Walking away from business...

Discussion in 'Indie Related Chat' started by BrainBlock, Jul 29, 2004.

  1. BrainBlock

    Indie Author

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    Hi peeps,

    My game business has really gone south in the last year, forcing me to look to greener pastures.

    Take a look at my products: http://www.brainblock.com

    Sales trickle in, but nothing like what they did three years ago. I have constantly sought out new techniques in designing, developing, and marketing games, and I am positive there are many opportunities I missed along the way in terms of making a better and stronger business for myself. I have depended on the support and feedback of many of you in my quest for living, breathing, eating, and surviving Brain Block Interactive.

    Sadly, I am on the verge of accepting a full time job in a non-game related company (which I am excited about doing actually), so my fight to stay "in the game" comes to an end. I will still continue to make games, and support my games, but I am in a sense, walking away. <cue the Hulk TV show theme song>

    Share your thoughts!

    -Simeon
     
  2. Mike Boeh

    Administrator Original Member

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    Simeon and I are very good friends. In fact, he was the best man at my wedding. Simeon, Mike Welch (blitwise.com), and myself all worked at the same game company in Chicago, Imagination Pilots. We often dreamed of making our own games for ourselves, and as fate would have it, we all ended up doing just that.

    I have always thought that the biggest problem with Simeon's games, was that they are too original for the general public. That's a difficult obstacle to overcome.

    And while I am sad to see Simeon drop out of the game, I don't feel sorry for him personally. He is such an interesting person with so many fantastic things in his life that it really puts "making games" in its proper perspective. He's one of those people that gets along with everyone, and everybody likes. So he will find success wherever he goes.
     
    #2 Mike Boeh, Jul 29, 2004
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2004
  3. Mithril Studios

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    Follow your heart... and it sounds like you would like to do the FT job!

    Anthony
     
  4. bantamcitygames

    Administrator Original Member Indie Author Greenlit

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    (Formerly BrewKnowC on Dexterity Forums)

    This is not meant to sound harsh, but I think the games are conceptually interesting, but graphicly mediocre (or in some cases worse). Honestly I'm a big fan of puzzle/action games and games with originallity, but I'm not even tempted to download BrainBlock's games because of the graphics. Don't feel bad, I've had the same thing said about my game. I would give it one more go, but instead of making a whole new game, redo ALL of the graphics of your previous games to the quality of say PopCap, rerelease them all as new and improved and see what happens. If that doesn't work, then I'm at a loss (after all I am a total amateur at the moment).

    After rereading my post, I am thinking that redoing all the graphics would be a major undertaking, but well worth it in my opinion.
     
  5. Linusson

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    I think it sounds great that you're excited about the job. You can always go back to being full-time indie later on. Your indie business might get som fresh air from you doing something else for a while. Good luck with whatever you decide to do. :)
     
  6. svero

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    I think to a certain degree this is not only a reflection of Simeon's games and the choices he made but of the industry as a whole. The Indie game market has changed dramatically in the last three years and my sales have also taken a hit because of it.

    One of the main problems is that we, as indies, no longer have the ability to get the word out to enough people cheaply. New indies starting out today will have a tougher time than those of us who started 4 or 5 years ago. It use to be that releasing a game on download sites like download.com, hotfiles.com, etc... you could reach thousands of people. Those days are dead and gone.

    Large companies saw the money and took over a lot of the distribution in ways that smaller companies like ours could not hope to compete with, and forcing us to live off of 20-40% of our sales. Royalties on portals started higher and gradually descreased.

    Where does an average customer go today to see a new game? Is there a place? If they go to download.com and hit "what's new" what do they see? 50 maps for battlefield 1942. Consequenly they stop surfing the download sites and rely on big game portals like yahoo, msn zone, realarcade and others to introduce them to the newest games. Those portals will only promote the top games. It's a make or break scenario. Either your game is in the top 10 or it's not. If it's not then sales are generally not enough to support your company. To make matters even worse those companies have a limit to how many games they're willing to put out per month. There's competition to even get on the list of games being sold to have your shot at one of those top 10 spots.

    But not only larger companies moved into the fray. Developers also saw the money that was there before and started to move into the market. Games being developed and sold online today are of a much higher average quality than they were 3-4 yrs ago. So there's more competition there as well. Tools have improved a bit and that helps to offset that somewhat, but all the same, many of the people who are moving into online sales are ex professional retail developers. It use to be that someone who was a student without much experience could put out a game and sell pretty well. Nowdays that student has to aspire to a very high level of quality to compete. Mediocre graphics and sound don't cut it anymore.

