The State of Play

The state of play‘ was a New England Game SiG event held at the Microfsoft NERD Center on Oct 2nd 2012.  It was well attended by all kinds of developers, designers, and even the CEO of Kickin Kitchen, an educational website looking to open up a game platform to their existing audience.  The presentation and talks evolved from a panel discussion into more of a ‘town hall meeting’.  There was some good back and forth between the panel and the audience, and even some great interaction between audience members.

The big issue, raised by the brilliant Caroline Murphy, is the lack of funding to game development companies in the Boston Area.  Boston has incubators, game developers, great students, and great start-ups.  It’s almost a perfect atmosphere to build game companies.  Except Boston Angel and VC execs rarely come from a game design background, therefore are hesitant to fund game companies.  The Boston Indies scene was created by and supports tons of great bootstrap start-ups that develop games.  But save a very few examples, there has not been much VC support.

There was one problem with the night, microphones always seem to be in short supply in the NERD Center. But ultimately not a big deal.  Mike, look into that for next time.

5 Great Ways to Find an Artist for your Game Project.

 For the ZoRTS project finding Artists seemed to be the biggest challenge.  There is just something about artists which makes them really hard to find.  Maybe there aren’t many out there at the moment.  Maybe Artists are looking in traditional media instead of game design.  Or maybe working on a project for no pay is not very appealing.  Regardless of the reason for a difficult search here are some of the strategies the ZoRTS project has used to find Concept Artists and Sprite Artists for The ZoRTS Project.

1.) Trade Shows/Conventions.  While attending Pax East 2011, I went to every panel for art.  Not to attend the panel, just to talk to the Artist lining up to listen. At a big convention you have an hour long wait for the room.  Two words: captive audience.  You can talk up your game, get business cards, or just chat with art folks.

2.) Art Schools.  One of those Pax East Attendees was a representative from an art school.  They are always looking for ‘internships’ and opportunities for their students.  They even have offices set up to help find projects that are looking for artists.  You may want to avoid the fine arts colleges, and go with ones that have game or programming curriculum…  But don’t limit yourself if you are located in a part of the country with only a few colleges.

3.) Go to Kongregate.com.  Many of the games there have art under a Creative Commons License that will allow you to use the art for free, as long as you mention the artist.  This pack of art may be all you need for a prototype, or it may be a place to start and build from.

4.) Build a website!  If you are laboring in secrecy there is no way you can get the word out about your game.  Polish those inbound marketing skills, or contract me to do it, grab some free Google webspace and start telling us about your game.  Use this to attract the attention of the artists that you need.

5.) Reddit!  Use the /r/gamedev, /r/indiegame or similar subreddit.  And there are other more appropriate boards there as well.

In fact this blog post was inspired by a reddit post.  Check it out here to find out if they have added any new and useful comments.  What ways have you used to look for artists to work on a game?  Any ‘war stories’ about trying to find that great artist?  Next week it’s finally here, 1 Free Business Plan for your computer game.  It was held back one week to tweak it and make sure it’s perfect!

Valuation in Empire Avenue. Or How to make money in Empire Avenue.

In case you haven’t seen it yet Empire Avenue is a game, played like a stock market.  Check out my first impressions of the game.  Each stocks value is derived from two things.  The number of your shares other people purchased, which I mention first because in this post I’m paying less attention to.  Second the activity of the social media accounts attached to your ticker symbol.  When you sign up you tie your twitter account, Facebook account, YouTube account, and other social media into your EA account.  The game measures your activity on those accounts, and bases your stocks value on that activity.

This game is a neat tool which has been helping me get better at social media.  It just so happens that I’m a bit new to twitter (see below), and am not in the habit of tweeting regularly.  But I have real world goals that I want to meet, and being better at social media helps me reach those goals.  For example getting people to read this blog and click on ads.

A real world company derives its value from the Balance Sheet Equation.  It’s really way more complicated then that, but this is a generalization for folks who are not Business Majors, or Chief Financial Officers.  A ticker symbol on Empire Avenue however is valued by the sum activity of the various accounts you attach to it.  Here we have a pretty picture of my Twitter activity.  You can clearly see how my twitter activity adds into my overall valuation.  You can also clearly see that I do not have many followers on twitter.  😉

Retweets btw are other people retweeting my stuff.  Not me retweeting other peoples tweets.  Took me a good week to figure that out, during which I was doing a lot of retweeting.

I use a Twitter account as a starting point for determining the value for one very important reason.  EA tracks twitter activity for people who have not joined the game yet.  It does not track information for Youtube, Facebook, Flicker, etc unless the owner of those accounts joins the game, and attachs them to their EA account.  This represents a tremendous advantage to twitter accounts.  As well as a huge opportunity.

