PAX East 2014 Overview

PAX East 2014 is over and I’m beat. The four days of adrenaline kept me going without much food or sleep but now it’s time to recuperate. While I sniffle and hack away at my desk, recovering from PAX Plague, here are some previews and first impressions to a handful of the indie games that were there. I wish I could do a “Best of PAX” but there is no way that I was able to play everything that was shown. Maybe this time I’ll give out the, “Indie Gamer Chick: Not a Bad Build Out of the Relatively Few Games I Was Able to Play Because There Are So Many Here” Award.

Note, the following are not all-encompassing previews. They are synopses based on a very short amount of time with the games and there may be inaccuracies based on where the presenters decided to start the game or how much background to give me. (Case in point below, Flem would have appeared far different if I hadn’t asked for more info.)

Always Sometimes Monsters (by Vagabond Dog)

The feels, this game gave them to me. Here the player is asked to witness the results of their choices in life. In the demo I played, I played a man whose roommate wanted me to scope out his crush and see if there was any chance the guy he liked, liked him back. I don’t want to spoil what happens but what you decide to do once you do it changes how the game continues.

One of the more mentally deep games I played, this one promises to make you think.

Assault Android Cactus (by Witch Beam)

A dual-stick shooter that’s influenced by bullet hell games. In this 1-4 player game, you’re killing seemingly endless waves of monsters as you make your way through the end. You get to play as a number of cute androids, blasting the ever-living hell out of everything, trying to rack up combos and get the best grade you can. It’s fun and if you can get a few friends locally to play with you, it’s even more of a blast.

The three folks that I played this with kicked the crap out of it, allegedly the first folks of the con to beat the boss at the end.

Bik (by Zotnip Games)

A point-and-click adventure where you play a young boy who was abducted by aliens. Teaming up with some fellow mercenaries and other aliens met along the way, you go through a number of adventures before returning home. Inspired by the point-and-clicks of yore, their focus wasn’t on trying to make you wonder about all the ways you can’t Get Ye Flask and let you have fun experimenting different things. The game even auto-saves for you so you don’t have to worry about being unable to undo the horrible things you’ve accidentally done.

The demo had me set up in a spaceship as one of the aliens. There was a fire in the engine room and I had to save a crewman and stop the fire. It took me a few tries to complete the section for apparently turning off the air supply and killing us was not the immediate solution (I PUT THE FIRE OUT THOUGH!) and sticking a mop into the fire (don’t ask) didn’t do a thing.

Bounden (by Game Oven Studios)

While playing another game in the Indie Mini Booth, out of the corner of my eye I caught some folks making some strange motions while holding a phone between them. Intrigued, I dropped the controller and shoved everyone in my path out of my way.

This mobile game makes heavy use of the gyrometers within the phone to have you “dance” with a partner as you both hold onto the screen as you move together to move objects on the screen. It had us rocking the phone back and forth and even at one point, holding it overhead and twist in a ballet-like maneuver. It had me intrigued as a little party thing to share a fun experience with your friends.

Buddy and Me (by Sunbreak Games)

Adorable. You play a child who is racing through a dream world with his Never Ending Story-like pal named Buddy. It’s meant to be a non-stressful version of an endless runner where you can still “lose” easily but the pace isn’t too fast and you have the cutest imaginary friend to travel with you and help you out over some obstacles. I was able to play a preview of the new female character, which the dev says will be available soon to players in an upcoming update.

The dev tells me that the level generator determines your skill level as you play and makes things more or less difficult for you as you go (but still providing a challenge).

Darknet (by E McNeill)

I talked about this game a little in my “Oculus Rift: Second Impressions” article posted from the show floor (https://plus.google.com/115383603237792435980/posts/JttdvUQb8Pp).

This is a strategy/puzzler that makes use of the Oculus Rift to give you a virtual reality version of cyberspace akin to those of the 90s hacker movies. The goal is to hack into servers, break the security, and retrieve the data you’re after. Once you retrieve that data, your reward is money to buy various hacks (power-ups) to help you break into other systems.

It was one of two experiences I had with the Rift over the weekend and stood out as a one of the better examples of what it can do.

Delver’s Drop (by Pixelscopic)

This is a dungeon crawler which had its camera angle inspired by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. This build was a bit early and it was missing many of the game assets and enemies, leaving things a tad barren. The dev had to point me in the right direction a few times because I’m an explorer.

It has a number different characters, all which move and attack differently. I admit, in the short time I was able to devote to it, the “fluid” control and momentum felt clunky but it was by design as each character you can select plays with slight differences. I suspect that after a bit more time, the player gets used to it and it’s a non-issue.

Distance (by Refract Studios)

The only game on my list here that I didn’t get to play up front but I did get to chat with the dev at length while watching a few folks play. This is a survival racer heavily inspired by the racers of the late 90s (Rush, Extreme-G) where you speed through a high-tech city, avoiding obstacles on the track that trashes your car. The game is gorgeous and flashy and hits all the right buttons for this TRON-lover.

Interesting note, this game is based on another game of theirs they worked on while attending Digipen. Since it was a Digipen project, the school owns the game so they wanted to do with again under their own names.

Flem (by Henchman & Goon)

Walking by this display and seeing some folks play, my mind immediately went, “Super Meat Boy” clone and I almost kept walking. The crowd around the screen left and I was the only one there which inclined the presenters to ask if I wanted to play. I said sure and thought there may be there’s something here.

It started off just as I suspected. Difficult levels that try to kill you and you restart immediately to keep you going. The presenters (these gentlemen did not work on the game but were marketing students) were telling me about the game and it felt like they were describing Super Meat Boy. I don’t know if they hadn’t played it or not but I had the sense they didn’t know the comparison at all. It wasn’t until I had the chance to ask, “What makes this game differ from it? What makes it stand out?” That’s when I got it out of them.

A few stages in, you gain special powers that allow you such moves as to hover temporarily among a few other things. It requires a different kind of precision to finish a level than jumping, jumping, and more jumping. I asked if I could test out those special powers and they seemed surprised as if no one else had brought it up before me. They were right for at that point, the game changed and was much more fun.

I have a feeling that folks may pass this one up prematurely because of the initial few levels. Stick with it!

Future Unfolding (by Spaces of Play)

In a randomly created, gorgeously styled world, you are one person trying to find your way out of a forest. There are no weapons, no health bars, and no mana – you are one person who uses clues in the environment to find which way you need to go next. “Using” a pair of stones in the ground that don’t quite fit may open up a path in the forest. Connecting some unusual trees together may make bad creatures appear which give chase. You don’t know what’s going to happen until you experiment.

If you are one who loves exploration, keep your eye on this one.

Hand of Fate (by Defiant Dev)

This game weaves a tale like no other that I’ve seen before it. Using tarot cards, the story is told with randomized encounters and events based on your draw. Once a combat card is shown, your character slips into a battlefield in which you fight using a combat system that’s simple but fun as you get to not only punch and smash your way through enemies, but dodge their blows as well.

Over time and as you complete aspects of the game, you’re granted more cards that are shuffled into your deck. It all makes for a fun and random game each time you play.

This one is a bit on the expensive side for an indie game but it may very well be worth it once it’s released for PC and PS4.

High Strangeness (by Barnyard Intelligence Games)

Readers may soon be cluing in on a a weakness of mine. If your game reminds me of A Link to the Past, there’s a good chance I’m going to like the game. Harking back to the late 80s and early 90s, this game mixes up 8-bit and 16-bit, creating what they call a 12-bit experience. This adventure has players bouncing between the classic era and … slightly less classic era to solve puzzles and kill monsters. When you’re in the 8-bit world, enemies may not have complex attack patterns, but they hit harder. In the 16-bit world, game assets are more detailed so you can see where you need to place a certain object.

The Phantom P.I.: Mission Apparition (by Rocket5 Games)

Another game in the adorable category, you’re playing a ghost buster of sorts in a puzzle/adventure game which places you in a spooky, maze-like mansion to put an end to the chaos caused by the thief ghost, Baublebelly.

Along the way, you encounter traps and puzzles which you need to solve by collecting objects and using them at the right moment. You may need a fuse to activate a switch, or bucket of water to put out a fire.

All in all, it’s a cute little package that works well on a touch screen.

Revolution 60 (by Giant Spacekat)

Set in the future, our hero is tasked with trying to find out why a weapons platform has gone offline which sets you on a course of killing baddies and robots and all sorts of futuristic things. Combat is a mixture of quick-time events and tactics strategy and the narrative combines a choice system that determines the reactions your character has to certain situations. Our hero is this badass woman who stays calm under pressure and looks good doing it. Basically, it’s like playing a blonde version of me. Har. Har.

