CategoryIndie Game Dev Production

Meta indie dev blog – Building a website

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The goal of these posts is to talk about all the work and decisions happening behind the scenes for an indie game developer. Just as a development blog would show potential fans the content of their game being developed, the meta blog can be useful for other indie developers going through the same process as I am. In this post, I talk about what is required to set up a website.

I just recently started setting up the website for Morchella Games. While I have setup a few websites before (though not professionally), I’m always surprised at the number of things you need to think about to do it correctly. Here is what I did/need to do to set up my website.

Where to host a website?

First thing I asked myself was whether or not I was willing to pay for hosting and a custom address. I looked at alternatives, such as setting up a blog on Tumblr or some other free resources. Ultimately, I think I may end up doing both! Morchella Games has its main (in progress) site, but I plan on repeating some of the content on Tumblr and possibly other channels.

The idea behind this decision is to increase the chances of being found, as each channel has its own mechanism for discovery. I can’t say I’ve analyzed all the possible channels and their potential, but I’m keeping this in mind as I develop my social media.

For the hosting, custom addresses typically costs around 10$ a year for each address, but I think it’s generally worth it. By having your own address, you can make it fit with the overall branding of your company/game name, and it might even get people to find your company and projects easily. Some people will say it also makes your website and company look more professional. I tend to agree with this claim, but I guess it’s debatable.

For hosting, there are lots of solutions out there. One of the things I looked out for was the fine print on the deals hosting companies show you. For example, make sure to check the hosting price per month once the initial entry deal is over. Most sites will offer something like the equivalent of 1$ to 4$ a month for a period of 12/24/36 months (sometimes payable in advance). What you need to look out for is the price once that period is over. I decided to use Bluehost for the web hosting and I’ve been satisfied with them up to now.

As for the domain (address) registration, I opted to go with Namecheap. While the name sounds like it’s one of those garbage sites, it’s actually well made and functional. My experience with them has been good so far.

You may be asking: why keep domain registration and hosting on different sites. The only real reason I did this was because I once heard some hosting companies try to keep your domain name if you try to leave. Losing your company address could be very bad for a small indie game company!

Wordpress for a website

My website process starts with WordPress

My How to: Website

A long time ago, the first time I needed to setup a website, I was a bit intimidated by all the technical aspects that needed to be done. These days, even I understand a lot better the inner working of a website, I still go with WordPress

If you look at the website reference list at Pixel Prospector, you’ll see a bunch of indie game developers use WordPress as a foundation for their main website. Indies like WordPress and have good reason to do so. It is relatively simple to setup, has loads of customizable themes (looks and layouts) to choose from, and has rather good content management tools.

The main difficulty for me is always the same: choosing the right theme! Each time I have to setup a WordPress website, I look and dabble for hours at the different theme I could use. Since I’m not an artist or a graphic designer, I need to be able to pick something that already has an interesting layout, but can also be easily modified. I’ll admit I’ve never found a free theme that satisfied me, so this time I went and bought the Enfold theme.

One good way to pick a theme is to go with something that is “responsive”. A responsive website means that it’s able to present itself properly regardless of the platform it’s being loaded for (phones, tablets, PCs, etc). For indies, this is actually really important for two reasons. First of all, a lot of users these days will visit your site using their phone. This means that your site must be mobile-ready for these users to be able to look at your site and see the content correctly. The second reason is that Google now uses “responsiveness” as a means to rank your website. This means that the better your site is for mobile, the better your “score” with Google and the more likely your website will come up in a search. I recommend using this link to a Google tool to check if your site is “mobile” enough for them.

All those widgets

I’ll admit I don’t know much about the tons of widgets you can add to your WordPress website. However, most people tend to use the widgets that let you do the following things

– Share buttons for social media (typically for posts/pages)
– Buttons that let users follow you on social media
– Subscribe widget so people can subscribe to your newsletter

If you have a nifty theme, some of these features may already be integrated. I would suggest using those themes’ features before using a plugin, simply because they tend to be better integrated with the theme’s code and layout/style.

