What have you been up to Elbert?

Well I have been very busy! First of all I am getting married on June 28th, that would be 4 days from when I write this post. It’s been a year and a half since I proposed to my lovely fiance and now that day I promised is arriving :)

On the game side of things I’ve been working very hard on Habitat (www.jointthe509th.com) as the Development Director. I’ve been working on it full time since April 2nd, the day I got laid-off at Microsoft, which coincidentally was also the day we launched our successful Kickstarter campaign where we raised $64,154 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/4gency/habitat-a-thousand-generations-in-orbit)

It’s been very rewarding working with a small team of 5 people + contractors as every decision and action I take has a direct and very measurable impact on the game. Also being the development director means I get to decide on most engineering challenges as well game design decisions. I’m more of a hybrid developer/designer which makes the game development process as I can resolve issues in more ingenious ways than if I was a pure designer or developer.

Anyways, expect more updates from me once things calm down a bit, with the Early Access version being demoed to the press right now,the impending announcement when it will be available to steam,  and me getting married it’s been busy!

See y’all in my post in a week or two

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Announcing Habitat

I keep telling everyone that I am always working on a project and it might take some projects some time before I can announce them, especially when I am partnering with 4gency an awesome company run by Charles Cox. Now we have officially announced Habitat (www.jointhe509th.com). Habitat is a space themed RTS set high in Orbit around a super futuristic yet devastated earth. Your mission is to build your habitat using salvaged space junk and get out of Earth. However it won’t be easy as living with that much debris around you is dangerous not to mention other people who want your stuff.

Check out the sick trailer we have for the game.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaluF8SjzNg

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Sustaining the indie drive

So there has been a lot of silence over the last few months over here in my blog. I will come out and say it that I am busy with my work at Microsoft trying to ship Ryse: Son of Rome and helping out with the Xbox One. Thankfully we are close to the finish line and everyone at work including me is very excited to get our baby out the door. Obviously the work has just begun when shipping a game/console these days. Everything has a service attached to it and work goes on 6 months pass launch.

So how is this related to being an indie? Well, I am not a full time indie at the moment and that has taken a little bit of a backseat as I concentrate on getting my main work done. But hear this, I have not given up or stopped at all in being an indie. I always am working on a project. This time around I am working with other talented folks that I know and trust and we are baking something truly spectacular. We are no where near ready to talk about what we are working on but trust me that this is something special :)

So what can we learn from my experience? Well let me enumerate:

  1. Once you catch the indiepreneur (indie + entrepreneur) itch, its gameover, you have that itch for life. However it is not always advantageous to be a full time indie all the time. Bills, commitments, time, life-work-balance, these all are considerations when you decide if you want to work for someone or work for yourself.
  2. All kinds of opportunities arise when you become an indie and some of these opportunities are through employment. My current work as a Technical Producer at Microsoft was born from being such a prolific indie game developer and I am now using those skills I have from being an indie and applying it within Microsoft.
  3. Like I said earlier, you have to time and align your resources well with events in your life. When I went full time indie, I had a bit of cash in the bank that allowed me to do it. But right now I have a wedding to save up for, and bills to pay down so being an Employee is more advantageous.
  4. Being an indie comes from within, it is an internal desire to build something cool and important to you. Sometimes that drive gets satisfied for a while because of past success, and a different kind of drive takes over. That of learning what is established out there and working in a different kind of environment. This becomes a rhythm where you go in-and-out of phase between being an employee and an indie. The good part is the skills learned in both are applicable to each other so there is no skill or talent loss.

So just think about being an indie as a life time endeavor and weigh your choices that affect now and what affects the future. That way you can have a clear and better map of how you should be shaping your career going forward.

Thanks for reading!

