Christopher Garrett is the president of ZWorkbench, a company specializing in contract iOS development, and developer of the recently released iOS word game QatQi.
Please give us your elevator pitch for QatQi.
QatQi is an immersive, otherworldly word gaming experience. It provides relaxing but highly strategic play, combined with art from award-winning artist Kun Chang. QatQi will be available on the AppStore as of November 15th.
How did you begin in software development and what drew you to designing and building games?
I began developing games on a TRS-80 when I was in second grade. As my family upgraded computers I would put them through their paces by writing games. In college I took a detour and got a degree in biochemistry, and then went back to software development. I started creating games and other software for mobile devices in 2004. But it’s really been the past three years that I have come back to my second grade hobby and gotten serious about game development.
How many games have you developed and could you tell us a bit about them?
It took a lot of trial and error to learn how to create great games. I threw a lot of my early efforts away. The first game that I didn’t throw away was a word game called Lexitect that was released in 2010. My latest game, QatQi is the next generation of Lexitect and represents a big leap forward in its design. QatQi also takes a completely new turn in word game aesthetics.
What games do you like to play? What impact have they had on your design work?
I like strategic games that make me think even when I’m not playing them. So I play physical board games, and strategic iOS games like FieldRunners. I love word games, but so far no mobile word game has given me the same satisfaction as a good round of face-to-face Scrabble. QatQi is an answer to that personal need. I wanted to design a highly strategic word game that would be possible to play for anywhere from five minutes to five hours.
When you begin to design a game what are the first questions you ask yourself?
I ask myself very basic questions about human psychology. I think of questions like, “Why can I stare at a fire for hours and not get bored?” or “Why is it so satisfying to destroy something with a sledgehammer?” Those questions lead me toward a spark of an idea, and from there I turn to the experts. I lean heavily on game design thought leaders such as Jesse Schell, Raph Koster and Daniel Cook. I reread those authors to help guide the design.
What platform do you prefer to build on, and could you give us a few reasons why?
Any platform can allow creativity and great game design. I work with iOS because I know the platform very well. QatQi has some complex animations, so I need to be able to work with a platform that I know how to eke the most computing power out of. I develop on the most powerful device available, and then scale back the experience a bit for lesser devices. The result is that everyone gets the best possible experience for their device.
What has your experience been with monetization strategies for your preferred platform? Is there a model that you feel most strongly inclined towards and why?
The platonic ideal for monetization has zero impact on game design, satisfies all players, and provides tons of revenue. Monetization on iOS is all about balancing tradeoffs among those three elements. The big movement in the past eighteen months has been toward free games with in-app purchase. This model works well for QatQi, but it rules out some game designs completely, and rules out players who won’t or can’t purchase things on the family iPad. I think the next movement will be real time customization of the monetization experience. Rather than giving everyone the same purchase options, we’ll present different options based on their behavior. For example, some people may start to see advertising once we determine that they will never buy anything.
If you choose to partner up in building a game, what are the qualities you look for in a partner?
For QatQi I teamed up with Kun Chang, the artist behind the award-winning game Osmos. As in Osmos, he has created a mindblowing graphical experience for QatQi. But more important than what we created is how we did it. We’re both willing to throw away months of work when one of us sees a better way to do something. We both sweat the details.
The same has been true for the audio team. They are recent Berklee graduates – in their case they don’t have as much experience, but their demo tracks were brilliant, and they were so enthusiastic I wanted to give them a chance. They didn’t disappoint.
Overall, I think the most important thing in choosing partners is that they have the same philosophy about game development. I would never be able to work with an artist who wanted to create a game in two months. I’ve seen some good games that were created that quickly, but I’m just not the type of person to do it, so I look for partners with the same philosophy.
What do you feel are the greatest challenges and benefits to being an independent game developer?
It’s probably different for every developer. In my case, I am bootstrapping game development via contract iOS development. Early on, the biggest challenge was to balance the amount of client work I took on with the time I spent on game development. As I have gained confidence in my game design and development skills that part has become easier. Now the benefits far outweigh the challenges. The biggest benefit is that I get to work with some very talented people on something that I absolutely love doing. When I am working on a game, I wake up in the morning and can’t wait to get started on it.
What has your experience been with the NYC game development community? Have you seen any changes occurring within the community while you’ve been a part of it?
It has been phenomenal. I joined the New York Gaming Meetup when it was a few people meeting in a small bar on the Lower East Side. Now they have over 2700 members and almost every meeting has 200 people at it. Brad Hargreaves, the organizer, has done a great job keeping the group intimate and relevant to indie developers even as his own startup, General Assembly, has taken off. There are now several other meetup opportunities every week for indie developers. New York has become one of the best places in the world to be an indie developer.
What advice would you give someone looking to become an independent game developer? Are there any skills or experience you would highly recommend they pursue?
To paraphrase Ira Glass, the key to any creative pursuit is putting in enough time that you get to the point where you can be pleased with your own work.
As for skills, I would say to focus on the ones you think you will enjoy doing the most, and partner with people who complement those skills. Don’t try to become a developer if your passion is art or music. If you’re starting out, then find someone who has about the same amount of experience with those complementary skills.
Editor’s Note: QatQi is currently available on the AppStore and since its release, on November 15th, has received high ratings and very positive press.