Use a tool for SEO

As you may or may not know, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) seems to be pretty important these days. Explained very simply, SEO is something that increases the chances of your website coming up in a search engine’s results. For example, you may want to be the first website that comes up when someone searches for “indie game” on Google. SEO will help you increase your ranking for that search if you’ve set up your website and it’s content for that search. It seems magical, but it really isn’t that simple.

If you want to get into SEO more, I suggest reading up on it, like on this site. Personally, and this is specific to WordPress, I use a plugin called SEO by Yoast. It is a good basic tool to help you write posts that will favor SEO for your posts and website.

You may argue that if people are looking for your game, they won’t enter generic terms in the search engine. That is a logical way of thinking, but I think the more chances you put on your side (or site!), the more likely you will be discovered. Again, I’m no specialist in the subject, but I think doing SEO can be an important to increase the chances of being noticed.

Do I need more than one website?

This is an excellent question. Just like Twitter accounts, some people say that you need a website for both your company and your game. I’ve never actually read an article about this (I’m sure there are some out there), but here’s why I think this could be a good idea.

People often will take interest in a game before they the company that makes it. By setting up a website only for your game (with links to your company page of course), you reduce the chances of people getting lost on your company page when looking for your game. Is is a single and simple entry point to get information and bookmark a site for your released or upcoming game.

I believe there are two initial things that are important for indies developer websites (and other sites too!).
1) People need to find your site
2) People need to stay on your site (long enough to get to the information/content that they need/want)
3) People need to take action on your site. This either means buying your game or subscribing to a mailing list (or other stuff, depending on the situation)

We spoke briefly about point 1 with SEO. By making a site specific for your game, you increase the chances of people realizing points 2 and 3.
If a potential player/fan is able to look at game’s page, instead of navigating a company website, it increases the chances of him staying longer on the page.

In conclusion

As you can see, there are lots of things to keep in mind. As for the specifics of each point, I invite you to look up some of these subjects more in depth. If you find some more information on these different subjects, please let me know!

I decided to go through all this work for my website, but you don’t necessarily need to do all of these points. You can choose to keep things really simple and have more time to work on your game. My strategy, however, is to try and put all chances on my side, even if it means more work.

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Meta Indie Development Blog

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I’ve come up with a concept! I’m calling it the meta indie development blog.

Let me explain.

In 2012, I was working on a more elaborate project while living in Ottawa. When I had the opportunity to join Execution Labs, I put this project on hold. A year later, we unfortunately decided to end the project we started at XL for various (good) reasons. Now that I’m able to work on this first project again, I plan on finishing it.

As you probably know from reading some of my other posts, indie project that want to succeed need to do a fair bit of marketing.
Lots of indie marketing articles will say that you need to talk about your game, along with your “developer story”. This is the type of information that an indie developer will typically write on it’s website or it’s development blog.

What most readers of the website don’t see is the sheer amount of behind-the-scenes work that is required to make the whole project work. From setting up the website itself, to building mailing lists of journalists. And most potential customers are not interested by this type of information.
However, other indies are likely to be interested in this type of information. This is where my meta development blog idea started.

So Meta!

So Meta!

So, the main subject of this series of blog posts will the (boring or not) tasks that I do in order to make things happen on all the aspects of development. Especially the ones that are not meant for a larger public.

So, it’s not meta!

OK, it won’t actually a meta blog, since I’m not blogging about blogging or whatever. I do think however, that the name meta blog has a nice ring to it, so I’ll still call it this way 😛

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1000 True Fans theory applicable for Indies?

