February 28-2013
In Talks with Mathew Hall, Founder, KlickTock Pvt. Ltd.

Matthew Hall is game developer who’s been dreaming about games since… forever. He started programming games at the age of seven and he has previously been employed at Australian developers Tantalus Interactive, Tantalus Asia and Big Ant Studios. His varied career includes positions as Programmer, Designer, Artist, Associate Producer, Producer and Chief Technical Officer.

And has also published titles on iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Playstation Portable, N-Gage, PC, Mac and Mobile.

A brainchild of Matthew Hall, KlickTock Pty Ltd is an independent game development company located on a sheep farm in rural Australia. Started in the year 2009, KlickTock has managed to achieve an name for itself in the gaming industry with titles like Doodle Find, Little Things, Little Things Forever, Duper Search 60 and ZONR, their latest addition.

Animationxpress.com’s Ishpreet Chandock caught up with Mathew Hall talking about his company and his game ‘Little Things Forever’.

When Little Things for iPad was chosen as the iPad App of the Week by Apple. What was your reaction?
I did a little dance around the living room and then sent Apple a thank you letter.  It really meant a lot to me, not only as a vindication for that particular game which had a very rocky road, but also to that of my “company” and it meant that I could go on making apps.

The App is about seeking objects and finding them. How did you conceive the idea of developing the App?
I used to love reading where Wally books as a kid, and before that Richard Scarry is where the artist would hide a little bug in the picture.  It triggered something with me at a very young age that I guess has stuck around.  When Hidden Object games suddenly started getting a lot of attention around the mid 2000s I sat down to play some, but they didn’t give me that same feeling I had when I was a kid.  So I set out to make a game that would have that magic.

Little Things Forever, the sequel to the App of the week took a long time coming, what led to the delay?
Well, in essence, I’m just one person.  As well as maintaining all my existing apps I experimented with a number of other game designs during that time.  I also released ZONR at the end of November 2011 which took around 5 months to develop.  I wasn’t originally going to produce a sequel to Little Things but as time went on, people were always asking for more.  So I took the time to go back, rewrite the engine in Unity3D so I could be properly multi-platform.  I also had a lot of fans from around the world and wanted to do a good job localizing the title.  Hopefully I can add Hindi and Tamil to the list of supported languages in the future.

How long did Apple’s approval process take? Are you satisfied by their performance?
It’s up and down.  Generally I like that they take the time to ensure everything is OK and that people’s phones are protected from malicious software.  However, times can extend and currently, on the Mac App Store, approval time is 2 weeks which could definitely be improved on.

Being an inde developer how hard is it for you to effectively enter the market? And what problems have you encountered so far?
Most of the problem as an indie is sitting down, getting focused and making a complete game.  However, I’ve been making complete games for a very long time and so, that part wasn’t too scary.  I always have a fear of “losing control” and with the previous publisher relationships (required to release a game) there was never a feeling that you were truly driving.

I think that most people would struggle with marketing their game effectively.  I’ve spent more time on that than I ever would have imagined but it’s been extremely rewarding.  Conducting little marketing “experiments” to see if they work.

What are your views about The Steam Greenlight program? Is it a good way to help indie developers?
I wrote to Gabe about 2 years ago begging him to implement a system like this and I’m glad it’s here.  I don’t quite like the way that they’re taking only the top 10 games at a time rather than sifting through, making contact with people who have an audience even if they’re not the most popular.  I’m particularly frustrated that a game as good as “Dino Run SE” still hasn’t been greenlit.  I’m also very scared that Valve will use Greenlight as their prime point of entry as that could lead to a very homogenous Steam.

What were the core design goals of Little Things Forever and how did the design evolve in response to the frequent playtesting?
I actually tend not to playtest!  Well, what I’ll do it take my game and show it to someone and watch them as they play.  I also do my best to not say a word to them about it.  I watch their face and their fingers and listen closely.  I find that it’s important to properly interpret the feedback too.  If they say “this is too hard, you should make it easier” or “this is too easy, you should make it harder” I’ll ruminate on why they said these things and not jump in blindly to implement their suggestions.

Do negative Comments and reviews bother you as a developer?
Not at all.  Well, sometimes the reviews are the work of deranged individuals, but – honestly – if someone has a problem with my game I do my best to figure out why. I implement a lot of the “suggestions” from the bad reviews.  Now I get mostly good reviews.

Do you believe that Soft Launches really help a game? What are the grey areas you really target as a developer?
Soft launches aren’t a great idea on the App Store, unless you’ve got something very specific you need to test.  They confuse Apple and I believe there’s also a chart impediment to doing it this way. I believe that the App Store weights newly released games over older ones and gives them a bit of a chart boost.  Purely speculation of course.

Despite their tremendous success on the PC, hidden object games have had something of a rough time on the iPhone. Where’s the disconnect?
Hidden Object games have done extremely well on iOS! Take a look at the success of Big Fish Games who have managed to take their PC only business and become one of the biggest publishers on iOS.

What are the marketing tricks you taken upon for a new game of yours?
I recently did a talk at NGDC in Pune on App Store marketing. It’s not “one thing” you have to do to give your game the best chance. You have to have a great icon, you have to have great screenshots, people have to know what your game is at one glance, and you have to properly identify who is your audience. And… you have to launch on a Thursday.

What else should Apple do to encourage its developers?
Apple’s 3rd party relations isn’t as good as it was a couple of years ago. I had a great contact that left Apple and for years afterwards no-one would talk to me. Was a very scary time.  If you take a look at the games that are being featured each week it seems that they are tending to favor now the more “traditional” games rather than the innovative casual titles on which they had built their success.

Developing your first game at the age of 8, what’s your experience been like?
I am a gamer.  Whether I’m relaxing or working I really only have one hobby. Making games is encompassing and I know a number of game developers who have lost their ability to enjoy playing games.  I’m happy I still love games whether it’s reading about them, watching them, playing them or making them.

Can you tell us more about your upcoming titles?
Oddly enough, for a one-man-band team, I have about 5 projects currently on the go.  I’m very interested in branching out and making the kinds of games that I really love to play myself.  I’m very interested in procedural generation of content and my favorite genre is the first person shooter.  Hopefully I’ll have something to show soon.  I’m also very interested in freemium titles and I have two I’m fiddling about with.  As to when?  It’s important for me not to set release dates as, with a company of one, things can happen at any time which will dramatically affect a release date. I want to enjoy making games and so a relaxed approach currently suits me best.

Can we expect an Android version of Super Search 60 launched in the future?
I’ve switched to Unity3D for all my future projects and I’m very shortly about to launch the Android version of Little Things Forever.  Super Search 60 and Doodle Find were both written on Cocos2D which makes them bad candidates for Android porting.  They’re also a little “old school” with their design.  I hope I can find time to update Doodle Find to a more modern framework and see it finally released on other platforms.

What was the idea behind the name “KlickTock”?
I was toying with a very different company name prior, but I wanted something snappy and German sounding.  If I had the chance again I’d love to rename the company and with my upcoming ventures into hardcore titles, maybe I will.