Archive for category: Indies

Virtual Explorers

25 Sep
September 25, 2014

The urge to explore is a powerful one, there is a thrill in discovery, a joy in wandering virgin territory and meeting new and exotic characters.

It’s certainly one of the most compelling aspects of this interactive medium, it’s ability to not just tantalize us with glimpses of exotic worlds, but to actually transport us to them, to place us on alien soil, inside that forgotten temple or derelict spaceship, and to let us take on the role of virtual explorers.

And while there’s some debate in the gaming sphere over whether the so-called “walking simulators” like Dear Esther count as “games” or some other thing, there’s still that joy of playful exploration, the thrill of seeing what’s around the next corner, over the next hill. Personally, I’m glad they’re made.

And with that thought, I leave you with Bernband, a freeware walking simulator set in a low-fi sci-fi city, oozing with Star Wars-cantina atmosphere.

You may be tired of the pixelated look, but give it a chance. There’s plenty of little things to discover as you poke around.

As a side note, man but there really is some great, inspiring stuff out there in the indie scene! Especially these days, as the cheaper, easier and more powerful tools have truly opened up the space to developers and designers of all stripes. I love finding projects like this, that demonstrate that it’s possible to create something that delights and feels expansive, even without a big AAA budget. I’ve grown too accustomed to being pragmatic, realistic, reasonable. To lowering my expectations and believing that some project X is out of reach unless I have a big budget to execute it. *cough* Deus Ex-alike *cough*

The indie scene helps free my thinking a bit, opens my eyes to creative solutions and low-cost design hacks. It keeps me excited and dreaming about what’s possible, rather than just what’s “realistic”.

Keep being inspiring, indie guys and gals.

Duskers Looks Great

06 Jun
June 6, 2014

A lovely game idea, this, from Misfits Attic. I really want to see this one get made.

Besides the cool idea and mechanic, I always find it really inspirational, seeing the creative ways that indies find to convey an evocative style without having huge art budgets. I’m taking notes!

It’s an amazing feeling

16 Jan
January 16, 2013

As I said, I’m currently playtesting System Crash. Which means playing it all day, day after day, tweaking parameters, iterating.

Honestly, I expected to find it a bit tedious, doing this part. But it’s not! It’s really fun!

Fun gameplay combined with the feeling of “OMG, *I* did this!’ = AMAZING!

I’m on top of the world! 😀

So you want to be an indie game developer?

07 Dec
December 7, 2012

This excellent guide can help!

NEO Scavenger progress report, and the effects of Greenlight and Desura

22 Sep
September 22, 2012

Daniel Fedor has a post up on his development site about how NEO Scavenger is doing, months after release, and what effect putting up a Greenlight page on Steam has had, as well as the impact of Desura. It’s well worth a read, for aspiring indie devs. And points to something I’ve said before, that putting up a Greenlight page is valuable even if it doesn’t result in your game getting on Steam itself, simply for the additional exposure.

Give it a read here, it’s always great to see indies being so open about their games do in the marketplace. It’s helpful data for all us aspiring indies, and can be hard to find.

This could be huge for indies

09 Jul
July 9, 2012

Steam has just announced something caled “Steam Greenlight“, another way for indies to get their games on Steam. Basically, the community rates your game, and if you get enough positive ratings, Valve will begin the formal approval process.

This is huge for indies. A lot of gamers will suggest on forums that indies should get their games on Steam. If only it were that simple. Steam is a closed platform; unlike XBOX Live, there isn’t a simple checksheet you can meet to guarantee a spot on the service. You submit your title, and you hope you get approval. If you don’t, you have no guarantee of even being told why you were rejected. Your game was just “not the right fit” for the service.

Much like the publisher/book model, this puts all the power in the hands of an agent who you have to hope sees the potential of your game. But maybe your title has a dedicated fanbase who sees things in a different light to the reviewer Valve assigns to check it out?

Well, now the community can make a direct difference. If enough of a fanbase exists, they can effectively signal to Valve that your title can sell, and justify putting it up on the service.

This is awesome news. And, just another reason to be a fan of Valve.

You can’t blame them from wanting to ensure a minimum level of quality on their service, but it’s great of them to democratize the decision process. Leaving it up to fans is about as fair as you can get, really.

The Free Rider Issue

13 Jun
June 13, 2012

Cardinal Quest sees 90% piracy rate on Android, according to reports.

I’m not going to spend time with this post saying piracy is bad blah blah. Instead, what I find interesting is that number, 90%.

In just about every sales postmortem that I’ve read that gave detailed stats, that has been about the number you see, 90%. It seems to be standard. Doesn’t matter if you’re EA or indie, or what the price level is. That 90% piracy rate stays pretty constant. It can’t be attributed to poor college students who don’t have the money to pay for games yadda yadda, you’re talking about people with Android phones ripping off a $2 game here. Though much of the piracy seems to come from Eastern Europe, and price disparity in poorer countries is a problem, I doubt $2 is out of most people’s reach.

