Minecraft Biomes o’ Plenty

The Minecraft mod Biomes O’ Plenty does one thing.  It adds 60 (at the moment) more terrain regions the player can wander through.  This is a great example of something simple done very well.  The mod isn’t overpowering players, it does not give them an edge in playing the game…  But it does make the Minecraft world a lot more interesting to explore.

There is a greater lesson in simplicity for game developers.  Simplicity is key.  You want the core mechanics and core game play to be as succinct as possible.  Sometimes you have to strip out all those bells and whistles that you think might be fun in order to reduce complexity and provide a simple yet moving experience.  Biomes O’ Plenty is a simple and great mod.  If you have a game idea that’s too big to tackle on your own, can you instead mod an existing game?

BOP (not Birds of Paradise) a great mod, and you should check it out.  Especially if you are an Explorer at heart.  As of my writing the current version is a bit buggy and causes lag spikes and block lag.  The author of the mod TDWP_FTW indicated this has presumably been cleared up for the next release.  Looking forward to it!

Scrumbleship; more then Minecraft in space. Hopefully.

Minecraft is an inspiration for just about everyone who wants to design games. Everything from straight up copies to ‘inspired by’ titles are popping up all the time. There are plenty of not so interesting clones… cough Yogventures, cough. (Which feels more like a retaliation then a game).  But there are some equally fantastic projects such as Towns and now Scrumbleship. Check below the jump for an introduction to the Scrumbleship kickstarter and game.

In one overly simplified sentence: Scrumbleship is basically Minecraft in space, at the moment. The goals of the developer are to take those concepts much farther. With all the CO2 scrubbers, Engine Parts, and jump gates you might expect. Standard scifi tropes are present: Lasers, missiles and biological carapace hulls. With promises of asteroid mining, enemy ship raiding, and clones aplenty. The sci fi elements are nicely balanced with a hefty dose of real world physics. Scrumbleship has a great balance between fun and verisimilitude.

If successful this game could give Mojang and 0x10c a run for their money. But success is far from certain. The goals in the kickstarter are ambitious and it will be interesting to see if the games creator can pull them all off.

  • Persistent open world multi-player
  • Asteroid mining
  • Simulated collisions, hull strain, and deformation.
  • An AI crew that mines, builds and fights for you
  • Organic ships that need food and can heal damage
  • Many fun Ship weapons
Right now in the demo the blocks are pretty static, while these goals necessitate mobility and the blocks being able to work together coherently. Based my very limited knowledge of most voxel based game engines it’s hard to understand how all that is going to come together… But then perhaps Minecraft’s static nature simply makes it seem difficult to bring cohesion to a bunch of disparate blocks. [Update: Dirkson alters the existing paradigm in my brain, and blows my mind!]
Currently the demo is free to download and play with. You get more of a building toy then a game in it’s current form. It is, however, a nice incentive and a great proof of concept.  The demo proves the kickstarter is worth supporting. They already have something to show for contributions, and are quite a ways toward making their ideas work. Other kickstarters take note, this is how to run a campaign well.

The business model also closely follows Minecraft with a twist. Alpha version is currently on sale and has been for a couple months. As revealed in an interview with the games creator, the Kickstarter is really for getting the word out. They are requesting $8000, and are half way there with 18 more days to go. That is not a lot of cash to ask for and smart considering the game is on sale as well.  Particularly for something that has potential. All in all this is a well run campaign, with clear goals, realistic dollar amounts, proof that the project is underway, and rewards which should not be insurmountable for them to produce.

As of writing this I have not backed this game although I would really like to. When one is unemployed supporting kickstarters is not a wise idea. But maybe some kind folks out there can supply some more funds to support the dream, because it’s an exciting dream. There is a lot to learn here about creating a game, publishing it, and honestly interacting with the community. Good job Dirkson!

[Update 1]: 16 days, $2418 till goal.
[Update 2]: as of 10/6/2012 pledges are at $6,792 with 11 days to go.

1 Free business plan for your computer game.

What happens if while making a game you run out of money?  Do you have a plan in place if that happens?  Is there a way you can get funds while still developing?  Let’s face it, if we’re in the game making business we have to think about the business part of things.  Development is a giant Expense so you need Revenue to pay for it. There is a business plan that you haven’t thought of yet, that will get you at least a little Revenue during each stage of the game design process.  Which could make the difference between closing a game project, or continuing to develop.

