Being Thankful as an Indie

It’s that time of year again! Thanksgiving, that American holiday, is today. It’s a fantastic opportunity to take stock and recognize those things that we can be thankful for.

I’m thankful for free and inexpensive information about game development, marketing, business, sales, and personal development, all available through the World Wide Web.

I’m thankful for free and inexpensive high-quality development resources, including source code, compilers, engines, operating systems, art, and sound.

I’m thankful for opportunities granted by the multiple large platforms, including Facebook, cell phones, and the Web.

I’m thankful for the knowledge that I’m much more than I have been demonstrating.

I’m thankful for you, the readers of my blog.

So what are you thankful for as an indie game developer?

(Photo / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Labor Day Weekend

Normally getting a big weekend means that I dedicate a significant chunk to making games, but this weekend is going to be one of relaxation. I’ll probably play and rate a few Ludum Dare #15 games, but otherwise I’ll be enjoying the weekend.

Ah, who am I kidding? I’ll probably squeeze in some game development here or there, too. It’s not like work or anything. B-)

Also, I’m a big fan of the United States Men’s National Team, and they’ll be continuing their World Cup qualifying as they take on El Salvador tomorrow. I’ll be watching that one with my family.

Have a good Labor Day weekend, American followers, and a good regular ol’ weekend for the rest of you.

Ludum Dare Theme Voting Has Begun!

On Friday, August 28th, Ludum Dare #15 will begin, but before then, theme voting is needed. Round 1 of 3 includes “Dancing Trees”, “Burrowing”, and “Trampolines”. I’ve done my civic duty. Have you?

Also, the official website received a new facelift, and it looks like there will be improvements made here and there throughout the week. Specifically, there is currently a call to help fix issues with the entry voting. If you would like to help, it sounds easy enough. You need to submit a fake entry to the LD blog, and the details are located in the post Help Us Fix The Voting.

To avoid what happened to me last time, I’ve dedicated almost the entire weekend to making sure I participate as fully as I can on LD#15. No matter what happens, though, it should be a blast!

The Business Model of Selling Linux Games

I’ve been enjoying the visibility into Linux Game Publishing’s business at the LGP blog. The author is the CEO and Head of Development Michael Simms, and he is very accessible, responding to comments and listening to suggestions. Before his blog was launched, I remember seeing him on IRC regularly in Linux game-related channels.

Months ago, there was a post explaining why Linux games cost as much as they do. If you’re not familiar with Linux ports of popular games, you’d possibly be surprised that they cost as much as a new game…even though the original version of the game on Windows might cost half as much since it has been out for months or years! The basic argument: even if a game has has been out for some time on Windows, it’s new to Linux, and it costs LGP money to port the game in the first place.

At the suggestion of some commenters, he did a one day sale in which prices for most games were lowered. The sale results indicated that while the short term sales increase looked promising, the long term sales stayed flat with less revenue, not more.

But another thing LGP has done at the request of customers is offer downloadable games, including a rental option at a “ridiculously lower price”.

Most recently, there was the question of why LGP can’t simply provide the Linux version for free to people who purchased the Windows version. It’s a legitimate question, especially when companies such as id Software are providing free binaries for all platforms to people who purchased a game. I have a copy of the Linux port of Quake 3 Arena, and I know I can run it on Windows without paying for a second copy. I mention this example a lot, but I know one person who was told that she couldn’t play The Sims and all of the expansions she purchased on her new Mac because EA outsourced the Mac port of the game to another company, and that company was handling sales of the Mac port.

It’s a business model that works for EA, but not necessarily for the customer. And it’s the same with LGP.

As a customer, I prefer being able to buy a game once and play it anywhere I want. Windows, Mac, and Linux. The game is the same. Now, it could be said that I’m arguing that Xbox 360 or PS3 ports of the same game should also be available to me for free after purchasing the same game on my computer, but I’m not. In fact, 360 or PS3 games usually have some exclusive content, making it a different game in some way.

In any case, the argument for the business model is basically the same as the argument for Linux game pricing: you’re paying for convenience, and it costs money to give you that convenience. There is one additional point that Michael Simms made: companies like EA don’t care about Linux, and so the business model I’d prefer is just not going to happen.

Which is too bad. It’s why I find that I don’t purchase many games these days. If I find anything that interests me, I remember that it’s not available for Linux. Instead of supporting those games, I could spend my money on a game that is actually supported where I want to play it. Starcraft 2? Yeah, call me when it runs in Wine. Maybe. I might want to play a different game by then, one that is natively supported.

The good news is that the business model that LGP currently uses seems to be working for them. Micheal Simms said, “The business model we have isn’t ideal, I’ll be the first to admit. But it is the only one that works as the market stands.”

I’m not so sure that it is the “only” model that works today, but I’d like to hear more about other developers and publishers’ experiences. Anyone out there with a different model that works for them?

MGS Film is Action-Packed, “Too Interactive”

Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid video game franchise has been a huge success, and so of course there was going to be a movie adaptation. The movie’s IMDB entry states that it will be released later this year, but test audiences have already had a chance to see the film in select cities.

David Hayter, the voice actor who plays Solid Snake in the English version of the games and whose script for the movie was rejected, said that the movie should remind viewers of the feel of the games. “MGS is a very rich world to draw from, and to pick a single story to focus on for a movie was probably a difficult process for Hideo. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it myself, but what I have seen is amazing!”

