Category: Business


Just had my first day of a 6-month streamlined 8-hours-of homework-a-night self employment business course with Momentum.  Got a ton of info driven into our heads, lots of warnings about how insane the workload will be.  Its like a long university course stripped down to the mandatory essentials needed to start a business, and then all crammed into a few months instead of a few years.

The class is small, there’s only 10 of us…but the students are all optimistic and friendly and the instructors are super-knowledgeable and invest a lot into each person’s business progress.

By the end of the course I’ll have a legally legit, fully-functioning game company, though it may just be a programmer and myself to start with haha  I have a logical 5-year plan for when and how I want to expand.  Ideally in a few years I’ll have a solid 10 – 20 people…15 is ideal, big enough to have a few projects on the go, but small enough to stay versatile and take risks when necessary.

This was only the first day of class but we were given a huge binder of really good thorough information covering the course from start to finish, and had a chance to ask former students of the program, now currently running successful businesses, some questions.  Lots of info to take in, but instead of discouraging me I’m actually psyched!  It’s nice to see everything all laid out in front of me so I have a core path to follow…it makes it all seem much more manageable!

Going to update this blog pretty regularly to keep track of my progress and have something to look back on in the future.

In the words of the Joker: “And here, we…go!”

- Yarr

Day 2, psyche day!

Today was more of a focus on the psychological side of things.  How we learn as students, what personality types we are and how we can benefit from that knowledge with regards to running a business.  A focus on our strengths and weaknesses and how to spot and fix those weaknesses.  I actually wasn’t expecting much from this day but came out with a lot of good info and perspective.

We also did an excercise demonstrating how severe the problems can be with a lack of communication from the “Visionary” to the “Constructors” at the bottom of the chain.  Most companies have bloated “Messengers” in-between trying to explain to Constructors what the Visionary wants and not surprisingly things get complicated from there.  I imagine Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto both take a stroll around the office at times to check on their games and make sure things are how they envision, VS the boss that stays locked in his office relying on his “Messengers” for usually unreliable/biased information.

It was interesting stuff to me.  I’m big on communication within a team.  Daily Scrums and stuff so everyone knows what’s going on…sure the programmer doesn’t NEED to know what the artist is working on, and the artist doesn’t NEED to know what the programmer is working on, but if they at least get the jist of it, a bunch of time and confusion can be saved when their areas of the project start overlapping.  I think the best part to me so far is that everything I’m learning about the proper method of doing things is stuff that I already planned to do…I keep running into re-enforcement that my ideas are sound and I’m in the right headspace, haha

No homework yet, but I think it’s about to start up hardcore soon.  Tons and tons and tons of research coming up.  I’m not a big fan of formal research (having to document all the websites and articles you find) because it’s so slow to do VS just skimming articles and getting the “jist”, but it’s probably going to be super important.  If this wasn’t a class exercise, I would probably just out-source the research haha  Why spend hours of my own time looking up sales statistics when I can pay someone a bit of money to spend their time doing it, freeing up my time to work on other parts of the project?  But I actually want to go through the course and learn the skills for my own personal growth so I wouldn’t do that…I just like to think up ways to do things more efficiently for the future.

- Yarr

Day 3, becoming one with the universe

So today was all about research.  What questions to ask, what statistics are important, how to tell if your business idea is even feasable let alone profitable, etc.  Lots of good stuff.  It sounds like the majority of the crazy workload of this course will be the research.  There’s just SO much data needed.  Apparently the average business plan in this course ends up being 40 – 80 pages haha  So what does a tech nerd do when he knows he’s in for a huge task like massive research?  He Googles around and hunts out software to help ease the burden.

I’m now rigged up all futuristic.  I have an online backup via Dropbox, I’ve got time trackers, I’ve got my Twitter linked to my Facebook linked to my blog linked to my Blackberry, I’ve got Google Calendar linked to my Blackberry, I’ve got Evernote to grab stuff off the net…I can be reading an article on my laptop, and when the battery dies just hit a button to save the page to Evernote, open it on my desktop cpu and keep reading, follow some links from it and find a new article I want for reference so I can grab a chunk of text, hit a button, and I know when I get to school tomorrow my laptop will be able to access that text chunk.  I feel like when I first got a cell phone and moved into modern tech from a landline phone.  This interconnected “one-ness” feels like the way things should be done these days, and I have a feeling after a couple weeks of using this setup I won’t be able to go back to a normal one haha

Because I was searching for software for myself, and most of my class is older than me and not necessarily tech savvy, I decided to compile a list of software to E-Mail to everyone to help them get set up.  Right now nobody reads this blog, but hey, if you happen to be reading it you might find a couple progs or services in here that’ll make your workflow more efficient and not empty your wallet:

If you have a PC:
 
Staying Organized:
 
Free, Simple Virtual Office:
http://sites.google.com/site/momentumsample/
 
I set this up tonight as a sample to show how some of the features could be used, if you don’t want to spend any money. You can set up a private site where you can keep information organized (business plans, project descriptions, task lists, etc.). If you have employees, you can give them access to View or Edit the site.
 
It’s really simplistic, but it’s free and easy to use and can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection because it’s all hosted on the Internet. It might hold you over till you invest in some kind of fancy organization program.
 
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Dropbox – Watch the video on the website, it explains the concept great.  Basically this is a magic online storage space that you can access from any computer anywhere.  You’ll end up with a “My Dropbox” folder on your computer, and you’ll want to copy your important files into that directory…when you do that, they go off to the online storage, so if your computer blows up, your files will be safe and sound in your online storage.
 
