Haven’t got the first clue about how to monetise your app? Thinking about ads but not sure where to start or what’s involved? Mark Allan from Ranyart Systemsshares his experiences so far – his Manchester United app is not only the top rated free app in the UK, it’s also the top rated sports app in the world.
“When I did the initial Manchester United app I decided to put it out there for free to get the numbers up – I thought I’d figure out monetisation later on. After a while I dropped in Microsoft pubCenter ads to see how that would go. It didn’t make me lots of money but it was more about getting my app in front of people. Now I’ve got 50k downloads I get a reasonable income from it. The new version has an extended range of ad providers including Nokia Ad Exchange and a couple of others like the adduplex where all the apps that use that ad exchange run ads for each other – so there’s no money in and no money out unless you choose to run an ad rather than exchange. It’s more about getting your app in front of people.
All of the ad providers are reasonably easy to integrate although a couple of providers are a bit buggy. pubCenter and Nokia are trivial for example. I put some effort in to build some code that balances how often the ad providers work so I can keep an eye on revenues and send info to the app to base towards Nokia or pubCenter depending on what’s working and what categories are effective – you need to have some control over the ads and how they’re served up to your users. There are open source controlsthat do the same sort of thing around balancing so you don’t have to go and create your own like I did. All the providers give you access to the inventory of suppliers so you have a list of advertisers ready and waiting, you don’t have to find any. You can filter them by territory and if you have business intelligence from your stats like their gender, location and age then you can provide that information through a control which will improve your performance. For example you can filter on health or sports based apps to choose to run ads that are aligned to your app category and what your users are interested in. That’s where the fine tuning (balancing) comes in. I get around 200k impressions a day – about half my users are coming back regularly which is really good retention even though the app isn’t ranked at the very top. What makes them come back? I update the content regularly like news so if people have pinned the app to the start screen then it’s a great way to encourage them to pop back in and get the latest news. It really encourages people to keep launching the app.
I’ve got a 2 pronged approach to marketing – when I wrote the app I decided I was going to put lots of effort into links to matches and commentary and making it a really good app. It helped that it gets so highly rated – it’s still at about 4.9 stars on average. The other approach is when I wrote the app I spent a while on social media like Linked In and Man U forums and just told people about it. That seeding helped it climb up the charts. Once you’re in the top 10 or so the app starts to market itself. I use Distimo for reporting and it told me I’ve been promoted twice in India and once in the UK Store just in the past week. I did all my marketing with no budget, but investing in marketing is the next step really, so watch this space!”
I caught up with Lorraine Starr from Yippee! Entertainment, creators of the hugely popular Windows 8, Windows Phone and iOS game Chimpact, and got her to share some secrets on how they marketed the app.
“We didn’t get support initially from Apple when we launched Chimpact (although they have since featured us), so like most other app developers we had to do our own PR and Marketing. Most apps don’t get picked up by the app platforms and have to do what they can to get their apps in front of customers. There are three key key elements to marketing that we’ve found really successful. 1. Social Media The key thing we did was build links into the app itself encouraging users to like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.
We brought the main character in the game, Chuck the Chimp to life by giving him his own Facebook page and Twitter account.
The key thing is not to bore your audience with endless posts, people will drop out if what you’re saying just fills up their news feed. Only post interesting/news worthy content that resonates with users of your app. We ran a competition to design a Chimp that was promoted on Facebook, offering one person in the UK and one in the US a chance to design a member of Chuck’s Chimpact family and have their design turned into a character in the Windows 8 & Windows Phone 8 versions of the game. The UK winner got the chance to go to our studio in Manchester and see their creation turned into a video game character. You can also connect your Windows Store app to an online identity provider that uses internet authentication and authorization protocols like OpenID or OAuth– so you can get access to Facebook’s open graph API in Windows 8, allowing users to sign into your app using their Facebook credentials.
Social media also gives people a way of asking you for help if they get stuck or give you feedback. We get fantastic comments and feedback just because we’re approachable and users can come and talk to the team. The best way to manage social media is to track the conversations around your app constantly, I do a daily search for ‘Chimpact’ and hijack people’s conversations to engage them and join in the conversation. It’s hard work but necessary.
PR has been the most valuable thing but not easy to do, usually its about who you know and the connections you can make. For example, we serendipitously got some great publicity from the Celtic supporters who happened to mention Chimpact. I jumped on the conversation as Chuck and Chuck ended up engaging the Celtric team mascot, “Hoopy The Hound Dug” and had a picture tweeted round of the two “furry friends”. We even put a Celtic scarf on Chuck which really resonated with the supporters.