Normally, I hate quick-time events (QTE). I don’t find it enjoyable in the least when a game is prompting me to smash the hell out of X at just the right moment or move the joystick in just manner so sitting down to play Revolution 60, I was rather skeptical about what I was going to experience. It turns out that I now have an addendum to my hatred of QTE and that is, on touchscreen devices they make much more sense. Why is that? One thing I hate even more than QTE is trying to use controller-like controls on a touch screen and I’m so glad they didn’t do them here. QTEs fit well as they don’t require intense button smashing and still allowed me to enjoy the story.

I introduced myself at the Revolution 60 booth as Bri and the woman who I talked with made a comment about how great that was since their head was also named Bri (Brianna). Interesting fact, the team is entirely (or nearly so) women and I had the opportunity to see Brianna at a panel the shortly before playing the game (that’s me in the pink dress up front in a picture she took: https://twitter.com/Spacekatgal/status/455690195468554241/photo/1).

Rollers of the Realm (by Phantom Compass)

Obviously, these folks have some sort of randomizer for the folks behind Rollers of the Realm somehow got the combination of pinball and RPG. You know what? It’s fun! Set in a medieval world, the main character is a thief girl who is trying to make it on her own with her pet dog. The two, and lots of people you meet along the way, are represented in-game as pinballs, each with their own physics. The playfield is based on the location the storyline is in such as a village with people standing around, boxes to destroy, and more.

Sentris (by Timbre Interactive)

I suck at music. I have no rhythm and typically I couldn’t tell you who sings what. For example, if you know it, it took 20 years for me to be able to pass the Yoshi Island on Mario RPG before I finally “got” it. Always up for a challenge though, I walked up the Sentris booth and said, “Girl, I’m going to try your game. I’m going to suck and you’re going to pretend I’m doing well to help my ego.” (This conversation may have only taken place in my head.)

The playfield is sort of like an LP that spins constantly, playing a background song that you can affect by inserting colorful segments of different sizes into the playfield. Different beats and… other music words… (sorry, I told you I’m inept) begin with each additional segment, leaving you with a unique song that’s truly your own with each play.

Completing certain color matches, you “beat” each stage. That is a bit of a misnomer for you don’t actually beat anything, only move yourself to the next stage to create another musical wonder.

Vertiginous Golf (by Surprise Attack Games)

Long gone are the crazy golf games we used to have; Wicked 18, Kirby’s Dream Course, and so on. When I saw this steampunk-themed, mini golf game, I had to try it out. Given a steampunk controller to control the action, I was given a large number of obstacles to use and bounce off of and hazards to avoid in reaching the pin of each stage. The stages are large and have plenty of going on with plenty of ways to try to reach the end.

There was an Oculus Rift version of this game but it was not demo-ing when I had the opportunity to play.

We Are Doomed (by Caffeine Monster Software)

Another dual-stick shooter to add to the large volume of this type of game, but this one is really, really pretty with bright, vibrant colors that almost has a papercraft-type feel to it. It doesn’t add anything new to the genre but it is fun and doesn’t break the budget. Something about this title kept me interested longer than a lot of dual-stick shooters do.

Woah Dave! (by Gaijin Games)

I broke this game when I played it. Sorry Dant.

Unashamed to admit that it is heavily influenced by the classic Mario Bros. game and Joust, Woah Dave is a mash-up of the two where you are trying to destroy bat-like monsters that get really angry and when they touch the lava on the bottom of the screen. When they hit it, they jump back up to the top of the level, hoping to reach the lava so they can get more pissed. …or something. In any case, it’s fun. It doesn’t try to be anything more than a simple game that is enjoyable and it succeeds.

If you want to know any more about the above games, check out their pages in the associated links. PAX East was an amazing experience for me and if you haven’t been there before, I highly suggest going if you can. Thank you to everyone I got to talk with and meet. Our time was short but it was a blast.

One Million Views and Counting

Today, 963 days after I began this journey, Indie Gamer Chick passed one million lifetime views. It’s a milestone I never dreamed about when I started doing this stuff in July of 2011. I remember those first ten days where I was pulling in ten views a day. Then a single game developer contacted me, and I couldn’t believe it. Then someone noticed me on Google and told the Xbox Live Indie Game community. Before I knew it, people who had never heard of me wanted to talk to me just to talk to me. Developers of major triple-A titles that I grew up playing were following me on Twitter, asking me my opinions on gaming, telling their friends they had met me. What the heck is wrong with these people?

I’m going to level with you guys: I’ve lost my way, and I recognize that now. Indie Gamer Chick gained a following when my focus was on smaller indies on unappreciated platforms. For two years, my focus was on Xbox Live Indie Games, a platform where even developers who created really, really good games would be lucky if they made $1,000 on their art. I thought the way to grow Indie Gamer Chick was to spread out to larger titles. I wasn’t trying to sell you guys out. The XBLIG community had started to break apart, seeking fame and fortune on other platforms, and I was trying my luck at that too.

Although I will continue to keep my eye on bigger indies, reviewing the heavy-hitters of our community at least a couple of times a month, I’m going back to my roots. You’ll see a lot more reviews on platforms like Xbox Live Indie Games, Ouya, and PlayStation Mobile. And yes, I’m starting PC reviews in March, just as soon as my two new gaming computers are done being speced out.

Oh, and I assure you, this has nothing to do with indies taking forever to really lay stake to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U. No sir.

The response over the last two and a half years from the community has been nothing short of miraculous. It’s changed my life in ways you can’t believe. It’s made my parents so very proud of me, and it’s given me a level of self-respect and confidence that I never knew I was capable of having. Saying “thank you” simply doesn’t sound strong enough for what I feel towards you all, but it will have to do. Thank you so very much. I love you all.

-Cathy

February 18, 2014.

The Indie Ego

The Wrong Image

Since starting Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011, I’ve met literally thousands of people involved in indie game development. Typically, they are the coolest men and women on the planet. The type of people I would want to be friends with. Humble and grateful, eager to please and excited by the prospect of improvement. They strive to be better. They relish the thought of being the underdog. They wow me with their intelligence and awe me with their creativity. They inspire me to be better at what I do. And I’m not talking about two or three standouts. I’m talking the overwhelming majority of the community.

So, why does a perception that indies are aloof, pompous, self-indulgent, out-of-touch, thin-skinned, egotistical fart-sniffers exist?

Well, because a small handful of indie game developers are aloof, pompous, self-indulgent, out-of-touch, thin-skinned, egotistical fart sniffers. From my experience, they’re not at all representative of your typical indie dev. They represent a stereotype that I find damaging to the community I love, so I figure I should try to eliminate this mindset.

The first developer who contacted me was the developer of this, A Hard Game Without Zombies. My review was not a positive one. Developer MasterGroke took it with grace and humility. It was a sign of things to come. After 500 reviews, only five developers ever showed a lack of grace in handling it. Read the types of reviews I write and then ask yourself if the indie perception is accurate.

The first developer who contacted me was the creator of this, A Hard Game Without Zombies. My review was not a positive one. Developer MasterGroke took it with grace and humility. It was a sign of things to come. After 500 reviews, only five developers ever showed a lack of grace in handling it. Read the types of reviews I write and then ask yourself if the indie perception is accurate.

You Don’t Get Me

Any creative medium will attract personalities that have no concept of humility. It’s the nature of artistic expression. You see it in movies, television, stage, music, and modern art. Indies have been around since the dawn of games, but it’s only recently that mainstream attention and ease of distribution have become prevalent. So now, you see a lot more people with that artsy, pretentious, “nobody gets me” personality. Thanks to Indie Game: The Movie, many people believe the scene is dominated by this type of character.  It’s not. Most indie game developers are humble and friendly. I wish more people watching that had come away saying “man, those Super Meat Boy guys were awesome!” instead of focusing on the developers who were, for a lack of a better term, unlikable.

The indie scene has grown a few prominent stars. Some of them are, by most accounts, really cool guys. I’ve heard a lot of people tell me Minecraft creator Notch is a good dude. I’m pretty good friends with Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell. He’s one of the nicest guys I know. As for Notch, while he might have eccentricities, he certainly doesn’t carry himself like he’s better than anyone or that people don’t fundamentally “get him” or his artistic vision.

There was some scuttlebutt over Braid when it was released. It was a hugely critically acclaimed game. It was probably my favorite indie that I had played before I was Indie Gamer Chick. But developer Jonathan Blow wasn’t happy with the feedback, because he felt reviewers and critics didn’t get what he was aiming for, either reading too much into it or not enough. Jonathan Blow does a lot of great things for indie developers and is a wonderful advocate for the community. Unfortunately, the way he handled the reception of Braid made him come across as incredibly pretentious. Because of his visibility, that’s done a lot of damage to the image of indie game developers.