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A while back, I talked about the idea of 1000 fans. Basically, the concept is that if you work in a creative field, you only need about 1000 true fans in order to continue making a living in that field. To fully understand this, we need to define what a true fan is. A true fan is someone that will follow you and will pay for any and all products that you release. To work with a music industry analogy, a true fan of a music band will buy all their albums, go to their shows and buy the t-shirt, the mug, the poster and register in the fan group. The example given in the above link states that if you have 1000 true fans and they each pay 100$/year, you should have a revenue of 100 000$/year, which is good for most people. Of course, if you’re a music band with 5 members, this is not enough. But let’s leave the music industry and get back to our indie situation. How many true fans do we need?

1000 true fans

Long tail of 1000 True Fans

Is 1000 true fans enough for indies?

I’m going to give numbers that apply to my situation as a baseline. Feel free to change them around to fit your situation.

Pretend I’m able to release one (medium-sized) game per year. Since I’m a programmer, I need artists to do the work that I can’t do. I’m going to assume 40k$ for the price of all the art I need for a game. Assuming I want to make 75k$ a year, that I want to sell my game for a 15$ price tag and that the selling authorities take 30% of my sales (i.e Apple, Steam). I would need to sell roughly 11 000 copies to make a living each year.

A little over 10 thousand copies seems like not much, but it’s actually pretty hard to accomplish in the current competitive market. On top of that, I said I would pay 40k$ for outsourced art work. This is a huge investment and risk (for an individual), because this is something I pay regardless of the game’s success. Of course, if I have 11 000 true fans, then this isn’t a problem; but would I take that risk…? And, if the game doesn’t work at all, the losses become enormous!

Of course, there are ways to reduce risk on this situation. If I have true fans, I can leverage them in a crowd funding campaign (Kickstarter, etc.) and reduce the initial risk. Or, I can try to find an artist with whom I can propose a revenue split. Neither situation is perfect, because crowd funding takes a lot of work and often requires that you already something to show. As for revenue split, well, you’re basically asking for someone to take a risk with you; it better be someone you’ve already work with or someone you know well. Another solution is to try to do games that don’t require someone’s help, but that is not always appropriate for all types of games.

So, it seem that the 1000 true fans would not work on a yearly basis for indies. In my case, I would need over 10 times more fans to systematically make enough money to continue living. Like I said before, the numbers I use in this calculation apply to me, but I feel that 10 000 would be a good number of true fans for an indie developer.

The importance of fans

While we may not have true fans waiting patiently for our next work of art, true fans are still an interesting concept to keep in mind. And, they are not only important for your direct sales. One of the major benefits of having true fans today is the impact they may have in communities or in social media. True fans will spread the good word about your company and games to other “normal” people too. And the people that they reach have the potential to become true fans also, but more realistically, they can just become buyers of your games, which means extra income for you.

Of course, the real problem most of us have is not having more than 1000 fans, or even just 1000 fans. It’s having any fans at all! So, how does one acquire true fans? I don’t have the answer to this, but I think it begins with just talking about what you do on a regular basis. Post on the company blog, on twitter. Make screenshots and videos. And of course, release games! On top of these things, I also think another great way to cultivate true fans is trying to interact with the public when possible. This means continuing the PR machine once a game is out, answering questions on Reddit or in your forums and even going to trade shows with your game.

So, when working on your game, make sure you plan some time for marketing to get some true fans!

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Free-to-play as an indie?

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As an indie game developer, I will probably never build a free-to-play game again.

Before I get into the details on why I’m saying this, let me add a little context. As it is often the case, I got the idea for this post while reading an article on GamesIndustry.biz about the free-to-play marketing trends for 2015. I’ve had the chance to develop a free-to-play game during my time at Execution Labs and got to understand the lingo and market specifics for this type of game. If you check out the article, you’ll have a glimpse of how complex making, or at least marketing, a free-to-play game has become. Between the load of knowledge and acronyms you need to know and the sheer complexity of building and maintaining a free-to-play game, I think it’s just not worth it.

Free-to-play data

The type of data you need to look at when doing free-to-play

Free-to-play is hard(er) to design (well)

Traditional/premium games are hard to design. Developing an original concept, refining the gameplay into something fun, maybe develop an interesting story and possibly adding some selling features such as multiplayer, while dealing with technological difficulties is no easy task.

