112 Indies and “How do you monetize?”

Yesterday I returned from Casual Connect in Amsterdam and as todays going out options are rather “meh”, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my Casual Connect review going – so get some popcorn and enjoy!

Day One – “Arrival and Pocketgamer meet and greet!”

As our game “The Inner World” won the “Best Game in Show”-Award in 2013 at Casual Connect in Kyiv, we had the honor to attend this Casual Connect in Amsterdam for free, so we booked a flight and off we went. From Stuttgart it is just an one hour flight, so nothing to be afraid of there. Once we arrived in Amsterdam it was time for lunch. And boy did we get the best fries in town!

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Fries… Awesome Fries!

In the evening we got to the welcome party hosted by Pocketgamer.co.uk, which was pretty awesome! We had some drinks and had time to meet all the attending developer friends.

Day Two -“Nope our game has no PVP, sorry for that!”

At the second day I first recognized how awesome the indie prize would be this time. Back in Kyiv we barely were like 40 Indie game creators, with more casual and (sorry for that) some very boring titles. This time they were great indie games everywhere! About 112 to be as precisely as I can. I was amazed. And that’s when I thought: “Boy this could seriously be an incredibly awesome possibility to gather more than a hundred indies and let them show the game to the gamers that want to play our games!”. But boy was I wrong. I mean, of course it’s still called Casual Connect – right? So mainly we had people at our booth that asked me “I love your game – it looks gorgeous!” “Oh tanks a lot man!” “But hey, how is your PVP going? And how do you monetize?” “Ehrm … we sell it for … like … money? And nope, no PVP.” (We definitely should do that one day, a PVP-Point and Click). It’s like to totally different worlds colliding. People would always start a conversation like “Oh I love your game” or “I played it a lot” and then go on trying to make business with you and your game. “We can help you monetize it even better!”. One even suggested we should sell the hints that you can get through our help system for ingame currency. Nope, we won’t.
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Indies – everywhere!

After a whole day of talking to business suits and people that simply love our game, I didn’t know what was still to come. Okay – I am going to write about it, no matter what. We were at the office opening party of a company named paymentwall inc. Sounds fair and thanks for the free drinks! “Let there be money” is their company slogan. Okay, I can deal with that. But tiger babys? In a little cage with loud music and a lot of people around them? Seriously? Sorry – but I can’t imagine how someone actually agreed to that idea.

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not cool.

So after that shock (and after mooching of beer’n’food) we went to the first official party sponsored by distimo and newzoo. Again, fun, chatting with developers, seeing old friends and making new friends. I love it. I also could forget about the baby tigers, but still I was glad to hear the rumor that someone called the police at the other party and they got in trouble to not having a license for … having baby tigers at a party. At least someone had the guts to do this. Dear people at paymentwall, don’t get me wrong – it was cool to invite people in your new office. It was also pretty cool to give them free beer’n’burgers and I am not being ungrateful here. But baby tigers at a party with hundreds of people and music?

Day Three – “I love your game and why do you look like you’re in terrible pain?”

Like professionals we where partying till 3 am but standing at our booth at 10am lookin’ nice and awesome. New people came to have a look at our game and I had some time to have a closer look at the other games. This is why I loved CC in Amsterdam – I could chat with the developers of “Journey Down” for example, talk about their development aproach, talk about ours, and just have a good time with people that do the same thing i love. Making games. And when you meet someone that says “Hi I am from Bombay … What YOU worked on The Inner World? I played and loved it!”, then your heart just goes boom boom before melting into a big pile of love. Dude, thanks! A guy with a a cardboard box on it’s head? No problem! Game developers crazyness was over 9000%.

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Where’s the cardboard box guy?

Besides of the big indie showcase there also were a lot of talks at CC. But only 2 of them were interesting enough for me to actually consider watching them. With so many indies attending, the talks that could matter to indie game developers where too less I think. I would have loved to hear more about the postmortems of other studios than just on the last day. But hey – this way I could keep on chatting with developers myself and showing our game to people. After a whole day standing and talking I was so looking forward to the after party. As I knew it was a CC party, I expected crazyness. So at the entrance there was a guy in a weird looking elvis suit with lots of plastic gold chains around his neck acting like a host. But gold painted midgets? Dude – I don’t know what to say about that. I felt like being inside the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”.

