ApathyWorks

Developer Blog indie

New Facebook Page!

Posted by Alex Jordan on

ApathyWorks now has a new Facebook page! Please Like it!

Between that page and this blog, I'll be showing off new Cute Things art in advance of the PC release!

Also, part of me died when I had to capitalize the word "Like." Wait, there I go again.

The Incredible Shrinking Xbox Live Indie Games Market

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Why, hello there. I'm back from the warm glow of spending Christmas and New Years at hearth and home in Rhode Island. That means that I've returned to my usual city of stubby, unadorned concrete boxes posing as buildings, host to a quixotic collection of ugly white people under severe delusions of grandeur.

One must soldier on.

Or not, since it's time again to arglbargl about Xbox Live Indie Games. For a change, instead of describing its latest indignities through the lens of Cute Things Dying Violently, let's instead focus on Scott Tykoski, a bonafide developer at Stardock who decided to go slumming in XBLIG with the Christmas-themed Elfsquad 7.

Poor Scott recently tweeted that Elfsquad 7 had only sold 600 copies on XBLIG (at $1 a copy) since its release, which is dispiriting for a number of reasons. But since my opinion on how viable XBLIG is as a market should be pretty well-known at this point, I'll only focus on one reason in particular: Elfsquad 7 got lots of good press. Joystiq, Kotaku, Indiegames.com, Gamasutra, and plenty of other sites quickly took note of the professional developer and his game. Lots of people paid attention. And still... 600 sales.

So, we're looking at XBLIG as a market that is even now becoming more resistant to good press, one of the most reliable levers of ensuring (or at least boosting) commercial success in pretty much any market. XBLIG doesn't have many saving graces left for those interested in earning money from it, and one of those few remaining graces is either quickly receding or is now entirely gone.

And Scott's not my only data point. Cursed Loot (formerly Epic Dungeon) was the best-selling game of the XBLIG Winter Uprising that occurred a year ago. According to its creator, Eyehook Games, the title sold 3,800 copies (at $1 a copy) on its first day on the market last December. And that was before that game (and the other Winter Uprising games) got featured prominently on the Xbox Live Dashboard. By comparison, CTDV (I lied, I am talking about it), a game I'd wager was similarly popular, sold 700 copies (at $1 a copy) on its first day of sales about 9 months after the Winter Uprising concluded, and only 800 copies on its best day, when the Summer Uprising ad went up on the Xbox Dashboard.

Two games, both popular and well-received, both backed by prominent Uprisings and similar levels of advertisement from Microsoft... yet one exhibited far slower sales than the other, just nine months later.

There could be many other reasons for that, including purchasing habits of different customer bases (CTDV seems to have sold as well as Cursed Loot over all, indicating that the long tail of purchases has made up for lower initial sales), but I can't help but think that the marked difference of 3,800 sales versus 800 sales is from rapidly-declining market interest. Fewer customers are interested in XBLIG as a whole, and the market is contracting to the point where even consistent good press is losing its relevance.

One final example: the creator of the recently-released twin stick shooter P-3 admitted in the App Hub forums that his game only sold 21 copies (at $1 a copy) on its first day on the XBLIG market. His conversion rate of trial downloads to purchases was 5%, which is... saddening. And I can't help but compare that with my own crappy geography game, which sold 60 copies on its first day of sales back in June 2010. As a genre, twin stick shooters are far more popular than edutainment, so once again I find myself wondering just how much the market has contracted.

People like me

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Or at least they pretend to. For long enough to humor me, anyway.

First up, an article on Supply and Demand on Xbox Live Indie Games that I posted way back in September has made its way to Gamasutra, where it was yesterday's Featured blog post. Nice!

Secondly, Tim Hurley over at Gear-Fish roused himself from his stupor long enough to review Cute Things Dying Violently. (Tim, it's been out for about four months now.)

Finally, Tim also snuck a few interview questions my way. I hold forth on the usual game dev subjects like upgrading CTDV, future games to be made, and platform preference, but Tim also threw a curveball my way regarding cooking. That was a really fun one to answer.

Tales From the Dev Side on IndieGamerChick

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Bad news, nobody. Someone hacked my Xbox Live account and spent $120 of my hard-earned money on games I don't get to play. While Microsoft is investigating the intrusion (and taking their sweet time in doing so), they've shut down my Xbox Live account, which means I can't use it to test out updates to Cute Things Dying Violently. Which means the desperately-needed Xbox patch for it is on hold.

Great.

In far better news, Kairi Vice of IndieGamerChick has been featuring Xbox Live Indie Games developers on her blog while she recuperates from a medical issue. The series is called "Tales From the Dev Side", and Tuesday saw the publishing of Ian Stocker's (Soulcaster I and II, Escape Goat) article on pricing, while yesterday I had the privilege of seeing my article go live. It's about making your game stand out, which is important no matter what market you're releasing it in, but has a few special ideas just for XBLIG.

I hereby demand that you read it. Twice.

I got quoted on VentureBeat!

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I traded emails with Stefanie Fogel at VentureBeat about Cute Things Dying Violently and developing for the PC. Well, some of my quotes have appeared in her latest article about Xbox Live Indie Games developers switching from Xbox to PC, and you should read it here.

First off, I should point out that I'm quoted in this article alongside the likes of Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac), Robert Boyd (Cthulhu Saves the World), and DJ Arcas (FortressCraft). That is, to be blunt, a huge fucking honor. These guys are all players in the indie community and are talented developers with great games on their CVs.

Also, to be blunter, I don't necessarily deserve to be quoted alongside them. As the article points out, Cute Things has only sold 17,000 copies so far and will probably only gross 30k or 40k by August 2012. These guys all have popular, well-known games that passed 100k sales with their eyes closed. In short, I'm not a peer, I'm a wannabe. That doesn't make me any less awesome, mind you! Just not as awesome as these guys. But one day...

Another thing worth mentioning is that Stefanie only shared a few snippets of the quotes I gave her and the things I discussed. The two paragraphs in her article that discuss me blend a few disparate subjects: I discuss that Cute Things did pretty well but also that the poor filtering on the XBLIG Marketplace scares away potential customers. I also have a bland throwaway quote about how the PC is great for indie developers (no shit), and then that comment about how most of the Uprising developers have abandoned XBLIG.

A few sentiments missing from the article are that I appreciate (and I do!) the huge success that Microsoft and others have afforded me through XBLIG. I don't relish biting the hand that feeds, and I don't think Boyd (a former XBLIG developer) does either. But there are superior opportunities elsewhere. That's just the way it is. 20k copies sold on XBLIG versus 100k copies sold on Steam is a no-brainer.

Speaking of which, I say in the article that I'd love to get my game on Steam, and I would, although it's certainly not a foregone conclusion. I'm certainly not trying to be presumptuous... just because I appeared in a prominent article alongside some wonderful, prominent developers doesn't mean everyone should hang on my every word, or that my game is destined for greatness. I still have my work cut out for me, and I really want to earn a spot alongside those developers.

