The Team

Everything we've done started with one simple idea. We wanted to work with people we loved working with, making something that had never been made before.

Aftershock is the result of that effort. It's a card-combat adventure game that takes your real life activity & creates your adventure from that. It's got single player. It's got multiplayer. Leveling up. Progression. New cards. Awesome animation.

You can pick it up and put it down and never have to fit your life around it - it's designed to fit into your life instead. You don't need to spend a bunch of time building a deck, or a bunch of money buying card packs. It's a game that's focused on making tactical decisions quickly and seeing stuff go kaboom as a result.

We hope you'll enjoy it as much as we loved creating it.

We'd be remiss in not thanking Casey Cameron ( for his generous help with the audio side of things, as well as Rachel Glaves ( who did a wonderful job with the UI art, and Caryn Vainio ( who helped us work through some critical UX issues. In addition, a handful of friends provided invaluable help and advice, and the game would be nowhere without them.

Aftershock will launch on iOS on March 9th, for $3. We hope to see you in-game.

Happy New Year!

It's been a while since I've written anything here. Sorry! We've been pretty busy with a bunch of stuff! We're working on a new app. It's built on the mechanics of Give Me Fuel, but there's a lot in there that is quite different.

Basically, GMF was originally built as a test for a lot of the things we were working on. Would the card mechanics work? Could we get people to understand them? Could we do this unusual style of animation we wanted to, and what were the tradeoffs? Then we started rolling out early versions of Adventure Mode.

Over the last eight months, we've learned a lot from Give Me Fuel, and we have you to thank for it.

In the next month or two, we'll start rolling out information about what's coming next - there's a lot of things we're really excited to share, from how it's going to look, to how it's going to play (most of it will be familiar to GMF players, but there are a few things that we hope will still be surprising!), to what it'll cost.

The one thing I want to put out there now is that we're going to be trying something unusual with the new app, in that it's going to be an ongoing, evolving service - but rather than a F2P game, our goal is to put it out there as a "premium" game that you actually pay for up front. There are a lot of reasons for this:

  • The current "Free to play" model is built around frustration. While we're trying to do something different than this, realistically for players who want a not-traditional-free-to-play experience, the F2P business model carries such baggage that even if we made the greatest, most user-friendly F2P game in the world, a lot of people still wouldn't try it.
  • The kinds of people who don't like most F2P games are actually the kinds of people we think our game will appeal most to, and trying to get people we think will love our game a shot is difficult because of that.
  • We, as players, prefer non-F2P games ourselves, because they're games that aren't designed around "maximum monetization" and exerting pressure on players constantly to spend money.

Here's the tricky bit: The game's still intended to be an ongoing, evolving experience. And that means, realistically, that we have to have some sort of ongoing revenue, or continued sales of the game have to be quite a bit higher than we can realistically expect.

So there will be things in game available for sale. Things like visual customizations for your suit. Things like gifts you can get for your friends. Our goal will be to provide some things that don't impact the core balance of the game that are fun and delightful, that'll be worth your time & money that you'll be happy to buy, because you want whatever it is, and because you want to help the game continue.

We're hoping to be able to run limited-time events, seasonal events, and to even eventually have ways to expand the game in unique ways.

But the first step is that the game won't be free - and that changes a lot about how things work, both in terms of how we balance it, and in terms of how we have to try to raise awareness of the game, which in many ways is much harder, and in some ways is much easier.

We've got a big challenge ahead. We'll be talking more soon about what's coming.

Happy New Year!

Staying On Target

We develop games in a somewhat unusual way. A lot of games get designed out "completely" with very detailed specifications & requirements, and then there's a long period of implementation - then at the end some testing, iteration, polish, and then it gets shipped. Most of the time, people don't see games launch until years have been spent on their development. And on launch, they succeed or fail based on how people react, but that's that.

We launched Give Me Fuel after less than a year of work, and it showed. It wasn't polished. Huge swaths of it were "missing". But we wanted to test out the core game mechanic, and make sure that it worked.

One of the pitfalls of this approach is that it's actually really easy to lose sight of what you'd originally intended to do, because the decision that is the most obvious is the one right in front of your face. You get so focused on what you've already released that it's hard to remember what you haven't even built yet.

We had a moment of "remembering" over the last month, where we realized we had a lot of stuff that we wanted to build that we didn't have a chance to yet, and we've shifted focus to that. But even with that refocus, it's been interesting, because as we're building this stuff, we're coming back across things that we'd not just intended to do from the start, but were driving goals that we built the whole game around.

And the nice thing is that we managed to keep it enough in mind that building the features we'll need to build fits in fairly logically - both "mechanically" and narratively, because the original structure was conceived around those things. But it's strange how those fade into the background and need to be dragged back into the spotlight every now and again.


This mostly has to do with the fact that GMF was originally intended to be a game that you play while you're not playing it, as well as when you are. This'll make sense eventually, I hope.


We just released the first bits of character progression. You can get to it by hitting "profile" on the main screen, then "View Upgrades".

You can upgrade four stats (there are two more coming in the future), which will make your character progressively more powerful when fighting single player opponents. Right now, Upgrades aren't applied in multiplayer, because it'd make the game more about who was higher level, not who played the best. And with relatively few players, we can't effectively "match" players with opponents of similar level. We do hope to be able to do that at some point when there are more people playing, we just can't do it yet.

We've also introduced more interesting enemies in Single Player. First, the AI has had a huge upgrade over a week ago. It'll play *much* smarter. Should be significantly more of a challenge. Also, as you get higher level, your enemies will start to have "perks" that make them more powerful. Click on the enemy profile, and you'll be able to see what perks they have active. More perks = more rewards, so it's a good thing.

But this isn't even close to where we want single player to end up. One of the biggest changes is going to be that you'll start the day with a certain amount of health, and that will carry over between fights. But you won't be fighting just characters with as much health/shield as you - there will be a wider variety of enemies (though at the start they'll all look basically the same). So the character progression + enemies & enemy progression will be part of a larger structure that'll ALSO do some fairly weird stuff you haven't seen before.

If you get a chance to give the new Upgrades & Single Player a shot, let us know what you think! And keep an eye out for what's coming next. You won't have long to wait.

