Archive for March, 2007

How long to get a game on a Portal?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

So how long does it take to get your first game on a portal? Well that’s not easy to answer as it largely depends on the portal. I can only speak from my experience but I’ve also heard similar things from other people. Oh yeah, this assumes that your game is actually good enough (i.e. complete, playable, polished, bug-free etc) and is the right subject matter (e.g. flowers/gems/cakes etc ;-))

So here’s a list of the actions that need to be taken with approximate timescales:

1) Email the portals – this can take 1 week to months before they even reply! Honest.
2) Exchanging and faxing/posting contracts etc. This is just boring admin that will take a few hours on your part (per portal) and a few more emails if you have any questions (thus more delays).
3) Packaging the game for portals and preparing docs and extra files. Again several hours per portal depending on your experience level. I picked the most complex portal requirements and made the supporting material for them first and then I was able to give the other portals subsets of that stuff.
4) Send the game to the portals and get acknowledgement that they have got it. Depends on how quickly they answer emails. Could be a week or more and you may need to chase them as well.
5) Portal does QA. Can take weeks. They may come back with Vista issues or Ctrl+Alt+Del issues or screensaver issues etc. Then you need to do the technical research to fix that (could take you an hour or two or *much* longer) and then resubmit for another QA = lengthy process.
6) Finally, they’ll make a slot for launching the game and will let you know when it’s coming out (hopefully – they don’t always tell you!). This could be a couple of weeks OR months depending on the portal and the time of year.

I don’t know what all that adds up to but in the best case it’s around a month and worst case … well … Sorry if that list sounds a bit negative. It is if you take it at face value, but remember that you are doing this to get your game out there to hundreds of thousands of people who would have never seen it (and had a chance to buy it) otherwise – this makes it a lot more positive and easy to stomach in my opinion 🙂

Vista Schmista

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Probably, like some of you, I’m a bit in the dark with Windows Vista regarding its special requirements that affect casual game developers. Also I don’t have a spare PC and a copy of Vista knocking around to do some testing on – although I can probably find someone with a Vista PC who’ll let me use it.

Well actually, I’m not totally in the dark; I do have a basic understanding of the issues having been sent some development advice by a couple of portals and having read some forum threads on the topic – but until I implement and test the required changes myself, I’m not 100% clear on what I need to do to make my BlitzMax games properly Vista compatible. When I know more, I’ll post again so that you can all benefit from my mental strain 😉 In reality it’ll probably be quite easy.

I think that the main issue is making sure that you don’t have any files that are written to in the game’s folder, everthing needs to be in the user’s “special folder” (e.g. save games). Also, for global data, such as an ini file and global high scores, you need to write to a different special folder. It’s all to do with permissions you see; Vista has clamped down on what you can write where on the user’s system. There are threads on and the Indiegamer forums that talk about how to get the names of these folders, so I’ll be researching those. Of course the changes have to be backward compatible i.e. they still work on XP at least, and possibly other Windows OSes like 2000, ME, 98SE etc.

So basically, I’m going to HAVE to convert my BlitzMax Game Framework to Vista and test it for the current game that I’m working on and I’ve got about 2.5 months before the deadline. Also, I’ve got to convert my framework to Mac (Intel and PPC). Both these tasks are BORING but they need to be done to ensure uptake by portals and, of course, sales! At least once it’s done, I probably don’t need to worry about supporting another OS for quite some time unless I decide to make games for Linux or mobiles…who knows what the future hold?

Software Passport (Armadillo)

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

I use Armadillo to security wrap my games on It’s pretty much industry standard for Indie developers, although the portals use their own security wrappers. One of it’s advantages is that it’s compatible with Plimus and BMT Micro, two well known payment providers. This means that when you sell a copy of your game, Plimus/BMT automatically send the customer an unlock key that is compatible with your Armadillo wrapper – this is cool.

Note that you can’t get away with the basic version, you need the full version because it supports 60 minute trials. It’s actually not very easy to use either and has a bewildering array of options, plus you have to make your own nag screens in HTML etc. This was very time consuming for me and I had to ask a few other people for help – but the end result is good.

It was around £160 for the full thing. I *have* made that money back selling my games on my own site, but not by very much margin – although the margin will increase with time and the forthcoming re-release of Easter Bonus. I also see it as an investment for my future games – however, now that I’m programming for BFG, that may not be applicable any more anyway!

If you can’t afford the time or money to invest in Armadillo, then don’t sell it on your own site. Selling games on your own site is a lot of work and needs marketing skills etc. Plus, if you don’t do it right, you’ll never make your money back! Just go straight to the portals who’ll security wrap it themselves. Then you can focus on your next game instead of getting mired in post-development admin/marketing hell 🙂