MonthNovember 2014

Are you an artist or an entrepreneur?

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Recently, I was reading a couple of articles in GamesIndustry.biz in which two companies discussed certain aspects of their business. While two articles had different subjects, these was one aspect that was similar to both interviewed companies. Both Glitchsoft and Game Theory had to stop working on purely in-house projects and turn to external contracts in order to survive.

Most of us who jump into indie game development would perceive turning to contract work as failure. This initial reaction made me reflect on the objectives and identities we give ourselves as independent game developers.

The question is basically this: are you an artist or an entrepreneur?

Artist

Artist-type indie developers tend to be more interested in the game they are making, rather than by how they are going to sell it. They are more focused on crafting an excellent product and want to make the best game possible. Some may even build games simply to use the medium as a form of expression, like traditional artists do.

If you find yourself putting most of your work in the game and doing very little on the marketing and business side, then you probably fall in this category. If you write your own engine because it’s fun, knowing full well that the game is not moving forward, then you’re probably also an artist-type.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your project won’t make money or that it’s doomed to fail. It’s just that the product is more important than the business. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it might be a problem if your objective is to live off your indie game revenues.

Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, what you are trying to do is start a business. If you find yourself thinking about which game is more likely to sell and what are the market trends, then you probably are more of the entrepreneur type.

This may actually be surprising, but pure entrepreneur types (not working in games) often don’t care directly about the product they are making. They are typically focused on building and growing a business. This doesn’t mean that entrepreneur types cannot make a good game, or that they are not indie. It just means that they see their endeavor as a business.

Artist or entrepreneur?

Artist or entrepreneur?

Can I be both?

Yes, you can be both! The truth is that most us are part-time indies looking for a success in order to live off the fruits of our loved labor. In fact, I believe that if you want to succeed as an indie game developer you need to be both an artist and an entrepreneur. It is a good balance between crafting a great product as an artist, but also thinking about business as an entrepreneur that will increase the chances of success.

The artist part of you may want to do something unique and interesting that you, as a player, will enjoy. This is a good way to think. If you like the game you are making, there are probably other people about that will like it too, and they will be willing to pay for such a product. However, your reasoning must not stop there. Here are a few questions that you should ask yourself.

– What can I do to get people to know about my game my game? How do I increase its visibility?
– What is the best way to make money off my game?
– If my game is premium, what price should it be?
– Should it be early access pays less and I increase the price as I add features? Should I sell episodic content? Etc.
– Can my game be easily deployed to other platforms (PC, sure, but what about Mac, Linux, iOS, etc.) on which I can also make money?
– Can I use an engine that will do the job without having to write my own stuff, thus increasing the chances of finishing my game?

Out of all these questions, the one about visibility, a.k.a. the marketing of your game, is probably the most important one.
It is often the entrepreneur stuff like marketing that is most difficult to think about as indies, because most of us aren’t interested in that stuff.
We often have a “romantic” perception of the indie developer making millions off a project they hand-crafted to success. The truth is that most people who do succeed did something right on the entrepreneur side of things, either through marketing or market approach.

In the end, while each success story is different, I believe it’s important to stay in touch with your artist side for the quality of game, but also to try to think like an entrepreneur to increase your chances of success.

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Fireproof Games – Comments on marketing

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According to an article on GamesIndustry.biz, Fireproof Games’ Barry Meade mentioned that “focus on business and marketing can be detrimental to a game developer”.

I’ve mentioned before that marketing is as important as finishing your game in a previous post. Could Fireproof Games’ multi-million dollar success counter my arguments?

I don’t think so.
I think Fireproof did something smart with their marketing.
But I don’t think you should be doing the same thing.

The Room by Fireproof Games

The Room by Fireproof Games

Fireproof’s marketing strategy (maybe)

Fireproof was able to leverage one of the most powerful tools in mobile game marketing, Apple itself. By having the opportunity to meet with Apple, they effectively were on the fast track to getting a feature on the iOS app store. The featuring, combined with a very high quality product and the general lack of quality premium games on mobile, contributed to the word-of-mouth popularity which made The Room such a huge success.

And now that they have this success, they can continue their marketing campaign with a whole new twist: playing the rebel role. Most high revenue titles on mobile are free-to-play. In another article of the same source, Fireproof clearly has taken a stance against this form of revenue/game design. They are essentially going against the market trend and flow. I think they are essentially catering to the group of players that have have high spending habits, the core gamers. This demographic responds very well to anti-F2P and the high-quality game company value.