Day Four – “Awesome Winners and someone playing The Inner World for about 3 hours straight”

So again – in bed at 2am and back at the booth at 10am. Looking okay and awesome again but with terrible pain in the feet after 2 days of walking around Amsterdam if not standing at the booth. The last days of such conferences always are the hardest ones. You can’t stand anymore, you look like shit, but you still want to keep smiling while showing someone your game. But still – I was lucky! A girl I got to know through a old friend came by and started playing The Inner World on our iPad while I could watch her play, get some work done or talk to others about our game. And that’s what I love about conferences. Watching people play that thing you were working on for 3 years. The moments when you know the player is going to see a funny animation or to get a funny joke and you watch his or her reaction in the face. Sometimes they look like “Meh” but other times they start to broadly grin – again my heart became a pool of sweet … flan. While I was observing her playing the whole first two chapters of our game in one playthrough the winners of the indie prize where anounced. And boy am I glad that Mimimi Productions with their game “The Last Tinker” won the “Best Game in Show”-Award. Besides of being an awesome team, they simply are making a pretty awesome game. So they totally deserved it!
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Mooched from “The Last Tinker”

After the ceremony the whole indie crowd got more relaxed. You saw developers playing together other peoples games, it just felt like the tensed atmosphere of people being uncertain if they would get a prize or not, had to go away. And it got even better when we got free beers and pizza. Yeap there was free pizza. And you can imagine how the attendees reacted to that. It was like throwing some little pieces of raw meat into a pool full of sharks. I never saw so much grown man run after pizza like that. Insane. But – every cool trip has to come to an end. So it was time for us to leave amsterdam behind us at 8pm.

Conclusion – “Casual Connect – What could get better?”

Would I recommend fellow indie developers to attend to Casual Connect? Yeap I would! Are there things to improve? Yeap – of course!
  • First of all, please no more partys with baby tigers or golden painted midgets. Seriously, don’t do that again.
  • More sessions about indie devs would be awesome – why not a whole indie track for 3 days? There where hundreds of stories to be told!
  • Keep on with the indie showcase! But don’t make it bigger. Make it more public instead!
  • WiFi is awesome – but next time, have a better backbone. Your poor routers crashed all the time.
Dear Casual Connect – Team: I sincerely thank you for your awesome efforts to make it possible for such a big indie developer scene to meet and greet and also meet some important people. Maybe it is time to move the focus way more on indie games instead of only casual f2p titles. This would avoid the “How do you monetize” and “How is PVP in your adventure game” crap!
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bling – f2p bling!
Asposian Greetings and thanks for the bling,
Alexander

Let’s start with a little bang into 2014 – shall we?

Welcome to the Games Industry! We love games – as you do! We love nerdy stuff – as you do! Come hang out with us! Come do games for a living! Come join the dream! Come live with for us!

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Kudos to Motohiro NEZU 

First of all – welcome to 2014! It’s been a while. Well i don’t know how you started your new year, but for me the new year started with high speed and that’s also a good thing. So basically i wanted to post about my experiences with the AppStore feedback from customers and how i tried to handle that but this post has to wait as yesterday i stumbled into a discussion about the games developer scene in germany.

It all started with an invite to a talk to which Johannes Roth (Mimimi Productions) will be attending. It has the title “Indies in Germany – top or flop?”. As some of you may know i often have a problem with the definition of what is indie and what not, but let’s go on. Little did he know that this posting would turn out to be a battlefield of different opinions and statements about the state of the games industry in germany (at the very moment we have 179 comments!).

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Let the stoning begin [moviegourmet.com]

Long story short – Someone says that 95% of the german games are crap. He mentions a game specifically. The guy that is responsible for that game sends him an email. The other guy posts on facebook that he recieved an email from the guy who made that “crappy” game – this guy answers in the comments – and so on. Welcome to the internet. I won’t get into much details – that is not what i want to talk about. I walt to talk about some facts that popped up in that discussion:

1.) The term “indie” and the “i / we am / are an indie developer”-effect

So according to the one that started that little brawl, 95% of german indie games are mediocre crap. He then names some of them. But seriously – none of this games i would call “indie games”. But, that’s only my own categorization. And exactly that’s the problem and why i hate the term “indie”. I call myself an indie developer, yes, but for what reason and why? I started Studio Fizbin together with friends in order to do what i love, games. We wanted to do games that we love and try to reach as many people as possible with it. With “The Inner World” we did a not-so-bad-job at this, but you can check that out for yourself. We signed a publisher that totally gave us the freedom to do basically whatever we wanted with our IP as long as we finished our game and provided him with a gold master. He never called and said stuff like “Well you have to change that in the game, because the market requires it” or stuff like that. We had total creative control. That and nothing else is what I for myself think being independent means. We had other offers from publishers where they would get the rights to our IP for at least 5 years. Don’t get me wrong – i don’t moan, i just say that is not the way we wanted the deal to be. Our IP should stay our IP, so we could keep total creative control over it. So why do i hate the term indie? Well that little word changes the way i think about a game. I instantly have the impression that i’ll play a game where i can be sure that no marketing or market research destroyed the often very beautiful ideas of creative people. It’s a bit like the “organic” label on food. So because today indie games are rising and the label “indie” gets you a higher market reachability, some people think they should call their games indie. Which they should not, imho.

2.) The quality of games, their according budget and the ROI

As the discussion was about the mediocre quality of german games the topic of the needed capital for games came up. I hate money and numbers attached to them, but as we all know, i need it to play games and to eat, sleep, live and stuff like that. Games are pretty expensive (read this – but expect no exact numbers) – everyone knows that. So everyone should be aware that it is not pretty easy to get that amount of money, especially as a little dev studio with no experience whatsoever. No one just gives you 250.000€ and says “Make the game of your dream for it!”. So how can we still develop a game? Well basically with hard work (no vacations, 7 work days in a week etc.) and your own investment. How do you invest without having money to invest? You work for free – except your needed food which results in very low wages. But it’s not THAT bad. There are funding possibilities and i have to say here in Baden Württemberg, where our studio currently resides, they are pretty ok. I love the people at the MFG and their efforts for the DCF (digital content fund). But – there is still much to be done. Let’s say you need about 250.000€ in order to produce and market a decent adventure game in germany. Let’s say you get funded with 100.000€ – then you still have to get your hands on another 150k. Own work – low wages – trainees. You could also turn down the quality of the game and lower the amount of work to be done. But that would destroy the chance of your ROI to get big enough, that you can work on your next project. So it’s pretty hard to manage this three variables Quality – Budget – Time. Well in the discussion someone mentioned that you could do a okay-ish hidden object game for about 22k with outsourced programming. That raises the question under which circumstances such games are produced. But with all the outsourcing topic we tend to forget that some games are produced here in germany with a lot of unpaid people as well. And that sucks everywhere. But appareantly our game industry needs that workforce in order to produce enjoyable games :-/

3.) The missing innovation

The missing innovation in the german scene was discussed very broadly in that thread as you can imagine – but … guys, seriously? “Tiny and Big” – “TRI” – “Beatbuddy” – “Giana Sisters – Twisted Dreams” – “Brawlin’ Sailor (Just one of 12 awesome mini games by Major Bueno)” – “Perfect Woman (nominated for IGF!!!)” – “Future Unfolding” – etc …(sorry for all the other cool guys i forgot …)
Of course i’, just listing the well known devs, but my list could go on. I don’t think theres missing innovation. It just does not come from some guys arguing in that conversation. Sorry guys. We have a lot of cool devs here in germany that explore the possibillities of game development in a creative way. We just have the problem of a lacking network. Thankfully Martin and Jana are doing their best in order to provide a platform for the little devs that try to do games for their living and try to explore their creativity instead of just following market researches (thank you guys – again!). So the missing platform is not the problem – we are the problem ourselves. I know posting in forums and helping each other out is pretty hard while you’re at work and trying to finish your project – but last year we experienced what the outcome of networking and the efforts of some people can achieve. We had a little indie booth @ gamescom that was pretty awesome by the way. I couldn’t say “THANK YOU” enough to all the people envolved in that. So let’s try to be as open as possible about our work in order to get cool stuff to the people. Because there definitely is some cool stuff happening in germany. We have to be more openly visible for other people as a developer community. The indie-arena booth at gamescom was awesome and pretty cool. But we also had to compete with big companies in the meanings of visibility and attention. I loved the indie display on Casual Connect. About 20 indies from all over the world (although obviously half of the attendants were from russia or the ukraine) were sitting at one table and could chat the whole day while also showing their games to publishers, investors alike. I met so much awesome game makers and also made some new friends – i guess we could improve that here in germany.
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CasualConnect 2013 in Kyiv – talking with the guys from BeautifunGames
Wrapping everything up:
Of course there are crappy games made in germany, as they’re all over the world, but i think that the good games just don’t have the visibility they should have – maybe some of you would think different if they knew about these awesome games.
To the devs -> we should try to work together and try to do our best to improve our industry the best way we can. That means trying new things as well as trying to produce good games at reasonable costs. With reasonable work loads.
To the players, our customers -> I love the current time as you do. Steam Sales and Humble Bundles up your a$$. But maybe the next time you buy an App, a game on the next Steam Sale or another Humble Bundle we should think about what good games are worth to us in the currency of the country you currently reside.
Thanks – Pepe

