With discoverability in the gaming market becoming increasingly difficult by the day, we've decided to shine a light on the many amazing and incredibly interesting indie developers out there.
So welcome to the Indie Spotlight, where each week a developer tells us about their life and work, and the challenges facing indie developers in the modern mobile and handheld market.
PocketGamer.biz: How did you get started as an indie games developer?
Dylan Cuthbert: I began making games as soon as a friend’s Dad loaned me his Sinclair ZX 81. I started by making a bad clone of Pac Man, which was all the rage in the arcades at the time.
Some indies turn to Twitter and build up followings with controversial tweets...Dylan Cuthbert
Of course, I wasn’t a modern indie game developer until I decided to branch out with the PixelJunk series, beginning in 2007 with PixelJunk Racers and was one of the first indie games to appear on PSN. PixelJunk Racers was followed quickly by the beloved PixelJunk Monsters, the new modernised mobile version of which is in soft launch right now in Ireland and New Zealand.
What is a typical day in your life as an indie?
I wake up and play the latest builds of our various games, read feedback from everyone, and then go back-and-forth with the teams building up our ideas.
As an indie, I of course have to do PR and business development too. Every day is hectic but a lot of fun. I dive into programming, art direction, game direction, and various experiments, all the time. On non-Covid days I also like to go out for a beer with people too.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far as an indie?
Financing, financing, financing. It’s the bane of a creator’s life. I want to make the games I want to make, I want to make my masterpiece but masterpieces are hard and expensive to make and don’t guarantee solid income. Some things hit big, some things don’t, there is no recipe to follow.
How do you define ‘success’?
Success is when you’ve made something you are satisfied with, and at the same time, the players of the game are also loving it. The Tomorrow Children wasn’t quite the financial success we expected because the plug got pulled too early, but the core players absolutely loved it, and I did too so it was a success in my mind.
What is your opinion of the mobile games market for indies right now?
It’s still very tough. We have Sticky Bodies and Eden Obscura out there now - both are very different games and both are very high quality (and have great soundtracks!) - but persuading people’s eyes to be pulled away from the titles with heavy UA spend is really really tough.
Some indies turn to Twitter and build up followings with controversial tweets, building up a fanbase with their internet persona before their games even get released. That’s a full-time job right there though, as you have to sell your soul a bit to engage in Twitter in that way. Always being controversial and outspoken is hard work.
Could you tell us about Scrappers, and why it felt right for mobile?
On mobile, we are developing another Apple Arcade title but I can’t say more about that yet, except that it is cute, addictive, and a ton of fun!Dylan Cuthbert
We had a demo of Scrappers and it was looking fun, but the main reason we went mobile wasn’t that it was mobile per se, it was because of Apple Arcade. With the service available across Apple TVs, iPads, iMacs and other Apple devices, it seemed to us to be a really fun proposition.
Instead of competing with free-to-play, we could make our game available on a bunch of platforms simultaneously and support regular gamepad controllers on all of them.
How did the partnership come about with Apple Arcade?
We showed them our internal demo and specification, then explained what we wanted to do. Apple loved the art style and the slightly retro 16-bit era feel of the game, so they greenlit it.
Apple didn’t know that one of our teams was also working on Frogger in Toy Town for Konami (that also got greenlit at around the same time too) meaning that all of a sudden we were making two games for Apple Arcade. Funny enough the second game I tried to make on my friend’s dad’s Sinclair ZX 81 at the age of 10 was a Frogger clone, so that project was a chance in a lifetime for me.
How is the studio coping under the current Covid-19 pandemic?
We are doing very nicely, with the majority of people working from home. Game sales don’t seem to be affected much, so that’s a good thing! I think there is going to be a lot of rebuilding next year though and I worry about how that will affect all of us.
What are your current plans for the future?
Well, in a few months we are going to launch the latest game in the PixelJunk Monsters series - Trouble In Paradise, which will release worldwide on iOS and Android.
We have PixelJunk Eden 2 coming out for Nintendo Switch this Winter too, and we are launching Sticky Bodies in China through a partnership with Yodo1. We are doing lots of research and development now to try and decide what to make in 2021, so watch this space.
If you had an unlimited budget, what game would you most like to make?
Many many things. With The Tomorrow Men, instead of a surreal exploration into a neo-marxist soviet future, it would be a surreal exploration into a neo-libertarian American future, based in the deep south dealing with insane robotic evangelism.
On mobile, we are developing another Apple Arcade title but I can’t say more about that yet, except that it is cute, addictive, and a ton of fun!
What advice would you give other developers on ‘making it’ as an indie?
Work hard, think hard, don’t dilly dally.