Working with freelancers

29 01 2009

One of the best incentives for players/customers to visit your website is releasing new games. Games take time to develop, especially if you try to develop games on your own (my advice: don’t do that). If you want to increase your chances of releasing games quickly and with better quality you need someone to work with you on your game. It can be a friend, an employee… or freelancer.

It seems that finding good freelancers is as hard as finding good employees (not to mention friends). Indie Gamer Forums had a nice thread about working with freelancers and we could hear opinions from both sides. There are two posts that are worth repeating.

Alex Weldon created a wish list for both developers and freelancers.

As a developer, if I was to hire an artist, I would expect the artist to:
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Interview with Yaroslav Yanovsky (berserker), CEO of ENKORD

26 01 2009

Yaroslav Yanovsky also known as berserker at Indie Developers Forums is the man behind Enkord. Their latest releases – Totem Tribe and Gunrox – are green lights in indie and casual games. Those games are not only unique, but great fun to play.

Roman: Please introduce yourself and Enkord.

Yaroslav: I am Yaroslav Yanovsky, the man in charge behind our team. I started Enkord in 2003 being a one man company and then grew it up to 10 people with aim to make small downloadable games. Our initial success was with niche shooter game called Clash’N Slash, then we’ve moved to traditional portal stuff like match-3, but after releasing like ten projects we decided to go back to drawing board and make something never done before, therefore Totem Tribe and GUNROX are those games we wanted to make.

Enkord released two pretty unique games recently – Gunrox and Totem Tribe. You can’t find any of these type on casual game portals – why did you decide to abandon casual market?

Casual market is really crowded, but it’s not the main problem for me. The problem that I’ve become bored there – I joined game development business because I wanted to have a lot of fun while making money and lately that fun factor started to decline as you were forced to make clones with good production values in order to make money. Therefore we decided to focus on our own audience.

Totem Tribe seems to be simplified RTS. Do you think that casual players are ready for that?

Totem TribeI think they are quite ready fom something different than flood of hidden object and time management titles. I haven’t been checking portals for a year and now when I checked them again – nothing changed much – same old story. So yeah! Players are ready for light RTS, like Totem Tribe, as long as you keep it casual enough. And to back my words up you can google for Totem Tribe discussions – this game spawned a lot of talking barely been released and people love our new approach.

What about Gunrox – will it be ever released on portals? What is your strategy to monetize this game?

GunroxI would happily release this game on any portal, but the truth is – all hell will break loose before they will accept it. Portals are ultra-protective about their customers and they will treat releasing MMO as a breach in their customer protection even if we hide away all external URLs leading to our site. I hope we will find some good partners to push this game forward, but unlikely it will be casual game portals of any sort. We monetize this game through free-to-play model selling virtual items and so far it been doing quite well, our ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) was around $1.5 last time I checked.

Who do you count as active Gunrox user/player?

Player that logged in at least once during last month.

Can you tell us how many active users Gunrox has? And what is your plan?

I can’t talk about amount of active users cause I have to ask our tech guys to fetch precise data for me but we have several thousands active users and 100-200 players online constantly.

How do you plan to keep those users active? MMO without community is boring.

The GUNROX game itself is main community building factor and this is what I meant by talking about community. Of course we have website that constantly updates, vocal forums, etc.

Gunrox and Totem Tribe is your aim to build dedicated community, but I don’t see any community features on your website – why?

You should look at www.gunrox.com, we are yet to redesign enkord.com.

You plan to be portal independent – how strong are your direct sales and how long did it take for you to get them to that level? What was the key factor to it?

We did a lot of different stuff for the last several years to build traffic to enkord.com, but the main incentive for users is good games of course. With GUNROX we used our previous user base to jump-start player base.

Enkord offers quite interesting affiliate programs. Tell us more about them? Is it worth going beyond setting up a contract in Plimus?

Let me put it other way around – it’s worth trying a lot of different things, not just sitting around and waiting for something. So improving affiliate program over default cookie stuff our e-commerce offers was just one of those steps to encourage other people to promote our games. We don’t expect it to blow your socks off, it’s just one of those numerous steps you need to do to spread your game.

What is your take on casual portals wars?

That’s natural with increasing flood of games, and that’s one of the reasons we decided to focus on our own audience. We don’t want to rely on portals, that’s why we tried ourselves in community building with our GUNROX MMO game and so far we have high hopes on that game.

Would you mind to give any advice for starting indies?

I think best platform for starting indie is Flash hands down. Make a really good flash game and spread it over. You can put some ads in it to monetize, or you can cooperate with some more established developers like us that can help you with both monetizing and developing the game. Contact me at yaroslav@enkord.com if you do.

