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Friday
Jan152010

Building a Preschool iPhone Game, Part 2

When I left off at the end of Part 1 in this series, I had found the developer and graphic artist I wanted to work with.  Finding them has turned out to be the most important part of the whole process.  Every day I work on this project, I'm very thankful for both of the individuals I'm working with.  Not only are they very skilled at what they do, but they're very easy to get along with, and never seem to fret when changes need to be made.  They're both as dedicated to the game's success as I am.

After I had verbal confirmation from both of them that they were interested in the project, it was time to get things going legally and officially.  It was a little bit scary to take something that was just an idea in my head and begin investing serious money in it!

As I mentioned in Part 1, I didn't have enough money to pay a developer upfront.  I'm not even sure how much a developer costs, but I only had a few thousand dollars to spend.  My developer agreed to a profit share agreement, where each of us would split whatever income the game makes from the iTunes Store.  That allowed me to spend the money I did have on paying the graphic artist, and on the legal fees that would be involved in establishing a company and getting contracts written. 

It took me almost two months to go through the whole process of incorporation.  The iTunes Store will only let you sell an app under a legal name, either your own, or an official corporate name.  It didn't seem right to sell a game we made together under only my name.  Plus, there were other benefits to incorporating, like keeping the finances separate from my own bank account, and having legal protection for not producing the game in my own name.  I read up on small business laws, which was the most time consuming part.  I weighed the pros and cons between forming an LLC or an S-Corp, and then hired a lawyer to help me file the necessary paperwork.  I was lucky and found a friend of a friend who specializes in small business law and gave me a good rate.  Once the ball was rolling on that, I hired a different lawyer to help me with the contracts for my developer and graphic artist.  I could have used the small business lawyer, but I had met someone who specializes in interactive media and video games while I was attending Boston GameLoop, and I decided to go with him.

We had a team conference call so the three of us could talk through the plans for the project.  Much of what we talked about was already in the design document I had written, but it was good to talk through it and make sure we were all on the same page.  The developer talked with the artist about the specs and file requirements she would need.  I didn't understand 100% of what was said because some of it was pretty technical, but I wrote it all down anyway. When the call was over, I typed everything we discussed in an email that we could all refer back to.

Since then, everything has taken place via email and file exchange at box.net.  The graphic artist sent me some pencil sketches, and after just a couple of back and forths, she arrived at art that I fell in love with.  The programmer got a first build together pretty quickly, too.  The first couple of builds were only playable on the computer, but it wasn't long before she had a build that ran on the iPhone itself.  Meanwhile, I took care of everything that needed to be done to get into the Apple iTunes Store.  Those things are all listed in this handy article, so I won't repeat them here.

In the past several weeks, there has been a lot of QA testing by the programmer and myself.  That means we play the game over and over to see what wonky 'bugs' occur that shouldn't be happening, and we record them in a spreadsheet.  The programmer then works out kinks in the code so the bugs don't happen anymore.  It can be time consuming to QA because once you observe a bug, you have to reproduce it a few times to confirm what conditions cause it to happen.

We have also made a few tweaks to the conditions that affect the game's difficulty, but now we're ready to watch some kids play the game and see how difficult they find the game to be.  I am most curious to see if kids understand how to play the game, because when the game is released, we won't be there to tell each player what to do.  I'm doing my best to make the game play intuitive without using formal directions, so we'll see how clear it actually is when I observe some kids play.  Watch this blog for more about the kid testing process and intuitive play in Part 3.

Picture of a toddler playing with an iPhone by jessica.garro, shared via Creative Commons.

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