Dead Cells' Steve Filby on why you need to design games with an audience in mind

Think about what you’re going to build before you build it

Dead Cells' Steve Filby on why you need to design games with an audience in mind

With discoverability in the mobile gaming market becoming harder and harder, we've decided to shine the spotlight on the amazing and 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 market.

This week, we spoke to Dead Cells producer and Evil Empire CEO Steve Filby about the biggest challenges with creating a roguelike shooter. How did you get started as an indie games developer?

Steve Filby: Luck. Pure dumb luck, actually. I was hanging out with a friend who knew someone that remembered my experience and how that lined up with a job opportunity from Motion Twin.

I sent in an application and turns out they like me enough to pull me in.

What is a typical day in your life as an indie?

Well, I’m in the business and marketing front of Motion Twin as well as being the CEO of Evil Empire so I’m usually jumping around between a stack of different projects.

Today for example, I went over the game design of a bunch of new weapons that we’re planning to put into the game.

Then I discussed the potential of a new project collaboration between Motion Twin and Evil Empire (Hint: it’s Dead Cells related).

As soon as you pick up the controller it feels fun, though that’s hard to explain in a crowded networking party after three beers.
Steve Filby

This was before sending a bunch of emails to Valve, Nintendo and more to organise different releases, talk about our product plans, and generally keep them in the loop.

On top of that, I translated some texts for the current update, talked about whether we should eradicate mosquitos from the planet with our programmers and tested out Bloodstained – all before 3pm.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far as an indie?

Making users understand that the game was more than just “another pixel art rogue-lite”.

When we started, and even to a certain degree today, we had to convince people that Dead Cells was awesome, often without those people being able to test the game.

Dead Cells’ major strength is how the game feels. As soon as you pick up the controller it feels fun, though that’s hard to explain that in a crowded networking party after three beers.

How do you define ‘success’?

Having trouble sleeping at night because I’m super excited about what I get to do at work tomorrow and having my team feel the exact same way.

Motion Twin's Dead Cells has sold over one million copies with the Nintendo Switch accounting for the most sales

It seems to me that if everyone is really happy in what they’re doing, that’s almost enough.

Obviously, that is all underpinned with having enough money to buy food and be financially successful along the way.

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

Incredibly tough. We got out of mobile games because when we really looked at the models that were working, we realised that we didn’t have the financial resources to be in the top 100 grossing games or the desire to do what it takes to get there without a $100 million budget.

The problem with a lot of indie games is they weren't really designed with an audience in mind

Having said that, Apple Arcade and so on seem to be helping drive the creation of a new wave of serious non-cash cow experiences on mobile.

We’ll see if the Netflix model pans out for developers over time, but I have my doubts.

Could you tell us about your latest project?

Nope, top secret. The one that we can talk about is Dead Cells, with the latest update currently in beta and we’re super happy with how it’s coming along.

We’ve added a new mini biome (level) in the game, as well as a bunch of other features that people seem to be liking it for the most part.

What are your current plans for the future?

The same thing we do every night: Try to take over the world!

No, actually we’re working on a lot of cool things but for the minute basically producing more Dead Cells content, helping Motion Twin where we can on their next project and then building out our team so we can start on a new game of our own too.

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

Actually, I have a game design idea that I believe would work really well, incorporating hundreds of thousands of people online at once, that intrinsically links to streaming and a number of similar things.

It’d be cool, I swear, but we’re not ready to build that yet.

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

Think about what you’re going to build before you build it.

Your paint drying simulator might sound awesome to you and your mum but is there really a market for that?

Honestly, it’s the hardest thing that I have to say to other indies when I see their launches fail.

At the end of the day, the problem with a lot of them is that they created a game that wasn’t really designed with an audience in mind, so no one played it.

Deputy Editor

Matthew Forde is the deputy editor at and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @MattForde64 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.