Train2Game interview with games industry consultant Nicholas Lovell – Part 3

Train2Game recently caught up with founder of Gamesbrief and industry consultant Nicholas Lovell. In a wide ranging interview he discussed subjects including the different types of game development studios, advice for small independent developers, social gaming and the business side of the industry.

The Gamesbrief founder also told Train2Game about a special offer on his book, How to Publish a Game. The 200 page book is available for half price until December 7th.

In part the final part of the interview, Nicholas Lovell tells Train2Game about good examples of independent games and how the ways they make money are changing.

Part one of the Train2Game interview with Nicholas Novell is available here and you can see part two here.

Train2Game: What do you think are the best examples of successful independently published games?

Nicholas Lovell: Best examples… [pauses] The reason I’m hesitating is because the Rovio guys, Angry Birds wasn’t their first title. Somebody told me it was their tenth, so that’s a lot of shots on goal before they scored. You’ve got to be doing that for a long time for that to work. In fact, most of these overnight sensations have been working for years, before they became over night sensations.

If you’re starting out now as an indie, I think what you should be doing is finding a way to keep putting shots on goal, rather than going for ‘I’m going to get one shot, it better be brilliant’ – because frankly that’s pretty unlikely.

It’s got to be good but I’m not saying do shovelware. I’m saying reduce the game to its basics, then put it out. See if the concept works, and then add the extra content, the extra levels, the Halloween editions, the Christmas editions, and so on.

Other titles which I think are interesting: Gourmet Ranch which is from a UK developer [Playdemic], it had Angel funding though so they didn’t do it completely just them coding in their bedroom.  That’s a Facebook game which has got 650,000 monthly active users.

Obviously there are the famous ones like Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, and my favourite which is Doodle Jump. Now Doodle Jump is a really interesting example, that’s a company [Lima Sky] who made a whole bunch of games like a pattern matching one for toddlers, and that’s still doing well, called Animatch.

Again, Doodle Jump wasn’t their first game, they did relatively low budget experimental iPhone games which were popular and then Doodle Jump really kicked off. But it’d meant they’d experienced launching on those kinds of platforms.

And then at the other end, I won’t tell you that this is  successful, but it’s a great game – it’s not a business yet – it’s an indie game I play a lot called Darkwind. One guy – he’s a lecturer in programming in Ireland – he runs it as a hobby. It’s coded in PHP and elements of the Torque Engine. One guy, a really dedicated community – only a few thousand people – post-apocalyptic, turn based, car based combat…quite niche! But its one guy running it in his spare time and it makes him decent pocket money at that level.

When you’re starting to look at platforms like PSN, Xbox Live Indie Games and so on, you’re getting fewer and fewer true Indies; you’re getting more to small studios.  And then on the PC platform, you’ve got people like Cliff Harris of Positech with Gratuitous Space Battles. That is one guy coding a relatively complex hardcore strategy game.  You can’t not mention Minecraft if you’re going to talk about those kind of titles, so there are plenty of examples.

My basic premise for an indie studio is that what you need to do is build content. Don’t assume that content is going to make lots of money, make sure throughout everything you do you have ways of talking to your customers again, and ideally have ways of charging your fans more than the 99 cent entry price. Not ripping them off, but giving them real value that the hardcore fans can really enjoy. That can be $10 worth of value, it could be $100 worth of value, and it’s much, much more than saying it’s just zero or 99 cents.

[Nicholas Lovell goes into much more detail about this on Gamesbrief. See ‘The future of the media, in 45 minutes’.]

Train2Game: Is there anything else you want to add about the area of value?

Nicholas Lovell: I think we’re hearing a lot of talk, and I think we’re going to hear a lot more about the nature of whales. The old business mode said there is only one price point, that price point is around $40 for a traditional triple-A game, and $10 to $15 a month for subscription service. That was how you charged.

We’re seeing a whole bunch of new business models, which say you play the game for free and then you can spend a dollar here, five dollars there, and that’s how people monetise. A bunch of people don’t understand that business model because they never choose to spend money. That’s fine, they’re adding value in a bunch of different ways, they’re providing a social context, they are being sorted into buckets – they don’t know that – they may be seeing advertising, they may be telling their friends.

But what you begin to see is that there are people who really value certain aspects of the game, those aspects are normally status led, or progress led, they’re very rarely content led. Those people are quite happy to spend $10, $15, $20, $100, in very occasional cases $1000, on that game. And that changes the dynamic. It means your marketing budget is much lower because the game is there for free and it’s easier to get people through the door – that’s changing.  The marketing is going up but it’s still lower than what Blizzard would spend on marketing their next World of Warcraft expansion for example.

But it means that you can offer the chance for people who love your title to spend more money on it, and I strongly believe that if you do not have that business model, you are leaving somewhere between 75% and 90% of your potential revenue from your game on the table, and there are very few indies who can afford to do that.

How to Publish a Game by Nicholas Lovell is available for half price until December 7th.

As usual, you can leave your thoughts here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Indie Fund – A useful avenue for Train2Game students?

While doing my usual morning rounds of video games industry news websites, I stumbled upon this GamesIndustry.biz article.  Indie fund calls for submissions eh? That’s surely going to be useful for Train2Game students I thought to myself. And do you know what, it may very well be.

So, what is Indie Fund? Well, the Indie Fund website itself says

“Indie Fund is a funding source for independent developers, created by a group of successful indies looking to encourage the next wave of game developers. It was established as a serious alternative to the traditional publisher funding model. Our aim is to support the growth of games as a medium by helping indie developers get (and stay) financially independent.”

Those indie developers could very well be you, the Train2Game Games Designers, Games Developers and Games Artist & Animators. Now you’re sitting there thinking that applying for funding sounds appealing, but you’re wondering how it works, well.

