How to survive indie developer. Part 2

    Note Perev .: Hello, dear habrovchane!

    The second part of the speech briquettes Jake (Jake Birkett) at the Independent Games Conference in 2016. The reference to the first part . Jake's talk is a deeply personal, full of details story about a long and difficult journey in the gaming industry. The translation was made from the video recording of the speech. For all errors and inaccuracies, please write in a personal. Thank!

    Part two

    After a long job at Big Fish, I decided that corporate life was not for me and quit. But I already quit with a great experience and a bonus from Big Fish, which I immediately cashed in order to create a reserve for myself for my future game.

    After a while, I released the game Spring Bonus. To search for artists was able to apply the experience gained in Big Fish: using social networks, I collected a large sample of candidates. Then he tested them, and chose the right ones to work.

    Game Spring Bonus

    For localization used crowdsource. And also, on the basis of the received analytics, I tested versions and improved the product; I learned all this from Big Fish. An interesting fact is that I published the game 7 minutes after the end of my non-competition agreement with Big Fish.

    Schedule of time spent on Spring Bonus game by week

    Closer to the release of the game, I worked 12 hours, seven days a week. As usual, I suddenly realized that I did not fit into the deadlines and there was absolutely nothing left until Easter. The day before the release, I sat all night, with a break of one hour of sleep, tested all levels of the game and collected the final build of the game.

    That day my wife came into my office and said that she was not well and was going to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed her: a rare form of cancer. Fortunately, it was a curable form of cancer. And since we lived in Canada, where social health really works (in the US, all this was successfully sold), my wife received all the necessary treatment. And now I am happy to say that she is completely healthy.

    In general, this launch has become extremely extreme for all of us. For me, the children and the wife, it was such an extremely difficult test that I thought of engaging with Indie by working out forever. I even took anti-depressants to cope with depression and go through this difficult period.

    After all, I learned to guard against unhealthy deadlines. You never know where and when the trouble will happen, so treat the deadlines with respect, but without fanaticism.

    But what results Spring Bonus showed after all this agony during development.

    The economics of the game Spring Bonus. Spent 500 hours and $ 2,200 +%. Sold 24.891 copies. The total profit is $ 81,000 or $ 130 per hour.

    For the past 5 years, the game has brought quite a good profit. The game did not cost me a lot of money, I negotiated with the artists about a small salary plus interest on profits after the release of the game. I recommend this approach in relations with artists. Of course, it will be easier if you have already released the game, and you have confidence. The game earned me $ 130 for every hour spent on development. But I could bring much more if I didn’t spend time on a stupid mobile build.

    I made a mobile port of my games three times. It was like this: developers came to me who offered to make a mobile version in exchange for a part of the profits. The output turned out to be a boring, soulless product that you had to constantly finish and fix bugs. And doing this tedious garbage with the Provisioning Profile on iOS, it was just awful. But in the end, the mobile version of some significant money did not earn. The game brought 12,000 dollars, which I still shared with the developers. This is certainly more than 0, but the point is that I did not devote this time to something new and interesting.

    Later, I worked with Klei Entertainment on the game Eets Munchies, thanks to this collaboration, I got a lot of business experience. If you ever have the opportunity to get advice and experience from an experienced businessman - be sure to use it.

    I also took a lot of consulting work, as I earned myself a certain reputation in the genre of casual games.

    It is time to talk about the types of work and income. The chart below shows the amount of income per hour for each project I worked on.

    The amount of earnings per hour, depending on the type of contract.

    Consulting shows one of the highest and most stable types of income.
    Green in the center is the time of work as an employee at Big Fish Games. On the one hand, this income also has bonuses such as pension payments and medical insurance. But on the other hand, this is one of the lowest incomes per hour of all that I did. And by the way, this is a pretty well paid job.

    As I said, there is a big problem with contract work: this is the income ceiling. And it is not, if you make your own game. You can make a profit after the release of the game for a very long time.

    You need to track your financial performance, and then you can immediately determine which type of work brings the most income. If I hadn’t done my own research on the time spent and the income received, I would have stayed on contract work, considering it to be the most profitable thing I can do. Each time you approach this issue very carefully: what exactly is the most profitable now for you, to work under a contract or start your own game.