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Download numbers and Piracy

It’s been a while since I have updated my indie progress, the biggest reason is that I have been busy with my day job and I have taken a smaller role in developing indie games at the moment. I’ve been exploring other hobbies in life like running, bouldering, and biking. Unfortunately that squeezes out some of the game development time from me. But as all good things, I won’t be far from doing another “burst” of game development with some projects coming up the pipeline for me. Last thing I wanted to do is get burnt out trying to chase after a financially successful indie project.

Anyways, I digress as I want to use this post to show the numbers trend for my games the last two and a half years. As one would expect the graph I have down below has the characteristics of long tailing.

This is for all Windows Phone games:

graph

graph

I also have number of installs of Impossible Shoota on Android. This is a spiritual successor to the WP version and is built on Unity. People have almost no interest in Impossible Shoota for Android. I have around 513 active installs on Android. I have to revisit my strategy there sometime. However, these numbers are just from the Android store, and we all know the APK’s get pirated rather quickly on Android Marketplace. So let me present you with a whole different perspective. graph

This information is from my telemetry data using the lumos plugin in Unity. Impossible Shoota Mobile is the APK I uploaded on the Google store and it shows that I have 8733 unique users but the service only reporting 513 active installs. I’m no big numbers guy but that is a big gap between what Google is reporting and what is actually out there. This just reinforces the insane amount of piracy going on out there. Another thing to note is that the game is completely free without any monetization vehicle attached to it.

You might wonder what the Impossible Shoota row is, that is the web version of Impossible Shoota. I uploaded it onto Kongregate and it only has 516 plays, not even users. So how in the world did I end up with 29 thousand unique users? The answer is China, according to my telemetry my game is hosted on flash.7k7k.comsxiao.4399.com, and img.3366img.com . I did not upload my game on these portals and they appeared there within an hour of my posting my game up on Kongregate.

How about Armored Drive on iOS? It has done better than Impossible Shoota on Android for sure with far less piracy. The numbers on Apple’s side is a lot closer to the one reported by game telemetry. Plus this game is monetized through ads and in-game currency which has provided some chump change to us.

graph

So what is the moral of the story? For me WP is still the king of my indie revenue, and probably will stay there unless I bust out some super successful iOS/Android game. Releasing on Kongregate and Android will guarantee your game will be mostly pirated, which for me is not a big deal because the game I released there was completely free and had no monetization vehicle in it.

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2 million downloads!

wp_ss_20130425_0001

It’s been a long road but I have officially hit 2 million downloads on Windows Phone across 15 games earlier this week. It’s a great feeling and accomplishment, but there is a lot more work to be done on other platforms and making it to be as successful there.

 

Hopefully I learned a lot from my successes and failures in the Windows Phone Marketplace and will be able to translate it to other platforms in the near future. But just as a word of advice to everyone out there, not because you are popular on 1 platform means that it will translate to the same success on other platforms. There are just too many different variables that come into play that determines the success of games.

I may not be pumping out as much games as I used to but fear not as I am still as passionate as ever, albeit a little bit busy because of cool stuff at work :)

 

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The GDC zen

With GDC barely 24 hours finished, I have come to multiple thoughts on the state of the industry and what I should be spending my time on.

  1. Unity is totally dominating the minds of all the indie game developers I have been talking to. This includes but is not limited to “I’m learning Unity (because XNA is dead)”, “I want to publish to multiple platforms”, “I want to get back into programming so I will learn Unity”, and “We are in the process of switching to Unity”.
  2. I should get back to making original games within short time frames. I’ve mostly been doing ports of my existing games as I was deciding between Monogame and Unity. Now that I have decided to go with Unity, I can make fun games that are unique. Finishing a game is fun wether it fails or succeeds.
  3. Multi platform is the key, being exclusive to just one platform will not net you the breadth that is needed to make your game successful.
  4. I am lucky to be able to make games myself without the help of other people as I can iterate and create games at a fast clip.
  5. The quality of the talks at GDC has been great this year, the amount and quality of shwag has gone down though. GDC has been more social than ever for me thanks to the GDC vault, so I can concentrate on making and reinforcing bridges within the industry.
  6. The female to male ratio is definitely better now at GDC, I won’t even try to guess the ratio but there is a noticeable difference between this year and last year. This is good for the industry, and I believe the day of a 50/50 split will come :)
  7. There were a lot of decent parties this GDC with the ones I got into were free booze. Thankfully most of the clubs have a quiet area where you can actually shmooze with people

