Tuesday, December 18, 2007

He's dead Jim.

Here lies the Skill City blog. It's creator attempted to start a game company and nearly grasped it, but things were set against him and his dream now lies mashed to bits on the jagged rocks.

Good thing about dreams though... you only need to fall asleep to get a new one.

Sorry I just can't do this anymore.

I have tried to make time for it but I'm so over the video game thing I think I'm just gonna focus on something else for a while and let this blog die. My mind wanders to new and more attractive shores.

I'm sure I'll be back eventually. Until then, so long, and thanks for all the fish. Keep those indie games coming, you gotta start somewhere.

Friday, December 7, 2007

She'll blow apart!

Ok I really would like to post more than once a week here but I honestly don't think I will be able to.

My new day job is with a company that is in a sorry state, and as the new golden child of the IT department (that means I have the Scotty Syndrome) I find it hard to write in my blog after working 12 hours a day on Linux administration and other arcane hardware stuff.

Wait wait... you don't know what Scotty Syndrome is? Ever watched Star Trek? The old ones with the campy pained ladies and the stupid styrofoam bad guys... yeah that one. Scotty would never tell the captain or crew what was really going on, instead he would just say "It will take more time than we have." or "I don't have the power." but in the end he would do it anyway. Eventually he told LaForge "How do you expect people to think you are a miracle worker if you tell them how long it will really take?"

I haven't had to lie about timelines to anybody yet, at this job or at any other game development task in the past. I just get things done that fast... and with the glut of slow untalented morons on the market it is easy to appear to be amazing.

Perhaps my musing on that subject has indeed turned in to some more sound advice for game developers, and many other people in many industries too.

You see, people are in a rush. The game biz is very much similar to movies and film of all kinds. Once you get that big idea, you have to sprint to the market because the odds are good that somebody else has the same idea and they are working on the same product.

Didn't you ever wonder why the movies Comet, Meteor, and Armageddon all came out the same month? Most of it is called "me too!" by those of us who took marketing 101 back in college and learned that term. They try to ride off the hype and buzz created by one, but they are also often similar ideas that blooming in different minds at the same time.

Maybe the universe shoots ideas out in a linear fashion and while your head may get in the way and thus receive this celestial knowledge, like a gamma ray the idea beam continues onward and strikes some other guy's head too. This explains why people with good ideas often go insane, or are awkward at parties.

The game business is young, it has that youthful energy and hyperactive exuberance that screams to get everything done now in a rage worthy of Veruca Salt. I'm often amazed at how long it can take somebody to cement a deal when all around people are trading signatures on contracts using a chair as their table. This really actually happened to me TWICE at Casual Connect.

I eavesdropped too, hey it was my booth space they were encroaching on I had a right. The game design was awful. It made the guy a few grand. Kudos to him!


Probably because he had a reputation already as being a guy who says "It will be done in 3 months" and then delivers in 2. I bet he also delivers stuff that is solid and works.

This is a statement on how to succeed. The market loves a superstar, but most often is easy to impress just by being slightly better than mediocre because of the huge amount of talentless hacks that everybody considers "normal". Check out coding horror someday and read their article on how many people fail a fizz-buzz test that call themselves programmers. You have met people like this. You might even be a person like that...

So regardless of the fact that it takes me 30 seconds to setup the CEOs Treo 650 and it took their old admin 3 days, I am still very busy pulling my new company out of it's suicidal nose dive perpetrated by about 5 years of terrible administrators.

I'll write more on game design as I can, and share some of the ones burning a hole in my notebook.

By the way, I would like to get you involved more in this blog. Yeah, you, the 18 to 35 year old male with a PC or Mac computer and more than just a passing interest in video games.

Where do you do your best design work? What environment do you find you get the most ideas in?

For me it's airports and planes. Seriously. I look back at my little red notebook with my ideas and designs poorly scrawled all over the pages and I can recall the smell of the recycled air as I wrote those words on a flight to somewhere.

Why is that?