Following a Trail of Breadcrumbs Off a Cliff

Our process has been to release our game very early, and to constantly work to improve it.

When we launched the game in April, there was no tutorial, the game was really confusing, and there were a lot of things that needed massive improvement. But we thought that the game was good enough that people who liked card combat games would be able to work through the confusion & find the game lurking within.

Part of the reason to do that is that with game development, it's very hard to know how players will react to the game when it goes live. Sure, you can anticipate some of these things with rigorous playtesting, but at the same time, you can get a lot farther a lot faster the more people you have playing the game. And so, we release it, and we use players' experiences as feedback, and we work to improve the game from there.

Our initial goal with the release of the game was to answer this question:

Are the core mechanics of the game good?

That is, if someone could figure out the game, would they play for a while? Would it get boring quickly? Would people find exploits that broke the game?

The result? We've got a significant number of people who've played every day since they started, many times a day, and they're not slowing down.

But there was a second question.. And that is this:

Can this be a standalone game?

And the problem with that is that the answer was "not yet". New players had massive problems understanding the game. So we spent two months working on a UI revamp and a new tutorial. We added new cards, new animations, tweaked the graphics, revised the front end, and made a ton of changes focused on getting new players "in the door".

The result? Not much. We made some improvements, but not enough to consider this a standalone game. Which was a massive disappointment, and in ways, really confusing, because the game was so much better than it was before. But there was one big problem.

We didn't ask that second question.

We asked the first question, and instead of looking at what players were doing to answer the first question, we started looking at the data to answer the second question instead. And at every juncture, that made some sense - we saw that players were confused. So we made changes to address that, and the data showed us that players were a lot less confused. But did it help new players "stick"? No. Why not? Because (something else). So we'd fix (something else), and we'd see that that wasn't a problem any more. But did it help new players "stick"? No.

And it sounds kind of crazy, but the thing that we didn't realize was that we didn't ask the second question. We knew that this wasn't a "complete" game. We released this as a test for a very specific thing, and when we got the answers we needed, we started chasing the second question.

In some ways, it was the right thing to do. We found a big problem, and fixed it. We found another big problem, and fixed it. At every stage, we looked at what the biggest obstacle was, knocked it down, and validated that we'd indeed made improvements.

But what we hadn't realized was simply that because we were trying to validate whether the core mechanics were good or not, we hadn't yet made the rest of the game. And there's no reason to think that it would behave like a complete game, because it wasn't complete.

Sounds very straightforward, but was a surprisingly difficult realization to come to.

So there are two things:

  1. Make sure when you release something early to answer a question that you really clearly know the question you're asking, and make a plan for what to do when that question is answered. Know when to move to the next question.
  2. We're working on the things that are missing. It's changed our focus a bit, and the kinds of things you're going to see in the game over the next few months. It's exciting, because this is much more player-oriented stuff. Things like character progression. But it also means we're going to be taking our first swings at the very core idea behind the game.

We built the card combat in Give Me Fuel because we needed it to do something really specific. It had to be a "good foundation" to build on. The mechanics had to support long-term evolution, a huge amount of potential content, and a variety of play styles. Over the last few months, we've learned that it does all that. Now we have a different challenge. Now we get to build the house.

Feedback & Progress

Over the last few weeks, we've been hard at work on the game. One of the things with launching a game really early is that when you launch the game, the "numbers" suck. By "numbers", I mean the game's "performance stats". Things like, "Do people spend anything?" or "Do people come back to play the game?"

We didn't expect at this point that folks would spend anything, really - so for the few of you who have, thank you! We appreciate any support, and it means a lot to us! It just hasn't been a focus yet, because the first thing we normally focus on is whether people come back to play. And that's been a spot where we've got a lot of improvement to make.

So, I've got a question for you. Whether you come back to the game, or whether you decided it wasn't for you.


I know it's often hard to break down why a game is interesting or not, but if you give it some thought, it's often one of a handful of things.

  • Is it initially appealing? When you first loaded up the game, what'd you think?
  • Is there a motivation to return? Some reason that you want to keep playing?
  • Is it fun to play?
  • Is it broken?

As you know, if you've been reading the blog for a bit (just look down at the post below this one and you'll get 90% of the way there), our process has been to launch early. Really early. At a point where most people wouldn't show their game to anyone, we show it to anyone who's willing to look.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, "Of course, there's a ton of broken/missing/unpolished/whatever" stuff in the game. They must know a lot of that obvious stuff. And the answer is that yes, we know about a good portion of it, and with a really small team, it's just really hard to address everything as fast as we'd like. But the other side of that is that some things become "invisible" to you the longer you're looking at it. And when someone mentions the giant crack in your wall, you see it again, as you would if you were just seeing it for the first time.

So all feedback is useful. All of it is helpful.

What do you like about the game? What keeps you coming back?

What do you not like about the game? What did you have to fight through before you figured it out, or decided you wanted to stick with it?

Next post, I'll talk a bit about the feedback we've gotten, and how the feedback we get from players is radically different than feedback we get from fellow developers, and yet, how they're both addressing the exact same thing.

And the last bit: Based on the feedback we have received, we made some interesting decisions recently. The result is that you're going to start seeing some things trickling into the game over the next month that I hope will be a little bit surprising and a little bit delightful.

Why We Launch a Game When We're Embarrassed By It

We have a relatively unconventional approach to developing and releasing games.

We launched Give Me Fuel in April. It wasn't a "soft launch", or a "beta". It was a launch. We put the game out there for anyone to play. We didn't hype it up, we didn't push for a featuring on the iTunes store. We knew that the game was confusing to new users. It had almost no tutorial. It had little feedback about what you were doing. The animations were repetitive. There was barely any sound. It was often slow and stuttery. It lacked content.

By the standards of most game companies, it was an alpha, at best, and a pre-alpha in some peoples' eyes. And for us, it was the right time to release the game.


On mobile, conventional wisdom is that you have exactly one chance at success, and that's getting a massive feature spot from Apple on iTunes. You can only do that at launch, and if you blow it, and don't get a feature, it costs you hundreds of thousands of downloads at a value of millions of dollars in free exposure. And all of that is true. If you don't get that, you pass on a massive marketing exposure that's a critical part of most successful games' success. But we consciously passed on that, and instead put out a largely unfinished, extremely rough game we knew had significant problems.


