BlackSheep Games founder Spyro Merianos has 43 games in the KaiStore. He should hit 50 by early July. In this interview, the developer behind Angry Chicken, Pyramid Escape, and Chess shares what he’s learned from building all of these apps—including how to keep players engaged and coming back for more—and tells us how he manages to be so productive. Spoiler: it involves waking up at 3 am every day. Read on to find out more.
Is it true that you wake up at 3 am every day? What’s your routine like?
I wake up at 3 am because there’s more silence and I’m better able to focus. My schedule is as follows: I wake up at 3 am, sit at the work computer after 15 minutes of personal hygiene and coffee preparation, and work on the current game project until 7:15 am. Then it’s time to answer emails and have a snack for 15 minutes or so. After that, I continue with game development until around 12:30 pm, when I pause for lunch. Usually, I sleep from 1 pm to 2:30 pm. Then I do more game development until 5:30 pm and answer emails. I eat dinner and either do other activities or more game development, depending on the day, until around 9:00 pm when I start getting ready to go to sleep.
That’s quite an impressive schedule! You’re also pretty strict with your phone use.
I’m actually using a smart feature phone as my daily driver phone. Before, I was using smartphones exclusively for calls since I don’t use any mobile apps. Now I’m doing everything from a desktop computer.
There’s no need to, for my very own personal use case. If I can do a task on my computer, I’m not going to download an app to also do it on the go. I have these two circumstances separated, so when I’m at the computer, which is most of the day, I do all the work that needs to be done at that time. When I’m outside for some other activity, I focus on that activity exclusively.
Do you think you’re the exception, or do you see more people choosing to use smart feature phones as a way to have fewer distractions?
I’m definitely not the exception. Lots of people are trying to use smartphones less and escape the 24/7 distraction of social media. I believe smart feature phones are a great tool for that.
So how did you get started building apps for KaiOS?
I was invited by a KaiOS team member through a developer marketing campaign in late 2019. After checking out the platform, I decided to try it out because I really like HTML5.
What was your first KaiOS app? How have you evolved since then?
The first game that I used internally to test the platform was Angry Chicken. After I successfully ported it to KaiOS, I decided to focus on KaiOS as my primary development platform. I got better and more efficient the more I created games – with each one, I learned more about the OS and the user patterns.
Can you tell me more about these user patterns?
I’ve found that users tend to spend more time on a game if it has levels and less time if the game is score-based. Also, KaiOS users spend more time in general inside games compared to users on other platforms. That gives us an incentive to increase the scope of games.
What’s your most popular KaiOS app?
The most popular game, in terms of numbers, is a chess game you can play with either AI or with a friend using the same phone. The board and pieces change color each time the games resets, which gives a sense of novelty each time you play.
Why do you think it’s so popular?
I improved it based on user feedback. That really helped with retention.
How did you get user feedback and what changes did you make?
For the chess game, I had some people reach out to me and tell me that having a way for single players to play against the AI would be best. Since KaiOS doesn’t have ratings or a comments section yet, I mainly base myself on user stats to determine behaviors and make improvements. I’ve found that simply optimizing the games to run faster helps increase retention.
What advice do you have for developers who are just getting started?
Given the simplicity and the technical limitations of smart feature phones, I recommend keeping the scope of apps smaller than what they are used to in other platforms. And checking out the official documentation and videos.
What does nobody tell you about building apps for KaiOS?
That you reach users who are connecting to the internet for the first time. You have the unique opportunity to provide them with entertainment and knowledge and enhance their lives. That your games and apps actually make a big difference for some of these users.
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