The calculation seen above is run on every twitter account Empire Avenue see’s.  Which appears to be all of them.  Once you join the game EA displays a list of all your followed twitter feeds.  At the moment far more of them are going to state they they are not playing EA, then are playing EA.  The game ranks and values the twitter accounts.

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With one exception that I just discovered.  If you use the Facebook Empire Avenue app, you can purchase shares in Facebook accounts before they start playing Empire Avenue.
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Once a player joins EA, then others can buy and sell shares of the twitter account, plus other social media.  This brings the irrationality of humans attempting to buy good deals and sell bad deals.  In other words their share price is no longer a measurement of how active they are on social media.  It becomes subject to the whims of humans.  Which brings volatility.  There are many people on EA who are making Eaves by capitalizing on this volatility.  Or using buy back strategies.  Which are both good strategies, just not one that I want to add to the conversation.  I want to add another tactic to the arsenal.

I’m going to use the term “Fundamental Value” in future blog posts to refer to the portion of someone share price which comes from just their social media activity.  Your “Total Value” is the Fundamental Value plus every share bought by your shareholders on EA.  The Total Value is going to be subject to the whims of the market (ie the opinions of the people out there) while your Fundamental Value is not.  Hence the neat sounding name I have coined for it.

When making your first purchases on Empire Avenue I recommend finding the twitter accounts of people that you know who are not playing EA.  You are buying them for the fundamental value of their twitter activity.  If they happen to start playing, their share price will go up simply by adding additional accounts to the game.  Initially you should buy those twitter accounts who you know have a vested interest in continuing to tweet.  Those who rely on social media, or have built their own business on it, for example.  Avoid purchasing those people who just lurk on twitter.

This should give you a solid base of dividends with which to branch out into people whos’ behavior is riskier.  If you give this strategy a try, let me know how it work for you!  I would love the feedback especially if we can put some numbers on this idea.  See you on EA!

Finals are done!

The final final was taken last night!  It feels really good to get that done.  As a (relatively) free man it is time to start looking for a job, and working more on the ZoRTS project, which by extension means this blog.  It is time to take the advice of Markco (err Chris) and go through and cross link all my old blog posts.  Hopefully that way someone other than myself will actually read this!

Coming up in the near future: More Networking.  TapDave pointed me to TheRubyRiot.  A networking event for startups, people looking for employers and perhaps, a person like myself, learning about the business of computer games.  Time to dive in and see what happens.

Networking Round 2

Todays round of networking quickly follows yesterdays.  Had an amazing chat with Dave Bisceglia CEO of The Tap Lab.  And I forgot to ask him how to pronounce his name!  Damn.  We chatted about games, games, QR codes, Retail Impulse Purchasing, funding startups, being a start up, our favorite professor at BU… John Meyer (“…” used to emphasize that John Meyer is not our favorite professor at BU).  We talked about the Zorts project and why it is not a company.  Very positive chat and I think a future freind.  It was exactly the kind of conversation I was looking for, both ‘nuts and bolts’ and dreams of what gaming can be.  My lunch with Chris produced a lot more actionable items for the Zorts Project, but then Chris is an amazing project manager so that’s to be expected.  Dave is a CEO who is dealing with funding issues, venture capital companies, finding users…  Two very different conversations, but two very good ones to have.

Networking

Today I had a lunch meeting with Chris Canfield at Subatomic Studios.  If you play games on the iPad you may know their game FieldRunners.  Considering that I am a rank amateur and an ancillary acquaintance it was awesome of Chris to have lunch with me, and we had a great chat.  He is a great project manager and had tons of great advice.  He reminded me what I’m doing wrong as a project manager, and motivated me to do it better.

What we talked about will have an immediate impact on the Zorts project.  And most likely future game projects as well.  I regret falling into the trap of talking about my project because that was not what my goals were.  However Chris prodded me and provided tons of great feedback.

Tomorrow I have a coffee meeting with Dave (don’t ask me to pronounce his name) Bisceglia, co founder of The Tap Lab.  In fact that may be my first question for him tomorrow.  Dave is a business guy in game design and my goals are to talk business theory with him.  There has been this question in my mind about the difference between someone who builds a company and someone who just works for one.  It’s one of those existential questions which is hard or impossible to answer without a life spent in the field.  I’m going to put that question to him tomorrow and see what happens!

Will anything come from these meetings?  I’m not sure at the moment.  I don’t expect anything tangible immediately.  What I’m hoping for is getting to know people who I can ask further questions and advice from.  I’m hoping for mentors.  Trying to find role models.  What is the take away for the reader?  Getting out there, meeting people, talking to people, and getting excited seems to be the path to getting stuff done.