There are a lot of great developer stories, but this one might take the cake. Let us introduce you to Garry and Ed, the father/son developer team behind Boonce. We’ve mention Boonce a few times on this site because we think it’s a great little known game, and finding out the story behind it only made us like it more. Check out our great conversation below.
1. How did you get started with Windows Phone?
Garry: Visual Studio was the environment we were learning on. Releasing software on the Windows Phone was a no-brainer.
Ed: We started out coding for the Xbox but then we realized the game that Boonce would work so much better with touch controls rather than a gamepad so it was an easy decision to go for the phone instead.
2. What phone do you personally use?
Garry: I had a Samsung Omnia 7 but changed up to a Nokia Lumia 800 so I gave the Samsung to my wife. The Lumia is a beautiful piece of work, I love it.
Ed: I did have a HTC HD7 but after constant use of about a year and a bit it just kept overheating and alas, reset during an update to never wake again. So now I use a Sony Erricson Cyber-shot.
3. What was your biggest challenge in developing Boonce?
Garry: Absolutely without a doubt it was the collision detection system. I managed to get the physics of a ball bouncing within a couple of hours on my first try, so I thought this programming lark was going to be easy. Then we played around with that for a week or so, trying to find a fun game to make with it. We settled on something where you had to hit some targets after bouncing and some without bouncing but it still wasn’t fun. Neither of us would volunteer to playtest it when we tinkered with it. Then we made the placement of the targets random and the fun was there immediately. We started playing with it for enjoyment instead of out of duty. Sometimes the random placement made for a poor game so we decided to use a level editor and make proper levels for it. One of the sample games to learn programming with is a platformer with a tile based system so we used that as a base. We thought it would be simple to place a ball in the level instead of a character, we were wrong.
After a few weeks of work we had the ball bouncing fine off the edges of the blocks, the corners were a new level of complication and took about a year to get right. I went through five different iterations of code to get the corners working. The first model stayed with me for about five months. At one point i had an entire bedroom wall filled with printed sheets of code which I scribbled notes on, trying to work out how to make it right. Ed’s mother was very understanding during that time. Eventually I realised that it was fundamentally flawed and I had to start again from scratch. Each version was better than the one before but each one also had a flaw which meant that it wasn’t good enough. After ten months of work I had enough tools in my skillset to write a version which works perfectly. When the ball hits off a corner in Boonce, there’s some nice trigonometry going on in the background to produce the correct bounce. It’s nice not to have a cheat in place for that, we could have easily just made it bounce off one of the adjoined surfaces but it wouldn’t have felt right.
So, all in all, one year of work which I expected to take a week or two. Along the way I had to relearn trigonometry from the Wikipedia pages on triangles and pretty much lost my sanity while I descended into a world which was constructed purely out of mathematics. Definitely my toughest challenge.
Ed: Making the levels easier. And apparently I’ve failed.
Garry: Haha! Not failed as such. Boonce isn’t an easy game but it’s do-able and all of the levels are fair. Though I do have to keep telling Ed to make them easier, when he first sends them through they’re too hard for me to even test. That’s why we’ve overhauled the instructions. We used to only have a set of blackboards with instructions written on them. Now we’ve integrated that into an entire deck of levels we’re calling School. It’s not only a place to learn the skills, it’s a place to hone them too without being let down by poor results. School is a deck in which everyone should be able to get medals.
4. How did you and your Father/Son get started developing together?
Garry: Ed was coming to the end of his school life and didn’t have a clue what he wanted to do as an adult. I kept asking him what he was interested in, what his passions were. My career has been a mix of unskilled jobs and I was hoping to steer Ed on a path where he would do something which he enjoyed and which he could make a decent living from. Every time I asked him about his passions he kept saying videogames, I kept telling him that he couldn’t make a career out of playing games. Time was running out, he was approaching school-leaving age. I gave in and told him I’d help him make a game. Neither of us had had any experience with programming. A quick Google later and we’d decided that Microsoft’s Visual studio was the best way to start. It’s free and it has all the capabilities you need to make a game. One day later we’d completed the first tutorial and had a working game on the screen. A very simple game, but we had the code laid out in front of us and could alter values and change how it worked, that felt good. Of course, all I did was change some of the text into swear words, but it was a start.
