The Big Indie Pitch, sponsored by Rovio and Immersion and staged by Pocket Gamer took place yesterday, and I was one of the judges. It was grueling, with 35 different game apps being pitched to you in on three minutes or so apiece, with another minute or two to switch between apps. This took place in a crowded bar, with music playing in the background and announcements blaring through the PA system as emcee Chris James (managing partner of Steel Media, parent company of Packet Gamer) strove to keep things moving. Adding to the audio confusion, at least half of those pitching the apps had strong accents, making the pitches even more challenging.
The games covered a broad cross-section of genres, styles, complexity, and completion. Some of the apps were months away from launch, others were already on the market. The one thing they all had in common was the passion of their creators. Unfortunately, passion is no guarantee of either excellence or commercial viability.
The only guidance the judges received was to select the —œbest— game as the winner, who would receive $5000 worth of banner ads and other benefits from Pocket Gamer. A great prize, particularly for a game developer struggling to get noticed. But how do you define —œbest — Clearly my opinions were wildly different from many of the other judges, when we got together at the end to select the winner (and some honorable mentions for the consensus picks for the best games). One of the game I ranked near the bottom of the 35 was the second best game according to half the judges. None of my favorites were even mentioned by other judges in our brief discussion.
What is the—œbest— game Certainly, for each individual that would be the game you enjoy the most, or feel best expresses whatever qualities you look for in a game. That’s not how I approached the matter. Without exception, as far as I could tell, these game developers were not creating their apps purely as an artistic expression. They all hope to make a living from their apps. One developer told me he had put his life savings and two years into his app. With that in mind, the —œbest— game would have to include some amount (and probably a large amount) of commercial potential, as well as aesthetic appeal, playability, innovation and panache.
The first pick of the majority of judges was Bounden by Game Oven, a two-player dance game. You find a partner and you each grasp the phone with one finger on a circle near the edge of the screen. In the center of the screen, a small ball is surrounded by a couple of circles with a gap in them. These are rotating, and you tilt the phone to try to get the right alignment. This means making sweeping arm movements, and perhaps spinning around and twisting . . . all while hanging onto the phone and keeping in mind your partner. The idea is that the two of you will create a dance. Or perhaps get tangled up like a Twister game.
Fun Somewhat, and perhaps appealing to a small audience as an occasional game, kind of the way people play Twister. A moneymaker Not likely. It’s an interesting curiosity, and an innovative use of the platform, but this app is not going pay the rent. Or even the cable bill. It’s a project worth doing, but it’s tough to imagine large numbers of people playing this, or playing it for long. It felt more like a student game project than a commercial entertainment. The Dutch National Ballet helped with the game’s choreography, which perhaps is an indicator of the potential of the game — it could be as popular as ballet! Yes, ballet is a great art form, but it’s not a huge market opportunity.
The 35 different games included many platformers and arcade titles; more than half of the games were casual. Most were responsive and playable, yet ultimately not very memorable. There were a few with greater ambitions, providing a strategy game with ways to combine things in order to create items or abilities. Surprisingly, a solid number, perhaps a third of the games, were intended to be premium games, not free-to-play.
Terrifyingly, many of the developers did not yet have an answer to the question — How does your game monetize — Maybe it would be free-to-play… maybe they would charge something for it . . . they hadn’t decided yet, even though in most cases the game was only a month or two away from launch. This betrays a fundamental lack of business savvy and knowledge of the market which does not bode well for the future of a game. The monetization strategy should be a basic part of the game’s design, if it’s going to be executed well. It’s a rare game that can embrace different monetization strategies at a moment’s notice.
The best games I saw were well thought out and well executed, with a level of polish that stood out. The graphics were slick, the controls were responsive, and the game idea was interesting and looked to have broad appeal. Only three games got my top rating. One was Glint, by Ensomniac, a fast-paced puzzle game that’s already available on iOS and Android. Another was First Strike, a nuclear war simulation by BlindFlug Studios, already out on iPad and Android. The final one was Jurojin: Immortal Ninja from Critical Bacon Games, which is an attempt at creating a fast-paced battle game like League of Legends on a mobile platform (though it’s one on one, or a four person survival mode combat, instead of large teams).
All of these games were polished, gorgeous, and looked like they could be addictive. Those are all qualities to strive for in a game that you hope will generate some good revenues. Hopefully more game creators will think about the business and marketing aspects of their game before they embark on the difficult and lengthy process of creating a game.