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 Wonderbelly Games co-founder, games designer and artist Andrea Roberts about working from home during the pandemic, alongside securing a partnership to bring the studio's debut game Roundguard to Apple Arcade.
PocketGamer.biz: How did you get started as an indie games developer?
Andrea Roberts: I started in the game industry on triple-A games at Microsoft. I was there for about a decade, working in narrative, game, and UX design but always felt the pull of indie game development. I love working in small teams, touching all aspects of the project and wearing many hats.
During the years of triple-A, I'd carve out time after work and get together with my husband Bob and our good friend Kurt to make our own small projects. We released several hobbyist games over the years, but it was always something we did for fun, not a true business.
Apple Arcade was an amazing opportunity for us because we were able to focus all our effort into making a great game - instead of worrying over monetisation designAndrea Roberts
Then four years ago, I had a baby. This felt like the right moment to leave Microsoft and start something new. After I got the hang of "mom life" and helped Kurt ship his latest game, I was ready to finally chase the indie dream in earnest. We founded Wonderbelly Games and started on our first project, Roundguard.
What is a typical day in your life as an indie?
It has changed a lot over the years as my daughter has grown. Early on, my workdays were scheduled around her nap times and then later her preschool classes.
Now, Covid-19 has changed up our schedule once more. Bob and I trade back and forth during the day, keeping her busy and getting work done, as well as sneaking in extra work hours after bedtime.
It's a constantly moving target and there are times when it's tough to get it all done. However, working as an indie developer means I have control over the time I spend with my daughter and that's incredibly important to me.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced so far as an indie?
One of the hardest problems for me is finding the balance between time spent on game development and time spent on business development. It feels like there's a never-ending mountain of marketing, community outreach, and analysis that I could be doing, and obviously that work is necessary to run a successful business.
Ultimately though, I got into this to make games. It's the game development work that energizes me. To try to keep a balance, I bucket time specifically for business work. I'll have a business day a week, or a specific hour during the day for emails and social media. When it's not that time, I try to put it out of my head and focus wholeheartedly on my game work. That way, I don't feel so distracted and overwhelmed.
How did the partnership come about with Apple?
We were showing off Roundguard with the Indie Megabooth at PAX West last year when we first met the folks at Apple Arcade. A lot of our fans had already been asking us to bring Roundguard to mobile, so we were super excited to talk to Apple and we knew it would be a great fit.
What attracted the studio to create a game specifically for Apple Arcade?
We knew Roundguard would feel great as a mobile game, but we weren't confident we could sell it on our own. The premium marketplace looked extremely challenging and we didn't think we had the budget or the interest to redesign the game for free-to-play.
Apple Arcade was an amazing opportunity for us because we were able to focus all our effort into making a great game, instead of worrying over monetisation design. Working with Apple Arcade also meant that we had enough funding for Bob to quit his job and come work full-time on the game with me, which was a dream come true for us.
How do you define 'success'?
These are my goals for Wonderbelly Games: I want to continue making games that make people smile, full of love and charm. I want to make those games in a sustainable way, maintaining work/life balance, so that Bob and I can take advantage of the flexibility we gain from the indie lifestyle to be there for our daughter.
Finally, I want to be able to share our success back to the indie development community. We've received so much support and advice, and we wouldn't be here without that help. I hope we can use our knowledge and resources to help the next upcoming studio find their way. If we can achieve these goals, then I will feel like a true success.
What is your opinion of the mobile games market for indies right now?
I want to continue making games that make people smile, full of love and charm.Andrea Roberts
It's tough out there. Honestly, though, that's true of every market for indie games. The price points for premium games are so very low, with the budgets required for user acquisition for a free-to-play game are so very high. But there's an opportunity to get your game into so many more hands in the mobile space.
Apple Arcade has been a bright spot, helping a lot of really creative, high quality indie games reach an audience that they wouldn't have been able to on their own. I'm interested to see how subscription services develop on mobile going forward.
Could you tell us about Roundguard?
Roundguard is a dungeon crawler with bouncy pinball physics. Instead of a ball, you fling your hero into the dungeon to bounce around, defeat dangerously cute monsters, and collect epic loot. Along the way, you'll learn to master your hero's skills, meet a bunch of oddball characters, and try to survive to the bottom of a big, randomised dungeon.
We drew inspiration from the physics-based fun of Peggle, the strategy and surprise of classic roguelikes, and the quirky humour of Adventure Time and the Adventure Zone, before stirring it all together to make the bounciest "dungeon-baller" ever!
What are your current plans for the future?
Right now, we're still very focused on supporting Roundguard with content updates. We're planning on more monsters, relics, boards, a new challenge mode in the next several months, as well as a new hero class later this year. At some point, we'll start prototyping our next project.
If you had an unlimited budget, what game would you most like to make?
If I had unlimited time and budget, I'd probably make a giant simulation game. I love playing the genre and working on Roundguard has taught me how much I love designing procedurally generative systems. Let's say something like Animal Crossing mixed in with Don't Starve, on top of a bunch of gardening and musical elements thrown in.
What advice would you give other developers on 'making it' as an indie?
Be flexible. The business landscape is constantly changing. Get your game in front of fresh eyes as often as possible and be ready to adapt your current project to address the feedback and suit the opportunity in front of you. Advice in this business becomes stale quick, so hunt for current data and learn from your peers.