Post Mortem of Year 2007 – Predictions For The Year 2008

I must say I’m very pleased that I decided to write the plan for year 2007 in public. Conducting yearly post mortems in one’s life can be really fruitful. I’ve updated my last year post and marked where my crystal ball got right

Year ago I wrote about my plans for the year 2007 and now it’s time to conduct a post mortem: reflect what went right and what could be improved. I will also lay out some plans and goals for the next year (in the area of the gaming industry).

What went right

  • GameProducer.net was updated every day. It has been fun, although in the year 2008 I will change my approach a bit. Instead of focusing on giving daily tips (and ensuring daily blog post) I will write longer posts at least once per week, and I’m getting some more people to write in the blog too. The game producer forums will stay the main place to discuss about the blog topics. This is the situation at least for now, and after couple of months we’ll check out how this goes.
  • More sales statistics and interviews were published, and I’m looking forward to see more of them in the future too.
  • Insiders got several service additions. One big change was the ad-free game producer blog for the members. All Insiders can browse the site without seeing banner or other ads. One another addition was the making of the guide to advertising – an Xmas gift for Insiders. The ebook gives about 20 pages of information about where you should know when to start advertising your product.

    In addition, 41 hard-earned tips from Edoiki development was written, and the new Dead Wake development tips series started. Two other service additions were planned, but not put into full production yet (beta testing service and survey system). The first Insiders web meeting launches on January. There’s currently total of 55 companies & individuals who have the membership and access to different Insiders services.

  • The end of Edoiki development goes also in the “what went right” portion of this post mortem. Even though the game was not released to public, I believe ending the project was a good move – and the lessons learned are most valuable.
  • The launch of Dead Wake zombie game production has got lots of positive feedback (from the players, journalists – and even some publisher interest), and making a monthly release (even with placeholder material) so far proved to be a pretty good move.

What could be improved

  • The Edoiki development didn’t went like I planned, and having enough resources is the one important (perhaps the most crucial) that I really learned from the project.
  • I had this pretty fun role playing idea that combines “pen & paper” and Internet. I never made time for the RPG so it was just that “an idea” that I really never pushed any further (by the way, I really recommend checking out I’ve got this idea for a video game – what do I do next… from the forums).

    I had ideas on how different players (and storytellers) could play their pen & paper RPG “normally”, and then the storytellers could put their stories in the Internet – where all other storytellers would also update stuff that happens in their games. It would be like one big world that would be played “normally” with pen & paper, but what happens in the world would depend on every storyteller’s and every player’s actions.

    Think of it like “pen & paper RPG that has ten thousand or hundred thousand players”. I still have the idea of having “an Internet aided multiplayer storytelling game” in my mind, but I left that stay in the drawer for now – and focus on the Dead Wake game. Year ago I said that this idea “might come true”, and I suppose that’s the lesson to learn: no point having “goals” that “might come true”. It’s okay to have ideas and write them down, but it doesn’t make much sense to talk much about ideas if there’s no real intention to make them true.

I think I’ve written a lot about the lessons I’ve learned in this blog, and here are some picks from the year 2007:

I realize there’s always room for improvement, and I’ll be writing about them as the year progresses.

My plans for the year 2008
In a summary, here are some of my goals for the year 2008

  • Weekly updated blog: When I started writing this blog, my goal was to have really short posts – published daily, but now I want to try a different alternative: publish longer posts weekly. After some time, we’ll see how this goes. (In fact…. I tried to do this in the beginning of December, but for some reason I couldn’t resist updating the blog every day – I was so used to this.). Anyway, from now on: it’s “at least one longer blog post per week” (in addition to couple of others now and then, and some help from guest writers).
  • Forming an Ltd: My business is growing and at some point in 2008 I will set up ltd.
  • Monthly Dead Wake releases: I’ve started Dead Wake zombie game development in rapid manner and will be giving monthly updates. The fast Dead Wake development cycle is new idea, but I wanted to make the move from yearly perspective to something faster. So far so good.
  • Insider updates. Insiders will see new features depending on what kind of feedback and ideas I see. The beta testing service is one option, and so is the survey system. Ebook (or ebooks) about specific gaming industry topics are most likely done at some point. The new Insiders web meetings will be added in the service too.
  • GameProducer.net sees 100 000 monthly visitors: There will be at least 100,000 visitors starting from some month before the year 2008 ends.

