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Interview With Sam Barlow - Her Story

Her Story is a very unique experience. My wife and I finished it in one sitting and loved how we were able to casually participate in what effectively an interactive fiction. I wanted to interview Sam because of how different Her Story was from all the other games in the App Store.

How old are you? What's your professional and educational background?

38 years old! Have a 1st class degree in Maths from University of Bristol. I did some work in the tech/business world out of university and then fell sideways into videogame development and have about 15 years of experience there -- mostly as a Lead Designer / Game Director.

What technologies/frameworks did you use to build Her Story?

Unity, Google Drive, Fade In and Final Cut!

How long did it take to build?

14 months from blank sheet of paper to shipped game. More than six months of that was purely on-paper work, research and ideation.

How big is the code base?

The fact that I don't know the answer to that question might indicate my level of coding ability -- and the extent to which things were winged with Unity script and cut and paste.

How much lifetime revenue (gross) has the game generated on iOS?

I can't give specifics, but the game has sold around 500K copies across all platforms -- and the App Store accounts for a significant portion of that.

How much lifetime revenue (gross) has the game generated on Android (if there is one)?

Has just released on Google Play -- so watch this space :)

During the sale and development of Her Story, what was one of your happiest moments?

The first few months of sitting out in my garden in the sun, reading research materials and sketching out ideas in my notebook :)

Your saddest moments?

When winter set in and I had to actually finish the thing and fix bugs with the video plugins! :(

What tips do you have for those that are just starting with programming and game development?

Make something different, that doesn't exist but you feel needs to exist! Be pretty damn cautious about your estimates in terms of time and money -- especially if it's your own. Be realistic about the worst case outcomes and then -- if you can handle them -- commit to seeing things through, come what may. Something finished and released is worth a hundred unfinished ideas.

We may have a couple of project managers reading this interview. Any tips for them with regards to managing a project/interacting with developers?

Invest in the upfront stuff that doesn't necessarily put results on screen -- research, ideation, paper design. Give the project time to breath and answer all the difficult questions before jumping into execution.

Also, we may have a couple of ad men reading this interview. Any tips for them with regards to marketing a game?

With digital distribution you don't have to sell to everyone. Identify your niche audience and sell to them -- in some cases excluding a larger audience. You don't want them dragging you down with poor reviews or chatter. Put the developer's voice out there as much as possible -- it's the thing that indie devs can do that bigger developers can't. There's no PR machine to get in the way, so sell that authenticity and the personal factor.

You went for a premium game as opposed to a game that was free with IAP. Why?

I'm selling something that has limited content -- it's a 2-5 hour experience. So I can't monetize the infinite gameplay loop that you really need to if you want to make a liveable income of IAP. That said, I went with a price that (at least for Steam) is at the lower end of the scale -- I wanted to make it easy for people who were interested to say yes!

Given hindsight is 20/20, would you have done anything differently with regards to building and selling Her Story?

I am in the enviable position of everything having turned out better than expected! -- from the execution of the game to the buzz around launch through to the post-launch awards and general chatter. The reaction from players has been amazing.

I guess the one thing that was difficult was post-launch support. I recently pulled in a coder to help out with support and to engineer the Android version and that was a godsend. I was super-frugal with my planning and so didn't allow for bringing in someone external when the game was first launched -- with hindsight, I could have allowed myself that spend, but going into the launch I wasn't prepared to make that bet!

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