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

Imaginary Property!!!111111ONEONEONE

It’s popular amongst anti-copyright dorks to use the phrase ‘imaginary property’ when they are ranting about Intellectual property, usually as some juvenile method to rationalise pirating music, movies and games. Apparently, IP is just ‘imaginary property’, so why should they pay for it?

Lets make a deal, I’ll let you pay for my Imaginary property using that imaginary money in your bank account. Both exist purely as strings of numbers, agreed? But of course, if you don’t think that trivially copied strings of data have any value, please email me your sortcode, account number and bank login details. I’d like to ‘share’ your bank balance. Sharing is caring right?

Website stuff

back in the early days of Positech I made quite a few smaller, lower budget games which you don’t see me actively promote any more. The games still exist though, and some occasionally sell a copy or two.

Because I’ve always developed my own web site, I’ve gone from it looking dire, to less dire, to a lot less dire, to tolerable, as I’ve introduced new games and new mini-sites for them. This means that a lot of the older games still linger on the positech site with crappy designs, older logos and screen-shots, and other badness.

Over the last few days I’ve found some time to revisit those pages and make them look slightly less dire, even slightly consistent, and make sure they link to the main page. I also added some very small text links to them at the bottom of the main page, so they aren’t entirely orphaned any more. I also added a few adwords panels (worth a try!), and dropped the price of my old budget puzzle game thing.

Step into the past with my earlier, cheaper games!

http://www.positech.co.uk/rocky

http://www.positech.co.uk/minefield

http://www.positech.co.uk/planetarydefence

Corporate, and protected by copyright

There is a tendency these days, when whining about ‘the evil RIAA and MPAA’ (often hilariously respelled MAFIAA), to be critical of two concepts: Copyright and Corporations. Again and again, I hear people saying stuff like “The corporate copyright MAFIA” and “The content lobby” and other silly terms that try to lump all corporations and all copyright holders together as some super-evil-cartel that presumably has pointy beards and cackles on piles of gold whilst stroking cats and sentencing poor innocent consumers to death.

This is silly.

Corporations produced probably 99% of the stuff in your house (at least). It’s likely everything you currently wear was made by some corporate entity. And even if you have a local independent butchers or bakers, they are likely a corporation too. Not all corporations are evil like Sony or British Airways. Some of them are small family or one-man firms that have been set up as a corporation to look more professional. Positech Games is in fact “Positech Computing Limited”, registered at companies house UK. That doesn’t stop it being just me sat in a spare bedroom.

In a similar way, copyright isn’t some evil monopoly held by EA and Viacom. I own the copyright for all my games. I know loads of people who work full time but write software or games for extra income, and own the copyright on them. Clearly not all copyrighted content earns people millions of dollars. Copyright royalties also provide an income for people not directly in control of it. I employ artist and sound people on contracts, and although they don’t have ownership of the IP, I can only afford to pay them because people are paying me royalties on my previous IP. Without copyright, my artist doesn’t get paid, and nor for that matter does my local baker or butcher.

Another popular argument being thrown around and repeated as though it makes sense is that “I don’t get paid for work I did years ago, so why the hell do musicians and IP owners, they are just lazy.”

I get paid for games I wrote years ago (very little now), and because that system works, I can invest time and energy in making them. I have worked for 8 months on Kudos 2 now, seven days a week, maybe 8 hours a day. You know how much I’ve earned from it?

Nothing

You know what my guaranteed future income is from it?

Nothing

I do this because I’m *hoping* I’ll sell enough copies over the next few years to make that investment worthwhile. If copyright didn’t exist I’d have spent those 8 months doing contract programming for some bank. The game would never get made as there aren’t enough hours in the day. THIS is why copyright exists, and why it’s a GOOD system.  Anyone who clings to some hippy dream that “artists will still make music and software and movies without copyright” is either delusional, or living off daddys trust fund. Copyright is essential to provide an incentive for people to invest up front costs in the production of copyable products. If you know of a better system that WORKS NOW, then feel free to make yourself mega-rich by showing us silly copyright supporters how it’s done.

