Basic Marketing Plan For Indie Games

My first GamaSutra article Basic Marketing Plan For Indie Games is now online as Cover Feature.

The article uses Edoiki game’s marketing plan as an example and goes through the following steps:

* Goals
* Distribution
* Product
* Promotion
* Website
* Demo
* Measurement
* Maintenance
* Refinement

I presume most of gameproducer.net readers know GamaSutra already, but for those who don’t know GamaSutra I recommend to check it. It’s a great resource for games production, their website title says “The Art & Business of Making Games” – that’s what it’s all about.

Now, go on and check out the marketing plan article.

Router Configurations

In our previous office I used DSL connection and could have 2 computers using the same net through a simple DSL modem. Secret Game Project – Edoiki – worked fine without problems.

After relocating the office I needed to purchase a new router and couldn’t get Edoiki connection to work. I have never installed a router, and knew nothing about configurating them. Luckily it’s better to hire people that are smarter than you and one friend of mine kindly adviced me to get the router to redirect calls to computers.

The router configuration screen explains it:

Virtual servers can be used for setting up public services on your LAN. A virtual server is defined as a service port, and all requests from Internet to this service port will be redirected to the computer specified by the server IP. Any PC that was used for a virtual server must have a static or reserved IP address because its IP address may change when using the DHCP function.

I configured the router to redirect calls to my computer, and now the network code in Edoiki is working fine again. Problem solved. (Edit: And naturally you need to take care of the system security: use firewall or redirect only certain port calls that are needed. Thanks Matt for giving this reminder.)

Ask Game Producer: Would a Simple MMORPG Engine Be Doable by One Person?

Question:

I need to undertake a large project that will consist of a major part of my degree and i was considering implementing a small scale (very very simple) mmorpg engine, client and server architecture.

I would just like your opinion on whether you would think this is feasible for 1 person to achieve, bearing in mind im not trying to create something that will be released or distributed, it will be more of a technical demo i suppose. I have read several articles floating about on the net and have received mixed opinions from some saying that its easy to do and some saying that its not even worth starting. I feel that personally i could create something quite simple, and implement a client/server architecture however i don’t have the insight into this in a development perspective (i have never attempted to undertake anything as big as this) and im 100% up for the challenge of doing so. I was considering using primarily .net technologies and directx (probably c#, xml and sql) as ive spent most of this year utilising these technologies, again what would be your perspective on using tools such as these?

Answer:
I believe this boils down to estimating the duration of the project.

It’s almost impossible for me or others to answer whether one man can do the job or not unless I can see the tasks that needs to be done. Does the engine require 3D rendering? Databases? Will there be user registration system? What functionality will the players have – will you implement chatting, moving, fighting, or just coordinates? Will there be zones? How many players are supposed to be in the game? Will there be buildings, objects, NPCs? Even “simple client-server architecture” might require doing code for these.

I suggest making a list of what needs done, then estimating how much each item might take time and then compare the results with the resources you have.

I personally always suggest people to avoid building their own engines. I think it’s much better way to use what others have done: get an engine that somebody has already built, and develop your own gameplay using the engine. I believe this is much easier & faster way to get into game development rather than focusing on building the base. Kaneva and Multiverse for example are solutions which you can use to build your own MMORPG. I strongly suggest for one person to avoid building a full scale MMORPG game or engine, it would simply require too much time.

In this specific case building the engine from scratch can be understood (as it it’s part of a degree, not something to actually be released) and I wouldn’t say but to estimate the duration of a project and compare it with the resources you can use. Building a simple client-server architecture could be doable, although I bet the functionality wouldn’t be huge.

Portal Sales Statistics

Question:

It’d be interesting to see some sales statistics including commission information (how much of the money went to the distributor and how much to the developer) for games distributed on portal sites (such as RealArcade).

Answer:
Unfortunately portals use contracts that doesn’t allow developers to publish sales numbers for them. I previously mentioned a typical fee for portals is somewhere around 50-65% off net sales, and as they don’t disclose their numbers, it’s almost impossible for us to get numbers sold.

