Talking About Talking

(A terrible event happened last night in Santa Barbara, California. There are a great many issues that stem for this single incident. This post is not a direct response, but more a collection of thoughts.

I would very much appreciate you reading it in its entirety. I promise it will not be long.)

 

Words Have Power

The saying “all talk and no action” is inaccurately disparaging if taken literally. Words can transform ideas into reality, mobilize populations, and are responsible for progressing entire bodies of human learning and knowledge.

But the best thing about words is that there are so many, in so many combinations, that it’s hard to wrap your head around how much you will never know. It’s a good form of humility to learn to enable you to say “I don’t know” when you don’t know something.

But this post isn’t about what you don’t know. It’s about what you already know.

 

Meanings

Some words I don’t like. They can be loaded with meanings that are outdated or skewed or wrong.

One of those words is gender. I use it because it has meaning, but don’t like it because its meaning can imply something where I intended nothing. When something is called a “gender issue” what pops into most people’s heads is not what gender issues actually are. Most people think of gender as binary and when gender issue is mentioned the meaning that is delivered is “women’s issue.”

The same can be said for ethnicity, sexuality, et cetera. When we say “racial issues” what people think is “ethnic minority issues.”

The first lesson is that words have power, and you should learn to harness words lest they harness you.

Aside: There’s a point about power (and privilege) structures in there, but that isn’t within the scope of this post. It’s difficult to have the strength of introspection to see when you have it good. It’s much easier to identify when life throws you a curve ball.

 

Intentions

Many of the problems women suffer from involve men in a central way. Men are perpetrators, victims, and bystanders and it affects everyone.

Aside: The point is not that any group suffers less, equally, or more than any other. The argument is that we live together and it affects us all.

The second lesson is that you shouldn’t be a bystander. I don’t mean you need to write blog posts, start campaigning, start organizing, or anything on that scale. All these issues, all these -isms, are pervasive. All you have to do is this: don’t let these wrongs slide.

When they happen you might be terrified. You got up, had a good breakfast, and life’s been relatively nice. Then something happens. Maybe it happened to you personally. Maybe a co-worker, a relative, or a friend says something. It’s bad and you know it’s bad.

If and when that happens, say something against it.

They say bravery is being scared of doing something but doing it anyway. It is easier to crusade on the internet surrounded by like-minded individuals. When you’re physically in a group of a dozen people and one person says something, and ten other people laugh, that’s when it gets hard.

Aside: It’s easy for me to say this. I’m a large man and I’ve made people step backward just by frowning at them. I also have a natural tendency toward argumentation.

I’m not saying anyone is a coward for not speaking out. There are also situations when it simply may not be safe to, and discretion can be the better part of valor. But I am saying this is how it has to happen for the situation to improve, and I mean this on a global scale.

If pressed I could give concrete examples of people admitting that, when confronted with these sorts of comments in real life they don’t speak up for themselves. Please speak up for others even if you won’t speak up for yourself. It can help to have someone to be brave for. Leverage that.

Aside: I’m saying “real life” as if the internet isn’t real life. It’s definitely real, but the internet also acts as a barrier to insulate us from recognizing human beings as actual human beings. Facebook has mostly put to bed the notion that it is anonymity that makes people more confrontational. It is the insulation, the physical separation, the internet provides that promotes such confrontation. Car doors and a few feet of space between highway lanes operate in the same fashion.

The converse, of course, is that in “real life” we are less likely to be confrontational – say, in the defense of another human being in an uncomfortable situation.

 

Mirages

Diffusion of responsibility is a real issue. The Bystander effect is a real issue. They’re why people can be left dead near a highway without report for hours despite hundreds of cars whizzing by in full view. They’re why, outside my apartment building a few weeks ago only two people, myself and a woman, investigated a young boy screaming for his mother at night.

It’s why in an emergency situation with many people you should point and call by name or otherwise indicate specifically an individual from whom you require assistance, e.g. “You, the man in the red jacket – call 911!”