People are going to have different interpretations of your work, reading into it all kinds of things you never imagined while you were developing it. Lord of the Rings creator J. R. R. Tolkien spent most of his twilight years shooting down any and all theories on what Lord of the Rings might be a social commentary on. Nuclear weapons? Class warfare? Race relations? He had none of that in mind. “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence” he often said.

Sooooooo...... you're telling me Braid isn't an allegory for the East-Asian industrial revolution?

Sooooooo…… you’re telling me Braid isn’t an allegory for the East-Asian industrial revolution?

So when you put your work out there, be ready for people to not experience it exactly how you envisioned. When this happens, have a laugh over it. If their misinterpretation has had a positive effect on their life or outlook, why would you want to shoot that down? Most developers understand this. The few that don’t, that get very possessive of their vision, they’re the ones that bring the whole community down. I roll my eyes at a lot of attempts at gaming as art, but I’m just one person. I know people who were genuinely moved by Datura, which I hated. Many of my fans read a lot more into Limbo than I did, to the point that I went back to play it, actively searching for a way to see it the way they did. The thing is, they’re not wrong, and neither am I. Art interpretation is always in the eye of the beholder. As a developer, once your game is out on the market, you’re not the beholder anymore, and you have to accept that.

The Indie Bubble

Many of the more image-damaging indie developers live in what I call the “Indie Bubble.” It’s a bubble almost completely removed from the world you and I live in.  Where developers can image a world where their insecurities can be addressed without having to incorporate things like “reality” or “facts” into it. Unfortunately, the Indie Bubble still has access to Twitter or blogs, meaning their delusions get exposed to a group of people who live in what is known as the “real world.” And the people living in the real world are so not ready to play along with their fantasies.

Earlier this week, while discussing the economic problems of the Wii U (as I did two weeks ago in this editorial), a developer from within the Indie Bubble told me that indies could, no, WOULD, save the Wii U. I responded by saying that indies can’t move consoles. Indie Bubble developer responded by saying he knew people who had bought a Vita just for the indies on it. I responded by pointing out that the Vita isn’t exactly the most successful game machine out there. In fact, it’s doing quite poorly. More over, if indies could significantly move consoles, the Ouya would be a runaway success right now, instead of being, well, the Ouya.

Remind me: how is indie-centric console Ouya doing?

Remind me: how is indie-centric console Ouya doing?

The developer responded by saying I was coming across as anti-indie. Not because I said I hate indies, or that indies are crap, or that most indie games suck. No, I had committed the sin of being realistic. Also, it’s hard to convey exactly what I meant in 140 characters. Yes, there are people out there who will buy game machines just to play the indies. Most of these people stick to PCs, where the majority of high-quality indie games are at. On the console side of things, those who are primarily looking for indies will simply not be statistically significant. Anecdotal evidence of “I know people who bought a Vita just to play indies” doesn’t mean that’s how most of the world works. Especially when you and the people you hang out with are in the bubble.

Journey was probably the most critically acclaimed game of 2012. It’s my all-time favorite PlayStation 3 game. The most common response to my review of it was “man, I wish I had a PS3!” Not “I’m going to run out and buy a PS3.” Journey simply didn’t move consoles. It didn’t when it was bundled with Flower and Flow and released on disc. Indies just plain aren’t good at that. Blockbusters move consoles. Indies are a wonderful side dish. They serve to provide content that is not on-trend, so that gamers of all stripes have something for them on a gaming device. The indies that get promotional effort from the manufactures often tend to be released outside of peak-seasons, assuring top-quality content year-round. So indies serve a function. I would dare say, indies are essential to the modern console business model. There’s no need to boost your egos and placate your insecurities by making absurd claims like “indies move consoles.” That makes you sound like a lunatic.

Absurd claims are a running theme with the fringe Indie Bubble crowd. Another one I got this week was “all games come from indies.” I responded simply with “Madden?” The developer’s response: “Never heard of it.” That’s the Indie Bubble. And the Indie Bubble is the most dangerous thing the community’s image faces. “Never heard of it.” Oh please. See, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of being in the indie community. But when you’re not grounded in reality, it makes you tough to root for.

Just to quickly clear up the “all games come from indies thing”, the first video game console was developed and funded by a defense contractor. Video games evolved from people within the military industrial complex. The man behind it, Ralph Baer, was meticulous in his methods, making sure every little detail was profitable and patentable. When Atari came out with Pong, his company successfully sued Atari, who ended up a licensee. By signing the license, Atari assured that the military contractor would stomp their competition with great zeal, protecting their patent. Does this sound indie to you? Because it doesn’t to me. I bring this all up because, when I called out the theory that all games are inspired or come from indies for the bullshit that it is, they typically reach back to the origins of gaming, when a model railroad club designed the first PC game during recreational lab hours. If you have to reach that far back to make your point, you have a weak argument.

"I thought Braid was talkin' about me!"

“I thought Braid was talkin’ about me!”

The ultimate asinine statement is “Indies are the only REAL artists in gaming.” It’s a shitty attitude to have, and it completely undermines your own contributions to gaming, because it makes you guys look like beret-wearing. art-house assholes. The kind of people nobody likes, that nobody wants to see succeed. Chances are, if you work in the game industry, you’re a creative person. Even the most design-by-committee titles like Call of Duty or Gears of War are built by people who do their best to put their personal touch on their work. Indies have built an “us versus them” mentality that shouldn’t exist. You’re all artists. Don’t allow the freedom you have as an indie developer turn you into an elitist.

With Fans Like You..

Criticism is subjective, and not all my reviews are popular. A recent trend I’ve had to deal with is, when someone disagrees with one of my reviews, I’m called a “Call of Duty player.” For fans that have entered the Indie Bubble, this has become the ultimate insult. It’s like “Yo Momma” for people who love the scent of their own flatulence. This idea that people who play indies shouldn’t play mainstream games is so damaging to the community. Gaming is a big tent. Indie games should tackle issues that mainstream games can’t possibly do, but the community at large should be welcoming to gamers of all stripes. When the hardcore, indies-only crowd starts using games like Call of Duty or Gear of War or Halo as pejorative insults, they’re telling people “you’re not welcome at our party.” That’s bad for developers, because the hardcore fans are making their work less accessible. Would you want to be part of a community populated by people who regard the games that inspired you to buy your console with contempt? Of course, like developers, the majority of hardcore indie game fans are not assholes. They don’t consider the act of playing a game like Madden to be an affront to the scene. But for those in the bubble, they would rather see games sell less than have people like me, who enjoy all aspects of gaming, from being part of their community. When I reviewed NES Remix, someone outright called me an enemy of indie gaming. When I said that review brought all kinds of attention to my blog from non-indie fans, who then were exposed to an entire different crop of games as a result, the person responded with “I don’t care.”

Back in 2012, when Halo 4 was released, I spent a few weeks inviting my fans to play with me and my friends online. Those living in the Indie Bubble, especially non-developer indie fans, were hugely insulted that someone called “Indie Gamer Chick” would play such a game while actively promoting the scene. I have done similar events with indie games, and a big problem with those is getting participants. Indie games typically fill specific niches. When myself, my fellow XBLIG critics, and the developers at Milkstone Games had a little impromptu Little Racers STREET event, we had trouble filling all the spots. Even though we were actively giving away free copies of the game to get enough players in. When Brian and I were looking for fans of Terraria to trade items with, finding interested parties was shockingly difficult. For Halo, the moment I said “anyone want to play?” I had a queue that lasted for days. I was able to expose more people to indies just from the ease of access Halo offered than I would have literally handing out free copies of an indie game.

Little Racers STREET supports up to twelve players online. Even bribing people to play, we only had seven or eight at most at any given time.

Little Racers STREET supports up to twelve players online. Even bribing people to play, we only had seven or eight at most at any given time.

But, because I was preaching the gospel of indies from a Halo pulpit, I was the enemy. People were calling me things like “fraud” or “poser” simply because I was playing Halo. If there’s one thing I hope people take away from this piece, it’s that those inside the Indie Bubble don’t speak for the community. The majority of indie fans and developers are amazing people who welcome newcomers to the scene with open arms. It’s one of the few online communities where newcomers are so readily accepted. Those fans who want us filthy mainstream game players to stand clear? They’re not part of the indie community. They’re in their own world. The difference between their side and the side I’m on? My side wants them, and everyone, to be a part of our community. The more, the merrier. Indie fans who say things like “go play Call of Duty” are essentially telling the millions of Call of Duty players that them and their money are something indie developers can do without. On behalf of the indie developers who you did not consult when saying that, kindly shut the fuck up, please.

In Conclusion

There is no such thing as the “Indie Ego.” The majority of indie developers are down to Earth and humble, while indie fans are normal gamers just looking for ideas off the beaten path. I wish the perception of the scene was more in line with reality. Yes, some developers are egotists who insult fans, throw tantrums, and sniff their own farts. Yes, some indie fans are obnoxious, elitist, uptight dorks. But they are not the standard bearers for indies, and gamers need to know that.

