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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperBusinessGetting out of "catch-22" situation.
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speeder
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« on: September 17, 2010, 11:58:31 am »

Hello!

As some people probably saw on the feedback and devlog forums, I am making my first game, and I tried to build some hype for it.

In the end, the effort was not worth it, I did it to get feedback (in fact, I dislike hyping WIP stuff, like Minecraft, DNF, Daikatana, Noctis V, etc...), but I spent 60% of my time to get only a small amount.

I went then to try to figure, why Notch, with a such simple game (let be realistic there: Minecraft is nothing new... It is like Noctis and Dwarf Fortress rogue mode mashed-up and using Infiniminer and Cube2 interface...) got 600.000 euro sales in 3 weeks...

I figured that he was already known, he mentions playing infiniminer with Derek and other people from here, he had other games before, had a job in the industry... The same apply to several other people here (Eternal Daughter for example is REALLY old... Derek don't showed up dumping Aquaria in our heads and getting instantly famous from nothing...)

So, a normal strategy would be make games slowly, stick around, and eventually I would have a hit... In fact, the games I expect to be a "hit" are shelved for now (some I already started developemnt, but stopped after I figured that is best to continue them later).

But I need a smaller hit NOW (I won't explain the long story, but I have huge debts and live in a place that is REALLY dangerous...), even as "proof" that a game business is feasible, so someone borrow more money to me (I don't have money even to pay 100 USD of ads... or buy stock music for 10 USD... and I need a Mac to make a Mac versions of my game).

So I need to figure how to get known, while still developing my first game, to ensure that even if I end having a loss, the revenue is sufficient to draw attention of people that can borrow money. (or from people willing to donate money! I am all for having some Mecenas).

Someone know how to get out of the catch-22 situation of having no money, no completed game, and need to attract people to test and later buy the WIP game?

Of course, without using money, and in the most time efficient manner possible (spending more time in marketing than on actual development is something that I am not happy with).
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John Nesky
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« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2010, 12:10:07 pm »

Get a job, and make little games on the side while saving up money from the job. Do not rely on indie game development to get you out of debt.
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increpare
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« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2010, 12:17:52 pm »

I would very strongly recommend following John Nesky's advice.  You don't look very confident in your position, and I think you need to find your feet.  I've seen a couple of people come by the forums in quite desperate situations financially, trying to make a profit from their games, digging themselves into bigger and bigger holes - it's really sad to see :[ .  Getting a job for a bit doesn't mean the end of the world.

[ Some people do take out loans to make games, but that's a different situation - they usually know what they want to do, whereas you seem a lot less certain. ]
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« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2010, 12:18:25 pm »

Your game looks quite good. Sadly it doesn't (for me) run under Wine so I haven't been able to play it. What is stopping you releasing it and perhaps making some small amount of money to reinvest?  Prototype sounds like a very early version but from what I can see from screenshots you are fairly well advanced. I would call it a beta if it is that and try and release it ASAP. I'd address the control comments mentioned by another poster if you haven't already.

One last thing, your web site looks cool but blue on black and the animated background was difficult to spend time looking at, I nearly gave up looking for the demo link - perhaps others did too?

Also what John said ^  Smiley
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speeder
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« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2010, 12:21:14 pm »

I forgot to say that...

I can't get a job (I am living in one city and studying in other 3 hours away... so noone want to hire me, and that is a problem in itself, because I still need to do my mandatory internship to finish studies)

And a job no matter how good it is, would never get me out of debt in time (I need to start paying it in january, and in my last job I had a HIGH wage comparing with the average, and that wage is still lower than the amount I have to pay...)

Most place around me live with less than 300 USD monthly (I have computer, music keyboard, etc... from a previous jobs , and gifts that I amassed over the years).


