Misael Aponte was a highly energetic man. When I met with him at Playcrafting’s Fall Expo, I think he spoke more in five minutes than most people manage in twice that amount of time. He very enthusiastically showed me the series of titles that Boogie Down Games were showing off at the expo.
Unfortunately, the interview we recorded ended up being ruined by a lot of ambient noise. Thankfully, Misael was gracious enough to have a do-over with me and get it right the second time around. Let’s get right into it!
TechRaptor: Let’s start with your name, the company you work for, and what you were showing at Playcrafting.
Misael Aponte: My name is Misael Aponte. I work for Boogie Down Games. We’re an indie game company. We were showing off Space Dweebs 2, Super Office Dance [Revolution] (Google Play, App Store), and Magicus.
TR: You’re the lead programmer. Tell me about the other members of your team. There’s Olga, Alex, Bilal, and Dennis.
MA: Olga is the lead artist. She does great artwork. We met her at the Microsoft meetups on Wednesdays. She actually has an indie comic [called Xantara]. She does a lot of different things, she’s always busy. Alex, he’s a generalist. He does 3D art and he also does programming. He loves Unity 3D. He’s becoming a really good programmer. Bilal he’s a programmer just like me. He’s the junior programmer [but] pretty soon he’s gonna probably surpass me. He’s really smart and he’s very dedicated. He also [helps out a lot] with the marketing and the business side. And then you have Dennis. Dennis is the game designer. He partners up with Bilal on the marketing and business side also.
MA: We [all met at a hackathon in Brooklyn that’s at NYU every January]. We do that hackathon every year. We do it just for fun and also just to see what games can we make. It’s kind of like an artist’s Bohemian Grove. You go there, you make a game. But at the same time you’re like, “Hey, you know, maybe this might work.”
TR: You did show me two games [at Playcrafting]. I asked you [at the time] what your monetization model was going to be. I [asked if you were going to go] free-to-play with coins and stuff like that [or] are you going to go paid and you said for now your games just use ads and otherwise they’re free. [Do] all of your titles so far use that model?
MA: We used that model with Space Dweebs and it didn’t work out very well. Right now we’re thinking about just charging a dollar for the game. It’s really not up to me – it’s up to us as a team – but in my opinion I think we should just stick with [the ad-only] format. I know this is a new age and [with] all the business models and everybody’s making a ton of money with in-app purchases and things like that but at the same time I don’t feel like taking a course in group psychology or anything like that. I really just want to make a fun game and learn from that. Yes, I won’t be rich and I won’t make a billion dollars but at the same time I feel…
TR: You’ll be able to sleep at night.
MA: Yeah, yeah! I know, people [are] gonna say, “You’re on your high horse,” and everything like that. Yeah, but that’s just the way I feel. We did the ad stuff. Being from the Bronx you tend to be very practical. I kind of felt like you’re getting taken advantage of. I put all these hours [of] effort into the game and I have to wait to get paid by the ad company. I feel like it’s predatory. People are gonna deny it or whatever [but] I know what I think I think. I may be wrong, you may be proven wrong, but that’s the way I feel. And usually when you feel that way then it’s true. And then the in-app purchases thing, like I said before – I really don’t feel like designing my game all around in-app purchases.
TR: That’s understandable, although I would argue that there’s degrees with that. I’ve played lots of free-to-play games with all kinds of wait timers and artificial [limitations and I’m thinking,] “This is just milking me for money.” But then I’ve played other games where they have [in-app purchases] but they’re not horribly grindy and you can play [them] perfectly fine without [spending any money]. I think it’s possible to do it without being scummy about it. I’m sure it is possible. I think if anything if you were to do it just because you have that ethos you would probably do it better than most people because you just wouldn’t – you wouldn’t allow for a really crappy system with 24 hour wait timers and junk like that to be put in your game.
MA: I don’t mind doing the hard work for extra downloadable content if you like my game and I’ll charge you for that. That seems fine. I remember shareware games used to do that. That was pretty cool. But, again I understand the business guys, they need to make money. And if last year they made a hundred million dollars and this year they only made a hundred million dollars that’s a loss to them. That’s the way I feel. My personal belief [is that] economics is not a real science.
TR: [laughs] Well, it’s certainly a difficult to understand science. It’s highly contentious because it’s difficult to predict [market forces sometimes]. One of the core principles is that people go for the cheapest price for stuff. Now if that were 100% true all [digital media] companies would be out of business because it’s that easy to pirate. It’s really trivially easy. If you can’t do it yourself you know somebody who knows how to do it. I almost feel like that [digital content] market is built on goodwill in a sense. The reason [game and software] developers, movie companies, and music artists get money is because people want to [give them] money. There’s nothing I can’t pirate if I wanted to pirate stuff but I buy stuff because if I pirate everything – if enough people do that they go out of business [and] then I don’t get stuff anymore and that’s shortsighted and dumb.