    It sounds pretty grim I suppose but that's the truth of it. If you want to make any real money at this game you best hope you find your own unexploited niche or you produce something that is much better than average.
     
  7. Redclaw

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    Talk about hitting the nail on the head! I share your thoughts exactly.

    From the few times I've spoken to Simeon over msn, etc. it was obvious that he's a great guy, so I'm quite saddened by this news. Surprised because I always thought he was doing ok, but also not surprised because of the way the major portals seem to be steamrollering over the entire industry. I don't see it as a reversable situation either. There will always be developers desperate to get their games on the portals regardless of how little they offer, so they're only going to get stronger and stronger.

    It's great that you're excited about this new job Simeon, at least you're not having to return to something you hate. And no-one knows what the future will bring. 1,5,10 years from now you might be doing something you can't even imagine right now, and loving every minute of it. Hell, so might half the people here!

    I wish you all the best.
     
  8. svero

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Well I wouldn't want to demonize the portals either. A business is a business and it was really inevitable that things would head the way they have. I don't quite like the direction that things have gone in many respects, and I'd like to see more variety, and opportunity. After all, how many times can I match 3 colors before I go into some kind of matching coma. But I suspect that things will continue to evolve and change. It behooves us as companies to adapt to the new market and find ways to succeed and survive in that environment. The key point I guess is that in many respects the market has changed and what use to work well no longer works as well as it did. Some people will find new opportunities and some won't. Those businesses that adapt will survive and those that can't won't.
     
  9. Bluecat

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    It's also possible that the major portals will want to stop taking risks much as the major publishers have. I believe that I've heard on the Dexterity forums comments that they won't take some types of games.

    If indie game developers are still prepared to take some risks with what they develop, then there will always be a market there for them.
     
  10. BrainBlock

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    Thanks for your kind words everyone! One of the great things about doing what I've been doing for the last several years has been the positive support I have had from others in the field. As I continue to pursue my game development business in much more of a hobbyist sense, you'll still hear from me and see me from time to time in the usual places.

    I certainly see my next step as a potential source of fresh air, but I think it is not likely that I could return to the business as a single person shop. My games could have the most amazing graphics and the highest production standards, exist in some way or other on portals, and it still would be difficult for me to do this full time. Unless I created the next bejeweled (in terms of popularity and success), my efforts would likely result in very poor ROI (where my investment equals my time). Here are some facts as I see them:

    Casual gamers have a very sophisticated understanding of where to find games.

    They know where to play games.

    They know what games are free, or rather, how to enjoy little free experiences.

    Most indie developers have jumped into developing and marketing simple, small, instantly playable, with little depth, puzzle oriented games. The reasons include: shorter development cycle, with a feeling that the best hope for success exists and lies within this "casual gamer" market.

    So, what does this mean to me?...my conversion rates are low, traffic is lower, and my products are "just another book on the shelf" of a VERY full library.

    So, here's my new opinion:

    1. I will make a game that caters to a small, very targeted audience, with a high price tag, and that has some depth and sophistication to it. I have experimented with a few things recently - a web-only brower playable retro game (and I mean, OLD school) called Ammo Boy, and a Mars Rover Simulator (which is a very simple piece of #&*$, but not horrible). Look at X-Plane. I think that guy sells his products for a $100 a piece, and there are no true competitors (other than Microsoft Flight Simulator, but XPlane differientiates by saying that his sim is much more sophisticated, and it IS).

    2. I will design and develop it in such a way as to have a very LONG lifespan. In the case of some sort of sophisticated simulator, that means engineering the product in a very smart way.

    3. I will take lots of time in production, with no real need to rush since my life doesn't depend on it (as it has in the past).

    4. I will have fun doing it, rather than always thinking about how to fiddle with my existing products, or thinking about marketing too much rather than making a great game (such as I did with all of my games except Logication).

    5. I will work in developing a community around it. I have lived in isolation regarding the people who buy my games, fearing that message boards might become too much work or obvious targets for malicious activity. I think now that this is a BIG mistake. When you go to Amazon.com, what do you read before you even begin to think about buying a product?
     