You DON’T want to lose your Business Plan on the last day of class, so make sure you sign up for this.  You get 2GB of storage which is the same size as the memory sticks we were given, so it should be more than enough…don’t worry about completing the “get an extra 250MB” Getting Started checklist unless you’re feeling adventurous…250MB extra isn’t very much, haha
 
Website: http://www.evernote.com/about/learn_more/
Direct Download for Windows: https://www.dropbox.com/download?plat=win
Download for Mobile Phones: https://www.dropbox.com/anywhere
 
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Evernote – This’ll make researching a thousand times easier/faster.  Essentially you create an online account, and download the Direct Download link below so you have the program on your desktop.  Now when you’re surfing the net, you should be able to select big chunks of websites, including images, etc. and right-click the selection and choose “Add to Evernote” and bam, all that info is stored there, along with the URL and other useful details.  And since there’s an online account, you could store stuff there from your home computer, then go onto someone’s laptop in class and log into the online account and access all that info you researched.
 
Website: http://www.evernote.com/about/learn_more/
Direct Download: http://www.evernote.com/about/download/windows.php?file=Win&btn=grey
 
For cell phone versions (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.), check out your phone’s App Store…the version you download on your phone will let you access the same online account you’re using on your computer so it’s all linked up together.
 
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Grindstone 2 – Track the time you spend on projects and tasks, auto-matically create Invoices based on the times, set time limits, keep track of if your estimates match the final results, auto-detect when you’re away from the computer, set reminders to take a break or stop working for the day, etc. all in one clean organized little program.  This is a FANTASTIC time tracking program considering it’s free.
 
Website: http://www.epiforge.com/Grindstone2/
Direct Download: http://www.freewaregenius.com/2010/08/26/grindstone-measure-the-time-you-spend-on-tasks/
 
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Tempation Blocker – This thing is a life-saver for the easily-distracted, haha  You can have it block programs (like your web browser or chat program) for an amount of time you specify.  It helps keep you from popping your browser open to check Facebook or jump on MSN to chat with your friends, etc.  The only downside is you can’t just block specific websites, you have to block your whole browser program.  There’s an emergency password generated incase you suddenly find you seriously need access.
 
Website: http://sourceforge.net/projects/temptblocker/
Direct Download: http://downloads.sourceforge.net/project/temptblocker/temptblocker/Temptation%20Blocker%2000.05.00%20Beta/tblockr00.05.00-src.zip
 
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Gmail Calendar – This Calendar can be linked to your phone, so that when you create new reminders online, your phone’s Calendar will automatically grab the info and remind you of the events you’ve scheduled.  You can create multiple Calendars (one for personal use, one for a work-related website on Google Sites, one for school-related tasks, etc.) and view one or more of them at a time.
 
Website: http://calendar.google.com/
Tutorial for Sync to Blackberry: http://www.google.com/support/mobile/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=82619
Tutorial For iPhone Sync: http://www.google.com/support/mobile/bin/answer.py?answer=138740&topic=14252
 
—–
 
 
Writing:
 
Open Office – This is all you need. :) It’s almost exactly like Microsoft Office except it’s free instead of a jillion dollars. This package is pretty big to download/install (takes a while), but you can write documents with images in them like MS Word, there’s a Spreadsheet program (called Calc, this could be used for setting goals/task-lists and marking them off at various stages of completion, or keeping track of inventory/costs because you can tell it to perform math on columns of numbers), etc.
 
Website: http://why.openoffice.org/why_great.html
Direct download: http://download.services.openoffice.org/files/stable/3.2.1/OOo_3.2.1_Win_x86_install-wJRE_en-US.exe
 
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Freemind – This is a great brainstorming tool that lets you create mind-maps quickly and easily.  Watch the video linked below to see how it works.  I find this is great for breaking down an overwhelming topic into smaller and smaller pieces until it’s not so scary to fill in the details.  You can export the map as a PDF, a Document, HTML file, etc.
 
Feature/Tutorial Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh1uANlH9L4#t=51s
Direct Download: http://sourceforge.net/projects/freemind/files/freemind/0.8.1/FreeMind-Windows-Installer-0.8.1-max.exe/download
 
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ResophNotes – Really simple little program. You can make notes quickly and search through a mass of them for keywords to find old info easily, and it auto-saves constantly so you never have to even remember to save…but that’s about it. I just use it to take notes in class and make simple to-do lists or keep contact info etc.
 
Website: http://www.resoph.com/ResophNotes/Welcome.html
Direct Download: http://www.resoph.com/ResophNotes/Welcome_files/ResophNotes1012.zip
 
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Graphics:
 
Paint.NET – I’ve only just recently grabbed this but it seems to have pretty much all the features Photoshop has and most of the same layout/hotkeys, except it’s free to use. You can draw your own art, or use this for messing with photos. Might be a little confusing at first.
 
Website: http://www.getpaint.net/
Direct Download: http://www.dotpdn.com/files/Paint.NET.3.5.5.Install.zip
 
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The Gimp – This is a Mac paint program that’ll run in Windows. A lot of people swear by it but I personally hate it haha The interface is strange to me because it’s very different from Photoshop, but if you aren’t personally attached to any particular paint program you might dig this one’s interface.
 
Website: http://gimp-win.sourceforge.net/
Direct Download: http://downloads.sourceforge.net/gimp-win/gimp-2.6.10-i686-setup-1.exe
 
——————————————————————————-
 
 
If you have a Mac (I don’t have one, so I don’t have as many software links for it):
 
Free, Simple Virtual Office:
http://sites.google.com/site/momentumsample/
 
I set this up tonight as a sample to show how some of the features could be used, if you don’t want to spend any money. You can set up a private site where you can keep information organized (business plans, project descriptions, task lists, etc.). If you have employees, you can give them access to View or Edit the site.
 
