Jan 022013
 

I’ve often ranted about the importance of building a strong moderation team when building your communities. Both online (discussion forums and chatrooms) and offline (anti-harassment policies and enforcement).

I ran into something that seemed to answer a few nagging questions in my head. Check it out; if this link to YANSS is a bit too tl;dr, check out this youtube video on the fascinating concept of learned helplessness.

Imagine somebody relatively new makes a statement to your community, via forum post or even just voicing an opinion at a cafe-based meetup group.  If someone in a higher social position (an alpha/dominant personality, group leader, etc) makes a derisive response, the newbie is much less likely to comment in the future. They are going to retreat, become a bit more guarded, and eventually just stop commenting altogether. Beyond just discouraging thoughts, though, they will actually become dumber, and their comments will deteriorate in quality, ostensibly provoking even more derisive responses. And so the spiral deepens.

This is why positivity in our communities is so important.

If the spiral goes un-checked, everyone in the community starts acting like cave-men. The group appears hostile from the outside. The emotional barrier-to-entry becomes too high. Your more intelligent, thoughtful posters leave; some find themselves in depression. What are you left with? A maelstrom of terribleness. It may be impossible to recover; any time a negative statement is made, the target of the statement becomes less intelligent and less able to formulate meaningful responses.

Strong moderation is what keeps communities like MetaFilter happily alive with interesting content, and lack of moderation is why youtube comments and Reddit is generally considered a cesspool.

Interesting thoughts that spring out of that:

  • Would admitting that this effect exists indicate a weakness of character, and therefore contribute to counter-arguments and under-reporting?
  • Could it be said that even a single “bad apple” could ruin the whole barrel in large online forum? Does it take a certain critical mass? How do these figures change if you contextualize it as a local meetup group?
  • Does this carry over to blog posts? Do more positive-bending blogs receive more insightful comments (or traffic) than the negative ones?

So many questions. So much to talk about. Not sure where to even start, but it’s excellent food-for-thought for anyone hoping to start a community, online or offline.

Learned helplessness. Fascinating.

Edit: This is also why it’s so important for de-facto industry leaders and indie rock-stars to respond to their peers in positive and encouraging ways. After thinking a bit about it, I’ve had absolutely devastatingly-crushing personal experiences when someone I looked up to cast doubt on my opinions.

Dec 282012
 

This is a meta-post about this blog and game development. Bear with me for a few minutes. It’s in disguise:

===

Sometimes life is a constant stream of discoveries and surprises; revelations brought on by the self are some of my most cherished.  To me, living is about exploration.

That may explain why I insist on making all of my own mistakes and re-inventing the wheel over and over again. It can be a flaw!  It may even produce some stubborn opinions about things, but as long as I’m having fun, I don’t mind.

But sometimes (well, okay, frequently,) I lack the expertise to even start questioning myself, to know if I’ve made a mistake. I lack the ability to make a decision for myself, or draw a conclusion. The internet can be a good resource, but sometimes data is sorely lacking. Here’s some examples I thought of in the shower this morning, questions I cannot answer (and suspect I may never be able to convince myself of, in my lifetime):

  • When doing the “Plank” exercise, why is it always carried out on the elbow and not on the extended arm? If it’s about hip-distance-from-floor, can I use an extended arm and just put a cardboard box under me? If it’s about angle on the ankles, can I just put the ankles up on the cardboard box?
  • Ever since I received (as a teenager) my very own Gillette Mach 3 razor – I’ve never cut myself shaving. Is this a property of the razor? Or is it that my skill reached a certain point and the razor type is incidental?
  • Do the three blades of the Mach3 actually matter? I used to swear by it, but I don’t actually remember what I used before that. The other day I bought a 50-cent double-blade disposable from a corner store and it seemed to cut just as good as my Mach3 back home. What’s up with that?
  • When going for weight loss, people often recommend eating a full 3 meals a day (or, preferably, 5 smaller meals throughout the day). How much of that is game theory? How much of that is people trying to bake healthy-eating stuff in but is otherwise ineffectual to weight loss itself? For example: If I skip breakfast every day for the next 5 years, that is sample A. If I eat breakfast every day for the next 5 years, that is sample B. If nothing else changes (theoretical, big if), will “B” actually lose more weight?! I find this unbelievable, yet experts say it is true. Are they counting on increased energy levels and activity levels that result from breakfast? If so, why don’t they just say so?!
  • Who says 5 is the best number of meals for a day? What if I have 6 slightly smaller meals throughout the day? 7 slightly smaller than that? Someone, somewhere, probably made a call on how many meals was “too annoying to bother with.” What was their math based on? What is the actual underlying formula? Is best case actually to eat a single pea from a pod every other minute in the day?
  • How many glasses of water per day should I have for my current (sedentary, high-humidity) lifestyle? I mean, aside from the stuff I get from food (like a bowl of soup shouldn’t count towards a glass of water).

