Sunday, 3 November 2013


In the early hours of Wednesday 16th October 2013, slightly drunk in a hotel room in Dundee, I released FIST OF AWESOME on iOS, Android and Ouya. The events surrounding that moment included some of the most incredible, overwhelmingly hectic times of my life. They've been punctuated with moments of drama, terror, extreme fatigue, panic and more than a little celebration.

Warning: This a rambling monster of a post. If you just want some pretty graphs and numbers, skip to the bottom!

FIST OF AWESOME is not my first game, but it is the first I Fight Bears game, and is by far the biggest game I've made as a mostly-solo developer. It's a time-travelling-lumberjack-em-up (a crowded genre I know) and my homage to classic game likes Streets of Rage, Double Dragon & Final Fight.

It began life at many points in my life, as a heady teenage ambition, as a concept for a one man band in Dundee, and, finally, as a last minute Valentines Day gift for the love of my life. More than any game I've worked on FIST OF AWESOME is a game which represents my personality, my humour, my passion and my eccentricities. That probably sounds a bit Jonathan Blow-ish but it's true, I wanted to make a game that nobody else could make.

The success of the Kickstarter last year gave me huge momentum and incentive to complete the game and create something that could satisfy the expectations of the 951 glorious FIST backers. It also gave me the headache of distributing the game on iOS and Android to all those people. Android was solved by distributing .apk files and asking people to "sideload" the game onto their devices. iOS on the other hand...

Distributing iOS Kickstarter Copies

Delivering promotional copies of a paid iOS app to 100s of people is, as far as I'm aware, still an unsolved problem.

Some relevant info:

  • Apple give you 50 promo codes per game update, with no mechanism for requesting, or purchasing, more.
  • Apple work with BAFTA to generate 100s of extra codes to distribute to BAFTA voters, but this is the only exception I'm aware of.
  • Apps can only be gifted (purchased via your account to give to a friend) via iTunes to devices in the same territory as the account doing the gifting.
  • You must have a credit card registered in a territory to create an account capable of gifting.
  • Money from gift cards can't be used to gift apps.
  • Subverting the App Store with unlocks in "free" apps (as the Zombies Run! folks did) is no longer allowed, and attempts to do so may result in your developer account being revoked.
All of this left me with, as far as I could see, 2 real options:
  1. Recruit and coordinate a team of worldwide helpers to gift apps based on the many different backer locations.
  2. Make the game free for a few days and tell backers to grab it then.
Option 1 was certainly possible. I'd spoken to at least one other Kickstarted team who'd done just that. However it would be very time consuming, and I'd much rather spend time finishing the game than handling a worldwide logistics nightmare. Taking this into account I chose option 2.

The plan I concocted was simple, but not without issues. I'd release the game on iOS, for free, on Tuesday 15th October 2013, 2 days in advance of the "official" launch on 17th October. I'd let Kickstarter backers and journalist contacts aware so they could pick up the game for free. I'd ride out the wave of App Store monitoring robots chattering about it and allow for a few eagle-eyed consumers grabbing it for free by accident.

After a particularly stressful 8 days spent waiting for the release candidate build to work its way through the App Store approval process FIST OF AWESOME finally switched to "Ready for sale" at lunchtime on Monday 14th October.

The iOS Free / Surprise Launch Debacle

I was booked to fly from London to Dundee that night in advance speaking at Abertay university on Tuesday, and the Moving Targets conference on Wednesday morning. My plan was to do my talks, find a nice cafe with WiFi and spend a leisurely afternoon finishing off the various bits and pieces left in advance of release. I was really looking forward to that afternoon.

Everything pretty much went according to plan until Tuesday afternoon. The game was secretly released on iOS, for free, early Tuesday morning. My Kickstarter backers, or at least the ones who still bothered reading my rambling updates, got an email informing them to grab the game, and journalists were informed of the situation so they didn't write about it till Thursday, and also so they could grab a review copy themselves.

I did my talk at Abertay, which was jolly good fun, and afterwards was surprised to see FIST OF AWESOME was top of the "Hot Games" section of Touch Arcade. Alongside was a news story touting FIST OF AWESOME as a great new free(!) game. I left a comment clarifying the game isn't really free but I was glad people were enjoying it. At this point I still aimed to hold out till the 17th to switch to paid, hoping not too many people would notice the Touch Arcade stuff.

In the evening I sat down for a meal with other speakers at the Moving Targets conference and was informed that the game was now on the front page of IGN as a "free App Store game".

My nerve started to slip at this point. To compensate I drank lots of complimentary wine. Friends started tweeting and emailing me to let me know how popular the game was. I drank more wine. When Savy Gamer joined in with promoting the "free" game I decided things had probably gone far enough.

