I’m going forward with a broad front, business-wise. I’ve piled up a bout 5 – 6 projects, not only game dev related, quite the contrary. Entrepreneurship is interesting generally, and though Sneeweis is the main part of my company, it is not the only one – Sneeweis is the trade name I do game development with, while the rest of the company is still running a full schedule of subcontracting and small projects within the IT world. Yeah, I’ve piled on a bit too much, one could say, but hey, it’s great fun.
I’ve always wanted to grow Sneeweis to a “real” game studio with 4 – 5 employees, but it’s hard to do when you’re revenue based. Simply put, it takes a while before your account contains enough sweet, cold cash to be able to employ someone.
I had an opportunity to take a step forward with Sneeweis a few months back, when I was invited to discuss about game development to the local school, which has a study line for game design. To cut the story short, I ended up signing a student on board for a 6-month learning-at-work period. We’ve been drafting concept art for a game, Jungled Baron, which I had to dig up quickly from the big box of game ideas. Glad I did, as it got a real boost to become the next game for Sneeweis!
The student, Elma Lähteenmäki, is a 2D artist/animator, she’s 18 years of age, and given what I’ve seen in our few weeks of concept work and Skype calls, she’s got a nice career in game design in front of her! You can check out her portfolio right here. While I get actual art for a game which is supposed to be released, I’m hoping I’ll give Elma an insight to both the game devlopment process, as well as to how small game studios operate.
But hey, let’s not stop there. Take a look at some of the concept art Elma’s been pushing into my Dropbox folder!
Greatest enemies. The baron and an ape.
Once we’ve got a bit more finalized work, I’ll start dropping some Jungled Baron gems to this blog. But for now it suffices to say that the game is an homage to the 1980’s electronic games (Donkey Kong, and those, you surely remember…) and the theme is, as the name implies, the jungle. A baron crash landed on a desert island, went a bit nutty for the coconuts on the island, and I think what made him snap completely was when he noticed there are apes on the island, vicious, dirty, thieving apes, about to steal his precious coconuts! He defends his coconuts fiercely, and he’ll need a lot of help from you for that.
We’re hoping to whip up enough of the basic art to start creating a real “screenshot test” on a real device in the coming two weeks. I’ve really started looking forward for the development phase of this game!
Long time no action, or that’s the impression one would get just by following this blog. Well, I’m glad to tell you otherwise – there’s been a lot happening in the background even if it ain’t visible here for the past months!
Being a small company things change quite fast, so it’s not unusual that some parts get less attention during some periods of time. This is especially true for bootstrapped companies where the revenue stream needs to exist and be somewhat constant, and to do this, I’ve been busy on the business development side as well as in some side projects. One of these is particularly good and hopefully it’ll serve the opportunity to focus even more on the game development in the first half of 2015.
Regrettably this “side track” has lead to Pixelem being late, but that did not come as a big surprise. The game has grown a lot also, there’s plans to make it quite large in terms of content, which itself means another few months of “delay” to the original plan. I seem to have taken a liking to games with more content in them, as opposed to simple one-action games like Oggipital, so none of this additional work I have paved for myself comes as a surprise to me. Quite the contrary, it was the plan all along. But fear not, I’ve been able to throw in a few gamedev days for Pixelem, and the current plan is to have a prototype working at the end of the year, and fill in the content during spring time!
And there is more. Trying to be a bit active in the local [non-existent] game dev scene, I had an opportunity to get a gamedev student on board for a Learning-at-Work period of six months. With some rushed planning for a game which would suit such a collaboration, the pieces fell together and I signed a contract with a 2D/animation artist. This actually means the third game of Sneeweis is on its way! I’ll definitely do a proper introduction of the artist, Elma, and start posting some of the great concept art she’s been whipping up so far.
Being a fairly recent add to the game developer scene, I went to my first game conferences in begin June. Every newbie is excited about those, right?
There were two conferences quite conveniently in Helsinki within two weeks, Games First 2014, hosted by Reaktor and Supercell, and PG Connects, hosted by PocketGamer. GF14 was for free, so I though why not check it out, if nothing else, for the Hello World Open finals. And they treated everyone with lunch, dinner, and beer. Not a bad deal. PG Connects was not free, but the early bird ticket of $150 or so for a two-day conference was certainly not expensive, if you compare it to GDC or E3, or something like that.