What my crystal ball tells about the year 2008
The crystal ball was bit foggy here, so the following predictions could be said to be as accurate as any weather forecast that tries tell if it rains next month (meaning: don’t even think about blaming me for these, I won’t take any responsibility for the following predictions):

  • Casual gaming will take more market share. Companies and people will spend much more than ever before.
  • Micro-transactions will see more light in the gaming industry. More and more games will start charging small amounts of money rather than one big sum per purchased game. Expect to see more club system, point systems and other schemes that will tell you how much cheaper it is – and how much you save when you buy the game in small parts.
  • Digital rights management (DRM) issues: we will hear more and more buyers complaining how poor digital rights management is done. Some game publishers will say that they need to ensure that nobody pirates their games. Some other companies listen to players, make DRM work with ease (yet ensuring some protection) and get rich.
  • More ad-supported games: More and more games will stop asking for $19.95, and are instead given for free. The bad side for players is that they need to watch ads every time the game loads or when they enter to a new level.
  • So called “social gaming” will flop big time: We’ve seen some people having 47,003 “myspace friends” and never realize that perhaps all those “friends” aren’t perhaps these guy’s real friends. I’m betting my left sock that some people really think that social web will happen everywhere in the gaming world and that’s where you need to be. People will keep talk about “social gaming” and investors will pour money into any company that will put together words “Web 2.0″ and “Video Games”. While some people are building social gaming dreams very high in the air, some other companies will keep making games that have “social” aspects and actually bring money.

That’s it for this year. Have you made post mortem for the year 2007? Do you have any new year resolutions for the year 2008?

Looking forward to see you here next year too.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays Everybody!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everybody! Like the note above says, I’m not here right now.

This post is auto-scheduled and I’m most likely eating ham and drinking milk as you read this.

Here’s what I do NOT doing two weeks:

  • I won’t check my email
  • I won’t turn on my computer (well, maybe just for couple of hours… ;)
  • I won’t be updating this blog (you’ll be seeing this blog post several days)
  • I won’t spend (much) time on anything gaming related (okay… maybe little – I can’t help it, I gotta at least draw some maps or something)

Instead, I’m going to focus on the following items:

  • Eating
  • Resting
  • Eating more and spending time with my family

Merry Christmas everybody!

Check Out This “Nice” Payment System Logic

I ordered something through one eCommerce system, and it certainly was an interesting experience trying to guess what my (untold) password might be. I’ve never experienced this before.

Here’s what happened:

1. I made an order through the eCommerce system

2. A text appeared on the screen telling my order number and saying that I would receive account information via email soon.

3. I waited and waited, but got no email.

4. I checked spam folder to see if the email was there. It wasn’t.

5. I decided to contact the eCommerce system (they had a “contact us” link in the order summary page)

6. I got a quick reply telling me “The system automatically sent you username and password. If you don’t see the email, please check your spam folder.” The support person continued (read carefully the following) “If you still don’t see it, you can re-request your password through the ‘Password Recovery’”

Do’h! Password recovery? I couldn’t get the password in the first place because I never got the first email. Then I’m told to use password recovery that will email me…. but that won’t help me because the emails don’t reach my mailbox. I got into endless loop of customer service.

Luckily I got the support people to set up everything for me manually, but it sure was interesting experience.

I still wonder why I never got their email…

Happy Birthday GameProducer.net – 2 Years Old Already

So the time flies. It’s been about a year since this blog’s 1st birthday and my company’s 1st birthday.

The site has seen 355,175 visits and 712,327 pageviews within a year. Thanks everybody for your support. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading the sales statistics, interviews and production articles. Looking forward to seeing this site and the forums to grow next year too.