We also saw a direct boost from links we had already with a premiership footballer who tweeted about Chimpact for us just from the fact we had a personal link with him. Whoever you know, make sure you let them know about the app you’ve created and pull in some favours! The value of celebrity involvement or endorsement is amazing. The effects are short-lived, they only last for a day or so – as long as the Tweet is in their stream – but they’re very impactful. If you can afford to hire a PR agency then do it, it’s so important to target the wider market. We were lucky enough to get support from Microsoft and saw excellent results from an article in The Sun and publicity from Jonathan Ross, but usually you have to invest in that PR coverage unless you’re well connected!
In the early days I managed to get us a mention in The Times – the journalist Stuart Dredge used to run an iOS news magazine so I knew him from there. He picked up on Chimpact and he put a piece in The Times. It’s important to get your app some coverage in the general mainstream press as well as your local newspaper/s, both online and offline.
Look at who you know and what networks they have that you can hook into. For example, we have the advantage of being based in Media City so they've supported us by promoting Chimpact via their social media and The Brand Detective also gave us a feature through links we had with them. It’s important to look at cross partnerships - who do you work near or is in your extended community that might be interested in your app? People are much more willing to collaborate and help each other than they used to be. If you’re not cash rich then hook up with other devs to do some joint marketing and PR to cut costs. Tell everyone you know - friends, colleagues, family and people you know who work at the platforms you’re working with. Before we started working with Microsoft we saw them as a big, faceless corporation. We've been bowled over by everyone at Microsoft we've dealt with, they’re very down to earth and willing to help which was a huge revelation. No-one else does that. It's really important for the developer community.
James Senior is Senior Group Marketing Manager of Windows Apps at Microsoft so he knows a bit about apps marketing. How do you make sure customers can find your app, let alone use it? I caught up with him to get some ideas…
”My team helps developers and designers be successful on Windows. The new app model, the new way of distributing, discovering and buying software and the huge investment in new form factors is huge for developers and designers. There’s the opportunity to target a huge number of screens, to take advantage of the fact you can play on your Windows device yet also be really productive on Windows – you have one device with you at home on the sofa but that’s also great in the office…
1. BUILD A GREAT APP
It sounds basic but to successfully market your app it needs to be great to start with. Use the documentation on design.windows.com to build in all the features of Windows 8. The design and UX of Windows 8 is something people love – it’s engaging, you can present content in unique ways that other platforms can’t. Many developers face the problem of working out how to scope their app – what features do you include? Once you’ve made sure your app focuses on your USP, your core business and how you communicate that to your customers, how do you know when to stop on all the auxiliary features? A unique feature of Windows is the interaction between apps it facilitates. All those features and scenarios extraneous to your core business can be handled by other apps in the system. Quick example: if you’re in the Recipes app, their value prop is to provide the best recipes out there on the net bar none. However what they don’t do is collate recipes from other places, but share the app and Windows automatically finds other apps that can use the data and bingo, up pops Pepper Play and presents the recipes in a way you can shop or cook. The great thing about Windows is the ability to provide all of those scenarios to your customers, cataloguing them into an uber list of apps that interact with yours.
2. REPRESENT YOUR APP WELL IN STORE
A simple step is to make sure you have really compelling screenshots for the user to browse through and see how your app works and what it offers. You need to submit these when you publish your app to the Store. Make sure those images highlight the unique features of your app. If you have a paid app, make sure you leverage trials to let people try before they buy – it’s the most friction free way people can find out what value your app can bring. Sell-through is very powerful. Users don’t know what to expect or what they’re going to get when they download your app, so the more information you can give them in the Store, the more you can let them know what the experience will be. Most people won’t buy an app if they don’t know what value it’ll bring to them or how they could use it. Remember that the Store algorithms are based on user ratings, so if your app is good then it’ll get the ratings it deserves.