For me I think its because that space is dead, there is no distraction or sound or motion, I can just sit there in a void of activity and let my mind wander around and create in itself a game that would be fun to play. Then the creation of the idea itself becomes a game a I try to balance rules, systems, interaction, and then encase it all in a story so that you aren't just scalded in the eyes with raw math when you load my game.

There-in lies a new game: Eye Scalder! Throw boiling hot Math at your players in a game so horrific it feels more like a time share seminar than entertainment!

Now you answer. Where is your idea place? Why?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What should I do?

Well... as I work a day as a linux admin I keep having all sorts of fun ideas for something that would make a great game.

Then there is of course all the games that I designed that will never see the light of day.

I was wondering, what should I do with this blog?

1. Leave it here to get bit-rot, the knowledge it contains is worth something but without constant updates it is worthless.

2. Post your game designs so that all 5 to 10 of us can read them and either steal them for our own or by our collective might finesse them in to something truly amazing that nobody will ever program unless they steal the idea off this public forum.

3. Go back to flexing my imagination at http://www.sect.net/ instead. "Nathan, your insight and clever wit were fun for a while but you just don't have the stuff to be in the game biz."

4. Stop talking to myself, nobody reads this anyway.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thoughts on keeping things the same.

I left my position at Skill City feeling a bit downtrodden that I was departing what was basically, at it's root, my dream job.

I had left a position of comfort and power (and paycheck) to start Skill City, or at least to chase some unformed dream that during my resignation I hadn't yet named.

It is nice to know that the responsibilities I held at Skill City were not totally wasted. I earned quite an education working there.

I walked away from it with the sense that I needed to go find work right away to pay my bills, and to pay the bills of the now dead Skill City Inc. because it was about 900 bucks overdrawn. I said was, because I paid that now.

I also walked away from that endeavor having gained a sense of command of my own destiny. I wasn't just being buffeted by the winds of chance any more, my own personal success or failure was totally up to me. Even the people I rely on because I lack skills they have, I am still responsible for hiring them or keeping them on.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and hopefully I can shore up the limb with some boards... maybe some bits of string and tin foil.

I think failing at a startup business taught me more than being successful. I got to learn all about the negative side of the business world. Some people say "Well my boss is jerk, I know all about the negative side" but they are stupid because they aren't running a company, they don't know the real despair you can feel.

I entered a new job, but I still had that empowerment that I found by working at my own business and falling flat on my face. At times I think I felt a little like a drug addict who has hit Rock Bottom and realizes they have nowhere else to go but up, or dead. I met death once, and he was wearing expensive shoes.

I climbed up and got myself that new job but I see it through a different lens, and I know that it is just a waystation on my climb upward to try chasing a dream again. I will chase it with much greater care this time, and attention to all the spiky bits that tear at skin along the way.

To that end I saw my new job in a state that was similar to me, I sensed that decay that was setting in here like it was at Skill City, only this was a slower doom here at my new job. I went to the CEO and shared with him my thoughts and perspective and was amazed at the response I got. He agreed, 100%, and now I'm the manager of the IT department here.

I honestly think that without the wisdom gained from Skill City imploding, I wouldn't have had that meeting, and I certainly wouldn't be the department manager after only having worked here for 3 weeks. Some perspective for you, my co-admins have been here for years, one of them for over 5 years.

So I have carved out a little niche of happy again, and when I am not gloomy I tend to think of ways to entertain people with games. Ideas for systems of rules and colored things start to fill up my brain. I even had another dream last night about a puzzle game.

Ok because it was a dream I was actually IN the puzzle game... and that was kinda freaky and unpleasant but I still woke up feeling quite good about it.

I wonder if I should just start posting game design docs here and do something like give away all my game designs to the public. Just to see if anybody makes them.

/me goes to find the GPL rules on releasing IP to the public...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Need a job?

My friends over at Gameshastra appear to be hiring. I thought I would do my part and spread the word out anybody interested. It's a really good chance to get in to the game biz with a company that won't treat you like dirt.

You would end up working with some of the coolest and smartest game developers I have had the pleasure of knowing.

