Indies: You Are Your Game

Hello, everyone!

This is Frank DiCola of Game Revenant, here with another post on our blog. Typically we use this space to chronicle the development of Where Shadows Slumber, a mobile puzzle adventure coming to iOS and Android later this year. However, this week things will be different. We’re going to take some time to brag about how great we are, both as game developers and as Renaissance men.

Yes, you read that correctly. This blog is about the personal skills that accompany independent game development, and why we have them and you don’t.

We’ll get a chance to talk about how Jack and I first met, the importance of acting and public speaking classes, and how indies become inseparable from their games.

 

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FRANK: “Where are my EGGS???” / JACK: “Here, here are your EGGS!!”

Where It All Began – Off Center

This blog post is a good opportunity to answer some questions that people ask us.

How did you meet? Did you always know you wanted to work on games?

Jack and I both went to Stevens Institute of Technology, graduating just a few years apart. We actually met in the comedy troupe known as “Off Center” (pronounced “off-chenter”) that performed sketch comedy and improv shows. I had just gotten rejected from the main stage fall play Noises Off, which was a new experience for me. Coming from high school, I was used to being the big fish in a small pond. I felt really confused, and Off Center was there for me. I started going to their show planning meetings.

The club focused on running short, free comedy shows twice a semester. They would usually be in the largest lecture hall we could find on campus. It wasn’t exactly a stage, since the seats were raised in an amphitheater style. It was more like a Colosseum.

I remember being really impressed during the meeting where we were casting everyone into the various sketches for the show. Jack took on like, 12 roles or something insane. Just because the show needed him! His stage presence was (and is) undeniable as well. Whenever the director told people they needed to be louder, they would just say “try to be as loud as Jack.”

Of course, we didn’t realize we both wanted to make video games until we found ourselves in an Intro to Game Design class a few years later. By then, we were already friends. But we’re not here to talk about game development. Let’s talk about the skills acting provides and why you, an indie developer, absolutely need them.

 

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The Only Thing You Have To Fear Is Public Speaking

You never know when opportunity is going to strike. Often times, as an indie developer, you’ll be given the rare chance to “pitch” your game to someone important. It could be a potential publisher who doesn’t have time to play your demo but can spare 30 seconds to hear a quick description. Maybe it’s a spur of the moment pitching contest, like the one I got 3rd place in at GDC last year, where you have to come up with a verbal presentation with no prep time and deliver it five times in a crowded bar. Heaven forbid, it could be an actual stage presentation where you need to pitch your game in front of an actual audience with nothing but your own PowerPoint presentation to save you.

Are your palms getting sweaty yet? Now imagine you’re at a booth at a show like PAX East demonstrating your game. About a hundred people will walk by the booth every hour. Do you have what it takes to attract them to your game? Could you handle talking to that many strangers for such a long period of time?

If these “opportunities” feel more like nightmares, you aren’t alone. Public speaking is something that people rarely get to experience for themselves. As a result, when you’re “put on the spot”, you panic. It’s perfectly normal. Public speaking is a skill you have not honed, and now you need to do it for the first time ever in front of a real audience?! No fair!

The skills you need for the examples above are all things that Jack and I exposed ourselves to during the Off Center years. After performing more than 15 shows over the course of a few years, with a few main-stage productions thrown in there, you get the hang of it. You learn how to:

  • Speak slowly, confidently, and audibly
  • Be comfortable making up a script and then deviating from it if necessary
  • Say what you need to say without going over the time allotted
  • Communicate your message non-verbally with your body

It’s normal to be afraid of acting in a play, giving a speech, or improvising a scene. But as independent developers, you are the public face of your game! Like it or not, there’s no one else that can wear this marketing hat for you. You have to do it. And you can’t ignore important opportunities to win prizes or glory just because you neglected to put points into your Speechcraft skill. Should your game really suffer because you never learned how to project your voice? What if the future of your game depended on knowing what to do with your hands while you stand up on stage nervously? (Hint: don’t put them in your pockets)

 

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We live right near Manhattan, where the UCB has a few teaching theaters.

3 Ways To Level Your Speechcraft Skill

Let’s get nerdy for a moment. Imagine this is nothing more than a role-playing game like Morrowind, and you’re a character with various skills and abilities. You have a Speechcraft skill, but it’s low. Very low. High enough that you can talk to your friends and family, but not much higher than that. You’re super nervous for the first 10 minutes you’re with a stranger, such as on a job interview. As for getting up on a stage and talking to a crowd, you’re level restricted from even trying that. What do you do?

