In January 2017, Joe Kauffman of Fire Maple Games (http://firemaplegames.com) presented for PANMA at Wharton’s Huntsman Hall on “Developing a Mobile Game for iOS & Android”.
Below are three things we learned from Joe Kauffman to get everyone started in their quest in creating mobile games.
Niche Games Can Be Key To Success In The App Store
For over 10 years, Joe has specialized in developing gorgeous point and click adventure games. He has done “really well”, selling millions of games, and “it beats working.” His second game, “Lost City”, ascended to become the #1 app in the world for about 3 days, “even taking out Angry Birds”. Go to Fire Maple Games: http://firemaplegames.com for the full portfolio of games that Joe has developed.
Joe’s customers are mainly older educated women who are 65+ and some of their grandchildren. As he remarked, “I don’t have a lot of street cred with the ‘middle [age brackets].” Joe isn’t sure where exactly the downloads are coming from, but he believes it’s “lots of word of mouth.” Because of the App Store’s restrictions on knowing who your customers are, Joe doesn’t have access to people who have bought his games, but he does get email in ALL CAPS from nursing homes 🙂
In these games, you can’t lose and you can’t die. You’re never being chased by anything. You simply explore a property. In “Return to Grisly Manor” – http://firemaplegames.com/returntogrislymanor.html – you explore an old, renovated house and its surroundings. His most successful game “Lost City” is set in a jungle.
Making A Point And Click Adventure Game
To begin Joe has a story in mind and a goal of 100 items for each game. Each of these 100 items can be part of the puzzles in the game that the player has to solve, while trying his best not use locks and keys. To be more interesting, he’ll use items like a pillow in place of a standard lock and key. The process of figuring out the map is an iterative process where the layout of items and rooms will be rearranged many, many times. Joe uses all paper and a whiteboard to iterate through this process.
Relatively speaking the mechanics are easy, and Joe likes to spend a lot of time on the artwork. His games are essentially a stack of gorgeous artwork. For his newest game under development, he recently took hundreds of photos around the Wissahickon Creek (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wissahickon_Creek). One or more of these photos could become a scene in his game. After correcting the photos for light and the time of day, he will paint over the top of the photo. Most of the scenes in his games are collages of stuff. For example, an old car in a scene set in a shop might come from a Craigslist ad posting.
For Aspiring Game Developers
Many of the audience’s questions revolved around the theme of “How do I get started making games?”. Joe started out 20 years as a Flash programmer at Sealworks (http://sealworks.com/). He was a Flash programmer during the day, and a Flash programmer at night (his first game). In his programming career, he doesn’t think that “he’s ever used math once”, as it is “all English and logic.” For your game focus on the gameplay, animation, and graphics, not the code. You don’t need to think about “the logic of the phones/chips”, just the “logic of the game.”
When he started two decades ago, there weren’t many tools available. Joe used the analogy that when Edison was making movies, he had to make his own camera. Now, there are so many tools that it “decouples the technology from the creative process.” He emphasized that you just have to get started and “to download a tool and play around with it”. Joe uses Corona https://coronalabs.com, and he also mentioned GameSalad http://gamesalad.com, Unity https://unity3d.com, and Stencyl http://www.stencyl.com.
In November 2016, Philly Content Strategy (https://www.meetup.com/Philly-Content-Strategy) hosted Kristina Halvorson, the CEO of Brain Traffic (http://braintraffic.com/), for a comprehensive Q&A session at Indy Hall (http://www.indyhall.org). The following answers have been edited for clarity.
What are the challenges of content strategy today?
The joys of content strategy include being able to steep yourself in and dive into a culture/industry, and there are some core challenges that need to be addressed.
The larger business vision contains business goals. Since all business goals cannot be supported, they must be narrowed down and articulated by leadership. The website that you help build needs to help support these business goals. To begin answering the question “what is the goal”, exercises around the user can help force people to get outside their heads. For example, use this exercise: “I am a [ blank ] who wants to [ blank ] so that I can [ blank ].”
You have to prioritize your key audiences. There are always different opinions about what is important as priorities change based on the day. Differences in priorities can lead to people not wanting to commit to say “no”.
Making data-driven decisions:
Lack of user research is the killer of digital projects. If there are no actual data points to back something up, it was an assumption and the risk is that you are talking to yourself.
Finally, effective governance requires the client to commit to themselves. They have to be honest about what new content they can write over time. Can they really update a blog every 2 weeks? That is real commitment.
How can you plan a career in content strategy?
Content strategy does a good job of bolstering related web disciplines. In general, look at the skill of being able to synthesize and strategize elements towards meaningful goals. Areas for career growth may include editorial planning, product design, UX design, content engineering (structure and modeling), and business. Editorial planning (strategy, design, and voice/tone) is an area where you can really immerse yourself. Do a lot of exploring in these areas.
What is your advice for a freelancer looking for work in content strategy?
At Brain Traffic, we have a full-time writer on staff. With anywhere from 3 to 18 concurrent client projects, we have a network of writers that we rely on. My advice is to reach out to the agencies who deal with web content. For example, web sites in the areas of financial services, healthcare, and publishing. At the generic article level, there are too many content marketing agencies. You want to get in with an agency that deals with targeted, specific, and non-crap content for these types of web sites. Moz’s recommended list of SEO agencies might be a good place to start. Finally, the sexiest clients are sometimes the worst clients.
