An Interview with Thomas Palef on Creating HTML5 Games

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By Alex Ivanovs

Who is Thomas Palef, you might ask? He is the guy behind a website called LessMilk, it’s where Thomas writes, and where he continues to build great HTML5 games.

I learned about Thomas and his project from the Hacker News forum, I think it was game #7 when I realized that he is actually gaining quite the momentum throughout the developer community.

Beyond just the support he received, his games are actually quite fun to play. This is especially true when you think about the fact that he has been creating games for only weeks, without much prior experience in game development.

When you play a game he has built, it’s extremely easy to spot the patterns that each game is tryin to illustrate. It’s easy to get a sense of how the various parts of the code are working together to deliver a fun experience.

In this interview, I ask Thomas a couple of questions to get a more detailed look at his background, and how he began building these games, and about his prior experience working with web applications.

The Interview

Shall we begin? Questions are in quotes, answers are plain-text.

What is the typical day in life of Thomas? How much of your time is being spent on developing games for LessMilk? Are you working on any other projects at the same time, and is your day job related to development as well?

I worked as a web product designer/manager, but I quit my day job a few months ago to start working on my own projects. LessMilk is one of them.

I spend a few hours per day on my “one game per week” challenge, and it’s taking me more and more time as the project grows. I’m really bad at estimating time, so I can’t be more specific that that, sorry.

How has your life changed and altered ever since you began gaining a lot of attention from communities like Hacker News, Reddit, and many of the design / development outlets on Twitter? Has it put a strain on you, and do you feel like you’ve got less time to deal with things?

It’s true that I have to spend more time answering emails and things like that, but that’s a good thing! I get in touch with interesting people, learn new things about game design, discover new opportunities, etc.

I’m really lucky and happy with how things turned out for my little project so far.

In Your ‘How To Start Making Games’ eBook – which is available to your subscribers – you mention that developers should work hard to self-publish their games, and do everything they can to promote them. How did you promote your first game? Which game was the one that gave you the highest exposure?

Promoting a game is really hard in such a crowded market, I discovered that the hard way. Here’s what I did to promote my first few games…

At first I tried to show my games to people interested in gaming. Makes sense, right? So I posted about my project on game related forums and on indie game blogs. It completely failed. So I changed my strategy, and I tried to approach Javascript communities and blogs. This time it worked, people were interested in my project! That’s how I got my first visitors.

I got the biggest exposure with my puzzle game (“Fill The Holes”, game #5). I posted it on Reddit, and it quickly got more than 900 up-votes. That was a awesome day for me.

It has been a while now, since you first started publishing games and you’ve already created ten. Is there anything you could share that might help game developers understand their communities and market better? Is there anything that stands out when you look back at your own initial success?

There are so many great games out there, even some made in less than 24 hours for game jams. It’s hard to compete with that.

That’s why I think it’s not my games that got me noticed, but my challenge. Looking at someone making one new game per week, and seeing his progress as a game designer is unique. People got curious, and started talking about my project.

So my advice to be noticed is to do something different. This does not necessarily mean a super original game, but a different way of doing things in a manner like my “one game per week” challenge.

Do you have any favorite industry blogs or resources?

My go-to source of information is Hacker News. The quality of the articles you can find there about programming / marketing / startups is just incredible. A lot of the things I know were learned over the last few years on HN.

I know you’re keeping the code from your weekly games hidden for now. How come? Do you have plans to share the code in the future?

Since I have to make a new game ever week, my code tends not to be very clean (though I try to get better at it).

The code I’m the most proud of is the one included in my tutorials. When teaching, I have to really think about what I’m writing to make it as simple and as clear as possible. So if you want to look at my code, you should read my HTML5 tutorials.

Thomas, thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview. This time around the questions were based upn my own curiosity but perhaps, in a few months, we can do another one of these gather questions from the community. I wish you the best of luck and I can’t wait to play your next game!

Thanks! I’m always open to share my experience with other people.

Conclusion

If there is one lesson I took from my interview with Thomas, it was that having a unique and creative approach is a key to gaining momentum and building a solid base of followers. Capitalizing on his idea, Thomas was able to build an email list following of over 3,000 people – helping him to test his games, giving him feedback, and, most of all, engaging with the community.

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