You might say there is also a boasting strategy in play. The same kind of boasting that Rovio did when they said they wanted to be bigger than Disney. But that’s OK, because it’s a very smart business move to make. By making strong allegations like this, they are stepping up in the industry and becoming a beacon of value, which is good for business and credibility.

Why you shouldn’t do like Fireproof

Fireproof broke through the mobile game market as a premium title. Most of you are probably working on traditional core indie games that are on PC (and are aiming for Steam). While The Room is now on Steam, it is clear to me that it would not have had the same success had it been an original PC-only title. The danger of following in Fireproof’s footstep is to think that just making a quality game is the main success factor. On the PC market, there is a lot of competition in the traditional high-quality premium game market. It’s much more difficult to stand out in that crowd. We indie game developers need to keep marketing in mind during the development of our projects.
We do need to see it as a business because we may not have contacts with Apple (or with Steam), and we may not be attacking a market abnormally. Even if you are working on a mobile title, would you be able to assemble the same conditions as Fireproof did?

In closing, I really believe Fireproof when they say that their focus in on making high-quality games. It seems to be part of their core values. Of course, it will be interesting to see what game they are working on next. Will it be another high quality premium title, or will they be tempted by the siren calling of the F2P market?

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Make a Game, not an Engine

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I recently was speaking to a colleague about his personal game projects. Always interested in what engines other people use, I asked him which engine he was using. He answered that he was writing his own game engine. As programmers, we’re often motivated by writing new code and programs, even if it means reinventing the wheel sometimes. But, while creating your own engine is an impressive endeavor, I think it’s generally a mistake to do this if you’re trying to be an independent developer. Here’s why.

Why you shouldn’t write your own engine

The general reason is simple; building an engine is a tremendous task considering you need to write both the engine and the tools that support it. Most engines or frameworks that are out there have months or years of work put into them, especially when they are cross-platform. And depending on the size of the team using the tools you need to design and implement, you may find yourself doing a lot of support and features for these users. If you are working alone or with a small group, this will mean that you will use up time and resources for the engine, while the game itself will not move forward. And as an indie, your most important objective is to finish the game (and get the public to know about it). Building your own engine is usually contrary to this objective.

Even in a large studio, writing a new engine is not a task that is taken lightly, because it can take years before the engine and corresponding tools become really stable and usable. In my experience, I’ve seen projects that have come close to failure because someone decided to write a new engine from scratch.

Finally, never forget the three virtues of a good programmer.
The important one in there is lazyness!

A Game Engine - Too much work!

The Unity game engine – Imagine reprogramming that!

What about a using a framework

Yes, using a framework, such as SDL, Cocos2d-x or Starling/Feathers with Adobe Air can be really efficient also. They are usually designed to be fast to learn and easy to use. In many cases also, the frameworks are also multi-platform. Keep in mind, however, that they usually don’t come with tools (which is why they are only frameworks, according to my definition).

If you’re project is programmer-oriented or you know of a way to leverage other tools for your designers/artists, then frameworks can be very interesting. Personally, I tend to use frameworks more than engines, simply because the games I make don’t require tools. And when I do need tools, I’ll usually resort to widespread tools, such as Excel. For example, on The Order of Souls, the designer and artists built the data in Excel. I wrote code to export from Excel into a engine-compatible format. That format was XML, by the way, so I didn’t reinvent the wheel either.

Why you may want to write your own engine

If you need to do something so different that you require a special engine, you might want to consider doing so. If ever you find yourself in that situation, I still suggest that you try to find a good framework from which you can kick off your project. You will also want to minimize the amount of code you write by using open-source code and the like.

Your situation

I’ll admit that my recommendation is directed at those who want to make a business of their indie development, rather than a hobby.
If you’re making games just for fun and are writing the engine as part of the exercise, then by all means, write an engine.
It can be a great way to make a programming portfolio and could even be a marketing vehicle to get known by the public.
I believe the author of the Flixel framework got more visibility by making his work available for public use and gave him some extra exposure.

Finally, if you’re a indie veteran and have made many games independently before, well, you already know what you’re getting into, so it’s entirely up to you!

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I’ve never written an engine before! (but I have started projects based only on frameworks)

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