And btw: I am pretty sure I want to make games, the debt is my university loan (stupid idea taking a game design course... but I am already finishing it, stopping now would be wasting all this money).
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John Nesky
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« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2010, 12:57:43 pm »

I don't know what your punishment would be for not paying your debt in time, but I have a feeling my advice would be the same: do not rely on indie game development to get you out of debt. Do whatever you can to pay as much of it off as you can, and invest in indie games when you're more flexible.

The indie developers who make a lot of money are few and far between, and I'm sure most or all of them had a Plan B just in case indie development didn't work out. Have a Plan B.
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speeder
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« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2010, 01:06:20 pm »

I do have some plan-B.

What I am asking is how to make the plan-A work.
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« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2010, 03:31:04 pm »

So you need to make how much in how little time?

And what is the game that you're currently making that you hope is going to do this?
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speeder
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« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2010, 03:46:24 pm »

My issue is not how much I am making, my issue is make /anything/ at all.

Currently despite my best marketing efforts, even to get feedback I could get only about 5 people really play the game and say something about it, most people just praise (maybe without even playing) and move on.
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bvanevery
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« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2010, 04:22:46 pm »

(let be realistic there: Minecraft is nothing new... It is like Noctis and Dwarf Fortress rogue mode mashed-up and using Infiniminer and Cube2 interface...)

Never heard of Noctis.  Considering how on-top of open source games I used to be, that's saying a lot.  I notice it wasn't on SourceForge and doesn't have a libre open source license, it restricts what you can do with the game content-wise.  It started life as a DOS game.  It doesn't shock me that I've never heard of it.

I heard of Dwarf Fortress through many outlets, including Gamasutra.  I tried to get into it and couldn't.  Even with a better tileset, I just found it really hard to deal with visually.  It was widely criticized on Gamasutra, almost being the poster child of "amateur" game production with everything negative that was meant to imply.  I think you'd really have to love ASCII-art style games, or retro tile games, to get into the whole Dwarf Fortress thing.  I looked at the source code one time, to see if it was worth tweaking around with.  Looked like it would be painful to bother.  Every once in awhile I think, just what is this Dwarf Fortress thing on about?  Is it worth bothering to learn how to play?  This is quickly followed by the thought that I should get on with my own, better game.

Never heard of Infirminier until reading TIGSource recently, and only in connection with Minecraft.  http://www.minecraftwiki.net/wiki/Infiniminer says it was the precursor of Minecraft and was released 1.5 years ago.  I wasn't paying any deep attention to open source games, IGF games, or TIGSource games at the time.  I've been unsubscribed from Gamasutra for a long time as well, eventually I just decided they were always talking the same old drivel and it was a waste of time.

Minecraft reached me because a geek friend of mine saw his brother playing it, then played it himself.  It made an impression on him, and he wasn't much of a gamer.  I'm pretty reserved about accepting other people's judgment, but it was enough for me to at least crack the website.  I saw a blocky Java 3D game that required internet connectivity for me to play the demo.  I didn't have regular internet connectivity at the time, I was just mooching my friend's wifi across the parking lot for a couple of hours a day, so I didn't try it out.  My attitude was, well, if it's fun well that's great, but I need to get back to my own game programming.  I have more internet now so I guess I'm in a position to try it out.  The other thing piquing my interest is why this guy has actually made so much money.  I'll review it shortly.  6 years of judging the IGF, I should be able to chug through it soon enough.  I got kicked out of the IGF because it was starting to become a chore and I spoke my mind on IndieGamer once upon a time.  A decent game actually makes me want to keep playing, and doesn't force me into exercising "Judge Discipline, to give it a fair chance."

I have been aware of Cube2:Sauerbraten as an open source game and technology base.  Reading their forums, the dev lead was absolutely obnoxious about open source development.  He released the code with the intent that you could make your own game with the tech if you wanted, but don't even think about bugging him about patches or collaboration or any of the usual hallmarks of an open source community.  He emphatically didn't want that, as far as he was concerned all developers should "go their own way."  So that was a total non-starter as far as any tech project I'd get involved with.  I'm not sure I ever even played the game.  If I did, then it was just some shooter, which I couldn't care less about.