And equally interesting is that the sales figures on the heavily pirated version, Android, are about equivalent to the iOS devices. That too is very interesting. It’s easy to conclude from that fact that “see, piracy doesn’t affect sales”, but that would be making conclusions from incomplete information. It would only be true if it had equal amounts of exposure on both platforms, and we don’t know that. It’s hard to know without more information, but it does suggest it.

For myself, I long ago accepted that any game I make, if it becomes successful enough to attract attention, will have a 90% piracy rate. Or, perhaps a better way to phrase it because it doesn’t directly imply that every pirate copy is “consuming” what would otherwise be legitimate sales, I have accepted that for every 1 legitimate customer I gain, I will in turn gain 9 free-riders.

In other words, if you imagine hosting a music festival in the park, gated off to limit access to people who’ve bought tickets, I know that for every 1 person that pays to get through the gate, 9 people will just camp outside the cordoned off area, near enough to listen to the music without paying. I use this example because I live near a park that regularly holds such musical events, and you see that every single time.

Now, when I think of it like this, my immediate question is not how to “fight” piracy, because those people are not folks who’ve illegally jumped the fence and I have to get security to chase them to make sure they’ve paid for tickets. Instead, I begin to wonder how I can take advantage of those free riders. How can I make money off them, or tempt them to buy tickets to get access to the paid area. Or, better yet, both.

You see, although Kickstarter may be in danger of becoming a bit too much of a circus show with developers trying to out compete each other with amusing videos and in offering exciting new reward tiers for pledges, one of the things I think it gets right (and this is the same reason I think decent DLC is a good idea) is that it allows people with differing levels of interest to invest in a game to differing degrees. Having one price point for a game is appealing to an “average” consumer. No such thing exists in real life, every individual has different degrees of enthusiasm for a thing. There are forums out there of people who’ve dedicated years of their lives to talking about Fallout, or following the products of a certain group of developers whose ideas and ideals they strongly identify with.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with recognizing that and attempting to offer more to the more committed fans. In many ways, the games industry is far behind the other big media industries, who have for a long time offered a more sophisticated, multi-tiered approach to selling to customers, allowing them to make money from all levels of commitment.

Consider the music industry, and a specific song. At the bottom rung are people who are very casual listeners, I wouldn’t even call them fans. They can enjoy the song for free on the radio or TV. They are not directly paying for it, but radio and TV makes money by selling advertising. Their customers are actually the advertisers, and the product they sell them is your attention. That’s why they pay for song and tv show licenses, to give you a reason to pay attention to their channels and give them the numbers they need to sell advertising slots to advertisers.

So, in this way, the casual listener is “monetized”. Monetization is a bit of a dirty word amoungst most gamers, mainly because we’re aware of how often companies are simply looking for ways to exploit us when they use these kinds of buzzwords. But in this post, I’m just meaning it as “making money from people who partake of your product”. I think we can all agree that it is fair for developers to try to make money from their product in that way, and that in this sense it’s not unethical, evil or what have you.

Then you have the next tier up. People who actively like the song. They’re fans, but at this point they’re only fans of this song. They may go on iTunes or a physical store looking to buy that track. But this results in more “value” than simply the money you make off the sale of the song. Because this customer will probably see links to other songs that the artist has produced, they’ll learn about the artist, browse through the other tracks on a physical CD etc. So in that way :

Value gained = (profit from sale of track) + (advertising/exposure)

This person may also tell their friends about the track, leading to further advertising via the word-of-mouth effect.

The next tier is proper fans. They don’t just buy one track because they heard it one time and liked it. They’ve started following that artist actively. They want to know what that artist is going to produce next. They track the artist’s upcoming releases, and recommend the artist, not just the song, to their friends. The word-of-mouth effect is stronger, and you don’t have to spend as much advertising money/effort to reach these fans to tell them about new products. They’re doing the work for you. And they’ll probably come to your concerts, and help advertise them in the same way.

The next tier is only a small step further than the previous tier. These are fans, but they’re fans who’re also willing to go beyond the music/live shows and buy extra merchandise. They buy band t-shirts and memorabilia. They place particular value on personalized gear, stuff signed by the band in person, or a drumstick thrown into the audience by the drummer of the band. Things that authentically connect them to the band. Personal interaction is treasured.

The final tier is the die-hard fan. These people they identify with your brand on a very fundamental level. It’s part of their personal identity in some way, and they value it to an even larger degree than the previous tier. These are not just fans of Elvis, these are Elvis impersonators. These are the people who will travel across country to see their favourite bands. Who know all the trivia, who buy the books about the formation of the band and its history. They want to do anything they can to get closer to the band and the music. This may or may not veer slightly into crazy groupie territory, but hey. 😉

So returning to games, the lesson here is that it’s a good idea to treat consumers as having differing levels of investment and enthusiasm, and to create a set of tiered products to try to monetize each tier. Back to the problem of game piracy, the free-loaders are that bottom-most tier. They’re the people who’ll listen, but not pay. At least, not immediately. Now how do you monetize them?

