Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

22 August, 2015

Ask me almost anything!

Blaugust, day 22

Let’s get this party started, shall we? I’ll be monitoring the comments most of the day to day, and I’ll answer what I can.

Again, the one major ground rule is no questions about Camelot Unchained. Sorry, I’m not authorized to give out any information. I recommend you visit the main site, as there is a ton of information on there about the game.

For today’s post, I’ll answer a question already posed yesterday.

Alex Zacherl wrote:
What did you learn about running a live MMO (M59/NDS) that you would like new MMO devs to know?

(For those of you who don’t know, Alex is leading development of the game Das Tal.)

Great question! In my book, we included a chapter entitled “I wish I knew….” which was basically this type of question. And, it’s one of the more directly useful chapters.

I’ll provide some bits of advice under different headers. Take what you want.

Game Development

The big lesson in indie game development is that it’s very hard to find reliable people. There were always people who wanted to “help out”, but I think few of them really understood the amount of work that goes into game development. When you can’t just keep people going with the promise of a steady paycheck, people tend to get bored and wander away when things get hard.

But, if you can find good people, absolutely do right by them. If someone is giving you great work at well below market rates, do things to help them out. Refer them to other people, give them some attention in your press releases, whatever it takes.

And realize yourself how tough game development is. Game development will likely consume your time. Make sure your significant others and spouses understand this. Make sure they understand that they aren’t going to always be top priority, especially if you’re running a company. Making games can be a hobby, but if you aren’t doing it as a hobby make sure the people in your life understand this.

Game Design

Ideas are easier, execution is hard. Very hard. Not to say ideas are simple, because good ideas are less common than bad ones. Bad ideas can sound amazing at first, but fall apart in execution. Identifying good ideas from bad takes some talent.

Don’t be selfish with design work. People you’re working with could probably be making more money not working for you. Part of why they want to be in game development is a chance to shape the design. (Although, sometimes tech savants just want to work on shiny tech, so be aware of that.)

But, there’s something to be said for a strong, authorial voice in the work. Designing everything by committee is usually a recipe for delays and disaster. Knowing when to get feedback and when to press forward with your vision is important. Trusting the person who is leading the design is important if you’re not the one in charge of design; if you don’t trust them, then you have a monumental problem.

Be extra careful if you’re the person in charge of the design and also in charge of the business. If people are relying on you to sign their checks, they might not be quite as honest with their feedback. Remember the golden rule of business: “he who provides the gold also provides the rules.”

Business

Absolutely make sure you and the other people in your small team are on the same page. Someone who disagrees with everyone else makes for a rough working environment. Especially if that person is your business partner.

Get things in writing. It’s easy to think everything is friendly and will always remain so. But, attitudes change, and when things get hard having a written guideline can help, particularly in the form of contracts. Get founder’s agreements signed before things get very serious. If someone wants to leave, you want there to be a specific mechanism in place to define what happens rather than things being left in limbo; uncertainty kills investment interest.

Go make contacts. Having the right contacts can be the difference between success and failure in many, many things. Don’t just collect them like butterflies, though, make sure you keep in touch with them and talk to them.

Personal life

Know where your limits are. One of the hardest things for me me is knowing when to walk away. Sometimes I’m just a little too optimistic and stick with things longer than I should, hoping things will improve. Its an easy path to go down hoping that that next contract or that one press interview will turn the tide. It can be hard to cut your losses and walk away, but it can be harder still if you are blindsided by a problem and are financially ruined.

Take care of yourself. It’s easy to let tight resources and a packed schedule let you do things like ignore visits to the dentist or doctor. Take some time for yourself and take care of yourself. If you like to go to the gym, make sure you keep going. If you like to participate in sports, take time to do that. I like to go for walks, although when the weather is terrible it’s really hard to find that motivation sometimes.

And, again, make sure the people in your life understand what you’re going to do. Find that right work/life balance that works best for everyone.

Ultimately, it can be hard, but it’s worth it.

Your turn to ask a question

I probably won’t be as detailed as this, but ask a question and I’ll answer it the best I can.

As a note: If this is your first time commenting, your comment will be held in moderatinon. I’ll approve it ASAP, but it may not show up immediately.

Also, Akismet seems to not really like long posts, so try to keep your posts to a few paragraphs at most. Sorry for the inconvenience!







