Today, my Spry Fox family and I launched Alphabear 2. This game is very special to me and I want to tell you why.
The first Alphabear – a quirky English word puzzle game, for those of you who haven’t played it – was an award-winning and relatively popular game. It has been downloaded well over five million times. It didn’t make much money relative to other games with similar popularity, but people who loved it really loved it, and that has always been more important to us.
More interestingly, we kept hearing (predominantly via reviews) that some people considered the game to be educational, even though we hadn’t intended to create an educational game. Truthfully, I still don’t believe that the original Alphabear was particularly educational, but I could understand why some folks felt it had that potential, and it seemed like we could build on that.
The lovely folks at Unity asked me to keynote their Mexico City conference, and asked me to focus on topics that would benefit independent game developers. I ended up trying to summarize the most important lessons that I’ve learned, in retrospect, from 7 years of co-managing Spry Fox with my partner Daniel Cook. It wasn’t easy to write. I cut several things that seemed wise but also very possibly a product of survival bias. What remains are, I hope, a few kernels of truth that might benefit other folks who are just starting out.
Warning: this rare post of mine has nothing to do with games. Worse yet, it’s political in nature! I know, I know… how self-indulgent of me. If you’re easily offended by political commentary, skip this article.
Lately I’ve been depressed by the number of arguments I’ve witnessed about the US Affordable Care Act that revolved around anecdotes as opposed to facts. “My buddy Joe’s premiums doubled because of this stupid law!” “Oh yeah? My cousin Susan was dying of cancer and couldn’t get insurance, until this law saved her life!” I expect this kind of thing from politicians (“Let me tell you about Mary Sue of South Dakota…”) but not from my friends and family. How about we break down a few simple stats instead:
When Christian Nutt asked me to write an article for Gamasutra on the topic of publishers, I wasn’t sure what to do. Spry Fox is relatively committed to self-publishing our games and I haven’t kept up with developments in the publishing space. So after writing and discarding a few half-hearted introductions to this article, I decided that the most useful and honest thing that I could do is simply explain why, with one aging exception, Spry Fox has avoided working with publishers.
An important thing to bear in mind, if you’re not familiar with our company, is that we are primarily focused on developing F2P games that we hope to maintain and evolve for years to come. We haven’t been trying to secure a slot on XBLA and we haven’t been trying to sell boxed product. We view everything through the lens of “will this partnership enable us to make a better game, to learn important lessons and to eventually become more independent.”
So, that said: I’ve met a few really interesting publishers in the past couple years; folks who seems smart, motivated and knowledgeable about things that I wish I knew more about. We haven’t done any deals. Why? It always comes down to three issues:
This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the seventh in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.
One of the most frustrating things a game developer will ever hear is “that [PERCEIVED GENRE] game isn’t worth [PRICE]—I can get [OTHER GAME] for [LOWER PRICE].”
It’s frustrating for a whole bunch of reasons. Your game might not be very similar to the games to which it is being compared, or might offer more content or replayability. Heck, you might simply think your game is “better” and deserves a higher price. But it doesn’t matter. The comparisons are being made and now you’re getting 2-star reviews calling your game good but your company “greedy.”
If that sounds familiar, congratulations: You are part of the very large and growing club of developers who underestimated the power of relativity. No, not E=MC2. I’m talking about the fundamental human tendency to compare everything in our lives to something else we’re familiar with. An organic apple seems ludicrously overpriced to you at $1.99 because conventional apples sell for $0.79, but that same apple would have seemed cheap if your grocery store only carried the organic variety and if organic mangos appeared nearby for $5.99 each. It’s all relative.
This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the sixth in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.
Back when I worked for Xbox LIVE, I frequently commented on the dangers of what I called “developer tunnel vision.” Nearly all of the devs I spoke with were not paying attention to a diverse set of industry news sources. What’s more, they were focused on at most couple of similar platforms, and were ignoring the rest of the market. (Back then, everyone was talking about XBLA/PSN; today it’s Steam/iOS; tomorrow it will be something else.)
At the time, this seemed completely insane to me—even suicidal. Didn’t these devs understand how quickly things change in our industry? How quickly their current efforts could be rendered irrelevant by shifts in the marketplace, or by strategy shifts made by the platforms? Developer tunnel vision…it was so obviously reckless and short-sighted!
As several news outlets have discovered, we have amicably settled our lawsuit with 6waves. We are very happy with the outcome and glad to be finished with this matter. The full terms of the settlement are confidential, but I can disclose that as a consequence of the settlement, ownership of the Yeti Town IP has been transferred to Spry Fox. We look forward to putting 100% of our time and energy into our games, like the upcoming Leap Day, Steambirds 2 and Panda Poet mobile. :-)
This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the fifth in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.
The first successful f2p games — aka “games whose primary revenue source were in-game purchases” — hit the market over a decade ago. Now they’re everywhere. They account for 8 of the top 10 grossing games on iOS as I write this. Rumor has it that all the major consoles will support f2p games in the next generation. Even our industry’s most prominent, respected developers (i.e. Popcap, Valve, etc) have begun to embrace the model.
And yet there are still many game developers in the West who have mixed feelings about f2p, worrying that it is “evil” or that it perverts gameplay. But f2p is just a tool, and like any other powerful tool it can be used to create beautiful things or it can be used to create ugly things.