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Mel Reams

The Main Event – Indie Game Funding

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Time is running out to apply for funding from the Canada Media Fund! Fortunately Mike Wozniewski of Hololabs and Eric Jordan of Codename Entertainment put together an awesome slide deck packed with information about applying for funding from Canada Media Fund, SRED, IRAP, and more!

Whether you’re polishing your application(s) for funding this year or getting ready to apply next year, those slides will be super helpful!

Practical Legal Tips for Launching and Growing a Studio

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Kellen Voyer

Kellen Voyer

In December Kellen Voyer of Voyer Law, a cross-border law firm advising startups and game studios on California and Canadian corporate and technology law, came to share tips for launching and growing a studio. Kellen was kind enough to share his slides, which can be found here. If you’ve ever thought about starting your own studio, you need to read those slides! Kellen shared some really valuable tips for avoiding problems that many indie studios don’t find out about until it’s too late to fix them.

There is also a wealth of information on Voyer Law’s blog, don’t forget to check that out too.

Thanks Kellen for graciously sharing so much legal advice!

OrcaJam 6 Memories

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Last September was the sixth OrcaJam! It kicked off with an excellent keynote by Raphael Van Lierop, the Creative Director behind the crowdfunded, commercially successful, and beautifully rendered survival game “The Long Dark”.

A room full of people working on games at laptops

Jamming away

On Saturday afternoon we had a panel discussion titled The Juice Must Flow: Avoiding Creative Blocks as a Game Creator. Our panel of local game creators shared practical tips for keeping the creative juices flowing for your on-going game projects or just for getting through the game jam weekend!

The panelists were Jose Brand (Kano Apps), Michelle Frey (Tetrahedral Interactive), Cory Harrison (Codename Entertainment), and Joanne Robertson (One Bit Labs). Thanks again to all of them for donating time they could have spent making games.

Then on Saturday evening we had a videogame inspired late night talk show:  “Crunch Night with Chris & Steve”. Our hosts were Chris Tihor (Ironic Iconic Studios & IGDA Victoria), and Steven G. Saunders (Black Goat Games). There was fun, frivolity, some special guests, and more than a few surprises. We dread Crunch Night no longer!

A mostly empty room, with a single developer toward the back of the room still working on his game

Last man standing

The most exciting part of the jam is always the final showcase on Sunday evening. This year we had fifteen different solo jammers and teams present their work. Some jammers polished projects they had already started, others started something completely new, and one team chose hard mode and made their first game ever with a language and a framework that were both new to them.

Please share your game in the comments, there were some great games shown off at the jam and I’m sure people who couldn’t make it to the showcase would love to play them.

Our volunteer photographer/videographer Justyn Martyn (Steel Swords Productions) even improvised a Steadicam (totally not just a chair on wheels) to bring you a nerd’s eye view of the jam 😉

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1adfnCBMOzM]

And finally, thanks again to all of the volunteers. We couldn’t run the jam without you!

Games as Social Media Recap

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Back in September, Mike Wozniewski came out to talk to us about the idea of games as social media. That is, games as objects shared on social media the way photos and videos are.

Mike is a game creator and a man with a gaze as intense as a thousand suns.

Mike is a game creator and a man with a gaze as intense as a thousand suns.

Mike is the founder and president of Hololabs, an award-winning indie development studio making games, mobile apps, VR experiences, and art installations. He has recently relocated to Victoria from Montreal, where he spent over 15 years building interactive media of all sorts.

Mike’s Master’s degree (from the Centre for Intelligent Machines at McGill University) focused on authoring tools for intelligent environments, human-computer interaction, motion tracking, and virtual reality. After that, Mike joined the Society for Arts and Technology [SAT], where he developed software for immersive audiovisual environments. After founding Hololabs in 2011, Mike has worked with many artists, designers and developers to build creative, experimental, and somewhat wacky games and art projects.

Mike built the SPIN framework to support Spatial Interaction and 3D visualization in networked virtual environments. Then Unity came along and wrecked that 🙂 SPIN was great but Mike wanted to make these tools available to the wider public.

In 2008 Ian Bogost published Persuasive Games: Video Game Snapshots, an article about how photography went from a super technical profession to something everyone could do when Kodak created first camera anyone could use (the Brownie) and how a similar thing is now happening with videogame development.

Kodak Brownie Flash III camera - Photo by >a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:NotFromUtrecht">NotfromUtrecht and shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Kodak Brownie Flash III camera – Photo by NotFromUtrecht and shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

The Kodaks of networked media are technologies like: blogs, epub, and print on demand for writing, and instagram, smugmug, and flickr for photography. In the past you had to get your work published or into a show in order for people to see it. Now you can release it online anywhere and anytime you want.

The snapshots part of the video game snapshots concept revolves around the idea that snapshots are about personal meaning, not artistic merit. A video game snapshot isn’t meant to be a compelling 40 hour experience like Skyrim, it’s a way to share an experience with your friends and family like you would a photo, video, or piece of writing.

Many simple game creation tools have cropped up in that direction. Some examples of browser based game creation tools are:

Sims Carnival

Sim’s Carnival had player created games that were ”open source” – you could easily remix and customize a game someone else made. It also offered support for lots of different game mechanics using templates and allowed players to customize those games with their own art.

Popfly Game Creator

Popfly Game Creator had arcade templates that could be mashed up with web content.

PlayCrafter

PlayCrafter was a drag and drop flash based physics game builder.

