Ahem, If You Try To Sell Something You Gotta Make Sure Your Shop Works

I was hunting a stapler online, and of course clicked those fancy google ads that appear on search pages. Three out of three attempts to buy a stapler failed. All these cases can happen in gaming world too. If you are selling something online, better check out these lessons:

#1 – In shop one, the stapler page could not be found
The first ad directed me to a front page of some site. There I clicked “products” just to get error “page not found”. I didn’t waste any more seconds on that shop. If they want me to buy stuff from their site, they should make sure their site is accessible.

End of attempt number one.

#2 – In shop two, no staplers here
In the other shop, I couldn’t find staplers. Why advertise staplers if you don’t have them?

If it’s fun to spend money advertising something you don’t have, why not also make a bonfire using dollar bills?

#3 – Third shop, horrible shipping costs
The third shop was more promising. I found a stapler that was said to cost 11 euros. There was technical information about the stapler and I was pleased. I was wondering why they didn’t mention shipping costs anywhere, but since the site was located in Finland (where I live) I thought it wouldn’t be many euros anyway.

So, I took some time and wrote lengthy details (shipping address etc.) and was finally one click away from the purchase. There they said that shipping costs are like 20 euros (or something like that) which made me both laugh and cry at the same time.

Hiding costs is something, but if the shipping cost is like 20 euros then why not simply put that shipping cost in some place where I can see it easily. Would save everybody’s time.

The hunt for the stapler continues.

Microsoft Challenges Steam

Crunchgear writes that Microsoft is going to battle against Valve’s Steam in digital distribution. They hope to grow a marketplace around things not currently offered by Steam, for example Games for Windows Live branded DLC, which would be made available exclusively by Microsoft.

My personal opinion is that even though Microsoft can pour loads and loads of money into this battle field, it will take them something around 5 years before we’ll see a solution that really works. Microsoft already has pretty good stuff on Xbox Live (not to mention XNA Creator which is also improving), and they have the resources to make this work, but it takes time. Steam wasn’t an overnight success.

The bad news (for Microsoft) is that Valve’s Steam is a solid brand, the place where gamers are used to go to. I predict Microsoft to mess up things first with bad digital rights management (which takes about 1-2 years), then they spend couple of years in heavy marketing and finally after total of about 5 years they have built a decent system… meanwhile Valve has gone steps forward. Tough place for Microsoft.

Perhaps they could simply try buy Valve…

The 7 Worst Verbs Programmers Use In Function Calls

Here are the candidates for the top 7 worst verbs used in function names. I don’t know if programmers invented these, but whoever did was one evil dude.

#7 – dispatch
The best of the worst is ‘dispatch’. Sometimes it might have a real meaning, but unfortunately you get to see this term used badly in code (where you ‘dispatch’ whatever to wherever). Dispatch can be bit meaningless, but I’ll admit sometimes it might do fine.

#6 – do
Whenever I see a function named “doUpdateSomething” (instead of just “updateSomething”) or “doCompression” (instead of “compress”) I grin.

In a bad way.

#5 – resolve
Another “generic” term for something. Instead of “setConnectionBetweenThingOneAndStuffTwo” some programmers say “resolveConnection”. Looks perhaps cool, but name is meaningless.

Sigh.

#4 – handle
Similar to ‘resolve’ (or to ‘do’). Generic, meaningless word.

#3 – manage
When I see this used in “manageArrays” or something similar it hurts my stomach.

#2 – perform
Another horrible term. Thank god you don’t see this often, but even seeing it once is too much. Why say “performCompression” when you can simply say “compress”?

#1 – populate
The most horrible and worst function name ever.

If class has member function ‘populate’ whadda heck do you expect it to do? From the dictionary you can see that ‘populate’ is defined as follows: ‘To supply with inhabitants, as by colonization; people’

Are you supplying your classes with inhabitants?

P.S. These of courses are final truths and should be accepted without questioning, but since some people refuse to do that then you can alternatively stick to using some of this stuff but also think if you currently code using some generic verbs that have very little meaning.