GF14 was, as the name implies, more geared towards the game developers, while PG Connects was much more about the media, the stories behind already well established game studios, and services to game studios by third parties. The PG Connects setup felt very balanced.
A quick executive summary for the impatient
As a newbie, don’t attend game conferences. Unless you’re pitching your game there.
What gives? Let me elaborate on that a bit.
Well, let me immediately break that summary and add one more reason to attend the conference: if the tracks they provide are really interesting, you should go listen to them, especially if the tickets are as cheap as these were. GF14 was more about the networking – I suppose – as the talks were limited to one panel talk and one F2P evangely by Supercell. PG Connects, however, had really interesting tracks, and to sit there in the dark rooms sipping Angry Birds lemonade made it already worthwhile to attend.
They had several tracks each day at PG Connects; in day 1, “The Finnside Track”, “Trends, Investments, and More”, and “The Very Big Indie Pitch”. Day 2 continued with “East Meets West”, and “The Indie Rockstars”. The trends & investments and east meets west caught my eye the most, as the rest of the talks seemed to be about reminiscing Finnish game studio success stories. Those are naturally fun to listen to, but they give you
squat if you’re attending for the same reasons I did – looking for pointers that can help my small game studio take the next steps. Listening how awesome everyone else is, and how awesome everything else was ten years ago, can’t really be applied to today. Plus, it makes a newbie feel outside. And poor. Poor me. But fun and entertaining, as I said, perfect if you want to take a day off from your game developing.
The quality of the talks varied, but overall the quality was high. The 10 – 15 minute keynote-style presentation format was very audience-friendly, it kept the pace high, and the classroom narcolepsy I’ve suffered from my whole adult life, was nowhere to be seen.
Some of the talks were by service providers to the game industry, and those sucked the most, because when the talk suddenly morphs into a disguised sales pitch for your service, my annoyance level goes up. I’m not there to buy anything. That stuff I could get from a company video on a web site on my spare time, if I’d be interested. “This API provides…has 50 million users…hot right now…everybody should sign up now…” blah blah blah, yeah yeah yeah. Boring, next! There were naturally also good talks from service providers – you can fit many 15 minute talks into one day. The talks by game studios, and market researchers (especially for the Asian market), were the most interesting ones, generally.
OK, good talks is a good reason. Would I’ve attended if I knew how everything else was at the conferences, the talks notwithstanding? Nope. What? Still not?
The stands at a conference can be anything, I guess it depends a lot on the conference type and style. GF14 had essentially no stands, except for a few bigger companies which probably supported or sponsored the event. A tip for these (I’m looking at you, Ericsson): trying to recruit developers to a boring communications technology firm at a game development venue is probably not going to be very successful. But your table soccer was great. 🙂
The stands at PG Connects were without exception by service providers to game studios, either of business- or networking kinds. I had no expectations about the stands, so they weren’t neither a positive or a negative surprise to me. A few were interesting to me, had a chat with a service provider for a fan products store which is integratable to your games, and with a couple of guys at Unity, as well as with some Finnish networking thingies.
Most of the stands were by various “app discovery” service providers. Zero interest for me right now to pour money into something like that, but this could change when my game studio is running in a bigger gear.
“How do you recognize an extrovert Finn? -He’s staring at your feet, not his own.” This chapter might seem a bit harsh to a non-Finn, but hey, we Finns are straight-shooters. And being a Finn myself, I know Finnish people.
Twitter is not used in Finland very much, a thing very noticeable especially during GF14. You could more or less count the tweets about the evening on two hands. Some of them were praising what an awesome evening it was, wow, what networking! Well, I have to say that if that was good networking happening at GF14, I don’t want to know what bad networking is like. To me, the place felt quite closed up, actually. People mingled with friends only – that’s not networking, as far as I know. I didn’t stay for the late evening, when the Finns have had their networking-skills-enhancing amount of beer, so perhaps I missed the best part (I’m willing to bet I didn’t. I’m not in this for the parties, I got that out of my system around 1999-2000 during the internet bubble).