On consoles there are:

Little Big Planet screenshot

Little Big Planet screenshot

Little Big Planet

Little Big Planet has a level editor and 9m+ levels created by users. On the downside, it’s awkward to create with a console controller.

And on PC there are:

Minecraft

Minecraft is often used to create machinima like The Diamond Minecart, as well as to build  representational art like Minecraft Westeros. There are also around 40 million minecraft videos on YouTube.

Kodu – now Project Spark

Project Spark is an icon based programming language for making games. In Project Spark, programs are broken down into pages and ”brains”, a context free grammar (ex, see apple, move toward it quickly). There is a library with plenty of pre-made brains available. When Kodu became Project Spark the team added terrain modelling and a social platform for sharing games.

Scratch Logo

Scratch

Scratch was initiated by MIT in 2003. Unlike many of the other tools listed Scratch is still going strong. It’s aimed at 5 – 14 year olds and has a simplified programming language using “puzzle pieces” that snap together. Scratch also has a social network to share creations with each other. It’s like Project Spark but much simpler.

And on mobile there is:

Createrria

Createrria allows you to create games directly on the iPad without needing technical skills.

Pixel Press – Floors

Pixel Press allows you to create a game by drawing levels on grid paper and taking a picture of it.

A screenshot of Papercade showing a game being personalized in the editor

Papercade screenshot

Papercade – by Hololabs!

PaperCade is a tool for building game snapshots. Users start with a template, then bring in their own photos and text. The games happen in a cardboard box like an elementary school diorama. You can also take pictures with your mobile device and import them into your game (simple photo editing can be done inside the app too).

Papercade’s aesthetics is a nostalgic papercraft look and craft packs available with different themes for power users who want more content. It has a basic social platform for sharing your papercades.

Some of the lessons Hololabs learned while building Papercade were:

Don’t give users a completely blank canvas! They don’t know what to do with it. A mad libs style creation mechanic where you remix existing games works a lot better. It was too much work to create an open world, so they switched to a shoebox diorama.

In the development process they added story points (for example, find a key, then open a door with that key) to allow narrative/end goal, but ended up switching to arbitrary linking mechanism because story points got complicated – what happens if you find the door before you find the key that opens it? How do you communicate that problem to non-programmers and help them fix it?

Hololabs also constrained the narrative to title, setup, challenge, game, and resolution to make it workable. The app ended up very constrained, it was hard to create games but everyone loved putting faces on things.

Papercade examplePeople either complain papercade is too hard to use or too limited, it’s hard to find a happy medium with a game snapshot tool that’s meant to be accessible.

Currently, Papercade snapshots are only sharable within the iOS app, but they’re working on sharing to web.

After his presentation Mike was kind enough to take some questions from the audience.

Q&A

Q: How did you monetize papercade?

A: Craft packs are paid for and power user features like multiple boxes can be unlocked by paying

Q: What about doing papercade backward by adding canned game to user’s photos instead of adding photos to the game?JibJab logo

A: Interesting idea, could be worth while and sounds a little like JibJab. We wanted to give users a bit more expressive potential.

Q: Have you considered aiming Papercade at teaching ESL, or special needs to use for icebreaker classes?

A: So far our biggest fans are educators and young parents. We might convert Papercade to a kids’ app, with a focus on storytelling.

Audience comment: What about aiming for a similar market to Pixton comics? They have links to education – trying to make content creation as simple as possible.

Q: Can tools like this oversaturate the market?

Audience A: this is personal, to create a thing to share with friends and family

A: Content discovery is a hard problem. Often user generated content isn’t very good, Papercade isn’t meant to compete with Halo or anything.

Audience comment: It’s more like creating personalized children’s books

Audience comment: The cute childlike art style might be putting off potential users

A: We’re thinking of adding different art styles in content packs

Q: Could you use something like photos and text to generate game?

Audience A: Sure, just write an AI 🙂

Kismet Robot - Photo by >a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Polimerek">Polimerek and shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Robot with rudimentary social skills – Photo by Polimerek and shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Q: Are there not enough users or are users not spending enough in the app?

A: We made some poor monetization choices, focusing on creative features and extra content as in-app purchases. Unfortunately, < 1% of users are creators so the product is not a financial success.

Audience comment: What if you went with more of a minecraft model? People come to minecraft for base content, then a few people create more content, maybe create a game that people want enough to buy app, then a few people add more content

A: We would love to make that game!

Q: Who is your target audience?

A: We don’t know anymore. Originally the app was aimed at teens/millennials, people with time for a tool like this. Unfortunately, as an indie studio, it’s hard to find that audience so we are currently looking to partner with a brand.

Thanks so much to Mike for coming out and talking to us about the idea of games as social media. We’re looking forward to seeing what Hololabs gets up to next! (hint: check out FloorKids.com)

Marketing Tools for Indie Devs Recap

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At our Main Event meetup at the beginning of July, Clive Gorman  told us all about awesome free (or very inexpensive) marketing tools indie devs can use to promote their games without spending a lot of money. Thanks Clive!