Company: Gameshastra
Job Title: (1) Technical Lead - Console Games and (2) Technical Lead - PC and Casual Games
Description: To apply: Please email your cover letter, resume and comp requirements to devjobs@gameshastra.com

Job listing (1)
Department: Game Development
Position: Technical Lead – Console Development

Gameshastra is currently looking for one additional Technical Lead with a focus on Console Development for our US and India game development operations. In addition to being a brilliant senior coder on AAA titles, the ideal candidate will have several years experience as a Senior Developer for “current-gen and next-gen console hardware” in a midsized or major development studio, ideally with a recent specialization in Xbox 360 and/or Nintendo Wii development.

Showing expertise in a broad range of development areas – such as understanding console specific hardware issues, memory optimization, managing PC-to-console downsizing and porting issues, expertly wringing the most out of console rendering and graphics pipelines, physics expertise, AI knowledge and most importantly – having the ability to communicate efficiently with your team members – all will be key to your success in this position.

Job Responsibilities:
• Manage all key technical decisions in one or more 10-20 person development teams, each working on different aspects of various titles for different publishers.
• Have the ability to communicate clear standards and provide direct coaching and mentoring to individual developers as well as to large engineering teams.
• Solve the peskiest problems when they show up in the game development pipeline – no matter what they may be.

• Expert C/C++ developer and problem solver (7 or more years of professional C++ experience preferred)
• Uncanny ability to find problem in other people’s code – and the grace to communicate these discoveries efficiently, and to turn every one of these instances into a learning opportunity.
• Ability to lead, manage and direct technical development teams full of strong minded and creative development personalities.
• Very deep console hardware system programming experience.
• Game physics expertise
• Rendering and 3D API mastery (D3D and OGL) across all kinds of hardware.
• Infinite patience with everyone in the team.

Job listing (2)
Department: Game Development
Position: Senior Developer or Technical Lead – PC, Mac, Casual and Mid-Core games

Job Responsibilities:
• Manage all key technical decisions for each "mid-core" or episodic title that we bring to market – including engine decisions, development and OO architecture approaches, and the ability to these decisions through to the final delivery.
• Have the ability to communicate clear standards and provide direct coaching and mentoring to individual developers as well as to large engineering teams.
• Solve the peskiest problems when they show up in the game development pipeline – no matter what they may be.

• Expert C/C++ developer and problem solver with 5 years of C/C++ experience.
• Extensive experience with at least one major game engine (UE, GameBryo, Tringy etc.)
• Exposure to Casual C++ game development frameworks (PopCap, HGE, PlayGround etc.)
• Some exposure to online casual games (AS2, AS3, Lingo etc.) is also a plus
• Knowledge of various server side technologies (.NET/PHP/Ruby) can be helpful
• Game physics, AI and Networking/Sockets experince strongly desired
• A clear understanding of graphics rendering pipelines and 3D APIs (D3D and OGL)
• Ability to lead, manage and direct technical development teams full of strong minded and creative development personalities.
• Infinite patience and a good attitude.

If you are interested then you can email me for the contact info. This way I can screen out the evil time wasting headhunters who will see this listing and then call people claiming to be a rep of the company just so they can extort a finders fee once you get hired.

I fucking hate recruiters. I have never in my life gotten a job through one, or hired any of the dross they bring me when I am hiring. I don't know why they even exist any more, with the prevalence of do it yourself job hunting tools on the internet nobody needs these people to get in the middle and charge fees for no real value added.

Recruiters are the spammers of HR. Shun them.

Anyway these jobs for Gameshastra are located in El Segundo (thats near Los Angeles for those out of town) and requires a lot of travel to their HQ in India (which is freakin awesome).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

We are back!!! ok not really.

Well sorta.

Drew has taken the machine that was at one time my workstation and set up the Skill City game servers on it, and the database, and the dispatching server, and the chatting and world and banking servers...

You'll have to be a little bit forgiving if the machine seems slow. It is anything but idle now that it's thread cup runneth over.

Oh did I mention its running the games on a cable modem? Yeah ultra slow. You got some lag issues before when we were on a t3, just you wait.

But the good thing is that Skill City actually runs again. You can like, login and play Explodinator again, which is honestly something I have been thinking about a lot lately and not just because I want to explodinate a lot of the idiots I work with at my new job.

