Monthly Archives: September 2007

How to Balance Game Production and Your Day Job

Balancing one’s day job and game production is not an easy task. There’s a great thread about How to balance game production and your day job at the new game producer forums. The thread contains some excellent pieces of advice, and I simply had to share these with you blog readers.

I’m sure all of us would like to know how to get more hours… but sometimes it can be about how to spend the few hours we have.

Here’s some tips from the members about how to balance game production and your day job.

khanstruct pointed out:

As someone on my team once said, we all have 24 hours. Einstein, Jefferson, Jordan, they all had theirs as well. It’s what we decide to do with them that matters.

Over00 mentioned many points, here’s one of his tips:

I don’t really have any tips besides work hard, believe, stay in the range of your capacities (meaning not asking for the moon) and having someone to support you does help a lot.

MrPhil put a lengthy post. Here’s some of his tips:

Other areas of discovering time:
- Make your work area portable so you can take it to the laundry mat or whatever
- Spread your chores out so they are moving forward a little each day instead of big marathon chore session. The reason why this helps is because you stay on task and your vacuuming has less of a chance of turning into the Great Day I Finally Organized the Filing Cabinets.
- Consciously procrastinate things that are not really important. We often make To Do lists that are more like wish lists. I often sit down an think about my To Do list, writing down every chore I can think of or task I am worried about. Then I scratch out everything that isn’t really important AND needs to do done that week.
- Figure out which meals you like that are faster to prepare.

Talon gave insight regarding the environment:

it was little problems in the environment around me rather than the way I was managing my work and my time (which I figured was more important because it’s what’s mentioned most in these “improve your efficiency” lists), but it’s made a massive difference in my willingness to sit down and work in the first place. I’ve noticed it also improves my general efficiency because I’m comfortable at my computer. It’s actually nice to work now.

Great discussion guys – it’s wonderful to see how the people at the forums are already helping others, and getting answers to their questions.

Method For Solving Problems In Game Development

We had perhaps one of the strangest game development problems so far. Our sounds artist Jean-marc (who does excellent music, and is looking for AAA music composing job by the way) reported that the sounds were really slow and playing wrongly in the game. Frames per seconds were fine in the game, but for some reason the music and sounds were playing wrong.

We tried different screen modes, animation systems and everything but we couldn’t find the reason what was causing the problem. Yesterday I suddenly got an idea just before going to bed. I thought that we could take away one command. Today we tested the system: I took away text lines from the game and compiled a new version. It worked fine! The placeholder code I’ve used to show text on the screen (in-built command in Blitz3D) has a problem with some computers – and now as the old code was taken away – it works.

Jean-marc had tested two of my earlier games (Hightailed and Highpiled – both free games) and Highpiled was causing problems. I found the solution by thinking the differences between these products and at some point (when I wasn’t even thinking the problem any more) my mind gave me the answer.

Sometimes the best method to solve problems, is to let the answer come on its own time.

What game development problems you’ve had recently? How are you solving those problems?

3 Principles That Helped Me To Get 206,670 Unique Visitors to My Website Fast

There are three important principles I’ve practiced to get traffic to my website. This article covers how these principled helped me to get 206,670 visitors to see what I have to offer. The article headline actually contains all these principles – in an erroneous manner.

If you wish to see the traffic pictures, feel free to click the below image:

Principle #1 – Forget get
The title of this article is actually quite misleading. In reality, this article is not about “getting” anything. The guys who just focus on “getting” something for them are probably the ones who won’t probably ever get what want. It’s not about what you can get – but what you can give.

Principle #2 – It’s not about “me” or “my website”
The article headline has also another misleading element in it. While I own and operate this site, it’s wrong for me to say “what I did to get these visitors”. In reality it’s not because I did something fantastic, it’s because the visitors chose to come here. It’s not in my control to decide who comes here thus it would be wrong to say that “I made it happen”. It’s wrong to think that site owner “made people come”, when in reality the final judgement is done by the visitor. You and only you made the decision to come here. I could praise here all night long saying how great unique content I have – but it’s up to you to visit this site. Anyone wishing to see visitors needs to realize who really is in charge: the visitors.

