Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Wed, 13 Jul 2011
Subject: Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint
This blog has been quiet lately as all my attention has been focused on getting Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint for iOS finished. We've spat out regular updates on Twitter and Facebook, but every time I considered taking some time out to write a blog post, some minor graphics tweak or text modification or playtest session seemed more important.
We submitted the game to Apple on Monday morning, after going through the only-slightly-scary release certification process. It would have been very scary, but we had a much worse time setting up provisioning profiles and certificates in order to get in-app-purchases working, so we almost felt like we knew what we were doing by this stage.
Apple's process is for finalising your projects is horrible. Not because it's especially difficult or complicated in itself, or that the documentation is especially awful, but because none of the terminology they use is in English.
It's all pure, alien, techy jargon.
Phrases like 'provisioning profile' or 'key chain' mean absolutely nothing to me, or to John, so sat at home trying to work out what we're supposed to do when the documentation might as well be in Japanese was torturous. In the sort of studio environment we've previously been used to there would always be someone else to ask, but on your own, without having been through the process before, it was slow going with lots of frustration and head scratching.
Thankfully we had a few friends available to give is a hand, especially our ex-colleague Bone who was a big help.
There are lots of unofficial online tutorials available, but almost all of them assume the programmer is a one-man-band and would be publishing the game on the App Store themselves. We've got a bit of of a distinction between The Pickford Bros, which is us as a development team, and our company Zee-3 who publishes. This added a whole extra layer of complexity to the certification and provisioning process which most of the on-line tutorials didn't address.
Oh well, we're sorted now, although I'm still slightly nervous that we've done something wrong. It's our first App Store submission, and I'm half expecting a rejection from Apple rather than a first time acceptance. I guess that's our Nintendo approval experience coming back to haunt us...
We're very pleased with the submitted version. It's a solid game, runs nice and fast, works even on a 3G phone, is very well polished, and has really nice support for Retina screens and Game Center (both leaderboards and loads of achievements). We've still got some more work planned, with extra polish, extra content, and some nice features in the pipeline.
After much soul searching, advice taking, research and discussion, we decided to release the game for free, with some additional content and game modes available as in-app-purchases. We're hopeful this will both allow us to reach the largest audience we can (there seem to be plenty of people for whom even 59p is too much to risk on an new game), and make us enough money to pay our gas bills this winter.
We spent a lot longer on the game than we originally planned. I remember talking to people around Christmas time, showing the latest version and saying I thought we were just a few weeks away from finishing. As anyone who's asked me will know, I've been saying we're a couple of weeks away from finishing for a while now. It got to the point where I was fed up of being asked the same question and giving the same answer, even though it was nice that people were showing an interest in our game.
Why did it take so long? Well, there's probably a much longer blog than this required to answer that in detail, but it comes down to (ulp) five main reasons really:
1 - We're simply not fast developers. I'm regularly amazed at how fast some folk claim to put their products together, but we've never been able to work fast. We work all day long, and work hard, but never seem to be able to rush things out of the door.
2 - We polished the game a lot. Despite many people telling us to just get the game out on the App Store as quickly as possible, we've seen so many iOS games that were a bit ropey and unfinished do nothing at all we were determined not to add another one to the pile. I know there's no guarantee that a polished game won't sink like a stone either, but we didn't want to be kicking ourselves that the game might have done better if only we'd tidied it up a bit.
3 - We got a lot of feedback from beta testers, and we were determined to respond to it. The beta test process was really, really useful. We used the excellent testflightapp.com, and had dozens of people volunteering to play the game and giving us fantastic feedback. We addressed *lots* of issues that were brought to our attention this way. There were no really massive problems, but lots and lots of little niggles, some of which we knew about and secretly just didn't want to address, but which we decided we had to if testers were finding those bits annoying or unsatisfying or unclear. This process probably added at least a couple of months to development.
4 - We added Game Center support. This was originally slated to be a post-release addition, but we received lots of advice that we'd really suffer from bad reviews and 1 star user reviews if this wasn't in there from the start, particularly as it's a scoring game. This ended up being a big job, as we'd never done it before and we were unfamiliar with the process, and with how the project needed to be set up to support it (clue: it's not how the sample project Apple gives you to start with is set up). Once we'd decided to implement Game Center, we decided we were going to do it properly, so we went to town with achievements and leaderboards and (we think) did a really nice job.
5 - We decided to switch business models and go with free with in-app-purchases rather than a $1 or $2 price point. We think we've made the right decision, but can't know for sure. There was a lot of extra development involved for us, not least because, again, we'd never written anything like this before and we were completely unfamiliar with Apple's system.
Right. It's now been over 48 hours and we're still "Waiting For Review". Experienced iOS devs are telling me it takes between a week and two weeks, so I should just forget about it for now. Other experienced iOS devs are telling me it will only take three days and we should be out by Thursday, and one dev who submitted his game on Monday (like we did) says his is already out in New Zealand!
Time to go and refresh the iTunesConnect web page...