Let’s start out with the big news! Slidey: Block Puzzle, a game produced out of the Gram Games 2Tons indie accelerator program, got featured on Apple Stores globally, in around 150 countries. I’ll be honest, this is every mobile developer’s dream! We all know and imagine how hard it is, and will be, to be able to stand out in a crowded market. So, I think, on that front, we can call the achievement a success. Still, there is a long way to go.
Now, a little bit of a history for those interested. I started building Slidey when our first baby, Mavi, was born around 3 years ago. Why not spend sleepless nights building something that I always wanted to – a game? The idea for the core gameplay came about when I was experimenting with different approaches to tetris and other block games. Basically, I was just painting spreadsheet cells and trying to visualize the mechanics. Then, I developed a basic version of the idea and installed it on my wife’s iPad. My wife Ekin was the first tester, and she couldn’t stop playing – even a rudimentary prototype version. She wanted to work with me to make it look better. The goal was to make a beautiful flat design, with minimalistic game elements, effects and UI.
At a certain point, we decided to reach out for industry support. We came across 2Tons, the indie accelerator program run by Gram Games. Our first meeting with 2Tons was 13-14 months after the initial project began. At that time, we had a flat-designed, somewhat polished version which was not yet published. The first 2Tons meeting was kind of a “moment of enlightenment” for me – we talked about the game, how to measure it, key KPIs, and so much more. Gram and 2Tons helped us really get everything started.
A lot of what we focused on was the data. Basically, Day 1 retention is the most critical KPI. Tracking or paying attention to any other KPI doesn’t make any sense unless the Day 1 is good. When I went to the 2Tons meeting, I’d even composed game music. They told me that we needed to measure the core gameplay itself – music was not really a key factor. They offered to do an “experimental launch”, to measure the effectiveness of the core gameplay. This was very valuable because I neither had a budget for such user acquisition, nor had any idea as to how to do it. I believe many indie developers don’t.
Luckily, with the help of the team on the launch, the results were good enough. I had lots of friends and colleagues playtesting early versions, but in the end, you are limited to the number of people around you, and their reactions might be misleading. Real data from a reasonable amount of players show the hard facts – it is solid, immune to discussions and guesswork. This leads to another motto repeatedly said at Gram and in the 2Tons Program: “Test early and often”, so you can spare yourself from investing time into something without a bright future.
Given the results, the Gram team pushed me to work with a Publisher, which also turned out to be great advice. One of the biggest things that motivated me was the confidence I got from the 2Tons meetings. Hearing insights and specific comments about your game from talented industry professionals helps keep you going.
I tried to contact a good number of publishers, few of whom replied. We had more than 10 calls with various publishers, some of which lead to good discussions, and some which made me feel it was not worth the time. But the most valuable part of the process was that I got lots of feedback about the game during these conversations. Many of the people I met were experienced, bright people who actively worked with huge titles and whose feedback really meant something.
These discussions led me to work with a skilled illustrator, Bülent Gültek. We redesigned the game from scratch for months. After the redesign, the game was evolving in a more exciting direction, yet I still didn’t have a publishing deal. That was when we met Narcade, and they offered us support – both in terms of publishing, but also in terms of friendship.
Some people think that once you have a publishing deal, you’re done. I never thought that, and never thought having a publisher would be some “fire and forget” process. You need to have a good relationship with the publisher, especially the individuals who work for the publisher, because you will basically be colleagues working side by side. You’ll work together on everything: monitoring data and user feedback, making decisions, benefitting from people’s expertise areas on making those decisions, both before and, especially, after the launch. Narcade supported and welcomed me from long before we officially signed the publishing agreement and luckily, we synced well with them.
I believe getting support is crucial for indies. Gram Games and 2Tons helps indies who are seeking support a great deal, especially in the early stages. I was inspired by the Gram team in terms of evaluating data – how and what to look for, and how to use it when developing your game. My focus has always been on providing the best player experience possible, and the program helped me to learn a number of good ways to measure that. For instance, after Slidey’s redesign, I tested almost 10 different types of tutorials to see which performs the best – explaining the gameplay in the most effective way, without having player read paragraphs of text or tapping here and there many times. And it can still be improved. As they say at Gram Games – always iterate.
I believe indie game developers are kind of entrepreneurs. What you are building is a product, and players are your consumers, earning the benefit of fun. You want to have lots of people playing your games in the end; I mean who is there to build a game just for themselves? But at the end of the day, game development consumes lots of interdisciplinary resources, time, and energy. Even if you alone have all those skills, it is crucially important to receive support and mentorship in order to best make use of all resources – that’s where the 2Tons program came in, and where it helped us succeed. Gram and 2Tons helped me to take a prototype from dream to reality – programs like this are so critical to the future of indie development. Thanks to the team!
Download Slidey here.
Saygın Topatan – Mavis Games