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer these myself because they are benign, low-interest, and generic enough that not many people really care. Most of it is about body and diet, and scouring the library, the internet, or even “professionals” (like the trainers at the gym I go to) will just respond with rote responses they learned, without understanding the underlying reasons. Arguing about razors and how much they cut is like asking a room full of people about opinions. Where are my facts?!?!

I just want to find out the truth behind these, so I can start asking follow-up questions and living a more fulfilling life. For that, I need an expert.

I need someone that knows their stuff. Someone that can answer all the hows and whys of those questions. Someone that can unveil the (often boring) reasons behind all those decision. Someone that has the balls to say to my face that, yes, the 5-glasses-of-water-per-day number was a completely made up statistic with no backing to it, but it can’t be bad for you, so I should just do it anyway. Someone that can say, with confidence, accuracy, and supporting articles, that it’s bullshit.

Or maybe it isn’t bullshit?

I can’t know. And it’ll drive me crazy!

===

And this is why I post so many intimate details here on my blog.  Why I post my contract terms, my Y-axis, my personal life and how I deal with it (and how that correlates with game dev), and all sorts of other information: I may not be an expert, but some of the things I’ve posted to this here blog are unique on the internet: for those categories, I’m the best you will (publicly) get.

By posting my data, I get comments, private emails, and lots of feedback. Sometimes my assumptions are corrected, sometimes my statements are backed up. I learn new things. People more talented than myself flock to my blog to point out my mistakes (THANK YOU!!), and those less talented flock to my blog to learn from my mistakes (I LOVE YOU!!!!). People on equal footing are just sharing in this awesome experience of life (YOU ARE AMAZING!!!). This is why my target audience here is other game developers, not the fans of my games.

This blog is my opportunity to help other people out, and learn myself. I’m frustrated that some questions can’t be answered directly by any professional, and questions asked on how to code certain things properly in forums are usually responded to with a shovel full of opinions.

When I find the answers, in this one tiny niche that I call my field of expertise, I post it publicly. So that everybody else can know the answer too. Some may say this is silly (if I keep my secrets, I can be hired as an expert!).  I disagree; speaking my mind about silly bugs and flaws and holes in various languages has landed me more job offers than any resume I’ve ever written, and more than my stupid LinkedIn profile. Never mind all the new friends I’ve found here! (*waves to followers happily*)

So I hope you enjoy it, getting some details you might not see elsewhere. I hope you learn something, or help me to learn something. I hope you love this blog as much as I like writing it.

Now I just have to find an expert on the human body that is willing to swap notes with me…

Sep 072012
 

Earlier this week, BitFlip Games made a blog post saying that their PAX booth cost them $12K. Afterwards, they edited in a preface that says PAX is still one of the cheapest conferences, and they meant it as positive praise for the conferfence… but the rest of the article doesn’t read like that. Choice lines like this:

That’s a hell of a lot of money for a 3 person, self funded team to spend. And that’s just one 3 day show.

Don’t exactly scream confidence and thankfulness. So I wanted to share my story and my costs, as a shoestring Indie Developer.

TL;DR: Your indie game booth will only cost $1,760 at PAX.  That’s less than 15% of the $12K figure being tossed about in headlines these days!

RELATIVE COSTS

Before I jump right into this, I have a pet-peeve.  When I quote costs and expenses, I leave out things that are wildly variable and circumstantial when speaking to the public (obviously I still budget for it privately). When detailing how much it costs my studio to run every day, I don’t tabulate the cost of buying high end sushi for my team every day for lunch, nor do I count driving 3 hours to work in the morning in my hummer. When going to conferences I don’t tell people about my first class flights, five star hotels, and day-to-day “spending money” for trinkets and jewelry. The reason for this should be clear: You don’t have to pay for them, and citing them as intrinsic costs might scare away developers that would have walked to the convention and slept in the hostel (with their free breakfast!) every day.

It’s fine if you want to report back your total receipts and separately mention all these extra expenses, to give people a baseline. But don’t assume what sort of lifestyle your peers have, and for god’s sake stop moaning about not making a profit when the CEO of your one-man company pulls in a $120K salary every year. It’s not fair to say that flights WILL COST YOU $3,000 when you live in Antarctica, if a good chunk of your audience lives next door to the conference center.

