Monthly Archives: April 2007

Should You Burn the Ships?

There’s a story about Hernando Cortez who landed his ships in Mexico in 1519 in order conquer the Aztec empire. Cortez was totally committed and allowed himself no option of turning back. In the story it’s said that Cortez – in order to leave no option to flee – burned their own ships. This same story is told by numerous websites (and probably books as well) and it is used to prove that you should ‘burn your ships’ in order to succeed – since you have no option to retreat.

I disagree with this piece of advice in this format.

First of all, when I first heard about the story I thought that it probably has been twisted somehow and I wasn’t even sure if it happened. I made a quick search on google and found interesting point. According to JSTOR (scholarly journal archive) Cortez didn’t actually burn his ships. He did destroy the ships – but didn’t burn them. Some people might think this is semantics, but in my opinion it proves how easily stories change when they are told over and over.

This small part of the story is not the reason why I disagree with the advice of burning the ships. Basically I believe it’s too easy to give advice of ‘burning the ships’ to young people who end up getting in big debt and wasting lots of time, nerves and might even end up ruining the rest of their lives.

Sun Tzu – historical Chinese figure – has also mentioned similar advice, although he was talking about desperate situations. Here’s a quote from translated Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War:

Throw the troops into a position from which there is no escape and even faced with death they will not flee. In a desperate situation they fear nothing; when there is no way out they stand firm”

It’s worth remembering that Sun Tzu is talking about desperate situations and basically about one final way to motivate soldiers. Sun Tzu was not recommending taking young kids and throwing them on the battlefield – in order to motivate them to win. He was not using this as the first way to motivate soldiers. He wrote about it as the last way to motivate.

Yet some authors give the impression that ‘burning the ships’ is a must. This advice for any young kid is – in my opinion – a dangerous one. I don’t recommend people to burn the ships. I personally have found a much better to first experiment in a small scale.

There’s also another story – which also points why this advice is for experienced people. There’s a story about Persians trying to conquer Greek city. To stop the Persians and give Greek city-states time to combine forces, King Leonidas of Sparta led a small detachment of Spartans and Greek allies to the pass at Thermopylae. Leonidas formed his phalanx of 7,000 men to defend the pass in depth, facing Persian army of 250,000 men. They managed to delay the Persians enough.

This Greek story shows us one very interesting point: it was King Leonidas who stayed there. King. It was not young kids who had never touched swords before. It was the king.

Similarly it shouldn’t be the young, inexperienced but enthusiastic indie game developers or internet marketers who should burn the ships. It could be the older, experienced AAA businessman with connections and knowledge who could use this piece of advice. I’m not saying that it’s automatically good advice for experienced people, but I would say that whoever possesses greats skills in marketing, selling, business, production and has experience on being an entrepreneur is in a a bit better position to ‘burn the ships’. I don’t think burning the ships should mean taking big debt, I personally recommend working harder and saving money for couple of years or building the business slowly but steadily by taking baby steps.

I think that it’s too easy to get the impression that you can automatically make money by doing games or having an online business. I really recommend new developers to try first selling games or products by other people, and learning how it goes for you. If it’s easy for somebody else, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be easy to you.

Here’s a quick checklist for you to know whether you should burn the ships or not:

  • Unless you have already build an online business (or several of them) – you should not burn the ships.
  • If you have a great idea that simply needs to be done – you should not burn the ships.
  • If you are making the next hit MMORPG game – you should not burn the ships.
  • If you don’t know what ROI means – you should not burn the ships.
  • If you tend to procrastinate – don’t burn the ships.
  • If you have started lots of new things, but finished just few – don’t burn the ships.
  • If you don’t seem to find enough time for building your business – don’t burn the ships, because there are ways to find and make time if you really want.
  • Before you have sold something online – you should not burn the ships.
  • Before you have grown a long beard – you should not burn the ships (Basically – older and more exprienced people might have lived enough years to have enough knowledge).
  • Before you have tried to work extra hard (without harming relationships with your family or others), saved money, lived 50% cheaper for at least 5 years – you should not burn the ships.
  • Before you have focused on building a business for 5-10 years (not building a product – but a business, they are two different things) and earned real money from it – you should not burn the ships
  • Unless you have extraordinary skills in marketing, sales, business, game production, people skills – you should not burn the ships.

