Interview: Tiny Goalie — Scoring with Simplicity
Tiny Goalie is the latest app from Brighton-based Fat Fish Games. A small team of indie developers, they have been publishing a range of software from their South-East studio for the best part of eight years. Gamebrit caught up with Anthony Barker, the teams Creative Director to find out just how Tiny Goalie may be the perfect replacement for your lamented Flappy Bird addiction.
Available for free from both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play store, Tiny Goalie is simple to play and addictive to boot. You simply slide your finger from side-to-side, controlling a goalkeeper who is tasked with saving any balls kicked his way. Let one past you and it’s Game Over.
Gamebrit — Can you tell us a little about your history developing apps?
Anthony Barker — I first started out as a freelance graphic/web designer, then after a few years I joined a small team who have been developing utilities and games for over 7-8 years now.
We started making apps for a number of leading clients, their brands and movie tie-ins contracts. That was back in the flip-phone Java App days where we were pushing more pixels than creating full blown 3D games. In 2008 with the release of the iPhone App Store we moved on to smartphones. In 2010-11 we had a hit with an iPhone utility app called My Secret Folder. That gave us enough of a push to say goodbye to client based work and focus on making our own apps and games.
Gamebrit — What was the inspiration behind TinyGoalie, and how did you approach the development process?
Anthony Barker — I am a big fan of pixel art, whether its in games or art in general. Being able to capture a character, their movement, drama and humour in so few pixels can be quite challenging. We have made some fairly simple games in the past and I don’t like to over complicate your game experience, especially in mobile. The Flappy Bird saga had given me the urge to revisit some of my many year-old game concepts through and onto to the App Store.
The idea for Tiny Goalie came from one of our older game releases called Football Headers. The game was a take on the Wii Fit mini-game where you headed balls away and avoid panda heads. In Football Headers we chose to head balls away and dodged water bottles and football boots.
Football Headers still ‘sells’ well today, although for free. I wanted to see how we could enhance this game’s mechanics, so I started creating a 2D, top-down version of the game, and after showing my colleagues and friends, they all loved it so much that we decided to release it as Tiny Goalie.
Gamebrit — The game is currently offered for free (ad-supported) and with no in-app purchases. Why is that? Is this just a ‘for fun’ experimental project?
Anthony Barker — Tiny Goalie was a little bit of an experiment that evolved into a release game. I wasn’t expecting the game to make any kind of traction. In the wake of Flappy Bird, my aim was to see if this simple game had ‘legs’ and to test that it had to be a free game, sadly.
With an App Store full of millions of apps (5% of them now being Flappy Bird clones) if you want to see results fast, it has to be free.
Gamebrit — Following on from that, can you comment on in-app purchases and the moblie gaming ‘freemium’ trend in general – what are your thoughts on the ‘race to the bottom’ when it comes to app pricing. What way would you personally like to see things go?
Anthony Barker — This annoys me the most about mobile gaming – The 69p (99c) mentality – I could go on for days about this topic. A lot of people out there want an entire game, that takes months, if not years to make, all for the price of a chocolate bar or a can of fizzy drink. Some even moan when an App is free with ads in.
The pressure to force developers to go freemium or reduce their app or game to pennies in order to compete is sadly tarnishing this industry. Long development times suddenly become questionable, and when simple games like Flappy Bird fly up the charts without any promotion, that can only leave many developers like ourselves throwing away the play book and saying to ourselves “WTF?!”.
App pricing and chart competition is so fierce that it has forced smaller developers, who do not have huge marketing budgets, to sell their hard graft for so little, or even give it away entirely for free in order to compete alongside the masses to get themselves seen. I have seen many try and die. They say only 10-20% of App Store games/apps make any real money and that couldn’t be any more than the truth.
Games such as Flappy Bird, that can take merely hours to make, are ideal on the App Store as you can fail fast with very little investment in development time. However, on the flip side of this though, this leaves an App Store full of ‘simple’ games and clones, as we have seen. You have to ask yourself: aren’t these simple games enough for your mobile, as you ride on the bus or train home? If you want to sit down and get full immersed in deep story, compelling gameplay and rich graphics, you’re better off experiencing all that whilst sitting on your couch in front of your super powered console and 55-inch TV.
Gamebrit — Tiny Goalie is gaming boiled-down to its simplest form, did you find yourself setting out to make something so simplistic or did you strip out stuff trying to find that sweet spot?
