Shipping Beats Perfection

Ben Kamens is the lead dev of Khan Academy, the incredible free resource for education, recently explained “shipping beats perfection”, one of the organization’s development principles. It’s good reading, plus has pictures of a smiling dog, so you should go read it.

From their principles page:

Scope features down to their core before getting started. Iterate outside of the code. Use mockups, design discussions, and anything else that helps you cut out the nonessential before diving into the 1s and 0s.

Sounds like Agile software development to me. You don’t code immediately after being told what features are needed. You find out what actually provides value. You learn how the feature will be used, which will inform the algorithms and design. You find out what isn’t needed. You’re more likely to deliver the right feature.

But Ben found more explanation is needed. Too many people hear “shipping beats perfection” and think “we ship poor quality.”

He boils it down to three phrases:


We’re willing to be embarrassed about what we haven’t done…

If there’s something missing, that’s temporary. Well, frankly, everything is temporary, but if something is missing, it can be rectified by creating it.

And creating it should only be a decision made if it turns out that there is a demand for it. Energy and effort aren’t expended on guesses at what provides value.

You could try to build everything at once, but more and more, people are realizing that it isn’t necessary. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is the latest hotness that argues for building a minimum viable product. When you have something out in public, you can learn what the public wants, change your approach to meet the need, and constantly learn and improve.

In a way, you’re throwing spaghetti at the wall. You have something you’re making, but you don’t know how it should feel or look until you get some feedback.


…but not willing to be embarrassed about what we have done.

Whatever is shipped is high quality. It’s not counterintuitive at all. Quality is about what the customer receives. If you don’t build quality in from the beginning, you’re building your product on quicksand, and future work becomes a slog through past poor decisions.


Leave it better

It’s the idea that you never leave an area of code without doing something to improve it.

I’ve written in the past about how you’re responsible for your code. The quality of your code is a result of past decisions. Sometimes hacks are needed to get value out earlier, but eventually you have to pay down the tech debt if you don’t want it to slow you down later.

But how do you know when you’re over-engineering versus purposefully writing tech debt versus hacking?

What’s key is who is being served by your efforts.

If you are embarrassed by code you wrote, you hacked. You and your fellow developers weren’t served by it when you have to return to it later.

If you are embarrassed by what code you needed to change to, then it’s probably tech debt you haven’t gotten to yet.

If you seek out perfection in engineering, however, you have lost sight of the customer.

That last one describes my efforts in creating Stop That Hero!.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the importance of speed. Getting games to market more quickly, getting feedback from players more quickly, finding the fun as quickly as possible were all things I was failing at. I wrote about how my development was much slower than I would have liked, and I got a lot of advice from commenters.

What a lot of it boiled down to was that my goals weren’t clear. If I was aiming to learn how to write code and how to build things from scratch, I was doing really well. I was practicing test-driven development. I was learning about artificial intelligence. I was even learning how to use the Gimp to create decent programmer art. I was building up discipline, skill, and knowledge.

If, however, I wanted to make an entertaining game for paying customers in order to make a living, I wasn’t doing a good job of focusing on value delivery. The biggest problem was that I didn’t know exactly who my customers would be.

So who determines what quality work really is?

As Michael Gerber explains in One Game a Month site. Are they perfect games? No. Are they commercially competitive? Hardly. But I am proud of what I was able to get out there, and it’s gratifying to hear feedback from actual players.

Khan Academy has internalized this idea of finishing and delivering value as a key principle: “shipping beats perfection”. I need to remember to internalize it myself.

Any Indies in the Reno Area Want to Meet? #isvcon

ISVCon 2013

Next week, I’ll be at Association of Software Professionals, of which I am currently the President.

It’s being held in Reno, Nevada from September 27th – 29th, at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa.

It’s a great networking opportunity since you get to meet other independent software developers and business owners, discuss best practices, and learn some actionable tips and tricks as well as solid principles about running your own software business.

Also, for three days, there will be presentations and panels on a variety of relevant topics, such as a talk on expanding your business to multiple devices and platforms by Embarcadero’s David Intersimone. Evan Digby of SoftwareShield has a talk titled “Bridging the Gap Between Download and Sale” that I’m very interested in as well. There will be talks on SEO, how to properly setup your business to protect yourself, social media, Cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS), and more, all geared towards helping you improve your business. More details about the sessions are at http://www.isvcon.org/sessions.php.