I will be making a post about what I expect from the new year, but that will be bit later.

Happy birthday – blog & company!

Selling Mobile Games Doesn’t Come Easier Than This

I wrote about Movaya’s plug’n’play mobile game selling system. They purchased ad from my site, and I promised to take a closer look at Movaya mobile game selling system.

When I went to their site, I saw this promise:

Movaya handles the content, billing and delivery – you just merchandise the products. It is that easy. And it is free. All it takes is a few minutes.

I’ve seen many sites promising “all it takes is a few minutes”, so I decided to record my time. I signed up (was very fast), read some instructions, search for a mobile game with “zombie” keyword (one found), picked the game code and copy & pasted the HTML here. Here’s one example game I’m selling now:

update: the Zombie Zapster game WAS displayed at this location, but it stopped selling at Movaya, so I needed to remove the game

All finished in about 6 minutes. Pretty good compared to quite many programs where you need to wait hours or days (or even weeks) to get accepted. (Okay, I must admit that the “terms” should be read more carefully ;))

At this point there are some issues that might need improving to make sure the system caters for international sellers (and buyers) too. Here’s some good and some bad elements I see in this system. Naturally I cannot tell how well the payments are done (mainly because I signed up a few minutes ago) or if there’s some other problems, but I can give some first impressions.

Pros
The good stuff:

  • Very easy sign-up process: Like mentioned earlier, it was very simple to sign-up and start setting up a store. HTML codes and everything is there.
  • Movaya takes care of (almost) everything: They provide all billing, customer service, and transaction fulfillment. Your job is to put code on your site and get people to buy mobile games.
  • Extensive catalog of games: I took a brief look at the games, and it seems like there’s LOTS of them. Action, RPG, you name it. Very good. There are animated screenshots, cover images, and description text available for all games.
  • Many different cell phones supported: Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, SonyEricsson – they are all there. It would be great to get more carriers too, but I suppose this will occur as Movaya grows in users.

Basically, Movaya has made it easy for anybody to sell games.

Cons
The not-so-good stuff (especially if cashing international checks in your country is expensive):

  • Terms & Conditions need a clearer link: When I first signed up, it showed terms & conditions in a popup window. After sign-up I was checking the FAQ to find out how the payments are made. The FAQ mentioned “look terms & conditions for more information”. I tried to find the terms, but had to logout and go to the sign-up form and click the button. This is not a big deal, but a direct link from FAQ to terms & conditions would be welcome.
  • Payments via checks: For international account owners, this is a big issue. Since Movaya requires you to have at least $20.00 in your account, that means small checks will be almost meaningless to some seller. It costs close to $20 for me to go to a bank and cash an international check. PayPal payment option would be really good for international. If PayPal is out of question, then it would be good to be able to set up the check limit to something like $100 or $200. That way cashing the check costs are reasonable (at least this is the situation in Finland, and I would think it’s same in other places).
  • Could need more carriers: At the moment not all mobile phone owners can buy games. The more carriers they get under they wings, the better coverage they can offer.
  • Lack of affiliate program: This is not a big deal, but it would be a nice addition if they would offer an affiliate program. That way those who wish to tell about the program benefit from it too.

The link and payment issue are something that most likely can be dealt with Movaya. If you happen to live in a country where checks are not expensive to cash, and have audience that can buy the games then I don’t see no problems with the system.

For those who are interested in getting additional sales vehicle, sell mobile games through Movaya.

Duke Nukem Forever – Teaser Video

I have mixed feelings after seeing this demo. Duke Nukem has always been the tough guy, but with a comical aspect. Now the 3D guy on the video seems too serious, and the voice somehow (in my opinion) would fit better for 2D Duke. Also the alien wild boar (or whatever they are called) look “strange” in high polygon 3D. Maybe it’s just my old habits saying that 2D Duke was the best Duke. If you don’t take the history aspect into account, the teaser video graphics look really nice.

3D Realms might have got accusations and blame for the project, but if you think about it… they’ve also got people talking about the phenomenon. Even if it takes a decade to complete, they can use the negative press – and turn it into a massive hit.

