Monthly Archives: February 2008

The Pros and Cons of Setting Up a Forum

Mr. Phil asked me if I could share some information about how vBulletin Forum software has worked for me.

Since I’m using vBulletin for both this game production site, but also for one of my game sites, I have some experience to comment this.

Software overview
vBulletin has worked well for me, and while there are some free options (like PHPBB or SMF or Drupal‘s forum system), I think putting a few bucks for a software isn’t that big deal. I used PHPBB2 in the past, and the spam load was horrible (PHPBB3 + modifications, from what I’ve heard, are supposed to do good).

The vBulletin software does what I need and it does it well, so I think it is a good option if you want to set up forums.

In my opinion, the most important questions aren’t about the software. They are about having time and energy for the forums and figuring out if it’s beneficial at all to set them in the first place.

Pros and Cons of setting up a forum for a game site
Dead Wake game forums are powered by vBulletin and I must admit that I considered using only a blog platform instead of a vbulletin. That way the site could be more developer journal oriented where users could comment.

After adding the forums, it seems that players have participated and there’s people who enjoy being on the zombie game forums.

The forums require some maintenance, so I really recommend getting a group of moderators on the board. With a game site that shouldn’t be a big problem, since you probably see interested people who are keen to discuss about your game.

I wouldn’t do quick “moderator hires”, since I’ve noticed that those guys who get excited really quick might tend to also lose their interest very quickly. I haven’t got any moderators on the Dead Wake forums yey, and that’s something I will do when the forums start to grow (and the moment I start seeing spam registrations on the forums). Right now the forums provide a 2-way street for me to get player feedback about the game.

I’d say that if your game is community oriented (and the discussion is interactive), a forum can be good option. If on the other hand it’s more like “you do the talk”, and “others listen” (like, if you announce new patches, or share some ideas which people can comment) then I’d suggest getting a blog in the game website.

Pros and Cons for a game development site forums
Having a combination of blog and a forum can be tricky. I’ve done some work to make replying to blog posts so that the discussion takes place at the forums, but the comments can also be seen on the blog. It’s about 30% smooth as I want it to be right now, but I’m improving the system in the future so that the blog and the forums work smoothly together.

The blog has the problem that old discussions tend to forget, and only the newest blog posts are discussed. Without forums, there’s no possibility to start new discussions on something else.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since forums carry a certain overhead and setting up a forum requires work. This means you gotta get yourself a team of moderators to help you out.

Here’s some things to consider before setting up the forums
Perhaps answering to these questions can help you decide:

  • Why are you setting up the forums? What’s the benefit of having a forums? (For this site, the public forums are a natural extension of the Insiders forums and provides a place for game production oriented discussion and not only discussion about the blog posts)
  • Is your game about having a community? (If your game relies heavily on modding and player support, then establishing a forum can be a good idea)
  • Do you intend to get a publisher for your game? (If you intend to get a publisher, then you might want to consider what benefit the forums will bring – if any, or do you wish to leave the community building in the hands of a publisher)
  • Do you want to use forums for player feedback? (If the forums help getting player feedback, then by all means consider setting up forums for your testers)
  • How much time can you put on establishing a community? (Running a commmunity requires time, and you need to get a group of moderators to help you out.)

Forums require time and I wouldn’t set up forums if I wasn’t 100% sure I could get reliable people to help me out with the forums. I would also carefully ponder the benefits the forums offer for you and your audience, and if it’s in line with your strategy for your game.

8 More Writers Wanted

I’ve been getting couple of guest authors to contribute to GameProducer.net and there are a few posts coming in the nearly future. Since people have enjoyed these article (based on the comments), I’ve made the bold step to invite a few more guest writers to contribute.

I will keep writing a few times per week, and giving bit longer articles now and then, but I also want to get more professionals on the board to share their opinions.

GameProducer.net has an established audience of close to thousand daily readers, and it provides a solit platform to share insight on game production. This is not a paid position, but a chance to get some credentials to your resume.

There are just a couple of requirements in case you want to contribute:

  • You need to actually know something about games production: You need to have produced games. I’m not after book-smart people, I want to hear from people have experience in doing games. You don’t need to have built the first greatest game ever, but you do need to have experience and willingness to share your lessons.
  • Write one or more articles per month: You don’t need to write all the time, but getting at least one article (500 words long or so) per month would be sufficient. Anything more than that is fine too as long as the articles show quality.
  • You know how to write in English: I don’t expect 100% solid grammar, but you need to be able to write proper English.

