Wednesday, December 4, 2013

AppNation 5

I’m back from AppNation. Luckily I didn't go in with high hopes, because it ended up not being worth the trip.  The last couple times I went to GDC in San Francisco, the hotels I stayed at had free parking.  I was a little surprised that this, a hotel that cost double a night from what I was used to would charge $45 dollars a day extra for parking.  And the room was tiny.  It was barely big enough to fit a bed that wasn't even built for a full sized human.  The bathroom was even too small to have a sink in it.  Rather the sink was next to the bed.  But ok.  The only reason why I picked that hotel was because it was a block from the Mascone.  And with my bad back, a short walking distance is a good thing.

So I go to the convention on the second floor of the Mascone West building.  There was a 3’ foot diameter, circular table set up for Stigma Games.  I got there early, so I had to wait a couple hours before there were people milling about to check out the booths.  Unfortunately, I was dressed up and wearing my dress shoes, which I swear have soles made of iron, my back still really starts to ache if I stand for more than 20 minutes, though going through physical therapy appointments for the last month has been helping, and on top of that, I still have a really bad cold with my throat pretty swollen.  So yeah, I ended up leaning on the table a few times to help alleviate the pain in my back and feet.  I found out later that we could have chairs, but they cost $55 dollars a day to rent. And at that point, I was feeling tapped out.  I know I sound cheap, but keep in mind, I practically live off of Top Ramin, so I normally have to be very careful about my expenses.

I’m really good at taking negative criticism.  And it was nice to actually have feedback from people now that we were finally starting to show off one of our games to the public.  This one guy, however, was just a moron.  I’d bought a Samsung Galaxy Note a couple days before to show off Raygun Rocketship on and let people try it out.  This guy kind of flicked his finger around, not really playing it, but rather made a minimal effort.  Finally, he said, “It needs to be a skateboard.”  Our 1950s sci fi inspired space combat game needs to be a skateboard instead.  That was his feedback.  It got worse.  With slurred speech, he told me that he worked with the biggest names in the business like Snoop Dog, JayZ, and Justin Bieber and that our game needed to be more like that.  Yes, Raygun Rocketship needed to be more like Justin Bieber.  Sorry, but that was the most idiotic thing I’d heard in a while.  The good news is the comments from people after him would get a lot less stupid after that guy.  How could they not?

In fact, feedback after that was pretty positive.  Everyone seemed to really like the game and the artwork.  Though I’m a little suspect of that.  The reason why is because, other than that one idiot, everyone else would basically say, “Wow, this game is really cool.  It would be even more cool if…” and then go into a spiel about what their company provided.  It reminded me about how I keep getting emails from people trying to get money from me.  Emails like: “Need help with coding or art?  We've been hired by thousands of big name studios and indies all over the world which is why we have to resort to spamming people to try and get work!”  Now instead of getting tons of spam emails, I had people come up to me in person trying to sell me stuff.

Some of the people I met might be good connections.  I talked to a lady whose company did localizations in 30 different languages.  That’s certainly a useful service.  I was just hoping it would have been more of a fan centered event.  I guess when you’re charging $500 bucks a ticket, that’s not going to happen.

I left early and went back to my hotel room and fell asleep on the tiny bed with my legs hanging over the bottom edge from just below my knees.  I’m only 6’ 4”.  That’s a little taller than normal, but come on.  I felt like somewhere during the booking through, I forgot to uncheck the “Hobbit sized room” box.  I got woken up at midnight by an Indian couple down the hall yelling at each other.  The woman screamed a few times like she was being stabbed then went right back to yelling.  It was clear I wasn't going to go back to sleep.  I don’t speak Hindi, but that’s how loud they were, that I could clearly pick out what language they were yelling in.

Finally at 2am, I still couldn't fall back asleep so I decided to pack up.  By this time, the couple was out in the hallway yelling at each other with the man banging on walls and yelling.  How do people yell at each other for hours on end?  No matter how mad I was at someone, I’d eventually get tired.  I checked out at 2:30am.  The security guard at the bottom floor told me people had called to complain about the screaming couple, but there wasn't much they could do.  Oh well.  It was the perfect end to an ill fated trip. 

This sounds like a failure.  But one, I like San Francisco in general.  It’s just an amazing city to look at and drive around in, so I was actually in a good mood most of the trip.  But two, this was useful in that it helped me better focus on the type of booth presence we need and what type of conventions we need to be focusing on.  Now, most of this stuff sounds like common sense--show off a game to gamers and have a booth that attracts people to you.  Sure.  But there are a lot of little things.  And I’m just one of those people that needs to screw up something first before I understand it.  I need to see failure first hand before I can understand how to improve.

Raygun Rocketship is officially out of the bag.  So I’ll be talking a lot more about it soon.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Post

Hey guys,

Right now, I’m taking a break from massively overhauling the website.  In fact, this might be the last blog post I make on Blogspot, and will otherwise be moving all previous blogs over the last two years to the new site.  The new site is going to be created through Drupal.  And though I've used Drupal briefly before, it’s a lot to learn.  I’m pretty comfortable with php and MySQL, css, and object oriented principles in general, so I think I’ll pick it up pretty fast, but it’s still going to be a colossal amount of work.  So what’s the point?

Up until now, I've modeled the public image of Stigma Games after a big time game publishing company.  We’re working on multiple titles at once right now.  And though we’re not funded, the idea is when we’re close to releasing, we’ll announce our games, have tons of stuff to show off, send press releases about it to game journalists, get exposure, and hopefully things take off.  But I've been wondering if that’s not the way to go.

I recently read an article about Chris Roberts and how he recently broke the crowd funding World Record.  He’s at $25 million.  Most of that is through PayPal donations.  Now, Chris Roberts is obviously famous.  Just about every PC gamer I know about my age has played the Wing Commander series, so if he asks for money to make a space sim, people will pay attention.  But putting that aside, he said in the article that Notch was his inspiration.

Now, no one really knew who Markus “Notch” Persson was as he was building Minecraft.  But instead of building up content and unleashing it upon the world, he invited people to come in so he could bounce ideas off them and ask them what they wanted to see in the game.  In that regard, gamers became part of the creation.  And because of that, 3 million of them bought Minecraft while it was still in beta for $20 bucks a pop.

Ok, so what does all this mean for Stigma Games?  We have boatloads of content to show off and talk about.  With the new site, we would be able to start showing it off while it’s still unpolished in an effort to get feedback from other gamers outside Stigma Games.  Anyone would be able to log in and post their feedback in certain sections.  We’ll have alpha builds of our games available to be played directly through our website.  I’ll be building a public forum as well once we have enough users signed up.  I hate seeing dead forums.  But otherwise, the point of the site would be to engage people.

I've mentioned what’s good about letting people in, but there’s danger here.  Just ask Richard Garriott how great an idea it was to let people in early for Tabala Rasa.  Or the lottery winner who hit Kickstarter to pitch his MMORPG idea using his 2nd grade reading and writing skills who then insulted the many people that pointed out how terrible his ideas were by telling them how they were just jealous of his money.

Aside from being obnoxious and insulting fans, the more realistic danger for us is to make promises, have to back track or completely abandon things.  We could also have fans that make suggestions that are either unrealistic, bad, or won’t work with our overall theme.  Such fans could feel like we’re not listening to them when we don’t implement those ideas.

