All posts by Cas

Welcome to Basingstoke

Chaz and Alli have been beavering away hard on our new “roguelike survival horror” game, Basingstoke, and now’s the time to show you an official teeny sneak peak of the game so far. Feast your eyes upon the video, and then read on, with the caveat that everything is in developmental flux and subject to changing beyond recognition at any moment…

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Aftermath

Well, that went pretty much as expected, didn’t it?

I’m now peeping back out of my bunker and it feels safe enough to remove my flame-resistant underpants. This time around, I’ll give the polite version sans rhetoric and sardonic speech forms that confused so many people. Bless the Internet, but it seems that so many readers turned up to the blog post actually wanting to have a fight and somehow read the post as if it had been specifically written about them, for them. I’m afraid this is not how sardonic rhetoric speech works, and none of us are so important as to seriously believe somebody would write a random blog post on a two-bit backwater indie game developer’s site that was actually addressed directly to us, now, would they? Exactly. Now everyone’s calmed down I bit I’ll explain the post.

First of all, I be playin’ ya

My apologies for that.

I deliberately wrote the most invective, filthy, shit-stirring post I could to ensure that it would, indeed, make lots of people angry. Angry enough to repeat and respond to it all over the internet. Unfortunately in this day and age, well-reasoned and sensible posts such as those made by the wonderful Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software are received in hushed tones, nodded sagely to, discussed in high-brow intellectual circles and then disappear like ships in the night. Everyone goes back about their business and the next day everything is the same as before. Spiderweb is probably better-known than we are having been around for many more moons and made many more games, and still, people really aren’t taking a lot of notice about what’s going on.

So my little missive was designed to ensure that it spread far and wide, hopefully virally. Which it pretty much did, thanks to the power of Twitter. The site was flattened for a few hours. The plan was that Angry Internet Man would misunderstand the post, start a fire somewhere on the internet, and then someone with a few more braincells and the patience to actually read the whole article would respond and pour some sense on the discussion. Which by and large is exactly what happened. In this regard it’s been absolutely successful, bringing it to the attention of a far, far greater audience than we’d have reached if we’d just been nice and polite about everything.

And once again being absolutely honest: I didn’t do the post absolutely for altruistic reasons. It’s been said that it was a desperate bid for attention disguised as truth; in fact, it’s truth disguised as a desperate bid for attention. I knew beforehand about the total roasting that the internet was going to dole out to me after posting it. That’s exactly why no other developer wants to say what I had to say. So I’ve tried to mitigate the damage it was going to cause by at least getting Puppygames into the consciousness of as many people as possible.

Comments closed on this post. Anyone still somehow insulted by the previous blog post is simply not capable of reason and there is really no point in you venting flames about something you don’t understand; those who understand and/or support us, you have been well appreciated over the last week and we send hugs and kisses in your general direction.

I wish I hadn’t invoked Phil Fish

It seems that Phil Fish is some sort of bogeyman in gamer circles and the mere mention of Phil Fish causes all sorts of random and spurious bullshit to erupt. Unfortunately this seems to have deflected a full third of the conversations about the deeper meaning of the post onto rants for and against Fish. Next time I’ll pick someone more low-profile to use as a poster child, like Zoe Quinn or something.

It wasn’t about Puppygames

An awful lot of people wrongly thought the post was a desperate rant on behalf of a failing developer whose business is going down the tubes. I’m afraid you’ll have to reformulate your entire line of thinking and conclusions for two fairly solid reasons. Firstly, we’re not going down the tubes; we’re doing OK and we’ve got two games in development and all sorts of irons in the fire. Even if we did run out of money we’d still be making games because that’s what we like doing and we did it for 7 years before we made anything beyond a few beers.

Secondly, the post was simply not about Puppygames. It was about the entire indie game industry. Actually it probably applies to the AAA industry as well, or at least all the mid-sized studios kicking about that make AAA quality games but without the marketing budget that defines the AAA industry. All developers are in the same boat. All developers are having to deal with this problem – the problem of having worthless customers. I’m not even sure why there’s a pretence that we even have customers any more: they – you – all belong to Valve. We are unable to issue a refund for our games. We have no way to directly contact a customer after they’ve bought a game from us. But that’s ok, because you can get games for a dollar now, eh>?

There’s nothing wrong with our games

The next most prevalent response was to incorrectly assume, as a conclusion based on the incorrect assumption that we were going out of business, that there’s some problem with our “shitty” games. Again, I’m sorry to pop your bubble but you’re going to have to draw some other conclusions. Our games have grossed over $1.5m in the last four years or so and continue to sell (although not as well as we’d hope they’d sell but then again – we are a niche interest and we’ve had very little exposure from Valve relatively).

We do love our customers

…and it even says so explicitly in the previous post, but it seems a lot of people either didn’t actually bother reading it at all, or just made up what they wanted it to say and then got angry about that! No, we do in fact love our customers, even if they’re only worth 10p. What we don’t love is customers who demand that we fix their computers, threaten us with lawyers, chargebacks, violence (yes, really), and general hate, sometimes before they’ve even asked us for help getting their games working – and worse, sometimes even after we’ve gotten their games working.

That sort of crap is not good. Check out this sort of thing we get:

You fucking piece of shit, yeah you Cas make sure you read this, this is so funny for you to moderate something you don’t like right ?

It’s about your complaint “you re worthless”, you re just the same asshole just like Phil Fish, always bitching and insulting people who like your games, no have no motherfucking respect, you insult people because they are not happy with the game or because the game isn’t working ? They gave you their money and you re acting like a little bitch ? You know I hope for you I will never see you in real life at a convention because I swear I m gonna fuck you Cas you little bitch you and your stupid blog posts, it’s so easy to rant behind a screen, we will see if you re so tough, just like the fucking Fish.

and this:

Those dollars i spent on your shitty game will shure come in handy when you get cancer(hopefully)and have to pay your medical bills. O wait, i pirated that shit and i hope you’ll end up broke in a ditch.

