Today we’re lucky enough to have Kevin Glass of Coke and Code (@cokeandcode). Kevin describes himself as an “obsessive hobbiest game developer” and has been designing games for, well let’s just say he’s well deserving of this interview. This interview should appeal to the techies. It’s about designing games for the iPhone (and other devices) and about mixing passion with a day job.
You’ve been writing games from the age of 7 I believe. That’s quite an impressive CV. Can you give a little bit more background as to how someone ends up becoming a games designer?
I’m not sure I’d call the things I was writing back then games, but I was lucky enough to be brought up in a household full of electronics and early computers. The first one I got to play with was the NASCOM. My dad was really into computers and encouraged me (and my 2 brothers) to get involved. So we had the NASCOM, ZX81, Spectrums, Commodore 64, Atari ST and then finally a PC all stuck infront of us. I started out copying code from magazines at the time into the Spectrum and moved slowly onto making games on all the rest. It’s just always been there for me.
I studied Computer Science at University, mostly because I thought it’d be an easy ride. Got my degree and headed out into the workplace. I’ve been doing corporate/telecoms/defence software development for 13 years now. However, all the way through my spare time was filled up with writing games, libraries and demos and pushing them on to the web.
It’s only relatively recently I’ve decided to really try and push it. I’m not sure I’d really call myself a games designer, I just put things together and see what people think. I believe the most important thing in games development is feedback, which is why I got on about release early, release often so much. Game designers have a habit of designing games they “think” will be good rather than listening to the players. That’s where I’m at, get the game out there, see what people think and base development of their opinions. It seems to work ok.
Now you design for both the iPhone and for Android. Do you have a preference for either? Don’t worry we won’t be offended if you say Android. Or will we?
I think they both have their place. Technology for Android is better. It’s that simple, it’s a better piece of software and in most cases hardware. Ease of use and polish is still better on the iPhone. I use an Android as my main device but thats mostly because it lets me as a techy do the things I want. However, I have to work with both everyday and the only clear thing to me where games are concerned is Blackberry devices suck.
You’ve recently made the decision to start charging for games (and it’s going well I take it). Obviously it’s easy to get stuck in the ‘free only’ model but you seem to have got passed that without too much teething. Any tips for fellow developers? How long should you wait before charging and do you have any tips for moving over to a ‘paid for’ model?
It’s going “ok” ™, in my case I needed to start charging simply because the backend server costs were about to go up (Google App Engine). As to when to start charging, I think thats the one thing Legends of Yore taught me. If you’re going to charge, charge up front. Make sure your players know they’re going to be charged eventually. It was unfortunate in my case that I hadn’t originally intended to charge for the desktop version and then had to start. I know I lost some players over that and that really bugs me.
The second thing I think is worth being very careful when charging is price point. I charge $2 for Legends of Yore which is probably about what it was worth when it first started out. As time has moved on the game has got bigger, the amount of time spent developing it is huge and the bang for you buck is massive. Again, this is probably due to me lacking the fore thought to see how much effort and time the game was going zap up. So, if you are going to charge think long and hard about the price point. Too high and you’re “money grabbing”, too low and you’ve sold yourself out.
You (currently) still work a day job, so this runs a lot on your passion for writing games. I know from experience, combining a day job with a passion, isn’t ideal but it’s just got to be done. What, personally, keeps you going?
As I mentioned above I’ve been writing games a long time, to me it’s always there. I love writing them, especially Legends and I guess I’m kind of addicted to it. I love the creation aspect. I love fixing things. I really love getting feedback (good or bad) and weaving it back into the game. Its what makes me tick. Passion is a large part.
However, my day job is for a corporate telecom software vendor. This means things are big scale, with lots of developers working together to build huge and expensive bits of software. That’s great and provides it’s own challenges and fun but it does make me yearn for my days back on the Spectrum in my bedroom lost in some overly complicated bit of Z80 assembly. So, I guess in some ways having the day job makes me value doing the games development at my own pace even more. You could say the day job is what keeps the spare time games development so exciting.
That’s not to say of course I wouldn’t kill to do it full time, but I suspect that might change things a bit for me.
Finally, any tips for budding games designers out there? Maybe some advice you wish someone had told you.
Tips for budding games developers? Now thats a tricky one. I guess the most important thing is to realise that software development isn’t something that you just pick up and do and it just works first time. It’s a lot of hard, time consuming and frustrating work initially learning how things work and how to get stuff working. Even when you’ve got to that stage the games you’ll be producing will probably considered a bit rubbish by the masses.
That said, stick with it. Persist. Don’t give up and don’t lose passion for what you’re doing. Always be proud of every one of your creations because even if it’s not the best, it’s a stepping stone to the next one. Never be afraid to say you don’t know or ask a question. Try to make the most of all feedback be it good or bad, it’s all useful if you don’t take it to heart too much.
Most of all write the games YOU want to write.