One Thing Casual Strategy Games Have In Common

Forgotten Lands: First Colony is a neat “little” strategy game that’s just been published. I haven’t tested nor played many casual strategy games, but a quick glance in them reveals that they all have something in common: they somehow resemble hardcore strategy games (such as Civilization or Age of Empires or Settlers), but overall they are made simpler and easier to approach.

This doesn’t mean that these games would be worse or “less strategic”. Even though casual strategy games might be in the light-weight series, they can provide fun for hours. In many casual strategy games the graphics are well done (at least most of the games I’ve tested – although Forgotten Lands might not be the best example here), the games feel polished, and they often provide helpful tutorials and tell user step-by-step what to do.

And the fact that you can get this game for $6,99 (as a Big Fish Games club member) makes it pretty sweet deal.

Try Forgotten Lands: First Colony. It gives a pretty good idea how casual game developers are turning strategy genre into casual one.

Kiva – Place For Game Developers To Do Good

I was introduced to join Kiva.org couple of times, and finally decided to give it a go. Kiva (which means “nice” in Finnish by the way) is a place where people can lend micro loans directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.

I’ve joined casual game group (13 members) and Indie games group (total of 21 members at the time of writing). Together the groups have lent several hundreds of dollars (including my own small lend to mister in Togo, Africa).

I don’t know if Kiva.org is reliable or not, but at least brief search in Google gave me positive feedback about kiva and didn’t see any negative feedback. I leave it for everybody to think on themselves, but if you can think of lending some bucks to developing countries, then it might be worth checking out Kiva.org. And if you join, remember to join the casual & indie game groups there too.

The First Steps To Starting Your Own Game Company And Making Games

One reader asked me:

I want to start my own company and make games. And there is the problem: I am using all my free time to learn about everything, I have lots of interests. And I can see, that making games is hard as hell :) I need graphic person (I cant find any around here) and I need people that would work on it as on their dream (I cant find anyone else but me).
So I am stuck with dream, with my will to invest everything in it, and with lack of people. I dont know what to do.

I’ll try to answer these questions. For the first challenge (having lots of interests), there is pretty much only one solution:

If you have too many interests, you need to drop something away.
I’m a sucker for doing everything and anything. I’m curious about how different stuff works. I have many interests, I watch all kinds of television shows and movies (ranging from Dr. Phil to Jurassic Park to Saw movies to Terence Hill movies to Gandhi documents to Jackie Chan cartoons to whatnot). I like to read quite a lot (anything from fiction books to all kinds of programming, business, marketing, project management etc. literacy). I have interest for pen & paper RPGs, I like playing consoles, PC, and so on. I jog and exercise regularly. The list goes on (and certainly doesn’t include all my activities and interests).

I suppose this is quite common for us people: we have many different interests. And at some point we gotta do a bit of prioritizing here. We gotta choose what we really want to do.

Eliminate or reduce the non-important.
That’s how I’ve done it. I realized that if I want to make games, it means that I will need to drop something away. Since reading is still much of my interest, and supports learning new stuff I’ve kept that on top of my interest list (in reality I simply just like reading, so that’s the real reason. My brain tries to give me a logical reason for why I read, even though the real reason is mainly emotional). Anyway, I’ve kept reading in my list. I’ve dropped the amount of time I spend watching television and movies (I still do that too). For example, I’ve dropped the time I spend playing games (recently I’ve played more than “normally”). These give me extra hours. Since physical exercises are good for health (and support not only game development but also life in general) I’ve kept those too.

Bottom line is: something must go. I’ve always suggested people considering if they could do less work (like for every 3 weeks, take 1 week off from work and develop your game that week). I suggest that you don’t try to “wear too many developer hats” (to some extent). If you are good at programming, I think it might not be very useful try to become an artist too. Instead, program a game using no art (or use content packs) and you can attract artists in your project if it’s fun to play (but lacks art). If you have a demo done, you have more chances convincing other people’s that you can finish a game.

Become more productive
An additional way to get more stuff done is to become more productive. I’ve written a lengthy blog post that has list of 100 tips to be more productive. That could be worth checking out.

What’s relevant knowledge
You also mentioned that you have quite a lot of experience in programming, and say that “making games is hard as hell”. In reality, making games can be quite simple. If I managed to write a piece of game using C64, I’m sure you can write a game. Perhaps you might be lacking the right tools. There’s loads of different game engines that can help you get moving. Engines like Leadwerks, Blitz 3D/Max/Basic, Game Maker, Torque Engines and more can be found via DevMaster.net

What if you lack people?
The simple truth is: nobody is going to create game for you. Idea is… merely an idea. Rest of the stuff (bringing that idea into reality) is the “hard” part. Techdojo wrote such an excellent forum thread about this subject, so I recommend you take a look at it: I’ve got this idea for a video game – what do I do next…

In addition, I recommend reading this blog entry: How to create your first game. It should give some tips as well.

And the company part…
Just set it up. Call some people and set the company up. Hardest part is not the paperwork, it’s the step making the call. Just do it.

Good luck and don’t give up.

How to Use YouTube To Track Information About Who Has Viewed Your Videos

I’ve been embedding more videos about my zombie game’s progress. I was adding my latest video (see below) and clicked it (which lead me to the video page), I noticed an interesting button in YouTube.

After I clicked the embedded video, I got to the video’s homepage and noticed control panel for “owner” (notice: you can only see this if you are the author of the video – in other words: have uploaded the video in your youtube account).

There I saw the button “insight”:

I moved on and started checking what other stuff could be found behind the “Insight”. There was some information about the demographics (for one of my zombie game videos): 83% male, 17% female have been watching the video. Most of them are within 18 to 34 years, but there’s also quite many 13-17 years old (20+%) and also 35 to 54 years old (25%).

There was also other information such as discovery (which sounds how people found the video: embedded on a site, external links, through youtube’s “relevant videos” link etc.), popularity, hot spots and views. You can also see from which countries people have watched the video.

I found this to be pretty nice addition for tracking information about who is watching your game videos.

Steam Is Awesome (Developers Could Learn From Valve)

After writing this text I realized that this almost became a (non-paid) shameless about Steam & Valve ad, but I think they are doing such an awesome job on so different level that you can’t but admire them – and write about them. There’s plenty of things that developers & publishers could learn.

Valve does good stuff
Not necessarily easy thing to model, but worth remembering: Valve keeps creating & publishing good games. It’s something we all should strive to do – create good content for our players.

Steam is awesome for players
Besides making good games, Valve has created an awesome system that is really a one place that offers everything that players need. Their Steam system offers a variety of different ways how players can benefit from their service:

  • Store – the Steam store offers new (and old) games from variety of publishers. There’s casual, indie, AAA and other titles available. There’s demos, videos, screenshots, review ratings and so on. You can buy things with just a few mouse clicks. Steam is nowadays pretty much the only place I buy games.
  • Steam community: players can create their own groups (like Dead Wake Steam group here) and interact with other players. The in-game chat system works even for non-steam games (Yeh, I realized that I can use Steam’s chat system even when I’m playing my Dead Wake zombie game)
  • Easy DRM: When I got my new computer and had to re-install Steam, I had no problems in getting the games I had bought. I simply went to my control panel’s “games” section and clicked “download”. Steam started downloading me the game I had bought earlier. No stupid DRM stuff that would have made this difficult, just click & go.

I think Steam (and Valve) offer many, many things that are worth learning from: they make products worth using, and make sure users have no trouble buying the products.

So, what could they do better?
Of course there’s always room for improvements.

On marketing side, I must say that I’m bit amazed that Valve isn’t offering affiliate/partner programs for those who want to advertise & sell their games. They are spending huge amount of money to promote their newest games (at the time of writing you can see Left 4 Dead game ads plastered all over the Internet), but they aren’t considering rewarding players for promoting their products?

If Steam could introduce affiliate system (paying royalties like Big Fish Games ) I think they could leverage their current system. It would provide a solid way for marketers (and players) to generate income. Players could then perhaps use these credits to get more games from Steam…