Without further ado, here are the tools.

hootsuite logo

  • Free!
  • Allows you to manage multiple social media accounts
  • Supports Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn
  • Auto scheduler, Suggestions
  • Mobile app
  • No direct support for Instagram or Tumblr but there are apps for both
  • Basic analytics

screenshot of hootsuite dashboard

 

buffer-logo

  • Free!
  • A lot like Hootsuite but nicer to look at
  • Connect to two social media platforms for free
  • Mobile app
  • Basic analytics
  • IFTTT.com Support!

buffer-screencap

 

ifttt_logo

IF This Then That

  • Internet of things!
  • Automation of LIFX bulbs…
  • Buffer compatibility!
  • Automatically re-queue Tweets
  • Has a huge Recipe directory you can browse

ifttt-screenshot

 

 

unfollowers logo blue

  • Premium: $69 USD annually, free version with fewer features
  • Find followers of similar games
  • Simplified UI for bulk following
  • Follow/Follow back
  • Cheap acquisition

unfollowers screencap

 

launckit-logo

Launchkit.io

  • Free!
  • App Store Review monitor (iOS)
  • Auto post top reviews to Twitter
  • No Android/Google Play support
  • Screenshot builder, sales monitor, and app websites too
  • Library of mobile development tips

launchkit revew monitor

 

canva-circle-logo

  • Free!
  • Photoshop Lite
  • Free library of fonts and images
  • Upload your own artwork
  • Fast
  • Design tips blog and tutorials

Lion Screenshot

Thanks again to Clive for telling us about all of these tools. If you’re an indie dev on a budget, these are exactly what you need to help you get the word out!

Randall Thomson of Caper Games Recap

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For our June Main Event, we had something a bit different. Randall Thompson of Caper Games gave a talk about his experience developing board games including a history of Caper Games, his approach to designing a game, the process of having the physical game made, and the future direction of Caper Games. This is a summary of that talk.

Randall Thompson - Game Maker and Nature Enthusiast.

Randall Thompson – Game Maker and Nature Enthusiast.

Randall’s game development journey started when he was 10 years old, cutting out hockey cards to make games and making up games with sticks and rocks. Then as an adult he joined the military and forgot all about games until 1998, when Randall suffered an eye injury at the Ministry of Health, and since then has been suffering from Light Sensitivity (Photophobia).

He was raising his children at the time, and because he could no longer watch TV he began to read books, listen to the radio and play and make games with his kids. This lead to the creation of his first game – CrunchTime – a basketball board game released in 2001.

In 2003, two years after CrunchTime was first released, Randall decided his game needed an edge. Where most people would have stopped at dreaming of celebrity endorsement, Randall actually contacted NBA star Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks to ask him to promote CrunchTime. CrunchTime is also known as Dirk Nowitzki CrunchTime, which goes to show what you can do when you’re willing to take a risk.

Another risk that Randall took was accepting an invitation to go to Germany, which was thanks in part to the attention that endorsement brought him. That risk paid off in more ways than one: not only did Randall sell many copies of his game, he also met his collaborator and girlfriend Silke, who ended up doing graphic design and promotion in German for the game.

After CrunchTime, Randall invented Soccer Tactics, which his German fans just loved. He sold close to 5000 copies in Germany at that time and has now sold around 20,000 copies. From 2005-2006 he spent a lot of time in Germany, then in 2007 Randall and Silke came back to Canada. Conveniently enough, the 2007 under-21 world cup was held in Canada. One of the venues was even right here in Victoria!soccer-tactics-world-game-box-and-board

Having a world cup venue right in your own back yard was the perfect promotion opportunity for a soccer game. However, FIFA licensing was so restrictive Caper Games had to do guerilla marketing, and even then would often be told by FIFA reps that they were too close to the venue and had to hand out their pamphlets on the other side of the street. Caper Games had their own game of cat and mouse with the FIFA reps, but fortunately they were persistent and nimble enough to promote their game effectively without running afoul of FIFA.

Sadly, after all that work 2007 to 2010 was a bit of a dry spell for Caper Games. Then in 2011 Randall’s creative drought ended when he tried adding cards to Soccer Tactics and ended up inventing STRIKERZ. Why cards? Cost of manufacturing is a big concern with physical games. Not only are card games like STRIKERZ and tile based games like NUGGETS much cheaper to manufacture than board games, they’re also easier to explain to other players.

Another challenge with board games is that it can be very hard to get sports games onto shelves when you’re not Hasbro – store owners just aren’t always interested in that genre. Fortunately for Caper Games Randall had a friend in Toronto who was able to show Soccer Tactics to a big distributor who liked it but wanted a hockey themed version. Luckily Randall had one in the closer he was able to polish up. The distributor in Toronto loved it and bought thousands, now SHOOTERZ is in Toys R Us.

Caper Games is looking into NHL licensing for it but that’s really difficult to do, especially for a small company. Just applying for a licence requires extensive experience manufacturing and distributing your product, plus financial information on the company and sales forecasts for the products to be licenced. With all of those hurdles to get over before the expense of getting a lawyer involved to finalize the contract, it’s no wonder that NHL licences are hard to come by.

Around 2011-2012 Caper Games took a bit of a new direction. At the time Silke was playing a lot of Scrabble which inspired Randall to invent a word game: NUGGETS. He made the board an 8 x 8 grid so strategic word placement was really important. Another mechanic that made his game stand out was that once you’re done your turn, your opponents can ‘steal’ any words you missed.nuggets

Most recently Randall has continued to branch out of the sports game genre and is now working on his first game for adults, a spy game called Get ADLER! set in WW2 for 4 players. 1 person is the double-agent Adler, the other players are trying to uncover him. The first phase of the game is trying to figure out who is Adler, then once he’s found the second phase is trying to capture him. It’s silly and lots of fun, play testers have just had a ball with it. Play testing has featured heavily in Caper Games design process, and Randall has seen an amazing progression from his early games to his latest two.