I’m not saying BitFlip did all this wild exaggeration (they definitely did not!). They did inflate the budget with things like airfare and hotels, plus day to day incidentals.  BitFlip did put a nice breakdown at the bottom of their article, but the headlines that spun out of this were screaming “$12K!” and that’s the only story that made it out to the blogosphere. So let’s break this down a bit more fairly and clearly:

FIRST UP: THE MEGABOOTH

The Indie MegaBooth is your friend. Entry is open to just about anyone, and it nets you huge discounts in terms of collaborative purchasing power and donations from larger organizations. Here’s a great interview with Kelly, the MegaBooth organizer. I am so serious when I say I COULD NOT GO TO PAX if it were not for the hard work of Kelly organizing and setting up sponsors, donations, and dispensing helpful information out to all the participants.

Here’s a list of all the items I received, without any effort on my part, entirely thanks to the MegaBooth organizers:

  • $1,600: a 10×10 foot booth
  • $160: MegaBooth shared costs. This covered banners, a projector for our trailers, etc.
  • FREE: 4 exhibitor badges
  • FREE: 3 three-day badges (thanks to PAX and my enforcer!)
  • FREE: Carpet color upgrade (thanks, PAX!)
  • FREE: Backdrop color upgrade (thanks, PAX!)
  • FREE: 48″ TV (thanks, Intel!)
  • FREE: 8′ Stand for the TV (thanks, Intel!)
  • FREE: 2 keyboards, 2 mice, 2 headsets, and 2 xbox controllers (thanks, Mad Catz!) [They EVEN LET US KEEP THESE!]
  • FREE: 32″ Monitor (thanks, Intel!)
  • FREE: High end laptop to display a game on (thanks, Intel!) [Also had the option for a big gaming rig]
  • FREE: upgrade from 250W to 500W of power, just enough to power all of the above (thanks, PAX!)
  • FREE: All the cables, power bars, extension cords, and A/V hookups I needed. (Thanks, PAX/Intel!)
  • FREE: A table, two chairs, and a garbage can (standard booth package, included in price)
  • FREE: Booth help for wrangling crowds, running for water, food, etc (Huge thanks to the Enforcers and to the MegaBooth volunteers!)
  • FREE: Trailer editing, website presence, press releases, and marketing efforts for the megabooth in general.

Seriously, all I did to get all of this was sign a single form that said how many square feet I wanted. Everything else was organized by megabooth staff with no input or organization or logistics needed on my behalf.

That right there is some pretty sweet kit for only $1,760. A standard booth at PAX usually runs around $2500 if you want a 10×10 space on the floor, and that doesn’t really include anything. For much less a price, I pretty much had a fully functional booth, with logistics, delivery, cleanup, and even setup/tear-down of big things (like the TV and the Stand) handled by Intel and the Enforcers. No sweat off my brow.

I could have just showed up with a thumbstick with my game and had a great booth, just like that. $1,760 is your bare minimum. This is what it costs to have a decent booth at PAX. YOU CAN STOP READING NOW.

EXTRA PROFESSIONALISM POINTS

A while back I bought a Radial Games stand-up floor banner, that stands about 3 feet wide and 8 feet tall. It cost me about $300 and will be re-usable for years. I also purchased a more expensive Monster Loves You banner for $400; it is a cartridge-load banner and I can swap it out for other games at much reduced expense in the future.  I also had a huge box of previously-purchased business cards, and I splurged for $100 worth of the fancy carpet padding, so my feet wouldn’t get sore standing at the booth all day.

The booth next door to mine (Dejobaan!) printed up a few 8×5 adverts for the game, which I taped to the side of the television. Let’s say the tape, scissors, paper, and ink all amounted to less than $5 and pretend it never happened (there was more than one booth using the supplies, and we hardly used all of it anyway).

None of these things were required, and all but the carpet will be distributed costs over every event I go to. But just for kicks, let’s throw in our luxury expenses:

  • $300: Radial Games banner (reusable)
  • $400: Monster Loves You banner (reusable for other games)
  • $50: A thousand business cards (I only handed out about a hundred, but what the heck, let’s pay for it all today)
  • $100: Carpet underlay

That brings our total up to $2,610.

PLUSHIES

I further decorated my booth with a dozen very large hand-made plush monsters, each made locally by a nice lady out of her home. These cost $300 to purchase, but I sold half of them marked-up the last day of the show. I ended up coming home with 4 monsters and breaking even.

  • FREE: A dozen large plushies for booth decoration.

TRAVEL EXPENSES

Again, I hate when people include travel in their costs, so ignore this bit. But for full disclosure, I’ll just put this here.

I live pretty close to the convention (Victoria, BC), so this wasn’t so bad. It is still a completely different country and I had to bring my passport and all that. Pricey it was not.

  • $100: Return trip tickets on the ferry.
  • $30: Taxi fare.

I probably spent more money on the duty-free liquor on the trip home.

Total is now $2,740.

LODGING AND FOOD

Normally I stay at the hostel for about $20/night, but I decided to splurge and split a hotel room with a friend.

There was a ton of parties, vendors, and publishers/distributors willing to wine-and-dine you. Finding a free bite to eat was easy, but for the sake of argument let’s say $60/day.