3. ENGAGE – AND RE-ENGAGE THE USER
A great way to engage the user is through the design and user experience. Something that surprised us and our partners is the amount of time it takes to create a beautiful app experience – we’re seeing the best apps taking up 40-50% on design. Lots of people don't plan for that - whether it’s money or time and effort that’s needed - but that's what you need to create a really great experience. Back in 2011 we started working on a design agency network. We now have 200-300 companies trained on Windows 8 UI guidelines and the skills to design great apps ready to partner up with developers who don’t have design and UI skills. An example of an app that demonstrates engaging and re-engaging the user is Naturespace - they have amazing audio content, that's what they do, collect record ambient noises from diff settings, like a rainforest, lightening storm, meditation etc., so their IP is in the content. Windows has an amazing audio stack, that lets their HD content really come to life. The Naturespace team took advantage of using Windows to present their IP, and combined it with a very beautiful app. The team are a start-up based in the US who decided to invest in the app design. They came up with design concepts that we hadn't seen before – whereas using templates is a great start it’s not really what the design language was intended for, essentially it’s a framework to use typography, motion and animation in interesting ways. This app breaks out of the mould. They also use in app purchasing, so you download the app for fee including samples of their content which gets customers hooked. to They’ve had great success with that model. Apps need to differentiate themselves and going beyond the templates is one way to stand out from the rest. This is especially important when you’re working with brands – ITV doesn’t want to look like the BBC for example. Of course having a great app, a brilliant design and an engaging user experience isn’t job done! True marketing happens after your app is in Store. Live tiles are a great way to re-engage users to be interested in your app, not only with fresh, immediate content but they’re also another way of getting more screen real estate. The People app let’s you find out what the people closest to you are up to, you can pin specific friends to your homepage and use native features like search and share that give users the opportunity to go back into your app. If you’re not using the search feature you’re not taking the opportunity to re-engage your users - the same applies to the sharing feature. Windows will surface any other apps that can handle that type of data so you don’t have to worry about what other apps a user has installed. In this new model it quickly becomes apparent that you can’t achieve every feature known to man and you can rely on the ecosystem to provide relevant contextual content to your users. This theme of engagement within apps is something that’s really different on the Windows platform. If you’ve got a website then the easiest thing to do is detect if someone's running Windows 8, and then you can upsell them by providing them with a link to download your app. One other thing to think about is advertising through other applications who are using ads to monetise on Windows today. By doing that you’re reaching a captive audience on the hunt for apps and you can target particular users depending on the ad network you use, i.e. Windows 8 users.
4. USE YOUR COMMUNITY
If you’ve got any presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest – use it to tell your community about your app. You can connect your Windows Store app to an online identity provider that uses internet authentication and authorization protocols like OpenID or OAuth – so you can get access to Facebook’s open graph API in Windows 8, allowing users to sign into your app using their Facebook credentials. Once there's a relationship between your app, Facebook and the person, you can ask the person to publish stories from your app.As well as Facebook, you can connect to other social media channels like Flickr, Google, Live, and Twitter. Chimpact set up a Twitter account for it’s main character Chuck – basically any way you’d advertise and promote apps on other platforms should be the same way you promote apps on Windows 8. Everyone is used to seeing ads in apps for iOS and Android, advertising gives you downloads, so just promote your Windows 8 app like you’d promote any other app or service you provide. The Fox FX network app does a great job of combining brand colours, typography and beautiful full bleed photography to engage users with their TV shows. They also have a social aspect to their content which is nice, incorporating a social feed based on Twitter and Facebook so you can pan along throughout the day and follow spikes in a discussion. The app also uses semantic zoom so you can get an idea of when the peak was so it’s easy to navigate, you get a roll up of where it happened e.g. on Twitter.
5. BE MORE BUSINESS SAVVY
In general anyone building an app is having to get more savvy when it comes to business, to differentiate themselves and using the business models afforded in the App Stores. Devs would benefit from getting even more business focused - everyone tends to go for advertising, but there are better tactics like trials and in-app purchases that are more sophisticated. The games industry are great at doing it – their model tends to be ‘free to pay’. You’ve just got to make sure you disable in app purchases if your child likes games like Zombie vs Ninjas… many devs jump into starting their project as they’re interested, want to find out how to build apps for Windows 8 and are more focused on the build as a learning process than the app itself. For this reason not much thought is given to the marketing that needs to go with the app when its been published. There’s lots of information out there to help devs be more business focused and become aware of how to promote apps and make money, to learn from those models and improve them.
Join us for this one day event to learn how Windows Azure can be used in curricula, support research endeavours, and enable student projects. Institution administrators can explore how to use Windows Azure for infrastructural and application needs.
