Last time I wrote about why I want to make games. The key takeaway being that I will make games first for myself and secondly for an audience. That will greatly inform my initial business model, which is detailed here. I should mention that this is not necessarily a forever plan - I may tweak, change or completely abandon it as time and circumstances change.
I believe the main reason my first attempt at gamedev failed financially is that the game took too long to develop. Concealed Intent, was not a hit, so did not make enough money to cover its costs and my living expenses during its over 4 years of development. If I was able to finish it in under a year, then the situation would have been much closer to sustainable. Now I know more about gamedev, and what a solo dev can reasonably achieve. My next games will be smaller and simpler. If I can make two games per year with each making on average about half (or a little less) than Concealed Intent, then I should be fine.
So how do I manage this? The reason why I suggest two per year, and not one per year is because I want to maximise the chances for a hit. I plan to produce decent small games stripped down to the gameplay basics. The problem is limited resources. As a solo dev creating a fully featured game will still likely take well over a year with all the usual extras expected by customers and marketing time. If it is not a hit, then it will not recover is expenses. Smaller, simpler games can be turned out much faster, and if they do badly, well there is another coming soon after. A fail-fast system. If they do well then more time and effort can be applied with a greater chance of success. I’ll throw up lots of ideas and see which get traction.
The games will be kept small by: keeping them 2D or fixed camera; singleplayer only (no online play); PC only; minimising story (but some storylets are ok); using proc-gen over handcrafted levels; and reusing old assets. I will aim for an “interesting” graphical style - ideas will be prioritised over graphics. If further development is warranted then all of the above can be revisited. Plus extras that may include better AI, daily challenges/scoreboards, better graphics/UI/SFX, more configuration options, modding support, wider platform support, more content, accessibility, internationalisation/localisation, DLC, etc. If the smaller game does not sell well enough to become a larger game (which I expect most will not) then no extra effort will be applied and I’ll move onto the next one.
With time, the speed of developing these smaller games will improve as better, reusable tools are created and my skills increase. I should also hopefully learn more about what is desired by the community, so just make better designed and marketable games from the start.
Time to keep going until I find something …
Next, what comes next, the Roadmap (coming soon).
Another 5 weeks done, but with slow progress. The plan was to have Abstract Hex Battle largely complete. It is not. There is a little more to do with progression mechanics, balance and animations. The plan now is to do all those plus the AI during this 5 week block. The delay is caused by a week of low productivity, another week given over to tax and other life problems, and more time than expected on the (hopefully) common tools. On the plus side I did manage to write the 3 blog posts (here is the first on The Philosophy of Jarrah Technology).
Over the next 5 weeks:
This means the 5 weeks after should be:
Now that I have restarted Jarrah Technology, I think it is important to set down some clear principles. Essentially a guiding philosophy on why I am a gamedev; how I want to proceed; and what sort of games I want to create. This should help when the inevitable difficult decisions need to be made, or at a minimum help prevent being side-tracked. I might as well make it public to keep me honest. This will be split into two parts: one with the fundamental ideas unlikely to change (presented here); and another post to derive the business model (which may change later).
To start - why become a gamedev? Mostly because it is something I enjoy and something I can do. I want to work for myself and create. Software development is my main skill, thus any plan will probably involve computers. There are paths other than games with similar results - I could work on startups or as an indie hacker. However, I have experience writing games. I know what is required. It is possible to do by myself if necessary. Importantly, I know I can enjoy the gamedev process. So I will start with games.
Creating a successful game studio is difficult and often results in failure - even for those with profitable games. I want my games to make money (maybe even dream about it), but it is not the primary goal. I am lucky to be in a position where I don’t need much income for a while to live acceptably. This means I will work on the games I want to work on, but at the same time will not try to work too much on a single title. I will aim to “fail-fast”. This will hopefully maximise my chance at a hit (relatively) and maintain my attention. Still, in the end I must remember I am creating games first for myself, and secondly for a potential audience. I am not opposed to working in a team and/or publishers, as long as it fits in with this mindset (which I suspect would make it difficult).
What sort of game do I want to make? Basically, the sort of game I find myself returning to repeatedly. Games that present the player with interesting choices. I want players to be leaning forward and thinking. This means they are likely to be slower games - fast reactions will not be required and actions-per-minute will not be an important statistic.
