It’s interesting to read the opinions of the Whale Trail developers with regards to their pricing strategy. I’m paraphrasing from an article on GamesIndustry.biz, but if I’m not mistaken they are losing faith in ‘premium pricing’ (aka – selling stuff for money) because the money they made off the App Store didn’t cover the cost of developing the game. They are also dissatisfied with the sales figures based on their marketing spend, question the validity of even charging for a game on a mobile device, and are using the performance of the title on Android to decide whether to go ‘freemium’ (aka – giving stuff away) in the future.

Some thoughts spring to mind…

Does marketing spend ever correlate with sales? Nope, and when it does it’s pure coincidence.

Should developers be giving stuff away because it doesn’t sell? Nope, they should question the product and their expectations instead of questioning people who didn’t buy. And besides, the game is selling – but given the cost of the game the money earned through sales seems less than great – but at 140,000 downloads to date and 700 subsequent downloads a day – that should actually be a pretty nice earner for an indie.

So what really went wrong here? Well, answer me this:

If the game cost $250,000 to develop – where did the other $240,000 go?

OnLive impressed me – a very slick interface and great way to quickly play any number of games or watch others play. Without a doubt the future of gaming is cloud based – the removal of hardware and other barriers to content gives complete freedom to gamers – you can buy a game anytime and play it on anything that supports the OnLive app. OnLive is a great name for the product and very marketable – without knowing anything about the product it would take a complete hermit no more than a few minutes to have a rough guess at what kind of service a product with that name would provide. In all fairness it’s probably piggy-backing off Microsoft’s Xbox Live too (not to mention the 360 controller) – but that’s a smart move. You’re giving people something completely new but with a touch of the familiar to help lure them in; it’s kind of like the big bad wolf dressing like Red Riding Hood’s granny to get her within eating distance.

Gaikai is actually slicker than OnLive as it doesn’t require any kind of app – everything you need to run a game is somewhere other than your device. The main advantage to this of course is that you can play your games on machines where you wouldn’t usually have access to install any kind of app – such university or work computers, The thing that bugs me about Gaikai however is the name – sure, it’s a better service but the second question on the website’s FAQ is ‘How do I pronounce Gaikai?’. So now you are giving people something completely new, and making them guess your brand name. That’s a tough sell in my opinion.

Of course the other thing to consider is that there’s nothing to stop OnLive from changing its service to be app free as well – they may even be working on this right now. So then Gaikai’s unique feature is no longer unique and it’s left with a name some people can’t say. Let’s also consider the arrival of the ‘big three’ console manufacturers – how are Gaikai and OnLive going to entice consumers to their services when they can’t host any of the first party titles, together with the fact that the games it can offer are also going to be offered by the ‘big three’? Assuming the ‘big three’ do shift into cloud gaming it’s finally going to lay to rest the console war – with no entry fee to their games, everyone will be able to ‘own’ the future ‘hardware’ of the ‘big three’ – that’s worth getting excited about; a future where there are no barriers and only those making the very best content will survive.

It all depends on where you place the most value. Is it the initial ideas and concepts or the working levels you get to see and play? Great ideas are just that – ideas – you won’t get anywhere on ideas alone, you need a strong team of designers to convert those ideas into fun, challenging and interesting gameplay concepts. Likewise, a playable level can be as much fun as watching paint dry if either the designers are not interested, or if the tools and editors do not facilitate the design vision.

I’ll admit – I’m an ideas man. Not in the sense that I’m a creative genius (that’s debatable) but just meaning that the idea phase interests me more than the execution (which, conversely, I think is the most important phase). It would be a mistake to place the ideas phase purely with the designers – not because they aren’t capable or interested – but because great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. If you asked each member of the dev team to provide an anonymous design concept (well almost anonymous – you can always tell a designer has written something as it’s 5000 pages long!) you may find you like the ideas of those people who perhaps do not usually get the opportunity to provide ideas.

In short – accept a good idea when it comes along, regardless of who it comes from – and encourage ideas, feedback and changes from all those working on the project. Maybe not practical on large scale console games – but for iPhone games there’s really no excuse for not throwing caution to the wind.

I’ve reached a point in the development Super Zombie Bowl where I can literally spend hours tweaking small values yet ultimately feel as though I haven’t changed anything – the time spent tweaking is seriously disproportionate to the increase in actual fun (which feels minimal – if any increase at all). I’m going to try something radical the next time I sit down to do some programming – I’m not going to think too much about the changes I’ll make I’m just going to start making big changes to the way the game works – deviate completely from the design and write code so dirty it would make John Holmes look like a choirboy. Sometimes, breaking things can increase the scale of fun by a factor of HADOUKEN!