Also, we might be long term gamers, but having great ideas for games and knowing how to make them are about as different as knowing how to drive a car and how to build one.  We make mistakes, have to pivot, and change.  I’m not as excited about the idea of letting people in and watch us first hand as we screw up and have to make radical changes.

All that aside, where we’re currently at:  Raygun Rocketship is now playable on the Ouya.  Once the Drupal site is up and running, I might start holding events at various pizza places around town to get random gamers to check it out and give us instant feedback--hopefully convincing them to go to our website and get involved there.  I mean, I could essentially do this every night.  I've already talked to a Round Table in the area about it, and they like the idea.

Our casual game is playable.  I might have mentioned, I don’t remember, that we parted ways with the programmer on that project and threw out all the code he did and started over.  Well, it’s playable (again) and completely in HTML5 like I wanted it done in the first place.  We’re planning on following a Candy Crush Saga model with it--Facebook and Mobile platforms where you solve puzzles as you move along a board.  If you beat a level on your phone, you can pick up where you left off on the Facebook version.  It’s pretty rough right now and just got basic functionality, so still a long ways to go.

Our fighting game hit a big snag.  We have a theme song for it, which is good.  But art wise is not coming together how we’d like.  We made this mistake before--spent way too little time in pre-production, jumped into production, and things fell apart.  This is a really common mistake that new developers make--have a cool sounding idea, jump into making it, realize they’re making a design or art style mistake, but feeling like they’re locked into it since they’re so far into production.  Rather than feeling locked in, we’re starting over and throwing out most of what we have so far--about 6 months of work.  This fighting game has changed radically from a simple and funny fighting game you could play on your phone to a complex game for the console (starting with Ouya).  Why are we mostly walking away from the massive mobile game market to move to the tiny Ouya market?  Maybe I’ll explain why in another post.

As for Dawnshine, we’re close to finalizing some game play mechanics.  The next step is to make a prototype out of index cards and see how the game plays.  It’s good to know that there’s a local community of table top game designers who get together though a Meetup group to test out their prototypes.  We’ll see.  Ok, back to Drupal.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October Update

Hey everyone,

We’re coming up on the 2 year anniversary of when I decided to start Stigma Games.  A lot has changed since then.  I started the company in an effort to make an MMORPG.  We've since completely stopped all production on it and moved to other things.  This is why game companies don’t like to talk about what they’re doing until the very end--because things change.  We’re in a unique position in which, since we’re not funded, we can’t make rigid schedules.  Not just because people bail--as I've mentioned, our attrition rate has slowed to the point to where now it’s generally only the new people that we tend to lose--but because I don’t know when something will get done.  I can’t really get on someone’s case about not meeting their deadlines.  People have work or school, or often both.  People aren't always sure how long something will take them to do and often hit unexpected roadblocks and need more input.

Funding will radically change how we’re able to work.  I’ll be so amazingly happy when I’m able to meet a payroll.  My stress levels will also radically increase as I worry about how to keep making enough money to make payroll each month.  But I can handle that.  Anyways, enough of that.  Let’s move on to what we’re doing.

A new web host!  Ok, I’m the only one that seems excited about this.  I’ll be paying about 3 times a month for a virtual private server, but man, the old host was really irritating me.  The MySQL was down a lot, and when it was working, it was slow and about half the time, would time out in the middle of a query.  We use a private forum and wiki to keep all our design documents and discussions.  And it was just miserable to work with.  Also, for some reason, all of a sudden php files stopped working completely.  I was not in the mood to convert everything to html files.  That was the last straw.  The downside, transferring all the data from the old MySQL to the new didn't exactly work as well as I thought it would.  I saved the more important data manually, and it’s taking me a lot of time to manually input everything in the new.  That means all the accounts for the team have to be recreated.  Fun.

I mentioned last post about the Dawnshine Card Game.  We've hit a stumbling block as we've realized a lot of the game mechanics we wanted to use as still under a patent owned by Wizards of the Coast who make Magic: The Gathering.  That patent runs out in about two years.  Do we want to wait that long or come up with something that doesn't violate their patent?  The vote was to do something new and release sooner rather than later.  I've only played Magic once, and it was about 15 years ago.  I barely know the rules.  My version of the Dawnshine Card Game was based more on Battle Systems.  So we might revert back to that somewhat.  We've also talked about a type of Tower Defense and Lane Combat rules.  And furthermore, we've talked about using an actual physical board.  I mean, we've already mapped out the zones for the MMO, so turning that or part of that into a physical board would be easier.

I’m not the main designer on this.  One of our marketing people who is obsessed with card games and the local CCG community and one of our designers who also plays CCGs a lot are both working on designs.  So Wednesday, at our meeting, I’ll see where they’re at and what they've come up with.  I’m really just there to make sure things fit Dawnshine lore and it’s something I think we can market and sell.

I also mentioned making single player Dawnshine games.  I finished a Game Design Document for one.  It’s based on a character that I created long before founding Stigma Games.  The character’s name is Theo, and that will likely be the name of the game “Dawnshine: Theo.”  What I was thinking about doing is moving everyone to it after we finish our other projects.  A few people on the team have told me that they want to get back to Dawnshine.  But I want to do this smarter--meaning getting the design down a lot more solidly before we have artists and programmers take a crack.

I've mentioned Raygun Rocketship.  I’m still thinking about the best way to market this game.  Space combat games generally aren't  things people get excited about unless they’re being made by people named Chris Roberts.  Speaking of which, I have a feeling Star Citizen is going to be absolutely amazing, but anyways.  Now, I think Raygun Rocketship is going to be a really fun and cool game and people will really like it once they play it, but getting people to try it in the first place will take some doing.  So, how to make it really stand out?  I think the way to go is to really work on the characters, make them really interesting, and push that angle.  Out of all our projects, this is the one I’m the least involved in, though I’m really happy with how the team is doing with it.  I've written some dialogue and story, but I told the team it’s totally cool if they want to throw out all that and have me start again.

I've also been working on fleshing out the characters for our fighting game parody.  I’m fine with changing characters based on the team’s input.  Not that it’s a better or worse game than Raygun Rocketship, but I think it will be much easier to market since it’s all about the characters.  Being a parody game, humor is often an easier way to grab people.

Not much to report on our casual game.  I think I've mentioned the bulk of the main artwork is done.  One of our designers is finishing some story line stuff for it, then he’ll be freed up for a while until the programmer catches up.  In the meantime, I’ll probably move him to the Dawnshine: Theo game.  I’ve already moved the artist off the casual game and to the fighting game.

This is something that I've learned.  It’s pointless bringing on a programmer right away.  Which is funny because studios usually bring on writers towards the end of a project to polish turds and create a story out of art work and game mechanics.  I've learned to do the opposite.  Bring in designers and writers first.  Do a lot of pre-production.  Halfway through pre-production, bring in Tools Programmers so that the designers have the tools to be able to implement what they create in the game.  Halfway through pre-production, bring in artists to concept out designs and characters once the artists actually have something to go off of.  Do not leave it to artists to come up with story or character ideas.  By that, I’m not saying not to listen to their, or anyone else’s input, but rather to say that designers should be designing.  All things being equal, no one designs better than a designer.

