Shipping Focus & Post Launch plan:
So, what's the short term plan for shipping this game? I don't want to do an 'early access' game. I feel that is just robbing our customers of the type of experience we want to deliver to them and it creates a bad first impression if we deliver unfinished games, and can create a bit of a disincentive for us to not finish the game (though, that's not going to happen). What I want to do is ship a smaller, tighter and more polished game which is complete and fully playable, has a strong beginning, middle and end, and positions us in a place where we can add onto the game play after release. I want to add fully playable and complete game play features to an already complete product. We can then do incremental content updates. This would increase the existing value of the game to potential customers and give additional value at no extra cost to existing customers. This would ultimately translate into more sales and happier customers.
Staffing & Interns:
On the staff front, our team size has grown. I'm trying to be very careful about staff size and selection, both from a financial aspect and project management aspect. At the beginning of the month, we brought on an additional artist who specializes in environment art. He is volunteering his skills for free in exchange for game credit and experience. My intent is to eventually hire him as permanent staff if the game succeeds in the market. Last week, I also brought on an intern. She is an older woman with a masters degree in computer science and has worked as an instructor at various local colleges. She is also volunteering her time and abilities to help us build this game. Her intent is to use our game as a means to update her existing skill set and establish additional credibility as an instructor within the field, with the option to also become permanent staff. I haven't made any promises on permanent paid staffing positions yet. These temporary volunteer positions are a great way to get a trial run on potential employees and get a good idea on their skills and capabilities and how they work within our team. I really hope I can make enough money with this game to make sure everyone gets paid.
Project management & Risk mitigation:
On the project management side, I'm also making sure that the tasks I farm out to my volunteers are not critical towards the progress of the game. Since they're volunteers, they have every right and option to stop working immediately and tell me to go take a hike. Therefore, they don't get tasks assigned which have dependencies or can cause project delays. I have to assume that the tasks I assign have a 50% chance of not being completed and I have to adjust the assignment of my project tasks accordingly to mitigate these risks. As an example, I assigned the task of creating a weather system to our newest intern. If it gets completed: Great, it adds to the atmosphere and feeling of the game. If it doesn't, the core game experience won't suffer. We can ship the game with or without it.
In about a month, I'm going to create a steam greenlight page for our game. I want to focus on the game experience players can expect when they buy the game, so I'm going to be doing my game play video slightly differently from the norm. I'd like to bring in some volunteers to try out the game and capture their game play experience on video. This is especially important for us because our game is both a virtual reality game and it also features hand movement. We need to show the players the connection between your own body movements and how they correspond to actions in the game and show the resulting emotional response. When people put on the VR headset for the first time, they are already blown away with how amazing the game world looks in conjunction with the novelty of VR. Then, they move their hands out... and their brain melts as they realize their hands not only move but can cast spells. It's so fluid, so immersive, so empowering... Role playing games will never be the same again.
I know I'm a bit biased, but I would tentatively say that our game is probably one of the best virtual reality experiences I've seen or tried so far. There are a few which are better than ours, but I think ours is in the top 95 percentile of whats available out there. I imagine that a lot of VR developers are holding their cards close to their chest right now though, so I wouldn't be too surprised to hear big announcements from established studios in the coming months.
What's really cool is that *we* have been able to come up with some interesting and natural solutions to the VR user interface problem which nobody else has done before. We may be the first to do some of these techniques, which just might become industry standards far down the road. We might have pushed the industry forward just a smidge.
There's something else that has been really getting me excited these days: Story telling within VR. This is probably the first time in human history where a story teller can literally place their audience into the story, feel like they're present within the story, to be able to use their own hands to interact within the context of the story, and also to generate the emotional responses the character would feel. Think about that for a moment. You could have a powerful romantic, intimate scene which is both driven and experienced by the player. You could use your own hands to give a hug to the love interest of your character. Or, you could have a character invade the players personal space to illicit emotional responses (intimacy, empathy, fear, coercion, etc). We have the opportunity to create an empathetic connection to characters within our game unlike what any other story telling medium can do. I feel it's an immense privilege and responsibility. My personal goal is to eventually create a character within one of my games, where players will say to them, "Wow, I really, actually love you. I can't help it!". Obviously, I can't break the players heart by killing off that character. I'd have worked so hard to build that connection, that the only 'right' thing to do is strengthen it.
I recently joined a local game writers meetup group. I've got a short but powerful game narrative and I wanted to get feedback from people who are passionate about games and story writing. The response was very positive, and that's reassuring because it lets me know I'm on the right track. I honestly believe that the game narrative is really what's going to make my game distinct from anything else out on the market. But, it has to be done right. It needs to be polished and iterated on. This worries me a lot because of scope creep. I need to write the script such that the gender of the characters is interchangeable -- this is a huge deal for many reasons. I also need to bring in voice actors to act out the narrative. And then I have to build the scenes within the game within which the narrative takes place. And then I have to build in the player interactions with that narrative. And the narrative needs to mostly be event driven (ie, nothing happens until the player triggers something to make the plot go forward). And then I need to be able to account for various player interactions. As you can imagine, a few simple scenes can just explode the scope of the project beyond my budget and deadline. Oh, and by the way, it has to be done in virtual reality with hand gestures. I'm tempted to just skip all of this and add it in post, but that could be a mistake which causes the game to be mediocre and tired rather than fresh and incredible.
I've got what it takes to build and run a team which creates something new and incredible. Our limiting factor has been and will be money. If I didn't ever have to worry about money, I am fully confident that we could build a VR title which sets the bar for the entire VR industry to reference and emulate. As my money dwindles down and we approach the hard deadline, it's going to be very interesting to see whether we can actually pull it off right.