New Achievements coming to Cute Things Dying Violently

Posted by Alex Jordan on

I've been working steadily on Cute Things for the past few days, and decided that I didn't want to just throw a bland bug-fixing patch at the 360 version. Since I'm also busy working on the PC port of the game, I figured that Xbox owners should get in on the fun. And oh what fun it is! Yessir, we're talking about 18 new Achievements, leading to 24 total if you include the Special level Achievements.

Also, they'll still be called "Achieve Mints" on the 360, thanks to Microsoft's lovely mouth-breathing tendencies.

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Cute Things Dying Violently Original Soundtrack

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Do you like the Cute Things Dying Violently soundtrack? Shut up, of course you do. It was written for me from scratch by the handsome, talented, and somewhat disease-free Zack Parrish. Mr. Parish is a pretty cool dude, and you might be surprised to know that he banged out the entire soundtrack in a week. A. week.

He also put the whole thing up on his Soundcloud account for you to listen to whenever the mood strikes you. Which should be always.

Or, you could click this thingy, which is also fine:

Cute Things Dying Violently OST - Licensed to Alex Jordan 2011 by Zack Parrish

Supply and Demand on Xbox Live Indie Games

Posted by Alex Jordan on

One of the things I've made of point of doing these past two years (oh my God, has it really been two years on this blog?) has been analyzing and re-analyzing the Xbox Live Indie Games market. I concluded that XBLIG was a "tough" market that only certain types of games could succeed on: small, funny, and quirky games. That was wrong, for two reasons. One: big, unfunny games have succeeded on XBLIG. Two: and the "success" is often very, very relative.

Cute Things Dying Violently will hit 13,000 copies sold tomorrow, which is amazing, but also the reason that "relative" success has those quotes around it. Even as one of the best-selling games on the XBLIG platform (was #3 for two weeks, is now #12), it won't make enough revenue in a year to pass as anything remotely resembling a salary, considering it took 14 months to develop. So success has a ceiling.

Or does it? The makers of FortressCraft, a MineCraft clone for XBLIG, made over $1 million USD from their big, unfunny XBLIG title. Their success doesn't have a ceiling.

These are just two examples of many that I've been considering for the past month or so. As more and more XBLIG developers are becoming bitter that their games barely sell at the $3 price point (as opposed to the $1 one that CTDV took advantage of), I think it's important to revisit microeconomics, specifically the tenets of Supply and Demand:

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Cute Things Dying Violently Post-Mortem

Posted by Alex Jordan on

It's that time of the year again. Having worked on Cute Things Dying Violently for longer than Michelangelo worked on the Sistine Chapel*, I have written a post-mortem to document every up, down, left, right, in, and out of that process. Maybe some back and forth, too. I dunno, whatever. You can read the whole thing here.

I should warn you, though, that it's long as hell. 14 or 15 pages long, in fact. Why? Because I'm a good writer, and I like writing, and because I am like Samson at the gate when it comes to fighting the ADHD-riddled masses out there, wielding my wit and shining knowledge like the jawbone of an ass. Is that even still Samson? I can't remember, but everyone can enjoy a good chuckle about the fact that I referred to my wit as coming from the mouth of an ass. Get it? GET IT?

For anyone who wants to skip to the summary, I've posted it below the fold:

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I'm on the Just Press Start podcast!

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Jeff over at Just Press Start has been crying big crocodile tears recently, seeing as how I forgot to link to the podcast the he invited me on to last week. Maybe I'm just embarrassed by the fact that I ran my mouth so much and that it turns out I'm physically incapable of shutting up? Well, here it is, Jeff. You can stop crying now, jeez.

Cute Things Dying Violently 1.1 Patch Change Log

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Here are the list of changes that users can expect in CTDV version 1.1:

  • Increased wampas by 75%
  • Martyrdom perk now drops 10 grenades simultaneously and is mandatory on all Critters
  • Lowered the rate of fire on the MP5K submachine gun
  • Added more pink
  • Added capability for playing with a 3rd and 4th player in local multiplayer
  • Removed capability for playing with a 3rd and 4th player in local multiplayer, because of spite.
  • Increased Critter volume by 1000% and speaking rate by 500%
  • Increased Critter voice pitch by 200%
  • Added new quests to Westfall
  • Fixed bug where Xbox DVD tray would eject disks directly into your scrotum at high velocity
  • Fixed the "Jesus infinite respawn" glitch
  • Fixed all misspellings of the word "vagina"
  • Fixed bug wherein software would become self-aware and try to join Skynet
  • Added approximately 2.3% more fun

Coming soon.

CTDV gets an Aiming Tool!

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Cute Things Dying Violently is getting a lot of rave reviews, but the ones that aren't-so-rave usually have one thing in common: criticism of the controls. A lot of players aren't getting a sense of depth and angles by just relying on the ingame arrow and its color-coding, so I've added an Aiming Tool! You activate it with the Right Trigger:

As I say in the video, I'm looking for feedback on how to implement this so that players can't abuse the Aiming Tool as a crutch. I don't want the challenge of some of my existing levels to simply evaporate. Feel free to provide feedback on this blog (sorry for the CAPTCHA), on YouTube, or on Twitter.

Thanks!

Everyone loves Cute Things!

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Reviews are slowly but steadily coming in for Cute Things Dying Violently (and hey, check out that neat release link to the right). The responses are incredibly positive, ranging from liking it to outright loving it. Here are some snippets:

Vintage Video Games TV:

I can honestly recommend this title to anyone looking to just demolish cute things or build a level with your friends. Seriously go have fun with this title, I had hours of fun, and it’s replay value for an indie title is very high.

Indie Gamer Chick:

The ingenuity displayed in the puzzle designs surprised me more than once. The amount of variety on display here is truly stunning, and new ideas kept coming even towards the final boards. How often do you see that in a game, Indie or otherwise?

Two Fedoras/Armless Octopus:

Cute Things Dying Violently is on the whole, a good action puzzle game. It is polished in ways that many independent games (especially on the XBLIG channel) simply aren’t. The graphics and sound effects are good enough, and the music fits rather well. The mechanics are new and fun, and make the best of the controls required of them. If you don’t mind a challenge, Cute Things is a definite buy for the mindless creature puzzler genre fans.

IRB Gamer:

This may be the funnest game on Xbox Live’s Indie showcase. Every aspect of the game is amazing, from the ease of play, the difficulty at later levels, the humor, and even the price. Coming in at 80 MS Points ($1.00!), this deal is too good to pass up.

Indie Games Channel:

The challenge and likelihood of frustration is mitigated by Jordan’s witty writing. Tutorials are included in many of the levels, and they all contain cheeky one-liners and amusing fourth-wall-breaking gags. The critters are written as over-the-top adorable, which makes it that much funnier (or horrifying, depending on your perspective) when you accidentally send one to its doom. Players will also get a chuckle out of the Hate Bot, the game’s main antagonist, as it’ll occasionally mix up its “Destroy!” calls with a random out-of-context line.