And for those that already released a game or two?

After releasing a game you will have experience behind your back. You will be able to understand what you can do and what you cant. You can try making a portal game, but it probably has to be a precise clone, or you can make something niche. If you will take a second route – think about how to build and keep community around the game. Community is golden if you will decide to make it true indie style.

And last but not least for the fans of your games – why mushrooms?

Why not? They look funny and add some light fantasy appeal. You can find them in many video games – Morrowind, Maple Story, Super Mario Bros. And people love mushrooms too :)

Update: I removed the paragraph about Gunrox being the first indie MMO. As my readers pointed out, I was wrong.

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Casual players ready for strategy games

21 01 2009

I don’t know about you but I always had troubles positioning my games within existing casual game categories. For example, I didn’t know whether I want to put Runes of Avalon into match-3 games or brain-teaser games. I believe it was the same with a lot of other games like Virtual Villagers, Build-a-Lot or Westward.

Good news is that despite all the whining about clones new genres are evolving. If you develop strategy games then you don’t need to worry that your game will compete in the same category with Diner Dash. At least at Big Fish Games, there is a category strategy games.

A bit off topic: have you noticed that despite real estate markets going down real estate games hold strong?

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2008 Post Mortem

19 01 2009

New Years resolutions (and all plans) are worthless if you don’t check later if you achieved what you planned. 2008 was a very exciting year for me, with a lot of life changing decisions. It was a bit strange in terms of what went wrong. A lot of things that initially did look really bad turned out to be good or replaced by better. Here’s a short list of what went good and what went wrong.

Good:

  • Pony World Deluxe released – that was a huge game and I was really happy to get it out of the doors. We developed it almost for two years. It has proven that we are weak game designers, but by trying hard and reiterating you can actually make a good game. I just wish we could spot more design flows sooner.
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  • Runes of Avalon 2 released – honestly I didn’t expect to release this game, but after seeing such a positive feedback from Path of Magic we decided to make one more step in Runes of Avalon franchise. This time we had more creative freedom and some extra time to polish the ideas we had for the first game, but didn’t have the time to put in (like Amulet of Spells). This game showed how important is game balancing and testing… and that you have to be careful with what feedback you listen too. A lot of people complained about long storyline and too easy levels in Runes of Avalon 1, but once we shortened story and increased difficulty it didn’t help much if at all.
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  • Anawiki Puzzle Game released – an experiment to promote ANAWIKI and our games. Very simple freeware jigsaw game that we made in our spare time with art used from other games.
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  • Made over 200 sales a month two months in a row – released games mentioned above really helped, but thing that made the biggest trick was featuring Pony World Deluxe by Apple. In one day we had 4000 downloads (and that was for Kids and Learning category).
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  • Teamed up with a great game designer and started a great new game – as I mentioned before, I am not as great game designer as I thought I am. The are two ways to get better: learning through your own mistakes or watching masters at play. I prefer to play with the masters.
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  • Bought a new apartment (almost 1000 sq. feet / 91 m2) – it turned me into a bedroom coder again, but I don’t mind, because there’s not that many people in my hometown that know what a casual game is, not to mention how to make them (and I don’t need an office to work with guys from the other side of the world).
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Wrong:

  • My team members left ANAWIKI in June – I thought that it was a disaster for me. In my opinion one man studio is not capable of making quality games in short period of time. But then I changed my thinking – I don’t need employees to create a team. I was always good at finding great people to work with. This time I searched worldwide. It turned out to be one of the best things that happened to ANAWIKI. So why I put this into “wrong” category? I really did like to work with my ex-team members.
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  • My secret Jigsaw game project was put on hold – Anawiki Puzzle Game was very well received and we wanted create a full commercial title, but… it has to wait for better times.
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  • Alice Adventures puzzle game put on hold – I was really passionate about this one and we’ve been working on it like crazy until we stopped and then I couldn’t decide which direction to go. I still can’t.
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  • From September to December I was able to work only at 10% of my effectiveness – buying a house is exhausting exercise. Not only you have to negotiate a good deal, but also have to check all the details about the buying property. And then you need to decorate it, decide whether you want paint or wallpapers on the walls, what kind of TV set you want, how to set it all, etc. It really eats your energy especially if you want to move in ASAP.
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  • No-Internet experiment didn’t work out – I unplugged my computers with the hope to be more productive and for a short period of time I was. But you can’t do so much being off-line that my traffic and sales dropped horribly.

2008 was not a bad year, not bad at all.

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