It’s really simplistic, but it’s free and easy to use and can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection because it’s all hosted on the Internet. It might hold you over till you invest in some kind of fancy organization program.
  
—–
 
Dropbox – Watch the video on the website, it explains the concept great.  Basically this is a magic online storage space that you can access from any computer anywhere.  You’ll end up with a “My Dropbox” folder on your computer, and you’ll want to copy your important files into that directory…when you do that, they go off to the online storage, so if your computer blows up, your files will be safe and sound in your online storage.
 
You DON’T want to lose your Business Plan on the last day of class, so make sure you sign up for this.  You get 2GB of storage which is the same size as the memory sticks we were given, so it should be more than enough…don’t worry about completing the “get an extra 250MB” Getting Started checklist unless you’re feeling adventurous…250MB extra isn’t very much, haha
 
Website: http://www.evernote.com/about/learn_more/
Direct Download: https://www.dropbox.com/download?plat=mac
Download for Mobile Phones: https://www.dropbox.com/anywhere
 
—–
 
Evernote - This’ll make researching a thousand times easier/faster.  Essentially you create an online account, and download the Direct Download link below so you have the program on your desktop.  Now when you’re surfing the net, you should be able to select big chunks of websites, including images, etc. and right-click the selection and choose “Add to Evernote” and bam, all that info is stored there, along with the URL and other useful details.  And since there’s an online account, you could store stuff there from your home computer, then go onto someone’s laptop in class and log into the online account and access all that info you researched.
 
Direct Download: http://www.evernote.com/about/download/mac.php – there’s a video at the bottom of this page showing how to use it on the Mac…click the Download Now butotn at the top to get the actual program.
 
For cell phone versions (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.), check out your phone’s App Store…the version you download on your phone will let you access the same online account you’re using on your computer so it’s all linked up together.
 
—–
 
Freemind – This is a great brainstorming tool that lets you create mind-maps quickly and easily.  Watch the video linked below to see how it works.  I find this is great for breaking down an overwhelming topic into smaller and smaller pieces until it’s not so scary to fill in the details.  You can export the map as a PDF, a Document, HTML file, etc.
 
Feature/Tutorial Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh1uANlH9L4#t=51s
Direct Download: http://sourceforge.net/projects/freemind/files/freemind/0.8.1/Mac_OS_X_Freemind-0_8_1.dmg/download
 
—–
 
The Gimp – This is a paint program. A lot of people swear by it. The interface is strange to me because it’s very different from Photoshop on Windows, but if you aren’t personally attached to any particular paint program or if this is how Mac software is usually laid out then you might dig this one’s interface.
 
Website: http://www.gimp.org/screenshots/
Direct Download: ftp://ftp.gimp.org/pub/gimp/v2.6/gimp-2.6.0.tar.bz2
 
—–
 
Gmail Calendar – This Calendar can be linked to your phone, so that when you create new reminders online, your phone’s Calendar will automatically grab the info and remind you of the events you’ve scheduled.  You can create multiple Calendars (one for personal use, one for a work-related website on Google Sites, one for school-related tasks, etc.) and view one or more of them at a time.
 
Website: http://calendar.google.com/
Tutorial for Sync to Blackberry: http://www.google.com/support/mobile/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=82619
Tutorial For iPhone Sync: http://www.google.com/support/mobile/bin/answer.py?answer=138740&topic=14252
 
—–
 
- Yarr

Day 4, the research begins!

Apparently before going ahead with a game dev company you want to find out if it’s actually feasable.  Well, according to the negative numbers across the board in the “Net profit/loss” row on these reports we looked up in class today, Industry Canada says it’s impossible haha  Fortunately I think it’s safe to say that if I can cut down on some of the Expenses listed (like Rent if I’m working from home and Delivery Expenses if I’m distributing everything digitally, and whatever falls under that giant Other Expenses category) and I tackle things strategically (good marketing, low dev time/costs by making simpler games, port games to multiple systems, etc.), I should be alright.

The goal is to make a bunch of small games which probably won’t make much money but will get a logo/brand out there, and slowly build up from there till I have a handful of passive income streams keeping things afloat enough to start making bigger, cooler games.  Due to the restrictions of the course (forcing a fast launch), I’m going to have to pump games out extremely quickly (talking 2 week to a month MAX dev time), but that’s alright…it’ll force me to learn the platform and general process quickly and minimize the damage if the game doesn’t sell much.  I’m playing a very strategic juggling game here, but it makes sense in my head from a logical perspective.  I’m fine with making small simple games right now if it means down the road I can have free creative reign, I’m all sorts of patient.

…plus working for 2 weeks on a simple but fun and totally “of my own creation” game is a billion times better than 8 months working on some shitty game I don’t care about that everyone in the company knows will score a 3/10 haha

Today we covered the ins and outs of researching for our Business Plans.  Downloading Evernote turned out to be a ridiculously good idea…it makes saving and organizing the resources I’m collecting phenominally easy.  I’m pretty sure I’ll fill up the free 40MB limit fast and as cheap as I am, I can’t honestly say I won’t end up paying for the premium service down the road.  It’s just so convenient!

The research is interesting.  Your business type decided what method you’re going to have to research.  Most bookkeepers don’t keep blogs with statistics on their business profits and demographics and everything so it’s difficult to find that information.  Whereas I have the reverse problem, the game industry has too MUCH information…everyone in it is Internet savvy, so while there’s a bunch of statistics and reports and post-mortems and everything out there, it’s difficult to sift through it all for what’s 1) actually legit data and not just a random bloggers opinion, and 2) what’s relevant to my actual business.  Plus you look at an article like “Apple sells 11 million more iPhones than Google sells Androids!” and it’s a page long, but there are 400 comments below of people arguing back and forth about the stats in the article and where they come from and how biased they are and they have a dozen links to other articles and blogs with conflicting stats, etc. etc.  It’s like, shit, how do I narrow down some solid info to base my Business Plan on?