The Indie Mine:

The overall package of Cute Things Dying Violently is fantastic. This is the addictive puzzle game people have been searching for since Angry Birds started getting old. You have a solid, addictive hook in the mechanics of the game with a layer of wit on top. I think this game is definitely worth picking up and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it eventually end up on other platforms.

I'll post more reviews as I get them!

Cute Things Dying Violently Press Release

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Oh hi, I didn't see you there. I'm an Alex and I make game things:

ApathyWorks' Cute Things Dying Violently is coming to Xbox Live Indie Games (for 80msp) on August 24th as part of the Indie Games Summer Uprising! We're talking about a seminal moment here, up there with Grover Cleveland's inaugural address in terms of historical impact.

What is CTDV? Well, it's a game about Critters. And the Critters need your help! You flick them around each level to get them safely to the elevator. Between the Critters and their salvation lie puzzles and a ton of murderous objects such as spikes, buzzsaws, fire, and a homicidal, bucket-headed robot. It's up to you to save these Cute Things and prevent them from Dying Violently.

In addition to a singleplayer campaign of 60 mind-bending, reflex-testing levels, players can also earn certain Achieve Mints: sweet, leafy green awards that unlock up to 6 special challenge levels where you can hone your murderous abilities. Cute Things Dying Violently also features competitive local multiplayer, where two players face off to try and save their own Critters while simultaneously killing their opponents' with a variety of amusing powerups. Players can also try out the built-in Level Editor and use it to create and play their own (inferior) singleplayer and multiplayer levels.

If you are interested in getting a free download code to review and/or lambast CTDV, please email me or tweet at me (http://twitter.com/#!/AlejandroDaJ/) and I will provide you with a code on or after August 24th. (That's when Microsoft releases the limited codes, because they're stingy buggers.)

 

Media:

That's all for now! I hope to see you playing my game! I'd even settle for seeing my name on the subject line of a very nice Cease and Desist letter. See you August 24th!

-Alex "AlejandroDaJ" Jordan

Cute Things Dying Violently has a release date!

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Cute Things Dying Violently will be released on Xbox Live Indie Games on Wednesday, August 24 and will cost 80 Microsoft Funbucks/$1.00.

In case you didn't realize it, this is incredibly exciting and you're allowed to dance in place for a few moments right now.

Mise en Game

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Okay, I don't want to be arrogant or premature, but it looks like Cute Things Dying Violently is gonna be a success. By which I mean people have playtested early versions of it, seen the videos, and reacted favorably to the press it's gotten by being an Indie Games Summer Uprising finalist. I'm not yet gonna venture how much of a success, because I don't want to tempt fate and upset the Gods (especially Ares, what a prick), but it makes me think of what I want to do next.

And I don't really have a good answer. Those who read the Indie Games Channel interview might've noticed that I've got a ton of ideas bouncing around my head, including stuff for a superhero game, a fantasy game, and a horror game. But would people actually play such games?

CTDV seems to be a fortunate combination of a fun, unique game that also grabs market attention. And I'd be lying if I said that I didn't design it with market attention in mind. But when considering CTDV as a vehicle for penetrating the Xbox Live Indie Games market - designed specifically for commercial success - how the hell would you follow that up? Would a follow up in another genre be a similar success?

This is bugging me because not everyone wants to just make a game with the primary objective of market success. I know I certainly have creative itches that I want to scratch, ones that have very little to do with mass appeal or visions of dollar signs dancing in my head. Take the aforementioned superhero game, which will either be a by-the-numbers brawler or a by-the-numbers Strategy RPG. The "creativity" itch is specific not so much to the game's gameplay, but rather to its accoutrements, the little juicy bits that bring the feel of the game together: story, graphical style, writing, and setting.

I'm talking about the overall feel of the game. And I'm hereby inventing a word for it: Mise en Game. This is derived from movie directors' mise en scene, all the little details that go into composing a shot or sequence; and also from mise en place, a word I picked up from a Tony Bourdain book that describes the careful arrangement of cooks' food prep stations in a kitchen.

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Indie Games Channel Interview

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Internet! Sweet, precious Internet! Oh, how I've missed you. I knew we'd be apart when I moved into a new apartment, but I couldn't have fathomed how much I'd miss your sweet, sweet embrace. Or how much the value of going in to work would increase once it became my primary method of going online.

Anyway. Did you gather that I moved to a new apartment? I did. I also dislocated my shoulder in the process. Good times.

ANYWAY. Indie Games Channel interviewed me and asked me a buncha cruncha questions about Cute Things Dying Violently. Lots of good material there (they also gave my boss character a name: the "Hate Bot"), but I gotta say that I especially enjoyed answering the question about providing advice to up-and-coming indie developers:

IGC: What advice can you offer to other aspiring developers that might also be looking to become a one-man development crew?

AJ: Keep working at it, because knowledge comes slowly. Expose yourself to all major aspects of game development: programming, 2D art design, 3D modeling, rigging, animation, level design, sound engineering, writing… everything! To be a one-man team, you need to be a jack-of-all-trades. Maximize your strengths, and if you identify weaknesses that might be holding you back, only then look for third party support. (There’s a lot of good places you can buy 3D models, sound effects, or music, but the cost quickly adds up, so you better know what you’re doing.)

Identify what markets you’d like to put a game in, and figure out what kinds of games sell in those markets. Play to the market’s strengths, and go multi-platform if possible to increase your sales and downloads. Draw up a list of gaming journalist sites that might be able to spread the word about your game. Look at the list, then make it double in length. Contact all of them, then find more to contact.

Also, join a community. Make friends with fellow developers, because their support and advice is invaluable. Be active on Twitter, and have a blog or website.

If you quit your day job, game design is now your new job. Hurl yourself at it, and make sure your days are spent productively. If you don’t quit your day job (like I did), cut back on design effort if you’re feeling stressed or real life is intruding, but never stop completely. Recognize that you have a constructive hobby (that can make you money!) and learn to enjoy it. Just keep plugging away, and make sure your skills keep improving, too.

New (ish) Cute Things Dying Violently Trailer

Posted by Alex Jordan on

In the mad dash to have a presentable beta of the game for the Indie Games Summer Uprising voters, I was constantly redoing artwork. Seriously, most of my art had a half-life of 48 hours. The problem with that was it was incredibly hard to keep consistent PR materials out in the ether.

To rectify that, here's a new (ish) CTDV trailer, showing off similar footage from the same trailer but with new Critter art and ingame object art. Enjoy! That's an order!

Two (Brief) Victory Laps

Posted by Alex Jordan on

First off, I'm exceptionally proud and excited to say that Cute Things Dying Violently was one of 8 titles selected to participate in the Indie Games Summer Uprising! I came in 6th (certainly not complaining!), and here's the complete lineup:

All of which are excellent games, and I'm proud to be considered in the same category as them. There's yet more to accomplish on CTDV before it's ready for prime time, but I'm good for it! I won't let the Uprising down!

Pun intended, yes.