Anthony Barker — From recent experience, it is better to fail fast when it comes to making games for any platform. With mobile games and the short time people want to play then, the game and its mechanics have to be simple, quick, accessible and easy to learn what you need to do, all within seconds. No nasty long-winded tutorials or lengthy levelling up. People just don’t have the time these days.
Add to this, that Tiny Goalie is made by me – someone that has very little coding experience – the game had to be kept simple. Making a game that is so simple, yet be challenging and also addictive is a sweet spot that is difficult get right. Making it good enough so that the player is brag their score to your friends and family is the holy grail.
Gamebrit — The game seems to have been received really well, can you tell us how its doing and if its meeting/exceeded your expectations?
Anthony Barker — The game has exceeded beyond my expectations. Every developer wishes their hard work to be adopted by many gamers around the world. However so few actually do. Being a bit of a realist of this App Store success statistic, I wasn’t expecting to see it take off as much as it has done over the last few days of its early life.
It is currently doing very well in Italy, Russia and Ukraine, however to be a hit success you need to see yourself do just as well in the UK and best of all USA. Like music and film, cracking these countries is very hard and normally takes a large marketing spend to get yourself known. So any game that does this organically, for free, has hit that special sweet spot that so many developers long for in their games.
Gamebrit — How long did it take to develop Tiny Goalie, was it a one man effort?
Anthony Barker — Tiny Goalie was created just by myself. With little game coding knowledge I used a program that many developers would snigger over called GameSalad. Over many years of its development, GameSalad is still in beta form, so it does have its niggles and limitations, but for people like my self who do not know how to code it is a great engine to get an idea from paper up and running within minutes or an entire game completed in hours or days.
Tiny Goalie took around over a week to make (in chess clock time). It was a few evenings and weekends work fleshing out the layout, creating the artwork and making sure the experience was simple, tight and easy to pick up and play.
Gamebrit — Having spent time developing Tiny Goalie, can you now sit down and enjoy playing it?
Anthony Barker — Luckily with such a short development time on the game I still enjoy playing the game. Usually after a few months or years of development you can grow pretty tired of it very quickly. So short development times on games like Tiny Goalie can keep you enthused on the product.
Seeing everyone’s hi-scores has left me amazed, though. It is great to see everyone using the game to compete with their friends and family, and it is an area I hope to enhance in future updates for the game.
Gamebrit — What are the future plans for the game, if any?
Anthony Barker — Due to the great success of the game, my team has decided to take Tiny Goalie’s development in-house, where we will be handing it over to our tamed programmer who will be working on porting it over to a much better and more adaptable game engine.
This will allow us to iron out some current platform bugs and issue that the latest build has as well as bring some new features to table and support for more platforms.
Gamebrit — Do you intend to support any other platforms?
Anthony Barker — We had Tiny Goalie up on Google Play for Android for a few days, paid, yet no one bought it! Sadly that is how most App Stores roll these days; so adverts were squeezed in and the game went free.
Due to a hit detection bug in the GameSalad engine, which meant no one could press the Play button, we had to pull the game off the store. Developing for iOS has been much smoother, where as on Android you have to support over 5,000 different devices, all with their different CPU and graphic processors, display resolutions and screen sizes. We can do our best, but we can’t support them all as much as we’d like to, so it can be a bit of a minefield on that platform. Thankfully, the GameSalad team recently fixed this issue and Tiny Goalie is now available to download again from the Play Marketplace.
As soon as we have the game ported over to our new engine, which will be completed any day now, we may look into bringing Tiny Goalie to the Windows Phone and potentially some other TV, controller-based platforms too. So be sure to follow us on Twitter or on Facebook for any new updates and announcements.
Gamebrit — What are you working on next?
Anthony Barker — We have a few new ideas planned for Tiny Goalie. Plus you might be seeing more ‘Tiny’ things in the very near future.
With the success of the game it has also encouraged me to revisit a few of my old concepts over the past year and see if any of them also have ‘legs’ on the App Store.
Gamebrit — The in-game characters sport both red and blue shirts. So, what team do you support?
Anthony Barker — Blue and Red shirts are some of the most popular colours for teams around the world. So it made sense to bring that Red vs Blue rivalry to the game.
Ironically I do not really follow football that much. I know, right? Our studio is full of football supporters and we also sit pretty close to the new Brighton AMEX Stadium, so all of this has also help to inspire the development of Tiny Goalie.