This is not a exhaustive list but these thoughts I think are going to guide me and how I interact with the industry. Oh and I need to start pumping out games again since most people remember me as the guy who pumped out a ridiculous amount of quality games in a year. :)

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Multi-platform development experience

This post will cover my experiences trying to tackle the different platforms out there. I got my hands dirty with iOS, Android, Kongregate and Windows 8. Not all the projects are the same, and all of these are ports of my Windows Phone 7 games. By port, I mean they got ported over but substantial changes were made to adapt each game to the strengths of the platform. Let’s break it down by platform and what games I ported over.

iOS - Armored Drive

  1. The port was done in Objective-C with the help of Nick Gravelyn and Charles Cox. I did the design and most of the art, Nick did the programming and Charles handled the business-y part of the port.
  2. We ported over Armored Drive because that is my most successful game on Windows Phone. Our original business model is to have the game as a paid download with IAP purchases.  We launched with $1.99 as the price and got a few decent downloads, and some IAP purchases. However we never got critical mass to get us through the channels. Currently we are in a Ad Supported model with IAP purchases to help augment the Ad revenue. Currently the ads are making more money than the IAP
  3. Piracy is a big problem when were going with paid downloads, but now that we are free with ads we are monetizing the pirated versions of the game
  4. The iOS marketplace is so saturated with games that it is hard to get any visibility. As well as get any reviews from the review sites (many of them want you to pay them to review the game). Unfortunately we did not have any marketing spend budget as this is a bootstrap effort to launch the game
  5. Apple by far is the most pain in the butt experience when it comes to publishing the game in the marketplace. There is not much visibility into the process and you have to wait 7 days for it to be approved.
  6. Still in the red in terms of money spent to get the Armored Drive up and running. Will need to get more exposure to Armored Drive to prevent it from dying.

Android – Impossible Shoota

  1. Android was not as painful as other developers would say because of Unity. Unity shielded me from all the pain of handling 1600 different devices out there. Well, it can only work on Arm7 devices which cuts that number very low. Deploying to the marketplace takes 4 hours, and does not have any sort of manual QA, just their automated systems. Android is the most confusing in how to get everything setup, usb drivers, keys, etc …
  2. Android marketplace is the worse when it comes to marketplace visibility, just releasing the game I think I got 2 downloads without telling anyone. It’s quite horrible to see how a free game gets too low of a download. Granted this release is more of a experiment than anything else. The game was released as a beta, and is fully playable. Currently I am making it into a full fledge game, hopefully I can get this done soon and do a official release when I finish it.

Kongregate – Impossible Shoota

  1. The version of Impossible Shoota on Android is almost identical to the one on Kongregate because I used Unity. The biggest difference are the controls and interfacing into the Kongregate js files. Uploading to Kongregate was painless and fast. Integrating their leaderboards was super simple as well.
  2. Getting feedback on the game is easier with a web hosted game. People don’t have to bother downloading an app, they just have to download the plugin on their browser, and voila they have the game. It really helped me iterate on the game with this kind of method.
  3. Piracy sucks balls on Kongregate, your game is pretty much pirated the moment it hits the service. Especially looking at the telemetry, I have 98% of my players originating from china from the 4399.com and 7k7k.com sites which are super popular in china. Currently I have made $0.26 from deploying to Kongregate.