Additionally, last month I received an award for Around The World, almost a year after its release. Ryan at VVGTV nominated it for Best Educational Game and the voters agreed, netting me a Golden Dude Award:

Thanks, guys!

Interview with IndieGamerChick

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Wednesday night, I was interviewed by Kairi Vice over at IndieGamerChick. (That's not her real name. She admitted as such after I accused her of being a rogue LAPD cop that lost their partner and now lives on a houseboat.)

It was a really good interview that primarily focused on developing Cute Things Dying Violently and competing in the Indie Games Summer Uprising. There was ample opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the game, as well as a frank discussion about other Xbox Live Indie Games developers and their titles. All in all, a very solid, enjoyable interview, thanks largely to the skill of Kairi, who's only been blogging since early July. I hope she becomes an even bigger friend and ally to the XBLIG crowd.

Read the interview here, or else. It also includes some new screenshots and a new YouTube trailer that shows updated graphics, including new Critter animations.

Critter Redesign

Posted by Alex Jordan on

I made the Top 25 of the Indie Games Summer Uprising contestants, and now I'm trying to turn that "25" into an "8." To do so, I'm fractically - and I really mean frantically - rushing to make the game look better and better before the next round of voting closes on Monday the 18th. I received a couple of suggestions to redo the Critters, so, with great relish, I did so:

They're so happy!

Initially, I had a hard time redesigning them from the simple white blobs, and for a silly reason: I was emotionally attached to the simple white blobs! I'd been staring at them as placeholder art for the better part of a year! I was comfortable with them!

But then people started criticizing the blandness and simplicity of them, and I started worrying about my ability to get into the Top 8 of the IGSU. Therefore, ambition trumps attachment. For those of you that know me personally, you now have yet another reason to be wary of my friendship.

The Indie Games Summer Uprising

Posted by Alex Jordan on

I am working my ass off. Guess why?

That's why. Check it out.

As I've said before, the prevailing opinion of my chosen market - Xbox Live Indie Games - is that it isn't that great. Sure, you're given access to an honest-to-God video game console to develop your games, but XBLIG (a) doesn't have much market penetration, (b) is limited to fairly gimped versions of games without Achievements and Leaderboards, and (c) is still suffering from its initial impression as a dumping ground of shovelware.

To rectify this, a bunch of proven, quality-driven developers banded together last December to release their excellent games under the moniker of the Indie Games Winter Uprising. And with a new season comes a new Uprising. But instead of the titles being self-appointed by the developers, like during the Winter Uprising, this Uprising will involve community voting.

The first round of voting is going on now: the four gents running the Uprising are taking stock of all 75 contestants and will narrow that number down to 25 finalists. Starting on Monday, July 11, the voting will be opened to fellow XBLIG developers and Uprising participants, to narrow down the 25 finalists into 8 lucky duckies that will be part of the Uprising. Following that, the entire public will have an opportunity to vote on an additional 2 "fan favorite" games to be part of the Uprising, putting things at a nice round 10 titles on display.

Cute Things Dying Violently is by no means a shoe-in to be selected for the 25 finalists, let alone one of the 8 or 10 games that will get to participate in the Uprising. That said, I think I've made a unique, polished game with plenty of style and humor to spare. I'm optimistic that I'll make it in, and really look forward to hearing back.

Oh, by the by, click the image below to see the CTDV page and all my new media on the Uprising website!

Talking Project Squish with Vintage Video Games TV

Posted by Alex Jordan on

I am not a creative prodigy. I don't automatically create pure gold when I sit down in front of a computer or open up Photoshop, so I try to make up for that with careful planning and intellectual rigor. And not just my own! I recently borrowed those traits from Ryan at Vintage Video Games TV so that I could get some useful feedback on how Project Squish was shaping up.

Ryan spent a couple of days with a pre-alpha build that I gave him and then called me on Skype to discuss it. That required me actually downloading and installing Skype, something which I'd managed to avoid doing lo these many years. Partying like it was 2006, I got Skype up and running and had a nice chat with Ryan over the course of an hour. Here's what we discussed:

The conversation ended thereabouts, as Ryan had to go and make himself pretty for a date with what I hope was a passably-attractive human female, or at least a classy, upscale tranny. However, we covered a lot of ground in an hour, and I was greatful for the advice he gave. I really hope that Project Squish is a hit with the community, and I appreciated all of the insight he gave into how that could be possible.

Thanks, Ryan!

Indie Game Designer Stereotypes!

Posted by Alex Jordan on

I got these from Mommy's Best Games, who got them from the Dramatic Life Tumblr, who got them from TIGSource. At some point, I suspect their lineage goes back to Jesus Christ himself riding an Allosaurus. But hey, here's some of them, because they're painfully fucking true:

You can check out the rest here.

Sad Little Observations

Posted by Alex Jordan on

1. Not to put too much emphasis on an unscientific sample of the few people that read this blog, but the folks that commented below only managed to name four "unique" video games from the past 5 or 6 years that were also critical and successes: Portal, Mirror's Edge, Wii Fit, and Wii Sports. Of those, Mirror's Edge was a financial bomb, and both Wii games were hand-crafted by Nintendo to show off their latest sensory peripherals.

Oh, and every other game mentioned was a small-scale indie game released by digital distribution. That's kinda scary.

2. This article in Gamasutra by someone justifying game piracy as a response to developers not nurturing a good community for their games is the kind of thing that drives me crazy. His argument is that, since games have no tangible content and, thusly, have no intrinsic value, the prime driver of revenue for a game is how supportive you are of the people playing it. Including, of course, the pirates. Be nice enough to them, and they may be kind enough to give you money.

This makes me want to scream and throw my shit. Of course games have intrinsic value, you dipshit. Just because it isn't solid like a book or DVD doesn't mean that games automatically become only a medium by which you succor fans and get them to give you money for your kindness. No, they're supposed to give you money for access to a copy of the game (digital or otherwise) and the experience they get from playing it! The physical media dodge pisses me off to no end, because the distinction between "physical theft" and "copyright violation" (literally, the "right to copy") covers these exact kinds of situations!

I'm impressed that the dude managed to pretty up the usual bullshit justifications with some sort of artsy, social contract-esque relationship between the developer and the (potential) customer, but it falls apart the moment you realize that developers that place a premium on customer service, like 2D Boy, still take it on the chin. Their World of Goo is an excellent game that was (a) self-published for a low price, and (b) done so without Digital Rights Management (DRM) as steps to entice customers. And still, it had a 90 percent piracy rate. Which means, according to the Gamasutra guy's argument, someone's not keeping up their end of the social bargaaaaaain...

The sad fact of the matter is that PC game developers are working in a market with huge, significant distortions. Piracy is cheap and it's easy, and the complete lack of law enforcement against online piracy allows the crime to occur with absolute impunity. And being as any enforcement would require a revolution in both international law and internet law, I don't expect to see a change anytime soon.

