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

Risk Aversion?

It might seem weird for me to worry that I’m too risk Averse. After all, I’m the idiot who bought a bunch of shorted Lead Futures on the stock market without really understanding what it was (up 0.83% today!, still down overall…).

But I think one of my failings as a business person is my risk-aversion. I do not invest a huge amount of my savings into making a game. I *do* spend more on art and sounds and so on than a lot of indie devs I know, but am I *really* doing everything it takes to make the game the best ever? have I spent every penny in the Positech Account on artwork and programming? have I re-mortgaged the house to spend that money on a kick-ass advertising campaign?  Did I have to take out a bank loan to pay for the content creation and professional team of QA and testing staff?

No.

I read a lot of books and stories about businesses that became really successful. It’s amazing how many of them really risked everything to get where they are today. The pattern I often see is that someone is very successful, then rather than cashing the check, they invest it *all* (and then some) into the next level of their business and become stratospherically wealthy.  valve took ALL the money from half Life and invested it in an amazing next gen engine for HL2. George Lucas took ALL his money from American Graffitti (he was a millionaire before SW) and invested it in Star Wars. he then took ALL that and invested it in Empire…

The closest I’ve got to ‘success’ was Democracy & Democracy 2. They both sold pretty well by indie game standards. They made enough for me to work comfortably from home. But did I take all that money and invest it in K2?

No

I *have* spent more on k2 in times and money than any game before now. I *do* plan to spend even more on advertising and QA than ever before, and it is the biggest game-related risk I’ve ever taken, but I won’t be re-mortgaging the house or getting into debt. I even just booked a holiday. Maybe I’m doing the *sensible* thing, but when did sensible ever make someone a millionaire?

Bad few days…

Sadly everything seems to be going wrong lately. Sales have not been at all good, last night I got a parking tiket from the bastard scumbags at Hammersmith & Fulham council for not understanding their cryptic parking explanations, and this morning I realise some sad little thug has kicked the wingmirror off of my car…

Plus my shares I bought are in freefall…

So it’s all a bit pear-shaped right now. There are a few potential pieces of positive news around the corner, such as finishing Kudos 2, getting a Mac release for Democracy 2, and a possible portal release for Democracy 2, and also for a slimmed down version of the game for the casual portals. (more on that when I know it’s happening).

Hopefully next week will go better.

Credit Crunch Games

So despite the fact that most economists realise that talk of recessions can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies, it’s hard to avoid the constant discussion of the ‘global economic downturn’ or whatever it’s called this week. Obviously, given my line of business, I’m forced to ask myself “how does this affect games sales?”

Some people would suggest it could be very bad. Games are a leisure activity, and thus are easily cut back. you will stop buying games before you stop buying food, or paying the rent. This would suggest that the wise man would make cheaper games, in order to make the potential buyer think he is getting a bargain, or that the game is so cheap the price isn’t worth worrying about.

I think it might be the opposite. It could be that tough economic times are good for games. Not *all* games, but mine, and here’s why:

1) Games in general are a VERY cost-effective leisure activity. Assume a $22.95 game like Democracy 2. That’s probably a similar cost to buying a DVD which lasts 2 hours, 3 with the extras. Call it 5 if you watch it twice. A decent game will last much longer than that, so in terms of cost-per-hour of leisure, the game pretty much beats the DVD. Compare them to the hourly cost of drinking in a bar, the movies, restaurants, the theater, or pretty much anything but books and TV, and gaming wins out big time.

2) The games I make are simulation/strategy, which tend to have a lot of playtime, and replay value. They aren’t fixed length games with one-shot puzzles, like the hidden object games, or on-rails one-time hollywood style rides such as COD 4. Even if in practice you choose not to keep replaying, the option is there. It’s perceived value that affects sales, and the perceived play time and thus value of my games is high.

3) The credit crunch is terrible for the overpriced PS3, and bad for the XBox, Wii, DS and any blockbuster PC game that requires that you upgrade your hardware. On the flipside, this means there are a lot of gamers who have got used to buying a new console or video card every year who have decided not to do so this time. In other words, there are a lot of people who want low-system-requirement games to play, in order to make full use of existing hardware investments.

Thats ME!

My games are unusual in that they aren’t designed for absolute base level minimum spec. I assume a hardware accelerated video card and 1024 res monitor. I also assume some graphical punch, so I do a lot of overlays and blending, and some particle stuff. In other words, I try to make my games look as good as they can, whilst staying out of the 3D arms race.

Who knows how it will play out? Sales for the last two weeks have been really bad, so maybe I’m just trying to cheer myself up, but I think my logic at leasts makes some sense. What do you think?

Open Source Games

I’m very interested in the idea of making one or more of my games open source. Not the current big sellers, but maybe planetary defense, or Starship Tycoon. I’d be tidying up the source and preparing it this very instant if it were not for one big silly, embarrasing problem…

The hard drive with the source for both games is in a PC that died.

Now yes, theoretically somewhere I have a backup of it all, but how recent? I have no idea. and you would imagine there would be a disk carefully labelled somewhere that has “final retail release source for games” or other cunning description, but I’m just not that organised to be honest.

My motivations for open sourcing a game are 1) to see what people will do with the source and 2) promote my games! I think I might go try and boot the dead beast now. I suspect its a dead PSU and motherboard, and don’t look forward to the nighmare of sticking the old drive as a slave (is that even how it works now) on my vital 100% mission critical vista PC. I may risk it though :D.

Virgins Letters to thieves

This:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7486743.stm

has got a lot of thieves up in arms. here is a typical comment on the BBC website:

“I think it is just stupid because people cant be bothered 2 buy every cd with there favourite song on because people might not like all the songs they sing”

TOUGH.

Don’t buy it then. Don’t think you are still entitled to have it. Do these people ever pay in restaurants? Or do they only pay for the chips they ate, not the few they left because they were a bit too crispy?

I’m sick of thieves trying to rationalise their actions. this attitude is so widespread now, that I am wondering about what other programming work I could do for a living, after the next game is done. I just don’t see the point of working so hard to make stuff people expect to take for free. it’s soul-destroying…

Cue someone tryinfg to re-define theft to make taking other peoples work for free seem ok…

*sigh*