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 Richard Franke, founder of Magic Notion, best known for its games Kitty Powers' Matchmaker and the recently released Kitty Powers' Love Life.
PocketGamer.biz: How did you get started as an indie games developer?
Richard Franke: I always knew that I wanted to be in a creative industry. Preferably a nerdy one.
I studied art and ceramics, but drew comic books in my spare time, as well as running several tabletop RPG games. The comic book portfolio got me a job at a games startup back in 1996 after my degree finished. Back then there wasn’t a formal way into the industry, so I was pretty lucky.
What attracted you to developing dating sim-style games?
When I started developing games independently I gave myself a brief to satisfy multiple criteria. I wanted to make a game:
- with situations that everyone could identify with
- about making people happy, instead of killing them, just to redress the balance a bit.
- that was inclusive, but not in a preachy way – a game featuring everyone essentially.
Nobody had made what I considered a ‘warts and all’ true simulation of dating.Richard Franke
- that was super accessible, and as fun to watch as it is to play, enabling a sort of casual multiplayer by using game-show style gameplay elements.
- that included Kitty Powers, as I needed a unique marketing hook, and she needed some kind of focus. But in a way that didn’t feel tacked on.
- that the player could play at their own pace for convenience
- that brought the player to the characters and focused on their social interactions
- that included a lot of procedural elements, as I love those, and I love the replayability they give the player
- a game that would port well across multiple platforms
In answering these, a dating sim seemed like natural fit. Also, nobody had made what I considered a ‘warts and all’ true simulation of dating.
A lot of these criteria also made the game very YouTuber friendly (which was unintentional but taught us a lot).
What is a typical day in your life as an indie?
I work from home, talking to my team on Slack, using Trello as a task management tool. I do all of my own social media, and customer service (with the help of my team) and I occasionally do guest appearances as Kitty at conferences and conventions to promote the game.
I also muck in doing some artwork, I do all my own VO and I make YouTube videos.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced so far as an indie?
Learning to run a business and making sure we hit quality for the money we have. Being self-funded and published means that we are more flexible with time, but we do have to manage the expectations of our customers.
The biggest difference between mobile, Steam and console is the expectations of the community.Richard Franke
It’s a box-ticking and plate-spinning exercise - much like a game, but with more at stake!
How do you define "success"?
Happy customers and a happy and productive team, and having the money to carry on and live comfortably.
What is your opinion of the mobile games market for indies right now?
It’s still a viable market, if you approach it strategically. The biggest difference between mobile, Steam and console is the expectations of the community. They have to be handled in a way that satisfies them all.
Could you tell us about your most recent game?
Kitty Powers’ Love Life is the evolution of its predecessor Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker.
Where Matchmaker is an arcade dating simulator where the player manages a dating agency, Love Life is an arcade relationship simulator with light city building aspects where the player runs a village for couples and must be their therapist. Kitty Powers again stars as the player’s boss.
Love Life is a lot more complex than Matchmaker. Where Matchmaker had a clear game loop where the characters would always go on a date at a restaurant with a fixed format, but interchangeable rounds like a game show, Love Life’s mini games are strung together using a true simulator, where the customers you choose and the locations you build determine the situations that will crop up.
Also the characters spend a longer time in the game, so that the player forms a more emotional bond with them. Kitty does a weekly inspection where the player gets paid for all the good deeds they’ve done that week. It’s all rather addictive!
What are your current plans for the future?
To hopefully make enough money to make our next game, which we are already in pre-production on.
We have big ideas to take the Kitty Powers brand in a slightly different direction. Also diversifying the Kitty Powers brand a bit.
Try and keep your lifestyle healthy. Sleep and time to do other stuff are important.Richard Franke
If you had an unlimited budget, what game would you most like to make?
I would probably make something a bit self-indulgent. A big sprawling fantasy epic with procedural narrative. But done in a Kitty Powers style. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?!
What advice would you give to other developers on "making it" as an indie?
- Do your research - whether that’s working at a bigger company first like I did or just being on the ball looking at the market, in terms of products and community, and what good looks like.
- Keep playing games.
- Think about what your customers want.
- Don’t be too money oriented.
- Keep it small, cheap and agile.
- Make something you are passionate about but make it a sellable product.
- Try and keep your lifestyle healthy. Sleep and time to do other stuff are important.