A Q&A session with indie game developer Spry Fox

The pursuit of innovation and delivering happiness to gamers

Spry Fox is an indie developer that’s been making mobile games since 2010. The small but mighty team quit their former jobs and set out on a mission to build games that invoke happiness, while challenging and connecting their users with playful characters and a variety of gameplay styles. With a company motto of “making happiness,” the team is made up of 17 people spread across the globe. What they all have in common is their passion to build communities and pursue truly unique and creative games their users have come to love.

Along the way, Spry Fox has made a name for themselves in the indie developer community. Building a successful business with free-to-play (F2P) games is a challenge for many. To hear their story and gain insights to share with other indie devs, we sat down with David Edery, Co-founder and CEO and Daniel Cook (Danc), Chief Creative Officer at Spry Fox.

What’s it like being an indie developer on Android and Google Play?

David: Wanting to be successful on Android is one of the factors that encouraged us to focus early on F2P. The Android audience is absolutely massive but prefers free games. This has actually been pretty wonderful for us because we’ve reached many millions of people with our games that we likely could never have reached if not for Android. And fortunately, Google Play is straightforward enough to use that even when we were just a few people, we were not overwhelmed by the platform or its requirements.

How have Android & Google Play helped grow your business?

David: The ability to iterate is very easy on Android. It allows us to put out rapid updates using beautiful tools. We also take advantage of the soft launch process by publishing our game in other territories and collecting analytics data before we launch world wide. Another tool we have grown to love because of the huge impact created are store listing experiments. We run experiments on our app icons, screenshots and short descriptions. We were also really excited to win the Standout Indie Google Play Award for Alphabear in 2016.

Most of your games are free-to-play. How do you choose a business model and any tips you can share for making it work?

Danc: I started in game development about 20 years ago and in that time have tried out lots of business models. Premium, shareware, advertising, in app purchases, licensing; we’ve seen it all. What we love about F2P is we are really running a long term service for our players. We get to release a game and if people like it, we can update it for years. There’s a wonderful back-and-forth dialog with our players and the game grows with the community. As a result, F2P lets us build much richer, longer-lived games.

Many of those players end up treating our games as their hobby. Our game is often the only one on their phone. That’s a huge responsibility!

Sometime people think of F2P just as a means of making money, but that’s a really bad attitude. F2P works best when you treat players with generosity and kindness. What value to the player does that IAP really provide? We always ask “are we adding happiness to the world”? If the answer is no, then we stop and try to do better.

As an indie dev with limited resources, how do you approach marketing and gaining users?

Danc: Marketing and distribution is the single hardest problem facing current indie developers. On mobile, features and appearing in collections or top category lists have an enormous impact on small indie titles. But that isn’t enough. We’ve also tried to build relationships with our existing customers. We have a newsletter we send out regularly and we keep in contact via updates within our games.

How do you view innovation and developing for new platforms?

David: Our mission is to make the world a happier, better place through games, full-stop. Many of us could be earning more in other jobs in other industries. We choose to make games because they allow us to be creative in a way that few other fields do, and because few tools have the ability to meaningfully impact so many people in such profound ways with relatively limited investment.

We’re working on just-for-fun games that healthy, supportive communities can form around. We’re working on educational games that will be both fun, and hopefully also enlightening to players. We’re even working on games that might help researchers tap into the collective brainpower of millions of players to help advance the cause of science.

Regarding platform innovation, we tend to be more excited about new game platforms than most game developers because we feel that these are the places where highly original video games have the greatest chance of thriving. Large existing platforms tend to favor huge teams working on games in established genres that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop. While wildly innovative games certainly succeed on those platforms, they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. But new platforms — like Daydream — are a place where customer expectations haven’t become rigid yet and investment in projects have not yet priced out the wonderful experiments that excite us so much.

Can you tell us more about your new VR game being built for Daydream?

Danc: Beartopia is a multiplayer village building game for Daydream. We took the cute bears from our game Alphabear and built a charming seaside town where they could live. We had two big goals. We wanted to build something that could connect people together in a positive way and we wanted to play with the potential of VR.

We’ve always been excited to see what can be done with new platforms. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that many games are built entirely around the interface you find on a specific platform. For example, many mobile games are focused on tapping and swiping because that’s the core interaction that is possible on a touch screen. So when approaching a new platform, we always ask ”what can the player do?” The Daydream controller and headset are an entirely new form of control that very naturally leads to new ways of playing. There’s motion, there’s pointing, and you can look around in this immersive 3D space. What will be fun? We create lots of little interaction toys to find out. You have to turn yourself into a child playing with something new and shiny.

We failed a lot. That’s the challenge, but one we enjoy. There’s something magical for an invention-focused company to be grappling with a field that’s not yet fully defined. Maybe we’ll get to invent the future.

Beartopia trailer

What do you love most about what you do with Spry Fox and what are you most excited about in the future of mobile gaming?

David: I can’t speak for everyone in the company, but what I personally love most about what we do is that we entertain people in ways that I can be very proud of. Our games tend to make the player think and stretch their brains, and provide experiences that you can enjoy for dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of hours. We’ve brought a lot of happiness to people and we’ve done it in a way that I think is very healthy for them.

Danc: I’m excited about bringing people together and helping make their lives a little richer. Mobile is a very social platform and I’m really interested in games that connect people instead of ones that isolate them.

What do you think?

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