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

The trick to persuading yourself to re-invest in your business

Ok, here’s something I’ve mulled over for a while. I read a lot of business books, and websites, and am interested in everything from the very early movie entrepreneurs (talk about goldrush…) right up to the silicon valley startup mania. One thing that often sticks out to me is the incredible speed with which a lot of the big companies accelerate at the start. They can go from 1 employee to a hundred in a year. That sort of growth is just baffling to a tiny little operation like positech…

It often bugs me that I am aware that deep down, I am just too risk-averse. Running positech at a loss for five years in order to grab market share? total madness, I’d never risk it. Mortgage the house to get money for the next game? No…can’t see me doing that either. And I consider both of those things to be good, because without them, there is a real danger of ending up like ‘that guy’ who had a successful business once, but blew it, and now works in McDonalds.

However, I do seem to take it *too far*, in that the company actually has some money in the bank, is working on two projects at once, and yet I am often having to fight with myself to spend any of the companies money on expansion, artwork, music, promotion, PR etc. Why is this?

I think the problem is, because I own the whole company, I have a natural tendency to look at the companies earnings and companies money and think it is *my money*. And really, I think that is a mistake. We all know it’s much easier to spend someone else’s money than your own, and I think I need to trick myself into thinking that way. The money in the company account is not *my money*, it’s the current working capital of Positech Games, and Positech games should make sure it manages it’s money well in order to make great games. Some of that money will get paid out to the owner, which happens to be me, but that’s a business expense just like buying advertising space, sponsoring flash games, paying artists or buying new software or hardware for the business.

When I think like that, I find it much easier to look at the sales and revenue and expenses and realize that compared to almost any other business, Positech seems to be a super-cautious and incredibly unadventurous enterprise. I need to remember that ferengi rule of acquisition “The riskier the road, the greater the profit”.

Latest screenshots of GTB

I’m working on some new stuff. I thought I might as well upload some eye candy. Here is what I am working on today, click the smaller images for larger versions. New units and props and maps basically, And restricting some battles to just WW2 era technology (no lasers or mechs), to give the game a ‘WW2 Tower Defense’ mode, in effect.

Pushing 2D engines further

I have dabbled very slightly in 3D (Don’t be alarmed), and have retreated in terror at the additional grief it requires, and the compromises required, and the general ickiness as it seems to me.

So I am pretty unlikely to release a proper 3D game in the next few years, at least. I personally do prefer 2D games. However, that doesn’t mean I do not enjoy nice graphics, and certainly there are a ton of nice looking 2D games out there. The majority of them are side-scrolling or similar style games that rely more on a very good piece of art direction (Braid, World of Goo), than they do any sheer horsepower or rendering muscle. I’m not aware of many 2D games, indie or otherwise that tax a CPU/GPU as much as Gratuitous Space or Tank Battles.

However, having just bought a new PC, AND watched the latest cryengine demos, it’s pretty clear that modern gamers have enough firepower to render the bejezus out of anything in 2D, so we are in the happy situation of twiddling our thumbs thinking what crazy stuff to add next time-around.

One idea is is to push particle counts through the roof and have seriously complex explosions and smoke trails etc. This could certainly be ramped up, although smoothly transitioning to it from low-spec PC’s is a nightmare

Another idea is to use a LOT of different layers and components to build up individual units to give them a more unique feel. Obviously GTB is a big step up from GSB in that respect, but it’s got way, way more scope.

Shadows and lighting are two other possibilities. GTB infantry uses blob shadows. Animated shadows are certainly doable, but involve a crazy amount of texture RAM to do right. Maybe worth investigating. Faked 3D lighting using that clever deferred rendering thingy is another (fairly tricky) option.

More detailed environments is another. The problem here is art budget. It’s all very well saying we need 120 different bush or pebble models. Someone has to make them, and get paid for it.

More cunning explosions, using some sort of clever physics modelling, or procedural whatnots, or clever multi-layered shader thingies, is another option.