(I couldn’t help putting that old South Park gag in there).
This suggestion is based off an older post about the 4 Stages of Game Design.  Check into that if you don’t know what the four stages are yet.  At GameLoop 2011 this weekend a fifth new 5 step that some dev teams are implementing was mentioned.  Look for that post coming up soon.
  1. Prototype: distribute freely.  That’s right, give it away.  It acts as your demo.  Maybe use something like paywithatweet.com to get the word out.  But don’t forget to ask for donations.  Gamers can be really generous when they like a game.  Use these funds and the feedback to rev the game into Alpha.  
  2. Alpha:  charge a low amount for the alpha version of the game, promise that if people buy it now they will get all upgrades included with this price. Suggestion: 1/4 of the Full Release price.  Use these funds to rev the game into Beta. Make sure people know that the price is going to go up if they wait.
  3. Beta: charge a higher amount for the beta. Suggestion: 1/2 of the Full Release price.  Use these funds to rev the game into Full Release.
  4. Full release: Once the full release of the game is ready, the price should increase to the full amount.  You need to set this price first, and then decide what the others will be.   Tell everyone what these numbers are going to be ahead of time and stick to them.

If you think this business model sounds familiar, you’re right.  This is really a recap of the sales of Mojang‘s first title Minecraft.  More recently QCF Design was inspired to use this model to release Desktop Dungeons.  They released a freeware version of the game, then charged for Beta, more for Alpha following in Mojang’s footsetps.  Notch and crew didn’t have the benefit of hindsight or success to think of this as a good publishing methodology, but I bet they had a good idea it would work.  Given the right set of circumstances it could work for many independent games.

A word of warning: this would not be a good strategy for developing a console game.  At this stage asking console users to download many small chunks of data, getting them all vetted through the console makers, etc would be a huge hassle.  For a game on Steam or self published it could do alright.  Additionally restrictions in how games are published via app stores might also make this a bad business plan for an app.  We’re going to cover three great business plans for apps in the future.

Is this business model going to work for absolutely everyone?  No. So what should come from this post?  Hopefully a good conversation on your team.  If you haven’t even thought about business development yet (and most beginning developers don’t), then use this as a jumping off point to explore the idea of monetization.  You might not have a business guy on the team.  But you still need to spend some time considering ‘business’ aspect of game design.  Most game developers come from the coding or art world.  Tweet this to a fellow team member and take this as an opportunity to walk for a moment in the business world.

If I could ask Carl Mennah one question it would be: “What are the steps to building the infrastructure through these stages?”  This is something they had to piece together themselves.  Some of their trials and tribulations were rather public (IE issues with Paypal).  Some decisions were private and that insight would be valuable to future attempts at making this method work.  If anyone has an opinion on that, please comment.

*** Edit ***
There is some great discussion about this topic over on Reddit.  If you like the post, head over and give me a up vote and jump in the discussion!

Learning Java

To be less of a bad game project manager, I’m learning a coding language.  I’ve chosen Java.  It may not be the best language to learn for game programming (we can go over the reasons that have been explained to me once I know how to code better), but as an object oriented programming language it’s a good place to start.  Also Minecraft was written in Java, and it would be excellent to code mods for the game.

What resources were used to learn Java?
thenewboston.com  (Progress: Tutorial 25 of 87)
“Head First Java”, full review on the way.

Minecraft Specific Resources?
Bukkit Tutorials.

The job of an Analyst.

Carl Manneh, CEO of Mojang, replied to my tweet plugging this blog post.  I was in gamer/business nerdvanah.

Jspringfield211  Mojang Forecast, just for fun.
Carlmanneh: It sure is. Nice post, but I think your evaluation is a bit modest 😉

The strategy of being a business analyst is that you provide data based on calculations and reasonable expectations.  Did I undershoot the number?  Absolutely.  Because the numbers I generated are not for investors, they are internal business numbers.  There is a big difference between a number generated for internal use and a number generated for external use.  If I were making such predictions because the marketing department wanted to know its budget for the next three years, I would want to undershoot the number as well.  “Worst case scenario you have x% of this projected budget to sell ads with next year.”

What I did wrong in that post was state “Were Mojang Specifications to do an IPO they could be worth as much as 50 – 70 million Euro” without the qualification that the numbers were internal.  To the untrained eye it might look like I was forecasting for a different group of people then I actually was.  Or forecasting as an investor, which I was not.  I was pretending to be an employee of Mojang.

Minecraft has no reason to EVER do an IPO and never should.  Becoming a public company fundamentally changes a company in unpredictable ways (And I don’t even know the difference between a Swedish IPO and an American one).  The culture of the Mojang would be altered in a bad way.  At the moment they can take advice from fans or not as they see fit.  Pistons for example.  They are free to add or not add anything based on what they feel Minecraft is about.  In a public company situation they might feel pressure to add a ‘feature’ simply because the shareholders wanted it.  Or because the customers wanted it.  Even if it goes against the spirit of the game.

And besides, if things are going we well as Carl indicates…  They really don’t stand to gain that much more money than they already have from an IPO.  😉

Minecraft Bonus Post!!!! Mojang Forecast.

Another week, and another bonus post.  Lucky you.  This bonus post, however, is going to be a bit less project oriented and  a bit more analysis oriented.  Which you may or may not find interesting.  Consider yourself warned.  This post started because I was replying to someone on the escapist about Minecraft.  