Or, it might fail big time. I think expectations are so high, and people so emotional about the game that it’s either one big hit – or one big miss.

Perhaps it’s too early to say anything… let’s wait for the Duke Nukem Forever release.

Meanwhile, check out the teaser video:

What do you think? Still loyally waiting for the game?

Here’s Something That Prevented Me From Buying

I’ve been using one FTP application that past it’s trial version like six months ago. I kept using the program since it allows me to keep launching the software even after expiration, but there’s another reason for why I haven’t bought the application.

The buy link is not working!

I try clicking the buy link and absolutely nothing happens. I don’t know if this is an old version or if my firewall prevents it from opening a new window (the file transfers are working great though…) but whatever the reason, the bottom line stays: I cannot buy the software. I can’t be bothered to go to their site to shop, so instead I write about this problem here on my blog.

Watch it fellow developers, these two reasons might keep people from buying your software:

  • If you allow people from using the software after it’s expired, they won’t buy your game. When the trial expires, make sure it really expires.
  • Make sure the buy link works.

Easy purchasing process means more sales.

Spike Dash Review

River Play Games approached me about reviewing their newest game Spike Dash. I played the game and there were some elements I liked, and some elements that need to get polished to make this game really good.

The first thing that caught my eye was the funny turtle space guy. He seem to crashed to some evil planet and needs to collect stars (and other objects) in the levels. The main character also has a a weapon that he can use to shoot enemies (although the enemies didn’t seem to care much about the weapon).

The game looks okay (besides the turtle I liked watching the particle effects when you shoot something), but has many small things that need fixing to make this game really enjoyable experience. The following items are all tiny issues, but fixing them would make the game feel polished.

Suggestions for improvements:

  • Target audience: I recommend thinking very carefully who is your audience. 3D platformer (puzzle/shooter) needs to be 100% clear who his players are. Now I think this game is not directly targeted to casual gamers. (More on this on the following points).
  • Camera: Sticking the camera the way it is might be okay, but I would have wanted the camera be closer to the turtle. Now sometimes the camera went in such position that I couldn’t see much.
  • Clear objectives: Gamers need to have information on where you can go, and where you cannot go. I personally think that by simply having text “Collect X more stars” and “Now go to the central portal” would help people to figure out what they need to do. Okay – I got the game’s idea – but somehow in the beginning it wasn’t clear what I’m expected to do. One idea could be to display a 3D arrow that “points to the direction where you need to go next”. It was also bit strange that my char was stopped by an invisible wall when I tried to go look the environment.
  • Controls: The turtle could jump little higher, and somehow I felt that he was sliding to different directions when I didn’t want that. Maybe adding more weight to the guy (so that he stops faster) and adding more power when he moves.
  • Time limit: Maybe it’s my playing style, but I would have wanted more time to explore the level a bit more. Now there’s 1 minute time limit to finish the levels, and for me it was very too little.
  • I wanna play: I died, and could not continue. I would like to see some sort of auto-saving (or unlimited lives per level) system so that I could try the level over and over, until I manage to solve it. Now if I die – it’s game over for good.
  • User interface: The UI was okay, but I believe the star count text could be displayed in different place (like top left corner or bottom of the screen). I would consider using different font color too. The time box graphics could be different too.

Besides the earlier tweaks, there were some errors that would need to get fixed:

  • Grammar: Grammar error in the intro would need to be fixed. It was nothing dramatical, but still makes the game look less polished.
  • Strange mouse cursor slowdown bug: When I clicked “new game”, the mouse cursor started moving very slowly. When I pressed “Play” it went back to normal.
  • I touched a wall and died?: Not sure if this was normal, but my turtle character touched the wall and instantly died in the second level.
  • Weak enemies? Not a big deal… but I was wondering how my character cannot beat those small enemies. My turtle is like 2-3 times bigger, but dies when some small monkey touches me. What about making monsters 3 times bigger than my turtle. Now that would make it scary! :)

The game looks fine, the cool turtle looks fine and this game has potential, but it needs some polishing and final touches to make it a fun game. Adjusting the character controlling, making sure there’s auto-save (or similar), and perhaps adjusting the time limit alone can make this game more enjoyable. Putting more effort to the points mentioned will help this game to leap to the next level.