It’s a complicated social issue. Not all incidents of non-help can be attributed (only) to those two factors. There are many, many others.

The long and the short of it is this: words aren’t just thoughts in your head or scribbles on a piece of paper or pixels on a monitor. Words also come from your lips and they can help people.

 

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at [email protected]Twitter, or leave a comment below.

The Indie Game Market (2014)

This post was primarily motivated by tweets swirling around my feed and, if I’m honest, because of Jeff Vogel’s blog post about the Indie Bubble which I neither completely agree nor disagree with in this instance.

Aside: Jeff, if you’re reading this – I love you. The Exile series is a significant reason I do what I do now. I promise to buy the original Exile some day and stop talking to the Shareware Demon.

 

There is no Indie Bubble

I mean this literally and precisely. There is no evidence to suggest that there will be a sudden crash in the valuation of indie games (if you believe I am straw manning the definition of “bubble” please skip to section Put it Together.)

Indie games are already both plentiful and inexpensive. There are two main forces at play here:

  1. Maturation of the market.
  2. Crowding of the market.

They are happening in tandem, but that’s a bit disingenuous as maturation is typically always happening. The main thrust is that the market is getting crowded with more products.

 

Maturation

Development and distribution of (indie) games right now is easier than it has ever been in the past. It is cheaper, more efficient, and the quality of games is rising. I know many don’t believe that because of the sea of junk that has appeared on Greenlight and Steam, but I don’t mean the average quality has risen – I mean the cream at the top has. If you’re reading this post you don’t need me to point out high quality examples of indie games.

 

Crowding

Because the markets and distribution chains have become more efficient more products are making it to market. At an abstract level every game is competing with every other game. At a lower, more concrete level this is not as strongly the case. If you’re looking for a turn based strategy game you’re probably not going to accidentally end up buying a third person cover shooter as a good substitute. You might, however, if cost or lack of good substitutes compels you.

 

The Combination

There has been steady pressure on the price of indie games for years now, primarily driven by bundles. The average cost of games has gone down. Apparently 37% of purchased Steam games have never been loaded. This is generally not what you see prior to a bubble. Prices need to actually be relatively high otherwise they can’t drop relatively low.

If you’re already getting most of your income from selling your game for less than two dollars a pop, there’s not much more down to go.

 

So What?

So competition will be stiffer. There will be less chances for exposure. As the industry matures more successful indies will have more resources and push the bar of quality even higher.

Do not fear the graphical arms race of AAA studios. You’ll have to contend with “AAA Indies” first. Indie games are still a hit based industry similar to the AAA games industry. Statistically speaking if there are more competitors there will be more hits.

 

Put it Together

Indie game developers are already poor. The vast majority at any rate:

“Indies still struggling. Despite the fact that indie devs are receiving more attention than ever before, the average indie still isn’t very well-compensated; individual indie developers averaged $23,130 (down $420 from 2011), and members of indie teams averaged $19,487.” Gamasutra, 2013

So if you think I’m straw manning the definition of “bubble”, please note that lack of sustainability for small indies has already been upon us. If you thought it was a (financial) golden age you were probably already near the top.

The issues with Greenlight and the increasingly large Steam library parallel a lot of the issues in the indie game scene. Lots of products, but no good ways of sorting and finding relevant products. The problem is primarily one of query, not over abundance of product. Google isn’t bad because it has indexed thousands upon thousands of crappy, irrelevant sites. It’s good because you can type in a terse phrase and generally find relevant results.

In other words, focus on query and not curation. Curation is a very small part of the problem.

Steam’s game categorization is really bad; Indie is considered a genre. I think even the most definition liberal individual would agree that is not helpful. Contrast that with Shiny Loot’s genre and trait system. It has issues as well, such as the Casual genre, but look at Empire Building and Hack-n-Slash – why aren’t these on all distribution sites?