It’s a question I can’t say I have an answer for, exactly. One of the ways is to include mechanisms for spreading word-of-mouth, things like posting to facebook and twitter. I’m not a huge fan of games which do that by default, it’s a bit spammy, but perhaps if you show a once-off screen asking players to share on facebook if they like the game, the pirates may feel like it’s a harmless way to pay you back. Or perhaps if you tie it to bragging, record some feat they pull off in-game and offer them the chance to post it online…these are ideas I’ve been mulling over. How to turn free-loaders into free advertising.

(Before anyone suggests “put in adverts!” you generally have to have high player numbers for advertisers to sign on, and it doesn’t have a great return from what I’ve read unless you get really high numbers. Not to mention that actual adverts in a game are pretty icky, and easily hacked out.)

Returning to the music in the park metaphor, in terms of tempting them to buy tickets to the show, the obvious answer is making the gated-off area more desirable in a significant way. You can see that the games industry has cottoned onto that concept, at least, with special DLC and access passes. But I’m not sure they’re doing it right, as often their efforts seem to move in the direction of removing content that feels like it belongs in the base product instead of offering more value to premium customers. A better example is in things like pre-order campaigns and Kickstarter, where “getting in on it early” will give you early access to game builds or member-only forums for direct contact with the devs so you can influence how the game turns out. That feels much more like a legitimate “VIP benefit”.

I’d be interested in hearing any thoughts about this in the comments. Perhaps you’ve got an idea, perhaps you’ve seen a great example of using free-riders to the dev’s advantage. Thinking about how to work this for an RPG, my favourite genre, is especially tricky, I find.

Comparing Kickstarter and D20

12 Jun
June 12, 2012

I’ve already talked about how I think that Kickstarter won’t be all rainbows and kittens, in the long run.

And before anyone posts an angry comment, to repeat – I’m not saying that Kickstarter isn’t a good thing, overall. Not at all. More options, more avenues for creative people to bring their ideas to market is always better. But I think it’s naive to paint the industry, any industry, in broad simplistic strokes, with the Black Hat Villains on one side and the White Hat Heroes on the other.

We all know that publishers are full of shit, a lot of the time. But I’m wary of that narrative that gamers love, the one that paints publishers as the source of all the game industries failings. And how everything would be better if the publishers would just hand over the money and then get out of the way of the auteur developers as they create their magnum opuses. It’s…too convenient, too simplistic a narrative.

And no, reporting directly to the fans isn’t the same thing. Gamers aren’t the same as hard-nosed businessmen with an eye on the bottom line. It’s naive to think that gamers following the process via videos and forum posts is the same thing as real managerial oversight. There’s no contractual agreement between Kickstarter patrons and devs about meeting milestones. It’d be trivial to hide the fact that the project has become a trainwreck, right up till the end.

My intention here is not to get too negative about this, as I said, I think Kickstarter is a good thing, overall, for everyone. But I was reading r/luddology and I found this comparison between Kickstarter and the D20 open license. Rather interesting, and I hadn’t thought of it that way.

Have a read.

Paper Sorcerer

11 Jun
June 11, 2012

Kickstarter is the big thing right now, so I don’t think it’s worth blogging about every new project that comes up, other sites more than have it covered.

But this project looks interesting, I dig the art style and concept, and it’s perhaps small enough to get overlooked by the big media sites.

Paper Sorcerer

How to Market your Indie Game

10 Jun
June 10, 2012

It’s video time again! In this one, I go into the mystical art of “Marketing your Game”.

Excitement guaranteed, or your money back!

To go along with the video, here are some examples of what I was talking about, images that I think do a good job of immediately capturing the essence of “the fantasy” on offer. Not an exhaustive list, of course, and I’m not saying that this image translates into quality gameplay.

Sometimes, it’s pretty low-hanging fruit. You slap “Batman” or “Mafia” on a box, you immediately understand the fantasy. As I said, some things are shortcuts. Established brands are one. Genres are another. Even companies or individual names can serve that purpose. Bethesda Softworks, Bioware, Will Wright, Sid Meier. Invoke these names and you generate an expectation of a certain type of experience.

Hell, you can apply this principle to more than just individual games. Consider Origin Systems. Their motto was “We Create Worlds”. Evocative, no? The fantasy they were offering was written into their companies guiding principle.

And finally, let me end with an example of how NOT to do it. This one is a complete failure.

The only thing that saves it from being incomprehensible is the fact that the box art clings so tightly to well-worn genre imagery. ‘Cause you sure can’t figure it out from the name “Two Worlds Two”.