Archive for the ‘Plans’ Category

2017 Review and 2018 Goals

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

I make a habit of defining some annual goals and reviewing my progress. This year we also shipped a game in December and so it was a really good time to take stock and plan ahead for 2018.

I’ve been musing what game to make next over the Christmas period and this week I’ve been talking to other developers of casual games to see what I can find out about the current state of the market. Next week I’ll be talking to publishers and investors to see if I can get some part-funding for my next game (or the one after that), as well as chatting to trusted friends to get feedback on my plans.

Anyway here are last year’s goals and I’ve reviewed them below as well as stating my 2018 goals.

Summary

Basically I just worked on Shadowhand for the whole year. It got done, but it meant a lot of other goals fell to the wayside. Also we paid a good salary for 8 months, but then ran out of money for the last 4 months, which isn’t great. Though now the game has launched we are at least getting a bit more money in. I should probably do a proper postmortem of Shadowhand at some point to go into more detail.

Also my company had the lowest earnings since 2012. But this is to be expected because we haven’t released any new games since 2015 and have been coasting off past revenue, which has gone very low now.

The big positive for the year is the fact that Shadowhand got released (later than planned in the less than ideal month of December), but it had a pretty good launch in the current climate for indie games, and people like it a lot. I think it’ll do reasonably well in the long term, we’ll see!

2017 Work Goals

1) Ship Shadowhand (SUCCESS! We shipped on Dec 7th)
2) Shadowhand makes a $100,000 profit on top of the investment. (FAILED. It hasn’t had long enough to generate that kind of revenue. Hopefully it will achieve this goal in 2018, but it’s not certain.)
3) Ship some Shadowhand DLC or start work on a related game (FAILED. There’s been no time to do this yet.)
4) Get the second part of the Video Game Tax Relief for Shadowhand. (SUCCESS! This was an easy win tbh, I just had to do some accounting. The VGTR is *really* useful and has helped keep us afloat whilst we finished the game.)
5) Make $150,000 net revenue from all my games/tax relief/investment. (FAILED. Nowhere near. As I said above this has been our worst year for revenue since 2012. It shouldn’t be hard to do better in 2018 though.)

Success rate = 2/5 = 40%. Yeah not great. If we’d shipped earlier in the year then maybe some/all of those goals could have been met. Maybe they’ll happen in 2018 though.

Stretch Goals:
1) Make $250,000 net revenue. (FAILED. Pahahaha!)

2017 Personal Goals

1) Make another mortgage lump sum overpayment (FAILED: I could have done this but it would have been irresponsible and left us further up the creek without a paddle :-) )
2) Do a gamejam (FAILED: Nope, just solidly working on Shadowhand. I could have done this during the Christmas holiday period, but I was just too tired/burned out from shipping Shadowhand in December.)
3) Go on holiday in Scotland with my wife (SUCCESS! We went to Scotland and Orkney for 6 days and it was really awesome.)
4) Host a successful Aikido summer school in my town. (SUCCESS! The summer school went well. It was also the 20th anniversary of the Aikido club that I run.)
5) Make 6 pieces of art from scratch. (FAILED: I didn’t make any unique pieces of art but I edited a TON of art for Shadowhand and made promotional artwork etc. so I certainly got plenty of photoshop practice. There are 1650 graphic files for Shadowhand!)
6) Get back into playing the guitar. (FAILED: I played a bit here and there but nothing significant, just too busy with Shadowhand)

Success rate = 2/6 = 33%. Not great but at least the two goals I achieved were big and important. I basically spent a whole year in service of finishing Shadowhand but in 2018 I want to get back to a more balanced lifestyle.

