The second in our series of Q&A’s with iPhone app developers. This time around, we discuss the cereal, the Fed and hilarious press releases with Marroni Electronic Entertainment.
Marroni Electronic Entertainment, headed up by the inimicable Nick Marroni, are based in Detroit. Responsible for the time wasting iLikeCereal!! and the addictive iBailout!!, MEE are dedicated to developing original IP and games that are as entertaining as they are meaningful. We asked Nick a few questions and here is what he had to say:
Please tell us a little about yourself and your background
I’m a Michigander (that’s really how we say it; that’s how we roll) from suburban-Detroit and am doing the damn thing full-time with my own Marroni Electronic Entertainment (MEE). I’m the designer and producer on my stuff and work with a great team that’s just as passionate about making great games as I am. I’m absolutely focused on and committed to making games that are as meaningful as they are engaging and fun.
How big is your team?
iBailout!! was developed by a team of four: Myself (designer & producer), Ivan Galic (programmer & owner of his own NightIrion), Peter White (artist & level designer), and Anthony ‘Fuzion’ Drummond (musician & sound designer). All of us, but Anthony, worked full-time on iBailout!! from mid-May to early-October.
What made you start developing for the iPhone?
I had the dream to start my own game studio for some time, but was planning on doing so only after gaining years of experience with an established studio. And, well, aside from being hard as hell to get a dev job in the industry without any experience, the iPhone presented the opportunity to no longer have to worry about working for somebody else.
Really, seeing how people were coming out of nowhere and achieving success (not anywhere near as frequently now, though) started to make me go a little crazy that I wasn’t able to jump in there and give it my all too. Fortunately, I ended up getting the opportunity to and have been ever since.
Popular media seems to be filled with people who have become rich overnight from developing for the iPhone. How is it working out for you?
Let’s try this question again after iBailout!! storms the charts and hits that sweet, #1 spot on the App Store.
Really, though, MEE is my sole occupation (I write professionally (mostly about games) as a freelancer too, but really just as a hobby) and I’m absolutely committed to making it happen and operating a successful and sustainable game dev studio in the Detroit areaâ€”that makes meaningful games to boot (aside from iLikeCereal!!, of course; what it lacks in meaning, it makes up for in nutritional value and deliciousness).
And is it as easy as we are told?
If by easy, then you mean damn near impossible, then yes, it is as easy as we are toldâ€”easier in fact.
No, it’s not easy at all and is only getting harder and harder as time goes onâ€”the App Store of ‘08, ‘09, and ‘10 are all pretty much completely different arenas and only ones that have become harder and harder to compete in.
However, I don’t see how this is very different any other game platform out there and this industry has always been hit-based.
Bottom line, though, it’s still completely wide open for anyone that’s willing to go all the way, is committed, talented, and lucky/persistent enough to make it happen. You’ll keep seeing these stories on the iPhone (and more and more platforms as time goes on) and MEE is going to be one of them.
What did you find the most difficult about bringing your first game to the app store?
Well, with iBailout!! we’re working with indie money, which really isn’t much of a motivator when the project starts to get behind schedule. Everyone on the the team, however, even though this was pretty much everyone’s first game, was absolutely committed to getting things exactly right and the way they needed to be. Absolutely everyone on the team went way, way above and beyond the call of duty and made sure iBailout!! became as awesome as it is. When money’s tight (as it truly was and is, for just right now), this is probably the most difficult obstacle to overcome, but, we did and we can’t wait for this thing to hit and see people play iBailout!! and watch their reactions.
You work a lot in conjunction with NightIrion. How did this come about?
Ivan, the owner of NightIrion, does contract iPhone work in addition to his own stuff and, back in December of ‘08, I just saw a posting of his on the GameDev.net forums and hit him up. This was way before I was actually working on anything; I was just extremely curious about developing for the iPhone and he was cool and polite enough to chat and answer the questions that I had.
Later on, I got an opportunity to develop an app from a publisher as a work-for-hire and, not knowing any programming (or pretty much any technical stuff, at all; which is, and will be, the case), I hit Ivan up to partner with him. He was down to program, so, from there, iLikeCereal!! happened. We worked together very well and it was only natural and made sense to do up iBailout!! as well–iBailout!! is essentially my game and wasn’t really set up as a partnership, though.
