Important Lessons From the iOS 7 Tech Talks

If there’s one thing I learned yesterday when Dan and I attended the New York Apple iOS 7 Game Developer Tech Talks, it’s that there’s a currency almost more valuable than knowing what the next big app could be and that’s getting the personal email addresses of Apple’s specialists. As we sat at one table, we saw another developer literally beg for one and be politely, but firmly, refused.

By that metric, we did outstandingly well. Almost uncomfortably well, actually.

Dan put the latest build of our almost complete demo on his device and I don’t think a single person who saw it didn’t take a step back in amazement at our concept, including both our fellow attendees and the people at Apple we spoke with.

Maybe it’s because we’ve been working non-stop on Project One for the last three months and I’ve lost a little perspective. There would be days when I’d ask Dan, “Is this good enough?” And, as he should, he would say, “Not yet, but once we nail down our bugs, it will be.” But I sometimes wondered whether he believed it, being in the same place that I was.

After yesterday, I have no doubts. Is it good enough? Not yet. But once we nail down the issues remaining, it will be. And it will blow the socks off of people, I’m sure of it.

Because no one is doing what we’ve done. No one’s even thought about it. And when we showed them what we had, they were amazed.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve felt this energized since we started. And whatever energy was flagging the last couple of weeks has been more than replenished.

BUT… that doesn’t mean this is a sure fire hit. We did learn some important lessons yesterday and they were these:

Perfection Counts

Conference attendees who saw our demo build were blown away. But everyone from Apple also saw the flaws… All the flaws… Immediately. These are sharp people and, like I said, we collected a fair number of email addresses with some offers of support, but it was all contingent on us fixing the flaws they saw first and us making every attempt at absolute perfection before they’d even consider lending whatever support they could offer.

This means that every little thing that Dan’s logged as a bug, things that I ranked as unimportant, are all important and will all have to be addressed. Before we contact any of these people.

If You Want Apple’s Help, Use Apple’s Features

It’s always been a plan of ours to make Project One cross-platform and that hasn’t changed one bit. But, if we’re going to release on iOS first, we need to make it a perfect iOS game, as mentioned above. And if we want Apple’s help, they may not care what framework we coded it in, but they do care that it doesn’t feel like a “port”. The more Apple specific features used, the better. This means Game Center and In App Purchases but also things like Air Play and maybe even support for their new Game Controller specification, right out of the box.

Is this an unsurmountable problem? Absolutely not. Each platform version of the game was going to require platform specific features. And, since we always planned on launching on iOS first, we’ll just make sure those platform specific features are a perfect and as “Apple” as possible. We just have to plug it in in such a way that when we do port to Android, it’s not so entangled with the core game engine that it makes the port impossible.

Always, Always Work With A Good Designer

This one, for me, is something that’s unfortunately easy to forget. I’ve been partnered with Dan for years. It’s sometimes terribly easy to overlook his contributions. But you know what? We ended up speaking to the same UI specialist independently, Dan showing the game, me showing Punk or Metal?!?, an app we released last year. In both instances, she praised the design work, effusively.

I always knew Dan was a good designer. But today independent professionals dedicated to getting the best apps on their platform proved that he’s a great one and, if we ever go back to consulting, believe me when I say our bill rate will reflect this.

Soft Launch In Smaller Markets

I smoke. I know, it’s bad for me. But when San Francisco enacted the ban back in the 90′s, it created an interesting camaraderie between smokers when puffing outside. For instance, I met a project manager from EA while enjoying a smokey treat on 53rd St. He confirmed that EA does what I read Supercell does, they release first in smaller markets like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand before going wide in the US and other English speaking markets.

This allows them to do several things. First, they can make sure the game is damn near perfect in relatively small markets. Secondly, they can test out their monetization to see if it’s as expected. And, third, they can get people on their leader boards so the game doesn’t look like a ghost town when the first people in the US begin playing it.

We’re going to do the same thing. It was almost already decided but now it’s certain.

Play Test, Play Test, Play Test

This probably goes back to point number one except that the outcome isn’t determined by us. It’s determined by our users. Does the game make sense? Does it fill the niche we were hoping? Are the controls responsive and predictable?

The last thing especially is something we need to focus on. Right now our controls work. But can and will they work for someone who’s never played the game before? Can we give it to someone who’s never seen the control hints and have them figure it out in a second?

Right now, when we explain the control scheme, people get it. But they still don’t really use it right. Or “right” as we designed it. That implies that there’s a problem, either in our communication of how the game should be played or if we did it right in the first place. So… that’s going to require some rethinking.

We’re stoked after the talks yesterday. We met some interesting people and received some amazing feedback. Now we just have to finish the hard work of making it the very best it can be. Fortunately, we’re more than motivated to do that.