You Get What You Pay For

There’s a well known truth when choosing a web hosting provider: you get what you pay for. Many people (I’ve done this too in the distant past) go from webhost to webhost to save $50 for a yearly price (like instead of paying $100 or $150 per year – which can get you a reasonable host for starters – they pay $50 per year). If you think about that businesswise… it’s like 2-3 sold copies of a game. And if one cannot afford to pay little extra to get a decent host, one could ask why bother at all.

The same wisdom is working on other areas as well. In business, I was after animator just to find out that 3-4 guys who tried eventually didn’t finish the animations. It was not their fault, and there were some external factors causing problems (like the fact that one guy got an animator job from major company which offered better rates) but anyway I couldn’t find the right person. I believe in the end the reason was simple: I had too small budget for the animations, and I got what I paid for.

Now I finally found the guy, by the help of our other artist Ben (which is a lesson in itself: if you need to hire somebody, ask if your own contacts would know a suitable person). The new animator costs more than the other animators, and with an indie budget it can sometimes be a bit of a problem to make it a good deal that everybody is happy about. Luckily we got it, and the guy has already done some good animations.

Strangely enough… it took me several months to find this animator.

As I was trying to save some hundreds of dollars (which can sound sensible for indies), I actually was doing false savings. If I would have raised the animation budget right from the beginning, I could have spent the time lost to do some contract work – which would have paid well over the costs of the new animator.

Strangely enough, my decision to save dollars actually cost me more time and money than it would have if I’d just raised the budget right in the beginning.

You live and learn – and you get what you pay for.

NAT Problems – And a Big Opportunity For Online Multiplayer Games

Today I had planned to do something else what I ended up doing: I spent whole day figuring out how to deal with the NAT problems (big thanks for Tim for helping me out so far). So far I understand in theory what should be done: we need an introducer.

NAT problems occur when both (I think) the server and client are behind a router/firewall that messes up the IP addresses and ports. And that means players cannot play the game. It’s like a mailman who tries to deliver a package to John Doe, when suddenly he realizes that John moved to somewhere.

There are good resources that have shed some light into this issue. Here are some of them:

Something good in this adversity
There’s something good in this crappy situation. Big studios also have this problem – and so does every online multiplayer game (excluding games that have servers with public IPs, such as most MMO games). You can also see that not everybody is willing to deal with this problem (even world’s largest gaming companies such as EA might not be willing to make it work 100% properly).

And since it’s a big problem (and something not everybody is even going to solve) it means an opportunity. It means that those who make playing smooth and tackle NAT problems will get access to larger player pool. We are definitely working on this problem, and finding a solution for it.

I’m open to ideas and suggestions in this matter – even willing to pay some $$$ for somebody to solve this problem. We need to get an application that can be run on an external server: something that will make sure our UDP traffic goes where it should. If you have an idea, feel free to contact me.

Stamp Out Piracy

StampOutPiracy.com is an attempt to reduce piracy in the net. Indie Developers are often a “one man band” who create fantastic games, but see their work appear on a large number of illegal sites – which means that indies are not getting paid for their hard work. This is where StampOutPiracy steps up – it’s stamping out illegal sites.

I personally don’t know if this type of action brings more publicity to piracy (people who don’t even know that it’s possible to get games illegally, might get interested) or whether it really helps (as illegal sites are taken down). Nevertheless, these guys seem to be on a right matter – piracy doesn’t only harm big studios, but can also be fatal to small indies.

Take a look at the site, and if you see illegal sites – feel free to consider reporting piracy to StampOutPiracy.

Challenge #14: How Much Is “Much” To You?

While browsing different magazines, watching television and checking out the news it’s quite interesting to see how word “much” can have a totally different meaning to different people. Depending what kind of job they have, where they live – and numerous other elements – they have different option about word “much”. Million dollars, million game downloads, million visitors. Are these numbers “big numbers” to you?

