DevelopmentExclusive InterviewsGame DevelopmentIndieOnline

Matthew Hall: The Challenges and Rewards of Working as an Independent Game Developer

May 7, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

Matthew Hall, Founder and Developer, Klicktock

Matthew Hall, Founder and Developer of KlickTock, describes his career as the childhood hobby that never went away. He decided on his career direction at a very early age. He was five years old when he watched a news piece on Atari with some footage of the factory floor. He turned to his parents and said, “When I grow up, I want to be an electronic engineer.”

By eight years old, he was making his own games. Recently, he took out a 30-year-old cassette of these games and was impressed to discover that almost all of them were complete. “These days,” he admits, “I have a lot more half-finished games lying around.” Hall began working as a professional game developer in 2001 and now he can’t imagine doing anything else.

A Hard Choice

Starting out as an independent developer is not an easy choice to make. When Hall decided to start KlickTock, he tells us, “My wife and child moved back to the family farm while I toiled away there on the original Little Things. When the original launch of that title didn’t go as well as I had hoped, it was a pretty dark time.” The problem was not that he had made a bad game, it was that he had made it for the wrong audience. When it was eventually released on tablet, it was very successful. Fortunately, he was able to move on quickly and found a niche for his unconventional products on the App Store.

Video games have always been a source of inspiration for Hall. Zelda: Link’s Awakening was the first Nintendo game he purchased. “I was completely captivated,” he says. Luxor by Mumbo Jumbo inspired him to leave his day job and start KlickTock. Recently, he has been playing Forget-Me-Not by Brandon Williamson and Nuclear Throne by Vlambeer. He claims, “They are the two most inspirational games I’ve played and remind me just how much I have to learn about writing games.”

As an independent developer, Hall especially values being in charge of his own destiny. He believes the best thing about his work is never having to convince anyone that his idea is a great one. But the most difficult thing is convincing himself of its value. He has discovered, “Without perspective that you can rely on, the only way to properly judge your own game is to take a few months off, come back later, and play it again. This obviously makes development quite slow!”

As an independent developer, Hall especially values being in charge of his own destiny.

A Change in Indie Development

Hall points out that independent developers have been around since the birth of computers, but recently game development has changed in ways that benefit them. Unity and UDK have given independent developers the opportunity to compete with the big studios. Previously, they had to write their own 3D engine to release a 3D game. Now, any major problems can be quickly solved with a search, especially with Unity, since it has such a large development community.

The rise of portals such as Steam and the App store has also benefited independent developers, allowing them to make money, sometimes in significant amounts, from their hobby. Unusual games that were once played only by hobbyists can now find an audience.

Getting Noticed

Hall has been working on Age of Solitaire, and expects to release it soon.

The biggest challenge developers are facing, both in the indie space and in the mobile space, according to Hall, is getting noticed. Building a great product doesn’t guarantee success. He states, “For the indies, a cult of personality has emerged. Not only does your game have to be remarkable, but your personality also is a factor.”

In the mobile space, he has seen that the issues of a crowded marketplace have existed since the early days of the App Store. He emphasizes, “It’s important not only to build an amazing product, you also have to be ready to pick yourself up and try again if things don’t go well the first time. Building a profile as a reliable and interesting developer takes time.”

He gives this advice to independents starting out: “Build titles! Take a small idea, prototype it to prove it’s worthy of completion, then complete it.” He has noticed that developers are often overly invested in their ideas; playing them can shatter preconceptions of the game in a good way.

Preparing for the Future

Hall sees huge changes coming to the electronic entertainment industry with the advent of virtual reality via Oculus Rift. The original Oculus Rift dev kit has a profound effect on anyone who has tried it. Hall believes, “With the new technology, new genres and new opportunities will emerge. I’m very excited about making VR games, even if it isn’t the wisest business move at the moment.”

Deck War Cards
Hall is currently in “development hell” working on Deck War

And the future of KlickTock should be just as exciting. Hall has a wall covered in game ideas ranging from the esoteric to potential top grossing titles. For several months, he has been working on a new title called Age of Solitare, which he expects to release very soon. He also tells us he is currently in ‘development hell’ working on a collectable card game called Deck War and hopes to release it later this year.