Christopher Ingold Lecture Theatre UCL Chemistry Building 20 Gordon Street WC1 6BT London
Thursday 20 June 2013 from 09:00 to 16:40 (BST) Register here http://azureineducation.eventbrite.co.uk/
8.30 Arrival 9.00 Welcome to UCL 9.10 Welcome to Windows Azure - Rob Frazer Microsoft, Cloud CTO 10.00 Morning Break 10.15 Windows Azure in Academia - Lee Stott Microsoft, Technical Evangelist 11.00 Windows Azure PaaS, IaaS, SaaS – Steve Plank, Microsoft, Azure Technical Evangelist 12.00 Lunch Break (Lunch will not be provided) 13.00 Windows Azure Pop Up Labs - Steve Plank 13.50 The Windows Azure Prime Challenge - Steve Plank 14.00 Windows Azure VM Depot - http://vmdepot.msopentech.com/ 15.00 Afternoon Break 15.15 Windows Azure in Research - Kenji Takeda, Microsoft Research Connections 16.15 Azure Q & A Panel - Microsoft 16.40 Close
Microsoft provides Educator Grants for educators wanting to use Windows Azure in their curricula through Windows Azure academic passes. More info
Need access to Windows Azure outside the classroom? Working on a project on cloud computing? Or maybe your master thesis? More info
Tap into resources offered by Microsoft’s Windows Azure Research Engagement project to take your research to the cloud. More info
Help your students get the technology skills they need to be successful through Microsoft IT Academy. More info
As part of our ongoing commitment to add value to the education community we serve, we are thrilled to be working with Janet to provide additional support and services to their user base.
Janet provides and develops a network infrastructure to support world-class research and education to over 18 million end users and helps academic institutions to better communicate, collaborate and co-operate, globally.
With the Janet network now peered with the our datacentre, both Microsoft and Janet can build on this strong and unique foundation to add additional services that reduce costs and help make the community more competitive.
With the Cloud Services for Education agreement service already helping institutions, such as Goldsmiths, save in excess of £20,000 in legal due diligence, we are excited about the next stage in the evolution of our work with Janet which is focused around Azure.
The press release from Janet below covers these exciting developments in more detail, but in essence, with our joint dedication to the sector, Janet and Microsoft is able to offer improved access to infrastructure and application services such as websites, virtual learning environments and research projects.
A launch event for the strategic agreement, where a formal signing of the agreement will take place, is scheduled for the 21st May at Goldsmiths, University of London, and the full press release from Janet is shown below.
We look forward to sharing additional updates and successes associated with our work with Janet on the blog over the coming weeks and months.
Over 18 million students and staff to benefit from faster, more secure cloud-computing More than 18 million students, staff and researchers at institutions across the UK could start to benefit from a faster and more secure connection when using their institution’s cloud-based IT services, thanks to a new peering arrangement between Microsoft and Janet, the UK’s research and education network. This new agreement enables improved access to infrastructure and application services such as websites, virtual learning environments and research projects. Janet has recently become part of the Jisc group, the UK’s champion for digital technology in research and education. Connecting the networks privately eliminates the need to traverse data over the public internet. This enables a high bandwidth connection for students and staff to use Windows Azure. Bandwidth is managed, ensuring high-speed delivery with no delay or latency. The move to peer the Microsoft Windows Azure data centre to the Janet network comes as part of a new strategic alliance between the two organisations, being signed at Goldsmiths, University of London on Tuesday 21 May (press welcome to attend by prior arrangement). Professor Anne Trefethen, Chief Information Officer, University of Oxford: “In the UK, higher education institutions are fortunate to have high speed network services as provided by Janet. The capability afforded by Janet’s peering with Microsoft’s Azure Cloud with high-bandwidth secure connections creates new opportunities for researchers and the University community as a whole.” Professor of Computing Science at Newcastle University Paul Watson comments: “Cloud computing has the potential to revolutionise research by offering vast compute resources on-demand. At Newcastle University, we already have over £20M of research projects that are supported by the cloud. However, one of the major barriers holding back further cloud adoption is the time it takes to transfer large datasets from the lab to the cloud for analysis. This new link between Janet and the Azure Cloud removes this barrier, and will allow a far greater range of research projects to fully exploit the benefits of cloud computing.” The alliance agreement also means any UK education institution can benefit from standard terms and conditions on Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity software suite Office 365, negotiated by Janet. An early beneficiary of this arrangement is Goldsmiths, which is also one of a select group of institutions responsible for initiating work on the alliance. Basem El-Haddadeh, Director of IT Services at Goldsmiths said: “The work on Office 365 will save the sector considerable time and money in legal due diligence and speed up adoption of Office 365. We’re really pleased with the roll-out at Goldsmiths and our staff and students are already enjoying using the new system. I’m looking forward to the benefits the strategic alliance can bring.” “Through the peering and strategic alliance, we are demonstrating our commitment to UK research and education institutes’ increasing desire to access cloud technologies and we are complementing our world class fibre network with Microsoft’s leading technologies to support the sector,” said Dan Perry, Director of Product and Marketing at Janet. Steve Beswick, Director of Education, Microsoft Ltd said: “We are delighted to be working with Janet to provide additional value-added products and services to the research and education community. We have a long-standing relationship with this sector and are looking forward to more collaborative working with Janet to grow our offering.” END
Over 18 million students and staff to benefit from faster, more secure cloud-computing
More than 18 million students, staff and researchers at institutions across the UK could start to benefit from a faster and more secure connection when using their institution’s cloud-based IT services, thanks to a new peering arrangement between Microsoft and Janet, the UK’s research and education network.