Because we had a question we needed to answer.

Our process has always been about trying to answer some sort of question. With Give Me Fuel, we have a "big idea" behind the game that you can't see yet. But for us to get to that "big idea", we needed a core game loop that does certain things. It has to be something you can play in short bursts. It has to be something you can play for months without getting bored. It has to be something that can withstand a significant amount of evolution without collapsing. That is, it has to have "hooks" for things we're going to be adding later, and it has to be flexible enough to be able to accommodate that.

And there are a number of ways you can answer that question. The most common is that you build an amazing game, polish the hell out of it, make it perfect, and see how it turns out. Obviously, that's not our approach.

The problem is that making a game "perfect" takes a lot of time. Building the game - all the mechanics, the content - that stuff takes a good long while, and making it all understandable and polished? That stuff can take just as much time. And the problem is, if you're doing that in secret, you've only got yourselves to test on (and potentially limited usability testing and the like). If you've got the resources to bolster your own capacity, great. But it's often an expensive, time-consuming, highly iterative process, and a good portion of the time, the difference between how players in user tests play and how real players play is different enough that you can still release with fatal mistakes in your game.

Mobile development is interesting, because it's different than console or PC development. Instead of taking a month to patch something & test & release, we can release patches to certain things multiple times a day. We can then see how players are playing - both by interacting with them, but also because the game tells us what's happening. Our game's a multiplayer game, and a lot of the game takes place on our servers. So we know how many turns a person has taken. We know when they bail out of the tutorial without finishing it. We know when someone bounces back and forth between screens, confused as to what to do.

The availability of data & the ability to iterate quickly totally changes how you can and should develop a game. Instead of polishing something to perfection, you can release it early, get feedback from players as to what they like or don't, look at where people are having problems, and fix that stuff. Instead of "trusting your (the developer's) vision and judgment", you can instead try something, see how it works, and iterate with useful information backing up your choices. And by doing that, you can make progress radically faster and better than you could if you relied on the judgment and intuition of even extremely experienced individuals.

We believe so much in this process that not only do we release our games early, often in embarrassing states, in order to get that iteration & information, it's been part of our logo from the start:

There are two things at work, here. The first is that our games are a combination of things that are familiar, and something that's explicitly new. The game is the star. Where it comes from is the collision of two paths. The path of the familiar is the bold yellow, circular stroke. It's well known, and we can draw on it with confidence and certainty. The W - our identity - is the new. The uncertain. The thing that we're going to get wrong multiple times, changing course, until we get it right and it merges with the familiar to form something that you've never seen before.

We release this way not because we believe the first iteration of our games are a reflection of our ultimate capability. We release this way because we know it's the fastest way to get to the point where those two concepts finally merge into something great. It's a painful process to go through. You release something to the public that you know isn't the best you can do. You know some people will hate it. You know some people will judge you for it. But you also know that you have to do it that way because its the best way to get the best results. It comes often at great cost - both to your ego, and to things like Apple Featuring, media reviews, etc. - all of which are structured to deal with games that "launch big".

But we are trying to do something different. We're trying to build an audience slowly, and make the game better quickly. We start knowing we'll lose a lot of people, but that the folks who can see through the painful bits to find the "core" of the game - if they love it, that answers the question we need to get answered. And then with their help (and the help of everyone that tried the game & quit), we make it better. And we start to ask a different question. Can we make this game great?

We're going to be answering that question, along with a different one, over the next few months. I hope you'll join us for the journey. It should be interesting, I think - because that second question we're trying to answer is whether we can make an entirely new kind of game from this foundation. Something that, to the best of our knowledge, has never existed before.

Significant Changes Incoming

One of the most interesting things about working on a mobile game is that you can change things pretty quickly. It's not like a console game, where submitting a patch takes months, and is super expensive. Submitting an update & getting approved is usually a matter of a day or two (these days), and some things you can just update whenever you want.

For us, we've been hard at work on a complete overhaul of the in-game UI for Give Me Fuel. Which seems like a strange thing to do after you launch, but we approach game development in a way that is different from most companies. Our process is that we launch as soon as we think someone will be able to find some level of fun in what we're building. The goal of our first release isn't "world domination," it's "validate that there's a core of something good, here."

With GMF, we were building a different kind of card game. An multiplayer turn-based card-combat game, where you can take a turn in just a few seconds. The mechanics for our game are pretty different than anything else out there. While we're shooting for the kind of experience that games like Magic: The Gathering or Ascension provide, we're structuring our cards in a really different way than either of those games. So our major question out of the gate wasn't, "Is this a world-dominating iOS game?" it was, "Are the mechanics of this game any good?" or "Will this stand up to having other people play it & not break in some critical way?"

The interesting thing has been that I think we've validated the last two of those points. We've had a good number of people playing every day since launch, and folks who've played literally hundreds of games against other people, who are still enjoying the strategy, and who haven't found game-breaking exploits.

Where we struggled, as we knew we would, was in the early user experience - that first session where someone who's never played the game jumps in for the first time. We knew we'd struggle, but we didn't know how much we'd struggle with it. For the most part, teaching someone to play a game is a relatively simple process. We could talk through new players to GMF, and get them to understand the basic strategy - seems like it'd be relatively straightforward to translate that to an in-game tutorial, right? But we tried multiple times, and the results were just as confusing every time. Until we made a striking realization - that this wasn't actually a card game.

Which is weird, because it obviously was a card game.

The thing is - it both is and isn't a card game. From a gameplay perspective, it basically is a card game. And that's how we were approaching it. With a physical card game, you read the rules, and then you play the game. But with a videogame, that's not the best approach.

The big problem we had with early players boils down to a pretty simple issue, but I'll have to describe it using a pretty wonky term.

We were asking you to make a decision before you had a mental model of how the game works.

It became clear one day when I was doing a revision of the tutorial text. The text went something like this: "To attack, pick a number, then drag it to the space that says Attack." This is what you'd do with a physical card game.

But one of the folks on the team read, "To attack, pick a number..." and said, "That's weird. It feels like it should be, "To attack, pick attack."" And in that moment, it all kind of came together.

