Creating a hit game on Apple’s iPhone and iPad store is a lot like making something a “viral” hit on the internet: it can feel like luck outweighs the many logical factors that make a success.
The man behind mega-hits “Crossy Road” and “Pac-Man 256,” as well as lesser known (but similarly successful) games like “Little Things” and “Doodle Find,” is an exception to that sentiment. Matt Hall has had five (FIVE!) games reach the number one spot in the Apple app store. He is an incredible anomaly.
Yet, as Hall tells Kotaku Australia in a recent interview, there are five principles he follows in creating great games that sell well.
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In the case of 'Pac-Man 256,' Hall tells Kotaku he made it with original 'Pac-Man' creator Toru Iwatani in mind. 'After I make that game for one person I try and broaden it a little bit. And as long as I don't destroy what that one person loves, I'm happy.'
Don't publish a game based on what you think people will like -- look at how people are playing games and create with that in mind. Hall gives the example of his daughter Penny who hates losing in games. 'With 'Deck Wars,'' an unreleased game from Hall that he's currently working on, 'I was really trying to make a game where Penny would feel good about losing.'
There's an old saying in the writing and editing world: 'kill your darlings.' The phrase isn't nearly as monstrous as it sounds; it's meant to tell the writer not to be so precious with his/her writing, and to be prepared to 'kill' (delete) sentences/phrases/etc. that may be near and dear to the writer in question.
A kinder way of putting it is 'Be flexible to change.' And that's exactly what Hall says is crucial to his success: 'I was fairly hostile to free-to-play in the beginning,' Hall tells Kotaku Australia, referencing the rise of free-to-play games. 'Because I like consuming games, I like going to the store, picking up a game, playing it for 12 hours and putting it away. I like owning it. But it's really important for developers to understand that when big shifts happen like that, it's going to change the perspective of the game audience.'
Remember before when I said Hall made five number one successes in the iTunes App Store? He's also made total flops, such as 'ZONR.' Though it's a neat game, it didn't do so well. It currently has just a few hundred reviews.
'In the end I couldn't even give away 'ZONR' to the general public,' Hall says. 'It was free and barely made any money. But the people who liked it were the kind of people who liked to play different things. So it was actually a big success for me.'
Though Hall comes from the world of independent game development, he exhibits many characteristics of the more financially successful mainstream market. Most representative of that instinct is his insistence that, whatever scale game you're working on, you must make it as good as it possibly can be.
'Every single aspect of your game needs to be world class in order to survive. Whether it's the art, the sound or the design,' he tells Kotaku Australia.
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