Category Archives: business

There is some twitter discussion about this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28363729

With controversy about this:

The Commission said: “These include not using the word “free” at all when games contain in-app purchases,”

I fully support this. I think we have an absolute basteridsation of the word free, and that governments should regulate the hell out of it. There are various books on the topic of how the word ‘free’ sets off all kinds of triggers in our brains that ‘very very very cheap’ is nowhere close to. It seems we respond overwhelmingly positive to ‘free’ and ignore all the caveats and disclaimers around it. Basically a ‘free to play’ game is BETTER to our subconscious than a game that is not ‘free’.

But come on, you and I both know F2P games are anything BUT free. They are designed to get as many people as possible (but realistically not all) to pay for ‘upgrades’ and ‘customisations’ and ‘conveniences’ within the game. The business model depends on the game experience being dissatisfying to the extent that you pay to skip bits you don’t like, or improve things you are unhappy with. Why give the player 100 unlock points per battle when you can give them just 5, and charge $1 for 100 unlock ‘gems’ instead? Cynical, cynical bullshit…

The trouble is, this WORKS. it works well. It works in the way cunning modern advertising works, it plays to tricks in our brain, and the way we are easily fooled, lured, confused and misdirected. We are not vulcans, but massively irrational animals who are at the mercy of our primitive subconscious desires and pattern matching. The idea that any of our purchasing decisions are rational is a joke, and the idea that we are not being manipulated by cynical F2P business models is a joke too. It’s perfectly understandable that so many of these F2p companies employ pyschologists. They aren’t there to make the game fun, they are there to make you spend money. Lots of it.

This isn’t new. There were scandals many years ago about subliminal techniques in advertising, and advertys are regulated to prevent the blatant techniques that some ad agencies would like to use. The trouble is, it’s difficult to ‘rule’ on these topics, because it’s all open to interpretation. For example, is this an advert for a sandwich…

a-suggestive-burger-king-ad

Or is it a pretty obvious, and crude and blatant comparison to oral sex? Now prove that in court…

The difference between ‘fuzzy’ issues like that, and F2P games using dodgy practices is that it’s pretty easy to regulate F2P to curb it’s worst excesses. For example, if a game actively prompts the player to purchase add-ons within the game, than I don’t think it’s fair to call the game ‘free’. No game should allow you to purchase more than ten times in a day, or more than some limit per week, and above a certain amount, they absolutely should ask you to re-enter your password, or confirm that you know you have spent $1,000 on gems this week.

Some people are addicted to alcohol, even though most of us aren’t, so we as a society tolerate warnings on advertising and branding pointing out the dangers, and in the UK we ban drinks ads in many environments. The same is true of Gambling. Most people who drink, or bet are not addicts, but we place curbs and restrictions on those activities because we know to some people they are VERY addictive.

Alcohol makers and Betting shops got lucky, they happened to create a product that was already addictive to us. People who employ psychologists for their F2P game are Actively and KNOWINGLY working to generate addiction in their customers so as to milk them as much as possible. Profiting from selling games is fine. Knowingly creating a marketplace full of addict by using psychological tricks is not an entertainment industry I want to be associated with. Legislate the crap out of them.

Yup, big topics. This blog post is kinda prompted by this: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-07-16-blurred-lines-are-youtubers-breaking-the-law

But it’s a topic that has been around a while now. Basically the days of just hoping a famous youtube celeb likes your game and propelling you to stardom are ending, youtube is becoming more of an advertising marketplace than ever before.

I have long blogged about and evangelised about advertising as a viable option for indie game developers. I like advertising as a PR system for many reasons. It’s fairly flexible (you can spend $1 or $1,000) it’s very target-able, it’s relatively simple and hands-off to setup (no talking to people or traveling) and also, not much discussed…its very very honest.

Now I know that ‘advertising and honesty’ are not terms often thrown together. I read a LOT about ads. They can be sneaky, suggestive, manipulative, full of weasel-words and misleading comments, but the one good thing about an advert is that it is an unmistakably paid-for piece of promotion designed with the interests of the product maker in mind. When you see an advert for Audi, it may try and suggest this, or imply that, or convince you of dubious claim X, but you know that it’s being paid for by Audi, and you can take that into account. You don’t consciously think you are getting an unbiased opinion. (unconsciously you probably do…due to all kinds of cunning neuromarketing techniques…but I digress…). In other words, you know when you are being advertised to, and when you are not.

coke

With product-placement and more nebulous sponsorship deals, like the ones that some youtube celebrities are getting involved in, the situation is very different. Suddenly someone is saying they love a product and you have no idea why. We tend to assume people are being genuine unless we know for a fact they are paid to say stuff. I love Bose headphones (yeah I do, so sue me), Aeron Chairs, Ibanez Guitars and Lexus cars. Nobody has ever paid me a penny to tell anyone that. We tend to assume youtube lets plays and reviews of games are the unbiased opinions of the presenter, but is that really the case any more?

