Colin Lane is a Sweden-based developer who recently topped four million downloads among a handful of pint-sized free games. Today, Lane holds a design position at leading children’s game maker Toca Boca, and a successful nights-and-weekends business making his own games. But just three years ago, he was a complete outsider to the world of mobile gaming, with no knowledge of coding, design or art.
At first, Lane approached developers to help him create the ideas he had for games. But he couldn’t find anyone interested in producing his, as he puts it, “crazy” ideas. It wasn’t until an American developer named Jonathan Brodsky sent him codeless developer tool, Stencyl, that Lane tried creating a game himself.
“[Brodsky] said if you really want to make a game, make one and send it to me,” Lane recalls. “That was really motivational, knowing someone in the industry wanted to see it.”
Here, Lane shares how he found his groove in the indie mobile game scene and racked up download numbers even large developers would envy.
On leveling up from inexperienced noob to successful indie dev
I released [my first game], Golf is Hard, to deafening silence, and it did 20 downloads a day for quite a long time. Then it got some minor iOS feature slot in Finland, and went to No. 1 in Finland on both Google Play and iOS. It made a bit of money, paid for itself and made me realize there was potential.
The first game that really took off was Wrassling, my third game. When it was released it was featured everywhere. For me, it was crazy numbers, about half a million downloads in four weeks. Dunkers, my most recent game, has done really well. It’s at around 1.6 million downloads.
On making money, but not overthinking it
I know a lot of people don’t like the forced adverts, which is what I generally use — on game over, you get a full screen ad. I don’t design my game around monetization, I design it like a paid app. If you want to build a beautiful game around monetization, a Crossy Road kind of thing, you need to do that from the beginning with a well-implemented system. That’s not what motivates me.
On finding winning ideas in the indie community
I took a lot of influence for Dunkers from a game called Soccer Physics, which I think was one of the best iOS games. In fact, someone else took inspiration first and made a game called Bouncy Basketball. To make Dunkers, I took the fun that I had in Wrassling and a cool mechanic from Bouncy Basketball. I spoke to both the [Soccer Physics and Bouncy Basketball] developers about their games and mechanics. When I talked to the Bouncy Basketball guy, I said, “I’ve got this idea for a basketball game,” and he said “sure, go ahead.” That’s one of the nice things about the indie scene.
On the Apple versus Google choice for small indies
I’m at around 4.8 million downloads total, mostly on iOS. Google Play isn’t my strong platform. The only game with strong traction there is Wrassling, with about 600,000 downloads. The thing with Google Play is that they require a lot of boxes to be ticked before they’ll feature a game. It’s manageable for a studio, but for a one-person team, any extra things that require a lot of time are going to slow me down. I interpret Apple as being more indie-friendly.