  • $400: Hotel lodging for four days (3 for the conference, and an extra for setup the night before)
  • $240: Food.

The hotel threw in free wi-fi (normally it would be $20-40/day), probably because they knew the volume would collapse the system in the evenings and it’d be a tech-support nightmare. I did spend $40 on a roaming cellphone plan, but it didn’t end up working and I got a refund when I got back home.

Total is now $3,380.

BOOTH HELP

Colin and Sarah Northway were showing off Incredipede off to the side of my booth, and needed some tickets to get into the show. I traded them Exhibitor passes for a bunch of labour at the booth, and I gotta say I couldn’t have done it without them! They paid for their own travel and lodging expenses.

A fellow indie developer, Graham of Velvety Couch Games likewise missed out on buying tickets, and offered his services in exchange for an Exhibitor pass. I had a few spares, so no problem! If I thought Colin and Sarah were great helps, Graham was an amazing trooper, sticking it out on the show floor for hours when I could only stand to hide behind my banners.

Remember, these exhibitor badges came with the booth for free.

  • FREE: 3 booth helpers.

This is on top of the food/water runners and generic all-booth volunteers that the MegaBooth provided, and the specific-to-my-booth enforcer that did a ton of work and help (particularly during tear-down and set-up) that was provided by PAX.

And these aren’t “special case” or “only available to me” booth helpers. Asking around the show floor and on Twitter, I have dozens of people volunteering to show off my booth in exchange for Exhibitor badges next year. All you have to do is ask! Remember that Exhibitor badges get to get in early, stay late, and skip all the lines. They’re solid gold!

Of course, I was able to sell my extra free three-day passes and ended up making a bit of money back there, but I won’t cover that here.

TIME INVESTMENT

Monster Loves You, the game itself, is something that has been bouncing around in my head since 2009. Dejobaan and Radial Games started work on it 3 or 4 months before PAX, working sporadically and part time.  I’d estimate it took us 3 weeks of full-time work during that period.

Organizing the booth was pretty much done the day before. Remember that almost all the logistics, planning, sponsorships, and equipment was organized by Kelly of the Indie Megabooth, and I seriously just signed a few forms.

But to be honest, I was still stressing about things, and being unsure how things might pan out. Turns out my fears were unfounded, and things went *way* smoother than I thought they would. Let’s be fair and say it took a week of work out of my system, all in stress-tokens.

That’s a total of 4 weeks of work to make the game and get the booth running.

GRAND TOTALS

Allright, that sums up all my trip receipts.

IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A DECENT INDIE BOOTH AT PAX: $1,760

IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A BIT MORE PROFESSIONAL BOOTH: $2,610

Just add your travel, lodging, and food expenses (if necessary) and you’re done. For me, that came out to a grand total of $3,380. I will grant you it can be cheaper than that, or more expensive depending on your location and dietary requirements (eg: if you can’t survive on free beer alone).

That’s a far cry from the twelve-thousand-dollar headlines making their way across the blogosphere recently. And a much shorter time investment.

EDIT: I’m not bashing BitFlip here, though they did cross one of my pet-peeves. They still detailed all their expenses! What bugs me most is the media response, generating headlines and articles saying “$12K for a booth!” without going into these details.

EDIT 2: I forgot the $160 megabooth shared costs. Adjusted all numbers to match.

EDIT 3: There is obviously no guarantee about what sponsorships and free stuff might become available at the next megabooth (or even if there will be a megabooth!), so these costs and savings could change drastically if the worst were to occur. But I very much think that things will only get *cheaper and better* here on out.

May 302012
 

It’s been a while since I’ve done a proper, on-time post-mortem! Previously, I’ve done “by-the-numbers” posts on SteamBirds and SteamBirds Survival, and they are some of my two most popular posts ever. Let’s give IceBurgers a nice treatment, shall we?

Before I get started, if you don’t know what IB is: IceBurgers is a word-game I developed for mobile devices, in a very rapid fashion. You can read all my posts on IceBurgers with that link there, including a full DevVlog on the game and some posts on subsequent troubles launching the title to the iOS market.

Development

Development of the game only took me 8 days.

Development of the game only took me 8 days!

Everything in this post should be coloured by that. Please remember it! I wrote it twice to double the odds you do so.

Why 8 days? Since early development, it was apparent that the game would launch on mobile platforms – the control scheme just doesn’t feel comfortable on a desktop. I consider the browser-based market a “safe bet” for making your rent, but very difficult to strike it big. I consider mobile platforms to be the opposite: easy to get absolutely nothing, but slightly easier than the browser markets to strike it big. “All or Nothing,” as they say.