I found free-to-play design to be way harder.

This is because you’re no longer designing a game that will simply be fun. Proper free-to-play design needs to integrate the business elements that govern this type of game directly into the design. This means your user acquisition, retention and monetization need to be thought out, from the start, in your game design. It’s not just about making a game that is fun and interesting. It’s about building an experience in which a player, who did not pay for the initial game, will want to come back every day, tell his friends (or complete strangers) about to game to invite them in and will want to eventually pay. This is excessively difficult to do, because as soon as one of those three elements are off, it will be difficult for your game to succeed. From the player’s point of view, the game also has a lot less value that a traditional premium game. Unless the player becomes hooked and pays, the game essentially becomes a throwaway product. This puts a lot of pressure on the developer to make a game so compelling (or with a really efficient hook) that the player does not simply abandon the game or uninstall it immediately.

These elements constitute something that is difficult to deal with as a developer, even more so as an indie. If getting players to stay and eventually pay is hard, it means you need a lot of players. Which brings me to my next point.

Marketing for Free-to-play is as expensive as marketing for AAA games

You may be tempted to think that by making a game free, a whole bunch of people will download it. The truth is there are loads of other free-to-play titles out there and unless yours stands out in any way, it will drown in the torrent of small free-to-play games that are released every day. So, how do you get players in your game? The answer to this, at least for companies that have money, is to use ads. This is usually in the form of publicity in other games, Facebook and other reliable sources of players that incite players to install another game. These types of ads are driven by Cost per Install (CPI) in which the company that shows an ad pays when a player actually installs the game presented in the ad. As you may have read in the aforementioned article, it can cost between (on average) 1$ to 2$ to acquire a player in an ad network. This can add up pretty quickly. The article also mentions that if a payed-for user ends up paying 10$, then it totally worth it. That would be true, but another common statistic is that a very small number of players actually end up paying. In order to get those 2% of paying players, you need to pay for a lot of other users. These users will, at best, keep playing your game for free until they convert, or at worst, uninstall your game after playing for a few minutes. This can cost over tens, hundreds of thousand dollars, even millions.

The original problem that indies met was that using traditional means for marketing (TV publicity, etc.) was unattainable because of the steep price of media publicity. At first, free-to-play seemed like a genuine answer to this, and it was for a while. As more players entered the free-to-play game and understood the market needs, the competition and cost to get noticed also went up. At this point, the current market is that you need money to get people to download your game (unless you get lucky with viral propagation). Even if you have the money to get some downloads, you’re then confronted with the problem of the previous section, which is get people to stay, play often and eventually pay. This means that you need to really understand what players do when they are in your game. How do you accomplish this?

Free-to-play is Big Data

So, you have a certain number of players that are coming into your game, but only 10% of them stay on the first and only 0.1% end up paying. What’s going on? Heck, how do you even get this information? When you have a free-to-play game, you need to understand how players are behaving. To do this, companies log player’s actions in a large databases, usually using third party tools, such as Flurry who are specialized in doing such things. Once you are effectively logging all these players actions, you can start analyzing the thousands of data entries that are obtained through the logs. This means that part of your job as a developer of a free-to-play game is to analyze data on a daily basis.

Unless you are really interested in statistics, you won’t be working on your game, you’ll be crunching numbers. And before you have statistics that are significant, you need to have enough players that have played over a certain period of time. The results are not necessarily instantaneous. So, what do you need to do in the mean time?

Free-to-play is continuous (and more complicated) development

I mentioned before that user retention is an important factor in the success of a free-to-play game. User retention means that players come back regularly to play you game, hopefully over a long period of time. In order to keep people interested (and acquire enough data), you need to continually add new features or content so that they can keep playing, so that players might pay (or pay more). This means that you can’t simply start working on another project easily; you need to keep developing for your other free-to-play project. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as a developer, I know I like to move on to new projects sometimes.

