5. Quality of Execution
Another thing we put a lot of focus on was the quality of execution. We focused on high quality visuals, and went through a lot of iteration. If you make a game, it's worth iterating extensively, because you not only notice bugs or shortcomings, but you'll also do something colloquially called "polishing." Of course, it requires time and work, but in this industry -- in our opinion -- polishing is absolutely necessary. As a result, in users' and critics' feedback, there was often mention of the game being "incredibly polished" or even "better polished than some triple-A titles." The iOS version reflects that clearly -- its Metacritic score is 94!
Until a game is a real breakthrough, with one particular feature bringing everyone to their knees, the quality perceived by the player is often defined by the quality of its weakest component. A game with beautiful graphics crashing every three minutes, or a super smooth game with crappy audio, won't be perceived a quality title. Because it's risky to rely on creating a genius game, if you're hungry for good reviews, you have to include a constant fight for quality as part of your development process.
The first step in assuring the quality was scoping the project correctly; for example, we didn't include multiplayer because we didn't feel confident we could do a good job with the time and resources available to us. We decided to do less, but make it better.
The second was having the right art director. Let's face it; a quality title needs a high quality, coherent visual style. A good art director can develop that style and lead the team to follow it. This is exactly what our art director did.
Gameplay-wise, it takes a lot of prototyping and playtesting. When we started an "inverted tower defense" project, we created the first prototype. It was boring. So was the second. The third one did the trick. Same with each of the gameplay mechanics: they were prototyped, played by us, and then by testers. We judged them by our feelings and our observations of others playing, and then decided what to do with them. If a mechanic was okay, we made it good; if it was good, we made it even better. If it was ugly, we threw it away.
So we iterated. A lot. And we constantly improved. Plus we paid a lot of attention to the details. Everyone strived to improve the quality of his area of the game. The programmers fought for the last frame per second, the artists for UI to show up nicely and smoothly, the audio engineer to balance the sound levels, and so on. We made tons of small touches here and there to make the game look expensive and feel pro. If you don't do it, expect feedback saying your stuff is "undercooked." It sounds obvious, but some indies don't do that.
In the early startup phase, our capabilities were limited. Luckily, we knew a few skilled programmers and graphic artists we'd worked with in the past. We outsourced different parts of the code and graphical assets to those people, which allowed the core team to focus on the big picture of the game. In this case, the outsource model worked really well, because we knew our external contractors well. From our experience, outsourcing is very risky when you don't personally know the contractors.
Anomaly Warzone Earth (prototype, top; final game, bottom)
The script was extremely simple. This is a gameplay-driven game, and the story serves mainly as a natural initiation for new targets and missions. And that worked well -- no one complained about the story itself, despite the fact that it was based on that ancient theme of "Aliens invading Earth." Nonetheless, too often we encountered opinions about the audio dialogues being "cheesy but tolerable."
What's interesting is that the complaints came from the UK (the actors and our proofreader are British), while in U.S. and the rest of the world, we saw the opposite opinion, as some gamers and critics expressed their approval of the British voice acting.
Anyway, this is one thing that didn't go too well. The story may be simple, but the dialogue needed more attention, so it would sound more natural, especially considering the fact that we're from Poland and none of us is a native English speaker. Conclusion: not enough testing of dialogue, not enough iterations, not enough work to make them sound natural.
2. Additional Modes for PC and Mac
Most of the players were interested only in the story campaign mode. Steam stats show that only about 15 percent of players launched additional modes (like our Squad Assault mode, which is something like a survival mode). It means that most players got what they wanted out of the main campaign and didn't want to jump back into the game quickly.
What's interesting here is the stats are pretty different for the iOS version. The additional mode in that version had more-or-less similar stats, but another that we added sometime later as a free update brought a bigger number of primary users, and again increased average daily sales. Conclusion: a well-done base campaign is enough of a satisfying experience for a player. The player is willing to jump back into the game, but only after some time -- when he or she is offered new content.
3. No Updates to the PC / Mac Version
This point follows on from the previous one. By launching additional modes with the first release, we ran out of content that could have been added to the game later. Being busy with other platforms, we didn't have manpower and time to prepare updates with new missions for PC and Mac (additional content was brought to Steam during the Holiday Sale).
For this reason, the interest in Anomaly on PC rose when the game was on sale on Steam, while our experience with the iOS version shows that it could have bounced back again when new content was delivered.
New content doesn't have to be a new level; for example, it could be enhanced graphics for iPad 2 and iPhone 4S (both devices utilize the A5 chip, which allowed us to render much more demanding effects and animations for 3D objects) or enabling iCloud features, which increased sales on the App Store, too.