I restricted my development time on this project to make sure I wasn’t betting the farm on the title. I didn’t want to pour a ton of effort into a thing that had a very big chance of striking out completely. If the game got traction, I would continue development; if the game was ignored, I would halt it immediately.

It helps that titles like word-games are very heavily focused on a single core mechanic, and that core mechanic is very easy to develop quickly and make interesting and fun. Word games don’t typically require depth or intermixing of several mechanics to be worth buying. Games like SpellTower, PuzzleJuice, and Wurdle all had relatively short development cycles as well (though I think IceBurgers still is the speed champion, for better or worse).

As a quick note, the game was developed in the AS3 language and compiled to native bytecode with Adobe AIR. This pipeline allows for (free) targeting of iOS, Android, Blackberry, and other such mobile devices… Though I did just focus on iOS to start. Most playtesting was done on an iPad2, and I would say the game is most at home there, though the app is universal.

Also note that this was my first ever iOS game and I didn’t know what to expect, had no experience, and wasn’t sure what roadblocks would be ahead of me.

Why launch on just iOS?

So browser development was thrown out early for UI-reasons. Why restrict launch to iOS, especially considering I could just recompile for, say, Android with a single mouseclick?

Well, probably mostly because I was scared. I wanted to make sure the game would do well in the iOS market, and I had hopes of getting some really good feedback so that I could push an excellent version 2.0 out to all the other mobile markets. Intentional restriction for quality control reasons.

Also, I’m lazy. Reworking the game to fit all the screen resolutions for all the android devices would be annoying, and I don’t have test devices to try them all out on.

Thinking back, though, that seems silly. I should have just launched everywhere at once.

Development Costs

Though rapidly developed, I did spend a chunk of money on getting some help. I even did marketing.  Yeah, proper marketing. This is new for me.

In all my previous games, I’ve partnered with people – give up revenue and IP shares in exchange for services rendered. This effectively made all my previous games “Free,” but this one was different. I wanted to try out just paying cash for everything. And Cash I did pay:

  • $2800 – Game Development
  • $1000 – Marketing
  • $300 – Merchandise
  • $99 – Apple tax

Some of those “game development” costs are for Sven’s awesome artwork, Alec’s great music, and Kert’s kick-ass dub-trailer, and I don’t think I could have avoided paying those unless I was a genius and could do all forms of art myself. Alas, I am a mere programmer and designer! I am jealous of those people that can pull off doing it all.

Other expenses included in the Game Dev section: a few hundred here and there for APIs (MilkManGames has an awesome collection, for example!) or other software packages I didn’t quite own yet, so I guess those could be considered “business development” costs and not “game development” costs. Oh well, they’re small enough anyway.

The marketing stuff is me actually buying ads. More on that in a bit. :)

How did it do?

Terribly. Let’s break it down into a few key time periods:

  • SOFT LAUNCH
    The game launched with a single tweet (as a weird marketing test). It was a soft-launch with no press emails or anything, just in case there was a hideous show-stopping bug. I did an account-switch at Apple so I don’t have my data in chart-form for original launch, but I made a DevVlog at about this point with some visible sales data in the video. Surprisingly, I had 46 re-tweets of a single tweet I made here… It was a crazy-successful tweet with huge reach. 

    The game sold 41 copies on launch day, and about 20 copies the rest of launch-week. The rest of the month saw a sporadic sale or two, all of which at full-price: $1.99.

  • REAL LAUNCH
    After fixing some bugs and bettering old-device compatability, and introducing some viral-loop features (Facebook and Twitter integration), I officially launched the game around 1 month after the soft launch. This launch officially had marketing support, emails to hundreds of press contacts (none of which replied), and all the bells and whistles of a proper launch. It went on sale for the first time, half-off at $0.99.During the launch-weekend timeframe, the game sold approximately 20 units.
  • #BecauseWeMay
    The BecauseWeMay sale was interesting. It was a celebration of pricing control, and I did mention it in past DevVlogs and on my blog as well. It happened about two weeks after the real launch of the game and got a lot of press attention.The week-long BecauseWeMay sale drove approximately 90 sales to date (the sale is on for two more days, as of this writing), and has – alone – more than doubled all of my sales to-date.

But this is me just blabbing about things! Who wants to see CHARTS?!

You can clearly see me often selling absolutely nothing each day. The peak in the middle there is the hard launch, and the big wall on the right is the #BecauseWeMay sale. Not pictured is April, which had a peak similar to the middle one.

As excited as I am about BecauseWeMay, doubling my shitty sales is just 2x shitty sales.

Total revenue-to-date is $179.44, two months after launch.

Marketing?

So, I mentioned I spent $1300 on marketing and Merchandise. What was that all about?

Merchandise was easy. For GDC, I ordered a bunch of T-Shirts and Stickers, which I had been giving out and wearing everywhere. You probably saw me wearing the shirt on my DevVlog videos! The game unfortunately didn’t launch till well-after GDC, so these efforts might have been wasted. $300 down the drain.

