The Freelancers' Show 123 - The Business Side of Indie Game Development with Megan Fox

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The panelists talk to Megan Fox about the business side of indie game development.

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CHUCK: We should just call this the eeeh-*explosion* show.[This episode is brought to you by Audible. Audible is the first place I go to keep my business skills sharp. They offer over 150,000 books on business, finance, planning and much more. They also have a great selection of fiction that keeps me entertained when I'm just not up for some serious content. I love it because I can buy a book, download it to my iPhone, and listen while running errands or at the gym. Get your free trial at freelancersshow.com/audible]**[This episode is brought to you by Code School. Code School offers interactive online courses in Ruby, JavaScript, HTML, CSS and iOS. Their courses are fun and interesting and include exercises for the student. To level up your development skills, go to freelancersshow.com/codeschool]****[This episode is brought to you by ProXPN. If you are out and about on public Wi-Fi, you never know who might be listening. With ProXPN, you no longer have to worry. ProXPN is a VPN solution which sends all of your traffic over a secure connection to one of their servers around the world. To sign up, go to ProXPN.com and use the promo code tmtcs (short for teach me to code screencasts) to get 10% off for life)]**CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 123 of the Freelancers’ Show. This week on our panel we have Eric Davis. ERIC: Hello. CHUCK: Reuven Lerner. REUVEN: Hi, everyone CHUCK: I'm Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv, and this week we have a special guest, Megan Fox. MEGAN: Hi! CHUCK: Megan, do you want to introduce yourself really quickly? MEGAN: Sure! My name is Megan Fox – I'm not THAT Megan Fox; I'm the cool one. I am the founder of Glass Bottom Games. You might know us from the game Jones On Fire, which has been released on pretty much every mobile device out there now. We’re currently working on Hot Tin Roof, which you haven't heard of yet, but you will when we release. It’s going to be big! CHUCK:[Chuckles] Very nice. We brought you on to talk about indie game development.**MEGAN: Mm-hm. CHUCK: Now Jones On Fire is a game that you wrote and you market yourself, right? MEGAN: Correct. I was the developer and the artist – well, the 3D artist on –. I'm not an artist, by the way; it just so happened that since the game was made out of blocks I could fake it. We had a couple of sound guys, Michael Nilsen and Nathan Madsen, and then we had a 2D artist, Folmer Kelly, who did the marketing materials. But aside from that, I did everything including marketing. CHUCK:**Now, this is a freelancers’ show and [inaudible] count what you're talking about having done – writing your own game and marketing it yourself as being freelance, but do you write games for other people too?**MEGAN:**Generally speaking, [inaudible] it’s contract game development and I generally avoid that business because – I'm sure any other freelancer listening to this knows what happens whenever you take a fixed bid on a project. Invariably the person who’s giving you the work, they change their mind, they increase the amount of work, they deny work that should not have been denied, and suddenly you’re six months over budget, but they're not going to pay you more because it’s fixed bid anyways. Almost all games –.REUVEN:[Crosstalk] in software? Come on.**MEGAN:**Yeah. Almost all games, if you're going contract game development, are done that way. They're almost all fixed bids, which means some people do them and some people scrape together a living on them. You get what's called golden handcuffs where you have – even if you think you’ve finally gotten ahead and you’ve gotten enough money out of this project to fund your own development, or at least have a good wait between, invariably the project always goes just far enough for [inaudible] budget that you’ve only barely enough time to find your next contract, and you get rolling on that. Eventually, inevitably, you get one of those windows where you can’t find a contract in time and your entire studio erupts in flames, and that’s just the way it goes. So I personally avoid that; I do development for myself. If I'm in a contract, I generally do it as just me. I've done contract PR work, promotional work for – actually, [inaudible], which is a release I just helped manage. They brought me on because we wanted to collaborate on the next project anyway, so this was an easy way of doing that on this one, of figuring if we could work well together. I've also done a little bit of contracts development, and once upon a time, I did in fact do a contract game development for a fixed bid for the University of Colorado at Boulder. They wanted a game based on Wikimedia, and it was every bit as miserable as I just described it. [Chuckles]CHUCK: Well, you make it sound like so much fun. MEGAN: Well, developing games for yourself is a lot of fun, and so long as you can figure out how to market them, that's a pretty good business. I mean, if I was in TripleA doing big-budget, Assassins’ Creed or whatever, I'd make a lot more money but you can make a pretty decent living this way and it’s a lot more fun. REUVEN: I'm curious to know, just like there are a lot of freelancers like that who do fixed bid projects – I think they're basically out of their minds – and I've learned that over the years. How is it that an entire industry of games manages to continue surviving with fixed bid projects? Can’t people just get up and revolt? MEGAN: Not really. We don’t have any kind of unionization, so there's really no collective bargaining and the money-people invariably have a disproportionate amount of power in the relationship, so almost all of these are done based on effectively fixed bids. Furthermore, there are fixed bids based on milestone payments, so they can not only change their minds and push you past your original bid, they can withhold milestone payments if they don’t feel you’ve made enough progress on the game, which as any developer knows, once the tires hit the road, you reorganize development. You do whatever needs to be done, things change, things get reprioritized, but whenever you're stuck in a milestone payment schedule, you can’t do that; you have to do exactly what you thought you would do a year ago today. Sometimes that doesn’t work out and then you have long, drawn out negotiations with publishers to explain why you had to change things and they're going to dangle a $400,000 payment over you that your entire studio of 30-40 people is depending on and yeah, bad things happen. REUVEN: Wow. MEGAN: Yeah. That isn’t to say that all development and games is done this way. This is how, call it the middle-tier of development, survives. The middle-tier’s actually been crunched in the last decade; it used to be a larger, thriving industry where you'd get what I call IP games, which is basically, ‘I have the Ninja Turtles, I have Polly Pocket, I have Kim Possible – I want a game made about this. I'm going to go to a game developer, I'm going to do what's called a request for a proposal or RFP, which a bunch of developers send me in a proposal for ‘I think I can make this game, it’ll be like this, and here’s the brief and it’ll cost this much.’ And then from those, I pick one of those bids, and then I give them the contract – a Polly Pocket or Kim Possible game.’ That used to be a large portion of the industry, and that vanished almost entirely with the advent of Bubble Games. What happens now is all Triple A development is done not on fixed bid; it’s done based on subcontracting, so still a top-heavy, prone-to-toppling industry, but way, way less risky. The fixed bid stuff has moved down to mobile where – it’s still screwed up and you could still lose your shirt easily, but at least you're talking about smaller amounts there. For a while, the budgets had gotten insane in the middle tier and people’s livelihoods are on the line for milestone payments – it was really awful. Mobile is better-ish, but you still get a lot of that fixed-bid stuff. REUVEN: Wow. CHUCK:[Chuckling] Interesting. So let’s say that I come then I spend the week, a typical week, with Megan Fox. I see what you do and I'm like, “Man, this is the life. I want to write my own games and sell them and go on hikes with lots of sunscreen.” What do I need to do in order to get to the point where I can actually do that kind of stuff?