Monthly Archives: February 2006

Website Updated

I made some updates to gameproducer.net
- banner image
- header links
- left sidebar font is now bit bigger
- left sidebar has lesser content (moved to header links)
- bit bigger content area
- some new pages (like articles and archives)

I didn’t change the font color yet… but if I get more complains about I just might change it. Feel free to comment the site now.

Secret Game Project In Production

Polycount Productions has started a new secret project. I believe in open development (as we do with Morphlings) but in this case we want to keep it secret.

I can give you some hints…
- We have 3 members doing the game (I’m producing it, one programmer, one 3D artist and one 2D artist). We need one more to do sounds & music.
- The game will have an eastern (japanese/chinese) fantasy theme… samurais and chi wizards in it.
- It will be 2 player game – either against human or computer. Hot seat or at the Internet.
- It will be turn based.
- And it’s darn addictive. At least the concept is.
- We have very tight scheducle – we try to release it in 2-3 months.

If you want to ask something about the project, feel free to comment or email. We just might answer…

If you want to get informed when the game is released. Throw your email in this post. (I really gotta get that newsletter available asap).

Visit These Game Forums

There’s a brief forum list I consider useful for beginner (and more experienced) game developers

Top 2 (in my list):
- IndieGamer (great place, professional attitude – business & development)
- GameDev (another good place, lots of content)

Couple of more interesting places to check:
- iDevGames (mac site – worth visiting)
- SHMUP-Dev (relatively new site with increasing popularity – mostly about arcade shooters, but there’s also other kind of content)
- IGDA (industry related)

Game engines & specific engine forums:
- DevMaster (great place to check for game engines)
- GarageGames forum (nice place, especially if you want to use Torque in your game development)
- BlitzBasic & Codersworkshop (If you want fast & easy game creation tools, check these sites)

There are others. Feel free to contribute & give your hints.

Protecting Your Ideas

Question:

What is a copyright? How can I get copyrights?

Answer:
Basically, a copyright means that when you do something – you own your work. Like, for example: as I write these texts, I own the copyright – no one else cannot copy/publish my text and present them as their own or they would violate my copyright. (Btw – I’m more than willing to let people present these texts – although I would appreciate a link back).

Same way: when a programmer in a team writes code, he owns the copyright for that code. It’s his and nobody cannot copy that code (without violating his copyrights) unless there’s agreement about that.

I’m not a lawyer so I won’t go any deeper into this issue. But what I just wrote roughly describes what a copyright means.

There’s more detailed information available in the Internet. Here’s some sites which you might find useful.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright
http://www.whatiscopyright.org/
http://www.gamedevkit.com/

Question:

I’ll pose it by relating my current situation. I have a small development team currently producing it’s first title. It’s aimed at the casual market, and we think the concept is fresh enough and current enough to be a popular seller. (Though what game development team doesn’t?)

I wouldn’t usually worry about giving ideas away, as generally the playability and sellability of a game is more in the implementation rather than the idea. However, in this instance the idea is one we feel has never been seen before, and is likely to be copied very, very quickly once it’s gone into the wide world. Obviously, we need to balance this with the need to demonstrate it to publishers. What are the best steps we can take to allow us to protect our idea while still allowing us to demonstrate it as appropriate?

Answer:
If you have finished your game then there’s no need to worry about that. We never had any problems with this. Eventually all the best game ideas will be copied anyway.

I believe there are couple of reasons why they wouldn’t copy your game idea:
- It would cost them time & money to develop the game
- They cannot know if it’s a hit game until they’ve seen sales
- Usually publishers focus on *publishing* rather than *developing* (of course there are also publishers who publish & developer games)

You will eventually need to publish the game in some way. When the game is released you cannot protect the idea anyway – so why would you be afraid at this point?

Logically: There is no 100% proof way to protect your game, but you can use something:
- Finish your game before presenting it to public (in case they want to copy your game idea – they will have less time to do it as your game is in the market)
- Patents/trademarks (Don’t know if anyone has done this – but that’s why they invented patents)
- NDAs when dealing with the publisher. Let them sign the paper before presenting the demo (although I would bet not many publisher will use time to sign it… they see thousands of games each year, and putting extra effort on something would require special reasons). If they clone the game you might be able to issue a law suit. I still think this is far fetched, but as you asked – I respond.

