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Ask the Developer: How a Chinese Florist Turned-Game Developer Made Top Three in an International Contest

by Michelle Ao on Mar 16, 2020

AppLovin is a global brand and platform, which means we have the opportunity to work with developers from different markets all around the world. In our Ask the Developer series, we speak with developers to learn their strategies, best practices, and expert insights.

Today we’re featuring Alex M., an indie developer who won third place in the Ultimate Game Changers Contest hosted by Lion Studios in 2019 and won a $30,000 prize. To our surprise, Alex was brand new to his  career in game development.

“Ten years ago, I was a florist. Afterward, I moved to banking as an IT developer,” said Alex. For Alex, building games was a hobby that had to fit around his full-time job and looking after his child. It wasn’t until he spotted an ad for a competition on Facebook that he realized there might be a platform to take his hobby to the next level. 

Hear more from Alex in our Q&A:

Hi Alex, thank you for joining us today. First off, can you tell us about yourself? 

Hi! I never would have imagined winning this contest, I just started developing mobile games last April. I don’t have experience with mobile game development, but I understand the mechanics because I worked as a programmer in a bank for approximately ten years. Prior to my career in the banking industry, I was a florist and owned my own flower shop for five years. Then in 2008, when the global financial crisis happened, I had to sell my shop — I felt lucky to get a job in the IT department in a bank.

Where did you hear about the contest and what made you decide to go for it?

One day I ran into an ad for the contest on Facebook and I thought to myself “Hmm…maybe it’s not that hard to develop a game — maybe it’s time to make a change in my life?” So I started drafting some concepts, and submitted my work online. Once the contest closed, I waited for results from the contest and Lion Studios contacted me and started helping me with my game. 

You won with your title Corginaut — can you tell us more about it and the story behind it? 

The corgi dog in that game is actually my own dog. Her name is Elizabeth and she’s three years old now but still makes a lot of trouble at home. In early stages, I didn’t add her into my game. It was just a really simple casual game about rockets which didn’t even have a space station, etc. And then when I was discussing the game with Lion Studios, who heard my dog barking in the background, he suggested “why don’t we add your dog in the game!” Many people like dogs, so I saw a lot of reviews saying “Ohhh what a cute corgi! I’ll rate it 5 stars!”I think now in the new games I create, I’ll throw a corgi in here and there. I have another game prototype where I added a corgi too. You can see a corgi shooting a cannon destroying towns. And, at this moment I’m still working with Lion Studios to improve this new game.  

How long did it take to develop Corginaut? Do you have a team or you did it all on your own?

It took me a couple of weeks to create the first draft, after confirming the idea was a promising one, it took about four months to complete the build. I’m just a solo developer so it was developed by myself on a part time basis, about three hours a day — usually when I was on the train travelling to and from work, and a couple of hours in the evening.

Alex Man’s Game: Corginaut

What’s the most important and/or challenging part(s) of the entire process?  

Keeping track of my progress and making sure features are getting delivered constantly is probably the most important thing for a solo developer like me. The most challenging part is being able to squeeze enough time from my daily life to deliver game features constantly, keeping the velocity toward the projected release date. 

It is not easy for indie developers like us who have a full-time job and can only do game development in our spare time, the best tip I could give is to value every minute you have. Fifteen  minutes here and there contributes a lot because it’s usually very difficult to find a good block of time to sit down and work quietly, especially with a family.

Lion Studios had received hundreds of applicants. Why do you think you won?

To be honest, I was also very surprised when I heard I won. I’d guess that Corginaut has a lot of content that keeps users interested, and coming back to explore new things throughout gameplay, while most  games today offer mostly just content at the very beginning. 

How’s your game doing now? 

Right now, I’m putting Corginaut on pause because the market has changed significantly over the past few months. I’m working with Lion Studios to try a few new ideas to see if they will work well with the current market.

What’s the most impressive/fun/memorable part of participating in this contest? And how do you feel about working with the Lion Studios team?

The most memorable part was the work I got to do everyday. And awaiting for the final result to be announced — it was very exciting yet stressful!

In regards to working with Lion Studios, I continue to be very impressed on how well organized the team is when managing projects. I’ve been working in a corporate environment for more than ten years — leading and completing multiple projects  — and I would say what Lion Studios is doing, is agile and thorough in project delivery.

“Technical skills and project management capability play equally important roles in delivering a software project (in this case, a game) successfully.”

Besides Corginaut, you also have a list of games. From your experience, what are the challenges and opportunities for an indie developer like you?

To be honest I’m a newbie with only about ten months of game development under my belt, so I don’t have too much experience yet. So far the biggest challenge is time management — how to prioritize , the amount of content I can add to the game, and the expectation from the market and publisher. Of course I’d like to add as much content to the games as possible, but I’m  often limited by the expected timeframe that we have and will need a lot of experience to balance these out — and I’m still learning that. 

Your story is very encouraging to people who have the same dreams but are hesitant to get started. Is there anything else you’d like to share with them?

Just give it a shot and don’t hesitate! Today, tools are so readily available and easy to use and it’s a fun journey to develop your own game, publish it for others to play, and then know that someone enjoyed your game too. 

Interested in getting your game published by Lion Studios? Submit here.

Michelle Ao is Marketing Director for AppLovin China.