From Zero to Hero: The Asset Store Publisher Story
Joshua McGrath is a little mad. He draws level diagrams in the shower, loves answering Tidy Tile Mapper support emails and applies his zen charm to working at Soap Creative in LA. He swears it all started with the Asset Store.
The Australian developer is the more chaotic half of the Doppler Interactive duo. Wife Jessica provides game ideas for their projects as well as texture art and some structure and professionalism in general. First, they made a few small mobile games together, but in 2011, Joshua started experimenting with tools development.
“I think I wanted to make levels like those in Super Mario Brothers, but making the tool turned out to be more fun than making the game. At the time, the Unity Asset Store was still pretty new, it was this wild frontier land for cowboys like me. I just put it together over a month or so, during Christmas, when I didn’t have much to do.”
Soon enough, downloads picked up and taking care of Tidy Tile Mapper became Joshua’s surrogate full-time job. “I was suddenly answering support emails from my phone at breakfast. It just kept growing.” That was back in January 2012 and Doppler Interactive’s main asset was quickly battling with Rage Spline for the top seller post on the store.
“We made some money, which was bizarre, because making money off games is extremely hard. This was the first step towards building the empire.” In the game dev community of his hometown, he became know as That Tidy Tile Mapper guy. He was the first person who earned anything on independent game development. But just as importantly, he got a vote of confidence that pushed him to quit his day job.
“The biggest thing is finding out that there are people out there who like what you do. That confirmation from the community is enormous. That encouragement is the real start, the moment you stop hesitating and jump.”
Whilst living off Tidy Tile Mapper sales, Joshua dedicated the next six months to intensive game development work. There were some drawbacks to the sudden freedom though. “Working for yourself in your house you don’t really have a weekend, you end up drawing diagrams in the shower. Every minute you’re not working, you feel bad. But it was worth it.”
Doppler Interactive took part in Unite 2012, where Joshua had a talk about Tidy Tile Mapper and his experience at the Asset Store. “It was really cool, we were so busy just meeting everybody. I also had a talk, I wasn’t really prepared, I just came up with my ridiculous Mohawk.”
The first following release was Ball of Woe, which started as a tool for learning about rigid bodies in Unity. After that, the idea for Cube and Star: a Love Story came up and he started experimenting with a simple prototype. “When I was about halfway through messing around like that, I won an award back in Australia for my work on videogames called the Spirit of Youth award. I thought it was pretty funny, since I was 29 at the time, so not so young.” He got hired by one of the judges, Soap Creative, and Doppler Interactive relocated to LA.
“That was awesome, because I really wanted to get out of Australia for so long. And the job is fantastic, which is both great and bad, because being content is the bane of private development”.
Despite the existential issue of being happy, work on Cube and Star continued and Jessica submitted the prototype to a bunch of contests. It won Intel Level Up’s contest in the “Other Game” category, which meant that the duo got to show it at PAX and GDC and it went to Steam. “Steam distribution was like this fire under Cube and Star that forced me to finish this.” admits McGrath.
Since this Valentine’s Day, Cube and Star: An Arbitrary Love is on Steam and Humble Bundle and since yesterday, it’s available for the iPad as well. “That’s where we’re at right now, we’re selling some games, some people are talking about us. The main thing is finding our niche, finding those 10 000 people who like what we do, who are willing to pay us for a game once a year. On Steam, it’s becoming a lot harder to be visible, it’s gradually sliding towards an iOS app store situation. But we’ll find that market one day.”
How does he manage to have a full time job, work on Doppler Interactive games and maintain all the assets they have on the store?
“I’m very fortunate that my wife is super great. I have a lot of problems holding attention, so all my emails get forwarded to her and she summarizes them in bullet points for me. And we have a lot of whiteboards full of stuff like “pay that tax” and “do this port”. But it’s really, really hard. I just stay up late and smoke a lot, I’m probably going to die 15 years younger.” ‘
Support for Tidy Tile Mapper takes a good chunk of his time, but Joshua still loves it.
“I get the best emails for Tidy Tile Mapper. The best thing is when they write me with their game idea and ask what tools to use. Seeing the start of these projects, even if they don’t finish, is great. A lot of them might seem too ambitious. But of course you have to have unrealistic goals, that’s the only way to get going.”