The best ways to protect your game, in my opinion, are not based on copyrights or laws or patents. I believe the best ingredients are:
- Make a darn good game and keep updating it! When competitors clone your game with 100 levels, you can upgrade your game to contain 200 levels. When competitors announce new graphics – you announce new graphics, sounds and special effects. Update the game. Or when competitors announce their copied game… you announce a sequel: “Yourgame II”. Be proactive rather than reactive.
- Build a loyal community: discuss with your players, play the game with them and get friends. If competitors launch a similar game, you already have better one and good friends playing it. Why would they switch now when they seem to like your game?

To sum up:
- Don’t worry about your unique game idea. If it gets copied, it gets copied. Make sure you have the best execution.
- Let publishers see the finished demo. I’m sure you are okay with them. If you worry about copy issues – hire a game attorney or get the publisher to sign a NDA.

Good luck with it.

Sales Statistics: Morning’s Wrath

General:
Title: Morning’s Wrath
Short description: Classic Adventure / RPG fusion. It combines rich story and puzzles with intense melee and spell-casting combat.
Developer: Ethereal Darkness Interactive
Released: October 1, 2005
Current Version: 1.3
Team size: 5 person team
Time to complete: 3 years (part time)
Distribution: Boxed and Downloadable version
Distribution Outlets: MorningsWrath.com, JustAdventure.com
Demo download size: about 80 MB

Income:
Date: Oct 2005 – Feb 2006 (5 months)
Downloads: over 3000 (2000+ from download.com, over 1000 from other places)
Sales: 100 units
Price – boxed: 29.95 USD
Price – download: 19.95 USD
Gross sales: 2000 – 3000 USD (both boxed & download – majority come from downloads)
Conversion rate: 1-3% (for download version)

Revenue share – boxed:
The manufacturer MRW Connected: 10 USD per sold unit, roughly 33% (responsible orders, issues with sales, etc.)
Ethereal Darkness Interactive: 10 USD per sold unit, roughly 33%
EDI’s team members: 10 USD per sold unit, roughly 33%

Revenue share – download:
The manufacturer MRW Connected: 0% (handling orders also for download version)
Ethereal Darkness Interactive: 50%
EDI’s team members: 50%

Expenses:
Bugdet: 3000 USD (tools, graphics and audio, little bonuses to developers during the development)
Webhosting Costs: Sponsored

Advertising & Promotion methods:
* Press Releases
* Demo
* Reviews
* Forums

Project Management & Bug Tracking Software

Question:

I have some really big problem now! Can you help? I can’t find a simple and effective proj management tools: (nice to be: web-based, open-source, PHP, ajax, nice futures)

Answer:
Unfortunately I really don’t know good solution for this.

PHProjekt is not so good. Microsoft Project has nice capabilities, but it’s expensive. DotProject is one pretty good web based.

I haven’t found a proper – so we solved the problem by making our own online solutions for internal use…

Luckily lonerunner came back after couple of days and mentions these:

BugZilla
TRAC (project management really nice one)
FalySpray (bug-tracker, php, nice)
Mantis
phpBugTracker

Excel (or OpenOffice version) can be ok tools for project gantt charts & budgeting.

That’s where my knowledge ends. If you have any recommendations, please feel free to share.

How Much Control Portals & Publisher Want?

Question:

How much game-content/technical control can an indie-developer expect to be imposed from those who manage a game-portal?

Example 1:
game portal: We need you to change the amout of score for each gem collected.
developer: Fine, no problem.

In this case, the management ask’s the developer to tweak rules\gamelogic issues, something which I dont mind much.

Example 2:
game portal: We want you to reduce the polycount on those 3D characters.
developer: From an artistic point of view, the characters needs this amount of polygons to look good.
game portal: We also want you to change the technology/method used to render characters shadows.
developer: Based on my experience on shadow rendering alghorythms, I suggest the current method should be used to be able to work on the widest range of display adapters.

