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Better than Canada .. #StateOfPlay
The cream of Ireland’s indie game developers and Wee Man took part in the inaugural State of Play event at Dublin Institute of Technology on Friday 25th November. Hosted by Hugh McAtamney, head of digital media at DIT, the event was aimed at encouraging people to start a games company and learn from many of the hard but often entertaining lessons learned from existing companies. How we got an invite to such a prestigious an event as ever remains a mystery, but we are so glad we did
On entering the arena, on time (yes, seriously), the lecture room was full with people already sitting on the aisles. There must have been 150 people there; at least double original estimates, a great sign for Irish Games Industry and a testament to Hugh. The presenters included a range of indie developers (mainly iPhone, Flash but also RPG for PC and Xbox Live) all 3 years old or younger. The talent in the room was intoxicating, and almost overcame the aroma of 150 guys in one room, me included as my lady friend not so subtly reminded me
First up were Red Wind who specialised in Trivia apps and the inquisitor engine. They now have two studios and seem very successful. They told a great tale of TUAW reviews, Bible app price sensitivity, growth of services v in-house development, role of content and how to cross Scrabble with Tetris! Like everyone that followed they were brutally honest, humble, and humorous with great insight, advice and anecdotes for the audience which devoured it all up. Straight out of the blocks they set the bar high for the rest of the night… and quite frankly scared the bayjesus out of us who had to present 30mins later!
All the presentations will be available in at least Podcast form from the DIT website so i’ll try not to spoil them. However what is abundantly clear, and which may not come across well on podcast is the level of goodwill and energy among the indie games sector. Furthermore, there appears to be a significant scale and spectrum of funding channels, office space and general support available to start-ups in Ireland
Throw in the hilarious and hard hitting comments from Paul Hayes (Games Ireland), the fact Games is specifically mentioned in Ireland’s Programme for Government and the concerted push behind games right now from every direction equates to Ireland being a scarily exciting place for games. Northern Ireland has talent, successes (e.g. Straandlooper DI Hector series) and agency support, but right now the buzz is with Dublin
Alan O’Dea CEO of Simple Life Forms went on to demonstrate the scale of their projects and their vision of playing games in real locations on any device. Never Mind Games demonstrated how to start with little money. Bubble Dreams brought the reality of Freemium to everyone’s attention, notably average iOS game cost $1.05, average value of iOS in-app purchase $14… and on a practical note keep your app below 20MB otherwise it can’t be downloaded via 3G.
Digital Arrow, were truly an international effort behind a new game “inMomentum” for Steam. The game was based on the unreal engine and looked great. They commented on the problems of working together and the key collaboration tools they used (Red Mine (bugs), Google Docs & Skype). Notably, they also commented on how long it takes to get tech people to speak with each other, so agree, have you ever tried to get a techie/developer to answer calls on their mobile??? Digital Arrow described using the unreal engine as ‘mysterious, exciting and being in an ocean of code with only a life vest and a whistle’… certainly a creative mind, who topped it off with mention of a games company with the second coolest name (uh hum), “Rock, Scissors, Paper, Shotgun”
Zinc Software design hardware as well as software. They combine gamification, iPhone and medical recording to create among other things, Zen Games. Zen Games are aimed at controlling someone’s breathing through playing games where the heart rate is a key control aspect in the game. This is aimed at reducing stress through preventative health care. Zinc seem a really high calibre team who will be releasing their SDK soon and a new breed of games, including possibly Poker, where you could see each of your opponents heart rate in real time on your iPhone, Lady Gaga will need a new song!
BitSmith Games are a small but ambitious team that grew out of the Masters course. They are working on a role playing game, based on the Unity Engine. At times they wish they would have tried to make a smaller game first (I hear you brother!), and Eoin reflected on the conversion from making games to becoming a studio “spend a lot of time not making games” by which he was referring to the amount of time talking, administration, emails and being a general business. He reflected many of the previous speakers in stating the amount of things you should aim to get for free, by being crafty (‘Cheeky’) and by speaking with other indie game developers. Importantly they acknowledged that applications were a pain but they taught you much and brought prospect of potential funds.
Open Emotion brought the house down with their final presentation, wit and one-liners… once he got his Mac working! Paddy described the knack of “how to pretend we’re doing really well” and the two key success factors for an indie “Passion for games and being able to talk for Ireland”, both of which he has in aplomb. Their first flash game took 2 weeks to develop and secured 2 million plays which derived just $400. They have learned and progressed amazingly to a stage where they have 2 studios (Dublin and Limerick), 12 staff and have just won a £250k contract. Typically they have the story of living on coke (coca-cola) in their first year, bootstrapping, marketing and all without money. From humble beginnings, Paddy was in a soul destroying job managing a Game store but he even he was “trumped by a co-founder working in a curtain shop”
A panel discussion followed, were Josh Holmes from Microsoft summed up the two things every indie needs: to take advantage of the help out there and be a ‘cheeky bastard’, by which he meant be proactive, go out there and network and follow examples of many of the speakers. Importantly he said there should be no Plan B, and that we should “Open up to the Opportunity of Success”.
Paul (Marketing), who managed to sum up Angry Birds brilliantly J mentioned the financial support out there and the degree to which the Irish Government is behind the games industry. Alongside seed funds, VC funds, Enda Kenny is behind games having “killed zombies in Dublin and M***** F****n Storm Troopers in Galway”. Games Ireland wants to not only support indigenous companies but attract thousands of developers to Ireland by being “better than Canada”.
