One-man (or woman. One-person is probably better) shows are nothing new to the indie game development industry, but often these companies are never fully formed, stuck in the limbo between being a hobby and something that can pay the bills. For Stefan Dieckman, founder and currently sole employee of mobile game developer Cape of Good Games (www.cogg.co.za), he’s made the leap and is now raking in the rewards for his hard work, so we thought it’d be a great idea to chat with the fellow and how it got where he is and where he’s going from here.
NAG: What did you do before you got into game development? And why did you get into game development?
Stefan Dieckmann: I was just a regular programmer working for a small IT company in Cape Town. I’ve always enjoyed playing games for as long as I can remember, plus I was getting bored programming simple applications. So moving on to game development was a logical choice and one I’ve never regretted.
NAG: What has been the biggest challenge for you, moving from a hobbyist developer to a professional one?
Stefan: I think the biggest challenge for me and many people is money and lack thereof. To become a professional developer you usually have to go full time. That means you need to earn enough from your games to cover costs and living expenses. This might be hard in the beginning since games usually take a while to cover their costs.
NAG: Your focus is on mobile: was that a financial decision, a technical one? Do you see yourself getting into PC/console development?
Stefan: I decided to focus on mobile mainly due to scope. I work alone most of the time and have to do everything from design to programming. Thus smaller mobile games are easier and quicker to make. In my experience you want to start out small, release some games and then expand from there. I’m not sure if I’ll get into PC/console since mobile phones are getting more and more powerful.
NAG: What are your most successful games?
Stefan: My most successful game is Maze 100. It reached #1 on the Australian AppStore in games and #1 overall for all apps. Maze 100 only found success about six months after I released that game. I remember one day checking my sales and I saw this huge spike in downloads for Maze 100 which lasted for about two weeks. No idea what caused it, but I’m grateful to the Aussies for their support.
My other successful games are Mini Golf Venture and Ludo 3D Extreme. With Ludo 3D Extreme I sort of cheated and bought a game starter project on the Unity Asset Store for about $30. I didn’t have to change much, simply convert it to mobile and publish it to the AppStore. It’s made about 100 times what I spent on it in profit. Another thing I’ve noticed is that a game might be popular on iOS but not make a scratch on Android and vice versa.
NAG: Tell me a bit about the games you’re currently working on.
Stefan: I’m busy working on a tower defence game similar to Defense Grid on the PC. While it doesn’t reinvent the genre, I am striving to make it a polished, fun and beautiful game for the phone. I’m also working on a children’s game where you get to construct your own world. I have so much fun level designing I thought it would be a great to create a game where kids can experience the joy in making their own levels.
NAG: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing local game developers who want to “make it big”?
Stefan: From experience I would say the biggest challenge is aiming too high at first. Many game developers starting off try to make a massive first game that takes years to complete. The game either never gets finished or it does but runs the risk of not making that much money. Creating a hit game is often down to luck. My tip is to not put all your eggs in one basket.
NAG: I’ve met a lot of indie devs who swear by Unity. How has the software impacted your game development process, and what other game development software have you used in the past?
Stefan: Unity is the best thing that has happened to my game development career. It has allowed me to make fun, good looking games in small amounts of time. The ease of use, support for both iOS and Android, plus access to the Unity Asset Store makes it a winner in my opinion. I’ve used XNA to make a few games in the past, most notably The Harvest while I worked at Luma Arcade.