Principle #3 – It’s not about getting traffic fast
The article says “fast”, but that’s a relative term. When your perspective is 10 years, seeing 200 000 visitors in a couple of years is quite fast. The key is not to think about ways to get traffic super fast or in months. There might be peaks of traffic (as you can see also from that attached image) but those come and go. I believe more important is to keep going, and take a long-term goal. It’s easy to spend 6 months on some project and get frustrated as “others are getting more traffic”. What I suggest is to take a 6 year or 16 year goal. How would your site look after 6 or 16 years if you kept going and promoting it?

It’s not about “you” or “getting traffic” or “fast”. It’s about them, giving value and being patient.

11 Factors That Can Kill Your Game Business

Game business question regarding profits was posed at the Indiegamer thread. I made a brief post at the forums, and decided to describe bit deeper these factors on the blog too. Here are 11 factors that can kill your game business.

#1 – Portals as your main distribution channel when you don’t have a “portal type of game”
If you create a violent, fast-paced FPS game where you need to shoot everything that moves (and explode the rest) you might not want to go through portals where people play cute little restaurant service games. It just might happen that the players that like your game won’t play portal games. See also point #2 before making any judgements.

#2 – NOT going through game portals
In some cases the portals might be the best option. Some developers don’t want to go portals because of some reason. They might think that portals are evil or are afraid that portals would steal their customers (might be true – I’m not saying that couldn’t happen). But, in some cases the developer could actually benefit from portals – and because he doesn’t even try this distribution option he might kill his business soon. Remember to check out point #1 as well.

#3 – Focusing too much to new customers
It’s one of the first taught “marketing secrets” that selling to old customers is much easier, faster, cheaper and more profitable than selling to new customers. Some people put their attention to get new customers when in reality they should pay attention to their old customers.

#4 – Releasing new games instead of add-ons and expansion packs to old games
Some indies focus solely on creating new games and never consider selling add-ons or expansion packs. Even if some of your old game doesn’t feel like “new enough”, the players might actually want to get 15 new levels in a form of an expansion pack. Add-ons are much cheaper to create than new games.

#5 – Not taking advantage of alternative revenue generating streams in addition to selling your game
Those developers who already have established a solid customer base might find it useful to sell other people’s games (affiliates). Some developers might have solely focused on selling their game, and forget that there are many alternative ways to generate revenue even with free games. Advertising and finding sponsors might be good way in addition to selling the game.

#6 – Use of brand new technology to create games
Let’s face it, DirectX10 is used only by couple of percent gamers. If you have a game that uses the latest technology you might miss 98% of the markets. Latest technology can kill your game business.

#7 – Not working with the right team
You gotta have the winning team (or contacts) to create your dream game. Not having the right people doing the right things won’t get you anywhere. Naturally you can do things solo, but even then you might need to find the right people to do some contract work for you, and that’s not always easy.

#8 – Not having clear short term goals
People preach about the importance of long term goals (like I’m doing in the next point #9), but short-term goals should not be forgotten. Even if your vision is to become the most innovative developer in the planet, that shouldn’t mean you shouldn’t have short term goals. Having clear goals for next couple of weeks and months is a good thing in my books and helps you be more productive.

#9 – Not having clear long-term goals
Like mentioned in the previous tip: your long term goals will help you to take steps on the right path. You don’t need to have a goals listen in certain format. Feel free to use a notepad, desktop wallpaper or whatever – as long you as have one clear goal in your mind. Something that reminds you why you are doing this. Having a long-term goal will also help making short-term decisions.

#10 – Spending too much time in front of TV compared to producing your game
This is pretty obvious. Procrastination is sure-fire method for killing your game business.

