Hi everyone, Vlad here.
Yeah, I know… long time, no writing. 2011 started great, didn’t finish that well for a lot of reasons, mostly unrelated to Vortix but we are catching up and have some stuff rolling. Here’s a quick update.
As you might have noticed in the last post Marco and Pedro are working on some cool stuff that involves kicking, punching and 3D!
In the meantime I’ve been messing around with some cool stuff too. First and on top of our priorities is a new game that if it is as fun to play as it is challenging to put, should be a great game. I’ll post my thoughts on some of the challenges we will face as we walk the dev path.
But that’s not all… Doing R&D has become almost a hobby of mine. Weird to have a hobby that involves coding when I’m not coding but it’s fun and I admit that I like to maintain codebase and have codebits ready to evolve when needed.
I’ve played around with client-server stuff, dual-screen stuff, multi-platform stuff. Right now multi-platform is my main focus and haXe and NME the weapons of choice. This means that I have a lot of duplicated code but it’s getting pretty!
And this is the quick (or not) update and the promise of more blog posts with less interval.
January 2011. Almost three hours after the third day of the year. What a nice time for a review. Problem is I don’t remember most of 2010. I have a bunch of random thoughts about this past year so better start with that…
Lot of stuff happened… Hajime finished and was sold, we worked on Warlords 2 and Async Racing with Ben Olding, we finished two major contracts and started a couple of other ones.
I must say that project wise I have split feelings. On one hand we did put a lot of stuff out. On the other hand most of our time was used with client IPs, which can be heaven or hell, but never our heaven or hell.
Couple of other small victories I reckon… not entirely relevant for the company has a whole.
I don’t know the exact figures of 2010 yet, but I’m pretty much sure we grew more than 100%. This would mean that 2010 was the year of our stability. While this is somewhat true it is not that black and white. Right now my predictions are that we will match 2010 in the 1st quarter of 2011 and still I’m not happy. My biggest concern is related to passive income. We have not yet found a way to have a steady passive income and the rest simply has too many variables, plus taxes…
Yes, 2010 was good, but we are growing and in a very decisive year in VGS, so we need to really be less dependant of overall market… stuff…
VGS Most Valuable Player
I bet we are the only company in the world with more than two people where 50% of the people are named Pedro Santos. While none of ‘our’ Pedro Santos are in fact and legaly employees of Vortix, both of them have the same spirit of the three guys that started up Vortix: they put their effort into something and make it happen, which is a rare thing nowadays. In my opinion ‘The Pedros’ share the MVP place in 2010.
The Flash Game Space MVP
I really have to make this special note here… There’s this Ben guy better known has benologist. He bootstrapped something we know as Playtomic, which is pretty much awesome and that I won’t describe because you either know it or you should follow the link. When devs were bitching and whinning about blocked links he put pressure on portals and created Portal Blacklist.
And still managed to release games… no doubt, my personal choice for Flash Game Space MVP.
And one last word
Marco, my partner, friend and brother. You are one in a million mate. If we find the other 6000 that are like you, we’ll rule the world! Keep up the good work!
Hi, Marco here. This will be a long one!
I’ve been present in some discussions in the FGL chat about the whole Programmer VS Artist war, and it annoys me every single time.
The reason for this is that there seems to be a very amateur approach to game development in the flash community. The very simple act of dividing people into different parts makes it look like one side wants distance from the other. The point is exactly to put TOGETHER the two or the three or as many parts needed to make a game.
This is of course an old habit from the old “one-man-show” format usually associated with flash development.
There’s obviously a lot of young developers who are just starting out, but there’s also some people that have been doing this for some years and have actually already sold some games. The insistence in this “war” will not only deprive some good developers from creating long lasting bonds with other developers, but it will also keep the production value of flash games very low.
