#IndieDevInsights: How One Mobile Game Dev Juggles Multiple Roles & Turns a Profit
Insights & Best Practices
September 16, 2015
This story is part of a new series profiling indie mobile game developers around the world who've turned their passion for mobile games into a profession.In 2012, Arnold Rauers was working as a UI designer at a major mobile gaming company in Berlin, Game Duell. Although he had always been a gamer ? playing console games like Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario World since he was a kid? working at a game company introduced him to a creative development process he never imagined as a player. Realizing that he, too, could turn his game ideas into reality, he started developing his own games in his free time.Rauers was fascinated by the constraints of game development for mobile devices in particular ? the size of the screen, the platforms, the necessary simplicity of gameplay ? and wanted to explore more than just UI. After successfully creating his first game, an endless 2D runner (that didn't launch), he decided to leave his full-time job to become a freelance developer using the pseudonym Tinytouchtales. Rauers launched his first official game soon after called Super Zombie Tennis.
"On a personal and creative level, starting on my own was absolutely the right decision," says Rauers. "If you have a lot of ideas and you only get to work on a small part of a game, it's not your project in the greater sense. In bigger companies, I was just there as a UI designer ? now, I have many hats."Three years later, Rauers is fully independent with nine launched games ? including puzzle games, dungeon crawlers and even an interactive book. Rauers' wife, an illustrator, works with him on some projects, but for the most part, he's playing every role on the team: from designer to engineer to marketer. We chatted with him to get the download on what he's learned while wearing all those hats:User acquisition: As most indie developers can attest, user acquisition is one of the most important and most difficult keys to success ? a challenge Rauers wasn't expecting. He had experience with the business side of gaming from working at large studios, but he hadn't experienced the difficulty of actually acquiring players in the first place: "Even though the user base for mobile games is huge, finding users to actually get and use your game is a challenge."With a limited budget, Rauers relies on social media and email to acquire players. He's a big advocate for Twitter as a tool to spread the word about your game to fellow developers, but recommends review site like TouchArcade if you're trying to get the attention of your actual end users.Once he has users for a game, Rauers communicates with them directly through email newsletters. Rauers has email lists for different types of games ? instead of just a general Tinytouchtales email list ? to let current players know about relevant game launches or updates they might enjoy.Monetization strategy: Rauers started his mobile gaming career at a free-to-play company, and in the beginning stages of Tinytouchtales, he assumed he would also create F2P games. However, after his first attempt, he realized that monetization requires more research than simply mimicking another game.[caption id="attachment_10265" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
Image via toucharcade[/caption]His first try was a Tetris-style game called Muffin Munch, designed with a F2P model that prompted players to spend money for ingredients and recipes for new muffins. "I imagined I could just put in all of the things that big companies do, instead of asking why they do it or why players would buy stuff in the game," says Rauers.Now, he sits down before every game and focuses on gameplay before monetization. For less complicated games with infinite content, like Muffin Munch, Rauers typically turns to video ads through Chartboost. (For now, he just promotes other developers? ads to focus his resources on game development.) For games with intricate gameplay and design, like his dungeon crawler title Card Crawl, Rauers uses a premium model. This game-specific approach has proved to be more lucrative: After ending 2014 in the red, Card Crawl launched in March 2015 and made enough to sustain Tinytouchtales for the next two years.[caption id="attachment_10266" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
Image via toucharcade[/caption]Best advice: Overall, Rauer's best advice is not to underestimate your first test subject: yourself. The mobile game market is full of great examples, but your guiding light should your own ideas and interests."As an independent developer, I think you should start with the one player you know best?and that is you," says Rauers. "Don't try to just make something for someone else."