Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Generating traffic in the long term

This is really hard for a single developer, because we do not have much regular reason to return. I’d wager that if you are a regular visit to one of my sites you are either:

1) A reader of this blog. Hello!

2) A poster on my forums.

The problem is, you are never going to pop back to in case there is a new game released, because it’s a 2 year release cycle these days. Eeek.

Above: Indie website traffic, between releases

Because I am a wimp who prefers semi-regular income to sudden spikes followed by two years of silence punctuated by tumbelweed, I am happier if I get regular income from sales over time. Obviously that means I need a regular flow of new potential customers, and an ongoing healthy conversion of potential to actual customers. What ways exist to get this regular traffic?

1) Regular releases of new games. The problem here is you either have to make easy-to-make, small casual games that you can churn out regularly, or you have to expand big time and fund the creation of multiple big games with intertwined release cycles. I much prefer the latter, but it will be a few months before you are likely to hear me talk about that. And I have no experience of doing this yet.

2) Cross-sell affiliate games from other devs. I used to do this a lot, but in the end launched instead. The problem is, it makes your website looks just like every other casual affiliate site and it stops reflecting your indieness. This is why I stopped it.

3) Build a community. Either through the game itself (MMO’s are a big win) or somehow through other means. Obviously a blog is a great help here, along with facebook and twitter. Youtube can even be a blogging site in some ways. The problem here is it all takes time away from game development. You can hire a PR guy, but the whole point of being indie is that you are close to your customers, so why hire someone to wreck that relationship? I screwed up a bit here on facebook. I didn’t know if I wanted my facebook page to be businessy or personal. I still don’t know, and I hardly ever bother using it now anyway, and almost feel like closing it. I do tweet a lot though @cliffski. Another win for me was the modding scene for all my games, expressed through the forums. Again, the trouble here is it takes time to support and encourage.

4) Spend advertising money. This is something I tend to default to. The main gain here is that it involves money but not time, and I am atrociously time poor. The downside is that it produces very marginal gains in profit. I feel it necessary to remind you that revenue is for ego, profit is where it’s at. If I quadruple the ad budge for democracy 2, I get an increase in profit of 6%. That’s still worth doing, obviously, but it’s also within the margin for error. There is little point in having huge sales, and admin hassles, and support costs, if you actually don’t end up making any more profit from doing so.

So what should the struggling indie do? Well it’s very very difficult. It depends on your strengths. The time-poor should maybe go with ads. people who like shorter smaller games should go with 1) people who love being online chatting 24/7 should maybe go with 3). I don’t have all the answers, I just know how I’ve muddled though this problem over the years.

The other solution is of course the ‘introversion’ strategy. You release games in sudden awe-inspriing bursts of sales-success that means you can finance effectively disappearing for years at a time. This is, after all the strategy of many AAA developers. I just find it a bit scary :D



Startup mania, oh how I hate thee.

I regularly read the ‘silicon alley insider’ web site. I have a love hate relationship with it. I do it partly to remind me how inward looking and narrow peoples focus can be. To the writers on SAI, the only big thing happening in the world is the battle between smartphone companies, and the biggest news in the universe is if a silicon valley startup orders new office chairs. It is incredibly inward-looking. As someone who doesn’t even own a ‘smart phone’ (my phone doesn’t even have a camera) and isn’t even sure where his phone isĀ  right now, I feel like I’m watching aliens through a telescope.

What I find most awkward about that silcon-valley-mania, is the obsession with venture capital and startups. it seems there is only one possible way to be in business:

  1. Start up a new company. Must be NEW! nothing older than a week, or you are yesterdays news!
  2. Employ young people. They must be young. The younger the better. Nobody with any experience at all. if they are good looking, much the better!
  3. Spend a fortune on flash offices and furniture. Have ‘zany’ stuff such as slides and table football in the office to show just how totally crazy you are! (Also helps scare off older people).
  4. Don’t worry about making a profit. profits are for losers. Spend any money that would have been profits on a superbowl ad, especially a hip one that doesn’t even mention your product.
  5. Smooth talk venture capitalists into lending you hundreds of millions of dollars, which you will spend on bonuses for the CEO and CTO, despite not earning a cent in profit yet.
  6. Sell to google or facebook, and then goto 1).

This is probably a smart move, if all you want from life is money, but there is only so much money can buy. once your strategy earned you $10million, whats the point? what are you doing?I have a strategy for what to do with my life if I ever have $10 million, and it’s not about making more.

Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur schmuck because I run my company this way:

  1. Make a game, using savings to finance it.
  2. Make profit from sales of the game
  3. Stash some aside for a rainy day
  4. Make the next game, financed by last games profits.

Schmuck or not… I sleep safely at night knowing positech is 100% privately owned and 100% debt free and influence-free. No bank, no investor, no business partner can turn the lights off tomorrow. In an increasingly debt-laden world, with every possibility of future economic wobbles and debt-financing squeezes, maybe I’m not the dumb schmuck plodding along, but the wiley old tortoise who will still be here after the startup kids are locked out the office because the creditors demand their money back?

Ha! who am I kidding, I bet lots of them sleep on a pile of gold on their own private islands already :D

Repair bonuses and how they should work

I’m dithering a bit about how some of the ‘support’ units in Gratuitous Tank Battles should work.

Right now, you have dedicated command vehicles and buildings, and repair vehicle and buildings. The command ones give a rate-of-fire bonus to every unit in range, and repair units reduce the damage that units take.

I’m not happy with either of these. The main problem is they just aren’t intuitive enough. What would you expect them to do? I assume you would guess command units give a boost to accuracy (like spotters or radar would) and repair units actively repair damage done over time.

I changed from repairing, to reducing damage because the ambulance module and hospital ones (for infantry) were useless, because the minute infantry got injured, they probably shortly afterwards got killed, so the modules were rubbish.

I guess with infantry, I could apply a damage reduction, and have repair modules (for vehicles and turrets) work differently (actively repairing damage done, at regular intervals). That makes more sense right?

That still leaves command units. Would a hit-chance modifier possibly be overpowered? Maybe… it obviously needs balancing like crazy, but I suspect it makes more sense than a rate of fire unit.

And even as I type this, I wonder if if would make more sense to have a new type of deployment slot on maps, one which can *only* be filled by a support unit. It might make for some more interesting tactics and map design. Ho hum…

Sense of humour / offensive check

I’v started doing some of the flavor text for GTB. My plan ( to be explained more in a future video blog) is for it to be a bit ‘blackadder goes forth’ in approach. I am assuming you are a british soldier fighting in and endless world war I against the Germans.

Note that the ‘story’ is a very small part of the game, just a few mission briefings and the manual. You can ignore it happily.

My concern is that I might accidentally be offending some people. So my question to you is this. Do you find Blackadder and Allo Allo and other world war 2 comedy style things offensive?

I assume hardly anyone does, but if you are a German strategy gamer who would be put off a game that affectionately mocked the patriotic jingoism of World War I/II Britain, and referred to the enemy as the Hun, ‘Jerry’, The Bosch, etc… Is that offensive?

I assume not, but we live in an age where people take offense at almost anything, so I’m checking. My stats show 5.7% of GSB buyers are German. I’d rather they still bought the game.