And so I found myself back at my Dundee hotel, drunk, going through my "leisurely afternoon" schedule at breakneck speed and clicking lots of big green "Publish" buttons. By around 1:30AM the game was published on iOS (now as a paid app), Google Play and Ouya. The launch trailer was unveiled and journalists were informed of the last minute release date change.
Considering how frantic (and not sober) I was at the time, the FIST OF AWESOME launch went surprisingly smoothly. Part of that is because I had planned all that needed to be in done in advance, aware that I'd probably be far too excited to think straight when the moment came.

I have absolutely no hard feelings towards any of the websites who advertised the game as "free", it was pretty much inevitable that people would find it, and all I really cared about was that the vast majority of my Kickstarter backers would be able to grab the game. I even received a really nice email from Touch Arcade apologising for what happened, in what I think is the first time a major gaming site has apologised for promoting an indie game :)

In total the game was downloaded 8653 times on iOS for free, and I like to think that number is partly responsible for what happened next.

What happened next...

The game was featured by Apple on the App Store on Thursday 17th and helped push the first week sales way beyond anything I could have expected.

Here's a pretty graph and some numbers:

Total Sales over 2 week since launch: 6939

Platform breakdown:

iOS: 5588
Google Play: 974
Ouya: 307
Amazon: 70

"£2.49 is Too Expensive for a Mobile Game!"

One thing that grates on me is when people pass off opinion as fact. It's a fact that "freemium" games are the top grossing games on mobile platforms, but that does not mean it's the only option.

My personal opinion is that if everyone else is going in one direction, then the best approach is often to go in a completely different one. Doing the same thing as everyone else is unlikely to help you stand out in a crowd. With the resources available to me I don't think I can compete with the big "freemium" games out there, but then again I've no desire to do so.

By making FIST OF AWESOME a "premium" £2.49 / $4 game I'm doing a number of things:
  • Suggesting it offers value for money
  • Showing it differs to the "freemium" norm
  • Aligning it to other outlier indie games like Radical Fishing or Frozen Synapse
  • Implying the game has been balanced by gameplay considerations and not to encourage micro transactions
  • Being contrary because I've read articles like this

My financial aspirations for FIST OF AWESOME begin and end with the hope that it will allow me to make more games in the future. Making games has become a way of life for me, and all I want is for that to continue. I'd much rather be Jeff Minter than

That all said, my approach has been far more successful than I could have ever hoped for. In two weeks FIST OF AWESOME has made roughly the same as my last game, Hard Lines, did in two years. As I'm self-publishing this time I also get a far greater share of the revenue, and own all the IP.

Note: The following figures are after Apple, Google, Ouya and Amazon have taken their share. 

Total Revenue over 2 weeks since launch: £11,714.07

10% revenue share for Brandan Ratliff aka Echolevel: £1,171.41

Platform breakdown:

iOS: £9,340.08
Google Play: £1,611.04
Ouya: £644.70
Amazon: £118.25

After Brendan gets his well-deserved 10% for providing the fantastic soundtrack I'm left with £10,542.66.

Sales are still strong, and there's hope Google Play and Amazon will feature the game soon, giving more substantial spikes. When the upcoming PC & Mac versions are added into the mix there's every chance I'll be able to go full-time indie in the new year.

All in all, I consider it one heck of a successful launch for a small indie game about a time-travelling lumberjack who punches bears in the face to save humanity :)

Hope all this rambling and stat-sharing has been useful to other developers out there!

Lots of love,

Nicoll x

Monday, 1 July 2013

My life as an almost-full-time Indie

I've about a million things I need to do right now, but since someone asked nicely on Twitter I thought I'd take a small time-out and give you an insight into my life right now.

It's now been 3 months since I sort-of quit my day job. I say sort-of because I still work 2 days a week on a freelance basis, which covers my rent and not a great deal more.

In those 3 months FIST OF AWESOME has come on in leaps and bounds, and I'm closer than ever to taming the monster it's become. Counterintuitively I'm busier than ever now, having more time available during the day doesn't take the pressure off. The level of work expands to fill the time, and then some. I recently read this great post by Greg Wohlwend:

It's a sobering read, and one that I can see a lot of similarities of my own situation in.

Running a business, even one as tiny as I Fight Bears takes time. To be as efficient as I can be with a minuscule budget means running as many expenses as I can through the company, and all that adds a paperwork overhead. I have little or no idea what I'm doing, so there's lots of making stuff up as I go along and worrying that I'm doing everything wrong.

Getting up in the morning and motivating yourself to be productive isn't easy when you're your own boss. I've developed a routine which helps a bit, doing exercise first thing in the morning 3 times a week with one my housemates. It forces me to get out of bed early, and kickstarts my body into being awake and ready to get started with the day. I still have to frequently ban myself from the Internet, it's terrifying how much time you can lose if you're not careful.