Since that first game, Caper Games has gone on to about 10 games in total. Their latest games are SHOOTERZ Hockey Card Game, NUGGETS Word Game, and Get ADLER! (A Deduction Card Game). They have a couple of other games designed and waiting  to be produced as well. Caper Games is also now looking to produce mobile games, particularly NUGGETS which Randall keeps hearing would make a good computer game. He’s talked to a few videogame developers, one of which has said to build a prototype and come back.

At the end of Randall’s talk, he was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions from the audience.

Audience: How did you fund all this development?

Randall: A big part of it was a Canadian fund for people with disabilities – they were funding just about any idea a person with a disability had.

Audience: Do you have a distributor?

Randall: We do have some distributors in different areas, and we also sell directly to customers online.

Audience: How do you manufacture a game?

Randall: I wish we could do it all in Canada but it’s much cheaper to do it in China. To distribute we order from china and store our stock in a small warehouse. The usual minimum order from a manufacturer is 5000 units but that can be negotiated. The price and quality of product from the Chinese manufacturer is excellent. German manufacturing is even better but the price is prohibitive.

Audience: Why the gold theme in Nuggets?shooterz-hockey-card-game-game-box-and-content

Randall: Very early in game development I decided I wanted a different scoring system to help the game stand out (grams instead of points). gold just seemed to fit. Silke always talked about digging for words when playing scrabble which inspired Randall to think of a prospector digging for gold nuggets.

During the Q&A, Randall had a question for the audience:

Randall: Does anyone with a game partner with a small/medium studio to build that game without cash up front?

Audience: Definitely happens, anything can be negotiated.

Thanks again to Randall Thompson of Caper Games for coming out and talking to us about a part of the game industry we don’t normally hear about. It was fascinating to hear about how cost of manufacturing affected his design decisions. If we’re lucky Randall will come back to give another talk after Get ADLER! comes out and maybe bring a copy for us to try!

Metalhead Software – Super Mega Baseball Mid-Mortem

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Scott Drader

Scott Drader

Scott Drader co-founded Metalhead Software, a local game and software development studio in 2009. Last year he came out to give a “pre-mortem” talk about the game that Metalhead had been putting in long hours to finish, Super Mega Baseball (formerly known as Big Fly Baseball).

Now, after the recent release of Super Mega Baseball, Scott is triumphantly returning to give a “mid-mortem” talk, where he will be talking about the stress, exhilaration, and lessons learned in shipping Metalhead’s first title.

 

Pre-mortem Recap

Scott’s talk started with a quick recap of the pre-mortem talk he gave last February. Metalhead Software started as a two person team in Scott’s basement in 2009. While building the game they supported themselves with contract work. At their peak the team was 6-8 people. They’ve showed at PAX and other trade shows, which helped them stay grounded during development. As a small indie studio they kept costs down by using open source technologies. Unfortunately they had some early tech issues which caused them to have to redo a lot of work when they needed to switch technologies. Aside from technical issues, it was challenging to make a baseball game in a city that isn’t hugely into baseball. Other expected challenges were in how to market and test the game.

On with the Mid-mortem!

Super Mega Baseball initially launched in North America on December 16th, 2014, which was a bit of an odd time to ship a sports game. Usually sports games ship around the start of the real life season when people are already excited. It was tough to get press attention right when all the people writing for game sites were leaving for Christmas holidays, but by the time the game launched the holiday rush had mostly died down and they did get decent attention.

The launch date wasn’t a calculated decision; the team was low on cash and sanity and the game needed to ship. Super Mega Baseball was originally intended to ship in the summer.

The game got some very positive press due to being fresh in people’s minds when recaps and game of the year articles were coming out.

Audience Member: Why didn’t your publisher manage press/pr & release date?
Scott: We didn’t have one.

Follow Up Question: Would you work with a publisher next time?
Scott: Depends, there are a lot of pros and cons. There’s costs either way – if you’re not paying a  publisher to take care of this stuff you’re doing it all yourself.

The Pricing Problem 

Pricing is a difficult problem for indie games. Metalhead Software ended up charging $20 for Super Mega Baseball. They didn’t want to undervalue their game but at the same time they wanted as many people as possible to play it. There isn’t enough data yet to know if Metalhead made the right call on price. It will take more launches to really have a good feel for it. 

Audience comment: Instead of lowering the price, bump it up and have awesome videos selling the game. A higher price gives the impression of higher quality, and you need to leave room for sales later. 

To Demo or Not Demo 

Super Mega Baseball did not have a free demo. Having one may have really helped with visibility given the relatively small number of people that had heard of Metalhead or Super Mega Baseball pre-launch. The extra time it takes to get a proper demo together was a factor in deciding not to have one. Upcoming launches are more likely to include a demo or trial.

 Launch

The game was stable and everything generally worked, which was awesome given all the bad press around recent AAA games shipping broken. Friends and family helped a lot with testing, but even with that help they weren’t able to get the test coverage they would’ve liked. Long-term team progression in particular was very lightly tested because it took 40 hours of testing to do a full test cycle. 

MyTeamOverview

At launch they were very worried about bugs – it was keeping the team up at night. Just because the game worked great on four friend’s machines didn’t mean it was going to work just as well for everyone else. 

All of the last minute polish and refining was absolutely necessary. The game could not have been shipped successfully even a week earlier. Most bugs reported by players were known issues that the team had seen in testing and made the agonizing choice not to fix so they would have time for higher priority bugs. 

Reception 

Super Mega Baseball was well received. The team did a lot of research – every mechanic in the game had to be at least as good as mechanics in other baseball games… if not, why should gamers buy it? Because of that attention to detail, the mechanics worked out really well. 