We were asking you to pick a number without understanding what the number could do. Put a new player in front of a game, and show them four cards with numbers on them, and say, "Pick a card." Why? How? We haven't clearly been able to communicate which card is "better" and what actions you could take. But pick a number anyway at random, and then take a turn. Oh, you picked wrong and your turn did nothing good. Keep playing? No.

What we've done with this new UI revamp is that we've done two major things:

  1. We've put the process in the correct order. You'll now pick an action - Attack/Evade/Shield - first. This is much more understandable even without any explanation or context.
  2. The cards will dynamically change based on the action you've taken to reflect "how good" they'll be for that interaction.

One of the biggest problems we had was an assumption that "big numbers are good!" But in our game, big numbers weren't always good. If you were at a low range, say, 2, then the best attack is a 2, not a 13. But people were playing 13, because big numbers are good (right?). Now, if you select "Attack", and have a variety of Range Cards, they'll turn into "Attack Cards" that indicate how much you'll attack for as the "big number" on the card.

So if you have a 2, and the current range is 2, the big number on the card will be 10 ATTACK - which will be bigger than the 0 ATTACK that will appear if you have a Range 13 card. (Yeah, this explanation is confusing if you're not already familiar with the game.) So now, "pick big number" is a totally valid strategy, and if that's all you do, you'll still make generally good moves. The "deeper" strategy involves not always just going for the biggest attack, so it's not like we're showing you the optimal moves - mastery is still up to you. :)

We're shooting to roll this update out in the next few days (though there's some possibility that it won't hit before next week). We've been cranking away on this for a long time, but I hope you'll find it to be worth the wait!

Lots of New Stuff

Still cranking away on improvements to the game. There have been a lot of changes we've made over the last few weeks, and while we'll be cataloguing them on their own page from here on out, I think some of the stuff is worth mentioning in a little more detail!

  • Range Cards: The cards with numbers on them used to be called "Number Cards". Which seemed sensible at the time. Play a Number Card to do something - shield up, evade, or attack. The number card was an abstract little thing, but it'd essentially be converted to "aim" at a range if you were attacking, or "move" to a range if you were Evading, or just get consumed if you were Shielding Up. As we watched people play in user tests, and as we got feedback from folks talking to us, we realized that "Number Cards" may be a sensible name, but it wasn't a clear one. Lots of people were playing high numbers, because higher = better, obviously. But in our game, higher isn't always better. Aiming *at the range* is better. Or moving *far from* the range is better - which sometimes means a lower card or midrange card is a much stronger alternative.

    We wanted a stronger "tie" to Range - the numbers are, functionally, ranges. A few weeks ago, we'd changed the Range icon from the double-arrow-in-circle to the <>, and we realized that the nice thing about the <> "language" is that we can then echo it on the Number Cards, to clarify subtly that they're related. Then we realized, heck, why don't we just call these Range Cards? So we did.

    Why did they used to say Solar? Why were they orange? Sometimes you put something in a game in anticipation of the future things that you'll see later. The only other thing I'll say is that the other cards that will hopefully see one day are "Nuclear" and "Wind".
  • Rechargeable Cards: Hopefully you've already seen one of these in-game. We gave one to everyone, and basically, they're the first sort of "differentiating" long-term mechanic we've put into the game. This is your collection, and it'll evolve how you choose to evolve it. These cards aren't consumed when you use them, and you upgrade them by playing other cards in-game. You'll be given a number of options on how you choose to evolve these cards, and we've not shown you what the potential end results are, but some paths lead to the 1st Legendary-class cards.

    How do you get Rechargeable Cards?

    Easy - many card packs come with a chance to get a Rechargeable Card. They're very rare - just to be clear - don't expect these to drop all over the place. But since you get Fuel to buy packs, and if you're playing regularly you open packs pretty often, hopefully you'll get lucky and run into one every now and again! Most of the Rechargeables that drop will start as the lowest rarity possible - but some will drop "pre-evolved" - all the way up to Rares. You cannot currently get a Legendary Rechargeable from a drop - you have to evolve it at a minimum from Rare->Legendary.
  • Double Fuel Bonus/Disable Ads: You might have noticed there's a thing in the store to Double your timed Fuel Bonus and disable ads. Forever! It costs 100 Gold, which is sort of $5-ish (if you buy the smallest gold packs, it's $5. If you buy $5 worth of gold, it's $4. Go figure). This will remove the prompt asking if you want to double your Fuel Bonus by watching an ad, and just double it automatically every time. Why? One of the ways we earn $ is through ads, because these kinds of incentivized ads are a relatively non-intrusive way for us to earn some revenue, and for you to get something you want.

    That said, we only earn a few cents (or fractional cents) per ad view, and as a result, we figured $5 felt like a fair deal - you help us out, we give you something you want w/out the hurdle to jump over.

A note on $ and in-app purchases:

One thing I do want to mention, because people don't really talk about it much, is that the $ you spend is how we survive as a game & as a team. We aren't particularly aggressive about monetization, because we know it's annoying, and we do want to give you a good deal for your $. But we do appreciate every dollar that everyone spends, and it goes *directly* into helping support the long-term development of the game. We're running a tight ship because we have limited resources - we need to get the game to a point where we're making $ before we run out of $. So it's a balance. If you like the game, we really hope you'll find something valuable you want to purchase, because ultimately, that's how we keep supporting and evolving the game.

We aren't trying to gate gameplay through $. We give you infinite Basic cards because we don't want to gate your ability to play the game. We give (I think) a ton of Fuel so that unless you play an absolutely exorbitant number of games you shouldn't run out.

