A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of grabbing a coffee with Max and Josh Scott-Slade who make up Johnny Two Shoes, and are probably best know for their great game, Plunderland. I saw on Twitter that they were heading to the fine city of Norwich to take a lecture at Norwich University College of the Arts, so dropped them an email cheekily asking if we could meet up. Because they’re such nice people, they agreed, and so I had a chance to ask them about how they got to where they are and what it takes to build a successful iOS indie games company. I thought it would be good to share some of the key things I picked up.

Plunderland

Work for hire always sucks

Having read up on what the Johnny Two Shoes boys had done in the 3 to 4 years since starting, I noticed that they had quite a few client projects in the mix for big names like Channel 4. As someone who freelances making non-game apps, I wondered whether this might be a good direction to head in, and I still think it might be a good direction to head in as a stepping stone, but Max and Josh helped me to realise that that’s not the end goal. The truth is making games for someone else limits your creative freedom and never has as much earning potential as you could have making something you want to make. Stressing out with deadlines working on stuff you don’t enjoy doing just isn’t worth it. The guys say with the success of Plunderland, they’re now done with freelance work — good for them!

Make the game you want to make

You’ve probably seen similar advice before, but I think it’s worth repeating as it’s an easy trap to fall into, particularly when success eludes you. Don’t try and copy someone else’s game or make something that you think other people might enjoy but you yourself won’t. Make the game you want to make — the game you’d enjoy playing. That’s what JohnnyTwoShoes set out to do with Plunderland, and Max told me he still plays it on the tube because he enjoys it. This has the effect of making the game really fun for you, and if you find it fun, there’s a good chance other people will love it too.

Marketing is overrated

Journalists only want to write about stuff from people they already know: people who are already popular. Once you’re at that point, then they’ll be asking you if they can review your app, not the other way around. Knowing the right people obviously helps, but the really key thing is to make a game that people will talk about.

It takes time … keep going!

Max mentioned he’d been making games for 13 years, which is quite impressive for someone in their mid-twenties. We talked about how Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game that they made. Whatever looks like an overnight success from the outside always has years of working away unnoticed preceding it. I think the best advice I got from Josh and Max was just to keep going. Keep making games you love and build on the experience gained from each one. Nothing happens overnight, so I need patience, passion and determination to keep going.

Thanks again to Max and Josh for taking time out to meet with a random guy who follows them on Twitter! You guys are awesome.