If you ask somebody “if $1000 is a lot of money in their opinion” you will get lots of different answers. In countries with low-living standard you could hear a typical response such as “I could live a year with that money!”

In somewhere else you could hear people saying “I pay that much rent every month”.

After reading billionaire stories (like the one about $9 billion dollar debt) I must say that it got me thinking. I realized that whatever I think is “a lot”, I can always multiply by hundred. If I think one million is a lot, I can multiply that by 100 and think that “100 millions is a lot” – and then I can multiply that.

So how much is much for you? $10? $100?

Is $10,000 much to you? How about one million? Or hundred millions?

Have you considered multiplying your “big number” by 100? Whatever you currently think is a lot, you can multiply by 100. How about thinking 100 times bigger than you currently think?

Can you find an immediate situation where you could use this type of thinking? What kind of impact could it have?

Carnival of Game Production – Fifth Edition

It’s time for the fifth game production carnival edition. This time there are interviews, several game production articles and couple of articles for frugal producers.

Enjoy.

Interviews

Ben submitted Ricochet infinity preview – see interview with James C. Smith about the new Ricochet game. Very good stuff also about how their team approaches product development.

Somebody sent me a link to game designer interview: Life As A Game Designer is a video interview with Harry Ravenswood, who’s Lead Designer at Kuju. You will hear all about what he does for a living, how people can get into it, and more. Check it out.

Game Production

Den wrote an article that explains Why indie game engines suck. It goes bit on the rant side – but some worthy comments for anyone dealing with game engines.

Adrian Crook – producer at Relic Entertainment – provided a fresh look on MMO genre. Check out his article: Top 10 Ways to Remove Barriers to Entry in MMOs and Virtual Worlds. Many of the ideas are applicable for other types of business as well.

Bill – one of our readers – mentioned an articlewritten by Tim Devaney. Article was titled The Five Best Business Video Games of All Time, evaluate yourself.

Sarper has written a resource that every producer needs to take a look at: Do You Have What it Takes to Produce a Game?

Frugal Producer

The Free Geek sent an article which was targeted for gamers. There are some tips that game producers can also use in being frugal when shopping the computer hardware parts. How to Build a Great Gaming Rig on the Cheap

Last but not least there’s an article written by Christina Laun: The Poor Entrepreneur’s Toolset: 100 Freebies for Bootstrappers – it’s a big list of items for frugal producers.

More coming

That’s it for this edition. Thanks everybody for your submissions. The next carnival will be online when there’s total of about new 10 articles. If you’ve written something you’d like to get published, submit your articles here.

Remember to check out also earlier Carnivals – plenty of good stuff there.

GameRelease.net Updates

It’s been pretty hectic getting back from the holidays and going through all the emails, preparing the forum launch and everything. I’ve finally got (read: made) time to work on my press release distribution system and thought to plug it here a bit.

At the time of writing, GameRelease.net has total of 180 active contacts (list here), and while the number has increased – I’ve systematically deleted emails that have bounced any press releases. I make 100% sure that the list is only for those who actually read the emails. Those who don’t want to get contacted via email can read the PR feed. There is about 30 contacts or so today who read the feed.

Besides making sure that the list is active members only, I built an archive of press releases (that goes back as far as early 2006) and there anybody can read any of the press releases they want. I will make few additions to the system so that there will be a simple quota system (which ensures that Insiders can send roughly 1 press release per week, or about 4-5 per month) – and will be naturally stored to the archives.

Last but not least, I’m creating a small reporting script that will email users how the distribution was done – and who got their email.

That’s enough advertising for now. Check out GameRelease.net for more information about getting coverage for your products. In the following days I shall publish the next edition of the Game Producer Carnival. There’s several good submissions for you to check out – stay tuned.

The 7 Greatest Features In Games

It depends much on the player what kind of features they like in games. Some people prefer to advance levels as fast as possible while other gamers might simply enjoy scenery. I started pondering what type of elements I like to see in games and compiles a list. As a result, here are the top 7 features I like in games.