Hayter declined to comment on his role in the film, although Internet message boards are populated with fans who speculate that he will at least have a cameo.

Some fans were disappointed by the movie’s extensive use of interaction.

“I thought the movie was full of action, and I loved it and all, but I was a bit turned off by all the game-y parts”, says one test audience member. “Sometimes you just want to sit down and watch a movie, you know? I don’t want to have to press buttons for 20 minutes just to see one minute of movie followed by another 20 minutes of button mashing. Just show me the movie!”

“Seriously, the pacing of the movie would have been much better if I didn’t have to direct Snake myself so often,” agreed another member. “The point of movies is to let me watch it. I didn’t pay $10 to sit in a theater and play a video game.”

Still, even with all of the complaints, many more people seemed to love it. One fan said, “Dude, my friends and I loved this movie! It was all action-packed, you know? And it felt like you were there, you know? Like you were involved!”

The Metal Gear Solid film will be available for wide release in the summer of 2009.

Tim Schafer Opens Comedy Club

Everyone knows Tim Schafer is a pretty funny guy. From The Secret of Monkey Island to Psychonauts, his writing has left many happy players smiling. What many people don’t know is how much Schafer loves to do stand-up comedy:

“Sometimes, out of nowhere, you’d hear Tim say things in a showman’s voice like, ‘It’s great to be here tonight! Not that I have a choice in the matter'”, says Ron Gilbert, creator of the Monkey Island series. “He made us all laugh, especially during particularly difficult times in the development of the first Monkey Island game. It didn’t surprise me when he said he was going to be opening The Tentacle Lounge.”

Schafer, founder of Double Fine Productions and former director of the eagerly anticipated Brutal Legend, has left video game development to pursue his new interest. While fans might appreciate the naming of his comedy club after one of his more famous games (Day of the Tentacle), many more will probably be outraged that Brutal Legend will be put on indefinite hold. This will not be the first time that the game’s development was threatened. It was dropped from the lineup after Activision Blizzard merged, only to be picked up by EA. This time, however, with the main creative force running his own comedy club, will someone else take the reins? And even if the game does see the light of day, will the game suffer from the lack of Schafer’s leadership?

I suppose things like this happen. Some of the best video game developers might find that they have other interests. Players can’t claim any kind of rights to the minds of these people. For instance, if Shigeru Miyamoto decided to stop making video games to pursue his music career, it would be a major loss for the game industry, but it’s not like we can force him to continue making games for us.

I wish Tim the best of luck on his new venture. The video game industry will miss you, but I’m sure we can always stop in at The Tentacle Lounge whenever we’re in L.A.

A Blog Post Approaches. Command?

It’s been a long time since I last wrote something, so here is a quick post about what’s going on.

For some time, I’ve been caught up with crunch at the Day Job. It seems to be dying down a bit, so I can actually do something other than eat, sleep, and work. Maybe I can get my sleep schedule back, too.

I had released Sea Friends last month, but I’ve only now gotten around to finishing the post-mortem for it. You’ll see that post soon.

You can follow me on Twitter. My account is @GBGames, and I’ve added a widget to the sidebar here so it is easy to keep track of my tweets. While a lot of people might think that Twitter is pointless, I’ve actually enjoyed the conversations about game design, programming, and marketing. A number of indies have Twitter accounts, too, so it is an easy way to keep track of what they’re all doing.

Yesterday was the three year anniversary for GBGames, LLC! I’m a little excited since I think I am finally getting the hang of this indie game development thing. B-)

Merry Christmas, Internet!

I was shoveling out my car yesterday, and I was having a tough time. There was a lot of ice since I hadn’t moved my car since the previous snow fall. A stranger stopped his truck, pulled out a metal shovel, and said, “You won’t get through that ice with that shovel. Here, let me break it up for you.” After he finished, he shook my hand, we wished each other a merry Christmas, and he left.

And besides feeling pretty good about the kindness of strangers during the holidays, I’m thinking, “How many games involve generosity as a game play mechanic?” B-)

I’ll be spending time with lots of family. I’ll make sure to bring a video game console for the bored cousins. Ok, and for myself. I’ll also bring the classic Christmas film “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”.

Other classics I’ll bring include “Christmas with Gumby”, “Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas”, and “Sonic Christmas Blast”. If you had every Christmas special from every cartoon, how many would that be? Last year I didn’t get to see “A Christmas Story” on TV somehow, so I hope to do so this year.

I hope you’re having a warm and fun Christmas!

Chicago for Child’s Play Charitable and Fun

A few days ago I attended Chicago for Child’s Play, sponsored by and Midway Games. If you’re not familiar with Child’s Play, it describes itself as a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games in their network of over 40 hospitals worldwide.

There was an MK vs DC tournament, and if you were eliminated, you could buy back in for a donation amount that doubled each round. It started with only 18 people and doubled in size before Round 1 finished. Considering I haven’t played a Mortal Kombat game in years, I think I put in a respectable showing as Batman, even though I was eliminated three different times and only won once. The ultimate winner of the tournament received a PSP.

One attendee uploaded pictures for the event at Flickr.

Besides the tournament, there was an auction for games. I won three DS games, and there were more than a number of Xbox 360 and PS3 titles that went home with some healthy bidders. The mantra that night was “For the kids!”

Game-loving Chicagoans had fun and raised money for a good cause. For the kids, FTW!