If you want to try the game, check out River Play Games.

Dead Wake – Zombie Game Website & Forums Launched

I’ve picked the winning name (Dead Wake) for the zombie game I’m developing. I’ve also launched the DeadWakeGame.com website and Dead Wake game discussion forums.

I will be putting less Dead Wake specific posts in this blog – since I intend to keep this site about game production. The “my zombie game project diary” is moving to the other site.

To get informed when a new Dead Wake release is available, subscribe to the Dead Wake newsletter.

All zombie funs – I expect to see you at the Dead Wake forums.

Letter From a Reader: “Ask Yourself, Do You Have Resources to Finish a 3D Game?”

After making the decision to end the Edoiki development I received one lengthy post that contained so much information that I asked him if I could publish it. For privacy reasons the company names and game names are changed, and the sender wishes the remain unknown.

The sender agreed, and I really recommend you go through this lengthy article. It contains some really juicy pieces of information about game production (especially “casual versus core” or “2d versus 3d” related knowledge). Game developers should ask themselves, do they have resources to finish a 3D game?

Here’s the sender’s email (published with a permission):

Hi Juuso,

I was reading your post for ending Edoiki development. One thing I have to say, it was right decision. The post just inspired me to write you this e-mail, it’s more like from fellow producer to fellow producer.

Anyway, something drives me to tell you some things from my experience, risk management, and some knowledge I gained while working for “other” game development companies before I decided to found my own. Some 5 years ago, I have started my career at The AAA Game Company, working as programmer, and had pretty romantic view on game development.

The project I was working on is The Bloody Good Shooter Game – first person shooter. Important thing is that I had great experience working for almost 3 years on 3D first person shooter project. It’s was one of the most valuable experiences for me, at least from the producers point of view.

Lesson about risk management

It was project with following attributes in terms of man power :

  • 5-6 professional 3D modelers worked just on level assets, models for the environment of the levels
  • 3 professional level editors, for creating the levels
  • 2 environmental artists, just texturizing the models and creating original textures for the game
  • 2 character modelers and
  • 1 graphic designer just to design and place particle effect through the game
  • 8 programmers

All of these people already had at least 3 years of professional industry experience working on AAA title. We also had amazing technology, the game editor and our own engine, everything built in-house, so it was ours and it was amazing. So we had, experienced people and enough of them, we had great technology, we had enough time to finish the project.

THE PROJECT WAS LATE FOR 1 YEAR !!!!!!!!!!!!!

How the hell ?

I won’t go in details, but many things went wrong, mostly some critical decisions were so wrong that caused us to waste the time on features which didn’t bring anything good. As a result, you get project which is late for 1 year. I don’t have to tell you what kind of cost for the publisher it was. After the project was ended, 5 good people left the company, and company itself was not able to get new project for another 12 months.

It was all because of BAD RISK MANAGEMENT.

Company management was so egocentric that they though they can face anything. Well, it was proven to be otherwise.

My lesson learned there : if you don’t have a budget of around $1 – $2 million dollars, FORGET ABOUT DECENT 3D PROJECT !!!!!!!!!

Because, there are many things which can go wrong, from people to technology. It’s too risky. First, from technology point of view, and second from human resources point of view. Technology point of view : You need people who are proficient in, 3D graphics, 3D mathematics, 3D physics, scripting, 3D tools programming.

Ask yourself a question:

If I have small budget, and require people with those skills. What will make them to want to work for me, for small money, when they can have great careers in teams in Europe and across the Atlantic, with good salary, good benefits, working for the well known companies on top-titles, working on well known franchise, and putting those projects as reference to their careers ?

The story goes on.

When I have realized that things are getting out of control, I finished all my tasks, and everything what was expected from me in the mentioned company, and left.

Where did I go?