Plus, I really liked the food and entertainment last year, so I’m looking forward to more. B-)

If you missed it last year, the video archives are up at http://www.isvcon.org/videos.php.

It’s not too late to register for the conference, which you can do at http://www.isvcon.org/register.php. If you plan on being in Reno, you should definitely stop by. I’d love to meet you.

On Free Games, the “Gamer” Label, and the Health of the Game Industry

My friend Gregg Seelhoff wrote a rant recently called You Lost Me at Buy.

He describes a dinner in which another person immediately rejected a game outright because it isn’t free to play.

We live in a world where there are a glut of freely available games, and a lot of them are high quality. It is perfectly within someone’s right as a customer to not be a customer, and businesses are not entitled to customers.

Still, it can be quite a shock to have someone immediately dismiss your game on the basis of the fact that they had to pay for it.

Now, I don’t completely agree with his first point, that games should not be free.

While most games make almost nothing in this new business model, it is kicking butt for some, and it is changing customer expectations in a disruptive way.

It’s painful for developers who expect to be able to sell games for a living, but if other developers are not only willing and able to release their games for free but also make a good living from it, that’s just a different business model.

It would be like saying that games should not be available through download because people should buy their games at retail through real stores. There’s an entire business model based upon selling at retail, with all of the partnerships and deals and overhead it required, and the Internet heavily disrupted that one well enough. I don’t think we’re going back to that world.

Still, years ago, casual portals and online retailers were lowering prices for games in a race to the bottom. It was a worrisome trend, and some of those portals are gone today, but what happened to customer expectations?

Is it healthy for the game industry for players to by and large expect their entertainment for free or nearly free? Maybe it is even healthier, as counterintuitive as it sounds.

Last year’s Penny Arcade Report by Ben Kuchera How Valve “devalued” video games, and why that’s great news for developers and players mentions how Valve and indie developers found their revenues increase dramatically when the per-unit price of their games was lower.

Ok, so developers can make more money, but does it impact the value players put on individual games?

Again, we live in a world where there are a glut of freely available games, and a lot of them are high quality. Sales and low prices aren’t necessarily devaluing games. It might just be the fact that players have a large backlog that they factor into their buying decisions.

Mike Ambrogi of Final Form Games says:

“[We] don’t believe sales are driving prices down; extant downward price pressure caused by a market surplus results in these sales becoming an optimal strategy.”

Selling games at a higher price point shouldn’t be dismissed as a stale view, though.

I think the bigger question is if there is room for games that can charge more. What are the real expectations for a game that costs $0.99 versus a game that costs $25.99? Are those latter games relegated to niche genres with fewer customers, or games which are more hobby than time-waster?

Is there still a unsustainable race to the bottom, or is the market being shook up, forcing out those who can’t make high quality entertainment with a low price point?

Since so many people can make games today, so many people are, and there are definitely a lot of mediocre games being made and published in the same space as the high quality ones. You can’t easily discern and find them, which is why app store top 10 lists are so huge for publicity, even if they aren’t a guarantee of success.

I’d like to think that people would be more willing to pay more for an epic-sized game rather than sit through ads or depend on big-spending whales to support their entertainment. The latter smacks too much of publishing a bunch of games in the hopes one becomes a hit and pays for the rest.

Finally, Seelhoff’s point that every interesting person plays games is spot on.

Just because a game does not involve a console and game controller, and shooting people on screen, does not make it any less of a game. Lots of people play Call of Duty, but ridiculous numbers of people also play Candy Crush. I do not like to segment people into hard-core/mid-core/casual/social/live/whatever gamers; they are all gamers. Please enjoy Pretty Good MahJongg and Demolish! Pairs, but do not tell me that you are not playing a game while doing so.

I can’t believe people still think “Oh, I don’t play games” just because they are not light zapper-holding 13-year-old boys who are into ninja turtles and M.C. Hammer. What year is this, seriously?

If you’re playing a solitaire game on your computer, you’re playing a game. The same goes for boardgames such as Monopoly and Scrabble. Words with Friends on your mobile device counts, too.