Hall will be sharing tips to getting featured on the App Store at Casual Connect Asia 2014! Read more about his session on the conference website.


Exclusive InterviewsIndie

Matthew Paxman: Brawl For Fun with Cowbots and Aliens

April 6, 2017 — by David Radd


Matthew Paxman is a developer at Wizard Games, maker of Cowbots and Aliens. The VR game won the IGDA Victoria contest, meaning Wizard Games will able to show the title off at Indie Prize Seattle and Casual Connect USA.

Wizard Games’ Booth at IDGA Victoria

“We were super excited to see people enjoying Cowbots and Aliens so much at the IDGA Victoria contest,” said Matthew. “Being able to show the game off at Casual Connect Indie Prize will be a great opportunity to gather feedback, gain exposure, meet other indie game makers and just have a ton of fun.”

This might not of been possible without releasing Cowbots and Aliens on Steam Early Access. Matthew confirmed that doing so has allowed Wizard Games to have some great community feedback that has helped with the direction of how to develop the game.

“Our vision of what Cowbots and Aliens will be when we release the final version out of Early Access has changed dramatically and we think for the better due to the community’s feedback,” Matthew detailed. “It’s helped us understand what fans really care about and want to see more of.”


Family Matters at Casual Connect Tel Aviv

October 21, 2016 — by David Radd


kids-iconCreating games specifically for young children and their families carries special rewards, but also particular risks. Gaining the trust of parents (who in this case make the purchasing decisions) and operating within laws designed to protect the privacy of children are both serious and ongoing concerns. With the Kids & Family track at Casual Connect Tel Aviv, successful developers will share their lessons about building their brands while avoiding pitfalls.

Leaders Leading-Off

TabTale’s General Counsel Hila Pilcer will host the Kids & Family track, starting with the company’s CEO and Co-founder, Sagi Schliesser, presenting TabTale’s debut TV series Cheating Tom for the first time publicly. Afterwards, TabTale, the sponsor of the Kids & Family track, will talk about the lessons the company learned and will discuss the differences between producing mobile games and an animation series.

Europe 2016Video Coverage

Alex Cohen: The Novelty of the Gaming Industry Brings Constant Challenge

June 15, 2016 — by Catherine Quinton

'Developing good hypotheses in the first place is definitely an art.' - Alex CohenClick To Tweet

Mobile is here to stay in social games worldwide. The Latin American market is a strong example of this foothold. In a talk entitled The Challenge of Mobile Social Games in Latin America, CPO of Akamon Entertainment, Alex Cohen, explained how to decide the most appropriate mobile platform in each country of Latin America. or being able to engage users in mobile as done online are key. Alex reflected, “I think there is a general impression in Latin America that it is a market that is full of low income feature phone users . . . In practice that really is not true. Smartphone penetration in Latin America is up in the range of 67% and feature phone penetration is smaller and declining.” To hear more stereotypes busted, listen to Alex’s talk from Casual Connect Europe.

Europe 2016Video Coverage

Kim Sloth Bengtsen: New Opportunities and New Challenges in the Gambling Sector

April 21, 2016 — by Catherine Quinton

'If you have no one to share your achievements with, then what’s the point?' - Kim Sloth BengtsenClick To Tweet

Do subscription-based business and casual gaming go together? Discover the what, when, where and how to monetize one of the more alternative ways of working with casual gaming in this lecture from Casual Connect Europe by Kim Sloth Bengsten. As the CEO of Lotto24, Kim revealed that they try to be both in the emerging market and the established market. To do this, Kim advises, “try to outmaneuver your competitors by price and quality but also being innovative and thinking about new products that you can add to your portfolio.” To hear more insights, tune in below.