I actually kind of dig researching though.  It’s basically what I do all day anyway…type a few words into a search engine about a topic I’m curious about, then bookmark a bunch of pages and follow the links in those pages and bookmark those (as if I’m going to one day go “you know, I really want to re-read that article with the Top 20 iPhone apps in 2009!” haha), then follow more and more “kind of related” links finding a bunch of stuff I wasn’t looking for but was excited to find because it was interesting regardless, and then bookmarking a bunch of pages on these new subjects, until next thing I know I’m reading an article on how candles are made.

Tomorrow we’re hitting up the public library to do some old-school book-learnin’ research.  Unfortunately because the iPhone game industry is so new I’m doubting there’ll be many books there with useful stats/data.  I’ll probably end up bringing my laptop and searching through sites like Gamasutra for my info!

And I haven’t thrown new art up in a while so here’s some quick fan-art of Upgrade, an upcoming game from Halbot, which is a game company started up by a couple buddies I used to work with!  Check ‘em out!

art, anime, drawing, halfbot, upgrade

Also if they happen to stumble across this, thanks to Debbi for the cupcakes and Megan for the beef jerky and dessert at school today haha

- Yarr

Day 5, libraries are extinct!

We hit the public library to research today.  It’s crazy how old-tech those things are these days.  The librarian was showing us how to search the library computers and it would spit back like 3 links, 2 of which weren’t really relevant to the search.  The Internet has changed things so much!  The cool part was the newspaper catalogues…you can read a dozen daily newspapers in India if you want.

For starting a game company the library is pretty useless.  There are books on “Starting an eBusiness” from 2002 that talk about using fancy new technologies like E-Mail mailing lists to advertise your products and to make sure your website is compatible with Netscape haha

I ended up bailing after the tour thing because the wifi at the library requires a library card and a library card is $12.  This course is offered through Alberta’s Employment insurance program, so I’m actually getting paid to take it (and succeed in starting a business of course haha).  I have to live off $800/mo for the next 6 months!  Rent is $600 so I gotta save where I can.

So instead of paying the $12 I hoofed it a few blocks up the street to the business district in Calgary and hit a food court and set up my “office” there haha free Wifi, big glass windows with a gorgeous view of water fountains and the city skyline, and a bunch of gorgeous business girls strolling past me…heaven!

I think I might do that again!  There’s even places with big poofy comfy leather couches and stuff:

“Where’s your office?”

“Beside the Taco Bell in the food court.”

“…”

- Yarr

Day 6, competition!

Today we learned how to research our competition and the difference between direct competition (another small game developer creating a similar genre of game on the same platform as me) and indirect competiton (anything that fills the “entertainment” need, taking money that could’ve gone to me, like X-Box games or movies etc.).  I think smaller game developers are lucky because our industry is very friendly…it’s a little more cut-throat up at the top between the big companies but it seems like smaller devs are all pretty helpful and encouraging to eachother.  We all got into this industry because we love seeing new games and creative ideas come to life, so if someone else puts out a cooler game than mine, my first thought isn’t “aw crap, they’re gonna’ steal my money!”  My first thought is “woah, that’s awesome…I’m inspired by where they took this idea, how can I make something as cool or even better myself?”

I’m almost done my first research assignment.  It was a little jumbled at first, there’s so much information that it’s difficult to figure out where to even begin nailing things down solid.  Once I got rolling though, it smoothed itself out.  It’s surreal how much information is on the Internet.  I’m at a point where I have to just skim paragraphs for relevant key words catching my eye because if I don’t I’ll end up reading the whole article and I’ve got 10 other related articles all queued up in other browser windows.  I’m kind of an information junkie, I love to read about things I’m interested in and I love reading people’s opinions.  I’m the guy actually reading through the comments on Youtube videos and stuff, haha

I’m slowly looking into more of the hands-on aspects of getting this all running.  Checking out hardware/software prices, engines that can be used, skimming freelance programmer sites, etc.  I found out that you can write off anything you buy that’s business related for up to around 6 months before you actually launch your business.  I’m thinking about picking up an iPhone just to get familiar with the thing and grab a bunch of games to research the latest stuff.  Yes, that’s right, I don’t actually even have an iPhone haha  I’ve got a Blackberry that’s on its last legs, and I dig it.  But I know enough people with iPhones and I keep an eye on big developments so I figure I’m pretty on top of things.

One of the things I’ve found since I started in the game industry is that I don’t sit down and play as many games…or at least not for as long as I used to when I was a young’un.  Lack of time, shorter attention span, such a huge backlog of games I want to try, expensive-ass costs of new consoles these days, etc.  It all adds up.  But I think it’s important if you’re going to design and develop games, to keep abreast of what’s going on in modern game design.  The best solution I’ve found?  Searching for “Let’s Play”s on YouTube.  These things are awesome.  I’ll throw a recent game’s Let’s Play up on my desktop and have it playing while I’m working on my laptop and glancing up now and then when something interesting happens.  It’s like outsourcing the actual game playing to someone else haha  It’s not the same as actually experiencing the game for yourself, there’s no denying that…but in a pinch it’s a decent alternative.  I haven’t played Uncharted 2, but I can tell you about most of the coolest scenes from it and some nuances in the game engine that I haven’t seen done in other games before.  I haven’t played Dragon Age but I could describe some of the cool gameplay ideas they used and the epicness of the cutscenes and plot.  I haven’t played Heavy Rain (but I reaaaaally want to…wish it was on PC arrrgh), but I can describe the whole control scheme and it’s variations and understand how the intertwining character plots affect the gameplay and presentation.