So by all means, play games. Why do people keep insisting to act as if there is shame in playing games?

The Stop That Hero! Birthday Sale

My birthday is on Friday.

To celebrate, I think it would be great to spread the news about my strategy game that puts you in the role of the evil villain, Stop That Hero!.

Stop That Hero!  Bringing Evil Back

And so I’m having a sale all this week.

It’s still in alpha release, but if you’re interested in it, you can get early access to the game as well as support its development by purchasing it today.

Until Saturday, July 27th, the day after my birthday, you can get “Stop That Hero!” for only $5 using coupon code BIRTHDAY2013.

That’s 40% off the current price.

Currently, the game lets you summon minions such as slimes, warlocks, and dragons to fight the heroes who are trying to conquer your castle. The controls are simple since artificial intelligence manages who does what and where. You summon minions and manage your resources to do so by choosing when and whom to summon at structures you control, such as your castle, towers, and dragon nests.

Timing is important, and it can get frantic, especially when the heroes send powerful wizards and knights your way.

The next update will feature animations and more scenarios, and any current customers will get informed when it is released.

You can follow news about “Stop That Hero!” at the Stop That Hero! Facebook page and Stop That Hero! Google Plus page.

Thank you for helping me celebrate my birthday. I hope in return that I can entertain you with my work in progress so far, as well as with future updates.

Why Should I Compare My Efforts to Yours?

Often people become indie game developers the same way anyone first becomes an entrepreneur.

They fall into it and don’t realize just how big of a job they really have.

It’s one thing to be a hobbyist. You are doing game development for the love of doing it. You make games you want to play, and if anyone else likes it, it’s gratifying, but it’s gravy on top of just spending time on something enjoyable. And if you make a few bucks, so much the better. Now your hobby is helping you pay for pizza and beer.

But if you want to do it for a living, it’s harder.

You may not realize it at first. You might think, “Duh, I know that running a business is different from enjoying a hobby. I’m aware of the difference.”

But you don’t. Unless you’ve got the experience, you can’t prepare for how much pain and effort there is, how much anguish and despair you might feel, and how stressed out you can be due to spending time handling all manner of business-y things and not getting to the “real work” of game development, the whole reason you decided to pursue it full-time.

You don’t know the struggle to believe in your own self-worth when another month goes by in which you haven’t made enough income and you have a family to support, worrying that they are secretly wondering when you’re going to give up “playing with the computer,” go find a “real job,” and place your priorities in the “right” place.

You don’t know what it is like to work, work, work, only to feel like you haven’t made enough progress to justify all of the sleepless nights and bloodshot eyes and missing out on social experiences, and all you know how to do is more work.

Every once in awhile, you’ll pull yourself away from your wheel-spinning and isolation and look out into the world. There, you’ll see huge successes like Minecraft. You’ll read about Steambirds, Triple Town, and plenty of IGF-winning games getting good press. You’ll find threads about how indies need to pursue mobile or F2P or how the only way to make money on PC is through Steam (despite successes like Minecraft).

And then you look at your own efforts, and you start to compare and contrast.

Unfair Comparison

Above: my May One Game a Month project, Hungry Frogs looks quite terrible, especially in comparison to something like Incredipede.

Am I Doing the Indie Thing Wrong?

Being an indie game developer means choosing your own path and following your own dream. In chasing it, though, sometimes it is hard to look at everyone else and not wonder if you’re missing out on some opportunities.

The mobile games space has grown to the point that we’re simply calling them games now. Free-to-play is essentially shareware taken to an extreme, but if you are trying to make a game that requires a purchase to play, good luck. Customers have the option of playing multiple new, effectively-free games per day. Everyone is having a hard time getting their games noticed, and your entire sales model might be a relic that is making it harder for yourself.

Ouya and Occulus Rift are the new hotness. It’s exciting to have another console that isn’t controlled by a company such as Microsoft or Nintendo, and finally having virtual reality headsets at a low-cost? What took so long?

Making games for tablets, creating your own alternative reality gaming, utilizing ads and in-app purchases, accepting donations, successfully driving a Kickstarter campaign, having a larger supportive network of indie friends…all of these things seem to be what all of the other indies are doing.

Why aren’t you?

