Archive for December, 2010

Getting your game on Big Fish Games

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

BFG logo

Someone just emailed me with some questions about submitting a game to Big Fish Games. I already wrote an article about this before but there is some different information in this post.

Please take note that I am writing from my perspective as an Indie who has submitted games to BFG before, and not as a BFG representative in any way, thanks.

Q. What kind of criteria does the game need to meet? Would a Windows only game work, or does it need to be cross platform? Do they have some kind of minimum system requirement for all games?

A. Windows only is fine. If you can convert it to Mac easily you will make a decent amount of extra sales. Also make sure that all your game text is read in from a Unicode text file because then if the game does well you can localise it and make more sales on BFG’s foreign language portals.

Minimum requirements are XP (they don’t support Windows 98 any more). Also the game has to be able to save data in the correct location for Vista and Windows 7 properly which is a bit of a headache (you’ll need to research this). You can’t put any web links in your games or connect to any online service (for high scores etc.) You should test your game on XP/Vista/7 just to make sure it works the same and there are no graphical or sound anomalies (I use a different sound driver for Vista/7 for example).

Your game should start in full-screen at 800×600 minimum and have a windowed mode option. There’s a bunch of other “nice to have” things too such as simple options screens (not complicated ones), making sure you can Alt-Tab out/in of the game without graphics corruption + pause it – stuff like that. Just check out any of the other top games and see how they handle things. Also you can always ask for a QA checklist when you submit (or before) and hopefully they’ll send you something.

Q. What kind of additions need to be made to the game itself for it to be sold on the service? I assume I’d need to add some splash screens with the Big Fish logo, but what else would there be?

A. No special additions apart from the stuff I’ve already mentioned and a splash screen with the BFG logo. I don’t think they even need “box art” if you just supply them with assets they’ll make it for you. This could have changed though, but they’ll tell you.

Q. How does the payment work with Big Fish? What kind of cut do you get from games you submit to them? How often are you paid?

A. I can’t publicly state their royalty rate but let’s just say that portals pay between 25% and 40% depending on who they are and what deal you get. This is less that Apple or Microsoft’s 70%, but that’s just the way it is if you want a huge volume of people downloading your game. If you go “exclusive” with them for a limited period (like a month) they’ll give you a higher percentage of revenue (after some minor transaction processing fees of <10%). If non-exclusive, you'll get a slightly lower percentage. Exclusive gives you better marketing too so you'll sell more copies. Ask them what the exact percentages are and they'll tell you themselves.

BFG pay once per month by wire-transfer. They are very reliable. If you are not based in the US you'll need to fart around filling out a couple of tax forms to make sure they don't without 30% tax (all US companies have to do this if paying non-US people). It's a pain in the ass but once it's done, it's done for good.

Q. If I get Big Fish to sell one of my games, am I still able to sell it? For instance, if I made a game on XBOX Indie, and decided to try submitting it to Big Fish, would they allow that? Could I sell the game on my site?

A. If you are non-exclusive you can sell your game anywhere you want including on rival portals. If you are exclusive, you might still be able to sell it on your own site, but nowhere else. Best check with them, but that was my understanding when I last looked into it.

Q. Any advice on submitting games? Their submission process looks pretty straight-forward but I could use any pointers.

A. Yes the submission process is simple. You’ll be dealing with Nate, Jessica or Tyler (or maybe someone else too now). All of them are very nice and helpful, but also swamped with submissions, so make sure your game is awesome and well tested before submitting it (see the other post I liked to at the top of this article for more details.) They may test your game on an audience and make suggestions, take heed of them because they know what they are talking about.

Design Consultancy Service

A service that I’m offering in 2011 as an Indie (after my 3 month non-compete expires) is Design Consultancy. I will take a look at your game (in the early, mid or end stages) and offer advice on how to make it more successful on portals. I do this in return for a small % of the backend royalties and my advice should pay for itself in increased sales. Please let me know if you are interested in using this excellent service.

P.S. if you are part of the XNA Creator’s Club/App Hub, please keep an eye out for my first XBLIG, Holiday Bonus, which I’ll be submitting for review very soon. Hopefully you can review it for me as thanks for the info in this article :-)

2010 Review and 2011 Goals

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

About this time of year I like to review the goals I set for myself in the current year and think about my goals for the next year. So here’s a rundown:

2010 Review

Here’s what happened to my 2010 goals:

1) Finish recently started secret BFG project and watch it make tons of money. (This project turned out to be My Tribe on Facebook and I can’t comment on it’s financial performance.)

2) Release a top 10 download title. (Unfortunately this title was cancelled so BFG could use my team and I on My Tribe, it’s unlikely to ever be finished, which is a shame because it was turning out very nicely.)

3) Get married (Yep, did this on July 5th on a beach in Vancouver :-) )

4) Complete 9 more toastmasters speeches so I get the competent communicator award. (I did speech number 6 and then took a break from Toastmasters due to be overwhelmed with stuff. I’m aiming to go back through, see 2011 goals below.)

5) Get a Canadian driving license (Passed with flying colours.)

6) Build up my Aikido club, get some decent mats, and become profitable as a club. (Built up the club to 5 regular members and the venue got some decent mats, still not profitable though.)

7) Build up my health and fitness more. (Did tons of walking and also the Grouse Grind several times plus a week-long Aikdio seminar. Definitely felt fit this summer.)

8 ) Improve life work balance. (I took 2 weeks unpaid vacation so I could spend it with my family and I didn’t stay late at work much, although I did quite a few after work social/networking events. When I’m Indie again in 2011, my life work balance will improve a ton.)