Oh, not that anyone reads this for the latest on game news, but I wanted to mention what’s going on with Ouya to finish what I said in the last post.  Ouya has lowered the “Free the Games Fund” from $50k to $10k minimum.  This is a much more attainable goal, so I’m happy about this.  This makes Raygun Rocketship a more obtainable goal to enter the contest with.  I also mentioned a sketchy entry where one team raised $171k and got a lot of crap about it.  The game is called Gridiron Thunder by MogoTXT.  Well, they announced that they would not be taking the matching funds from Ouya.  Yeah, that’s a lot of money to turn down just to improve their PR, but I got to hand them for having the guts to do it.  All and all, I have a lot more respect for Ouya for being flexible.  The revenue devs are getting by releasing on Ouya isn’t very good so far, but I still see this as a good first step for us.

I let one of our programmers borrow my Ouya to try and get Raygun Rocketship working on it.  I’m hoping by the meeting this weekend, it will be working.  It’s only one level so far and it still has some bugs.  It needs a lot of balancing.  Once you play it a few times and get the patterns down, it’s not challenging.  So that will need to be adjusted, then play tested, etc.  We still have a long way to go with it.  In general, I’m really happy with how it’s coming along.  I just wish we had a funded studio so the team could focus on it exclusively.

Anyways, I have a lot of work to do today, so I have to get back to that.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

September Post

I was thinking about how rare it is to see a successful MMO that’s not built upon an existing IP.  Often these few that are original are based heavily on generic canon of their well established genres.  Fantasy games with dragons, elves, and dwarves, space exploration games with alien races, jump points, and warp drives, super hero games with mutants, criminal organizations, and mad scientists…. These can be successful, but they’re derivative.

Do gamers really want original IPs on a grand MMO scale or do they want to play something familiar?  I can point to MMOs with original IPs, and they're not very successful.  I think Ryzom is a big one that comes to mind.  City of Steam might be another.  Defiance?  Sort of original.  Tabula Rasa was one.  But yeah, none all that successful.  There are a few coming up that might change things: The Repopulation and Wildstar.  We’ll see.

So if gamers are tired of games of the same genre, and they don’t really want to try something they’re completely unfamiliar with, then it seems like there’s only one real path to go: build a new IP, and make an MMO out of that.  Age of Conan and Star Wars(despite William Shatner calling it derivative), are based on existing IP that are(or were when originally created) original.   Depending on your perspective, perhaps you could add The Secret World to this definition--not original ideas but rather existing conspiracy theories presented in game form in a new way.  The Secret World isn't massively successful, but it does ok.

Alright, cool.  So where does that leave Dawnshine?  Well, the goal is still to make a big huge MMO.  But making smaller games based on the Dawnshine IP first, will also make it easier to make the MMO.  I don’t normally like to give details as to what we’re up to in case we abandon something.  But I’ll come out and say I've decided to have the team start working on a Dawnshine collectible card game.  So far, this has been pretty helpful starting out really small scale and deciding big things about the lore.  Much easier.

I notice that card games tend to well on Kickstarter.  We don’t need a programmer for it and one of the guys on our marketing team is obsessed with card games and knows a lot of people in the community that plays them.  Another of our designers is a big Magic: The Gathering player.  I've only played it a couple times, and although this isn't all that similar, I've played a lot of Battle Systems (where you move cardboard squares around to represent your army) to supplement table top DnD game sessions.  Again, not that similar, but the idea of having physical props and designing rules around it is something I’m familiar with.

Anyways, I think this is a great first DS release.  How popular will it be?  I don’t think for a second that it’s going to be the least bit successful without a lot of hard work, and even then, it will be an uphill battle the whole way.  Convincing people to put down their Magic, Yugioh, and Pokemon cards and buy something new that they've never heard of?  Yeah, this won’t be easy at all.  But we’ll start off locally, play test a lot and try and get the local community playing it.

The plan after this project, is to start making shorter single player video games based in the Dawnshine world.  I certainly don’t want to try and make something on the scale of Skyrim.  It would be more about you play a specific character in DS lore and go through an adventure.  I’m thinking 20-50 hours of game play total, but the game would be a lot less expensive than the typical $50-60 dollar range for a PC game.  Once we get some of these mobile games done, we might just switch over to making these Dawnshine mini adventure type games.  I’m kicking around the design for one already.

Speaking of Kickstarter, so we've been talking about doing a KS campaign for one of our games for a month now.  Ouya announced a, now infamous, Free the Games Fund program deal where they will match dollar for dollar what a game developer raises on KS with two conditions: the game has to make at least $50k and it has to be exclusive on the Ouya for 6 months first.  What could possibly go wrong?

To be honest, it never occurred to me that people could use this as a scam.  Think about it this way.  You get a bunch of friends to donate a combination up to $50k dollars on the condition that you’ll give it right back to them,  Ouya matches those dollars, and then you take the free money Ouya gives you and fund your game with that.  You don’t get all the money up front, but again, it’s still free money.  So far, two games have successfully hit the $50k mark—both under heavy suspicion of exactly this happening.  One was shut down by Kickstarter themselves, though the reason why has never been given.  The other, fans have been mercilessly mocking, downgrading all their youtube videos like it’s Rebecca Black singing Friday.  It is really, really fishy.  They've raised $171k dollars, have only a couple dozen Facebook fans, only about 10 people following their 3 year old company on LinkedIn, and got most of their funding from only a few backers who created their KS accounts the same day.  Really, really sketchy.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading comments on Kickstarter and following related stories.  Fans are really, really sick of idiots that promise to do X, Y, and Z, realize they have no idea how to do what they promised, the money gets squandered, and the project never materializes.  I seriously don’t blame the KS peeps for harassing these amateur game developers.  And I’ll be honest and say I’m certainly worried about becoming one of those incompetent amateur game developers that think they’re prepared and end up screwing up.

Not to name names, but it looks like there’s now a third game to hit the $50+k limit.  They were at a couple thousand with only days left, and suddenly hit $50k more.  Um, huh?  The difference?  They’re openly admitting that they had friends and family push them to their goal at the last minute.  Now if they pay those friends their money back, as far as I know, that’s not illegal, though it’s pretty sketchy.  At that point, they’re abusing the rules of the contest, but again, if Ouya doesn't care--and they don’t seem to--then I guess it doesn't matter. 

It was encouraging to see a few indie studios actually succeed, and even more discouraging to see the reality is that the few roads to success for a start up game studio without funding or friends with money are even fewer than they appear.  We’ll get there though, one way or another.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Some Side Inspiration

Hey guys,

You know that Ashton Kutcher video that’s circulating around?  It’s the one where he says that he’s never been too good for any of the jobs he’s had, that opportunity always looks like hard work, and that none of the people around you are smarter than you so you should be able to do anything they can do with hard work.  So I teach a music class over the summer called Stairway to Stardom.  This is the 18th year I've taught it.  At the end of the summer (Sunday, a week ago), it ends in a battle of the bands where all the students performing in their bands play at the Crest Theater to about a thousand people.

This year, the surprise guest was Frank Hannon, lead guitarist of Tesla.  Ok, he’s usually the “surprise” guest every year.  He’s on tour, but he flew to Sacramento just to talk for 5 minutes on stage to inspire the young participants of the program.  His message was fairly simple and one I've heard him say before, but it would make a great addition to the Ashton Kutcher video.

