Interview

Indie Spotlight: Fat Fish Games' David Lane on failing fast and prototyping faster

Indie Spotlight: Fat Fish Games' David Lane on failing fast and prototyping faster

With discoverability in the mobile games market becoming harder and harder, we've decided to shine the spotlight on the amazing indie developers making creative new titles.

So welcome to the Indie Spotlight, where each week a developer tells us about their life, work and the challenges they face in the modern mobile market.

This week, we talk to David Lane, co-founder and managing director of Brighton-based developer Fat Fish Games, known for its casual sports titles such as Tiny Striker and Tiny Tennis.

The developer was a finalist for Best Indie Developer at the Mobile Games Awards. You can read all about the winners here.

PocketGamer.biz: How did you get started as an indie games developer?

David Lane: Not wanting to work for anyone else, myself and Jonasson Lochner formed our own software company upon graduating from university in 2004. We were joined on the creative side by Anthony Barker, who was a school friend of Jonas'.

We enjoyed playing games, so we were drawn to their development, but not having a lot of experience or money we thought mobile development might be easier to tackle. We therefore partnered with a popular football fan site at the time to produce our first mobile game, a football manager game.

This was a fun time, as it was long before the iPhone appeared and apps became popular. We also had some interesting technical requirements with the handsets of the time - for example, a 64KB file size limit.

Where did the name Fat Fish Games come from?

I would like to say there was some great meaning to the name, but really, we were looking for something fun as well as a name that we could get a domain and social media handles for.

We therefore all shared a spreadsheet and listed names over a few weeks and this is the name we decided upon.

What does a typical day look like at Fat Fish?

Even if you have a great game, trying to get users to find it is very difficult without a six-figure marketing budget.
David Lane

We start each day with a team stand-up to discuss project progress. Some of our team are then working on updates for our main game franchise - Tiny Striker - whilst others are working on rapid prototyping for our next games.

With this process we are producing very small gameplay prototypes over a period of five days and then testing them with users. The performance of the game here ultimately determines if it lives or dies.

What drew you as a studio to focusing on casual games?

I think we were keen to work on titles that could be developed quickly and get into the hands of a lot of players.

I also still think that the mobile platform works best for these pick-up-and-play snack-sized games, that can be played when you have a couple of spare minutes, and casual games fit this so well.

What have been the biggest challenges you've faced so far as a developer?

I think the biggest challenge that probably most indie developers are talking about at the moment is discoverability. Even if you have a great game, trying to get users to find it is very difficult without a six-figure marketing budget.

Dodge Infinity, one of Fat Fish's non-sports titles

This isn't helped when you see the charts dominated by a couple of companies that have a big userbase and a lot of money for marketing.

What is your opinion of the mobile games market for indies right now?

I think it is very tough. As I mentioned previously, getting your game noticed is one of the biggest challenges.

The industry is changing so quickly that it is hard to justify spending 12-plus months developing a game for a small studio.
David Lane

You also have to consider that, even for a small studio, there is a not insignificant running cost that needs to be covered whilst you are building that hit game.

On the positive side, there is still a massive market out there, and if you can stand out from the crowd, there is money to be made.

Could you tell us about your most recent game?

Our biggest recent game has been the latest addition to our Tiny Sports franchise - Tiny Striker: World Football.

The game performed above all our expectations - reaching over two million downloads in three months and more than 20,000 replays shared on social media. It also won the Develop Big Indie Pitch in 2016.

The great thing from the success of the game is the attention it gave the studio, which has allowed us to sign some partnerships to expand the Tiny Sports series.

What are your current plans for the future?

As I mentioned earlier, we are currently working on a branded version of the Tiny Striker: World Football game, as well as looking to release the game in China.

We are also testing out a new football game in the Tiny Sports series which we hope to launch before the end of the season.

If you had an unlimited budget, what game would you most like to make?

I really enjoy real-time multiplayer titles like Clash Royale and I think there is still a lot of potential for this type of game, so I would love to make a game in this area.

What advice would you give to other developers on making it as an indie?

In the mobile space it has to be 'fail fast' – the industry is changing so quickly that it is hard to justify spending 12-plus months developing a game for a small studio.

I think quick prototypes, testing with players and seeing what works is the way to go.

Deputy Editor

Ric has written for PocketGamer.biz for as long as he can remember, and is now Deputy Editor. He likes trains.

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