In this case, the developer strongly disagree with the management about changing the inner workings of the game engine.

Answer:
You gave two good examples. The first example is very typical for portals: they will most likely give suggestions on how to improve the game and to make it more portal friendly. Very typical – you will see these kinds of requests. Not all of them has to be approved – but it’s possible that you need to tweak some elements in game for portals to accept the game. Some portals require more tweaking while others take your game easier.

The second example…. not going to happen. Portals won’t be interested in polycount numbers or shadow algorithms. This is something you have to manage inside the team. The portals will tell you if the game runs too slowly – and in this case it’s developer’s job to figure out how to optimize: whether to reduce polys, change LOD systems, tweak shadow algorythms or something else. Portals will tell you what results they want to see, but won’t be interested in methods – it’s irrelevant for portals whether you changed 200 or 3000 lines of code to meet their needs. They just care that you solve the problem.

Question:

Im using Blitz3D and BlitMax as my favourite development platforms. In my opinion this is fine as long as the game works and its fun to play. Does gameportals require the exclusive use of C++ as development platform?

Answer:
Definitely no – they won’t require exclusive use of C++ or other language (in most cases). I have never heard portals or game publishers to require use of certain language for 3rd party game developers.

It is true that some publishers might focus on “Torque games only”, “C++ games only” or “Blitz3D games only” but typically the question is about game platforms (PC, Mac, consoles…) rather than specific language. The publishers might have certain requirements like “must work with DirectX7 or higher” or “must run on GeForce2″ – but it would be very irrelevant for them to require certain language to be used. It’s the result (for example running on PC/DirectX7) that counts rather than method (must use C++).

Basic Guideline for Getting Sales

Tom Cain posted a nice sales guideline at indiegamer.com. I believe both beginner and advanced developers can find this information very useful.

Here’s a general guideline I’ve come up with:

If you aren’t getting enough downloads, something is wrong with your marketing. Improve exposure, presentation, screenshots and writing. Make sure the potential customers you are talking to are the right audience for your game. Work on this until you get at least 100 downloads per day because you can’t test without traffic.

If you have traffic but not enough sales, something is wrong with your sales pitch. The demo is broken, too hard or easy, or shows too much or little. The price is too high or low, or there isn’t enough value difference between demo and full versions. You have a good download flow for testing because of marketing improvements, now tweak things in the demo. Some demo players will give you feedback that helps. Work on this until you are converting at least 1%.

If you’ve done the above but can’t get conversions to 1%, something is wrong with the product. Talk to your demo traffic and find out what you need to fix. Release improvements back into the traffic then watch conversion rates while soliciting more feedback.

I believe any playable game is sellable using this basic guideline. Tweaking a playable game is much easier than building a new one, so take advantage of the asset you’ve built! Talking to players who like what you’ve created and have ideas to improve it is very rewarding, both emotionally and financially. And once you have this experience with an audience, you’ll get future products closer to correct at version 1.0.

Dealing With Publishers

MariuszH presented several questions about dealing with the publishers. First of all I must admit that the games I have been producing (or co-producing) haven’t had a retail publisher behind them so I needed to consult other people to help me with these questions.

Question:

Let’s assume, that we have just finished working on self-financed game, and now we want to get publishers (not only portals, but also retail ones). How to find and get in touch with CD/other publishers? How do we do that?

Answer:
I believe best way to reach any publishers or retail distributors is to announce a press release. We’ve got plenty of offers from different companies and organisations after we made press releases. Another way is to make sure your website has direct info. A Finnish game development company Frozenbyte is selling their Shadowgrounds game in retail stores. They have an announcement page where they list release dates for different countries and announce that they are interested in hearing from publishers/distributors.

If you want to personally contact publishers then start googling & asking in forums for potential publishers. Fetch their websites and phone or email them.

Question:

Are there other ways to contact & deal with publishers?