Then the last and most important item to check:

  • If you need to read a checklist about burning the ships or not – you should not burn the ships.

Bottom line: don’t burn the ships, take baby steps instead
I really think burning the ships is not a good idea. I strongly recommend taking baby steps, experimenting with smaller ‘bets’, saving money, living frugally, learning marketing & sales and building business (not just building the products) slowly but steadily.

Those with white belts in Karate won’t go first fight against those white black belts – without getting beaten.

Are You a Game Developer or Game Engine Developer? (Take 2)

I wrote about the difference between creating the game engine, and creating games. The article got some good comments and questions, and I decided to write bit more about this topic.

Basically, I’m saying that there are two ends in this scale:

  • Game engine developers in the other end…
  • …and Game developers in the other end

Game engine developers focus on building the engine. They focus on creating shadow systems, rendering system, you name it. They basically create everything to make it possible for player to interact with images and polygons on the screen. They focus on creating stuff that’s needed to build a game. And there’s nothing wrong with this – if that’s what you want to do.

Then there are the game developers who concentrate on making the actual gameplay. They focus building everything related to playing the game. If you want to make games – then concentrating on this part is my recommendation.

While there are good sides on creating the engine from scratch: like you get to modify it fully to your needs. But, I really think that creating fun games is not about the technology. It really doesn’t matter what engine you use. Creating a complete engine requires great amount of time, so I wouldn’t recommend it to new game developers.

Even if you think that it will “save time in the future”, it might not be such a good idea. Basically because as the time passes the technology changes – and your plans might change. New consoles and new game operating systems are developed and you might end up updating the engine to deal the compatibility and other issues. Perhaps in the future you want to create different kind of games, and your future plans might require different engine than you first created. If you want to concentrate on building the engine, then that’s fine – just realize the difference between building the engine and building the game.

While creating your game engine might enable you to create the games you want, you should think about how much time you could save by taking some 3rd party engine and surviving with that. While 3rd party engines might not provide everything you need, they most likely have all the necessary elements to create gameplay you wish.

Naturally there can be times when you would need to add additional features in the engine to make it work for your needs. Corvus commented this by saying:

“I think your distinction between the two is a little more severe than it needs be. While I wholeheartedly encourage game devs to explore the market and find the excellent tools which are available to them (the FOSS community has many great tools), there are times where wrestling a 3rd party engine into doing what you need is not cost effective and actually decreases the impact of your final product.”

I agree that 3rd party engines (and tools) can cause problems – sometimes major, sometimes minor ones. I agree that wrestling with them is not such a good idea. I think you should try to pick an engine that meets most of your need, and then simply survive with it.

I think the biggest point I try to say in this discussion is that many developers waste time on building the engine, when they should be building the game. I would really recommend new game developers picking one game engine, and simply building a game using that. I really think people who want to make their first game should get a ready made tools and use them. I’m sure that there will be problems when using a 3rd party engine, and it might not be possible to do everything you’ve planned with it. I think you should simply use the engine as much as you can. If the engine doesn’t have nice shadows, then simply ignore that part. If the engine cannot handle big forests or lots of polygons, then survive with less. Simply create a gameplay you can. If you want to make games then start a small game project first – don’t start a big game engine project.

I said in the previous article and I say this again: Whenever I can, I concentrate on making the game rather than the engine. Naturally you might need to program game engine for some parts, but my guideline is buying external parts whenever it seems right. I know that I don’t need to do everything by myself – I can buy libraries and parts when needed.

Bottom line is: if you want to be a game developer, then you should spend more time building the game rather than building the engine.

Carnival of Game Production – Third Edition

It’s time for the third edition of carnival of game production. In this carnival, some people sent me several articles related to production and games, and simply some fun stuff.

Carnival Articles

Jake Birkett sent me several articles. My personal favourite was Knowing where to tap. A great story, and a good reminder that in the information age – the information is gold.

Another article I got from Jake was titled: “I’ve finished my game – now what?”. Good list & ideas what to do after you’ve finished your game. Very practical for any developer to think about.

TonyC submitted an article “Explicit” games, and there’s a fun story right in the start of the article. The story reminds us that while giving tips to players is usually a good idea in games… you might not want to give too much aid.

