Recently a game title we were working on at Mesocyclone Studios was released and made world news - I'm not joking.  It went viral.  CNN, Yahoo! and many other large news providers covered the game.

Unfortunately, we'd been beaten lock, stock and barrel to market by another studio.  Somewhere over my shoulder, I swear I heard the ghost of Maxwell Smart chuckle.  After a few choice expletives aimed at myself for missing a golden opportunity, I stood back and began to analyze the situation.  What went wrong and how could we do better next time?

A little background - Recently in the Philippines a scam allegedly being run by some unscrupulous workers emerged at our international airport.  Allegedly, the security personnel screening people as they entered the building teamed up with baggage porters to drop bullets into their luggage and extracted a "fine" for the offense.  After a few people went to social media the story began to go viral under the name "Tanim-Bala" - Translated from Tagalog to English: ‘A scam where bullets are planted (in someone's luggage)'.

Lying awake late one night pondering the story, it struck me - "Its a perfect target for a simple game!" I told myself.  I quickly sent an email to my staff on the subject and formulated elements of the game to discuss in the morning.  The next morning, I pitched the idea to the studio leads.  They were all smiles and so was I - this was a potential "Flappy Bird" sized splash to be made.  Within a few hours we'd fleshed out the game and created a rough timeline - one month - and we switched gears and began to work.  We even came up with a snappy name - "Scammunition"

Two weeks later our lead programmer came to me looking like someone had stolen her puppy - A studio here in the Philippines had published a game to the Google App Store called "Tanim-Bala".  We looked at it - it was a game with little thought and old mechanics - not much more than a simple version of Activision's 1981 hit "Kaboom!"

That day the game began to be mentioned with stories about the scam in the news in national papers.  Within days it was featured in news stories worldwide and the developer was interviewed in many of them.  It was my turn to look like someone had stolen my puppy.

Where did we go wrong?

  1. We assumed we had the ability to bring the title to market before our competitors due to two factors:
    1. We believed that no other developers had the idea or would come up with it in time to put a game on the market before we did.
    2. We made an assumption that one month to market was a reasonable amount of time to take in our region – Southeast Asia – home of the quick and dirty game that copies / capitalizes on other recent title hits. Making a game from a big media story involving sit-com levels of corruption isn’t that big of a mental jump.
  2. Our planned game was simple but not simplistic. We came up with original game-play and fiction to go with the IP as well as a few Easter eggs. The brainstorm process took a few days as well.
  3. We were fairly certain we had a sensational title but we treated it like it was ordinary IP and moved forward with a normal development cycle.

What should we have done differently?

  1. We should have looked at our competitors seriously – In the Philippines there aren’t many studios that develop their own IP and there are almost no studios that come up with good IP on their own.  We missed the fact that in many ways this title wrote itself and eased the IP creation process.
  2. We should have claimed the IP space quickly by releasing the game with a core feature and quickly updated it to add in the other features.
  3. We should have burned the midnight oil. We knew we had a potential hit; we should have worked like it.
  4. We should have considered the trade-off between releasing a high quality game and the boost we’d get from the press for just being the first to market with minimal features. If we had a media hit, the revenue would have allowed us to pull in additional developers as needed.

Today, we released our title on the Apple App Store and it’s the first one there. We’ll have two patches coming out about a week apart to finish out the game’s initial conception. We also published to the Google App Store even though there are several “Tanim-Bala” titles already there. We published it because we know that we were well into the creation process before the other studio had released a simple title – so its very likely that we were ahead in coming up with the title. We also have original game-play for the IP and it’s not a bad game.  (You can check it out here: https://appsto.re/us/hgbo_.i )

It’s bittersweet - we wont have the benefit of worldwide press, but the Tanim-Bala story is not over so we’ll likely see some benefit even though we’re late to the party.

We wont forget this lesson. It stings to be so close to making a huge hit, especially when we’re a small studio looking to make our name. Next time we’ll be ready.