Stretch Goals:
1) Pay off my mortgage (FAILED: Nope, nowhere near)

Bonus Points

- Generally I’ve had a positive year and enjoyed working on Shadowhand. I’ve learned a TON about game design which I can put to use in future games. After a busy summer I managed to lock down multiple months in which I didn’t go anywhere or do anything except for work on the game, and that increased period of focus was very good for getting the game done to a high standard.
- Shadowhand got nominated for FIVE TIGA awards, which was pretty cool, though sadly we didn’t win in any of those categories. Oh well.
- I launched Spring Bonus on Steam and also sold some keys to GreenManGaming. Now I have a bundle of 4 games on Steam.
- Holiday Bonus gold hit $100K lifetime net revenue. Not bad for a 11 year old game that I made in 3 months.
- Went to a great Aikido course in the summer in the Lake District.
- Had a decent Christmas break with my family and played some great games.
- I’m still in business! 13 years now.

Mistakes

- I said last year that Shadowhand was overscoped and thus has taken too long to finish and that continued into this year. We ended up making a pretty long game which is great value for money but tbh it could probably have been HALF as long and still people would have loved it and it may well have made the same amount of money but taken less time to develop (maybe not half the time, but still, quicker).
- Didn’t go on a family holiday. At least I had a holiday with my wife. Our kids are 16 and 14 now and they are at the age where they are permanently plugged into electronics and talking to their friends so they don’t even seem too bothered about going on holiday, plus family holidays are stressful in my experience. However, it would probably still be a good idea to go on one in 2018 if we can afford it because time is running out in terms of them leaving home soonish.
- Entering the IGF. We entered Regency Solitaire in 2015, then Shadowhand two years running and didn’t get any kind of mention. Tbh, they are just the wrong types of games for the IGF’s categories. So one could view it as a waste of time and money, but many influential people (IGF judges) played Shadowhand and that may have helped spread the word via Twitter at launch.
- I hurt my sacroiliac joint in January 2017 by crawling under my desk to switch on some plug sockets. It was AGONY for days but I hoped it would clear up soon as other injuries have done in the past. Unfortunately it was very painful for months and affected how much I could work (contributing to Shadowhand’s delay) and isn’t great for my mental wellbeing. It’s not as bad now but it is still lingering a full year later. It’s literally a huge pain in the ass. You might think this is not a “mistake”, it’s just something that happened, but I feel it was because I spent too much time sitting at my desk in the weeks running up to the injury and if I’d taken better care of myself, it may not have happened. I realy hope it clears up in 2018 as it is becoming tiresome.

2018 Work Goals

1) Shadowhand hits $150K gross on Steam. This should be totally doable.
2) I secure some funding for a new game (just for assets, I can self-fund the coding, probably)
3) I ship a new game. Most likely reusing either Regency or Shadowhand engine.
4) I stay in business until the end of 2018.

That’s it. Keeping it simple. I want to make stuff fast using existing tech in order to consolidate my finances after a long stretch of self-indulgent overscoped game making with Shadowhand.

Stretch goals:
1) Shadowhand hits $250K gross on Steam and other channels (e.g. casual sites, bundles, retail, whatever). This isn’t a giant leap, it’s definitely doable.
2) I ship a second game. Again reusing existing engine (either solitaire or match 3) or possible a small “indie” game for fun. Again, this is also definitely doable if I control scope and stay focused.

2018 Personal Goals

1) Get my fitness and health back to previous levels. I need to do lots of stretches, walking, standing desk and more to help my get my SI joint functional without pain again.
2) Have a “staycation” with my wife. A week at home just chilling, preferably when the kids are on a school trip.
3) Go on a vacation with my wife and kids. Maybe to Austria as we have friends there with a flat we can stay in.
4) Get back into playing guitar.
5) Make at least 6 pieces of art.
6) Do a gamejam

Stretch Goals:
1) Pay our joint account back some of the money we have loaned my company in recent years. I’ll put a figure of £5000 on this.
2) Make another mortgage lump sum overpayment at some point in the year. Minimum £1000.

2016 Review and 2017 Goals

Friday, December 30th, 2016

Blimey, it really doesn’t feel like a year since I posted my 2015 review but somehow that time has passed in a flash!