Why google is never slow

Why is google never down, and never slow? Maybe because it’s a rich company… but the real answer I suspect is this:

Google understand that a slow website would kill their business instantly.

When your entire business is built around web pages, you better damn be sure you serve them up fast. Literally *nothing* else is this important. That means serious backup infrastructure and emergency planning. redundant systems, and a rock solid set of hardware. When I worked for datastream/ICV we had a 15 minute response time. If a client of ours had a software problem, 15 mins from picking up the phone he had it fixed. guaranteed. because we would be at his desk (from another place in the city believe it or not) within 15 mins with an entire replacement PC. We swapped out the whole thing, then diagnosed the bug in our time back at the office. To ensure this *never* went wrong, we always sent out 3 engineers in a van when we could. 1 to drive the van (no time to park), 1 to carry the replacement PC, and 1 to open doors for the guy carrying the PC. The van contained 2 complete units, in case (never happened) somehow the PC got dropped or died between leaving the office and landing on the guys desk.

Needless to say, Datastream/ICV give great support. And uptime is great. Their satellite link died for 15 minutes once. People went ballistic. I have little doubt people were sacked as a result. Of course, also needless to say, a support contract with them is expensive to say the least. we are talking megabucks.

The thing is, if you are a big city share trader, you realise that if your real time data feed is dead, you are rapidly heading towards business disaster, minute by minute. So it’s worth paying to get it right. Right now, I’m trying to buy Sound Effects from 2 different sites, and both are slow and dying on me (all other sites are fine). These guys are literally throwing money away right now.

if my site is ever down or slow, tell me. I REALLY need to know!

Game Dev Shortage

Apparently there is a shortage of people to work in video games:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7460870.stm

Me and some other ex-industry people I know find this very amusing. Apparently one of the issues that game developers have is finding suitably qualified graduates to hire. Here is a newsflash for them:

If the experienced people didn’t leave, you wouldn’t need the graduates

It’s sad the way many games companies work. They deal with horribly high staff turnover as a matter of course. Staff turnover is a devestating problem for a knowledge based business. A new coder probably achieves nothing of any real value for the first few weeks, little for a month or two, and is probably only really working as a games coder by the end of their first year. To becomre really experienced at the practice (not theory) of games dev takes at least 3 years. By then he (almost always a ‘he’ sadly) is sick of his job and often keen to leave, and so the company promotes everyone and hires a new graduate.

Staff turnover is always bad, but for programmers it’s unusually damaging. It’s easier to find your own bugs than the last guys bugs, especially if the last guy isn’t here to ask him what the f**k he was thinking when he wrote that stuff. If your company doesn’t adhere to coding standards, it’s even worse.

Here’s some free advice to anyone wanting to retain game coding staff:

  1. Pay the experienced devs more. They are worth more. they can find the bugs the others can’t. their code is better, faster, more stable. Don’t worry if some coders earn treble what others earn, this is very often justified.
  2. Give them a decent working environment. We stare at monitors a lot. if we need ones that cost $1,000, then that’s what we need. Deal with it. It’s worth it. Ditto chairs.
  3. Ditto PC’s. AAA games take ages to compile. if you don’t want to pay coders to sit and eat donuts while the code compiles, buy them the fastest PC’s you can get. This will *save* money.
  4. Make everyone go home at 6PM. Abolish the stupidity of the long-hours culture. If you can’t concentrate on emails after 8 hours, what makes you think that a programmer can write decent C++ code without bugs after that many hours in a day. Less tired coders == less bugs == faster dev time, and happier developers.
  5. Train the devs. If they want half a dozen C++ book on expenses, let them have them. It’s trivial in cost terms in terms of increased productivity. Most coders *want* to learn. so support them.
  6. Either give developers individual offices, let them work from home, or get everyone noise canceling headphones. Maybe 1 in 10 programmers can work well in a busy noisy office, but the other 9 will be working less efficiently than they would be in a quiet office, and getting annoyed about it

Of course, many companies don’t want to hear any of this, because to many guys in suits who aren’t coders, the cheap graduate in jeans sat slouched at his keyboard is doing the same job as john carmack. why the hell would they treat any of them better than the cheap graduate?