Monthly Archives: May 2006

How to Please Everybody…

…or at least the majority, when two totally separate directions are wanted.

I made some more tweakings to the website in order to please as many people as possible. I got requests from people about the colors: some wanted blueish theme… some preferred warmer colors. I decided to do both.

I have put two links in the footer of gameproducer.net, now you can change the site theme by clicking one of the links.

Or simply clicking these:
click here to select the colder blue theme (ads won’t change color though)
click here to select the warmer yellow/orangeish theme

I realize that there’s still people who would wish to have different banner, or perhaps different links but now the biggest issue has been sorter. I know the current modification won’t please everybody… but hopefully majority of people like it. And hopefully rest of the people tell me how to make the site look & feel even better.

This very same lesson is very useful in life in general, business negotiations for win-win situations, game production, game development and especially in game design. There are often situations where two very different requests are made. It isn’t always possible to cater all the players, but I believe very many times there’s some middleground – something that will please both sides.

In this specific website case, I decided to have readers to choose the colors.

Feel free to give more feedback about the visuals… or about the site or articles in general.

The Reason Why Bad Feedback is Good – Always

I previously wrote about seeking criticism and yesterday I got a comment about improving website that started as “You are not going to like this but…” (and then some criticism – and good points)

I want to say that, that’s exactly what I like. If people give me bad feedback, I can improve something. If I only hear “yeh, looks good” from friends, I would never know what people would really think about the issue.

Listen to bad feedback, and improve. This works not just for games or websites, but life and work in general. Ask for the feedback, ask what’s bad. Be specific. Listen to what’s being said and think of how to improve.

GameProducer Website Version 3.0, Comments?

I have read all the requirements about the gameproducer visuals… and even though it’s almost impossible to please everyone, I’ve done best I could to make the site look good. I decided to stick with the right-side navigation… at least for now. And the link color is dramatically changed to make it distinguishable… and to keep in line (as much as possible) the site visuals.

Now GameProducer.net got its third major update:
- Color theme back to orange(ish), with better distinguishable red links.
- Top banner much lower now, showing fewer links. Color change to black.
- Newsletter position changed (to top)
- Added footer (copyright information etc.)
- Added two new menu links: categories and donation option
- Added google ads
- Changed the search tool to google search
- Some minor other changes.

Here are the 3 layouts to compare:

Version 1:

Version 2:

and the new one, version 3:

I would be very thankful for all kind of feedback: Comments, Suggestions. All would be welcome. Tell me what works, tell me what is not working. What’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly. Thanks in advance.

Microsoft Will Not Release DirectX 10 for Windows XP

Microsoft announced that they won’t release DirectX 10 for Windows XP:

Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest maker of software, will not release next-generation graphics application programming interface (API) called DirectX 10 for the currently shipping Windows XP operating system (OS), instead, the company will keep the new API strictly for the forthcoming Windows Vista OS, despite earlier assumptions about DirectX 10 for the XP.

There’s a heating debate going on at indiegamer.com about the issue: people taking stances, giving reasons for this, blaming Microsoft, or giving other information about the issue.

Before blaming Microsoft, ask what this will really do for independent game developers. The answer is: pretty much nothing. One reason why this doesn’t require us indies to worry is that Windows Vista won’t be available until some time in the future (some say it will be available on December 2006, but I would bet 2007 or 2008 to be more likely) – and it’ll take some time for people to upgrade their older versions to Vista. Most of the blog readers here use Windows XP, but out of all readers (who have windows) there is about 20% who have either Windows 98, Windows NT or Windows 2000 – rest of having Windows XP. So, it’ll propably take another year or two (or even more, as it requires quite much horsepowers from a computer) to get people to upgrade their OS to Vista.

But the second – much more important – reason why DX10 for Vista only is not such a big deal: most of the indies who sell their games use DX7 or DX8 (or Mac or OpenGL). Maybe the DX10 is a major issue for big game studios whose game has to offer the latest graphics widgets, but has no impact for us indies – we can focus on innovation rather than latest technology. Vista will have backwards compatibility (propably even DX5 games will work), so it really doesn’t have much impact for us indies.