Indie gaming doesn’t breed these kind of personalities. Some people are just born to be douchebags. While I was catching shit from those in the Indie Bubble, an indie music critic fan of mine told me “welcome to my world.” An independent film-maker friend of mine said “you could change “console” to “studio” and publish this as critique on the indie movie scene.”

A friend of mine took a look at an early draft of this editorial and hypothesized that success is a factor in “the Indie Ego” perception. It’s been known to change people. You’ll notice that a lot of the guys I would label as being type-A personality developers, IE the kind that are most in need of a good slap across the face, are the ones that are typically the most successful. It’s been suggested to me that my positive experience with the community is in large part because most of my developer friends haven’t had a large level of fame or recognition.

I don’t think its true. When you see a developer meltdown over a bad review or people talking shit on his game in the Steam forums, success has nothing to do with that. I’ve had developers who have never caught a whiff of success threaten me with lawsuits or try to organize a Reddit mob to “get me.” Some people are just not capable of handling the type of feedback you receive when you’re a creative person. That’s why some developers laugh and tell disarming jokes when they’re accused of being a hipster, while others declare that they’re cancelling their next game, like a bratty eight-year-old taking their ball and going home. It’s very unfortunate that, in such situations, the response from those outside the community is “well, that’s indies for you.”

No. The correct term is “that’s assholes for you.”

I heard someone say this week "I wish more developers were like (Thomas Was Alone creator) Mike Bithell." Um, dude. Most developers are. He's an amazing human being, like most indie devs. If most indies were more like Phil Fish, I wouldn't be doing this.

I heard someone say this week “I wish more developers were like (Thomas Was Alone creator) Mike Bithell.” Um, dude. Most developers are. He’s an amazing human being, like most indie devs. If most indies were more like Phil Fish, I wouldn’t be doing this. Hell, there wouldn’t be an indie scene.

So, if you’re a true fan of indies, make sure you set the record straight whenever you get the chance. Indies are not about elitism or self-glorification. They’re about freedom of creative expression. They’re about childhood dreams realized. Indies are community-oriented, helpful to a fault, and anxious to excite fans of all shapes and sizes. That is the real indie community, where you’ll find most fans and developers. Those other guys? They’re in the Indie Bubble. They might tell you they speak for the community, but they don’t. They claim to love indies, but their behavior does not show that. They insult those they perceive as “not indie enough.” They have no tolerance for anyone who doesn’t interpret their world view. And they willfully drive away new people from the scene. Guys, you’re not helping. I know you’re not capable of realizing that, but I figure I should try. Indies need a thriving, growing community to succeed. You guys are essentially advocating indie obsolesce. If you’re in the bubble, you need to quietly reflect on if that’s the community you want to be a part of. And while you reflect, crack a window or something, because the lack of oxygen in the bubble seems to be affecting your brains.

Wii Don’t Get U

Something disturbing happened to me recently: I started liking my Wii U.  Maybe it has something to do with it finally getting a couple of games I actually wanted to own.  No, Nintendo, I’m not really keen on paying $50 for a remake of Wind Waker that you vomited bloom on and called “HD.”  I don’t have anything against it, besides the fact that I already played it enough to get a 100% completion when I was thirteen-years-old and thus I had nothing left to get out of it.  Hey, if you’re a youngin’ and you’ve never played it, it’s totally worth $50.  It’s my favorite Zelda ever.  I just can’t understand why people who still own the GameCube original and have beaten it multiple times were drooling at the thought of ponying up $50 to buy it again.  The already-spectacular graphics are slightly better, but not another $50 better.  The biggest improvement in the game involved REMOVING content.  I don’t get it.

Not to mention that if your best game in your first year is a barely-upgraded port of a game ten years old, you're in big trouble.

Not to mention that if your best game in your first year is a barely upgraded port of a title ten years old, you’re in big trouble.

In fact, “I Don’t Get It” is a running theme with me and my ability to comprehend the Wii U.  I’m even more baffled (and somewhat terrified) by how their fans just absolutely will not give you an inch in regards to any flaw in the machine, or accept how damn gloomy the future of the system appears to be.  I’m certainly not relishing the idea of my Wii U dying an early death.  I look at a video game system as an investment, and with the Wii U, I’ve barely started to get my returns on it.  We’re just over a year into its life.  Consoles typically don’t hit their stride until year three, year four.  I still weep when I think about how the Dreamcast, as good as it was, never really had a “prime” during its existence.  In comparison, the Wii U has barely cleared the starting gate, in terms of realizing its potential.

With news that Nintendo slashed the console’s sales forecast by 69%, I’m sure there are people there who are asking “how could this happen?”  Even though, before it even launched, pretty much everyone that wasn’t a diehard Nintendo fanboy saw this coming.  There are so many factors on why it’s not taking off.  I have a few theories on this.

1. The Wii U is just plain not cool.  Mock all you want, but the original Wii was, for a time, very cool.  Stores could not keep it in stock.  Everyone wanted to play it.  It was hip and trendy, but simple enough so as not to intimidate anyone.  Coolness sells.  The iPad is not remotely the best tablet on the market, but it is very cool.  So if you have an iPad, you must be cool.  When the Wii came out, if you owned own, you were cool.  That’s not the case with the Wii U.  I’ve seen it myself.  We had some teenagers at our Christmas party this year.  When they saw I had an iPad, they thought I was cool.  When they saw I had both a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox One, they thought I was very cool.  When they saw I had a Wii U, they suddenly thought I was a dork with too much disposable income.

Tablets are a big deal now, but tablets are getting increasingly more thin and sleek.  Think of the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy.  In comparison, the Wii U looks like a Etch-a-Sketch that someone jammed buttons and analog sticks on.  A children’s toy, not something high-tech.  Then you get to the screen.  It’s not a bad screen by any means, but it simply is not as cool as your average tablet.  It looks older and outdated, like an early tablet.  I mean, it still uses a stylus for God’s sake.  Again, the Wii’s controllers, whether you liked them or not, stood out as sleek and novel.  The Wii U pad looks like a monstrosity.  Nintendo also dropped the ball by not redesigning secondary controllers, instead allowing you to carry over your old Wii remotes.  Economically, that made sense.  But it reenforced the perception that the Wii U was old and outdated before it even launched.

Then years ago, this would have been the single coolest thing in gaming history.  Now it's something that people shrug off and say "well, at least it's not Virtual Boy."

Then years ago, this would have been the single coolest thing in gaming history. Now it’s something that people shrug off and say “well, at least it’s not Virtual Boy.”

2. The majority of the utterly insane, never-say-die, ignore all logic and defend Nintendo to the bitter end fanboys are around age 30 and over.  I get into it with them all the time on Twitter.  Although there are some my age, they’re nowhere near as loud, nor do they work as hard to twist logic and spin facts on the increasing amount of bad news related to the Wii U.  Do you wonder why that is?  Well, I have an answer.  My generation, which some call Millennials, have less brand loyalty than any generation that came before.  That is bad news for Nintendo.

Nintendo makes Nintendo-style games.  They control the most iconic franchises in gaming.  There’s no question that their quality of games are typically pretty high.  In the past, they could rely on their franchises and talent to create life-long loyal fans.  The fanboys that sometimes annoy me and sometimes amuse me probably got their start in gaming with an NES or an SNES.  Those fans stuck with Nintendo every step of the way, through good times and bad.  The Virtual Boy sold 140,000 units in the United States.  Who do you think bought those?  It’s the same way sports fans typically cheer for the local team.  It’s what they grew up with, and no matter where they go in life, they always stand by the home team.  If you had only an NES as a kid, Nintendo was your local team.

My generation doesn’t do that.  That probably has a lot of do with how the delivery of entertainment has evolved over the last thirty years.  If you only owned an NES, it didn’t have a lot of competition for your attention.  Maybe a handful of cable stations, Saturday morning cartoons, a comic or two once a month, head down to the video store to rent a VHS tape, or play with some He-Man action figures.  Today, game consoles compete with the internet, 500+ channel cable and satellite systems with DVR, Netflix, YouTube, smart phones, and tablets.  We’re a generation of instant-gratification, where nearly any form of entertainment we want can be accessed instantaneously.  So, because we grew up with so many sources of entertainment, we never formed loyalties to any one brand.

Now mind you, the brand loyalty effect is not exclusive to gaming.  It’s having a profound effect across the entire entertainment spectrum.  But it’s especially bad news for Nintendo.  They’ve sustained themselves for over twenty years on the loyal fanbase they created during the NES era.  NES children became N64 and GameCube adults, who continue to support the company to this day.  The same is not true of those reared on the Nintendo 64 or the GameCube.  Companies across the globe are scrambling to adjust their business models around this phenomena.  Nintendo is a company notoriously slow to adapt with the times.  They were the last company to jump into disc-based storage.  The last to embrace online gaming.  The last to include high-definition visuals.  Just going off their track record, I’m not betting they’ll be fast enough to adjust their marketing strategy to deal with this.

