Indie iPhone Developers Collaborate For Character Cameos

Minigore Enviro-Bear Collaboration

Size often dictates what a company can and can’t do with their advertising: Larger companies can use their larger budgets to make a big splash if needed, and smaller companies can get away with scrappier methods that larger companies can’t even consider. One example of the small and scrappy side of advertising is the recent trend among iPhone game developers of collaboration, in which they will swap character cameos as a way of cross-promoting each game to the other game’s audience.

Examples include:

  • Minigore’s John Gore swings through the worlds of Sway.
    Minigore Sway
  • Enviro-Bear 2010’s Enviro-Bear and Lizzy from Sway will make cameos in the upcoming release of Minigore.
    Minigore Cameos
  • Harbor Master features a special episode called Pocket God Attacks! which features the characters from Pocket God.
    Pocket God Attacks
  • Pocket God added a new episode to their game called Bait Master, which pays homage to Harbor Master.
    Bait Master
  • The Creeps features characters from both Doodle Jump and Pocket God.
    Creeps Doodle Jump Pocket God
  • Doodle Jump features a secret easter egg character from Pocket God.
    Doodle Jump Pocket God
  • And the list goes on…

GSB Overgrowth

In addition to iPhone developers, indie PC developers are also getting in on the action, as demonstrated by Cliff Harris from Gratuitous Space Battles featuring rabbit shaped spaceships that take their design cues from Jeff Rosen’s game Overgrowth.

What makes this trend so interesting is that with traditional advertising, companies avoid promoting their competitors at all costs. In the indie space however, developers see other developers as more friend than foe, and are willing to help each other do what it takes to get their name out there. Perhaps it’s the fact that iPhone game pricing means consumers don’t need to pick one game or another, as they can just buy both, or perhaps it’s the fact that indie shops are often just one or two man armies, and so they see each other as a support system, but either way, there’s a different type of relationship between indie developers that you don’t see in most spaces.

When talking about his collaboration with Jeff Rosen, Cliff Harris said:

The thing I find really interesting though, is the way in which our companies can do stuff like this, where we promote each others games, even stick content from one game in another, with the minimum of fuss. When I suggested we stick a rabbit ship in GSB to see how it could work, I didn’t need to get my lawyer to talk to Wolfire’s lawyer. I didn’t need a strategic planning meeting with the head of corporate strategy, or have to justify to shareholders why we should help out what they would see as our competitors…

This is what I like about the Indie attitude. Indie devs often share tips on game coding, getting decent contract work done, promoting websites and running forums, even the financial side of the best payment providers and who knows a decent accountant etc.

Can you imagine the head of EA giving the head of Activision tips on how to save on their bandwidth bill?

This is the indie attitude, and the indie advantage. We tend to take it for granted, because at the end of the day, me and Jeff are two guys who love games and love making games. Somewhere along the line, the mainstream industry forgot that.

Since the Minigore/Enviro-Bear collaboration was what sparked the idea for this post in the first place, I decided to reach out to the developers with a few questions and see if they’d respond. Not one to disappoint, Kimmo from Mountain Sheep replied to my questions with some great insight into the world of the indie developer:

  • As an indie developer, what challenges do you face with advertising your game?
    The biggest challenge is to stand out among all the noise. You need to come up with something clever and eye-catching every time since you don’t have the budget to just push it through. It makes you pick your shots. Which is great, because it forces you to be creative.
  • How did you come up with the idea of adding characters from other games into your own?
    Timo (the artist behind Minigore) took a bunch of different characters and gave them the Minigore-treatment – just for fun. It turned out the style worked really well and we asked ourselves: what would be the wackiest thing you could do with the upcoming co-op update… we had just recently played Enviro-Bear and it was almost immediately obvious we just wanted to get the darn bear into the game. Timo got a hold of Justin Smith and he loved the idea. We felt so good about the whole thing that we wanted others in, too, and got some great names. Lizzy from Sway is going to make an appearance and we also have others we haven’t even revealed yet.
  • Do you think it’s easier as an indie developer to do collaborations like this?
    The great thing about being an indie is you get to do whatever you personally think is right. It’s definitely a lot easier for indies to collaborate like this. It takes a lot of negotiation and paperwork to get two large companies to collaborate, but with smaller teams you can get the ok even on the same day!
  • Are collaborations just a fun way to work with other developers, or do you think they help cross-promote both games?
    They are both. It makes the whole process of developing so much more fun by offering a deviation from the daily routine. In the App Store the visibility on the device itself is crucial and that’s where cross-promotion and collaborations can really help. On-device cross-promotion is in fact how some of the larger companies with lots of games in the store are able to get their games to climb the charts. Indies on the other hand usually don’t have that many games, so collaborations like this can be huge for them.
  • What game would you love to see John Gore play a role in?
    Now that Disney has bought Marvel, John Gore absolutely needs to get involved in the mash-up and get his ass handed to him by the Iron Duck or Gooferine.

Unfortunately, I don’t think collaboration is a technique that will work for many industries, as the willingness to enter into a reciprocal relationship is a lot easier for indie shops that don’t have a team of lawyers scrutinizing each and every word in a contract. For those that can make it work though, it’s a great way to not only get the word out about your product, but to build a support system of peers for yourself along the way.

The Good:

  • Collaboration benefits both parties.
  • Advertising without ads avoids banner blindness.
  • Helps smaller companies build a support system.

The Bad:

  • Difficult for larger companies to manage.
  • Runs the risk of lopsided agreements that benefit one company more than the other.

The Future:

  • Small companies help themselves by helping one another, benefiting the industry as a whole and giving extra value to consumers along the way.

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