There’s always someone better than you.  It’s easy to give up and think that no matter what you do, you’ll always be out classed.  And as Frank explained as a young musician once himself, he was always surrounded by guitar players that could out play him.  Instead of being intimidated by them, he would listen and learn from them.  When I was a young musician and struggling to get my band playing in the better clubs, performing in local music festivals, and seeing other bands that had the connections I never seemed to be able to make, I’d offer to work for those bands.  I’d build or improve their websites for them, I’d roadie for them, I’d pass out flyers for them, and I would learn and make some of the same connections they made.  I saw first hand how they promoted themselves.  I saw the types of connections they made and why.  Eventually, I was able to get my band Stigma playing in big venues.

Something else that’s important and related to this.  Every artisan has a skill level and a potential level.  The more disappointed you are in your current skill level, the higher your potential level is.  The day you are satisfied with your skill level is the day you stop improving.  If you’re really doing well, each time you hit a milestone(thus increasing your skill level), you’ll realize there’s more things you don’t know and will have to get better at, thus your potential goes up.

This is an interesting dynamic because the closer your skill level is to your potential, the more confident you are.  That being the case, confidence is then completely unrelated to skill.  This is probably what Ashton was hinting at--just because you think people around you know more than you (because they’re confident) that isn’t always the case.  It can be an incorrect assumption to assume just because someone is confident, that they know what they’re doing.  I think this is a big part of why talentless people of low potential end up becoming bosses--they just seem so confident.

This reminds me of Socrates.  The Oracle of Delphi proclaimed he was the wisest man on Earth.  Socrates thought this was impossible, because he didn't know anything.  He didn't know anything because he realized the more he knew, the more he realized he didn't know.  He decided to go to others that were thought of to be wise.  When he spoke to politicians, he soon realized that they believed they had all the answers, even to things they couldn't possibly know.  He soon realized that because their minds were shut, that they couldn't possibly be wise, and thus he challenged the very idea of what wisdom meant.  By questioning society and proclaiming that politicians were fools, he got himself executed.  And yet, it’s his name that we all know, not the names of those that executed him.

How does this relate to the game industry?  Well, it’s not the big companies that challenge conventional wisdom.  It’s the small indie studios that do. Maybe 90% of the time these new ideas fail, but they’re small enough that they can regroup and try again.  When that other 10% hits and that thing everyone else would tell them would never work, is successful, then the big companies copy them.  The big companies aren't uncreative.  It’s just that when you have a huge payroll to meet each month, taking gambles on new ideas means people get laid off.

But as a side note, the artisans with high potential that fail, are more likely to assume they failed because they’re just not good at what they’re doing.  The higher their potential, the more insecure they will feel and the more insecure, and thus, ready to quit at the first sign of failure.  It’s those with low potential that have confidence and are less deterred by failure.  This is a sad dynamic because it means in the long term, that the mediocre will be successful and the brilliant and talentless both will give up early.  This is why it’s often important to find others that believe in you, even when you don’t, to encourage you to keep going.

Putting all this together, if you’re an indie studio because you grew up playing games from big game companies and you want to create that same experience but with 0.1% of the budget and without all the expertise, maybe you might want to rethink things.  As Frank Hannon might say, move to where the big companies are so you can learn from them.  As Ashton might say, no job, not even a minimum wage game tester job is beneath you.  So start on the bottom and work up.

If on the other hand, you’re disappointed in what games are out there and want to do something unconventional, you might have the right mindset to go indie.  So if you’re unconventional and consistently unhappy with your work, but still driven to get better, you’re probably on the right path.  Don’t give up.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

July Post

When I decided to start Stigma Games, I thought I knew a lot about game design.  I've spent more time playing computer games than most gamers.  Like most serious gamers, I know what makes a fun experience and what doesn't. Of course, actually being able to make a great game, isn't as easy as it seems.  Still, I have confidence in my design abilities.  But what I’m slowly figured out is that making a great game is only one third of game development.  I think of the three elements of a successful game project as: a product enjoyable to get people playing, the marketing / viralness / social draw of the game, and the right monetization for it.

Put another way, if the game isn't fun, no one will play it.  If the game isn't marketed well or doesn't have word of mouth, it doesn't matter how fun it is if no one knows about it.  And three, if everyone on the planet knows about it and plays the hell out of it, but no one pays to play it, none of that matters either.  It didn't used to be this complicated.

About three years ago, the free to play monetization strategy was just starting to take over.  Before that, game development consisted of: make a great game, market the hell out of it, and sell it for X dollars.  But that’s not the case any more.  Buy to Play is still a valid, though diminishing option.  Free to Play is out pacing it.  As a side note, let’s talk about why Free to Play works.

One of the first heavily pirated games that we can point to as such was Leisure Suit Larry.  We know this series of games was heavily pirated because Sierra sold far more hint books than they did copies of the game.  Today, we have p2p networks and torrent sites to track how many people pirate games.  A couple months back, Ubisoft released a statistic suggesting that 96% of people that played Assassin's Creed did so illegally.  They based this off of torrent downloads.  Otherwise, a more generally accepted statistic is about 90%.  Think about that.  That means 90% of people who play popular to semi popular games do so illegally, paying the developers absolutely nothing for their efforts.

Now, let’s talk about the Free to Play model.  Can you image the first development companies that started talking about trying it?  Can you imagine a conversation like, “Wait, so you mean we’re going to let people play our game for free in the hopes of about 10% of gamers spending money to buy stuff?”

There are lots of ways to pull off Free to Play effectively, and lots of ways to either anger or be ignored by players.  Even more confusing, different strategies can have different effects based on the genre, objectives, platform, and even art style of a game.  If you don’t understand the underlining theories for these connections, then all you can do is copy other existing models.  Copying other games can be problematic for two reasons.  One, what you change to make the “game idea your own” could be enough to break what it is that works, and two, by the time you finally get your game out, player behavior, the target platform, technology, etc, could have changed.

Focusing on making a fun game and selling it at a reasonable price and earn a living doing that… those days are over.  Today’s game developers have to do more.  Now game development is about Psychology, player behavior, spending habits, monetization strategies, demographics, localization and emerging markets, price points, and marketing as much as it is about making a fun game.  I find it interesting how Indies brag about how they can pay their bills without a dime spent on marketing.  If it was just me, I'm fine with Indie4lyfe Pride and all.  But it's not just me that I have to worry about.  Stigma Games isn't some fun thing to do for me on my own.  I have a few dozen other people involved who I really want to be handing a pay check to each week.  This isn't going to be easy.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

June Post

One of the things my dad always told me is if you can’t find the job you want, create it.  When I started Stigma Games it was because I wanted to be a game designer.  So I created a job, but not the one I intended.

Last night, I went to 5th Planet Games.  They are now the largest game studio in the Greater Sacramento area.  Rob Winkler, the founder and CEO, gave a speech to a group of us about how he got his company off the ground, what challenges they faced, etc.  I know a couple people that work there and they’re great people.  Rob was pretty humble and self deprecating about how he pulled it off, but it was obvious he was a lot smarter than he let on.  But he did mention that his goal was to be a game designer and how he had to let that go and realize he was an administrator instead.  I’m there too.

This is something I have to come to grips with.  The more I trust other people on the team to do design work and the more I step up and be a leader, the more successful Stigma Games will be.  About a month ago, 5th Planet put out a job posting that they were looking for a game designer / writer.  So 5th Planet is a company I know, I’m friends with people that work there, I’d get to work in a company with a really fun office culture—a dream job.  This is exactly what I was looking for a year and a half ago when I started Stigma Games.  I did consider applying, but I knew they’d make me give up Stigma Games.  When I talked to Rob last night (after everyone left, I hung out and talked to him for a while) he told me that yes, he would have made me quit Stigma Games to take the position.

