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Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.6 – More Responsive and More Compatible ๐Ÿข๐Ÿ‚

Just in time for the start of Autumn and leaf-raking season here in the northern hemisphere, I just released the newest version of Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Both Google and Apple changed certain requirements for Android and iOS devices, which meant that there were certain issues with playing the game on their latest phones and tablets.

For example, the game should play in landscape mode, but on Android 11 it was not rotating the screen correctly. On both Android and iOS, input would not always get detected properly, so you would tap the screen and it would seem like it was ignoring you.

I have addressed these issues, ensuring the game plays correctly on older and more modern devices as well as making it a lot more responsive to your actions.

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

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Marketing/Business Personal Development Politics/Government

2020 in Review and My 2021 Vision

Another year has passed, and I feel very fortunate that my family and I survived it fairly unscathed. I know that a lot of people didn’t, and I know the COVID-19 pandemic is still taking its toll, both in lives and lives affected.

It has been a tough year, but I continued to be employed and was able to work from home. Most of our extracurricular activities, such as taking our kids to dance and Cub Scouts meetings, basically stopped. I rarely left the house all year except to pick up groceries or go for a walk around the neighborhood with the kids.

I got to spend more time with my family. Without school providing meals, my wife and I cooked a lot more, and we found that we enjoyed doing so together. We got the kids playing Just Dance and following yoga videos online to get daily exercise in. Internet outages went from being a minor annoyance to having a major impact on our work and school, and as I am the main IT department in my house, it all fell to me to make sure that the Wifi kept working.

It took a lot of adjustment, but we made it.

Goals from 2020

I had a few major business goals for last year:

  • Finish the contract game project
  • Game Sales: from $0 to $10,000 by December 31st
  • Release one more game before December 31st

The contract was finally finished in January, and aside from one more update to comply with changes in the App Store in the summer, I was done. I was happy to have had such a direct impact on the creation of a published game, as well as getting paid for it, but I was even more happy that I could direct my attention back to growing my own business.

Last year, I said:

Ostensibly my goal for the last few years was to get from $0/month to $10/month in sales. Again, the goal was meant to be achievable and to be a stepping stone to increasing sales over time.

But I think what might help is if I gave myself a much more inspiring goal, something that is doable but also would require me to stretch to make it happen.

So my 2020 goal is to get $10,000 in sales by December 31st.

Itโ€™s not quit-your-job money, but itโ€™s not so small as to let me think I can procrastinate and make it happen in the last weeks of the year, either. Itโ€™s also not about the money, but money is an easy metric to track.

I came nowhere near to making that amount of money. That sum did not end up inspiring me, and it is probably because I didn’t see a clear path to it. Last year I wanted to start creating and finding my audience again after ignoring my business in favor of contract game development, but I didn’t formulate a coherent plan to do so until December. So for most of the year, I worked on creating updates for my existing game.

In the end, I was paid a total of $16.79 from sales of Toytles: Leaf Raking, my leaf-raking business simulation game (I have another payment coming this month from a sale from last month).

Now, I know there are a number of reasons for the low sales. Almost no one knows about the game, for instance. I haven’t been doing a good job pushing it out there.

But I did port and release the game for iOS, and then I published 6 of what I called Personality Injection updates since July. Each time I did so, I not only posted an announcement on my blog and shared it on social media, but I also sent out an email to my GBGames Curiosities Newsletter subscribers.

Oh, that’s another thing I did: I brought back my mailing list. I used to have one years ago, but I decided to start a new one. I invited the previous subscribers to join, and some did. Sign up, and you get a free player’s guide for Toytles: Leaf Raking, which is another thing I created last year.

Since I had a new mailing list, I also added a new goal for the second half of the year: grow my subscribers by 10. I ended up increasing the number of subscribers by 3, but since I didn’t promote it any more than the game, I think that’s a decent improvement.

