Archive for category Business of Software
Reports are coming in that the games industry is not quite so recession resistant as previously thought. What we have been witnessing over the last 1-2 years is a nose dive in prices for downloadable games, the near disapearance of PC games from retail stores. And the re-release of lots of back catalog titles.
All of this is a good thing™
Games have been historically expensive, backwards compatability has always been a pain, and only being able to choose from the ‘top 40′ equivilent at your local store was hurting the medium as an art form.
All of this means the game has changed. Dramatically.
As someone with disposable income, there are alot of games out there for me to choose from. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve got way too many unplayed games on my shelf with not enough time to play them all.
And now with the low prices seen across the board for digital distribution from the likes of Steam, Big Fish Games, The iPhone App Store, Gamers Gate, Good Old Games, PSN and XBLA – For less than a take-away meal I can buy more than an entire weekends worth of entertainment.
The flip side to this is of course – How sustainable is this model for the developers of games?
The music industry got a shake-up in the early 2000′s and I have a feeling it’s going to be the games industries turn to have to re-think business and the way it turns ideas into products. And unfortunately, unlike the games industry, we can’t earn money by playing live shows. T-Shirts maybe, but live shows? Probably not.
I think we are going to see more small studios, making smaller-budget (and by small-budget, I don’t imply low-quality at all) niche titles. (ie. like the old days.)
And with niche titles, it’s all about the unique selling point.
If I have $10-$20 to spend, and a spare weekend, I need a reason to buy your game and not someone elses.
The irony here is that it’s not price that will be my deciding factor, it will be all the irrational fuzzy aspects of my personality which will lead to me making a purchasing decision – It might be interesting story, art style, maybe promote some message I agree with, invoke my sense of nostalga or capture my interest in some other way.
In any case, your game has to be in some way special.
Developers, indies in particular, have to think what their game stands for – what does it, I dare say – mean?
Lennard from Rusty Axe sent me an email asking about advertising space on my website. Paid banners from individuals weren’t originally in my business plan. Not that I have much of a business plan – I’m making free browser based games after all…
But the more I thought about it, the more it kinda made sense. I have webhost bills to pay after all.
So for a very small fee, RustyAxe.com has become the first sponser of Tiny Frog Software. His two banner ads will be featured both on the Mainpage and on the Attack of the Meeplings page. This will be an interesting experiment both for me and for Lennard.
I hope he gets a good ROI
Here are the two ads that will run for the next 30 days. And if you’re interested head over to RustyAxe.com and check them out.
This really confuses me.
Assuming commodity products, the only differentiator for small businesses is the service(s) they can provide – So why do some places charge extra for a bit of tomato sauce to put on my chips? (Or french fries, or freedom fries or whatever you Americans call chips…) Better yet, why don’t they just straight up offer me sauce? Or at least direct me to the condiments table after I’ve completed my purchase, rather than have me wander about the place looking like a lost sheep?
I think this is a case where the company is too caught up in thinking about themselves and their own worries – it costs money to provide sauce, so we will pass that onto the customer. Instead they should be thinking about the customer – and customers don’t like hidden costs.*
A business should try at every opportunity to turn a customer into a repeat customer, and they will be far more likely to come back if they enjoy the service.
*And if you’re really worried about the cost of sauce just increase the price of chips by a bit – they’re already high margin items in most places, no one will know.
I’m a big fan of reading post-mortems on game development. If that sounds somewhat morbid to you, a post-mortem is basically a post-production overview of what went right and what went wrong. And any insights gained after the product has shipped out the door. Whether your product was an amazing success or an absolute bomb, either way, there is always something to learn. Enough time has transpired that I figured I would reflect upon my debut game Starcars.
Starcars – The History.
I came up with the idea to do a skyroads inspired game sometime in 2003 when I was looking for a small scale game that I could produce by myself, with no money and no previous experience. It seemed (at the time) that it would be a fairly easy project to do, but how little did I know back then. Game programming is not trivial and there are challenges present in even the most seemingly innocuous of ideas. It was going to be the first (and so far the only) game that I would see through to the end – hopefully that will change one day as I get started on the next project – albeit with more experience this time round
I released the game sometime in 2004 (I was really bad at keeping dates or recording any kind of logs) with the intention of selling the game online. Due to a pretty poor performance in this regard in 2006 I decided to just release the game for free.