Rest of the details will be discussed when you apply.

That’s pretty much it. If you are working on some game company (or own one), feel free to contact me. If you know somebody who could be interested in writing game production or game business articles, feel free to ask him to contact me.

There’s 8 open spots right now (out of 10), and after that I’ll be closing the offer at least for some time to see how this goes.

If you are interested, please send me some writing samples and tell me bit about your gaming industry experience.

How Piracy can Break an Industry – the Brazilian Case

This is a guest article by Tiago Tex Pine
I’ve been reading about Nintendo urging governments for more actions against game piracy around the world. Their claim specifically mentions Brazil. I’d like to add more information about this country (since I live here :D).

This is a short story of how piracy broke an once prosperous industry, and hopefully it can be a warning for the game industries of other countries.

The 8-16 bits Era

During the 8 bits and 16 bits era, Brazil had a strong presence of Sega products through partnership with a local company, Tec Toy. The Master System and later the Mega Drive (Genesis) systems were hits. Tec Toy made localizations of major titles like Phantasy Star and Riven (with voices dubbed for Portuguese!). Growth and media awareness was high – to the point a very popular TV show (Programa Silvio Santos) had a video-game competition around Sega games like Sonic.

In 1993, Nintendo arrived officially in the market with a join venture with the biggest toy-maker, Estrela, and a major electronic devices maker, Gradiente. Super NES was officially released, and one could find official cartridges in major super-stores, pretty much the way Americans buy games at Wal-Mart. The market was promising and realistic analysis projected a size of US$ 1 billion for the first years of the 21th century.

Playstation Era: piracy runs rampant

Then it came the Playstation. It was a shift for the industry globally, and even if not officially released here, it was expected to be imported and compete with local manufactured systems. Fair enough. But what happened next was completely different from a healthy competition.

The CD-based platform allowed piracy to take over the official players with incredibly cheap and low-quality copies of games. The government did nothing to stop it – on the contrary, taxes over games was (and still is) so high it was impossible for shop owners to sell at a competitive price. So they just stopped selling entirely. Why insisting on something so difficult if store spaces can be filled with more salable products?

Playstation was never released officially in Brazil, but smuggled units became wildly popular and replaced official systems. Every Playstation-owner had CD-cases filled with pirated games. The joint-venture of Nintendo bankrupted, and Tec Toy came very close to close doors as well.

Smuggled Playstation 2 units consolidated piracy afterwards.

Game market today

Game piracy is endemic: 94% of PC retail games and nearly 100% of console games are pirated. Not even the richest youth of the country bothers to buy original console games, which cost US$ 98. Like everyone else they can easily spot illegal street vendors selling pirated games for US$ 8 or less. On online-distributed games, even low-cost Brazilian titles in Portuguese like Brasfoot (US$ 7) and CaveDays (US$ 14,5) are hacked by piracy-dedicated blogs, foruns and Torrent sites.

The outcome: Brazilian game market is estimated to be around US$ 52 millions. A pathetic performance for the 8th biggest economy in the world.

Illegal street vendors and cops

Cops and illegal street vendors. Business as usual.

I applaud Microsoft for making a bold attempt to bring XBOX 360 in 2006, the first console officially released here in many years. I also applaud the few Brazilian game developers for the courage to struggle in such a hostile market. They are incredibly talented, could do wonders, but have only four options to survive as developers: subscription-based online games, mobile gaming, advergaming or exporting.

What about Nintendo claim?

Nintendo should forget about having any support from the Brazilian government. Because even if congressmen hear the claims, they will first have to combat the ever-increasing DVD piracy problem. What happened to games is happening with the DVD industry – street vendors with pirated copies will break it. Hey, even the President was cough watching pirated movies!

Could we write better laws? We already have good laws regarding copyright infringement. But police say “there are worse crimes to combat”. And that’s probably true: we also have good laws regarding homicide, but just 1% of murderers are solved in Brazil. One percent!

Impunity is by far the worst Brazilian problem as a nation. Law isn’t enforced. It won’t change anytime soon. Brazilian National Congress completely lost credibility and if Justice doesn’t reach murderers, it won’t reach pirates.

