2015 Review and 2016 Goals

January 9th, 2016

Right then, how did I get on with my 2015 goals and what am I planning for 2016?
Here’s last year’s post for reference.

Summary

Overall I’m happy with how the year turned out.

Regency Solitaire has had a great reception and done pretty well financially. We didn’t ship a second casual game in 2015, but we made good progress with Shadowhand (which is more of an “indie” game). Also I did lots of bonus achievements (see list below) and didn’t make any big mistakes (as far as I know).

As for personal goals, I did pretty well there due to keeping them simple and focused.

So yeah, overall good, roll on 2016!

2015 Work Goals

1) Ship second solitaire game before the summer (first one is due out in Jan 2015) (FAILED: Totally didn’t do this. The plan was to make a quick solitaire game for the casual market using the Regency Solitaire engine but instead we are making a bigger game for the “indie” market e.g. Steam and direct sales market.)

2) Make $200,000 net revenue from my solitaire games. (FAILED: Regency Solitaire did pretty well, but not $200,000 well, and there was no second solitaire game released to help boost the figures.)

3) Successfully get the new cultural tax credit for Regency Solitaire + the new game (so I’ll get back 25% of salaries paid from April 2014-Mar 2015) = £15,000 (~$23K) (SUCCESS (in theory): Our application was approved by the BFI and we’ve sent off all the accounts to HMRC and are waiting for them to send the money. So unless something goes wrong, that’s in the bag. It has taken a lot longer than we expected though.)

4) Do a game jam. (SUCCESS: I took part in One Game a Month again in 2015 so I shipped 12 games, some commercial and some free. I wasn’t sure if the free ones counted as doing a game jam (even though they were often intense projects that lasted for a couple of days), so I asked on Twitter for people to suggest some game jam themes. I chose Ryan Clark‘s theme of “Seer” and made a game called Star Seer.)

Either:
5a) Ship another casual game, either match-3 or solitaire, in late summer/autumn. Got tons of ideas, it’s just a case of getting them out the door.
OR
5b) Mostly complete (75% minimum) a new indie game (9-12 months dev time).
(PART SUCCESS: We didn’t make another casual game but we teamed up with indie publisher, Positech Games, and began work on Shadowhand. It’s progressing well, though I wouldn’t say we are 75% complete, more like 50-60%.)

Stretch goals:
6) if 5a) then ship another casual game in time for Christmas, possibly Holiday Bonus 2.(FAILED: Nope, didn’t happen.)

7) Do another game jam.(NOT SURE: Er, I didn’t do an official game jam, just 12 games as part of #1gam, so I guess that’s probably a fail.)

Success rate = 2.5/5 = 50% (Note that part-successes are counted as 0.5 and I have ignored the optional and stretch goals) This isn’t too bad. We had a good year with Regency Solitaire and Shadowhand is going well, plus I did #1gam, so I’m happy. $200,000 would have been nice though…

2015 Personal Goals

1) Go on a non-UK family holiday for at least a week. If I don’t do this my wife will probably kill me. (SUCCESS: Well actually I think it was for 6 days not a week, but it’s close enough. We went to France and it was nice!)

2) Buy a new guitar that I’ve been hankering after, get back into practicing, and do a blues gig.(FAILED: Aww. Well I had promised myself a fancy guitar for when I finished Regency Solitaire, but when it was done, I just didn’t feel like spending the money! I’ve hardly been practicing this year and didn’t do a gig, so that’s a bit lame.)

3) Do something cool for my 40th birthday.(SUCCESS: Yep! I stayed in a fancy Georgian hotel in Bath with my wife, went shopping for old coins, and had a posh lunch at the Pump Rooms with friends (the bill was :-O). Then we stayed in Thornbury castle (in the gatehouse actually) and had a baronial dinner. On the way home we visited a location that featured in Regency Solitaire, which was pretty cool.)

4) Get at least one of my students through their 2nd Dan Aikido grading. This is, of course, quite a lot dependent on them.(SUCCESS: Yep, he did great in fact. Also another student got 1st Dan.)

Success rate = 3/4 = 75% I’m happy with this. I kept it simple and completed most of them.

