Australian Grants for Game Devs by Brandon Driesse

Jed Dawson was a pleasure to talk to about tortilla chip condiments and his travels bringing the game to a con nearly half a world apart. His game Speaking Simulator is quite a challenge to sound out words by maneuvering your tongue to make certain phonemes in your mouth.

College Grants and Student Developers by Brandon Driesse

Ben Spurr and Andre Edgarian are recent graduates at Drexel University with the rest of their small team at Split Side Games. They came out to PAX East with a couple goals in mind and a positive attitude(a pleasure to chat with across the 4 days): acquire a fanbase, promote the Kickstarter, and sneak their way onto Switch! I’m hearing all good things from these guys and their Kickstarter was recently successfully funded on June 28th 2019, I donated some coin myself, be sure to check out Fling to the Finish.

The 5 team members were able to apply for grants from their school to fund the trip out to Boston this year and according to Andre they received more than most students would, possibly relate to the school they hail from or the quality of their work being noticed. Either way the trip details pretty much came down to individual travel expenses and a TV(we kept it pretty vague). A lot of students don’t actually reach out to their school for help which is a shame because the university is always looking for ways to show off to the outside world and new prospective students in that never-ending cycle of overcharging us for a rent and a meal plan(personal grudge).

These guys had a perfect attitude to showcase and a perfect game to display in a convention setting. This leads to a point I never directly covered, but what games actually benefit from the roar of a convention? Not a slow RPG because gameplay needs to be fast and reach as many new players(potential customers) as possible. The game should invoke a strong emotional connection, multiplayer games do this well when you can physically see your opponents/teammates to yell at(because whispering doesn’t quite work in the expo hall). The game must also be eye-grabbing as well as heard. Split Side may have known this well in advance of their debut because perfectly prepared you could hear the catchy tunes of every levels from hundreds of feet away(actually impressive in this loud expo hall). You would turn a corner and see bright blue, yellow, and red signs, fully saturated and highly contrasting the dull interior.

Th megabooth space they earned also played a pivotal role in attracting an audience as well as save the team money, but a corner booth isn’t an instant winner. The team only had one TV set up with a laptop by the side for a mailing list, but the TV was strategically placed at an angle facing out from the corner toward a couch that seated the players, with plenty of room surrounding for spectators. Because the players were sitting a bit of a distance from the TV the game could be seen from almost any angle and distance without being obscured.

I rambled off a bunch of inferences but there are several points here. You should consider what game your making and if it works in a convention setting, how can you maximize your engagement with attendees and for student, contact your school’s department administration and see about funding. If you’re going to a con regardless to showcase then there’s no harm in applying, and if you are on the fence and win a grant that may jsut push you over the edge and land you on Nintendo Switch! There’s a ton to congratulate these grads for so be sure to do so on Twitter.

Approaching a Publisher at Cons by Brandon Driesse

David Martinez is a co-founder of Raw Fury, an indie game publisher we’ve had our eye on ourselves, and possibly the subject of my favorite interview this batch of Dev Talks. The man was an absolute pleasure and our first publisher in the series! With a standing at the top of his company there was no “I’m not sure I can say” or “well you know I don’t really have that kin of information” in our discussion. I apologize for the poor visual quality in the video interview(camera error), but I highly recommend watching David passionately talk about his business and how a publisher can help developers, or at least how they do it, how to engage with them, and also when a dev may not need a publisher.

Let’s get to the meat; the meet-n-greet I mean. YouTube personalities are human, game developers are human, lawyers are blood-sucking parasites, and politicians are reptilians, but publishers are also very human. We’re all equals on this earth so act like it, your time is no more important than theirs and their words carry no more weight than your own. What I’m saying is if that human you want to talk to is currently engaged with someone else then WAIT. Sit still, maybe take a short walk around, and approach them when they are available to be talked to. Have a pitch in mind already, TinyBuild has a great resource for developers unsure of how to structure a good pitch here. If you’re at a con and the environment is particularly loud you can schedule a meeting somewhere else more suited for discussion, David attended several the day of our interview before we had our time slot: we scheduled an appointment too to get this interview. We chose the rowdy expo hall for personality and our mic equipment is prepared to handle capture, but cons like PAX East provide conference rooms on the upper levels that can be reserved for such meetings.