    The total profit for the last 10 years in GameDev

    As you can see, income comes from various sources. In 2011, I decided to shift the focus from contract work to work on my game. And as you can see on the schedule, the share of income from their own games is growing.

    The distribution of profits on the proceeds from the development of their games and from other sources

    . The income continues to grow, but I still do not earn more money than 8 years ago when I worked under a contract, but at the same time, I already get much more satisfaction from my work. And the quality of my life has also become much better.

    The chart below shows profits from various platforms.

    Distribution of profits across the platforms

    <joke> Black overshadowed the income I received from the FBI for putting a backdoor into the game. </ Joke>

    This is a list of platforms that I used to publish games. There are platforms that have already died. But time does not stand still and new sites appear to replace them. This market is in constant flux, which is why you should always follow the changes and look for new opportunities.

    For many reasons, in 2012 we decided to move back to England. I really miss my friends who stayed in Vancouver.

    This is what I learned in Vancouver:

    • How to be the best designer and producer
    • I learned to lead the artists
    • I understand the importance of analytics and testing.
    • Worked with social media and spoke at conferences.
    • And I realized that in Canada absolutely everyone is obsessed with hockey

    At about the same time, my friend from Puppy Games suggested that I port his PC game Titan Attacks to my mobile. Because of all these expenses for moving, I desperately needed money, and eventually agreed to a friend.

    Game Titan Attacks

    The game itself I really like. But it turned out that making a game port is a big technical challenge. I had to do the project in full force. The game came out on the Humble Bundle, I made some money on it, but overall, it was one of my most unsuccessful projects.

    This was my next lesson - not to make serious decisions, being in a desperate situation.

    It is important to remember that any new project will take much longer than you expect. Good and fast projects do not happen, so you should explore all the available opportunities. I should have started working on my new game, and not included in a third-party project.

    So, I released the next game Spooky Bonus. Many people think that my previous game Spring Bonus was for children. Because, the central theme of the game, Easter. I thought, okay, then I'll make a dark game. When I was working in Vancouver, I was surprised to learn how people in North America are obsessed with Halloween.

    Spooky Bonus game

    So I got the idea to make a game for this holiday. I again asked my wife for money for art and music, and when I released the game, she became a hit of casual games. Even today, this is my best-selling game.

    What is the secret of success Spooky Bonus

    • First, the small scale. It took me 3 months to finish the job. The game undoubtedly resonated with the audience of casual games.
    • I spent money on art and the Spooky Bonus looked just fine.
    • I did not make a mobile version and focused only on the desktop.
    • It has been localized in many languages. It was my seventh game in the genre of three in a row
    • The game was launched at the best time for the market, I even received an advance from one portal for exclusive rights, which helped me a lot with cash.
    • And most importantly, I realized that everyone loves exploding pumpkins. You will work on a similar project, be sure to make it rain with exploding pumpkins.

    While I was making the Spooky Bonus, my wife suggested that I make a solitaire card game in the style of Jane Austen's romantic times. In my opinion, it was a great idea. And I offered her to work with me, as a researcher, designer, tester and screenwriter. She agreed and together we made the game Regency Solitaire.

    Regency Solitaire game

    Also, we managed to get a grant for IT companies registered in south-east England, which is essentially a kind of technological wasteland of the country. I did all the things that everyone must do to get a grant: a business plan, a pitch, a projection of expenses, and so on. But in the end, the grant supported us well.

    But the creation of the game was delayed and there was not enough money from the grant, and I again set sail in search of new funding. As you understand, in the life of indie developer, the search for money is a recurring task.

    I tried to get a bank loan, but they were not interested in financing the Indie developer. Of course, if you don’t have anything valuable, then guys with bats can come for it. But I was lucky to get a loan from another Indie business that I founded in just 30 minutes. This is all about making more friends.

    I also invested my savings and we managed to get tax breaks. Tax credit was tied to the condition to make the game in the original English style. What we did, and thus, received additional (almost 25%) profit, which is very good.

    For myself, I decided that I would not seek funding through crowdfunding. I'd rather deal with one investor than with ten thousand backeck-borne people. But this is my personal form of paranoia.

    So, how did the fate of the game Regency Solitaire? Very, very good. People liked the game, I got a lot of positive reviews and awards.