As I mentioned earlier, you should question authority now and then. In this kind of debate you can see people blaming Microsoft and worrying about the ‘bad future of indies’… basically making the issue much bigger than it really is. I suggest you to make up your own mind, make your own judgement about the issue and deal with the facts – somebody might be making fuss out of nothing.

“What’s Stopping You?”

When I considered launching gameproducer.net for bringing game development ideas, hints and tips I had few doubts about it. I wondered whether my English (as a Finnish guy) would be good enough, I wondered whether I would have time and I wondered if having “another” site for game development would be such a good idea. I postponed the decision and asked my friend to whom I explained my thoughts.

His simple response was: “What’s stopping you?”

He didn’t question my English nor didn’t have any other negative thoughts about the issue. He simply asked what’s really stopping me. And the answer was simple: nothing. Only my own doubts were stopping me, and in the end they were just excuses. I decided to launch the site. After writing for about 5 months there’s still lots of more to write about – and I’m enjoying this. It’s been a really positive journey for me so far, and the journey continues.

Do you have a challenge you are considering to do, but have some doubts about it. Ask yourself that simple question – and get real about the answer. Don’t make excuses. Ask: What’s really stopping you. In many cases it’s nothing but our own thoughts.

The First Mistake to Avoid When Your Game Is Not Selling

When people put their game online and start selling it without success they first think about the price. That’s the number one mistake. If your game doesn’t sell with price tag of $20, it won’t sell at price tag of $10. Do NOT drop the price of your product and wait it to enchance your sales.

It won’t.

Instead – focus on other issues, such as promotion or your product quality. Polish your website and make a better demo. Ask fellow developers for hints and do what suggested. Don’t decrease the price of your game. Increase the quality of your game.

Two Types of Promotion: Credibility & Exposure

After writing my GamaSutra article I got some emails and comments here at gameproducer.net about the promotion. I would like to distinguish two types of promotion: credibility and exposure.

The article I wrote has had very little effect in terms of exposure: the website statistics I mention (polycountproductions.com, edoiki.com and gameproducer.net) have received almost no increase in traffic – in fact, week ago the traffic have been slightly higher than they’ve been after the release of GamaSutra article. In this way: writing an article has not have immediate impact on exposure. I expect it to have small long-term impact, and it will propably attract new developers who haven’t heard about these sites earlier. But – it’s not a great way to get immediate increase in traffic for your site. There are much better ways to get people to visit your site than writing an article.

Now, on the other hand: my credibility has got better in eyes of some people. Writing to a well-known and appreciated place such as gamasutra.com is a great way to increase your credibility: people appreciate merits and titles (even though they should listen to what’s being said, not who said it..). In that sense writing the article has given me immediate benefit in terms of credibility. People are more willing to deal with you and believe you.

Both credibility and exposure have important role in game production. If you have high credibility, you will receive more offers from various sources (such as from publishers, other game development companies, magazines etc.) and your connections to outside world are good way to make deals. In this sense it’s important. On the other hand, exposure – getting website traffic – is perhaps the most important issue (after getting sales) in game business: without traffic you have no business.

Depending on your situation your promotion methods should be focused either building credibility or getting more exposure: do you need contacts & deals or do you need more traffic? Choose your promotion based on that.

What Are AAA Titles?

Question:

What are AAA titles?

Short answer:
High-quality games with high budget.

Longer answer:
There is a debate that takes into considering several aspects that AAA titles should have. Some of the most common qualities that AAA titles should have (according to some experts) are:
- High-quality
- Broad market
- High sales
- Large teams
- Big budget
- Polished audio-visual direction
- Perfect technical and artistic execution
- Playable & fully enjoyable within the first five minutes of play
- Exhaustively tested
- Bug free
- Great usability
- Continous, balanced entertainment from beginning to end
- Great graphical user interface
- First place in the markets, and great marketing
- Hype

Some of the qualities are more arguable than others (like playability in 5 minutes). Some argue whether AAA titles should have certain budget or certain amount of sales.

In general, AAA refers to a game of the highest quality.

Interview: Oblivion Game Producer Gavin Carter

Gavin Carter is a game producer at Bethesda Softworks – the company behind the The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. GameProducer.net was lucky enough to get to interview him.