This is a prime example of what I mean.  Children of the NES era were so overcome with joy that they nearly died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Dr. Luigi was announced. People my age said "it's......... seriously, it's the same fucking game, only you throw two pills into the jar instead of one."  Then the fanboys were like "I KNOW, AWESOME RIGHT!  I HOPE IT COMES OUT ON 3DS SO I CAN PAY FOR IT TWICE!"

This is a prime example of what I mean. Children of the NES era were so overcome with joy that they nearly died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Dr. Luigi was announced. People my age said “it’s……… seriously, it’s the same fucking game, only you throw two pills into the jar instead of one.” Then the fanboys were like “I KNOW, AWESOME RIGHT! I HOPE IT COMES OUT ON 3DS SO I CAN PAY FOR IT TWICE!”

3. The Wii U is a confusing machine for the general populace.  I’ve seen it myself.  Let’s go back to that Christmas party earlier.  I was showing off all my game consoles to my colleagues and friends, most of whom are much, much older than me.  My Wii U game pad’s charging cradle is not situated by the console itself.  Nintendo has done well enough marketing it that my partners could identify the pad.  “That’s the Wii U, right?”  Then they looked at my various new consoles.  Xbox One.  PlayStation 4.  Even the Ouya.  Situated somewhere between them was a small, black disc drive that looked like it might be an external component of a PC.

“What’s that?”

“That’s the Wii U.”

“I thought that (pointing at the game pad) was the Wii U.”

“That’s the controller for it.  This is the console itself.”

“Oh, it’s one of those.

Presumably he meant a console.  And there in lies the problem: the people who primarily supported the Wii, your casual fanbase looking for a quick-fix good time with friends and family don’t understand what it is.  They think it’s a portable device.  Or possibly a very expensive accessory for the original Wii.  After all, it uses the same controls as the original.  And it mostly features the same franchises as seen on the original Wii.  If you don’t pay much attention, you might not realize what exactly the Wii U is.  I’ve seen it in person.

4. I hate to be one of those people who rags on a machine being underpowered, but the Wii U is too damn underpowered for third-parties to get behind.  There’s a myth that having less power makes a console less expensive to develop for.  That might be true, if you’re making an exclusive game for the platform.  But for blanket multi-platform releases, it’s a huge handicap that might make development for a console cost-prohibitive.  Don’t take my word for it.  Ask any third-party developer, and they’ll tell you that optimization for less powerful machines takes time and manpower, both of which are expensive.  If a developer targets a game for all the current generation systems, making a game play similar on the PS4 and Xbox One will be negligible.  Getting that same game to look and play as good on the Wii U will be difficult.  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  I’m saying it will eat up more company resources to get it done.  When a system is already floundering, they might just decide it’s not worth the risk.

Talk about the lack of third-party support of Wii U and, without fail, fanboys will wave Bayonetta 2 in your face like a prized bull.  Bayonetta was alright, maybe even good, but it didn't exactly light the world (or the sales charts) on fire. Going exclusive for Wii U, even if they're getting paid to do it, seems like suicide.  Platinum Games also did Mad World on the Wii, which only sold a little over 100,000 units.  They must be gluttons for punishment.

Talk about the lack of third-party support of Wii U and, without fail, fanboys will wave Bayonetta 2 in your face like a prized bull. Bayonetta was alright, maybe even good, but it didn’t exactly light the world (or the sales charts) on fire. Going exclusive for Wii U, even if they’re getting paid to do it, seems like suicide. Platinum Games also did Mad World on the Wii, which only sold a little over 100,000 units. They must be gluttons for punishment.

5. Nintendo bungled the launch badly.  Having two SKUs for the Wii U, the premium model and the basic model, was simply a bad idea.  The basic model, with a pitiful 8 GB of storage and no-game, seemed like a crummy value.  However, besides a pack-in game and a charging cradle, the Deluxe model wasn’t that much better.  Consumers are number oriented.  The basic model was $300 and the Deluxe model was $350.  Their competition at the time had packages available for the same price or less that offered 500 GB of storage space.  The best version of the Wii U offered a miserable 32 GB.  It gave the appearance that the Wii U offered little bang for your buck.

And then you get to the pack-in title for the Deluxe model: Nintendo Land.  I’m not knocking the quality of the game.  With four friends around, Nintendo Land is a very fun game.  But, it sucks to play by yourself.  In comparison, Wii Sports was also most potently entertaining with a group of people, but you could have nearly as much fun Wii golfing or Wii bowling by yourself.  Nintendo Land’s best games also require you to have the extra controls to play.  Wii Sports could be played hot-seat-style.  Out of the box, with only one controller, you could play Bowling and Golf.  You couldn’t play the other games, but they sucked anyway.

Really, the best option would have been to forgo the basic model, sell the Deluxe version only at a $300 cost, beef up the HDD to at least 100 GB to compete with Sony’s more base models that typically were around 120 GB, and put New Super Mario Bros. U as the pack-in.  It was Nintendo’s best-bet as a system-mover.  I’m confident that Nintendo Land by itself would have sold very good.  In fact, it probably would have sold more copies, because I think the Wii U with Super Mario U as the pack-in would have sold a lot more at launch.  Sure, they later did make a bundle that included Mario U and Luigi U, but by that point, the Wii U’s reputation was sealed.  The PS4 and XB1 were not too far off, and because there had been a drought of high-quality games in the months following launch, they lost any advantage they might have gotten by being first-to-market.  You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Nintendo showed up to the party wearing last season’s clothing and in need of a shower.

6. Why didn’t Nintendo design the system to be compatible with the 3DS?  The Wii U itself is basically just a giant DS.  They could have made it so the 3DS could act as extra controllers, which could have made for some very novel game concepts.  The type of wild, experimental stuff you saw on the GameCube with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Zelda Four Swords, and Pac-Man Vs.

Hey Nintendo, remember this?  How come, now that technology can do all these things wireless and seamlessly, do you not remember it?

Hey Nintendo, remember this? How come, now that technology can do all these things wireless and seamlessly, do you not remember it?

7. Nintendo really needs to handle the Virtual Console differently.  For many games on PlayStation Network, a single purchase nets you a copy of the game on all Sony platforms that support it.  When I cracked open my PS4 on launch day (in the 90 minutes I had before my system bricked and I had to send away for a new one), I immediately owned games like Flower or Sound Shapes for it.  I didn’t have to pay one extra cent for them.  I bought them on my PS3, and thus I had them on my PS4.  When I bought Doki Doki Universe for it, I owned it immediately on my PS3 and Vita as well.

Nintendo’s solution for those that spent oodles of money on Virtual Console stuff?  You can have the old versions of them on your Wii U through a convoluted transfer method, but they don’t work with the Wii U Game Pad.  If you want that, you have to pay extra.  Virtual Console purchases on Wii or Wii U also don’t carry over at all to the 3DS.  It makes them seem kind of like cheapskates and makes Sony look like they’re cooler people than Nintendo.  In the past, they got away with this, because their fans eagerly repurchased games even if they already owned every single version already out there.  Once again, it comes down to the new generation not having that same level of attachment to the company.  It’s yet another aspect of the Wii U that makes it appear to not be a good value for your investment.

The sad thing is, this isn’t Monday-morning quarterbacking here.  These points were stuff that everybody realized.  Everyone, it seems, except Nintendo.  I certainly don’t mean to imply that you won’t have fun with a Wii U.  After a slow start (Mario U not withstanding, I really did enjoy that game), there are a lot of really good games on the Wii U.  I had planned a PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One launch editorial, where the end would have me declare that if I was forced to choose one console to own right now, based on the library of games right now, with no consideration of future potential, I would have chosen the Wii U.  And I meant it.  As of this writing, it’s still true.  The best games available now for the current generation are mostly on it.  Nintendo even pulled a rabbit out of their hat late in the year with the surprise release of NES Remix, a game I absolutely adored.

NES Remix is something special. Marry me.

NES Remix is something special. Marry me.

But the future of the system looks pretty bleak, and I don’t know what can be done to turn the tide.  At one point, I figured Nintendo would hit the panic button, like they did with the 3DS.  A huge price slash, plus an apology-program like the 3DS Ambassador thing for those suckers that bought-in too early.  Now, I don’t even think that would help.  Nintendo’s loyal fans are in denial about it, but the numbers don’t lie.  Nintendo’s own forecast (which, like most companies, will always be skew higher than realistic) called for nine-million units sold by 2014′s fiscal year, and instead they revised it to 2.8 million.  The PS4 and Xbox One are already primed to pass it, and already have in many regions.  It took the PS4 only 48 hours to pass the Wii U in the UK.