If you were trying to level your Sword skill, you’d take fencing classes. If you wanted to level Lockpicking, you’d probably join a hobbyist group of (ethical) lockpicks who have a passion for locks and love to crack them for fun. To level your Speechcraft in real life, you need to make an actual plan to expose yourself to public speaking. It won’t just happen on its own. This is a skill, after all. Skills don’t just magically level with no effort on your part. Here are three things you can do:

Join the club: If you’re still in high school or college, I really encourage you to try out for the play or join any kind of drama club your school has. Larger schools may have a wide range of acting stuff – the most helpful thing will be improv. Improvisation is a school of comedy where the actors go on stage without a script and make everything up on the spot. You don’t need to learn how to be a hilarious comedian. What you need is the ability to go out on stage without a plan and do more than just survive — thrive!

Join a community theater: If you’re out of school, it would be weird to hang around your school like a weirdo. I would never do that. <_< So instead, see if your town has a local theater that puts on a few plays a year. Don’t worry about the competition, just audition and see what happens. Remember, you’re not training for Broadway. You just need to become a competent enough speaker to feel comfortable in your own skin.

Take improv classes: This one will cost money, but if you live near a city (especially a hip cool city where all the people are hip and cool and do hip, cool things) you should be able to find a comedy club that also offers classes. The best part about doing this is that they’ll treat you like a beginner instead of expecting you to already be good. Some of these classes also do shows at the end as a final exam / graduation. It’s a good way to test your skill. After all, if you can make up a bunch of silly jokes, you can certainly talk about something you know very well – your game!

 


 

The next time I see you at a convention, you better look me in the eye and shake my hand! Then, you better beat me for first prize in the game pitching contest.

See you in the Colosseum.

 

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Get out there and start acting! If you have any other questions about Where Shadows Slumber, feel free to contact us! You can always find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, join the Game Revenant Discord, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

2017 Year In Review

On this date one year ago, Where Shadows Slumber didn’t even exist.

Hard to believe, right? There was a Demo on the store called Where Shadows Slumber Demo, but the official game project had not even been started yet! We’ve come so far in just one year. Everything you’ve seen online of the final game was started in 2017, from the level design, to the environment, to our new character models.

To ring in the new year, let’s take a look at the big milestones we hit in 2017 while working on Where Shadows Slumber.

 

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January 2017 – Rocked MAGFest!

I had to mention this one first because the timing is hilarious. Tomorrow, we’re heading out to Maryland again for MAGFest 2018! That was exactly how we kicked off 2017, too. This year, just like last year, the organizers of MIVS (the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase) saw something special in our game. So we’re going to be there for all four days of MAGFest in their massive indie game section, showing people a few Levels from Where Shadows Slumber and getting their feedback. Getting into MIVS every year is not a guarantee, so we were glad to be invited back. This year, we even get to stay in the official hotel!

But to be honest, MAGFest is a tough show. It’s the very first thing of the year, which makes it a bit stressful. I’d love to catch my breath and plan out how I’m going to finish a big pile of art, artistic polish, effects, cutscenes, and aesthetic optimizations. Instead, we’re going to be showing the game off to people for 7 hours straight, four days in a row. I remember last year’s show – it was fun, but exhausting. Even so, that’s a good problem to have. We’ll let you know how this year’s MAGFest goes next week, after our return!

 

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March 2017 – The Game Developers Conference

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March was an incredible show. I’ll be bummed if we can’t go again this year. I really enjoyed scoping it out in 2017, and I’d love to pay for Jack to come with me. (And hey, why not Caroline, Alba and Noah while we’re at it?) It may not be in the cards this year because we’ll still be in heads-down production mode by the time the show rolls around. But while I was there, I attended the Independent Games Festival and made a note to submit our Demo to the contest when it opened again. Sometime in the fall of 2017, we sent in our application. We haven’t heard back yet, so cross your fingers!

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The big surprise of my trip to GDC was attending the Big Indie Pitch and scoring third place! It was a totally impromptu thing where I had basically no time to prepare my quick pitch of the game, and deliver it perfectly before five teams of judges. This is where having a polished Demo really came in handy. There’s just no time to fiddle with a development build when you’re under the gun like that. Want to read about that experience? Well, my blog post about GDC 2017 was so good, PocketGamer put it on their website!