**MEGAN: This is where normally I would say something like, “Anything I tell you is wrong” because the industry all of us come up in and the way in which we establish ourselves no longer exists by the time we establish ourselves. What I’ll do is I’ll tell you what I did and hopefully from that, someone can draw conclusions or at least thoughts in what they need to do. The gist is I worked in TripleA for six years, started with a small-ish studio, a startup, moved to a LEGO universe, which was done by NetDevil and then Gazillion, like a Play Well studio before the studio collapsed. That's where I cut my teeth and I got into that based on a strong portfolio that I'd made on my own time while I was in university, so I got hired into that. I got laid off there; the severance package happens to be really, really, really, really, really good, so there I was thinking, “I could go find another job, but there's not much in the area and I'm never going to get another chance like this.” Through combination of severance – I mean initially, I applied for unemployment because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do and I did the job hunting and there just wasn’t much here. But then I realized, “You know, I've got severance here; I can actually do something with this” so between all of that I managed to eke out enough time that I got a game done, and that was funded primarily on the severance package. That would probably be on the order of $40,000 that I had and burned, so you need substantial savings if you're going to do this. The way better way of doing it that a lot of people have used is if you find a job that doesn’t kill you and you can go home and still want to work on projects, you just work in the evenings and you work on the evenings probably on a small, mobile game, and you put it out there once it’s done. And it’s not going to make much money, so then you make another mobile game and you put it out there; it’s not going to grow much money either. But over time, if you stack enough of these revenue streams – Jones On Fire currently makes about $100/month. If I had 20 Jones On Fire out there, or even 15 or 10 maybe, that’s getting really close to actually eking out enough month to month that I could just go independent and survive on just that income. So that’s the other way of doing it, which is probably much easier than what I did, which is the ‘develop a large savings pool however you do it and then burn it.’ REUVEN: How long – and this is probably not possible to answer necessarily – how long does it take you to do each game? If it takes you, say, two years to do a game, then you're not going to have a revenue stream from 10 games anytime soon. MEGAN: Yeah. REUVEN: If it takes you a month, then it could totally be doable, I guess. MEGAN:**The people that do this – what is it? There's a game currently on mobile – it’s called Step On The Meow Tile. I believe it’s from Retro Dreamer? Oh, I'm sorry, dude. If you're listening to this – I'm terrible with names. They have done a series of games – I'm pretty sure this is the same studio, if not, again, sorry. Happy Poo Flap, Poo Jump, Poo Drop – all of these are simplistic games that have one, central compelling mechanic of the sort that can be made in a couple of months, two or three. You and an artist, typically, hopefully, even better if you're an artist and a programmer but that’s going to be a little bit harder. You can also do contract art, but that gets a little wiggy unless you know exactly what you're asking for. A lot of times, if you do contracted art, you'll get a bunch of art that, in isolation, works, but since you maybe went to three or four different contractors, you're dealing with three or four different styles and you find that when you put it all together, it kinda doesn’t work. But still, however you do it, if you're making a game every two or three months, you can actually stack the revenue that way over a couple of years, and you can go independent. Also, the other cool thing is as you're stacking mobile games, you're using promotional tools in the previous games to convert that audience onto your new game, and then your new game has its own time and [inaudible] to develop its own audience in addition to that, so you're stacking an audience that gets bigger and bigger and bigger, so your successes actually get bigger and bigger and bigger. My game, Jones On Fire, makes $100/month. It isn’t like I'm going to make 15 Jones On Fires and they're all going to make $100/month and that’s how I'm going to do it. Most likely, I’ll make Jones On Fire 2, it makes more – maybe $300 or $400/month, and then I’ll make Jones On Fire does Skinny Dipping, and that makes $800/month. So maybe you only need four or five or six game stacked, but that’s still probably the single easiest strategy for people to go forth today otherwise. Jones On Fire took eight months, which is way too long and there were a lot of reasons for that. Mostly it was my first game as a solo studio and you learn a lot about process that you didn’t realize you needed to learn, but you do. Future games would go a lot faster if I was going for that. Also, the level of polish was a lot higher than it needed to be for mobile. I, actually, got a lot of good reviews for that, but still, that’s one way. If you go for the higher budget, if you go for desktop, you're going to end up in the higher budget space. That’s more like one to two years per game, and you really can’t do the revenue stacking thing. To play in that space, you just need to be able to work on the game however long it takes. Most people to get their start doing larger games like that, what they do is they spend two to four years, nights, evenings, working on the project usually with a team of collaborators, and then they release it. Hopefully, everyone crosses their fingers, that game makes enough in revenue to then pay everyone and do another game. If it doesn’t, they all get very upset and maybe walk out of making games entirely. But it’s a bigger bet, higher risk, bigger payoff, etc. Less sustainable. Did that answer your question?**REUVEN: Yeah, wow. ERIC:**Yeah, there's one guy I talked to at a conference – I don’t remember all the details and I'm not going to share out of respect. I don’t know if he was not in iOS, but he was on almost all the other mobile platforms, like he even built games for BlackBerry. What he said what he was doing was he would make a racing game and sell it and he would make maybe a dollar a day from that across all of the platforms. But then he would get new art, use the same engine he used – basically the same game and just re-skin it, have a second game. Then maybe he’ll do something, tweak the engine but keep the art – he was constantly iterating, and I don’t know if he said if he was able to crank out a game a month or a game a week, but he had a couple dozen games and he was on mobile platforms, and what you said happened. Most games made nothing – they weren’t selling at all, but then there would be like one hit on Google Play, like this game would just start selling, it would make him $500/month. [inaudible] the base on that, like he was actually making enough money that he was moving from a really expensive area to an even more expensive area, and he was doing it full time and loving it. That’s like the more extreme version of what you're saying is just like very, very fast iterations, reuse as much as you can and see what kinda works on the market.**MEGAN:**Yeah. I don’t know specifically the developer you're talking about, but I know of another one who does that. He does game re-skins of – and they're really terrible; they're stuff like Kim Kardashian Sprint, and then he’ll make another one of Kanye West Sprint, or that kind of thing. Whatever is the cultural meme of the era, he does a really quick, really slap-dash game and puts it out there. And yeah, some of them do hit, and it makes a lot of money. The risk you run with that is you, as a developer, get a reputation for making shit games, so when you want to stop making shit games and make a good game, you're going to have a really, really, really, really hard time doing that. My understanding is, a lot of developers that do this, they make those shit games under one monicker, and they make their good games under another monicker and they never cross the streams just to avoid that. If you look on indie back-channels, it’s a very interconnected, very chatty kind of industry, and a lot of stuff goes on in backmailing [inaudible]. If you look at those, you'll see people that are drilling down and figuring out who does the shit games based on – you can develop patterns and look at the referrals that they're using. Some of these people that developed a large following with their shit games, and then they’ll try and use that following to drive better games, but if you look at the games that are being promoted by the shit games, you can get a sense for who is actually behind the curtain. That’s less dangerous. No one’s going to look at that and go, “Oh, well! Kim Kardashian Sprint just promoted Good Game Number 5, so we’re not going to like Good Game Number 5 anymore.” It’s just one of those curiosity things, but yeah, that is another strategy you can play. A big advantage of the high-high iteration is you get really good at your craft very quickly. Whenever you're making a game a week, you learn real fast what works and what doesn’t for small, sticky mechanics. If you're focusing on that and really trying to get better at it, you'll get to be making really good games within a year or six months, depending on how fast you go. People have done this where they’ve gone from never having made a game in their life to making a game a week, and by game 11 or 12 or 13, they're getting pretty damn compelling. And it’s just – they started with nothing and because they kept doing it over and over and over again so quickly, they got somewhere. It’s a good strategy.