Following The Money

The April issue of Game Developer magazine (R.I.P.) featured the annual salary survey. It still blows my mind how much average programmers and artists made, considering I’ve always heard how you can make more money programming bank software than working in the game industry. But of course, these numbers come from the major studios for the most part.

This salary survey also featured their fourth annual “Indie Report”, which surveyed independent developers and teams.

And found that they make almost nothing from their efforts.

Their average income was less than $25,000. Only 5% of them made over $200,000 from their games, while 78% made less than $30,000. Half made only $500 or less.

And these numbers are lower from the previous year, meaning that indies today are making less of a living than they were in the past, although to be fair there seems to be a lot of fluctuation from year to year.

But seriously, most indies surveyed (they collected data from 422 indies around the world) said they made less, sometimes much less, than what someone working a minimum wage job could earn in the United States.

Regarding the App Stores that everyone either loves or hates, we’ve all heard about how hard it is to impact your sales success there. Either you get featured or you don’t. It turns out that getting featured isn’t everything either, according to Jeff Tunnell’s post We Can’t Make It Here Anymore. At one point he talks about Color Sheep‘s success:

In spite of winning the two “app store lotteries” and getting featured by both Apple and Google along with stories in the New York Times and on huge traffic YouTube channels, their game has only sold around 50,000 copies, which has grossed $35,000 (after app store cuts). Considering that they spent $10,000 to launch and market their games at PAX, they have netted $25,000 before paying their wages.

At the other end, we have occasional successes. Awesome Guy Andy Moore recently posted Monster Loves You! By The Numbers, sharing the expectation-shattering sales numbers of the game he worked on in collaboration with Dejobaan Games and Other Awesome Guy Ichiro Lambe. Here’s a game that wasn’t really like anything else, that they nurtured from concept to delivery, and it worked out fantastically for the developers.

But even these successes make you wonder if your own efforts to make Yet-Another-Match-3-or-Minecraft-Clone is a waste of time.

Wait, You’re Not the Money?

Until I read the Game Developer salary survey, I was worried that I was missing out. Obviously most game developers wouldn’t be making enough money to do more than pay for an occasional meal, but a good number are probably doing well, right? I felt as if every time I looked up, I saw another example of an indie darling’s blood, sweat, and tears that finally got recognized and had paid off handsomely, or at least enough to pay to move out of his/her parents’ house. Every time I saw a demo of a game that people were praising, I thought I was looking at a game that was killing in the marketplace.

But the truth is, you can’t tell how well a game will sell from the look of a game, the charisma of a developer, or the amount of press dedicated to either one.

You can’t tell what the developer’s quality of life is like, and whether or not he/she is someone you really want to emulate.

And you can’t tell what a developer’s goals are. $20,000 would be plenty for someone with a lifestyle like Jason Rohrer, but is it a match for your desired lifestyle?

Everyone is making it up as they go along, so it isn’t as if some people have figured out how to live your life better than you are.

So why should you stress yourself out about not being like those other game developers?

Comparisons Add Stress

While running an indie game development business means understanding the trends and market demands, it doesn’t mean hopping on the bandwagon. Just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t mean you have to follow along.

When I, as an indie of many hats, put on the business owner hat, I realize that there are better things I can do than worry about how other indies are doing their starving-artist performance art. If most indies are putting their games out in Steam Greenlight, or pursuing F2P on iOS, or raising funds on Kickstarter…well, most of them aren’t making a sustainable living. No market, platform, or tool is going to magically make things all better in your struggle to earn enough to support yourself and your family while doing what you love.

And looking at the ones who actually are successful? Well, they already did it the way they did it. Following their lead might mean sharing in their success, but it often means getting scraps along with the other bajillion indies who are also going to jump into the now-open space.

Sure, you can say that some people get lucky. Notch has repeatedly claimed luck played a big part in the success of Minecraft, and I’m sure there was some luck involved in the success of Monster Loves You!, but I also think that putting love into what you do helps a lot.

Being an indie game developer is clearly not for people who should expect to make a truckload of money by churning out game-like software, so all you can do is put your heart and soul into what you’re making. Anything less is probably going to be rewarded appropriately.