  11. Coyote

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    I remember going through the same thinking when I left the games industry as a full-time pro for a major publisher. It was a tough choice, and I worried that people would start referring to me in the past tense, like I'd died. It was tough to go into the wide world of business app development. But I figured I could still do games as a hobby.

    Took me a while to get around to it, but now I'm doing just that.

    Maybe I'll go back to full-time game development some day. Maybe not. We'll see what happens. Programming is programming, and I get to feed my creative demons writing games no matter what pays the mortgage.

    As to the big portals taking over - yes, they are already becoming highly conservative in what they accept. They want what's already selling... but "new." Same has been true since the beginning of capitalist history. One day someone's going to make massive amounts of money selling Victorian-era history games, and suddenly a whole bunch of big money is gonna descend upon it and ONLY want Victorian-era history games, because that's what sells. It's just the nature of the beast.
     
  12. GBGames

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    When I checked out the Brainblocks site, I didn't feel compelled to look at any of the games. The screenshots are too small and don't really convey a lot in terms of what is going on, and that was me TRYING to find them.

    Ammoboy looks interesting, but I didn't know I could play it in my web browser. Download made it sound like I was supposed to download an installer. I almost didn't click on it.

    So basically, your website is competing for the eyeballs of players, but it is not doing a good job. My interest in your site was not held for too long.
     
  13. Mark Fassett

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    I think you have the right idea, BrainBlock - make games that haven't been made in markets that aren't as easy to enter as small casual games. At least for now. Nothing works forever. As soon as people see you're making money, they'll jump in - but games that take more than four monthts to make, that have large asset requirements, that have complicated or sophisticated gameplay, or basically anything that creates a barrier to entry is where I think it will be easier to stay alive in this day of the puzzle game hungry portals. There will always be people who aren't satisfied with what the portals have, and unless you make games for portals, it's those people you need to make products for.
     
  14. Chris Evans

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    I checked out the BrainBlock website and I agree it needs work. I also had no idea that Ammo Boy played in the browser. At first I clicked the link for "more info", but I didn't see any screen shots, so I didn't want to download something that I had no idea what it looked like. I had no idea that there was a web demo.

    Your games could use a facelift as well. But your website currently isn't setup properly to best sell your games.

    Though I agree with Mark that it's important to have some kind of barrier to entry. If someone can replicate your game in under 2-3 months, then you're going to have problems if your game becomes successful. You'll be overrrun by the Attack of the Clones.
     
  15. Sillysoft

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    Well I happened to click on the Ammo boy picture, which started the game in my browser. So I played it and had fun doing so. However, it didn't do very much to get me to buy it. I would have limited it to 5 waves. After that it gets harder pretty quick. I think it would be best to cut them off before they die.
     
  16. cliffski

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    "After all, how many times can I match 3 colors before I go into some kind of matching coma."

    This is VERY true. Most indie games are far too similar. no wonder most people making puzzle games arent selling many copies...
     
  17. BrainBlock

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    Yeah, Ammo Boy was an experiment in browser games. I do not have a finished version, although I intend to finish it (at some point) so that a potential customer can download and play a standalone version. I also wanted to test the validity of the concept -- TOTAL pixel-simple retro arcade action --and see what kind of feedback people could bring. Ammo Boy is an experimental approach to risk management in game development I suppose. Make a simple demo, see what interest and feedback you get, and then jump into the full product once you get some validation that what you've got on your hands will sell.

    Many of your comments regarding my website are valid and thoughtful. Over the course of the last five years, I have experimented with all sorts of different information presentation techniques, using all different sorts of graphics and copy. However, I'm not convinced that any minor or major tweak will make a world of difference, since those sorts of changes really didn't make a difference before. FYI, perhaps one of the best selling pure indie titles is Pocket Tanks from Blitwise.com -- go to his site. You would not believe how many he sells per day and his website is plain and VERY simple.
     
  18. bantamcitygames

    Administrator Original Member Indie Author Greenlit

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    Do "match 3" games really get classified as puzzle games? There's not much "thinking" involved. A while back I started calling these games "clicky games"... whaddaya think? Can I start a catch phrase here? ;)
     
  19. svero

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Sure the term puzzle is way way misused. I just call them casual games. True logic/puzzle games generally don't sell well at all.
     
  20. Redclaw

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    But maybe Mike would sell even more if he had a more attractive & user friendly website?

    Though I do share your view Simeon; I think if someone really likes a game enough to buy it, they will - regardless of what the website looks like.
     

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