Jay Barnson had an Interview With Steve Taylor of NinjaBee, makers of great indie game Outpost Kaloki and Outpost Kaloki X (XBox 360 Live Arcade version). Read the interview, very interesting.

Jay’s another article was titled The Joy of Tex (turing) and basically goes through the basics of creating texturing. Very nice ‘tutorial’ on how to create textures – especially for those who have never tried that before.

Last, but not least – Jay also sent me information about a $10,000 RPG-In-A-Year Contest. The idea is to create an RPG in one year. Check out exact rules at mydreamrpg.com.

The Positivity Blog had a fine article named: 8 ways to spark your creativity. Applicable tips & ideas for any game designer. While I somewhat disagree with the 7th point, I think all of the tips contain good ideas. Tips 3 and 4 being my personal favourites.

Den sent me an article named Is next-generation the spoiled child of previous generation? Good thinking in the article, and a pretty good list of production related notes in the end. My personal favourite was the 6th point about balancing the time.

Fun treats

Dan at Gibbage is Escaping the Mainstream and concentrating to fuel the indie scene. Indie scene sure has use for all the support it can get.

Julien Dorra contacted me, and while this was not directly about game production I thought it was suitable for a ‘fun carnival treat’. There’s a site called DebuggingLife.com – a funny (non-game) project about “tracking the bugs of life”. There’s a short article about the origin of the project.

Submit your articles

That concludes the Carnival edition. Thank you for all of you who sent articles, and if your article didn’t make it to the Carnival you can still try next time. Remember to check out the Carnival of Game Production Headquarters where you can find some more information regarding what kind of articles we are after – basically I want to see fun, inspiring, practical and positive stories that should be somehow related to game production. At least loosely.

The next Carnival edition will be hosted here at GameProducer.net in the following months – after I receive about 10 suitable stories. Please, feel free to use the submission page to send your articles.

Thanks for your time.

How Positive You Are?

One of the major reasons for me when I started writing this blog, was to concentrate on positive side of things. I’ve seen lots of negativity in different forums, heard about the negativity in work places, negativity and lack of trust in teams. I’ve heard stories telling how it’s impossible to succeed in gaming business (and most likely you know these guys in other industries as well). I’ve heard stories how things just won’t work and how the world is a cruel place to live – or cruel place to make games. I’ve heard rants and whining.

When I started this blog I decided to concentrate on positive side of things. Even when I might have made some mistakes, and (almost) “ranting” on something, I’ve tried to mention also the positive aspects. It actually has been great to see how this impacts – lots of comments and commentors are also very positive and have supportive attitude. I’ve heard some negative comments, but majority of talk in the blog has been positive. I’ve also had a chance to talk and email with some talents in bigger studios… and while there are studios with bad attitudes, it’s been (almost) amazing to find out how flexible and positive people you can find from these studios – telling how these big corporations are actually very nice places to work.

While I understand that external factors naturally have impact (especially when you work in a team), I still think every producer (or any person) in the world has power on how to react – more or less, depending on the person and his past experiences and current way of thinking. In some situations people might feel too exhausted to think positively, and in these situations it’s naturally more difficult to stay positive. Everybody can be positive and feel relaxed when everything is well, but it requires great amount of training to feel positive and relaxed when things are not well.

Here’s some questions and situations to ponder:

  • How positive you are when it comes to leading the team? Are you using rewards for doing things well? Or are you using “stick” and blaming others when things are not done as you wanted? Are you congratulating for work well done? Or are you shouting about work that’s done late? Are you changing plans and using your ‘title’ to make others adapt the change? Or are you keeping plans visible and public and help others to adapt the change?
  • How positive you are in dealing with problems? Are you whining? Blaming others? Blaming the world? Are you asking yourself “why me? why this doesn’t work?” Or are you telling yourself “Thank God it’s me who has chance to fix this. Now, how can I make this work?”
  • Are you seeing the glass half-full when it comes to project? Are you worrying about the missed deadlines and the amount of workload? Or are you remembering what’s already been done, and coming up with solutions how to meet the deadlines and deal with the workload?
  • Are you taking responsibility? Are you positive when it comes to dealing with additional work? Will you be asking encouraging questions and making sure the process will be refined when needed? Will you take responsibility for any work you’ve touched? Are you saying “It’s not my work to do that” or are you saying “I will deal it.”