I’ve never had someone ask me for money for a lets’ play, but I suspect thats because I’m a mouthy arrogant and sometimes quite confrontational British dude that is an unknown quantity to a lot of people. I also blog a lot, and occasionally say very unpopular things. If I was looking to do hush-hush sponsorship deals, *I* wouldn’t approach me, but I know it goes on. So who do I blame?

I blame adblock, and the early internet culture of ‘everything should be free’. Online content costs money, it just does. Writers need to be paid, webhosting needs to be paid and so on. Now I admit, I have adblock installed. It’s normally turned off, I click it on just for a handful of unbearable sites that have so many flashing, noisy animated blinking monstrosities I can’t cope with reading them, but they aren’t my regular sites anyway. Reddit handles advertising very well, so does googles homepage, and most other sites I visit.

Nobody likes ads. I don’t go to a games forum for the ads, I go there for the content, but I actually LIKE seeing ads because that way, I *know* thats how the site exists. If not, then basically I’m at a site that is run at a loss by a generous benefactor (unlikely) or the site is making money in other ways. Everyone screamed at The Times newspaper when it put up it’s paywall, but frankly, I think it’s a fair and a brave move. Why shouldn’t we pay for online content? It’s just not an option because the ‘general wisdom’ is that people won’t pay for it. A paywall is even better than ads, now YOU are directly, not indirectly paying for the content.

times

The thing is, if we REFUSE to pay subscriptions to read (for example) Rock Paper Shotgun, then they have to get money elsewhere. They have a lot of writers to pay. Ads is the obvious solution, but what happens when everyone blocks those too? Every time we do that, we push the writers closer to the need for sponsorship, endorsement, ‘paid features’ and so on.

I know a few journalists. It amazes me how honest they are. It amazes me even more because I know they don’t earn a lot. And it amazes me again because I know how much money *could* be available if they were corrupt. In a  recent experiment I was paying $2,300 A DAY in facebook ads for a game of mine. That buys a lot of cocktails and goodwill gifts for corrupt journalists. I could have binned the ads and sent a brand new fuck-off huge top-of-the-range flat screen Television to a different journalist I knew each day instead saying ‘A gift from the makers of Democracy 3.’ I can even see that (assuming some theoretical journalistic corruption) that would possibly be a GOOD DEAL.

This 60-inch Smart TV is just one days advertising

This 60-inch Smart TV is just one days advertising

What I’m getting at, is that it is absolutely fucking amazing that we still have a generally independent and honest games press. They are mostly paid for through advertising. We should understand that, accept that, and embrace that as gamers. The alternative is much worse. I KNOW that Jim Rossignol actually likes Eve Online, I don’t have to wonder if he took a brown envelope full of cash to write about it. I like things as they are, with a nice demarcation between content and advertising. If you like  it too, turn off your ad blocker for a while, and the next time a site you like offers premium subscriptions buy one.

 

If you have read this blog for a long time you will know I own and run a site called www.showmethegames.com. It’s been around a while, and it’s a collaborative indie thing, that basically serves as a cool database of indie games you can buy direct from the developer. It’s essentially a bunch of screenshots, short descriptions and links. It’s NOT a portal, because it doesn’t sell anything. Every link takes you to a developers own site, and the owner (me) doesn’t skim a penny from anyone. It’s run by me because I like indie games and I like supporting indie developers.

Anyway, the problem with it, is there is little draw to it traffic wise. Some indie devs link to it, but not many. The problem is that the devs are all too busy making games to contribute any fresh content, and although I stuck some stuff up there in the past, interviews with some indies, some videos about upcoming games… I’m as busy as the next guy (probably MORE SO).

smtg

So I’ve bitten the bullet and accepted I should actually hire proper writer types to generate content for it!

This isn’t going to be another Rock Paper Shotgun. it’s not getting daily updates and won’t cover today’s gaming news. It will be feature-driven, not news-driven, but I hope it will prove interesting and worth a place on your bookmarks or under your tweet button.

The first article has just gone up on the site, courtesy of Dan Griliopoulos, talking about the Golden age of simulations, and you can read it right here, right now.