MA: Yes, it is. If you take that dynamic it goes throughout everything in life. You’re always gonna meet people who want the freebies and handouts. That’s not all of the time. [Sometimes people will] feel that way or maybe all of the time but I don’t thinnk [they’re gonna be that way] 100% of the time.
TR: Have you considered running multiple game sales models concurrently? There’s nothing stopping you from doing it. If you said [a free version] of your game didn’t do well in terms of money brought in so you want to go with a paid version – why not do both? I use [uBlock Origin, an adblocker] and a lot of people do. The average rate [of adblocking] online is something like 40% of people. There’s probably [more than a few] people who have [an adblocker] installed and they’re like, “Well, I like this site and they don’t have intrusive ads so [I’ll] turn it off.” So in a similar vein of thinking, I’m sure there’s people [who are like,] “Okay, so here’s this version of the game with ads and I play and I like it. I played it a whole bunch – you know what? The guy just wants a dollar and the dollar version doesn’t have any ads. Maybe it has a couple pieces of extra content unique to it. I’ll give the guy a dollar.” And that dollar is worth how many hundreds or thousands of ad views? It’s probably really unlikely you’re gonna make one dollar off of one person purely from ad views. Have you guys considered offering multiple models?
MA: Yes. Space Dweebs, we built that like two years ago. That was our first game. We had [an] ad version and a [paid version for one dollar]. We didn’t make much money with [either of them] but we’re chalking it up to maybe our gameplay wasn’t as fun or maybe we didn’t have enough marketing power behind it.
TR: Between the paid version and the [ad-supported] version, [which one performed better] in terms of the money that it brought in for [Boogie Down Games]?
MA: I believe the paid version did.
TR: [I assume] that downloads was the other way around. The ad version got way more downloads.
MA: Yes, the [ad-supported] version [has] actually been downloaded more. But we didn’t get enough revenue from the ads to actually make any significant money out of it.
TR: From the gameplay you showed me, it was very simple. Bear in mind, I don’t mean that as a criticism or anything like that.
MA: No, that’s fine.
TR: Do you think perhaps that some of the difficulty your company has had in terms of [income] could be a result of the simplicity of your gameplay? Do you think that maybe that has possibly hurt you in a sense or do you feel that’s not the case and maybe it’s just something else or is it both?
MA: It may be a combination [of those]. I’m not sure. What we do and can do is we just ask people to play our [games]. A lot of people won’t give you an honest answer when you’re in front of them. The most honest thing is if they hand [a demo unit] right back to you then you know the game isn’t really good. But if they hang onto it [for] maybe like five, ten, twenty minutes then you may have something there. But we’re always asking people like, “What do you think would be more fun?” and things like that. The very first Space Dweebs. I had an idea, I said, “Let me combine Tetris with Simon Says,” and see how that goes. And some people liked it, some people didn’t. And I just released it. That was basically it. It was mostly a test platform to see where I wanted to be. I said, “Okay, I’ll try the casual game market because everybody says it makes a lot of money and there’s a lot of people playing it now,” but as we go on my team really wanted me to [have] Space Dweebs 2 add even more gameplay to it which we did. I really just want to make games that I like and that’s where we’re going now.
MA: It was an iteration and Olga did the final version right now.
TR: That looks really cool. I think it’s excellent art on her part.
MA: She’s a great artist.
TR: Your website recently changed after Playcrafting. Your old site had some interesting things like a little text blurb that said, “We are so cool and the best” to which I thought, “Oh, that’s very humble.”
MA: Nah, nah, I was just fooling around. In the Bronx when you’re growing up we have this running joke like, “I’m the [coolest], I’m the best” but everybody knows you’re not serious about it. We’re just fooling around. You’re being so hammy that you know you’re making stuff up.
TR: Oh, of course. I didn’t take it seriously. I took it [as] very tongue-in-cheek.
MA: When I joined the Navy and I met people from the West Coast and the Midwest they didn’t take that joke very well. [laughs]
MA: [They were like], “No, no, I’m better! I’m cool!” [and] I’m like, “No dude, I was just really joking around.”
TR: They took it at face value?