And this stuff is minor compared to what a lot of developers receive. And none of us are exempt; it’s almost as if this sort of thing is “par for the course” once you get to a certain level of exposure. Just like “being a woman in a man’s world” meant at one time you had to just “suck it down” when you were groped, slobbered on, leered over, or just plain talked down to. It’s exactly the same issue with a different target: it’s about a total lack of respect for a relatively defenceless minority. There are hundreds of thousands of customers to every one developer. The odds are not on our side, and as we’ve noticed, the group IQ of a crowd is inversely proportional to its size, and it sure does help when the target of such behaviour has very little support or sympathy.

In conclusion

Next time you feel like getting enraged at something, have a read through it again to make sure you’ve not misunderstood something, or missed something rather important in the post that changes its entire meaning. Especially if you’re getting enraged.

Now, I wonder what we’re going to do about the actual situation? That’ll be the subject of some other blog posts.

Because You’re Worthless: The Dark Side Of Indie PR

There are unwritten taboos on the internet. There are things you Don’t Say. There are replies you may not give. There are comments you may not make. There are truths you may not tell, in the world of public relations, for the public are fickle, and behave as a mob. A mob in all its feral, brutal depravity, lacking any and all of the qualities we laud upon humanity that allow us to feel so smug over all of the hapless animals that we raise ourselves over. And we are all, whether we admit it or not in public, under strict censorship of the mob. Even admitting that the mob censors our thoughts and feelings and the expression thereof is risky. Be careful! The mob may notice.

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Resurrection

Well, it’s time for one of our lamentably infrequent blog entries. So much has happened since the last one I can’t even think where to begin.

Whither Battledroid?

Alas, woe unto Puppygames, for we are broke. Due to several decisions of dubious merit last year we’ve ended up wasting most of our cash on things that never flew. We tried for several solid months to rescue our direct sales but it seems nothing but nothing that we can do will change the fact that at any given moment, Steam comprises 97% of our income. And that’s just when there isn’t a crazy Steam sale on. So we wasted months on that and achieved precisely nothing.

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Battledroid Alpha Sprint #4

Otherwise known as, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Deadlines and Fail Gracefully”.

Ok, that’s a little melodramatic.

We were doing quite well on the sprints but then Real Life decided to place a series of embuggerances in our way. I notice that the spelling checker in WordPress doesn’t understand “embuggerance” but I assure you, it is a word.

The plan for this sprint was:

  • Fix all the bugs we know of (there were plenty of issues with focus and tabbing and mouseovers, and one or two other little minor glitches)
  • Steam Integration – a full Steam version of all functionality. Steam is actually not so hard to integrate as it sounds as we have an awesome Steam integration library ready-made from our previous games, and mostly it involves removing functionality that we’ve implemented already in the game for Puppygames customers.
  • Serverside housekeeping batch jobs – make accounts dormant if they’re unused for a month, etc. That sort of thing. In addition the subscribers actually needed to be charged on a regular basis (not that we’d actually enable it at this point – it just needs to be there)
  • The last messages widget on title screen needed wiring up, with the associated event polling stuff all working between clients and server
  • And the last actually exciting feature, the Commander Screen, in which you can adjust your display name, personal avatar, army colours, change manufacturer allegiance, and request to join a faction. As well as placeholders for stats and medals.

Well, in the end, all we’ve kinda managed to do is:

  • Fix the tabbing/focus/mouseover bugs. Except, infuriatingly, checkboxes
  • We can log in using Steam and get our avatar displayed but sadly that’s as far as we’ve got
  • The Commander Screen is visually coming on very nicely but none of the functions are wired up to the server yet and it’s not fully integrated properly yet at all, more like Chaz just trying it out first than actually functional.
What’s Our Excuse This Time?

Well, mostly, this is all my fault, because Mrs. Prince is terribly ill and I’ve basically had to take almost the entire sprint off work to look after her and the kids, whom I can assure you are a pair of devils sent to torture my mortal soul. Right now she is in hospital and everyone is very upset though the prognosis is good. I don’t know particularly how any sprint survives contact with a quarter of the team suddenly stopping working in a completely random manner, but there we go.

The next thing is that Chaz’s Windows installation has somehow managed to blow up this morning and he’s going to have to reinstall his OS, which means at least two days down the drain for him too.

Finally Riven’s mouse has died. Not his squeaky one, but his old faithful electronic one, the one he uses to point at things on screens with. This makes Windows extremely difficult to operate, it would transpire.

Whither Now?

Well, I don’t think it’s really worth releasing Battledroid this sprint because we’ve barely got anything done on it – I think it really needs another week of work on it when we’re all firing on all cylinders so to speak – so we’ll leave it. Which brings me to the exciting news of what’s happening next week, which is that we will all be exhibiting at EuroGamer Expo 2013 in Earl’s Court, London, between September 26-29! Once again we’ll be giving away two brand new Nexus 7 (2013 models) as prizes for the best hiscore we have recorded in Ultratron and Droid Assault come Sunday evening. I’ve got a new Nexus 7. It is awesome. You need to come and play.

As we’re basically all away all next week and then a couple of days to recover, I wouldn’t expect much visible progress till Friday 4th October.

 

 

Battledroid Alpha Sprint 3, thoughts on F2P

So, we actually got this one out bang on time. So on time there wasn’t quite enough time to actually write a blog post to coincide with it before we went on our summer hols :)

Important!

  • There is nothing to play yet – we’re concentrating on the user-interface and back-end stuff
  • Previous bugs are not fixed – such as tabbing not working – we’re working on fixing those now

What’s New?

This sprint was all about getting registered players to become premium subscribers, and finishing off the account maintenance functionality. So now you can subscribe or unsubscribe at will, and you can delete your account. Additionally the options panel, which wasn’t meant to be released until today but got released last week instead, was supposed to be in the sprint. So here it is :) Have a play with the GUI scale function and marvel at how awesomely clever our UI layout is. But first let’s explore the new functions and talk about them…

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Battledroid Alpha Sprint 2

So, here we have the latest Battledroid alpha release, the second so-called “sprint”. You will notice it is lamentably already 4 days late – way to go guys! We’ve clearly not quite got the hang of this agile development malarkey.