Windows 8 – Impossible Shoota, Quadra, and Traffic Cop

  1. These games were ported using Monogame, which was super easy to use. It basically uses the same class names, namesspaces, etc … so code changes are super minimal. The biggest change is that I have to up-res all my art to fit the bigger screen and different default orientation
  2. Developing was a little bit of a pain since I had to build the content files using VS2010 and develop the rest of the game in vs2012. But once you get a hang of it and write a few .bat files then the process is pretty straightforward.
  3. No one is buying or using the store in Windows 8, there is not enough volume to make decent money out of Windows 8 except if you are a big name IP. I’ve made $56 dollars on the Windows 8 store so far.

So far I have not replicated my success on Windows Phone, but I am confident that once I learn more about Unity and the various platforms I can make a really good splash on the other platforms. I just need to sit down and keep developing, improving and learning.

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Impossible Shoota now on Kongregate

Thanks to Unity building a Web based games was as easy as exporting with a few clicks. The game is originally targeted for Android but I will be using Kongregate to get stats and feedback from people and iterate at a very rapid phase. Since Kongregate is super easy to deal with even with their high score table it is now my number 1 choice to get real time feedback across a wider audience while making some ad dollars on the side :)

Here is Impossible Shoota on Kongregate: http://www.kongregate.com/games/mechaghost/impossible-shoota

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Unity experiment is a success

Anyone interested in Impossible Shoota for the web? It’s actually the sequel to Impossible Shoota, but right now I don’t have a better name for it. Please do try it out and comment here for any bugs and suggestions. I can pretty much update instantaneously so you don’t have to wait for any certification to approve it :)

http://games.occasionalgamer.com/impossible.html

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XNA vs MonoGame vs Unity

So if some of you might noticed I started talking about Unity, that is because during the Christmas break I checked off one of my bucket list items to learn Unity. For the past 4 days I have bathed myself in Unity land where I started to port over Impossible Shoota to use Unity. I’ve also successfully ported Impossible Shoota to Monogame for Windows 8. Now that I have experience with developing for these 3 platforms I am going to dissect what I learned and compare them. Please note that these are my experiences and might not apply to you.  Also as a quick background, I started as a XNA developer back in 2008, developed Xbox and WP7 games. I also have 3 games using Monogame on the Windows 8 marketplace. Currently I am working in Unity to bring Impossible Shoota to Android.

Monogame:

  • Easily ported over my XNA code with very minimal code changes
  • Code changes came in from adapting input and in app purchases
  • Art changes were big because my ports were coming from WP7, so I had to embiggen my art assets :)
  • Getting my game to work initially with Windows 8 was a pain in the butt because I had to figure out how to include the .xnb files
  • There is no content pipeline for me while developing, so I had to have vs2010 and vs2012 open so I can compile my content on vs2010 then run a script to copy them over to vs2012

XNA:

  • I have not touched XNA in a while because of the absence of support for Windows 8 which was a platform I wanted to publish on
  • My XNA skills transferred almost 100% to monogame
  • Still making money for me :)

Unity:

  • Very rough learning curve for me as I had to learn their concepts like prefabs, GameObjects, Components, etc …
  • It feels very modern because you attach components to gameObject which easily adds behaviour to the game object
  • 2D is not too bad as long as you use one of the frameworks on the Asset Store
  • Costs money to get all the tools/libraries you need, nothing big but it is not as “free” as XNA or Monogame (I think I spent on it like close to $500, but thats part of development expenses, and save myself from all the work that I don’t want to do)
  • The editor is awesome, I can change values on the fly, adjust my scene while looking how it will look in the game. This is how game development should be.
  • Porting is almost as easy as a few clicks(if you setup your game right)
  • Impossible Shoota will be very rough and not organized properly, but my next game will have benefited from I learn here
  • After Impossible Shoota, I will go make a fully 3D game. This is something I have avoided most of my indie career, but after seeing the tools I am convinced that it won’t be as painful as I remember it.

I am currently a big fan of Unity because it has opened up all this awesomeness with very minimal headaches. Monogame will still be a big part of my strategy going forward.

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