I ended up publishing a total of 58 blog posts throughout the year, partly because I started writing a weekly sprint report, documenting the highlights of what I accomplished in the previous week of game development. Considering that I published a total of 3 blog posts the year before, this output is a significant improvement, and I think it directly led to people learning about Toytles: Leaf Raking.

Now, I thought I would get to a point where I would consider myself “done” with Toytles: Leaf Raking updates and could start working on a new game early enough to get one released by the end of the year, but since I was only working an average of about 5 hours a week as a very, very part-time indie game developer, those Personality Injection updates sometimes took me over a month to get out. So no new game has been published yet.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’ve been working on one since December, and strategically it is the first of my Freshly Squeezed line of games. More on that later.

I also had a few personal goals for 2020:

  • Do a minimum number of walking hours, push-ups, squats, and planking
  • Read a book per week
  • Create at least one doodle per day

Take a look at this chart of the year:

Morning Exercise Routine Tracking in 2020

The green indicates days in which I did a minimum of 10 push-ups, 10 squats, and 30 seconds of planking. The red indicates days in which I skipped. There is a big block of red near March, when my back was bothering me significantly enough to prevent me from exercising, but otherwise most of the year I kept up the habit. I feel fitter and more capable. I also did yoga on weekends, which I credit with preventing my back from hurting throughout the rest of the year.

I was trying to walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day but our treadmill’s motor started to smell like burning, so I haven’t been using it. I did walk with the kids during the summer after lunch, but otherwise I didn’t do walking regularly.

I read a total of 25 books, which is less than I read the year before. Still, between listening to podcasts instead of audiobooks in my car (and then not driving anywhere when the pandemic hit) and reading longer books, I think the fact that I was able to keep up a reading habit during the pandemic was a win.

But my favorite habit was doing a daily doodle. This one appealed to me partly because I always liked drawing but I also liked the idea of getting better at it. My programmer art is decent, but I want to make it more decent, and I know to get better I need to practice more than I do.

I’ll have a separate post about the improvement of my doodles, but here are my first few drawings:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

And here are some of my favorites:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

My 2021 Goals

Creating an aggressive sales target didn’t seem to work for me, but I still managed to make some sales happen despite a lack of advertising or contacting reviewers or anything.

It was a total of only 7 sales across Google Play and the App Store, but I can build on that.

My goals for 2021:

  • Go from ~0.146 sales per week to at least 1 sale per week by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience to at least 100 subscribers by December 31st
  • Release at least 6 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st

I explained a bit what Freshly Squeezed Entertainment means, but the main idea is that I will be following through on my goals to create more and find my audience. I want to create free, quality games that encourage curiosity and support creativity. I want the games to find the people who love playing them and encourage them to sign up for my mailing list. And I want them to see my mailing list as a way to give me feedback and collaborate with me on the kinds of games they want to play, which means that when I release a game for sale, I am more likely to have an audience interested and willing to pay for it.

There’s a lot of uncertainty to this strategy. I don’t know how many people who play games would be willing to sign up for a newsletter these days. I don’t know if people who play free games are less likely to pay for a game. I don’t know how many people will sign up, nor do I know how many who do sign up will read the emails I send out. I don’t even know if my free games will be seen or get lost in the huge number of games that get released each week.

But the general idea is sound: give away value to attract players, get permission from players to talk to them, and use conversations with those players to get feedback and learn how to make what my audience is willing to pay for.

It’s way better than hoping and praying that strangers discover and pay me for each new game I create.

I was originally aiming to release one Freshly Squeezed game a month, but so far I think my 5 hours/week isn’t going to make it work out for me. It’s especially doubtful as I still want to create updates for Toytles: Leaf Raking in between Freshly Squeezed games. Still, I hope to have a release for my first new game before the end of this month.

One thing I realized is that out of the three goals, the only one I have direct control over is publishing games. I can’t control how many people sign up for my newsletter or how many people buy a game. But if the three goals are as connected as I expect they are, then releasing quality games should attract newsletter subscribers who eventually become customers.