Going back to the Dreamcast, I want you to think about where it was at this point in its life-cycle.  The shadow of the PlayStation 2 hung over it like a terminal illness.  Yet, the Dreamcast was probably in a better position than the Wii U is today.  It had a more robust first-party library, and high-quality third-party support.  A year later, it was dead, and Sega was releasing games on other platforms.  I don’t think Nintendo will go out that way.  But the Wii U is not going to suddenly explode.  Even if they redesign the pad itself, to make it more in line with sleek and sexy tablets that they seemed to have had in mind in the first place, the system still has too many handicaps.  As a Wii U owner, I don’t want my system to go to the grave this early.  But all the best games are still somewhere off in the distance, and top-quality third-party games seem practically non-existent.  Right now, their big third-party exclusive is Bayonetta 2.  A sequel to a game that was decent at best, for a demographic that doesn’t seem in line with the Wii U at all.  Really, the fact that Bayonetta 2 is the biggest asset in their bullpen, doesn’t that really tell you everything you need to know?  Of course, their fans will disagree with me.  They’ll also disagree with the technology.  And the sales figures.  I just don’t get it.

Chick Speaks

Thank you everyone for your patience since the start of this month.  I’ve got about another month before I learn what my long-term medical situation will be.  I’m doing my best to keep gaming and trying to focus on working on Indie Gamer Chick, but it’s really tough.  My mind is wandering quite a bit.  I appreciate all the well-wishes and support.  I’ve had such an outpouring of it that I’m touched on a level I didn’t realize I could be.  I do love you all.  I don’t plan on going anywhere.

Introducing Indie Gamer Chick TV

Indie Gamer Chick has gotten on the bandwagon.  I’ve set up a Twitch channel, Indie Gamer Chick TV.  I’ve also rounded up over a dozen indie fanatics to provide content for the channel.  We won’t just be playing games here.  You’ll get to see the unveiling of new titles and new gameplay modes on it.  We had FortressCraft developer Adam Sawkins debuted the first live footage of the new survival mode for FortressCraft Evolved.  He took questions from the fans and used the experience to get feedback to help him improve the quality of his game.  And next week, we’ll have many of our streamers playing a new demo for Discord Games‘ upcoming title Chasm before it goes public later this winter.  During one of those sessions, creator James Petruzzi will be in the chat room to field questions from fans.

Even though I started Indie Gamer Chick TV, I’m treating it like it belongs to the entire indie community.  I want developers to have access to it, to show off their latest projects, to take questions live from fans, and to even show live development footage.  I want to thank Ryan, aka MasterBlud, for helping me put this together, and to the entire development community.  In order for this to really take off, we need partnership with Twitch.  To earn that, we need to pass benchmarks in views.  Doing so will allow us to increase the video quality of the streams.  Together, we can make that happen, and make Indie Gamer Chick TV the top indie gaming channel on Twitch.  Let’s do it!

For those that missed our last two developer Q&As, here they are.

Magnetic by Nature Q&A with developer TripleSlash Studios.

TraceRace Q&A with developer Mike Antonakes

 

Introducing Indies for Courage

I’m proud to announce the creation of Indies for Courage, a joint project with Operation Supply Drop, that will provide the best independent video games to members of the United States Armed Forces that are deployed abroad or wounded and in recovery here in the United States.

Indies for Courage

How it will work is simple: indie game developers will supply Operation Supply Drop with codes or tokens for their games, which Operation Supply Drop will then distribute to our fighting men and women.  When possible, they’ll do their best to make sure that soldiers receive the right games for them, based on their personal taste or preferences.  Indies For Courage can accept codes across all gaming platforms, though developers should be mindful about contributing from platforms like XBLIG where only 50 codes are supplied per game.

Developers are already stepping up to contribute.  Five studios have donated seven titles so far, spanning a wide-range of genres.  The early contributors are:

Zen Studios, developer of CastleStorm and Pinball FX2

Zeboyd Games, developers of Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World

Phoenix Online Studios, developers of Silver Lining, Cognition, and other adventure games.

Brooks Bishop, developer of Aeternum. Which was critically acclaimed by people who enjoy Bullet Hells. For me, actual hell probably has lines and lines of Bullet Hells, but fans of the genre raved about it. Brooks also created the logos for Indies for Courage (not to mention my mascot, Sweetie).

Angry Gam3rs, developers of Rofaxan 2089 AD.

Since this is my pet project, I’m going to give some special perks to any developer that donates games.

  • Whenever the developer has a new trailer available for an upcoming project, I’ll post it to Indie Gamer Chick’s Twitter and Facebook feeds.  I can also include blog posts updating the projects, and announcements when the game is available. You donate games once, you get this for the rest of your development existence.
  • A special page will be set up this week at Indie Gamer Chick that will list all contributing developers, with links to their site, blog, Twitter, Facebook, and any marketplace links for their games.
  • A special seal for developers signifying them as a contributing developer for Indies for Courage has been created that they can proudly wear on their blogs or sites.

Indies for Courage SealAll contributions are also tax-deductible, under Operation Supply Drop’s ID, which they will supply to any donors upon request. If you’re a developer and interested in donating, get the ball rolling by contacting me here or contacting Operation Supply Drop with the subject “Indies for Courage.”  You should also follow Operation Supply Drop on Twitter.

Non-developers can also contribute by donating directly to Operation Supply Drop.  They have a page set up with multiple avenues you can do this through.  Alternately, my friend Adam Wallyhawk has Indies for Courage apparel that you can purchase, with proceeds going to Operation Supply Drop.  Contributing developers can order special contributing developer shirts upon request.

OSD

On a personal note, I want to thank Operation Supply Drop and the Indie Game Development Community for coming together with me so quickly on this.  You guys are the soul of the gaming industry.  I’ve always been very proud to be associated with such a talented group of people.  The way you’ve all come together for me on this project has left me completely overwhelmed with emotion.  Indies for Courage is not a one-time event.  This will be an ongoing project, and so keep those games coming in.  Our courageous troops have certainly earned them.

ChickStarter – Episode 1: A Rewarding Experience

Welcome to ChickStarter: Indie Gamer Chick’s advice column on making your crowd funding pitches better.  Successfully securing a pledge will require a promising game and a good pitch.  I can’t help you with the game.  That’s up to you.  But taking pitches is something I have a ton of experience with.  ChickStarter is about refining your pitches, not critiquing the games being pitched. 

You Forgot to Carry the One

You’re a game developer and you’re in need of funding.  You turn to Kickstarter. You’re seeking $10,000.  You’ve also recently spent several hours huffing paint fumes and stabbing your brain with a cotton swab because the total cost of the absurd rewards you’ve picked (everything ranging from t-shirts to a personalized stool sample complete with certificate of authenticity) is going to cost you well over 10% of the money you bring in.  You also forgot that Amazon and Kickstarter will combine to take 10% off the top already.  Also, funds received through Kickstarter are considered a form of income and subject to income tax, which you could end up on the hook for and might have to pay at some point.

Suddenly, that limited edition art book that will cost you $60 off a $100 pledge looks mighty stupid.  And, just so we’re clear, IT WAS!

Look, perspective Kickstarter starter, sit down and let’s have a quick talk.  I know you’re anxious to get up and running and watch those pledges come in, like some kind of demented, less charitable, game-playing Jerry Lewis, but you’re going about it wrong.  People are coming to your Kickstarter trying to create a game, not purchase premium items they may or may not get (many rewards never come through) for a game that may or may not ever come out.  The primary concern of a pledger is helping to assure a game that looks interesting to them comes out.  They don’t require art books or hoodies or a private party with you to be enticed into making it.  They just want assurance that you’ll deliver the game and not fuck about with other distractions.  What’s ironic is, having expensive, overly-complicated rewards suggests that you will do just that.

People will pledge based on the potential of your game and the likelihood you can finish your project as stated in your pitch.  The more costly and impractical the rewards you pile on, the less likely a consumer will view that as happening.

King Voxel probably won't reach its goal, possibly on account of looking like yet another 3D Dot Heroes game. I think it looks just fine. More importantly, the rewards are all completely plausible in-game stuff. Well, besides a giant LEGO figure for the top tier. Sure, it's already built and the developer just has to eat the shipping cost, but still, lame.

King Voxel probably won’t reach its goal, possibly on account of looking like yet another 3D Dot Heroes game. I think it looks just fine. More importantly, the rewards are all completely plausible in-game stuff. Well, besides a giant LEGO figure for the top tier. Sure, it’s already built and the developer just has to eat the shipping cost, but still, lame.  Click the image to check out the full pitch.

