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.

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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.

Interview with Gaming Composer James Hannigan

Last month, I was playing Kris Steele’s Centipede tribute Bad Caterpillar.  It was very impressive.  It felt like an authentic lost chapter in the series.  There was only one problem: the music.  Centipede’s music is iconic.  Replacing it with a generic heavy metal soundtrack that is as far disconnected from the source material as you can get was just plain stupid in my opinion.  And it got me thinking about how music is an often overlooked aspect on the scene.  I’m guilty of this too.  I rarely comment on music here at Indie Gamer Chick.  It wasn’t until Bad Caterpillar that I realized that the wrong music really can take away from the game experience.

So I put out a call on Twitter asking if anyone wanted to do a Tales from the Dev Side on marrying the right music to the right game.  I had a few takers, but the most interesting one came from a gentleman by the name of Joshua Dennison.  His story was a unique one.  He has written hours of music for seven games.  Not one of those games ever got completed, and the music is stuck in purgatory.  Despite my tin ear, I had a listen, and I immediately recognized that the dude has talent.  Just to confirm that, I had my boyfriend Brian and my buddy Alan of Indie Ocean have a listen.  They agreed, the guy has “it.”  And his struggles to land a job with someone who actually will finish a game is a story that ought to be told.

Around the same time, I had another response to the request.  This one came from a man by the name of James Hannigan.  James is not part of the indie scene.  Quite the opposite.  His credits include games in the Command & Conquer series, the Harry Potter game series, and the Lord of the Rings game series.  He’s been nominated for five BAFTA awards and won in 2000 for his work on Sim Theme Park.  Best of all: he’s a fan of the indie scene.  He was open to doing an interview on gaming music, and I figured he might have some words of inspiration for the next generation of game composers.  The problem is, I don’t know shit about music.  Then I remembered Joshua, and decided he would be the right person to conduct this interview.  My hunch was right.  This was a perfect match.  Joshua, the floor is yours!

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Tales from the Dev Side: Unity in a Splintered Industry

As word hit that XNA was being faded out, non-developer me was curious where else the community that I’ve downright fallen for with would turn to next to create the games I both love and loath.  And the community has responded.  First, the guys at MonoGame hit me up with a semi-well-received, semi-controversial editorial touting their platform as the next big thing.  While a direct response to that from the mad bastard behind FortressCraft is still coming, industry veteran-turned-indie Scott Tykoski wanted his chance to sing the praises of Unity.  As always, I understand almost none of this.  But Scott’s a gifted writer and not prone to panic, so you should give him a read.

UNITY IN A SPLINTERED INDUSTRY

by Scott Tykoski

As the death knell rings for XNA and my Xbox Indie pals pay their respects on twitter, a question hangs in the air – “Where do we go next?”

And by we I mean the group of developers that got excited at XNA as an inexpensive multi-platform solution. We bet YEARS of development energy on a system that looked so promising, yet let us down in so many ways.

“Where do we go next, now that XNA is dead?”

We also have to deal with the “gold-rush” mentality that has come along with the mobile gaming boom. Indie/Hobbyist game developers are everywhere, and worse, most of them are making very similar games (take hit game, change the theme, rinse, repeat), intensifying player dissatisfaction with titles that don’t push any significant boundaries.

“Where do we go next, now that the world is oversaturated in unsatisfying games?”

And heres another challenge to overcome: our industry is undergoing HUGE, seemingly random marketplace shifts. Phones streaming games to tvs. Consoles putting games on the backburner to focus on movies and television.

“Where do we go next when there are so many platforms and nothing is certain?”

The honest answer? We go away. We give up and we move on.

Goodbye, friends.

 

 

 

 

 

UH…WE’RE NOT REALLY SCREWED, RIGHT?
No, sorry, I’m kidding…we’re totally fine. 🙂

Actually, being in the Indie gaming scene has never been more exciting – even with app stores overflowing with crappy titles (we’ve fought that battle before, right XBLIG guys?). You see, every studio – from the one-man operations to the largest gaming conglomerates – is facing the exact same conundrum: “What platforms do we focus or development energy on?”

This universal need for multi-platform tools means we now live in an ecosystem ripe with ‘Make Once – Play Everywhere’ solutions. Unreal for the big spenders. Adobe Air for the Flash experts. Gamemaker Studio, GameSalad, Stencyl, & Construct for folks unfamiliar with code. And of course the mega-versatile MonoGame for anyone fully invested in XNA (Rest In Peace, sweet prince).

But while all these solutions have their disadvantages, be it price or flexibility, one toolset has them beat on all counts: UNITY.

What once was a fun little tool for prototyping, Unity (now at v4.0) has matured to the point where you can make some pretty amazing games, like the beautiful Kentucky Route Zero or the 4x Epic Endless Space.

Kentucky Route Zero

With Unity, developers can now rest assured that core engine systems are covered and they can focus on the most important task: DESIGNING A GREAT GAME!

But first..