One of the problems of this discussion is that its set to die at its birth. It’s always the “programmer” vs the “artist”, which I come to find that in most of the situations it stands for the “Coder+Idea owner” vs the “Graphics designer”. If we were to call people by their occupation it would put the discussion on a new light. Suddenly, the “artist” which is a generic figure, is now the guy that does the graphics. But the artist could also be the SoundFX guy or the Musician or even the Game designer. The same way the programmer could be the Coder, or the producer, or the Game designer as well. This will usually have people cheering for one of the sides because they understand the hard work it is to do one of the parts of the game, but they neglect to see the other part.
This also leads to the second problem with this discussion which due to a simple statistical fact, most people will assume “programmer = idea owner = game designer”. This is true for a big chunk of the reality, but it’s not a rule. It’s not an indicator. It’s a consequence of most programmers being able to do a complete game on their own without the need of external help. A programmer, who wants to be a game developer, will in most cases start developing on his own, and as he does, he comes up with ideas for other games, and when the time comes to collaborate, he will have a pocket full of ideas to use. This in itself will put the visual artist in a dependency position. He will work under the direction of the person whose idea it is. He’s just doing the art, while the programmer is doing the code AND the design. This however is not a RULE. It just happens to be like this frequently.
So again, people tend to overlook the fact that along with the production itself, either it be graphics or code, one person may also be accumulating the work of designing the game.
And this takes us to the third problem I tend to see in these discussions. The one I heard recently was “He never complained about how much money he got, he just started complaining after seeing how much the game sold for”.
I’ve worked on titles that have sold for quite a lot. I’m happy to say that whenever I work with Ben Olding, for instance, I know I’m going to get huge visibility, because he usually makes very popular games. He’s also known to sell his games for a very good amount. It would be ridiculous, not to say unethical, to be knocking on his door saying “Right, you made more money then I though you would make, where’s my share?”
The reason the game sold for a specific amount may not be even remotely related to the graphics. In the specific case of Ben, he usually has really awesome game ideas. And those turn into good sales.
The programmers reading this will probably think “yes cause a good idea will always be a good idea, even if the graphics are crap”. And I say “True, but aren’t the good graphics and good sound the difference between a really good game idea and a really good game?”.
But before you start thinking that I’m saying that an artist should set his price, get paid and let the game sell, I have to say one thing. I do believe graphics have a huge impact on sales. Graphics may not be the single most valuable feature of your game, but they will get you views. They will get interest both sponsors and players. And even if the player tries the game just once to realize its “just graphics” the sponsor has already made some money out of that. Sponsors know this, and even FGL has stated that you should put an effort into making better graphics for your game. They will sell for more. And artists should know this. They should know their work can have a huge impact on the figures a game sells for. But they should know this going in. Not wait for the game to sell and say you want a cut. If you want a cut, say it right away. Say you charge $$$ plus a cut. Say you will only take a cut, or say you want to get paid and not have to worry about if it sells or not. Some programmers won’t give you the option of a cut, so figure out how much you think your work is worth for the overall value of the game.
Now if you’re an artist on a collaborating format with a coder, then both are, in my view, worth the same cut as long as they both work at their best abilities. Maybe the graphics won’t be the best, or the game won’t have as many features or the sounds aren’t perfect as expected, but the point is that all the team did their best.
Programmers should realize that graphics can make a game a completely different experience, and game artists should know that there a good chance their creations need some code to actually turn into games. AND they should BOTH realize that the best creations come from collaboration, from sharing of knowledge and know-how and from being a development force.
Programmers will most of the time have the upper hand, because they can code. That means they can make games. Doesn’t mean they can make a good game.
I’ve seen mediocre programmers make huge sales, and I’ve seen people bored to death with amazing graphics. It’s not the graphics that make the game, it’s not the code either, and it’s not just the idea. It’s the game that makes the game.
So, on a final note, if you’re a developer, looking for people to work with you, be fair. Sure, it’s nice to get more money than the other person. But is it really worth it in the long run? How many people will want to work with you? How many times will you have to resort to inexperienced cheaper people, who will not be able to deliver content that is above par?
And I don’t mean just art. We’ve hired a programmer to make a game. He’s good. We want to work with him again. We have to make sure that all parts are satisfied.
