On The Future of Game Publishing

by Gavin Nichols

The other day, Soren Johnsen posted a tweet that really caught my interest. He said
“The next console generation will be won by whoever understands why the Xbox Indie Games Channel did not become the iOS App Store.’
This is true in so many ways.

The iOS App store has enjoyed an unparalleled level of success since it launched a few years back largely because it managed to hit a golden combination of approachability by both developers and consumers, while simultaneously lifting the best to the top through a natural feeling review system. For the first time Joe Schmoe could take his idea, build it himself and publish it to millions of potential customers, all from his living room. Customers had access to hundreds of thousands of apps at their fingertips, instantly, anytime and anywhere, for an affordable price.

Developing AppUp Games Using Unity 3D

One of the most exciting and powerful tools available to the indie developer today is Unity 3D (http://www.unity3D.com), a wildly popular game engine that exploded in popularity when the iPhone app store roared into public prominence. The Unity 3D engine has become so popular in part because of its ease of use, powerful tools, and too-good-to-be-true pricing. We’ve raved about Unity as a tool in the past though so I wont get into all that again. Instead I’d like to look at one specific aspect of how Unity and AppUp work together in beautiful unison.

Big Lesson #1: Multi-platform is not an either-or concept. It’s emphatically an also-and concept.

One of the most valuable aspects of Unity 3D is its ability to deploy a single project to multiple platforms. By installing various plug-ins or a little ninja coding you can build one game that runs on everything from Mac and PC desktops, all manner of mobile devices and even in a browser. Today’s case in point will be our recent release of Bok Choy Boy and how we brought it to Intel AppUp (here) at the same time we launched to several other platforms including iPhone, iPad and a browser based mini-game.

IMHO the profound magic of the app store model, specifically places like AppUp, iTunes and the Android marketplace is a massive, instantaneous, global distribution network. So long as you plan for it up front there is no reason not to target ALL of these platforms at one time in order to create the widest possible exposure for your game…and in so doing try to take over the world…again. The reality is that you never know where a game will catch on. For example, when Bok Choy Boy launched we never expected the HUGE audience we garnered in China. Over half of the total downloads have been in a country that we weren’t even thinking of. In hindsight we can guess why the Chinese market liked it, but we would have lost a ton of customers if we hadn’t taken advantage of the globe spanning power of app stores like AppUp and planned for multi-platform distribution and used a tool like Unity 3D. So I could keep beating that horse but seriously…do this.

Imagine a World Without Advertising

I find myself (Chris) dealing with an ethical dilemma here at Soma Games as we get ready to launch Wind Up Robots. Should we include ads in the game as a way to help pay for the development costs – and hopefully keep Soma Games in business long enough to make another game or two?

On the one hand is the reality that the app marketplace expects rock bottom prices ranging from free to maybe $2.99 for a slick tablet app. Very few companies without serious brand recognition can charge more. So that forces us to find creative ways to pay for this endeavor – ad revenue is a real possibility. And in a world where so many apps are consumed and tossed in 30 seconds, our generally story heavy games might play at a disadvantage. All that just to say that I really do see why it makes sense.

The problem is – I hate and resent advertisements.

Celebrate good times, come on!

We are used to planning for disaster, disappointment, failure or bad news. How often do we prepare to celebrate? Celebration is such a critical part of business and company culture. Today we are celebrating our Code-Monkey’s title Bok Choy Boys game we made with A&A Global being featured by Apple’s New and Noteworthy section on the…

Morsels Of Memory Management

So if there’s one thing I’m learning in my career shift to “mobile developer,” it’s that computer programming is a science and that I’m not a scientist.

Previous thesis statement: memory is a magical unlimited resource.  200 mb webapp?  No big deal – my desktop has plenty to spare.  Zombie objects?  Let ’em be, they’re not hurting any one.

New thesis statement: memory management stinks. Texture memory?  Draw calls? GPU? Power of 2 Textures?  This is starting to smell a lot like the low lands of computer science and less like the flowered fields of Scriptable Mesa in the land of GigaBytes O’Ram.