Bonus Points

It’s not all about the goals because sometimes cool unexpected things happen. I already made a blog post about Grey Alien Games’ 2015 Achievements, and I’ve listed the non-goal-related achievements here along with some personal achievements:

- The Android port of Titan Attacks which I coded launched in the Humble Bundle and sold 80,000 copies. Pretty neat.
- Regency Solitaire launched on Steam! It got through Greenlight and has done OK on there. This also meant we got some mainstream press which was cool.
- We got a publishing deal with Positech Games for Shadowhand. They are funding it and handling the marketing, which is rad.
- We exhibited Shadowhand at EGX in cosplay as a highwayman and highwaywoman. It was tiring but fun!
- Spooky Bonus launched on Steam! It took nearly a year to get through Greenlight. It’s not a hit on there, like it was on the casual portals, but it’s still nice to be on Steam.
- Regency Solitaire got mentioned in quite a few mainstream GOTY lists, which was really nice. I feel like 2015 was the year we finally received some kind of recognition for what we have been doing all these years.
- I did #1gam and shipped 12 commercial games/demos/free games. I love doing #1gam though at times it can be stressful when there are other deadlines too.
- I paid my wife and I a proper salary all year long for the second year in a row. We haven’t really had any financial worries all year which is fantastic. Long may it continue!
- I helped organise a two day Indie Game Conference in London which had some fantastic speakers.
- I didn’t get distracted with too many low priority game dev/biz dev tasks (er, apart from #1gam, but that’s for personal growth). I was pretty much focused on Regency Solitaire marketing and getting it on Steam, and making Shadowhand.
- I made a German retail deal for Regency Solitaire. I’m looking forward to seeing it in a box!
- I played quite a lot of games on Desktop and console, including Dragon Age Inquisition on PS4, which was very enjoyable and good for research of course! ;-)
- I feel in good health and my Aikido is going well.
- I’ve read some good books about game design and art this year.

Mistakes

Looking back I don’t feel I made any major mistakes this year. Maybe I’m getting the hang of things finally! ;-) But there were some areas of improvement:

- We tried a lot of marketing for Regency Solitaire early in the year but didn’t get very far. Once it came out on Steam people took a lot more notice, as if Steam is some kind of “validation” for indie games, which of course it isn’t. So we did another round of marketing but because we are relative noobs at marketing indie games I don’t think we did a great job (in the casual market, the portals do all the marketing for you to their existing customers, so we never needed to do anything). To be honest, we should have probably hired a PR company to do the legwork and leverage their contacts.
- Regency Solitaire, though much loved, is a bit of niche game, and that’s pretty obvious when I look at it’s sales on Steam (which are low) compared to sales on casual portals (which are a lot higher). That’s why we’ve tried to make Shadowhand have a broader appeal but without losing the unique vibe we think we can bring to games.
- I slacked off a bit at various times during the first half of the year before we started work on Shadowhand, mostly because the next project wasn’t finalised yet, and just because after working on a game for a year you kinda burn out a bit.
- I did a lot of research and pitched a game idea at Positech Games which got turned down. So in theory that was lost time, though I enjoyed the process and learned from it. Luckily, Shadowhand was the second pitch, so it all worked out in the end.
- I got stressed because I found out some other devs had copied various aspects of my games, sometimes really blantantly. However, I don’t want to go into now as it’s best left behind me as I move forward.
- I probably should have tried to go on another family holiday or gone on more days out. You can never really do enough of this but balancing it with work (and sanity) is hard.
- I wanted to pay a small lump sum off our mortgage, but we didn’t make enough money to do that. Hopefully we will be able to do that in 2016 due to Shadowhand!

2016 Work Goals

1) Ship Shadowhand (sub goals of continue to enjoy working on it, and make it really damn good)
2) Shadowhand makes a healthy profit on top of the investment. Let’s put a number of $100,000 on that.
3) Ship some Shadowhand DLC or start work on a related game (sequel/prequel/game using same engine)
4) Regency Solitaire gets some kind of IGF and/or BAFTA mention (I have entered into both)
5) Get the British game cultural tax credit thing for Shadowhand. Could be about £10000.

Stretch Goals:
1) Make $200,000 net revenue from all my games.

