Sunday, July 19, 2009

Getting a Thousand True Fans

Someone sent me a link to this article and said it was interesting. I agree, so I thought I'd pass it on ...

1000 True Fans

The basic idea behind it is really simple. In this day of advanced communications and powerful online distribution, all you need is a 1000 loyal fans to make a living. If you can come up with a loyal core that supports what you do, you can be a creator for a living. Since I believe very strongly that, if you work hard to provide something people want, you should be able to make a living off of it, this idea has a great appeal.

Spiderweb Software stays successful because it had built, over the years, a core of loyal fans. These fans are enormously important to me, and I'm hugely grateful to them.

However, the article plays awful fast and loose with the practical details of the thing.

The article suggests that, if you get 1000 fans and they each give you $100 a year for your work, you can make a living. This is true. However, my god, $100 a year from a given person is an ENORMOUS hurdle to jump over. I don't know what you're doing to get $100/year from people, but you won't be getting it from me. That's like, what, 4-5 Indie games or 5 books or 6-8 albums of music a year? Not happening.

No, I will give my own, much more practical rule:

You should try to get 4000 fans who pay you $25 a year for your work. Then you can make a living doing what you love.

I can see why the authors of the article didn't phrase it this way. It's because getting 4000 fans sounds much, much more daunting than getting 1000. And it is. But, practically, to make a decent living, that is your goal. And, if you're good and dedicated, it's an attainable one.

But remember, there's one other rule.

It's very difficult to get even one fan. Besides your mom.

The hard part is making a product that anyone will give you money for at all. There are very few people who enjoy blowing twenty bucks for nothing.

Four thousand people is a huge goal. But it is attainable. So get to work.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Joy Of Rereleasing Old Games.

Warning: This blog entry contains unpopular views, a mercenary attitude, and an unattractive display of pure, raw greed. Those who prefer a purer, more principled breed of Indie developer should look elsewhere.

A little over fifteen years ago, I started writing my first game, Exile: Escape From the Pit. (I am old.) This is quite a milestone for me. Since then, I have found that life as a self-employed Indie has many advantages, some small, some large. As I work on Avernum 6, the last game in my longest-running and most successful series, one of them has been very much on my mind.

I own my own intellectual property (or, as the cool kids call it, IP).

Why is this so awesome? Because then I get to rewrite and rerelease my older games, letting me make a bunch of money for a small amount of work. For example, Exile: Escape From the Pit came out in 1995. Its first rewrite, Avernum, came out in 2000. So, in 2011, over a decade after its previous iteration, I plan to release a super flashy new version of Avernum, with really sharp new graphics and sounds, a new dungeon or three, and some nice new features added. It won't be a huge amount of work. It'll be a great new product. I will clean up.

I once wrote a game called Nethergate, which developed quite a cult following. Then, as time passed, it became very shaky and outdated. So, two years ago, I released Nethergate: Resurrection. It took two months to do it. I really liked this game, and putting out a newer, nicer version was very rewarding, both emotionally and financially.

A lot of people have complained to me over the years about doing this. I don't understand it. It's good for me and its good for players. There are several good reasons to exploit your old IP:

Good Games Deserve To Exist

One of the most frustrating things for me about video games as an art is that individual titles die out. The older a game gets, the better the chance it will stop working on new machines. There was this awesome old Mac game called System's Twilight. It was a lot of fun, but it won't run at all on any new mac. The machines that will run it grow ever older and dustier. I think this is HUGELY wasteful.

Someday, people won't be able to play Baldur's Gate 2 or Planescape: Torment anymore. This really sucks. I want to delay my games going the same way as long as possible.

Avernum is starting to get wonky on new machines. The tech support complaints are growing steadily. Until I get some sort of universal language I can use to make games that run well forever, all I can do is freshen them up with new versions myself.

It Doesn't Keep Me From Making New Games

Sometimes, people say to me, "You should use the time to make something new." Hey, I'll still make new stuff. But if one old game dies off so I can make one new game, I haven't increased the number of games in the universe.

Releasing a nicer new Avernum will introduce it to a whole new audience. And hey, it's new to them.

It Makes Lots Of Money

A carefully done and marketed rewrite takes a fraction of the time to develop of a whole new game, and it can sell almost as much. A week hasn't gone by in the last fifteen or so years that I haven't made money off of Exile (in one form of it or another), and I have every intention of eating out on that game until I die. That is the reward of being brave, starting your own business, and making your own IP.

So Indie developers, if you put out a game and it gets some traction, and a decade passes, freshen it up, expand it a little, and kick it out there again! If it's good in year X, it'll still be good in year X + 10.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Avernum 6 Announced.

I have finally gotten around to putting up screenshots and information for our next game, Avernum 6. It will be the final game in the very long Avernum series. I'm pretty excited about it. Its story is cool.

There is something very liberating about writing the last game in a series. First, you won't have to write any more. Second, you get to totally trash the place. Of course, it leaves me with the terrifying prospect of writing a whole new series. But, after Geneforge FIVE and Avernum SIX, I'm desperate.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I Want To Play Awesome, Fun People Full Of Awesomeness

I had one of those gaming epiphanies the other day. I get them every so often, but I can usually lie down in a dark room with a wet washcloth on my head and make them go away. But not this time.

Here's what I decided. I don't mind if a game like Final Fantasy or Grand Theft Auto gives me a fixed character and tells me my story without letting me choose anything important about it. I'm cool with that. I can still have a lot of fun. But ...

I will no longer play any game that makes my character an insufferable, fun-hating prig.

This first started getting on my nerves with Grand Theft Auto 4. In this series, you're supposed to be this crazy criminal dude running around and doing wild, crazy things, right? Total adolescent power fantasy stuff, right? Well, instead, you play Niko Bellic, a tormented Serb with a dark past whose issues have issues. He's a grim guy. He hangs out with his cousin Roman, who is obsessed with drinking, gambling and strip clubs. And trying to not get too bogged down in his cousin's freaky drama.

After about 20 hours, I realized that I wished I was playing Roman. He had more fun.

Then the first downloadable content for GTA 4 came out. The Lost and the Damned. It's about biker gangs, so that's gonna get crazy, right? Well, your character is the responsible, business-oriented, goal-focused member of the gang, constantly berating your wild, devil-may-care superior. I instantly loathed myself.

Last week, I tried out Lost Odyssey, a huge RPG for the XBox. It's a gorgeous game, really pretty and high budget. But you play this (wait for it) grim, tormented immortal who never smiles or has fun or does anything to lighten up his joyless trudge through eternity. And, early on, you meet this immortal girl, and she's really hot and she wears shirts with no backs and flirts with you. And what's just about the first thing you try to do?

Punch her.

Seriously. She pokes fun at you and you take a swing at her and she jumps away. And what the hell? I want to spend 40 hours maneuvering this douchebag? It seemed like a neat game, but I'm sick of playing games where I hate the dude who's always in the middle of the screen.

Know what game I loved? Final Fantasy X. (Warning. Spoilers for a 75 year old game ahead.) In it, you play Tidus, who is a SPORTS STAR who gets to make time with HOT, MYSTICAL BABES, and who loves to laugh. And sure, you eventually turn out to not exist and dissolve, but sometimes that's the price you gotta' pay to have a good time, amirite?

(If you watch the video I linked to above, the awesomeness starts at 2:00.)

So there. That's my pet peeve. I have enough self-loathing in my regular life, without loathing my imaginary self too. I have two small kids. Jesus, let me have fun SOMEWHERE.