GameProducer.net: Hi, first it would be great to hear something about yourself, and your background. How long have you been in games industry, and what have you been doing – besides the big titles such as Morrowind and Oblivion?

Gavin Carter: I started right here at Bethesda Softworks in the summer of 2001 as an intern. I did basic world-building tasks for Morrowind such as laying out the interiors of buildings and creating basic dungeons. The next summer I returned to intern again and did quest design on Tribunal. I did about half of the non-plotline quests in the expansion, including the quest where you bet on robot fighters and the quest where you take part in a play. After I graduated college in 2003, I got hired fulltime by Bethesda as an associate producer and have been here ever since.

GameProducer.net: Then right to the point: what game producers do at Bethesda?

Gavin Carter: A game producer is responsible for making the development process go as smoothly as possible. They’re the ones tracking the game’s progress at every point, so they have to create and maintain the overall schedule and make sure it gets communicated to each developer. You have to make sure that everyone you’re responsible for has everything they need to keep moving on development. This includes everything from assigning tasks, to making sure their computer hardware remains up to par, to making sure an artist gets that troublesome animation over to the programmer when he has time to review it, etc. There are different strata of producers, as well. At Bethesda, we have dedicated producers for each project, as well as a producer to handle each area of our team – coding, design, and art.

GameProducer.net: This is something people want to hear… can game producers participate in designing AAA titles? Or, do you just stick with the business issues, projection planning etc.?

Gavin Carter: Game producers participate quite a bit in the overall design. Again, this varies from company to company. Some companies use their producers as overall quality control types who can pass or fail an individual feature depending on their opinions. Other companies leave jobs like that up to the designers or particular team leads. Bethesda is somewhere in between those extremes, but because the job involves a lot of communication, a lot of meetings, and a lot of coordination of work between people, there are lots of opportunities to express your opinions on any particular issue.

GameProducer.net: Is game production a fun job? What’s the pros and cons being a game producer in a big company?

Gavin Carter: It’s absolutely a fun job. The pros are obvious for the most part – you get to oversee the development of a new game. As a producer you have the opportunity to be involved in many different areas of the game. The cons are that there’s nothing very specific that you can point to in the game and say “I did that” like a piece of art or a cool feature. Also, scheduling sometimes feels like trying to climb a greased ladder. You’re constantly tweaking people’s schedules and rearranging things as the project goes along.

GameProducer.net: What kind of skills do you need as a game producer?

Gavin Carter: Project management skills are really where the rubber meets the road for producers. Experience and knowledge of software like Microsoft Project and Excel for scheduling as well as bug and task-tracking packages like TestTrack Pro, Bugzilla, or JIRA come in extremely handy. Also a deep knowledge of how games are created, both from a coding standpoint and an art creation standpoint, is a necessity when planning out development.

GameProducer.net: What kind of personality is required for being a game producer?

Gavin Carter: A good mediator with an even temperament goes a long way. You have to deal with a range of opinions each day from a range of people, and sometimes arguments can get very passionate. Many times people look to you as the producer to make the decision and set a direction, so it helps not to be a hothead about things and to carefully consider your options.

GameProducer.net: Then some questions about your hit game Oblivion. Can you describe us a typical day in Oblivion production?

Gavin Carter: A typical day involved artists churning out new content, designers setting up their quests in the editor, and programmers squashing bugs and implementing new features. A typical day for me usually started with checking my email and making sure I had no loose threads left to resolve. Then I’d begin going over our TestTracker bug and task database, assigning the new bugs to specific programmers to look at and bugging people to finish up tasks that were due. Usually we do meetings in the afternoon, and then I’d finish off by double checking that the schedule document still conformed to what we had in tracker.

GameProducer.net: Oblivion is out now. Is there still something left to do for a game producer, or are you already planning your next game?

Gavin Carter: Personally, I’ve moved on to another project that we’re working on internally. We have two producers still primarily involved with Oblivion – one oversees downloadable content and the other is mostly concerned with support issues, such as the patch and update.

GameProducer.net: About a month ago, Oblivion was reported to have sold over 1.7 million and climbing. What does this mean to you as a game producer?

