Torontos independent game scene has become almost legendary within the industry, but theres more to Southern Ontarios collective of small game studios than shops located within the Big Smoke.
A quick jaunt to the southwest, for example, will lead you to St. Catherines-based Rocketship Park, a tiny team that just launched its first big game, Block Droppin a little puzzler founded on classic block dropping mechanics for iOS devices.
But while both of Rocketship Parks founders Jim Squires and Shane McCafferty have plenty of experience in and around the game business, its always hard for an indie game to stand out. And thats especially true when its released into the most crowded game market there is: Apples App Store.
Post Arcade decided to pick Squires brain to find out how he plans to ensure his little company will survive and, hopefully, thrive. He shared his thoughts on the ever popular free-to-play business model (which Block Droppin uses), why he thinks his game may have a leg up on the competition, and what its like living on the periphery of Torontos booming indie games community.
Post Arcade: Tell us a little about Rocketship Parks genesis. How many of you are there, and how did you come together?
Jim Squires: Rocketship Park is a team of two located in St. Catharines. Collectively we have nearly two decades of experiences in mobile games, and that keeps growing every day.
Shane McCafferty and I first met as members of our local co-working space, Cowork Niagara. While there were plenty of active members in similar disciplines, Shane and I were the only two who were fully immersed in the games space. Whats more, we both had a focus on mobile games which caught us both by surprise.
We decided to test a working relationship in 2016 with the development and release of AlphaPit on the App Store. It was a great experience, and we quickly realized that we each had strengths that balanced out the other. Whats more, we both shared a belief in a central design philosophy: That games are at their best when built around creating a specific feeling or emotion in a player. As the year drew to a close and we considered future projects, we realized how much more could be done by formalizing what we do. And with that, Rocketship Park was born.
While were a team of two, were very keen on working with community partners and talented folks throughout Ontario, and have had the luxury to do so on a number of occasions since forming the company earlier this year.
Lets talk about the studios first game, Block Droppin. What do players do? Whats the hook?
Block Droppin is a fast-paced puzzle game that mixes a few different elements together to keep players on their toes. Players slide colored blocks to create shapes by matching colors. Once created, those shapes drop into a grid below where theyll need to complete horizontal lines to score points, just like in classic falling block puzzle games of the past.
In designing a unique experience built on familiar elements sliding tiles, matching colors, falling blocks weve strived to keep Block Droppin instantly accessible to the largest audience possible.
Where did the idea come from?
As we were making grandiose plans for our first major release, we thought it would be fun to prototype a few of our smaller ideas just to see what the mechanics would feel like. The first of these was a word game with a sliding tile mechanic. While the original idea ultimately proved too complex for mass market appeal, there was something incredibly satisfying about the sliding tiles wed implemented. We focused on this, stripped out a lot of the other elements (including the alphabet), and chased a very specific player experience through multiple iterations. By keeping an open mind about what was working and what wasnt, we were able to focus on the fun in every revision until Block Droppin evolved into the game you see today.
While it might not be the easiest design philosophy for a studio to adhere to once investors and partners enter into the picture, were fortunate enough to be at the start of our journey and can let a project breathe until we believe its the game it deserves to be.
Youve chosen to launch on mobile using a free-to-play model. What business factors influenced this decision?
Shane and I both come from the world of mobile games, so focusing our first launch on the App Store just made sense. Going free-to-play though? That was admittedly a little less instinctive. From a design standpoint, developing a premium game allows developers to focus on fun over monetization and thats always the goal we should be chasing. But we also have to be realistic about where the business stands today, and mobile game makers stand a far greater chance of turning a profit with free-to-play releases than they do with paid apps.
To strike a balance, we worked hard to find the fun in Block Droppin before working to implement a free-to-play monetization model that fits. This is a somewhat backwards way of working by current industry standards, but we feel you cant make a great game unless you treat great game as your starting point.
Were also big proponents of the free-to-start model, which lets developers deliver a premium game without scaring away the larger potential audience with an initial download price. Free-to-start allows players to download a premium game for free, and experience a certain percentage of that game before being prompted for a one-time payment to unlock the rest. Free-to-start is something were definitely considering for future releases, so long as it makes sense for the game were developing at the time.
Thousands of iOS games launch every year. How do you intend to stand out?
Thats an excellent question and knowing how challenging it is to get attention on the App Store, it would be misplaced bravado to claim weve found the magic formula. Ultimately though, the games that are embraced by players, press, and platforms are the ones that demonstrate quality and creativity and this is something were chasing with every product we make.
A significant percentage of games released in the mobile market are derivative of whats come before. By simply creating a quality game with a uniquely fun formula, we feel that were putting ourselves ahead of the competition. And if that sounds like misplaced bravado, at least I warned you in advance.
Southern Ontario is known for its large and supportive indie game industry, but its mostly located in Toronto, over an hour away from you. Do you still feel and benefit from this community?
Yes, but theres no denying that the distance makes us feel more like a well-regarded second cousin to the Toronto indie scene than a member of the immediate family. Despite our location, Im a proud member of Toronto organizations like the Hand Eye Society, attend events whenever theres an opportunity, and Shane and I will even be bringing Block Droppin to this years Bit Bazaar at the CNE. But the day-to-day interactions that Toronto indie game havens like Gamma Space deliver ultimately evade us.
Luckily theres a similar (though much smaller) indie games scene thats been brewing in Niagara. Were home to studios like Phantom Compass, Pixelnauts, and Creative Bytes, and both Brock University and Niagara College are training the next generation of Niagara game developers. Niagaras games scene is a community that continues to grow every year, and we couldnt be prouder to be a part of it.
Do you have any other projects coming down the pike, plans to port to Android or Steam, or are you fully focused on the iOS version of Block Droppin for the time being?
Were primarily focused on the iOS launch of Block Droppin, but we have a few things percolating behind the scenes as well. Our immediate plans are to support Block Droppin and grow it in response to player reception and there are a lot of possible directions that could take. At the same time though, were putting some effort into planning our next project. We dont have anything to reveal just yet, but even when were quiet, you can safely assume were always tinkering away at something that we cant wait to put in players hands.
The preceding interview was lightly edited for length and flow.
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