Where Do You Really Want to Go?

Where do you really want to go? That’s the big question.

After getting the new Dead Wake beta version out I’ve been pondering on how to get the player ideas in the game, and how to speed up the development. I’ve also been thinking of how exactly is my business creating revenue.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve been discussing with our Dead Wake team and done research about different game modding options. The reason for this has been that players have wanted more and more visual effects that with a limited budget means slow progress. One of the Dead Wake contributors, Jay, has been giving good ideas and done some really good work in sketching out the plan on how to progress with the Dead Wake. He was the one who introduced me in modding (right now I take Jay as one of the team members). He wanted me to take a look at the Million dollar Unreal contest and showed me how Unreal Tournament 3 could be a good option for modding. This could solve the problem of art (as it would require less work since the environment is done and we could use many other assets as well). It would require some re-theming, but still it would mean a leap forward in the development.

Naturally modding brings challenges as well. Here’s some of them:

  • How will the revenue be created?
  • Selling a mod might be tricky
  • Can mods use product placement inside them and is there legal issues?

When I formed my company in the end of 2005 I had a pretty good vision what I was going to do: make games and write about making games. There was one tough question in the beginning: where is the company focus. I realized that my company had two audiences: gamers and game developers. I always have wanted to make games and write about making games. The audiences are very different and providing services for both has meant that in there’s two ways to go simultaneously.

I’ve read business books, done marketing studies, and heard consultants to say me the same thing: companies should have clear focus on what they do. I’ve had a good vision about what I do (“make games and write about making them”) but the revenue creation has been split.

Today I have stronger feelings about taking the Modding route, and turn Dead Wake into an unique mod, but leave away the revenue creation from games. I’m still creating games, but the main reason my company exists is to provide lessons and ideas about making games – and generate revenue from there. I’d still be making games and writing about that, but the revenue creation focus would be in the service for game developers.

This is something that won’t happen in one day since I still have games that provide revenue, but at least making the decision about where to focus (in terms of creating revenue) gives a satisfaction. If the route I’m taking feels wrong, and doesn’t work, then I’m determined to either make it work or simply change my own approach – but at least I have a decision (strange how it took couple of years before I managed to answer to this question).

It’s strange how strong feelings can arise when you put these thoughts into writing.

I feel that my company is now taking the turn to one direction and having a more solid focus.

What about you. Where do you want to go? Where do you want to take your company? Do you have solid focus?

The Pros and Cons of Public Game Development

We took a quite open way in development when we started working on Dead Wake game. We set up the forums and started launching a public version every 1-2 months. Right from the beginning.

I’ve been pleased with this experiment and can confirm that having some kind of versions right from the start does a world of good to any project.

Here’s some good things that have happened thanks to opening the development to the public:

  • We’ve got players to test the game. We have set up a mailing list where we announce big events related to the project. There are signups coming everyday.
  • We are getting quite a lot of publicity. Reviews such as this come out of nowhere. People & press are listening to our story and writing about us.
  • Players are getting more and more involved: gamers at the Dead Wake forums say that “we need to do”. They are not calling “you should do”, they are taking the product ownership and saying that “we are doing the game”. I find this very important. The players are involved in the design – and they like it.

And of course there’s always some challenges which one could consider:

  • It takes time to promote the game: I have not put much effort to promote the game, but it could take a lot more if I wanted. So far I’ve wanted (almost) everybody else to handle the promotion, while we focus on developing the game. I’ve sent some press releases and given some answers to those who have been interested, but that’s pretty much it.
  • It takes time to manage the community: luckily we’ve been fortunate to have great, positive people who have contributed – and helped to moderate the forums. The more popular the forums grow, the more moderators we shall take. Naturally this takes some time away from development, but good moderators can be really valuable resource.

Magazines and players seem to get astonished when we say that we develop the game according to customer ideas (as long as they fit in the core idea of the game): it makes a good press story. And it helps making the game such that our players really enjoy it.