Big Fish Games announced in their press release that their Mystic Inn game sold more than 2000 copies in the first three days. Mystic Inn is not their most downloaded game, but this information can give you some kind of clue on how much these games sell.

Question Authority (Take 2)

My previous post about questioning authority got some feedback which got me thinking about writing another entry about the subject.

The main point in questioning authority is this: If you believe somebody *just* because his authority, *never* questioning what he says, then you might not be thinking yourself.

If the Pope says there is a Heaven, and you believe him just because he is an authority figure – then you might not be thinking in your own mind. I’m not saying that the Pope is wrong or right – I’m saying that you should be making your own judgement.

We people tend to believe things that seem obvious for us, and because the marketing vehicles behind these ‘obvious’ issues are so huge. For example, when asked about the most dangerous threats in the world, one could easily mention terrorism or bird flu influence. If you compare the propability and the impact of these risks then rationally these shouldn’t be our biggest worries. Terrorism bombs and attacks are of course serious issue, but in terms of propability it’s much more likely to get hurt in a car accident – and it can hurt you equally badly. Still, people go very safely every morning on their cars and drive to jobs. And they don’t mention cars as the biggest threat. They mention terrorism.

Same with the bird flu influence. Again of course it’s a serious issue as it has already killed several people in different countries, but in terms of ‘biggest threat’ it’s far from it. Hospital bacteria infections for example are much greater threat today, but nobody seems to be interested about them. It’s politics.

Now, that’s why I try to remind (sometimes) people to question authority. The newspapers and governments are (quite often) lead by highly educated people, yet that doesn’t mean you should automatically believe what they tell you. It’s worth noting, that also it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t belive them just because they are who they are. I’m telling to listen what’s being said, not who said it.

If you listen and belive only those who you like, then you might also receive not just their good hints but also their bad hints. Just because they are friends of yours. Also – if you don’t listen to those who you don’t like, then you are ignoring the good hints that comes from their mouths. I believe in listening to everybody, and giving people the right to express their opinions. Then, put your filter on and decide what to believe and what not to believe.

Would I be willing to accept the advice of an accountant on wiring your house instead of an electrician, placing an instruction from the accountant on the same level as an instruction from the electrician.

First I want to point out that there’s no need to get paranoid about everything that’s being said and questioning everything all the time. No, the point is not to challenge authorities in every situation. The point is to (1) question your own beliefs and (2) to think what’s being said, not who said it – in situations that needs it. If you are having a dinner with your family, there’s no need to get into argument and ruin the evening just by the need to question ‘authority’ and just for the sake of ‘being right’. I’m saying that if you are choosing a 3D engine for your game you can critically analyze how suitable it really is for you, even if it’s recommended by your friend. Don’t pick the ‘best’ 3D engine just because somebody says so. Pick the 3D engine for the sake of your needs.

I would also like to point out, that if an accoutant with no wiring experience suggest something about wiring I wouldn’t take his advice. If an electrician (that really has done the job previously) suggest wiring the house in some way I would believe it – as mentioned: there’s no need to question everything all the time, just question something sometimes within reason. If a successful game developer would tell me to start doing casual games as they pay well I could consider his advice, but eventually think the reason why I’m doing games – and whether casual games are something I want to do or not.

To summarize:
(1) Think what’s being said, not who said it
(2) Don’t question everything all the time (dinners, wiring…)
(3) Question some issues, sometimes – within reason (picking engine, team members…)

Should I Release My Game Freeware or Try to Sell It?

Quite many beginning game producers and developers ponder whether they should try to sell their game, or to release is as a freeware. These people might think that their game is not ‘offering high enough value’ or have some other reason for trying to make the game sell.

Question:

Should I release my game freeware, or should I try to sell it?

