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5 top tips for a great indie strategy from Christopher Kassulke

Handygames, Handy tips
5 top tips for a great indie strategy from Christopher Kassulke

Christopher Kassulke is a man who clearly knows how to keep an indie game company afloat.

His entire talk at the Digital Dragons conference in Krakow, Poland, focused on how to create a successful indie games business.

Called The Way to Succeed, Kassulke spoke with the kind of confidence you should expect from a man who has kept his studio Handygames alive and kicking for well over a decade.

But what were his top tips for creating a successful strategy to support an indie gaming business?

Here are five of the best points from his informative talk.

#1: Identify a target market

It’s tempting to consider that because the mobile gaming market is mass market that you should be aiming a game at everyone. But that's a mistake according to Kassulke and can lead to the aimless battle to get pitch your game against the big names and the clones.

“If you have a company, be sure of what games you want to develop. Most of the time you’ll see a developer with Angry Birds clones or Supercell clones but I doubt that anyone is powerful enough to get a game like that up in the charts.

Instead, you should consider trying to reach other markets.

“Whether it’s mums or dads or singles we don’t care – we produce games for them” said Kassulke. Examining the Handygames portfolio, he contrasted their strategy when releasing Clouds and Sheep versus 1941: Frozen Front and how each game hits a different market.

As a result, they hit a large segment in the mass market and can successfully compete on narrower battlegrounds.

#2: Go mobile first to build a brand

According to Kassulke, mobile gaming is at the heart of HandyGames strategy.

“Our hardcore strategy is always to release first on mobile devices, which is where the mass market is.”

The reason is that this acts as a building block to release on other platforms and to increase your sales. Talking about Handygame’s Beyond Mobile strategy started in 2011, his belief is that a strong mobile brand can be the leaping off point for success on consoles, micro-consoles and PC.

Just be careful when creating a game to consider creating controls that suit the demands of the platform. “If you make a game very complicated like a hardcore 3D game, you can’t play that on a remote control,” Kassulke said.

“And a game controller is very important no matter what platform you are developing for. It’s very easy to get your device to other platforms if you develop for that, even on iOS [referring to the rise in controller peripherals].”

#3: Get to new platforms first

Being the first company on a new platform is the opportunity to make your mark on the few consumers around.

Talking about how open the opportunity is, Kassulke said in reference to a new platform “It’s a blue ocean and you can set a claim there. On iTunes, it’s already done so how do you get your game high up on the chart?”

His advice is to make sure that you explore getting onto the new platforms as soon as you can by taking advantage of the likes of Android or Unity to bridge the gap quickly.

“We were the very first guys on Nokia X, on Google Play services. For anyone who has Android content, it only takes a day or two to change. We’re also going to be the first on Amazon Fire TV to make games for them so that they are working on another device.”

#4: Keep on top of trends

Conferences are a great opportunity to learn new things about the world around you. But according to Kassulke, you shouldn’t simply be looking at industry events alone – you should be looking to broaden your horizons to attend events related to your game in a different way.

“If you want to check out the trends, go to an event you wouldn’t normally be at. If you don’t know about sports, go to a sports conference. And if you don’t know about China, then get on a plane and go there – it is very easy.”

By getting to these events and identifying the trends that are off the beaten track, you can give your game a competitive edge that other companies may not have.

#5: Plan for regular updates

Mobile is a constantly evolving, constantly changing industry and consumers expect games to change. So you need to plan your updates prior to your launch to ensure that you can keep updates coming to keep consumers happy.

“Developers who say they’ve put their game on the store and no-one has downloaded it. That won’t work” Kassulke said.

“You need to develop for your consumers and develop your game so that you can take the next steps. Make sure that the second or third update is planned, which is good for a consumer because that means the game isn’t dead.”

Fortunately, there is a simple way to plan your updates and that is to look at the calendar for special seasonal holidays. By doing so, you can plan for updates that will both impress your users and get the attention of the platform holders.

“It’s good to update a game once every two or free months. With Clouds and Sheeps, we did a lot of seasonal updates because Apple, Google and Microsoft do features about Valentines, Halloween and Christmas.

"If you can talk to them then you can get them featured. We even did a Google Play birthday update with droids running around to show we cared about the platform.”