Proxies and Wake the Dreamer Developer Ali Sakhapour Discusses Going Indie

Hi everyone! This will be the last post on IndieRoot and it just so happens to be a guest post that’s been in the making for some time – and I’m very excited to share it with you all! Going indie isn’t easy. We know that. We’ve certainly seen that. And it’s always interesting to gain some perspective on it because everyone’s experience going indie is completely different. Ali Sakhapour is the indie developer behind Proxies (news | reviewand Wake the Dreamer – which is currently in development – and he’s dropped by to talk about his experience going indie, the trial and error of development, and how to put your game in the hands of the players. 

Ladies and gentlemen, Ali Sakhapour:

Ali: I spent a long time trying to figure out how to start this article. A lot of what I wrote didn’t feel genuine enough and the last thing I want to do is sugarcoat what it’s really like. So I’m going to begin by saying when you first start off as indie, it’s hard. It’s really difficult. Everyday seems like a new hurdle you have to overcome. You have the worry that at any time the project could fall through. Someone may want more share of the game or company than originally agreed on, someone may not agree with the decisions that you made or vice versa, or you may wake up to find that another team either took your idea or had the exact idea you had but delivered it faster. All of this is compounded by the fact that you may not actually be successful enough to cover the costs of equipment and salaries. It can be terrifying. But despite all of that, I have to say that it’s by far one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences I have ever been involved in.

I guess I should follow that up with what I have worked on. My friend and I made a mobile game together called Proxies. It’s a pet sim. I know what you’re thinking, ‘Oh brother, another virtual pet. Just what we need.’ But it’s not so much what the game is, but what it represents. It represents creative freedom between two friends who just wanted to make a game we wanted to play ourselves. We wanted to deliver an experience that we felt hadn’t quite made its way to the app store yet. We wanted customization and freedom of choice. We wanted personalization. So we set out to make Proxies that game. We spent nearly three years developing Proxies and the lessons we learned from it are invaluable. We learned what it meant to work hard. That’s not to say that we didn’t work hard prior to Proxies, but we faced issues and dilemmas we hadn’t yet faced before. We taught ourselves to work with pixel art and how to animate through it. We learned how to contact the press and make interesting pitches. We learned to persevere. And when times got tough we learned to keep our tempers in check and talk things out. It most definitely helps if everyone involved is level-headed, especially during heated debates. If one or more members of the team seem particularly agitated or upset, the best advice I can give is to just let things simmer down for a day or two then come back to the issue. You would be surprised at how much that can make the difference.

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The development of Proxies was long and difficult. We had never made a game before as I had mentioned, so we began with just learning as we went. I designed most of the sprites and animations while my partner focused on programming and designing. I would suggest features, he would tell me whether or not it was doable. This really helped the game. I tend to get overly ambitious and for me it can be difficult to find solid grounding to build off of. Proxies then grew into more of a collaboration as my partner began suggesting features as well, even designing and animating his own pet based off of his dog. This is how things should be. Knowing that the team has the ability to suggest features and voice opinions is an environment conducive to creativity. It helps build that sense of camaraderie and helps to solidify the notion that you’re working on something that you want to be a part of. Being told constantly that things need to be done a certain way, that any ideas you might have had have no place in that project can be demoralizing which ends up hurting the overall product. But when you know you can contribute a little bit of what you think makes something special, you become emotionally invested and the final game begins to really shine. After we had what we believed to be a strong beta of Proxies in place, we began searching for testers. We wanted to do our best to remove any bugs we might have overlooked. I set out recruiting friends and family, as did my partner. I began making forum posts on Touch Arcade and many other sites. This helped build anticipation for the game while also helping us improve on the overall quality. There were several instances where players mentioned they didn’t understand a specific feature and needed help. We adjusted the game accordingly and has since become a better user experience. The lesson to take away from this: When you begin making your game, do whatever it takes to get it into people’s hands. I cannot stress this enough. If no one knows your game exists, no one will purchase it at release. You can use tons of free options to market it. Use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, friends, family, contact any and all press sites and be sure to use an interesting subject line. The press gets hundreds of emails a day and you want them to open yours. 

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Once Proxies was released, within a week of launch we were able to make it into the top 5 Top Paid New games, eventually getting to the #1 spot for phones and #2 for tablets. We didn’t make the millions every indie developer dreams of, but we made enough to learn from our  mistakes. We could have included other features such as notifications to help people rate our game as well as to check in on it more often. There is still a lot of features we are working toward putting into Proxies. It just takes time, especially when it’s just two people developing it. I’ve begun work on our second game, Wake the Dreamer. But with this one, we will be first releasing on PC’s before we begin considering porting it over to mobile. We managed to snag some press attention with Wake the Dreamer (a lot more press than we got with Proxies), so our current focus is to continue to polish out Proxies while developing a demo for Wake the Dreamer. The lessons we’ve learned through Proxies and the adventures we’ve had a long the way has only made me more determined to develop this next game. Not necessarily because of the money, though sure it would be nice if it sold well. But for me, the money is only a means to an end. I truly believe that’s how it should be. Once you begin making games solely with the intention to get rich, the end product will suffer greatly. Instead, we are about telling (hopefully) great stories and delivering memorable experiences. Proxies was a stepping stone for us, a way for us to get our feet wet in the game industry. We’re ready to delve just a little bit deeper with this next game and I for one cannot wait to see what’s in store for us.

For More Information

Proxies is created by a team of four individuals at Polar Pond:

– Ali Sakhapour: Game Designer, Artist

– Fredson Laguna: Game Designer, Programmer, Artist

– Wes Howlett: Music

– Andrew Bautista: Sound Design

For more information about Proxies, you can check out the Amazon, Google Play, and the App Store, and follow the Twitter page and Facebook page for updates! You can visit Wake the Dreamer official website for more information as well!

This will be my last post on IndieRoot and I just want to once again thank Ali Sakhapour for taking the time to write this very informative guest post about what it’s like stepping into the world of indie development! I’m so honored to end IndieRoot’s time with this post. 

Julie Morley

Founder/Editor/Sole Writer at IndieRoot.com
Favorite genre: Story-oriented/Narrative Driven. Point and Click. Adventure. Action-adventure. Sandbox. Open world.
Favorite game(s): Gone Home, Life is Strange, Back to Bed, Transistor
Non-indie: Mafia II, L.A. Noire, Dark Cloud II (Dark Chronicle), The Assassin's Creed Series (mainly Brotherhood and Black Flag)

Worked for Cliqist.com from Jan 2013 to Februrary 2014.

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