Answer:
It’s possible that publisher (or a company) has a brand (it can be any brand from toys to candy – or everything in the between) and you ask them to finance a branded game for them. When we worked on GEOM we got a contact from one major toys company: they wanted GEOM to display their graphics and they wanted to distribute GEOM through retail channels (as an addon for toys). The deal never happened – their offer was simply too low for us – but this example shows exactly what ways there are to deal with different companies.

Question:

We are a startup company, not established yet. So it’s almost impossible for us to find any company which would work with us. Though our games are not that bad. Some companies don’t even reply. So how to get noticed?

Answer:
It’s a tough world out there. Small indies are hard to spot – especially if there’s no legal entity behind them. I would seriously suggest establishing a company. If you want to make it fast & easy you can start as a sole proprietorship (that’s how I’m doing it). Notice: there are legal risks (like I’m fully responsible for my company – if the company gets sued, it’s basically me who gets sued) in establishing a company. If you have a company your image will be much better than having “just” a team. It gives you a professional look and will have an impact.

If you still don’t want to start a company then you really must prove that you have finished projects earlier and make sure your achievements are noted. Best way to get noted is to make a darn good game, and make the world know about it: press releases again play important role here.

Question:

How should we make our first contact? What should we place in our proposal? Do we want publisher to sign NDA, or maybe we will be asked to sign publishers NDA?

Answer:
Publishers most likely have a template for publishing proposals and for publishing contracts. If you make a press release you will most likely get proposals from different publishers requesting more info and making a preliminary proposal. Some might tell them the exact royalties they want to give. It really depends on the publisher.

On the other hand, if you are the one who is reaching for a publisher then I think there’s one important element what they expect to hear: money. They want to hear sales expectations, information about your company and they want to see your game. If possible, show rather than tell. Use screen shots, concept art and demos to present your game. If you are the one who approaches, then you must have a solid business plan behind your proposal. Here’s a small list of items what you should contain in the proposal:
- Company information (name, contact info, phone etc.)
- Proposed title and brief description
- What you are selling and for what need?
- Who is going to buy this game? And why?
- What’s the business logic – how will you sell the game? (Subscription based? One-time payment, Expansion packs and add-ons? What?)
- On what stage your game development is at the moment? (On development? Finished?)
- What’s new in this game?
- List top 4 competitors and explain why your game is better than them
- Is the game trademarked or patented? Is there legal protection?
- Any additional information (websites, resources, etc.)

If you want to keep your business proposal secret then you might want publisher to sign NDA. I’m quite sure the publishers will ask you to do the same. Just not a big deal – just sign it and continue negotiations.

Question:

What should we expect?

Answer:
I wasn’t sure if this question was “whether the publisher accepts” or “in terms of money”. I’ll answer both:
- If you are determined to find a publisher for your game I’m confident that you can expect to find one. Make it your goal and it will be possible. You might hear thousand “no”s before getting the first “yes”, but that’s part of the business.
- Money: It’s true that beginner indies put their expectations very unrealistic (I did – and I know many others…) at the beginning, but – I think that with proper business planning it’s possible to wield realistic figures & goals to expect. If you have a vision – go forward to it. My friend & business partner Tim is a great example of ‘making it big’ – he simply won’t accept “no”. He says he “must get the money” and he does what it takes to get the money. Now he’s got several big companies interested in his igLoader (system that let’s downloadable games to be played in browser). Just be enough stubborn and you’ll make it. Aim high, think big.

Question:

Can we expect any upfront money?

Answer:
Usually the patter is this: For retail (boxed) deals yes. For other proposals – hardly. Some (digital online) indie publishers might offer you upfront money, but as said: it’s not common.

Question:

How much [upfront money/sales] we can expect in different markets (USA / Germany / UK / Russia / Poland / etc)?

That really depends on your game. This is really hard to say. For example, in Germany there are relatively large amount of ‘real’ strategists who play all kinds of strategy games. These kinds of games would most likely get better deals. Very roughly speaking I would say the largest areas are: USA and EU. Russia is a growing market (but the price level is very low which makes it harder to make good profits from there). China and Eastern Asia are big & growing markets and all kinds of (anime) RPGs sell well there. Countries like UK, Germany or Finland are very different. UK is a big seller but you won’t see many sales in Finland.

