Between Pocket Gamer’s daily output of up-to-date web coverage, regular video reviews, and our Big Indie Pitch contests, we pride ourselves on our representation of the indie-scene; calling attention to the smaller, but still innovative, mobile releases that might otherwise go unnoticed.
One such game that we’ve covered in recent weeks is tschess, an inventive chess-variant that changes up the traditional game by allowing players to decide the layout of the board, as well as choose only the pieces that work best for them.
We caught up with Bahlsenwitz, the enterprising team behind the game at our recent PGC Digital 4 event to learn more about tschess and their experiences as an indie developer.
Tell us a little about yourself and your indie studio. What are your current goals and expectations?
It’s said that “a man can live on his wits and his balls for only so long”, animated by this spirit, in the dog days of a Brooklyn summer 2019 we launched Bahlsenwitz LLC, digital experience designer.
The one and only game we’ve ever worked on is tschess, which we built as a way to salvage the core meme of traditional chess, to liberate it from the theoretical superstructure that's been accumulating on it since the '60s. Our ultimate goal is the unseating of traditional chess from the place it occupies as a worldwide cultural reference point with tschess.
How does tschess go about liberating traditional chess?
We felt that traditional chess is more or less solved, something like tic-tac-toe, and what it has become is simply a memorization puzzle.
The problem of our times is how to conceptualize a plan and carry it out in the face of opposition, in whatever form it might take, making safe mechanisms to practice strategic thinking more important than ever.
What we’re doing with tschess is providing a platform for players to cultivate strategic thinking skills.
What was the most challenging aspect of developing the game?
We think of this process as meme’ing tschess into existence and our operations can be roughly categorized into four constituent parts:
- Stability & Support & Scale: Making sure that as we grow our player community the app continues to work well, this includes maintenance of the server, the adjustment of interface components, and fixing emergent bugs.
- Promotion & Acquisition: This includes all “outreach” initiatives, which means our socialmedia accounts (Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.), Influencers, community building through mechanisms like Discord, and attending events like Pocket Gamer Connects Digital.
- Development & New Features: Planning and implementation of new fairy pieces and other updates to the core game dynamics
- Strategizing & Goals: Determination of measurable goals, creating the analytics tools to measure whether or not we’re meeting them, evaluating progress, and repeating the process.
Our biggest challenge is the ongoing syncopation of these operations and the sagacious partitioning of resources betwixt them.
How did you find your experience being part of our latest Pocket Gamer Connects Digital event?
Our experience at the event greatly exceeded our initial expectations. Using the Connects platform we were easily able to schedule tête-à-tête meetings with people from around the world in all verticals of the mobile gaming space, from investors, to publishers, to small indie studios and more established ones.
The people we met were universally friendly and engaging, some of them provided us with helpful constructive feedback on the game dynamics of tschess, some of them seem like they'll be great partners in growing our player community.
The extent to which the event brought together people with similar interests to share information, connect with each other, discuss experiences, present ideas and projects to one another is where the event really shines. The fact this could be achieved from the comfort of our own offices, rather than having to shell out money to travel to make it happen, is ideal for us.
Has the experience changed your development strategy in any way?
Before we attended PG Connects Digital we had no interest at all in monetization of tschess; our exclusive focus was on growing the player community as much as possible.
This view of ours changed after we had the opportunity to discuss our approach with other game developers and to listen to them describe their own policies.
At this point we've come to the conclusion that monetization of the game would be a good way to assess the value proposition for players, since we'd assume that if the experience was creating value for them in their daily lives they would be willing to pay for it, or tolerate some degree of in-game advertisement.
What advice would you give to an independent developer who is just starting out?
Shut everyone out. In the early stages of development work hard to realize your vision, you can expect to encounter naysayers/haters don’t listen to anything these people have to say, take measures to extricate them from your life.
Let everyone in. In the later stages of development when you’ve given life to your creation, at least a first approximation thereof, solicit feedback from anyone who’s willing to speak to you. Practice empathy, try to get into their head and understand their perspective and how they’re experiencing the app.
Once you’ve socialized the project and have an updated concept in mind, repeat the process.
Would you recommend future Pocket Gamer events to other aspiring indie developers?
For us the point of making a game is to add value to people's lives by providing a way for them to cultivate strategic thinking skills through an everyday smartphone utility. The critical element in that formula is the people.
The community of attendees at Pocket Gamer events are similarly motivated and can provide constructive feedback on how best to accomplish that object. Additionally many of the participants are themselves interested in playing such a game.
Allocating our resources, of time, of money, of effort, of attention, is something we think about carefully as a small studio. With that in mind, we can say with confidence that for indie developers like ourselves, joining a future Pocket Gamer event would be resources well spent.