Diner Match, a Success Story

Diner MatchAs someone who enjoys reading video game post mortems, I thought the time had come to share a bit about one of my own games. Let’s begin with some stats. Diner Match is my third game for mobile, and so far also the most downloaded of the three. Currently, that means around 400 downloads in just under a month. Not exactly staggering numbers, but still, it’s around what I expected.

This was always a micro production, it’s free, and the only income I get from it, comes from players clicking on ads. Last I checked, I had made almost $0.50. Obviously, if I was in it for the money, I would have failed miserably.

Currently the game is out for iOS. An Android version is coming, eventually.

How Diner Match Succeeded

I am happy. Did I mention, it’s my most downloaded game? No matter what the actual numbers are, that’s awesome! I check the Game Center leaderboard from time to time, to see what scores are needed now, to get into the top 20 or top 10. Seeing names climb up the list, tells me there are players who are addicted to the game, and that’s just about the best news possible. Because it means that game is fun!

In Diner Match, the goal is to swipe food items onto the right plates, before the food slides off screen. If you miss, or make a wrong match, you lose a life. Occasionally, a bonus “tip” appears, which you can tap for extra points. The whole thing gets faster as you go, until you can no longer keep up. When your 3 lives are up, the game ends.

So, Diner Match is a success because it’s fun and at least mildly addictive. Why then, was I expecting relatively low numbers? For one, I’m not great at promoting my games, getting it out there on all the cool websites, and so on. I tweet about it, I post about it, but if you are not already following me, chances are you won’t hear about anything I create. Most often, I hide behind the excuse of not having enough time, and while I do have a full time job as well, I still find time to both play and make games, so it’s not really much of an excuse. Let’s say, it’s a great argument for working with a team of diverse skill sets.

The Inspiration

Diner Match is a based on an extremely simple game mechanic: match the food item with the correct plate. It’s essentially the same as the classic match-the-square-peg-with-the-square-hole game, that’s been dominating the toddler segment for generations. In my case, I was more directly inspired by my friend Joel Telling, who was making Orange Banana (available for iOS and Android). It’s similar in the sense, that you have to match two things, but in a way they are also opposites. In Diner Match you’re trying to stay alive, as long as possible, whereas in Orange Banana, your goal is to finish matching the fruit as quickly as possible.

I love Joel’s concept of a game you are trying to end, as fast as you can, and I think he described the difference between the two games best, calling Orange Banana a sprint and Diner Match a marathon. For the record, a “marathon” in this case typically takes a couple of minutes to finish.

As I was working on Diner Match, I had several conversations with Joel. These were a huge motivation for taking the game past prototype stage, and making it public.

Production and Design

The Diner theme came through conversation with my wife, Kelly. She calls herself a foodpornographer, so it’s no surprise we ended up there.

Actual production was very fast. The game came together in just a few days. Much of what you see in the game, is made with stock assets. Since I was planning on giving the game away, I had a limited budget. Altogether, the assets costs me around $50 to license (so, with the current income of $0.50, that leaves me $49.50 in the red – not really worth crying about either way).

Finding art that went together with both the theme, and the overall feel, took as long as constructing and balancing the game mechanics. I made the sounds myself, using the excellent Bfxr tool. Altogether, Diner Match took about a week and a half to make. Not counting the 9 days it took for it to be approved for sale in he App Store.

Diner Match started as a small side project, and ended up as probably the most polished looking game, I have put out. My expectations were low, but I did not let that be an excuse for half-assing the design, and in the end, these are the reasons Diner Match is a success story.

Salvage Trader 1.0 has Launched

Salvage Trader, station interface
After a year and a half, a Kickstarter and a team of helpers, Salvage Trader finally saw the light of day. My little baby has been released into the world, and I could not be happier.

Granted, there were bumps and bruises along the way, from a fraudulent backer, to three of us burning the midnight oil on the eve before launch, to get as many details added as possible. There are still many such details left, but we are saving those for a future update. For now, we celebrate.

The game itself is a casual strategy thing, made to be played through in a sitting or two. For now, it’s Mac only, but a Windows 8 version is 80% done.

If you’d like to learn more, and possibly get your hands on a copy, head over to salvagetradergame.com and check it out.

All Games, All the Time

Working on AAA game titles by day, and my own little indie game by night. For a few months now, this has been my life. It’s fun, it’s everything 12-year old me could have ever dreamed of, and it’s a lot of hard work. Though I’m currently working overtime and out of the house 14 hours a day, I do not miss trying to eke out a living as a photographer, which is kind of awesome.

Bound by NDAs, I can’t talk about the AAA title I am attached to, but it involves Microsoft and some cutting edge gaming technology. And I can safely reveal that it’s exciting to be part of a huge production. My role, as an assistant LQA test lead, has me talking to testers, other leads and producers, and I get to see what goes on at different levels. These are multi-million dollar titles, and pretty much a completely different world, compared to the one I live in on the weekends.

My own game – Salvage Trader – has a four person team: an artist, a composer, a PR/marketing person, and me for everything else. I started a company, Tagunda, but there are no actual employees – everyone is a freelancer, except me. There is no office except the one in my apartment, and project management is all done online, using the excellent tool, Podio. Communication flows easily on such a small team, and everyone is genuinely excited to finish it and see the result. My only complaints are, that I’d love to have more time and a bigger budget. But when is that not a concern?

On the day job, there are many more people involved. In fact, I don’t even know how large the production is. I’ve never met the actual developers, nor seen a line of code. Assets come from multiple locations, depending on their nature, and just managing all these is a major task involving lots of people. With such a large production, communication can be a challenge. There are many links in the chain, and thus many places it can potentially break. Like I said, a different world.

So, while life isn’t all fun, all the time, it is all games. Somehow, though not often at the day job, I still find time to play. I do think playing is a necessary part of making games. It’s not enough to just do your own thing – you have to see what else is out there. Not because I see other games as competition, but because it’s both fun, eye opening and inspiring to play.

For more on the projects mentioned, check the sites linked to in this post. You can also find both Salvage Trader and Tagunda on both Twitter and Facebook, so feel free to follow/like, and you can follow the process and development.