Coconut Dodge dev: iOS is all about luck

Futurlab's James Marsden explains why indie devs should head for the PSN

James Marsden of UK development studio Futurlab has urged independent developers to skip the iOS gold rush, and look to PlayStation Minis to make their mark.

"I think the Vita is a great platform for indies," Marsden told Gamasutra.

"It frustrates me that iOS is the flame the moths are flying towards -- ultimately they are doomed unless they've got enormous resources for visibility. Even though you might not win big on Minis, you're pretty much guaranteed to make some sales. This, for me, is a better first step for people getting started."

Selling more copies of its titles Coconut Dodge on PSN independently than it did with EA's support on iOS has led Marsden to believe the App Store is just a risk for smaller developers.

"If you're an indie, luck plays such a huge role that it's not worth trying."

He was eager to praise Sony's support of indies, and said it allowed the team to make deeper games as a result.

"Sony's really open for independent developers to come and publish on its platform, and I think they're probably the only platform holder that's really giving developers this window of opportunity," he continued.

"The way we see it is we want to make proper, immersive gaming experiences. We don't want to make iOS distract-em-ups. For us to do that as a newbie is really tough: we're going up against the studios that have been established for 10, 15 years."

Futurlab's most recent title is Velocity, which it also released as a PlayStation Mini, and which has over 100,000 users.

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Latest comments (11)

Greg Knight Freelance Developer 5 years ago
Come on then. Sales figures?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Knight on 28th June 2012 8:45am

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
The marketing challenge of iOS is to make your own luck.
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I agree with him about Vita being a great piece of hardware and velocity looks cool. But if you make an IOS distract-em-up about coconuts falling on a crab, I'm not so sure I'd reach for cosmic bad luck as my primary reason it didn't shift zillions.
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Show all comments (11)
Barry: LOL.

These kind of articles are dangerous, someone might take that without grain of salt. There are hundreds of devs whose game flopped on, say, PC. Does that mean that PC is crappy platform and success is just a gamble? Think not.
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James Marsden Managing Director, FuturLab5 years ago
Totally a believer of making one's own luck, but there's only so much you can do with limited resources. I say that being very confident that you'd find it hard to knock our innovative marketing efforts ( - also check the follow up reply and links in the comments).

Minis simply makes the job of making your *first* mark a lot easier than iOS. We were able to establish a small fan base with Coconut Dodge on minis, and enough revenue to start making our next game. Velocity was 2 years of graft alongside work for hire projects, and I was not going to risk that amount of work on the App Store, having witnessed Coconut Dodge's failure in the hands of EA. Just to be clear, I am not blaming EA for the failure, nor am I saying we had *bad luck* - the reality of the AppStore just makes it too much of a risk for someone just starting out, and needing to make something in return to keep going.

My comments also come as a result of witnessing devs around me that have spent years of time and effort making iOS games that have also flopped - whereas if they'd self published the same game on minis, it would have made *something* back for the effort invested, and allowed them to continue.

I hope all this comes across clearly :)

Edited 5 times. Last edit by James Marsden on 29th June 2012 11:08am

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Nick Baynes Studio Head, Gunjin Games Ltd5 years ago
James, I think the hardest thing right now for getting your argument listened to is the lack of other Mini's developers coming out and agreeing with you vocally. At the moment, as far as I can see, Futurlab is a lone voice proclaiming how amazing Minis are compared to other platforms for small devs (or maybe you're just the only one good at getting mainstream coverage!)

One success story in isolation doesn't mean that everyone is going to sit up and take notice and agree with you.... I'm curious as to why other devs aren't jumping on the back of your recent publicity to also shout about how great Minis have been for them? I wonder if it's because a lot of devs look at Minis as a stepping stone, or an additonal revenue stream to iOS etc whereas you're championing them as a viable platform to focus on (for which I applaud you)

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James Marsden Managing Director, FuturLab5 years ago
I would hazard a guess it's because it takes quite a bit of courage to champion a platform publically when you're not rich yet :)

I don't expect that any minis developers are rolling in the cash, but there are developers like Laughing Jackal, Dakko Dakko and Mediatonic that have had repeat business with minis, so they must be getting something out of it. Laughing Jackal are approaching 1,000,000 downloads of their games, most of which are on minis.

I do believe minis is a stepping stone to bigger things - that's certainly our goal - but the word needs to get out there that it is a *good* first step to take. One that rewards effort with a fanbase, reviews in major publications and... sales :)

Come on Laughing Jackal, give minis a bit of love on here...