This question is something that only you can answer. It depends purely on what your goals are. If you want to get money with your games, then you need to sell them. If you just want to release games without any other expectations, then feel free to release it as a freeware.

But, if a person asks this question, then it could be assumpted that the idea of making money with games is in his mind. That’s why I always suggest selling the game. Start learning the basics, set up an ecommerce place, website and get in the indie scene. There’s nothing to lose, but everything to win. Even very ‘simple’ games can be tremendously addictive – as you can see by checking any major casual game portal in the net.

My suggestion for those who ponder whether to sell their game or not is: go for it, sell the game.
- Check little bit of what you want, set a goal for yourself
- Learn marketing and selling (and/or go with the publishers & portals)
- Refine the product and sell it

You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to gain.

Don’t Underestimate the Impact of External Issues

We – and our office – moved to another location and it took almost a week before the network connection started to work. The new cable connection was said to become available within 2-3 days and I had reserved 4 days for it. It took 6 days before the network connection started to work again. I had made 2 promises which I needed to fulfill. I promised to update gameproducer.net daily and I promised to send my article to Gamasutra within 4 days.

Moving to another location took more resources and time than I had expected and now I didn’t manage to keep those 2 promises. I’m writing this post afterwards and I’m posting the article to Gamasutra.

I know that being tired and not having network connection are reasonable excuses, but in the end: they are just excuses. I knew I had to move, so I could have written more gameproducer.net entiers beforehand and I could have simply tell Gamasutra that I get back when the move is over. There are plenty of different things I could have done to prevent this risk from happening. In this case, the impacts of the delays are not financially big (gameproducer.net will continue update daily and no financial losses has happened, Gamasutra’s future is not shouldering on my article). But, I personally believe in keeping promises and now that failed. If you cannot trust somebody on small issues, how could you trust them on big issues? I want people to trust me on small and big issues.

Now it’s time for me to learn and catch up.

7 Risks in Indie Games Production

Indie game production contains risks. The size and the odds of risks vary, and as a game producer, your job is to identify the potential risks and plan for the risks.

#1 – You
The most crucial part of the indie game production is you. This risk might have low propability to actually happen, but if this risk comes true then the consequences can be enormous. If you get a burn out, then the production will stop. There are at least three different ways to prepare and avoid the risk. First one is taking care of your health. Exercising and eating healthy food (pizza & coke are for programmers, not for game producers…) can have great impact. Besides getting in good shape it also can improve your motivation to work. One hour break walking outdoors can improve your energy to work inside. Another way to avoid risks is to remember to rest. Taking a day off, having breaks are good ways to charge your batteries. The third option is to take an insurance. If something happens at least you know you can get proper medication for illness.

#2 – Funding
The second risk is money: if you run out of money, then your business will die. Besides trying to sell more there are other ways to prepare for this risk. Part time jobs, or freelance jobs can generate some income. Saving and living frugally (but not in the expense of healthy food) are good ways to get better surviving propabilities. I also recommend checking out what governments can offer. There are programs that can help you to fund your international business. I’ve checked 2-3 programs and some of them can offer several hundreds euros each month while others can be bigger one-time funding opportunities – without need to pay the money back.

#3 – Team member leaves
This risk always exists. Even though the team member might be very trustworthy the external conditions might force him to discontinue working with you. This happened to me in Edoiki production and I managed the risk with good relationship with the programmer and simply adjusting the game time line. Contracts and NDAs can be useful in preparing for this risk.

#4 – Data losses
Data losses can be tremendous problem and making backups is essential to avoid the risk.

#5 – Time
One of the biggest factors in games production is time. What happens if the game comes out after the specified deadline? Will competitors get ahead of you? Preparing to the time risk can be difficult, but scheduling the game properly and planning the project properly can help in defeating the risk. Sometimes you might need to leave away some planned features just to make sure the project gets finished on time.