That’s probably because it was also a big ad for their contest, but… sometimes you just have to play the game to get noticed, man [ >‿o]

 

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March 2017 – PAX East Indie Showcase (PEIS)

March was busy for us! We didn’t just go to PAX East – Where Shadows Slumber was selected out of a large field of applicants to be a part of their Indie Showcase. This saved us a ton of money, which we really appreciated. It cost $50 to send in our Demo to be reviewed, but considering they gave us a free booth, it’s as if we saved $2,000!

But there’s more to it than that. They gave us a place of honor, along with four other really cool indie teams with awesome games. Being in such a crucial intersection of the main hall meant we got tons of traffic. (We even got a spot on a corner, which meant confused travelers often spotted us and walked over to our table out of sheer interest!)

When I’m feeling down, I worry about what might happen if Where Shadows Slumber isn’t the groundbreaking critical and financial success I know it can be. But then I think of “that time we were in the PAX East Indie Showcase” and I remember that they saw something special in us, long before we even began work on the final project.

Check out the video above and skip to the parts where they recorded Jack talking about our experience, Where Shadows Slumber, and indie development!

 

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June 2017 – AwesomeCon

Because Where Shadows Slumber is so awesome and we went to MAGFest earlier in the year, the organizers of AwesomeCon’s MAGFest room invited us to a show called AwesomeCon. I was very nervous for this show for two big reasons: I was going alone, and I was bringing a build of brand new Levels that had never been tested before. To make things worse, Jack and I agreed that the Levels should not receive an artistic pass until we figured out what everyone thought of them. That was the correct strategic move, but I got sick of telling people “just ignore the art and let me know what you think of the design!”

Customers, gamers, and fans… they don’t see the game as a collection of parts, like we do. It’s one big experience to them. It’s impossible for people not to comment on things you want them to ignore, unless they are also game designers. The good news is that Where Shadows Slumber got a free ride to yet another massive show, and plenty of people gave us super honest feedback about those early Levels.

It may seem weird to ask for all that feedback after having a Demo on the store for so many months, but you can never be too careful. Only one Level from the Demo actually made it over into the final game, so it was necessary to humble ourselves and start from scratch to get everything right.

 

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August 2017 – PLAY NYC

The Playcrafting organization has been nothing but good to us ever since we first darkened their doors for their free game event in the Spring of 2016. When Dan Butchko called to let me know they were working on a bigger show and wanted indies to purchase booth space, I was on board immediately. Normally, Playcrafting events are free. But PLAY NYC was an ambitious step forward for the New York City game industry, so it was worth the money to help make this show happen.

We loved it! We recommend that every tri-state indie reading this seriously considers going to PLAY NYC 2018. Get a booth if you have a game, or just buy a badge and walk the floor on Saturday.

New York City has everything, because it’s a massive metropolis. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, there are better places in the United States to make games. (Texas and California spring to mind) If we want to make Silicon “Alley” a reality, we need to support massive endeavors like PLAY NYC. If the New York City game industry scene actually becomes a “real thing” one day, we’ll have Playcrafting to thank. Plus, the show was packed with awesome people who were super interested in our game. It was probably our best investment of the year. Did I mention it was about 40 minutes from my Hoboken apartment? GO TO THIS SHOW!

 

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September 2017 – Big TechRaptor Interview

New Jersey-based journalist Robert Adams had met us at a few Playcrafting events before I contacted him about an interview. The article, over on TechRaptor, remains one of the best snapshots of our thinking that exists on the Internet.

Because I was on the phone with Robert instead of typing my replies, I got a chance to rant and ramble a lot. This led to us delving into some deep topics, which I appreciated. Give it a read over on their website!

In it, we discuss the origins of Game Revenant, my tragic corporate backstory, the art direction of Where Shadows Slumber, our progress over the past two years, mobile vs Steam, virtual reality’s prospects, release dates, the game’s price, and why Jack is our hero.

 

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September 2017 – Alba & Noah Join The Team

This is related to PLAY NYC since we met them there, but it’s worth mentioning independently: we hired two awesome audio designers! I had a lot of fun making whistling noises with my mouth as I made the sound effects for the wind in our free Demo… but that wasn’t going to cut it. We needed professionals who love the game, love music, and love adding in detailed sound effects. And we found them!