As for the future, Ivan’s committed to making games and establishing a studio with his NightIrion, just as I am with MEE, so eventually we’ll go our separate ways, but, even then, you never know. I definitely hope we collaborate again.
(As soon as we get iLikeCereal!! doing healthy numbers in the entertainment category, you’ll see our next collaboration when we take its solid physics base and turn it into an even more solid and damn fun game. Trust me on that. And, I’m deadly serious about iLikeCereal!! RPG too, if I get even a quarter of a chance.)
Your first release was iLikeCereal!! What made you decide to release an entertainment app first?
As I said above (and in our semi-famous press release; 87.5% of that thing was truth (honest, I measured it), iLikeCereal!! was a work-for-hire for a publisher that ended up getting cut loose before release, after which, we ended up with the rights to.
So, this really wasn’t our idea or something we were really passionate about doing in the beginningâ€”it was just to get a start with a publisher, which didn’t end up happening. However, we absolutely put a lot of work into it and, though we understand that entertainment apps aren’t the coolest things in the world, we believe it’s more than solid and is as good as, if not better than, most everything else in the entertainment category (there really are a lot of features packed in there, compared to most entertainment apps).
To be sure, though, I honestly do really, really like cereal. I’ve had more than a healthy amount over the years and I am down with the theme and definitely see the opportunity for some really fun and light design and gameplay experimentation there.
iBailout!! has quite a blatant dig at the Federal Reserve. Is this the sort of thing we can expect from future games?
Yes, I plan only to make anti-Fed games for the rest of my professional career. I kid, but, yes, I really am pretty much only interested in going after and exploring (more like exposingâ€”or how ’bout ludic muckraking? That sounds legitimately intellectual enough to make me feel a lot better about my work; ludic muckraking, it is) socially and politically relevant subjects, themes and topics.
I had the idea of working in games since the days of the NES (I’ve been playing about as long as I’ve been able to read; maybe longer) and I really only want to make games that not only bring attention to very important issues and dangerously ignored topics, trends, whatever, but also games that are just as equally legitimate for their gameness.
There’s two reasons for that too: I want these games to reach a mass audience, because I don’t want to be preaching only to the choir, and, because I’m simply interested in and dedicated to making the best possible games that the team and I can. (Imagine iBailout!! at the #1 spot on the App Store charts and the effect it will have on the national (and international too) discourse. I can and it would be absolutely awesome.)
I want to have my cake and eat it too and I think the team and I absolutely nailed it with iBailout!!. I’ve had the next game (the one I’ve been wanting to make all along) brewing in my head (and in notes and stuff too) for a couple years now and I’m just getting warmed up.
Will all of your releases end in “!!”? Is that your trademark?
For now, yeah, it pretty much is our trademark (and we did consciously decide that), but iBailout!!’s almost definitely going to be the last MEE game with ‘i’ at the beginning and ‘!!’ at the end; for now anyway. I decided on adding them because it fits iBailout!! and iLikeCereal!! (and it’s a cheap attempt at making them seem more exciting; which, I think, works) and because that’s the Japanese style, which I’m down with too.
Our next game’s simply a much more serious and sober theme (more so than central banking, believe it or not) and it’s not going to be as ostensibly lighthearted as is iBailout!! (which, with martial law and rioting and mass foreclosures, really isn’t very lighthearted at all when you think about, am I right?).
What made you decide to team up with Hands-On Mobile to publish iBailout!!?
They liked the idea of iBailout!! and they offered the (indie) cash. I met them at GDC last year, pitched iBailout!!, and it was on shortly thereafter. They’re a huge player in the traditional mobile market and have brought a lot of stuff onto the App Store too, but haven’t yet seen the kind of success that other of their peers have. Our iBailout!! partnership is going to change that for both of us, though, and working with them really has been generally great so far. I’m sure there’s no perfect publisher, but Hands-On and the people they have there are absolutely solid and I’m really hoping to be working with them for a long time to comeâ€”especially on the next game.
How long did iBailout!! take from the initial idea to the finished product?