For the business minded asking why I am doing this, this is a long, long term hedge. There is no immediate profit from doing it, although obviously my own games are amongst the 100+ so far listed on the site.

 

Can you, by sheer weight of tweeting, facebook-promotion and general marketing and ‘oomph’ force your ipad strategy game into the charts?

Maybe not.

I’m experimenting with marketing efforts on the ipad version of Democracy 3. The game is already profitable, so I don’t *need* to make money from it on the app store, but I’m interested to see, if used as an experiment, whether or not you can catapult such a game into the top ten and then generate it’s own self-fulfilling sales momentum. It seems this is harder than i thought, even if you spend 70%+ of your profits straight back on marketing. Here are the charts. (click to enlarge)

charts

You can see that the game has a tough time clinging into any ‘top 10′ list, whereas I thought that it would pretty much stay there a while once it crossed that thresh-hold. It did that at the start of the chart, but getting it to bounce back in has been tricky, not to mention expensive. I’m currently trying to push it back in again, hence that climb (and my complaining wallet).

My guess is that it takes about $1,000 a day in marketing spend to get a game into the top 10 strategy or sim categories for the UK, presumably MUCH more for the US. I might concentrate entirely on the UK (as my ads are currently UK/US), so it might be possible to jump into the top 10 for less ads than that. The problem is, that seems to equate to only about 140 sales a day, so about $980 on a 70% cut of a $10 app. In other words, a net loss. Which of course makes sense in a completely perfect market, because if it was an easy win, those ad prices would just climb to eliminate the surplus. The people making money here are apple and advertising sellers, not the app developer.

Still, it’s all good fun :D

The programmer constraint

June 21, 2014 | Filed under: business | gsb2

Positech Games suffers from the programmer constraint. Everything that gets made directly by positech goes through the funnel of coding by me, and it’s becoming difficult to keep that up. GSB 2 is a BIG BIG game. It introduces a lot of new features to the game, and it has a much much more complex engine (a multi-threaded one). It will also have higher production values, more music and art and so on, than it’s predecessor. This is fine, as I have the budget to match my ambitions, and no real time constraint (although I’ll have to have a ‘playable’ version for Eurogamer in London, this September. The only thing that holds the game back now is me.

I’m the only programmer, and that is a pain. GSB2 uses my own custom engine, and no middle ware other than a sound library. There is a LOT of code, and although I do none of the art, the constraint of me being totally the only coder slows down the games production, and possibly limits its scope. I can see various mitigation strategies.

Mitigation Strategy #1

Delay the game. Just deal with the fact that it will take another year, and keep plugging away. This is the easiest option, although one I don’t like. I dislike 2 or 3 year projects. I already have plans to show the game in September, I can’t wait years to release after that. Plus the memory (and player-base) of GSB will degrade more the longer I leave it. Plus also I won’t earn any money until I start selling it!

Mitigation Strategy #2

Scale down the ambition. The engine runs very fast already, it really does not need to be optimized that much more. The GUI can be functional but not flashy.  I really don’t need to go bananas with features like steam leaderboards or online messaging etc. That’s stuff I can leave out of the game. I dislike this strategy too. This is a sequel, it should be the better interpretation of the idea, with better everything, and all cool features intact. I’d be disappointed otherwise.

Mitigation Strategy #3

Hire a coder. This would be ideal but vastly problematic. Experience with Unity or Unreal or the Source engine will not help you with my engine. it’s all my work, and never written to be understood by anyone else. Plus how can I be sure their work is good without checking it and testing it, which might take more time than me just doing it? I  am not good at code collaboration, so this might keep me awake at night. What if they code some bugs I then have to fix? Nightmare… Plus I’d be VERY picky. How will I find a very experienced (no time to teach) coder that is available, reliable, affordable and motivated enough to work alongside me between now and the project end. This is unlikely.

Mitigation strategy #4/

Offload everything else. I already have taken steps towards this. My Linux & Mac ports are done by other people, some of the PR stuff is outsourced, as is making trailers. All the art and music is outsourced, should I hire a sound designer to pick sounds too? what else takes time? QA? Should I hire some QA company to do playthroughs? Could I maybe hire a designer to do some balancing? A writer to do some writing? Even though i am never really happy with it (because its’ hard to edit) should I take the plunge again and get the website designed and implemented entirely without me?

This is my favorite strategy. I can probably do a bit more of this, offloading all ‘non-core’ code stuff, and literally everything else. it does mean a pure-code lfie for me, which can be a bit maddening at times. I still have the biz strategy and advertising task in my court though :D