But I think that job posting was the final straw that made me realize that leading a game development company was what I wanted more than being a game designer.  Now we’re still not funded, and that’s ok.  We’ll get there.  But I know now I’m doing what it is I really want to do.

Rob said that 5th Planet started with he and some of his friends that played Ever Quest together, who decided to make a game.  They made the game in Flash, something none of them knew how to use at the time, so they bought a book to learn how.  They went through the book, and four months later, released their game and started making enough money in the first couple weeks to back pay all of the artists for their work.  He said he moved in with his mom so she could support him while all of the money that came in went to his employees.  Imagine for the first year or so, he didn't collect a dime of revenue, investing everything back into the company.

They’re doing something else right.  They’re getting an amazing 15% conversion rate.  “Conversion Rate” is a fancy term that means how many players in a free to play game actually spend money.  People that spend money in free to play games are called “whales.”  Zynga's entire business model was how to attract and cater to whales and they only get about a 4% conversion rate.  Many companies only get about a 2-3% conversion rate.  So 15% is massive.  How do they do it?

He explained about obsessively dedicated they are to their fan base.  He mentioned that about once a month, they fly a player out to Roseville for the weekend so they can hang out and talk about one of their games.  They will show that player they changes that they’re planning and get feedback from the player face to face.

Now contrast that with something that happened about a decade ago when an executive from Ever Quest once said to a disgruntled player on their forums to shut up and give him the $10 bucks a month subscription fee so he could buy another Ferrari.  Nice, huh?

In management, there is a concept called TQM.  It stands for Total Quality Management.  The basic idea of TQM is that if you treat your employees really well, they will treat their customers really well.  If they hate their job, they will treat their customers poorly.  Rob may or may not have ever heard of TQM, but he’s obviously practicing it.  I got a tour of the place.  There were separate rooms for just Nintendo games, another for just Xbox games, another for Play Station.  The entire upstairs was another game room for table top games.  They did movie nights.  Essentially, they spend a lot of time team building and making employees happy.  They’re moving to a bigger office in a month or so.  They could always pile more people into their existing studio and convert some game rooms into office space, but since employee happiness is their primary focus, that won’t do.

I found it really inspiring to hear Rob’s story because he’s succeeded going down the same path, using the same methods that I want to do.  And though Rob attributed much of their success to luck, he was being too humble.  Indeed, they were not lucky.  They put all their eggs in the Facebook game basket and survived the social media game bubble burst, transitioning quickly to other platforms like Armor Games and Kongregate.  He also said something else important.  He said at one point, the one game that they had out was broken.  It was broken for about a week and they didn't know how to fix it.  But despite the fact that the game was unplayable, players still kept buying things, which kept them afloat financially.  The players did so because 5th Planet Games had done such a great job communicating with their player base, that the players had faith enough in them that the problems would get fixed and everything would be fine.

There’s one huge thing we’re doing differently.  Whereas 5th Planet out sources all their art, all our art (and well, everything) is done locally.  Will that pay off for us?  We’ll find out.  But the reason why 5th Planet outsources is because they can’t find talented artists locally.  Certainly, talented artists in this area are hard to find.  It’s a catch 22.  Talented artists don’t have a lot of employment options here, so they leave to the bay area or LA.  Then game companies here outsource artists from the bay area.

How do we get around that catch 22?  Now, Stigma Games isn't the only unfunded game company in town trying to get off the ground.  We are in direct competition with the other unfunded game company, fighting over the same limited human resources of people that have skills and are able to donate their time.  In the short term, for us to help each other hurts us.  But in the long term, the more successful other companies in the area are, the more opportunities there are for talented people in the area to find employment opportunities.  So instead of seeing each other as rivals, we should see each other as pillars towards creating the type of game development community that will bring us success towards forming triple AAA game development studios.

In the meantime, there are things I can do to try and develop the talent we do have in the area.  For one, I give tests to people that apply.  We get about 1 new person every day or two applying.  Some of the emails I get are from people that say simply, “I don’t know how to code or do art, but I’d like to help in anyway I can.  You can teach me!”  Those people, I just can’t use.  Then there are artists that aren't at a level we can use, which is obvious after I get an art test back from them.  What I do at that point, instead of just turning them down, I write them back telling them why I’m turning them down, and what they can do to reach a level where I would tell them yes.  How many people will let you take a test as many times as you want and tell you what to do the next time?

There was one case where I turned a person down without getting into why.  He also took four months to do something I could have done in an afternoon and the finished product wasn't great.  But otherwise, I’m pretty good at getting back to people.  Some artist cheat, and send me what they have part way through and ask me questions on how to move on.  That’s fine.  I want artists to pass, so I’ll help them pass art tests.

About half the time when I give art / design / writing tests, I never hear back from them again.  That number is around 70% for programmers that I never hear from again.  I don’t really know why I have a much harder time with programmers.  Of the artists that don’t pass, about half of them don’t try and redo it.  One of those artists actually insulted me for not recognizing what an amazing talent she was.  Wow.  Just wow.  All I can say, is I hope one day when she’s older, she’ll have enough good sense to be embarrassed that she sent me the email that she did.  But who knows?  I didn't even respond to it.

I got hit up at once by several art students looking for work experience credits.  I’m happy to say that there are four colleges in the area that give their students college credits for interning for Stigma Games.  I’m still a little unsure how to deal with that.  If the students isn't at a level that we can use and I’ll be spending a lot of my time holding their hand, is it worth it?  Maybe not in the short run.  But maybe so in the long run.  Today’s young artist might be tomorrow’s star.  We’ll see.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Late May Post

Hey guys.  It’s been a little while since my last post.  That’s mostly because I've been really busy.  I could probably pick one of ten things going on and fill this post with just that.  This will probably be the last non Dawnshine related blog that I link to the Dawnshine Facebook page.  Those of you that are FB fans of Dawnshine but not Stigma Games and you still want to read these, Like SG too.

The programmers on our team are good, but generally programmers I encounter come in two kinds: experienced enterprise programmers who how to code really well, but have never made a game before and young programmers who've either come out of academia or are self taught on something very specialized and lack that overall level of experience.  I can hand over the designs to one of our games to a programmer of either type, but unless I tell them what tools, languages, engines, libraries, etc, to use, they don’t know how to proceed.  Well, if they’re the programmer, they should figure that stuff out, right?  Not really.  It’s a lot more complicated than you might think.  To explain how, let me give you an insight into what programmers are like.

Programmers aren't always interested in creating things that are marketable.  They’re interested in challenging themselves to create something that solves a problem.  Sometimes that problem has already been solved and they have no idea.  Sometimes that problem is so specialized, it doesn't really need to be solved.  And sometimes that solution is amazing, but hard to turn into something practical.  But because of this, there are dozens of new programming languages, engines, sockets, server protocols, operating systems, and libraries created by programmers every day.  Some of them catch on, but most don’t.  Knowing which of these should be used, in which situation, and in conjunction with what, is really tough.