I did meet the guys from Skillpixels, a edutainment game studio focusing on kids apps, also here from Pori. The game scene here is minimal so this short discussion with them already made my evening. The Hello World Open finals were another gem. GF14 was, for me, some gems found in a otherwise big, dark, fairly boring pudding.
PG Connects was a lot more international, as you could immediately tell on the amount of smiles and polite greetings once in the door. However, most of the networking outside of the talks were around the stands, and those have that annoying he’s-trying-to-sell-me-something feel. Once again it felt like you should have already known someone to engage in an interesting discussion that hadn’t a commercial tough to it.
PG Connects was, to my liking, a bit too much about the already established game studios, with one exception, which needs a chapter on its own – the pitching.
I gotta save my future career in the game industry and say that half of the “failed networking” I experienced was due to me and myself in the end. I’m one of those somewhere-between-intro-and-extrovert Finns myself, after all.
Both venues had pitching sessions. GF14 had 30 3-minute pitches, where you just entered the stage, hooked up your device to the beamer (if you needed to), and gave a precisely 180 second long pitch about your company or your game. PG Connects had a complete track, “The Very Big Indie Pitch”, for this, where you got either a table where you showcased your game, or then you walked around to media/investor tables to do a short pitch. Everything in a big room, lots of fun hassle, as it seemed. With hot dogs and Angry Birds lemonade. I think I saw some beer, also.
The pitching of your game is the stuff you want to do at a game conference, if you’re a newbie.
I hadn’t signed up for any pitching sessions. My excuse is that a) I didn’t know what it was like, and b) I didn’t have a version of Oggipital which would have suited well for pitching. Both of these are quite bad excuses.
Alright, hold your hat, here goes. Even if some tweets gave the impression the pitches at GF14 were awesome, I won’t hesitate to say that about 70% of them were crap. Finns are, in general, crap on the stage, and not rehearsing your pitch won’t make it any better, I’ll tell you that. The rest of the pitches were either alright, some even great, mostly due to the fact that the pitched game was great. There’s a strong relation between the game quality and the pitch quality, but with work and practise you can make a good pitch even if the game is not appealing to everyone right there, right now.
This is where I had that Homer Simpson “d’oh”-moment, when I realized I could have done a better pitch with no preparation, just get on the stage there and then, and showcase my game. This is why I recommend for newbies to attend to game conferences just for the pitching. There’s a great opportunity to do a great job. Everything else at the conference is bonus, even the talks.
Because the pitching at PG Connects was more closed, in the meaning that you had your reserved spot and/or the short meetings, I didn’t eavesdrop the pitches too much. I recon there were also good and bad pitches in that room, but doesn’t matter. Probably better ones than at GF14, as everyone had prepared themselves better due to the format of the pitching. Just my guess.
I still stand by my first impression – don’t attend to game conferences as a newbie, unless
You want a day off from game development. Only valid if the talks are good at the conference. Usually small indies can’t afford to have a day off, so leave it.
You prepare a good pitch for your game and go there just for pitching.
Actually, I should turn the point of view around. Instead of “don’t attend unless”, do make a great game, do prepare a great pitch, and do go to a game conference, and pitch your game. It’s a part of the game business. A fun, learning, interesting, rewarding part. The pitching is the dogs bollocks.
Why? Because as a newbie, you want to get exposure. For you, for your game studio, and primarly for your game. That’s the only thing that matters. Otherwise you’ll get that sub-$100 sales curve for your game for sure. And pitching is a great format for exposure – a direct contact to a highly engaged audience (i.e. the 3-minute on-stage pitch), or personal contacts to media and investors (i.e. the PG Connects format of sitting down and having a mano-a-mano discussion).
If I wouldn’t have been such a chicken, and would’ve known a bit more how the pitches usually are, I would’ve gone in with a totally different mindset and agenda. Pitch first, all that matters. It wasn’t a complete waste now, either – many talks were good. Tickets were cheap. And now I know how those things go. This suits my personality, I’m usually the silent fly in the roof when something’s going down for the first time. Then I have no excuses for doing a crappy job when I do it myself for the first time.
Now I know what to do for the next game conference. But I’m not hurrying to the next one, neither should you. Need to polish a game first.
I have a bunch of draft blog posts from the time I was planning all my life-improvement shenanigans. One of them was about focusing what’s important when starting out a side project – which can be the path towards becoming an indie gamedev, and is a pretty good fit to be published as-is now. Especially as I’ve had difficulties to focus on programming today. Here you go!