On top of it, each indie has a different past. Notch has been making games for years, and some people have been doing so for decades. To compare your fledgling skills against someone who can put together a more highly-polished game in an hour than you can in a month is a good way to build an inferiority complex.

It’s fine to look at someone else’s skills and think, “I want to aspire to be that proficient and prolific.” It’s another to compare the results of your efforts to someone else’s. It will only stress you out and prevent you from being productive.

I Have a Day Job Again

“You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results!” – Dr. Ray Stanz

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for some time. Back in May of 2010, I put in my two weeks’ notice at my day job.

At the time, I wrote:

So why walk away from that? Because I’m also cutting myself off from an obligation to be anywhere for 40-60 hours a week. Those hours are mine now. I have the freedom to use them however I want. Instead of being a cog in an otherwise pretty great wheel, I’m making my own wheel.

Of course, with that freedom comes great responsibility. I’m solely responsible for the success or failure of my business. My future income depends more on my marketing, sales, creativity, and productive output than the time I spend sitting at a desk. It’s going to be hard work, and I’ll encounter challenges the likes of which I’ve never seen.

My burn rate said that I’d have enough savings for one year. Thanks to living in a city with a lower cost of living, the stipend I get as President of the Association of Software Professionals, and the support of my girlfriend-now-wife, I was able to last until 2012 before I needed to seriously look to supplement my income.

My income was near non-existent, though, and I should have been focused on supplementing it way earlier. You can do a lot of things wrong, but so long as you have sales/cash flow, you can live to tell the tale. If you don’t have cash flow, you can’t survive. I waited too long, unfortunately, so after having some contract PHP work disappear out from under me and realizing that I didn’t really have the network of support to find game development work easily, I once again took a full-time job.

I should do a full post mortem on my full-time indie attempt, but for now, here’s the highlights.

When I started out full-time indie, I probably spent too long figuring out what to do with my time. Eventually, I got into a structured daily routine of work. Things were going to be fine so long as I spent my days being productive. Get up, exercise, get some game development done, write a little, repeat the next day.

Unfortunately, I didn’t ship fast enough. My flagship game, Stop That Hero!, wasn’t officially released until a year after development, even though I thought it would be a one-month project at first. Even though I knew not to focus on technology and to focus on the game, even though I knew I should focus on getting to a positive cash flow as quickly as possible, even though I knew better, I still did the exact wrong things. While I had a good flurry of support from the pre-order, the sales are very low and aren’t going to be covering a regular meal, let alone mortgage payments.

Clearly what I’ve been doing isn’t working, but what was I supposed to do next? How was I supposed to turn things around?

Anything I spent my time on that didn’t bring in money felt like the wrong thing. I was feeling a lot of stress. Towards the end, I found myself somewhat paralyzed. Planning was important, but planning wasn’t action, but action for action’s sake wasn’t working. I could spend time learning a new development platform, but that would still mean no published games right away, but if I took time to plan I could figure out a way forward but who has time to plan? I know one hour of planning saves three hours of work, but if you only have mere hours left, you want to make them count. But that brings me back to trying to move forward while also trying to figure out which direction forward is. Gah!

I was disappointed, but I also felt like I was letting a lot of other people down. I’ve had a number of aspiring game developers tell me that I was an inspiration to them. My wife reminds me that I had a good couple of years worth of trying which is more than most people give themselves since they never make the attempt. She’s right, but it’s still hard to think I had an opportunity and lost it.

These days, it’s a lot less stressful not to worry about how to spend my day, wondering and second-guessing if I’m making the right choices in order to make a living. I’ve reintroduced that 40-60 hour week obligation, which means everything else in my life takes a backseat, but for the last few months, I’ve been able to breathe a bit more. I could take some time to reassess.

When I was hired, I made it clear that I fully intend to continue work on my business. It would have been a deal-breaker for me if I they were going to insist that I couldn’t as a condition of employment.

Now the trick is making time for my business outside of the day job hours while balancing the rest of my life. But I’ve been here before, and being on the other side of having a full-time business, I have new insights. I understand more fully the lessons I thought I pre-learned. I understand the game development industry just a little more.

So I’m not done. I’m going to live on. I’m going to survive.

And while there’s plenty of advice on how I should go about doing it, while there’s no shortage of people who can say that I should have focused on Facebook or mobile or free-to-play or Flash or HTML5 or Unity or Windows or any number of business models, platforms, and tools, I know I’ll find my own way. I’ll make my own rules.

