The Joystiq Indie Pitch: ErnCon

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe they deserve a wider audience with the Joystiq Indie Pitch: This week, Ernest Woo of Woo Games (we wonder how he thought of that name?) talks mobile, multiplayer space combat with ErnCon.

The Joystiq Indie Pitch ErnCon

What's your game called and what's it about?

The game is called ErnCon and it's a multiplayer shoot-em-up for Android supporting up to eight players over the Internet.

Does the eight-player Wi-Fi gameplay of ErnCon help it stand out from other Android titles?

I believe real-time multiplayer over the Internet (both 3G and 4G) is uncommon enough to set ErnCon apart from other games. I find that many games that call themselves "multiplayer" are only playable over local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Implementing true multiplayer gameplay over the Internet was/is extremely hard and not for the faint of heart.

One of the most important trends over the past few years has been the increasing prevalence of smartphones with mobile broadband connectivity. Mobile devices are finally powerful and fast enough to support the kind of multiplayer experience that was common on the PC 10 years ago.

The most common feedback I received from FRG players was to add multiplayer – I know the demand is out there. I'm making multiplayer mobile games the focus of Woo Games – keep an eye out for more multiplayer games in the future!

What inspired you to make ErnCon?

ErnCon started as a high-school project in 1995 when I finished my first Pascal programming class. To keep me engaged over the long summer break, the teacher gave me an assignment to create a game. I really liked the Star Control games so he suggested I create a one-on-one space combat game ... and ErnCon was born. In fact, the name "ErnCon" is an homage to "starcon," the DOS executable command used to start Star Control.

That version of ErnCon kept me busy through 1997, undergoing several iterations and even switching to a couple different genres, reflecting my ever-changing gaming habits. At one point ErnCon was an RTS because I was deeply in love with Command & Conquer! ErnCon eventually returned to its roots as a shoot-em-up and was playable over an IPX LAN with up to eight players.

Fast forward to 2011 when I'm trying to decide what kind of game would really show off the multiplayer prototype I built into my first Android game, FRG. I felt a space shoot-em-up would be a great showcase for real-time multiplayer then suddenly remembered I had already done such a game, ErnCon.

Your first Android title, FRG, was a finalist in the 2009 Android Developer Challenge 2 how did this affect your approach to development or your visibility on the indie scene?

Getting into the top 20 Arcade/Action games for ADC2 was very important to me because FRG at that time was my first Android game and only my second independent release. FRG was already in development before ADC2 was announced as a desktop game written in Pascal. When ADC2 was announced I decided it was a good time to get on the cutting edge of a new technology and port FRG to Android.

Being a finalist gave me a huge confidence boost. Knowing that others enjoyed my work motivated me to continue updating FRG, which eventually led to ErnCon.

It's interesting to note that the early versions of FRG had multiplayer, but given the 3-month timeframe to submit to ADC2, I purposely made FRG a single-player experience.

How are the in-app purchases going so far?

In-app purchases haven't gotten much traction so far mainly because ErnCon's user base is still small. Right now I'm focusing on growing the user base as opposed to monetizing what I have. For gamers out there, this means you can enjoy a console-like, free space-shooter that doesn't nag you to spend money, unlike so many freemium games out there.

What's the coolest aspect of ErnCon?

ErnCon is at its best when four or more players are playing at the same time. The excitement of strafing a capital ship with others flying in and out never gets old.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

Working independently gives me the freedom to try weird and different things – especially if they don't make business sense. Two years ago, I decided on a whim to tackle real-time multiplayer even though I knew nothing about creating a real-time multiplayer game. Being independent, I gave myself the time to research and prototype the concept in FRG without a deadline, then made a real game with that prototype, ErnCon.

That said, working for an established company has its benefits. I develop mobile browser games during the day and enjoy the following perks: I rarely worry about user acquisition because of our large, captive audience; I know the games we develop will be played and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people; I work on a small team composed of bright individuals who complement my abilities; I get a steady paycheck.

"I like to think I'm just a guy who wants to make games. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I am part of it and that this is a very good thing."

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

I hesitate to explicitly identify with an indie game dev movement. I like to think I'm just a guy who wants to make games. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I am part of it and that this is a very good thing. Like other indie developers, I have a desire to make games on my own terms, which is easier than ever with distribution provided by Google Play and Apple's App Store. Many other indie developers like me are now finding the opportunity to bring our vision to the masses, which was unfeasible before the advent of digital distribution. This shared desire and experience unites us as part of a larger indie movement.

Sell ErnCon in one sentence:

ErnCon caters to those who love to see fighters and mechs blow each other to bits against a backdrop of asteroids and massive capital ships.

What's next?

ErnCon can now be found in Amazon's App Store, which is important for Kindle Fire owners. I'm also starting work on a much-requested iOS version. Get ready for some cross-platform multiplayer action in the near future.

ErnCon is available now for Android devices via Google Play and Amazon's App Store, for free.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.