Emailed pitches are a bit different. Not every pitch goes well and you can read a vibe better in person based on gesture and tone than a text-based email response. Be prepared for rejection, it happens a lot because not every game needs a publisher, not every publisher wants to touch the game(as we discussed in the Sweet Bandits Dev Talk), and sometimes a publisher isn’t equipment to handle more games in their catalog. Taking on more than they can chew could lead to financial ruin, a lack of communication between a plethora of devs and a feeling neglect because they don’t have the staff to fulfill all their indie’s needs; experience we’ve had firsthand.

When it comes to showing up at the con with a publisher there are a few perks, travel costs and booth expenses are all wrapped into the budget of the game’s development and the Raw Fury sets up their devs with cost of living so that they can work on the game fulltime and don’t need to raise funds to attend these sorts of conventions. Raw Fury also likes to focus on just two titles and bring the developers along to meet the fans and potential customers. This is in huge contrast with Dangen Entertainment an Hitcents who we’ve discussed in several prior articles/videos that have booths with up to eight games showing. This is to say that there is no standard among publishers and finding a really solid one can really help the dev cycle, though the are much pickier in the titles they select. There’s less cross-pollination when there’s less games to show but more focus and direct marketing on the two in the spotlight. Raw Fury publishes under a dozen games and all of them look like they’re going to be hits. Whether that be due to the talent or the funding it’s safe to say, and should be obvious, that a lot of focus on less projects certainly pushes the quality.

Talking about price David’s main takeaway was not to determine the cost of a game by the time it takes to complete it. There’s a lot of different mentalities on price but this one seems by far the most detrimental to an indie’s place in the market. Pricing games isn’t an exact science and every game deserves the time spent researching what would be best in the market for it. You spent years on the game itself, spend a little time work-shopping different scenarios once you finally hit publish(I know it’s a struggle once you just want to get the game out in the end)!

Pricing a Multi player Only Game by Brandon Driesse

Liam Fratturo and I had a few things to discuss at the Dangen Entertainment booth. Like Squidly an I we met through a private OpenFL forum for Haxe developers crating Nintendo Switch ports for their games. Liam’s been working on his game with a couple of other devs right out of college(same as me), but their gameplay gimmick in this 8-player brawler is that you can play the game with almost any usb controller on the market! Read more about it on Gamasutra.

The crew over at Jelly Team have partnered up with a publisher in an effort to release their game on switch, a very similar situation to Renaine in our previous interview, in fact they share the same publisher! As a result I have a lot less new information to share in this article, however it is interesting to note that Jelly Team’s game currently has no singleplayer mode. As a game with a minimum requirement of two players we start to realize an issue when it comes to pricing their title: how can you justify a medium to large price-point on a game only played on special occasion. Party games suffer from this issue a lot, but in most cases the team will scrape together a special mode with CPUs to compensate and justify the cost of the game. These guys are no different and plan to do the same but it does ask a good question.

Can we derive the game’s worth in its content and quality of content? Game such as Nintendo’s flagship Mario Party does just fine in the market at a sixty dollar price-point and people still buy it. Is it name recognition that a team needs to earn? How can they go about getting the faith of their target consumers? o they just need to build up trust over years of releasing more traditional games or in this age of Kickstarters can they crowdfund the experience from like-minded players demanding game like Super Slime Arena be created?

Pricing Against the Competition by Brandon Driesse

Squidly and myself found a bit of a kinship online through Newgrounds. This was actually the first time we scheduled an interview before the con even began; usually I take the first day of PAX East to tour the exhibition hall, meet with devs, learn about their game and talk about follow up times I can bring in a mic and camera. Squidly here is a fairly prominent indie dev on Newgrounds(my second home) so we had lots to talk about and I ended up heavily cutting this interview to meet an entertaining length and crucial content the viewer can take away

This year at the con Squidly is showing with Octosoft’s publisher, Dangen Entertainment. Sharing a booth has many perks despite being crowded: there’s more time for breaks as there’s always someone to man the booth, there’s cross pollination between more popular or eye-catching titles and the TV’s on the side with smaller games, and it creates connections between developers. It’s important to establish a relationship with your peers and in a sense we’re all on the same team. No one in the indie world is direct competition with you, we’re all trying to succeed alongside each other. Sometimes games of the same genre can be seen as competition to an extent, but players don’t tend to say “I have Enter the Gungeon, why buy the Binding of Isaac?”.