People develop PC games because they love developing games, and the PC represents a large audience and a large (potential) market. They frequently charge money for them not because they hope to sucker people and get rich, but because they love designing games and hope to do it for a living. And they can and should do all sorts of things to entice customer support and loyalty. When I get around to PC development, I for one will do everything in my power to provide a cheap, quality-based, DRM-free experience to both reward and entice my clientele. And even if any hypothetical game of mine has a 90% piracy rate, I hope to hell that the 10% of legitimate customers provide revenue that I'm happy with so that I don't have to worry after the missing 90%.

But let's stop pretending that piracy is anything other than the grinning, leering result of a market distortion, and the albatross around the neck of those developers brave enough to enter that market.

Amnesia: Dark Descent, Mini-Review

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Actually, see that title? I'm kinda lying. Well, not really "lying" so much as understating the "mini" part. That's because I have very little to say in an Amnesia "review", per se, as I do about its mechanics.

Here's the review part: this game is fucking scary, and that makes it fucking awesome. It's the scariest game I've ever played, although that probably isn't saying much. It's well-designed, of decent length (my playthrough took 10 hours), and is marvelously paced. Not only that, but it has an incredibly engrossing story that perfectly compliments the scares that the game sends your way. Oh, and did I mention the game is fucking scary? Your character is tasked with descending into the lowest levels of a dark, rundown castle while battling encroaching darkness, diminishing sanity, and some very nasty former servants.

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Breaking news: making money on XBLIG continues to be hard

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Bitmob has a really interesting article up describing the trials and tribulations of four "successful" Xbox Live Indie Games developers. The article is horrifying - and "successful" is in scare quotes - because even though these guys and gals have professional game development on their resumes and have created some of the best XBLIG offerings out there, their sales are still relatively meager compared with the rest of the industry.

Honestly, the evidence is starting to pile up that XBLIG is the graveyard of game development aspirations. Great for hobbyists, lousy for just about anyone trying to make a living. And even the cream of the crop of XBLIG developers are barely scraping by. Game design is fun, but let's try not to forget about feeding and sheltering yourself and your family.

I'm starting to think that XBLIG has three major things going against it:

 

Lack of respect: Historically, it seems that potential buyers have regarded the XBLIG section of Xbox Live as a dumping ground of crappy first-time attempts, avatar games, zombie clones, and massage apps. Even though there are many, many diamonds in the rough on XBLIG, the overall low opinion of peers' offerings seems to disincline people to take the platform seriously.

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Winter Uprising Trailer

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Oh hey, the Xbox Live Indie Games Winter Uprising trailer is out, showcasing a butt ton of games. And it's on Vimeo, so you know it's got that extra snazzy factor.

<iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/17314563?byline=0&amp;portrait=0" width="400" height="225" frameborder="0"></iframe>

A quick reminder that the video omits: all these games are coming out in the next week or two, and all will cost between $1 and $5. I hereby declare any and all of your excuses for not picking these titles up invalid.

XBLIG Winter Uprising!

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Well well well, what do we have here?

Fed up with the fact that excellent and often cheap Xbox Live Indie Games offerings are frequently buried by zombie games, massage games, and avatar games, Breath of Death VII: The Beginning creator Robert Boyd has struck back. The plan? Organize a ton of fellow XBLIG developers with amazing track records (who have also suffered from meager sales) and have them all release quality-driven, high-profile games within a week of each other in December.

The "uprising" is, near as I can tell, an honest uprising. Talented XBLIG developers have long suffered on the market, as I've frequently pointed out in this blog. Since cheap, flimsy cash-ins are easier to get to market than A+ indie games, the crap has all but overwhelmed the arena. As a result, the common consensus from both consumers and media outlets alike was that XBLIG didn't have much to offer... until now.

As a shot across the bow, the Winter Uprising's announcement more than succeeded. For odd reasons, even the best XBLIG titles often failed to garner the attention they deserved, unless they were the rare runaway hit like the oft-mentioned A Gam3 W1th Zomb1es. But 14 quality games, all from established developers? And all of them retailing for between $1 and $5? And all of them hitting the market within a week... and hitting it angrily? Pretty much every major gaming blog and ezine out there took notice, and, voila! Increased attention for the cream of the crop on the platform! Dig it:

I was kind of flustered when I realized that Project Squish wouldn't be done in time to participate in either the media blitz or the actual release period, but hey, that's not their problem. A bunch of awesome developers just so happened to have games that were ready to be released during the same period, so they used that to their advantage.

And, needless to say, that's awesome. In fact, it's more than awesome. Even though I don't get to participate, it will increase awareness of the fact that the XBLIG isn't all zombie massage avatar crap, and hopefully increase market traffic as a result. It should also (hopefully) prime gaming blogs to be more interested in quality XBLIGs that are announced, even if they happen beyond the timeframe of the Winter Uprising.

Of course, I hope that Boyd will have more Uprisings in the future, and that Project Squish will be done in time to participate.

Creativity and Independence

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Team Meat, the very-specifically titled development team behind the quirky and wondrous Super Meat Boy, were recently interviewed by Brutal Gamer. It's a great interview, discussing not only the game and future projects but also advice for prospective indie developers. Their suggestion that indie developers not go to college for programming or art design warms the bitter, manipulative cockles of my heart because, hey! I didn't go to college for either of those things! Yet here I am doing both!

But their ultimate reason for saying that wasn't what I expected. I initially thought that Team Meat's rationale for dropping that little counter-cultural firecracker was to suggest that four years of learning programming or art design all by yourself was just as valuable as doing four years of it in college.

However, I was surprised to find out that Team Meat was asserting that colleges teach fairly orthodox ways of thinking and doing things, and that four years of working on your own encourages not just independence (hey, that's what "indie" means!), but also creativity, originality, and individualism.

That caught me a little off guard because it's completely true, and a way I'm not accustomed to thinking. Everyone - including yours truly - gets into game design because they play a OMG super cool game and want to recreate that game, but better. Better gameplay, better story, neat ideas for levels... you name it, your imagination is already turning the dial up to 11. After all, mimicry is the most nascent (and often exciting) form of learning, as evinced by the behavior of not only babies, but everyone from newbie game developers to major studios. Look at the gaming shelf of your local Best Buy and you can see how iteration is how the industry works.

Creativity, originality, and individualism mean breaking out of that cycle. It means being honest with yourself. Making a cool first person shooter would probably be fulfilling, but will it be unique? Will it stand out? There's nothing wrong with iterating, but there are tons upon tons of viable avenues out there for stamping your name on something truly original.

When I was working on the Prometheus Engine, I planned on using it for a super neato horror game. All well and good, but I abandoned it for Project Squish, which I hope prospective players will reward for its sense of humor and creativity. I'm happy that I'm following Team Meat's advice, but it's also somewhat jarring that I could just as easily have gone in a different direction, down the road much more traveled by.

Avoid that route! Be vigilant! And be creative.

The Untamed Frontier

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Another day, another Wild West metaphor.