This new agreement enables improved access to infrastructure and application services such as websites, virtual learning environments and research projects. Janet has recently become part of the Jisc group, the UK’s champion for digital technology in research and education.
Connecting the networks privately eliminates the need to traverse data over the public internet. This enables a high bandwidth connection for students and staff to use Windows Azure. Bandwidth is managed, ensuring high-speed delivery with no delay or latency.
The move to peer the Microsoft Windows Azure data centre to the Janet network comes as part of a new strategic alliance between the two organisations, being signed at Goldsmiths, University of London on Tuesday 21 May (press welcome to attend by prior arrangement).
Professor Anne Trefethen, Chief Information Officer, University of Oxford: “In the UK, higher education institutions are fortunate to have high speed network services as provided by Janet. The capability afforded by Janet’s peering with Microsoft’s Azure Cloud with high-bandwidth secure connections creates new opportunities for researchers and the University community as a whole.”
Professor of Computing Science at Newcastle University Paul Watson comments: “Cloud computing has the potential to revolutionise research by offering vast compute resources on-demand. At Newcastle University, we already have over £20M of research projects that are supported by the cloud. However, one of the major barriers holding back further cloud adoption is the time it takes to transfer large datasets from the lab to the cloud for analysis. This new link between Janet and the Azure Cloud removes this barrier, and will allow a far greater range of research projects to fully exploit the benefits of cloud computing.”
The alliance agreement also means any UK education institution can benefit from standard terms and conditions on Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity software suite Office 365, negotiated by Janet.
An early beneficiary of this arrangement is Goldsmiths, which is also one of a select group of institutions responsible for initiating work on the alliance. Basem El-Haddadeh, Director of IT Services at Goldsmiths said: “The work on Office 365 will save the sector considerable time and money in legal due diligence and speed up adoption of Office 365. We’re really pleased with the roll-out at Goldsmiths and our staff and students are already enjoying using the new system. I’m looking forward to the benefits the strategic alliance can bring.”
“Through the peering and strategic alliance, we are demonstrating our commitment to UK research and education institutes’ increasing desire to access cloud technologies and we are complementing our world class fibre network with Microsoft’s leading technologies to support the sector,” said Dan Perry, Director of Product and Marketing at Janet.
Steve Beswick, Director of Education, Microsoft Ltd said: “We are delighted to be working with Janet to provide additional value-added products and services to the research and education community. We have a long-standing relationship with this sector and are looking forward to more collaborative working with Janet to grow our offering.”
By Tom Clifton: Indie Games Developer and Microsoft Games Ambassador.
Sometimes you want to try out new technology without committing to it, and this is especially true with a new operating system. What if you don't like it? This is especially true with Windows 8 as there are some big changes from what people are used to. A lot of people like the idea of Windows 8 but want to try it first before they commit to it. By creating a dual-boot for your system you can do this. You can keep your existing OS and add Windows 8 on a separate partition. The first thing you need to do is download Windows 8. If you're a student you can take advantage of DreamSpark and get a free copy of Windows 8. The first thing you are going to want to do is to go to DreamSpark and download your free copy of Windows 8.
Select the More Software Through Your School tab when you are signed in. Then select Windows8. Now you will be given a variety of different options to download. You want the Microsoft Windows 8 Professions 32/63 bit (English-Great Britain) – DreamSpark option. You will then be taken to a download page. Make sure you make note of your product key as you’ll need that later.
The download takes place through Microsofts Secure Download Manager so you will need to download that first if you do not already have it. Once it reaches 100% it will go back to 0%. This is a bit misleading but there are 2 downloads that the SDM makes. Once that second one gets to 100% it should show a launch button which will take you to the downloaded file. This will be a Disk Image (.ISO) file. Now we need to burn that image to a DVD. To do this right click the Disk Image and select “burn disc image”. This brings up a Wizard which will burn the image to DVD for you.
Now we have the copy of Windows 8 we want to partition our hard drive so we can keep our existing installation. Bring up the Run utility by holding the Windows Key and R or by searching Run.