My social life has taken a beating, both because I can't afford to do very much, and also because I find it hard to justify taking the time out when there's so much that needs to be done for the game. That's a very unhealthy way to live though, so I'm slowly getting better at calling friends and actually leaving the house for more than paid work.

Thankfully my wonderful fiancee is standing by me while I push on with this crazy dream. Even when I know I'm being a rubbish partner and locking myself in the office/spare room for 12 hours at a time, she's my biggest supporter and helps me keep my eye on the goal. Having that kind of support is priceless, without her there simply wouldn't be a FIST OF AWESOME.

So that's the bad-to-middling of what I've been going through. However, there are so many incredible things that have happened/are happening/will soon be happening that it's hard for me to feel sorry for myself. It'll be interesting to read this in a few months after the launch of the game, because right now it feels like I'm building this massive rocket, and the fuse is already lit, and I'm frantically slapping panels onto the rocket so it doesn't explode when the flame reaches the payload.

The OUYA launch has been incredible for FIST OF AWESOME coverage, with massive publications like:



BBC (15 seconds in)

and loads of others all mentioning A BIT OF FIST OF AWESOME as a launch highlight, despite it only being a 2-level demo. My email inbox has exploded over last few weeks and months with increasingly big players getting in touch, hoping to help FIST OF AWESOME on its way. I've never experienced anything like this before, it feels like something special is happening, like there's this massive movement forming behind what I thought would be a tiny, niche game.

So many people have got in touch to say love the demo and can't wait for the full game, and it's those little gestures that make it worthwhile. Things like people setting up a projector and playing the game on the side of their houses:

I've spoken at Google, been live-streamed on the Guardian webpage at the wonderful EToo event, met some of my heroes, and next week I'll be speaking at Develop in Brighton with the hugely talented Byron Atkinson-Jones. I never thought things could get this big, especially before the game is even launched. It's like a dream.

I've got some great people helping me finish aspects the game, helping with animations, writing and producing theme songs, chasing up marketing opportunities, etc. People who have gone over and above and asked for nothing in return. People I really hope I can repay when this is all over.

The latest revision to the launch timescale for FIST OF AWESOME is August. It would be sooner but I'm going on holiday in the middle of July, and although I originally hoped the game would be finished before I headed away, I think it'll be good for me to come back fully refreshed. I can then fire through the last few bits and bobs before releasing FOA into the world and seeing if the sacrifices of the past 18 months were worth it. In a way though, they already are. The release is just the cherry on the cake.

Lots of love,

Nicoll x

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

I'm Alive!

Hi everybody,

Sorry for not updating this blog in FOREVER. If you've been watching this blog exclusively and not heard what I've been up to from anywhere else then WOW there's a lot you've missed.

The biggest thing was I ran a Kickstarter campaign for the game in November.

It went pretty well. It's still well worth watching the pitch video if you didn't see it when the campaign was live. There's load of updates as well, lots of good stuff there.

It was my original plan to do a big blog update here with behind-the-scenes stuff about the video, and the campaign in general. Time got away from me though and I've been at full speed ever since.

The Kickstarter meant I could spend some money on a shiny new setup:

It's so pretty and FAAAAAAST!

The game is progressing nicely, and it's now confirmed for waaaay more platforms. iOS, Android and OUYA (if you squint you can see it in the photo above) launching hopefully around the start of May, followed by PC and Mac (and maybe Linux) later in Summer.

Thanks to the Kickstarter I'm also getting some help finishing off the animations for the game from Benjamin Donoghue. I think I've proved I can do all the different parts of making the game now, so now I'd just like it to be done faster!

I'm working incredibly hard just now to get the game done. I had January and February as a sabbatical from my day job which was totally ace and resulted in a huge amount of progress. I'm back at my day job 4 days a week now though, so FOA work is back to being a spare time project. I've never worked so hard in my life and I can only hope the hard work comes across when you play the finished game!

If you check the I Fight Bears website you'll see I've added the ability to buy some AWESOME t-shirts, as well as pre-order the game on PC & Mac. Please buy something because it means I might be able to take another sabbatical and get this game finished all the sooner.

There's are also some kick ass papercraft toys on the site provided by the lovely AG Papertoys.

Oh, yeah on a related note I've just announced this competition on Twitter:
The t-shirts look like this:

It would be super-awesome if you could retweet it and/or enter a picture. Seeing people talk about FIST OF AWESOME gets me all hot and excited, encourages me to make the game even greater, and you might win a cool t-shirt! Everyone wins!

So to summarise: Kickstarter, game out May iOS, Android & OUYA, later in Summer PC & Mac (maybe Linux), papertoys, competition, Nicoll tired, happy, excited, terrified.