Gamasutra has an article up kindly letting us know that some mouth breather launched a Denial of Service (DDoS) attack against Minecraft developer Markus Persson's web server. The rationale? That Persson was not working fast enough on the Minecraft content he'd promised, and deserved to be punished.

Although the internet's open nature has turned it into both the world's biggest university and its biggest playing field, that same openness leads to very little policing. In America, last I checked, the only recourse for someone anonymously trashing your web server with a DDoS attack was to be able to prove that said attack cost at least $5,000 in commercial damages. And then the FBI gets involved, although that seems to do little good unless you're the schmuck who hacked Sarah Palin's Yahoo! email address.

Persson isn't American, of course. He's Swedish, so that gives us another fun little example. Recently, Sweden brought criminal charges against the folks who ran The Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent file sharing site that frequently played host to illegal copies of games and movies. After a knock down, drag out fight, The Pirate Bay folks were found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison. Also, their server was shut down. The final result? During the appeals process, The Pirate Bay guys nimbly changed hosts to a new server. Which is still up.

The Wild West metaphor pertains because, insofar that the internet is a wide open place, that's largely because nobody has really bothered policing it. The internet doesn't transcend national laws, but, outside of major issues like child pornography, nobody really bothers enforcing them. And that especially pertains to the less-pressing issues of copyright violations (from game and movie pirates) or juvenile vandelism, like that of the genius that decided to DDoS the server for a game that's got only one hard-working developer and is still in alpha. On the occasions when those laws are enforced, as my American and Swedish examples show, the effect is punitive and short lived. (Remember those retarded RIAA crackdowns?) There's no precedent for the kind of international law enforcement cooperation needed to crack down on these issues. And there sure as hell aren't enough people to give a damn.

In short, Markus Persson found success because he struck it big in a wide-open medium that allowed him to fulfill his potential. But that same medium allows for people to conduct virtual vandelism and get away with it scott free.

Good market strategy, bad publicity?

Posted by Alex Jordan on

I've just posted an article about the ethics of marketing fad-based cash-in games on Xbox Live Indie Games. Short version is that I think it's perfectly acceptable, so long as you don't act like a dick, like the guy behind Avatar Zombie Massage Online 2 did.

More on Xbox Live's latent suckiness

Posted by Alex Jordan on

DrMistry, the creator of Space Pirates From Tomorrow, has an excellent post up on his blog which touches briefly on the previously-discussed Mommy's Best Games/Top Downloads issue. More importantly, it really hammers home just how reliant Xbox Live Indie Game developers are on Microsoft's XBLIG/Xbox Live infrastructure, and just how crippled the release of a game can become when portions of the system go down.

(DrMistry even points out that the New Releases section can go down, which I didn't know! Around The World got 85% of its sales from the New Release tab. If it had gone down during ATW's release... I shudder at the thought.)

A really interesting point that DrMistry makes is that good PR and coverage on the indie gaming blogs doesn't net as many sales as sheer visibility on the Xbox Marketplace dashboard. I didn't know that. That means that XBLIG bugs and outages have an even more horrifying impact on game sales than I previously guessed at.

Prior to releasing Project Squish, I plan on spending a good month or so with a gameplay-and-art-complete game, just so I can unload tons of finished content on the indie gaming blogs and simply advertise my heart out. However, it turns out that if the Xbox Marketplace chooses that time and date to screw up, no matter how energetic my PR campaign is, I'm in for a world of hurt when it comes to sales.

A lot of people would like it if XBLIG sucked less

Posted by Alex Jordan on

So apparently, Mommy's Best Games - one of the best and most noteworthy indie studios working in Xbox Live Indie Games - has decided to hold off on releasing their new game, Explosionade, because the XBLIG Top Downloads tab in the Marketplace is broken.

Kobun's indie page covered it here, and Indienerds covered it here. Basically, the short version is that the database that does sales tracking for XBLIG is unreliable, updating every few days or not at all rather than every 24 hours on the dot. For developers interested in checking their daily sales, it's obnoxious. But this database also powers the Top Downloads section of the XBLIG Marketplace, giving additional valuable attention to popular XBLIG titles.

Y'see, Microsoft does an utterly piss-poor job of advertising good XBLIG titles. There's a myriad of reasons why that is, including the fact that Microsoft earns more revenue from Xbox Live Arcade titles and doesn't want super cheap XBLIG offerings to compete with the pricier Arcade options. Left to hang, XBLIG developers must create their own advertising. One way is to prevail upon the various gaming blogs and indie sites out there and hope your game is good enough to get featured and talked about. Another is to have actually made a good game to begin with, and have it appear in the Top Downloads section (or IGN Picks, or what have you) by virtue of your hard-earned popularity. So when the XBLIG database is broken, and the Top Download section isn't updating, developers lose one of their lamentably-few options to juice their sales.

Those of us that have released mediocre games (/raises hand) know what that leaves the developer with. Absent access to the Top Downloads list or much in the way of web publicity, your game lingers on the New Arrivals tab for a few days (by virtue of being, um, new) before even newer releases push it off. Your sales are high while it's on there and visible, but once it drops off, sales decline by as much as 95%.

In fact, Kobun described exactly this when he featured my Around The World post mortem.

I understand why ATW languished - it was small and mediocre to above-average - and it didn't get sales legs beyond being on the New Arrival page. But to consign even more talented developers to the same outcome is gruesome. Microsoft should get their shit together and make the XBLIG market a more rewarding place, or else you might see more developers bitch and whine (at best) or leave the market entirely (at worst).

Why Minecraft took off

Posted by Alex Jordan on

ModDB has an article up about how and why Minecraft took off so quickly.

The article is aimed at indie developers, and it actually makes some unique points that haven't been done to death in other indie gaming zines and blogs. Here are the six points that the article stresses:

  1. Minecraft is unique
  2. It's "frictionless"
  3. It has demonstrable depth
  4. It's easy to buy
  5. It creates viral marketing material
  6. And it's reached a tipping point

Some of those are no-brainers, like it's depth and unique-ness. (Although, the guy behind Dwarf Fortress would beg to disagree.) And the list has at least two unfair elements, as #5 and #6 are effects of popularity, not its causes. (Well, okay, #5 is both.)

However, the "frictionless" tag really intrigued me. The writer meant that the game - the freeware, online-only gimped version - was ridiculously easy to play. You log into the guy's website and play the game through your browser. That is one hell of a marketing tool, and one of the reason's why I've been eyeing the Unity 3D engine, with it's multi-platform support that, incredibly, allows you to play games through your web browser without even needing admin access. Neat, right? The old adage for indie gamers working on PC is that "everyone has a PC!" Well, everyone also goes online and uses a web browser. Tons of potential there.

In fact, having a free, albeit feature-incomplete version of your game on your webpage is a double godsend. First, your game becomes just as frictionless as Minecraft: you visit the website, click Play, and voila. If you have a compelling game, all you need to sink your hook into a potential customer is for them to give you page hit and try the game. Secondly, you expand your market from just avowed PC gamers... the Steam, Direct2Drive, Play Greenhouse crowds... to potential PC gamers, i.e. everyone that has a web browser and could conceivably choose to purchase your game. In fact, it's entirely possible to have the purchase consist of web page access to another, feature-complete version of the game on your webpage, rather than just a downloadable copy.