The game was written in Visual Basic 6.0 with DirectX 8.0 using the Bass.dll for music and SFX.
Before we continue I’d like to thank Daniel Radford for providing testing and contributing some levels to Starcars as well as some of the 3D models that are in the game.
What Went Right.
The game got finished - This seems rather obvious but I would like to point out that just finishing can sometimes show that you’re in a different league. After all anyone can start a project. Finishing on the other hand is a completely different story. And ultimately, that’s what counts. Similar to the “you can’t succeed if you don’t try vein” – If you don’t finish you can’t succeed either. I am happy I actually managed to finish the game to release upon the world.
I learnt a lot – Programming a 3D game can be a bit of a brain bender. Especially since I started Starcars before I had ever taken any university level math classes. In fact, I still don’t know how the collision detection code works Its patched together and hack-it-till-it-works ugly. But that gives it a kind of amateur allure that I’m rather fond of – although I would do it properly if I had to do it again.
The game really tested a lot of my programming skills – which where pretty poor back then on retrospection. GUIs are not trivial to program – yet I managed to hack one together; In my next project I’m spending a lot of time reading up on how to create effective GUIs, both in design and in code.
Global variables are all over the place and there’s very little in terms of object oriented design. In other words the code base is a mess and is very unwieldy – in other words its probably quite representative of anyone’s first attempt at programming a game.
I also learnt a lot of other things that have almost nothing to do with the programming side of game development which are important in other ways, like how to setup a website and get an account with a payment provider, how to get a press release done and how to setup a pad file for download site submissions.
I got a small budget retail run – This was a rather random experience, based on the initial press release I was contacted by someone who represented a game publisher in Russia, they handled all the localisation and converted the game into Russian. In return I was paid a modest upfront fee – $1000 US which came in very handy as I used it to purchase my bass that I play in my band.
What Went Wrong.
It didn’t sell - I guess this is the big one, I only sold a handful of copies through direct downloads from my site. I never did try soliciting to portals, but I have the feeling that I probably would have been required to do more polishing to the game anyhow. There are numerous reasons why the game never took off or made me much money, but the main reason I think would just simply be inexperience, much like it is highly unlikely that the first song you ever write is going to be a number one hit, the first game that you ever make (even if you finish it) is probably not going to be very good.
It took a long time - 18 months all up. That was part-time and in-between studies with large breaks where I had exam periods, or just didn’t feel like working on it. Large blocks of that was just working out how to do one particular aspect of the game – such as collision detection, projecting the ships shadow, or implementing the GUI – All three of which had to be re-searched, re-written and re-worked several times over.
Game design flaws - There are quite a few design flaws that I can ultimately take the blame for. One was doing the UI graphics myself, the fonts and menus have the distinct mark of an amateur. A professional designer can work wonders in this area. If you have downloaded any of the recent casual games you can see examples of just how good some people are at making menus. However I had no budget, nor any previous experience with even getting an interface working in code, so I got by on what I had.
Two other game flaws were locking the frame rate at 25 fps – I wanted all computers to run the game at the same speed and I should have used frame rate independent motion. But it was too difficult to retrofit after I realized that [that] was a far better option – blame my difficult to manage code. The other mistake was not providing a windowed mode option. Before I was working on a 17″ CRT and the game looked fine. But after moving to a 19″ LCD I can see the benefits of providing a windowed mode. Not providing a windowed mode runs the risk of annoying the player by not letting them play on their own grounds – something you don’t want to run the risk of doing.
A few of the online reviews commented on the lack of any physics within the game. It was my intention from the beginning to create an arcade game more than a spaceship/racing simulation game and I deliberately left out inertia, and kept in ability to move left and right whilst in the air to keep the ‘responsiveness’ factor up. This would have suffered if there was more inertia involved.