I’m definately looking forward to getting to take a crack at actually designing and making games.  I’ve got a giant “treasure trove” of game ideas (from simple to complex) stored away just itching to be tapped into haha  I’m a little worried that I won’t get to make anything super cool because I’ll be having extremely tight deadlines for the first couple projects, but I think it’s good to approach things a little cautiously with a couple small projects while I learn the ins and outs of the business side of things and working on a new platform.  But of course there’s that creative urge to bust out some epic 6 month project my first go, haha  I think the hardest part is reigning in your ideas.

I’m finding working away from home is pretty fun.  I like the hustle and bustle of people walking around the food courts and shopping districts as I nerd out on my laptop, VS being cooped up in my bedroom at the desktop.  Free Wi-fi, a set of earphones to listen to music and I’m set for a few hours of work!  Definately going to be doing this more…at least until it snows.  Damn you, Canada!

- Yarr

Finished my first assignment, it’s all printed up and ready to go.  Then I looked at the schedule and realized we have our next assignment due in like 2 days, PLUS revisions on this assignment as soon as we get it back.  It’s a steady workload, but it’s broken down into small sections so it’s not super overwhelming yet.  It’s not “there’s too much to do at once, I can’t handle this!” but a more steady flow of “okay that’s done, next on the to-do list?”  I’ll be glad when the business plan stage is over and I get to start actually doing stuff though!

Today we learned about researching demographics and extrapolating psychographics from the data.  Which is a fancy sounding way of saying “Who’s gonna’ buy my stuff, and why?” haha  There were some fun nuances to mull over, like while the adult is the one who actually dishes out the money for their kid’s toys, the kid’s are the actual customer because they’re the ones that control which toy that money is spent on.  They see the Ninja Turtle box and go “mom mom I NEEEEEED that!!” until she gives in and buys it…so ultimately the kid is the one that made the decision, thus they’re the one to target.  That’s an obvious example, but a weirder one was about tire ads.  Tires are advertised in the sports sections of newspapers because primarily males are the ones who buy the tires in the family, and males the ones who primarily read the sports section.  iPhones are a great gaming platform, but iPhones are so accessable now, with the simple touch interface and sparkling icons and all that there’s probably a huge market of girls using them these days.  Are those girls buying games on them?  Is it worth targeting them?  Are the hardcore younger male gamers the ones who will drop $10 on a game, or are they the ones that get up in arms over having to pay more than 99 cents for a game?  Lots of questions to find the answers to.

Found out there’s an IGDA Calgary that meets like once a month, so I’m going to go try and hit that up tomorrow evening and meet the local devs…if I’m not bogged down with homework, that is!  I’m psyched to find out there’s other devs around…makes it just a little less lonely starting up a company.  I’m technically not even developing anything right now but hopefully they won’t hold that against me after a couple beers haha

I’ve been planning out what project would be the best to do and in what order.  I want to start extremely simple just to get the process and platform down, and slowly build up from there.  I’m thinking each game I do I’d like to try adding something new to it.  Like the first game may just be a really simple one…and then the second is still pretty simple but it has some cutscenes in it so I can figure out a good method of doing those.  Then the third is simple, with cutscenes, but adds voice acting.  etc. etc. so down the road I’m familiar with the pitfalls of different sections (I’m already pretty familiar, I have 5 years experience in the industry and man did we have a shitload of pitfalls haha but I figure it’s different when you’re in charge yourself).  I want my games to be very flashy and visual…Capcom super-moves where you see a portrait slide out in front of a zooming background, Heavy Rain with all it’s dramatic serious cutscenes, glowy-flashy menus instead of static buttons.  The gameplay of my games will probably be fairly simple, generally just one core gameplay concept, so I want to make sure they’re polished up visually to make up for it.  I want cutscenes to be stylin’ like this quick test I made:

Now to do this, I’m gonna’ need an animation tool of some kind.  I can pre-render events but that’s going to up the final file size a bunch.  Plus it means no player interaction and at some point I’d like to mess with interactive cutscenes.  I’d like a tool where I can slide/rotate/scale/etc. pieces of in-game art around and have it spit out a bunch of numbers easily usable in an iPhone game engine.  Think cutscenes from the NES, but more awesome haha  From what I can tell, and this sounds insane to me because this is 2010, not the early 80s, but it looks like most small iPhone devs are handling their animation by manually programming in coordinates.  I can’t even comprehend doing that these days.  I’m sure larger companies write their own animation tools, but it’d be nice if there was something available for us little guys.

It looks like a person could use Unity and just keep everything flat on the Z-Axis.  This wouldn’t actually be that bad, from an artist’s perspective…it’s not altogether different than using After Effects or something.  But it sounds like using Unity on the iPhone for just 2d is pretty slow-ass/bulky compared to something like Cocos 2d that’s designed for handling a jillion sprites and stuff.  Worst-case a person could put a simple program together or use basic scripting inside a paint program to spit out a bunch of raw data coordinates and have the programmer write something that uses those and interpolates all the coordinates at the right speeds and stuff…it’s just that that’s a lot of work to go through, haha  It looks like there’s something called Core Animation which is built into the iPhone and handles interpolation…but the descriptions make it sound like people just use this interpolation animation system for sliding icons around or making a button pulsate smoothly, zzzzzzzz…of course they’re just using it for boring stuff like that, they’re having to enter the numbers all in manually!