Then type in “diskmgmt.msc”. This will bring up the Disk Management tool. This tool shows me a lot of details about my system. Here you can see that I only have one hard drive, C, with over 300GB free. Now you will need at least a 20GB partition to install Windows 8 but I suggest a lot more if you actually want to install stuff as well. The first time I did this I made a 30GB partition, which did not leave me enough space to reinstall software that I needed on the new partition. I would suggest at least 50GB. As I am unlikely to go back to Windows 7 on this particular laptop I will create a partition of 200GB.
To do this we first need to deallocate some space from C. To do this right click on the visual representation of the drive and select “Shrink Volume..” from the menu. A dialog will appear saying it is querying space. This may take a few minutes. A new window will then appear asking you what size you want to shrink the drive by. Annoyingly this is in megabytes so be careful (1000MB is roughly 1GB). I want to create a 200GB partition so I am going to enter 200000MB. Again this will take a bit of time to do.
When it finishes the Disk Management tool should show something like this:
Now I have just under 200GB of unallocated space. This is not yet usable so we will now have to format it. To do this right click on the unallocated space and select “New Simple Volume..”. This will launch another Wizard. Select the whole volume for volume size. Then assign the drive a letter.
Next you need to select a file system for the drive. You want to select NTFS. You can also give it a volume label. I have named mine “Windows8”. I advise you give it a good label to make it more easy to identify later on.
Once you have done this you will see the following screen.
Now you want to restart your PC and go to the BIOS. For me I had to press F10 to get into it but on another PC I have its Del so it’s a bit of trial and error. Once in the BIOS change the boot order to CD/DVD, then Save and Exit.
This should load up the setup for Windows 8. It will ask you what language you want and prompt you to install. This is where you will need your product key. Once you have done that it will ask you if you want to upgrade or do a custom install. Choose Custom.
Next it will ask you where you want to install Windows 8. This is where the name comes in handy to identify the right drive and partition.Select your Windows 8 partition and click Next.
Now Windows will install. Once it has finished your PC will restart. Don't do what I did and change your BIOS options back to how they were now as it still needs to finish the install! Let it load back up and finish the install first. And that’s it! You should now have both Windows 8 and your previous OS on the same PC. Good luck!
Thought you might be interested in a students experience of writing a game for Windows 8
YouTube link for the game
Windows Store link: (also http://bit.ly/USC2013)
Twitter - @_martingrant
My name is Martin and I’m a second year Computer Games Technology at the University of the West of Scotland. In April a Windows 8 game jam was held at my campus, organised by a Window Game Ambassador. The goal of which was simply to build some kind of game that would be released on the the Windows Store. Microsoft also kindly offered a prize as an extra incentive.
We could use any means possible to build our games be it straight from Visual Studio or any other development software. I chose Construct 2 - an absolutely fantastic HTML5 games engine. If you have ever used GameMaker before, it is quite similar to that but more powerful in some ways. We had a theme to design a game based around mythical creatures, and thus Unicorn Space Command was born. The mere mention of the term mythical and I jumped straight to unicorn, and why not add some space in there too just for the hell of it.
Unicorn Space Command lets you control the turrets of a starship caught in a treacherous asteroid field, firing rainbow lasers at incoming space rocks, blasting them into history so you can make it back home in one piece. The design took a matter of minutes to conjure up, so I got fired right into the development while my artist Callum Lyons got started on producing some lovely space themed imagery. I had never used Construct 2 before so I spent an hour working through a tutorial which let me know right away that I had made the right choice for my development tool, it was just so easy to use it’s unbelievable. To start off I created a very basic prototype where a turret could shoot out some coloured particles wherever the player indicated. Programmer art, of course, then I created a nice starfield background and had some test asteroids fall down the screen. Once I added in collisions the game was more or less complete, once I imported the final artwork I just spend a lot of time polishing it up so the game loop flowed correctly, the spawn times of the asteroids seemed challenging and implemented a basic scoring system. My favourite part of the game might just be the music, it’s incredibly cheesy.