Over time, we'll be putting in things like XP boosts, and cosmetic customizations, and if we're lucky enough to be able to get some of the more ambitious features of the game out, we'll have other things that tie into those. It's such a weird and ambitious feature I don't even really want to talk about it yet. But it's not like anything you've seen before. The catch is that we have to get to a point where we're sustainable before we can really dive into that. :)

So if you're enjoying the game, there are a few things that you can do that would help us out:

  • Buy something: Well, yeah! It's the most direct way to support us. :)
  • Write us a review: Reviews actually really, really help in ways that aren't just abstract feel-goodness. Reviews are a major factor in whether someone chooses to download the game or not. Keeping a high review score matters a lot. I'm not asking you to give us a 5-star review even if you hate the game - but I am asking that if you love the game, please leave us a 5-star review. It's a massive, massive help.
  • Tell your friends: While GMF is still a competitive multiplayer game, it's still a lot of fun to play with real-world friends. We've seen some pretty epic rivalries in-game already, and over the next few months, we'll have a lot more in store for folks who like competition. We've also always had cooperative gameplay in mind, and the game's built around co-op as another way to play together. One of the most difficult things about launching a mobile game as a small team is getting the game out to a big enough audience that it can survive. Every friend you tell helps a lot. A lot. Probably more than anything else. Right now, seriously, telling a friend is likely more important than even spending $. Weird, but true! If you can get three friends to download the game, and everyone does the same, GMF would be around for a very long while.

Anyway - we've got a lot more in the pipe. Next up is actually a really unusual (but hopefully fun) addition to the Trainer, to help new players understand what they're doing, and then after that we've got a big upgrade to the "tooltips" in game that help people understand Evade & Attack. Also - we've got a handful of new cards we've been working on today that'll show up over the next few days! So keep an eye out for those. See you in-game!

Post-Launch: What's Up?

A few weeks ago, Give Me Fuel went live! It's been an exciting few weeks. Launching a game is always an interesting experience, because people experience the game in ways that you really can't imagine while you're working on it.

It's been super gratifying to jump online & start playing people we've never met. Even more gratifying, honestly, when they kick our butts!

One of the things we knew going in was that when we launched, the game was going to be really confusing for a lot of people. The reason was that we simply didn't have much of a tutorial in place at all. A single screen was all we had, and even that was pretty hard to understand. What we'd planned was that we'd just be live, quietly, with a small trickle of users for a few weeks as we worked out the kinks and made the new user experience a lot more understandable...

...but that isn't what happened. We were fortunate enough to get some featuring from Apple - they listed us as part of the best Card/Action/Family games for the week after we launched, and we're immensely grateful to have gotten that, but the problem was that we hadn't worked out the kinks yet! :D That's part of the risk for launching the way we do, but all we could do was make the best of it.

I think we confused the heck out of a lot of new players, but it also gave us incredibly valuable information about where & why people were quitting. A lot of the smaller details in the early UI turned out to not be as problematic as we might have thought, which has let us concentrate heavily on the part that really does matter - teaching people how to play the game. Seems obvious, I know, but in practice it's a lot less obvious than it seems. Sometimes fighting through a little early confusion can be part of the experience - and the problem is once you've been staring at a game like ours for a while, you can't really be a good judge of that.

So new users means good data about where & why people are dropping off. It's not like a laser beam pointing at this one thing that we can fix to make everything better - but it gives us a better idea of how to proceed. We put in a new tutorial last Thursday, for instance, and what happened was that a lot more people quit during that tutorial, but the ones that made it through appear to have understood the game better & stuck around longer. And we got more people to stick around than we had without that tutorial, which means that even though we lost more at one step, we ended up with more over the longer run. Now all we need to do is fix that big drop off... before fixing a ton of other things! :D

But for folks who are playing, don't worry - this doesn't mean that 100% of our efforts are now just for new players. We know that folks who've been playing will start to get bored after a bit without new stuff, so new stuff is in the works. The list of things we've got to build is ... well, it's really long. So you'll start to see small things rolling out (like XP) soon-ish, with things like leaderboards to follow. We have some really game-changing stuff in the pipe, but those depend on a few other things being in place first.

So it's a balance - always a balance. Gotta get more folks smoothly into the game, but doing that doesn't make the current players' experience better. So some time goes to making the new user experience better, and then some time goes into making the current user experience better. :)

But we've been hard at work. A lot of places take a break after launching. I think if anything, we've been working even harder.

One note - if you've been enjoying the game, it'd be incredibly valuable if you could leave us a review. We'd really, really appreciate it.


We're live!

You know what? We're live! You can get Give Me Fuel RIGHT NOW on iOS! That's right! What are you waiting for?

The thing that I hope you understand, if you've been following along with us for a while now is that really, the game isn't finished. It's at a point where the core gameplay is really good, but a lot of the things that lead into it aren't. And I know that seems like a weird way to launch a game, but the strange thing is that having a live game & seeing where users quit actually helps us make that early game better, faster than if we just tried to make that early game without any real user data.

We have to approach development really differently than a company with a lot more resources. We have to launch earlier. Rougher. We have to move faster. Improve smarter. Everything we're doing is some sort of compromise between speed, efficiency, effectiveness, and experience, and we're not always going to hit that balance right. But because of how we work, the balance is going to be very different than what most other games feel like.

If you start the game and are confused, go here: - it'll give you a bit more in-depth detail on how the game works. Why is all that info not in the game? Because it's much harder to distill the correct information to players in-game, in a way that isn't overwhelming. The magic of a good tutorial is that you learn a ton but it doesn't feel like learning, it just feels like a lot of this stuff is obvious. And that takes iteration. It takes a ton of effort, and design - often on very small or subtle things.

But all of that is intentional! We hope that if you've been following along with us here, on our blog, that you're probably the kind of person who wouldn't mind investing a little bit of time & effort, and potential confusion to help us make the game better. And if that guess is correct, then please drop us a line here:, and we'd LOVE to hear from you. Maybe you love the game. We'd love to hear that! Maybe you hate it. We'd also love to hear that. It's even more valuable - seriously - for us to hear that than that you love it. If you're totally confused, let us know, and we'll be happy to help you through it. Why? Because figuring out where you're confused means that we learn something specific we didn't know before, and it helps us make things less confusing for everyone. So the more we hear the better!

What we hope is that you'll give the game a shot. And then even if you're frustrated, you'll give the game a shot a week later. Why? Because we're constantly improving things. Things that are confusing or wonky today will be different tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow. Until they're great. And I know this is a different approach than what you're used to - where you just grab a game and it's either good or it's not. These days, to build a "good" game out of the box either takes a large team or a lot of $. We don't have that, so our strategy is totally different. Our plan is to release now, and radically improve the game while it's live

Which means that every day, the game is a little bit different. Launching was just the start. We've got a long way to go, and we hope that you'll join us.