#1 – Slow-motion
I first saw this in Max Payne and it was awesome. It wasn’t just an effect trick but something you could actually use in your favor. It added to the gaming experience. I learned from this and actually used slow-motion in one of my own game prototype and it was really fun. Something definitely worth trying.

#2 – Shadows & lights
Shadows and lights are not new in games. The trick is to use these elements so that they actually add something to the gameplay. I liked how Half-life used them, and I also liked what Alone in Dark did with them. Both of these games managed to use lights and shadows to create an exciting atmosphere.

#3 – Destructible scenery
Oh yes, definitely a feature I like to see in games. It’s simply fun to destroy stuff in games. Hulk game used this feature pretty nicely – and I’m sure there are lots of games that did even better. Nevertheless, smashing things in games can be fun.

#4 – Physics
Another really fun feature or element in games. Some games even base their sole gameplay for physics. Even if the game doesn’t rely on great physics it can use physics to enhance the player’s experience. You can benefit from physics in many ways – like using realistically colliding boxes or bouncing billiard balls. Anything to make game feel more realistic.

#5 – Particle fire
Particles are quite common in today’s games (show me a 3D game that wouldn’t have particles), but I must add that by using particles to create fires and smoke is simply something I enjoy. I remember in the past when I was messing with Abyssfire game (R.I.P.) and tested the game with couple of my friends. My goblin character had a torch and I could have just spend time watching the torch fire particles… there was something strangely relaxing in it.

#6 – Reflecting & transparent water
Water. I’m a water fan. I’m like a thirsty traveler in desert who sees an oasis, when it comes to water in games. Whenever I see reflecting or partially transparent water in games I’m sold. I can’t help it. I just enjoy seeing great looking water in games. (And in real life too).

#7 – The tiny details
I like to see features that might not necessarily have much to do with the actual gameplay, but these features are something that make the game look polished. They can be like birds that fly on the sky. These tiny details can be random different animations shown for idle characters. They can be small details in textures… any feature that makes the game feel polished. I pay attention to these.

Now you’ve heard some of my favorite features in games, and it’s your turn. What are the 7 greatest features in games you enjoy most?

AdobeUpdater Hogging My CPU – Game Design Lesson Learned

AdobeUpdater.exe starts to run hogging 99% of my CPU when I launch a PDF file. I tried searching for an option to turn off the automatic, but couldn’t find one.

There’s a game design lesson in this: If you have automated some major feature in your game (whether it’s “automatic updates” or “automatic logging in” or whatever), make sure you can turn that automatic feature off and let player do it manually. In Adobe’s PDF reader I couldn’t find an option to turn it off.

The second lesson to learn: if your product messes up someone’s computer – expect them to stop using your product. Luckily I found some posts and a some kind of solution to this problem (renaming file “updater.api” for example to “updater.api.PROBLEM”) and may continue using the reader. If there wouldn’t been a solution, I would have got some other reader. Rest assured your players will stop playing your game if it crashes their computer.

I wonder how Adobe has not fixed the problem. Maybe they will soon.

Win Ricochet Games By Solving a Riddle

Binaryjoy has launched a contest where anybody can win the entire Ricochet series of games. The rules are quite simple: first you have to subscribe to their main site feed. Then, some time in the next week or so, a question or a riddle will be posted in the feed. The first person to send in the correct answer will get the entire Ricochet series and 4 persons can win a copy of Ricochet Infinity.

Check it out in case you want to have a chance to win stuff.

Azada Sales Statistics Estimation: $250,000 Sales In The First Month After The Launch

To play Azada – download it from here.

Before going into details, I must add that the following sales stats are all speculation. They are not 100% correct – they are just estimations. I base these numbers on pieces of information I’ve received from different websites – including the Big Fish Games press releases. I believe my estimation should give a some kind of picture about how much Azada has sold in the first month after the release.

