Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Joe Cassavaugh

Name: Joe Cassavaugh
Twitter: @PuzzlesByJoe
Gender: Male
Nationality: USA
Birth date: 17/9/1957
Title: CEO/Designer/Engineer
Company: PuzzlesByJoe (indie)
Some games that you have worked on: 

Clutter 1-5 for myself (to make a living). 
Mah Jong Quest I, II, and III (for iWin)
Recon (Logical Battleships), Rack'Em, FitTris, GapWar and a bunch of other experimental games that made very little money.

1-What did motivate you to become a game developer? 

I've loved Puzzles since I was in 1st grade (1963). Been programming (for business) since 1981. In 1993 decided to switch from business to games and never looked back. I love to create a computerized/game-version of either existing puzzles or totally new concepts. 

2-What does inspire you creatively? 

Solving problems inspires me when I work for someone else. Making my own choices/decisions on a product that is "mine" inspires me on my own games. Believing that what I'm working on has potential to make money (and have 10,000s of people playing it) also inspires me. Making randomly generated puzzles also inspires me. Taking something hard-coded or hand-generated and figuring out how to ramp it in difficulty and provide variations and provide the randomly generated levels...inspires me to create games that people will want to play over and over again.
(Like Mah Jong, Solitaire, Mine Sweeper, Free-Cell, Candy Crush.)

3-If you had unlimited resources to make any game you wanted, what kind of game would that be? 

It would be an exceptionally difficult brain-teaser game (possibly called A-Ha) with no instructions. (It might also be called the Cube). It would be infinitely re-playable. 

4-What was the biggest challenge of your career? In which game? How did you overcome it? 

Two things:
1. Creating guaranteed solutions algorithm for any Mah Jong layout (including special tiles (as well as triple and quad matching mechanics)).
2. Creating a game targeted specifically to appeal to Hidden Object Game players, without being a standard Hidden Object Game itself.

In both cases, the biggest challenge was overcome through perseverance, hard work and some luck.

5-What do you usually do for raising the possibility of success in your projects? 

When I went indie, I picked a distribution channel where I knew I didn't have to worry about my own marketing. In that channel, I knew that I would get at least 100,000+ eyeballs downloading the game...and if I had a good enough conversion rate, I'd be ok. That was the PC Casual Download market. I knew if I created a game that met certain criteria it would get exposure on at least Big Fish Games and iWin. I also knew I could "please my audience" (The HOG crowd) and do alright there. I did just well enough to warrant a sequel...and since then I've done all sequels because that was the best way currently to guarantee ongoing success. 

6-What is the most helpful piece of constructive criticism you ever received? 

"No one will ever buy just a collection of puzzles." - This is correct on one level and totally wrong on another. On the correct level, it opened up my eyes to all the things beyond basic game mechanic that need to be done right in order to have a successful game. On the wrong level, a lot of people that are interested in "puzzle games" - often don't care a lot about the Story, Music or even Art....if the puzzle itself is compelling enough. And with Clutter IV, I proved that at least in the casual download market, people will in fact buy "Just a collection of Puzzles".

7-What are the advantages/downsides to working in games?

To paraphrase Wesley in The Princess Bride. Working in games is difficult, anyone who tells you differently is selling something. The biggest challenge in working in games is getting paid what you're worth.

I'm Indie because I no longer wanted to be a "hired gun" for someone else. I wanted to take my own risks and create original-IP that I owned.

And that the biggest advantage of doing games. If you can create your own IP, especially digital-IP (like an original game)...then no one is making money off of your sweat. 

It's also more fun than doing business programming (even if you do work for someone else).

8-What is your best advice to a beginning game developer?

1. Start creating a game.
2. Finish creating a game (and return to step one).

In the meantime, read, read, read some more....and keep perfecting your craft (whatever that is).

It's difficult to get into the games industry right out of college. If you're a programmer or artist take any job that will let you "perfect your craft". While you're doing that, work on games in your spare time. Once you've perfected your craft, then use your talents to get a job in the industry.

9-Which skills are the most important for a game developer in your field/position?

Judgment. Create a product that appeals to a market that already exists and keep your audience in mind. Games are fundamentally entertainment (before any other criteria), so keep that in mind. You're not making a game for yourself, you're making it for them.

Start using Unity or Unreal (someone's engine that you know will be around in a few years).

10-If I want to become a great dev in your field, what games should I play, what books should I read, and whose work should I follow?

Jesse Schell's - The Art of Game Design - A Book of Lenses. Play games you like. (To me, that is the Bible of game design).

Depends on what you want to do.
I don't consider myself "a great dev" and I don't aspire to be one. I do consider myself a fairly successful indie studio of size one, who's managed to stay in business for 5 years and I have not needed to do any 2nd or 3rd party work. My model doesn't work for everyone, but my story is an interesting one, and I'm one of the few indie game devs that's willing to share my numbers. Young developers can definitely learn quite a bit from knowing the details of my story.

11-What changes do you want to see in the game industry?

Would like to see the monopoly that is the App Store broken up. Don't think it will ever happen, but it is the biggest thing that prevents mobile games from finding an audience. I don't really understand why it's tolerated.

Bonus: Tell us a funny story from your adventures in game development.

It's not quite a story, it's my mantra and it goes like this...

...Working for myself, I still have good days and bad days. But the absolute worst day I've ever had working for myself is still slightly better than the best day I've ever had working for someone else.

Here's the shortest funny story I know about being in the games business - 

1. The stupidest thing I ever did, was go indie and make the first Clutter game.
2. The smartest thing I ever did, was to decide to do the sequel to that game.

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