#11 – Not paying attention to world markets
Poor USD exchange rate is a big issue for non-US developers. The dollar value has come down a lot in couple of years, and in the last months it’s been really low. While there’s not much what average Dave Developer can do about the dollar rate, he can still prepare for the risk. In case of dollars, he could try different currency. Or perhaps he could take dollar rate in the calculations when budgeting or projecting sales for example. If he doesn’t, one day he might wake up just to realize that his company profits have dropped 20% in one year because some banks gave loans too easily.

How to Handle Artist & Producer Communications

The new game producer forums launch has gone smoothly so far and within some days we already have close to 200 members and new members registering as we speak. Users have also found the new thread and reply buttons as there’s several hundreds of posts already at the public areas at the forums.

Recently Russell – one of the moderators – posed a question about how to handle artist and producer communications. The full forum entry can be seen here: artist and producer communications, and there’s already some answers from registered users, Insiders, moderators and AAA producers.

Check it out.

What If Others Laugh At Your Comments

Personal development and zen attitude go a long way. A recent comment at the forums about “others laughing at your comment” got me thinking.

I started pondering how many people really care if others laugh at their comments. I believe we have more important things to do than ponder negative thoughts.

Here are 3 tips on what to do when others laugh at your comments.

Don’t spend time pondering question “what if others laugh at my comments”
I don’t really think it makes a good use of your time to ponder if others will laugh at your comments. After all, it doesn’t make any impact whether you spend time thinking that they either laugh or not. I don’t suggest that you shouldn’t be sensitive about different issues, and not spend some thinking about the impact of your words and writings. For example mocking somebody isn’t such a good plan even if you don’t care that others think you are one dumb guy. I simply suggest that when you think you’ve done a positive contribution, then don’t spend time thinking what negative somebody might say about you. It’s really not going to take you anywhere.

Ask “so what?”
If you happen to start wondering if others laugh at your comments or think something negative of you, you really gotta ask “so what?”. Let’s say you accidentally write something dumb in public, and then somebody in Belgium laughs at your comments. So what? It’s not like the world is going to stop spinning just because you said something dumb. But what if some professional laughs at your comment? Then you’d really be in trouble? Right?

Wrong. World is not going to stop spinning either whether so called professionals laugh at your expense. Let elite people have fun if they gain some fun laughing when you do something dumb. It’s not going to make any difference to your career anyway – it’s up to you what you decide to do. It’s not like some “important professional” is going to decide what your destiny will be.

Stop spending time with negative people
If I find that certain people don’t have anything positive to say about me, and all they do is whine, complain and focus on negative stuff – then I simply move on. I think life is too short to spend it whining about that’s it too short. If some people laugh at your ideas, then find people who don’t.

Game Producer Forums Officially Launched

Game Producer Forums are now officially open to public. We are very excited to see already over hundred members joining the boards within the last week’s pre-launch phase.

Some producers at the world’s largest gaming companies participate. At the time of writing we have several producers who participate in the forums and in the game producer roundtable sessions.

Here’s the current list of producers who have participated in the roundtable sessions – and who you might see at the forums:

  • Stuart Roch (Executive Producer, Activision)
  • Robbie Edwards (Senior Producer, Red Storm Entertainment / Ubisoft)
  • Peter O’Brien (Bizarre Creations)
  • John Hight (Director of Production at SCEA)
  • Harvard Bonin (Senior Producer, Sony)
  • Frank Rogan (Producer, Gas Powered Games)
  • Adrian Crook (Producer, Relic Entertainment)
  • Craig Derrick (Producer, LucasArts)
  • Ben Gunstone (Production Director, Stainless Games)
  • Amer Ajami (Producer, EA)

Naturally these guys might have something else to do than watch the game producer forums all the time every day, but they are answering to some of the questions that are asked by you the readers. We have a specific sub-forum where anybody can ask the AAA producers. All questions don’t necessarily get answered, but some might be answered right away and some picked to Game Producer roundtable sessions.

We keep things civil
There aren’t many rules in the forums, but we still have some. Basically we want to ensure that there’s no spam, whining, or crap activity going on. We’ve already banned several members, and intend to continue doing that if rules are violated. We simply want to have a great place for game producers to discuss in a constructive manner. We rather have one thousand positively contributing members than ten thousand complainers. We keep an updated list of rules here.