2016 Personal Goals

1) Get my mortgage under £100,000 before I’m 41 in the summer. This should be pretty easy tbh with a small overpayment, but it’ll be a nice milestone.
2) Do a gamejam (can be an online one or an in-person one)
3) Go on holiday in Scotland with my wife (maybe with the kids but maybe not)
4) Continue to improve my art skills and make 6 pieces of art from scratch.
5) I can’t announce this goal yet, but it’s quite exciting!

Stretch Goals:
1) Pay off my mortgage (or be in a position where I could do that, but for tax purposes it may be sensible not to do that in one go…)
2) Go on another holiday with my wife (probably better take the kids on this one too!)
3) Make more art, let’s say 6 more for a total of 12 pieces. The equivalent of one a month.
4) Get back into playing guitar and play at least one song at a public gig.

How was your 2015? Have a great 2016!

How do you manage your endless task list?

January 1st, 2016

What do you do to manage your time and the billion tasks that life seems to generates? Got any tips/tricks/tools?

Because I run my own business, have a family, and run an Aikido club I have to track:
- game dev-related tasks for the current project
- biz dev tasks
- personal tasks including Aikido
- general household/family tasks.

Here’s what I currently do, and it seems to work quite well, though I’m always interested in optimising:

Current game

For the current game I’m working on, I use a giant Excel spreadsheet for the main tasks, and a mini todo list (in Notepad) of my current sub-tasks/notes. Plus I have a backlog of “nice to have but will probably never add” features.

I know some people probably use online tools but I don’t need to collaborate so it would just slow me down, especially if my Internet connection was being crap, which happens reasonably often.

Backlogs

For biz dev I keep a backlog (in Notepad) of tasks I could do if I could be bothered, but they often aren’t that important. But I have to note them down just for my sanity. It keeps my head clear so I can stay focused on the priorities.

I keep similar lists for personal/fun things, household improvements etc.

Every so often I review these lists and delete tasks that have now become irrelevant and maybe move some of the tasks onto my main to do list (see below)

Main TO DO

For my main day to day important biz/personal/household tasks I used to just keep them on a prioritised todo list, noting deadlines if applicable. But now I’m trying a new method where I basically schedule those tasks on a calendar because I read that it’s less stressful than just having a giant to do list.

If I fail to do a certain task on a specific day I’ll just reschedule it, or maybe move it to a backlog or delete it (sometimes after delaying a task for a while you realise it’s not that important after all – yay!)

Themed Days

Also I’ve tried to set up “themed” days; so like Monday is for biz dev/admin + planning, and the rest of the week is solid game dev work (and I’ll probably sub-divide that into coding days and design/communicating with artists days). Sunday will be for personal/household-related tasks.

I’ve done something like this before and it worked well but recently I fell into a kind of “fire fighting” mode which just leaves me feeling stressed and like I’m not making progress on all the important things, so I wanted to fix that.

Free Time

I want to try to keep my evenings and Saturday free for spending time with the family, practicing Aikido, and self-education (reading, playing guitar, making art etc.) This might go out the window a bit when I’m doing short-term crunches for deadlines but generally I think it’s a good idea to try to stop working at some point! I’m sure my publisher disagrees ;-)

Email

I don’t use my email program to hold tasks. I like to have a zero inbox. I also don’t leave my email program open and I have turned off notifications. Emails can be very distracting when you are trying to focus on a task, so I’d rather be in control of when I check and process them.

I also unsubscribed from a zillion email newsletters and social media notifications a few years ago and don’t get too much spam. Plus I try to keep replies quick. However, I always reply to customers but I ignore all of those “we can promote your game/buy our mobile ad system” emails and other similar time-wasters.

So yeah. That’s how I pretty much manage things. How about you?

2015 Achievements

December 31st, 2015


Photo credit: Jason Alan Dewey

Grey Alien Games had a great 2015! We released Regency Solitaire, Titan Attacks mobile, started work on Shadowhand, and some other cool things happened…

January: Regency Solitaire launched

On January 2nd we launched Regency Solitaire for PC/Mac on our website, and then it was released on several casual download portals shortly afterwards. Casual gamers loved it and gave it really great reviews, and it sold pretty well too.

Our friends at Doll Divine also made a cool “Dress Up” version of the game which you can play here.