 

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October 2017 – Crazy Traveling

This month marked the most traveling I’ve ever done in such a short period of time. For some reason, October is designated as “every conference all at once month.” Don’t ask me why…

It seems weird to mention this in our Year In Review because none of these shows were originally intended as “marketing shows.” That means I didn’t go to them expecting to advertise Where Shadows Slumber. Rather, I just wanted to be an anonymous indie developer. That’s why Jack didn’t need to come to these either – we’re trying to minimize the amount of time he takes off from work, so that he can cash those vacation days in for when it really counts. (Or just for actual vacations!)

Anyway, it turns out I suck at being incognito. I won 2nd place at a game pitching contest when I went to Seattle for the last Mobile Games Forum ever, and then got to demo Where Shadows Slumber at IndieCade’s GameTasting event for a few hours in Los Angeles. Whoops! Unite 2017 in Austin, Texas ended up being the best one for networking. I highly recommend that show if you are a Unity developer! Meeting the people who built this game engine is an incredible resource. You can read my recap posts if you’re interested in getting my brutally honest take about what those shows were like.

 

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December 2017 – Ask Me Anything Event

We ended the year by taking your questions on the website AMAfeed. This website simulates the “AMA” threads that are really popular on Reddit. We got way more questions than I expected, and I answered them all – so if you’re dying to know the innermost workings of our hearts, check out our archived post.

This experience was great. It was like a trial run for a Reddit AMA, which I expect would get more traffic, but would be more demanding. We’ve decided to keep a bank of answers to commonly asked questions on hand, to make sure we can answer questions faster next time! We’ll look into setting one of those up on Reddit. If we do, we’ll post any information about it here to this blog.

 


 

As you can see, 2017 was a year marked by both hectic travel and silent, unrecognized work. It’s not flashy to talk about the long nights we spent in front of the computer plodding along, or the snippets of time we found in our lives to work on this game. People usually want to hear about the big stuff (when’s your next show?) but the hour-to-hour details are harder to chronicle. Rest assured that every big show we attended was book-ended by hours upon hours of work, as we strive to finish Where Shadows Slumber as soon as possible.

Whether you’ve been following this blog all throughout 2017 or you just joined us, we hope to have your support in 2018. Please continue to share our free Demo, our website, and this blog with people in your life who enjoy indie games. Our goal in 2018 is to finish what we started and offer the world a beautiful experience they’ve never seen before. Knowing that there’s an audience out there waiting to enjoy it is a powerful motivator! Get in touch with us by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or just by trolling us in the comments [ ^_^]

Happy New Year!

 

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Do you have any interesting resolutions for New Year’s? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Frank DiCola is the founder and CEO of Game Revenant, a game studio in Hoboken, NJ.

Ask Us Anything on #AMAFeed!

Over the weekend, Mandy from AMAfeed reached out to us via email and invited us to host an AMA using their service. This blog post contains all the details you’ll need to know if you want to participate!

But first, for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym ‘AMA’…

 

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A verification photo of the AMA in progress.

What The Heck Is An ‘AMA’?

The acronym AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything.” It’s a time honored tradition on the web that goes back to the days of AOL and message boards, where users would open themselves up to any line of questioning for a short period of time. The practice has gained recent popularity on the website Reddit, where even Barack Obama hosted one of these events during his tenure as President of the United States.

These tend to be accompanied by some kind of verification photo (see above) to prove that the person is who they say they are. It’s unfortunately very common for people to pretend to be Morgan Freeman when they are in fact not Morgan Freeman. The good thing is, we’re too small to even get copy-catted. It’s definitely us!

We always answer your fan emails and Twitter messages. But the purpose of hosting one of these AMA events is to take questions en masse for a few days and also advertise the game to complete strangers. As the name implies, you can ask us anything – the only questions we will refuse to answer are those that would cause us to break a contractual Non-Disclosure Agreement.

 

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How Does This Work At #AMAfeed?

Our AMA can be found at this link. In order to ask us a question, you’ll either need to make an account with #AMAfeed or connect an existing social media account. Personally, I prefer not to make accounts with websites like this that I may not use too often. I just connected the Game Revenant Twitter account to #AMAfeed and it’s worked just fine so far.