Firstly, anyone who does not yet have the client already can get it here:

Battledroid for Windows
Battledroid for Mac
Battledroid for Linux

If you’ve already got the Battledroid client, you don’t have to redownload it – it should update automatically with the latest release like the rest of our games.

Known Issues

Expect to encounter…

  • tabbing doesn’t work in forms
  • scary security certificate warnings from emails

What’s New

In this sprint we wanted people to be able to register a guest account, change their email address, change their passwords, reset password if they forgot it, and log out again. We wanted the titlescreen UI to behave fully correctly, (less library bugs that is) and its design to be more or less finalised.

Well, we did all that, but we’ve also implemented the Options panel as well, which wasn’t supposed to be in till next Friday. Graphics options are a little more expanded upon from previous games, and check out the cunning GUI scale feature. The GUI will also automatically scale if you go below 4:3, meaning the game is perfectly playable on a monitor set up in portrait mode.

Anyway – if you could, we’d like you to test out the registration and login processes, and the account management functions. You will notice a scary security certificate warning if you click on any links we send you from the Battledroid mailer, but that’s because we’ve not got proper SSL certificates in place yet.

Also, if you would care to click on the second tab icon at the top – world map – you’ll get an early test of our new sprite engine. Though not completely optimized yet, we’re currently testing with 60,000 dynamic sprites on a background of 1 million static sprites. Middle mouse wheel will zoom, hold RMB to scroll, LMB to paint more sprites!

And… first cut of a theme tune – work in progess – open options and slide music volume to 11 :)

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Battledroid Alpha and Development Diary

Ladies and gentlemen, may I proudly present to you… the Battledroid Alpha! Available for all OSes (not currently on Steam but we’ll see about that).

Don’t get all excited now! What you see before you once it’s installed and run is just the title screen. We’ve got a seriously hectic schedule coming over the next 4 months, during which time we will release a new build every other Friday, and the development diary. Our ultimate goal is to get into beta with a minimum viable product by 22nd November 2013, at which point we will be seriously running out of money and unleash our Kickstarter project upon you all, to get the game finished and full of content.

The title screen may not look that exciting to start with but this is how we make our games: we get all the really boring stuff done first, because it has to be done, and once it’s all out of the way while we’re all fresh and full of energy, the only stuff left to do is the fun stuff, with lasers, robots, explosions, and stuff getting blown to bits! (Years ago I realised that leaving titles and menus and options till last is a recipe for misery, demotivation, and failure to complete a game).

As it currently stands, the title screen automatically creates a guest account to play Battledroid on our server, and that’s pretty much all it does right now. Most importantly however is whether you are experiencing anything out of the ordinary, like rendering glitches or connectivity issues. We’d like to hear your feedback, even as this early stage, allowing us to take it into account as we’re working on the next alpha.

In two weeks’ time, at the end of Sprint 2, expect to see the next round of functionality being added to Battledroid, which is account registration and management functions like the ability to change your email address, set a name for yourself, reset your password, etc. – more dull stuff. But important dull stuff.

Puppygames Rezzed, Q-Con tomorrow

Soooo… we all had a great time at Rezzed last weekend – thanks to all those who stopped by our booth! All in all the show seemed a success, with a friendly atmosphere and eclectic mix of games, with indie games generally seeming a bigger pull than the AAAs that were there :)

Unfortunately we didn’t have a huge amount of time to play other games on show, but a few new to us that impressed were Trash TV, Montague’s Mount (both of which are on Steam Greenlight – here and here) and Revenge of the Sunfish 2 which really needs to be seen in motion to appreciate how completely bats it is.

The Win-a-Nexus-7 Hiscores Competition

We were giving away a brand spanking new Nexus 7 tablet to each player with the highest score for Ultratron, Droid Assault and Titan Attacks, and it was a great success with a nail-biting finale. As we approached the end of the show the highest scores seemed unbeatable, but as the returning hiscore holders of both Droid Assault and Ultratron watched on, their records were beaten!…

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The Demo Is Dead, Part 2

Because my previous blog post was not a complete academic essay on the subject, nor indeed intended to really go any further than the few people that visit our blog, it seems that a few people are deconstructing the arguments and poking some big holes in the assertion that “The Demo is Dead”, which is fine, but the article is not at all complete, and contains no hard data (of which I have a lot). At the time, I just thought I’d pen some musings on the subject talking to people who already didn’t care (existing blog readers, who are generally customers and therefore unaffected by what we do with our existing titles).

Anyway, the internet sort of exploded in rage and disbelief that a tiny indie developer could become such a cruel, heartless, candy-snatching killjoy.

As a general reply to various comment all over the place, here are some further musings:

99 Reasons To Not Buy Your Game

This was clearly an exaggeration for literary impact, and if that’s not obvious to you, for shame. But instead of just asking me what those reasons are, maybe you could engage in devil’s advocacy, and think of some yourself. Here are some I thought of, spuriously:

  1. I got my fill of gameplay already from the demo. (Our demos typically gave away 25% or so of the full game progression)
  2. I’ve had 90% of the initial delight of the game for nothing. Paying some money for the remaining 10% is a waste of money. (Note disconnection between “delight” and actual content)
  3. I can’t be bothered to pay for it when I can go and play another free demo somewhere else.
  4. I’ve already got a bunch of games I’ve paid for but not yet even played. Maybe I’ll not bother getting this one yet.
  5. I played the demo ages ago and forgot all about it by the time payday came because something else distracted me in between.
  6. I only buy games through Steam.
  7. I’m a poor student/waster/single mum and I don’t spend money on games especially when I can be entertained endlessly by demos for nothing.
  8. I loved the game except for this one small thing that I didn’t like like I can’t remap the fire button to X and for that reason alone I’m not going to buy it.
  9. I thought the game was too easy but that’s because the demo can only show the first 10 levels which have to be easy to not put off the 95% of people who find it too hard.

You’re Just Using Yourself As A Single Data Point!