**ERIC: I see that a lot in fiction writers, because with Amazon, a lot of them are trying to crank out volume and some of the advice given to beginner writers is maybe start off in a pen name and write in a pen name, so if it is crap, if the book is really, really bad, it doesn’t taint your real name or the name that you want to publish your good work under. But once you crank out a dozen, two dozen novels in a year, you actually know the craft you're writing and then you can work on the good stuff and it’s actually going to be good. MEGAN: Mm-hm. Yeah, my mom was a writer actually and that’s based – yeah, I'm familiar with that. CHUCK: One thing that I'm curious about with indie game development is how do you market the game once you have it out there? It sounds like one way to go about it is to write a bunch of games, find out what people want and then hopefully you'll have a reputation that you can sell games on. But how do you sell that first one? How do you get people to find it? MEGAN:**There are two different approaches here: if you are on desktop, then a desktop [inaudible]. Basically, if you aren't focusing on mobile, you want to get in touch with Let’s Players – they are, by far, the most important right now – and you want to get in touch with people that run websites like Rock, Paper, Shotgun or –. Polygon’s really cool, but they're not really one of the ones that cover small developers – they're more of a lifestyle, different kind of story, but they're still one of the notables. Basically, you want to find the big sites – Haku Taku, Joystiq, Destructoid – you want them to cover your games, and you contact them via email and you send them promo codes and screenshots and PressKits and carefully crafted press emails, and that’s the stuff that I've learned and gotten good at and you'll have to learn yourself or find someone that’s good at it. That’s one way, and that way is traditional promotion. The middle way, which is important regardless, is social media. You essentially need to become the brand that you're selling. Like me, on Twitter, I very consciously – I stay away from really, really offensive ones and really, really offensive humor. I mean, look at what happened to Phil Fish. Phil Fish, in person, I'm pretty sure isn’t a bad guy – he’s just a guy that has kind of an abrasive sense of humor and he likes to go at trolls and that’s just kind of who he is. But you take that kind of personality and put it on the Internet, and now suddenly Phil Fish is this reviled caricature of thing that can’t even tweet anymore without a billion people telling him how horrible he is. Be really, really careful, but still, the social media and putting yourself out there is just a huge component of getting noticed. That’s also how you get the notice of some of the bigger sites – you'll start tweeting, you'll start doing Tumblr blogs of your screenshots – there's a bunch of different options, and over time, you'll get retweets. People will follow you and you'll start getting followed by – I'm being followed by – Oh man, Ryan, I'm sorry I don’t know how to pronounce your last name. Ryan Letourneau? Oh man, that’s bad. He’s a very relevant Youtuber. I'm also being followed by RedPandaGamer, a bunch of others – I think I've got a couple of the Rock, Paper, Shotgun guys following me. Over time, you develop those followings and then things you tweet become news even before you realized that you wanted to release them as news, so it gets easier. So it’s kinda the middle way that’s important, regardless. Then on the right side is the mobile, and mobile is a whole other beast. Sites like Touch Arcade are important; they are critical. You must get your game reviewed on Touch Arcade, but the reason you get that reviewed on Touch Arcade is not because it matters in the least for sales – it does not convert to sales at all. What it does is it gets you noticed by the Apple featuring team or the Google Play featuring team or whatever, and then they give you a featuring, and that featuring is what drives your sales. Without a featuring on mobile, you are sunk, you are disappeared – no one will even find you. It’s just – the discovery is horrible. Good luck, it’s not going to happen – almost never. Via feature you get a chance. So there, you’ve got to court relationships with the press and you’ve got to get covered by review sites. 148apps and Touch Arcade are probably the two most prominent, but all that really is for is so that the featuring team will notice you, and there's even a game you’ve got to play when you release your games so it’s in the right part of the new releases list, so that when the featuring team sits down, they actually notice your game and their giant spew of stuff’s been released. It’s very complicated and all of it’s down to optimizing for getting a featuring by the Apple team or getting the featuring by Google Play, and that is kind of it. [Crosstalk] Oh, go ahead.**REUVEN: No, it’s just kinda funny to me to hear you say this because for years they were all the desktop software; they were the companies that were doing the distribution and they had the stores or the mail-order catalogs, and you had to go through them in order to get your applications out to people. Otherwise, like you want to buy software, what you're going to do is you're going to go to the local computer store and if they don’t carry what you're interested in, you're just not going to buy it. And we talk about the Internet as a world of possibilities and all these things are – anyone can be discovered. At the end of the day, maybe they're not the distributors – although I guess Apple and Google are – but there still are definite gatekeepers who are deciding where their products are either go or no-go more or less. MEGAN:**Kind of. On PC, not really the case. The only real gatekeeper on PC is Steam. At Valve Software, Steam is their thing. That is only a gatekeeper because we've – well I'm part of it – but we’ve created a generation of people that will refuse to buy games unless they can get a Steam key for it, for really stupid reasons, and it comes down to just, “I really like to have all of my games in the “Cloud” – giant air quotes – easily accessible, and Steam is that Cloud list that I'd like all of my games to be in. It’s really stupid, but still, without a Steam key, you're kinda screwed. So that used to be a giant gatekeeper for PC games, and to get onto at Valve required a lot of hustling, a lot of good social media presence, a lot of good articles, etc. It’s something that most of us were capable of, but if you were lesser known or less willing to put yourself out there, or less able because you're just not a people-person, it was a big vertical thing. That bar has been lowered substantially; now, it’s not really all that hard to get on Steam, now you have to get noticed on Steam. You still have to hustle and still have to get noticed and still have to drive sales so that Steam will feature you, and you'll get [inaudible]. But still, it’s still not the only way. A successful game can be boring just by a random Youtuber playing it at the right time and the right way and that video going viral. There's a ton of discovery methods avenues on PC, on desktop, that are just awesome. It’s even true on consoles, so to a lesser extent, the stores are again the only distributor and your presence on the store is largely what drives sales, but not to the degree that mobile is. On mobile, there are absolutely gatekeepers and they are called Google, Apple and Amazon, and unless you court the right people at those places, you cannot success on these marketplaces. I mean, you look at successes like Flappy Bird, but technically speaking, you could be the next Flappy Bird, but considering that something like 4,000 games or 10,000 games are released a day, the numerical likelihood that you are going to be the next Flappy Bird is so low that you would probably be better off spending whatever money you spent on [inaudible] on lottery tickets. If you're not going to promote your game and try and do that, you just can’t. It’s not a numerically useful possibility that you will succeed. So yeah, there –.**REUVEN: That is just a shocking number to hear! MEGAN: Yeah. REUVEN: There are thousands of games released every single day, and so to try to get noticed – clearly nothing you do personally is going to directly affect it. It’s a lot of marketing to get out there, but are the people developing these other games, do they recognize the odds against being – or a lot of these are just sort of amateur games, that they don’t care how much they make. MEGAN:**Almost all of them are amateur games. By the way, if you're an amateur developer and you're listening, I'm not saying amateur like, “Oh, well there was people and they're not skilled –” that’s not what I'm saying. I'm saying that there are games being made not for profit reasons; profits are being made because someone wanted to make a game and they made it [inaudible] out there. A lot of people that release the games that way just want their game on the phones, so that whenever they're in a job interview for instance, they can pass the phone across and go, “Hey, check out this game I made!” That can make or break an interview of you're a designer and you're trying to make a way for yourself. Just handing a phone across with your game on it, hit the little icon and it’s done – that can get you totally around all those awkward, horrible interview questions. Suddenly all the questions become about your game and the way you say your answers, so it’s a great strategy. But yeah, there's a bunch of reasons people release games on mobile that have nothing whatsoever to do with profit. It isn’t like all of these people are trying to succeed, and it isn’t like in practice you're really in competition with most of these people, but because of – and this is really what it’s down to – the way Apple has designed their store has terrible discovery. We honestly couldn’t tell you how they could improve it with the volume of games they have, but it’s just a terrible discovery, then that volume is so big, and the lists are so bad and so poorly optimized that there's just no way of filtering it. Because of that, the only way through is with the gatekeepers, which you know, is Apple. So you get an Apple featuring and that gives you – and even the Apple featuring, I want to clarify, is not a guaranteed success. It is essentially a lottery ticket. It’s a lottery ticket that has a really good chance of payout. Jones On Fire got featured – it was a weak featuring, but we did get featured. That was worth, I think, a thousand dollars, two thousand dollars, maybe three thousand? It just wasn’t very much. And the Google Play featuring was worth – no, that’s right. Apple was worth about a thousand, Google Play was worth three thousand, and the Amazon free app a day wasn’t actually worth all that much, but it got us a ton of eyeballs so there's value there regardless. But it’s not like any of those numbers – Jones On Fire, for instance, has just barely cracked the $10,000 mark. Given that it took 8 months to develop, you can imagine that’s not profitable. It is a good investment, and it’s the only reason I was able to do Hot Tin Roof on Kickstarter then that presence I had from Jones On Fire was a huge part of why that succeeded, so it’s not like the money in Jones On Fire was wasted. I'm actually pretty happy that it made $10,000 for a first game released on mobile – that’s huge! So it got featured and I still didn’t “succeed.”