So I’m thinking maybe I can just check out a bunch of tutorials on what the Core Animation wants and figure out a way to turn raw data coordinates into that format.  That’s getting pretty over my head though, I’m an artist, my programming skills are pretty basic haha  I muddled out a hacked together script of After Effects that spit out .xml data back at the company I used to work at and some awesome programmers there who recognized the amount of time/frustration the tool would save (so they wouldn’t have to manually enter the bigass list of coordinates I’d hand them, haha) added to it till it became a pretty robust tool that made things infinately more efficient and let us make much better looking games (unfortunately the tool did not make the gameplay any better).

I want good animation dammit!  After all, as the current batch of retro remakes has shown, polish can make all the difference in the world, like in A Boy and His Blob…what a visual feast THAT turned into:

 

- Yarr

Today we went through the basics of a SWOT Analysis.  The jist is you look at your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  The SO and the WT tend to mirror eachother (ie – I know a bit of programming as well as art (S), thus programmers find it easier to work with me (O)…I don’t have an animation tool yet (W), thus my games may not look as cool as I want them to (T)).  I’m finding there’s a lot of focus on keeping tabs on your own “inner stuff” in this course which is a little woo-woo to me, but if you’re going to run a business it’s probably a good thing to be re-assessing yourself once in a while so I dig it.

We’re going to be crunching numbers on Friday, filling in spreadsheets of start-up cash and expenses and stuff, so that should be eye-opening haha  We’re supposed to fill out 3 years worth of projections on 3 year-long spreadsheets, but I’m thinking I’ll probably throw together a month-long one as well because of how fast the iPhone market fluctuates…I’m going to need to be keeping on top of things on a daily basis.  Your game can sell 10 copies a day for the first week, then 10,000 for two days, then back to 10 a day, it’s so random.  Because of this “jackpot lottery” sort of system, I figure if I estimate all my costs for the absolute worst case scenario (aka 0 sales haha), and despite 0 sales I can still budget in a way that I’ll be able to afford to make 6 – 10 projects, then I’m in a good place.  If any of those projects hits decent, then I’m succeeding.  I’ve got a bit of money saved up and I’m willing to blow it all on this because, well, I have to.  I’ve wanted to make games since I was making the screen change colors in BASIC on a TRS-80 when I was like 4 years old haha  If I blow this, I can go back into the normal game industry as an employee with some cool portfolio fodder.  If I succeed, then I’ve achieved a childhood dream.  It’s win-win all around in my view.

Next on the list of to-do’s is contract a programmer to make me the animation tool I want, buy an iPod Touch, figure out if I need an iMac or not (my programmer will probably come with one if I’m hiring someone over the net, and I can do my art on a PC), pay Apple the $100 to be allowed to dev on their system, and get more of this damn homework done haha

Our instructors told us this is the scariest part of starting up a business, because we’re spending money without actually making any, so it FEELS like you’re just throwing away all those savings you had sitting in your bank account.  I’ve actually been hesitating buying an iPod Touch for that exact reason…it’s scary!!  Big numbers will start moving out of my bank account, ahhhh!!  But if I’m doing this, I’m doing it full-tilt, so why hesitate?  I could be checking out a bunch of the top games on it right now and learning what they all have in common and such.  Also it sounds like I should be able to write stuff like that off as research for my business which is good ’cause I need to get used to touch-devices and the nuances (inaccurate mashing of the screen VS a pixel-perfect mouse, fingers covering up part of the screen, etc.) and see how other people have gotten around those issues.

Also I want to spread this website around a bit so other people can follow my adventure and maybe other people thinking about starting up a company can learn from it along with me.  I always find “behind the scenes” stuff fascinating, haha  I’m the guy that’ll watch every commentary on a DVD.  I’m finding I’m starting to have to regulate my “networking” time (checking Twitter, responding to messages on Facebook, answering E-Mails, etc.) so instead of doing it in bits and pieces through the day I just say “okay this is my blabbing hour” and I do it all at once…otherwise I end up getting distracted and ending up following links and stuff totally sidetracked and next thing I know I’m watching that documentary on how they make candles on youtube haha

Hoping to get some new art up soon but this homework is killer!  Got the date wrong on the IGDA meeting, it’s actually Thursday.  I want to pop in and check it out, but it’s rough to try to balance this stuff while we’re in the “massive homework” stage of our class.  Apparently after our Business Plan is finalized the homework gets less and less, to where we only have class once a week and the rest of the week we’re working on our business.  I figure that’s the period I’m going to get the most exciting stuff done…setting up a website, putting up design sketches, etc.  That’ll be way more fun to check out than all this blabbing I’m doing I swear, haha

Oh and I handed in my first assignment and I think it turned out pretty good!  We’ll find out on Friday how much needs revision.  I know one part that will, in my opening statement I put “[Company Name] is a videogame company that–” haha  I haven’t picked a name yet.  I think we actually have a class on that coming up.  I learned that “yarrninja” is kind of a shitty name choice when I tried to tell classmates what my website URL is:

“yarrninja.com  …yarr has two Rs.  …you know, like a pirate…yarrrrrrr matey.  and then ninja.  because, you know, ninjas and pirates…so…ya.  y, a, r, r, ninja.”