Again, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and I recognize that 1 sale per week works out to almost 7 times what I am currently (I originally had a goal of 60 sales per week but realized it was much, much more ridiculous to expect an almost 400x increase in sales), but I can’t wait to get some hard data in the coming months to see how well this strategy plays out. I’ll adjust my expectations accordingly.

As for personal goals, I like aiming for a book a week as well as not sweating it when I don’t make it. I will continue to do daily exercise, and in fact I’ll increase my push-ups and squats from 10 to 15. I need to either fix my treadmill or get a new one so I can get in daily walking or running even when the weather doesn’t work out. I think I’ll continue to create daily doodles, but I am going to want to learn other aspects of art, such as color, character design, perspective, environmental design, and more.

Happy New Year

I hope 2021 sees the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, a safe transition of power, and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. I hope my kids can play with family and friends without worrying about someone getting seriously or fatally sick. I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy in the coming year.

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Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Announcing Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.5 with Transitions and More Dialogue

Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, has a new “Personality Injection” update, available now in the Apple App Store and Google Play store!

Version 1.4.5 adds more unique dialogue for each of your 19 neighbors, turning the neighborhood into a more lively and interesting place.

Clients now have different things to say for each of the three months of the leaf-raking season, and they say something different when you finish the job in their yard.

For example, Mr. Cardinal says the following in October:
Mr. Cardinal October dialogue

And after you finish raking all of the leaves in his yard, he’ll instead say:

Mr. Cardinal October dialogue

Also new are screen transitions that, frankly, make the game more enjoyable to look at and play. You can see for yourself how it enhances the game nicely:

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

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Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Announcing New Holiday Dialogue in Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.4

Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, has a new “Personality Injection” update, available now in the Apple App Store and Google Play store!

Version 1.4.4 introduces unique, holiday-specific dialogue for each of your 19 neighbors.

Mr Cardinal dialogue on Labor Day

There are currently 6 major calendar events, and when you visit your neighbors, they will have something new to say to you depending on the date.

Luciana's dialogue on Halloween

You’ll get a better sense of who your neighbors and clients are. Learn who loves being part of a crowd and who loathes a party! Understand who makes the best of a bad situation and who sees the world as glass-half-empty.

Amy's dialogue on Thanksgiving

Learn which of your clients is cheering for you as you try to earn enough money to buy yourself the Ultimate Item(tm).

Learn more about the game and where to get it at the main Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free by signing up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter!

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Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Know Who Your Clients Are in Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.3

I’m excited to share another Personality Injection update for Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Learn how to get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

With v1.4.3, you can now more easily tell which of your neighbors are clients and which are ex-clients thanks to the new client status indicators.

In Game - Client Status Indicators

While walking around your neighborhood, you’ll now see a speech bubble next to your client’s home.

If you see a rake, it means the client is waiting for you to clear their yard of leaves.

If you see an angry squiggle, it means the client is getting worried that you are allowing too many leave sit in their yard and are not being responsible.

And if you finish raking all of the leaves in their yard, they’ll show a smiling turtle face.

But if you neglect a yard for too long and lose the client, you’ll see an icon to let you know that you can’t rake that yard anymore. You can still visit the neighbor, but do not be surprised if they are unhappy to speak with you.

Thanks to these changes, your time playing Toytles: Leaf Raking has just gotten a bit easier.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

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Game Design Games Marketing/Business

Chat with Grumpy Clients in Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.2

Here’s information about another one of my Personality Injection updates for Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Learn how to get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

There are two major changes in this release.

Streamline waiting for rain

Waiting for the rain to stop so you can rake a yard is now less tedious. Your options before were to wait 10 minutes or to wait an hour.

The idea is that drizzle starts and stops every 10 minutes, but heavier rain starts and stops at the top of the hour, and so here are two options to match.