Turn your volume down now!

Sometimes in life we pause to take stock of what we are doing and where we are going – probably motivated by the underlying feeling that maybe we aren’t currently doing what we want to be doing (or that perhaps we should be working harder to reach our goals). It’s not something we do enough – probably because our conscience mind keeps us pinned on the here-and-now – but something that really makes us focus on our own lives is the death of someone else – which is a little depressing.

Marco Simoncelli died today doing what he loved.

Marco was just 24 – and who knows – may even have gone onto become the MotoGP champion one day. But unfortunately we will never know. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than talent cut short.

If there’s something you want to do, a dream you want to acheive – anything – and you aren’t doing it. Start right now.

Marco 1987-2011

For me – the audio of any game is as important to the overall experience as great graphics and gameplay. Most of the music I listen to is video game music. There are too many examples of classic game music to list here – but lately I’ve gotten back into Shadow Dancer of all things…

The game is great, but nowadays I get more enjoyment out of the music than the idea of revisiting the game again. It’s something I’ve done of course (for many Mega Drive classics) – but music generally stands stronger against the test of time. That is really an indication of how important it is. There are games being made today with great soundtracks but on the whole I find they can’t compete with music created for games in the 80s and 90s. Using licensed tracks and off-the-shelf music is partly responsible for this – as is the increasing scope of games and the amount of people required to produce content – which would account for inconsistency and lack of character. Back in the days of Mega Drive it was more than likely one person would create all the music for a comparatively (by today’s standards) tiny game – if that person was good at what they did, you would have a classic soundtrack.

It’s Oktoberfest time. Beer, pretzels, schweinshaxe and lederhosen. It’s a great festival, but what prevents it from being Uber-great is the lack of zombies! What would be great is a game that takes these two wonderful creations and mashes them together – it doesn’t have to take a step in the inventive direction – I’m thinking Plants Vs Zombies would suffice. In this case the plants would be replaced with over-worked, underpaid, busty German beer maidens – and the zombies would be replaced with…well zombies. Make it happen PopCap!

In November’s issue of Edge (yes, don’t worry – it is still September) they interview Gears writer Karen Traviss. One question starts with the statement

Zombies have become one of gaming’s biggest clichés.

One of gaming’s biggest clichés? What isn’t a cliché in gaming? As far as I’m concerned everything has been done to death, reheated and then pimped-out once again. It’s not very often you come across an idea that hasn’t been overused – but as Karen alludes to in her reply; it all depends on how it’s done. If every game was released with zombies in it that would probably kill off the industry quicker than E.T. did back in the olden days, but as it stands – there’s plenty of games available without zombies to keep the children happy, and plenty of room left for more zombie games to keep us real men happy too.

Here’s a prediction for you – zombies aren’t going to go away – ever. The games will continue to come in all shapes and sizes – the good, the bad and the ugly.

The artwork for SZB has been coming along nicely these last couple of weeks. The artist and myself have developed a working pattern as such: he works during the day (as he is freelance) and provides an updated build containing new and improved artwork at the end of his day. Since I have a full-time job I get to review his work in the evenings and provide feedback ready for him in the morning. When he works the next day he’ll either focus exclusively on my feedback or defer it in favour of creating new content.

Overall it’s a very good working pattern – I like to know that when he asks me a question or needs an opinion he’s going to get it first thing when he comes to work the next day. There’s nothing worse than waiting around for an answer or decision to be given – or working underneath a cloud of confusion and presumption. Similarly – I like to know that anything I ask for is going to be done within a day or two.

You could probably write a book on communication woes between developers and clients (or at least a dissertation like I did). It’s one of those things that gets touted when things go pear-shaped on a project – but overall I think to be successful at communication you have to be open, provide clear direction, constructive and detailed feedback and don’t spend too long trying to provide it – basically do it as quick as you can. It’s not so bad for me because if I miss a day the artist can work on something else, in a professional development environment those artists, programmers and designers are going to turn up to work regardless. And they will continue to work regardless of whether they have your feedback or not.

Probably won’t happen in my life time – so how handy is it that a company is providing this experience for the princely sum of £28? 2.8 Hours Later is the name of the game and it takes place in London at the end of October. I’m tempted. Really, really tempted! I like how concessions applies to students, the unemployed and those on a pension – normally this isn’t anything strange; but the thought of a group of pensioners turning up for some zombie-dodging fun raises a smile…