So you’re all exited to go indie and what’s the first thing you do? You buy unnecessary stuff and set up your home office because it “needs to be super cool for me to do super work”.
I’ll give you some advice: no, you don’t need to buy all that stuff and no, your home office does not need to be anything more than a computer, a decent monitor, and a corner of a room. Comfortable enough for you to avoid physical illness in the next six months. I say physical just to point out that you don’t need to be psychologically fit in there, because then you’ll get into a comfort zone where you actually focus on the wrong things. But if your back is screwed or your wrist hurts due to inflammation from overusing the mouse, you cannot write your app.
I started my sole proprietorship in 2004 while I was still studying. And yes, the first thing I did when I got the papers sorted, was to say ‘yes’ to all kind of business- and entrepreneur-related magazine subscriptions, which I got bombarded with from day one when the company contact information was published on the registration authorities web pages. I designed my own business card and spent hours on browsing for good deals on the printing of those. Hey, one subscription came with a present of a stamper with my company name and address, w00t, now I’m in business!
The thing is – focus only on what you really need to make it happen. Everything else is a waste of time and money – the two most important assets you need to go indie. You need time to push out that product as fast as possible. You need money to live – or if you’re unlucky enough to go indie when old, like me, you need some money to provide for your family as well.
Everyone’s situation is naturally a bit different but I think this is a somewhat accurate generalisation. Taking me for an example, and why wouldn’t we because this is my blog, after all.
I need a lot of money to keep things rolling on a daily basis. Not me personally, but my family as a whole. I need so much that I cannot quit my day job, because I have not enough savings (well I have, sort of, but I’m too big of a pussy to cash them in for this silly journey. Those savings are for our house that we will build sometime in the future). I currently live in Switzerland, and the rents are quite insane here, and the general cost of living is not on the cheap side. But luckily I make quite nice bucks, so for me it’s only about finding the time to do this. Hence the life improvement program. You know – first, take some time of yourself because that’s for free, build the product, and cash in. Chi-ching! Spend time first, get money afterwards. In the mean time, keep on living as you’ve done, but optimise your daily routines to be able to squeeze out of it as much of that development time as possible without lessening your devotion to your family.
For others to be able to afford going indie might mean moving to a crappycheap, apartment, start saving heavily on food quality, sell some hardly-ever-used stuff (we all have that, right?), even sell something that one likes and/or needs very much, say, like a car. While I can get by, just living my rather nice life and optimise my time management, I suppose I can be regarded as one lucky bastard. But then again, I’m not anymore a student living in smelly dorms and drinking cheap beer. I’ve reached a certain point of life quality, I think I’ve earned it, plus my calculations show that I can pull this off by just managing my time better.
So, why do I care about saving a few hundred bucks if I don’t seem to mind to blow $200 on Swiss chocolate alone, in one go? Because, it’s about managing yourself, right? Learning as we go, improving oneself. And one lesson we all need is to focus on what matters and just ignore what doesn’t. Really, just ignore. You’re allowed to mention those things in a sub sentence, but if you start explaining them and giving reasons why you need to ignore them, then you become one of those annoying persons at work who always digress when something important is being discussed. Why would I want to listen five minutes to some idiot rambling on an item that is to be ignored? I already know it’s going to be ignored.
Learn the technique to quickly skip unnecessary things, and reflect that in how you handle things. To continue the example of discussing: skip the unnecessary things efficiently by using short sentences like “it’s not an issue“, “we’ll skip that for now“, “not important“, “good, skipped“, and “for fox’ sake, Jake, if you’re not gonna shut up about how it’s sometimes OK to skip the acceptance criteria when defining user stories, because it’s never OK, I’m gonna shove this boot so deep up your ass that you’re gonna write the acceptance criteria to your dentist“. That last sentence may or might not be OK to use at your work, depending on your employer.
I notice the irony in the text above as I’m writing a rambling set of digressions as we speak. But there’s a time and place for everything and rambling digressions fit very well in a blog. I think.
Using me as an example once more, this is what I did to get started. Minimal stuff.