    2015 Best Game Rock Paper Shotgun
    Unappreciated 2015 Game Euro Gamer Editor
    2015 Edition Choice - Best Game Of The Year Indie Games
    2015 Best Game Nerdy But Flirty
    10 Best Games Of 2015 Jiant Bomb / Felix Kramer

    It is also worth noting that on Steam I received only 40% of total profits, most of the income was received from other sites. But I received publications in the press after the game was released on Steam. For the press, this serves as a kind of confirmation of the quality of the game.

    As I mentioned, I worked on the game with my wife and we made a lot of viral content like this.

    Virus promotion for the game Regency Solitaire

    At that time, we were married for 15 years, and my wife knew very well what she was getting involved in. She later told all her friends that she enjoyed working together. The secret is that we worked in different offices.

    In the morning we gathered together for discussion, and then we dispersed, each to his own room, and set to work. Together we have developed a design, history, interface, but in general all aspects of the game. And shared responsibilities for PR and marketing. That for me was very cool, because every time I force myself to do it.

    Together we shared a passion for ancient Britain and together we were engaged in the search and study of interesting places.

    But there was a learning curve in our history. Helen counted on some help and mentorship on my part. She needed to learn how to use Photoshop. And while working on the history of the game, I had to change the text many times so that he approached the game.

    I had to be a project manager and manage an artist, designer and musician in one person, and this was my wife. You can imagine how I felt, telling my wife what to do and how. And when I had to give feedback, I was ready to hide in my room and continue programming.

    We also have a different daily routine: she is a morning person, I am an owl. We needed to find time for work convenient for both of us.

    But in the end, two more than one. And working with a partner on a project is one of my best decisions in 10 years. It's like juggling together: he does his job, you do yours, and the project is completed successfully.

    One of my friends described my creative career as Indie Hard Mode. When you have children, your productivity will decline. And paradoxically, while you need more money to survive. Therefore, my advice to you is: work hard and become rich before the birth of children.

    After the game Regency Solitaire, I told one of my ideas to Cliff Haris (Cliff Harris) from Positech. He, among other things, acts as a publisher for small indie projects. He rejected my first idea, I returned from the second one, which was the game of the Ghost Hand (Shadowhand: RPG Card Game) and he took it.

    Shadowhand: RPG Card Game

    It also helped with funding, which completely blew my brain. Over the past 10 years, I always thought with horror about how to find some more money for a project, and here the full funding is so simple.

    The Ghost Hand game is a card RPG with elements of game mechanics from Regency Solitaire, where there were battles of characters. The game implements a well-developed inventory system, the characters of the game can wear any things and even a beard. We have turned out, full of details, graphic history. The game should come out this summer (comment. The game is already out and available on Steam ) and if there is someone from the press, and you want to make a report about us, let me know.

    Once, I conducted a survey on the Gamasutra website about the best secrets of survival for indie developers. You can read more in my article. There were many different tips and sometimes controversial.

    Many advised to spend as little money as possible and stay at home. Some suggested not going to conferences. But I apparently listened to this advice. But there were those who saw the benefit of spending more money on art and music and developing business as quickly as possible.

    I think the difference is that advisers themselves are at different stages of the indie developer career.

    My opinion is that it is important to control costs, learn from mistakes and follow a plan. If you have money, be it your savings or profits from other projects, then invest them in the right projects.

    Table: projects and their success in the market.

    And more, be resilient to failures. There have been many failures in my career. There were games that were successful only five or even ten years after publication. There were hits where I didn't get the main profit. But there were victories like Spooky bonus.

    The minimum necessary to succeed according to Daniel Cook

    Daniel Cook ( Daniel Cook ) - a wise game designer, he advises to do a lot of different games and rely on the resources of the series of setbacks.

    Well, my most important secret - get a cat. This is my cat Sookie, she is very fluffy and stroking her is the best medicine for stress. I had so many ideas when I was sitting in this lounge chair with Sookie.

    I want to mention the book “Cultivating a Burning Desire” by Steve Pavlin, which I read in 2004. This book made me think about the chosen path. After that, I quit my job and became an Indie developer. <sarcasm> Although I’m not sure whether to thank for it or not </ sarcasm>

    I follow the ideology of Personal Development, constantly analyzing what motivates me and how to become more effective. In general, this is a topic for a separate discussion, but it helped me to become who I am now. Although there is still a lot of work in this direction.

