sábado, 31 de diciembre de 2016

Becoming Indie Developer: A 2016 Retrospective

Hi buddies!

I still remember it as if it was yesterday when I started this blog. It was April 2013 and I was doing my Ph.D. stay in Rennes, France. By that time, I was a full-time researcher at the University of Malaga and my main goal was to finish my stay, write my last journal articles and defend my Ph.D. However, for a very long time I had had an itch for making games.

My experience with games development started surprisingly early, when I was around 14 years old. By that time, my grandfather, who knew how much I wanted to learn this stuff, gave me a Darkbasic pack as a birthday present. I still remember how, during high school classes, I would daydream about the amazing games I was about to make. I can perfectly remember thinking to myself about making a Matrix-style game where the main character would avoid bullets bending over himself, just like Neo, and I would naively think that it wouldn't take me long to reach such level of expertise. Of course, reality imposed itself, and there were so many new terms I had no clue about, that it took me a long time to just make a Pong clone (with some additional cool features like moving obstacles).

By that time and until finishing high school I made some very simple games, and when I started the Computer Science degree at the University, the demanding subjects drifted me away from my dream. Yet I still read about games programming and with the new knowledge acquired I could understand more and more about how a videogame is built from the ground-up. Life circumstances (which were really driven by luck and momentum, as they usually are) geared me to start working in the Computer Science department, where I would take a 4 years Ph.D. grant after finishing the degree. Over this period, I overlapped my Ph.D. with the creation of small video games: in 2014, I released Chubby Buddy on iOS, and in 2015, Limball on iOS and Android (both of them together with Manuela).

All that time was a great experience and I don't regret any of the choices I made, but the truth is that the moment of making games for real never seemed to come. And this is where, during the Ph.D. stay, I made my decision: I would finish my Ph.D., but right after doing so, I would quit research and become full-time game developer. And creating this blog was the first step towards convincing myself of walking down this risky and uncertain path...

And here I am now, after one year, I can really claim that I have become an indie game developer, doing justice to the name of the blog. I wish I could add that it's been a profitable decision, but I cannot claim that, not at least for now. I'm currently finishing Breaking Fast, which I've been developing (together with Manuela, as usual, but also with Oliver and David) for almost a year and which we've financed with the savings accumulated over the aforementioned years of working in the research area. During this time, I've observed some things I want to mention now.

Cool things or things that I think we've done alright

One of the typical problems of unexperienced game developers is delaying the marketing actions to the release date. I think I can clearly claim that we haven't made such mistake. From the very first moment we had a playable version of the game, we attended game events to show it and receive feedback from players. In our case, our first event was PAX East (not bad to be the first one, uh?), and from that event, which took place in April, we have attended more than 10 events over the year. As for marketing in social networks, we have populated our accounts with new contents nearly every day since we started. Believe us: all of this (events and social networks) is a huge amount of work. We estimate that around 50-60% of the time has been devoted to these activities, leaving the 40-50% remaining time to the actual development of the game. The conclusion we draw is the following: if you have the resources, hire someone to manage all this stuff (especially, your social networks).

Another thing we did alright was to establish and adhere to a work routine. This is especially important when you work from home, as we do. We would set weekly goals and monitor whether we fulfill those goals. The only setback is that sometimes we finished working too late, precisely because the border between our personal and professional lives became fuzzy as a consequence of working from home.

Difficulties

Now I want to mention some things that have been difficult for us. First, and as I mentioned before, PR and marketing are really time-consuming activities, especially because we had to learn on the go lots of stuff: how to write press releases, how to find our target audience, how to connect emotionally with such audience, etc.

Our initial plans was to keep this blog and our Youtube profile updated with fresh contents but it hasn't been possible. Maintaining a development blog is a tough work, especially if you're interested in writing about technical details of the development, which requires beforehand planning. In the end, I've basically written some posts about the events we have attended, but that is not what the blog was meant for initially. Something similar has happened to our Youtube profile: creating and editing videos is a harder activity than we had anticipated.

Things to improve

We have identified some things that we should improve either in the next year or in future projects. First, we intend to choose events with more criteria in the future. Attending so many events as we have this year has been a great experience in many aspects, but they require money and time (preparing the material, booking the flights and hotel, etc). In relation to this, we also failed to make some time predictions correctly because we didn't factor in the time of these events appropriately. This is the reason why we first scheduled the release of Breaking Fast in the end of 2016, but we've had to put it off by the beginning of Spring 2017...

Also, although from the very beginning we had built a contact list, we didn't use it until very recently, which has been a wasted opportunity to engage with our potential customers sooner. Sending newsletters is an important activity that we should have started much earlier.

Although we can state that we are more or less well-known in Spain, with several articles in different specialized media, we fail to be known outside Spain. And this is a real problem because most of our sales are expected to be made abroad, especially in USA and Russia. Therefore, one of the goals for the beginning of the year is to contact these international media in order to raise a wide awareness of Breaking Fast.

Finally, I leave you with a video summary of our 2016:


Thanks for being there and reading these posts. We really wish you a happy 2017: the year of Breaking Fast! :D

lunes, 17 de octubre de 2016

Gamepolis Indie Zone: A Summary

Hi folks!