Giving Away the Orchard to Sell a Few Apples

The above example of the art book costing $60, which came from a pledge of $100?  I didn’t pull it out of thin air.  In fact, I’m pretty friendly with the developer who did it.  He shared it with me on the condition that I wouldn’t reveal his name and make fun of him.  But while I admit that I broke half of our agreement, I will give him at least enough credit that he wasn’t totally at fault.  He got some bad price quotes and didn’t do his due diligence.  He also didn’t take into account the classic and true saying all businesses taking on start-up costs fail to account for: shit happens.  In this case, it took a couple attempts to print that damn thing right, and they had to swallow the cost of each printing fuck-up.

So, if you insist on having physical rewards, your first step should be to get an exact cost of those rewards.  Do your due diligence.  Shop around.  Get quotes.  Take bids.  Don’t be afraid to ask for samples.  Find out if you’re on the hook for misprintings or bad runs.  Once you have an actual cost, make sure you’re squeezing the maximum value of those items by placing them in tiers that generate a high multiple of the actual cost of the item.  It makes no sense to have reward #1 be $10 netting a free copy of the game (at a cost of $1 to you after the royalty), then having reward #2 be a copy of the game and a tee-shirt if the shirt costs $17 to manufacture and ship, netting you a grand total of $3.  And that’s before Kickstarter’s royalty and tax liabilities.

You have to quit looking at the rewards as an item you’re selling.  You’re asking for donations, and segmenting cool treats, but not products, to higher bidders.  So save those physical rewards for higher tiers.  A tee-shirt should probably be reserved for the $50 range.  An art book that will cost you $20 to make and produce should be in the $100 or over range.  But before making physical items, ask yourself what exactly you need from Kickstarter.  If you tally up the exact cost to be $10,000, you need to factor in the royalty you owe Kickstarter and the cost of any physical items you wish to include to bring people in.  Then, you need to ask yourself if the risk of having those physical rewards potentially putting your goal out of reach is worth it.  Maybe it’s not.

Oh, and don’t purchase the rewards ahead of time.  They should all be made-to-order.  It’s going to be humiliating enough when nobody funds your game about cybernetic chickens busting crack dens on the wrong side of the tracks.  It will only sting worse if you’re sitting on a pile of hundreds of unwanted “Clucking Crack Crusaders” shirts that even the fucking homeless shelter won’t take off you.

It’s in the Game

As a game developer, you have a unique advantage over some other companies that use crowd funding: your most attractive rewards can cost you nothing.  Rewards can come in the form of including the donor as an NPC in the game.  Or a boss.  Or an alternate skin.  Or just in the background, as a statue, a painting, or unseen as townspeople gossip.  And, of course, the reward most people who frequent Kickstarter are looking for is simply a copy of the game when it’s finished.  It adds up quickly.  Let’s say you’re making an RPG.  You could segment the rewards as follows.

Tier One: $10 for a copy of the game upon completion.  Potential raised: $5,000 if you get 500 pledges at this level.

Tier Two: $20 for a copy of the game and early access (possibly in the form of a beta).  Potential raised: $4,000 if you get 200 pledges at this level.

Tier Three: $50 Appearance in the game as a town-person.  Limit: 50.  Potential raised: $2,500

Tier Four: $100 Appearance in the game as a hero or companion. Limit: 10. Potential raised: $1,000.

Tier Five: $250 Appearance in the game as a major plot point, boss character, or central figure.  Limit: 4.  Potential raised: $1,000.

Total raised: $13,500, which is about $12,150 after Kickstarter’s royalty.

If you set a goal of $5,000 for your project, the types of people attracted to Kickstarter would probably be more receptive to those kind of rewards.  If your game looks promising enough, you should be able to raise the money without spending a dime.  Also, in the event that your Kickstarter is a modest ask, somewhere in the $25,000 range, physical rewards probably should never enter into the discussion.

 Tales of Descent also doesn't look like it will reach its goal, though I've heard from friends and readers that might be because the demo was underwhelming at best. Still, I appreciated the realistic rewards, all of which come at no cost to the developer. Though really, development streams are the types of things anyone should have access to when promoting your game. They shouldn't be held for ransom when they're promotional in nature. Click the image for the full pitch.

Tales of Descent also doesn’t look like it will reach its goal, though I’ve heard from friends and readers that might be because the demo was underwhelming at best. Still, I appreciated the realistic rewards, all of which come at no cost to the developer. Though really, development streams are the types of things anyone should have access to when promoting your game. They shouldn’t be held for ransom when they’re promotional in nature. Click the image for the full pitch.

Now You’re Just Being Silly

Sometimes, rewards are just so absurd that you can’t help but laugh.  A common one is the meet and greet with the developer.  Now, if you’re someone with name-recognition, that might mean something.  If your previous release sold three-hundred copies on Desura, asking for $10,000 to hang out with you is narcissistic and delusional.  Even if you had “name value” in the form of a modest Steam hit, I don’t think I would want to hang out with anyone who thinks their mere presence alone is worth a few thousand dollars.  They would probably be kind of douchey, don’t you think?  This is yet another thing we get to thank Tim Schafer for, because he got $40,000 from four pledgers at 10K a pop to have lunch with him.  That worked for him, because he’s Tim fucking Schafer.  You’re someone whose game reached #358 on the Xbox Live Indie Games top-selling chart.  You would be lucky to have someone eat lunch with you and pick up the check, let alone get $10,000, or $1,000, or even $100.  If the reward involves anyone flying out to meet you, save it.  I don’t know who you are, but I assure you, you’re not worth it.

This also applies to developer lessons, Skype calls, personalized phone messages, or anything that involves what you perceive to be your own star power.  Is there really any game developer, great or small, that’s recognizable just by their voice?  If Shigeru Miyamoto left a message on my phone that he was going to disembowel me with a urine-soaked samurai sword, I wouldn’t know it was him!  But even if I did, very few people I know would appreciate that I just got a threat from the master himself.  If I have to explain to them who the person is, it’s really not that big a deal.  So while motion picture related pitches can get away with having a star create a custom message for you, you’re not a movie star.  You’re not even a game development star.  You’re an indie.  Seriously, what are you doing?

Here's an example. Really good looking game, truly. But I haven't heard of DIGITLUS. Why are they worth $10,000? Unless the meet-up with them involves mountains of cocaine and the world's most flexible prostitutes, I seriously doubt anyone will get $10,000 worth of entertainment out of it.  Click the image for the full pitch.

Here’s an example. Really good-looking game, truly. But I haven’t heard of DIGITLUS. Why are they worth $10,000? Unless the meet-up with them involves mountains of cocaine and the world’s most flexible prostitutes, I seriously doubt anyone will get $10,000 worth of entertainment out of it. Click the image for the full pitch.

It Doesn’t Have to End with Kickstarter

One thing about funding anyone, whether it’s though a crowd-funding or venture capital, is that the person receiving the money always ends up needing more than they think they do.  That’s why you end up seeing people with successful campaigns go back for seconds.  This only serves to shake the confidence of those that already backed you and give you the appearance that you can’t manage money.  Your initial pitch should probably ask for 1.3x what you need, and that’s BEFORE factoring in tax liability and Kickstarter’s royalty.  If you earn more than you ask for, don’t think about stretch goals.  Put that money aside, because shit will come up, and you’ll want to have that money handy when your best laid schemes go astray.

But, funding doesn’t have to begin and end with Kickstarter.  If you included physical rewards as part of your campaign, there’s no reason why you can’t have those physical rewards be sold separately on the side to earn you a little extra cash for your project.  Take tee-shirts.  The margin that you get for each shirt sold, we’ll round off and say is $10.  So why not go through a shirt-person and keep the availability of those shirts going long after your project ends?  Sell ten shirts, get $100, potentially pay off a professional artist for one more day of work.  You can increase your margins and make the shirts more attractive by bundling a copy of the game with them.  For most shirt people, all you have to do is provide them the art work and they’ll handle the rest, including the shipping.  For Indie Gamer Chick, I’m going through a gentlemen named Wally Hawk, who will handle the orders as they come in and donate my cut of the shirts to the Epilepsy Foundation for me.  I don’t have to lift a finger.  All you have to do is promote your own website, and link to it somewhere on there.  Drop the link occasionally on social media, noting that all your proceeds from the shirt will be funneled directly into the game.  It couldn’t be simpler.

Rewards Won’t Make You

Ultimately, rewards will not make you.  They might break you, if they’re lame or egotistically overpriced.  But, really, whether or not your game gets funding will probably come down to the potential of your project, the price of your ask, and properly articulating why the game can’t happen without funding.  I picked rewards to kick-off Chickstarter because it’s where I see the entrepreneurial tendencies of indie game developers to do a face-plant most often.  Where you show your naivety.  You guys typically aren’t businessmen, but sometimes you have to think like one.  Structure them in a realistic, plausible, producible way.  The ultimate litmus test is this: will any of the rewards you plan on offering make you second guess whether you can deliver them?  If the answer is yes, even for a split-second, you shouldn’t have them.