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

Grave Matters: Two Approaches to Making a Game

October 29, 2014 — by Industry Contributions


The year before last, Jeremiah Alexander had two new game ideas. The first was a card collecting game, conceived in response to an emerging trend – let’s call it Project A. The second was based on an impulse to make a minesweeper game – let’s call it Project B. “Project A was approached in classical fashion: production of an extensive and detailed game design document (40 pages to be precise), sent on to a potential publisher”, Jeremiah recalls. “Project B had no formal design, more of a hacked together prototype that then became a game”.

Project B is now called Grave Matters. It was selected for the Indie Prize showcase and publicly unveiled at Casual Connect USA in July 2014. Project A is still currently just an expensively bound design document, gathering dust in the corner of a publisher’s office on the other side of the world. Jeremiah shares the story about two different approaches to making a game.

A Minesweeper Game to Rest From Project A

This story begins in my office, an open plan space I share with two other games companies (Fluid Pixel and Whispering Gibbon). We have a very different attitude to most things, nevertheless, we try hard to help each other out. We have no formal partnership agreements to this end, but just share the belief that it’s better if we all succeed. Your lawyer and business consultant might tell you this is foolish, companies must operate in independence, with NDAs and policies to conserve secrecy and intellectual property integrity. Whilst I am occasionally forced to deal with these legal formalities, I do prefer handshakes and IOUs.

The classic Minesweeper game was used as a base for a project “just to relax”, as Jeremiah thought at first

One (probably rainy) day, I walked into the office and said, ‘I want to make a minesweeper game’. This sort of random idea outburst is common and most often ignored, as it was in this case, too. However, I had a bit of hiatus in paid projects, and was bored of writing documentation for Project A. So, I cracked open Unity and just started making the game, designing it as I went along.

In a rather short time, I had a basic version of the game. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but a couple of rewrites later, it became much better! These rewrites included a complete grid structure change (from squares to hexagons), and some different ways of representing danger. Generally, the gameplay design was just a process of experimentation, this project wasn’t about doing things by the book, it was about just letting off some steam.

Grave Matters - Screenshot - Level
The minesweeper-like game has been rewritten: squares replaced with hexagons, and a new representation of danger has been added

Not long afterwards, I stopped working on Project B and went back to working on the design document for Project A, the card-collecting game. I was convinced that if I picked an emerging market trend, designed an amazing game within it, and produced the most beautiful game design document ever to illustrate it, then we’d be onto a winner. We did this, then we sent it to the best suited games publisher and waited…

Digging Grave Matters Out of the Dropbox

Resurrectionists_by_phiz - creative commons - cropped
Jeremiah’s research into grave diggers and resurrectionists such as Burke & Hare has inspired the game’s theme

… and waited. I soon returned to Project B, which was quite fun at this point but looked appalling! So, I borrowed some of Gareth‘s (Fluid Pixel’s art lead) time to help me out with the graphics. I had already enlisted his help on some steampunk designs for Project A, so it made sense to stick with the theme. At the time, I was also working on an educational project around 19th Century English history, which included some interesting research into grave diggers and resurrectionists such as Burke & Hare. This became the inspiration for the game and Project B became “Harey Burke”, later to be renamed Grave Matters.

Grave Matters - Burke and Pup
The art style is steampunk, just like it was in the developer’s Project A

So the Grave Matters game already had a name, some graphics, and was fun. But then the clients started calling again, bills needed to be paid, and the game was put on the shelf where it sat for a while. Not long after this, Project A was rejected both by the publisher we had sent it to and also by a small prototyping fund we had applied for. At this point, both projects seemed to have fallen into the abyss. Time passed. Client work was done. Bills were paid. Life went on.

Late in 2013, over coffee, Stuart, the CEO of Fluid Pixel asked me, “What ever happened to Grave Matters?” I responded: “It’s sitting in my Dropbox, along with the tea-making app and football game and other half-finished endeavors.” He suggested Gareth and Chai, who had some downtime, to pick that game up for a while. We were aiming on what could be called proper development, but our approach to this project lacked anything close to finesse.

Sketches were even made of backs of envelopes from creditors, the code was hurled on a memory stick to whoever was working with it.

