RON ALPERT | HEADCASE GAMES | LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Bio: Ron Alpert is an independent game developer based in Los Angeles, California. With over a decade of experience in big-studio development, he has since lead Headcase Games to produce challenging, original titles which have received much critical acclaim and several hundreds of thousands of downloads.
Jovan Johnson: Why did you go the indie route?
Ron: As a studio veteran, I’d worked the bulk of my career on high-profile projects, with a lot of great people – but I was tired of being worked to the bone and not being appreciated for my work, I felt like a monkey in the dungeon! The game industry is a great place to be, but it can be awfully abusive (lack of job security, quality of life issues, incompetent and inconsiderate management). After several years I had had enough, and I thought “I work so hard already, it can’t possibly be that much harder to try it on my own terms!” I saw an escape as mobile gaming started to come into vogue in a big way; suddenly there was a lot of space for anyone with some bright ideas and a dedicated work ethic to try and get their work seen on a large scale, I knew it was now or never.
Jovan: You worked for major gaming studios before going on your own. Did anything you learned while working at a studio prepare you for life as an indie?
Ron: Absolutely, the education I got was second to none. I got to see how the guts of the industry worked (the good and the bad). I came to understand why certain things are done the way they are; how long it will take games of a certain size take to produce, how to leverage technology and R&D, why starting new IPs are a good and a bad idea, why middle management is a necessary evil, how to properly design and test all elements of gameplay, and so much more. I would’t be where I am today if not for my history, never minding all the great connections I made while at the larger studios.
Jovan: Do you feel you have a distinct approach to developing? How would you describe your approach?
Ron: A bit headstrong, aggressive, but also reasonable. I believe in the “build small and step up gradually” approach, whereas many people might seek investment outright and try to build something bigger.. and potentially top-heavy. I’ve seen so many projects come to market as half-realized messes that no one will remember. My process may take longer, but ultimately it helps me to deliver a very solid, satisfying product that can have legs far beyond “the immediate launch window” – and it helps me to build an endearing respect for my brand as well. In the short term, it is difficult to make money this way, but in the long term I think it provides a stronger foundation for success.
Jovan: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned since opening Headcase Games?
Ron: It sounds trite to say, but “always expect the unexpected.” I learned this in the big studios, but I had it beaten into me as an indie. Plenty of things can go wrong, several of them will, and it’s of utmost importance that you do all you can to set up as many countermeasures as possible to prevent disaster from washing away all of your hard work. You can run out of money, your partner(s) can quit, you might launch during a busy time and be ignored, your HD could crash and wipeout, someone else could beat you to the market (exact same play mechanic and name), you could get sued, and so on and so forth. You can never be over-prepared, but don’t spend too much time fool-proofing that you don’t get to actually work on the game in a decent rhythm.
Jovan: What has been your biggest success?
Ron: 180 has seen a healthy amount of downloads (we anticipated 10,000 if we were lucky.. we are closing in on half a million!) That’s not all paid, of course, but we have a steady stream of repeat players and endless excellent reviews. I am happy to see that our philosophy of development is sitting right with so many people, and it only bodes well for our future releases.
Jovan: Do you have any tips for new developers?
Ron: Think big but start small. There’s no shame in making smaller projects to learn the process, because even a *complete* small app can bring it’s share of headaches. You’ll learn so much and when you are finishd, you’ll have a much better idea of what to do with your next project.
Also, just because you are a developer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also pay attention to the business side of things. be a promoter, a salesman. What you sell is less important than how you sell it; most tiny devs pay no attention to marketing and promotion, and their apps go nowhere as a result. Take the bull by the horns and start learning how to use all the tools to get some visibility for yourself, otherwise you may as well be releasing to a deaf audience.
Jovan: What’s next for Headcase Games?
Ron: 180 is still making waves across the various app marketplaces, and we will likely follow-up with updates shortly into the new year. Meanwhile, I’ve got 3 games in development (Tic-Tac-Jack, Trapdoor, and my baby, GunHead). All should see release within the next few months’ time. The new year will bring development of a few other apps as well. 2012 is going to be an exhausting, but excellent year for Headcase Games!
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