Summary

Er, I have mostly failed at achieving my goals this year because the primary focus has been working on Shadowhand and it’s taken a lot longer than planned. I know why it’s taken longer (overscoping, complex art requirements, and some slow patches) and that has resulted in me putting a lot of my other goals on hold. Thus I pretty much need to copy paste my 2016 goals as my 2017 goals! :-D

That makes my year sound like a failure, but it’s not because Shadowhand is going very well and it’s enjoyable to work on. I really think it’ll be our best game to date. Our finances are definitely stretched a bit thin as we finish off the game, but we have managed to pay ourselves (Helen and I) a good monthly salary for the 3rd year in a row!

Also despite launching no new titles in 2016, Grey Alien Games turned over in excess of $100,000 from back catalogue titles, investment, tax relief etc. Furthermore, because of Brexit, each of those $USDs are actually worth more £GBP now!

To be honest, the very fact we are still in business a year later and are about to launch a new game is a success in the current climate of indie game development…

2016 Work Goals

1) Ship Shadowhand (sub goals of continue to enjoy working on it, and make it really damn good) (FAILED: It has not shipped but it’s pretty close now. I have enjoyed working on it and I believe it’s my best work, so the sub goals were a success.)

2) Shadowhand makes a healthy profit on top of the investment. Let’s put a number of $100,000 on that. (FAILED: It’s not out yet!)

3) Ship some Shadowhand DLC or start work on a related game (sequel/prequel/game using same engine) (FAILED: Although we have actually done some preliminary planning for a couple of different games using the Regency/Shadowhand engine.)

4) Regency Solitaire gets some kind of IGF and/or BAFTA mention (I have entered into both) (FAILED: Sadly this was not to be, though I have higher hopes for Shadowhand.)

5) Get the British game cultural tax credit thing for Shadowhand. Could be about £10000. (SUCCESS! Phew, one success, even if it was only an accounting success. But business cash flow is important and this helps a lot.)

Success rate = 1/5 = 20%. I guess setting multiple goals based on shipping a game on time isn’t a good idea :-D Also I shouldn’t set goals based on external bodies giving us an award as that is largely out of our control.

Stretch Goals:
1) Make $200,000 net revenue from all my games. (FAILED: Though as I’ve mentioned above, we made over $100,000. If we’d shipped Shadowhand I think this goal would have been in the bag.)

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. (SUCCESS: Yep, done. Having a five figure mortgage feels like the 1980s except interest rates are *way* lower. For me it’s a nice psychological thing to have a five figure mortgage as it somehow seems more managable to me.)

2) Do a gamejam (can be an online one or an in-person one) (FAILED: Well there’s about 24 hours left in 2016, so I could try, but I think I’ll roll this goal on to 2017 instead. I love gamejams, but I just couldn’t justify spending the time on one this year whilst still working on Shadowhand.)

3) Go on holiday in Scotland with my wife (maybe with the kids but maybe not) (FAILED: This didn’t happen. In fact we didn’t even go on any holidays due to working on the game. I will need to fix this big time in 2017 or I’ll be in deep trouble.)

4) Continue to improve my art skills and make 6 pieces of art from scratch. (SUCCESS: One thing I’ve done this year is a lot of art direction including making mockups, and also a *ton* of art editing, by which I mean getting assets from the artists and tweaking them until I’m happy to plug them into the game. I’ve also made 4 pieces of art from scratch which are in my Flash mini adventure game called Star Seer. I know that’s not 6 as per my goal, but it’s pretty close and the sheer volume of other art-related stuff I’ve done more than makes up for it.)

5) I can’t announce this goal yet, but it’s quite exciting! (SUCCESS: This goal was actually “Do a really great speech at GDC which loads of people tell me was awesome”. Well, I knocked that one out of the park. My talk (originally titled “The No Hit Wonder”) went really well at GDC, and then later in the year was put on youtube where it has amassed an incredible 118,000 views so far. It seems like most days I get a message from someone who found my talk inspiring, which is pretty cool.)