    Profit chart for the last 12 years

    The chart above is especially for those who are willing to surrender. As you can see, things are going fine for me, but it took many years. And there are no guarantees for the future either. But there is something that I am one hundred percent sure of - that I can find a solution in a difficult situation and continue my journey.

    There are already plenty of tips to succeed. I just hope that in my story you will get something useful for yourself. I recently watched Rocky's new film. It seems that it was already the seventh film in a row, and one phrase in the film hooked me. I redid it a bit, and this is what happened: “One step at a time, one hit at a time, one game at a time”. And this, my friends, is the basic principle of how it all works.

    Listener: Hello, my name is Mark Michelet, I am a game developer and I have 3 small questions. Was the Spring Bonus game a premium or free game?

    Jake : All my casual PC games were premium games. Players paid 9.99 for downloading. Some sites had a payment system for the time spent in the game, one of my Spooky Bonus games scored a total of 5 million minutes in the first month, which in my opinion is a huge waste of human potential.

    I also launched Spring Bonus on mobile. It was a demo of 7 levels, after which the player could make a payment and get the whole game.

    Listener : You said you do not like free games. Why?

    Jake: When I worked at the Big Fish Game, I read a lot about psychology, about how using various techniques to encourage players to spend money in the game. And when I started to introduce all these techniques, I felt that I was messing around, and for myself I decided not to do this again.

    Listener : You have made 7 games of the “Three in a Row” genre. Were there any major changes in the games, or just reskin? And why are there so many games of the same genre?

    Jake: When I start the game, I never go out to use all the features that I came up with. And there is still a long list of not introduced innovations. Therefore, for each new game, I changed the visual theme and introduced features from this list, which previously did not have enough time and energy. Each subsequent game expanded the gameplay. In Spooky Bonus, I implemented a meta game for decorating my gaming house. Later, I used the same meta game in Regency Solitaire.

    For me, there is always development in games. People often talk about reskin as about something easy. But a good reskin, in itself, takes hundreds of hours to introduce new levels and any new gaming opportunities.

    Listener # 2 : Hello. Please tell us how you keep track of working time.

    Jake: In this matter, I am rather old-fashioned. I use Exel tables, where I write down the time of the beginning and end of work on a specific task. Then summarize all the time. Also, I categorize tasks for coding, level design, etc. Also, I share the type of work: in-house development, contract work, or consulting.

    By the way, coding itself takes only a quarter of the total time spent. The rest goes to the development of assets, plug-ins, design and marketing.
    This is an old school, but for me it works.

    I keep records every time I sit down to work.

    Listener # 3 : Hello. Please share the secret of how to maintain motivation during periods of failure?

    Jake: Well, the family availability factor is very important. Sometimes, I think it is both a blessing and a curse. I, like everyone, should provide for my family, and I am influenced by an iron incentive to find a way to earn and implement a project. I am always looking for an opportunity to continue to do my job, and this is one of the ways to support motivation.

    Another method is to spend extra money. When I got a good income, I paid most of the mortgage. I did it because I knew: when I'm hungry, I will start making a new game. This is certainly not a completely healthy method of motivation, but for me it works.

    Fortunately, I passed this stage. Today, I feel that I just need to make good games and improve my skills. My motivation has changed over the years.

    “One question at a time” and “visualization of the final goal” are a couple of methods that I use. My favorite part is the launch of the game itself, and subsequent observations in comparison with previous games.

    Listener # 4 : Do you spend time on maintaining games released a long time ago?

    Jake : Yes, I did it until recently. I used to run a refresh cycle, timed to re-promotion from the publisher. But now, I decided to leave all the old games and concentrate entirely on new projects. My every business, every thought is connected with a new game.

    But of course, I would be glad to find someone who would take up support and all questions on re-promotion.

    Note Trans .: Jake's speech impresses with its directness and openness, which makes him stand out against the background of classic success stories. Stories, listening to which begins to seem that everything is very simple and your first million is already there, extend only your hand. Of course, this happens and serves as an excellent source of inspiration. But this is the exception, not the rule.

    Jake's experience is so valuable, he answers the question of how to be to all those who are not lucky to release a hit after a couple of years of work. I suppose the world needs such stories. They help to remove the rose-colored glasses and see the real picture of Indie's development.

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