Gavin Carter: Nothing specifically other than the great feeling of having been a part of something that a whole lot of people seem to really enjoy. I’ve never been a part of anything like it before and the critical and commercial success makes all the hard work worthwhile.

GameProducer.net: Oblivion was developed simultaneously for both Xbox 360 and PC. How did this affect on game production?

Gavin Carter: Multiple platforms always complicate things. It basically means you have to track the status of two (or more) different versions of the game all at once. The art and design sides were largely unaffected but on the programming side we had to dedicate about half of our resources to each platform to make sure they both kept moving forward.

GameProducer.net: On other interviews you have mentioned Oblivion’s Radiant AI. Now as the game is out, have players noticed the system? What kind of feedback have you got? Did the system turn out as you and your team wanted it to be?

Gavin Carter: Players have commented quite a bit about how big of a difference the system makes over Morrowind’s static NPCs. The stories that you can read all over the internet on various forums have been great. I’ve read everything from people’s reaction to hearing cool unscripted conversations, to crazy stories of massive brawls breaking out in the middle of town, wiping out homes and stores alike. I think the system accomplished the goal of providing a varied and unique user experience, and we’ll certainly look into refining it in the future.

GameProducer.net: How much control did you have over Oblivion? When producing AAA titles, the funding comes from different sources compared to indie game production. Does this mean limitations for the game producer?

Gavin Carter: As we are one of the few independent publisher and developer combinations left, we had absolute control over Oblivion at every point in the project. The best thing about working here is that the company administration trusts us enough to produce a fantastic product and they let us do what we think is best. It’s something so rare in the industry that most people think I’m lying when I say it, but it’s true. I imagine companies that are beholden to certain publishers have to deal with a lot more red tape and a lot more oversight, but I haven’t been in that situation myself.

GameProducer.net: What was the best moment in Oblivion production?

Gavin Carter: The best moment without a doubt was when they announced that we had passed certification for the Xbox 360. This was basically the “It’s done” moment. When we got the call, I remember hearing the cheers radiate out across the office as people learned the news. Of course we knew we’d be supporting the game post-release, but it was a great feeling to hold one of those discs and know that years and years of our hard work was finally ready to make it into the public’s hands.

GameProducer.net: Our readers are eager to learn games production, and one of the best ways to do it is to learn from those who are already producing games. Could you give us TOP 5 tips that you think every game producer should know?

Gavin Carter:
1. Play your game. This is the most important and seems obvious, but lots of producers tend to get stuck deep inside Excel docs or meetings and put off actually loading up the game and playing it. A lot of problems are caused when someone in power waits until the last minute to test out a new game feature, only to decide that they don’t like the implementation.

2. Play other people’s games. Always be on the lookout for new ideas, and how you can improve on the successes of others while avoiding their mistakes.

3. Communicate, negotiate, and delegate. Every project is a team effort, and how you work with and apply the people on your team can make the difference between success and failure.

4. Iterate. Doing something over isn’t a failure but a chance to improve.

5. Read everything. Never stop learning.

GameProducer.net: Big thanks to you Gavin and Bethesda Softworks for the interview. Nice to see you can take time to answer questions from indies. Good luck with the future projects.

Gavin Carter: Thank you, it was my pleasure.

Meat Eaters in a Vegetarian Cafe

Finland won the Eurovision 2006 song contest. Monster Rock band Lordi‘s song Hard Rock Hallelujah got the greatest points in the history of the contest.

It’s okay to be different, innovation is what indie games should be all about.
The band members wear scary costumes and that’s part of their act. They do different music (“too rock for pop people, and too pop for hard rock people” they say) and wear different costumes. Indie games could do that. It’s possible to clone some popular casual game, but I think indies should strive for originality. Big studios let the markets decide what they do, but we indies can look for niches and search for opportunities in smaller ponds… and we can decide to do games that people have never seen. Lordi proved that more different music can be winning – I’m sure we indies can prove that more different games can win as well.

“You know, we are meat eaters in a vegetarian café,” said Mr. Lordi when asked how the band feels to be in Eurovision.

Yet, they won.