Of course the real problem is TIME. I already have this big scary change to Gratuitous Space Battles waiting for me to release for everyone. It’s just sat in-between holidays, GTB updates, redshirt, and talking to builders. Plus another new thing I haven’t revealed yet. I am quite tempted to just push out my GSB update very soon ‘as-is’. I was hoping to find a cunning way to use it to raise money for charity, but that’s a whole other story…

Why friends try to stop you being independent

I notice people doing this a fair bit, to people who are considering quitting their job, or starting up as an indie developer. My experience is obviously from indie game development, but the same applies to almost any ‘going indie’ career, even if it’s opening a corner shop. Why do they try and stop this? and do they have a point?

Reason #1 “You won’t make any money”

This often translates into a subconscious fear that you “will” make some money. If you do, then their own decision to stay in a normal job seems kinda crazy. Note that often the people who work for themselves tell you to go do it, it’s the ones in safe jobs that tell you that you won’t make any money.

Reason #2 “You will forfeit your bonus”

Isn’t it interesting how every job has a bonus and a promotion and a raise ‘just around the corner’?  Also, it may or may not be news to you but those share options they keep giving you are probably worth jack-shit. Ask to exchange them for just a ferw thousand dollars and see what they say. They are a way to keep you from quitting without it costing the company anything. And that bonus? It’s probably not going to happen. Look around your workplace and check that you aren’t just reciting that Luke/Uncle Owen scene. “You can go to the academy next year luke…”

Reason #3 “There is too much competition”

Yeah right… It would be crazy to start up a new search engine Sergey, have you not seen yahoo and Lycos, they OWN this market. And what does Zuckerberg think he is doing, MySpace is already the king there… Times change. The games industry is always changing and growing. Sure there is a lot of competition, but a lot of it sucks, and there is room for a few more. If there was no competition the same people would say the market is too small, or it was impossible to create a market for that.

Reason #4 “It will be lonely”

I met guys in offices who would sit with headphones on and not talk to anyone for the whole day. Going indie doesn’t have a monopoly on loneliness or boredom :D. Plus fellow indies are a chatty and likable bunch. There are probably a few developers, maybe not in games, but certainly in software, living not far from you. Once you get over the initial geeky shyness, getting out and meeting other devs becomes great fun. With skype, instant messaging, phones, facebook etc, you don’t have to be a hermit to work for yourself. On the whole, I’ve found people who work for themselves to be a much more optimistic and cheerful bunch than average.

Reason #5 “You’re wife/husband won’t let you”

Remind them of the ‘richer/poorer’ bit in the vows :D But seriously, your friends don’t know more about your private situation than you do, so don’t listen to them on it.

Reason #6 “It means no job security”

Must I point you at recent layoffs in the games industry? We aren’t like the car or oil business. When game devs go broke you get no notice. I mean NO notice. The doors are just locked one day, and if you are REALLY lucky, you won’t lose a few months salary that they lied to you about and said was ‘an admin problem’. Being indie is MORE secure than a proper job, because you have multiple income streams. If steam stop selling my games tomorrow, I’d be fine (gutted, but fine :D), because there are myriad other deals scattered about that trickle in some royalties. Plus royalty income slowly tapers down, you don’t get a sudden shock and a P45. Don’t get me wrong, being indie does ‘feel’ insecure for the first five years or so, but it really isn’t.

Convinced? :D

Back from holiday, and mac testers…

Sooo… that’s enough time sat on a beach reading books. Especially if you sunburn easily and then really hurt your foot kicking a beam, and have to limp everywhere. At least there was a tropical storm to liven things up! I’m not back in the world of debugging, huge towering inboxes, and 1,001 things to do before breakfast. (Not to mention no more huge buffest at breakfast…darn…). I miss the cocktails and the live music :( (Also it’s amazing the quality of the musicians just playing in restaurants in the caribbean).

looking for mac testers

One thing on my todo list is to find some mac testers for Gratuitous Tank Battles. Have you already bought the game and want to test the mac copy? if so, do me a favour and email cliff AT positech dot co dot uk. I can only really do that for people who bought direct from me (because that’s the only way I can verify buyers), and if I don’t reply, it means a bunch of people got in there before you. Please use the email address you bought the game from.

My foot really hurts…