**REUVEN: We spend a lot of time in the podcast talking about pricing strategies. I mean, do you really have any flexibility in pricing if you're in the games market, or you're just going to have to be at a dollar or something, or make it free? MEGAN:**Again, that depends on the market. If you're not on mobile, there's a lot of flexibility on pricing. In fact, pricing is going up on average. There are two factions: there are the people that don’t know how to promote their games and are struggling to get noticed, and a lot of them are falling into the death spiral of pressing the games down and down and down because of lack of polish and lack of budget, so there's kind of this lower tier on Steam that’s emerging, thanks to Greenlight, which is impenetrable and it’s just a massive stuff, and they're competing based on price. The games that are pricing above the Hot Tin Roof is not there – Hot Tin Roof is at the 15th tier. [inaudible] there's a $10-tier, even the $5-tier is sufficiently distinct from this. All of those prices are moving up; you're actually seeing – well, it’s already emerged – a $20-tier, a $25-tier is emerging as games get more and more polished and it pushes the price further and further up. On PC, there's a lot of pricing flexibility and a lot of experimentation being done. There's also Alphafunding, which is nowhere near as important as people would like to believe it is, but for those games, it fit out the Alphafunding model really well. When I say Alphafunding, do you guys know what I'm talking about?**CHUCK: Not really. REUVEN: No. MEGAN:**Okay then, I’ll explain. Alphafunding is where you essentially sell an incomplete game. Often you sell the incomplete game for more than you will sell the game when it is released. In exchange, you give players access to the alpha and they get to see how the game was developed as it continues. There are two main problems with Alphafunding: one is that when you do Alphafunding and you release your game prominently, when you release your game on Steam Early Access – and it’s an early access game – that is your release event. Whatever press you get, that is the release event that matters. You're going to lose something like half of your potential buyers – I'm one them that you'll always lose – because it’s early access. I go, “Ah, it’s early access. You know, I think I’ll wait until it’s finished. I don’t want to spoil the game for myself. I'd rather see it when it’s done.” You lose a lot of people to that; that’s your release event. After that, you're just going to get gradual viral improvements, so your monthly patches have to be these big, transformative, huge, genre-busting, media explosion events that are super exciting – and if they're not, you're going to just kind of collapse and [inaudible] out and do nothing because you don’t have –. You can’t just put a 1.0 on your game someday and go, “Oh, it’s done! It’s released now! Everyone cares, right?” Because we’ve all been playing your game for months or knowing about your game for months, and the Youtubers have been doing videos for months that there's no more to push. You’ve done the push already, so you have to support your game with those transformative patches. A lot of people can’t do that, especially –. The reason Hot Tin Roof isn’t on early access is we’re a content-driven, single player, once through game. I'm not going to put a game out there that’s like, “The first hour’s done, and now come back for the second hour!” That would die horribly. You have to be something more like Minecraft, omething more like Nuclear Throne, something more like Prison Architect that has these big, transformative changes. And even then, you're still not going to have a release yet; you're just going to have a lot of strong sales, months, and you're going to see how long you can continue that. The other problem with this model is you tend to not finish the game. I mean, the game’s finished, but there's not that sense of “another game is done and I can move on” – it tends to just go as far as the revenue stream will carry it. If your game is a success in early access or the Alphafunding model, you'll hopefully get to finishing the game and maybe you could suddenly call a 1.0. But generally speaking, you're not going to get that far. The game’s going to – I'm a little worried 7 Days to Die is going to fall into this, where their patches are getting less and less exciting and less and less is happening, and I really feel like the game is going to peter out into nothing and disappoint a lot of people, but I don’t know if the developers actually care. I mean, they care, but are they worried about it? Because the game was a huge success already; it made huge sales numbers, so I'm pretty sure they're fine and can move on to the next game. But you don’t get that sense of having finished this game and it’s this product that I can be excited about. Alphafuding is one of the ways around this. It’s another of those avenues. I can’t remember what actually started that but hopefully that was a point of closure. [Chuckles]**CHUCK: So, how do people actually – because it sounds like, you write a game, if you get lucky then you make a whole lot of money on that. Otherwise, how do you actually make a living writing games? MEGAN:**Mobile, in particular, is – what you're describing is called a hits-driven industry. TripleA is infamous for this. The reason TripleA games – like when you saw the latest Tomb Raider, they'd only made $3,000,000 and they were saying it is a financial failure, whatever the actual press release was. The reason you see these absurd stories is because Triple A games require 10 times return on their investment to be considered a success. The reason that happens is because hits-driven models mean for every ten games, one will be a success and nine will be failures. So the only way to get a [inaudible] on that is [inaudible] success. Mobile is essentially the same thing – almost all of your mobile games will be huge failures, and you'll eventually get the hit that actually keeps you alive and gets you to the next hit. A lot of games – they make hits, like Dragon Vale for instance, or Angry Birds. Most of the time, those studios only get the one, big hit and then they just kind of ride that success until it dies, and eventually they collapse because there's just nowhere to go, which is why you see a lot of IPO events and that kind of thing where you can see where the founders escaped before it falls into its death spiral. A lot of them have gotten really good at that. That’s mobile – mobile is very hits-driven, and even ignoring the Angry Birds-sized successes, you tend to get one game which funds you for four years, and then hopefully somewhere in there you have another big success and that funds you. The way you can kind of hedge against that is by lots of smaller games, all of which contributing to a single, larger revenue stream, which is that whole ‘before you jump into the space, you have 10 or 20 games out there, all making at least some money.” If you’ve got at least some money, like my burn rate’s like $1500/month, which is super low for people in the US in general. It’s quite low. It’s not all that hard to stack enough successes for me to get at least close to that burn rate. And even if like I'm halfway there suddenly any money I got saved up will last so much longer. That’s why you hedge against it in mobile space. In desktop space, it’s a little more risky. Like Hot Tin Roof – I've got a lot of money tied up in it, and if Hot Tin Roof is a failure, that could theoretically flatten my entire studio, so I just have to make sure it’s not a failure. The way I do that is by focusing on marketing, focusing on awareness, focusing on polish, so that whenever I release a game, I will know it is a good game. That’s one of the few things you can control. A good game does not mean success; a visible good game generally means success. So long as you focus on both making the game as good as you possibly can, and that honestly mostly down to how much money you’ve scraped together. We’ve had to do some tricks to make sure that we have enough budget to actually make the game what it should be, rather than –. A lot of games fail not because the developers hated the game and are terrible at it – it’s because they simply ran out of money and they had to make hard decisions, and the result was a game that wasn’t as good as it could have been. No game can be perfect, and that’s the enemy of a good game, is the perfect game, and you'll waste your money the other way trying to make it perfect and then eventually it’ll blow out of control.  