Making 7 Games in 2 Years
Updated: Feb 16
9 Cent Games is a tiny game studio in any ones books. I'm Joe, the sole owner, operator and developer of the studio and that fact means I need to think about game creation differently than a typical studio of any larger scale in order to even attempt to be competitive. The gaming industry is full of whales and a virtually infinite amount of small to medium sized studios all out creating amazing experiences.
9 Cent started in September 2019, right after a previous start up of mine, Action-Reaction Games disbanded. I spent 3 years on that start up building one single game that we successfully launched, but 3 years is a long time to release your first full game. Action-Reaction forced me to jump right into the deep end of game development before I was ready. This was a fantastic learning experience but my lack of experience on top of many other internal issues with the start up destined the operation to fail.
The 3 years of time I spent on that single game is at the core of the strategic decisions I made for 9 Cent Games in the beginning. The strategy was to build as many ultra simple games as I can, as fast as I can, and actually get them to launch. So that's what I did!
The first game was Emoji Tap which took exactly 1 month to build from complete scratch. It was the absolute most simple concept for a game I could conjure up. Emojis spawn in, and your goal is to tap them at the perfect time to get the highest score. I also made a reskinned version of Emoji Tap for Halloween which got released 2 weeks after the launch of Emoji Tap, but I don't count this as a 2nd game. It was just a reskin and mainly an experiment in seeing how quickly I could reskin the game.
The next 2 games which are Bad Apple Skates & De-Bomb took about 3 months total to bring to both games release state one after the other. Bad Apple was very exciting because it was made in collaboration with a local clothing brand, Bad Apple NF. (Find the brand here!) De-Bomb was a fun idea I had to bring a fresh take to the game MineSweeper.
Germs was the 4th game but it got rejected by Apple for being a little bit to relevant in the early days of the pandemic. That decision from Apple lead me to build Atomic Bond which was a reconceptualization of Germs, removed from the germ / pandemic themes. Atomic Bond was the 6th game I made is now the 2nd most successful game in my lineup.
Those 5 games all got made and released in the first 9 months of 9 Cent Games existence. Now, these are not perfect games by any stretch. In fact, they're really not even really that good. The creation of these games served several purposes for 9 Cent. It helped me get into the flow of independently releasing games under tight deadlines. They helped grow the 9 Cent brand by multiple games in our repertoire. Lastly and most importantly, all of these games helped establish what I call the 9 Cent Framework.
Each time I released a game in that first year, I would also add a new product focused feature to the 9 Cent Framework. These features now include rewarded and non-rewarded advertisement, in-app purchase capabilities, user authentication, local and cloud based save data, and tons of handy utilities that help me focus on actually creating games and less on boiler plate code. The framework also serves to keeps me from needing to rewrite or reconfigure the core systems and APIs that make my game function.
These product features are usually very heavy programming with little to do with actual game design. Spreading the development of these tools and features across several games helped me from getting fatigued by the technical nature of these features and allowed me to focus on individual parts of the framework which improved the quality of each individual part. I'm an artist at my core, and while the technical sides can be fun they're not always what I want to be doing with my days in production. Some days, I prefer to be working in more artistic realms of game development. This process of slow iteration over time lets me have the time to adapt to my natural drives as an artist.
Cyber Truck: STG, the 6th game, is the pinnacle of the frameworks capabilities as it implements every feature that the framework includes. CT:STG has also turned out to be 9 Cent Games first large project, currently the most successful one, and arguably the one with the most potential. It was originally released on a 3 month development cycle. After the release I quickly that I needed to improve the game in basically all aspects. This realization started a sequence of updates that carry on into the present day. I've totalled roughly 8 or 9 months worth of work on the game in between breaks and development of our 7th game.
Mush Rush was the 7th and most recent title in 9 Cents catalog. It was made in collaboration with a close friend of mine and it was also the longest single development cycle of any game in our line up taking 8 months to get it to release. We worked around the clock to get Mush Rush to a releasable state and even now the game still needs some work before we could actually consider it a finished product. Tutorials and what not.
So, I know 7 games in 2 years sounds pretty cool but there had to have been some downfalls to this strategy, right?
The first hard thing about releasing all these games so quickly is a total lack of testing. Getting proper testing done and actually implementing that feedback takes a lot of time and when you're a single developer doing everything it's nearly impossible to get proper testing done. So what ends up happening is you'll get feedback post release that you'll have to go ahead and push hard updates for. Now this is mostly fine, but it is smarter, more efficient and more satisfying to test the game before releasing and releasing your game in full confidence that nothing is wrong and it's actually fun.
I think all the games I've released so far do have a level of fun to them, but the problem I see with the games is the fun isn't always obvious. Whether the game takes some time to figure out due to a lack of instruction or simply it's just too niche of a concept. But the fact is if you're going to make mediocre games, you're going to get mediocre results, and by that I mean low download rates, poor reviews, etc. For me, these results were expected and I pushed through, but that doesn't mean it doesn't carry a weight. The games were simple but I still put my heart and soul into them. You can do your best to not be emotionally attached to your art but it's simply not that easy.
The second big challenge was handling everything that comes AFTER production. Imagine, you spend a minimum of 3 months building a game every day. All of your energy is going into this game and then it's finally done. So what now? Now, you have to release it, of course! But, what is required for a proper release? LOTS of stuff... Promotional graphics, videos, app store screen shots, lots of ideas for social media posts, and that's basically just for the initial launch. Once the game is out and you want it to grow, well you better become a full time marketing agency because that is the only way people are gonna find your game unless you have some big money to get in front of peoples eye balls.
One final downfall. Of course it goes without saying that there is always the possibility, If I had spent the entire 2 years on one single game, it could have been my best game ever and had immense success. While this is true, my creative ambitions lead me down the path that I took and that is how I know it was the right path. Now one of the primary goes of 9 Cent Games as a studio is to continue improving our most successful games and bringing better experiences to our users.
Now for the upsides of this rapid game creation approach.
It challenged me as a developer and an artist. Usually perfectionism is a struggle especially with games because there is always ways to improve the game. This process of releasing 7 games in 2 years allowed me to become skilled in knowing when to release a game and how to get it to a release state without getting distracted or going down the feature creep rabbit hole.
Another upside of creating games at this pace is the level of creativity it allows you to have while being in a production cycle. If you have a great idea for a new game, you always know you're only a few weeks away from the game you're currently working on being complete. This leads to a very motivating cycle for a solo developer giving you the satisfaction of releasing games while also experiencing the utter joy that comes with starting a new game project.
The satisfaction of creating all these games in a short amount of time is immense. Also, having all of these games released globally to the public opens up opportunity to be there when unforeseen trends go viral. Virality is NOT a business model or strategy by any stretch nor do I believe any of my games will ever go viral. But having several games around different topics definitely opens up some opportunity to catch the potential up swing of a viral topic such as the Cyber Truck... *wink wink*
These days I have a different strategy from the ultra quick releases that I started with. The games now involve a slower more calculated development cycle and my best titles will continue being updated and supported as time moves on. I also focus creating & sharing other forms of artistic digital content from both myself and other artists in the community! I am experimenting with new approaches to social media, writing blogs like this one, and always searching out new ways to share my creation process every step of the way as honestly as possible.
Well, now you know! This is sort of the origin story of 9 Cent Games and also some insight on how these games came to be and why. I hope some of you find something to take away from this experience of mine and I can't wait for the next steps in my journey as a game creator!