Jeff Hangartner – Revealing the Path Less Travelled in Video Game Industry

Jeff HangartnerJeff Hangartner, the founder of the gaming start-up, Bulletproof Outlaws has been a professional developer of games over the last half a decade. Creator of Pixelation, the 1st Pixel Art Forum and also originator of the Pixel tutorials which have been published in the form of a book. Jeff has always been a pioneer of the gaming industry.

CG Today is proud to present Jeff’s exploration as he shares the whole process of creating a start-up right from day 1. With the belief that gaming development is coming back to its original “one programmer in the basement roots” idea, Bulletproof Outlaws is chronicling every step of its start-up process from strategies, to marketing, setting goals and outsourcing, successes and failures. The aim is to help other developers who have ideas but are intimidated by the whole start-up process and are not sure how to go about it.

You can visit his website Bulletproof Outlaws to know more about him or send an email to get connected.

Jumpstarting Your Rating

App Store reviews are probably the most important reviews of all because they affect your game’s App Store rating, and since the App Store is heavily “impulse buy” based, the stuff on your actual App Store page is going to play the most influential part in people’s decision to buy your game or not. Get your friends and family to review your game when it first goes up…yeah, everyone knows the first handful of reviews are obviously the Developer’s friends and family, but everyone does it and it affects your rating (if you have 10 5-Star reviews from your friends and someone throws up a 1-Star review your game will still look decent VS having no friends review it and someone throwing up a 1-Star review). This isn’t necessarily deceitful, your friends and family probably DO like your game, but like I say EVERYONE does it so you might as well not handicap yourself right off the bat.

Buying Downloads

Here’s another fun category. First up, Apple has apparently cracked down on these types of services but for the sake of completeness and since some of the sketchier services might ignore the Apple warnings and pitch their services to you, I’m going to describe them here…plus the concept of “paying for installs” comes up again later in more acceptable forms.

The jist is that you pay $X per download. So say your game is on the App Store for $0.99. You could sign up for a service and say you’ll pay $3 per download. What happens then is a bunch of Gamers registered with the service see that if they download your game they’ll make $3. The end result is you’re paying a ton of people to download your game. This bumps your App Store ranking, which puts you higher in the list on the App Store, which lets more random normal customers see your game, and can help you boost up into the higher rankings. I know of at least one large professional game development company who paid $2000+ to one of these services (their game ended up in the top 10 for a few weeks).

Logically, I figure the key time to use a service like this would be to supplement a big boost of exposure. So you release a new Update, or you get mentioned on a major site, etc. and your sales go up, that would be when you’d want to boost them even higher, VS using a service like this when you have consistently low sales. It’s sort of like throwing sticks on a small flame to turn it into a roaring bonfire VS throwing them on when there’s no initial flame yet.

Incentive-based”

This is basically a more round-about version of buying downloads. The jist is that instead of exchanging actual real-world cash, Gamers who download your game earn virtual currency (“Install Elusive Ninja and earn 25 BananaPoints!”) that they can spend in other games registered with the service, or on services and products their website offers.

Morality and Ethics

There’s two perspectives to look at this from: The perspective of the game industry types (Developers, Reviewers, etc.) and the perspective of the Gamers buying and playing the games.

For the game industry types, paying for boosting your ranks and reviews can be appealing if you have the money. You can justify it all sorts of ways like “It’s just giving me a fair chance because there are too many crappy Apps on the App Store and my game is good but it’s lost in the shuffle so I’m just getting it its deserved foothold in the App Store ranks!” And the “guaranteed 5-Star” Reviewers can justify it with “The Reviewers get paid for their time and the Developer either gets valuable feedback from their target demographic about their game, or they get a 4-5-Star rating on the App Store so it’s win/win for everyone involved!” and I’m not saying those aren’t valid justifications…it all comes down to what you’re comfortable with.

One downside to consider as a Developer is that it’ll be a lot harder to keep track of your success when you’re supplementing it with paid-for success. Sure you have 50 5-Star reviews, but were 40 of those paid for? Sure your game made it into the Top 10, but did it really deserve to get there? And if the game is no good and it just drops right back down off the charts after you paid to boost it up, did you really gain anything besides half a day in the Top 50? If quick money is the bottom line (and that’s fine, I’m not judging), these probably aren’t questions that concern you. But a lot of iPhone Developers are small one or two man studios where the Developers just love making games and want to build a reputation, and those are the people that should think about these kinds of questions before they go this route.

On the flip side are the Gamers who buy and play the games. Downloading a 5-Star game only to find out the 5-Star reviews were all bogus is not only going to make a Gamer feel ripped off, but it’s going to make them more likely to leave an even lower star rating than they would have left if everything was on the up-and-up. It becomes harder to trust reviews when you know someone paid money for it. It also casts shadows over the success of some games, where the fact that services like this even exist can make Gamers go “Why is this crappy calculator App in the Top 20?? They probably bought their way into it!” when that may or may not actually be the case.

The catch to bring us full-circle on this topic is that at least they SAW the game, and they might not have seen it if you were at the bottom of the ranks in obscurity. Plus spending a day in the Top 10 might pay off what it cost to boost it up there.

Personally, I haven’t paid for any reviews for Elusive Ninja yet. I just don’t feel like I need to, I think my game is pretty solid and I’m willing to chance it. Plus I’d rather put my money into other forms of marketing. And I like to track my own success (even if there isn’t much, that tells me I have stuff to work on and kinks to iron out), so skewing the results doesn’t do me much good. Also I’d rather spend money developing my next game than buying reviews and sales for this game since this is only my first release.

But at the end of the day, this all comes down to personal choice on your part as a Developer. You’re going to get E-Mails approaching you with offers for these kinds of services once you get your game up on the App Store and pop up on everyone’s radar. So decide how you’re going to handle things, and if you DO decide to go the route of paying for reviews, downloads, etc. do yourself a favor and set “What do I expect as a result from this?” goals and keep track of whether those goals were achieved or not so you don’t dump all your money into services that don’t even actually help you out.



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