Some have accused me of using myself as a single data point (“I’ve never bought a game in the last 5 years from playing a demo”) and drawing my conclusions based on this, which is fallacy. This is not the case; my own, singular experience was what got me to look at the data in the first place. It was just a hunch, that I got to thinking about actually a few years ago. It’s only in the last year or so that the data has become impossible to ignore (see below for some figures).

The Nature of Puppygames Demos

Few people were aware of the exact nature of our demos, or even our games, and it’s probably worth researching because our games are of a particular ilk and available only on a particular platform. We make desktop arcade games mostly, and that’s a pretty strange niche to begin with, which substantially effects the way demos work.

Our demos were “full” versions of the games, which could be unlocked by registration (no further download). They tended to let you play the first 25% or so of the game unfettered before expiring on a cliffhanger (eg. first boss appears, or you’re just about to see the next “world”, for example).

Claims that we’re “doing demos wrong” are from people who, I suspect, have not been doing this for as long as we have. The fact is, our demos were more or less no different from nearly every other demo I’ve ever seen. They weren’t even unsuccessful either – they converted at an industry-respectable rate, AFAIK. The problem is that rate is shit and the amount of money we can charge for a successful conversion has been eroded, which brings me to…

Context Is Everything

The context of pricing and market positioning, specifically. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen the average price of an indie game plummet from $20 (sold direct by the developers) to $5 (sold on Steam or BigFish in a sale) to about $1 (sold in a bundle of some sort). Steam pioneered the price slashing in the market – I’m sure you educated types with economics degrees have a special name for this manoeuvre. In the space of a couple of short years, direct sales plummeted to less than 1/10th of what they used to be (and they were never great). Almost overnight, the chances of being an actual indie developer – and succeeding! – have dropped from “you’ll be lucky” to “you’ve as much chance of winning the lottery”. Not only had consumer expectation of prices been eroded from $20 to $5, but consumers were also taught by Steam to buy on the basis of video and recommendation and, most importantly of all, discounts.

Then, just as things didn’t seem they could get more crazy, along comes the Humble Indie Bundle, and we’re now becoming accustomed to picking up titles for a dollar or less. Again, demo unseen. We’re conditioned to buying stuff because it is cheap not because we necessarily want it. I say “we” – yes! I am one of you. I am a consumer. I’ve got a hundred games in my Steam library. I am doing all these things. I won’t buy a game if it’s not on Steam any more. I won’t buy a game if it costs over $10. And so on. This reminds me of an anecote many years ago when a friend of mine came bouncing into the room full of glee because she’d bought some mint essence. When I enquired what was so amazing, she told me that it had been 75% off so she just had to buy it. I can’t recall her ever before or since actually making anything with mint essence in it, but it was a bargain!

In this context, what we now see is that 95% of our incomeany developers income – comes not from conversions of demos, but from sales via gatekeepers and bundles. What the focus of my original article was really about is that there is a case for simply dropping prices through the floor and not giving anything away for free. There is “free” stuff everywhere, already. The differentiator we now have is that if you want to sample our stuff, it will actually cost you. Otherwise it is simply unavailable. It is out of reach. You can look through the glass into the shop but you can’t touch it until you spend a (paltry) amount of money. Just like with mostly everything else in the world these days.

Are We Right?

There’s no harm in being wrong. We can be wrong. We’re going on what the data tells us, and we have a lot of data. We’ve sold 481,529 games in the last 3 years, and 30,246 of those have been to people who played a demo. That means the other 451,283 sales were made without anyone ever seeing a demo. If you want percentages, that’s 6%. We’re quite happy to be proved wrong! If the data tells us we’re wrong, we’ll go back to using demos.

Our hypothesis is, we’ll make a bit more money if we ditch demos and drop the prices. As you can say what you like about the 97% of sales being without demos and argue till you’re blue in the face that you don’t buy games without playing a demo first, go on ahead. Argue away – you’re arguing that black is white. You’re not making us 97% of our sales. The bit you need to argue over is this:

6% of our sales are to demo players, direct, and they have made us $72,000. We think that if we drop our prices hugely, and ditch demos, that we’ll continue to make 6% of our sales direct, but that we’ll make a bit more than $72,000.

The Sands Shift Beneath Our Feet

And still that’s not the whole story. The thing that most beginning developers – us included – fail to take into account is how the markets change over time. As I said, when we first started, we sold conversions on demos for games that cost $20. We started just at the tail end of a golden era in independent game distribution (typical bad luck, huh). The internet had just revolutionalised developing games and the gatekeepers were just about to move in, along with a flood of other developers who suddenly discovered they could do it too. It is suprising in hindsight that so many developers clung to the $20 price model in the face of what was happening.

Things came to a head in about 2008 or so, when we released Droid Assault. Droid Assault was released to the sound of tumbleweed. No-one was even the least bit interested. It’s a great game (IMHO, haha), but when it was released, nobody wanted to buy it. Customers were already thoroughly in the pockets of Valve and BigFish by then. If you didn’t have a game on a portal, it simply didn’t sell. DA must have shifted literally a few hundred copies. By contrast on Steam, now it’s finally out on Steam that is, it’s shifted thousands of units.

And so we must realise that the market is changing, all the time, imperceptably slowly. Let’s look at those figures I just mentioned above, and instead, let’s look at just the last 12 months:

In the last 12 months we’ve sold 77,224 games, of which just 725 were demo conversions. The demos weren’t suddenly any different. The prices weren’t suddenly any different. Suddenly, after just 2 years, we’re only making less than 1% of our sales via demos. Nothing else changed except the entire rest of the market.

So actually what you really need to be arguing over is this:

1% of our sales are to demo players, and they have made us $5200 (yes, really). We think that if we drop our prices hugely, and ditch demos, that we’ll continue to make 1% of our sales direct, but that we’ll make a lot more than $5,200.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

 

 

 

The Demo is Dead!

Many years ago, when we first started making games, the perceived wisdom of the age was to follow an apparently successful formula, and strike it rich. Or at least, make a living. Games sold for an average of $20 or so. This is in the dim, dark depths of history, in 2003.