Retro/Grade is by the way an example of this. Matt Gilgenbach is an awesome guy, and I've actually now met him and he’s really kind of cool, but on Retro/Grade he kind of went into this development hole and made it super polished, super perfect – it is probably the most perfect game you will ever play. But because of that, they spend four years on it and tons of budget, so when they finally released the game, it stood just no chance of succeeding because the bar for its success was so high, reasonable sales won’t ever going to get that. You have to balance those two, but so long as the game is polished – call it reasonably polished – as polished as it should be, and visible, which is another thing you can relatively control so long as you're making a concerted effort to get noticed –. So long as you get both of those things, that’s the way you control risk in PC space. The whole release thousands and thousands of games and they're tiny and they're all stacked up – that doesn’t work in desktop at all. That only works in mobile. Another way you can do it is essentially as a hybrid studio, where you do mobile games as well – mobile-focused games as well as desktop-focused games. And then your mobile-focused games are these smaller, tiny things that don’t really go to PC, but they do develop that kind of low-level income. They also create an audience on mobile so that whenever you release your larger desktop games, and then eventually you [inaudible] to mobile, they stand a chance of succeeding at the level you want them to, rather than –. Without a captive audience, releasing large “premium” games to mobile is really hard, but if you got the audience that you can kind of convert to them, it becomes an easier thing to actually [inaudible]. So if you’ve got that kind of both-sides-playing-thing, that’s another way of controlling the risk on both sides, like in big bets and small bets, but obviously that requires of having the budgets to make those big bets and small bets.CHUCK: So in striking the balance between polish and marketing, I'm wondering how much work do you put into one versus the other. MEGAN: It’s really hard to put a clean line between the two. In general, I probably spend at least one to two hours on social media every single day just interacting with people, talking about things that I'm doing at development. You need to share screenshots weekly; that Screenshot Saturday is extremely important. Depending on who you are, kind of what you go for as far as who you are on Twitter, commenting on the development drama of the day is one way of staying visible, making –. One of the things I do is discuss marketing; I guess it’s something I'm relatively good at and others aren't, and so I try and cover things that I'm seeing other people are doing wrong or doing right and explaining how this is working, why this isn’t working and what they could do differently, yada-yada-yada. I develop conversations based on that. That’s another angle you can pick, but still, you need some amount of social media presence a day, and that’s just – you’ve got to build it into your schedule and it’s super hard and that’s just part of it. As far as how much of that and how much of polish? You should just do as much of both as you can and you hope you're making enough. CHUCK: One other question I have regarding this is, what kinds of things contribute in polish? I think we talked a little bit about having a high-quality game or high-enough quality game, but does that just boil down to artwork and music or am I oversimplifying it? MEGAN: That is oversimplifying it. Make sure this is in the links: there's a video called Juice it or lose it. This is a video done by – I believe it was Vlambeer, or Vlambeer might have a done a different video that’s essentially the same thing 3. The concept of Juice is the concept of feedback from the game that gives you the sense the game is cool and interactive. It’s stuff like screenshake and good audio and music that’s done properly and screen flashes and really compelling – rather than us moving the character, you bounce the character a little bit, rather than just moving the legs, you give him some squats and stretch. All of these little contributing things that altogether add up to what you call Juice. Juice is a huge part of polish. I'm giving an example from Hot Tin Roof, specifically. When we pulled up the journal, the journal is both the options screen as well as the clue system – when we pulled up the journal, we could just do a hard snap to there's a picture of a journal open. We don’t do that; the journal actually swings up from the bottom and then the top cover swings back, and it’s this nice, non-linear 3 that kinda feels physical and has this hit to it. That whole process was something we spent a lot of time on. Or when you go to reload/revolve, or it could’ve just shown a revolver screen and disconnected slots that you put bullets into and made it all very generic and functional, but rather than doing that, when you pull at the revolver, that actually snaps open and there's this nice twist to it and when you change the cylinder you're loading actual bullets into the cylinder and it’s a very kinesthetic feeling. We spent a lot of time on that kinesthetic feeling of our UI, because that’s a huge component of polish. It’s also polish; it’s also graphics; it’s also basic editing – I mean, don’t have typos in your dialogue, please. That’s horrible. It’s also sound; it’s also just gameplay. I'm making sure the mechanics are good; jumping should feel satisfying, it should feel engaging, it should feel “Ah, I just jumped!” Jumping up and down should be something people are giggling at or feeling satisfied by. All of that contributes to polish, and all of that mostly comes from having a time at the end of your development where everything is complete, but you know it’s not quite done and you don’t know why it’s not quite done. That’s where most of the polish comes from, and that last couple of months is the difference between a good game and a great game. And that last couple of months is invariably what gets cut whenever you're just that little bit low on budget. So when I was talking earlier about, you know, whenever you’ve got not enough money that cuts corners and results into not such a good game – that is specifically what I mean. If you don’t have that last few months to just sit there and make the game incrementally better based on little touchy-feely things that are individually irrelevant but altogether add up to a sense of completeness – that’s most of what polish is. REUVEN: I'm curious about that. I mean, we sometimes are talking about SaaS products or other sorts of products; we talk about how people should go out and talk to their clients and find out about the market and everything. Do you do that with a game, or do you just say, “You know? I think it would be really cool if we had such and such a kind of game”? And then you sort of build it all for yourself, because you know that you're going to enjoy it, and it’s like, who do you test it with? Who do you survey? And then how do you check it after it’s almost out, like in beta? MEGAN: The answer to that is, “Yes –.” CHUCK:[Chuckles]MEGAN:“- you do all of those things.” one of the primary components of games that are failures, that fail to hit a market, is that they're games that the developer assumed other people would enjoy. So they make them, and they make the perfect game for themselves. But as it turns out, that’s not the perfect game for anyone but themselves, and it’s a failure – that’s a problem. But it’s also a problem if you don’t enjoy the game you're making. If you are going down a checklist of things that you think would be fun for other people, the game’s not going to be compelling; it’s not going to come through. That process is a lot – so again, going back to [inaudible] games, making IP games, making Kim Possible. Kim Possible, this is a game on the PS2, should have been a terrible game because no one gives a crap about making a Kim Possible game. I liked Kim Possible as a teenager; I thought she was awesome, and even I wouldn’t give a crap about making a Kim Possible game. This villain and that villain and there's the thing with the hat and the naked rat – it just doesn’t matter to me. So what they did is they didn’t make a Kim Possible game; they made a kickass platformer – a really engaging platformer that I, as a developer, would have loved to play, and then it happened to be Kim Possible. That same thing is how you make a good game today, even if it’s your own concept: you find those things in the game that you really, really enjoy and you make them as good as you possibly can be, but while you're doing that, you can’t lose sight of making a game that [inaudible] too. The way you bridge that gap is generally with playtesting. Playtesting is critical, it has to be done at all phases of development, and it needs to be done with people that are not your best friends. It needs to be someone that can tell you, “This is a piece of shit and you