Eight Shapes (http://www.eightshapes.com/product-discovery.html)
Dan Brown (https://medium.com/@brownorama)
Nathan Curtis (http://eightshapes.com/nathan-curtis.html)
“Content Strategy for the Web” by Melissa Rach (http://contentstrategy.com/)
Making data-driven decisions
“Just Enough Research” by Erika Hall (https://abookapart.com/products/just-enough-research)
“Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design” by Lisa Weichman (https://www.amazon.com/Managing-Chaos-Digital-Governance-Design/dp/1933820888)
Sara Wachter-Boettcher (http://www.sarawb.com/)
Moz’s Recommended List of SEO Agencies
For our inaugural interview, we sat down and talked with Amanda Clark who presented “You’re a Fraud, and We All Know It: Work,Leadership, and Imposter Syndrome” with Briana Morgan for PANMA in January 2016.
Tell us about yourself
I work as a senior digital strategist (specializing in content strategy) for Agency M (http://agency-m.com), an advertising/interactive design/branding firm. I am the Sponsorship co-director for BarCamp Philly. I have a degree in advertising, and I have always worked in the tech media space. I’ve been in Philly since 2009. In the last 4 years, I’ve really stepped up my engagement and have become integrated into the tech community. Back in 2012, I went to a “Content Strategy for the Web” event led by David Dylan Thomas. From there, I joined the Philly Content Strategy meetup as a member. When David Dylan Thomas was planning an unconference for content strategy, he asked me to get involved and I helped plan Content Camp.
Can you describe content strategy?
First, there is a difference between content marketing and content strategy. Content marketing,where you write to provide relevant and useful content for your audience, is a subset of content strategy. Content strategy is about creating a plan for content across multiple channels (websites, social, email, even print), in partnership with writers, user experience strategists,designers and developers, that takes into account the content that exists and should be created. Content strategy can be planned for the short term and long term and it can and should be measured and revised frequently. More than just writing to an audience, content strategy is about being an advocate for the user. For example, My Medicare Matters (https://mymedicarematters.org) was the result of taking a 300+ page Medicare site and doing a crash-course on Medicare. We figured out where the users were having trouble on the old site and set out to build a better Medicare site for all of our user groups.
How have you grown as a content strategist?
It is important to have humility and to get input from outside sources. I can’t claim personally to know everything about content strategy/digital strategy. I try to figure things out from the resources I have, and then am lucky to be part of a supportive and brilliant content strategy community, whose brains I can pick!
What do you suggest for PANMA’s content strategy community section?
First, I would give the content a home on the navigation and a shout out on the home page. Whether you publish 2x a week or 1x a month, you want it to be predictable. People tend to be on a rhythm. You want to build habits in people for consumption. I would make the layout clean and easy to read, using HTML subheads (h1,h2,h3) to break it up into defined sections.
How do you personally consume content?
We are reaching content saturation where the Internet is producing faster than people can read it. I have a system. While walking to the train, I will listen to podcasts. On the train, I will read Philly Mag. At night, I will read from a book like the one I’m engrossed in now, Amy Cuddy’s”Presence”.
How did you get involved with BarCamp Philly?
I joined the BarCamp Philly team in 2014, helping with sponsorships. I started with a list of people and very delicately, started building relationships and connecting with businesses. I have continued that process and also write copy for the website, email, and tweets and work with Briana Morgan on social media.
What are your goals for this year’s BarCamp Philly?
I love the community aspect, the engagement, and being surrounded by real creative and passionate people. I like the behind-the-scenes of organizing as much as the actual event itself. Every year we aim to put on a good event. New people come and some past participants return as speakers. This year, we are going to have a PA system to make announcements easier and hopefully a schedule that people can interact with better. BarCamp Philly 9 is Saturday, November 12th at Huntsman Hall at The Wharton School. You can get tickets here: https://barcamp-philly.ticketleap.com/barcamp-philly-9/. Next year is the 10th anniversary of BarCamp Philly, and we hope to make that the best one yet.
Tell us about how your Impostor Syndrome talk with Briana Morgan has evolved?
Last year, there was a panel at Ela Conf about impostor syndrome that Briana was on. After a drink together talking about her panel, Briana and I decided to sign up for a talk at BarCampPhilly 8 in 2015. It was our first time presenting together. It went really well and we reprised it for PANMA. Then, we presented the talk at DjangoCon US 2016 this past July. Most recently, we sat down with Ryan Starr and talked with him about it on Episode 36 of his HiRes podcast.
How would you address the growing digital divide in Philly – to reach those who think or even believe that they can’t work in technology?
From a youth perspective, I would love to get kids together to build something like a website or an app. Teaching young people how to work in groups and how to focus on a task and learn a speciality is so valuable. Most importantly, I would encourage them to make mistakes and just get out there and try new things. When hiring junior developers or junior content strategists, we try to be open to people who are good thinkers, not just those who have the good experience.
What else are you learning?
I played the flute when I was in high school, and I recently joined a class in West Philly to practice and perform in a small flute ensemble. It’s quite exciting!
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Amanda!