This formula was: offer a demo, and convert demo players into customers by having amazing demos (and, as a secondary, offer a money back guarantee just in case a customer mysteriously wasn’t satisfied). All you need is a large enough influx of traffic downloading a large enough number of demos and a large enough conversion rate. Simple! And this we have done, for the last 10 years.

To cut a long story short, it doesn’t work for us.

Today, none of our games have a demo, and they probably never will have again, either. The Demo is dead.

Long Live Video!

Why have we done this? How can we possibly gain from no longer hosting demos? Well, the times have changed. I have come to realise that I’ve not bought a single game from playing a demo in the last 5 years, maybe longer. Why am I buying games? Or rather, why am I buying the games I am buying as opposed to other games?

Mostly because they’re recommended to me by friends, and sometimes reviews. That generally isn’t enough though; I also want to look at the game before I buy one. And this is where video comes in! Just about every game I’ve bought for the last 5 years has been on the basis of watching a video of the game – either a review along the lines of Total Biscuit, or a trailer in Steam, or on the developers’ websites, or shared on Facebook or Twitter. Usually I don’t even need a recommendation from a friend if I watch a trailer for a game that I think looks interesting.

But there is another thing at play.

Almost none of the games I’ve bought have even had demos. They’re full versions only, accessible only via Steam, and/or usually… rather cheap. And with a bit of investigation we’ve noticed that 99.9% of all the games we’ve sold on Steam have been bought “blind”, without anyone ever sampling a demo.

This got me to wondering why we are bothering with demos any more.

What Does a Demo Do?

I’ll tell you: it has three primary functions:

  1. To assure the end user that the product actually installs and runs ok on their machine
  2. It gives the potential customer a good long demonstration of the game with no up-front investment on their part
  3. The shocker: it then gives them 99 excuses not to buy the game.

Video manages to sidestep 2 and 3 nicely. Video still gives the customer a demonstration of the game, albeit non-interactive; but it does have the potential to cram all the interesting bits into a very short space of time – rather like a movie trailer does. But, barring a total disdain for the style or genre of game, it doesn’t give the customer any reasons not to buy the game. Not a single one. You have to actually pay to form an opinion on how it plays.

The first function is trickier. Why do people buy something if they don’t know if it’ll even run or not? It turns out it’s required a little bit of technical wizardy to solve, which we’ll be releasing the source to in due course as it’s GPL, but basically – take a look at Revenge of the Titans now, if you’re unregistered, and you’ll see that the title screen has in fact been replaced by the video trailer which is now rendered inside the game. So we know at this point that the game is going to run fine on your machine, and more importantly, so do you. We’re slowly converting the other three games into video title screens as well.

In-App Purchase

Of course, once a potential customer has installed the game, fired it up, and been presented with the trailer video instead of an ordinary title screen, that’s not quite the whole story. Customer clicks “PLAY”… and is transported straight to an in-app purchase screen which you can use to unlock the game there and then. Unfortunately this IAP screen can only take credit and debit cards (no PayPal or other dubious payment systems). However… it is working, and working nicely.

Now all our games have a built-in IAP system (and a cunningly built-in one-click buy mechanism too), we’ll be able to collect some stats on how things look without demos, and I’ll be following up in a few months about the end result.

Revenge of the Titans 1.80.21 released

… and this one’s got a few more goodies in it.

Firstly and most obviously, it’s now got fancypants shader effects in it, which I’ll be expanding on a little in another patch. You can turn these off in the Options menu.

Secondly, we’ve added Easy Mode. This is a campaign mode like normal campaign mode but the difficulty is capped at a much lower level for more casual play.

Thirdly, we’ve enhanced Sandbox Mode for those of you that have it. The editor now allows you to specify a lot more detail about spawn points, and also specify exact amounts of each resource available. Check out the new editor options at www.RevengeOfTheTitans.com

Fourthly, we’ve added Research Respec - you can now completely redo your entire research tree, at any time, without penalty.

ps.
You will notice a little screen flickering going on at the start, which we will soon remove. It’s gathering some logging information for us so we can get to the bottom of a driver crash. Sorry for the annoyance.

Guess How Long Ultratron Took To Make?

I was idly warbling away to fans on the Steam Community forums today when I had a little think about some of the facts and figures involved in making games. When I read it back to myself I realised it was actually pretty fascinating reading for people outside of the industry (that is, the players of our games). There were some amusing estimates of how much effort goes into making games from the fans, so here are the facts and figures for you all to see, and hopefully, tweet, reblog, and comment about, until all children are suitably scared in their beds and night and vow never to want to becomes games developers ever again, and some sort of massive JUST SAY NO style meme floods the internets and makes it to the very top of Reddit’s wonderfully insular and self-referential news pages.

Ultratron took 24 man months to develop, or if you want to put a financial figure on it, about $120k at ordinary salary rates. Ultratron has so far made a loss of $100k.

Titan Attacks took approximately the same amount of time. Titan Attacks has just broken even after 7 years, so that’s cause for a can of lager in celebration.

Droid Assault took quite a bit longer – about 36 man months, or $180k ish. Droid Assault has so far made a loss of about $120k.

Revenge of the Titans took about 7 man-years to develop, or about $420k. It’s only just broken even. Sandbox mode took 12 man-months and has so far cost us $56k. It is unlikely to ever break even.

For most of the last 10 years, I subsidised all the development of the games by working as a menial contractor in the IT industry and effectively putting every spare hour of my life into them. We started seriously in 2002. It wasn’t until 2010 that we actually made enough money to buy anything more than a celebratory curry!

So now you know why a) you don’t really want to be an indie game developer if you can help it and b) why we’re not making any more arcade games :)

* probably. Unless a genius can think of some way we can make them for about a tenth the cost that’s palateable.

You can trust the computer. The computer is your friend!

We gathered in our millions around the Consoles of our cities to hear the announcement. Whole families turned out and stood out in the plazas waiting for the rumblings from inside the machine to herald its latest edict for the good of humanity. We stood in silence, until a deep red light flicked on from a scanner situated near the top of every Console, and a laser scanned over the suspended crowd, surveying. Counting. And then the Console spoke the words of Central Nexus.