Thanks to working on a lot of client projects, I’m well-versed with project management, source control, quality assurance, and so forth, yet Grave Matters employed none of this. New design ideas were often scribbled on the backs of envelopes containing letters from creditors (I will pay, I promise).

The complete source code was hurled back and forward across the room on memory sticks to whoever was working on it at the moment, and we generally made it up as we went along – it wasn’t lean or agile project management, it was blasé. Closer to the end of development, we started using a board on Trello, but for nothing more than a list to remember what still needed to be done when we’d not been working on the project for a while.

After about six months of development intervals interspersed between client work, we had Grave Matters, and now it was time to get it out there.

Here’s where I’d love to say: we self-published the game and it became a huge success, shooting to top of the App Store and making millions. In reality, as I’m writing this, we don’t yet know how this story ends. Grave Matters was released as a Halloween launch in October 2014. The game is still in it’s early days, and we’ll see how it goes in a few weeks.

Project A would probably have been a better game: it’s definitely better designed, more innovative, and has a better business model. Yet, we never had the resources or connections to get it off the ground. Grave Matters, on the other hand, has been released independently and, if early impressions are anything to go by, it could do really well (at least with fans of Minesweeper).

If Grave Matters is a success, it will challenge much of what I thought I knew about the right way of developing a game: comprehensive GDDs, robust planning, well-formulated business models, strict project management, etc. This might make me a little sad, but I’d have a successful game instead, so I’m sure I’d get over it 🙂

Grave Matters for iPhones and iPads is already available in the App Store, and an Android version will be released further down the line. 


USA 2014Video Coverage

Jason Park – Always a New Challenge | Casual Connect Video

September 17, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton


Jason Park provided a view of the Chinese mobile market compared to the other markets during Casual Connect USA 2014. “China’s big; we all know that,” he explained. “We’ve know that for awhile, but how big is it really? This year alone, in just Q1, the mobile market surpassed 630 million dollars. At this rate, they’re looking to surpass 3 billion by the end of the year.”


Jason Park, Vice President of Operations, Art Concept House/Spellgun

Jason Park, vice president of operations at Art Concept House/Spellgun, runs this world-class art service as well as managing the new China mobile publishing division. When Park met CEO of Art Concept House, James Zhang, and heard his vision for the company, they discussed how Park’s prior experience as general manager for global publishing at Perfect World Entertainment, as well as running his own startup, could help take the company to the next level. And Park made the decision to join them.

From Player to Creator

He was first attracted to the games industry through running a PC café at the time StarCraft, Warcraft 3, and Counter-Strike were the popular games. While there, besides running tournaments and fixing broken computers, he spent his time (sometimes more than 12 hours a day) playing Counter-Strike in the pro league. When the PC café eventually went out of business, he began his first corporate games industry job in QA, testing games for SCEA. He went on to hold senior positions at IGN Entertainment, Gala-Net, and Sony Computer Entertainment. He also founded his startup company, Mobula, a mobile studio that made real-time online core games.

Park has worked in almost every aspect of the games industry: development, quality assurance, production, marketing, localization, operations, and business development. He loves the products, the people, and the constantly changing process. Despite his extensive experience, he feels, “No matter how many games you’ve worked on, the next one is always a new challenge.”

Clash of Clans Wall Breaker CAH did for Supercell’s TV commercial

Finding Interactive Gameplay

He has always been a PC gamer, but for the past year, his focus has been on mobile. Although a longtime MMORPG player, he now finds it difficult to find the five or six hours in a day to concentrate on the game. Instead, he is playing Game of War – Fire Age, which he claims is undoubtedly the mobile game closest to an MMORPG. But he keeps going back to Kingdom Rush Frontiers whenever a new update is released.

The next big trend Park sees coming to the industry is deeper and more interactive gameplay in mobile games. He points out that MMORPGs took PC gaming to a new level; similarly, more interactive online experiences must be the next stage for mobile gaming. Already full-fledged MMORPGs are hitting the top charts in Japan and Korea, while in the US, successful mid-core games have been adding more MMO-like systems, such as global chat, guilds and clans, and guild wars – features which are leading to exponential growth in monetization and retention.