Scott had wanted to cut some features toward the end, but they squeezed them in, which turned out to be the right decision. For example, character customization was very last minute, but they slipped in basic customization and people loved it. Long term team progression worked out well too, even though it went in late and did not have a lot of time to mature. 

The difficulty mechanic was one of the ways Super Mega Baseball differentiated itself from other games. Instead of a simple easy/medium/hard setting, it has a 1-99 difficulty slider called the Ego System. There are no dramatic changes when the difficulty is changed – some games remove a mechanic entirely in easy mode, for example – instead the Super Mega Baseball smoothly gives you less help as the difficulty goes up. When targeting at bat, at lower difficulties the game gives you more help, at higher difficulties it backs off and you eventually do all of the targeting yourself. Or when fielding, at lower difficulties your fielders run for the ball automatically, at higher difficulties you have to steer them. 

Store Placement 

The game was not featured at launch. The fact the game and company were still fairly unknown at launch didn’t help, but it would have helped to have final store assets and marketing materials ready earlier. 

Reputation is extremely important, and powers your ability to get people excited about your product. Getting your name out tends to be a struggle for indies. Scott recommends a talk from Drinkbox Studios on the subject: Painful PR Lessons Learned on the Way to Guacamelee. The team has as much to learn about launching games as making them.

Art Style 

Super Mega Baseball’s art style was lighthearted and cartoony, which was generally received well. People loved the environments but were mixed on character style. The feedback was everything from “Barf!” to “This is awesome!” For faces in particular it would be interesting to study the psychology of how people respond to different art styles. Art was surprisingly polarizing. 

SwaggerSmash

A certain percentage of the audience is sports fans who want realistic gameplay, and Super Mega Baseball may have alienated them with the art style they chose. On the other hand, they wanted to make a sports game for everyone and the friendly art style probably helped welcome people who didn’t think of themselves as sports gamers. It was hard to say if a more mature art style would have worked out better. 

It can be hard to reach kids with digital downloads on consoles. Given that the younger demographic doesn’t have credit cards, you’re relying on gift cards (or for kids to annoy their parents until they break out their credit card!). 

Sales 

Scott wouldn’t mind being on a beach in Hawaii, but is still in Victoria talking to us. They’re off to a good start given they started out entirely unknown, but they feel they have yet to reach a lot of their potential audience. They deliberately chose a hole in the market: sports games have been dominated by AAA studios for years, there are hardly any casual sports games. 

LadySlugginsThe team did consider licensing real teams, but licensing can be expensive and time consuming. It’s something they would consider for future releases. On the other hand, the creative freedom that going unlicensed allowed was great. Some of the game’s jokes would likely have been cut in a licensed game, and they may not have been able to feature women in the game (which they got a lot of well-deserved kudos for). 

Super Mega Baseball hasn’t shipped in Japan yet because they feel like the game needs to be fully localized. The version shipped in Europe is all in English, but that won’t work in the Japanese market. 

Audience: Would you consider outside financing next time?
Scott: They hope it won’t be necessary going forward but would be open to it. They didn’t try to get outside financing first time because on paper, their inexperienced team was a tough sell, and they didn’t want to waste time going after funding they’d have a hard time getting a good deal on.

Audience: Why release on PSN only?
Scott: They just didn’t have time/resources to develop and test on multiple platforms at once. The team is working hard on porting the game to other platforms right now.

Audience: How hard will it be to move to other platforms?
Scott: Not so bad given the game is based on a cross platform engine (PhyreEngine) and written in C++.

One handy tip from the Super Mega Baseball launch is to tell people which countries the game is launching in! Metalhead forgot to tell people game was not launching in Europe right away and got many many tweets about when the game was going to come out in Europe after the North American launch.

Gaming Press

The relationships Metalhead nurtured beforehand were very helpful. A few people who heard Metalhead’s story from the beginning were really helpful getting the word out.

Personal Experience

It’s very easy to obsess over the game you’re trying to finish and think about nothing else even when you’re trying to take a break. You need to have other things in your life no matter how busy you are – keep up your regular exercise and at least some social activities.

What’s Metalhead doing now?

MH_LogoPorting, marketing, and prepping for upcoming releases (haven’t announced stuff yet though so going to not say too much for now).

Takeaways:

  • Everything takes longer than you expect
  • Launching a game is an entirely different ballgame from building a game
  • Reputation is huge and drives your ability to spread the word

Audience: Do you have analytics for your game?
Scott: Probably not as detailed as mobile/social platforms, but the consoles are doing a good job sharing more detailed data with developers.

Audience: If you did it over again, would you lower the price point or spend more on marketing?
Scott: Definitely more marketing spend, hard to say about price.

Thanks again to Scott and the Metalhead team for sharing what they’ve learned about launching a game! We’re really happy to hear that all the hard work and sacrifice was worth it, and it was awesome to see such a polished game come out of an indie studio in our city.

Fundamental Game Launch Marketing with Clive Gorman

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At LevelUp’s last Main Event meetup on June 2nd 2014, Clive Gorman came to talk to us about marketing for start-ups. Clive is a very experienced multi-disciplined video-games marketing and product management professional with more than 17 years working in the technology and video-games industry. He is currently the product marketing manager responsible for marketing strategy, implementation and product management at TinyMob Games.

Based on Clive’s talk, we’ve compiled these handy tips to assist with marketing your own games both before and after launch.

