I spoke with Jon about him and his brother's game development process and how they approached their game's marketing production from the Xbox Marketplace with a much different take, compared to the majority of developers I've previously spoken with, check it out!
Who Are You?
My brother (Dan) and I (Jon) started Silver Dollar Games in 2010, but we’ve been making indie games since 2007. Our first game, Blazing Birds, was released on Xbox Live Arcade. Since then we’ve made dozens of unknown games on Xbox Live Indie Games.
We’re best known for our first Steam release, One Finger Death Punch.
What’s your Game?
One Finger Death Punch is an on-rail fighter where the player uses only two buttons to play. The game focuses around a very tight 1 to 1 response system so that every button that’s press has an impact and response.
One Finger Death Punch was made with XNA a platform we’re no longer working with. We’re in the process of working on One Finger Death Punch 2 with Unity 3D but the game is far from complete and probably won’t see a release until early 2019.
How did you come up with the idea/concept for this game?
The original game was called ‘Your Kung Fu Is Not Strong’. It started off ultra-difficult. You died in a single hit and many retries were required to progress.
We had some of our friends play it and we found it just wasn’t very fun. So we scrapped that idea and started over. This time with a different approach.
We wanted a flurry of enemies and the action to be as fast as humanly possible. We found that we could achieve this speed if we kept the controls down to only two buttons.
We experimented many times with a three or more button scheme, but ultimately it took away from the core gameplay.
How long did it take to build? What was that process like?
One Finger Death Punch took a couple years to make. It had room for growth that’s for sure, but at the time we had little resources to give it the polish it deserved. We play tested the game at least a hundred times in an attempt to make it fun for as wide an audience as possible.
Every decision we make is an attempt to either get around the fact that we don’t have resources for the game’s production or we’re trying to make the game more fun.
We’re currently working on OFDP2 and this time around the programming and design has been much more grueling. The game is many more times complex, even though it may not look it, and it amounts to a sea of endless problems. We’ve learned much but I worry we don’t have the right skill sets to make OFDP2 a success.
Have you released a game previously? If so, how did it go?
We have released a couple full games in the past. Blazing Birds on Xbox Live Arcade, Blow, Ranger, Mirror and The Jump Hero on Xbox Live Indie Games.
None of those games had a chance to get the proper polish a game needs to be successful but they were fun to make.
We learn a little bit each time and we’ve come a long way since we first started. We’ve released dozens of little experiments on Xbox Live Indie Game, all of which are now gone since XBLIG has been shut down. Many of our little experiments on XBLIG involved just one simple mechanic and I think that’s why we’re able to make OFDP’s two-button scheme work.
Is this your full time job?
We’ve been doing this full time for 7 years now. It’s been a rough ride during that time and ultimately our fate is sealed in the success of OFDP2.
We’ve never had a game worthy of a publisher’s attention until OFDP2. However, we’ve been self-publishing for years now and there’s little a publisher could do for us given the percentage they would take.
Have you used an external publisher before?
Did you have a marketing budget? If so, what was worth it? What was a waste?
When you’re making an indie game, I feel, how much conversation the game creates amongst its players is the best form of marketing.
If we had a marketing budget I would spend that on the game’s production. I would spend it on ways to surprise the player with interesting or silly easter eggs. Secrets and rare achievements. Things you can do in an indie game that big companies wouldn’t do. The traditional marketing methods I see online today, I just don’t see their value.
Do you rely solely on game purchases for profit?
Right now we really have no income as OFDP is an old game with little to no current sales. There will be no micro transactions, ads or anything of that nature in OFDP2.
We haven’t decided yet, but we’re thinking about a $7.99 price point, for the amount of effort and the cost of production it’s actually quite low. However, a two button game featuring stick men has a stigma attached to it, the game isn’t pretty because it has stick men and it’s basic because the game only uses two buttons.
Those elements combine to make it hard to price the game anywhere above $7.99, in my opinion.
What was/is your marketing plan/strategy?
We’re going to make a game that has a lot of things for people to tweet about, talk about, show in videos. We want players to show off what they’ve discovered. So we better give them something good to show off, something good to discover.
That’s our marketing plan; word of mouth. Now we must succeed at giving the players something worthy of talking about.
What advice did you take 5 years ago? Is it still true today?
I have some advice for others trying to make an indie game. If you can’t do it better, do it differently. And that doesn’t mean tweak a mechanic from an existing game.
That last thing players want is a worse version of Minecraft, PUBG, COD or Hearthstone.
What advice would you pass on to developers who are looking to launch their game?
Get everyone you know to play your game. Only release when everyone thinks its fun.
Do you have a dev log?
Where can people follow you?
What’s your favourite element of the game that everyone should know about?
It’s hard to look back at OFDP after we’ve been working on the sequel for so long.
Why should I play it?
One Finger Death Punch although dated will make you feel like a badass. You’ll get into a rhythm that puts you into a zen-like state.
Where do you get inspiration to build games or come up with an idea?
We use to get ideas from anything really, movies, TV, situations in life. Anywhere but other games. No one wants to play your take on someone else’s game. At least that’s my opinion.
For aspiring gamers reading this who want to work in the games industry/make games, what advice can you give them?
I don’t know if we would have any good advice to give. If I was just starting out I would get some kind of education that could be used in the field and put a slick resume together.
Maybe if you’re lucky you can land a job at a big video game studio.
What marketing information did you wish you knew before launching your game?
I wish I knew where and how YouTube content creators fit into the ecosystem of the video game market.
YouTube content creators can make or break a game.
What is this ecosystem going to look like in 2019 when we release OFDP2? It’s a rapidly changing medium and it’s hard to keep up with it.