Now consider that new programmers I bring in are generally expecting an organized environment where they can learn what to do.  Generally what I would do if we were fully funded is hire an experienced lead programmer to give them tasks to do and train them.  Well, considering that we’re all working from home without a studio, we can’t really do that.  This falls to me to make these types of decisions, point a programmer in the right direction (what I think is the right direction) and either they follow it or they wonder why no one is holding their hand and they sort of fade away.

In either case, I’m trying to learn this stuff.  I've probably mentioned the Hacker Lab before.  I used to only go there for game related topics, but I've found it really useful to hit up the general coding topics.  Even if it’s not directly game related, it’s really helpful in understanding the difference between using XML to dynamically query an SQL and using JSON, knowing when the canvas tool is too slow and you have to use WebGL, how effective is a NodeJS set up server?  I still have a lot to learn.  In the meantime, Unity is free.  That’s what we’re using for most our games until we find something we like better.  A few miles from my house, KlickNation, now owned by EA Games, is using Unity for their mobile games.  If it’s good enough for EA… hmm.

I've been considering the Leadwerks engine.  I’ve been keeping my eye on it for about a year now.  I find it compelling for a couple reasons.  One, you can use C++ and Lua directly with it—two languages I’m comfortable with.  And two, and more importantly, the Leadwerks development company is located in Sacramento.  I've hung out with the president of the company recently and talked to him about it.  He’s offered us an amazing discount.  I've also talked to our programmers about it, and they’re interested in trying it out.  The problem is that C++ might be the industry standard, but usually programmers would rather use Java / C# than C++.  The main reason why is garbage collection, although inheritance issues are also easier in Java / C#.

Ok, so what is garbage collection?  In object oriented programming, you create classes that are a list of fields of what an object might have.  If the class is “dog,” maybe you have the breed, the weight, the age of the dog, the name of the dog, the name of the current owners, etc.  Then you instantiate a dog, aka, you say, “Ok, so I’m going to use this class and create a dog named ‘Lucky,’ who will be ___ breed, weigh ____ much…” and so on.  There, you just created an object.  A …um, dog object.  Objects can be less interesting than that, like the annoying pop up window or even more basic--the size and position of the pop up window can be a separate “object.”  Now let’s say the program allocated memory to this object so it could be used, but now you’re now done with it.  You want to de-allocate that memory so that something else can use it.  Cool.  In C++, as part of the class you defined, you have to lay out how the object no longer in use will be destroyed.  If you don’t program things correctly to destruct the object at the correct time, you could get a memory leak until finally the Blue Screen of Death.

Now you might be thinking… “Hmm, I haven’t gotten a BSoD in a really long time.”  Part of the reason for that is Java / C# does garbage collection automatically and Java and C# are what a lot of Windows programs are written in these days.  In Java / C#, if an object no longer has anything able to access it, then it will be destructed automatically so that it will never cause a memory leak.  For a programmer to never have to worry about destructing objects again, it’s a pretty cool thing.  But as with anything, there has to be a downside, and that is that a language that runs garbage collection runs slower.  Unity uses C#, meaning that ultimately, it will usually run slower than a pure C++ built game.  How complicated does the game have to be before the player will notice the performance hit?  That’s one of those things, you program games long enough, and you know the answer to questions like that.  We’re a young team and we have years of mistakes to learn from.

 Let’s do some Sacramento news.  A couple weeks ago, Sacramento got an official IGDA chapter.  Gabriel Guittierrez (luckily I have his business card right in front of me or I never would have spelled his last name correctly) of Nascent Games is the Chapter President.  I met Gabriel about a year ago.  He seems like a really nice guy.  I've been helping him out with creating content for the IGDA website.  Stuff like, if you live in Sacramento, want to get involved in making games but have no idea where to go, what you need to know, and who to talk to?  Having one site that’s specific to Sacramento and answers stuff like that can be really helpful.  There are a lot of talented people here, but they have no idea how to get started.  Oh, anyone reading this that doesn't already know me, feel free to email me and ask me some of those questions.  My email is brian at stigma games.  I’ll try and help if I can.  I will say I get an email from a new person about every day or two, so it can sometimes take me a couple days to respond.  But if I can help aspiring game developers in the area get started on the right path, feel free to ask me stuff.

We’re still working on Dawnshine.  I’m working on an ability, class progression system (I know, “What?! You’re just now doing that?”) down to the last detail, and a naming convention for the Neg Wath people based on their tribal affiliation, moiety kinship, spirit animal, and gender.  I’ve also been separating phones that make up the Neg Wath language.  I’m not going to create a fictional language for them, but if I can isolate consistent sounds for the Neg Wath, their names for things will all sound Neg Wath-y.  There are hundreds of sounds possible for humans to make, far more than our adorable little 26 letter alphabet might have you believe.  Every little thing you can do to make a sound, there’s a technical term for.  I had to take a year worth of linguistics as part of my Anthro degree, though I never thought I’d ever need to know the difference between a voiced alveolar fricative and a non voiced one (one’s a “z” and the other an “s”).  But this is actually really helpful.  When it’s all done, players will at least subconsciously know it’s done right.

That would be cool that you pick those things with your character and hit the Random Name Generator and it gives you something that fits with lore.

As a side note, a younger, more naive me once went to the career pavilion at GDC, trying to explain to the interns posing as hiring managers why they should hire an Anthropologist to create their game lore.  That worked out as well for me as it sounds.

As for our other game projects, I’m hoping we’ll be able to announce something soon.  One of our games has been playable on a phone for months now.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April Post

I think in my last post I was kind of down on mobile games.  After watching gameplay footage of hundreds of mobile games on youtube, I've started to change my mind on that—not because the games I've seen so far have just been so gosh darn great, though some are, but because I can see a strong sense of what’s missing from them.

I started thinking about when I was around 12 years old and a friend gave me a copy of Ultima 3, my first RGP and how much I really liked the whole ultima series and the effect its story line had on me.  The values of honesty, justice, humility, spirituality, sacrifice, compassion, honor, and valor woven into the lore of the game really had an impact on me.   To this day, I still think of Richard Garriott and what can be done with games.  Much in the same way that Cliff Burton of Metallica inspired me to learn the bass and become a musician when I was a teenager during the 80’s, Richard Garriott inspired me to want to be a game designer… um, 25 years later.

Combine that idea with more recent games like Limbo with a striking art style to it, and I've really had a change of attitude towards mobile games.  Especially if the motivation is in how to move people with art, a compelling story, interesting characters, or an immersive environment.  Of course, the game industry is a business, and at the end of the day, we’re making mobile games to bring in revenue so we can focus on Dawnshine, but there’s no reason why our mobile games can’t also be something we can be proud of.

Let’s see.  There’s a lot else going on.  I have a revised statement of internship for the art department at CSUS.  I’m sure I've mentioned that before.  I got my BA from Sac State, but I've had the hardest time recruiting from there.  At least I’ll set up a program to recruit their artist interns.  I’m hoping this will lead to being able to set up something similar with the Computer Science department.  The phone conversation I had with their contact person there didn't go all that well.  In fact, she’s now the only counselor / instructor person that I've ever talked to that didn't actively pursue a relationship with Stigma Games.  Maybe I just caught her on a bad day.  But I’m hoping that if the art internship program goes well that Computer Science and Engineering Department will follow.  I've been having a tough time finding experienced programmers lately.  Though, ironically, most of our programmers that we've since lost have been Sac State students that are really busy with school.  So, yeah.