Artwork of Storm Casters by Get Set Games that was signed to publish in China
Artwork of Storm Casters by Get Set Games that was signed to publish in China

At Casual Connect USA, Park announced a publishing partnership with Get Set Games to publish Storm Casters in China.



Strata: Simply Challenging

September 10, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska


Graveck is a small development studio located in Minneapolis. Founded in 2007, Graveck was the one of the first companies to fully adopt Unity as their commercial engine. They have primarily focused on mobile games, releasing Skee-ball, Skee-ball 2, Jump Dewds, and multiple Disney titles. Strata is Graveck’s newest game, and it’s a bit of a step in a different direction. Ty Burks, Creative Director at Graveck, shares that story.

Last January, we were deep in development on contract work. I’m sure many studios are familiar with the contract and original work compromise: you work on contract jobs for a few months to be able to work on your own original games for a few months. During this time, I was jumping back and forth on a few ideas for new titles during weeknights. I needed to work on something new. But every game idea I wanted to pursue would take a team at least double our size, heavy animation, economy balancing, etc. I decided to take a different approach. My objective was to try making a game that could be played as a paper prototype. I wanted to create a super simple game that could be played with physical objects, but that would also be enhanced by a digital version. I cut up paper, folded paper, stacked blocks, tossed objects around… basically tried to find some kind of new game with a physical feel to it.

Paper Prototype
Layering the ribbons, matching the colors, and having to fill the entire grid ended up being a perfect combination of simple, yet challenging gameplay I was looking for.

When the idea clicked, I spent the entire night cutting up pieces of paper so I could have my fiance play it when she got home. It worked. Layering the ribbons, matching the colors, and having to fill the entire grid ended up being a perfect combination of simple, yet challenging gameplay I was looking for. The reaction of somebody understanding your game design and continuing to play without you asking them to is one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced.

A Personal Touch

The next week or two was spent mocking up the main game layout on the computer, and putting together some interface screens in a similar style. The approach with the visuals was to keep it minimalistic, but maintain a sense of tangibility without going overboard on textures. It’s a very simple game mechanic, and I wanted to reflect that throughout the entire game. Every aspect of the game is at a 45-degree angle to follow the gameplay visuals. The interface uses the same mechanic as the gameplay, so you understand how to interact with the game even from the title screen. I wanted to really maintain the physical feel of laying ribbons down on top of each other, so it was important that we nailed the feeling of dragging ribbons. It was a test in discipline to keep everything consistent, but we’re proud of the result.

02 Strata-Design-Iterations

After I was happy with the mockups, I pitched the game to the team. Matt Gravelle, Graveck’s Co-Founder, began a prototype almost immediately. At this point, Strata was a side-project at night, since we were still deep into contract development. We both continued to iterate on the game, and Matt developed the ribbon transition between interface screens. I was putting together color palettes and testing out some of the bigger puzzles. The game was coming together quickly.

05 Strata-5x5Nick Miller, our Lead Engineer, jumped on the project when things started slowing down with our contract work. Nick and Matt developed a level designer that allowed me to place ribbons, and then sort of “print” it to a grid. I could then go in and manually remove colored squares from the grid, but still make sure that each level had a nice balance of color. We had an automated level creator at one point, but I didn’t feel right using it. Strata is a somewhat intimate game for me, and I wanted to create each level by hand. I wanted the control of the difficulty and making it look good as a completed puzzle. Nick also created a level analyzer algorithm that will test every combination of successful ways to solve the puzzle, and spit out a difficulty rating. This helped a lot in pacing most of the game. Early on, we were a bit worried about not seeing any obvious strategies in the game. As you play through the game, there are a few things you can pick up on to finish those difficult puzzles. We call two of the strategies “Lock In” and “Solid Row”, but you’ll have to figure out what they mean for yourself!