In some cases, the consequences are heartache and failure that could have been avoided had I listened to someone else.

But I didn’t go into this to follow someone else’s lead. I’m not doing this to be like everyone else or make games like them.

I’m an independent game developer. I define my own success.

The Third Ludum Dare October Challenge

Ludum Dare was originally a 48-hour game development competition. Given a theme, you have 48 hours to create an entire game using no pre-existing assets. In recent years it has grown into a huge phenomenon, expanding into a dual-event that occurs three times annually. There are also Mini LDs each month between the major events. And of course, there’s the awesome community that drives it that seems to get bigger and bigger.

Two years ago, PoV launched The October Challenge, which pushed developers to do more than simply create a game. Your task for this challenge was to take your game project, finish it, and put it on the market before the end of the month. Then, when you’ve earned your first dollar, you’ve completed the challenge.

The third October Challenge is here, and it’s a good opportunity for you to learn what it takes to “go pro” in game development.

When the first October Challenge was announced, it came at a perfect time for me. I had recently quit my day job to go full-time, but I had no real plan for how to proceed. I was thinking about how much time I should spend on any one game. Do I try to release lots of small games over the next year, or should I concentrate on making one or two really great games? I didn’t want to churn out crap, but I also didn’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket. After all, I only had so much savings, and the larger the game, the more time I would have to spend on it, which meant the more money I’d burn through. Where’s the optimal balance?

It was also immediately after August’s Ludum Dare #18. The theme was “Enemies as Weapons” and I had created my most ambitious LD48 game, “Stop That Hero!”

I really liked what I had come up with, even though it took me 72 hours to finish so I had to submit it to the LD Jam instead of the main compo, which meant less people played it. Still, the feedback was pretty good, and I was already thinking about polishing the game up and selling it as my first major commercial project. The question was how long I should spend on the updated/better version?

The October Challenge helped answer the question for me. I had a month to finish the game and get it out there.

Unfortunately, I made some major mistakes. I completely rewrote the game from scratch, attempting to learn how to create component-based game objects. I had never written a full-fledged game architecture before, and I was using up a big part of my month building an engine rather than a game. I was trying to make it as data-driven as possible, which made it difficult to settle on a solid vision for the game. And due to my lack of progress, I hit a real funk that I couldn’t shake for awhile. You can read more about what went right and wrong in the Stop That Hero! October Challenge post mortem.

I was determined to sell my first copy, but it clearly wasn’t happening that October. That month, 20 people submitted entries in which they earned their first dollar through pre-orders, ads, or sales. Over the next year, I continued to work on the game, and I sold my first pre-order and earned my first $1 on September 30th, 2011, one day before the next October. I’m still working on it, and you can try out (and purchase!) the current version of Stop That Hero! today.

It took a lot longer than I originally expected, but without this challenge, I don’t know how long I would have gone before figuring out my real strengths and weaknesses as a game developer. I clearly had a lot to learn, and I still do.

So if you’re interested in running your own indie game development business, I would highly recommend participating in this year’s October Challenge. There’s more to running a game development business than developing games, and this challenge is an excuse to find out what’s involved.

Are you participating?

Why Indies Rule: An FTL Purchase Mistake

Years ago, I had a girlfriend who loved The Sims. She had the original game, plus a bunch of expansions. It represented quite a financial investment at a few hundred dollars.

Then she got a Mac when her PC died. Fortunately, The Sims has a Mac port.

Unfortunately, EA didn’t do the Mac port, and she was told that she would have to repurchase the game and the expansions for the Mac if she wanted to be able to play on her new computer.

Suffice it to say, she decided not to go that route.

Another time, I purchased a copy of an Activision game through a used music store. When I got home, I found out that the game needed a key, and apparently my used copy didn’t have a key. Activision’s support said they couldn’t provide another, so I was apparently out of luck. Now, say what you want about whether or not buying the game used was a smart thing to do in the first place, but the point was that I bought a game and couldn’t play it.