On top of continuous development, you need to have a more diverse set of competencies in order to develop a good free-to-play game. It’s not just about UI, AI and rendering and other traditional stuff, it’s also dealing with servers and databases, which makes for more complex development. It also means that you need your game to be online at all times (in most cases) for people around the world. This can be hard to do for a small group of independent developers.

And on top of that, all the big players are continually making for more elaborate games, with more complex features. Again, it’s hard to stand out in such a market.

I’m still doing free-to-play

As an indie, doing all this is possible, but very difficult. Even if you forgo the money part, you’ll still have difficulty keeping up with all the other aspects.

Despite all these arguments, I’m still currently working on a game that is free.

Why?

Because free-to-play as a business paradigm has opened up opportunities for games that diverge from the original market. There are different ways to make money (such as ads). It’s also a good way to get some visibility. You don’t have emulate the big companies and make really complex games; you can aim for smaller projects.

It’s true, there are lots of games that already aim small and hope for some money. It works for some, but not for others. But, in the end, I still believe that if you do something that stands out, you may have a chance at fortune.

Or at least a free coffee everyday.

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Bad teammates – How to identify them

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Assembling a good team is a hard thing to accomplish in a professional setting. Finding good team members to work on an indie game project can be even harder. Indies will often turn to friends, co-workers and ex-co-workers to complement their teams. Others will look on the internet, in forums such as the collaboration subsection of the TIGSource to complete their team. Regardless of the method, however, you must be careful on who you bring in your team.

While I’ve mostly worked with lots of great people, there are a few notable bad exceptions that ended up being pretty crummy. In some cases, it can be hard to spot them at first. Some of these bad teammates may even be your friends. It’s important that you identify these bad apples as soon as possible and deal with them appropriately. I’ve made a list of things that I’ve observed that may be signs that you are dealing with a potentially bad teammate.

Bad

Bad teammates?

The Bad

Bad Work Ethics

I’m specifically talking about amount of work hours and amount/quality of work produced. When one of your teammates works a lot less than the others, or produces lesser quality work, it weighs down on the team. When working indie full time, make sure you identify core work hours or a clear time system and that you respect it. Some people will be tempted to come in late, leave early, take an extra day off, because they are leading the “indie life”. It can be frustrating for the whole group in these situation, creating tension and diminishing motivation.

This is especially difficult to deal with when working part time. In those cases, it’s important that everyone set their expectations on the amount of time that can be given for the project. If some people cannot follow up on their promises, it’s probably best they leave the project, or get less revenue or equivalent. On the other hand, you will often find one person that will want to work more than the others, because they are very motivated by the project. That’s OK, but it must be clear to them that the others can’t necessarily follow that pace.

It can be super annoying, but if you feel someone is not working enough (or hard enough), start writing down their hours or contributions. You can then use this information to see if your suspicions are correct. Another way to deal with this is ask everyone to log their hours in a tool.

People with Double Standards

I’ve seen people who want to apply rules to the group, but don’t follow the rules themselves. Maybe they’ve noticed that another colleague is often on Facebook, but they themselves are often on YouTube. They want to confront these people with the problem, when they are a part of the problem too. These people are problematic not only because they can potentially cause tension between teammates, but also because they think they are excluded from the rules somehow. And when someone thinks they are above the rules, bad things happen. I find this behavior is often associated with someone that has a superiority complex.

Bad Diva Behavior

Speaking of superiority complex, this one is a classic problem in the games industry. Divas think they are the center of the world and that they are better than everyone else (sometimes at everything). If one of your teammates is constantly boasting about their qualities and work, or worse, putting down other people’s work, you’re probably dealing with a diva.

This can also manifest itself in more subtle ways. Subtle divas will try to delegate boring tasks to others because they think they are above these tasks. Or they might say they are not motivated by certain decisions/tasks and will justify working less efficiently because of “motivation problems”. In some cases, I’ve seen people who said they were unmotivated because some people did not look at them during the morning stand-up meetings.