How positive you are?

Tip for those who want further reading: check out positivity blog. I found it some time ago, and the content on that site is encouraging. I really recommend taking a look at it.

The Words That No Producer Wants To Hear

The phrase “You should have told me that 4 days ago.” is something you don’t want to hear so often.

After being on a trip (without checking emails or team discussion) I had a brief conversation with our artist. He had been working on the assassin texture while I was gone, and I pointed out some parts that I’d like to see different. He had been doing the textures for several days already, so naturally the my news were bad for him – and he mentioned that “You should have told me that 4 days ago.”

It was a crappy situation. I had been away for the days when he was doing the texture, so I couldn’t give comments on the work when it was being done. In retrospect, I think we should have had a more detailed plan regarding the colors before any texturing is done. I think this same lesson goes with many daily issues in game production when you have a team.

You simply need to make sure that people know what you expect them to do. They are not mind readers (as I keep telling myself over and over ;). Even though team members might have good idea and vision, you might miss explaining them some crucial points. Most of the time the problem is not in the receiving end – it’s your job to make sure the message gets transmitted. It’s your job to speak language that others understand. Use examples, images, describe, talk – use any means to make sure the message is received in the right way.

In this case I liked the 3D mesh very much, and thought that the colors in the concept would be used in the mesh. I had also said to have “artistic freedom”, and naturally this principle was applied. The overall result was good – but I had some concerns regarding the colors. The lesson learned: I should have talked about the colors in greater detail before any texturing is done.

Same goes with almost any parts of the production: naming conventions, animations, user interface, sounds – everything. While it’s not good to plan over and over, you gotta make enough planning to ensure your team understands where you aim at.

We had a long discussion and decided that in the future we would try to clarify questions beforehand. We decided to stick with the original texture. It would work in this project, and that’s it. Other people liked it, and it’s good quality – even though I had originally thought bit different coloring. We have lots of other work to do, so polishing one texture over and over would not be the best option at this time.

Stubborn Leaders Get Stuck

Two men are walking towards each other. The first guy thinks “That guy needs to step away from my path”. The other guy thinks “Looks like I need to step aside.” No conflict. The other guy steps aside, goes work and lives happily ever after making games.

The other man continues walking on his path. His philosophy is that he will never step aside, because it’s a question of principle. He knows that tough guys won’t step aside. He encounters many people on his path, but manages to make others step away from his path.

Until one day.

He encounters equally stubborn man – and they both stop walking. Neither one steps aside. It’s a question of principle. Both of them wasted time, grew a very long beard and felt really bad for the rest of their lives.

The end.

Do you know leaders like that?
Do you know people like those in the story. I’ve met some – actually quite very – who are “stepping aside” when needed. They are not avoiding everything. They will negotiate when needed, but they won’t get stuck or waste time because of stupid principles.

Then I know some people who waste great amount of time because they just don’t know when it’s good time to be flexible, and good time to be strict. They think being strict always is the best strategy (and to be honest, I also personally sometimes have this problem in certain situations. For example, sometimes I cannot stand waiting just a few minutes…).

The problem with being strict always is that it’s not a flexible strategy. It will get you stuck. It will mean wasted time on small details that have no real value compared to bigger objectives. It might mean you get stuck on doing timetables in a certain way when in reality you should be focused on working the project. It might mean that you don’t get the right talent in your team, because he might be doing work in different way than you expect.

Being stubborn is not a good strategy. Not for anyone who wants to make progress.

Going Slow Is The Fastest Way to Go

Many people are good at starting new things. Whether it’s a new business, or a new game project, or a new website – they’ve always interested in starting something new. New always seems to be fun.

For one or two weeks.

That’s how much many people enjoy new things, and then they come up with even better fun idea and promise that “this time I’ll make it properly”.

Until two weeks passes.

Soon they’ll realize that there were some problems… mostly about others. Others were problem because they left the team or there was too much competition or that somebody in the team just realized that it just wouldn’t work – so it’s better to start another project.

These people might struggle on their jobs, starting new things and go complaining on forums “how they’ve trie everything” (and then list all the projects they’ve started). Things just won’t work and besides, they have too little time because of jobs, families and hobbies to care.

