It’s been about a year since I wrote anything on this blog…so I should probably do an update! The longer it gets, the more epic I think my return to posting should be….
But I don’t think anyone wants me to write a book length post about every tiny detail related to finding a publisher and starting a company.
So I will keep it brief…here we go in quick fire bullet points. Speed Metal Style…let’s do the whole history of everything from the start until now…
1 – Leave job as lead designer at lucasarts after well over a decade of having a job designing games….and go indie.
2 – Do some coding, I am a designer not a coder, but I somehow make 5 games on iOS:
- Hiragana Pixel Party
- Space Lift Danger Panic
- Atomic Test Pilot
- Heart Beaten
3 – Get two part time jobs, being a designer on a serious game, and a game design teacher, essentially they both form a full time job, but somehow I still found the time to make some games..
4 – Realised that my part-time full-time work status meant that I wasn’t really getting anything ambitious done, so I took a step back and started making an amazingly huge epic game of epicness….set in space.
5 – At the end of February I took a few days off my epic space game to make a mini game jam game on my own…I just wanted to release something new before I got back to the big game. 4 days later I had a prototype…but not a game ready for shipping. I was now double screwed, as I had two giant games. I called the new game Tiny Dice dungeon, and decided I could finish it in a few weeks.
6- In May Casual Connect came to Singapore, I got some free tickets and the chance to demo my game to publishers….Gasp!!! my little game was popular, I wasted no time in signing with Kongregate, because among other things they liked Pixel art.
7 – it took a couple of months to get the contract worked out…I had to start a company, because for legal reasons Kongregate (or probably any publisher) aren’t going to engage in business with just me. (epic space game collects dust)
8 – Employed Cindy, and Chiny, Cindy helped balance the game, and eventually started drawing better art than me and become a vital part of the games development. while Chiny helped part time with networking. (as in network coding, not hanging out and getting drunk with strangers)
9 – Interns came and went, Chiny went, Eggone came and took over the network stuff, and a few other technical things and dwarfed me with his giant brain…I also eventually stopped teaching, making Springloaded my only job (even though it’s one I wasn’t being paid for)!
10 – we launched to test markets in November (I think!? which was a little later than originally scheduled) and the game did OK, we got around 30K users, and the game showed potential…so our mighty publisher suggested we spend more time on it…(we felt we could spend a lot more time on it!)
11 – Sam Barnard joined the company, and shares the same name as my sister, but is a man not a girl, and is not related to me in anyway (as far as I know).
12 – The game got selected for the showcase at PaxEast, so me and Cindy went to Boston.
13 – Tiny dice came out globally in April on iOS, got a feature and landed well over half a million downloads.
14 – The game came out in May on Android…(later than we planned)…and that is where we are!!! Kongregate have been a massive part of getting us here, and this is hopefully only the beginning!
Obviously that is the story of Tiny Dice Dungeon….other things that happened include:
1 – Became a licensed Nintendo developer
2 – Started making a brand new game for Wii-U, but eventually put it on hold as we were too busy.
3 – Became a Playstation developer, and started planning the future….
4 – Signed some contracts with Microsoft….
5 – Got a new team, the Console team! A dynamic duo who are focusing on taking our games to console.
6 – Started a new mobile game….
7 – Had a new hire, Tommy, who started on coding playable web things…(it is currently his second week)
There are now 9 of us here, although there aren’t actually enough desks for us all…so that makes things pretty crazy. As you can imagine we have more work flapping around us like suffocating fish than we know what to do with, so I haven’t really been updating my blog, it’s just work all the way!
While I started as a full on solo indie developer, the company has kind of become a real company, and the people that work here are as much a part of any game as I am. I am forever in debt to the folks that felt it was worth jumping in working with me, from publishers to developers…while it is far from easy, and even further from smooth sailing, it’s a pretty amazing / exciting spot to be in.