And not only do you reach a broad market through a universal platform, you also minimize piracy that way. I wonder if browser-based games behind pay walls will be the wave of the future.

Breath of Death VII Post Mortem

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Another day, another post mortem. The two gentlemen geniuses behind Breath of Death VII have written a post mortem article about their game's development and release. It's an entertaining read, especially because the developers hit it out of the park on the list of things they did correctly, which includes everything from design aesthetics to pricing to advertising and beyond. The stuff they didn't do right? Absurdly mild mistakes strictly pertaining to minor gameplay aspects of BoD.

Oh, and obsessively checking up on sales. Trust me, guys... everyone obsesses over their sales.

New freeware XNA engine under development

Posted by Alex Jordan on

The talented guy (guys? gals? not sure) over at EvoFx Studio have been working hard on what appears to be a densely-featured, gorgeous freeware engine. Dig it:

Apparently it's coming out in the first quarter of 2011. I'll be eagerly anticipating it!

Another day, another post mortem

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Dysnomia

Another well-written post-mortem by an Xbox Live Indie Games developer can be found here. It chronicles the development of Dysnomia, including the hiring and agreed upon 50/50 revenue split with a second team member, the development process, the meager budget ($100 for roughly 1,600 hours of work), and ultimately his sales figures.

Once again for an XBLIG developer, the Dysnomia Team experienced a paltry conversion rate of roughly 6% in trial downloads converted to actual purchases. He's made a decent chunk of pocket change, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,500. On a whim, I compared that to the 1,600 hours spent on development. Unfortunately, the result suggested that the Dysnomia Team earned about $0.90 per hour for development, not including sunk costs. Split between the two developers, and that goes down to $0.45 per hour.

For hobbyists, that's a shrug. For aspiring indie developers looking to make a career, that's horrifying. Nobody wants to wake up and realize that child laborers in Malaysia make more than you do!

Libraries, engines, markets, deliberation, and griping

Posted by Alex Jordan on

I love working on video games. I find programming and level design flat-out engrossing. Releasing Around The World was deeply fulfilling, even in spite of its poor sales.

But good God, I am sick to fucking death of writing in libraries.

What is a library? Well, XNA, the programming environment I write Xbox Live Indie Games in, is a library. It's a series of tools that let you build a game from the ground up, and does a lot of the heavy lifting. For instance, all 3D models or 2D sprites are drawn to the screen with their respective "Draw()" methods. Invoke that, and you're drawing. Yeah, I'm trying to make it sound straightforward for lay people, but for programmers, it really is.

But heavy lifting doesn't necessarily make things more efficient. While working on Project Squish, I spent the last 30 minutes wondering why an in-game pressable button vibrates psychotically when you're pressing on it instead of just staying down. Eventually, I solved the problem, but I've already experienced hundreds like it, and I'll experience hundreds more in the future: simple tasks that become unreasonably complicated and often don't behave as expected.

That's because a library gives you a lot of tools, but you still have to create everything from scratch. Including absurdly simple things like buttons. Also including much more complicated things like the dynamic shadows that I spent a month working on with the now-abandoned Prometheus Engine.

I wouldn't have these headaches if I worked with a game engine. A game engine is not only a library full of tools, but also full of templates and features pre-made for your use. An engine is like a car, in that you go shopping for the one that already does what you want it to do. There are engines out there that already handle not just buttons and shadows, but also terrain, lighting, physics, and loads of other things. Instead of programming these features from scratch, an engine gives you access to them from the get-go, allowing you to modify them as you see fit or leave them be and focus on programming things that the engine doesn't handle for you, like logic specific to your game.

So why am I not working in an engine right now?

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From the 'Support Indie Developers' Annals

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Machinarium was released last year, and somehow I completely forgot about it. Or missed it entirely. Anyway, Amanita Design created and self-published this gorgeous point-and-click puzzle game, and apparently, it got pirated to hell and gone. Even at $20, the developer estimated that only 5 to 15 percent of the game's players actually paid for it. Dudes, not cool.

As described by Joystiq, Amanita is having a "Pirate Amnesty" sale, marking down the game to $5 so that you will hopefully give them the goddamn money that they deserve. I bet it'll work to some degree - they've managed to find tons of free press on this one - but I always get a little unnerved about combating piracy with positive reinforcement. "You pirated the hell out of our game, so here it is a little cheaper. We won't get anywhere near as much money from you, but we will get something, so that we may feed and clothe our kids. Thanks."

Negative reinforcement, of course, would involve that scene from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back where they go to everyone on the internet's house and beat them up.

I don't think that would work.

Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Another colleague from the Penny Arcade forums, Small Cave Games, has released Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey on Xbox Live Indie Games for just $1. This is a 2D Metroidvania-style game that will serve as a prelude to an RPG that Small Cave Games is working on. It's been out for three days and has already gotten some pretty good reviews and a high rating, so check it out.

In three days, it's also gotten more than twice as many reviews as Around The World has in a month. (Oh, by the way, happy One Month Anniversary, Around The World!) Not to conjure up more jealousy or squeeze more blood from this stone, but: I shouldn't have made an educational game! (Don't worry, I'm quitting this refrain right now.)

And, as a direct result, I'm currently working on a game that will probably retard your child's maturation. More info on Project Squish to follow.

Legend of the Rune Lords Post-Mortem

Posted by Alex Jordan on

I just got back from Rhode Island, so I will reluctantly resume posting.

Also, I'm not the only one in the post-mortem business. The guy that did Legend of the Rune Lords has also written one, and it's quite a read. Even the difference in our writing styles highlights our varied approach to game design: his post-mortem is brief and focused, while mine for Around The World is long and all-encompassing.

The developer held himself to a two month development cycle (!!!) as opposed to my six month development cycle. Obviously, he was much less interested in teaching himself C# and XNA at a luxurious pace. He wanted to get his game done in time for Dream-Build-Play, so he needed to hit the ground running. He bought a license for the TorqueX engine, which, judging by the Wikipedia entry and my own experience with Torque Game Engine Advance, would be hilariously inadequate for me. However, it was perfect for the Legend developer, and he further augmented his headlong speed by using royalty free art and sound assets. Spared from both creating an engine or making the artwork for it, I can see how this guy pulled off developing a full RPG in two months.

The post-mortem also links to another article, this one on his sales. That article was pretty eye-popping, too. Suffice it to say that in his first 12 days, Legend of the Rune Lords sold more than twice what Around The World has in a month. The lesson here is simple: Alejandro, developing educational games is a luxury, not a living. At least for right now. I never fully deluded myself into thinking that my game would be popular, but I came pretty damn close. Quality and gameplay mean nothing if it's in a genre that nobody wants to touch. Lesson learned! Now I'm moving onto something more mainstream.