An actor of a widely-pirated movie, “Tropa de Elite”, goes after an illegal street vendor!

PS: I have faith that a steadily economic growth and the increasing education rates will change this country for good by the end of 2020. Will take that much time though.

DX Studio 2.3 Released With New PhysX Engine Option, Performance Boosts And User Controls

Pinewood studios based software developers Worldweaver Ltd announce the latest release of their games and simulation platform DX Studio.

Version 2.3 comes packed with new features including PhysX support, depth of field, simple user control creation, scrolling listboxes, full tweening on all object properties, DXT support and a spherical map importer. There have also been a number of performance and memory usage optimizations.

CEO and founder Chris Sterling commented:

We’ve done a lot of work embedding the PhysX engine into DX Studio but the benefits of using PhysX should really help users looking to create particular gaming environments, especially given the recent announcement of Nvidia’s acquisition of Ageia and that they will soon introduce PhysX physics processing support into all GeForce 8-series graphics cards through a simple software download. Of course we have still kept the option of using Bullet physics too as it is still proving to be more appropriate for creating certain environments ”

The latest version of DX Studio also sees the release of their own demo game, Hut of the Dead. The game is free to play and all script available to DX Studio users to help with their own projects. There is also a competition running for the best game play modification of Hut of the Dead.

DX Studio licenses are available in both freeware and commercial editions and can be downloaded from the website at www.dxstudio.com.

Press Releases Can Get You Into Gaming Magazines

When I first heard about press releases (that was ages ago), I wondered why one should bother sending any?

Well, today I got reminded by one of our game players why they are important. Thanks to GameRelease.net Our Dead Wake zombie game made it to the PC Gamer US “zombie issue”.

Here’s a youtube video this guy made:
(The quality of the video is bit rough, but you can see the text and bit of a picture. I’m still waiting to get my own copy somehow to store in my shelf. And no – I didn’t ask him to do this.)

I suppose this guy is living in some very cold country…

The 2-Cut-Rule For Boosting Your Game Production

There’s two good cuts game producers can take to ship their games faster: cutting features and cutting the crap.

Pretty simple.

Cutting Features
When I’m planning my own projects, I ask myself “how valuable this feature really is compared to the resources it takes to complete”. I have big list of ideas, but when it’s time to schedule and plan further, I gotta figure out what kind of impact these features really have.

To give you a bit ugly example, consider this. There was an idea for the zombie game that players could cut the zombie heads. Then there was another idea of having “FPS hands” in the game.

In the dead cutting example, I can do little bit of “market research” and figure out that it’s actually pretty fun feature in some other games. I can consider it to be okay for the project, and the estimated workload isn’t too big either. Then I look at the “FPS hands”: it’s certainly something most first person shooter games have, but perhaps I could survive by just showing the weapon – and not the hand.

Since I’m not hundred percent sure, I can rely on player feedback. I can go to forums and ask what players think. After all, these chaps are the ones who have the best ideas. I can make the decision based on brief market research, player feedback and workload estimations.

And if the deadline comes closer, I can realize that neither of these features affect the core gameplay – which has higher priority. This means head cutting feature might get cut.

And one must be prepared to do some cutting. Especially if you suffer from “feature creep” or “90% finished game” syndromes.

Cut the crap
This is my favorite thing to cut. I think wasting time should not be dealt lightly. Time is so precious, that how you spend it can have a huge impact on what you get done. In the list of 100 ways to be more productive I wrote down some ideas on how to get more done in less time, and cutting the crap certainly could be added to that list.

It’s bit strange that companies spend great deal of energy fighting over salaries, having report meetings and other “mandatory items” that could be dealt with much greater efficiency. That talk can be useful, but much of the talk is just useless crap that leads nowhere.

People like to have “business meeting so that they could talk a bit”, without having any kind of idea why they are in that meeting. Relationship building, brainstorming, seeking opportunities is fine – but there should be specific purpose for meetings.

Cutting the crap will help you boost your production.

Web Software for Teamwork

You want start a game development project, but you are unsure on the ways you are going to manage it. As an indie like you, I also don’t have cash for consultancies or ERP software packages! So here goes a fair number of web-based tools to help you managing people.

DotProject

This is one software with a bunch of features for project managing and team collaboration. It works pretty much like traditional management software (MS Project and Primavera). It has a forum, a shared calendar for events and meetings, and an also shared contact list. The main weak point is the lack of AJAX-like functionality – so, unlike Gmail, for example, you have to reload the whole page each time you want to update it.