Fast-forward to today. I’ve been seeing some great reports about the game FTL, a space-based roguelike by Subset Games. They had a successful Kickstarter campaign, did well in the IGF, and seem to have quite a fan-base. Jay Barnson mentioned FTL in his Innovation Spotlight series, and they’ve gotten quite a bit of press elsewhere, too.

And then on Google+, I’ve seen a few screenshots, and so I decided to get it myself.

I saw that they offer a few ways to purchase the game. You could buy it on the site directly, through Steam, or through GOG.com.

As Steam isn’t available for Linux yet, I opted to buy through GOG, as I have a bit of a library on that site, and I liked the idea that I could download it anytime I wanted.

Unfortunately, as soon as I submitted my purchase, I realized my mistake. While FTL is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, GOG only provides the Windows version.

Nooooooooooooooooo! And I wasn’t the only one who made that mistake, based on this thread on the GOG forums: Request for GOG: Linux+Mac versions as extra

So what could I do?

Well, rather than cancel my purchase, I emailed the developers directly. I explained that I made a mistake and wondered if I would be able to get access to the Linux version. I thought that the worst that could happen is that I’d have to cancel my purchase through GOG and repurchase through the FTL site, but maybe there wouldn’t be a need for such ceremony.

The next morning, I woke up to find an email from one of the developers, who provided a link to get the Linux version.

w00t! Indies rule!

This is the kind of simple yet great service that indies can easily provide.

And so this first FTL death is dedicated to Subset Games:

My First FTL Game Over

Thanks!

Do you have any stories about great service from indie game developers?

Kickstarter Is For Market Research

Kickstarter

Months ago, I wrote about how glad I was that I didn’t create a Kickstarter campaign to help fund Stop That Hero!‘s development. It wasn’t because I didn’t think Kickstarter was a good idea. It was because I didn’t want to do a half-ass campaign as an afterthought.

When Double Fine Studios had their record-breaking campaign, I was surprised by how many people thought that this meant that Kickstarter was a fantastic fundraising opportunity for indies. Granted, there’s good news that projects by people such as Tim Schafer and Kevin Smith can be funded without needing a huge publisher backing them.

But these people are celebrities. Of course they’re going to get a lot of attention and pledges. What about Joe Indie, the obscure person with the yet-realized dream?

Kickstarter is not a magic money machine. People can and do fail to get funding.

But perhaps the money isn’t the point.

As Corvus Elrod wrote recently in Every Kickstarter a Success, the crowd-sourcing site “is the most affordable and brutally efficient marketing tool” he’s ever used.

… the type of audience intereaction that Kickstarter makes possible is enormously valuable and the fact that the only finanical risk you take is not getting funding for a project that likely doesn’t have an existing market to sustain it anyway, there’s simply no reason every Kickstarter project shouldn’t be considered an overwhelming success – providing you simply do the hard work.

One of the toughest things to do when running a game development business is figuring out what project to work on. You can’t just work on what you think is fun and hope it pays off. You have to do market research to find out who your customers are and what they want. Otherwise, you’re hoping that when you release your game, your interests overlap with the interests of enough customers to sustain you. It relies too much on uncertainty and luck.

Kickstarter is great for measuring such interest in your project. For one example, Christopher Williamson of DreamQuest Games recently finished a campaign to raise funds for Alpha Colony: A Tribute to M.U.L.E..

While the campaign fell short of the $500,000 he was hoping for, he did manage to break $100,000 in pledges with almost 1,000 backers. He’s written up a post on 20 Ways to Screw Your Kickstarter in which he talks about the lessons learned.

But his Kickstarter update post indicates that they got the validation they needed for this project: “The world has shown it wants Alpha Colony to be built and therefore we are making some big changes in preparation for a second launch on Kickstarter!” Keep an eye out for the Alpha Colony relaunch in weeks, with an updated focus on multiplayer and a different funding target.

Ian Bogost wrote that he thinks Kickstarter is less of a fundraising platform and more of a new kind of entertainment: “It’s QVC for the Net set. And just like QVC, the products are usually less appealing than the excitement of learning about them for the first time and getting in early on the sale.”

Perhaps that’s partly true, but being able to measure that excitement as early as possible is vitally important to the success of a project, and ultimately, to a business. If Kickstarter and other crowd-sourcing sites make it easier to get that early feedback, it translates into a lot less wasted effort.