Core Metrics

The core metrics for any release are:

  • Acquisition – how many users are you acquiring  and how quickly?
  • Retention – how long do those users stick around?
  • Monetization – how much money are you making per user?

To achieve your goals in each of those metrics, research is key. Know your audience, know your competitors. Appeal to your audience and differentiate your game & company from your competitors. There are many free sources of data that can help you out, for example NewZoo and Quora.

The next step is to apply your research to your branding.

Branding

  • Discovery and differentiation – how do people find out about you, and what makes you different?
  • Brand interrogation – ask yourself the tough questions about your brand – does it express what you want it to?
  • Positioning – where does your company fit?
  • Vision, mission, values – how does your brand show these off?
  • Logo and identity – your logo needs to fit with what your brand is trying to express
  • Sound – an often underrated part of branding
  • Personality – all the parts of your brand need to express a coherent personality.

Part of what your branding needs to do is give journalists a reason to talk about your game.

App Store

  • Test your game name and icon. These need to grab attention as soon as you see them in the app store.
  • Crowd-source options for metric based optimization, include AdMob and CrowdPicker.
  • Optimize text length for a very small space. App Store description shown ‘above the fold’ is very short, you need to use it effectively.
  • Have screenshots with a consumer proposition.
  • First screenshot is key feature – on the iPhone you only see one by default so it *must* be good.

Website

  • Needs to be responsive on mobile – lots of traffic comes in that way
  • Talk about features in-depth – for example, TinyMob uses the website to explain their Warbands feature in-depth
  • Optimize loading times – don’t frustrate potential users
  • Gifs! Use sparingly but use them if motion will help explain a concept
  • Have a press page with assets – don’t make busy journalists hunt for these
  • Search engine optimization
  • If you can, hire an expert
  • Use your keywords in your website copy in a narrative way

PR

  • Do press-releases/announcements for milestones in your project – beginning of project, alpha, beta, full release, etc.
  • Focus on key media – If your game is a Pocket Gamer style game, don’t go to Engadget for coverage.
  • Use Twitter to generate leads – get to know people on Twitter in an organic way long before you have something to sell them. Then when you have a game to tell them about, you already have a relationship that gives them a reason to care about your game.
  • Leverage new media: YouTube, Twitch
  • Direct submission or games PR news-wire – many websites let you submit news directly.
  • Games Press – you can use the service for free but with no guarantee of getting on the page, or for around £90 a month (depending on this size of your company and the number of assets you want to submit) you can add your assets directly to their site and have a link to them in the daily digest email
  • Create a press kit – use Dropbox or Google Drive

Social media

  • Use Hootsuite or similar service to schedule tweets, g+ posts, Facebook posts.
  • Tweet every 20 minutes or so at most.
  • No more than 3 Facebook posts a day.
  • Images work better than text or video.
  • Use hash-tags to help people discover you – if you’re tweeting about Clash of Clans, use their hash-tag!
  • Blog on tumblr too

Email

  • Free marketing – MailChimp is free for up to 2000 subscribers.
  • Great way to build a community.
  • Monetizes really well – if someone has bothered to give you their email address, they’re really interested in your game.

Pricing

F2P vs premium

  • For small projects, premium is probably better. Many journalists and publications are turned off by free-to-play. Have a small upfront cost and potentially some DLC later.

Merchandising

  • Virtual product still needs to be appealing even it’s not a physical product. Think about how you’d present your game or service as if it were in a store.

Sales and promotions

  • More value for same price does better than discounts
  • Tie sales to your game’s theme – for example, tell players the trade caravans arrived early instead of a bland ‘bonus 50 widgets’ message.

Q & A

Q: Are trade shows worth it?

A: They can be pricey, be careful about how many you go to and how much you spend to get there.

Q: Do gifs or embedded YouTube videos perform better on a website?

A: Haven’t analyzed that, but it is hard to get views on your own video. If possible, get on a YouTube show that’s already popular.

Q: Is there anything similar to NewZoo that you recommend?

A: Google caches lots of research studies and papers, Gamasutra can also be helpful. Take any ARPDAU (average revenue per daily active user) and ARPPU (average revenue per paying user) numbers you find online and in news stories with a grain of salt. Clive has never worked for a company that gave away that data.

Q: What should you budget for marketing?

A: At EA, marketing was about 12% of the total production cost for a small project. You should really set aside 25%, but you need to spend that in a very targeted way to be efficient.

Q: How can you advertise a game for kids?

A: Can’t track people who are under 13 – you can advertise to them ‘above the line’ with things like online banner ads or TV media, but you can’t collect data on children for ‘below the line’ marketing such as emails. Try to partner with educational game publications. Kids TV is a great Trojan horse to get around restrictions on advertising to kids. Kids Google a lot – parents will say not to click a banner so they’ll Google it instead.

Q: Should we suck it up and spend 20% of our time doing our own marketing or just pay a reputable firm?

A: I wouldn’t recommend spending unless you have investors or significant revenue coming in. A lot of the time you can manage campaigns using automation.

Q: What are your thoughts on Vine?

A: Vine is a great way to limit how much you show if you’re early in development. TinyMob used it to show off their Warpath feature. Instagram videos may be too long depending on how much you have to show.

Thanks again to Clive for coming to speak with us. If you have any followup questions, Clive can be reached at contactme@clivegorman.com.

Fireside Chat about the Business of Video Games Recap

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Photo: Jacob Schwartz

Photo: Jacob Schwartz

LevelUp/IGDA Victoria’s last speaker was Alex Mendelev, who was kind enough to step in when Eric Jordan of DJ Arts was unable to make it. He joined us for a fireside chat about the business of video games.