We even did a deal with a German CD-ROM company who have released a retail version of it.

As per usual for casual games we found it hard to get mainstream press but we were pleased to get a write up on Kill Screen.

March: Titan Attacks mobile launched in the Humble Bundle

I ported Titan Attacks to Android for our friends at Puppy Games and it turned out well. It was a very faithful port (I even fixed some bugs in the original game!) with some necessary UI/controls changes for mobile and it ran well even on very old phones.

It launched in Humble PC & Android Bundle 12 and sold 80,000 copies!

May: Regency Solitaire released on Steam!

We put Regency Solitaire on Steam Greenlight back in January and it got Greenlit reasonably quickly. Then we added achievements and trading cards and launched it in May the same week as The Witcher 3, which in hindsight…

Anyway, it was a pretty big deal for us to get a game on Steam and that also meant we suddenly got lots of press from the likes of Giant Bomb, Rock Paper Shotgun, Boing Boing, indiegames.com and more!

We even got a mention by Felicia Day on Twitter and in the The Metro newspaper!

The game has a 96% positive rating on Steam at the moment and people seem to love it. However, it hasn’t sold as well on there compared to the casual download portals, which is probably due to audience type and visibility. Still we are pleased to have it on there for sure and are hopeful that the long tail will be good.

June: Started work on Shadowhand

We pitched an idea for a card-battling adventure game called Shadowhand to indie publisher, Positech Games, and were thrilled when they offered to fund and publish it.

Positech Games’s owner, Cliff Harris, is a pretty cool guy who has been in the business for a long time and he created hits such as Democracy 3 and Gratuitous Space Battles. He also published the recent, and high-successful, Big Pharma by Tim Wicksteed. So we know we are in good hands.

We’ve been hard at work on Shadowhand for the second half of 2015 and expect to release it before the summer in 2016.

September: Exhibited at EGX

Positech Games arranged for us to exhibit Shadowhand at EGX in Birmingham. So we spent 4 days cosplaying as highway robbers and demoing our game.

It was an exhausting time but the super-positive reception we got from players and press gave us confidence that we are on the right track with the game.

Expect to hear more about Shadowhand in 2016!

October: Spooky Bonus released on Steam

Back in 2013 I made a game called Spooky Bonus, which is actually our best-selling game ever! It was a smash hit on the casual download portals and won some awards, but it still took us a year to get Greenlit on Steam.

Anyway, I added achievements and trading cards and managed to release it before the Autumn sale. It’s got great reviews (100% positive) but isn’t a big seller on Steam, which is pretty much what I expected, but I had to try!

December: GOTY Awards!

We had a lovely surprise on 2nd December when Rock Paper Shotgun named Regency Solitaire Best Card Game of 2015. We’ve never received any kind of mainstream awards, so this was really wonderful news to us after 10 years of making games.

This was then followed by other GOTY-type mentions including the Eurogamer Editor calling Regency Solitaire his “Unsung game of 2015“, Kotaku saying they played it more than StarCraft 2, appearing in indiegames.com 2015 Staff Picks, and a nice mention on Giant Bomb.

December: #1gam

I’m a big fan of One Game a Month. In 2013 I completed 12 games and got the “high score” on the #1gam site. I took a break in 2014 to focus on Regency Solitaire, but I have taken part again this year. So far I’ve made 11 games and will finish the next one just in the nick of time.

Some highlights are:


- Jewel of Orion IV (Flash game) A remake of a space shoot ‘em up game that I started but never finished in 2004.


- Cyber Citadel XE (Flash game) An eXtended Edition of a minigame I made in 2013.


- Sky Burial (direct zip download 20Mb) A survival platformer on a randomly generated landscape being bombarded by boulders.

Conclusion

Wow, so yeah looking back, quite a lot happened: Two commercial games released, and a third started. Two Steam launches. Teaming up with Positech Games. Exhibiting Shadowhand at EGX in cosplay. Lots of mainstream press and GOTY mentions. Plus some free minigames created as part of #1gam.

2016 will be all about finishing Shadowhand and making it really good. Then if it does well we’ll probably follow up with DLC or a new game related to it in some way. I’m also going to GDC, so if you are too, say “Hi”!