Just under a year after we incorporated, with just two of us, and just under 9 months of work with the four of us, we've submitted Give Me Fuel to the App Store.

For many developers, submission would be a moment to catch a breath, take a break after a long, hard sprint to the finish.

For us, it's just the beginning.

I think one of the things that's quite difficult about building a "Free to Play" game (a terrible term, but a common one - better would be "micro-transaction-supported game", which is more honest & up-front) is that you have to build something that has essentially massive potential for expansion.

If you build something that is relatively small and self-contained, which would normally be the "right" thing to do for a small developer with limited resources, the problem is that if it turns out to be good, it's limited by its smallness. I've seen some genuinely excellent games commercially fail because they were great, and an audience loved them, but then finished them & moved on, and the games themselves had no potential to evolve over time.

For Give Me Fuel, what we're shipping is like a seed. It's a complete seed, in that it's a small, self-contained thing that we think has all the things we wanted to deliver - it's fun to play, it can be played in extremely short sessions (or if you've got a lot of games going, you can play for quite a while without stopping), and it's got a depth of strategy that's held up, literally, to a year of playtime.

But it's a seed. It's not the tree. It's not all the leaves. It's not the fruit. It's not the forest.

What we do from here depends a lot on what you guys think, and what you guys do. Chances are, the first thing we'll need to do is fix the seed - you can never truly anticipate how players will react to your game. In the first day of our beta test, we fixed dozens of things we simply didn't realize were as confusing as they were, even though we'd been playing that version of the game for weeks! The same thing will happen on release, I'm sure.

But after that? A lot of our future plans will depend on what you like, what you don't, and where you'd like to see things go. The great thing about our game is that release is just the end of the beginning. It's now that the hard work - but also the very satisfying work - begins.

We can't wait to see you online.

Beta & Feedback

Take a look at this screenshot. Notice anything about it?

There are a lot of numbers. Four numbers in the top left. Similar numbers on the bottom right. Some stuff in the middle. Three numbers in a health bar. Three more in the other health bar. Two numbers in icons in the middle of the screen. Another of those yellow circles with a number in it. Then a bunch of squares with both numbers and letters in them.

This is what we released, when we released our closed beta.

The funny thing isn't that players were confused. It's that we thought there was a chance they wouldn't be.

A funny thing happens when you play your own game for a while. You stop seeing what it is. There are a lot of reasons for this - you've been playing it since it was more broken, and so it seems fine, because it's way less broken than it used to be. You think it's simple, because you've been playing it since it was very simple, and since features take time to "come online", you started with something very simple, and it only very gradually got more complex. Now it's very complex, but you ramped up to it, so you don't see that.

There are many ways you can "test" a game & get "fresh eyes" on it. You can run tests at It's genuinely fantastic resource. You can watch people as they play your game for the first time, and note all the places they get super confused. You can do playtests in person - informal ones over coffee, or more structured ones in a lab. The more you do, the more $ it costs. So there's always a balance.

It may seem very strange that we did very little playtesting before releasing our game to beta. Well, little external playtesting, at any rate. We did spend hundreds of hours playing the game internally, and we've had friends & family playing it for weeks. The big difference with Friends & Family is that if one of them is confused, they can come talk to you, or you can see it on their face as you play. Not so with beta testers - they get the explanation they get, and if they get confused, or don't like your game, chances are you'll never hear from them again.

But the flip side of that is that the best feedback you can get is from live players. The most honest, the most reflective of how someone will actually play your game. And here's the weird bit. It's okay for players to be confused at first. If they can see some of the potential in a game, they'll keep exploring, and work their way through the confusion. Part of releasing in a very rough state is figuring out whether there's something that a player sees that they think is worth fighting through the rough parts for.

Because as much as polish makes a great game great, polish can't save a dud, and passionate players will fight through a lack of polish if something about your game speaks to them.

So what have we gained through this beta?

  1. We know players are confused by the overwhelming amount of numbers on-screen. We've taken significant strides to fixing that, some of which is live in the Beta already, and some which will be live by tomorrow.
  2. We also have a more significant UI update coming, which will make the different potential actions you can take clearer and more distinct to address some early confusion players feel.
  3. We know that yes, some players have been able to figure it out, and that those players are engaged - sometimes extremely so!
  4. We've had some close games, some blowouts, and gotten our butts kicked by some of the beta players. Honestly, there's no better feeling than having a player out-strategize a developer. It's a clear sign something is going well.

The most important thing? It's not that we found out that players were confused. We knew that would be the case. But it's that players were confused in a different way than we thought. And the reason that's important is that without the beta player experiences & data, we'd have continued to improve things that weren't relevant to helping how players are actually getting confused.

This has already redirected/refocused our development process, and made priority #1 clearing up some very specific types of confusion. If that's all we get out of this beta, it'll be a success. But it's not by far all we're getting out of the beta. We've been playing a handful of passionate, engaged people. We've seen how fast people can take up the core strategy of the game. We've learned about focusing users' attention on a very small number of things that are important. We've learned that some "shorthand" we thought would be useful is way more confusing than helpful. We've learned that even though "power" players may want some things, if it makes things unclear for novice players, that's a problem.

There's a lot to take away from this - only a few days of real, live player data. But also, it's validated one thing - we can move fast. We can fix these problems. More, this is what we're good at, and it's how we're used to working.

I'm excited, because it's only getting better - way better - from here.

App Icons

Getting an App Icon right is tricky. You've gotta make sure that it communicates something about the game, but you've also got to make sure that it stands out in a crowd. All in a very limited amount of space.

For us, the one thing that we were 100% sure we weren't going to do was do a yelling guy, a'la Clash of Clans and almost every game under the sun. So we're in the midst of experimenting a bit. Got a favorite? Let us know!

Working With Constrained Resources

One thing we, as a team, pride ourselves on is the ability to move fast and iterate quickly. We're able to try out new ideas with real players, and respond to how things are going. It's a really great way to develop a game, because it means that you don't spend a lot of time polishing up something that ultimately doesn't work.