I was telling friends and family the idea (feeling kind of like a bullshitter at the time too, since I’d never made a game before) right after starting work on iLikeCereal!! last March and pitched it at GDC to a couple pubs and, shortly after, signed on with Hands-On.
Development completely ceased in very early October and it languished in Apple App Store review purgatory for about 10 weeks after that (with a rejection and resubmission for not asking players permission to upload their scores to the leaderboard (invasive and completely secret analytics (which we don’t have in iBailout!!, by the way), however, are totally fine).
So, about seven months total. (We spent a few days of debugging just on getting the controls right too, and I think we did, but, after reading some reviews (yours included, GGUK) and getting more feedback, I realize we need a quick tutorial on how to use the swipe controls in there and need to update that as soon as possibleâ€”which Anthony suggested from the beginning; my apologies, guy.)
You are a funny guy, and your press releases are hilarious. Do you think humour is important in promoting your releases?
Funny like a clown? Am I here to amuse you? But, seriously folks, yeah, I don’t see any other way to approach announcing 26 sales (which, I think I miscounted and was actually 28â€”sue me).
Though, I promise, I’ll make sure the iBailout!! Press Release of Victory is just as humorous as the iLikeCereal!! Press Release of Shameâ€”there’s plenty of other non-personal nonsense to motivate me in the world, so don’t worry about that.
What are your plans for the future? New games? Expansion? Other platforms?
Immediately, once iBailout!! conquers the App Store charts, we’re going to be purchasing the ingredients to construct the largest pizza in the world, which we will then cook, roll around on in what should really be illegal amounts of enthusiasm (taking turns, of course; we’re well mannered around here), and then eating until the brink of maximum pizzafication (it’s even more dangerous (and fun) than it sounds).
After achieving near maximum pizzafication status, we’ll get right to work releasing updates to iBailout!! (I’ve been thinking a Bernanke mode, but, lately, with the recent scandals and controversies, I think a Geithner mode might even be more appropriate and effective). The Geithner mode would pretty much be a fun excuse to mess around with the rules and mechanics of iBailout!! a bit to offer up a different and/or tougher kind of challenge for veteran iBailout!!ers. We’re also looking at adding the usual social networking junk, achievements, and, actually, an educational component (like quotes and links to outside resources, for example) to give people that want it more info on the Fed and the rampant criminality going on.
With, iLikeCereal!!, as I said, once it gets going in the entertainment category, and we’ve got half an excuse, we’re going to mess around with it, create some fun rules and turn that thing into a solid-ass game.
Since I’ve got a publisher, I can’t promise it, but I’m definitely planning (at the very least, for the first few) for the updates to be free. Rest assured, as long as people show us support and give us an opportunity to return the favor, we’ll keep the good content coming.
Again, like I said much earlier, the next game is something that I’ve had in my head for a couple years now, concerns a theme that I’ve heavily researched, with a solid design whose doc I’ll be writing as soon as I get a moment away from selling iBailout!! (i.e., as soon as it decapitates all rivals in epic sword combat and receives the ultimate quickening and becomes the one, true Highlander; I mean, the #1 game on the App Storeâ€”there can be only one!!), takes place in an unique setting and, generally, rocks. It’s going to be on the iPhone too and I’m going to be getting a deal for it at GDC in March.
Finally, if you could give one bit of advice to a would be iPhone game developer, what would it be?
Do the damn thing. Make it happen. What are you waiting for? Seriously, if you want to do it, then just do it. There is no other way to do it, then to do it. Did I say, do it? Oh, and be just as prepared for the business side of things as you are the technical and creativeâ€”if you aren’t any good at that, be sure to partner with someone that is, whether they contribute on the dev side or not. There’s no point in making a game if nobody’s going to play it, right?
We asked for a team photo to include in this article and this is what we got, along with caption, from Nick:
“Front left is me, Designer and Producer, with Ivan Galic, Programmer, to my immediate right, Peter White, Artist and Level Designer, in the lower right corner, and Anthony ‘Fuzion’ Drummond, Musician and Sound Designer, opposite him. In the background is the Prime Minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, who just happens to be a really rude guy that always insists on following us around and messing up our team photos. This was taken right after iBailout!! was finally approved for sale on the App Store and we were discussing our plans for imminent and maximum pizzafication.”