THE BASICS OF UNITY
At its core, Unity is a 3d game engine where the developer can script using C# or go straight into scene creation using the fully featured editor, which feels a lot like using 3DMax or Maya (where you move game objects around in 3S space). While it may seem daunting at first, the toolset gives a great entry point for either artists or developers to start working on their game.

While the amazing editor would be reason alone to use Unity, the real selling point is the admirable cut of its cross-platform jib (ie: it can export games for every friggin’ platform). Titles for PC, XBox360, Wii, Web, Android, and iOS have all been made and released using the Unity, proving itself on multiple devices many times over.

It should also be noted that you can make a Ouya game RIGHT NOW using Unity. That’s pretty amazing cross-platform support, if I do say so myself.  Which I do.  Obviously.

SO MUCH 3D GOODNESS
While modeling, texturing, and animation have to be done in a traditional 3D program (3DMax, Maya, Blender, etc), Unity does all the heavy lifting when it comes to importing and rendering those assets. Lighting, post processing, shadows, and animation are all available out of the box.

I remember trying to get a distance blur effect hooked up for battles in Galactic Civilizations II but it was a huge pain and never happened. In Unity.. it’s as simple as dragging a effect script onto the camera object. Most effects are drag-and-drop ready…it’s simple to the point of sickening.

And lets talk for a bit about asset pipelines. The amount of raw data that goes into defining meshes, bones, UVs, and animations is staggering, and have given rise to third-party frameworks that manage this deluge of data. The fact that Unity makes the asset import and management process a two click process is a testament to the overall ease-of-use the editor provides.

THE JOYS OF C#
Anyone familiar with XNA is also familiar with the beautiful C# coding language. I won’t pimp that here, but Unity uses it, and it’s awesome.

Coding is as simple as writing your code, making a few public variables to use as dials, then attaching that script to your game objects. Those variables can then be tweaked in the editor, so writing modular code is buttery smooth.

The editor also has its own scripting API, so you can easily extend the editing tools as necessary.

THE ASSET STORE
Another notch on Unity’s belt comes in the ‘Asset Store’, where you can buy or sell anything game related.

Lets say you want a ‘Plants vs Zombies’ look to your game and need to animate several of 2D characters. You can go into a separate 3D program, rig and bind 2D planes, export the data, then use a 3D animation object to render your characters. OR you can purchase SmoothMoves, an in-editor 2D animation solution for 75$.

It’s the best 75 bucks you’ll ever spend, I assure you.

Chances are, if you need a game-related subsystem, someone already has a solution available on the asset store: just purchase, plug, and play!

NOW FOR THE BAD NEWS
Instead of a proper point-counterpoint, I decided to bottle up ALL the negative stuff to dump on you at the end. I know…I’m an a-hole.

First and foremost, the cost. Good news here is that a free version can be used by most Indies. Once you start making more than $100,000 a year, however, it’s time to go PRO, which will cost you $1500. Exporting features come in the form of add-ons, so exporting to iOS from the free version will run you $400, from PRO it’ll cost $1500.

Unfortunately, all the R&D testing I did was with a PRO version with a PRO iOS exporter, so some of my exuberance may come from using a super-slick $3000 version. You can dig around in the Unity Store to get some charts comparing features of the different versions.

Also, debugging was a bit more painful than in XNA and traditional IDEs. My testing of the tool was mostly on the art side, however, with a full-time developer testing out the coding front, so my pains could have simply been lack of experience. My fear is that you’ll be spending more time with print statements and less time with breakpoints.

Another issue, for those of us that love our retro graphics,the 3D environment can make 2D game creation tricky. It’s doable, but definitely less intuitive than making a proper 3D game.

The biggest drawback to Unity – as with any third-party engine – is the lack of control you have on the last 10%. You’ll always encounter areas where you want the engine to do something that’s just not possible (for one reason or another). While the main 90% will be smooth sailing, compromising on the last 10% of your vision may be too steep a price.

UNITY & MAKING GAMES WORTH PLAYING
So I started this editorial with that stupid ‘we should give up’ gag. It was mostly for fun, but there’s a legitimate feeling of helplessness that comes when your platform of choice is discontinued. There were too many crunch weeks spent on games using XNA to shrug it off as a necessary loss.

And while it sucks to see an amazing framework put to pasture, we are now drowning in possible alternatives. Alternatives that not only allow you target multiple platforms, but that alleviate the burden of creating the subsystems that your game will depend upon.

It’s for the sake of quality gameplay that I fully endorse Unity, and really any 3rd party engine. The overwhelming majority of your audience could care less about the underlying engine.. all they want is a new experience, something that’s not ‘Angry Birds with Zombies’.

Creativity on the Indie scene is a talk best left for another time , but always remember: originality is your key competitive advantage over the AAA studios. Use it! The less time you’re making engine systems that never excite the player, the more time you can devote to making original gameplay systems that will excite yourself, the player, and perhaps even our entire industry.

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