So, you say that Minecraft is not "new" but from these examples I extract the following lessons:
  • Don't be obnoxious and controlling about other people's potential contributions to your project.  If you don't really want to do open source, don't do open source.  Just make your game and be an ordinary human being about it.  Don't lord it over other people's heads trying to make them feel like crap, how important you are, how you get to tell everyone what to do, and all that kind of totally immature stuff.  People just remember that you're a jerk.
  • Don't use dead technologies.  Nobody cared about DOS in 2001.
  • Use websites where people can actually find you.  Don't bury your game in some forum somewhere.
  • If you're going to buck typical art trends in games, have a rationale for that.  Don't let your fanaticism for a particular niche art style get in the way of people accepting your game.
  • Do actually try to sell your game.
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speeder
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« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2010, 04:44:34 pm »

Yep, I realized that too...

Noctis actually had some spike in popularity, when HOTU mentioned it, unfortunately HOTU is gone (it was really cool... they posted a lot of indie games).

It died when Noctis V got hyped but turned into vapourware.

Cube2 now is more open, the first developer was a teacher, so his intention was to... teach (the first developer is the guy that made the Far Cry 1 scripting language, among other things in other games).

But from start, Cube2 had a "build" mode, where you could log in a server, and build something as a group (like you can do in non-paid Minecraft...), also, akin to minecraft the griefers made it not so popular... (something I find kinda sad...).

Dwarf Fortress is utterly bizarre... Playing it in public computer make people around you scared. (really).

And I guess Infiminer failed only because the owner stopped developing (I never played myself, from what I've read, the author plainly stopped working on it, forcing Notch to develop his own version with the features he wanted, creating Minecraft in the process).


But all those games, had more success than mine, and they had a thing in common: Early works. Noctis is a series, when I arrived in Noctis 4, there was already fans of Noctis 1, 2 and 3. Dwarf Fortress is also not the first game of Toad. Canabalt is not the first game from Adam either (another recent sucess I am mentioning randomly here). And the patern repeats.

My "first game" is not my first, I actually make games since I was a child (then I made board games using existing ones). But I had no market notion, and no future planning, so I never released properly them (the first Paddle Wars I released in a contest, noone could figure how to install XNA, and in the end noone played the game... for example...).

So this is why I said I've got a 'catch-22' I need to build more popularity than usual for a first game, obviously I am not aiming at a Minecraft level of success, I would not even be able to keep up with it if this happened right now, or a Overgrowth level of success (the preorders of that game are seemly sufficient to pay everyone on the team, including one member that is there solely for marketing and PR). A "average" thing would do.

Of course, there are some people that strike lucky, like the I MA3D A GAM WITH ZOMBIES (or something like that the title) that sold a absurd amount of copies... But I am not relying on luck here.
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« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2010, 05:06:40 pm »

Currently despite my best marketing efforts, even to get feedback I could get only about 5 people really play the game and say something about it, most people just praise (maybe without even playing) and move on.

If we're talking about your breakout style game, you need to realize that you never had a marketing plan when you embarked on that project.  There's no high concept here.  Nobody is going to generate guerilla marketing with a breakout game or an Arkanoid clone.  It's been done to death and nobody cares.  What you could do, is try to sell such a game to a major portal.  In which case you'd talk to them directly, and probably only get the amount of money they offer for such things.  I know nothing about that process, never having been interested in it.

I'd hazard to say that product differentiation is important for game sales.  You need to be different than everybody else, offer something that others don't offer, and communicate those things in a very short sales pitch.  Doesn't matter if you've got the most innovative adventure game concept ever, if it's buried 1/2 way through the game and it's not mentioned in your ad copy, because the vast majority of reviewers aren't going to play your game long enough to find out.

People make some money on "me too" games but once everyone is making those, the money is spread out over all the similar games and nobody stands out anymore.  The first ones to the table make the most money and then the market gets tapped out.  This is true in all sorts of industries, not just games or computers.