Currently we have three moderators (nicknames keops, russell and Tuna) who you can meet at the forums. We will get more people in the team as the forums grow.

Insiders members special access to forums
The forums are 100% free but Insiders (check out left side menu on that page to see who these guys are) will have a special access to hidden private forums among other perks such as access to special resources that contain information about getting traffic and game project lessons. Insiders can be spotted from a badge near their forum usernames. Insiders may also freely use the press release distribution system and read Game Producer blog ad-free.

For more information about this premium membership, see here.

Variety of discussion
There are several topics discussed on the forums. One specific forum is dedicated for blog comments where anybody can comment these blog entries. Naturally we have discussion about game production, but besides that there’s also places for game business, productivity & motivation, showcase and many others.

We also have a place to advertise products, a place for jobs and a place to buy, sell or trade products.

Welcome to the forums
If you’d like to participate in the discussion, then feel free to become a forum member and introduce yourself. Looking forward to see you at the Game Producer forums.

Welcome to the forums!

Will Halo 3 Sell ONLY 3 Million In 12 Days After Release?

Halo 3 video game release date is 25th of this month and gamedaily reported analysts to expect Halo 3 to sell over 3 million in 12 days after the release.

That might sounds like a massive hit, but bearing in mind that Halo 2 sold 2.5 million copies on the release day.

Either there’s some air in these numbers or something is wrong. Halo 3 must be one of the most anticipated games this year – especially for the Halo fans – and one could think that it would sell better than the earlier release.

We’ll be wiser after 2 weeks.

How Much Internet Connection Downtime Costs You?

My Internet connection died yesterday (which means I couldn’t update my blog until now), and luckily I had just (like 2 minutes before downtime occured) finished uploading tiny changes to the this site. If the connection would have died when I was processing the updates, the site might not have functioned at all. It could have just given PHP error to readers.

Luckily that didn’t occur, but I still couldn’t publish a post (which means I’ll publish two entries today) and it also meant some (small) revenue losses to me. Nothing earthshaking, but something anyway. This isn’t the first time the connection has died (within couple of months) and I’ve seriously started to think switching to a better connection. I’m not 100% sure that I can get the connection I want, but at least I can ask.

It boils down to this: if you need to stay online most of the time (everybody can survive 2 hours without Internet connection every other month or so…), then calculate how much it costs you if the connection is not alive. If you know that you need to have virtual team meetings, handle customer support emails or anything similar then you can draw rough figures about the costs. If your Internet connection costs $25 per month (and you experience several hours downtime per month), would it make sense to use ISP that charges you $35 per month (and has close to 100% uptime?).

Same goes with webhosting. If your cheap webhosting system doesn’t have a proper uptime, would it make sense to put little “extra” to it? Not choosing the cheapest option might actually prove out to be a solution that saves you money.

Have you calculated how much downtime costs to you? Would it make sense to do something about it?

Censorship in Games – Producers Roundtable (Part 2/2)

This article is the part two of censorship in games. We recommend that you read the part one before proceeding, in case you haven’t checked it already.

Censorship in games is a topic that’s been debated for long. What wasn’t accepted years ago might be common place today. We asked who should take responsibility in video games censorship. Should studios be more responsible for what kind of games they do? Is it right for government ban games? What about freedom of expression? If governments can ban games, shouldn’t they also ban some movies? Are “Adults Only” ratings enough? Shouldn’t parents watch what their kids play?

The following producers give answers to these questions:

Harvard Bonin, Producer at Sony
Peter O’Brien, Bizarre Creations
Ben Gunstone, Production Director at Stainless Games
Frank Rogan, Producer at Gas Powered Games

Harvard:

Let’s get real. Is this not about the almighty dollar? Or pound? Or yen?

Seriously, game companies are just that…companies. They are in business to provide $$$ to shareholders or owners.