So lesson learned!  My game company’s name will be something people can just hear and go to.  I used to joke growing up that I thought lots of game company names were dumb and boring and that if I ever ran a company I’d name it something like Super Awesome Ninja Death Shadow Studios.  A girl in my class is starting a bookkeeping business and she’s sad that she has to give it a really professional sounding name or people won’t take her business seriously (would you have someone working at Robot Explosion Bookkeeping do your books?  …well okay, I would, haha that would be awesome, but still).  I’m lucky that I can name this thing whatever I want and half the time you actually get MORE points for naming it something silly.  So who knows, maybe it’ll end up being Super Awesome Ninja Death Shadow haha, that spells out SANDS, that’s a word!  It’d be awesome to have a word like NINJA or something and have all the letters mean something, so the full name stands out but you can also shorten it for typing out or URLs or logos or whatever.

Anyway, sleep time for me!  I have no idea how I’m going to get Assignment 2 done by Friday!  It’s researching the competition, but my competiton is, technically, 100,000+ other iPhone developers, and like 65,000+ apps!  What the fuck am I thinking!!  haha

- Yarr

Today we covered a ton of philosophical stuff on “if you hire cheap labor in some faraway place, does making more money for your investors and community justify encouraging some guy in India making $1/day”.  Or like, “if your accountant says financially you need to either make more money or fire someone,” what would you do?  Lots of talk about politics and democracies and stuff…honestly I’m not very into this stuff.  I don’t really follow politics and while I like discussing the philosophical mulling over of how we each handle difficult situations, it’s been my experience that you can say what you want but it’s when push comes to shove that you actually learn what you’d really do…so why debate it in advance?  haha

As part of my “research the competition” assignment I Googled “game developers in Calgary” and found out there’s actually a good handful of ‘em, to my surprise.  The IGDA (International Games Developer Assosciation) has a chapter here that’s just getting it’s groove on again and I found out there’s a huge Global Game Jam where basically people all over the world take 48 hours and join together in teams to create a game in 2 days, based off a concept/idea given to them only once the clock starts counting down.  I did a few “no sleep game dev” competitions way back when I was growing up and they were always a blast.  It’s good to throw yourself into stressful situations once in a while and put your skills to the test.  Plus having a deadline encourages you to actually finish something.  A lot of indie dev’s have the problem of starting projects but not really setting solid goals, and any goals they DO set don’t have any real consequences (if you work for yourself, even if you SHOULD get up at 8am you can sleep in till noon…if you work for an employer, sleeping in till noon gets you fired so you wake up).  So it can be difficult to actually finish a project…I can’t even count how many hobby games I’ve started and not finished, haha  So I’m hoping I can participate in the jam, worst-case you get to meet a bunch of other like-minded people and bitch together about your epically failed project over a jug of beer after haha

Great group of developers, everyone was super friendly and are all kind of in the same headspace.  It’s funny how similar all our stories are…interested since we were kids, stuck doing crappy boring jobs, ending up teaching ourselves gamedev on the side, and then deciding to give it a bigger go once we know what we’re doing.  I was going to go through and link everyone’s sites and stuff but it looks like there’s going to be some kind of group blog or “gathering of everyone’s info” going on for IGDA Calgary soon so I’ll just wait till that’s up and link it up!

I had to bail early because I had a prior engagement, and that prior engagement had boobies, haha  But I’ll definately be going to the next meeting!  And now back to homework, gahhh!!

- Yarr

So I managed to get a couple hours of sleep to help me survive the day.  Unfortunately, today was all spreadsheets and numbers as we started going through basic financial projection stuff.  It sounds super nerdy but I actually LIKE making spreadsheets.  It’s kind of like really simple programming when you get the more intricate “this cell is the result of that cell times that one, minus that one, divided by the sum of those ones, and it has a setting on it where if it’s lower than X amount of money the cell will turn bright red” stuff going.  It’s fun to play with the numbers, haha

We’re getting a default template spreadsheet to use, but I think I’ll end up making my own because of the nature of small game dev…I want to be accounting for price changes, the sales curve (lots of downloads the first day or two while the game is on the New Releases list, then dropping down to minimal past there), development costs, etc.  I already know how to use spreadsheet programs so I whipped up a quick test sheet in class to crunch some basic numbers: 

This is the basic chart for 11 games (whoops just noticed I have two Game10s but fuck it this has taken forever as it is, I’m not changin’ it!), the first 6 taking 2 weeks to make (I’ll be making very simple small games, no epic 40-hour RPGs here haha), the next one taking 1 month, the next 4 taking 2 months.  This chart assumes the games will all cost 99 cents ($1 on the chart for easier numbers) and only sell 1000 copies a month, but will sell that each month.  1000 copies a month shouldn’t be difficult, judging by stats I’ve seen around the net.  I’m also factoring in Apples 30% take and the initial start-up $10,000 investment for buying equipment.  And I’m paying the programmer $1,000/week with $1,000 extra for misc stuff (song licenses, advertising, etc.).  I actually think the “misc stuff” will be more expensive, but when I do the real estimates up I’ll figure that all out.

The bad news is I spend pretty much the entire year in the red.  And yet…a glimmer of hope!  Because of the “slow and steady wins the race” concept, by December I’ve pulled out of the red and I’m actually making a profit.  Not a big one, obviously, but that’s all I need to know this could work.  The thing about charting it out on a spreadsheet is that if I hadn’t done this, and just went along hoping things worked out, I’m sure by August I’d be all demoralized and be like “fuck this, there’s no hope, this was a failed experiment, I rolled the dice and bombed and now I have so much debt I’m screwed…I’d better find a real job fast and try to pull myself out of this hole I’ve dug!”  But because I’ve charted it out, I know to expect to spend the majority of the year in the red but that if I stick it out and follow the plan, I can come out alright.

