To celebrate being 2 years old, more or less, we present a new series of random images from Basingstoke development. One a day*, every day of the year*, perhaps for all time*
* OK, so 3 today to get the ball rolling, might be one a day, might be more, might be er… less.
* apart from at weekends and bank holidays, spring breaks, summer breaks, xmas in general, new year, family visits, weddings, sick leave, shore leave, feeling a bit under the weather, flooding, acts of god, technical problems, being hassled by cats, being lazy devs etc.
* or until we’ve finished it 🙂
Hello watchers and lurkers! We don’t often do a blog post, so when we do, you can always be sure it’s going to be something interesting. This time, just in time for the Easter holidays, we have a little sneak peak at what’s been happening in Basingstoke since the Titans dropped a neutron bomb on it and killed everybody.
As you can see from the video things are coming along nicely. We might even finish it this year! Or at least release it.
The video shows a few new things in it which you’ve not seen before, like the gidlets, which are those cute little swarmy things; and zombies, which are what happens in Basingstoke after about 11pm whether there’s been a neutron bomb or not – an occupational hazard of living there; and there are some nice underground sections with sewers and metro station.
What do you mean Basingstoke doesn’t have an underground railway? This is the future, silly! Of course they’ll build an underground railway. And yes, kebabs will cost £10 in the future too. I know – scary.
It’s been a little while since I stood on the soapbox to serve as a distraction for the ire of the masses. Allow me once more to entertain you with news of the exciting events of our times.
Big time 800lb gorilla monopoly stakeholder Valve announced a week ago a wonderful u-turn on their famously awful refunds policy, and frankly, about fucking time.
So, you’ve got 10 minutes waiting for a bus to nowhere. Or maybe you’re trying to kill time while that awesome curry simmers away. Perhaps you have eclectic tastes and prefer to play the best game on your Android phone, ever?
If any of these situations apply to you, then we have a treat for you!
Right now, at this very moment, the Humble Bundle for Android and PC #12 is entering its final weekend. And in this Humble Bundle you can find the exclusive version of Titan Attacks for Android (amongst other gems). It is not yet available on Google Play and might not be for some time. This is your one and only chance to pick it up – and happy happy joy joy you can pay what you want! Now you can’t get much of a better deal than that.
Porting was done by Jake Birkett of Grey Alien Games (he wrote a little post about it here on his blog). It was painstakingly ported from Java into Monkey (totally ungoogleable name, guys) because Jake isn’t familiar with Java (a shame, because he could have maybe just converted it over to libgdx and saved a bunch of time).
Hmm… it’s been a while since the blog had a new entry. It’s been even longer since I opened my virtual mouth to make commentary on the industry (and what fun that is!). But, the tripes are heavy, and thrice has the cock crowed under a full moon. The portents are good!
I recently had the good fortune to babble away in a thread on Facebook with Old Guard Indie Derek Smart, one of the very first and most prominent indie developers around. I got onto a subject which has been nagging away at me for some time, which I shall now dub “The Roach Theory of Indie Games Development”.
Welcome back to Basingstoke. In fact you never left. There is no escape from Basingstoke.
Here’s the latest video, showcasing new features…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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>?
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).
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hello all you silent eyes, you quiet followers of our sporadically updated blog! Gather round our digital Yuletide fire and listen, my little ones.
Today we have put all our games, including Sandbox Mode for Revenge of the Titans, and our two soundtracks, and even all our source code, for sale through the Humble Puppy Bundle. This glorious sale lasts from 19th December through till 26th of December, and you may name whatever price you wish for everything, as is traditional.
You will also notice that Droid Assault and Ultratron have both been updated with two-player local co-op mode. Just grab your 360 controllers and join in. Yay! Expect bugs.
And you’ll also see that Revenge of the Titans has a Christmas Mode which appears only for the festive season (from 19th December to early January or thereabouts). And Droid Assault has a special new Christmas Mission too! Which is all very silly and hopefully a bit of fun.
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:
Well, in the end, all we’ve kinda managed to do is:
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.
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.
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 🙂
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…
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:
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.
Expect to encounter…
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 🙂
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.
It’s not often we get custom made fan art turning up in the mailbox but once in a while something fantastic appears. Just lately we received some photos from one of our younger fans. Simon enjoys Lego (don’t we all!) and in his spare time he defends the Earth from alien invaders in Revenge Of The Titans. So, being a creative fellow, he decided to put the two together and make some Lego models of Titans and buildings from the game. And here’s Simon and his creations:
Check out that Titan’s big red, glowing eye! A big thanks from the Puppygames team to Simon (and Chris) for letting us show off the models.
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.
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!…
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).
As a general reply to various comment all over the place, here are some further musings:
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:
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).
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…
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 income – any 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.
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.
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.