Your App is Ready for Sale… (slow exhale of breath)

31 October 2013 | 1 comment

Be kind. I have never written a blog post before. Production doesn’t often pipe up. But as first blog posts go, this one will probably introduce me, Sarah Butcher, Producer, quite well. I’m the one in the studio that overuses the word “strong”, receives Ryan Gosling spam from my colleagues and Instagrams way too much.

The idea behind Tiny Games has existed at Hide&Seek longer than I’ve worked here, although it wasn’t always a digital project . Over the last couple of years, it’s evolved through different imaginations and various mediums, and it resulted in Hide&Seek becoming a completely in-house iOS dev team for the first time.

The Tiny Games app was the first purely digital project I led production on. For me, the experience of digital producing was a little like baking a cake – but every so often someone from outside throws a random ingredient through the window. You have no idea what that ingredient is going to be, when it will be thrown, or how well the flavours will go together, but you need to find a way to make it work and make sure it tastes great when you’re ready to share it. Who’s throwing the ingredients? Apple, partners, stakeholders, funders, the team (who will find this a funny analogy to make – I’m terrible at baking).

Working in a medium-sized studio environment makes all of the detail of a digital build relevant to everyone who surrounds it. We’re always in ear-shot of one another (so, if you’re listening to Spice Girls on Spotify someone can probably hear the murmur of Mel B. Busted! Not Busted the band, they were awf).  Because of the enthusiasm and investment that you get from a single focus and not much physical space, we’re able to swing our chairs around and solve that IAP flow problem or make a suggestion on how to change that logo ever so slightly. But we aren’t all that close – Mark and Margaret are in New York and needed to be in the loop. Inevitably Skype became the almighty one, schedules became indicative of time zones, and Margaret planned what to have for lunch while I planned whether or not to go out for gin.

The team had to skill up quickly in all areas of making an iOS product: dev environments, which devices to support, how to run QA, and everything else. We did that together. While Sophie was learning how to navigate the depths of Actionscript, Mike was piecing together the Tiny Games legacy and interpreting it into a whole new brand concept, and I was learning what an ANE was. We worked in an Agile way for the first time as a studio, and got good at it. It took a little while to get our heads around it, transitioning to daily stand-ups and buying a hella tonne of post it notes, but it was liberating in a way that I’m not sure we were fully expecting.

Sesame Workshop approached us a little way into the build and asked us to partner with them to make a version of Tiny Games for families. Exciting! We felt Tiny Games had huge potential for families, and families playing together is something we’re really passionate about, but we had decided we wouldn’t really be able to address that in the app we were already developing.  So we embarked on a partnership with them, after agreeing that the functionality of Sesame Street Family Play had to mirror what we were already developing for Tiny Games. The product backlog was shared by both products and separated into release versions. We took all of the stories that related to the Sesame functionality / Tiny Games functionality and made that release one, and everything relating just to Tiny Games release two.

Inevitably some window ingredients were thrown in: a different IAP structure, the need for baby-gating, the desire to value the partnership we’d embarked upon and represent both brands. Working with Sesame Workshop really allowed us to interrogate the app, how it worked and what players found useful, how the UX and UI felt, whether the copy was written in a way that people felt empowered to read out. Sesame were able to do things that we just didn’t have the capacity to do, like playtest with families in a giant hall in Chicago. Working between London and New York meant working late sometimes (too much pizza) and a lot of planning around the clock as Margaret and Mark worked on designing the games with J and the Sesame team, whilst Dionne and I had calls to wrangle feedback on the latest build and how it was all shaping up.

Once Sesame Street had shipped we began the task of play testing, re-working and whittling down the hundreds (literally hundreds) of Tiny Games that we’d designed and getting them polished and into the app. We wrote tests: does this text fit in the text field? Are there enough games in each sub-location to make the selection process work? We created our own database tool to input the games where we could mark them on their journey through draft, playtest, copy approved to finalised – the little game that made it in the app! Then came the UK/US localisation – changes from “Pub” to “Bar” and “Queue” to “In Line” (I hear In Line, I think skates).

So here we are – both apps launched, Sesame Street Family Play in September and Tiny Games on the 24th. A date that, yeah, was a fortnight later from our original plan but a date that is hugely momentous for Hide&Seek; and in the realms of project deadlines, we think a two-week slip isn’t bad. It’s been an incredibly enriching experience.

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