should be ashamed for making it your bastard.” If you're not making those games, giving that game to those people, you're going to miss that feedback. The way you develop that is with, again, social media – putting callout for testers, generally speaking, you'll get a lot of feedback. Kickstarter is one way of doing this. You'd get a captive audience that is more engaged with your game than it’s strictly logical unnecessarily, but they're willing to try the game even when it’s early and they’ll give you feedback. Because they're so engaged, they're probably going to be good feedback, like I really hate this, but I want to like it, and here’s 13 pages on why it’s wrong, and you're going to cringe, and you're going to read that whole thing. You’re probably not going to react to that feedback point to point. Like if they say, “The jump should be twice as high,” that is not useful feedback. The feedback you take from that is they don’t like the jump as it is; it is not satisfying. What can I do to make it satisfying? Sometimes that’s as simple as changing the camera [inaudible], or changing the camera position while they're jumping. Sometimes that’s sound, sometimes that’s animation, but you pull out those bits of feedback from playtesting all through your game and you use those to enform the design. You can’t just start with a design and say, “This is going to be the perfect game, and I'm going to make the perfect game, and if people test it and they don’t like it, well they're stupid!” You can’t do that. You have to make sure the game is flexible. You need to keep your voice as a creator, and you can’t just make the game that everyone thinks they want because they don’t really know what they want; they just know what they don’t want. Use all of that. Like I said, yes is the answer. You do all of that, and then you arrive at a game that is hopefully profitable and successful and fun and then scores well in Metacritic.**CHUCK: Can you actually get any feedback before you have a game written, or is that kinda hard to get with the storyboard or general idea or –? MEGAN:**This is one of those points of contention that a lot of designers will say what I'm going to say is bullshit. My personal stance as a designer is that you don’t start with a storyboard. No one gives a crap about the story you're writing; you're not selling a story, you're selling a game. What you start with is a prototype and that prototype is just a box, and it’s a box running on some other boxes. You make that box do the things that the box is going to need to do for whatever the core loop of your game is, and you don’t leave the box phase until you're starting to get a sense for what the game is actually going to be. When I started Hot Tin Roof, I was doing a game a month - onegameamonth.com – which is a great program by the way for any of you who are trying to find an excuse to get yourself into games but don’t quite know where to start, and maybe aren't up to making a game a week. Go for onegameamonth. It is a really, really, really, really good supporting community. The point is, one of those I did was right after we finished Jones On Fire. I didn’t really know what I'm making at this point, but I just played a Receiver, and at that point Receiver was just an automatic pistol – it was a model after 1911. I thought it would be cool to make a revolver that was similarly kinesthetic, that had that sense of presence as a gun, and so I started by making revolver physics. For my one game a month, I had a revolver that was data simulated a revolver, but had no feedback that it was a revolver and no one would reload it. It was totally pointless, but I had the revolver and it felt and sounded like a revolver, so I figured out, “Maybe let’s put a fedora in there.” I put the fedora in there and I put some moody music in and then I added a light that casts strong shadows – and I was suddenly making a [inaudible] game, and it’s a [inaudible] game that’s –. This one was particularly fatalistic; it was just this little demo where you shot a dude or didn’t shoot a dude, and then that was the end, and then it was very simplistic. That’s where the game started, but I started with that playable – that feel of what the game was going to be. The fact that Emma Jones’ game; the fact that Frankie was your sidekick; the fact that it was a murder mystery – all of that spun out for the initial concept for what the game was that had that –. In my last project we called it the Red Thread – this central, narrative feel that connects the whole game. One I've established the start of that [inaudible], I could start to stick other stuff onto it and I gradually figured out the game I was making. But you don’t just sit down and say, “I'm going to make a [inaudible] game” and then have someone’s storyboard and say, “Is this thing compelling?” You start with game mechanics and modeling and something that’s playable, and you get a sense for “Is this fun or not” as early as possible, and you keep iterating on that until it is fun. Once you’ve got to that point and you’ve got some [inaudible] mechanic – whatever it is – and the way you find these mechanics is by doing a ton of small simple game, so that mobile-make-a-thousand-games-thing is a really good strategy for finding some compelling mechanics. Once you’ve got those, you start sticking the mechanics together in ways in your mind and think, “Okay, I've got the revolver and I've got the fedora and I've got this cool lighting that I can do, and I've got the dialog that people are responding to. What happens if I put all of those into a bag and shake it around?” And that’s where you start getting the design, and that’s where you start building everything out. But you're still getting feedback on the playables, because again, this is something you need to drill into your head as a game designer: you are not a writer. I mean, I am a writer, but you are not selling a book; you're not selling a story, you're not selling a character, you're not selling cinematic design, you're not selling a movie – you're selling a game, so you have to start with the game, and that’s what you get feedback on. Everything else is only in service to the game being whatever the game is going to be. Even something like Gone Home – Gone Home, by the way, if you're not aware, is a first-person adventure game with no combat or death of any kind. It is simply exploring a house. You might be under the mistaken impression that that means you're selling the story of exploring the house – no. What you are selling if you make a Gone Home game is the interaction, the kinesthetic feeling of being present in the house and exploring the house, and the satisfying interactions with the things you find in the house. That’s the game; everything else is only in support of what the player is actually doing. When you have a disconnect between what a player is doing and what the story is trying to tell you, it is called, giant air quotes “ludonarrative dissonance.” If you say this word outside of game theory groups, you're probably going to get slapped. Very few people are willing to explain this, but ludonarrative dissonance is when there is a disconnect between what the player is doing mechanically gameplay-wise and what the story says you're doing. The best example I can give of ludonarrative dissonance is “press x to cut off his head” so you press x, and then there's a giant cinematic thing of that [inaudible] ripping the head off and shutting down his neck, and then he pokes the eye out, “press y to poke eye” – it’s stupid! And all it is is a really bare, simplistic connection between wanting an excuse to have this huge, expansive cinematic, but oh, wait! We’re not making a movie – we can’t just have this play out. What can the player be doing? I know, he’ll press a button! That’s what happens whenever you don’t pay attention to ludonarrative dissonance. You get that. Focus on what the player is doing; whatever you're writing needs to be in some way related to what the player is doing and played back into it in some way. It doesn’t mean that it has to involve a sword or that it has to involve –. For instance, we have a revolver. The game is focused heavily – Hot Tin Roof – around the interactions with a revolver. You can shoot people – there is literally not a single thing in the game you can't kill. We’re not even sure if people can sure you yet. All of our threats right now are environmental or ephemeral in some way – things like fire pits or having a rock dropped on you – more disconnected than you know of some dude shooting you. This is an intentional decision because we've wanted to make a statement about having a satisfying mechanic that didn’t involve killing people since it’s kind of a [inaudible] thing in a lot of games too. By the way, having a satisfying mechanic doesn’t mean a mechanic you’ve seen in another game. It doesn’t mean that. It just means that you focus on making the game itself satisfying to play, and that the act of playing that should be satisfying even before you hand all of your narrative dressing on it, and whatever narrative dressing you hang on to it should support the game in some way. Gone Home – I don’t want to give any spoilers, and I won’t – the act of exploring the house and the way they present the house and what you're doing in the house and the way a room’s state when you enter it is different from the room’s state whenever you leave it. All of this contribute, in a way, to the plot being told, the story being told. The two come together really well; there's a sense of mystery and exploration and discovery that is supported by the game itself, as well as what you're doing with the story. You focus on the game first, and everything else is secondary.