To support the main launch on May 12th, I bought a week’s worth of advertising banners on various websites. I did them up myself, so they aren’t the best ever, but whatever: Better than most other ads I’ve seen. Check out this banner ad:

I presented these ads in three different services:

  • Facebook, targeted at “women between 25-35 with children who use facebook on their phone” ($500)
  • Project Wonderful, targeted at more gaming-centric sites (with some custom ads placed on comics sites I like to read) ($200)
  • Reddit, untargeted. ($300)

Though facebook had the most impressions (HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS), it resulted in only 30 clicks. Project Wonderful had a tiny amount of traffic by comparison, and a much higher click-through-rate. Reddit provided me around 180 clicks as well.

Across all three networks, my cost-per-click was well over the 99-cent sale price, but I was willing to take a loss to promote visibility and viral-buzz.

I’ll give you a minute to scroll back up to my sales-graph and look at the date range of May 14th -> May 21st, the dates these ads ran.

I sold exactly 4 copies that week.

Ouch.

Why the price-point?

I wanted the game to be free-to-play, but didn’t have the time to devote to the game to get it done properly. I fully intended to convert it to F2P if it had been selling well, but as we can see.. It did not.

The $1.99 pricepoint was chosen for the simple reason that it allowed me to discount it to 99 cents. There is no “on sale” on iOS if your app is only 99 cents to start with.

By having this pricepoint, I was able to participate in the #BecauseWeMay sale, which – as we’ve seen – was the best thing to happen to the game!

What about rankings?

In the iOS market, your ranking position in the store is King. Being in the top-100 is considered absolutely necessary to make a profit, and even then the top-25 is the goal (and top-10 means bags-of-money).

So what rank does my $179 money-machine have? Well, let’s look at the US Market:

Nice. During the BecauseWeMay sale, I peaked at #74 in the “WordGames” subsection for paid-ipad-apps.

But, because I’m Canadian, and I want to feel good about myself, check out the charts in my home country:

Aww yeah! Look at that, #25! Wooo!

Sadly, what this is telling me is that you just have to sell your game to 20 Canadians and you’ll be in the top 20 or so. If I organized all my friends together at once, I might have been able to pull that off.

What went wrong?

It’s pretty obvious at this point that the game is a complete train-wreck, as far as profits are concerned. I might even feel better about myself if I sold ZERO copies, than just a handful of copies. But here we are. Where did I go wrong?

Well… where to start?

  • The branding of the game needs to be re-worked. The name is cute and has a pun, but it doesn’t sell the game on it’s own. The character is confusing and the imagery isn’t exactly cohesive.
  • The logos in the app-store could use some brushing up. Your app-store logo is your biggest billboard.
  • The website for the game is much too sparse on details, and doesn’t list the press-kit info right on the page.
  • I should have launched on all mobile platforms, considering how easy it would have been to pull it off.
  • I didn’t pester the press enough. There has not been a single critical review of the game anywhere, as far as I can tell.

The absolute biggest mistake, though? The TRAILER. It’s funny, I love it, the style is amazing and Kert is a genius for slapping it together. It was meant to be a teaser, and I was supposed to get an actual gameplay teaser in place on the game’s website for all those banner-ad-clickers to see. I had two press contacts say they never wrote anything about the game because they couldn’t figure out what the gameplay actually was from the trailer (… and therefore turned down acceptance of promo codes for the game).

Why didn’t I make the new trailer? Time and money constraints, mostly.

What went right

Time spent. I’m glad I didn’t pour several months into this title, just to have it flop like this. I’m glad I learned the “what went wrong” lessons early. A lot of people say “If I had just spent more than 8 days on the game, I would have done so much better! Maybe added new game modes and stuff!”… I disagree! I think all the problems listed in the above section were what held me back.

I’m very proud of the game that was made, and I am seriously convinced that it is fun. Unlike any of my other games, I still do sit down and play it for fun. I play it on long airplane trips. I play it while laying in bed.  It’s a fun game.

Most of all, I’ve learned a lot about the entire “iOS thing.” This is my first iOS game, remember, so writing all of this off as a learning experience is totally acceptable.

Net Revenue

The game has put me in debt by $4,019.56.

Future Plans?

I’m thinking a complete re-brand. Go for a name like “Generic Word Game” and play up the whole scrabble angle might result in better sales. Make the game Free-to-play with a one-time unlock for alternate game modes or something. But because I’m so far away from riding a “viral wave” right now, I’m probably going to wait until after PAX (maybe October) before working on it further.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them. Hit me up!

Mar 162012
 

Anna Anthropy created a video game that’s really interesting. It only takes a few minutes to play, and it’ll run in your browser, so scurry off and play it right now! I don’t want to spoilers it for you.

