by Al Jackson3
The Indie Road:
Getting Into Gaming As a Pair
A short time after I bought my first Android, I got bitten by the smart phone bug and found myself swept up in an obsession that to date has me sleeping little, working two full-time jobs and spending a good portion of my time engaged in some of the most exciting work I’ve ever done, that being the work of building Hardcore Droid, of developing its voice and vision. A prevalence of storied, nuanced games ripe with details that suggest a labor of love is part of that vision, and the Trese Brother’s games (as well as numerous others like them on the Play Store’s Paid Apps list) are exactly the kind of games that will make that vision real. Oh, and the bug, the one that bit me. That happened while I was playing a Trese Brother’s Game.
It suddenly became clear to me while playing Templar Assault Elite that if a largely self-taught, two-man team could produce a number of quality RPGs and find a bona fide audience that there was something rare and special going on within the backdrop of Android gaming. Driven by an open source OS and a relatively open marketplace, there exists within that world an environment where anyone with talent and passion can create something new, and find an audience and that is rare and fertile ground in our market-driven culture. It’s the kind of place that produced things like rap music, the blues and rock and roll. It’s the kind of place where video games came into existence. And if that sounds like I’m placing it on too high a pedestal then accept at least that there’s a place in Android gaming where new and wonderful things happen and that it is in this place where you’ll find the work of Andrew and Cory Trese. Their games are some of the best indie mobile titles period. And their upcoming fantasy-themed RPG, Heroes of Steel (product of a victorious Kickstarter campaign) we have no doubt will be the runaway hit it deserves to be. Considering their proven talent, however, we are expecting still greater things from them in the future. Without a doubt, they are developers to watch.
My brother Cory and I are the indie game developers known as the Trese Brothers. For the last three years, we have been warriors of the weekends and very late nights, tirelessly creating and publishing four games for Google Play for the Android and one game for the iTunes App Store. Our game catalog – including Age of Pirates, Cyber Knights, Star Traders, and Templar Assault – has reached 1.5 million downloads and is marching toward 2 million. In March of 2013, we successfully raised $20,000 on KickStarter for our fifth game, Heroes of Steel. And in June of 2013, we transitioned from full-time software architects and weekend game developers to full-time indie game developers.
All that is to say, we are very small and very indie. But we must be doing something right because we are carving out a niche, paying our own bills, building a strong community, and raising funding to boot.
How did we get started? I am Andrew, the younger brother by two years. Cory and I have been dreaming about, making, breaking, and playing games since I can remember – sometime in the late 80’s. In 1990, we received our first commercial game as a present, the Heroes Quest board game, when I was seven years old. In my early teens, we coded our first computer games: text-based dungeon crawls using Microsoft Basic and later worked on MUDs in Perl and C.
We wrote game systems together, let our friends pick them apart, and rebuilt them to play better. Through our high school and my college years, we worked more on pen and paper RPGs and war games, as we had yet to learn the skills needed to craft serious video games (see above, the mention of Perl.)
One major advantage we had being brothers is that early and honest feedback and criticism is critical to creating fun game systems. Each of us always had someone whom we could bounce our ideas off or someone to share our next project with before it was ready for prime time.
Even with all that, it took us a decade to come back to the dream of making games full-time.
Don’t Discount Industry Experience
Before coming full circle to game development, Cory and I worked through our 20’s as software architects developing different software applications used by many Fortune 500 companies—completely unrelated to gaming. It is too easy for entrepreneurs and indie developers to turn their noses up at industry experience. You don’t know how much you could learn! What we learned about running a business, a team, projects with deadlines, projects with real budgets, the value of customer service and quality control, and the real requirement to work 8 to 10 hours day was invaluable… I don’t think we would be successful now without these years. Sure, we weren’t making games and the nine to five grind can be painful but we were working on big-scale projects and learning invaluable discipline and perspective that helped us achieve success in our next phase.
Mobile as our Enabler and Going Indie
Mobile gaming opened the door for us. In fact, it blew the door off the hinges and then crushed the wall the door was hanging on. On the other side of the rubble, we found hundreds of thousands of gamers. We hadn’t expected it. We created our first game without intending to sell it – a space-opera trading game called “Star Traders,” that we loved to play. It took only a few weeks of work and $25 to upload the first prototype of the game to Google Play. A few hours later, hundreds of people were downloading it all over the world. Then they were emailing us, commenting, asking for guides. The ease of distribution and reaching an immediate audience was staggering! The walls came down and we were hooked. We suddenly had a zero cost business on our hands. (The $25 fee is for life).
One game led to two, three, and then four while we were still holding down our nine to five jobs (and doing over-time for them). We had the stability of full-time jobs but the insanity of having two full-time jobs at once. Cory and I had been dreaming about going full-time since the first paid download came in on Google Play. We knew it was a now-or-never moment. As we both love math, we developed a very calculated plan for our transition including milestones and timelines to keep us marching.