Success rate = 3/5 = 60%. Not stellar, but I’m happy with it.

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.

All FAILED.

Bonus Points
- We exhibited Shadowhand at the PC Gamer Weekender in London, and also at Rezzed in London, plus I showed it to some journalists at GDC. This resulted in some coverage from PC Gamer, RPS, The Guardian and Eurogamer! All good stuff.
- Helen and I spoke at Rezzed and Develop about working together on Regency Solitaire and Shadowhand. Helen also did a speech at Wordplay London.
- Regency Solitaire was in a Humble Indie Bundle, which was pretty cool. It brought in some cash at a much needed time and many more people got to check out the game which will hopefully mean they might buy Shadowhand when it launches.
- Through a weird fluke I was able to launch Holiday Bonus GOLD on Steam without having to go through Greenlight. It launched on the 27th of December as it was all a bit last minute. This game is technically 10 years old (though the GOLD update was made in 2012), so it really is the gift that keeps on giving!
- I managed to enjoy the sun this summer, went to some great Aikido courses, listened to lots of music, read lots of books, played lots of games, spent time with my family. It’s been a good year!

Mistakes
- Well the major one is overscoping the design for Shadowhand and spending way too long editing/fixing the art. However, this may not prove to be a mistake if the extra work pays off in terms of people recognising and enjoying the effort we have put into it. But generally, if you take too long on a game, you probably won’t see a return on the investment. It’s a common indie mistake. Even with the overscoped design, I think I should have hired some kind of art “fixer” to handle all the art assets so that I could focus on the coding, although I have learned a lot in the process and enjoyed quite a lot of it.
- Not going on holiday with my family. Because we have a publisher for Shadowhand and because it’s late, I feel under constant pressure to get the game done and not do anything else that might delay the launch. At one point we thought we might launch in the autumn so we didn’t go on a summer holiday, but the reality is we probably could have gone because the game has been delayed further anyway.
- I’ve come to the conclusion that events like exhibiting at shows or going to GDC ruin my productivity for a while afterwards. Far from being a “break” from development, they basically interupt development and I find it hard to get going again afterwards. Post GDC jetlag sucks, but even for UK events I feel really knackered afterwards for days. Of course there are plenty of benefits from attending these events, and I still believe they are importantant but I need to factor in recovery to my schedule accordingly.
- Probably we should have done some MORE marketing for Shadowhand in the second half of the year such as go to PAX, or arrange a US press tour for early 2017. However the publisher has a fixed budget and we have already done several shows, so unless we are willing to spend our own cash on more events (which we can’t afford to do), it’s not going to happen. At least we’ve made several developer vlogs and will be making a bunch more in the run up to launch, which is something we can do for no cost and without being exhausted afterwards :-)

2017 Work Goals

1) Ship Shadowhand (sub goals of continue to enjoy working on it, and make it really damn good)
2) Shadowhand makes a $100,000 profit on top of the investment.
3) Ship some Shadowhand DLC or start work on a related game (sequel/prequel/new game using same engine)
4) Get the second part of the Video Game Tax Relief for Shadowhand. This should be quite a lot, more than last year, and will be very helpful for cash flow.
5) Make $150,000 net revenue from all my games/tax relief/investment. I’ve been very close to this before, so I believe it’s achievable if we ship Shadowhand plus one more game.

Stretch Goals:
1) Make $250,000 net revenue.

2017 Personal Goals

1) Make another mortgage lump sum overpayment at some point in the year.
2) Do a gamejam (can be an online one or an in-person one or just an ad-hoc one I do on my own)
3) Go on holiday in Scotland with my wife (maybe with the kids but maybe not)
4) Host a successful Aikido summer school in my town.
5) Make 6 pieces of art from scratch.
6) Get back into playing the guitar.

Stretch Goals:
1) Pay off my mortgage (or be in a position where I could do that)

2015 Review and 2016 Goals

Saturday, 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 its 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!