9) Sort out my looming tax situation. (Did both Canadian and UK tax returns and managed to pay a huge unexpected Canadian tax bill – it wasn’t pleasant, but it’s done now.)

Based on my own calculations I’d say I had about a 70% success rate in meeting my goals, which isn’t bad.

I also did a whole bunch of other stuff I’m proud of including:

- Saved up enough money to go Indie again in 2011, yeah! This is as a result of careful budgeting, getting a $500 discount on my rent, and Helen (my wife) getting a job later in the year.
- Co-created the Vancouver Indie Meetup group and made a ton of amazing friends.
- Learnt a ton about Facebook game instrumentation and metrics. Also learned some interesting new ways of thinking about business.
- Converted some of my existing IP to XBLIG in only two weeks! (it’s due out soon)
- Competed in several game jams to make mini-games.
- Learned XNA and got a test game running on my Xbox
- Gained over 30% net profit in my first 6 months trading on the Stock Market.
- Hosted a week-long Aikido seminar in Vancouver.
- Did the Grouse Grind in under an hour.
- Drove the family to Osoyoos (the only Desert in Canada) for a vacation.
- Had a weekend honeymoon sans children on Bowen Island.
- Improved my acoustic guitar playing a lot and learned the basics of slide guitar.
- Cobbled together the money to pay an unexpected $16,000 tax bill!
- Finished my orthodontic treatment! My braces are off but I have to wear a retainer for a while.
- Had some mercury amalgam fillings removed (3 down, 3 to go)

2011 Goals

So then, here are my 2011 goals:

1) Have great fun making Indie games for the entire year.
2) Do some design consultancy for backend royalties. (contact me if you are interested)
3) Make at least $100K (I’ll aim relatively low for my first year back in the driving seat).
4) Build up the Vancouver Indie Meetup into something even more awesome.
5) Finish my Toastmasters CC manual (4 speeches to go) – I took a break when things got crazy earlier in the year.
6) Keep fit and beat my Grouse Grind time of 56 mins.
7) Go to Hawaii
8 ) Have an awesome Spring/Summer with my family in Vancouver and go on some roadtrips.
9) Move back to the UK and have some money in the bank when I arrive.

2010 Mistakes

It’s also good to review what mistakes I made in 2010 to make sure that I have learned from them. I made some pretty big ones:

- My dad was very ill over Christmas 2009 (he had been in ill health for years). Luckily he recovered and I thought about flying back to the UK to see him to spend some quality time with him in case he got very ill again and didn’t make it. But I didn’t go because we were crunching at Big Fish on a Facebook game and I didn’t have any spare money for flights. In late March he suddenly became seriously ill again and I flew over to see him and managed to speak to him for a minute or so before he passed away on March 27th. Apart from the whole experience being extremely traumatic, I deeply regret not following my instincts and going over to spend time with him earlier in the year. Jobs come and go, and you can pay back credit cards, but you can’t bring back a loved one for one last conversation. That’s the lesson I learned, real hard. Don’t make the same mistake that I did or you’ll regret it forever.

- On a similar note I realised after my dad passed away that I should be spending more time with my boys and guiding them along as they were having troubles with various things. I tried to negotiate working part time at Big Fish during the summer, but they wouldn’t allow it, so in the end I took two weeks of unpaid vacation (the max allowed by my contract) in a single block at the end of the summer. Perhaps I should have fought harder, or even just quit, but it would have really screwed up our finances that had just taken a beating from a massive unexpected tax bill. I just really needed the time off to spend with my family and to process my emotions. As a result I’ve mostly locked my thoughts and emotions in (not healthy) so I can deal with them in January when I’m not at work all day. There may have been a better way I could have dealt with all this, although at least I did lots of acoustic guitar playing which has helped. Also I believe I can spend even more time with my boys being a good influence and teaching them stuff, so I’ll need to really get on the case with that in 2011.

Well, there you go, two very personal mistakes that stand out the most to me. There have been tons of others too I’m sure, but I prefer to focus on all the stuff I did achieve in 2010, especially with my father passing away early on, as that rather “knocked me for six”.

So what about your goals for 2011, and your successes and mistakes in 2010? Please let me know!

Coffee Forever – new minigame

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

CoffeeForever
Title screen image by Matthew Laurenson

Last weekend I took part in Ludum Dare 19 which is a 48 hour game jam. However, I started pretty late and only had 7 hours to make a game!

The theme of the competition was “discovery” and my wife and I came up with an idea of having a person clearing away their mental fog by seeking out cups of coffee, and avoiding spikes. I used my BlitzMax minigame framework to make the game, and also I made all the content (crappy art and basic sound effects) in 7 hours flat (including a brief lunch break). Then after I submitted it to the competition page (please vote for it!), I spent a further 3 hours plugging in a title page made by Matthew Laurenson and tarted up the graphics and added some more sounds/polish.

I’m pretty pleased with the final result considering it was a 10 hour game.

You can download it for:
Windows (1.78Mb .zip)
Mac (1.95Mb .dmg – Intel only)

Of course there’s more I could have done with it given more time, such as made the character get the jitters if you drink the coffee too quickly, but the nature of game jams is that you have to severely limit scope in order to finish. Those of you who’ve done a game jam before will know what I mean :-) If you haven’t done one, I really recommend it. There’s a Global Gam Jam coming up in Jan 2011, check it out.

Anyway, give it a go and let me know what you think! Thanks.