All humans are to report in an orderly fashion to their nearest RecycloMat Facility. Transportation will be provided free of charge by Central Nexus – your friendly system overlord. There is no need for alarm and recycling is painless. Central Nexus wishes at this time to thank you for your peaceful co-operation in this hazardous waste recycling operation and wishes you continued happiness and contentment for the remaining duration of your current form.


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Codename Battledroid

So… work is underway on our new game. I’ve called it “Battledroid” for now (ahem), a name which may or may not stay. I quite like it. So by way of warning, there now follows a wall of text explaining everything.

What is Battledroid?

Battledroid is a massively multiplayer asynchronous online war fought over the blasted and war-torn landscapes of Earth in the not entirely distant future a few centuries from now. At war are various ultracorporations (whom we shall call “factions”), who vie for control of territory in order to boost their own manufacturing capabilities. Everybody who is sensible has left for more peaceful pastures in the rest of the Solar System, leaving the wars to be fought by giant armies of autonomous battledroids.

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Steam Linux Love-In Launch

It’s St. Valentine’s day! Apart from delivering coffee and jam on toast to Mrs. Prince, I’ve been beavering away losing hair and sanity making our games work nicely on Linux through Steam. I now have about two handfuls less hair, but also for your perusal, delectation and delight, all of our Steam games working on Linux!

It also happens to be the case that Valve are celebrating the official release of Steam for Linux starting today, and so we’re doing a special sale of all our games on Steam at 50% off! Now there’s a reasonable chance you’ve already bought one of our games if you’re reading this blog, so if you fancy spreading the love a bit, why not buy the gift of a game for that special friend that you forgot to buy flowers for this morning? A copy of Titan Attacks for the object of your affections will surely go a long way to getting you past first base. You might even find out what first base is! I never got to find out myself, I just looked at Mrs. Prince funnily one day and bam! Pregnant. But that’s another story.

Don’t forget that all our games are also “Buy Once, Play Anywhere” – your games will run on any operating system even if you buy the Linux version. And all you existing Puppygames customers – you can still go here to get your FREE Steam keys (note that you have to register your game first though).
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Rezzed

So I went to Rezzed with @Cliffski (and Mrs. Cliffski), ferried there in a state of mild car-phobia induced air conditioned comfort in his spaceship-like Lexus. I couldn’t tell you what Lexus it is, just that it is black, and has batteries in it to make it go, and a charming electronic assistant lady called Lizzy who tells Cliff where to drive. I also managed to figure out how to transmit music from my phone to the car, and forced Mr. and Mrs. Cliffski to endure my “eclectic” musical tastes. I notice that most of the music I listen to has what graphics people might describe as a “high dynamic range” – that is, it has quiet bits, loud bits, bits with low frequencies, bits with high frequencies, and mostly every combination in between. It turns out that this is crap for cars, as you can’t really hear anything, and this probably explains why nearly all modern music is just a massive irritating wall of sound – because the only place most of it gets listened to is on car radios. Anyway, I digress. This is what we did when we got there:

Indie Stone

We went to see a talk by the Indie Stone of Project Zomboid fame (I’ve been doing some things for them). We were nearly as surprised as they were as the room was packed out with hundreds of people (a show of hands in response to a question from one of the, er, Stoners, showed that maybe 90% of them were fans of Project Zomboid). Anyway – the presentation was of course quite funny, detailing as it did how not to set up a studio and have several disasters. We make our own luck, as the saying goes :)

I was going to throw tomatoes at Lemmy for forgetting to mention me but as he was visibly shaking like a leaf with nerves decided that would be a bit mean. My time will come! I think it’s time I did a talk at one of these talk things, having amassed all sorts of interesting bits of know-how and wisdom about the industry, games, and coding in general.

Borderlands 2

We wandered around and looked at all the man-shooters on display – still strangely the most prevalent sort of game at computer game shows. There were also a rather large bunch of indie games there but unfortunately my largest and most vociferous organ was telling me that I had to go and eat, so we didn’t hang around and play any of them for any significant length of time. Can’t even remember the titles.

We wandered into a section labelled “18 Only”, hoping for scantily clad pole dancing ladies and these naked booth babes I hear everyone decrying, but annoyingly there was just some guy in a rubber Alien suit, and Borderlands 2. The Borderlands 2 demos were wired up to XBox360 controllers. WTF? I wrestled with the controller for a minute, looking probably like one of those long lost tribespeople that some missionary westerner has just given a knife and fork to, and eventually gave up in disgust. So in short: it looks like Borderlands 1, but prettier and the interface is a smidgen slicker. I’ll be buying it and playing it with a keyboard and mouse as God intended.

Fish And Chips

Eventually my stomach won the argument and we went in search of fish and chips. This you must know if you visit Brighton: the Regency Restaurant, on the sea front opposite the old burnt-out pier, makes the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. The Indie Stoners arrived along with torrential rain, and we decided to go to the pub.

Pub

In this bit we discuss things that we are not allowed to repeat in front of anyone, let alone broadcast all over the internet :) A couple of things became apparent though. Firstly, the Stoners absolutely hate the AAA games industry with a passion, and after they told us their life stories, I can see why. Secondly, we had a good laugh at the Zomboid team’s expense concerning what disasters might have befallen them on the way down from tha Toon to Brighton including hilarious anecdotes such as strapping all the laptops with the source code on to the front of the van (“for safekeeping”).

Peter Molyneux

The next talk we went to was to see what batshit silliness Peter Molyneux is up to with his new “independent” studio 22 Cans. It turns out that he’s hiring lots of people to make little games for iPhones, and to be fair he did have quite an interesting “game” concept he talked about which he claimed was about curiosity – “what’s in the box?”. I thought that really it asked the question, “Just how much money can you fleece people out of via iTunes?” Molyneux actually seemed to concur on that point. Nothing wrong with parting people from their money, I always say. Anyone daft enough to spend it in such a manner clearly needs to be parted from it as soon as possible before they actually go and do something stupid with it.

Cliff and I stood at the back and sniggered like naughty schoolboys. During the Q&A session I was just almost but not quite drunk enough to want to ask Molyneux whether Cliff was fired or whether he quit Lionhead in a huff. But again my pleasant nature somehow smothered my desires to make mischief and the session ended without incident.