So, why was this a video game? Penny Arcade Report asked the same question:

The first question is the most obvious: Why tell this story with a video game? Why not write about it? “Games have this capacity for exploring dynamics and systems that no other form does,” Anna Anthropy, the game’s creator, told the Penny Arcade Report. “This was a story about frustration – in what other form do people complain as much about being frustrated? A video game lets you set up goals for the player and make her fail to achieve them. A reader can’t fail a book. It’s an entirely different level of empathy.”

After you play the game, check out the rest of the PA Report article. They ask some interesting questions and make some good observations about the issues brought up in the game, and tackles the question of “what is a game anyway” pretty nicely.

Also: Pleasantly surprised that Newgrounds not only sponsored this game, but the community voted it up to be #1. :-O

Mar 012012
 

IceBurgers went from “pending review” to “approved for sale” two days ago!

So why don’t you own it yet?

  • Apple decided that now would be a good time to make me prove I really have a company. All I have to do is fax them my articles of incorporation.
  • Who uses fax machines?!?
  • My lawyer’s office holds all that paperwork for safe-keeping, so I have to pay a huge fee to get that information liberated and into Apple’s hands.
  • My lawyer’s office address doesn’t match my business address so Apple has grounds to reject the fax even when they do receive it.
  • Apple also wants my tax information. For an American, you just log into the interface, tick off a checkbox, and hit the “I accept” button. As a Canadian, I need to fill out a form and snail-mail it to them.
  • This form must be sent after the fax is approved.
  • I’m moving, so by the time my fax gets approved and my snail-mail form gets delivered, my address will have changed, giving Apple cause to reject the snail-mail form.
  • I’m leaving for GDC tomorrow.
  • Did I mention I’m moving?

It’s been a stressful week, to say the least.

Why can’t they just let me sell the friggin’ game, and not release the money until these hoops are jumped through?

All my marketing is screwed up now: My teaser trailer is now going to be a full month too early; the t-shirts and stickers I ordered for GDC will largely go to waste. Apple is costing me money with their stinginess.

And the worst part is: You can arguably say all of this is my own damn fault, so, hooray. :C

Feb 282012
 

There’s a spectacularly terrifying article up on the PA Report right now. About how the fighting game community sees it as a “moral imperitive” that they promote sexual harrasment.

“The sexual harassment is part of the culture. If you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community… it doesn’t make sense to have that attitude. These things have been established for years,” Aris stated. He then noted that making sexual jokes at StarCraft players would be inappropriate, so it’s unfair for anyone to tell fighting game fans they can’t viciously mock women.

Someone brings up an instance of someone yelling the world “bitch” over and over as a female player competed, and then screamed for her rape when she lost.

I don’t like to swear too heavily on my blog (hi mom!), but what the fuck. If this is what it means to be a gamer, I want off this train.

Feb 252012
 

Often on my Twitter or G+ accounts I’ll re-share interesting articles that concern themselves with sexism, women in games, and other such topics. I don’t often post about them here on my blog, but my latest one had a lesson buried within it that is very much true for all of game development.

The article in question is titled “Sex, Lies, and Gave Development” by Elizabeth Sampat. Here’s the quote that really spoke to me:

So what happened in those three years? And how did I end up working where I work…?

I made games.

That’s the big lie. There’s no “breaking in” to game development. Waiting for your break is like standing outside of a public library waiting for someone to invite you in. If you have the love and the drive, you can walk through that door on your own.

Please, please go read the full article. At first I quoted 6 whole paragraphs and it was a bit over the top, but it really is worth reading all the in-between bits.  Go read it!  Now!

And when you’re done reading it: Go make games.

Feb 232012
 

Well, it’s about time I wrap up my word-game devlog, since development finally finished! I’ll continue on with more news as it happens, you know, if the game makes me a bazillionaire or something.

The last 10%

It’s really not a whole lot to talk about. I think I announced on Twitter that my game was “bug free!” about 9 times; I struggled with iOS provisioning profiles; I installed my first ever Mac OS so that I could upload my app to the store… I mean, really, not much… That’s all I did. And it only took around 25 hours to do. *shakes fists* That almost doubled my current time-on-project!

So! Let’s recap what has happened so far:

Development Timeline

  • January 22nd: Started working on the game
  • Devlog: First four days of development
  • Devlog: Day Five
  • Devlog: Day Six
  • Devlog: Day Seven
  • Devlog: Week Two
  • A bunch of boring bug-hunting and iOS submission headaches for week 3 and 4
  • The game was pushed to the iOS App Store for review on February 22nd, exactly 1 month after development started!

