Friday, February 26, 2016

Book - Reaching Indie Quality out Now!

I've released a book:

So here's a brief breakdown on some of the content you'll get in the book:

  • What to Prioritize - How the weight of your time should be spent, and the right questions to find out.
  • What to do if you Require Funding - Where to look if you need some more money for your project.
  • Creating Games with Friends - Exploring the double edge sword of making games with friends.
I've took a look at a number of game design books out there and I wanted to cover both something they didn't. People get caught on the prioritization all the time, and the worst part is it's very hard to know when you "have done enough." I draw distinct lines with some simple questions. Funding is ever relevant, and it's another question or concern I get all the time. You honestly don't always need it. But when you do, where can you look?

Finally one of my students reminded me of a very important topic I nearly omitted. What to do when trying to make games with friends. It's a tricky topic and thanks to him it gets an extra section. Click here (or on the picture to learn more.)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cancelling Projects

So if you've been paying attention this week I've scaled down the amount of work I needed to get done for Mage's Tower down to a rather reasonable 12 hours of work.

Closing in on the weekend I had gotten zero done but still a fair amount of time, then I got a call for another job and I realized Mage's Tower had to be cancelled.

While I definitely do not like cancelling projects, projects do get cancelled.  They do so in the games industry as well.  And yes it's even happened at BioWare.  So this brings up a good point.

How do you know when to cut a project?

To be perfect honest, I've asked around, I've searched books, and I cannot find a good answer.  It's a hard question.  I'm still struggling with it myself.  Here's my guidelines.  Hopefully they'll help.

  • Run out of Money
  • Poor Validation
  • Project Languishing
  • Cut Early

Run out of Money of the time this comes down to insufficient project management.  And when I say insufficient, it usually doesn't mean someone was terrible or lazy.  It's just that project management can be that difficult.  (Especially if you are doing waterfall.)  You should normally know when a project is due to be released, factor in money and time and have enough for both.  The other times it's due to having a shaky sponsor.  Either way, for most professional projects, when the funds run out.  The project has to be cancelled.

Poor Validation is when a project SHOULD be cancelled early but often isn't.  This is what 95% of new game developers run into.  It's a project that really love.  Maybe their friends are involved too.  But either they never bothered to ask anyone if they would play it.  Or they did, didn't get a great answer, but instead of refining the idea, they simply pushed on.   This is dangerous territory.  While you should be passionate about what you work on. If you are creating it with the intention of it making back enough money to pay you a minimum wage for the time you spent on it, I'd advise you consider cancelling it early.  At least refine the idea if you wish to continue. 

If you don't, it's often a lot of time, effort and heartache realizing that the rest of the world doesn't look upon this idea as fondly as you do.

So when do you cut for poor validation?  As soon realize you can't refine an idea well enough to get the broad appeal you need.

Project Languishing

 Duke Nukem MemeThis is the one most outsiders are familiar with.  This is Duke Nukem forever.  This is a really tough call, as even Dragon Age Origins had a pretty insanely long development cycle.  Normally you should realize you aren't making your deadlines and cut your losses here.  What makes it hard is some games have succeeded doing this a well.  But for them it seemed to happen on a wing and a prayer.   If interest is lost, and attempts to rekindle have failed.  Even if the project is fairly far along, it's often a good idea to cut your losses here.  

This has to end up going by gut feeling.  And that in turn ends up being the brutal and ongoing persistence of the team involved.  If they are determined enough, nearly any long cycle game can be completed.  But the better to ask:  Is it worth it?

Cut Early

If you are going to cut, the best time to cut is AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.  This is why I stress that sanity test in the beginning.  The amount of time, effort, resources, and possibly heartache increases on a logarithmic scale, the longer you wait.  Finding the best ways to figure out when to cut early has been one of my #1 goals.   And that sanity test is a big part of it.

Heck even robot chicken sanity tests their stuff.  You can afford to do it too.

I feel lucky I've only had to cancel less than 10 projects.  Only 2 of which were very serious.  The others were more hobby projects and they were cancelled early.  Which looking back now, was certainly the right thing to do.

So for now technically Mage Tower is mothballed.  But what about you?  When do you usually cut projects?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Unity Publishing Sponsorship + Ad Revenue

So where do you go to publish your unity game and get some money?

Turns out there's a few places.  I found a list of websites that will publish unity games.  I thought I'd republish it here after I checked out each one and got some more information on them.    I'll keep this updated as time goes on and I'll be linking back to this page in future posts.