Mitu and Redshirts

After the session we bumped into Cliffski’s minion, Mitu Khandaker, who is simultaneously developing Redshirts for Positech Games (ie. Cliffski) and also strenuously denying being a minion. Just as I was getting into my stride mocking one or the other of them the Mode 7 team happened by broadcasting their intentions to obtain food from Italian restaurants, and my favourite organ once again declared its interest in food. Exeunt Indies. Past Molyneux near the front entrance; I tried to get Cliff to rant at him (“Remember me? Huh? Remember?”) but he wouldn’t do it, which is a shame as it would have been entertaining.

Pizza, Beer, etc.

Went and had a pizza. Waitress threw a plate on floor behind me. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in Final Destination. Anyway, having dodged certain death from flying crockery, we went out to go and find the RockPaperShotgun drinkiepoos at some fancypants club called Audio. Talked to a bunch of people there including me old mucker Adam Martin, whom I conclude needs to port Titan Attacks to iOS for me, though he doesn’t know it yet. But we were so knackered we only managed a couple of drinks and had to retire back to the hotel. Out like a light. An interesting day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musings on the Raspberry Pi

I recently acquired a Raspberry Pi, the £25 computer which is the brainwave of various UK industry luminaries, most famously including David Braben, the author of 8-bit classic 3d-space-shooting trade game Elite. I have a few thoughts about how it’s delivered, what it costs, who it might be aimed at, and what might be done to improve things for level 2.

The Raspberry Pi arrives as a naked circuit board about the size of a box of what we in the UK call fags. This always amuses Americans, but Americans are of course easily amused, albeit for an extremely short duration. The circuit board has as many connectors on it as you could reasonably hope for in a computer – two USB ports, stereo jack, Ethernet port, micro-USB power input, HDMI out, and composite video out. There’s even something called a GPIO which is a bunch of pins which you can connect “things” to that do “stuff”, but that’s for very clever propeller head types who understand electrickery, and not programmers like me.

Of the USB, Ethernet and stereo jack, we shall have nothing much to say. Or indeed the GPIO thing. They are as they are and I dare say no improvements could be made on them. The other outputs represent some rather odd thinking.

HDMI Output

HDMI is the future! HDMI is awesome! VGA is dying! … but unfortunately, HDMI is only available on the very latest monitors and newer TVs. So we’ve got a £25 computer, and the theory is that you’re supposed to pick up and use some existing mouse, keyboard and monitor that you’ve got, probably gathering dust in the spare room, to save you a pile of cash. Except, of course, your monitor only has the usual D-shaped SVGA input. Everyone I know has a spare SVGA monitor lying around. Not a single one has a spare HDMI capable monitor. A few people quite likely have monitors with DVI-D input, but I have a feeling that like mine it is already in use as the main PC monitor. The solution in my case was to buy an HDMI cable and a brand new HDMI-capable monitor. £115 vanishes.

Then there’s this thing about HDMI not exactly being reliable, like SVGA is. In my case, all I got was a black screen on startup. It could have been any number of things but fortunately I’ve got quite a diagnostic mind and I’m not 12 years old, like many of the prospective owners of the Pi are purportedly meant to be. Suffice it to say it took me an entire evening of Googling around to discover that you had to create a text file with HDMI configuration parameters in it to get the monitor to actually display anything. This is fun… for various values of “fun” which unfortunately lie somewhat outside my comfortable parameters. You see, I spend all day, every day, trying to figure out why the fuck stuff doesn’t work properly. I was rather looking forward to plugging in the Pi and tinkering with it straight away, but I didn’t even get that far. I had to wank about fiddling with it just to get a fucking picture. Yes, that made me cross.

Composite Output

A nice touch but pointless. Almost all composite-input devices likely to be found around the home are now rightfully in landfill and those that aren’t are generally massive and not the sort of thing you generally want cluttering up a spare corner of a small room. Not only that but they tend to be Jurassic power-guzzling dinosaurs and prone to going on the blink. The other day I spent a happy afternoon coding in CRT distortion effects in the new version of Ultratron. So anyway: composite output – might as well have saved the money on providing this output, no-one in their right mind needs or wants it who is going to own this device. Yeah, even you. You’ve got a spare old SVGA monitor in the garage too haven’t you? Throw that old black-and-white portable telly in the skip.

Micro-USB Power Input

Er… why? I’ve got about 20 different adapters lying around my house, all with sturdy jacks, providing voltages anywhere between 3v and 12v. I literally have a box full. I expect mostly everyone else does too, because over the last 30 years, nearly every widget you’ve bought came with its own. I bet amongst them all you’ve got a 5v DC input you could have already used. Well, it doesn’t matter, you can buy the flimsy microUSB input instead for another £5.

Supplied without an SD Card or software

Now, here’s probably the most controversial thing I’m going to say about the Pi. As it comes, it won’t actually switch on or do anything, even if you’ve got the spare keyboard, mouse, and shelled out £85 for a monitor and cable. You also need to get yourself a 4GB SD card to put on some firmware and an OS. Although this process is trivial, and the cost is nothing to worry about (literally, the price of a bag of peanuts), it’s completely unlike my first experiences of computing.

My first real computer was a Vic-20, back when they first came out. It cost quite a lot of money – a lot more in fact than all this Pi stuff has come to in real terms – but: I plugged it in to the telly, switched it on, and tuned the TV using the twisty analogue knob. And there it was: a BASIC interpreter, 3583 bytes of RAM free (though 2 went missing immediately somewhere). It came like this out-of-the-box. I could get coding on it within seconds. It’s this plug-and-play appeal that turned so many people off of PCs for gaming and on to games consoles in the first place and represents exactly why software engineers are so derided by mostly every other engineering principal.

 

Built to a Price, But What Price And Why?