Also, the Legend guy learned some of the same lessons about the New Arrivals list and good box art, so I'm happy that I seem to be going in the right direction. His sales also bottomed out once his game fell off the New Arrivals list, but there are way more people willing to randomly browse the RPG section of the Xbox Marketplace than the Educational section. Again: lesson learned!

Hrmm

Posted by Alex Jordan on

My esteemed colleagues RainbowDespair and Slash, who made Breath of Death VII (look two posts down) have updated a bunch of us on their sales figures. The game premiered on Xbox Live Indie Games on April 21, and with Microsoft's April 22 through May 1 sales data on hand, the duo has proclaimed that they made a little north of 5,000 sales, with a surprisingly high demo-to-purchase rate of 55%.

5,000 sales is $3,500 after Microsoft's 30% cut, which isn't bad for a week. And as a very high-quality game (I can testify to that) with significant word-of-mouth momentum, and forthcoming appearances on the Top Rates and Top Downloaded sections of Microsoft.com and the Xbox Live Dashboard, their well-earned prominence might earn them a continued period of robust sales as opposed to the quick, brutal drop-off that most Indie Game developers experience.

It'll be interesting to see what happens. As I've always stated with regard to Around The World, I'm not expecting to make much money on it, let alone a living. But further insight into what sells on XBLIG and what doesn't will be a boon to future games that myself and others will be churning out.

Breath of Death VII

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Some colleagues who post along side me on the Penny Arcade forums have recently released an 8-bit style RPG for Xbox Live Indie Games called Breath of Death VII: The Beginning. (Hint: there are no BoD 1 through 6 games... yet!) It only costs $1, so there's absolutely no reason not to try it out.

A grim portent of things to come? Or a 'So what?'

Posted by Alex Jordan on

So, apparently, a professional game developer is sticking their content on Xbox Live Indie Games.

Not sure how I feel about that. I mean, I totally get the purpose: a professional, but not super-duper professional development studio wishes to release a game by avoiding the ESRB ratings and licensing that goes hand-in-hand with publishing on Xbox Live Arcade. Developer gets to keep more of their money away from Microsoft, avoid the painfully long Microsoft certification process (XBLIG games are all peer-reviewed, for free), and reach a new market.

Well, they can try. As I said before, finding success on the XBLIG market is not always a matter of Bigger Is Better. Professionalism will only get so far when trying to satisfy the XBLIG niche market, which looks for small, quirky, and cheap games. That $1 price point is very much the weapon of choice these days. Tank Battles might not be able to just waltz into XBLIG and find a hospitable market.

In which case, I'm not particularly worried. I don't see professional developers crowding out indie developers in the XBLIG market. Something to keep an eye on, sure, but not some sort of imminent demise for the rest of us.

And yes, I spelled "indy" wrong from the get-go and it's in my post tags and everything, God, I'm gonna carry that with me to the grave. Pretend everything has to do with Indiana Jones and we'll all be fine.

On Creativity

Posted by Alex Jordan on

After watching a friend play through most of Uncharted 2, I thought, "This is the kind of game I wish I could make." It was a somewhat unfortunate thought to have, for many reasons.

Firstly, there's the issue of how relatively uninspired the game is; it's little more than the high water mark of the video game industry's desire to successfully emulate the thrill and presentation of big budget Hollywood movies. "Handsome, funny Indiana Jones analogue partners with sarcastic romantic interest to beat a homicidal mad man to a long-lost treasure" doesn't exactly scream originality. The game was amazing to behold, obviously, but played it safe content-wise. In imagining myself at the helm of a blockbuster video game project, I'm really wishing to faithfully execute some well-worn cliches... just with a grand scope and lots of Triple-A polish.

But, more unfortunately, wishing to make my own Uncharted 2 made me realize that those fantasies lay wholly in the realm of Bigger Is Better. Of going big, or going home. Dreaming is important, and ambition is important, but wanting my name attached to the next Uncharted or the next Assassin's Creed or the next Half-Life is misguided. It's not misguided because I have no chance of reaching those heights, of course. No, it's misguided because it incorrectly conflates my pleasure in playing a world-class game with the pleasure of being responsible for creating such a game.

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Development Diaries, Volume 14

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Dear Diary,

SHAZAM!

Turn your sound on for this one, I finally added music!

For a change, this Development Diary doesn't require much in the way of discourse. This video represents a lot of features and ideas that I've described previously. So, let's jump to a list of what the video is showing:

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Consider me somewhat less horrified

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Okay, some feedback from some folks on the Penny Arcade forums made me feel much better. My game still has a good chance of standing out. Also, this made me laugh:

Consider me horrified. Really.

Posted by Alex Jordan on

I'm not the first person to have thought of a geography game. And, more importantly, I'm not the first person to have released one.

Enter: 09/12/18/globe-clicker-review/" target="_blank">Globe Clicker.

Well, consider my night ruined. My game will have better graphics, of course, and a different gameplay mechanic, as well as a few other odds 'n ends like power ups and a Wallpaper app that you unlock photos for as you play. And mine will retail for $1.

But I'm not first. And good lord, does that make me feel horrible.

Xbox Live Indy Games as a business model

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Gamasutra

Gamasutra has an interesting article up about the (very relative) success of people who market on Xbox Live Indy Games (XBLIG).

News flash: you won't make enough revenue to sustain a professional development team on XBLIG!

The article is slightly defensive in tone despite being supportive of XBLIG, and I can see why. Similar digital distribution platforms like the iPhone App Store and Steam are much more popular and can earn developers much more revenue. But given the varieties of platforms and markets that other digital distribution methods serve, it shouldn't be surprising that XBLIG developers must play to a niche in order to stand out.

Looking at the list of successful games, I'm heartened. The guys that did well made alot of money. And although that revenue, as previously stated, wouldn't sustain a whole studio... wait, why do we want to sustain a whole studio? XBLIG is for hobbyists, and hobbyists will almost always be working by themselves. If they want to pursue their delusions of grandeur, most other non-XBLIG distribution methods, like the ones considered above, will support a small studio and reach a larger audience. But for a hobbyist working on nights and weekends? Who among them wouldn't want to make north of $100,000 on something like A GAM3 W1TH ZOMB1ES?

This serves as a cautionary tale for me. As someone who cut their teeth working on total conversions and mods for Half-Life and Half-Life 2, where feature creep and ambitious design led to projects lasting half a decade or more... XBLIG should not be my platform of choice for a huge game. It will not reward ambition in the traditional sense. The indy scene equivalent of Modern Warfare 2, i.e. a hyper-polished gamer's game, probably won't sell on XBLIG. Instead, small is good. Quirky is good. Personality is good. It's an important lesson for me, since my notepads are overflowing with ambitious game ideas. I should take solace in the fact that I can save time and turn my back on those ideas (for now!) and focus on something that will not only take less time, but probably find more success on my platform of choice.

Some dude made a game with zombies in it

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Please buy a game with zombies in it...">I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1. As the, ahem, theme song reminds you, it only costs $1. And it's really, really fun.