Other panellists reaffirmed indies to avoid saying “I’ve a great idea but I can’t tell anyone” and outlined a number of national and international events coming up in the next 6 months. Of particular interest was the success that Open Emotion had with PSP Minis. Josh outlined a point for the audience by saying whatever you do, publish your game. Just by publishing you will be among the top % of game developers, and that in publishing you learn an awful lot and get feedback. Josh is running an XMA Gamer Conference in the Spring and only those who have published a game can get an invite.
Finally, the crowd moved on to a local bar, where even two upper floors was barely sufficient for the crowd! We had to leave after party early, but we met many great people, listened to some amazing presentations and would love to be involved next year… based on Friday’s performance the party is only just getting started for the Irish Games Industry, watch this space!
[images & feedback welcome to improve article]
App-Store Marketing - 10 Tips
How do you market a game like Galactic Racer? Without the budgets of the big studios and publishers, and 500,000 iOS apps how do you market an app? We've spoken to a few people and done a bit of research, and we've uncovered 10 key points:
Top 10 Tips, so far!
1. Learn from others, you've one launch and little money - make the most of both. No one's going to market the game for you...
2. Spend time, engage with players/buyers - giving them something they can't get easily elsewhere. Allowing players to talk to developers, learn more about the background and with the potential to influence future updates is something the big publishers can't do
3. Everyone says "Social Media", but be realistic about what you can manage and how effective it is as a forum
4. If paying for adverts, pay for targeted gamer audience, and animate your ad (also know about and compare metrics/analytics/site statistics & audience before buying)
5. When contacting reviewers, if you don't know them already consider third party applications that allow you to contact multiple reviewers. If you do know reveiwers, before releasing consider offering exclusives that will encourage them to feature you (can't do it afterwards)
6. Use all your contacts, if you've used sound, animation, 3rd party software providers ask them to help show off your game (they'll be helping to show off their own work as well!), call in all the favours.
7. Realise that your game/app can remain on the app-store for a long time, and it may take time for you to get a lucky break or mention, keep at it!
8. Consider working with third parties (e.g. publishers, entertainment companies, other app-stores, promo sites), approach them first. Also talk to marketing/ad companies, they may be able to help and if not you might get 1 or 2 ideas off them and at least they'll know about you after
9. Consider putting app on various app-stores, porting it to different platforms or licencing it to third parties, you have the content, maximise it
10. Price - you have the opportunity to change the price, offer promo codes, make it free and use ads, consider freemium, you have an awful lot of power as a developer
Some great links, especially the last one!
We've also come across some great links:
Help us out... let us know your thoughts and experience
Our marketing plan will be finalised soon, we'll know a lot more - good and bad - after Galactic Racer has been released for 2 months. We've made a few mistakes to date, but we promise to keep you posted. We'd love your feedback and any tips, thoughts or links you may have. Give us a shout via the blog or contact us details
Which is Best University Course for Games
What's the best course to do to get into the Games Industry? And what is the Games Industry like, is it enjoyable? These were just some of the recent questions we got asked by a local school kid. So with over 10 years industry experience with some of the biggest names in the business, Wee Man Studios CEO John Owens gave his thoughts:
I converted from a Computer Science course at Queen’s University Belfast to a game specific one (one of the first as it was a while back) and found it excellent. The big difference was that you were always working on things you were interested in rather than “other” things.
Unfortunately I can’t recommend you anything now as the courses have changed so much over the last decade. However, Wee Man Studios has worked with and spoken to students on the game course at Queen’s and they regard it very highly.
Before embarking on any course, you should:
A lot of courses are conversions of existing computer science courses and as a result are taught by lecturers who have little interest and experience in the field. You may want to avoid them.
As for the curriculum, given the amount of middleware solutions now available, most programmers spend a lot of their time on gameplay and special fx (vfx) programming. Maths is always good to have (essential really) however I would look for a course with some art modules, for example the history of CGI and using photoshop/max etc. You may not need to use them on the job but it always helps to know how they work. In addition having an artists’ eye will benefit any effects programming you may do.
Regarding how enjoyable the job is....
There’s a question. It can be incredibly rewarding however it can also be very challenging when compared to other professions. Even within Computer Science it's not very well paid and there’s little job security. Plus a lot of industry people burn out by their 30s and feel they no longer can do it with families and other responsibilities. It’s certainly not the job to take if you aren’t passionate about what you are doing.
Finally if you are more interested in designing and making games - rather than programming - then you should get into the production side of things as quickly as possible. In most cases they’re the ones in control of the overall game design. They also manage the projects, speak to the press etc. An analogy would be that producers are the video game equivalent of directors in the movies whilst programmers are more like the camera men.
Good luck in your exams and with whatever choice you make.
[Editor Comment: I would also urge you to check out the NESTA report into the UK Games Industry and to check out the Games Industry websites, forums, publishers, developers and associations. Also try and get experience (eg student placement, internships, developing your own game, etc) as early as possible, as it will give you an idea of the different roles available and help you to get a job at a later date.]
Armagh, here we come!! (Wed 15th Dec)
Wee Man Studios will be coming to Marketplace Theatre, Armagh at 7:30pm this Wednesday. We'll be telling the warts and all story of Wee Man Studios, our ups our downs and what we've learnt along the way. We hope it to be fun, informal and highly interactive.... if nothing else there will be sweets so plenty of e-numbers
Come along, see Galactic Racer, find out about the creative industries and say hello!