So the Raspberry Pi commands all sorts of cool headlines like “a computer for just £25!” mostly because it sounds, well, cool. Except I’ve spent £200 on mine in total, which coincidentally is about what my Vic-20 cost me albeit in 1982 money. That’s clearly beyond typical pocket money for today’s cash strapped youth who of course absolutely, completely need mobile credit and, er, whatever it is that teenagers spend money on. Drugs I expect, as they can’t easily get booze any more.

About £165 of that cost was the monitor, keyboard and mouse; the keyboard and mouse were really just me being slightly extravagant (I have an awesome tiny Cherry ultra-compact keyboard), but the monitor… well, that was annoying, really, as I could have used one of several other devices kicking about the house if the Pi ditched its HDMI and composite outputs in favour of something more befitting its status as a cheap toy that is meant to be attached to stuff you have lying around gathering dust.

So with the Pi only about 12% of the total cost of the whole setup, why exactly is it designed like this? Why is it built to meet a £25 price point when a few bob here and there would barely change the overall cost but vastly improve the whole experience? Who buying one of these things actually gives a fuck that it’s £25 and not, say, £40? I really have no idea.

It would appear that there have been engineers involved in the market research. Oh dear.

No-one buying computers cares that it costs £25 or £35. Especially when you have to buy a bunch of other things to make it work anyway, and then waste an evening trying to get it to boot. There are of course a few electronic engineering types having gentlemen’s accidents over the GPIO port and that’s great, but I seem to recall that the Pi was all about getting a generation of kids into computing as we used to know it, back when we had Spectrums, 64s and Amstrads. The problem is that price was only a small factor in the choice of whether we owned one of those home computers back in the day, yet it seems to have been absolutely the driving factor in designing the Pi.

What I’d Do To Make Me Happy

Were I to think about the successor to the Pi, apart from the usual guff about making it a bit faster and giving it more RAM through the inevitable march of progress (nabbing the chip out of a Galaxy S II would just be incredible), I’d ditch HDMI and composite out in favour of a technically obsolete SVGA connector. I suspect the cost would be as near as identical as to make virtually no difference to the prospective buyer’s financial situation – as we’ve already established, the cost of a Pi is only actually a fraction of the total cost of actually using a Pi. Not only would this mean you can use that old Dell monitor, it’d also work, unlike the HDMI port, which doesn’t.

Secondly, I’d supply the Pi with a 4GB SD card plugged in to it already, with an OS on it, that boots. In fact I’d probably consider wedging the thing inside a keyboard casing with a trackpad and then you’ve literally got something just like one of those home computers of old, the spirit of which the Pi is attempting to capture. If you sold the bundle of things ready assembled for under £100 you’ve got a no-brainer for any prospective parent thinking about getting one for his or her geeky kids.

Lastly I’d switch from using microUSB power input to a standard 5v DC power input. And then I’d supply the device with one anyway, in the box.

The choice of Linux as an OS is unfortunate but a bit of a necessity given there’s bugger all alternatives yet. Linux is incredibly complicated. Just look at the BASIC interpreter command prompt startup of a Vic-20 compared to the Pi. Eek. This isn’t really going to help a new generation of geeks get in to programming; it’s likely to make them think, this is just too much effort for too little gain. Well done for creating the sort of barrier to entry that filters out all but the most heavily bespectacled and introverted propellerheads but is that really what we need? I believe that the barrier should be as low as absolutely possible in order to hook people into fiddling before people need to get into the nuts and bolts. Look at Mac OS. It’s got Unix underneath but even an idiot can use it after switching it on. I think the Pi is going to need something like that.

Anyway, more ramblings about the Pi later, as I get to grips with the horrors of Linux and C programming (Python! You must be joking). Eventually I’m hoping to get some Java code running on it.

Afterword

You might think I’m being a little negative about the Pi so far. Actually I’m having a reasonable amount of fun tinkering with it; my fears are really more meta-fears; I suspect that the Pi will turn off more people from software engineering than it will turn on, supplied as is. It is the very raw roots of modern computing. Unfortunately those roots are ugly, messy, nasty, clunky things; and one of the chief reasons I don’t use Linux as my main OS, and also one of the main reasons I use Java as my weapon of choice.

Talking of Java, seeing a bit more of an effort to support Java on the device wouldn’t go amiss. After all, it’s very, very likely that Java is what they’re going to be actually exposed to in higher education. Not Python.

 

Mac OS X Developer Required for “Charity” Work

Your API Needs YouThe LWJGL project, which provides the low-level graphics, sound and input bindings required for Java to make great games such as Revenge of the Titans, Titan Attacks, Spiral Knights, Tribal Trouble, Starfarer, Blocks That Matter, and yes, the ubiquitous Minecraft, needs your help. Well, that is, if you’re a reliable, seasoned Mac OS X developer with a fairly deep understanding of the Obj-C display APIs. Continue reading

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Having spent the last few days dealing with the aftermath of turning 39, I’ve finally gotten the database rinsed and cleaned and full of genuine registrations again from the Great Birthday Giveaway… and with some cunning databasery I’ve managed to reinstate some previously disabled games. What does this mean for you?

In short: if you ordered more than one game, I have reactivated the first one you ordered.

So if you were one of the people that fired up Steam the other day and discovered your game(s) have vanished, or if you tried to obtain a Steam key and were told that your email has been disabled, or if you tried to register your Puppygames registration but were told the same, you may now again register your game – just the first one you ordered – and get a Steam key for it (if it was Revenge of the Titans or Titan Attacks – Droid Assault and Ultratron don’t have Steam keys yet, but they will have, and you will be able to get them in the same way).

All in all I’ve managed to give away a further 2,353 free games to people who either didn’t read the small print quite right or for whatever reason were unaware of the one game limit. This makes me feel all magnanimous and warm inside, and is back in the spirit of things, bringing the total grand giveaway to 13,701 games.

Just to allay a few untrue rumours circulating – no-one is going to be banned by Valve for blagging an extra key. There are a few script hackers who might be in trouble though, and it was these guys filling up the registrations database with shite that have caused everyone all the grief, you included.

So in short: run your game, pop your email address in and wait for it to register, then go to http://www.puppygames.net/steam to get a Steam key if it’s Revenge of the Titans or Titan Attacks.