I was contacted by someone that writes articles for the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.  He interviewed me and a few members of the team over the phone about the relationship Stigma Games has with American River Community College.  I think things went well until he emailed me for a picture.  I have very, very few pictures of myself—none of which are professional other than band photos—one of which was featured in a national magazine.  It’s not likely a picture of me in a midair jump while playing bass and sporting a blue spiked mohawk would have been what he was looking for.  Speaking of that, I have a mohawk now and it’s growing out and looks really awkward.  Side tracked.  Anyways, I sent him two pictures.  Neither of which were good.  I need to get a professional looking picture done of me wearing business attire, if nothing else but for future reference.

Speaking of ARC, I got invited to a board advisory meeting to give my feedback on the curriculum of certificates and degrees offered in the Art New Media department.  I mention this because it was something I mentioned in one of the very few posts I made—that one day I might actually help shape what local art colleges teach.  I believe I thought the idea was insane at the time, though I was pretty comfortable when it actually happened.  I had some comments, though for the most part, I think Matt Stoehr had things dialed in how they should be and there wasn't much for me to really pick at.  But I still really enjoyed sitting down and being a part of things.  I wish I would have done some research first so I would have had a better idea of what the catalogs said beforehand.  Oh well, something to be ready for next year.

Have I mentioned that I’m a perfectionist?  Usually when someone calls themselves that, it’s a veiled brag.  But it isn’t in my case.  My problem is that I don’t like to do anything unless it’s perfect, and since nothing I ever do is perfect, it means I struggle to finish things and my fear of failing means I rarely try new things.  Failure is such a vital part of progress.  This whole process has pushed me to fail at things and work outside my comfort zone.  In fact, I would say that failure isn’t something to be feared, but something to strive for, learn from, and move past.  It’s taken me years to learn that lesson, though I still have a ways to go.

At the last art meeting, the team made a push to get me to print out the Dawnshine novel I've been working on.  I haven’t worked on it in almost three years and it’s currently a half-finished rough draft.  Amazingly, I don’t hate it.  And I usually dislike every bit of writing I do, even the writing some company has paid me for.  So I started looking through it.  It hasn't been revised yet, though I will revise some of it before I print out the half of it that’s done.  Going through it, and with so much time since I last looked at it, I've noticed a strong lack of visual details.  I was planning on working on details after the rough draft was finished.  But as it stands, I don’t really think it will help the art team visualize things, but I could be wrong.  Maybe it’s helpful for them to read.

There are some things I know I’ll need to change—things that were changed as I laid out the zones.  For example, Elaeria can see Old Kayne as she walks from the Great Kaynish Senate to Droyman Square.  I've since moved Old Kayne, so that will need to be changed.  The Neg Wath and Sherites have become far more important in the world.  I didn't originally see the Neg Wath as a playable faction or important in the world.  Now they’re a huge part of it.  Aside from that, I’m pretty happy with the novel, though I think it’s going to really throw off fantasy readers that are used to reading about events and magic.  All of the fantasy elements, though they’re present, take a far backseat.  The Dawncaster could easily be a contemporary story about a teenage girl surviving in and escaping an abusive home—certainly not anything like what most fantasy readers are used to.  Dawnshine is a really grim, brutal, and depressing place.

Monday, March 4, 2013

March Post

Hey Guys,

I think I mentioned that I might work as a Project Manager for another game company that’s forming in Roseville.  We started our first project and I decided that I didn't want to continue working with them.  It’s probably best if I don’t get into the details.  Not because they’re bad people.  Let’s just say we had a very different idea on how games should be made.

I was thinking about this as I wrote a midterm paper for the Human Resource Management class I’m taking right now.  The topic we were given was about the challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce.  Sounds boring, right?  I actually thought it was really interesting.  What was going on in the world shaped the mentality of the generation growing up at the time.   I won’t go through each of the four generations in the workforce today.  But according to my research, Generation X'ers, like me, are radically different from the Baby Boomers before us and the Millennials after us.

The biggest traits of people of my generation in terms of business and workplace issues: we’re incredibly skeptical of strangers offering us deals, we hate being micro managed, we don’t work well being told what to do by people that have no idea what they’re talking about, and we don’t need or want structure.  Basically, we want to be given a job and left the hell alone so we can get it done the way we know how to get it done.  Now, we’ll listen to others and follow directions, but only if it’s from a boss that we consider to be a guru or equal on the subject at hand.  But you have to earn our respect first before you can boss us around.  Man, that fits me so well.  That’s exactly how I am.

I've mentioned before that I used to be a musician.  I also used to write for a popular music magazine that focused on metal bands.  I was one of about a dozen journalists when new owners took over.  Every single writer was fired except me.  They also never once told me what to do.  They let me cover my own stories—as many or as little as I wanted.  But I covered a lot, out producing everyone else on the team.  As a concert promoter in the underground metal scene, I knew who all the underground bands were.  I knew who was up and coming, who was getting signed, and who people wanted to hear about.  I really liked working for that company.  Then one day, we had a new editor.

I didn't have a college degree at that time, nor did I want to relocate to their corporate office in the bay area.  So when the editor position opened up, they decided to go with a local, recent Journalism graduate.  He was young and knew nothing about the underground music scene.  It didn't take long for him to piss me off.  I think the second email I got from him, he was telling me what to do.  He told me to interview a band.  I won’t say the name of the band, so I’ll just call them “band.”

Anyways, I knew Band.  I’d done a show with them back when I was playing in my band Stigma.  In short, they sucked.  I wrote the editor back and told him no.  I’m sorry, but I had a long waiting list of good bands that no one had heard of yet that I was trying to get to.  The last thing I was going to do is waste my time interviewing a terrible band that no one wanted to hear about and putting them on the top story that week and making the 9 million users a month that our site got think, “Huh?  They’re doing articles on these crappy bands now?  Why don’t you cover someone good?”  I don’t want to sound like an elitist, but my reputation is important to me.  If I covered a band, it was because they were damn good and people should take a listen.

So the editor writes me back telling me that Band asked him to be covered, that 98 Rock was trying to break them, and that he, the editor, already told Band that I’d be contacting them soon to interview them.  I was really, really mad.  Really mad.

Now, some info here.  98 Rock, aka KRXQ is a pretty important radio station.  You might not think Sacramento is famous for anything other than Def Tones, Tom Hanks, and… ok, nothing else.  But believe it or not, 98 Rock often breaks new bands long before any other radio station plays them.  In fact, radio stations around the country often listen to 98 Rock in an effort to guess which rock / metal bands are up and coming bands.  If 98 Rock was really trying to break Band, then that’s pretty impressive.

So I got ahold of this dj at 98 Rock I’m good friends with.  I doubt he’d care (and this was about 10 years ago), but I probably shouldn't mention his name either.  So I asked my dj friend wtf was up.  He rolled his eyes and sighed.  I could tell he was pretty mad about what he was going to tell me.  Apparently, the bass player of Band was the 6th caller and won some “98 Rock Christmas Wish List” contest.  The rules were anything the station could reasonable do for the contest winner, they would do.  So the bass player’s wish was to get his band played on the radio.  My dj friend told the station manager basically that he knew this band and he absolutely refused to play them.  They got in a big fight over it, but the dj caved-- agreeing to play Band one time at 4am on a Wednesday morning, and that was that.