Thus the genres I will focus on are: management games; simulation games; (computer) cardgames; (computer) boardgames; and, strategy/tactical games. Maybe with a little grand strategy and rogue-like in there too. Platformers, action games, adventure games, RPGs and FPS’s will be avoided. I will also be unlikely to work on puzzle games just out of personal preference, despite them fitting my requirements. The initial target is the PC single-player audience. Other platforms or play modes may come later. Definitely no F2P. I’ll aim for 4-10 hours of gameplay, but with some replayability. I don’t want players to feel overwhelmed by the game. I would prefer to make an good impression then leave, rather than stretching the game too thinly.
I saw a video that suggested “good players create strategies, average players see paths to victory, while weak players chase luck”. On this measure, I foresee mainly developing for average players. It would be nice to move towards strategies, but I recognise the level of work to achieve this might be beyond my timeframe for each game. What does this mean? The games should have some component of luck resulting in variance of result, but the result should never be random - best is when the player can know what mistakes were made. I will try to avoid too much luck and aim for output rather than input randomness (where possible). The games are unlikely to be big in-depth simulations (war or otherwise). I will aim to simplify the complex. Some thought and strategy should be necessary to win regularly, but there should be no need to study.
Next, how I plan to make money, the Business Model.
Work is progressing on prototypes. Report complete.
Ok, that is not enough. Several months ago I wrote that I had restarted game development. What has happened since then? Well, I have split my time into 5-week blocks, and have just finished the 3rd. It was at this point I had hoped to have the first prototype complete and released. However, as is always the case, things have taken longer than expected. I am now hoping to be finished and released in two more 5-week blocks. Although there is a potential problem with making that date - I suspect the AI will be harder than I had planned.
The game I decided to create is code-named “Abstract Hex Battle” - one of the tasks remaining is to come up with a better name! The idea was it should be a simple 2D game that I did not care too much about. Something that could serve as a way to test myself while creating development tools and a routine. At the start, things went well.
It took just 4 weeks to get the basic game loop running. Then work slowed as I lost 3 of the last 11 weeks to non-gamedev work. I have also realised that despite being intentionally throwaway, I am not happy to release a game without some polish. So everything is taking longer than expected. This is something I will need to think about, as if I continue to polish my prototypes, then it is likely I will only be able to manage around 2 a year. At that point they are becoming more like little games than prototypes.
On the positive side, over the last couple of blocks I have created a number of (hopefully) reusable tools. That should make future games faster to develop. There are a couple more tools I think are required. Here is the plan.
Over the next 5 weeks:
This means the 5 weeks after should be:
I will update again in 5 weeks.
The world is in a state of flux, and so is my life. As of last week, I am no longer employed at Substantive Research. Also 6 months ago I moved back to my hometown: Perth, Australia. The plan is to take this opportunity to try creating games again. I started prototyping new ideas this Monday. These new games will be smaller than Concealed Intent, but still in the strategy/tactics genre, as that is what I enjoy. I do not plan on any future significant work on Concealed Intent. If there is a bug I will fix it, but otherwise that game is done.
In the next month or so, I plan to reactivate my communication channels (including this blog) and let people know what is happening properly.
The Concealed Intent 1.3 release is out now! It is a few months late, but finally here.
Tell me about the 1.3 Update
The main change in this release is the most requested feature from the discussion boards: it is now possible to rewatch old online games and to always see the last turn of an online game.
If an online game finishes while you are not actively playing, then it will still be in your list of online games when you next start Concealed Intent. If selected it will display the end screen with the game’s outcome. If you want to see the last turn just click the “Replay Last” button and it will be displayed. On the second time you start Concealed Intent after the game has finished it will be moved to the Old Games list - but you can still rewatch the whole game, read on!
At the end of an online game there is now a “Rewatch” button. Click this and the entire game will be loaded and you can watch it from the start either continuously (with the “Play All” button on the turn control part of the GUI) or turn-by-turn (“Play Turn” button”).
It is also possible to rewatch any of your online games that have finished in the last 90 days. Just go to the Old Games screen (available via the Online screen) and click the “Rewatch” link next to the game you wish to rewatch.
I had hoped to add rewatch to campaign and skirmish scenarios as well, but that caused problems. 90% would play just fine, but some would badly break due to the scripting system used to play out the turns. Fixing it for all scenarios would require rewriting the scripting system and that would take too long - so sadly you can only rewatch online games (which do not have any complex scripting in them).