I agree with others that you can't expect indie games to save you.  I go back to work in the boring world periodically, that's how I get by.

When you have a major life setback, the important thing is to eventually try again.  You may pass through a period of despair where you don't know if you're any good at anything, where everything you have done seems like a big waste of time.  That you'll never succeed, you'll never reach whatever place you thought you were going to get to.  These feelings are true and valid in the short term, but in the longer term it's important to move on, reset, and try again.  One of the biggest skills of surviving as an indie is psychological survival.  You simply can't let the world beat you down indefinitely.  You will become lost, and forget yourself for awhile.  At some point you will actually realize that you are lost; that is the 1st step to recovery.  Once you finally notice that you are lost, the next thing you do is to concentrate on getting found, on finding your way back to a valid path again.

If you can continue to do that, over the long haul you will survive, and eventually prosper, whether it takes 1 year or 10.
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« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2010, 10:28:13 pm »

Of course, there are some people that strike lucky, like the I MA3D A GAM WITH ZOMBIES (or something like that the title) that sold a absurd amount of copies... But I am not relying on luck here.

It sounds to me like that's exactly what you want to happen... to get extremely lucky.

You basically want to be successful before actually being successful.  I think that's the hope of pretty much everybody who creates any sort of art...

Practically, nobody is going to invest in a project from somebody without prior success.  In fact, check out the indiegamer forums because the question of "How can I get money to continue designing games" appears pretty frequently there...

In other words, there is no catch-22.  You're in the same position as (practically) everybody else on these forums...
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« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2010, 03:55:19 am »

I'd like to chip in my two cents, though bvanevery's already given you most of the wisdom you'll need.


1. Making money from indie games is hard and doesn't work the vast majority of the time.  Doing it reliably is an art that involves unpleasant amounts of compromise.  Most of the people who do still have to do other work (contracting) to get by.

2. A customer base among TIGsourcers won't make you rich.  A lot of us are pretty damn poor.

3. What sells games, and the reason seasoned members of this community have met with some success, are the evils known as well-planned marketing and distribution.  That requires either money or a very impressed distributor and a completed game.

4. If your idea is absolutely amazing and your technical and artistic resources are sufficient, you can get a producer to back you for the cost of development.  This will instantly solve your money problems, but can potentially turn your life into a living hell.  This is because it forces you to complete your game while removing you from your position of creative control.

5. Loan comes due -> you can't pay -> credit fucked -> not the end of the world.

6. Seriously, who the hell makes a living from indie games?  If you need money it's not the job for you.  If you need a life of ascetic poverty illuminated by creative freedom, then it is.  Sorry, this is a duplicate of number one.  But I hope I've made my point.


Good luck, friend.


* If I don't seem qualified to talk about this stuff (as someone who's never sold a game) I should note that (1), (3) and (4) are case studies from close associates of mine, (5) is something far too many people I know have learned, and (2) is common sense.
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bvanevery
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« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2010, 01:26:11 pm »

Nobody is going to generate guerilla marketing with a breakout game or an Arkanoid clone.

Also, some words of warning from a long time ago.  Brian Hook was an ex-SGI engineer and a contemporary of mine.  We used to argue about 3d software rasterization in comp.graphics.api.opengl once upon a time.  He managed his career much better than I did and went on to do important things, like working at id Software, then starting his own venture.  It belly flopped, partly because they didn't have the courage to get out of the "me too" game ghetto.  This postmortem of his took courage to write, and it made an impression on me a number of years ago, so I keep referring people to it.  The lesson I took from it, is you'd better think hard about how you're going to differentiate your product from the rest of the games out there.  Otherwise you are wasting your time.

