Step 5: building your game
The way you build a game, the tools you use and the people you bring in to help you will largely depend on your budget and goals. “I began learning how to make games with a framework called Corona SDK,” says Allison. “This greatly simplified the learning experience for me.”
“Firstly, there’s no native code (Objective C or Java) to work with; everything is written in a language called Lua. Lua is a really great language to get started with, as it’s clearly written and quite forgiving. With Corona, like most game frameworks, things are greatly simplified for the developer.”
Ojiro Fumoto, lead developer on Downwell told us: “I made the game mostly on my Macbook Pro running Windows on Bootcamp. I used a tool called Game Maker: Studio in developing the game, and Graphics Gale for drawing the graphical assets.”
“I found the process pretty hard. I think the biggest challenge was designing different levels to feel different enough from each other, and also be interesting and fair.”
François Alliot, the lead on Reigns explained: “I needed a computer, a Unity license and Skype to talk to my colleagues. That's about it really, and a lot of time. Also, we did QA [quality assurance] and testing before the release, which was essential to be able to release a quality game.”
Step 6: getting onto the App Store
You may have heard a lot of tales about how difficult it can be to get your creations onto the App Store. But fortunately the process is now easier than ever.
Thomas explains: “Submitting apps to Apple is a fairly straightforward process these days. Once you sign up for a developer's license you're able to log in to a dashboard and submit your game or app for approval, in a similar process to filling out any other form online.
“You upload screenshots, and type up a description to live on the App Store. Once you submit, Apple will take around about a week to go through the app to make sure it doesn't break any terms of service. Once it's approved you get notified and it’s up to you when to press the big 'Go Live!' button.”
Step 7: raising awareness and securing good reviews
Many of those hoping to break into the iPhone gaming market assume the hard work is done once your creation is on the App Store. But that’s often only half the battle.
We asked the experts how they go about promoting their work and making sure that people want to download it. Allison told us: “We're fortunate, as most of our games have been featured on the App Store once they've been launched. This drives a lot of traffic to your game’s App Store page.”
“There’s no method for getting featured on the App Store though. When we’re about a month away from submitting our game, we send Apple an email containing screenshots and videos. If the editorial team see it and like it, there’s a chance they might feature it.”
Thomas told us he had a similar experience. “Luckily Tweechi was featured under 'New Games We Love', which helped to drive thousands of installs in the first week,” he says. “After that downloads dropped off sharply.”
Beyond getting featured on the App Store, we asked what others steps game creators can take to promote their work. Thomas told us: “Press coverage is great, and increases the chances that someone at Apple will notice you, but it rarely leads to large uptick in users directly.”
Allison also suggested relying on online PR tools, such as blogging and using Twitter, as a way to connect with potential new users, while Mark Horneff recommends reaching out to other bloggers.
“Bloggers and review sites are a great marketing opportunity, so be sure to take advantage of your promo codes and send them a review copy of your game,” he told us. “Another great idea is letting reviewers get an early exclusive sneak peek at your game via the Testflight beta programme.”
What’s the best piece of advice for budding game creators?
We asked Thomas the advice he’d give to anyone thinking of creating their first game.
“Do it because you enjoy it,” he told us. “If you put together a team and build something simply to make money you will be sorely disappointed if your game doesn't take off. The old saying is true: if you love what you do you'll never work a day in your life.”
Horneff said he’d tell anyone who felt intimidated by the prospect of developing a game on their own to network, and reach out to others. “Ask friends if they can help you out – knowledge transfer will always be useful to you.”
We asked Allison what he would have told himself back when he first started, if he knew what he knows now.
“The best advice I’d give myself back then is to be patient, and finish the tutorials that you’ve started,” he told us. “Find a toolset that has an active community; it’s so much easier when you can ask real people for help and tips.”
He then recommends throwing yourself into making a small game, taking things slowly. And most importantly? “Finish a game,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what game it is – just finish it and have people play it.”
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Becca is a contributor to TechRadar, a freelance journalist and author. She’s been writing about consumer tech and popular science for more than ten years, covering all kinds of topics, including why robots have eyes and whether we’ll experience the overview effect one day. She’s particularly interested in VR/AR, wearables, digital health, space tech and chatting to experts and academics about the future. She’s contributed to TechRadar, T3, Wired, New Scientist, The Guardian, Inverse and many more. Her first book, Screen Time, came out in January 2021 with Bonnier Books. She loves science-fiction, brutalist architecture, and spending too much time floating through space in virtual reality.