Edited 2 times. Last edit by James Marsden on 29th June 2012 11:37am

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Hiya James,
Ha that velocity mail was great, I just may steal that sir :P
Vita makes a ton of sense now for small companies for exactly the reason you pointed out: easier to get noticed in a relatively high profile platform, so it's easier to chieve 'enough' sales to guarantee a sequal, though of course you are passing up on the selling-kabillions-on-IOS dream due to the (current) limited userbase numbers.

On your other point, I think lot of indy devs that fail simply try to make a better version of a game or gameplay they love that already exists. Where that is the route to success, and it can be, it really is a path involving scary amounts of luck and, even more useless, trend.

There are other options of course. For me I think if we are to become real game makers then that means leaving behind what's come before for new ideas, new IP, "new ways to entertain" as EA might say. You always have your influences with you anyway, so why put them on screen? Better to push the new, the special, the unique, to stand out, make your own trend.

But more basically, I just think if I'm lucky enough in life to get a chance to create something in an industry I love, I want to be like my heroes and make something brand new. In any creative/entertainment field, noone will or should care about folks just doing whats expected. People like surprise, no matter how much investors and luminaries tell us what the crowd likes is familiarity, repetition, predictive behaviour and similar sinister shite. The crowd those eejits are talking about there is themsleves.

Best of luck to you guys with Velocity anyway James. We're trying our own luck on IOS this year - maybe in six months I'll have an article bemoaning our fate :P
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James Marsden Managing Director, FuturLab5 years ago
Agreed, we'd much rather build a reputation for innovation and good ideas. Velocity as a project was chosen very carefully. With limited resources (no artist in-house), we knew we could push the nostalgia button whilst doing something completely new that nobody had seen before (Teleportation).

I'm also slightly (heavily) biased toward devices with physical controls. One reviewer said it better than I ever could:

"Elegantly taking down a series of switches while fending off enemy attacks and bombing a defence grid directly activates the part of my brain that makes me love games."

- Velocity has very high input intensity gameplay. It uses all the buttons on the device in quick succession, ramped up from pedestrian and easy to insane levels of proficiency:

It therefore just wouldn't work on touch-only devices.

There must be others out there like me, who want to make twitch-based games, but are making touch based games because iOS represents a (potentially) bigger financial reward.

That goes against my creative sensibilities so much that it makes me feel a bit nauseous... Minis would be good for those folks too :p


EDIT: How rude of me not to say: Best of luck with your project :)

Edited 3 times. Last edit by James Marsden on 29th June 2012 12:37pm

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Thanks James, you too sir :)
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Daren Morgan Developement Manager, Laughing Jackal5 years ago
Sorry for joining the conversation a little late 

This is going to be a little weird as we have done the minis thing first and will be trying the iOS route a little later this year. So not sure how the results will pan out. So at the moment I cannot compare the two.

With regards to the minis question. First thing I would like to say here is that we still believe that the PSN customer still isnít fully aware of the what minis are. Are they cheap nasty games? Are they a showcase for small developers? Etc... So this does limit the audience a little. We have found that once people get on board with minis they do become loyal to what SCEE is trying to do.

To get on to a console minis are certainly a good way to get your foot in the door. You certainly donít arrive cold to the folks over at SCEE when you want to push for the bigger projects. Admittedly our route has been a little different to most. We did a lot of localisation work in the early days which gave us some good connections to SCEE. Never the less doing the minis has kept us in touch SCEE and made us very visible. Like most small teams moving away from your bread and butter work is a risky thing. So being able to make titles on a short dev cycle and get them to a very focused outlet (PSN store) is a good way to find out if your idea is appealing to gamers. After all making games is what we want to do J. Adding in the chance to get the published in the States for only the cost of a rating certainly helps broaden your audience.

If you can continue to impress SCEE they will do everything in their power to help you. Take our first minis Cubixx. It did well for us and put good focus on the LJ name. So when we asked SCEE about making the PS3 version (Cubixx HD) they were only too willing to assist. This led to massive support on the store when the game was released. If I remember correctly we were on the store front for over two weeks. (I have to say at this point having a great Account Manager to champion us really helps, thanks Neil J) Which bring us up to date with our latest project, helpfully christened ďMystery Game XĒ. This will be taking us into yet more new and unknown areas of business support.

And the reason for our large numbers of downloads on PSN is due to good relations, being in constant promotions and being very, very aggressive on price.
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