It was surprisingly easy to build my game for Windows 8. Construct 2 has a built in export for Windows feature, from there I just had to edit some of the game files from Visual Studio and that was me ready to upload! It was very cool to be able to create a game that utilised touch controls since a lot of Windows 8 computers are touch screen, something I had never done before. Since I had a very short space of time to create the game I never got to use some of the new Windows features like the charm bar and live tiles but they will be absolutely making an appearance in the next update of Unicorn Space Command. It was so exciting submitting my game to the Windows Store as this has been my first published game. Submission was a very easy and smooth process, you are guided through and shown exactly what you need to create a successful submission. Approval of your game is a fairly transparent process too as you are shown what they are doing with your game at various stages whether it is testing the game or just checking all your data about the game matches up correctly. I chose for Unicorn Space Command to be a free game, it being my first submission. Thankfully as a student with access to Microsoft Dreamspark I get access to a Windows developer account for free, as well as getting access to all sorts of development software. As soon as I got an email telling me it was approved for the store I was refreshing the page constantly just to see my game appear on an international store. What a fantastic feeling that was seeing my game there, starting to feel like my career as a games developer would start taking shape from here on out. My friends were immediately ordered to download the game and give it a shot giving me some great feedback right away.
Since Unicorn Space Command has appeared on the Windows Store it has been going absolutely fantastic. There has been a few articles published about the game so far including one of the largest sites representing games in Scotland (http://scottishgames.net/2013/04/22/unicorn-space-command-game-jam-title-hits-windows-app-store/). I’ve even been gaining a rise in my Twitter followers. Speaking about the game specifically, at the time of writing I am closing in on 200 downloads from various countries around the world. The game has also received a generous number of 5 star ratings. As a Windows Store developer I have access to an analytics dashboard which offers me a plethora of statistics about downloads, playtime and other data that I can use to update my game to create the best experience I can offer to my players. On the Windows Store you can filter games by the highest rating, and I’ve been absolutely shocked that again at the time of writing Unicorn Space Command is currently #48 out of over 6000 games. Every time I check I say to myself “are you kidding me?!”, I don’t think I believe it quite yet.
My plans for the near future are to make a small update to the game and definitely ship it over to Windows Phone, iOS and Android to hopefully see some larger download figures! As I used Construct 2 to create the game, throughout the summer months I will be rewriting it in C++ as I plan on shipping a sequel to the game, involving a number of quite large changes turning it into a much bigger game. I am still going to be continuing to use Construct 2 as I have also purchased a full license for it to make a couple small games to hopefully generate a small stream of ad revenue for some extra summer spending money. April was also a great time for me to create a Windows 8 app as I could gain points from http://www.appbuilder-rewards.co.uk and use them to claim for some free prizes from Microsoft, as well as winning a Windows Phone from the game jam which I plan on using for more games developing, testing future mobile apps.
This has been an amazing experience for me, giving me a taste of the life of a professional games developer. Getting my ideas out there in the public is very cool and the fact that people across the world are actually downloading and rating my game?! I’m still not over it, I check the download stats on a daily basis! I thoroughly recommend some of the resources I’ve mentioned like Construct 2 and DreamSpark and I would like to make a big thank you to Microsoft for making this experience possible for me, and thank you to anyone has enjoyed playing my game!
Check out my website and Twitter for updates on Unicorn Space Command, its sequel and some other brand new games coming soon!
On February 15th, four students came together to form what could be a real game changer in the Windows Store space. It all started at the Imagine Cup event held at Exeter University. Teams from around the country came together, all hoping to create award winning apps in the space of 48 hours. With a trip to St Petersburg, Russia, and $50,000 at stake, competition was stiff, and teams weren’t taking things lightly. It was at this event that SoundSYNK were born.
Meet SoundSYNK (from left to right):
Robert Parker (Programmer), Computer science and Mathematics, 2nd yearEdward Noel (Business), Mechanical engineering, 2nd yearAlex Bochenski (Business), Business and Economics, 2nd yearJonathan Neumann (Programmer), Masters in History, 4th Year (Erasmus Scheme)
SoundSYNK are a team of students from Exeter University, who arrived that day not knowing each other, but all had the dream of learning how to create and deploy an app into store and with the more important aspiration of winning big money! But who knew that just by randomly sitting together at the start of a day, would equal the creation of a dream team! Read below for their story…
"The Idea was born at the Microsoft Imagine Cup regionals held by Setsquared and Ignite Exeter University Guild Enterprise team. It all started on Saturday 16th February 2013 at 2 am in the morning. With $50,000 on the brain, we were caffeine fuelled and desperate for a strong idea to win the regionals. Ideas were banded around, but as the hours passed and our brain power started to dwindle, we sought the aid of music to inspire us. Little did we know this would be the start of an amazing adventure…?