9 Comments »

  1. Hi Brian,

    What are your thoughts on the impact of video/streaming with respect to play/performance? As an official old person (in video game terms), I was largely out of the loop on the just staggering audience and performer numbers for streams across genres. Now that I’ve delved into it a bit, I’m surprised it’s not more front and center in games studies because it seems to be both (relatively) novel and transformative.

    Comment by Adam Hyland — 22 August, 2015 @ 10:27 AM

  2. Back in 2007 I was the new guy who asked you a lot of questions after you commented on my old blog (http://over00.blogspot.ca/2007/08/game-development-diary-now-open-and.html).

    Fast-forward today, what’s the #1 thing you would be telling me as a new aspiring indie dev (not necessarily related to MMO stuff) that would be different from what you might have said in 2007? If anything different at all.

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 22 August, 2015 @ 10:30 AM

  3. Ageism in the games industry, is this a thing?

    The number of folks with 10+ years of experience in the games industry is so small that most sites that do salary tracking don’t have any data. Is there a prevailing attitude that somehow cheaper and younger is better than the output of someone who may be more expensive, but has far more experience? Or do you think there are other reasons for this disparity when compared to say, application development?

    Comment by Talarian — 22 August, 2015 @ 11:12 AM

  4. Adam Hyland wrote:
    What are your thoughts on the impact of video/streaming with respect to play/performance? As an official old person (in video game terms), I was largely out of the loop on the just staggering audience and performer numbers for streams across genres. Now that I’ve delved into it a bit, I’m surprised it’s not more front and center in games studies because it seems to be both (relatively) novel and transformative.

    I think it’s another medium for communication. It’s a continuation of the movement away from monolithic published physical magazines toward more individual expression. Which is good.

    But, I’m a bit wary to fully embrace this as “transformative” for two reasons. First, the game industry is (small c) conservative when it comes to change. They don’t embrace it easily, unless it’s pretty well established (like new, powerful consoles being released in the next season). A few place are starting to embrace streaming, but I think most publishers and developers are clinging to the old ways for now. It may change how some people get their industry news, but it’s not really changing much about how the larger companies are acting. For now, at least.

    Second, these things tend to work in cycles. Blogs were popular, then we saw the rise of the conglomeration sites where the best writers were taken to churn out articles. I think we’re starting to see the same things with streamers. For every person like Pewdiepie we see hundreds of streams that kinda go nowhere. We’re already seeing streamer alliances, and I figure the next step is going to be an echo of those large conglomeration sites.

    Comment by Psychochild — 22 August, 2015 @ 11:43 AM

  5. Dave Toulouse wrote:
    Fast-forward today, what’s the #1 thing you would be telling me as a new aspiring indie dev (not necessarily related to MMO stuff) that would be different from what you might have said in 2007? If anything different at all.

    Wow, there’s some nostalgia.

    I don’t know if I would really say anything different, but I would at least emphasize the “don’t believe bigger is better” advice. Some simple games have gotten a lot of attention. If you’re particularly clever, you can start small and build upon that as you go along.

    I still think the #1 problem most indies face is trying to do too much for their early projects. The #2 problem is getting enough coverage for your games, but I don’t have a pithy saying that will help there. As you know, you can do everything right and still not get the coverage some other game is getting.

    Comment by Psychochild — 22 August, 2015 @ 11:47 AM

  6. Aside to Talarian: your first question didn’t show up because I hold first-time commenters in moderation. Sorry for the confusion.

    Talarian wrote:
    Ageism in the games industry, is this a thing?

    Unfortunately, yes. As I’ve told a few people, my career as a game programmer is limited because there are no 50-year-old programmers of my skill level in the industry. I fully admit that while I’m a very good programmer, that’s not enough to really cut it long-term in the industry.

    The reality is that, as a friend of mine pointed out, “there is an endless supply of 25 year olds.” Basically, just about any programmer thinks that game programming is cool, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get in. It truly is the case that some people would rather hire two junior programmers at half the price rather than one senior programmer at full price. And, you kinda get what you’d expect. I firmly think this is a big issue on why the game industry seems terrible at project management, because you really lack the senior people who have the experience to know how long things will take. Doesn’t matter if you have the best project manager in the world if they can’t get good data.

