Lots of exciting news for this month!
Last week I walked down to the HTC office for North America and tried to get a meeting with their VR people so that I could give them a demo of my game. On Monday, I had that meeting and it went very well.
Before going to the meeting, I sat down and had some coffee with my girlfriend and we talked about some possibilities. She is also a marketer (one of the best! <3) and has the staff and resources to promote major products, primarily through "direct response" and events. She has an international team of people who can put on live demonstrations in large retailers such as Costco, Sears, Sams Club, Walmart, etc. has the connections, and has a solid track record. Virtual Reality is new and exciting, and she's tried it out (of course!) and wants to send her sales teams around the world and sell it. Currently, I'm guessing there are about 50,000 HTC Vive units out in the wild and they are selling very well. What this means for me is that there are 50,000 potential customers who would be capable of playing my game when it's ready. In order for me to increase my sales, I need to increase the size of my market. I sincerely believe that if you give people a live demo of the HTC Vive VR headset and they play my game, they will want to buy both the hardware and my content. The amount of effort to pitch the product will be much lower because the products pretty much sell themselves. Combine that with masterful salesmen, and you're probably looking at easily moving 100,000 units. There are a few things I might worry about: Would HTC's sourcing be able to keep up with the demand? Could they build 100k VR headsets? From the consumer standpoint, does the average consumer have a computer capable of playing high quality VR content? Grandma's computer just isn't going to cut it, so the sales teams will have to make sure that customers have the necessary hardware to run the VR device as its meant to be run. That creates an interesting partnership opportunity with computer manufacturers as well -- we could create a complete package where consumers purchase a high end computer, VR HMD, and a content bundle which includes my game and a few other select VR games. There's a huge opportunity to bring VR to the masses and I want to be one of the people who helps make that happen. Anyways, I'm probably getting ahead of myself. The key thing to note is that as just a programmer / VR content producer, I play a small but important piece in the puzzle of the whole picture and I need to make sure that what I'm building is perfectly in alignment with the rest of the pieces. I can't let myself have tunnel vision on just code and design problems, I need to make sure that what I'm creating is aligned with the visions and objectives of all my potential partners, that it's something consumers love and want, and everyone who works with me, wins and succeeds.
Anyways, I met with the senior producer at HTC and showed him my VR game this morning. He loved it. I had this terrible bug which caused the AI in the packaged build to not move, although it works perfectly in my preview builds. I was in the office until 3am trying to fix it, but couldn't get it fixed in time. Despite that, I showed HTC my VR game. The locomotion system I came up with is unique and they said that they had never seen anything like it before and were surprised by how well it worked and were surprised by the lack of motion sickness. The spell casting system felt perfect as well and they loved it. This is really encouraging. A lot of indies bring them stuff which isn't very good and the quality bar is too low to get excited about. I hope I'm the exception. I still have a lot of work to do on my game to get it to be perfect, but I'm totally on the right track despite the bugs and need for polish. They said that their biggest markets are going to be Taiwan and China, which isn't surprising since HTC is a Taiwanese company, so what that means for me is that I absolutely need to make sure that my game is localized for those markets. One interesting localization bit about China is that their authorities don't want to see red blood... so what do you do? Make it green instead!
I fixed the path finding bug for my creature AI in the packaged build. It took almost two days because it costs about 30 minutes to package and test. After I got that taken care of, I pretty much had a decently playable build of Spellbound. It's time to put this thing up on Steam and start getting people to play it and give me feedback! So, that's what I've been doing the rest of this week. I have *never* launched a game before. I have never done anything on the backend side of steam. So, there was a lot of "uhm... am I doing this right?". The good news is that I got my first build up! I downloaded it, played it, and it works! I can't stress how big of a milestone this is for me and this project -- what this means is that people around the world will soon be able to play my game, give me feedback, and I can push out updates. I have finally created a closed iteration loop on product development and customer feedback. Check this out!!
Before I can officially launch, I'm going to have to create a polished game play video which demonstrates what it's like to play this game in VR. That's going to be a bit tough. I'm going to try to create a "mixed reality" video with green screens. One interesting challenge is that the player is represented by a full body avatar within the game, so when I composite the game into the video, how will that work with the avatar? Would it be interesting if the player wore an entirely green outfit so that it gets masked out and all you see is their skin? Then it would look like the player is actually wearing the wizard clothing... but would that be a problem for "representational purposes" for actual game play? I'm not sure.
Anyways, there is going to be a TON of work remaining to do in regards to bug fixing, polish, voice acting, and publicity, marketing, etc. I certainly won't be able to rest on any laurels for at least nine more months, or however long it takes me to finish building the rest of the content while this game is in early access. It'll be a relief to start getting some income though. I've been struggling financially. I still owe my former artist something like $8,000. I owe my office space $1,600; My webhost is about to shut down my websites for lack of payment. The "Employee Security Department" in my state is charging me something like $500 for unemployment insurance and fines. I need to be able to pay my share for food and rent. I have zero dollars in the bank, and probably about fifty cents in change in my pockets. If not for the financial support of my girlfriend, I would have had to go to the bank and try to get a loan, or lay off my artist a few months early. This has been healthy for me though. 100% of my focus has been "shut up and ship!" and "don't release garbage!". I really hope that I can at least sell enough copies of my game to pay all of my current debts and have enough to get by on a monthly basis. If I can become financially self-sustained, it means I can continue producing VR content. If I can't, then the reality is that I'm going to have to give it up and do my best to go get a job elsewhere, which would be a crushing disappointment. I'm literally a hungry entrepreneur and starving artist, and I'm finding there's nothing glorious about it... I have an optimistic feeling though that the lack of money will only be a temporary problem and a very good teaching moment for me. My new mantra is "gotta survive before you can thrive!"
Anyways, I have set a public release date for July 8th, 2016 for the Early Access release of Spellbound. I'm afraid that date is going to be very slippery due to the lack of a good game play video. Before I can release, it also has to pass a validation check from Valve. But if I do launch on the 8th, it's going to be worth celebrating. I won't get any income or revenue for at least two months after launching though, so I'll have to continue to scrape by for a while. When and if I actually launch publicly, I'll make a special post about it here.
note: Gamedev.net is being a bit finicky tonight.