App Developer Diary 5: Building on a Budget

iphone-budgetGoing behind-the-scenes of a real iPhone app’s development, in this installment I investigate several methods for cutting development costs and adding value to the game.

I have to admit that I’m still working on the Game Design Document. Something which I thought would take only a few days has grown to incorporate minute details alongside gargantuan fundamental gameplay concepts. This document is essentially Tetris in written form: piling on concept after concept, attempting to make it fit together before the whole thing becomes too unwieldy to manage.

While work on the GDD should finish this week – Matias has stated that this Friday is the absolute deadline – I’m finding the time to explore other related areas of app development. In my last entry I spoke to Mills, one of the founders of ustwo, a growing independent mobile content studio.

Mills provided me with some revealing data in terms of development costs and sales. Looking at ustwo’s costs for app development relative to the revenue that they generated led me to think about how I could lower our own development costs while increasing the app’s desirability.

I’ve managed to find three different solutions that add value to our app and cost either very little or absolutely nothing.

Recycle That Code

Recycling and reusing code is a tried and tested convention in software development, particularly in the game industry. When you write a piece of code once – for example a game engine for a first person shooter – why spend time and money writing it again for the sequel? It’s far simpler to copy, paste, modify and deploy.

Working for a game developer a few years back, there were times when I noted that code recycling wasn’t necessarily in the customer’s best interests. In particular, I remember a top-down shooter – in the style of Grand Theft Auto – recycled as two different titles. The artwork was redrawn, the in-game dialogue was chopped and changed, but it was quite clearly the same game.

We plan to be a little smarter in choosing how and where we redeploy certain pieces of code. The PearComp coders, Matias, Markus and Ben, are currently working on Facebook and Twitter integration for the game. The plan is that, from within the game, players will be able to post their high scores to the two social networking services.

Facebook and Twitter posting is the value-adding feature du jour. Being able to link an app to these services provides a seamless connection between a user’s social life and the app in question. For games in particular, it’s a great way of enabling players to shout about their achievements while generating publicity for the title among their social connections.

In effect, the code that the PearComp team have created for the game can be re-used for future iPhone app developments. It’ll benefit some of PearComp’s clients, plus it’ll cut costs, and save time and resources.

Find Your Voice

John J. Dick is a voice actor and DJ who happens to be pretty badly in debt. His biggest gig was working on Serious Sam, an explosive shooter for hardcore gamers. John’s husky vocals helped flesh out Sam, the game’s main man: an alien destroying, gun toting, time traveling mercenary.

Back in the real world though, John’s debt has become such a problem that he’s come up with a cunning way to bail himself out. John has decided to offer his voice acting talent at an incredibly competitive rate: $1 per word.

Commissioning John to record a few words for the game was an easy decision – it cuts costs for sound recording and should save us some time later in the project. Having John’s name, and by extension Serious Sam, attached to the project could also make for some fun PR when we launch.

Collaborate & Communicate

MoutOff MouthesIn the previous installment of the App Developer Diary, I found out a little more about ustwo’s MouthOff app for iPhone. After speaking to Mills. I realized that there was potential for a really exciting collaboration.

I called Mills back the next day and pitched my idea: ustwo would create a special version of MouthOff featuring one of the characters from our game. We’d take the MouthOff code from ustwo and put it into our app, essentially this exclusive MouthOff would be accessed from within our game.

Featuring an exclusive MouthOff mode within our app adds some serious fun and replay value to the game. It would also garner some added exposure for ustwo’s app. Of course, we’ll ensure that there’s a link to the App Store for players to purchase the full version of MouthOff.

By recycling code, finding a great deal on audio assets and collaborating with an awesome dev studio, we’ve made our game even better without breaking the bank.

Next time: I finally submit the Game Design Document to the coders at PearComp.