MA: Yeah, they took it at face value. It’s different cultures and they couldn’t make anything out of it so it was pretty funny I thought. That was just us playing around with the web. We didn’t expect anybody to see it but we put it up anyway ’cause we thought it was funny.
TR: I did! You should put it back up!
MA: Well yeah, that’s cool. We got a lot of stuff that we do that we think is funny. Some members of the group they love the idea and other members [say], “No, we can’t do that. We can’t do that.” I was like, “But we’re from the Bronx! We’re supposed to be bad boys!” [laughs]
TR: One of my favorite phrases is, “Never take life too seriously – you’ll never get out alive.” That’s a good way to go. Nobody likes working at a big soulless corporation. [If you go in with the attitude of] “We have fun doing this and we want to make cool stuff”… there’s a [lot of reasons] people don’t like Electronic Arts and big companies like that [and one of them] is because they don’t have that soul and that style. And you guys do from the little bit of stuff I’ve seen. You have that passion. You should play that up and roll with that. Don’t go too corporate.
MA: I don’t think it’s gonna work out that way. Like I said, we don’t have to make a billion dollars but just have a happy life and have doing it. Who cares? Yeah, I would like to have a Ferrari one day but I don’t want to give up my soul to get it. [laughs]
TR: I understand. Speaking of your old website, there was one line on your old website that’s not on your current one and it was, “Games as diverse as its team.”
MA: Okay, that comes from… so I developed this big, giant complex.
TR: Before we get into that, the specific question is where you were about to go – where that comes from – but also why you felt that was an important to put on your website. That’s mainly where I’m coming from. So, go ahead.
MA: We should put it back on our website. I don’t know why it was taken off. Oh, because [it’s being rebuilt and the web developer forgot to put it back on]. Thank you for reminding me, we’re definitely gonna put it back on. Okay, so, I was always into computer programming and video games when I was a kid. I read C++, I would go down to J&R Music World and buy these books off the street and things like that. But I always felt like I needed a brick & mortar education, so – you know, you live in the Bronx, you don’t have any money. Columbia University is really expensive. I joined the Navy to get some money for school. I got the post-GI bill and they shipped me off to California. I was all, “Fine, cool. When I get out I’ll be in Silicon Valley!” And the education there was really, really good. The problem is they put me in [California’s Central Valley] and it’s – you could me racist if you want but I call it like it is – it’s full of rednecks. And so a lot of the Silicon Valley professors taught there and I used to get this all the time: “You’re not smart enough. This industry is only for Whites and Asians.” When I graduated I was looking for work [and] it was the same thing. So I heard this saying, “If you can’t find a job make one of your own.” I went back to New York City. As soon as I got to New York City [there’s] not very many programmers with [a] Computer Science Degree [and] I got a job right away. And then I met these guys and we made a company. I said, “I really want to make a company where (not to be corny) where we’re diversified and we have females, we have males, we don’t care. Just come and join our team and just make great games.” And that’s where that saying came from.
TR: This is like a really, really touchy subject but you’re also cool as [hell[. I like talking with you. You talk with these business people that are worth tons of money and they’re like, “We’re gonna diversify our assets” [and whatnot] and you’re just like “I wish this guy would be as straight with me as someone who grew up in the city.” They’re [always straight with you, and if they’re not being straight with you] you know when [that’s happening]. I’m sure you have those people [in Brooklyn] who [are like,] “Dude, I just need ten bucks to get the bus back home,” and I’m like, “Dude, I see you here every day. You’re home. Don’t try to pull that on me.” It’s that straight kind of talk, that’s one of the things I appreciate from you.
MA: We [were] trying to get investment money and I have clashed with [the] business types. Oftentimes they have complexes, they’re trying to show off [like] they’re tougher than me or they know they’re smarter than me. I grew up in the Bronx in the ’70s and the ’80s when the Bronx was burning. You grow up and you have – I don’t wanna say [that] I’m better or tougher than anybody – you grow up with a certain type of toughness and a certain type of practicality. As I’m maturing I’m learning not to do this as much. It’s just certain things you call people out on. But like I said, I have clashed with business types very often. But I still feel like this is America and everybody should have a chance to do anything they want. And you should. There’s a lot of gatekeepers and people who don’t want you around but it’s mostly ’cause of fear. So what, who cares? I fought for this country and I get to do whatever I want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. Too bad, we gonna do it! You know? [laughs]
TR: I’m not gonna say when people have complained about racism and stuff like that in the industry – I’m not gonna say, strictly speaking, that I didn’t believe them. I see [stuff] happen and I call [it out]. I’ve [experienced racial prejudice personally.] That’s something people never really believe, they’re like, “Dude, you’re white, who does racist [stuff] to you?” I’m like, “Really? You just… you don’t know.” It happens to everybody.