A good dose of confidence can be good for business types, presenters or lead positions, but taking it too far is problematic.

Titles Over Responsibilities

Many times I’ve seen people come talk to me about their team and have over-the-top titles for some of their team members. I’ve seen one guy say he had a producer and an executive producer in his team of 5 people. Although the previous situation is ridiculous, I’ve seen many people insist that they have “big” titles when their actual role on the team was not that important. In some cases, it might be OK to give yourself a relevant title if you actually have the responsibilities for it. Titles are meant to represent the fact that you are responsible of something (important). The problem is when someone says that they are CEO, but just draw or code in their corner all day. Usually these bad teammates are just interested in looking good and might be associated with any of the previous behaviors.

I also have a pet peeve with people who say they are CEO of their one man “studio”, but that’s another subject!

The Ugly

The ugly part is actually dealing with these bad teammates. This is never easy whether you’re in a professional setting or a more laid-back indie setting. It can actually be harder in the latter case.

I think the best thing to do (in both cases), is to actually sit down with the concerned individual and tell them how their behavior is problematic. This can be done one-on-one or with a small group, depending on the situation. Stay calm and try to explain how the behavior is causing trouble and how you’d like it to change.

If the person doesn’t listen or denies the problem, you may have to let go of them sooner or later. Getting stuck with the wrong people can be very problematic down the line, so it’s often better to get rid of them, rather then letting them weigh you down.

I know I’ve regretted not “firing” someone in the past, and it’s not likely to happen again.

In the end, you should listen to your instincts. If you feel something is wrong, then something probably is. It’s important to identify these things early on, so that you can deal with them quickly, before it’s too late. Oh and I know, I missed an opportunity by not naming a sub-header “The Good” to complete a perfect sub-header combo. But that’s OK, at least I got the bad and the ugly in there!

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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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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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Alone in the dev – Developing a game alone

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Alone?

I sometimes get asked by people if it’s possible to develop a game all by yourself.
The simple answer to that question is ‘Yes!’ (the exclamation mark is a must).
Even if you are working full time and are trying to be indie part time, it’s possible.
It’s true, I’ve done it before, and I can prove it.

Actually, I can’t prove it anymore.
It’s OK though, you can totally believe me.

I did release a game around 2010-2011; it was called Static Break and it was a puzzle game for iOS. I actually also released Super Static Break for iPad which was Static Break, but with extra puzzles.
Was it the best game ever? Was it super intricate and involving?
I can assure you that the answer to both questions is a resounding ‘NO’.
It is, however, something I am still excessively proud of.
Why?
Keep on reading.

The problem with working alone

The great thing about creating a game on your own is that you have complete control over everything. You get to choose the setting, the style, the title, the gameplay, the schedule, the price, etc.

It’s great!

All this control and power will also be your biggest challenge, because you are alone.
When you are working alone, no one is there to force you to work.
No one will organize your project.
No one will do the stuff you don’t want to do.

And there is only one thing you really need in order to overcome the challenge of working alone.

Willpower.

It seems simple enough, but it’s atrociously difficult to actually achieve.
So, here are a few tips on how to be a lone wolf.

Alone wolf

I believe this is what an indie working alone looks like, but I’m not sure

How to work alone

Keep it simple.

I’m starting with this tip because it is the most important, and by far.
The game you are working on alone should be simple, especially if it’s your first project.
By keeping the game simple, it will be much easier for you to manage the project and it will increase the chance that you will finish the game, which is one of the most important things you need to do as an indie.
Sure, you won’t make that super deep and complex RPG with a story spanning three generations that you’ve always dreamed about. Again, if this is your first project, you shouldn’t be doing that anyway.

If the game you’re making alone is simple, you’ll reduce the chances of failure (not finishing!)

In my case, Static Break was a relatively puzzle game and it took some time to complete. Looking at it today, I realize it’s because I kept the game simple that I was able to complete the project and release it.

