Well it’s exactly 3 months since my first blog post, so I didn’t exactly get off to a flying start. However, many things have happened since then…
Easter Bonus carried on selling in April but then slowed right down (as is to be expected really). In the end it did quite well; not as well as Xmas Bonus in terms of numbers, but I still made roughly the same amount of royalties due to a better deal with the publisher. I learnt several useful things from Easter Bonus:
- Christmas Games get more downloads, and therefore more sales, than Easter Games. I feel that Easter Bonus was a better game, more polished etc, and this was reflected in the conversion rate, which was better than Xmas Bonus’s. If Easter Bonus had got the same number of downloads as Xmas Bonus, then it would have done much better.
- Some (but not all) portals are getting fed up with match-3 games and won’t accept them unless they really have something new.
- Many portals don’t want to accept seasonal games due to their limited shelf-life. This includes Real Arcade, which I was really hoping to get Easter Bonus on.
- The retro pixel-art look in Easter Bonus is not wanted by the portals (at least not for puzzle games, it may be acceptable for certain types of arcade game.) They want more “polish”. This means games need to have smooth anti-aliased graphics (cartoon, hand-drawn or pre-rendered 3D); modern graphics card effects like transparency, scaling and rotation; fancy particle effects and glows; transitions, fades and other extra little features that make a game look more “bling”.
- My marketing tactic for Easter Bonus failed. Based on sales of Xmas Bonus, I reasoned that if I got Easter Bonus on a lot of portals each making an adequate number of sales, the total sales would be significant. However, as only 3 portals accepted it, this plan failed to bear any fruit
- I paid an artist for some graphics and he did a great job. This saved me tons of time and looked way better than I could have done myself. However, I communicated with the artist by email and this took up a *lot* of time. In future I will try to communicate via Skype because talking is so much quicker than typing. It will still be worth typing up key points so that there is no misunderstanding, but the bulk of discussion doesn’t need to be typed. In fact I communicated with the musician via Skype and even helped (in a small way) to improve the music tracks live over Skype – this was a very interesting experience and has led to a good friendship with the musician.
Grey Alien BlitzMax Game Framework
During the development of Easter Bonus I was contacted by an American game producer who wanted to use my match-3 engine to make a new game (more about this later.) Originally we were going to use my BlitzPlus code and just plug in some new graphics and sounds, and do a bit more code. However, based on the ambivalent portal response towards Easter Bonus, we decided that it would be best to port the code over to Blitz Max so that I that I can use all the fancy modern graphical effects in my games that the portals want.
Rather than converting the match-3 engine immediately, I decided to do all the boring “framework” code first which would allow me to learn BlitzMax properly and to test out its capabilities. I had to go through quite a few technical minefields before I got a decent smooth timing routine that worked on a wide range of PCs. Also, I spotted quite a few bugs in BlitzMax that I had to make workarounds for (many of these bugs have now been fixed by Blitz Research.)
To help develop the framework, I incorporated it into a mini-game demo called “Attack of the Mutant Greys”. This also helped me learn how to use 32-bit .png files with an 8-bit alpha channel (for transparency etc.) I had to change from using Paint Shop Pro and Corel Paint to Gimp (which is Open Source) because the older paint programs didn’t support proper alpha channels in pngs.
After a month’s worth of problem solving and development, I realised that the framework was actually pretty damn good and I thought that people might actually be interested in buying it. So at the start of May I began selling it for $39 (£21.50). It started selling immediately and kept on selling. This was a very pleasant surprise - people clearly recognised its value from the AOTMG demo. Since then the price has gone up twice and now sits at $55 or £29.95. These price increases were made to reflect the extra features that I added to the framework. I’ll see how I get on with the $55 price as it may be too much for some customers, even though it’s worth it However, I’m loath to drop the price really, and if I do, then I may have a separate higher price for commercial users.
Sales have slowed down a bit since the initial rush, but have not stopped. This product is non-seasonal of course, so it should continue to sell. The amazing thing is, it’s generated more income than both Xmas Bonus and Easter Bonus put together!
I was initially getting people to pay via Paypal, but some potential customers expressed distrust in Paypal so I added a Share-it! payment option. This was definitely worth it as 20% of my sales have come from Share-it! Perhaps those customers would have bought from Paypal given no other option, but maybe not … who knows?
Anyway, all major work on framework is done now (with the release of V1.00). I only plan to release minor updates with fixes and other tweaks that I make to it whilst developing my next match-3 game.
Towards the end of April I was talking to a couple of forum members about making a platform game – a genre that we all love. We formed a team (with myself as the leader) and began to chuck around a few ideas. The aim is to expand my framework to have a platform game engine and related tools like a Level Editor etc. Then we’ll make a simple but good platform game and if that goes well, either enhance it or make a new one that will be commercially viable. However, with me being busy with the framework and other members being busy with their own projects, nothing much has happened yet. I would still like to make this happen, and the other team members feel the same way - so watch this space …
My Next Match-3 Game
As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve entered into a contract to produce another match-3 game using my existing match-3 engine, but done in BlitzMax instead. The game producer will be supplying all the graphics and music (made by professionals.) So far, the graphics I’ve seen are amazing - good enough for the portals, for sure! I can’t discuss the theme due to an NDA, but hopefully a demo will be ready by late July, if all goes to plan.
I only started proper full-time work on it last week, but things are going very well. It’s very easy to plug into the framework and converting the old BlitzPlus pseudo OOP code over to BlitzMax real OOP code is quite good fun.
One of the nice things about Easter Bonus was working with other people; an artist and a musician. I’m enjoying being in constant contact with the game producer for the current match-3 game. We can bounce ideas around, and I have someone I can keep showing progess to, which makes me feel good (this also happened with Xmas Bonus as the publisher (www.indiepath.com) was very helpful.) Feeling good about your work is an important motivational tool, in my opinion. So a good team, or supportive friends and family is vital.
Towards the end of May, I got a bit distracted. I’d been listening to a lot of trance music whilst programming and some forum members pointed me in the direction of some really good modern(ish) trance. I used to make techno/trance tracks years ago on the Amiga, and a few on the PC too. The thing is, I was always limited by the technology (or lack of) and so, although I enjoyed it a lot, I never really made anything that sounded “professional”. So I downloaded demos of Renoise and Fruity Loops and was amazed by what they could do and how easy it was to make professional sounding tracks.
I ended up buying Fruity Loops and really getting into it. The ability to apply filters, reverb and delay, and to automate panning, volume, filters etc. is brilliant! Then I discovered the Sytrus plugin and was gobsmacked, so I upgraded to the XXL version of Fruity Loops, which wasn’t cheap. Since then I’ve purchased a 4-octave MIDI-keyboard with 8 sliders, 8 dials and a pitch wheel (yay!) because using the PC keyboard was horrible, plus it was stifling my creativity - particularly with regard to playing chords.
The whole setup is brilliant and I love it. My first few mini-tracks mainly focused on getting the drums and build ups sounding good. Since then I’ve been focusing on chords and getting bass, chords and lead working together. I’ve made some pretty good snippets of music, if I don’t say so myself. Some of the earlier ones are in the AOTMG demo, but I feel confident in making my own music for sci-fi type games in the future. However, I probably need a lot more practice at making music for casual games, so I’m best off buying that in for now. I’m also aiming to get good enough to get some finished and polished tracks together to put on CD and/or sell on the Internet. We’ll see…