When I first reached out to Rocketcat Games, the creators of Wayward Souls, I had some preconceived notions. I pictured a group of all-star programmers in a swanky office enjoying the spoils of creating one of the App Store’s All-time Great RPGs. After all, that’s what success in the App Store looks like right? Wrong. As told by Kepa Auwae of Rocketcat, success is doing what you love, finding what it is that you like and becoming the best at it. Of course it won’t be easy. The market is full of games, most of which are easily accessible but don’t always welcome newcomers and games that are deemed ‘too hard’ for mobile gamers. But as Kepa will tell you, it’s all about finding your niche and catering to that segment. So what does it take to build a great mobile game? You’re about to find out.
I want to talk a little about the Rocketcat games–The team’s origins and making the transition to mobile game developers.
How did Rocketcat originate? With each of the members living in different states, how did you find each other and form a team bond?
We all played this early MMO called Asheron’s Call. Games like that at the time had pretty bad in-game guild chats, so it was common to make an IRC channel to communicate. We no longer play Asheron’s Call, but we still hang out in the chat channel we made for it. When I had the idea to start making games, there was someone in the channel who was a programmer, and another that was an artist. So just really good luck.
The members of Rocketcat all come from various backgrounds, majority without any programming or gaming experience. How did you make the transition from your daily job to becoming a game developer?
Jeremy had programming experience, just not with games. We at first worked on our games in our spare time, like over the weekends. Our first big commercial game did pretty well, so Jeremy and Brandon (artist) were able to then work part-time. Our second game was an even bigger success, so we were all able to start working on games full time.
What advice would you share with someone who has interest in making video games but lacks the experience?
There’s a lot of tools out there now to let you make games without experience. I made games when I was 10 with Klik n Play, which is still around. Modern versions include Game Maker, Stencyl, and a bunch more. There’s also Unity, which is more complex but has a very big, supportive community. In fact, I think you can get a visual programming tool off the Asset Store, which makes Unity more like Game Maker. That way, you don’t even need much programming experience for that.
Should everyone jump into coding or hone in on a skill and find others to compliment their skill set?
The ideal is that you can code and be a one-man team, since that way you can work on small projects yourself to get experience. On the other hand I made a team and just jumped right in, and we all have our skill sets.
Let’s transition over to Wayward Souls, the game that led to this interview.
Currently Wayward Souls is listed as one of the All-Time Greats in the App Store for RPGs. What do you believe attributes to this long-term success?
There’s nothing else on the store exactly like it. It’s a randomly generated action adventure game with many characters, all with different play styles and stories. The combat is very swift but also has weight to it. It was also built from the ground up for mobile.
One of the things I found interesting is the game’s difficulty. It’s not insanely hard, but it does have that old school console feel in terms of challenge, which you don’t typically find in most mobile games. Do you believe there is still a place for challenging games in today’s landscape?
We’ve only ever made challenging games. It’s generally a better idea to make the easiest game possible, though, because that’s also the most accessible game possible. We mostly do well because we exist in a niche that fewer people are trying to do.
Controls for mobile games are something I always have a problem with. My thumbs naturally have a tendency to wander away from the virtual buttons. What are your thoughts on virtual buttons and how to improve feedback for mobile games?
We moved away from virtual buttons, we have swipes and gestures instead. Your thumbs can just rest anywhere you want. I do think buttons are ok to a certain point though, probably around three buttons can work but ideally just two.
Lately sprite art has faced some criticism for being overused by indie devs and companies looking to capitalize on the “retro” look. Is this a fair assessment?
It’s weird to condemn an entire, very broad art style as a whole. It makes about as much sense as saying “I’M TIRED OF GAMES USING THIS 3D GRAPHICS LOOK”.
Finally, let’s talk about the App store and the mobile gaming scene.
Define success in the App Store. Is it mainstream appeal like Angry Birds or is it making enough to cover the cost of the game?
Everyone can define success on their own way. If you’re going to define it as “game big enough to have merchandise everywhere” then you’re probably not going to be happy, though. At least it’s statistically unlikely. Thousands and thousands will try the same thing.
I hear the number one issue that most indie devs face is marketing. Most people spend their resources creating the game and don’t have much left for getting the word out. How much of a role did marketing play in the success of Wayward Souls?
We didn’t spend any money on marketing really, except we went to a couple of conventions to show it off. Mostly we rely on our existing fans to get the word out on our next game. Since our games serve a smaller market, people tend to be pretty loyal about getting the next thing that we make. Also, from making games for a long time, we tend to get featured on the App Store for each of our games.
What advice would you give small teams who are struggling with marketing?
I have no idea at this point. We got into the App Store 6 years or so now, so the landscape changed a lot. It was always a problem to get anyone to care about your games, and now it’s even harder. You could try finding a style of game you really like that’s not being made much, and try to stake out a little area in the market for yourself that way. Though really, whatever you do is a huge gamble as to whether anyone will care. You could do everything right and still fail unless you’re really well connected or lucky or whatever.
Staying on the subject of marketing, what are your thoughts on the emergence of marketing companies dedicated to helping small teams promote their games?
It can make a lot of sense. I think marketing is actually more important than the game itself. So if you don’t have experience with that, it’s at least worth checking outside help out.
Finally, what are your thoughts on big name publishers placing more of a focus on mobile games? Will there still be a place for small teams in the mobile space or will big publishers take over mimicking the console market?
I think people have been anticipating big name publishers to take over the mobile space for like 4 solid years now. If they’re going to take it over, it may take another decade. So there’s still time to make a game if you’d like to. The real danger is just having your game be buried completely by all the other games, not from big publishers specifically.