5. Monetization: in terms of driving revenue, can you tell us about your experience, your strategy, and the overall potential? (We know this is a touchy subject and confidential issue, but we appreciate any details you’re willing to share)
Garry: The original Boonce went out for $1.99, with a trial. It sold 34 copies in the first 24 days. In the next 20 days it sold 1 copy. We realized that financially it was a failure, though critically it had been a success. The people who played it praised it, but the business plan wasn’t working. Firstly we countered this with a price drop, down to $0.99. In the next 7 days it sold 5 copies, so it was worth changing. The next step was to make Boonce Free, an ad supported version. We’ve never been keen on the idea of putting ads into Boonce but the market was sending a clear message, ad supported games get players.
Boonce Free has been running for a little while now. It’s got more players than Boonce, but it still isn’t going to break even from development costs, not by a long way. Actually, the ads so far have all been on the exchange program from AdDuplex. They earn you advertisement space in other people’s apps rather than money. Frankly, I couldn’t get the code to work for paid ads when I first tried to put them in, the AdDuplex code was a lot easier so we just ran with those. It’s probably been a blessing in disguise. When the game first goes out you need players more than you need earnings. With this update the paid ads go into place but I’m under no illusions about becoming overnight millionaires, we’re out of pocket every week in this business and will continue to be for some time. It’s all about building a portfolio for now, a stable of titles that we can look back on with pride. We’re hoping to earn a reputation for quality, then one day a broad appeal will come to one of our titles.
As for where we’re hoping to reach… Oh, you know, the usual. Make an app which has universal appeal and is difficult to copy. Earn tens of millions of dollars from that. Invest heavily and successfully in robotics to become bigger than Apple. Use the new found power to re-energize the space program and end up with an O’Neill cylinder in orbit above Earth, from which I can sit on a golden throne issuing edicts to the cowering world leaders below. That’s always been the target, but there are milestones along the way which we’d celebrate too. Like being able to actually pay the company bills out of money which the company earns instead of our household shopping budget. A car would be nice too.
6. What do you want to see in Windows Phone 8?
Garry: In-app purchases. I think it will revolutionize the way developers make money on the platform. Microsoft has had great intentions with making trials available in the games and apps on the phone, but the system is flawed. Many people aren’t willing to try a game out if there’s a price on it, even if there’s a free trial available. With in-app purchases you can give the game away for free and offer extra experiences after the download. It’s a far better way to get customers to try your product.
Ed: Maybe a handheld gaming device? A phone with the layout of an Xbox controller possibly?
7. Do you develop for other platforms and how does Windows Phone compare to those platforms?
Garry: We work exclusively with Windows Phone so far. Though I’ve dallied with a PC port, I haven’t managed to understand how the saving works yet so I can’t finish it. That’ll probably happen sometime this year.
8. If you could give one tip to fellow Windows Phone Developers, what would it be?
Garry: Don’t build a complicated engine for your first effort. There’s a lot more to game development than just building an engine. The UI, levels, scoring, submission process, and more. If you build a very simple engine for your first go, you can dig straight in to learning the other things.
Ed: Get a good difficulty curve going on, don’t want to let the players breeze through a level but you don’t want to stump them at every corner. Both of those are no fun for the player.
9. Tell us one thing that most people don’t know about you.
Garry: I find it easier to concentrate when coding if I have loud rock music playing. It seems like the wrong way to go about it but silence isn’t normally an option in our family home so it’s easier to think if noises are drowned out.
10. Who came up with the name “Boonce”?
Garry: It was my idea, but we struggled with it for a long time. We wanted to call it Bounce and that name was already taken, boonce is how you pronounce bounce in our local dialect so it seemed a simple switch. It also has the benefit of not being a real word so it shows up better on Google searches.
Thanks guys! Boonce is free for the remainder of June in honor of Developer Appreciation Month! There is no reason not to give this game a try.