Who is Alex Mendelev?

He is currently CEO of TinyMob, was previously GM of GameHouse, and before that he worked at Airborne Mobile (a content distribution company) in Montreal. At Airborne he was promoted to head of technology, decided that at age 26 he probably should not be in that position, and switched to a business role.

Alex moved to Victoria because he was looking for an excuse to move back west (his wife’s family is here), got connected with Russ Ovans, one of the founders of Backstage Games, and joined Backstage in 2009.

Why should we care about free to play?

Because 90% of the revenue on the iTunes appstore is from free to play games.

How do you make money on free to play games?

There was a talk by a Chinese developer called 7 deadly sins of social games that described how to make money by eliciting emotions in the player. Some emotions monetize better than others – for example competition/revenge can work particularly well, but depend on a close relationship between the players in competition.

The drive to complete a collection works well too. Vanity can work, but you need to offer players a compelling reason to care about having the coolest looking avatar, for example.

How ethical are free to play games? Is it douchey to let people play a little bit, then start hitting them up for cash?

The pre-pay model seems much less fair. $50-$60 is a lot to pay for a game that you can only judge by reviews, pictures, and videos when you can’t get a refund if you end up not liking the game.

Has the model changed since you started working in games? Is free to play still a good strategy for a small company?

Consumers are more aware now and more sensitive to companies dipping into their pockets early in the game.

It’s also harder to get users into your game. Average cost of user acquisition on mobile is around $2. To make money, you need to be sure you can make more than $2 per user over the lifetime of your game.

Players expect games to be extremely polished now and it’s important to handle launches carefully. If your game doesn’t grab users right away, they’ll just do something else.

What is TinyMob’s user acquisition plan?

TinyMob is planning to launch Tiny Realms in Spring 2014. They’re working very hard to create a community around the game so that players who are already engaged will help spread the word. TinyMob Games plans to augment organic growth with paid user acquisition campaigns.

What has your experience as a founder at TinyMob been like?

Much more stressful than just being an employee. Also very interesting and positive. At TinyMob, Alex does business development and marketing, Chris Hoefgen does tech, and Jamie Toghill does project management.

Will TinyMob do another round of funding post launch?

It is a possibility, they’ve had a lot of interest.

What was it like raising the first round of funding and how did you do it?

Alex showed off the art they had so far and told the story of the game, starting with local investors. It helped to have a previous exit (Backstage was bought by Real Networks for their GameHouse division).

Getting funding was mostly about telling the story of TinyMob and what they planned to do. Over 90% of their funding was local, and it all came from angel investors.

Games are hard to pitch to investors, some of them just don’t invest in games at all due to prior bad experiences.

Alex has been getting to know investors for the last 4 ½ years because his long term plan was always to start a company. Victoria is a small city and you should know all the movers and shakers.

The Victoria BC Startups meetup is a great place to meet business minded people/entrepreneurs. Trade commissioners are also very useful for introducing you to people.

Why did Alex decide to go business school after getting his comp. sci. degree?

After attempting to cofound a company with a friend who was also technical, he realized that at least one of them needed to have some business sense and it wasn’t going to be the other founder.

If we should know all the movers and shakers in Victoria, how do we find and get to know them?

If you have a compelling reason to meet with someone and ask them questions, most people will meet you at least for a coffee. Everyone goes for coffee, everyone needs to eat lunch. Linkedin is also a fantastic resource.

How useful was your business degree?

Alex’s first degree was in comp. sci and his original career goal was to become CTO of a large company. He ended up deciding he didn’t want to have to compete with brilliant recent grads when he was 50 and getting a business degree was his way to diversify, as well as allowing him to work in the part of the product lifecycle that he preferred.

Developers can get squeezed because they work in the middle of the lifecycle between inception and QA. QA is always under time pressure because they work at the end of the lifecycle, but business development people at the very beginning of the product lifecycle have the most freedom from time constraints because development doesn’t even start until their part is done.

With a major in comp. sci. and a minor in business, where should I focus?

Negotiation is especially useful, as well as being something Alex particularly enjoys, but basically any business course is useful because it’s such a different field from comp. sci.

People tend to think MBA programs are really intimidating and full of total geniuses, but they’re actually like any other program – there are a few brilliant people but most of the class is going to be people just like you.

Regarding monetization, western people seem to lean toward aesthetics and away from pay to win. Is this changing?

People do dislike pay to win because that forces them to pay to be able to compete, but people also prefer paying for items that affect their gameplay experience. About 90% of revenue will come from utility items vs items that just look cool.

What should you look for when hiring a business person?

Can you get along with them for a long time? What kind of track record do they have? Give them a test – for example, if you need someone to pitch to publishers, get them to pitch to you. If you don’t find their pitch compelling, don’t hire them.

How did you hire the first few employees at TinyMob before your funding came in?

TinyMob hired three people before they got funding. They found people who were passionate about games and were very upfront about what TinyMob could offer them.

When hiring people without necessarily having a lot of money to throw at them, think about what else you can offer them – equity, bonuses, full time, part time, being paid to develop a game by a third party.

Alex also had a question for the audience: how much interest is there in the Video Game Startup Bootcamp?

Most of the room raised their hands, which prompted a followup question:

What might stop someone from wanting to go into business making games?

Fear of losing the core of making games that people actually enjoy – having to compromise their vision to make money.

Worries about balancing making money with getting to build what you like.