Occasionally you can do "shovelware" stuff when a new platform comes out, like the iPhone, and make some serious money if you're first to market.  But the "me toos" will rapidly follow and the bubble will burst.  Latest example I have of that, is a friend of mine who made $500/month on a simple iPhone pinball game.  That's more than beer money but it's not a living wage.  He spent his cash reserves into the ground and had to go back into the boring working world for awhile.  Oh well, lessons learned in his case, and he'll try again when he's ready.
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speeder
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« Reply #15 on: September 18, 2010, 02:50:48 pm »

I know that making indie games is unlikely to get me rich... I don't plan to anyway... (what I mean that I am not expecting I MAED A GAME luck, is that I don't expect suddenly get 300.000 sales or something like that... If I sell like 5000 USD is sufficient to make my REALLY happy with this game... Especially because is the amount I need to buy a Mac or a Amiga :D)

I already found what make people want to play my game, I started it trying to make a "double-breakout" (not Arkanoid), I knew that this would be boring, so I removed several of staple stuff from the game (lives for example...) and imported things form the shmup (lifebar, radiant-silvergun-like powers to use in the right occasion, scoring system...), the end result from what I've seen is interesting, the few people that actually played the game, and could stand the "beta-ness" of it, really liked it (one guy that does not have windows even took time to get my source and port it to Mac O.o and he does not know C++, only some other languages...)

What I mean by catch-22 is: Noone want to see the game. Since noone want to see the game, the word is not spread. Since the word is not spread, noone want  to see the game.

It would be sorta easy to break the cycle if I had money (because I would be able to hire someone to do PR for me, like Wolfire do... or buy publicity...), or time...

What I am asking specifically, is what I need to convince people to give a chance to the game, everyone that did, liked it (or said it has some potential or something like that).

I am doing already the "step 1" that I could figure, that is to make the game more attractive (the game was too dark, and had nothing interesting to see on the screen...)

step 2 in my stupidity I did before step 1 (a teaser thing... that ended being a long trailer)

step 3... ?!?!?


And also my other doubt is: Is bad idea try to market the game in the "beta" stage? Overgrowth and Minecraft seemly says "no", but Overgrowth is a sequel (to Lugaru), and Minecraft even being "Alpha" has most of the presentation features, and is lacking gameplay instead.
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« Reply #16 on: September 18, 2010, 03:04:04 pm »

Sounds like you are in a pretty shat situation, not sure what you can do. But I am pretty sure Minecraft did not get famous just because Notch was well known and has been around for a while, as most of the people who have been buying his game probably don't even really know who he is or what he has done.

It is all about making a game people want to play, because if people want to play it, they will. If only it really were that easy though.
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speeder
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« Reply #17 on: September 18, 2010, 03:11:05 pm »

Swattkid the buyers don't need to know Notch.

Ever heard of the 1000 fans theory?

Basically, if you have 1000 fans, they will generate revenue by themselves, because they will buy your stuff /always/ but not only that, when the thing is games, and they are good, these 1000 fans invite other people to play (specially if it has multiplier or leaderboards of stuff like that).

So, Notch was known here. People here liked his game, and told their friends, that pattern repeats for a while, then some reviewers hear of it (because obviously reviewers have friends themselves too! So someone tell them), and so on.

Until someone at Valve hear about it, and post in their TF2 blog... Causing your paypal to get locked XD (TF2 blog mentioned Minecraft, this caused a sudden spike in Minecraft sales, since Notch use PayPal this mean his account got insta-rich in a day, making PayPal scared it was a fraud, so they froze Notch's account... It is ironic that sometimes success screw you instead of helping)
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« Reply #18 on: September 18, 2010, 07:32:14 pm »

Why not make flash games? The average flash game sponsorship is around 2,000 (or so I hear) for a game that only takes a few weeks to make. Of course sometimes it takes awhile for games to get sponsored, it's still better than twiddling your thumbs hoping for people to take interest in your current game.
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speeder
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« Reply #19 on: September 18, 2010, 08:12:31 pm »

I know some people that work with flash, it is not really worth anymore, because the market saturation (ie: /everyone/ make flash game and go for a sponsorship), the only ones that still get money like that, are the ones that are REALLY good.

There are topic about this here in this forum (named who made 2k with a crap game).
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