These people have a problem.

In their minds the problem seem like it’s time or other people, but if they’ve managed to start many businesses, many game projects, many great new things for years… it cannot be time. It cannot always be other people.

It’s most likely about lack of persistance.

If you think about learning languages. Nobody masters a new language when they start. I’ve studied Finnish, English, Swedish, German, France – even Chinese. I manage with Finnish and English pretty well, but don’t really have good skills in any other languages. I’ve studied English for over ten years, but spent much less time and effort on other languages. I spent less than 100 hours learning Chinese. Naturally you can understand that my Chinese is way more weak than my English. That’s quite natural since I’ve spent so much more time studying and learning English. This is where many people do a mistake. They think that building a successful game, project, or a business should happen instantly. It’s like they would try learning France and after 2 months they can’t speak fluently and they go to forums telling how nobody can learn France. They also try German, Swedish, Polish and Russia and go telling people how “they’ve tried learning all these languages – it’s impossible to master them”.

Of course it’s impossible in such a small time frame. You simply cannot learn a language in couple of months – and same goes with so many things in life as well. You gotta have persistence. Instead of tying to find fast success, focus on developing your persistence. In fact… that’s the fast track to success. Take baby steps towards your goal. Take those steps daily. You simply have to be persistent.

Most people are good at starting new things. That’s easy. Not everybody possess the will and persistence to finish what they’ve started.

And that’s the hard part.

The Next Sale Could Be Right Behind the Corner

You have a good product. Good promotion. But almost zero sales. You might even feel frustrated after working really hard on your product. Some people complain, whine and go shouting how it’s impossible to generate revenue in gaming business. Soon, other complainers find him and then the “merry” group is ready to manifest the “truth”.

Meanwhile… somebody else has noticed that his game is not selling well, and he starts to ask encouraging questions. Rather than thinking “it won’t sell”, he starts to think “how can I make it sell?”. He might ask reasons behind the purchase from his customers. He might ask encouraging questions in discussion boards and really get to the bottom of the problem. Perhaps his game won’t sell in the future either, but he just might have found ingredients to produce a game that’s sells. It is up to him to reach his goal, and he can’t get there by complaining how the road is rough to walk.

You gotta have patience. Selling is a tough job. It’s probably one of the toughest jobs actually. It requires lots of work and patience to get others to buy something from you. It just won’t happen overnight. That’s why patience is needed. Some people complain and turn around and never see what’s behind the next corner. These people might not remember that you have to be patient, and sometimes it requires taking many steps… before seeing any sales.

That’s the secret.

As long as you keep polishing and promoting your product, and giving people something they want and need – the next sale just might be behind the corner.

Big Fish Games Partner Network, First Impressions

I started experimenting with the Big Fish Games Partner Network some time ago, and made a blog post where I explained how it works.

At this point I could say that the system is: interesting
It’s interesting. I don’t have enough statistical data or experience with the system to tell how it will evolve, but the first month was good enough for some conclusions. In this time I have 174 confirmed friends and 275 in “my extended network”. In total I have 449 network contacts so far. I have earned $44.03 rewards since I joined the system (that’s average 9.8 cents per contact) – although majority of the rewards has come from 1-tier, not from the extended network.

$44.03 is a start. I haven’t promoted the system much – one reason being that I first want to test the system. I’ve used a few affiliates links in blog posts (like in this post) and have set up a few links to my blog. I’ve mentioned my own gamespace but also mentioned people that they can get 2 free games. At this point I cannot tell if this $44.03 is good or bad. Although if the system can give me additional $44 per month that’s still about $500 additional in a year.

This and the following month will help me really evaluate the system. The good thing about the system is the possibility of repeat purchases. This would basically mean that the system would generate income for me if some of those who purchased something in May will also buy something in April. That’s actually the interesting part of the system. If I see total of 900 contacts in the next month, who generate $45 then I would say that the system is typical to other affiliates. If on the other hand I see new 450 new contacts who generate $45 AND that the old customers also generate additional $20-40 income, then I think we have a winner system here. The following months will tell.

Bottom line:
At this point I cannot yet personally recommend the system, but those who are interested for an alternative way to generate revenue or sell games on their websites the Big Fish Games Partner Network might be worth checking out.