Special thanks to Jesse Chounard for being my Kickstarter guru, and to IndieReleaseList.com.

New Challenger: Benjamin Maltbie

Hey Reader,

Hey. First off, it’s nice to meet you. My name is Benjamin, and I’m a gamer with bohemian ambitions. I am artsy and/or fartsy. I want to be a writer. Not a celebrated writer or anything like that. I just want to be a guy who writes at least one thing that touches at least one person. At that point, I figure I’m breaking even in the world.

But mostly, I just play games and think about writing. All sorts of games, really. The more retro inspired a game tends to be, the more I seem to be interested. I love the SNES, and I think game design and philosophy peaked somewhere around that era, before veering suddenly into a scary, daunting world of budgets and mass marketing. Fortunately, indie games have rekindled that philosophy.

So here I am, with the intent of finding games that will grip me the way Mega Man or Link to the Past did. Tirelessly hunting for games with story lines as compelling as Final Fantasy Tactics and game play as tight as the Virgin Mary, I solemnly swear to you, my reader, that we will sort through the bad and reclaim gaming’s glory,

But, if you are into all that main stream mumbo jumbo, you can find me writing about that over at Cheat Code Central and God is a Geek, you corporate tool. Or, if you’re particularly in love with me, you can stalk me via a semi-updated list of my hard hitting journalism  and high caliber word stuff  —that has been ruthlessly scattered across the veritable cyber cosmos of these here e-webs— by clicking the following link:

chesu_link

But in all seriousness, I’m psyched to be contributing here at indigamerchick.com . Been following IGC since she started this site, and stood in awe as it grew to have the influence it does. I hope I can bring something worthwhile and unique to the team, and I’m seriously hoping to click with the readership. This site would be nothing without the personality that is Cathy, and the vocal community that supports her. Follow me @benjaminmaltbie and maybe we’ll, I don’t know, play a game or something.

Introducing Devi Ever

I don’t often hear people talk about their emotional investments in video games in a serious manner.  There seems to be this prevailing attitude that “It’s just a game…” implying that playing a video game should always be a fun, lighthearted experience.  Of course, it only takes a minor moment of reflection to consider all the times most of us have been emotionally invested in a video game.

[ WARNING : Mass Effect 3 and Final Fantasy 2 (USA) spoilers below ]

happysad

Some of us get wrapped up in the epic narratives told in really great role-playing games.  I remember so clearly the emotional twists and turns of Final Fantasy II (USA) as Rydia was lost at sea, only to return later matured and more powerful than ever, or when Palom and Porom made the ultimate sacrifice to help save the group, and even something as simple as seeing Kain without his helmet on.  While I had previously been touched by movies and books while growing up, being able to take a more personal part in that adventure was a unique emotional experience I couldn’t get any other way.

ff2

Then of course there is the emotion that comes from interacting with other people while gaming.  I remember my first experiences getting flustered playing Street Fighter II with strangers at the arcade.  The nervousness of putting down my quarter on the edge of the screen to let the current player know I “got next”.  Hoping they wouldn’t be a dick and ignore what at the time was the standard unspoken protocol of claiming your rightful place as next up to play.  The risk of putting your quarter and waiting for a chance to play of course meant you would likely be up against a fairly tough human opponent… sometimes someone who had been at that machine for an hour getting a free ride as chump after chump attempted to best them.  When it was finally my turn, there was such an immense thrill knowing that my good money was at stake, and on a certain level, my pride, especially if there were others gathered around watching the battle at hand, which used to be incredibly common at arcades in the 80′s and early 90′s.

80sarcade

These days that same competitive spirit and emotional investment lives on in the online gaming arena.  Of course now we play with people around the world, and the lack of face to face interaction leads to that nervous emotion coming out in the form of much more aggressive and unsympathetic shit talking.  On the flip side, finding good friends to team up with in epic MMORPG adventures or smaller group oriented games has lead people to amazing friendships (and even love) that they might not normally get to experience in their day-to-day lives.

The best summer of my life was when I was fortunate enough to spend 3 months doing nothing but playing Star Wars Galaxies (which fans are in the process of bringing back).  I formed more close friendships and had more worthwhile, memorable experiences during that Summer than I had growing up as a child in the crummy Texas suburbia I once called home.  Some of my most precious collection of photos are actually screenshots from that time in my life… where I role played as a lone rebel soldier who was eventually turned to the dark side by someone that became a romantic interest long before I felt comfortable doing such things in real life.

swg

My point is… I’d argue that… video games are rightfully a very emotional experience for many who partake in the beautiful world of interactive multimedia experiences.  I use that term in particular, because these days video games come in so many different shapes and sizes both aesthetically, narratively, and mechanically.  There are so many kinds of games these days, from Twine based games where story comes first, to modern adventure games like The Walking Dead that amounts to a very beautifully crafted Choose Your Own Adventure, all the way down to your standard FPS, arcade, platforms, and onto more nuanced and complex player driven narratives that Bioware has so perfected in recent years.


… and each game has its own emotional influence over those who play them, and that’s something I want to feel unafraid to talk about and highlight in my reviews here via this fine platform of which the Indie Gamer Chick has provided for a humble gamer, developer, cat robot thing such as myself.

More specifically I want to help highlight and critique games that really try to push the bounds of how a game can reach people emotionally, such as tackling very personal struggles such as Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia or the more expressionist Neverending Nightmares (which was just successfully funded via Kickstarter!).

(Please Note: Indie Gamer Chick Cathy throws up blood whenever the term Kickstarter is spoken. Devi is taking advantage of this and making a very morbid party trick from it.)


I’ll also be contributing reviews on the standard fare of indie games that come and go as I am not immune to hype and buying into whatever people are excited the most about at any given moment (my curiosity never ceases to keep my steam collection from growing in leaps and bounds).

… and lastly, I have an Oculus Rift coming sometime in October (hopefully) and am very excited to explore the world of more immersive gameplay that the Oculus seems to provide and let ya’ll know how that all goes down. :)


If you lasted this long in my little introduction, then thanks for reading and I hope my reviews will be informative and thought provoking! :D

You are welcome to hit me up on twitter via @deviever.  I also am getting into video game development myself, so you can check out my humble offerings via my website or (as of this writing) on gamejolt!

Here Comes A New Writer – IGC-Michael

Over the last year or so, you may have seen a certain geek by the gaming handle of Shin Hogosha trade words on Twitter and in the comment section with this site’s wonderful host. He’s argued with her, he’s questioned parts of reviews and, well, he’s just been a confrontational little son of a gun.

And, guess what? Now he writes for her.

I’ll be on here under the name IGC-Michael, sending out indie reviews from the flat-yet-charming Midwest. A bit about myself: I’ve played a bit of everything over the last three decades. My first memories involve an Atari 2600, and the extended family that raised me is solely to blame for how much of a gaming nerd I’ve become over the years. Uncles, aunts, cousins, even my grandmother had a horrible addiction to Breakout, causing her to go to the chiropractor twice for playing marathon sessions with bad posture. I remember River City Ransom when it was released, rented Final Fantasy IV enough times to pay for the game, bought a Virtual Boy at launch (and still have excellent vision), and ran grown men out of tokens at the arcade via Soul Edge and Tekken 2 while in my early teens.

Over the 31 years of my life, something that made a gigantic impression on me in gaming was the start of what’s now known as XBox Live Indie Games. So much so that I’d started a short-lived review blog and wrote articles and interviews for other sites just to get the word out about such an amazing, interesting group of games and their developers. Since then, two-thirds of my 360 purchase have consisted of XBLIG titles, including my favorite 360 game, Soulcaster.

The love and respect for independent games eventually brought me here, though Cathy and I differ on quite a few things. For example, I enjoy punishing platformers, bullet-hell shmups, complex fighters, and rhythm games, which I’m pretty sure is what Cathy would qualify as her own personal gaming hell. I speed run games both retro and current, I look up frame data for fighters, and to me “channel surfing” is “watching random gaming streams on Twitch.” In other words, I’m a giant nerd, and it comes out in my writing as well as my interests.

What kind of reviews can you expect from me? Well, I have a PS3, a 360, and an Ouya, and I’ll gladly try anything that doesn’t play dirty tricks with my motion sickness. So most first- and third- person games are out the window. I don’t shy from requests, even if it’s a genre I normally don’t enjoy such as simulations or tower defense. I intend on delivering the kind of honest writing you both expect and respect when you visit IGC, ideally for years to come, and I enjoy the civil conversations that spawn from such writing.

So, with all that said, I’d just like to say I’m happy to be a part of the team, and I hope you all enjoy what I bring to the table.

Peace,
Michael
@Shin_Hogosha

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