I will try and write some more interesting things on this blog in the near future, however, I probably can’t be as open as I used to be. Before I was just writing about my own ups and downs, but now there are other people involved I don’t feel it’s fair to say anything about them seeing as they aren’t writing it themselves…but I am sure I will still have things you can find interesting….
Well, it took a really long time, but it’s finally out on iOS, we launched the game this morning…by launched I mean, released it at $0.99 when it was intended to be free…no doubt this will give all the download figures a large bout of gangrene…but it doesn’t matter because the game can’t actually make any profit anyway (I sincerely hope no one paid for it, if they did I owe them a beer, or whatever % of a beer 70% or $0.99 gets you…).
We are so busy working on tiny dice dungeon that we clearly shouldn’t have taken the time to launch this, however I got one of those apple emails “If you do not upload a binary for your app by 02 August 2013 (Pacific Time), it will be deleted from iTunes Connect. The app name will then be available for another developer to use.” Which means I can never use that app name again (see how clearly that is mentioned in the description)…so I set about getting it working the other day only to get hit by a huge last minute engine bug, which Chiny and I fixed at some late hour of the eveing…we have also finished it on PSM hurrah….where it will actually cost you $0.40 when we eventually release it…no doubt huge riches await with that price point, and the popular entertainment theme of punching a semi realistic open heart repeatedly.
Anyway so I am slowly being pulled into the corporate world, I have gone to the bank to set up an account for my company, which I failed to do, and now have a pile of forms on my desk collecting dust, which means all the “expenses” continue to come out of my personal account, which while not particularly different means that I can’t get sertain benefits that come with spending money through a company(ie it’s an expense and not just me spening money)
We applied for Nintendo developer status recently, I hope it comes through soon so we can order some dev-kits and start making proper console games! The way I see it is that Android /iOS are so saturated that we have zero chance of success without a publisher, but consoles are a lot more untapped, so once we start launching games on empty marketplaces (like the Wii-U) we stand to get some OK numbers, no doubt if you are any kind of normal company with larger overheads etc it isn’t worth it, but for us it should be OK, plus selfishly it’s just a lot of fun. Which brings me to my next point, having a real “company” is intended to be a serious affair, I just love making games, I only have a company because I needed one to work with the tiny dice dungeon publisher…my main goal in all of this is just to make games, if we make money, then we will spend most (if not all) of it on making more games! Essentially, it’s hard for me to not get excited by things that are cool regardless of whether they have the potential to generate profit (ie Heart Beaten)….so I find myself a little torn between just having fun and making games (which would be considered a hobby by anyone who has any sanity about business) or being all corporate and thinking about strategies for making money. I really hope everything works out and we reach a spot where we can pretty much do what we want, and I guess that only comes from keeping our costs low to extend our operating lifespan until we start turning a profit.
I keep on saying we, it’s because “we” have a little office, and the company is no longer just me on my lonesome…while I am the only full time employee (although employee means I get paid…and I don’t get paid, so I guess Springloaded has no full time employees), Chiny is the primary programmer guy who deals with all the complex stuff I can’t do and teaches me things I don’t know about C# when I look confused, and Cindy has just joined as a designer / pixel artist. Before she started I didn’t know that she was into pixel art, but now I feel my art power diminishing every time she does something. It takes her half the time it takes me, and usually comes in at twice the quality…for example, my explosion in Atomic test pilot looks like a flower / crossed with a fried egg….while she managed to do some metal slug inspired piece that is just amazing! Finding like-minded people is really hard, and I am incredibly lucky to be working with these folks….
I was going to talk about starting a company in SG…I will some time soon, lus I will start giving out a few more details about the game…I really need to write more blogs!
Well after months of secret mysteriousness, I can finally say that we have a publisher for our next game! While the contract stipulates that I can’t share the exact details, I can say that this means that Tiny Dice Dungeon has the potential to reach a huge amount of users!