The next day after hearing this, the bass player was emailing me asking me when I was going to interview them.  So I went to one of their shows where they pulled about 6 people( I think 5 of which were wives / girlfriends) and interviewed them.  I wrote up the interview and story I did about them (all positive), emailed it to the editor and quit the next day.  Four years at a job I really liked, but yeah, I wasn't going to put up with that crap.

I know.  I’m such a rebel, huh?  But I was thinking about this.  Am I making the mistake of treating the Dawnshine team like I want to be treated and not like how they want to be treated?  According to my research, Millennials want to be told what to do.  They don’t want to be micromanaged or talked down to, but they do want direction from their boss.  So by leaving them alone and giving them freedom to run with things, I might actually be frustrating them.  Hmm, that’s something to think about.

I always have a ton of work to do each week.  But I’m going to try and do more design work for Dawnshine if I can.  I’ll see if this helps the Millennials on the team do their thing.  Aside from that, there’s a lot else going on.  I recently met with one of the main art professors from the California State University of Sacramento about setting up an internship.  CSUS isn't known for their art program, but no doubt there’s some great artists there that couldn't afford to go away for school.  I know how that goes.  CSUS (we call it Sac State) does have a really good Computer Science program, so setting something up officially with art students could help open up the door with the CS students.  I still find it funny that Sac State is where I graduated from and I’m just now starting to recruit there after hitting up everywhere else first.  I've just had trouble making contacts there.  Recruiting at Trade Schools that hire career counselors is a lot easier.

Speaking of Trade Schools, I got invited to go to the Art Institute for one of their job fairs and man a Stigma Games booth.  I've done that before over a year ago when I first started this.  So this isn't huge news.  But at least this time I’ll actually be prepared.

I think I mentioned last post that we started making mobile games.  We currently have four games in production.  I don’t want to talk about them just yet, but believe me, we’ll be talking about them a lot soon.  At yesterday’s art meeting, I passed around a design document for one of the games, and I noticed just about everyone that read it laughed.  Mobile games might not be my favorite platform, but we’re still going to be making pretty awesome games.  We’re not going for quick bucks here.

Aside from that, I started looking for marketing people.  We've been talking about a complete over haul of the website, and in general, splitting / and into two different sites.  Right now, they both point to the same shell account.  The one marketing person we have came up with a new logo for us.  I just wanted her to tweak the one I made and turn it into a simple 2d animation that we could play before our videos, rather than completely overhaul what I did.  But I’m glad she did her own thing, because I like what she came up with better.  She’s of the same generation as I am, so I guess that means I need to present her with a lot of information, tell her the problem, and then give her all the freedom she needs to fix it.  I like that.  And I like what she’s doing, even if I don’t get it at first.  That’s fine.  I don’t have to get or understand everything people on the team are doing.  Just like I've decided to take myself out of the loop for figuring out clothing styles of Dawnshine factions.  Anytime my vote is taken out of fashion related decisions, it’s probably a good thing.  I will say that I’m really happy with the job the artists are doing though.  We might be some unfunded indie no one’s heard of, but the artists can do AAA work.

This week, I have a bunch of marketing and PR work to do.  I need to finish some designs and recruit a couple more programmers.  A very, very busy week.  But that’s how I like it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

February Post

Hey everyone,

I've been incredibly busy lately.  I had about a dozen meetings last week, and at least one meeting each day this week.  I’m starting to book into next week.  Because I meet so many people now and our attrition rate is so high, I've started going into meetings with the idea that I’ll try and scare people away from wanting to join the team.  So far, I still have yet to meet anyone that decided not to join.  So it doesn't seem to be working.  But at least I’m giving people a more grim idea of the game industry in general and the amount of work, working on a game requires.

Our attrition rate has started to come down a little.  That’s partly because we now have some people that have been around for a long while and now there’s at least a core group I can count on.  That makes things a lot easier.  But it’s also because I've been giving artists art tests.

Productivity among the programmers has increased since moving to my father’s office.  It’s inspired me to think even harder about getting us funding so we can all work on Dawnshine full time in an office.  But our funding options are bleak.  Without having any games out, it’s impossible for an investor or publishing company to be able to assess us.  So that’s looking pretty unlikely for now.  So I was thinking about alternatives for self-funding.

There’s still Kickstarter, of course.  That might help a little and I might still do that.  But another possibility is for us to make mobile games.  I've talked to the team about it, and they’re on board to give it a try.  We have the talent to make it happen, and it can be quite profitable.  I asked a guy I know about it.  He makes mobile games with his grandson.  I asked him how much he makes on his best selling game.  He told me $1,000 bucks a day.  I thought that it must be a new game that just came out, and that money will taper off.  But no, he said that’s a 4 year old game and it’s still making that kind of money.  He said they have a few others than make a few hundred dollars a day.  Um, wow.  Not to be mean, but I've seen the guy’s games that he’s shown off at game events here in Sacramento.  And they’re simple games with very basic art.  Really nothing special.

I’m thinking that $1,000 dollars a day could pay for a small studio in an industrial office area and hire 10 people at $15 dollars an hour(not spectacular wages, but it’s a start) and still have a little bit of money left over each week.  Why aren't we doing that now?  I took a look at the top grossing games on the iStore.  They’re stupid, most of them.  Many of them wouldn't take a few people from the team more than a week.

I have a feeling though, it’s not as easy as it looks.  If you make the best game in the world and no one knows about it because they’re too busy playing the pimple popping game, then you won’t make a dime.  And although the mobile market is growing and will continue to do so over the next several years, I notice that just about all the big game companies are hiring mobile developers.  That means the market is going to be completely dominated by big budget, well produced (and free) games that the indie developer will have a harder and harder time competing against.

If that’s true and we want to put out some games to make some money, we need to do it now while the market is still fairly indie friendly.  We’ll see how that goes.  From my research recently, the best money comes from making free games with ads in it.  Also, from what little I could find online about it, if you’re an unknown developer, you’ll get very little money per ad click, which is bad because you’ll also be getting far less people clicking.  So if you get 200 players per day, only 5% of which click on the ad, and each click only pays $0.10 cent per click, that’s a buck a day.  Pretty grim.  From what I've heard, this is the fate of most developers.  Or, 80% of games will make less than $3,000 dollars over its lifetime.  That’s the only statistic I could find, and it’s a grim one.  Well, it’s not too bad if it’s one guy living in the boonies making one game a month.  But bad for us trying to support a few dozen people.

Another possibility.  We could make a really good game and put no ads in it other than ads for our other games which we’ll release right after.  That would get our name out there and get us some revenue eventually.  Something to think about, at least.

I've been thinking about target demographics.  There’s the mom at the bank with a screaming kid, so she pulls out her iPhone to give to the kid to give them some game to play to keep them quiet.  Making games that would appeal to little kids… hmm.  Then people at school who want to play multiplayer games with their friends during lunch.  That’s actually a really cool idea.  Think about how annoying LAN parties are.  You have to haul your desktop over to your friend’s house.  Much easier to just pull out your phone, and you don’t even have to plan that in advance because you’re likely to have your phone with you anyways.

These aren't the type of games that get me excited.  I mean, I don’t even have any games on my phone.  But if this means I could be able to pay people, yeah, I’ll make Hello Kitty / Pokemon style whatever games.  Ok, I don’t really know what a Pokemon is.  Step one, look up what a Pokemon is.  Step two ???  Step three, profit.  This is the start of my business plan.  I think I need help.