Note: this is likely to be a long post, and will include some insights on the current state of Facebook apps, social games, indie development, and the future of my company. Please take the time to read the whole thing… grab some popcorn if you need to!
- The Facebook app ecosystem is not as easy to capitalize on as it was when it came out. Many users have sworn off apps altogether, while others are much more skeptical about any of the viral channels that apps use to reach new users. There is a lot more work that goes into growing an application now, and for an independent developer who can't afford advertising, there aren't many options.
- There is a lot more competition on the platform now from large companies that produce high-quality applications which sell themselves. If you look at the current portfolio of Facebook games from companies like Playfish, Zynga, MetroGames or Activate, it becomes pretty obvious that anyone would be better off spending all their time playing the high-quality games these companies offer instead of just about anything I've managed to produce in the past year. It's painful for me to put my own work into perspective like this, but I know that the only reason Pop Answers has been so successful is that it's an original and unique idea coupled with user-generated content that keeps people coming back for more.
- Which brings me to my third reason: my other ideas for apps just haven't been viral or compelling enough. This has been crushing for me, because I have spent a lot of time on these apps; Battle City, for example, is a project I worked on for almost an entire year, and it currently fetches only a couple hundred players.
Click on the image to play it, or click here: Survive! on Kongregate. Though it's my first game, and I built it primarily to learn everything, it's a finished product that I think you'll enjoy. Now let me tell you a bit about the hair-pulling experiences I had developing it.
First, I tried a lot of frameworks and libraries to get started. I knew that I didn't want to just try writing everything from scratch, because that's not what I learned in my other game development experiences. I looked at projects like PushButtonEngine and Flixel, among others, and even tried building my own projects with them, but my experience was always the same… without decent tutorials or examples of how to do basic things, I couldn't make the leap from "Hello World" to "Awesome Game X." I was always stuck on simple things like setting up levels or changing screens. It was very frustrating. It wasn't until I found cheezeworld.com and the accompanying cheezeworld repository that I had a decent library with decent code examples to work with. All I really needed to do this first game was have a smart way to change screens in-code, and once I had that I was able to make a lot of progress.
As for actually building my game, I used FlashDevelop almost entirely and did all my interface work in code. The Adobe docs for AS3 were very helpful, as I used a lot of classes in my work (think TextField, TextFormat, SimpleButton, Shape, Transform, etc). It took a while to get font embedding to work, but for the most part, the actual game development was the easiest part, and in the end I realized that AS3 is a great language (and Flash is a great platform) for learning game development, and probably even programming in general. Compared to what I've seen in other languages (think Java, C, C++), AS3 is easy street. As long as you can write code that runs fast and doesn't eat memory, you're golden. In short, writing AS3 was one of the more fun experiences that I've had with programming.
So now you know about as much as I can type on the subject of learning Flash. Let's talk about the future of Mappdev. The truth is, I wouldn't have taken this time to learn a new platform if Pop Answers were still enjoying the success it had 3 months ago. Back in May, it was pushing 250,000 monthly active users, an impressive number for a one-man project. Throughout the summer, however, it began to show a strong decline, which I think is related to a few things:
- College students use Facebook less over the summer because they travel, and a decent portion of my user base is college students.
- Pop Answers is now more than a year old, and that's a long time for an online game on any platform. Many people are just tired of playing!
So this brings me to new opportunities. I've uploaded Survive! to FlashGameLicense for starters, to see if I might get a decent bid on it, and if that doesn't work out, I will definitely submit it to sites like Kongregate, Newgrounds, and some other portals to see how it fares. I've been reading a lot about Flash game monetization lately, and while the usual consensus is that it's not easy and it rarely leads to the big bucks, I can at least say that it looks to be a lot more stable and predictable than trying to deal with a fickle platform like Facebook. Plus, there's still room in the Flash ecosystem for independent developers, and with some hard work, I think I can make a name for myself.
That all being said, it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm tied down to my independent venture entirely. I want to move more towards the "Game Producer" role with my career, and lately I've been thinking that I need to join a larger team at a big publisher to do that. Being on the east coast shuts out a lot of options, but I have my eye on one company in New York City that I think would be a good fit for me. I've already applied there, but I haven't heard back. Please hope that I do, because I would like to at least be considered for their role. Until then, I'm going to continue doing everything I can to bring Mappdev into the spotlight, and continue releasing enjoyable experiences for everyone. With that, all I ask is that you check out Survive!, and share it with your friends if you like it. Thanks in advance!