But the problem was that you might try to rake leaves in the middle of an hour. For example, let’s say that it is 3:40pm and raining. If you try to rake some leaves, you’ll be told it is raining and given the two options above. The optimal thing to do is to wait 10 minutes twice because it might stop raining at 4:00pm. The less optimal thing to do is to wait an hour, because then it would be 4:40pm. You would lose 40 minutes of time in that case.

But the optimal decision is annoying, especially if it were 4:10pm and you would have to wait 10 minutes five times!

So I changed it.

Now you can either wait 10 minutes or wait until the end of the hour, which is what you were trying to do anyway.

Wait for rain

Hopefully this change makes the game more enjoyable and less frustrating.

Unhappy client dialog

In keeping with the Personality Injection theme, your clients now say something unique when you neglect your work and allow too many leaves to remain in their yard.

You already get a report from your mother at the beginning of your work day to inform you who is getting concerned about their yard, but now when you visit grumpy clients, they can express their grumpiness to you in person!

Mrs. Smith is a sweet elderly turtle who never has anything bad to say about you.

Mrs. Smiths grumpy dialog

Other neighbors are a bit more direct about their displeasure.

Brians grumpy dialog

Future updates will continue to allow your neighbors to share their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and fears with you, as well as the occasional reminder that you have a responsibility to do what you said you would do. I continue to look forward to meeting the neighbors with you.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

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Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Play Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.1 – Now with More Personality!

I’ve published another update for Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Learn how to get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Version 1.4.1 is part of what I am calling the “Personality Injection” updates. It builds upon the previous update to give the neighbors even more things to say when you visit them.

Your neighbors are now starting to show their individual personalities. For example, Pierre seems friendly when you first meet him:

Pierre's initial greeting

Once he becomes a client, you learn that he is a birdwatcher!

Pierre's a birdwatcher!

Eventually future updates will allow Pierre to demonstrate his love of birds as well as potentially a few of his other interests.

Of course, if you neglect his lawn and get fired, Pierre will find that he wishes he had his free time back:

Pierre's disappointment

Your neighbors are film fans, students, painters, animal lovers, day dreamers, and more.

I hope you enjoy getting to know the neighbors as much as I have been. I can’t wait to find out what Pierre discovers.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

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Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Say Hello to Toytles: Leaf Raking v1.4.0

I just released a new update for Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. Learn how to get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

Version 1.4.0 is a small update that allows the neighbors to express themselves in unique ways.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Before this update, the neighbors were all mostly interchangeable. They had a unique picture and name, and each had their own house in the neighborhood, but otherwise they were identical in terms of behavior. They could hire you, but then you would never hear from them again unless they fired you.

Mr. Cardinal's greeting

Now you have the option to visit with your neighbors, and they will each have a unique greeting for you.

Even the store owner, Mr. Matt, has something to say, whereas before he only existed in the name of the store and otherwise made no appearance in the game.

Mr. Matt's greeting

This latest version is the first of what I refer to as the “Personality Injection” updates.

My plan is to slowly add multiple storylines for each of the 20 or so neighbors and provide ways for your actions to potentially impact them. For example, Mr. Cardinal, your first client, is an inventor, and one of his storylines will follow his attempts at creating something that gives him the prestige he has always desired.

It’s my attempt to give the game more character, and I look forward to exploring the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and fears of the town’s inhabitants.

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

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Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Announcing: Toytles: Leaf Raking, Now Available on iOS

I’ve finally gotten around to porting Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation, to iOS so now you can get it for your iPhones and iPads.

Download Toytles: Leaf Raking on the App Store!

Download on the App Store

Toytles: Leaf Raking

I originally created the game in 2016, and I’ve updated it a few times since then. My original announcement for the Android release of Toytles: Leaf Raking on Google Play was met with some enthusiasm (thanks, Mom), and I have been slowly making improvements and plans for newer features since its release.

I was quite proud of the game, and I had plans to update it sooner, but I had a few changes in my life occur. One request I received was to get the game out for iOS, and and I am happy to say that after only a few short years, it is now available.

I hope you enjoy it!