In the game development community, there seems to be an ambient of symbiotic relation between the logic and the art. But I’ve never seen so much discussion about it as in flash community. Probably because most programmers have to pay for their art. Its like it’s a war. And as Sun Tzu said: “There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.”
I have several motivations to write this blog post. I knew I wanted to call it game design perspectives because it is about game design and perspectives about it but I didn’t really know how to put it. So I decided to put up an image and made a search on my favorite free image plugin. I searched for “perspective” and found this one: perfect.
When I coded my first game I had no idea what game design was. Some years ago, right before starting up Vortix with Marco and Diogo I had no coding knowledge whatsoever so I focused on game design. Problem with game design back then was that everyone wanted to be a game designer… it was the game designer wanabe boom period.
Back then (and it wasn’t that long ago) every guy that played games and wrote two paragraphs of a Tolkien ripoff considered himself a game designer, me included. Many of them didn’t make it up to the professional stage. Looking back, the only ones I know that got into the game development industry are either artists or engineers. The only game design wanabe that managed to pull it was me… and I’m more a programmer than a designer nowadays.
The perspective back then, the passion, was about the game. We all steped our of the dream and learnt that game design is about decision making, getting feedback and more decision making. All game designers, wanabe or not, had only one goal: the game! Like the two crossed railway lines, game design is all about crossing left and right sides of the brain. See the whole while addressing the details. Be able to analyse data and crunch numbers while being able to… well… feel…
It is sad to observe that on a market such as the flash game space the perspective is that a designer’s objective is to make a game that is sponsorable. I find this not only sad, but wrong.
Squize commented on a blog post of his that:
(…) it’s all about the creative process now, so I’d rather push myself and fall short than work to someone else’s design. (…)
Julian from LongAnimalGames mentioned today in the FGL Chat that he considered more interesting the psychology of players than game development itself.
It is a trend I find in many high profile developers. They care about business and particulary money when hiring, when selling, when paying, when discussing deals. Money doesn’t get in the way of design and they have other interests… the creativity, the psychology, the technical expertise and others. It is interesting that these are the ones that make the great, memorable and amazingly sponsorable games. I know one exception… that simply confirms the rule.
Like them we are not against the commercial or business side of all this and we take it very seriously, but game design is about the decisions, the rules, the player, the big shiny paradigms. Production, marketing, whatever, that’s the business part, our job as designers is to reach as many players as possible. We might argue that the bottom-line, that’s what will make the game sponsorable, but it is not the motivation when making game design decisions. Money is a unnecessary distraction while designing.
So after all the walls of text I just put up, what does this all mean? Let me start by saying that Vortix was not born to be a flash game development studio. It was born to be a game development studio. For the last two years we have focused on flash the same way we may focus on some other technology. We do what we have to do to develop games. That is what we want to do. But to be successful we need to be able to monetize it. It is pointless to create a commercial project if it isn’t to be commercial and no, you don’t have to sell your soul to do it.
To be successful we have made decisions. We developed our own activities:
1. Sponsorship and licensing because it is our current form of monetizing our core business and our core business is creating games.
2. Collaboration projects as an low-risk extension of #1.
3. Contracts as a very-low-risk activity that would allow us quick and steady monetization.
Everything we did, was done with a purpose. There are a bunch of things you can do as a flash or game developer. Some devs operate portals, some devs create software that helps other devs, some devs have a day job, all is fair game, but doing things with a purpose allowed us to set goals and each goal that is achieved is a step forward into that purpose.
It boils down to this:
Do whatever you have to do to be able to do whatever you want to do.
Less than that it’s either a hobby or a bad model. What you need to ask yourself is:
1. What do you do best? Capitalize on that.
2. What do you want to do? Improve on that.
Never stop moving, choose what you have to do and choose what you want to. Be smart, create value, raise the bar, raise your worth.
To finish, keep in mind that you, like us, are probably small fish in a world of sharks. Here’s something worth reading: The Bootstrapper’s Bible. That should put it in a wonderful, motivating new perspective.