How To Use PAX As A Launchpad For Your Indie Game

Leigh and Rohan Harris have been around the local games industry for a while, affectionately known as the Harris brothers, but after the popularity of their new iPad game, they'll be more widely known as Flat Earth Games. TownCraft is the first title from the young studio, and after debuting at PAX Aus, has come out of the gates enthusiastically. But according to Lead Designer Leigh Harris, it was a stressful experience that came down to the wire.

PAX attendees described TownCraft as a little bit Minecraft, a little bit Populous. Players find themselves in an open space, where they'll gather basic materials like wood, and rocks, and use them to make more complex tools, which are then used to make more complex items, and so on.

While early players were busy building their first bustling towns, Towncraft was charging up the charts. Within the first few days, it broke into the top 100 paid games, and it currently sits around 120-130 for all paid apps. That also puts it in the top 10 for both paid strategy and paid simulation games.

"It's our first video game release, and people aren't kidding about crunch time," says Leigh Harris. "That's a real thing. Really painful. I'm about to take a weekend off, and it'll be my first one in 5 months. Though it's kind of our own fault for agreeing to go to PAX. We gave ourselves that deadline."

Harris is referring to Penny Arcade's policy of requiring at least one released game for developers to be accepted into the indie mega-booth. It's intended to make sure only serious indies are on display, with a certain level of polish, and the positive results speak for themselves. But for Harris, who has never released a game before, that meant July or bust.

"We signed that contract back in February, thinking 'of course it'll be done,'" says Harris. "Then July got closer and closer, and we were still tweaking and polishing and balancing, and all of a sudden it was a real deadline.

"I don't think anyone at PAX was going to go and check up on us, but we had this nightmarish thing where we submitted the Wednesday of the week before the expo, which gave us 7 business days. On the next Wednesday, we're hitting refresh over and over, because we haven't gotten the confirmation email yet - and finally on the Thursday, we get off the plane in Melbourne, we turn on our phones and it says 'App approved.'

"We go to launch it, and then it asks us to punch in our business details - which includes GST. Obtaining those details was another automated system that could take one day, or three days, and this was two days before PAX. So that cleared the day before PAX, and we hit the 'Submit' button, and that itself can take 48 hours."

It all ended up okay, though. TownCraft had a solid showing which undoubtedly boosted its debut on the app store.

"People got really into it," says Harris. "By the end of Day 1, people were already coming back to the booth saying they'd bought the game. By Day 2, people were coming back with their iPads, saying 'I'm stuck here, can you help me with this bit?' And on Day 3, people were coming up to the booth saying 'My friend told me I have to buy this game!'"

As both Harris brothers settle in for a small, well-deserved break, their thoughts will be on bringing the game to the iPhone, where they'll have to solve the problem of making their big, gesture swiping mechanics work on the smaller device.

The experience in a nutshell?

"I really love game development, and I'm absolutely going to do it again."

You can find out more at the TownCraft page, or at Flat Earth Games' blog - and, of course, on the iPad app store.


    Game looks great! Shame the art is pretty dull :/

    Could also do with being a bit more user-friendly. Watched people playing this one at the PAX booth, and the guys attending the booth had to spend a LOT of time educating people on things which weren't at all intuitive. You could see them getting equal parts frustrated and sheepish about the number of things they thought made total sense but which people weren't picking up.

    Populous is way off, too - there's nothing like the grand scale of that game. It's more like Minecraft meets Don't Starve, minus the survival focus.

    Still worth getting, but set expectations accordingly.

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