However there is a perk for small, newer indies in competition with these well established teams in certain genres, you can use these “competitors” to gauge a good price point for your own game and value your work properly at the level your peers currently do. Squidly tells me that he isn’t “big enough” to charge the same as larger studios like Tribute Games, he still accounts for the disparity between the quality and/or quantity of content that the players receive. He also puts demos of his game up for free on Newgrounds, a site we’d both highly recommend for buzz and critical review as well as itch.io which supports desktop installs as well as html5.

Renaine held a couple Kickstarters which resulted in backers receiving a copy of the game for their pledge, this is a commitment to the price set from which from there can only be raised. It’s a bit limiting if after some cost analysis you realize your game would do much better in the market with a tinier price-point and Squidly acknowledges this. On the other hand you don’t want to undervalue yourself or give too many perks away for cheap on Kickstarter and you NEVER want to do physical perks if you don’t need to(not discussed in the video but definitely a b*tch to pursue).

Garnering the Attention of Gamers at a Con by Brandon Driesse

This time on Dev Talks I got to meet a duo team of devs, Sebastian Nigro and Chris “Topher” Anselmo, who our own programmer Anton had worked with on the Xbox One port of their previous game Don’t Sink. Recently they worked on a Switch port of that same game in order to gain access to the platform they partnered up with the publisher Hitcents.

We have a lot of common with this small team using GameMaker as their primary tool in a similar situation to our own which made the interview fun for me and very relatable. We discussed etiquette in getting people to stop by your booth and the logistics/reasons for getting a publisher interested in your product.

Let me start off by saying their new game(which I played and was incredibly fun in co-op), Duke of Defense, is currently an #IndieSelect title up for grabs so go play it!

The video is quite short and pretty concise so there’s hardly any information outside the interview I can provide from talking with guys, but I can say they were extremely pleasant which they told me is also a key part, not shallow, to marketing your game at the con and getting visitors to stop by and play your game. If you’re a dev you’re probably ecstatic to have people play and enjoy your game so act like it! Care for their needs, listen to criticism, take notes, an DON’T BABYSIT THE PLAYER. If the game deosn’t show them what to do then take notes and fix it later, don’t interrupt the experience and make up for the game own weaknesses. This is more of a stance I derived from conversation an came to the conclusion of myself.

When it comes to getting a publisher, Don’t Sink’s public acclaim on YouTube drew in Hitcents who wanted a junk of the profits, but YouTube isn’t much to go by on sales. Sure, you’re in the public eye, but does that mean people are buying? Visual presence and audience are powerful tools to succeed but they don’t drive sales; a solid grasp on pricing might help though. Now that they’re with Hitcents for the switch port they were able to keep them as a publisher on their current title(which didn’t take all that long to develop for being such a fun time) and give them access to a booth at PAX East which would have been entirely unattainable before for a such a small team.

A lot of devs seem to be pricing their game at $15USD despite each one we talk to coming from different backgrounds, scenarios, and situations. Sebastian and Topher seem to justify their price through the players eyes and the hours they get to enjoy with the game based on average playtime. Personally I don’t find this to be the best way to price yourself, a lot of factors get involved, but maybe fifteen dollars is a magic number for indies…

Open Source, Licensed Music and Rejection by Brandon Driesse

For our second Dev Talk of PAX East 2019 I got the chance to meet/talk to David from Headbang Club. We’ve actually talked before through a private discussion bored for Nintendo Switch devs utilizing OpenFL so it was nice to meet the man in person and talk about his team’s ****ing great idea of a game, Double Kick Heroes!

Down below as always is a link to the video interview and even further below that I’ll hopefully be able to unpack some information we discussed that didn’t make the cut or plainly wasn’t filmed, however this interview is PACKED so I highly recommend a watch.