It's been too long since the last post, so first things first: sorry about the delay. As you may know, we're working hard to meet several deadlines with our game Breaking Fast, about which I'll write something more technically-oriented soon.

By the end of July we attended Gamepolis. But unlike in the previous years in which we participated as general audience, this year we were presenting our own game: Breaking Fast.

Our stand at Gamepolis. From right to left, Óliver, Manuela and myself

The Indie Zone, which was located close to the entry doors, consisted of a circular area in which 16 indie studios were showcasing their games, most of them, if not all, still in development. As usual, the two main benefits of attending an event like Gamepolis, which is targeted at a broad audience, are obtaining feedback and raising awareness of your game, and getting to know other professionals who have the same dreams and aspirations as us. As for the last point, we're very happy that we could meet the developers of great games like Cubotrox, Hive, Noahmund, Crimson Breath or Charlie Beard, among others. We even went out for a dinner one night after the show!




Pictures with some of the other studios that participated in Gamepolis

The other advantage of participating in this event, that is, exposing your game to a big audience, turned out a fantastic experience. People of all ages (although especially kids and teenagers) would play for a really long time, and they'd come back later bringing more friends to show that 'crazy game with breakfast food'.



People enjoying the Breaking Fast experience. Locomalito and Gryzor also enjoyed it!

We even organized a tournament in which the best three players would win an official Breaking Fast tee. The initiative was really welcome, and hundreds of participants signed up for it. Knowing potential fans of your game is very rewarding, and we took a good deal of pictures with them. Some of them covered Breaking Fast on their Youtube channels, which is something that we, as indie developers, always appreciate a lot.




Some of our more loyal fans. Thanks so much!

Finally, as part of the participation, we were eligible for different awards, and good news are... we won the Public Choice Award! Even when the economic value of the award cannot be dismissed for a low-budget studio, the real value comes in the form of motivation and inspiration to continue improving the game. It's a certainty right now that people enjoy Breaking Fast, and enjoy it a lot. It's just a matter of polishing it well. The other awards went to Noahmund (best sound), Hive (best game as chosen by the jurors), Crimson Breath (best visuals) and Cubotrox (most innovative game).




If you want to read something very cool (and deep) about Gamepolis and about the indie scene in general, check this out (in Spanish, sorry).

See you!

miércoles, 17 de agosto de 2016

Mallorca Game and Gamelab 2016

I want to discuss today our experience during two videogames events that we had by the end of June: Mallorca Game and Gamelab. These two events are very different from each other, with the former being targeted at a broader audience, and the latter oriented towards professional game developers.

Mallorca Game

The fourth edition of this event brought a big deal of attention from gamers and cosplayers.  It was a two-days event where people could buy almost anything you can imagine from the videogames and manga worlds, and where we, the indie game developers, could showcase our game. We had a long table with enough space to set up everything we needed to present our game Breaking Fast. We hung some posters, prepared our monitor and four controllers, and laid some promotional material on the table, such as flyers and business cards.


We didn't expect such a big audience, and again like in Boston and Cartagena, the feedback was really valuable and positive. People from all ages played our game and especially some kids wouldn't let go the controller for a (too) long period of time.


As part of the event, there were three awards to the three best indie games that were presented at the so-called Mallorca Game Awards. In the gala ceremony, which was held during the last day, we were awarded with the second prize to the best indie game.


We were 'snatched' the first prize by Cubotrox, an amazing and innovative puzzle game created by two twin brothers from Valencia that we got to meet, coincidentally, at Gamelab.

As usual in our trips, we took some time off in order to visit Mallorca and enjoy really nice food.



Gamelab

As I mentioned before, whereas Mallorca Game was targeted at a broad audience, Gamelab was very focused on professional game developers. Actually, the number of attendants seemed to be lower than at Mallorca Game, and the quality of the conferences was amazing (e.g. John Romero...).

 
The feedback that we gained was more polished and concrete, although not so many people played Breaking Fast. David Mariscal, who is collaborating with us, came to help us out.


While in Mallorca we had a long table for us (actually more space than we actually needed), at Gamelab the space was too narrow. Being a multiplayer game, it was kind of annoying when four players wanted to play together, as they'd have to stand too close to each other and still they would take part of the space from the indie games to our right and left.


One of the main benefits of attending an event of recognized prestige like Gamelab (in addition to the feedback) is the possibility of networking with other important indie teams and professionals of different videogames-related areas. And this networking does not boil down to talking during the event, but also after the official time. In particular, a party was organized in a cottage with a big swimming-pool and free beer.
 

Two guys from Machinima SBOC, with whom we had the chance to talk, wanted to record the event live (but they finally couldn't because there was no Wi-Fi available). Yet they made a couple of videos about their experiencie at Gamepolis and they played our game, Breaking Fast! :D


As I said before, we met Cubotrox makers, and although we didn't know them by that time, we would meet them later at Gamepolis (more on this in the following post). You can take a look at other great indie games presented at Gamelab here.