Steam has a user-led tagging system which is still immature. For example Transistor has tags for Art, Action, and Indie. You can find more examples – I’m not cherry picking.

 

What Do?

The first Do is to make your game available. Make it findable, make it searchable, make every encounter a potential customer has with it a pleasant one. This isn’t any different from now or ten years ago, it’s just more necessary than ever.

Aside: If you thought getting onto Steam was a one-way ticket to fame and fortune you were wrong. You’re more wrong now and will be even more wrong in the future.

Your long term goal should be to make a living without Steam.

Tag your images especially on social media sites. Learn about SEO. Learn about marketing. Learn about direct marketing. Pick an underserved market. Make your product stand out in some way.

Make your site mobile enabled. Make sure it loads quickly. Have a gameplay trailer. Have concise descriptions. Have embedded widgets people can use to purchase your game. Use Presskit. Go read everything at Pixel Prospector. Hit up TigSource. Hit up Reddit.

Make friends with journalists, Twitchers, YouTubers, and other people in the industry. Network. I know a lot of you aren’t people persons but make an effort. If you can’t convince a YouTuber with 100 followers to make a video of your game, good luck convincing someone to pay money for your game.

If you pick a generic product, put minimal time and effort, and don’t push hard at every opportunity you don’t get to complain that other people are breaking the curve. You would have failed anyway.

 

What Else?

Journalists need to cover more games. In the short term it doesn’t help them. It just doesn’t – reviewing popular games gets the views which generates their income. And they have limited time and resources like we do.

But in the longer term this helps everyone. This is an ecosystem and everyone involved has a vested interest in keeping everyone else healthy. The flip side is devs need to make games people want and are worth covering. This community has a two-way street.

Some devs participate in the community through jams, organizing events, et cetera. Some devs take the route of reviewing games, even games that perhaps compete with their own. Craig Stern does this in spades with IndieRPGs.com.

So after I spent the last section telling you how to overcome your competition, the second Do is to help your competition. Understand that the competition is primarily in exposure. If you’ve clawed your way to the top and have visibility look kindly on those who started after you, perhaps didn’t have quite enough time or energy to compete, or were just plain unlucky. Or maybe they just need it more than you do.

I have a website I recently created that showcases games by other indie devs. Honestly I don’t have the web traffic to have a significant effect for any of those devs, but the point is that many of them are turn based strategy games – same as the one I’m currently selling.

You could argue that they are the competition, and you’d be correct, but I seriously doubt anyone is going to look at two games on that page and think, ‘I love both of these, but I’ll only ever buy one.” They are not $60 AAA games.

That’s not intended to convince any holdouts. I just want to say I’ve put my money where my mouth is; that site is linked directly on my game’s website.

 

Thanks for reading, Mister Bums

You can contact me at [email protected]Twitter, or leave a comment below!

Costs of Unreal 4 versus Unity

This is intended to give a general idea of the monetary cost of using Unreal Engine 4 and Unity. It does not have a cost-benefit analysis of the technology involved although it touches on the platforms each engine can deploy on and associated costs where relevant.

I am endorsing neither engine. I refer to Unity 4 as Unity (as opposed to the yet unreleased Unity 5) to avoid confusion with UE4 (Unreal Engine 4).

Unless otherwise stated all dollar amounts are in USD.

 

Unreal Engine 4

Unreal Engine 4 costs $19 per month as well as 5% royalty of your games’ gross sales. The $19 allows you to access a snapshot of the current source code and you are allowed to keep it despite further updates. Simply pay $19 again (even months later) if you wish for an updated snapshot of the engine source.

UE4 allows you to deploy on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. If you are a subscriber and a registered Xbox or PlayStation developer you may also deploy on those platforms. (Thanks to Ryan Evans for pointing this out.)

In case you’re not familiar with gross and net terminology, gross means total sales – not just the money that arrives in your hands.