Frozenbyte (selling their Shadowgrounds in different countries) expects to see total sales of 100 000 units (total sales from all countries). They have listed the following territories: North America, Finland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Benelux, Spain, UK, Italy, Russia, Australia & New Zealand and Scandinavia. Whether your game will receive 1000 or million or zero sales depends on your game and your goals. It’s impossible for me to say how much you will see. I presume you could expect seeing maybe $1 upfront (per estimated unit sold) for retail games: if the publisher estimates sales to be about 2000 per year, you might get $2000 upfront. This is only one rough example and the actual figures might be totally different.

Designing Smooth Game Flow in Online Multiplayer Games

EA’s strategy game Lord of The Rings: Battle for Middle-earth has couple of problems in the way they handle multiplayer connections.

First of all: the game uses GameSpy connection for online multiplayer games. This itself is not a problem, but there are massive amount of players who cannot connect to GameSpy servers, they just receive “could not connect” message when they try. There are help guides/tutorial for this, but basically they won’t (always) help. At least they didn’t solve my friend’s connection issues.

Simple way to fix this problem would be to allow direct connections – meaning that players could create their own servers (without need to connect to gamespy game finder). People could join by typing host’s IP instead of need to connect to GameSpy. This would be a massive aid. Question remains: Why aren’t they doing it? I really don’t know. There cannot be business reason because logically:
- If they want people to sign up for GameSpy they could still be “forced” to create gamespy account (which I wouldn’t do) in order to start making P2P games. I don’t care about forced GameSpy account but I do care about playing the game
- People who have purchased… have purchased the game. Letting them to actually play the multiplayer mode cannot hurt sales. In fact – making a P2P system would encourage people to recommend game to their friend so that they could play together.
- People who would buy Battle For Middle-earth 2 would still be buying it. In fact, if this doesn’t get fixed in BFME2 I’m sure there are people who won’t buy the new game.
- Making a P2P connection cannot be a technically so hard that they aren’t doing it. No, there must be some company policy behind this.

There’s a BFME Patch 1.03 coming “soon” (so I’ve heard) and my friend hopes these issues to be solved there. I haven’t heard their game producer to mention fixing anything like this – what I’ve heard about the patch is that the patch is mostly about game balancing. We’ll see. And hope.

The second problem is caused by NAT/firewall. At the moment the game creating process flow is like here:
#1 – Load the game list
#2 – Create new game lobby
#3 – (Wait for players to appear in game lobby)
#4 – Launch the game
#5 – Connect to players (if NAT/firewall or some other problem here then session is canceled and you are forwarded to step #1)
#6 – Load graphics/level/etc
#7 – Start playing
#8 – (Play)
#9 – Victory/defeat screen (go to step #1)

The biggest questions are step #5 and step #9. Let’s take a look at step #5 now: Why they do the player connection check here? If they know they have NAT/firewall problems and you are starting a 6 player game and even if one player has firewall/NAT problem then the whole game session is canceled. And all people automatically “leave the game”. Why wouldn’t they have had used this kind of approach:
- Check the connection in step #3 (when player arrives at the lobby – then you could automatically see if there’s problems with the connection)
- Or, if the connection fails, why do *all* players have to go to step #1? Why wouldn’t they go back to step #3 and have all the players again in the lobby?
Either one of these solutions would have solved the problem. For some reason they haven’t done this.

The smaller problem is in step #9. After people have been defeated the cannot chat anymore and all players go to step #1 after the game. Why chat is disabled? And why don’t they forward all players to step #3 where they could easily take a re-match? Why not let people chat also in the end of the game… and allow people to make a new match with the same people again.

These aren’t game play issues but these problems show how it’s important to design all aspects in online multiplayer games. Game play design is not enough, you have to design a smooth game flow as well. We’ll see soon how EA manages to do in BFME2.