You can ask whatever you want, whenever you want, and I will answer. However, my answers will not appear until Wednesday, December 20th at 3:00 pm when this thing officially launches. It’s cool – they give the hosts a grace period of 48 hours to answer questions so that it’s not overwhelming. When Morgan Freeman did one of these, he was getting at least 100 questions every hour. (But was that truly Morgan Freeman?)

This event will end on December 24th at 3:00 pm since I won’t be available to answer questions during Christmas anyway.

 

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What’s Next?

The Where Shadows Slumber team looks forward to your interesting questions! See you on #AMAfeed…

And stay tuned for our April 1st #AMAfeed post, where we’ll be pretending to be award-winning actor Morgan Freeman!

 

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Don’t read this bottom thing! Ask us a question on #AMAfeed! You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Frank Opinion: Why Our Game Is Premium

Believe it or not, Jack and I don’t spend every waking minute of our lives with our heads buried in our computer screens working on Where Shadows Slumber. Occasionally, we take the time to read up on current events in the game industry!

The big news of last week was Star Wars Battlefront 2’s controversial loot-box system, and how EA and Disney tried desperately to pull up as their starship careened toward the surface in a full nose-dive. I’m not a journalist, so I’ll let you look up the story on your own. Personally I’m a huge fan of this YouTuber YongYea – watch the last 5 or 6 videos on his channel and you’ll get the full story. (Coarse language warning – YongYea gets pretty passionate about this subject.)

Honestly, the headlines of these videos alone are enough to give you the idea. Are you an expert on lootboxes and the EA controversy yet? Yes? Great, let’s dive right in!

 

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Why Are You Blogging About This?

It may seem odd to bring up EA and Star Wars Battlefront 2 in a blog that’s dedicated to following the progress of our mobile puzzle game. However, Jack and I write these blogs for a few reasons. Progress updates are great, but sometimes we like to take the time to spill our guts and let you know exactly what we’re thinking and why we made certain key decisions along the way.

Recently I attended the Mobile Games Forum. As I wrote in my blog post, I felt a bit out of place at that conference. Industry executives are really moving away from premium games! Nearly everyone I met was either a free-to-play developer or an ad network executive trying to sell us their services. Sometimes I felt downright insulted by the comments these guys made towards me and my “ancient” business model. I heard things like “the market is only 7% premium these days” and “game developers are the only ones who miss the premium model.” At the limit, I heard the scariest thing imaginable: The premium market is dead.

So I’d like to take this week’s blog post as an opportunity to talk about the recent controversy with EA, and relate it to the apparent death of the premium business model. But first, we need to define these terms in case I’m using technical jargon you’ve never heard before. (This is an educational blog, after all…) Then we need to mention some disclaimers so people don’t flame me in the comments section.

 

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Disclaimers and Definitions

Before we dive in – what the heck am I talking about? To someone who doesn’t study the entertainment industry, this blog post is probably a bit confusing so far. Here are the terms I’m going to use, and what I think they mean. Hit me up in the comments if I make a big mistake and I’ll update the blog.

PremiumYou see a game on the App Store. It costs 5 dollars. You pay the money, and download the game. You play it. You never have a reason (or the ability) to spend more money in-game after this point. There are no advertisements or “time-wasters” in the game.

Free, With Ads: You see a game on the App Store. It costs 0 dollars to download! You download it for free and play it. During the game, advertisements for real-world products pop up at regular intervals. These can be images or videos. The developer makes a fraction of a cent for every ad you watch or click. You may also be given the option at times to opt into watching an ad to get some kind of in-game bonus.

Free, With In-App Purchases: You see a game on the App Store. It costs 0 dollars to download! You download it for free and play it. During the game, you notice that certain player abilities, player accessories, or levels are locked. To unlock them, you need to spend either an in-game currency, or a real-world currency like USD. The in-game currency doesn’t go nearly as far as the real-world currency, usually at a conversion rate of something like 100:1. You can do everything in the game without paying money, but it takes a ton of time.

Grind: Known as grinding or “the grind,” this is the process of doing something repetitive in a game in order to earn enough currency to buy something. I assume the name came from the agonizing process of pushing a millstone around in circles in your bare feet.

Lootboxes: Digital grab-bags filled with randomized treasure. Lootboxes are often purchasable in-game with in-game currency, but the grind to get them is time intensive and dull. These lootboxes can always be purchased at a great discount with real money, so the incentive to pony up is always there.


 

Finally, I want to mention that there are plenty of free games I have played and enjoyed.