We covered a small array of topics so despite the subjects being scattered there’s a lot of information in the video itself and I find little outside the interview to include in the text portion here. Double Kick Heroes is a game made using an open source engine, this means free export options, no license to use, a name and a face behind the software and a peak into the actual code that makes it work every single patch. This leads to quick and easy development with homebrew ways of getting around engine errors instead of something like Unity where a part of code breaks after an update and we’re totally left in the dark.

We took a long time discussing how the team would price their game, they’re currently in early access and have recouped most of the the budget that went into creating the game so now the team has to decide a new price for the final release. A few driving factors in this decision is the music feature in their rhythm game. Double Kick Heroes features nearly a dozen artists with different levels of popularity and success, all need to be paid equally an fairly with royalties, which would dig into the game’s profits heavily. The team also plans to add more content to the game in expansion packs with new songs/artists as to keep the base game as cheap and accessible as possible to the general consumer.

I really did enjoy talking with David and stopped by his booth several times after our Day 1 interview to show off his games to friends and fellow devs. Since we already discussed our theme in this article I feel the need to address supporting your friends and peers. We’re all in this race together to succeed, in a way we’re competing but also we’re all trying to succeed and one person succeeding doesn’t actually stop anyone else from doing the same. In a later interview we discuss this more with Octosoft! Be sure to support your friends in whatever they do, and share their work; word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising.

Avoiding Early Access by Brandon Driesse

Charles Dufour was our first guest for Dev Talks at PAX East 2019(please give us media badges, we love doing this and could achieve so many more interviews in the span of the con). If you don’t know how Dev Talks works, because you’re a new viewer or other reasons, we spend some time talking with various indie game developers showcasing at the con, get a sense of their story and how they got where they are and tailor an interview towards their experiences while learning the ins and outs of exhibiting, while asking some more general questions to help out new indies. We post the video interview and after editing it to be all shiny and pretty with fancy motion graphics, b-roll, and hack-job editing to make us both sound smart and collected, I'll write this little article to summarize and include any information we didn’t cover in the video interview but still discussed outside it while talking in-person.

This year’s theme is “how do you price your indie game” to which we’ve received a lot of different perspectives and somehow they all land in the same-ish ballpark for completely separate reasons!

Once again we’re talking about the coveted Canada Media Fund, if you’re one of the lucky devs who live in this land of prosperity, or Atlanta, Georgia, you’ll have a chance to pitch your creative project for the big cash. Something we learned is that for game the team over at Sweet Bandits had to declare a price point to even receive funding! Of course this isn’t fully locked down, thank goodness because as we also learned from Charles the gang is avoiding showcasing their game, its price, or listing it on Steam’s Early Access program. Why?

Surely there are benefits to getting players to test and buy your early Alphas and Betas, but as we’ve personally seen at Scarecrow Arts, this pre-release stage can hurt the image of your game in player’s minds, lead to disappointment, or create an idea in prospective customer’s heads that tell them to make skip this entry in Steam’s massive catalog. A second major reason for dodging the program is to more effectively seek a publisher. Making games costs a lot of money, and marketing games so that they become profitable is ****ing scientific: the publisher needs the public to be in the dark to deliver the most accurate and positive view on their product and “pull the levers” that sell the game at the price they’ve calculated to be optimal for what the customer receives, covers the cost of development an nets, generally, the most money. Shit’s hard.

I should talk a little about their game, but the reason they showed at the con was for player feedback, I actually had to request some footage of the game to play over our interview because there’s not a single trailer online. It’s very fun, it’s a lot like other spy games in multiplayer settings with a few innovative twists creating a hectic start, middle, and end to each match. My cameraman Kirk(@Jigsawflex) and I had a blast playing it.

Developing Across the Globe by Brandon Driesse

We’re on the final video/article from PAX East 2018. How exciting!

I’m kidding, it’s time to crack my knuckles, slink back into my chair, and put on a GearVR headset to play some more of Lila’s Tale. Rafael Ferrari(holy shit, really? That’s his last name.) is a member of Skullfish Studios, and there have a very familiar story: A few game developers scattered across the globe with only a company name in common that bands them together. That makes their company sound looser than it is, but I’ve always been more of a poet than someone who writes in prose. Anyway it’s the same for us at Scarecrow Arts.