#6 – Quality
Besides time, the quality of the game is important. If you drop away some features to save time then you might avoid one risk, and get another one instead. Your project must have extra high quality. The game should be the best in its field. If your game is not good enough, then you might need to polish the game more to make it a really top notch product. This might mean balancing the quality with time and costs. Prototyping, internal and external testing and getting player feedback can help you to produce a high quality game.

#7 – Costs
Costs are the third parameter in the time-quality-costs triangle. In games production avoiding one risk might mean problems in some other factor. Plan for what you really need to buy and don’t purchase anyhing if you can survive without it. Of course purchasing equipment that adds yours and team’s productivity can be good a investment, but consider carefully on what to purchase. Project budget can get very high in little time.

There are risks in indie games production. Some of them might require planning, while some can be transferred or ignored without much effort. It’s game producer’s job to manage the risks.

How to Get the Right People in Your Team

In some point of your game production you will hear word from potential team members who would like to contribute to your project. I believe there is two major issues you need to do:

First: Ask yourself if you really need the new team member
If the new team member knows how to do 3D model textures and you need a 3D modeler who can also model, skin and animate then I wouldn’t consider letting the new guy in. The smaller the team, the easier it is to lead. Every additional team member adds his own spice in the soup. Think if you need the person before hiring a new person.

Secondly: Do a ‘joining test’ for the new member. Ask him to do small piece of code or art before you accept him to be part of the team
This second point saves everybody’s time. If the new guy can actually do anything, you’ll hear from him right away. Within days most likely. These are the guys that you can count on. On the other hand, if weeks pass and excuses are coming then you know that the new guy won’t be a good one to accept.

These two simple methods will save your time, and make it much easier to get the right people to join your team.

The 2 Rules of Customer Support

Complaints are part of the business. There is a great (and funny) thread about customer complaints at indiegamer.com.

I quote few of them here:

A friend of mine bought your “game” from Walmart. Once he finally got it to work, he and I agreed – piece of crap. And BTW – Discovery Channel called, and they don’t want their name dragged into the crappool of your company. Get a real job, you hack!

Heh.

Even though it might be frustrating or annoying to get complaints, try to take them as opportunities. If somebody says something bad about your game, he might give you a clue on how to improve your game. If somebody mentions that your registration system sucks, then you have just got a good hint about what you need to improve: you can start thinkin about how to make a better registration system.

Never get into a fight with customers. Never. Don’t ever respond in anger. If you think you need to cool off, then step away from a computer. Go walk on a park. Take a night’s sleep if needed. Wait until you calm down… and then make a professional reply if that’s needed.

There are two rules about customer support:

Rule #1 – Customer is always right
Remember. Customer is always right. Or at least he has the right to tell his opinion. If he thinks your game sucks, is too expensive and you should get a ‘real job’ then he has the right for his opinion. If there’s some arguments to support him, then it’s your responsibility to consider how to improve your game to make it better. If it’s just rude email with nothing useful, feel free to ignore the email. If he thinks you have done a poor job as you don’t respond after 30 minutes, then he is right. This means you have an opportunity to make better customer service. It doesn’t mean you need to start responding in 30 minutes but it could mean that setting up a community/support forums with administrators could be helpful, or it could mean setting up an automated support email response (with TOP 10 FAQ list questions answered and office times). It could mean you should tell people that you handle emails within 1 or 2 business days. Customer is always right, and you need to treat customer complaints as opportunities.

Rule #2 – When in doubt, refer to rule #1
If your registration system ‘sucks’ according to the customer then it means your registration system could be improved. If your response is ‘but we use this expensive registration system and this is how it works. Learn how to use copy & paste’ then you have forgot the two most important rules about treating customers. If customer says your registration system ‘sucks’ then there can be 100 or 1000 more similar customers who would like to buy your game, but won’t do it because of your registration system. If you think that ‘customer is usually right’ or that ‘in this situation we cannot do anything’ then you are missing the rule number 2.

I’m not saying that you should change everything and let customers decide what to do, I’m just saying that customer is always right and every complaint carries an opportunity for improving your business.