I used to play League of Legends with my friends when we were all into the game – that one is Free, With In-App Purchases. Because you never were able to buy powerful items in League of Legends, I never spent money on the game or even felt like I needed to. In that game, you only purchased different costumes for your heroes. I felt it was a good way of doing that model, and Riot Games has been quite successful.

Currently I really enjoy the digital card game Hearthstone, which is also Free, With In-App Purchases. That one is dicier because they have lootboxes in the form of card packs. Since you can buy card packs to get good cards and put them in your deck, they’re essentially selling power. I think they get away with it because Blizzard still has a good reputation. Also, this business model is as old as the real-world card game Magic: The Gathering. Perhaps players are used to it by now. However, the pay-to-get-good-cards model is harming their ability to capture new players, so not all is well in the land of Azeroth. The impact of this business model remains to be seen.

Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp just launched today and I’m definitely going to play it no matter how weird it is. I love Nintendo, I love Animal Crossing, and I’m well aware this is probably going to be a free, with in-app purchases minefield. By this point though, I’ve gotten pretty good at playing these games without paying a cent.

Now that you know I don’t hate every single free-to-play game, let’s talk about why this business model can easily be corrupted.

 

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The Right Way and the Wrong Way To Do This

Let me tell you what I like about free games when they are done correctly.

In my view, when a game lets you download it for free and largely ignore the in-app purchases, consumers will enjoy the experience. I get a strange sense of accomplishment knowing that my Hearthstone deck, which I built over time for free, can beat some nerd who paid $100 in card packs. The reason why I don’t play games with ads is because there’s no way to ignore them – they are shoved into your face on purpose.

This is what makes Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s lootbox system so egregious. They’ve gone with the controversial Premium, With In-App Purchases model. Recently, this has only been done successfully by Overwatch, probably due in no small part to Blizzard’s stellar reputation in the industry. More importantly, Overwatch’s lootboxes never contain any items that materially affect gameplay. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your costume is – you’ll still get dunked by a regular player who didn’t pay for lootboxes if they are better at the game than you are.

EA has flipped the script, totally ignoring cosmetic items and focusing instead on selling Star Cards: boring passive abilities that make your character better in unexplained, unrealistic ways. By selling players the random chance to get incredibly powerful abilities and forcing other players to grind their way to these same powers, EA is simply setting free players up to fail. After you’ve paid $60 for Star Wars: Battlefront II, you really haven’t finished paying for the product. What’s worse is that now you don’t even get the option of laying out more money to get what you want – such as the ability to play as Darth Vader – but instead you need to gamble with your time and money. Whatever happened to video games just being fun experiences? Aren’t we in the entertainment industry? One side (developers) is not respecting the other side (players), and the players are largely just accepting this brutal beat-down.

 

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Premium: A Business Model Based on Mutual Respect

Finally, the conversation can return to Where Shadows Slumber, our upcoming premium mobile puzzle game. It took me a while to lay the groundwork for this, but I wanted to show you where my thoughts were coming from.

Jack and I didn’t choose this business model flippantly. It’s not like we had the chance to make a free-with-ads game and then said “eh, what the heck. Make it premium. Who cares?” There were a number of factors at play when we made this decision, back in 2015.

1. Inspiration from Monument Valley: As we’ve noted many times, the premium smash hit Monument Valley and its successful sequel inspired us to make this game. They offered the game for a premium price, and only charged players more money later when they created more levels. That always seemed more than fair to us. If they made millions, why can’t we?

2. Game design: Similar to the point above, we decided that a linear level-based puzzle game just couldn’t be reconfigured to work with a free-to-play business model. Our entire game was based around the business model: an assumption that this was a relaxing, creepy puzzle experience waiting to unfold before you. Your character can’t die in our game, and there are no enemies. That means we can’t sell lives or power-ups. Since the game is a finite single-player experience, we wouldn’t get much mileage out of selling cosmetic items. Who cares what the character looks like? The game lasts just a few hours and there’s no one to impress. We could put ads in-between levels, but there aren’t even a ton of levels so we wouldn’t make much money per player. We simply never had any desire to mutilate the concept of our game in order to make room for a pigeonholed free-to-play business model.