Signing a contract is a terrifying thing, even though bits seem terrifying under a cacophony of what-if scenarios, ultimately you just have to jump in with good faith and sign the thing! So this morning at 8:40 am under a fog of drowsiness I committed my virtual signature to virtual paper! (which is pretty weird, I have never done that before, you wiggle your mouse around in some shape approximating your signature, and it applies a fancy calligraphy effect so you look a little less like you have the handwriting of a 4 year old with Parkinsons disease).
I have a countdown of doom to help keep me awake at night, you can see it here: http://www.onlinecountdowns.com/countdown-clock/show/Tiny%20Dice%20Dungeon%20Due%20Date|52484e80|3 That isnt exactly as it seems, it isnt the due date for when you will be able to play it, it is a due date for something though…so jon me in wishng the Springloaded corporation luck!
Next week I will tell you all about the experience of starting a games company in Singapore!
Also as an aside, I guess we had a review of Nuclien somewhere, because from having zero sales a week we suddenly hit $50 a day this week! Hurrah!
Why havent I updated my blog in over a month….well I think I will have some fairly awesome stuff to annunce very soon, and I am so busy working on that that I can’t even stop to write a blog.
Right now, I am in the middle of trying to start a company in Singapore, and all that goes with it…it’s a bit terrifying giving up an employment pass that will last me until the middle of 2015, and swapping it for one that will expire 12 months from now….
Just to ensure this blog has something to do with games – here is a picture of a monster:
Arrrgh! I am really sick, I think standing in an enclosed space for three days with hundereds of people lead to the spread of some high-class death-germs. I also didnt sleep much whsih doesnt help.
I have to say, I wouldnt have gone had it not been free, and I can follow that up with I will now pay every year. It was really fantastic. I think the good thing is that my games were all there to play, and my new game “tiny dice dungeon” wasnt in too shaby a state.
I got a table pretty much to myself, as the guy beside me never showed up. The first day I was too busy to really set up my stuff, but on the second and third day it looked like this:
Nuclien was a top 10 game for the show (out of the seventy or so games, it was deemed worthy to make it into the top ten – which was humbling.) People seemed to really enjoy all of my games, I had people who kept coming back to play thengs, different people got hooked on different things. Atomic test pilot – the game I was always last to show even has a regular player by the end. The event got me a few more downloads, but it asnt really about that.
I also won a competition, more on that later
I met some amazing people, and who knows, I may end up working with some of them. It’s all pretty exciting, I just wish I wasnt sick, and awake at 4:30 trying to finish the demo build of TDD.
I haven’t been writing so often lately, that isn’t because nothing is happening, in fact quite the contrary. I am just too busy, which can only be a good thing!
So there are still frame rate issues, but this came about due to a new “Springloaded” employee, his name is Chiny Kian, and he is Springloaded’s resident PSM developer. He has been hard at work adding bits and pieces to the monogame build that my friend at TwoFiveSix in the UK has already had a hand in, turning it in to something that nearly does everything we need it to! Hiragana Pixel Party was always going to be the hardest, and it’s 95% done, I just need to optimise the frame rate a bit more due to some lazy code on my behalf. After that he will be diving into getting additive blending to work so Nuclien will also be complete.
Space Lift Danger Panic! Was submitted to Sony last week, let’s hope it goes through…(although I realise I wrote “Playstation Mobile” in the games text and not “Playstation Mobile ®” which according to their TRC’s means I will fail – but maybe I will get lucky)
I am off to Casual Connect Asia next week, if you are coming along you can come to my little table and play some games (including a very early demo build of “Tiny Dice Dungeon” if you are lucky!).
I have never exhibited before at an industry event, so I hope I don’t do something unbelievably stupid, but it does mean I have finally sent some business cards off to the printers, and even some other stuff like this postcard:
The business card was quite a weird one, first I put my job title down as “intergalactic corporate commanding director of videogames” then I changed it to about 100 other things, before settling on the bland and predictable “Game developer”. Seeing as I hope to meet some people that might help me out, I’d rather not put them off with my stupid humour. Even though it entertains the hell out of me, I suspect some people might assume I don’t take things very seriously from reading that.