In general I've found those who do sponsor are very secretive about the amounts.  In general for an average flash game that you or a small team make in a month or two, you should expect an offering of a couple thousand dollars for sponsorship for a web portal site.

Larger games on larger platforms can get much more of course.  But this is all about pitching the product to investors and making sure your concept works well.

Other sites you'll get ad revenue.  This is very difficult to pin down.  It will usually be a portion of revenue from their ads.  (The ads THEY run not the ones you do.)   Going by kongregate, this amount is low.  So if your game gets 1000 views, expect to get $1.  And don't expect any payout until you reach their minimum which is often $50-$100.  That can kill you right there.

Comment below if you know of something I've missed.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Risk Assesment

This last week has been terrible in terms of productivity.   I've been fighting a nasty cold.   This is how it happens some times though!  In this case I just need to continue to scope back.

I did get a basic risk assessment done.  And you can take a look at it here:

If you've never done risk assessments before they are very easy.  They are also critical to early stages of development.  They are one of the quick and easy ways to show you what may be above your head, or if something is out of scope.  Once again, do you want to work for 2 months on something only to find out it has a critical feature you can't complete?

Identify the Risk

Anything that gives you or your other team members the slightest bit of worry in terms of things stopping the projecting from getting completed at the level of quality you expect.  You have to be honest here, and if you are the only one working on it, I suggest you get someone else to take a look over it as well.  Write easy concern down.

How Bad is it?

Assuming that thing occurs.  How bad would it be?  Anything that would tank the game you can score 5 out of 5.  If it's something that would make the game rather unfun, you could score it a 3 or 4.    Anything else minor reducing the user's experience might be 1-2.

How Likely is it?

What is the chance this will occur?  5 means 100%.  1 would mean a very low chance like 2-10%.

Total Risk

Add both risk factors up.  This should give you a number out of 10.  I usually sort the list at this point to see which is the worst.  If the total risk for an item is 3 or below you may want to keep an eye on it, but you probably don't have to do anything about it right now.

Action Plan

Next you need an actionable plan with measurable results.  This is pretty staple goal setting.  Something that will definitely attack the problem, something you can do, and something you can measure how effective it will be.  The plan should be something you can have done in the week ahead.  Put those plans as action items on your board.   (I do this for trello.)
Some of you guys hate paperwork.  So I'll say this only so you actually do this.  You can only write action plans for the top 3 and worry about the rest later.


You should revisit this at the end of every week.  Did you complete the tasks?  Have the values for the risks changed?  Change the values as appropriate.  You should have done all the tasks to help correct those risks.  If you've completed the tasks, but the risk hasn't changed (or gotten worse) you have to come up with a new action plan that is a lot more drastic.
If you didn't end up doing the task, you
Remember to resort the list after you changed the values.  Add any new worries that come to mind as well.  These also need values and action plans.

You repeat this process every week until the end of the project.  Any weeks where all risks are below 3, you can give yourself a pat on the back, you've done very well.

That's it.  I hope you start your own.  Remember, if you have any questions leave a comment below.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Types of Pitches

I want to clarify the difference between a sanity test and a formal pitch  They are both a type of pitch.  The difference is their purpose.

Sanity Test 

This is an informal pitch.  You do this quickly, with no prep, to people who it isn't the end of the world if you don't impress them.  It should take anywhere from 30 seconds to minute or two.  Again it's called a sanity test, because if you are willing to create an entire game without even asking someone if they'd want to play it, you are crazy.  The purpose of this is to ask the question: 
"Does this sound like a game you'd like to play?"

Formal Pitch 

When I talk about pitching, I'm talking about a more formal pitch with slides, board rooms etc.  This should take 5 to 15 minutes.  In this context you are presenting to a bunch of people who can green light your game idea.  That is, give you the money or resources  (or permission) to start work on it.


This is a follow up after any kind of a pitch.  The purpose is to determine if it's not only good enough to be liked, but if it's so interesting someone would actually pay money for it.  To do this, you simply ask the question at the end:
 "Would you pay XX dollars for this game?"
NOTE: True validation happens when you can actually get a pre-sale from the person right then and there (for say a 50% discount of course).

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Idea Development and Sanity Test

So I've already linked to the trello board.   About some game called Mage Tower.  Well what is it about?

You're a lone mage, defending his master's tower.

Seems a little bland?   Well it's supposed to, I'm keeping the idea generic to make this easier to show you how to develop and sanity test ideas.