The first goal was to raise funding for our next game. That led us to our awesome KickStarter project, Heroes of Steel. One thing I love about being an indie is that we are our own creative bosses and we hold all the reins and all the control. Being able to crowd fund lets the crowd decide if they like our vision and our creations, and if they do then they will fund us and empower us to keep creating to our own tune.
And it worked (see the section called Start Your Community Now, below)! We had the drive, the skills, and had achieved a critical mass of exposure. We had a thriving community that backed us. The Heroes of Steel KickStarter raised 170 percent of its funding goal ($20,000 on a $12,000 goal) and allowed us to take the plunge and go full-time. We KickStarted in March of 2013 and transitioned to full-time development to build Heroes of Steel just two months later. Six months later, we are about to release the alpha version of the game to our backers.
So you want to work in Video Games?
We are always trying to recognize and record the lessons we’ve learned. So what advice would I share? At the end of the day, this advice applies to any entrepreneur, but just with a gaming-twist.
1. Outwork your peers
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise — being an indie game developer is a lot of work! In a small team of two, we both do almost everything — marketing, customer service, testing (See, I put all the fun stuff first!) and of course coding, content development and art. Work harder and longer, with more determination, motivation and drive. If someone tells you that it can’t be done, prove them wrong.
2. Create a Game You Love to Play
It is critical that you love your game. No, let me say that again: it is critical that you love to play your game. You’re probably going to love your creation just because you created it. But don’t let that love blind you. Play your own games for hours. You’ll learn a lot of things that you might have missed. You’ll see the little snags in the UI that grind on you after the 100th touch or click, you’ll see how new players will experience the game. Change your strategy and play again! Play more! Be your own critic and your own fan. If you don’t love playing your game, it’s unlikely others will love playing either.
3. Don’t just Listen to Feedback, Voraciously Seek Feedback
You will hear a lot that it is important to “listen to feedback “or “accept criticism.” In my opinion, that advice falls short. You need to voraciously seek feedback and criticism. Put yourself and your game out there. Indie developers need thick skins, so toughen up and ask for feedback, ask for criticism. What can we do better? How can we make this more fun?
I recently got an email from one of our gamers; it was short and to the point: “Age of Pirates isn’t good. Keep trying.” I’ve received much worse. It would be easy to ignore this email as non-constructive criticism, but what an opportunity to seek feedback! I fired back, “Thanks for the feedback! Do you mind sharing why you don’t enjoy Age of Pirates? It might help us move the game in the right direction!” It was a great conversation, and I impressed him with our responsiveness and positive attitude and gathered the nuggets of gold from his feedback. The best feedback isn’t going to just waltz through your door, so go find it!
4. Start your Community Today
Mobile was our enabler. It let us put ourselves out there; publishing our email addresses and cellphone numbers with our games (it sounds crazy, right?). We quickly found people who liked our genres, our games, and our inspirations. We kicked off a forum, Facebook pages, and our blog. Community engagement started eating hours! But you have to invest, you have to build your community, otherwise it’s going to be hard to get the word out, get feedback, acquire lifelong fans, and acquire new fans.
And it paid off. Today, we have a thriving community, an email list of thousands who love our games, a fan artist working on a web comic, a dozen fan fiction writers penning serials and book-length works within our worlds. We have gamers writing guides and hosting “community challenges.” They are building a strong eco-system around our games, a core community for new gamers to find and engage as they try our games.
When we ran our KickStarter for Heroes of Steel, our community was the core of our success. They provided a good deal of the funding, and helped get the word out to much larger numbers than we could have on our own. Our success and ability to move forward was rooted in the strength of our community. Get your game out there, get feedback, and recruit gamers, and invest in them until you have a vibrant community.
5. “Death before Dishonor, Templar!”
This is a war cry of the order of Templar Knights in our combat tactics game, Templar Assault. Cory and I shout it out whenever we are about to plunge into a particularly nasty bug, game balance challenge, or an exciting part of game design. Cory and I do our best work when we are ruthless with ourselves and our games, allowing no mercy and no fear. It is easy to let hours of work, fear of failure, or your investment in something blind you into believing it’s good enough. Love your art, love your games, but strive for the best. You will not get it right the first time. Adapt, iterate, and try again.
Back into the breach, my friend!
For more information about the fabulous Trese Brothers:
Visit their Blog
Visit their Kickstarter page
See out review of Age of Pirates
See our review of Tempar Assault Elite
Or look for them on Google Play
If you are an indie developer or games journalist interested in reading all of the articles from Part One of our So You Want to Work in Video Games Series as well as all of the upcoming articles in the series, plus exclusive interviews, reviews, our app and digital magazine, you should subscribe to Hardcore Droid.
*Send an email to aljackson[AT]hardcoredroid[DOT]com, type “work in games” in the subject heading and I will send you a discount coupon worth 25% off our already rather inexpensive yearly subscription fee.