Compensate for your weaknesses

Chances are you’ve got some trade that you’re good at/studied in.
A game you make alone should capitalize on your strength, to increase the chances of finishing.

Not an artist? Make a game with simple shapes or with art that you can make yourself.
Not a musician/sound dude? Get some free sounds or buy some royalty-free music for low prices.
Not a programmer? Use an engine that requires very little programming.

By focusing on what’s your good at, you won’t get caught up in stuff you don’t know and increase the chance of completing the project.

Use tools and engines

If there is any way you can make something simpler by using a tool (free or not), do it.
When you use tools made by other people, you are being efficient and are using their strengths to your advantage.

Want your game to be multi-platform? Make sure you pick an engine that covers the platforms where you want to deploy.
Don’t know Photoshop? Use Paint.net instead; it’s a free alternative to PS.

A special point needs to be made on using a tracking tool to manage your project.
Use any type of software that will let you set up tasks and planning.
This could be Gmail/Calendar or something like Trello (which I use).
These are especially useful as you can typically set due date with email reminders.
These will serve you well as swift kicks in the butt if you ever slack off too much.

Keeping a journal of what you’ve done can also help.
You will feel as though you are progressing and when the project is done, you can look back at all the work you’ve done. Plus, if you actually publish that journal live, like on a blog, it also counts in your marketing effort and will give you great practice for larger projects.

Should I work alone?

Definitely. At least for one project.

The reason I recommend working on at least one game alone is simple.
You’ll get to know yourself pretty well.
You’ll discover which parts of the indie aspect will interest you most, and which you will hate.
And then, you’ll probably realize how much work doing a “real” game would be at that point, and that’s fundamental.
You won’t know what being indie is unless you’ve tried.
You can then start working on something bigger and try stepping outside your comfort zone.

Basically, you will grow as an individual.
And if you actually get that game done, even if it’s simple, you will feel great about yourself!

And, hey, you never know!

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Success as an Indie – 3 Important Factors

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Success as an indie

The exact definition of what indie means could be the subject of debate (and another post). However, most indie developers pretty much agree on the definition of success. Success as an indie means that you are able to live off the craft of making the games you really want to make. Having read a lot of articles on the subject of succeeding as an indie, I’ve noticed that there are three points that seem to be recurrent.

Success factor #1 – Finishing your game

It may seem like a really obvious point, but most developers have a really hard time finishing a project. Even small projects can be hard to finish. Having completed a few projects on my own, I can certainly say that finishing a game completely is not an easy task. Even if you have teammates, completing a project can be difficult. Regardless of your situation, it’s really important to focus on the task at hand and keep your project realistic and organized. I think I’ll write another post on what I do to complete my projects, but in the mean time, here is another link on the subject.

Success factor #2 – People need to know about your game

We love making games. And as we gain experience making games, we think that completing the game is the hardest part. The truth is, getting your game known is as hard, if not harder that creating the game itself. For a lot of developers, making the game is what’s fun, but selling it to people isn’t. However, if you want to succeed as an indie game developer, you need your game to sell. And if you want people to buy your game, you need to inform them about your game. In the future, I’ll also be writing some posts on how to get people to know about your game and here is another excellent blog to get started.

Success factor #3 – Getting lucky

I’m actually talking here about good old random luck. Interestingly enough, most successful indie developers say that their success also was due to luck. Yes, this means that you don’t have control over this. However, most successful indie developers agree that if you work really hard on the first two points, your reliance on luck can be diminished.

Reading back on this post, I realize that it kind of sounds like I’m stating the obvious.
Well, the truth is, I am, because it needs to be repeated.
I’ve seen plenty of projects not get finished.
I’ve seen plenty of projects get finished, but sell a ridiculous amount of copies because of lack of exposure.
Finally, I’ve seen great games with some great exposure that still didn’t make it to success.

But, hey, if I’m still around talking about this, then I guess there is a fourth point.
Don’t give up.

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