p.s.: I just removed the link to the discussion. Although there are some very interesting comments, there also are some nasty things being said that i don’t think have to go public.

2013: Consequences, the release, love, speeches, prizes, hatred and new love.

This year may be one of the most exciting years of my entire life. Exciting in both ways: in a good and bad way. I experienced a lot of things, you would consider good and things you would consider bad. Nonetheless i am happy that 2013 and all of her events happened to me. As i said: much stuff happened, so let’s get started!

The Beginning:
As every year (also this year) i spent the new year’s eve with my best friends somewhere in Germany. It doesn’t matter where, the only thing that matters is that we’re altogether. But this time it was a bit different. We were working on the desktop version of “The Inner World”, and were totally excited about it, but i also knew that it would be a tremendous amount of work. We started to port our Adventure Engine from Objective-C to AS3 in the end of november and also got a running prototype done just in time before christmas, but of course the devil is in the detail. So we planned a four weeks coding marathon starting on second of january. That’s why that new year’s eve was so different. I knew that in 24 hours i will start something i am very proud of, working on my own game that will be released in a beautiful box, but also i will start something i never done before. These four weeks were exhausting and fun at the same time. We had a lot of fun joking around – but we also learned that we need rest too.

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“The Inner World” on all supported screen sizes

The Consequences:
After this marathon i learned something else. Being a self employed developer, working in your own company and trying to code a self built engine for a 2D point and click working on iOS, Mac and Windows does cost a lot of time. A lot of time that you can’t spent with loved ones. I learned it the hard way when the relationship with my girlfriend ended after 5 years. My love for my work and my studio consumed everything else in my life. So I learned something about work-life balance: it is actually possible to devote your whole life to your work. But for me that would mean: Dying alone and killing my love for videogames. After working so hard and long on the Desktop version i hated “The Inner World”. I really hated it. And not only because i blamed it for my personal situation, which was totally bull-shit as i was responsible for my situation to a hundred percent by myself, but also because i could not stand it anymore. I was working too long and too hard on it.

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One of my long midnight walks

The Release:
After I learned that lesson i had to get my life back on track as where running with the speed of light forward to one of the most important event in the past 3 years: The release! Our little pr-machinery was running hot and trying to inform everyone about our game. And they did inform what would turn out one of the most important instances for us: a german “Let’s Player” called Gronkh. His videos playing “The Inner World” and loving it gave us an insane amount of public awareness. We had an super awesome time at the Indie-Arena booth at gamescom with hundreds of fans coming and taking pictures with hack, signing our booth and giving us tons of love for this game. I was totally overwhelmed. I also made some new friends at the Indie-Arena booth and met some awesome guys from the German Indie Scene. I was am living a dream and that helped a lot to get over the loss i experienced some months ago.

The Speeches:
The release also brought a lot of professional attention to our studio. We gave a lot of speeches at different venues but the most awesome for me was Casual Connect in Kyiv. I was given the opportunity to visit the Ukraine (a country i have never been before), to meet a lot of mega awesome people, to make new friends (again), give some insight in the development process and to take home the Indie Prize in the category “Best game in show“. But what i enjoyed most is the country and the people i had the honor to meet. On such events i always have the opportunity to meet the makers of stuff i love but from a professional perspective. You know, inside of me there is still this little kid that is a fanboy of videogames and for whom the makers are like rockstars. If they sign his shirt for example he’ll probably faint. So this kid was totally overwhelmed when it had the honor to meet the makers of “Nihilumbra” or “SpeedRunners” for example. And if that wasn’t awesome enough i have the chance to get an insight that other people won’t ever get: Discussing topics we both know and exchange experiences in these topics. It’s like rockstars talking to rockstars.

