Archive for November, 2018

AdventureX game design talk

Friday, November 30th, 2018

Helen recently gave a talk on game design at AdventureX in London on Interweaving story and mechanics in Shadowhand.

It’s now available to watch on YouTube.

Here’s the outline: Using mechanics that don’t fit the world and story can frustrate players, or break their immersion. Mechanics and story must work in harmony. In this design session, Helen Carmichael (Grey Alien Games) shares how story fed into game mechanics in RPG card game Shadowhand, and how mechanics also sometimes inspired a better story.

AdventureX is the only convention dedicated to narrative-driven games. AdventureX 2018 was run in partnership with the British Library as part of International Games Week.

Did the last game you shipped cover its costs?

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

I recently ran a poll on Twitter asking game devs if their last game covered its costs including a nominal salary for themselves, and you can see the results in the above image. You might want to click on the link and read the Twitter thread because there were some interesting replies.

I then asked a follow up question to find out what people thought the main reason was that they didn’t make a profit, with examples such as:
– Spent too much
– Spent too long
– Platform crowded
– No one wanted game
– Game was bad
– Marketing failed

Flaws in the poll

The poll was just meant to be a casual poll for fun and so it may be flawed in the following ways, so please take it with a pinch of salt:
1) I should have added a “Just show me the results” option so that people didn’t pick something random just to see the results.
2) I could have requested that only full-time devs answer because many hobbyists answered and I suspect the results are likely to be different for hobbyists due to their potentially low costs. Still, the combined result is interesting.
3) I’m suspicious that many devs don’t really calculate their costs properly including a nominal salary for themselves and so may have chosen “break even” or “profit” when that’s not really true.
4) No time scales were specified such as launch month, or first year, or lifetime etc. I personally know that over many years a game can move from a loss into a decent profit.


Despite the possible flaws in the poll, it looks like just over a third (38%) of devs broke even or made a profit. This is actually WAY higher than I was expecting because – based on various discussions I’ve had with people over the years – I had a figure in mind of maybe 10% making a profit, and then only a much smaller percentage making a significant profit. Though admittedly the figure of 10% I had in mind was for full-time devs, so it’s possible that hobbyists are skewing the poll towards profit, or just that I was too pessimistic!

New indie devs might find the results shocking (62% of games making a loss) but I actually found them to be positive because I believe that I can make games that break even or make a profit in the future as I’ve done it many times before. Although my last game, Shadowhand, is the one that has made the biggest loss so far, simply because it took too long to make and therefore my nominal salary is huge. My current game, Ancient Enemy has a much more ambitious schedule and lower budget in an effort to break even sooner. We’ll find out if that worked in early 2019!

I also suspect that ongoing overcrowding of the market will contribute towards more games making a loss in the coming years unless more devs switch to lower budgets, faster dev cycles and maybe even higher prices! The race to the bottom of indie game prices has been a big concern of mine for years ever since I saw it happen to the casual download market in the late 2000s.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the poll. Let me know what you’d have chosen in the comments.

Ancient Enemy Dev Diary #2

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

We are really delighted to be working with artist Jen Pattison on Ancient Enemy. This week in our dev diary Jen shares a bit about the art development and progress:

A world in tatters
The overall visual design of the characters in Ancient Enemy is intended to follow the theme of the story that the world has seen a lot of conflict and everyone has mostly been left in tatters as a result, one way or another.

That manifests in scruffy or damaged clothes; armour rusted, bloomed, or falling off; fungal growths; and in some cases people just being stitched back together to join the fight again.

Here are a couple of poses for an enemy bandit character:

All the human characters are not quite human anymore, and the bandits are maybe the simplest expression of that by not having faces, just empty dark hoods like wraiths, but otherwise displaying the physically fit body type you might expect from their lifestyle.

Warped nature
The Boarstool, on the other hand, is an example of warped nature, partly grown over and partly altered in fundamentals to be somewhere in the middle of plant and animal.

We did a few iterations to get him a bit meaner and a bit more gross along the way, altering his expression and giving him a rotting leg.

I also tried out a number of palette options for him, as some colours that could read as toxic/poisonous were also quite friendly/cute fantasy in tone.

Ultimately we decided to have different colours of Boarstool in different areas of the game to add to the variety and to fit in with the mood of the zones where they appear.

The aim for the characters’ stances was to create something dynamic and illustrative, within the limitations of the card based UI, which has taken a lot of back and forth to get right but it’s the sort of thing that’s very satisfying to work on as a team when it all finally comes together.