By this point(we released the videos sequentially in the order we filmed them) I’ve become an expert at hearing thick accents and understanding a solid forty-percent of what they’re actually saying. As for Rafael’s booth situation, he’;s comfortably seated between two other studios that pitched in to attend together at a third the cost(again this kind of setup needs to be disclosed in the application).

Lila’s Tale is actually very interesting, you control the entirely game by wear you look, and subsequently, where you don’t look. Rafael was a lead developer for GearVR in Brazil(where he’s from) and is now working from country to country with his team on interesting VR titles for a console most people unintentionally already own. The game runs very well, I didn’t play long but there was no hint of motion sickness, and the lighting is very pretty. That’s not my favorite word to describe the visuals of a game, but I was a little surprised how colorful and cartoony, yet detailed, the models were. Phones are cool, I’m not much of a mobile gamer, but maybe Joe Russ has the right idea; we did try to make an android build of The Story Goes On back in 2016, might be time to revisit that.

 
 

Something unique about Skullfish Studio’s goals is accessibility. Lila’s Tale uses very little language, it’s not strictly English or Spanish. Having English as a second language is damn near a requirement to play good video games, something we strive for with TSGO, Anton’s initiative, is to translate the game into as many languages as possible for players who are either too old or too young to be able to read English speedily. Another, much simpler, way would be to throw language out entirely like Skullfish and uses shapes and culture-agnostic symbols to tell your story. It’s very fitting with Lila’s Tale, looking around is just about the first thing you ever do as a human being and it’s the main game mechanic.


Brandon Driesse Creative Director

 

Showcasing w/Playcrafting by Brandon Driesse

Talking with Eddy Walda was a pleasant surprise. I was on my way to meet and exhibitor I talked to on Friday about doing an interview at the Playcrafting booth and on Sunday I ended up with an entirely different person and game. THat’s partially the beauty of Playcrafting, one of the many cheaper alternatives to getting your own booth at PAX East.

Eddy is interestingly enough a student, like myself, at Harvard, very much unlike myself. Here’s a widely known fact that somehow people keep forgetting, students don’t have money. I spend most of my yearly earnings outside of food and living expenses on attending these types of cons; I can’t imagine dropping twenty-times my usual amount on showcasing solo. That’s where Playcrafting swoops in like a majestic hawk of bureaucracy and you fill out several forms to attend and gain valuable feedback(that thing Momin was raving about, kind of totally necessary).

While the booth strives to be consistent, some applicants can only stay a couple days or sometimes even just one. In that case it’s just a matter of rotating out a laptop and a couple banners to accommodate you better. Playcrafting not only helps smaller devs showcase at big cons but also host classes in Unity and design little bootcamps to walk newbies through the whole process of game development. Stuido Studios, who we talked to previously, actually participates in teaching these week-long programs. You can start to see from interview to interview the connections between devs that are intertwined, something that Momin Khan was, again, raving about.

It’s hard to not feel… nostalgic? Something to that effect, when writing these articles and editing these interviews together. Something about the conversations we had sticks with me and I yearn to do even more, maybe see some old faces and/or meet someone new. I want to provide a resource for small indie devs scared of all the big buzzwords and steps one needs to go through in order to get their game in front of players. Sure, itch.io and newgrounds.com have public portals to dump your work into, but there’s a stark difference between faceless downloads/viewcount and receiving a paycheck based on copies sold, watching twitch streams of your product(I watch every stream of TSGO I can find) or better yet seeing someone play just a couple feet from you for the first time. I want to go back again this year to conduct more interviews, but even still I really want to showcase our own games one day, bring the three of us around the world together talking shop with players. Maybe something like Playcrafting can help.

Sorry Eddy, I would talk about your game Hexile, but nothing quite explains this title so much as playing it. There’s a demo available on their site, as always click on the Dystrophic logo to travel there and play it. The first few minutes is very simple but stick with it(and for the love of me turn of motion blur) and you ay have a good time. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoyed it.


Brandon Driesse Creative Director