With discoverability in the gaming market becoming increasingly difficult by the day, we've decided to shine a light on the many amazing and incredibly 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 and handheld market.
PocketGamer.biz: How did you get started as an indie games developer?
Jonathan Shaw: I’ve always wanted to make video games since I was a kid. I was given a Sega Megadrive when I was five and that pretty much shaped my future path. I started work as an animator at TT Games and ended up working on a lot of the LEGO Games, like Batman and Rockband.
It was a fun place to work, but I always wanted to do my own thing.Jonathan Shaw
It was a fun place to work, but I always wanted to do my own thing. The opportunity came when one of my friends was made redundant from his job. We both decided to try and do something together.
What is a typical day in your life as an indie?
It changes massively depending on what's happening. You take on so many roles in an indie team, that you could be doing something well outside of your original job title every day.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far as an indie?
We've had some nightmares dealing with contractors. Not having enough resources to throw at developing a feature, or time and people to test a build are genuine problems faced by a small team.
How do you define ‘success’?
Ultimately I’d like to make games that people remember and love. To achieve this goal you will also need to survive financially as a business. Success is being able to do what you love and not have to worry about going broke.
The ultimate dream version of this might also involve big houses, cars and maybe a helicopter that flies me to the office in the morning, but that doesn’t define success.
What is your opinion of the mobile games market for indies right now?
I think it’s very hard to be an indie in the mobile space. The speed at which things change is dramatically quick. As an example, we made Soccer Rally 2 just as things were changing from paid to freemium. We were forced to change our game at the last minute to fit.
There is still opportunity, but it’s rare that an indie can go without a publisher. Gone are the days you could put some money into the press, get a feature, and do okay. That said, I think the Nintendo Switch is an incredibly interesting platform for indies. Although it’s not entirely mobile I like that you can sell a game for a price and you can have some deep experiences there.
Could you tell us about your Soccer Rally: Arena, and why it felt right for mobile?
We made the original car football game on mobile before Rocket League. Soccer Rally 2 wasn't multiplayer and gained 4.7 million downloads. People contacted us saying they wanted a multiplayer version of Soccer Rally...so here we are.
We were inspired by Top Gear's car football and thought making a same device multiplayer game with cars and football was a cool idea.Jonathan Shaw
How much inspiration (if any) did Soccer Rally: Arena take from Rocket League or the prior game, Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars?
We never knew about Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars and Rocket League hadn't yet come out. We actually got our initial inspiration from a mobile game called Ice Rage. It had the same device multiplayer and we'd been playing it on iPad.
We were inspired by Top Gear's car football and thought making a same device multiplayer game with cars and football was a cool idea.
How is the studio coping under the current Covid-19 pandemic?
We were working from home when it all kicked off. It’s been a crazy year! We worked well apart though and were in contact daily over Skype and phone. We are now back in the office and working two metres away from each other
What are your current plans for the future?
We are looking to add teams to Soccer Rally: Arena at some point in the future. We have other plans for Soccer Rally: Arena too, which we'll be talking about soon. In general, we want to expand the studio and we have lots of ideas for other games we want to explore.
If you had an unlimited budget, what game would you most like to make?
Given the budget and the time, there are a lot of things I’d like to make. I’m sure that’s true of every designer. We all have those ideas. I’m keeping mine close to my chest and living in the dream that I might one day be talking about them because they are in production.
What advice would you give other developers on ‘making it’ as an indie?
Think of it like any other start-up business, it's important to stay positive and never give up. That sounds so cliché, yet there's honestly so much to cover it's probably best to give a broad sweeping piece of advice like that.
Just start. You'll learn things as you go along. Try to learn from other developers' mistakes, but to be honest you'll mostly learn a lot from your own. Just remember it's all part of the process and to keep moving forward.