A member of the audience had an especially good point about the business of games – actually shipping games is a huge pain point for developers. Taking 10 years to finish a game because you’re working at subway to barely pay your rent naturally makes people give up long before they ship. If you’re serious about people ever seeing your game, you need money.

At TinyMob Alex and his coworkers discussed whether seeing how difficult business really is would scare off potential entrepreneurs, and decided that it’s still best for people to know what they’re getting into. If you’d like to know what you’re getting into, don’t forget to sign up for the Video Game Startup Bootcamp – it’s only a couple of weeks away and it’s completely free!

Thanks again to Alex for coming to talk with us and to Chris Tihor for leading the discussion.

OrcaJam 2013 Recap

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orcajam-gameheads-finalHow do you create 21 games in a single weekend?

You get a whole room full of programmers, designers, artists, and sound engineers together, add wi-fi, give them a theme, and watch them go! In just 48 caffeine-fueled hours, a group of game developers all got together and made games. iPad games, PC games, top-down RTS, fighting, adventure, and all in just a weekend.

This year OrcaJam was part of Thinklandia, a companion festival to Rifflandia, but for ideas instead of music. It took place at ViaTec’s offices with help from their staff, who were fantastic. They made sure we had all the equipment we needed (you wouldn’t believe how many power bars it takes to run a game jam) and were generally a huge help.

First we met at the Moon Under Water for the usual drinks and appies mixer (if you weren’t there you missed a good party!), then we were off to the jam itself, which started with a quick opening address from The Honourable Andrew Wilkinson, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services. We’re all legitimate and stuff now (and a little worried how we’ll top that next year)!

This year’s theme was “Island”, which people ran with as you’ll see when you take a look at the games. It’s always fun to see what people do with a theme. Some developers take it very literally, but others… you’ll just have to play the games and see for yourself.

Aside from the awesome new venue, a few other things were different this year too. We had talks, a set of generously donated prizes, and a panel of judges from local game studios. Judges and prizes are new to OrcaJam, but we were happy to see that they didn’t change the collaborative spirit of the jam. Some really fun games came out of the jam and it was great to see them get some recognition.

We had two talks this year. The first was “From Tourists to Tetris – Redefining Victoria as a Game  Development Destination”, about how Victoria isn’t just a tourist destination anymore, it’s also becoming a game development destination.

Chris Tihor moderated and the panellists were Eric Jordan (DJ Arts), Edoardo De Martin (Microsoft Studios Victoria), Paul Hill (KIXEYE), Alex Mendelev (TinyMob Games), and Tim Teh (KANO/APPS).

One of the most interesting points the panellists made is that Victoria has an especially collaborative game development community. People from other studios will treat you like a colleague, not an enemy. We’re told that even Vancouver isn’t quite as friendly, so we can give Victoria credit for that instead of just chalking it up to good old Canadian niceness.

The second talk was “Bring Me The Brain! On the Mad Science of Game Design”, about the practices and pitfalls of game design. Just about every game developer out there struggles with this sooner or later.

The panelists for this talk were Ashley Blacquiere (KANO/APPS Game Designer), Andy Moore (Radial Games Founder), Chris Hoefgen (TinyMob Games CTO), and Ben Hesketh (Microsoft SDE). They had some great tips about how you know when you have a good idea for a game, finding the balance between not giving up too easily and clinging to an idea that just isn’t working, and how to balance working on games all day at your job with working on your own projects in your off hours.

Another highlight of the jam was the 5 minute game challenge. This challenge was inspired by a presentation where a group of indies “made” a game in about 5 minutes. That presentation was just a sped up video of the game being coded, but it made people wonder how fast could you really make a game. One of those people was Colin Northway, and at the first OrcaJam he dared Andy Moore to make a game in just 5 minutes. Andy didn’t quite make it, but he did prove that you can prototype a game mechanic in well under 10 minutes and that programming can be a spectator sport. This year we even had a five-minute song!

At the end of the jam, everyone presented their games to our panel of celebrity judges. Andy Moore (Radial Games), Ira Willey (AddictingGames.com), Eric Jordan (DJ Arts) and David Sandor (Inlight Entertainment) were kind enough to donate their time to OrcaJam instead of going outside and enjoying the sunshine.

First place went to Jacob Schwartz and Steve Carpenter for their game Cyclobster Island. In this game, you’re an archer defending yourself from a terrifying Cyclops/lobster monster, as well as menacing pterodactyls. Why pterodactyls? Why not? This team kept the scope and concept manageable so they could focus on gameplay, which earned them first prize.

Second place went to Hook Up! By Anglerfish Matchmakers Curtis Smith, Sarah Roland, and Kirsten Grove-White. Hook Up! is the anglerfish dating sim mentioned earlier. It’s charmingly odd and full of fish puns. If you’ve never played a game that mentions the poet Sharkespeare, you need to check this one out.

Third place went to Mario Benedict and team’s ipad game Flux. Another simple game that focused on game play, this one was especially well polished. It’s a two player, one iPad game where you each tap your ships in the right sequence to send a pulse to the other player’s ship and destroy it.

Fourth place went to Boar Island, a fun little game about running around on an island trying to get to the boat before the wild boars get you. But watch out, the boars can swim!

The coolest part of a game jam is seeing what everyone created. You can see the games that people posted on the OrcaJam site here: http://jam.orcajam.com/submissions.

Some really cool games came out of OrcaJam this year. I’m already looking forward to seeing what everyone makes next year. Maybe I’ll even see you there next time!