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"If you can’t create something that stands out, you’re already dead," says Bossa's Imre Jele

The power of fans in making success

Developers that are lucky enough to be at the forefront of the industry are often asked to share their secrets.

Contrary to popular belief, successful developers don't have a jar of secret sauce locked away in Fort Knox, and, more often than not, even they struggle to pin down what factors propelled them to greatness.

Like Santa Claus, Bigfoot, and the illusive Tooth Fairy, there is no sure-fire formula for success. It just doesn't exist, and what works for one developer may spell certain death for another.

Imre Jele, creator-in-chief at Bossa Studios, the London-based developer behind Surgeon Simulator, believes that a lot of success simply comes down to luck.

However, during a talk at TIGA's Smartphone and Tablet Conference in London, he also pointed out that there are lessons to be learned by looking back.

What's in a hit?

The road to success is one paved with uncertainty, explained Jele, and every great game, and every chart-topper ever made share one thing in common: in the beginning, they were nothing more than another seemingly great idea.

"To become successful you need a great idea, capital, and to turn that idea into a great game. Game jams create new ideas," began Jele.

"The fact is that in this marketplace its so hard, that if you just focus on your own mind you won't be able to explore a lot of new ideas, which often crop up in game jams.

"Game jams train your team to be better at coming up with ideas, and turning them into good games.They provide support in many different ways, and I believe they’re instrumental to creating new games."

<em>Surgeon Simulator's</em>  success is no laughing matter
Surgeon Simulator's  success is no laughing matter

According to Jele, game jams encourage developers to tap into their creative sides, drawing out ideas they never knew existed.

Of course, it's a hit and miss process, but they help establish a development culture that emphasises creative freedom and personal expression.

"Inside Bossa, we spend two days a months holding a game jam. We also want to create a culture where people feel like that can come up with new things and create," said Jele.

"Bossa isn’t like one company, it’s like four or five micro-companies that band together, and stick with each other through thick and thin. Game jams reinforce that attitude.

“If you can’t create something that stands out, you’re already dead.”
Imre Jele

"Every team becomes autonomous. In game jams there is no approval for your subject, you can make a game about anything.

Risk vs. reward

Despite singing their praises, Jele wasn't afraid to admit that holding regular internal game jams is a terrifying pospect.

Devoting so much time to a potentially fruitless cause doesn't make good business sense, but games like Surgeon Simulator aren't born because of smart, executive decisions.

"Our rules are really simple: you have to work on something new, it has to be playable, and you have to work with someone else. We ask people to create something that will turn into a success, but we don’t define what that success means," explained Jele.

"I’m scared shitless every time we do this. Some of the ideas are often horrible, and sometimes our ideas end up falling short.

"It’s a difficult, expensive process, but I don’t believe that conventional thinking it going to make it, particularly in mobile gaming. If you can’t create something that stands out, you’re already dead."


Once you have an idea that you believe in, an idea that's truly, unequivocally special, you have to be willing to see it through to the end.

Even if it seems mad to other people, don't be dismayed. Formulate a strategy and make your move.

"On paper, any publisher would have laughed Surgeon Simulator out of the room. We went back, played the game, and we knew we had something amazing. We used that playable and put it out on the market," continued Jele.

“You can make an amazing game but you can’t make a success. Your players make the success.”
Imre Jele

"A game jam gives you an idea, but you also have to create a content strategy. I know it sounds really hipster, but every single update we did for Surgeon Simulator, we did for a reason.

"We knew that our audience loved Team Fortress, so we made the Team Fortress update."

Don't go alone

One of the biggest mistakes a developer can make is becoming over-confident. That's not to say that you shouldn't savour your victories, but never forget where you came from, and the people that helped take you there.

Build a community, and let them guide you. It's an age-old saying, but the customers usually are always right.

"You can make an amazing game but you can’t make a success. Your players make the success. If you assume that you know better than your players, you just won’t cut it anymore," warned Jele.

"Regardless of the size of your studio, you need to make sure that you spend time and effort collaborating with your audience and interacting with them. It’s motivational for the team, but it also builds a community.

"That community helped the game happen to begin with. The first players crashed our server, and they basically gave us feedback and got the attention of others."

Bossa published <em>Thomas Was Alone </em> on mobile
Bossa published Thomas Was Alone  on mobile

Despite the success of Surgeon Simulator, Bossa's fans are never far from Jele's thoughts. He, and the rest of the team, are indebted to them, and he refuses to forget that.

"We went through Steam Greenlight really fast because of them. We couldn’t have had our game without them," finished Jele.

"When we moved to iPad they did a lot of favours for us. They bought it, they talked about it, and they told their friends. The comedy gave them a genuine reason to talk about something.

"We learnt a lot from our players as creators. They helped us change the game, and improve the game by spotting bugs and highlighting flaws. We don’t tell, we listen."