The way we build stuff is to build an "MVP", or Minimum Viable Product to test out a feature/game/whatever, and then if it shows the correct kinds of promise, we can then polish it up as needed. To me, this is the best way to work. It prevents tons of lost effort, we validate our assumptions & hypotheses as fast as possible, and it lets us develop extremely fast.

But it has its drawbacks.

With Give Me Fuel, we've been working on the game for about seven months as a team. Before that, two of us had been developing prototypes for about another eight months. So all told, it's been a good long while that we've been working on this. But two engineers, one artist, and one designer isn't a lot. So for us, we're building a very small game to try to validate the hypothesis that the core card mechanics we have are fun as a videogame. We've already validated that for us it's fun as a card game.

The other thing that we're trying to validate - a core assumption we're making - is that there's an audience of gameplayers out there that want something strategic that they can play in seconds with their friends. This is, to me, a hole that has as-yet not been filled by anything other than word games (and to some extent, Clash Royale, Supercell's new game addresses an adjacent space).

And while one way to validate that is to spend a lot of time making something supremely polished and beta test regularly & roll out in different territories, etc. etc. - that's a path you can take if you have a tremendous amount of money and time. We don't have either of those things. For us, we have to test our assumptions with very little time and very little money.

Which means that when we launch, this isn't going to be the most polished thing in the world. It's not going to be the apex of our total abilities. It's not going to be the best possible representation of our work and our ideas, in an absolute sense. It's going to be the best we can do with the resources we have. And while that sounds like I'm underselling the game as a cop-out, I assure you that's not the case.

I'm incredibly proud of what we've built. I'm also almost certain that you will see a lot of rough edges and wonder why things are the way they are. And for us, yes, we understand. Here's the thing. Either the core of this game has to be fun enough that you're willing to overlook the rough edges or we've done one of two things:

  1. The game isn't fun enough, and no amount of polish would help.
  2. We made the wrong call about how much polish was necessary for players to understand the core of the game.

The scary thing is that (2) is always a possibility. In a world where there are literally tens of thousands of options to choose from, who in their right mind would choose an unpolished, fairly rough game?

And the answer to that is, someone who isn't being served well by those tens-of-thousands of games.

Our goal is to make a social, strategic game you can play in seconds. If what we're doing isn't unique, and people stop playing because there's a better implementation of our core idea out there, we haven't accomplished our goal, or our assumption was wrong, and testing earlier rather than later is better.

If what we're doing is unique, and it's super rough, I believe that we will hear the response, and continue on the path. And because continuing on the path will lead to polish, and because we actually know how to develop a polished game, much of the rough edges will come off. The things that seem like quirks or failures will get ironed out. Most of those things are a matter of time and money, and not doing them was a conscious decision we had to make to not spend infinite time and infinite money on development.

It's a scary way to develop a game. You always wonder whether you're burying the fun under an imperfect implementation. It's always a judgment call. It's always easy to point fingers after the fact and say that we screwed it up. Maybe we will screw it up. I don't know.

But here's what I do know. Every game I've ever worked on has been wrong about something significant when it launched. Every. Single. One. In some cases, we'd spent months trying to anticipate user's reactions to things, and we were wrong. Months of effort to try to put ourselves in their shoes were wasted. In some cases, a feature just didn't work out as planned. But something always goes wrong. Often horrendously so. IF we spend months polishing everything, those things are going to be just as wrong - because they're not failures of implementation, they're failures of understanding.

If, on the other hand, we put out something rough, four months early, and then take that feedback and iterate on it for four months, rather than iterating on the idea that's trapped in our own mind, at the end of that time we'll have fixed dozens, if not hundreds of real problems people are having as we work toward the idealized version of our game. And as a result, we'll be much, much further along than if we'd put the last bits of polish and shine on the game before releasing it.

It's a method of development & release that requires a lot more interaction with the players. It's tricky, because it also requires that players trust us a bit. At least the very early ones. But I hope that we're building something that will reward a little bit of effort, and a little bit of trust, and that you'll join us on this journey - it is a journey - as we develop this game, and this company, into something we hope that you'll love.



It’s been about a year since we started Wonderspark. I knew, at the beginning of 2014 after leaving the company I’d previously founded, that I wanted to start another game development studio. Not because I had a burning desire to take on a massive amount of risk & pain, but because I knew I wouldn’t be happy anywhere else. I’d spent five years working out how to work, and I knew we had something special. But after getting acquired, things weren’t the same. And no one else worked the way we had. So if I wanted to recapture the way I loved working, we’d just have to start over from scratch.

I spent a decade+ working in traditional AAA/console companies. You’d work to a release date, crunch like crazy, and if your game was successful, great — you got to keep your job. Be grateful you sacrificed months, if not years of your life to ship this thing. Oh, by the way, the moment things turn south, you’re fired. The whole industry is ridiculous. It hangs onto this long-since-disproven belief that crunch is a critical part of developing a great game, and that if you’re not making the rest of your life utterly miserable in order to ship, you’re not working hard enough. What a joke.

At my previous company, we shipped one of the top-grossing apps in history. We stayed near the top of the charts for longer than any other game on iOS. And how many days did we crunch? We had one night where we asked some artists to stay late to knock out something critical. That night, I talked to our art director and we agreed that even though this was shipped, this was not a “success,” and it shouldn’t be treated as such.

You can get around crunch. You just have to want it enough to sacrifice the things that it provides. You have to be able to be flexible with releases. You have to invest in technology that mitigates the risk of releases. Maybe you have to release on an entirely different platform because the platform you want to release on won’t let you maintain that flexibility. I’m not suggesting it’s easy. But it can be done, and those who claim it’s inevitable, or worse, that it’s good, simply don’t value their employees’ lives.

But you should value your employees’ lives. Why? Because if all your teammates know is work, the best knowledge they can bring to bear is knowledge they’ve gained from work. But you already know all the stuff there is to know about work. You need new information, and you need your team to grow. How does that happen? Either you keep hiring new people & beating them into submission, or you actually let people live their lives.

New ideas come from new experiences. They come from peaceful, quiet moments where your unconscious mind can synthesize your experience into ideas. They come from walking the dog late at night, or lying in the bathtub, or sitting at the top of a hill admiring the view. They don’t come from the 16th consecutive hour of staring at a compiler or spreadsheet.