We were playing "Sweet nothings" by Calvin Harris on Alex's laptop, but it was just not loud enough for our liking. Being students we wanted to have a blasting beat to keep us going through the night, but the volume was just not sufficient. At this point, we did the age old technique of lining up all of our phones, laptops, tablets, in the hope that we might be able to play the song at the same time. However, due to our lack of timing, it failed miserably! However, it started to get us thinking- What if we could develop an app that allowed us to sync a load of devices in perfect harmony and in turn create a booming base- this was where the idea began!
With time running out and less than 24 hours before we had to present our apps to the judging panel, we all frantically started researching. Our genius coders Rob and Jonathan- who have previously only developed for iPhone and Android- started looking into what kind of technology was available that could help develop this concept, whilst Ed and Alex scoured the internet desperate not to find someone who had already done this. Lucky for us, no one had! Although this was a Microsoft competition, we wanted to make a platform agnostic app that could be enjoyed by all audiences, whether you had a Windows Phone, iPhone, laptop or tablet. It was hard at first for Jon and Rob, as they had never developed for Windows before, but they found it surprisingly easy to pick up and we quickly started developing the prototype and presentation of the product. Our coders started building the app using Microsoft Visual Studio, making sure it utilized Bluetooth, WiFi, and WiFi-direct. We wanted to create a mesh-network that had more bandwidth than simply connecting devices over WiFi and that could be used anytime, anywhere. By utilizing our backend-technology, we saw that we could send data between devices and overcome the current bandwidth limits of Bluetooth (maximum share between 4 devices), allowing us to share data with an unlimited number of devices... we really wanted to take the party mobile!
With the hours ticking away and our presentation slot looming, we pulled together and made an amazing prototype and presentation that we showcased. Thanks to all this hard work, 24 hours later we were being awarded the 1st place prize by the judging panel. We were ecstatic! With this win came a place in the UK National Finals (the next stage) that were to be hosted in April, but we knew from then on that this would be no easy ride. In order for us to win the $50,000 and that trip to Russia to compete in the World Wide Finals of the Imagine cup, there would be a lot to do!
In the run up to the Finals, we were working night and day perfecting our app and presentation, choosing to demo and tell people about our app at every opportunity we had! This even led Ed to being introduced and pitching the idea to Dragons Den Judge, Doug Richards… not every student can say they have done that! Because of all this pitching we were able to drum up a lot of interest and were invited to attend the ‘Starterfor10’ competition. We managed somehow win a £10,000 grant from Creative England that day, which was against over 150 startups! We were really excited by the way things were taking off and the interest our company was getting, but we didn’t lose our focus as the big day was still yet to come…
8th of April meant only one thing, The UK Imagine Cup Finals. Every day had been leading up to it, but with 10 amazing teams, including some of our own classmates as competition, we knew we had to do a presentation like no other. With banners put up, flashing T-shirts on and devices in hand, we demoed our hearts out, trying to convince all the judges and potential investors that we were not only World Wide Finalist material, but also that we had an amazing story to share…
We came out that day as UK winners, and we cannot even contemplate how many amazing opportunities will come about from this. Without the help of people like Natasha from Microsoft, Setsquared, Ignite and Exeter Innovation centre- who gave us incredible amounts of support from legal, accountancy and investor readiness seminars to putting up with us presenting in front of them continuously- we wouldn’t be half the team we are today.
So what now? We are working with Microsoft UK, Setsquared, Ignite, Creative England and Exeter Innovation Centre to get the working prototype onto the market and to make it a massive success. We also now have a Limited company set up called ‘Colinked’, as what we have come to realise is that our technology can be used for a number of things, from helping out in Natural disasters to replacing it as a sound system at big events! It has really been a real whirlwind adventure ever since we attended the 48 hour hack back in February, and we would have never guessed that 4 students, who had never met each other before that day could come so far, let alone be this successful. We have made it through every stage so far and the only next step is to go on to win the World Wide Finals… Bring on Russia!
Their story clearly showcases how businesses and partners can start up in the most unlikely of places, and it takes real perseverance, talent and drive to make a start-up a success. I know this team will go on to do great things, and I have no doubt that they will be a stand out team at the World Wide Finals. People are already realising the teams potential and are commenting about the clear innovation and talented minds behind this app.
‘This is a huge win for Microsoft, as this clever use of technology shows how Windows Phone applications can be innovative and push existing boundaries. If this application is executed perfectly once it hits the market, this could become a killer app that Microsoft has been waiting for to populate its market space.’ (Brad Sams, Neowin)
We in the UK are proud to have these gifted students representing our country. The app is not out yet, but the team is hoping to launch in June, well ahead of the Imagine Cup finals which takes place in July, so watch this space! If you've been inspired to start building on Windows 8, download the SDK for all the free tools you need.