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Peck now is a rockstar too.

The Hatred:
After all this stuff we finally managed to get the iOS Version done. Well we thought we did. If you followed the process of our iOS release you’ll notice that we released 2 updates within the first weeks. I am not going to explain here again what happened, because that would be a blogpost by itself. I want to talk a bit about the consequences of what happened. Well our first released iOS version had some serious issues with the save-system that we didn’t encounter in our own Q&A phase. Savegames could get corrupted with a specific move that we didn’t encounter in our testing sessions, but apparently the common user would encounter everyday. So after the iOS release we still have to fix some bugs, but that’s not the point. The point is another thing that I experienced and that was totally new to me: The hate the internet can spit at you when you sell stuff to it. “I feel betrayed! I paid so much money! Game sucks!You guys suck! You guys are the worst! Everyone could have done it better! Why did you get funding for such a piece of crap! and so on…” Don’t get me wrong – i totally knew that this would happen. But knowing and experiencing are two different stories. Trust me.

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More indie love instead of hate-mails.

The New Love:
If the events of this year weren’t enough, we still managed somehow to start our new project with the current title “Beyond the mountains“. It’s a survival adventure set in the H.P. Lovecraft universe and based on the story “At the Mountains of Madness” written by the godfather of horror himself. We took our experience we gained through the process of making “The Inner World” and planned a little rougelike game we want to finish in less than half a year. Guess what: it turns out that your second game is still a wavy adventure. But a good one! From the technical point of view i get the opportunity to work with another technology, the concept for this game is based on a side project i did for the 7DRL this year and is also based in one of my favorite universes – the cthulhu mythos.

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Finishing the steam version of “The Inner World”

Well looking back at this long blogpost i realize how much stuff happened this year and how stupid it seems to even try to wrap it up in one blogpost. But hey – i tried. I hope you enjoyed this little tour through my version of 2013. As i am curious by nature, i have to ask: How was your version of 2013?

So long, thanks for all the fish and see you in 2014!
Pepe

Pepe finally talks about games.

Hi there,

so it took me a while but now i finally managed to spare some time in order to publish my own blog about my favorite topic – games.

Of course games is a very general topic so let me clarify it a bit:
The whole thing will be about videogames, how i make them, how i think about them, how i play them, how i love them, how i hate them, how i think they’re important, how i think the industry sucks, how i love the industry, how i think being indie sucks, how i prefer being indie, how i love/hate the term indie, etc …

So first of all i should start with a short introduction of myself and why i’ll write about this stuff.

Well, i am Alexander, but mainly called “Pepe” so let’s keep it that way, shall we? My interest in videogames, or games in general, began back in 1995 when i began watching my father play Adventures. He was mainly playing Monkey Island, Police Quest, Space Quest, Kings Quest and Day of the Tentacle. After i began realizing how awesome it was to follow stories this way, by playing it, i started exploring the whole universe of interactive storytelling. Two years later i started being interested in making my own games and wrote a little text adventure for my little brother in BASIC, called “Survive Afternoon School”.

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“Survive Afternoon School”
And now, 16 years later, here i am:
28 years old, Co-Founder & Technical Director of “Studio Fizbin“, finished and released the multi-platform beloved Point’n’Click-Adventure “The Inner World“, finished my studies in “Applied Computer Sciences” with a B.Sc., still loving good old PnP-Games, working on our next Project, teaching Game Programming, giving Workshops, …
So i think that’s enough for a short introduction – back to first real news!
Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes got a Release Date (03.20.2014 in Japan and 03.18.2014 in US) and some very good looking Special Editions (at least for Japan) [click!]. Actually this is the first next-gen game i really care about and will maybe be the reason for me to get a ps4.
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[Pic from KONAMI]

And there is another piece of news i wanted to share with you in my first blogpost: Our first game “The Inner World” just won the German Developer Award for “Best Family Game”! Woohoo! Being nominated in five categories is pretty awesome already (Best Story, Best Sound, Best Adventure, Best Family Game and Best German Game 2013 (!)) but actually winning an award is even more awesome!