If racy, sadistic, murderous games make money then they will continue to be made. Game companies (or any media company) will make them until they don’t. They…err…”we“…will push the boundaries if there is a niche that will pay cash money for our work. If the games didn’t make money, we wouldn’t make them.

So the real question is “Who leads society”? Do we as entertainment makers lead them – or do the consumers that buy them? Is this a chicken or the egg issue?

Apparently we, as game makers, need external governing bodies to regulate us. Or do gamers need to regulate themselves? Yes, gamers need to have personal responsibility to make proper choices on what they do and do not buy. Still, does that remove our own responsibility?

Or, is it our responsibility to push the boundaries?

Peter:
The dollar/pond question is an interesting one from the POV that the most common motivation for any entertainment is to earn money. This leads to common production content which is why when wizards are cool everyone makes a wizard movie/show; when global disaster is cool, everyone makes a disaster movie. Even Heroes was created to compete with Lost… a lot of character, a little sci-fi… shake and stir.

Its no coincidence that documentaries are popular again because they have become sensational as well as meaningful; its also no coincidence that political movies from Hollywood starring George Clooney or Brad Pitt are heralded way above their merit.

And so we, as an industry are the same. BMXXX proves sex doesn’t sell in games (if at all) if its gratuitous and patronising. And violence doesn’t sell unless there is some new mechanic or story that warrants and informed audiences attention. Think about GTA; forget the over zealous content for a second and think of the fact that Rockstar where the first company to deliver popular genre culture (gangsters) to a 3D game, in a sandbox environment which that was familiar to all (city) to a common audience (Playstation generation).

There are leaders of society, but this lead is more of a Black Swan; at which point society sets the trend; media and government then follows until the next Black Swan.

What society allows is a story to be told where previously it was too sensitive an issue. Black Swans result in tolerance and knowledge. Its important to understand where we are going, not where we have been.

Frank

Well, this may be a day late and dollar short (milestones, ya’ know), but I’ll toss my opinions out.

The important first step is to define some terms.

Censorship isn’t always censorship, if you catch my drift. I think this is particularly important, because many Americans casually use the term “censorship” to refer to *any* restriction that limits, or even appears to limit, speech, whether federal, state or local laws, or commercial practices. John Q. Public levels the “censorship” claim right and left, whether or not it’s correct or even warranted. Moreover, there’s a perception among the creators of media — filmmakers, musicians, game developers — that if for any reason, you are unable to market your wares in the manner you desire, you are being “censored.” Censored by … who? Doesn’t matter. “They” won’t let me sell my movie/album/game. The result of such a diluted meaning is predictable — misunderstandings and misplaced anger.

Apart from a few common-sense restrictions (the common “yelling fire in the movie theater” example, and various libel/slander laws), there is no censorship in the United States. I like that last part so much, I’ll repeat it — there is no censorship in the United States.

* Movie ratings? The MPAA is an independent trade association funded (voluntarily!) by major film distributors.

* Game ratings? The ESRB is an independent trade association funded (voluntarily!) by major game publishers.

* “This album contains explicit lyrics?” Those stickers come courtesy of the music labels, not “The Man.”

* How about porn? Besides kiddie porn laws, there are no restrictions on the creation of porn, but there are various local restrictions on the display of obscenity, which is not considered protected speech (placing it essentially in the same legal square as yelling fire in a movie theater). This probably comes closest to a definition of censorship, but the laws are so loosely structured, and not globally defined, that there’s no effective restriction. Even the Supreme Court famously decided NOT to attempt to define obscenity, and instead left it up to “reasonable man” standards at the local level.

* The FCC fines Howard Stern? Until he moved to Sirius, Stern’s show was broadcast over the licensed airwave spectrum. Licensed from whom, you ask? From you and me. The broadcast spectrum is considered to be owned by the federal government, and the FCC is a government agency that reports to the president. Occasionally, we, the people, get to elect a president and a Congress to (ahem) represent our best interests, so at least in theory, the FCC is beholden to the will of the people. But aren’t the fines for Howard Stern and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction really a form of censorship? Not really. It’s largely a breach of contract issue — the FCC awards a license to monopolize a portion of the broadcast spectrum in exchange for broadcasters meeting certain criteria. No one is being *forced* into the radio and television business, just as you are not forced to rent a crappy office space to run your business. That’s really it, actually — the FCC is essentially a glorified landlord.