Mojang Specifications has really dominated gaming news from E3 2011.  Microsoft announced Minecraft for the Xbox with Kinect support.  Mojang with Sony Ericsson announced a mobile version on the Xperia PLAY device.  Notch recaps all the points in his blog post.  He also mentioned on twitter that the game officially hit 2.5 Million purchases.  On the Escapist Forum Bags159 noted that is an impressive number only if it comes along with price information.  He is correct.  I wrote a reply to fill Bags in on rough pricing information about the game.  It seemed like a good idea to polish that reply a bit, as my first drafts tend to wander.  Also the math is interesting, and forecasting is fun.  Here goes!

So how much has Minecraft really made to date?  

This is actually relatively easy to figure out at any given time because Mojang has always posted total sales on their Minecraft website.  Which means that people have been tracking this information.  There have been price changes, which must be taken into account.  We can gather a little information, do some estimating, and come up with reasonable numbers without too much effort.

Crafthub wrote an article about this excellent graph of the 2010 purchases. 

The information is a little old, obviously.  But as the chart goes up to 10/18/2010, it captures most of the Alpha sales of the game. The game moved into Beta on December 10 2010 at which time the price changed. Based on the chart there would have been just over 150,000 purchases in Alpha.  At the time the price was 9.95.  Lets call it 200,000 purchases for easy numbers.

Alpha total is: 200,000 x 9.95 = 1,990,000  About a million Euro in Alpha.  Not bad.

Checking the Minecraft.net stats page we see that to date (6/12/2011) they have sold 2,505,070 copies of the game.  Subtract the number of sales in Alpha from that and we get the number of sales in Beta.  Then we can multiply that by the €14.95 Beta price.

Beta total is: 2,305,070 x 14.95 = 34,460,796.50

Add the Alpha Total and the Beta Total together and get the Total Gross Income = 36,450,796.50

A word about Gross Income for anyone still following this that does not have an understanding of Financial Accounting.  That is not the profit the company makes.  There are taxes to take out, approximately 48.3% in the case of Sweden.  There are an unknown amount of expenses (new offices, servers, Paypal transaction fee’s, data fee) to take out.  So it would be incorrect to assume that they have that amount sitting in an account somewhere.

So what about the future of Mojang Specifications?

Business School teaches you about the Innovation Adoption Curve.  Some might argue that the Demand Curve should be used here.  The demand curve would usually be more appropriate for computer game sales, but because Notch released the game almost the moment that he made it, the innovation adoption curve better describes the sales of this unique game.  Generally we don’t get to see the ‘ramp up’ phases in computer games.  AAA “Game Industry” games shoot for a huge opening weekend and then demand trails off.  Those kind of releases match the demand curve.  But because the game was released early and updated frequently the purchases of Minecraft will be different then the purchases of say Skryim (which will be release about a week before Minecraft officially releases).

Assuming that Alpha correlates to the “early Adopters”  phase.  Beta is the “early majority”. That means that official release (starting 11/11/11 or the week after) will pick up the “Late Majority”, and then some “Laggards” at the end.  Mojang could see another 2 million purchases in “Release” and .3 million from “Laggards” at 20.  Let’s hedge our bets and assume they see slightly less then that.  That could still be another 36 million Euro.

So that shows a really nice future for Mojang Specification on just PC sales on a single game title.  Mojang Specifications also has a second title coming out, Scrolls.  That game targets the Collectible Card Game market.  Scrolls aims to be a better computer CCG then Magic the Gather port, because it will be native to the computer.  There is a good sized audience out there interested in this type of game, and there could be quite a lot of cross over from Minecraft.  But the game is completely different.  At this time we have no reason to assume that Scrolls will be awesome, and no reason to assume that it will be a flop.  Better to focus on Minecraft as a basis for valuation of the company.

In terms of just Minecraft it’s not exactly clear how to think about the Xbox and Xperia sales.  Perhaps PC sales will drop off precipitously and the Late Majority will be made up of console and mobile purchases.  Or there could a late majority of PC purchases lurking out there.  There are many people who have heard about the game but don’t really like it the way it is.  Maybe they will swoop in after release. 

Were Mojang Specifications to do an IPO they could be worth as much as 50 – 70 million Euro.  Possibly 100 million Euro if Scrolls is a modest (in compared to Minecraft) success and expenses are kept low.  Mojang is a small team of people who do very little in the way of traditional marketing (they do use LOTS of Inbound Marketing, however) and therefore expenses could be kept very low.  Then again success may spoil them, and they could start spending like mad.  

I see a bright future for the Mojang Team.  Notch is a smart guy, and Carl (the CEO) is no slouch either.  The whole team is pretty impressive.  They have the additional benefit of living in a culture with very different values then America.  Hold onto the money guys and stay in Sweden.  And good luck!

Is anyone going to buy an Xperia just to play Minecraft?  Or wait until it comes out on all Android phones?