  • I was targeting the company which is profitable, which would allow me to advance in the area of management and production, and which will allow me to work on many smaller projects through out the year.
  • I found such a company actually on the other part of the world and moved there to continue my career.
  • I worked there on 6-8 projects in single year. Imagine the experience gained !
  • I worked on GBA, DS, J2ME, some other mobile phone platforms and also on PC casual games.
  • Guess what ? ALL THESE GAMES WERE 2D !!!!!! And company was making money and still is to the present day !!!!!!!!!!

People in that company were veterans from AAA Amazing 3D Title project who have established their own company. They had significant experience working on 3D games. BUT, they have decided to work on the game for mobile phones, small hand held consoles and casual PC games.

You know why? It’s lower risk! All in all, one great thing I learned there : make games you’re absolutely 100% sure you can finish and deliver to the market (whichever market) !

So, after being present for 4 to 5 years in the industry I had a chance to see it all, big 3D projects slipping the deadline, small projects, medium sized projects, I was working as programmer and had some stellar moments with my engineering in 3D physics, and had great time managing people on smaller projects as well.

With so much experience, the decision to make my own company was really easy one. But what kind of games will I work on ? That decision and many others were based purely on my experience from previous 4-5 years. I’ll make games that I can finish. Games that I can sell on global market. Games which will bring me good contacts in the industry. Games which are unique.

And I’ll make lots of games !

Why are all these points so important?
Because they’re enabling me to position my company for successful growth in the future ! Games that I can finish : are finished games and reference for the company in any way. Once you start dealing with publishers, they will always ask you, what have you done before as a company ? YOUR FINISHED GAMES MATTER HERE A LOT !

Game that I can sell on global market: brings you exposure to global publishers, and you never know when will you get some project from them, so it is important that people know about you, world wide.

Games which will bring me good contacts in the industry: any project will get you some new contacts, and professional networking is very important, and you know it yourself.

Games which are unique : unique games are important, basically, publishers are willing to talk to you more about prospect projects if you show some talent creating unique games (read between the lines, they’re willing to talk to you for financing some projects you would suggest to them with either playable prototype or concept document).

I know that you probably know all this stuff, but I’m just putting this down to make my point further on.

So, I made my decision to make:

  • casual games
  • strictly 2D games
  • use my great expertise in area of physics and develop nice technology and use to innovate

The result after 12 months having my own company :

  • 2 casual games for PC finished and published !
  • my own physics technology
  • over 6-7 distribution agreements across all major portals for downloadable games
  • dozens of contacts in the industry with highly positioned executives, producers
  • innovative game brought me the opportunity to discuss publishing deal in person with biggest publishers in the industry !
  • 2 more games in design and 1 prototype and discussing funding options with several publishers
  • latest casual game will be localized and distributed in US, UK, Japan, France, Germany, and probably Russia, Ukraine, making actually 6 SKUs from single title

As you can see, many goals were set and accomplished. Why? Because I have decided to walk the path in small steps! It’s slower, but it’s less risky, and I’m building solid foundation for the future. Imagine where would I be if I decided to make 3D game, on small budget I had a year ago ?

I’m great fan of all 3D game genres, from RTS to FPS and MMORG games! But can I make any of these games ?

Well, I do have knowledge, for each technology section required to make those games, physics, graphics, AI, scripting. I have people skills, I know how to manage teams, and schedule their stuff and not to slip the deadline.

Do I know right people for the project? Yes.

Do I have money to start the project like that? No!

The question goes again: But can I make any of these games?

Answer: NO!

I love 3D games, but I can not make them!

Once you release yourself of the chains that you are in game industry, and that you MUST make 3D games, you’ll realize that there is whole world out there waiting for you to conquer !

My final point of this e-mail is : Rather make 15 small games in 1 year, than 1 large project which will end up in a drawer after 2 years of energy spent on it!

With every project being finished, no matter of size, you get new contacts, you gain production experience. And experience is something what matters the most. The more you have it, easier will be for you to handle the risks, not just for your projects, but in real life as well.