Example 1

If your game sold 10,000 units at $5 each it has grossed $50,000. If the platform you sold the games through takes 30%, you net

$50,000 * (1 – 0.3) = $35,000.

If your game was made in UE4 you would owe them 5% of gross which comes out to

$50,000 * 0.05 = $2,500.

However, UE4 also allows a quarterly exemption of $3,000 per product. If a game made in UE4 grosses $3,000 or less in a given quarter you owe nothing in royalties.

Example 2

If, in a specific quarter, your game sold 400 units at $2 each it has grossed $800. This is less than $3,000 and you owe $0 in royalties.

Example 3

If, in a specific quarter, your game sold 1000 copies at $7 each it has grossed $7,000. However the first $3,000 is exempt from gross royalties, so you pay 5% for

($7,000 – $3,000) * 0.05 = $200

Royalty payments are due 45 days after the close of each calender year quarter. This may influence when you choose to launch your games.

 

Unity Pro

Unity Pro costs a one-time fee of $1,500 or $75 per month. The subscription has a 12 month contract and upgrades are 50% of retail price (Thanks to Ryan Evans for pointing this out.) The one-time versus monthly cost breaks even at the 20 month mark.

Unity Pro allows you to deploy on Windows, Mac, Linux, Windows Phone 8, Windows Store Apps, and Blackberry. You must pay the same again for iOS and also for Android for Pro features (Thanks to Alex2539 for pointing this out.) That is, if you wish to deploy on Windows and Android (with Pro features) you must pay a one-time fee of $3,000 or pay $150 per month of development, or a combination of the $1,500 and $75 per month payment schedules.

There are no royalties for creating games in Unity Pro. You may use the free version of Unity for commercial products but only if in the last fiscal year your commercial entity (e.g. your LLC) grossed $100,000 or less.

A Unity Pro license allow for a two machine install. You can deactivate a machine to install/activate Unity Pro on another, but it is something you must manually do. (Thanks afroklump for pointing this out.)

 

Cost Comparisons

Aside from Example 1 which notes platform cuts to explain gross vs. net, this does not include those calculations.

If you’re not overly worried about cash flow or making rent then a strict overview of gross payments may be the best cost analysis.

If you were to build the same game in UE4 versus Unity for Windows and Mac, the game would earn you, the developer, more money up until it grossed over approximately:

Gross * 0.05 = $1,500

Gross = $30,000

This does not take into account UE4’s quarterly exemption whose money saved will depend on the timing distribution of your game’s sales and receipt of payment(s).

Example 4

If over the course of a calendar year your game sells 10,000 units at $9 each you gross $90,000. If during each quarter you grossed over $3,000 you will have needed to pay UE4

($90,000 – 4 * $3,000) * 0.05 = $3,900

in royalties for that year.

If you had been paying $19 per month that would come out to an additional cost of $228 for a total of $4,128.

So the raw break even point will depend on several factors.

 

What does all that mean?

It means that as your game grosses more paying royalties for UE4 will eventually surpass the cost of purchasing a (single) Unity Pro license. If you believe your game will gross ~$30,000 USD in sales then UE4 will end up costing you more in royalties.

However that does not necessarily mean that the value you got was less. In general when we spend money we expect something in return. In the case of a game engine we might expect a toolset more suited to our uses, perhaps a more convenient work flow, or something else that a competing service or product does not provide.

Remember that a core assumption of this cost analysis is based on creating essentially the same game in either UE4 or Unity. In practice this might not be a reasonable assumption.

As always perform your own due diligence.

 

Closing Thoughts

There are other issues to consider – licensing for multiple team members, collaborative workflow, technology familiarity, et cetera. This post was meant to be concise.

If I’ve made a mistake, missed something, or misrepresented something please inform me and I will make all due corrections with appropriate credit. As mentioned above it is not my intention to lead readers in any particular direction regarding which engine to choose.

Thanks for reading,
Mister Bums

You can contact me at [email protected]Twitter, or leave a comment below!