They Don’t Call Him The “Creator” For Nothing

The premier entertainment electronics show in the world is going on as I write this and one of the feelings coming out of this year’s E3 is that it’s decidedly underwhelming. Dig this quote from a Wired article:

“As the E3 Expo, the videogame industry’s annual bombastic show of force, begins anew Tuesday, it’s getting harder and harder to tell one game from another. This is not simply because of the unceasing epileptic blasts of light and deafening cacophony of sound that fill the darkened halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center all week — although those help. It’s because as gamemakers come to grips with the ever-riskier business of building big-budget entertainment, more and more of them are playing it safe just to survive, feeding in the same narrowing pool of game genres.

The article goes on to make some observations about why gaming finds itself in a creative rut and the most persuasive idea seems to revolve around simple economics. Gaming has become a riskier and riskier industry (the AAA space anyway – more to that point in a moment) and studios thinking about investing $50M tend to play it safe. I can understand that.

But this observation of E3 makes me think about something else that has been scratching at the back of my mind for years, something that’s been hard to put words to but it comes to something like this. As Christians we claim to be in contact with, indeed to be individually lead by, the Creator of Creation. How is it that the state of Christian art has suffered so much diminution that with precious few exceptions Christian creativity has become almost entirely an enterprise of copying secular art and then pasting a fish over the top?

The majority of Christian history has included a strong impulse to truly and universally excellent artwork in every discipline. Paint, architecture, music, playwriting, literature. I’d bet that a majority of the truly great western artists of the last 2000 years were either Christians themselves or they were largely creating Christian art. But somewhere, perhaps around the time of the Reformation, that vein started to run dry in the church. There’s probably a great and fruitful conversation about why that happened but it’s beside the point for me today.

In “On Moral Fiction” John Gardner states that all true art is moral. That its function in a civilization is to beat back the trolls of chaos and darkness and futility that constantly threaten to unravel society. He also suggests that in the relatively recent past we, as a culture, have forgotten what art is for and therefore resort to portraying the simply entertaining or the plainly trivial. To build on Gardner’s thesis I say that art can be, at its best, one of the Truest and most Spiritual things we can do as human beings.

By virtue of our identity in Christ, Christians ought to be the most creative, innovative people in the world.
To be less is to live beneath our station.

Dear Blackberry, Welcome to the tablet space

If you have hung around with us at any trade shows in the last year you probably would have heard one of us, at some point, as “Where is BlackBerry?”

Ever since the iPhone started to eat into the smartphone space like one my famished coffee-bean-headed farm zombies we kept waiting for RIM to respond and as months turned into years we started to think they’d lost it. “it” being both the HUGE advantage they had worked hard to gain with the brilliance of the click-wheel and also their collective minds. By January this year I had crossed my confidence tipping point and figured BlackBerry for the walking dead – still shambling about but done nonetheless.

Then at GDC I got a very pleasant surprise – the soon-to-be-released BlackBerry Playbook.

Hunger and the Video Game Cheeseburger

by Ryan GreenThe Goat InThe Room

“So, what is it that you do with computers?”

“I make video games.”

“Oh! … cool!”

“Yeah, I think so…”

This is why I got into computer programming.  To make games.  Any nerd worth their salt in high school wants to make video games.  It’s nerd currency.  You make games for a living, and while the life of the indie game developer may consist of working for mana during the day, we spend nights, weekends, and 3 am working sessions at Perkins crafting our vision for the glory of nerd riches, that is, players spending quality time with our creation.  We want them to love it, spend time with it, discovering the jewels we lay into it.  We want them to have fun.  We want it to have meaning.  We want the badge; “Achievement Unlocked: Game Developer.”
Skill +5
Strength +50
Cred +100
Level Up.

The Seduction of Striving

Our own John Bergquist recently posted a great blog about his observations from our first night here at GDC where we attended an after-party hosted by Facebook. (BTW – thanks FB. Cool event…) His post and our time there got me thinking about the way we are all so powerfully tempted to “make it happen”…