Arcen financial issues
Friday, 08 October 2010

The Arcen (AI War & Tidalis) guys have been having some financial problems lately. First they blogged about it and then PC Gamer posted an email from one of Arcen guys giving a lot of interesting financial details. From a developer standpoint this is pretty cool, because most people (including us) don't share much detailed sales/financial information.

I don't mean any disrespect for the Arcen guys, however I suspect that this is pretty much the normal state of affairs for most indie companies. Our expenses are pretty steady, but our income has really large spikes around release and sales and then they very quickly fall (actually retail works like this also). If you don't plan for the income to fall off the cliff and you let your expenses get too high, you will go out of business or at the minimum need to lay off people.

So basically Arcen's expenses are much higher than their current income and they are quickly burning through their cash reserves. We were very much in Arcen's state most of the last year. We even took out a small loan to stay in business. For us, it wasn't that I didn't expect the sales spike and drop off, it's mostly that our 2nd game (Kivi's Underworld) didn't sell nearly as well as our 1st (Depths of Peril).

Which brings me to my last thought, it sounds like they did exactly what we did, ship a fairly hardcore game first (AI War in their case, Depths of Peril in ours) and then as their follow up shipped a much more casual game (Tidalis for them and Kivi's Underworld for us). It sounds like that worked out just as well for them as it did for us. As in, not well at all. I haven't really said this publicly, but Kivi's Underworld was basically a mistake. I still think it's a really fun game, it's different from everything else out there, and I'm glad that someone made it. We even have some fans that think Kivi is the best game that we have ever done. The problem is that it just wasn't the right game for Soldak to make. I wonder if this was the same for Arcen and Tidalis.

Anyways, just some random thoughts.

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Monster/dungeon quest ideas
Friday, 01 October 2010

Right now I'm thinking of lots of cool things and quests that are very town and npc centric for the expansion. This part is great, however every time I try to think of quests that involve the dungeon or monsters I get side tracked and get back to the town and npcs. So to spur some ideas, what kind of dungeon related quests would you guys like to see?

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Tweets 9
Friday, 24 September 2010

Here's some of my latest tweets from twitter / facebook with a bit more explanation.

I seem to be getting distracted by all sorts of things lately, but another Demon went into the Din's Curse expansion today. Basically at this particular time I wasn't getting much done on the expansion, but some of the artists were.

Working on seeing how hard it would to be play movies in the engine today (nothing fancy of course). -> Finally have my movie code working correctly, just need to clean up a little bit and get it working on the Mac. -> Got all of my movie stuff finished finally, including support for the Mac and all of the little details. :) I was investigating.working on movie stuff because we might add some kind of intro movie to the expansion. Nothing really fancy of course since we don't have an entire department devoted solely to cinematics.

Working on version 1.007 today, fixed some bugs, rebalanced some stuff, and added a Very Slow world option. This was just a small update about 1.007 work.

Doing a pretty major pass on elite and artifact items today (and probably tomorrow). -> Still working on beefing up the unique items, takes a while when there are 400+ of them (not including artifacts or legendary items). Version 1.007 had changes to most unique items in the game.

Now when you purchase Din's Curse from us you get the Windows AND the Mac versions. I have been thinking about doing this for a while now. I'm glad we finally got this setup.

I feel like I made expansion progress today by adding a new world map feature. I believe this was the feature that you can look at maps of levels that you aren't on.

Got a bunch of things done on the expansion today, mostly little things, but progress is progress. I hadn't been getting much done on the expansion before this.

Added Lost and Semi-Hardcore character options to Din's Curse expansion recently, more to come. -> Added Prima Donna, Only Hope, and Hunger advanced character modes to Din's Curse expansion today. I've added a lot of advanced character options since we shipped originally. We used to only have hardcore and cursed.

Announced today that we got a North American retail deal for Din's Curse with Masque Publishing, should be in stores early to mid October. Getting a retail deal is nice! Hopefully we will sell a lot of copies and we will see royalties.

Added Poor Town, On The Brink, Aggressive World, and Demanding Town world modifiers to Din's Curse expansion today. -> Added anti-magic areas and world modifier today to the Din's Curse expansion. -> Added Gigantism, Berserk, and Temporal Flux world modifiers today to the Din's Curse expansion. I think the world modifiers idea worked out really well in Din's Curse to make each town a little more unique, so I've been adding a bunch more for the expansion. A lot of these are from ideas posted by our gamers.

Added Two Handed Mastery, Magical Deflection, Breech, and Demon Armor skills today (so far). -> A few more skills added today - Terrorize, Shield Blast, Demonic Roar, and Blood Sacrifice. I now have all of the Demon Hunter skills working in the game. They still need a lot of balance and polish, but being able to play the class is a good first step.

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Activision movie idea
Friday, 17 September 2010

Apparently Activision is considering selling game cutscene movies, see the original link here.

I instantly thought of two ways this might play out.

1) An hour or two of completely new cutscenes that contains a cool new storyline set in the same game world, so basically a real movie. Sold for $10 to $20. This would be kind of cool and a similar idea to buying game novels. Extra, cool content for the fans is always nice.

2) Rip the cutscenes out of the game, add nothing new, and sell them for $20 - $30. This sounds like a terrible idea. Your fans already own these cutscenes when they bought the game. Everyone else really doesn't care about watching the cutscenes or they would have bought the game. And charging more than a normal movie DVD, are you serious?

Unfortunately, it sounds like Activision is going more towards the 2nd option.

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Game length and value
Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A bunch of game developers blogged about game length and value a couple weeks ago. No one asked my opinion but how has that ever stopped me before? :) Here's a link to Wolfire's blog about this topic (which also points to many other blogs).

Here's my take on things in the form of a formula:
value = quality * time / cost - buying pain

Basically, 20 hours of great gameplay is better than 10 hours of great gameplay (assuming the same cost). So yeah I think game length is important. It does very much impact my perceived value of a product. Seriously would anyone really claim that a $50 game that lasted 1 hour was a good value? Only if it was the best 1 hour of their gaming life.

However, 10 hours of great gameplay plus 10 hours of boring filler is worth less than 10 hours of great gameplay. To me boring filler is a negative number in that equation above. I would much rather take a shorter game without the filler getting in the way.

Quality is very subjective though and people are going to value quality vs time and cost differently. Is a good 10 hour game better or worse than a 5 hour game that was great? Is a 100 hour good game better or worse than a 5 hour great game?

One thing that confuses the issue is how long is the story line? Personally I don't think it usually matters because there are 4 typical scenarios. 1) There is no storyline like in Civilization or Tetris. 2) I stop playing before finishing the storyline. 2) I play through the games multiple times because the gameplay is more important than the story and/or the game has lots of replayability. 3) I play through the storyline once and finish there. In this case, the length does matter, but everyone is going to go through the story at a different pace. What it really boils down to is how long do you play the game? That's the only time period that actually matters, not some marketing speak about the storyline length.

And finally that weird buying pain part. Personally I find buying stuff is kind of a pain. Going through a painful buying process to play for an hour is probably not worth it for me no matter how good the game is.

How this all plays out for me is that I like good to great games that I can play for a long time. Cost doesn't matter as much. I'm fine with spending $60 on a game that I'm going to play for 50 hours. $20 would be better of course. However a game that I don't expect to play more than a few hours isn't even worth purchasing for me even if it's only $1. I would rather just go play another game of Civ.

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