We make smaller investments and ask for less in return. The hope is that developers see enough revenue from their game to self-fund their next project.  And voilà, one more developer that is free to make whatever crazy game they want.”

There’s more detailed information about how exactly it works on the About page of the Indie Fund website. The section also lists who’s involved with the funding project and it’s a list of developers who’ve made a number of successful independent titles, some of which you’ve probably played:

Indie Fund believe they can support five or six titles over the next two to three years, but will only do so if the proposed title introduces something new to gaming. For more information about what Indie Fund want for a game and what you need to do if you want to submit an application then all you need to do is visit the ‘Applying for funding’ section of the website. It’s also recommended that you have a prototype of a game ready, but evidence on the Train2Game forum shows that some of you have already reached this stage.

So Train2Game students, do you’ll be submitting an application to The Indie Fund? Do you think it’s a good idea? Or perhaps you aren’t too keen on it. Whatever your thoughts are, please leave them here or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game’s 2nd Webinar Part Five

In Part 5 of the 2nd Train2Game Webinar, the panel continue to discuss about the merits of tarting off on your own… The panel also address how you can get your name out in the industry, why paid internship is the best way to get experience and how transferable the skills Train2Game teaches you are in other industries?

Key quotes include

Pete Hickman on the advantages independent developers have – “It’s all being driven by a strong e-distribution business. We’ve got Xbox Live, PSN, we’ve got the Nintendo equivalent, we’ve also got Steam on PC and Macintosh, which provides a great platform for people to distribute their independent games and hopefully that continues.”

Tony Bickley on preparing for the UK video games job market – “Be the best you can, stick out beyond the crowd, don’t be despondent…Think “the better I am, the higher my skill sets are, I’m going to be in the best place to get the job”

Train2Game’s 2nd Webinar Part Four

In Part 4 of the 2nd Train2Game Webinar the panel continue to discuss the Art and Animation course, mainly about when it will be benchmarked and also answer live questions on how strong the job market is for Train2Game graduates and if the opportunity to start on your own as an ‘Indie’ is better now than ever before.

Key quotes include…
Carsten Maple on the UK video game job market “I say to all of my students now, you gotta show that you’re worth it…There are jobs for those who can really make a difference”

Carsten Maple on why the UK video games industry needs tax relief – “I think it’s something they [Conservative Government] should do…For a whole number of reasons, not least of all that the significance of the UK games industry that it has been before is slipping backwards in terms of its relative success and I think it’s something that needs to be addressed because more companies are moving abroad because it’s a lower risk. If you’ve got to spend less money developing a game, than that’s a lower risk and unfortunately we’ve seen that move away and unless we act quickly and, I know it’s difficult, but we’ve got to keep petitioning the government to say “look we need this because once you lose it it’s very difficult to get it back”

Tony Bickley on why it’s not all doom and gloom for the UK video games industry lacking tax breaks – “This is probably one of the best times over the last 5-6 years for the smaller studios and the start-ups. You’re not looking for that half-million, three-quarters of a million pound investment to develop for the PlayStation 2 with £20,000 development kit, etc. You’ve got the three, four or five man development teams so there is a lot of opportunity for people entering the industry to join the smaller indie studios”

You can leave your thoughts about the Train2Game webinar on the Train2Game forum.

Are indie developers leading the way when it comes to combating piracy?

Gaming is an expensive pastime and almost always has been.  One of the first commercially available 3D release was Virtua Racing, which may have looked awful by today’s standards but in 1994 it was the height of technology and cost almost £50. Nowadays, if you look in the right places, you can pick up new releases for around £35, although some games will still get you back over £50 – Call of Duty: Black Ops has apparently got an RRP of £54.99.

Of course, there are those among us who don’t pay for games… the pirates but not ones with eye patches and swords, oh no, but the people who download brand new games illegally without paying for them. Ideas like DRM or even the Digital Economy Bill are being implemented in an attempt to crackdown on piracy but will it ever be stopped once and for all? Unlikely. A worrying prospect for Train2Game students who no doubt would much rather receive royalties for their games rather than have them downloaded illegally and receive nothing!

Now, legendary developer Charles Cecil – who’s currently working on free Doctor Who adventure games for the BBC – says piracy is “nature’s way of turning around and saying games are too expensive and the way that they are distributed is not ideal.” He suggests that an iTunes style of digital distribution could work in the future for games developers and go someway to preventing illegal downloads. Steam has gone some way towards this, but Cecil is correct about the simplicity of iTunes.

Meanwhile, Indie developers Wolfire, are currently allowing you to buy five games, including the highly acclaimed World of Goo for…get this, any price you want to pay! If you really wanted, you could give humble 1p, you could give them a grand if you so desired. The current average contribution people are handing over at the time of writing is $7.90 or about £5.20 in the Queen’s Stirling. Sure it may not be that much but the game’s are being distributed to a wide audience and the developer’s are at least getting some cash for all their hard work.

Sure, you probably won’t get major multinational developers like Activision or Square-Enix giving away the next Modern Warfare or Final Fantasy for whatever price you’re willing to pay, but this system could provide dividends for the indie developers of the future, today’s current Train2Game students. There will still be people who will pay as little as possible for their games for sure, but on the other hand there will always be more generous people who’ll hand over larger amounts for the products.

With digital distribution becoming more and more popular there’s now more scope than ever for an independent developer to get their work out there and have it played by thousands, or hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of people! So not only could creating a highly popular indie game provide you with enough money to pay the rent, it’ll also look excellent in any developer’s portfolio.

So go on my fellow gamers, support indie developers! Not only can you help stop the pirates, but you’ll also get a nice warm fuzzy feeling inside when you do.