Practical Legal Tips for Launching and Growing a Studio

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!

Posted in General

OrcaJam 6 Memories

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😉

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

Posted in General

Games as Social Media Recap

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)

Posted in General

September Main Event featuring Mike Wozniewski of Hololabs

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.

Hi everyone! Chris here to give you the lowdown about our next monthly meet-up at Swans. This September, we’re happy to have as our feature presenter Mike Wozniewski. Mike is the founder and president of Hololabs (www.hololabs.org), 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.

His 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 will be discussing the recent boom of game making apps, level editors, and the promise of user-generated games as a form of social media. From LittleBigPlanet, to Minecraft, Project Spark, Super Mario Maker, Pixel Press, and Hololabs’ own Papercade, Mike will discuss the world of consumer-focused game creators. With a long-term obsession for creative tools, this talk will explore the affordances necessary for successful game-making systems, and will also serve as a postmortem for Papercade. Along the way, Mike will introduce Hololabs, provide some of the history about the studio, and will give a sneak peek of Hololabs’ next game that will be developed here in Victoria.

After the talk we will be holding the usual open stage and social time. We have a private room with a projector and a ton of space. Show off your current projects; do some play-testing; or just relax and enjoy the awesome local food and craft-brewed beer. Let’s all come out and give Mike a warm welcome to Victoria!

Schedule:

  • 4:30pm: Doors open (room is locked earlier)
  • 5:10pm: Opening announcements by group organizers
  • 5:15pm: Featured presentation
  • 5:45pm: Open stage for show-and-tell, networking and socializing
  • 7:30pm: Venue closes (We are free to move to the main bar if we wish)

See you there!

Details:

Monday, September 7th, 2015

Buckerfields aka The Collard Room – Swans Hotel and Brewpub

506 Pandora Avenue, Victoria, BC

Doors open at 4:30pm

Please RSVP via the Meetup event

Posted in Meetings, Presentations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Marketing Tools for Indie Devs Recap

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!

Posted in General

Randall Thomson of Caper Games Recap

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!

Posted in General

June Main Event featuring Randall Thompson of Caper Games

Randall Thompson - Game Maker and Nature Enthusiast.

Randall Thompson – Game Maker and Nature Enthusiast.

Hi everyone! Chris here to give you the lowdown about our next monthly meet-up at Swans. This month, we’re happy to have as our feature presenter Randall Thompson. Randall is the founder of Caper Games, a local board game studio that’s been releasing games since 2001.

Randall suffered an eye injury in 1998 at the Ministry of Health, and since then has been very light sensitive (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 games with his kids. This lead to the creation of his first game – CrunchTime – a basketball board game released in 2001. Before his injury, he enjoyed playing video games like Super Mario with his kids, but it became problematic afterwards.

Caper games have invented 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. Caper Games is also now looking to produce mobile games based on NUGGETS and a couple of other games.

Randall will be giving 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. He will be bringing some copies of his games to try out afterwards. If you’re interested in how tabletop games get made, you won’t want to miss this talk.

After the talk we will be holding the usual open stage and social time. We have a private room with a projector and a ton of space. Show off your current projects; do some play-testing; or just relax and enjoy the awesome local food and craft-brewed beer.

Schedule:

  • 4:30pm: Doors open (room is locked earlier)
  • 5:10pm: Opening announcements by group organizers
  • 5:15pm: Featured presentation
  • 5:45pm: Open stage for show-and-tell, networking and socializing
  • 7:30pm: Venue closes (We are free to move to the main bar if we wish)

See you there!

Details:

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Buckerfields aka The Collard Room – Swans Hotel and Brewpub

506 Pandora Avenue, Victoria, BC

Doors open at 4:30pm

Please RSVP via the Meetup event

Posted in Meetings, Presentations | Tagged , , , , , , ,