    Experience is a funny thing in the game industry. You can find plenty of experiences where someone has something big and keeps his or her name on everyone’s lips, and thus is has “valuable experience”. If you’ve done something moderately successful and have gotten less attention, it feels like your experience is less respected. Just the other day I was talking to a game developer who, when I explained some lesson learned from Meridian 59, tried to discount my experiences because M59 is an old game. Another game developer claimed I was less qualified to speak on business issues at a conference because my main experience comes from when I ran M59. Somehow, my experience is invalidated because it isn’t fresh, I guess, despite the fact that issues like managing a community or running a business have some fundamentals that pre-date computer games as a whole.

    Not to say that my life is all pain, but not all experience is appreciated equally.

    Comment by Psychochild — 22 August, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

  7. Dino Dini wrote on Twitter:
    how does one reveal the truth at all times, yet not cause offence?

    Not sure I’m the most qualified to answer this question, as I’ve caused offense before. But, I’ll try to give an answer.

    I think the reality is that a lot of people don’t really want to hear the truth. I saw the excellent movie Mr. Holmes recently that was basically about this: Holmes solves the mystery, but in his cleverness in revealing the truth doesn’t realize the impact that will have on the person. I think a lot of geeky, introverted programmer types have the same problem. We often speak the truth, not considering the impact it will have on the other person.

    I also think sometimes you want to “cause offense”. If someone is causing you harm, staying silent about it is likely to just bring more harm your way. You can bring up the issue without being rude about it, but it may still cause some people to feel offended that you would dare criticize them.

    I guess as a general rule most people just don’t say anything, but then it becomes a question of how much you believe in the sin of omission in holding back information from people. But, sometimes I think not saying anything is the right answer.

    Comment by Psychochild — 22 August, 2015 @ 5:57 PM

  8. I’m heading to bed for the night. Thanks for the questions, all!

    Comment by Psychochild — 22 August, 2015 @ 10:38 PM

  9. Bonus round, where I answer some questions from a Google+ post from last week.

    Chris Smith (a.k.a. Scopique) wrote:
    Do you see esports as a growth opportunity for MOBA (and other genres if they can swing it) even though they’re organized and managed by third parties?

    I think esports isn’t just a MOBA phenomenon. There have been plenty of FPS and RTS esports teams as well. I think MOBAs have embraced it because the gameplay is well suited for a sports type environment, with very specifically defined roles and specializations, and with the personalities that we associate with modern sports. There’s even a bit of lingo to go along with it, which means that people who know the terms are part of the “in crowd”.

    But, I think it is an opportunity. Even though DOTA2 has a lot less users than LoL, The International draws a lot of attention for the game. Especially talk about that $18 million prize pool.

    Richard Bartle wrote:
    Will you be playing your games using a 3D stereoscopic headset 5 years from now?

    Probably not. I prefer eyeglasses to contacts, and a lot of the headsets don’t play nicely with spectacles.

    Actually, I think VR is probably a dead end for development. I think AR has a lot more potential. As much as people were dismissive of Google Glass, I think that we’ll see further iterations and improvements on this form factor in the future. And this will probably play nicer with my eyeglasses. :)

    Bart Stewart wrote:
    With so much interest in indies and mobile games on the one hand, and the increasingly crazy cost of high-profile AAA games on the other hand, is there a future for mid-tier game development studios?

    A very good question. I think so, but I don’t think it’s a constant. Groups start out as the scrappy underdog and with enough popularity they become the establishment. Once upon a time EA was a scrappy little company with radical ideas, but now they are the literal example of the establishment. As mobile grows, we’ll see the usual rounds of death, consolidation, and ossification we’ve seen in just about every other area. (Just like with casual downloadable games, then social network games, etc.) Probably faster, too, because the pace of these things always seems to be accelerating.

    I think “indies” as well are starting to go down this path as well, where we’re starting to get more established groups that are no longer developing in their garages, basements, and kitchen tables. They’ll grow into mid range, but we’ll see if they’re immune to the usual growing pressures that have dogged most other types.

    I think crowdfunding also has the opportunity to keep the mid-scale going. The trend seems to be toward supporting people who had hit games in the past but that are too small to attract funding through the traditional routes of publishers or investors. It’ll be interesting to see if a mid-sized company that isn’t run by someone with name recognition can get some traction, though.

    Comment by Psychochild — 23 August, 2015 @ 2:35 PM

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