How I Brought My App Idea To Life

I’ve got an idea for a great game, just like a million other people, so what do I do next? Read on to find out.

We’ve all been struck with a great idea for the perfect game or productivity tool, but that flash of inspiration isn’t going to bring itself to life. If you really think your idea is a winner then you need to decide whether you’re going to build it yourself, ask for help or simply let it slide and chalk it up as another one that got away.

My big idea is for a game, which I know is a pretty tough market to crack even if you do have a great idea. Having spoken to game developers in the past, I know that if you leap into your first game with dreams of striking it rich then you’re likely setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s best to view it as a labour of love, and allocate your time and effort to it accordingly.

Do your research

Before you get too excited, the first step is to do a little market research to see if your great idea has already been brought to life and whether there’s actually demand – critical for a productivity app but perhaps less important when it comes to games.

If you’re building a casual smartphone game and you’re hoping to make a few bucks then you need to think about “replayability” – is it a compelling idea which will draw people in, keep them coming back for more and hopefully encourage them to share it with their friends?

If you wanted to be more cynical you might think of it as Pavlovian addictiveness – something that’s easy to learn, difficult to master, doesn’t take too long to play and rewards you with a sense of satisfaction when you find success.

Of course there are some great games which succeed because they ignore all these rules – but you need to learn the rules before you can break them.

My idea started out as a physical tile game, roughly a dominoes-style colour matching game with some mathematics thrown in for good measure. It’s far from revolutionary, but my family has been play testing it on the kitchen table for a while and we’ve honed the rules and gameplay.

Whatever your idea, I’d say it’s a good idea to start with shuffling pieces of paper around on the table to flesh out the concept, long before you think about cutting code.

Take the leap

Rather than let my good idea wither on the vine, I’ve decided to take it to the next level. Instead of self-publishing it as a physical game, or try pitching it to game publisher, I thought an app might offer an easier path to monetisation. Should the app find some success then a more expensive physical game will be much easier to sell.

Now you reach that fork in the road where you need to decide whether to build it yourself or call in the experts. In some situations speed to market might be important, to seize on a lucrative opportunity or beat a rival to the punch, but that’s not really an issue here.

To be honest I’m not confident enough in my idea to invest good money in a decent app developer, but I’d also be reluctant to sign up with a budget developer perhaps waiting for suckers like me to come along.

If you are confident enough to pay a developer then look for someone with a proven track record who is keen to listen to your requirements rather than just jump in.

Make sure you read the fine print regarding who owns your game, how the profits are split and the process for releasing updates. If you don’t understand how your app works under the bonnet then you’re totally at the developer’s mercy.

Do it yourself

After weighing up my options I decided to build my game myself, I’ve dabbled in programming before but I’m starting from scratch in terms of smartphone development. Meanwhile my (almost) teenage son has created some quite sophisticated games using MIT’s Scratch, but it’s not really designed for smartphone development.

My game idea isn’t too complicated in terms of graphics and gameplay, the challenge lies more in the backend logic regarding tile placement, matching and scoring. There are plenty of app development tools for beginners which might do the job, such as GameSalad, but I decided to go with Stencyl because it relies on a Scratch-style interface so I can bring my son onboard as a co-developer.

After a few hours our first demo is coming together nicely, Stencyl seems to meet our needs and we’re making much better progress than if either of us had tackled the project alone – I’m dealing with the big picture and he’s working out the fine details of how to implement our ideas.

At this point we haven’t spent any money, but if we’re happy with the results it will cost a few hundred dollars for the professional version of Stencyl and the developer fees to get into Apple’s App Store and Google Play. For now we’re treating it as a father/son school holidays project rather than dreaming of riches – once it’s up and running we’ll rope in a few play testers and decide whether it’s worth taking it to the next level.

Do you have a great app idea simmering away? What’s your plan for bringing it to life?

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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