Independent Games Summit Miscellany
Here are some highlights from a few of the other sessions I attended at the Independent Games Summit today:
The Care and Feeding of Your Independent Game Studio
Arthur Humphrey (Last Day of Work)
Arthur covered some of the challenges facing the casual games market today, as well as his approaches to surmounting them. Arthur says that in recent times, the return on development costs for casual games has decreased significantly (or, put another way, to achieve the same sales quantity an increased development cost is necessary.) This is a result of price compression caused by attempts of the various casual portals to undercut each other, as well as users being drawn away to other platforms such as Facebook games. Last Day of Work's approach has been to plan to release on many platforms, aiming to find at least one market where a game gains traction and then leverage that to promote your other games, or other platform supported by a particular game. They have also experimented with many different revenue models, and Arthur made the point that there is no reason to keep the sales model the same across different platforms: it's possible to have a normal try/buy model on one platform and a freemium model on another. Another interesting technique Last Day of Work has come up with is what they call "coercive conversion," a process Arthur admits is somewhat "evil." The general idea can be summed up in his example of a virtual pet game his company developed, in which it was free to raise and play with your virtual puppy character, but medication cost money -- and the puppy was guaranteed to get sick within a few weeks, dying in 24 hours without medical attention. Despite angry letters from parents, the technique apparently works monetarily. Finally, Arthur cautioned developers to maintain control of their own IP.
Game Design by Accidents
Seph Thirion (Game Designer)
Seth presented several "exhibits" of how accidents can produce innovative game design, and how code as a medium is particularly suited to accidental discoveries of this sort. His first example was Tetris: Alexei Pajitnov was intending to create a multiplayer version of Pentominoes when he created the code that allowed users to rotate the Pentomino tiles. Seeing the tiles rotate onscreen for the first time, he had an epiphany that eventually led him to create Tetris.
The second example of design by accident was Jonathan Blow's early prototype of Oracle Billiards, a billiards game that allowed you to see the final resting positions of all of the billiards balls before you made your shot. The prototype did not become a full game, but the time-bending experience of the prototype inspired Blow to later create Braid.
The third exhibit was a game creation workshop in Barcelona run by Seph, in which he gave the code for a simple Breakout-style game to visual design students with no programming background, telling them to simply modify the code and see what happened. After six hours, the students had created an amazing array of unique and striking variations on the original game.
Finally, Seph had an interactive demo in which he evolved a simple prototype from scratch using Ruby Processing, to demonstrate his concept of stumbling across design innovations via code. The takeaway from the talk is that code has some unique properties that make it useful for exploring design in this way: small changes can have far-reaching results, and the results of your code changes are often already interactive -- not just a design sketch on a piece of paper.
Turning Depression into Inspiration
Michael Todd (Spyeart.com)
Michael gave a very personal talk about how he copes with his own depression while also continuing to be productive creating video games. One strategy he employs is to choose game concepts that are rewarding to build throughout the entire process. He also attempts to mitigate his perfectionist tendencies by re-calibrating his view of his game through play tests, chats with other designers, and perusal of game demos on Steam or Xbox Live Indie Games. Additionally, Michael purposely works on shorter projects to make sure more of the game development takes place during the "honeymoon" period during which you are very excited with your idea. He measures his hours using Procrastitracker to be aware of how his productivity is trending (rather than self-estimating), and is careful to design games that are a fit for his abilities and his own personal skills, avoiding games that would require types of work he struggles with.