I also considered the role of “Founder” and saw other people in similar positions write things like “Director”, “CEO” or something equally fanfaresque, but for me it just seems wrong, While maybe I am technically the founder, it seems premature to go around shouting about it…
Space Lift Danger Panic is also finally out on your Windows Phone! Download it – it’s cheap as free….
I haven’t posted in a few weeks, because I have been unbearably busy…you see I have been trying to get the RPG a little further along…but, I still have a long way to go…
Recent goings on:
• My bike was stolen – so finally I found out that crime really does exist in Singapore, and I spent nearly an hour discussing it with a Police officer, and even got a call the next day from the detective in charge of my case…all for a bike!
• So the logical next piece of news will be of no surprise…Two weeks ago, I went out and bought a new bike.
• I finished my second semester at Digipen…
• Springloaded went past its first year anniversary!
One year of going it alone:
The original plan was that I should make a game every month…so I should have twelve games out by now… but no it’s only five (with another two very deep into long production cycles).
Did I fail? Well the fact I didn’t release all those games means I missed some opportunities to learn things about the market, but what I did learn pretty quickly is that I should be trying to make bigger better things rather than just throw whatever I make out there and see if it strikes indie-gold.
My desire to try and catch up with this 12 game target meant that I released things like Atomic Test Pilot, which is really about as simple as a game can get. It isn’t terrible, it just doesn’t offer enough for anyone to want to play it for more than five minutes…so I now realise that I probably should have made it a bit deeper before releasing it (something I will do for the Playstation / Ouya version if I ever make it).
Over this last year, everything I did taught me something that I can use to make better choices and achieve more in future. Because of that this has been one of the most rewarding years since I started in this industry.
On the negative side, it’s been stressful, and I often questioned whether I did the right thing. Despite making games for Springloaded, and working part time in a local studio, I feel like I have stepped off the games-industry ladder. I no longer have a big name company on my CV, and am not working on one of those high profile titles that will make adolescent males weep with excitement.
However despite these concerns I feel now more than ever that the industry we all worked in is pretty much gone. With so many large studios closing, it’s a scary time to be working for a company. It would appear their competition is from smaller more agile teams who can keep up with the trends and change course quickly. This lack of reactivity is the thing that slows most large companies down to the point where their products become irrelevant or obsolete.
So I am in the best place to be, it’s just very scary and lonely right now! But my current plan is to try and change all that.
I think that the best place to be currently is with a publisher who can help you cut through the noise of the marketplace and offer you support and advice when things get tough.
I feel like there are some similarities that can be drawn with the record industry. When MP3’s first appeared, and bands could sell their own music on the internet everyone loudly proclaimed that this was the end for record labels. The same happened with the app store, however looking at music, we know that all the biggest artists are still those that have the support of major record labels (with very few exceptions). I am not ignoring the fact that the music industry has gone through huge problems, in much the same way that we are seeing the games industry doing the same now. But, if a guy in his bedroom makes a record, or builds a game, chances are no one will ever hear about it. In the case of game, what happens if it actually starts to gain momentum? Will that guy in his bedroom have the resources at his disposal to properly react to that success? For me I know that marketing is hard, and the thing I enjoy the most is thinking about game ideas and then making them. I know I need to study the market, follow trends and make games that as many people can enjoy as possible.
I also need to be more powerful to react, the games I am building are still in step with the market, the RTS has things in common with FTL, but innovates on a number of levels (I didn’t realise it was like FTL when I started making it, someone pointed this out to me recently). FTL is a huge indie hit – it also isn’t on iOS, no doubt Zynga or someone equally ruthless is out there figuring out how they can profit from someone else’s idea. So buy the time I am done with my game, the moment may have passed…therefore I need to be quicker.
Anyway, I have plans to try and fix all of this (the first of which I should be able to announce next week) – so wish me luck!
Over this year I shed some large chunks of naivety, and am now hopefully ready to start taking bigger strides in the right direction.
Anyway, I made a video that highlights the accomplishments of these first twelve months: