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“Can I Join Your Studio? I’m An Ideas Guy”

I’ve been back to developing (seriously) for around 6 – 7 months now.  Pretty much non-stop, doing at least something every day.  This isn’t my ‘full time job’ (though I’d like it to be someday), and I find time where I can.  I’ve worked hard, and Vectoroids will be my 3rd game completed in (if I manage to hit my mark) under 12 months.  For 2 guys (Zugget does my music, and now taking on sound effects – I do everything else) that’s not too bad… and more importantly we’re finishing things.

The cool thing is that just finishing something gives you a little bit of credibility.  Not a lot, but some. People start to take you a little more seriously.  When I decided to get back into it after many years, many people were fairly stand-offish.  I did a quick game to get used to working with Java and released it to my friends via facebook/google drive.  This woke Zugget from his chiptune slumber, we’d worked together many many years ago in the Amiga days and been burnt together on failed deals, abandoned projects, and many other things, and so we teamed up for Sabotage.

I’d hired another friend, Mike, a very talented graphic artist (who had also been burned with projects ‘on spec’) to take care of all the promotional art for me.  With the release of the game, Mike seemed very enthuiastic to come on-board for the next game in a greater capacity.

Just finishing things can help bring people onto your team – valuable, essential people who are willing to run with you just to be part of a process that goes all the way.

It’s great! However it also puts you sometimes in a position of dealing with people who might not be armed with all the facts, or the reality of starting out in a complicated and hard biz.  One I’ve had to take time out to deal with a few times now is what I call ‘the ideas guy’.

When someone shows an interest in coming onboard I try and be as open and honest as I can.  I let them know that we’re just a very small group of friends who work well together.  That with only a single Android game on the market we’re still ‘in the red’.  That being able to get along with us (and we’re a strange little group of likeminded, sometimes rash and abrasive, older guys with very dark senses of humor and no ‘censor’ button – two of us are Australia ex-pats) is every bit as important as what you bring to the table.

And of course… what do you bring to the table?

Myself, I’m an ‘adaptable coder’ – not a great coder…. but adaptable.  I pick up languages very quickly, anywhere from a couple of days to 2 weeks, depending on the complexity.  I won’t be great – but I can ‘get things done’ in that time frame, and can work on getting better with use from there.
I was also a pixel artist way back in the 80’s – 90’s.  I wasn’t half bad either… although I’m ‘ok’ with photoshop (I’ll leave that stuff to Mike) with pixel art making a comeback, I can still put those skills on the table.  I can 3d model, and character animate.
I also do all the game-design… which I like to think I’m getting better at.  And if we ever get to the point where we start making trailers, I was a professional video editor for about 12 years in both TV news and production.

Zugget is probably one of the most talented chip musicians I’ve ever known.  Back in the 90’s I watched him compose, from start to finish, a chip tune for a demo with a spec of ‘run for 2 mins and be less than 10k’ in under 10 minutes.  To this day I can message him with ‘I want something like…..’ and within 15 mins get 3 examples back. Usually with a ‘don’t use this right away…. I’ll work on it’.
On top of that he is very frank, honest, and forthcoming with opinions, suggestions, and criticisms.  If you want someone to blow smoke up your arse and make you feel good.. Zugget (or me for that matter) isn’t your guy.  If you want brutal honesty that will make you better and push your product forward – he’s your guy.

Mike did all my promotional art on a shoestring budget and pretty fast turn around.. He’s very good at his job.  I can give a vague idea or a concept, and he’ll come back with pretty much what I wanted – only better.  If it’s promo art – logo design – web design – UI work… pretty much anything to do with art – he can do it.  Again, dark sense of humor, honest and forthcoming with opinions…

So when I ask someone ‘ok, what do you hope to get out of this? and what do you bring to the table’.   The words ‘Well…. I’m more an ideas guy – but my idea will make you rich’  doesn’t get my blood flowing and my heart pumping, and I’ll cover that in a second. But ‘I’ll make you rich’ doesn’t move me.

I’m motivated by the love of the game – the challenges of the code, and seeing my work come to life on the screen.. that’s what motivates me through the really hard and tedious work of actually finishing a project.
I don’t think of ‘that sweet cash’  (and that’s a good thing too) I work toward doing the best I can, trying to make something people will hopefully enjoy… if I can make that happen, the money will eventually come.  The IDEA is what may motivate me – I’ve been promised cash a lot of times in my life, and last I looked my underpants weren’t filled with gold……

“I can’t tell or hint at what my great idea is, because you might steal it… “.   Now I understand the sentiment entirely.  You want to protect your property, and being an ‘idea’ it’s hard to protect… but understand that on the flipside you’re approaching me right off the bat as someone shady and untrustworthy.  It’s safe, but it doesn’t put us on a good starting basis.  If you distrust me, why do you want to work with me?  You’re better served by finding friends or acquaintances that you do trust.  Also one thing I’ve found so far is that holding your cards close to your chest in this industry is actually a bad move. Hype early, hype often. Build interest.  Advertising starts at concept and prototype. I’ve seen guys put an idea on a website and had people come to them to help make it happen… maybe you’re going about this the wrong way?

Now what do you bring to the table? Apart from your idea?  Because on a shoestring budget with a starting company of a couple of guys (each determining their level of involvement because Lord knows I can’t afford what they’re worth) I need more than an ‘idea’.
I have ideas. Maybe they’re not as good as yours.. I’ll never know.
For everything I work on, I have probably 10 – 15 ideas for something else.  Many of these I throw away.. I end up with maybe 7 or 8.  This isn’t uncommon. One of the biggest hurdles starting game developers have is finishing the project at hand, rather than running to the next big idea they just had….and from that one to another…and another… leaving a string of unfinished projects.
I have a folder that has 28 fully developed game ideas in it.  Some totally fleshed out, a couple even have little prototypes of a key mechanic.  I jot them down and put them aside so they won’t distract me from the project at hand.

Your idea, no matter how great, would be 29.  Provided I don’t have MORE before I finish this project.  If it took 6months to develop and polish every one of these, it would take me nearly 15 years to get through them all – provided I didn’t have a single other idea between now and then.
By the end of this year I may have more ideas than I have productive years left in my lifetime.

This isn’t even counting the other 2 guys.

Not trying to put anyone down, you may have the best idea on the planet – It might make anyone associated with it a millionaire.  But the reality of it is, and I don’t think my situation is that uncommon,  you’re going to have to bring something else to the table just to be heard.   And this isn’t uncommon either.. go back to the top of the article and browse it quickly… See?

I had to do it too – I had to bring a finished game to the table to be heard……. by my own friends……



Recovering, And Some Interesting Data

Over the last week I’ve been recovering from a bout of the flu. Usually that would be some coughing, some aches and pains, and getting on with things – however this time around it was a pretty solid hit. I had to stop all projects and focus only on important family responsibilities and spend the rest of my time in bed.
In the ensuing medicated haze, I not only couldn’t focus enough to work, but strange ‘coding dreams’ have left me unsure of what I actually tried to write, and what  I only dreamt or imagined I did.  So the next few days will be spent assuring myself that the some of that madness was only the bi product of copious amounts of nyquil and an overactive imagination.

In the meantime I was able to go over the data from Google Play on Sabotage and compare – this is by no means a ‘scientific’ evaluation, nor could it be used as control data for an experiment, but it’s worth contemplating:

Turning to my slowly growing Twitter base to put it forward, I pressed the marketing on it for 10 days – the time it took to generate 1/2 the sales on the full version over a month.  Now although these are ‘new’ people (not from my friends and facebook followers, many of whom bought the game …. and I deeply appreciate that) the total of downloads were equal to the amount of sales on the full version, which seems like a good thing – but the reality is :

These were not enough to improve it’s own visibility without the aid of the ‘new release’ boost.
These didn’t add to the visibility of the Paid version (although I did generate a couple of new sales , which did).
No registrations occurred on the demo version – without ads, perhaps there isn’t enough impetus to warrant registering?
No reviews occurred, except for one negative review (who found it ‘boring’).
Retention, length of install, and length of play is MUCH greater on the full paid version.
The number of downloads between these two groups, thus far, is IDENTICAL.

So in reality there was very little gain from the free demo version at all.

Now, take it as a given that I am NOT going to change my stance on freemium adware software (I’m not going to do it), I’m thinking about the work put in for the ‘registered demo version’ , how do interpret and use this information?

Well – given the non-scientific method (a month between releases, more news reach, pre-existing interest on the initial full version)  more tests will have to be done using future products, but Sabotage did it’s job as a simple game to start teaching me ‘the ropes’.  But my initial impression is thus:

Like in my heyday of playing, buying, trying to write games, people who want to buy a game will, and those that don’t won’t. No matter the circumstance.
Those that won’t aren’t really bringing anything to my table in return, those that do have been generous with their support, both monetary, and feedback.

So when you’re a single person with limited time and resources, it seems a no-brainer which group you should be spending your time and energy on.  I’ll provide my new game (Vectoroids) to the paying customer and use the time and energy I would have sank into pushing a demo version into making a better game for them.  Of course I believe that people should have the chance to ‘try to see if they like it’ and so I’ll follow the model I used for the development of Sabotage and regularly release ‘state of play’ demos in the form of desktop executables.

In a future project I will revisit the ‘free registered demo’ approach and release them both at the same time, but Vectoroids isn’t the game for that – It’s a much bigger project than Sabotage, will take more effort and more time to produce, and has a much deeper gameplay.  It will be used to see if some of the marketing lessons bear fruit, and how I can get in touch with the first group of people, and trying to give them value for their money.

Trying to find what paying customers would like for their hard earned dollar seems a more productive path. I think at this point it’s simply more respectful to give over more of my time and energy to those who are supporting my efforts and let them know that support is appreciated.