Once again, apologies for letting this blog become a barran wasteland, I'll make an effort to update it more, and once the game's FINALLY released there'll be all kinds of post-mortems, sales data, etc. here to get you all excited. It'll be SUPER!

Lots of love,

Nicky x

P.S. The gorgeous Cat, who inspired me to make the Valentines Day game that inspired me to make FIST OF AWESOME, agreed to marry me. HUZZAH!

Monday, 1 October 2012


A wee while ago I ran a Twitter-based competition to find a name for the star of FIST OF AWESOME. You'll probably remember being dragged along with the drama of it all, it was like a heavily pixelated X Factor.

The lucky winners were announced as:

@cartoonsbyRic - Tim Baaaa
@tghGaz - Tim Barr
@igrowbeards - Chet Beardly
@gshowitt - Beef Hardcastle
@tamoose - Woody Harasserson

The final name of Tim Burr was chosen by my good (non-twittering) friend Jon Mitchell. I totally forgot about Jon's contribution in the original announcement so to make up for it here's what he looks like in the FIST OF AWESOME universe:


I asked the other winners for portraits of themselves so I could put them in the game too. It was impressive to see how seriously they took this undertaking. Possibly too seriously in one particular case, the quote "My eyes! The goggles do nothing!" has never been more appropriate.

Converting such a manly set of photos into 8-and-a-bit style graphics was clearly going to be an undertaking. 100's of man-hours and liberal usage of eye beach later, this macho troop of characters was staring back at me:

Beautiful. Like a cool version of the A-Team.

The next step was to find somewhere to slot them into FIST OF AWESOME. I've been purposefully quiet about the plot for the game, but the following shot incorporating our heroes hints at the terrifying repercussions of the story's time-travel element.

And so ends another exciting voyage behind the scenes of FIST OF AWESOME!

Lots of love,

Nicoll x

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Evolution of an Icon

First impressions are important, especially for iOS games. For a lot of people the first impression of your game will be the name and the icon. FIST OF AWESOME clearly has the name aspect in the bag, but until yesterday the icon did little to back that up.

Over the course of the afternoon I made a number of new icons, almost all terrible, but slowly they evolved into what is probably the single greatest icon of all time.

Let's follow that transformation in pictographic format:

First go: Tim, bear and fire. Simple, powerful. Needs "more".

Added Earth to the background. The game takes place on Earth so that kind of makes sense. Hmm, still needs "more".

Oooh, it looks all arty if I put a big version of Tim in the background. At this point I realised my "more is more" theory was backfiring badly.

Got rid of fire and Earth. Tried different sprites. Getting better, but should probably feature more FIST.

Switched in the deer instead of the bear to leave more room for FIST in the image. Feels a bit less impressive without the bear though.

Brightened up the backdrop and created a new action pose, leaving room for both FIST and bear. Feels a lot better but doesn't look like FIST made contact.


Then I went to bed and had the best sleep ever.

Nicoll x

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Free Stuff!

Hello Internet!

Because I love you here's a little present I've knocked up JUST FOR YOU!

I've lovingly crafted some I Fight Bears wallpaper for you to use as the lock & home screens of your shiny iPhone thing!

Lock Screen - Download

Home Screen - Download

I hope you like them.

Lots of love,

Nicoll x

P.S. Here's what the home screen one looks like in place, along with some of my favouritest games!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Competition Result Time!

It's been a long time coming but finally, and after much careful consideration, I've made a decision for the name of the protagonist of FIST OF AWESOME.

As you may remember the main character was originally going to be called Jack Lumber, but the upcoming game Jack Lumber from the lovely guys at Owlchemy Lab got there first. I turned to Twitter to have someone else do the work for me crowd-source a new name. What followed was a frankly terrifying amount of great suggestions.

Clearly a work as epoch-defining as FIST OF AWESOME needs a hero name that will stand the test of time. A name that describes both the essence of the character and his everyman status.

The deluge of so many quality entries that made this decision all the harder. But decide I did.

So, without further ado, the name of the bearded lumberjack protagonist of FIST OF AWESOME will be....


Which technically is a name that nobody chose.


Here is how Tim Burr came to be:

@cartoonsbyRic came up with the quite lovely TIM BAAAA

@tghGaz then iterated on that with TIM BARR.

And I completed the cycle with TIM BURR.

The following entries comprise the top 5. All will receive a spot in the beta AND will be forever immortalised in pixel form as background characters in the game!

Tim Baaaa - @cartoonsbyRic
Tim Barr - @tghGaz
Chet Beardly - @igrowbeards
Beef Hardcastle - @gshowitt
‏Woody Harasserson - @tamoose

Hope you enjoyed the drama,

Lots of love,

Nicoll x