**CHUCK: Very nice. REUVEN:**Megan I have to ask this although I think the answer is pretty obvious from the way you're talking. [Inaudible] was talking about how you go to be a freelancer because – a freelance programmer, because you love programming, and then you discover a lot of it is drudgery and it’s not –. It’s fun, certainly you're enjoying it, but a lot of your time is taken up and you're not necessarily enjoying as much as you would have thought. You sound like you really, really love what you do.**MEGAN: Yes! Yes, I do! One of the most surprising things about all of this is – three years ago, if you'd ask me if I wanted to be a marketer, I would have laughed in your face, just flat out. But it turns out I'm actually really good at it, which is really good because that’s a critical skill set in this space. So not only do I love the act of making games, I love what games are, I love the connection that you can develop with your audience. Games for me have always been important; I came to grips with sexuality as a kid thanks largely to games like Ultima VII. Ultima VII has no themes of sexuality, by the way; you really don’t need to try and figure out why playing as Spark and shooting – he had this really awful slingshot which is his weapon, but the first thing you did was give him a sword. I'm not saying that there are themes of sexuality in the game at all, but a lot of things I was going through at that point, the game gave me this virtual world within which to explore these things. For instance, that was one of the first games where you could actually be a female character. The female character is responded to differently than the male character and the second Ultima VII which was Serpent Isle there was actually a lesbian relationship depending on what gender your character was, which was kind of cool. All of that stuff was how I connect with games and it’s part of why it’s so important to me. As a gamer developer now, the idea that I can create this space for people to explore themselves, figure out who they are as people, then to inform them, to inspire them – that’s so cool, and that’s what I'm doing daily now since this is actually my business. So yeah, I enjoy games, I love the programming of them, I actually enjoy even the marketing of them, developing, getting to go on talks like this or developing connections with media people who have this whole other perspective on this space that I can learn from, talking to Youtubers is really cool since their perspective on space is still different from anyone else in media since they're professional game players in a very literal sense. They're kind of whenever a kid wants to be a game developer when they grow up and they're six, Youtubers are kinda literally what they're thinking of in their brain, and that’s awesome! But yes, I love everything about it. CHUCK: I'm with Reuven here, I really love the passion and the excitement here is just – it’s fun and it makes me want to go out and try and build a game. MEGAN: You should! Everyone should make a game. CHUCK: So are there things about being in the indie game development field that we haven't asked about maybe because we didn’t know to ask or that people don’t really think about when they're looking at it? MEGAN:**Oh, let me think about that. One of the downsides of indie games is you do get a – there's obviously politicking involved, and there's some weird factions that’s set up. I've kind of touched on this with being on Twitter – you can’t be an asshole on Twitter. You just can’t, and that’s kind of sad because a lot of people are well-meaning assholes, and they're just kinda jabbing at people because it’s fun, and if you're in person, they do it with a smirk and you realize you're having fun and they respond in kind. It’s fine – I know a couple of people like this; I've been through the packs, the cool people. But on Twitter, that’s not how it comes across. Text loses that subtext; you don’t see them smirking when they say it, and then someone responds not in kind and they get rude, and then if you're the kind of person that can’t take that and apologize or say, “I'm sorry, that’s not what I meant” or “Oh, I'm sorry, you're correct, I was incorrect, I shouldn’t have said that” – if you're that kind of person that gets angry and responds back angry, you turn into a Phil Fish effigy and that’s just bad. It’s so easy to step into that, and so many people do. That’s one of the down sides of indie – the criticality of Twitter, the criticality of being a public persona, when most people aren't well-equipped with a public persona. Most people can over time, but maybe you dived into social media too early and you're not prepared for it and you make an ass of yourself and that follows you forever – that’s one of the downsides. Another one is there is an in-crowd to sense and an out-crowd sense. For instance, Indie Megabooth is a great example of this. Indie Megabooth is this even that is now at most of the game conventions. It started at PAX. The idea was, let’s take a space on the main [inaudible] floor – normally it would be like an EA or Microsoft or whatever – but let’s take it and divide it amongst indies, and then we’ll be on the main [inaudible] floor with all their guys, but we’ll be doing cool indie stuff and let’s see what happens. It works really well. You get all of these smaller games in smaller spaces competing head to head with these huge studios, and it turns out that that’s the most exciting space in the entire show, and it’s been that way for years. Well, a couple of years now. But as it’s grown it’s harder to get into. I, for instance, have just enough social connections and things that I can still get in there. A lot of people are struggling and they can’t, so there's this –. Indie was initially founded on inclusiveness, but as it becomes more popular and more people are in the space, it becomes more and more difficult to be truly inclusive. And you start getting a lot of people that find they can’t hurdle this. For instance, even though Steam, they’ve lowered the bar substantially, there is still a bar to entry. A lot of people can’t hurdle that bar. Why they can’t do it is down to they’ve been not very good at marketing, they’ve been not very good with social media, maybe they're not very good at putting themselves out there, maybe they don’t want to be good at these things. Maybe they just want to make a good game. I guess that’s really the focus of all of this. There are people that want to get good at the things that required of being a prominent developer, and then there are people that just want to make good games and expect those good games to be promotional in and of themselves, and increasingly that’s not the way it is. I don’t know if this is a bad or a good thing, because if you can actually hurdle the admittedly relatively low hurdle, you'll find that the industry is great and that there's a ton of avenues to try and that it’s great. But that hurdle – I don’t think was as much there before, and a lot if it is just stuff like Minecraft where people are seeing this and going, “Ah, I can make a living out of this” so maybe people that wouldn’t have tried to hurdle it before are trying to get in there now because they want to make a living out of it. Maybe that’s part of it, maybe it’s just that this was always here but as the industry has grown, or as indie has grown, more and more people that can’t make the hurdle have appeared in another space. Whatever it is, that’s the other downside, and I don’t know if there's really a point in here. Just realize that yes, it is an open, accepting, interactive space – there are a lot of cool people there, but it’s not perfectly open. It’s not perfectly accessible. There is a bare minimum of whatever push that you have to be able to give your product to actually get into that space, and if you can’t make that a lot of people are going to get bitter. You’ve got to be aware of that, and you got to think about whether or not you can be a person to push across, or you want to be the person that’s pushed across. Maybe you're find just being in one of the indie niches – there's a ton of them, and they're not bad! But it’s really hard to make a living in one of the niches that can’t quite get that wider indie recognition. That’s another of those things that a lot of people don’t realize about it that’s an important component to realize before just jumping in head first. And then finally – this is the big one – I don’t know what people think of my income levels. Maybe they assume that since I've been here for three years that I'm making tons of money – I'm not. I'm barely scraping by and that’s true of most indies. That’s just kind of something that you have to accept, especially if you have kids. It gets super hard to actually make enough money to survive. You have to be willing to – probably for two or three years – essentially scrape by in almost nothing and burn savings before you get that hit that can actually propel you into the wider space. Often it’s not even a hit; it’s just a relatively decent success that finally lets you scrape by a little bit longer. Yeah, and those are the main things that maybe aren't obvious.