arsehole for no reason, but feel free to voice your opinions publicly. The job market is over-crowded, and it's better to be noticed and controversial than not noticed at all.
The other side of being independent is that, if the opportunities aren't coming to you, go find them yourself. Just remember to temper this by my first point: know what you're getting yourself into.