Unclear target market – The Field of Dreams – ‘Build it and they will come’ is not a very good marketing strategy. Although I don’t really know what I would have done differently should I have made the same game again. Maybe designed some kind of mascot as the main character? Who knows, it doesn’t really matter anyway as my next project is going to have a lot more thought going into ‘who the player is and what would they like to see’ right from the beginning – at the game design stage. This will let me focus on the game design as well as the marketing at the same time.
Hopefully this post-mortem didn’t come across as too depressing – It’s easy to point out flaws after the fact. I enjoyed working on Starcars, making a website and attempting to dominate the world. And even though the game didn’t make me much money, it gave me good experience and I learnt things that I would never have learnt had I not at least attempted a game.
My next game is going to do a lot better
The full version of Starcars can be downloaded for free at http://www.peachysoft.com/?p=4
This was good. It meant that they could handle all that backend stuff and I didn’t have to worry about getting an expensive merchant account with some bank. As well as separate services to handle all the different ways that one can pay over the internet – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Cheque… etc… All that was taken care of.
Now my other hobby, I play in an independant band. (Meaning we’re not signed to any label and we own 100% our own material and image. You can check out our myspace page here)
We just recently recorded a 5-Track EP that we’ve been selling at gigs. For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been wanting to setup an online store so that people who can’t come to our gigs can order, and pay for our EP easily and securely.
I looked at three different services that we could use to sell our CD.
Google Checkout – At first this looked really good. No transaction fees until 2008 and I enjoy using many of google’s other free services that they offer. Unfortunately it’s only avalible in the United States and the United Kingdom. Being located in the boondocks of the south pacific, this immediately wrote Google Checkout off as a potential solution.
Yahoo Store – I heard about yahoo store through Paul Graham‘s blog. (Which all geeks should read.) He was the founder of a Viaweb whose product eventually became Yahoo Store after they where bought by Yahoo. Unfortunately Yahoo Store was overkill for what we needed. Remember we have one CD for sale. Yahoo Store is a complete online store solution, and to really get the most out of it you would need multiple products. And the pricing was too expensive (at $39.95 per month, with 1.5% transaction fee) for us to maintain for just one product.
PayPal - And now we come to PayPal, the Merchant I ended up deciding on. The main reasons being – no setup or monthly fees and the ability to forget all that shopping cart stuff and just let the user purchase an item by clicking on a custom button, which you can then embed into your webpage. Perfect for the band with one CD to sell. The transaction fees we pay are 3.5% of purchase price + $0.30 usd. Not bad. Setting up the account was easy. Navigating around inside of PayPal’s control panel proved a bit more cumbersome but I managed to get a custom order form and a custom logo setup in less than an hour.
I’ve yet to finalise the design of our order button (remember we want to embed it in our MySpace and our webpage, but when I do, I’ll post the results here)
In High School you are told that businesses are involved in two major sectors – The Product Sector and The Service Sector.
If you are in the product sector then you are selling something tangible, such as a book, or a lawnmower or a photocopier. And if you are in the service industry then you are somehow assisting your customer in some non-tangible way. As a radio show, or the corner clerk, or a gardener might.
But there is a problem with this model, it’s not very accurate.
A newspaper is a product, right? But what if it’s delivered to your door? Well, then it’s a service, but you’re still receiving a product aren’t you? And If I shop at my local bookstore then I’m visiting a company that sells products right? But if I go order a coffee at the in-store coffee shop has the company suddenly turned into a service providing industry?
No, of course not. That’s just one part of the overall business structure.
And that’s the key.
There is no such thing as a product sector – All businesses are in the service sector. The service you provide is the means through which you will sell your products. The customer has to be provided with a certain standard of service before they will part with their cold hard cash. In some industries the customer will require a lot of information from the sales people, particularly if they are unfamiliar with the product they are buying, or perhaps they are seeking a rather niche and hard to find item. They will probably want to preview or test out their potential purchase. They will want to know about any warranties, guarantees or return policies. They might ask if there are any alternatives out there. Or they might ask about a product that you don’t have. And where to get it. They will want to know how they can purchase – credit card? Finance? Discount for cash? – All of these are services that need to be provided for.
Companies should forget about selling the customer something and focus on providing a good service. We can make up our own minds if we actually want to buy the damned thing.
And I’d like to do so over coffee please.