AZADA SALES ESTIMATION:
Estimated sold copies: average 500 per day (from Big Fish Games portal)
Price: $20 (or $7 with game pass).
Estimated average price: about $17 (assuming 25% of buyers use game pass)
Total estimated income: $250,000 (in the first month after the release)
Downloads: 600 000 in first two weeks, estimated 1 000 000 downloads in the first month
Estimated conversion rate:1.5%

According to the Big Fish Games press release Azada averaged about 43000 downloads in the first two weeks. Direct quote:

Since its debut two weeks ago, more than 600,000 people have played Azada on Big Fish Games’ site alone, making it one of the best selling games of 2007.

I’ve also heard developers telling that Azada smashed both Mystic Inn and Atlantis Sky Patrol in the first hours after the release. According to older BFG press release, Mystic Inn game sold more than 2000 copies in the first three days.

From these numbers we can estimate, that Mystic Inn averaged about 700 sold copies per day after the release. Here are conversion rate examples:

  • With conversion rate 2% would be 35 000 downloads for Mystic Inn (which sounds quite high CR – but not impossible)
  • CR 1.5% would suggest roughly 47 000 downloads for Mystic Inn (which is close to how much Azada was downloaded)
  • Conversion rate 1% would mean 70 000 downloads for Mystic Inn (which is unlikely, since Azada beated Mystic in)
  • with CR 0.5% it would be 140 000 downloads for Mystic Inn (here CR seems quite low, and again the download number too high compared to Azada)

With this data at hand, I assume Mystic Inn could have conversion rate around 1.5% – 2.0% – since Azada averaged 43 000 downloads and was said to perform better than Mystic Inn. Azada was reported to perform better than Mystic Inn, so it might have this quite high conversion rate of 1.5%.

Naturally we don’t know if they mean downloads or sales when they said “performed better”, but in this speculation let’s suppose Azada won in both figures.

Now there’s one big factor we must take into account: the game price. The normal price is $20, but there are lots of people who can use BFG game pass to get the game for $7. I have no information how many people use game pass (I believe it can be anything from 10%-50% of buyers – or I can be totally wrong – and this will make a big impact on the profits). I make a wild guess and suppose that 25% of the buyers use game pass. This means that for every 100 units sold, 75 are sold for $20 and 25 units are sold for $7. Total revenue for 100 sold units is then it means that average game price is less than $17.

Since Azada was downloaded average 43 000 times per day (and it was better than Mystic Inn) and with 2% conversion rate it would mean 860 unit sales per day. With $17 revenue per sold copy that means $14 620 per day. Or $438,600 in one month.

Azada stayed long in the top 10 ten (at the time of writing it’s still number one) so we might assume that it has been downloaded a lot after the release. If we assume 43 000 downloads per day, then it would mean 1 290 000 downloads in a month. By taking into account that BFG portal receives 25 million monthly unique users, this figure is possible to reach.

If we take a very low assumption – an unlikelyassumption – (CR 1% and the downloads would go down and average 20,000 downloads per day) we can still see that Azada would sell 200 copies a day (which again seems very low number). That’s $3,400 per day – making it $102,000 per month.

With these “maximum” and “minimum” ranges known, we might think that the download number went down a bit after the release, and assume that 1 000 000 people downloaded the game in the first month. With 1.5% conversion rate, this would mean 15 000 sold copies in the first month. With average price of about $17, this would mean about $250 000 sales.

Bottom line
As said, this is all speculation and exact numbers are only known by the portals and the developers. Perhaps the real number goes somewhere around $200K – $300K sales for the first month, or perhaps they are something else. The fact that Azada has stayed first on the top games charts for a long time and the fact that Mystic Inn was reported to sell about 700 copies a day (which Azada beated) supports these numbers. If the conversion rate is 1.0% for Azada, then the conversion rate for Mystic Inn should be around 2% – which again seems unlikely.

Whatever the exact figures are, it’s good to see Azada showing how a new innovation and heavy marketing vehicle can help game to sell in the $100K range in just one month.