Like MS Project, it is a complex piece of software, but a very good one. I’ve used DotProject for 2 and a half years, and now I’m moving to either Overlord or Teamwork. I came to conclude that I don’t need much complex functions for 4-8 developers teams. But that will depend on your producing methodology as well.

Overlord

A managing system focused on game production, used by GarageGames. It is a great system, simple but effective for our goals. Has Web 2.0 capabilities, and has the source opened to you after buying, so you could add your own modifications afterwards.

Teamwork

  • http://www.twproject.com/
  • Needs Installation? No, though a license for download-and-install is available.
  • Free? Yes, for small companies (up to 5 projects and 10 developers). For bigger ones, 8 euros per month for each user. No source available.

This one is new to me, and I’m still evaluating. Unlike DotProject and Overlord, it is a ASP-business model, so you don’t need to install anything – just create the account on their site and use it. It has lots of functions, and seems as complex as DotProject – but uses Web 2.0 controls that can really improve tasks visibility and usability for team members. And getting to know what everyone else is doing is very important thing to keep team members motivated.

Useful (and free) Software

These are software not intrinsically related to project management, but can help you on specific needs. With WikiMedia software, you can keep your internal documentation updated, interactive and easily available for the project team. You can also configure that just some users can modify the Wikis (game designers, most of times).

phpBB is a widely-known forum tool. You can use it as a knowledge database, issue-tracking system, and – above all – an interactive tool available for the players!

The WordPress blog system of this site is available for download! You can configure blogs for each members of your team, make a general “project” blog, or use it as your site main under-laying system (like we did on Interama site).

Carnival of Game Production – 6th Edition

It’s been some time since the last Carnival of Game Production, and we have got some really good articles to show you today.

The topics range from marketing to business to accounting to games to voice acting to sales to game outsourcing and more.

Enjoy.

Jake Birkett wrote several good blog posts, and three of them are listed here. 3D graphics in “Casual” games, My Latest Game is at the Alpha Stage (good breakdown of hours) and Can you make a living developing casual games?. More good articles can be found from Jake’s blog.

L. Waymire sent a good article titled The Voices of Justin Gross. That is the voice of actor Justin Gross, as recorded for the hero-turned-villain Arthas in the video game “Warcraft III.” – some good points in the article, check it out.

Roman sent a link to Learn how you can sell more games without spending a penny – which contains some sales info worth checking. Roman also wrote an article titled Cross-selling statistics from www.ANAWIKI.com. More good posts in his blog.

Mike Harmon sent information on Planning an business trip that contains some information about accounting that people should be aware of.

Matt Hanson talks about the importance of credibility in his Custom Made Jingles, Commercials and Music for Television and Radio. This stuff can be applied to gaming as well.

Eric Hudin wrote an article titled From iPhone to YouTube – The Viral Marketing Method that discusses creative ways to market your products.

Warren Wong wrote a bit different article called Video Games And The Human Race. Article might not give practical information to use for game production, but it gives some things to think about: where are we heading?

Writers Cabal published an article on getting projects done by other people: 7 tips on outsourcing from GDC China. Some good ideas to think about.

Peter Quinn wrote an article: 10 Tips For Effective Negotiations in Life and Business – something every producers needs to read.

Sagar Satapathy lists the Top 25 Ultimate Gamer Vacations. Now you never ever need to figure out where to go on your next holiday.

Danogo sent us a post about How to Make Real Life Money in the Second Life Virtual World. That article shows us that games are not just virtual fun – people are making real livings inside games.

That’s all folks for this edition. The next (7th) edition will be published when I get around links to roughly 10-20 good articles.

If you want to participate in the next edition, feel free to contact me and submit your article link.

Movaya Brings Try & Buy Model For Mobile Games

I’m convinced that the best ideas are the ones that can be stolen. Just see how these guys figured out that the “try & buy model” that’s been used in shareware & downloadable games can work on the mobile games area as well.

Movaya, a mobile content distribution and services company, announced the BETA launch of Movaya TryNBuy, the first off-deck, cross-carrier, try-before-you-buy system for mobile game sales in the US. TryNBuy allows consumers to play mobile phone games before purchasing using a free download trial.

Check out more information from their website.