Mind you, in the UK, there really IS censorship. Just as the Sex Pistols ran afoul of the BBC (a state-owned monopoly), Manhunt was nailed by the Obscene Publications Act. God save the Queen. We mean it, man. And there’s no future in England’s dreaming. No future, nooooo fuuuuuture…

Sorry. I digress.

So, if we’re not talking about censorship in the U.S., what the hell *are* we talking about?

Essentially, we’re living with a system created as a response to a threat, that has morphed into a situation where uptight buyers are afraid of an uptight audience.

The threat: Before 1968, there were no film ratings. There was an unwritten code among film producers about the appropriateness of imagery. But you didn’t shop for a weekend flick for the kids by looking for a G-rating. Jack Valenti, the press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson, and Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal Studios, set up the MPAA as a means for Hollywood to self-regulate with a defined ratings system. The threat was, if Hollywood didn’t start rating itself, Congress would. And nobody wanted that. To Valenti and the MPAA, the threat that Congress or state/local governments might feel obliged to step in and attempt to regulate movies was the sword of Damocles perpetually hanging over everyone’s head.

It wasn’t long before the MPAA turned its lobbying attention to theater owners, which knuckled under the pressure to accept and enforce the rating systems. With the advent of VHS and DVD sales, retailers also accepted the ratings system — Target and Wal-Mart won’t stock film products rated NC-17, out of a desire to maintain their perception as a wholesome retailer of quality product. In the minds of Target and Wal-Mart buyers, they aren’t censoring anyone or limiting anyone’s artistic freedom. They just don’t want the bad stuff on their shelves, so Mom doesn’t get flustered. Retailers have decided that, in their stores, Mom would simply prefer not having to explain to her 8-year-old what XXX stands for while she’s shopping for diapers and shampoo.

In the game business, the ESRB is nearly an exact duplicate of the MPAA, in terms of its mission and its effect on the games business. Under the same pressure as the film studios in the 60s, game publishers in the 90s crafted essentially an identical response. And retailers reacted in turn exactly the same way as they did for films. No game is sold without a rating, and AO = NC-17.

In other words, no one’s stopping you from making the game you want to make. But the customers — the retailers — aren’t always buying what you’re selling.

This isn’t censorship. This is merely a commonly accepted business practice.

Imagine all the coffee houses in the country set up an independent roasting board that placed a specific rating on each type of coffee. “This cup rated MJ for Mocha Java.” Now imagine all the coffee houses independently decided that French Roast was too dark and spicy for most people, so they all stopped buying French Roast altogether. French Roast isn’t illegal. It’s just that Starbucks doesn’t choose to carry it. Keep rolling with the coffee analogy — imagine that angry Roastmasters started bickering that Starbucks’ decision “limits their artistic freedom” as roasters of coffee beans. And another group started shouting about how “Starbucks is just a tool of the Man.”

Asinine, right?

It isn’t censorship. It’s just a bad business model. We need to stop using the C-word before it loses all meaning in the discussion, and focus energies on crafting an effective business model that works for all parties.

GameProducer.net
We asked if there any more comments from the producers, and closing the discussion turned out to be really difficult – there were more new questions than answers. Ben continued by saying about the bottom line:

Ben:

Is the world a better place with [AO rated] Manhunt 2 unable to be played by the public….no idea really.

I’d like to think so but hey thats rather subjective isnt it…

Hmmm isn’t that part of the issue anyway?

GameProducer.net What do you readers think?

The discussion continues at the GameProducer.net forums – feel free to share your view on this matter, and read more comments from other developers and readers.

The opinions expressed by these producers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, plans or positions of the companies where they work at.