We started testing the game on willing participants. A lot of times, we got the same response (and still do): “It looks really nice, but I have no idea what’s going on.” We went through quite a few iterations of our tutorial, both functionally and visually. By constantly testing on people, we were able to focus on what the core items the player needs to know are. An early tutorial gave players a bit too much freedom to experiment, and we seemed to lose them. The last iteration of the tutorial has the game show you how to fill the grid, places a wrong ribbon, pulls it back, and then completes the puzzle. It makes sure you understand, and then asks you to give it a try. This seemed to get the best response, as it gave the players a peek at what the game looks like completed as opposed to having them struggling to guess.

The Result

06 StrataTableWe decided to release Strata as a desktop version on the Mac App Store, Desura, Chrome, and Steam Greenlight. We found during development that it was still quite an enjoyable experience to play on your desktop. Releasing on these platforms allowed us to gain feedback before our main release on mobile platforms, and test out some new markets. Strata was featured on New and Noteworthy and What’s Hot on the Mac App Store for a couple weeks, and reached #1 in the Games category.

Strata was a fun departure from the types of games we’re known for. It came from focusing on designing a game I believe in, and then sticking to the design. There are no star ratings, objectives or currencies. Strata is a simple game where you challenge yourself, and get out of it what you put in. We definitely learned a lot about keeping things simple and are applying it to our current games. With Strata, I found the user experience was complete when we couldn’t simplify it any further. I believe that to be the biggest lesson learned from development, and something I will carry to future projects. Sometimes, less can be more.

Strata was featured on Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect USA 2013, and was nominated for Most Innovative Game Design. It was also a Finalist in the Unity Awards 2013, for Best 2D Visual Experience. Strata will be available for iOS on September 12, 2013.

Video Coverage

Matthew Kellie: Defending Culture, Product and People | Casual Connect Video

August 15, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton


During his lecture at Casual Connect USAMessage or Media? Marketing Context Matters!, Kellie challenged the evolving roles and skillset demands of video game teams when he observed – “If you’re a game developer, you’re now a ‘performance marketer.'”


Matthew Kellie
Matthew Kellie

Matthew Kellie is the Manager of Marketing at Supercell.

Working in marketing of mobile games, as Matthew does, means being involved in the message, performance, and analytics, as well as solving problems such as attribution. He says that, like many others at Supercell, he has a mix of random creative experiences, such as being a chef, and analytical skills, such a portfolio management. Both creativity and the ability to analyze definitely help in the work he does. He claims, “We also think some of the best people happen to be the most interesting, and sometimes that means you have to opt for the road less traveled.”

When Matthew is not working, he spends his time cooking and motorcycling. He enjoys listening to “smoky” blues music.

Culture of Quality

Fiercely defend culture, product and people. “If you can get these three right, you have already won.”

The importance of a culture of quality is something Matthew emphasizes. He says, “Having seen the games Supercell has killed in the past has really helped me realize it’s not about individual products, but instead about managing a process and a culture through setting a high bar for yourself and always trying to surpass it.” He finds that working with people who have such a high level of talent and integrity makes him constantly re-examine what he is doing and evaluate the decisions he is making. Although this can be a painful process at times, he feels he is definitely better for doing it.

New Gamers Every Day

People who have never been involved as gamers before are now picking up games because of the accessibility of phones and tablets.

An exciting trend he has seen in the game industry is the proliferation of games among the casual audience. People who have never been involved as gamers before are now picking up games because of the accessibility of phones and tablets. Wider adoption means growth for games, but it also means the opportunity for games to become prevalent in classrooms, living rooms and all aspects of life.

As Matthew considers the future of the industry, he believes that the quality of tablet and mobile games will continue to improve. The best games on any platform are built specifically for that platform. We’ll see more games that are built specifically for the tablet and fully utilise all of the technical capabilities of the platform, from multitouch to swipe.

Matthew as a chef

Feeding the People

The proudest moment in Matthew’s career has been simply surviving Finnish Juhannus. He has also faced challenges which he uses as learning experiences. Some years ago, he started a restaurant. At first it blossomed, but ultimately closed. He points out that this difficult time taught him how important it is to fiercely defend culture, product and people, saying, “If you can get these three right, you have already won.”