Total Time Investment

The development timeline has me working for almost exactly 30 days from start-to-end, but if you read my devlogs you’d notice I skipped out on a lot of days; vacations and events were intermixed, and I wasn’t exactly sitting at my desk, 9-5, Monday through Friday. I thought this might happen, so I did my best to record how many hours I actually spent on the project. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • 9 hours spent developing the core game/engine/tech/etc – prototype complete.
  • 22 hours spent iterating on the prototype design and polishing up the experience
  • 20 hours spent doing graphical polishing, bug-hunting, etc.
  • 20 hours spent wrestling with iOS related headaches

That means I’ve put in a total of 71 hours (8 days of full-time work, or a standard “crunch” work week) over the course of this project. Awesome!

It wasn’t just me, though; Alec Holowka provided a musical track for the game, which I’m guessing took him around 10 hours to do (he’s unsure, he was working on other projects at the time too).

I also had Sven Bergrstom do the art for the game, which he estimates to be around 30 hours of work (but again, many other projects going on and that figure is probably inaccurate).

What’s Next?

Barring any unforseen problems, the game should be up for sale on the iOS app-store within the next week. I’ve ordered some TShirts and Stickers, and will be giving them out at GDC. I’ve got Kert Gartner working on a trailer for me, and hopefully I can show that off soon.

Basically, my GDC week is once again going to be full of anxiety as I launch a game.  I seem to do this every year!

Thanks for reading this far!  As a bonus you get to see some sneak-peak mockup pictures.

Feb 232012
 

So we’re all on the same page here, I want to assign some reading. Here’s two recent articles:

Sensitive Opinions

A lot of what Jenn has to say is spot-on; a lot of the games submitted to the IGF are, indeed, pretty crappy or just absolutely broken.  And overall this is drama, and it’s kind of annoying to see it cropping up year after year. However, Jenn targets her ire at Rotting Cartridge in what I think is an unfair manner, and uses some straw-man arguments as well (RC’s game didn’t appear to crash on install, for example).

At the same time, I agree with what Rotting Cartridge has to say: everyone deserves a fair shake. If you paid the entry fee, you deserve to at least get some eyeballs on your game. I also partially disagree with their passionate post; at least they got some amount of play from the IGF judges.

I have no idea how to judge this particular case; I don’t know the game in question, I don’t know if I trust the game’s metric sources, and I don’t know if the bit of judging they did get was indeed fair. Reading those two articles, though, will give you the opinions of the two camps: Either you think the IGF “does the best it can,” or you have been “personally slighted” by the IGF.

Some praise for the IGF

Before I go on, I want to mention that I have the utmost respect for the IGF in general, and Brandon Boyer (and Simon Carless’s) contributions to the whole thing, and how everyone – developers, judges, organizers – wants to make it better. I don’t think anyone should say the IGF is a bad thing.

I would hate to live in a world where the IGF did not exist. I’m proud to have been a part of the IGF, and I continue to submit games for judgement there.

But the IGF is not perfect

I have my own story about the IGF judgement process that I’ve tried to hash out semi-publicly before (mostly on Twitter). It was over a year ago, and I’m over it now, but here’s the super-short version:

  • I submitted SteamBirds: Survival to the IGF last year, before it was launched to the public
  • The game contained input-recording (replay) functionality to aid in my playtesting pre-release.
  • The game would not run if it could not connect to the replay storing functionality
  • Exactly 1 person played the game for approximately 30 seconds. I am not convinced it was a judge (could have been a test-open or something; it’s hard to even get to gameplay within 30s)

After learning of this, Brandon Boyer was very pro-active at getting to the bottom of this. I think everyone agreed this was not the way the IGF is supposed to work. Unfortunately, judging had already ended, and my contribution to the gaming world would not get it’s “fair shake.”

In the end, it turned out a few other judges did play the game – they already owned it on their iPad and decided to play that version, instead of playing the version submitted for judgement. Of course, it never crossed the judges minds that the submitted version was in fact a sequel to the mobile editions they owned. For that I got heart-felt apologies, which I guess is better than nothing.

After telling this story a few times, I happen to know several other game developers that are recording similar metrics or replays in this year’s IGF games, to ensure they also get a fair shake.

So, yes, the IGF isn’t perfect. There are some problems.  As Team2bit says on twitter, “I never expect perfection for $95″ – but maybe we can improve things a bit.

The solution?

Let’s talk about the issues. Let’s figure out what’s wrong, and let’s work on solutions. I don’t think the appropriate response to legitimate complaints is to “STFU and deal”, as Jenn Frank implies.  Boycotting the IGF is probably an over-reaction too. The knee-jerk response to someone getting frustrated shouldn’t be “try making your own festival then.”

Me discussing my problems with the IGF organizers (hopefully) turned into new policies or procedures that will prevent the problem  from happening to other developers.

Ignoring the issues will not make the IGF better.

Talking about them will.