There are a few other minor changes and bugfixes - the details are below.
What is next for Concealed Intent?
If there is a bad bug I will work to fix it. I can’t imagine not doing that. Otherwise there are no plans to add more features.
Full historical change list available here
Current Version: 1.3.0 (20th April 2018)
1.2.0 (6th April 2017) -> 1.3.0 (20th April 2018)
I have stated on a few occasions that I hoped to have a 1.3 Update complete and released by the end of this year. My apologies, I will fail to reach that goal. The plan is still to create another content update, and it will still be called version 1.3, but it will not be complete by the end of this year. I now hope to have it finished and ready by March 2018. However, that depends on whether the situation preventing me finishing this year continues. The main issue is my “day job” for a London startup, which has also become a “most evenings and some weekends too” job. This job is taking so much of my time, there is almost none for the prolonged periods of game coding that is how I best produce. I believe it is likely that the effort the startup job requires will begin to drop to more manageable levels in the new year (fingers crossed).
Again, my apologies. I have not forgotten Concealed Intent - it is just that the 1.3 Update will be delayed a little.
Delays, delays, delays. It has been three months since my last posting, and five months since I did any work on Concealed Intent (with the 1.2 release). Since then I have moved continent and started a very busy day job at a London startup.
I have also previously said there will be a 1.3 release by the end of the year. Given current events, how is that going? It is still possible, but only if I start work soon. This weekend I downloaded the most recent version of Unity3D. Hopefully by now they have fixed most of the bugs. If I can start finding time to make some progress over the next couple of weekends then a 1.3 release by December is achievable.
There has been some discussion on the Steam Forums about what the next version should contain. It seems the most regular players want the ability to replay entire games after they are complete. So that will be the main focus of the update. I will publish a list of goals for the update once work has started and I have an idea of how much can be done. If there is something you particularly want, speak now, because 1.3 will probably be the last notable update for the game.
Sales of Concealed Intent have continued at a steady, but slow, pace since the last financial posting. Below is the update sales vs costs graph. There is a nice little bump every time a Steam Sale comes around, but in-between only a handful of copies are sold. I have covered my costs now, but nowhere close to being able to live on the profits and develop a second game full-time (at least while living in London). Thus the time consuming day job.
Finally, for those with long memories, it was promised that Concealed Intent would not bundled until at least the 3rd August 2017 (a full year after release). Well that date has passed and the game has not yet been bundled. I have not been contacted by bundlers since that date, but also I’m not keen to bundle anyway. Looking at expected bundle sales, it would not make much difference to the graph above. Also now I have a job, I do not need the small amount of money bundling would bring. So, while I am not renewing the non-bundling pledge (because if Humble Bundle come knocking, I’m answering!), it is also probably unlikely that Concealed Intent will be bundled in the near future.
TLDR; moved country and got a day job, so gamedev work will slow; but still aiming for a small Concealed Intent 1.3 update before end of the year.
It has been a while since my last update on the happenings and plans for Concealed Intent and Jarrah Technology - time to rectify that.
As some of you may be aware, just this week I moved from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to London, UK for my partner’s work (as was the original move to Malaysia). I am writing this while looking out on a surprisingly pleasant English summer day. Preparing for the move has meant I have not managed any significant time for gamedev work on Concealed Intent or my next game over the last couple of months.
Now I’m set up in London, it’s time for gamedev, right? Unfortunately not. London is an extremely expensive city, and indie gamedev will not pay the bills, so I will need a day job. In fact I already have one (not in games) and start tomorrow. This means my available time for my own projects will greatly diminish. However, I do not intend to completely stop, instead dropping down to probably just a few hours per week on average.
I am now a hobbyist gamedev rather than a professional indie gamedev.
The plan is still to release a 1.3 update to Concealed Intent by the end of the year. The aim is to have this include about 2 weeks of development work (plus testing). Only now that work will be spread out over several months rather than in a single block. This means that there probably will not be time to work on another game until at least next year. The first task on the 1.3 list is to update the game to the latest Unity 5 release to help ensure future compatibility and performance. Then work will focus on the items left out of the 1.2 release - mainly small UX improvements. After that I’ll reassess the time available and the scope of previously suggested “nice to have” features to see what can be realistically achieved.
My next update will give more information on the Concealed Intent 1.3 plan and features.