3. Hedging our bets against free-to-play: Every bubble bursts eventually. Right now, the business executives making these decisions are looking at the success of their competitors and simply copying them. This is often called reactive development. Responding to the environment around them, business executives see that every game is free to play and decide to follow suit. But I think it’s better to be proactive and look toward the future. Next year, when our game launches, what will players think about the game industry? Will they have a negative or a positive reaction to a $0 price tag on a game? Has Star Wars: Battlefront II poisoned the well? Jack and I are taking a gamble by pursuing a business model that makes very little money. But we do so with the confidence that free-to-play’s stock is falling, and an informed group of players are getting tired of seeing good games get ruined by the greedy demands of executives.

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This Industry Needs Mutual Respect

The thing that combines the three points above is the principle of mutual respect. Call me old fashioned, but I’m used to the traditional way of doing things.

As a player with money to spend, you scan the market for interesting video games. Something catches your eye – it’s a beautiful indie puzzle game about a strange priestly-looking dude with a lantern. The puzzles in the game are weird. Objects in the level change with shadows? You’ve never seen that before.

Before you take a leap of faith with your money, you try the free Demo on the store. It’s polished, the puzzles are quirky, and the story ends on a weird cliffhanger. Curiosity overwhelms you and you’ve made up your mind! You’re going to buy “Where Shadows Slumber.”

It may not seem like it, but this is a sign of respect. You’ve trusted us with your money. You respect us enough not to pirate the game or just watch someone playing it on YouTube. You trust us to deliver on what we promised in our Demo. You believe that our screenshots are genuine, and not Photoshopped to make the game look cooler than it is. Even though we’re indies straight out of college, you take a chance on us instead of taking your business elsewhere.

In turn, we as game developers should respect you. We should respect you by delivering on our promise, giving you an entertaining experience that matches or exceeds the value of the money you’ve paid. This is where my disdain for in-game advertisements comes from. It’s impossible for me to see it as anything other than a show of disrespect. When someone entrusts you with their time, how could you shove a commercial in their face and then demand they pay up to prevent their time from being wasted?

Time is the most precious thing we have as human beings. I’d gladly pay any sum of money for more years on this Earth, and more years for the lives of my loved ones. This is impossible, but the urge is always there. That’s what EA is exploiting when they devise a system that requires players to grind for 80 hours just to unlock one character. They’re holding your entertainment hostage and asking you to make a terrible choice: give up your time (precious) or an unknowable sum of money (also precious, in large quantities). By some estimates, you would have to spend close to $2,000 just to guarantee that you’ll unlock all Battlefront II has to offer. You’d never spend that much on a game upfront and they know it. In a sign of disrespect, they’ve devised a system to coerce you into playing their game or paying a ton of money over time without realizing it.

If that’s what the premium business model died for, it died in vain.

 

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Moral Arguments Require a Virtuous Community

It should be obvious by now that I’m not making a business case in favor of the Premium model. It’s dead or dying, and I get that. I don’t have any numbers to back this up. All I’m saying is that there’s a morally right way of delivering entertainment, and a morally wrong way of doing it too. Some publishers like to dance close to the fire, and EA jumped right into the furnace. (There’s a business argument for you – reputation matters.) But since this is a moral argument, it requires a community that cares about right and wrong in order for it to carry any weight.

Jack and I will need your help to pull this off. We want to be able to pay Alba and Noah and give them a good bonus through sales of the game. We want to be able to repay Caroline for her work on the website. I want the sales of Where Shadows Slumber to lay the foundation for Game Revenant’s future so I can be in business on my own. I want this game to make enough money so Jack never has to work another day in his life, especially after the sacrifices he’s made to create this beautiful game.

In order to do all of this, we need your help and we need it now! Now is the time to share this article with a friend, or show them our game’s website. If you haven’t downloaded the game’s Demo, do it today and send the link to a friend. Sign up for our newsletter so you can be there for us on day 1, leaving a good review and boosting our standing in the app charts.

Remember that there are four ways to vote in this marketplace:

  1. With your money – a symbol of what you place value on and what you do not.
  2. With your voice – what games are you talking about and sharing on social media?
  3. With your ratings – a sign of how you think other players should view the game.
  4. With your time – everything is tracked these days, and play time equals support.

 

Premium isn’t dead – but it will die when the gaming community overwhelmingly votes to support disrespectful business models and neglects to support indies. Big publishers like EA are probably beyond saving, but Game Revenant isn’t.

Not yet.

 

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The views expressed in Frank Opinion don’t represent everyone working on Where Shadows Slumber. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.