I’m learning that business seems to be about pure logic.  If you follow steps A, B, and C, they result in D.  If they don’t result in D, then you have to tweak A, B, or C.  And as long as you stick to the plan and don’t let your emotions make you deviate from it, then you will get D.  But if you get too involved or scared or panic when things aren’t going smooth, you end up changing your plan on the fly and can no longer expect to get D.  It’s interesting to see how simple this theoretically is.

Now let’s play with the numbers for fun, haha:

The last chart was the absolute minimum I could sell to just barely break even by December.  Now say my games all do consistently decent, with 5,000 sales a month across the board.  Well fuck.  Now I’m out of the red by February, I’m making more than I made working as an employee in the industry by the end of May, and I’m hitting “rich as shit” by December.  Bonuses and steak dinners for my programmer and I haha  But neither of these charts really reflects the way game sales tend to work on the iPhone, so let’s try some more likely numbers:

Now this one assumes each of the games follows the “usual” iPhone sales chart…a big chunk of sales at first from being listed on the New Release store, getting in reviews, etc., followed by a severe drop once that stuff wears off and the game is no longer on the charts.  This is a lot more painful, and I drop in and out of the red, and yet, I still end up surviving by December.

Again though, this isn’t very accurate.  Not every game hits the same sales curve.  Some games do amazing, some do decent, some do terrible.  That unpredictability is one of the reasons I’m attempting to keep my start-up and development costs as low as possible (VS spending 2 years on a game and needing to make like $100k on it just to break even).  So let’s see what happens with a little variation in the success rates:

 Game1 doesn’t really do much.  I don’t know the system well, the game is pretty simple, I haven’t got an efficient marketing strategy so the game doesn’t even get noticed aside from being on the New Apps list.  It fades into obscurity pretty fast.  Game2 I correct some mistakes I made with Game1 and it does pretty decent.  Nothing spectacular, but enough to make up for Game1′s lackluster performance.  But then Game3 and 4 do pretty terrible.  There’s a little more consistent success in the later games because I’m spending a month or two on the games so they’re looking polished up and awesome compared to the 2 week games, I’ve got my shit together, I know the platform better, have my advertising/marketing process down, etc.

This time I’m out of the red by May, just barely.  By December I’m not doing anything amazing but I’m surviving.  Most people would probably just look at the December figure and say “$14k for a year of work??  That’s ridiculous.  This is a failure, quit now.”

The catch is that digitally distributed games are a passive income stream.  Once you put a game out, you can theoretically ignore it and it’ll slowly bring in bits of money, like the peons in Warcraft mining for gold.  Even one peon mining means if you wait long enough, you’ll be able to afford a Barracks.  So let’s assume the sales in the last month continue at a minimum…any game making more than 700 sales/month drops to 700, and any game making less than that stays at it’s low-ass number.  So let’s look ahead 2 more years:

Also I completely stop developing new games, or promoting my current games.  I basically go sit around in my underwear eating cereal and watching YouTube videos for 2 years.  I come back and check the numbers and what’s this?  I’m almost $95,000 up??  Because my only expenses each month are my rent and food now, as long as I make even one dollar more than the total of my rent/food, I’m making a profit.  If my rent/food total $800, and I have 10 games out, I only need them to each sell 80 copies a month.  Some games may sell 200 copies while others may sell 0, but it’s not a horribly impossible number.

But even then, I’m still using pretty optimistic numbers.  Let’s say things go even worse, and in January after the first year, every project drops to only 30 copies sold a month.  That’s like 1 a day basically.  Ridiculously low amount.  What happens 2 more years of YouTubing in?

Bam, $20,000.  For doing nothing.  I’m making about $230/month without lifting a finger.  That’s not enough to pay my rent/food, but I could get a part-time or full-time job and just have a nice $230/month extra supplement on the side with no maintenance at all.

But I have a lot of free time, and so let’s say I decide to do a little bit of marketing every few months for the hell of it.  Advertise a bit on Twitter, re-bundle games together, offer a free Lite version, try to get a few extra reviews, pay for a banner ad somewhere, etc.  Nothing excessive, a weekend of work here and there.  So keeping the same brutal sales figures up above, let’s throw a few spiked sales in there throughout the 2 years:

Now these aren’t even big spikes.  There’s no 500,000 numbers in there.  most are tiny 1,000 sale spikes.  And they’re not very frequent given the time-span of 2 years.  Now I’m looking at $42,000 by the end of the 3rd year, for doing almost nothing at all.  I forgot to throw in a few marketing/Lite-developing/etc. expenses in those months with the spikes but even over-estimating those expenses I’m still going to be sitting around $30,000 – $35,000.

So what’s the lesson I’m taking from all this number crunching?  Digital distribution is essentially like playing a videogame where your health-bar regenerates over time.  Even if you take some pretty critical hits, as long as you can find a place to chill and kill some time, you’ll recover and be back in business.  I don’t want to say it’s impossible to fuck this up, but I think the way I’m going about it (small projects, focus on marketing, etc.) it’d be pretty damn hard to fail in an epic way haha  Worst-case either I just don’t make as much money as I could, or I end up back at $0 and I go find a real job.  Unless I take some ridiculous gambles or stray from my plan, there’s no way I can end up financially crippled by this venture.  That’s pretty damn comforting haha

There will be fluctuations of course…a new iPhone will come out and need higher res games on it.  Another phone may become decent competition.  The PS4 may have an App Store.  But the point of this whole thing is that this isn’t nearly as “cross your fingers and hope you get lucky” as a lot of articles make it sound…you just need a combination of patience, a focus on marketing and re-marketing, and an efficient development strategy that keeps your expenses low.

whew…this took forever!  I actually had to re-write the thing a few times and I fucked up some charts originally with bad formulas in them that made it look like I was going to be a jillionaire in year one haha

- Yarr

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