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

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Marketing/Business

Books I Have Read: A Social Strategy

Mikolaj Jan Piskorski’s “A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media” was published in 2014, which is quite a few lifetimes ago in the tech world, but I checked it out anyway.

A Social Strategy

It’s an academic text, looking at the success and failure of different social media platforms and a few companies attempting to take advantage of them through the lens of sociology.

It can get quite wonky at times, but I like wonky.

It also attempts to give advice to anyone looking to establish a new social network or use existing social networks to either save or make money.

In economics, there is a concept called “market failure” in which economic transactions do not happen or happen inefficiently due to some reason or another.

Piskorski notes that there are also categories of “social failure,” social
interactions that people seek and would better their situations if they happened but cannot accomplish in the off-line world. Social failures are about the interactions that do not occur, which is an interesting way to look at things.

For example, single people might find it difficult to meet others, and so dating platforms such as Ok Cupid and eHarmony provide social solutions. He analyzed how each differed in their approaches and how one succeeded due to providing a superior, more effective solution.

Besides “meet” failures, there are also “friend” failures, in which a person might find it difficult to share information or social support in an existing relationship. There’s a chapter in which Zynga is a case study that focuses on this context.

And much like how in economics there can be transaction costs as the underlying reason for a market failure, there are economic and social costs that prevent or inhibit otherwise good social interactions from happening. He categorizes them as breadth, display, search, and communication.

It’s a fascinating analysis, which is especially relevant if you are trying to create a new social app or platform. Piskorski juxtaposed Facebook and the Japanese social media platform mixi, as well as LinkedIn and Friendster, explaining how each tackled their solutions to the above social failures differently and how those different approaches created different results.

He argues that a social solution needs to address both the economic AND the social causes of interaction costs. Otherwise, it will be ineffective. In fact, he argues that social solutions that provide breadth, display, search, and communication functionalities will do better than others that only provide a few.

But, he also says that there are often trade-offs that need to be made. Some solutions increase the costs of certain functionalities. Facebook will never replace LinkedIn because Facebook would need to offer a way for people to meet strangers. In fact, Facebook once did offer a way to search and find strangers, but it had the side-effect that individuals in relationships used this functionality to cheat on their partners, which reduced the effectiveness of the “friend” solution that Facebook is offering. So Facebook removed the functionality, leaving LinkedIn as the dominant platform to meet people on.

Well, what if you aren’t setting up your own social network but want to take advantage of existing networks for your own business?

Piskorski also talks about the concept of the “social strategy.” In general, organizations use either low cost or high willingness-to-pay strategies. If you can lower the former without lowering the latter, or if you can increase the latter without increasing the former, you have a competitive advantage. Piskorski goes one step further to say that a social strategy involves leveraging people willing to take on business tasks for free in order to indirectly lower costs or increase willingness-to-pay.

A social strategy is different from a digital strategy, which is basically taking the familiar activity of broadcasting content at an audience and applying it online. A social strategy involves identifying and implementing a solution that solves unmet economic and social needs. In short, if you can introduce people to each other AND get them to do things for you for free, you are leveraging social media for your organization’s benefit.

The generalized framework used:

1) A viable social strategy seeks to increase a company’s profitability
2) by improving interactions between people
3) if they undertake a set of corporate functions for free

Piskorski discusses ways an organization can develop a strategy that fits the framework, as well as identifying what problems can occur if the strategy does not focus on how the proposed solution can both provide business value and social utility.

I am not sure exactly how different the social networking world looks in 20202 compared to 2014, and I would love to see if Piskorski has a new, updated analysis.

But “A Social Strategy” provided a set of principles and a framework that I think I can use to figure out how to more effectively market my games. Instead of randomly tweeting and posting on Facebook and wondering why I’m not getting the results I want, I can be a bit more analytical and thoughtful. I can be more purposeful and deliberate. And I can recognize when a strategy isn’t working that doesn’t involve merely noticing a lack of sales.