So we’re a year+ into Wonderspark. We’re seven months in to having our “full” team of four. And we’re a few weeks away from releasing our first game. It’s taken us longer than we thought to get to this point — not by much, but by a bit — but we’re not late. Because “late” implies we missed something. We didn’t miss it. We took the time we needed to do the things we needed to do. We didn’t pull a bunch of all-nighters. We didn’t work weekends.

And for a startup, I know that sounds crazy. But here’s the thing — we’re not even close to done. The hard work begins at launch, when we start getting data from real players and learning what works or not. If we burned ourselves out sprinting to launch, we’d be wrecked when the real work started. Everything about this is about sustainability. Creative sustainability. Durability in the face of emergencies. Maintaining high-quality team dynamics.

It’s hard to say that we’re going to take time. It creates a knot in your stomach, knowing it’s going to be another week, and another week, before release. It’s easy to say that we’re going to work late, that we’ve got a “drop-dead” date to make. It’s easy to sacrifice people on the altar of business.

It takes discipline to send folks home at the end of the day.

But we do it because we know it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We do it because we know that the output is better in the end — that even if it feels wrong in the moment, experience has shown that it’s the right thing to do. And we know that we’ve designed the entire company, from the ground up, to support this workflow. We experiement. We iterate. We move fast. And then we breathe.

One of the weird things I regret about my experience doing this before is that I wasn’t publicly vocal about the benefits of how we worked. That I didn’t hold up our team as an example of what is possible — that massive success isn’t a byproduct of misery, and that you can do things differently. With Wonderspark, one of my hopes is that we can also succeed — not necessarily at that scale, but we can prove that the process is repeatable, and not a fluke, and then broadcast it loudly so that others can follow our lead and shed a bunch of the awful practices that have defined game development for the last few decades.

So we’ll see. Over the course of the 2016, we’re going to either be sustainable, or dead. But I’m proud of what we’ve done so far, and I can’t wait to get our game into players’ hands.


This afternoon, I started roughing out a quick little video that I was going to post for the beta, as a quick explainer for folks who will be testing the game, and also just as an intro to how to play, since we're not going to have a ton of stuff in-game to explain how it works, other than the normal feedback you'd get.

And I kept looking at the bits of footage, and thinking, "I wish there was more!" I wanted to show off how the animations work. How strategy & luck play into each turn. Moments where you'd see games "turn around" and players might come from behind. And there is all that. But when you take a single turn, it's short. You play a pair of cards, an animation plays, and you're done.

In a trailer, it doesn't seem like much.

So in the context of a trailer, it's a difficult beast to tackle - because it's not the kind of epic, sweeping, crazy thing where I'd say, "LOOK AT THIS IT'S AMAZING!"

So the temptation is to make it somewhere where it'd have more. But that's not the right thing to do. Our goal has been to make something that's fun and exciting in minimal time, and that's what we've been working towards these last few months. It's explicitly not supposed to be huge. It's not supposed to take minutes. It's not supposed to be complicated.

It's meant to be something you'll take out of your pocket, take a few turns, and potentially be done with in seconds. Or if you've got a lot of games going, minutes. Or if you're playing while someone else is online, you can play in basically "real time" as long as you want.

Which makes for a strange trailer, or even teaser. But we're not making a trailer. We're making a game. And the flow and "size" of the game work really, really well as a game.

Getting There...

Been a little bit since the last time we posted anything. The reason's simple - we're getting closer to getting this out there.

I've posted a handful of images from the build we have now, and what's interesting is that while it's full of glitches, sorting errors, etc., it's really starting to "feel" right - and when you see it all in motion, a lot of the things that look a little strange in stills look fantastic.

More than that, we've been playing the game again, now that it's working, and I'm really excited to get it out there and see how people react to it. (Obviously, we hope you'll  love it, but even after launching a good number of games, those butterflies never go away.)

More, we want other people to play. :)

One thing that's been odd is that even though we really hope this is a social experience for players, the game currently has no social features. Not even chat. It will by the time it's in your hands, and it'll be evolving a good amount as other features of the game come online - one of the core "pillars" of the game is a strong social element - but we want to do some things that are a little more interesting than just chat, and those things take time.

Ultimately, the most important thing about this initial release is getting the core card game mechanics to be fun. If they're not fun, and people don't enjoy that element, really nothing much else matters. So making sure that's good is priority 1 for this phase of development. Making it a blast to play with friends is next.

We're not far from the beta, now. You can sign up here if you haven't already, and we hope to play with you in the coming weeks!

...and in to 2016

It's going to be an exciting year! We're releasing our first game, Give Me Fuel, in the first part of 2016, with a beta coming in just a few weeks, barring catastrophe.

It's always a bit nerve-wracking to release a new game. How will players like it? Will you see what we see? Is there something awkward or broken that we've missed that will make it a frustrating experience? You never really know until it's out there & people are playing.

We've been working on this for about a year and a quarter - half a year with the full team of four, and about 9 months before that with just two of us. The game's evolved dramatically, gotten a lot better, but at its core, it really addresses the exact need we started with - it's a game for folks who don't have a lot of time to play, but want a satisfying game to play with their friends in extremely short bursts.

When we launch the beta, it's going to feel "rough" and small. It's not going to be like most betas these days, where the game is basically all done except for the marketing and some minor tweaks. We've got grand ambitions for the ways in which this core game can evolve, and we're going to be constantly adding to it, improving it, changing it.

We don't make games, finish them, launch them, and then move on to the next thing.

We're at our best when we make a game, and then take what works and develop it into something better. Our goal is to make a game that you'll love to play for years. That is fun & interesting two years later, because fundamentally, it's evolving with you. 

If you played one of our previous games, Fleck (no longer running, sadly), from the start, there was almost nothing to do. But the core of what Fleck was was there. It was a big shared social space where you'd garden & do stuff with other people. Over the next three years, a lot of things got added to it - some of which had been part of the plan from the start, some of which were entirely unexpected, delightful directions we pursued because we saw potential.

That's most likely how this is going to be. We have a plan. Lots of plans, actually. What we're releasing is the corn kernel. What we see is a bag of popped kernels, gloriously butter-coated. But the first kernel has to be right first. It has to show the potential. It has to pop.

The stove is getting warmer.