I did originally play around with this idea because I already tested some elements out that may fit well into a type of game like this.

I took this idea to my students and pitched it.  Wasn't that impressive as I thought.  How do you tell when something is impressive?  When you pitch your idea to people and 50+% of people's faces light up with excitement as you are describing it.

That's what you should aim for.  You don't absolutely need it though.  Extra Credits has a pretty good segment on this:

So I came up with a slightly better story that involved items being stolen from the  tower's vault, with you being the aprentice charged to take care of his master's tower for the 7 days he's gone.   I pitched that, and it also got "meh".

I was going too generic.   Typically for a great idea you need a really interesting twist in initial concept.    I broke out a mindmap and just dumped ideas.  No idea was too stupid. (And that's a very important part.)  I came up with close to 50 potential twists on the story concept.     Then I went over those ideas again with the class.    Some of the more ridiculous ones got some traction.  They were funny, or they made you think.

Some of the more amusing ones:
  • You were sleeping with the wizard's daughter
  • You have periodic megalomania
  • The tower is actually a sanitarium
  • Medieval magical version of the game clue
  • The whole thing is a musical
  • You're aquaman (you're "special" but with a laughable super power)
 So I had some ones that made the idea stand out.   A few of them were simply out of scope (as cool as they were).  I decided to incorperate the insanity and sleeping with the wizard's daughter in the next pitch.

So I did so, and it came out a little better, but the pitch was now too long.  And I didn't even properly incorporate the insanity into it.  All this would require a bit of exposition in this game, and I realize I didn't really have the time for that.    So it's back to the original idea.

If I get some extra time I'll incorporate those elements back in.  But for now I'm...

Your own Idea Forming

One more thing.  Too many people are worried about telling people as they have this "unbelievable" idea that people will steal if they tell them.   And yes this does happen.  But it's still absolute garbage.

Here's why.
  • Are you Insane? - If you are going to go through all the pain and cost of development without even taking 15 minutes checking if the people you are making the game for actually like the idea, you are INSANE.  This is why I call verification with others a "sanity test".
  • Would you buy it? - It's even sillier if you want to SELL your game and expect people to pay money for something they may not even care for.
  • It's how you do it - Game development is 10% idea 90% implementation.  Even if someone does steal your idea, if you implement it better you'll easily win out. 
  • Simpsons Did It! - You have to face the fact that every idea worth doing has been considered before.  I've even seen people who've had no way of communicating with one another come up with very similar "unique" ideas. 
  • Are you creative? - If you are trying to be a game designer you ARE creative.  You can come up with more than one idea.  

Call to Action

Your turn.  Use the process below to come up with your own idea.

  1. Write down your initial game concept
  2. Sanity Test it with a number of people within the game's target audience
  3. Refine the idea
  4. Sanity Test Again
  5. If needed mindmap a bunch of random initial twists
  6. Sanity Test Again
  7. Scope out the ideas you are certain you can do within the time. (If this is your first time, do the absolute simplest ones.)

You now should have very well formed idea.  The more you refine and sanity test the better off it will be off course.  But don't spend longer than a week or two doing this at very most!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Let's make a game!

So I have a group of students about to start their final projects, and I figured I'd do something simple at the same time to show the process you have to go through.

Click here to see the project board.

I'll post up the design doc and trello boards shortly.  I'll also be posting up screens of the process and possibly some videos.

I will NOT be posting up the complete code for the game.

Why?  Two reasons:

  1. The first is the goal of this is to teach.  You learn by doing, I'm sure you already know how to download a game.  
  2. Second there is some proprietary information with a full game release I can't give out.  Not so much the source code, but either private art, or my user information required ads.

Don't worry, I will release most of the source.  You should be able to recreate it, or something very close to it fairly easily.

I'll be releasing this April 2nd on Kongregate
(And possibly on android as well.)

Now, I don't propose I'm any sort of final authority on the matter.  In fact as you look at game development you'll notice nearly every studio, and every designer has their own method.  Many aspects are similar and I'll try to cover those.   Also any design process can be improved (this is the entire point of a post mortem.)  this includes mine.   Let me know if there's anything you see I can do to sharpen my process.

Call to Action

So I'm dong this, my students are creating their games.  Why not you too? 

Create a board in trello.  Lay it out as I did with those columns and start filling in the same sort of tasks for you to do.  Make your game concept short.  I mean atari 1983 game short.  The point is to get the process down.