Bought a monitor
Bought a mouse pad with that gel padding at the wrist, as I get RSI without one
Bought a keyboard
Bought a Bamboo Stylus pen for my iPad (this was completely unnecessary but it turned out to be a great help in using the iPad for designing screens for my app)
Bought an Apple TV
None of the above I had before. I had a mouse, and a MacMini as a living room computer which my kids use to watch TV and movies on, that’s why the seemingly unnecessary Apple TV on the list. One of the rules of my life-improvement program is not to piss my family off.
This all drained about $400 from me, so I recon that is quite a cheap home office. It’s still stylish as every piece goes nicely with the white Mac look, and putting all that up in a corner of our guest bedroom on a cheap IKEA frosted glass table we had from before, my wife haven’t complained a bit about it looking horrible and not fitting our interior design. Win-win.
So you will not be seeing any blog post from me about how I built my desk, computer setup with N monitors, decorated the room, bought silly USB toys, and still did not get further in developing my app. Because all that is unnecessary right now. You actually need only a cheap, used laptop to write software and you can do that at the kitchen table or on the floor if you cannot afford a table.
Well, all that is unnecessary until you can afford it nicely. Rest assured, I will also set my home office to a code monkey’s paradise, but only when I know it makes sense – and that is when I’m sure my app will bring in some sweet cash. And that is when I see the money on my bank account, not a minute before.
I use RTM as a To Do list and I created a list in there called “Wishlist”. On it I put all kinds of stuff I would like to have in the near future, but stuff I will not buy just because it’s cool to have. It’s the list for stuff I will reward myself with when I’ve done good work. A bike (for commuting and for fitness), a 55-inch TV (“for the family”), a good office chair (I’m thinking Herman-Miller’s Aeron or a saddle chair), or maybe an electronically adjustable office desk. Stuff like that. Stuff that’s cool to have.
We’re getting towards the end. All the art is in the game – some small adjustments and sprite additions notwithstanding. The main audio implementation is done but some music handling still needs work; I want the music to consider the game situation in certain cases. We’ve got an idea with Ryan, the audio producer, on this one. A lot of the sound fx still need to be finalized but adding those to the game is minimal work; practically dropping the files into the build and calling a function when the event is triggered. All features but one are done: the Game Center integration still needs to be implemented.
Given this my immediate target is to fix the release date as soon as possible. To be able to fix the date I need all the features complete on the implementation side – if there’s a few sprites or sound files missing it won’t be a big deal. I’m aiming for a feature freeze and a last testing sprint of 1 – 2 weeks after the implementation side is done, so small adjustments can be done during that period. Currently the release date is pushed to first half of May, so I’m not diverging a lot from the original wish of releasing in April.
So no groundbreaking news on Oggipital side. But! On top of this I have been writing the game design document, plus a bunch of other supporting documents, such as a project plan, for Sneeweis’ next game! It had to be done this week because I am actually applying for some funding for it. Deadline this month – exciting times! Getting funding would mean fewer distractions and a faster time-to-market, which I’m all for in this start-up situation. More releases is better. Can’t wait until I have several games in my portfolio!
The new game will be announced immediately when the release schedule is clear for Oggipital. I won’t wait with the announcement as I did with Oggipital. Also, I will start implementing the prototype of the game even if I wouldn’t get the funding. I will push out games, one after another, no matter what – my intention is to run this as a business. Build up the market share, push out new products, grab opportunities, try to make this a full-time job first for me, and then for a few employees. Which game ideas, how many of them, and at what point Sneeweis is going to push out, is continuously up for evaluation. No funding = more subcontracting work and slower time to market, and less parallel work on game ideas. I have no problem in letting Oggipital be the cost of entering the market, on the contrary, it will most likely be a cost and I’ve prepared for it. I have no problem with even the next game adding to that cost. It only affects my balance between game development and subcontracting.
If I get some funding, or if one or more of my first games actually makes a profit, I will immediately adjust to that. My “Games To Do”-list is ready for this, and the main strategy is to speed things up by a) go full-time and b) starting more game implementations at the same time. The amount of parallelism is directly related to the available finances at the current time.
By the way, looking for an 2D artist for the next game! Tweet me if interested! The need for the art assets are, according to current plan, in the June – August time span, while implementation of the new game will start in mid-May.