**CHUCK: Okay. One more question, and that is, it seems like a lot of the folks you talked about, you know them by a handle of some kind as opposed to an actual name. I don’t know if you know their names or not, but is that kind of the way that people talk about each other in the gaming community? MEGAN: Maybe. Like Ryan – again, sorry Ryan, I don’t know your last name – Ryan Letourneau, his last name, he is Northernlion. RedPandaGamer – sorry dude, I just flat out I don’t know your name, I'm terrible with names – I think of him as RedPandaGamer because that’s what he is; you go to Youtube and that’s who he is. Northernlion, you go to Youtube and that’s who he is. I don’t know if everyone else thinks of them this way; I think of them that way because I'm terrible with names. It’s just that, flat out, I'm just so bad with names. In general, I think most people actually do remember names because it’s close enough that you remember people pretty well, but handles are not uncommon. For instance, Whitaker Tribella, I think of him as WTribella because that’s his handle. Ian, he’s one of the developers of Nimblebit - I always think of him as Ian, and most people refer to him as Ian because his handle is everywhere. So it kinda goes back and forth; it depends on the person. CHUCK: Okay. Do you guys have any other questions? REUVEN: No, I think we covered a lot. CHUCK: Alright, well if people want to get started or they want to get a hold of you, what's the best way to do that? MEGAN: You can email me at megan@glassbottomgames.com. By far, the easiest way to get a hold of me is to tweet at me @glassbottommeg. CHUCK: Alright. One other question that just occurred to me: are most game developers hardcore gamers? MEGAN:**Hard question. Most indie developers are, but hardcore gamer does not necessarily mean TripleA gamer. A lot of them hate TripleA games and just play a lot of retro games, but yes, almost all indie developers are hardcore gamers of some kind. If you into the TripleA space, you'd actually start to find a lot of production staff and some programmers and even some designers, which is sad, that don’t play games. They don’t play modern games; they hadn’t played any games of the type that they're making, and I think it’s a really bad idea and that it results in poor, soulless games, which, if you look at some TripleA games, kinda makes sense. It kinda runs the gamut, depending on who you're talking about. People have different arguments as to how much that matters. One of the places where it’s actually a good thing that this is the case is in-games just across the board. We have a problem where we only tell so many stories, and those stories are based mostly on who makes the games. People played WoW so now they want to make WoW. People get into the industry – like I got into the industry because I played Ultima VII and I'd loved the game, so now I'm kinda thinking in terms of RPGs and RPG mechanics and dialog and that kinda thing. If you [inaudible] an artist who got into the industry because they really like impressionism and now they want to make games, but they're really focused on selling what they love about impressionism and making that something that other people experience, or if you get narrative designers coming in that have a totally different experience and background – those voices are super critical if we want to broaden the message we’re communicating. The best example I can give of this is Hidden Path Entertainment? I think so. They made the path, they made the game about the old lady walking through the graveyard, they made the game about being a deer walking through a forest, and they're currently working on a game that I couldn’t even describe. It’s kind of like this tunnel with mouse coming at you and it has heavy themes of sexuality. They're one of those groups that has non-experience that has nothing to do with games, and they tell radically different stories because of it. Another of them is Anna Anthropy, Dysphoria is a fantastic game that is incredibly low-fi and it explains your experience as a transgendered woman and what she went through to get to where she is today, what she goes through every day. Again, these different voices – just because someone doesn’t play games doesn’t necessarily mean they're not going to contribute well to the story or judge the game you're making. But it is important to have key members of your staff that have some idea of what you're making if you want whatever you're making to be intelligible as a game. It’s really important that everyone be a core gamer if you're making a genre game. If you're setting out to make a Zelda, if you're setting out to make a Wow, if you're setting out to make a third-person action RPG, for pete’s sake, everyone needs to have played a third-person action RPG. But, in indie space especially, you're not setting out to make a genre game so that  becomes less important, but ironically, indie has a stronger contingent of hardcore gamers than TripleA probably has, so it’s kind of reversed as to what the developing types should be. Overly long-winded answer, but yes.**CHUCK: Still interesting. Alright, well thanks for coming on the show. We’re going to go ahead and do the picks now. Eric, do you want to start us off with the picks? ERIC: Sure. I heard this a couple of months ago, but if you have to make a decision about something, like a lot of recommendations said I do a pro-con list, and I guess Benjamin Franklin actually recommended it to a friend in a letter, and it’s a different way of doing a pro-con list. It’s kind of interesting because, in a way, it’s where you give different weights to different items based on how important they are, but his way of doing it is actually really simple and you don’t actually need an excel to do it. Obviously, he didn’t have excel, so I found a pdf that’s actually of the letter and then the poster that posted it has some details about, the key things why this is easier to do and better to do than a straight, normal pro-con list. CHUCK: Very interesting. Reuven, what are your picks? REUVEN: I've got two picks for today. The first one, I was reminded of Megan talking about things, about this game that I actually had on my phone a few years ago – I think it might have even been recommended on Ruby Rogues – called Game Dev Story, which is like a little simulation game that you're running your own little indie game. I guess not an indie game, like you're running your own little game company. I found it to be incredibly addictive for probably about a month or so, but I played it. So that’s a fun one if you don’t want to actually develop games but you want to play them and you do want to pretend that you could succeed in that industry, that might be a fun game to play. The other thing is, as listeners know, I live in Israel and we've been having all sorts of, shall we say, fun and excitement over the last week or so. CHUCK: It’s raining! REUVEN: It’s raining, yes! It’s raining rockets. One of the heroes in the country is this thing called Iron Dome and regardless of politics, regardless of your interest in the middle East or anything, if you're an engineer, this has got to be one of the coolest technologies I have ever, ever seen or heard about in my life, so it’s definitely worth reading about, seeing what they do and how they got it to work together. The fact that this works at all, as far as I'm concerned, is a minor miracle. And the fact that it’s actually saving lots of lives, all the better. Anyway, those are my picks for this week. CHUCK:**Very cool. I'm going to go ahead and pick a few games that I enjoy on my iPhone. The first one is DragonVale; I think Megan mentioned it at some point during our conversation today. I've also enjoyed quite a bit the – I forgot what it’s called – Candy Crush type games, so I like Candy Crush and Pet Rescue or [inaudible] that I play off and on. And then I've really been enjoying this one called BH Legacy, which is kind of like a Zelda-type game and you tap around the screen to move, and then you tap on enemies to attach them and stuff like that. I don’t even know how many hours I spent playing this thing on my iPhone, of all things, which is really making me want to get an iPad that’s newer than the one I have. So yeah, the Battleheart Legacy 1.0 is by Mika Mobile, and I’ll put links to all of those in the show notes. But yeah, these are just cool games. Megan, what are your picks?**MEGAN:My game pick is Broforce, which is just an absurd [inaudible] of ‘80s culture – ‘80s and ‘90s action movies. I don’t even want to go into – it’s an early access game, like I was mentioning earlier, and it’s probably one of the early access games that’s actually going to come to a satisfying conclusion. It’s absurd and it’s funny and it’s great. And then to kind of offset the bro-ness of mentioning Broforce, I would also recommend the poetry of William Blake, specifically Auguries of Innocence, in the spirit of finding inspiration from things that have nothing to do with games.CHUCK: Very cool. Well thanks for coming on and talking to us about game development. It’s always fun to kinda get a different angle on what we do and see some opportunities there to do something interesting. MEGAN: Well thanks for having me. CHUCK: Alright. For our listeners, we are reading To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink, so go pick up the book and read it. We’ll be talking to Daniel in a few weeks. Other than that, we’ll catch you next week! [Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net]**[Bandwidth for this segment is provided by CacheFly, the world’s fastest CDN.  Deliver your content fast with CacheFly. 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