MA: It happens to everybody.
TR: You’re actually the first person that I’ve talked to about this subject that isn’t coming from the direction of, “Well, I just feel it’s like” or “It just doesn’t seem right to me,” because there’s a lot of game developers that are men and that’s not right. You’re saying, “I’ve actually had experiences where people treated me this way out of ignorance.” That question could have went one of the two ways, either “I felt this message was important because I’ve experienced this stuff in my life and that’s why,” or “I don’t like it just seems like there’s a lot of men that are in the gaming industry and there’s a lot of white people in the gaming industry”. That’s the other side and I wasn’t sure which one it was [going to be]. That was [one of the reasons] why I asked and why it was important to you and now I understand why it was important to you. So I would guess that are coming from that position of you don’t care if someone’s white, black, gay, straight, male, female, whatever – none of that is relevant to you. It’s all about who they are and what they can do.
MA: Yeah, and if they want to contribute. Like I said, you may not be the greatest programmer but if you really want to program and you want to be with us that’s okay, too. We’re here to help each other out. We’re building a community. I don’t expect you to [know] how to do [something] exactly the way I do it or [that] you need to think the way I think in order to work together. Hey, you know what? You’re not gonna like everybody who works with you but you gotta work with them. You understand what I’m sayin’? Everybody has a contribution.
MA: Bilal may program way better than me but I have a certain contribution. Maybe I [am able to approach things from a different perspective] and I think that’s great. It’s just the way it is. I grew up in the Bronx – I keep saying that, but – in the old days when you got a job… or in the military, you got a job, you don’t like somebody, you still gotta work with them.
TR: [laughs] Yeah!
MA: You gotta work with them, too bad! You don’t like them? Well too bad, you gotta work with them.
TR: You can’t go, “Master Sergeant, I don’t like Lieutenant Coleman.”
MA: Nobody’s gonna hear it. What I’m saying is people should try to empathize with others a little bit more – put themselves in other people’s shoes – instead of automatically saying, “Well, [you’re] just whining.” If people work hard and they need to get somewhere, help each other out.
TR: I am still curious about your answer to this specific question – when it comes to [diversity] – again, bringing your experience [into consideration] – do you feel it’s a better approach to say, “Hey, we’re really diverse and we don’t care,” or do you think it’s better to not even bring that up?
MA: I think we should say it. Yeah, people get bored of it. “I’m tired of hearing it. I’m tired of hearing it. I’m tired of hearing it.” Is it smart business-wise? I don’t think it’s smart business-wise. Is it important to say? It is important to say.
TR: That’s an impression I got off of you. You want to do things [in a way] you feel is the right way, money and business-sense be damned.
MA: Yeah, yeah. At the same time, it might work out for us. If we have a little bit of success and we get to attract some people because we said that – I think that’s a good thing. If we turn off some people then that’s a bad thing. Like I said, man, we’re from the Bronx, we’re the bad boys, and we gotta say what we wanna say.
TR: I think the only people you would turn off probably are people who are genuinely ignorant of it and they don’t want to understand why. I was genuinely ignorant of [why some businesses feel it’s important to emphasize diversity] before I started talking to some other people who have this concept but the difference is that rather than me saying, “Well, I don’t care about them because I think that’s dumb,” I said, “Well, why are you doing this?” I think the only people you probably would turn off are the people who don’t care enough to ask and be inquisitive and those people generally probably aren’t the healthiest people to have around in any kind of business environment – much less a social environment.
MA: Like you said man, let’s have fun and let’s be ourselves. There’s nothing else we can do. The best thing you can do is be yourself.
I’d like to thank Misael for his time. In the time since this interview, I’ve played a good bit of Space Dweebs (Google Play, App Store) and Super Office Dance Revolution. The titles are simple but elegant, and they are indeed free of any of the standard Free To Play fare you would expect to see in modern mobile gaming.
Their newer stuff certainly looks interesting. I’m looking forward to when Space Dweebs 2 and Magicus drops on Google Play so I can give them a whirl myself. If there’s one thing I can say Boogie Down Games is good for, it’s that I can play a quick, fun game to kill a few minutes and not get hounded to buy ten dollarydoo coins.
The image of the Boogie Down team was provided by Misael Aponte.
Do you prefer ad-based, F2P-based, or pay once models for mobile games? Do you think mechanically simple games can be successful in the mobile market? Let us know in the comments below!