I thought about all the "I'll share more reasons why Skill City died" promises I made to you, all 15 of my readers, and then I decided to just let that lion sleep. It is over.

However I will say this: Do you have marketable skills? DON'T GO IN TO VIDEO GAMES

Drew put it to me one day when he said "I'm not doing this for the fun of it, I'm doing this for the money." I was mostly in it for the fun of it, honestly I was having a blast, but I also could move at my own pace.

I look at job postings that places like Big Fish post and decide that being a professional producer is actually a shit load of work (omfg I cussed). The thing is, you would expect that to come with a big salary to make up for it right?

Not so. The video game industry is very very lop sided. Nobody makes phat salary, the hours are long, and often your product is forgotten as soon as something else shiny wanders across the vapid gaze of your target consumer.

I went back to being a Linux administrator and once again realize that not only am I good at this job which makes it tolerable and often simply easy for me, but it pays really really ridiculously well. Like six figures well if you are keeping track at home.

Nobody in the game industry makes a salary like that unless you are the CEO of something doing crazy well. A small games studio, even a medium one, won't be paying anybody salaries that big.

It's ok though, you aren't in it for the money. Just pay your rent with what you make, walk or bike to work, and gaze through my window at night wishing you too were drinking an obscenely tall glass of very expensive bourbon. All your friends will be jealous because you "make video games" and thats good enough for those 12 hour days you work.

Then you will turn 30 and realize the best years of your life are gone, you have no money, and you are ultimately replaceable by any high school kid willing to work 80 hours a week for peanuts just because he wants to "make games."

Yeah I know, I'm so harsh.

I'm also the only person who is telling you the truth.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dutch interview.

Click here to see the full text of an interview that Bashers did with me.

They asked some good questions, I think I have given them the best answers I could.

I find it a little bit ironic that after I shut down Skill City and basically throw in the towel that now I am getting more interest in our technology and product than before.

Is the lesson to be learned that people like bad news more than good? It looks like the best marketing Skill City ever got was from its own demise.

Speaking of, I sort of went off on the coders in the last two entries. I tried to balance that ire by at least stressing it wasn't anything they did wrong, it was just bad circumstance and personality issues.

Anyway you probably want to know what the rest of the circumstances leading to our eventual shut down were, and so I will share those.

But right now I have a meeting to go to so I'll have to share that tomorrow, or maybe this afternoon.

Needless to say it will probably have a very clever metaphor like "Man who wears too many hats eventually gets a broken neck."

I'm fond of that one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Continuing Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Maybe I should compare myself to Baron Harkonnen instead?

I think after reading what I said yesterday most of you probably think I should. I got a little carried away there.

It's not my intention to paint a completely negative picture of those I chose to start Skill City with. Not completely anyway. You see while my coders and business partners had talent, they simply were the wrong people to do business with.

You will find countless better blogs than mine which will tell you the right sort of person to form a startup venture with. I personally enjoy Marc Andreesens blog cleverly linked via hyper thermal linkoid technology: click here.

See, the people I chose to start the business with were complete opposites of the "right kind of person" for this task. It doesn't mean they are jerks or bad workers. Quite the opposite, Drew and Chris are the rare shining exception among coders: They actually know what they are doing, they do it well, and they can pass the fizz buzz test.

What they don't have is drive. Marc puts it best on his blog, go read that. They don't share the vision I have for Skill City, and while I know my artist and music guys did, we can't make much without coders.

As soon as things got rough in the office and morale began to sink, they just jumped ship. They don't care about the project in the same way as somebody with a real deep seeded drive to see the project through regardless of hardships. Some of it isn't their fault even. Owning a house puts a large financial burden on you, so starting a company that might require you to go unpaid for a year or even two is probably not a good idea. Doing it anyway and then screwing the company by leaving it is also a poor choice, and one that I regret I have to bring up because I feel strongly thats one of the main reasons why Skill City might not recover from it's current state of "down and out."

It certainly could, if it had the right people behind it. Those who were willing to give more, move it in to a garage business and take day jobs to keep the core business operating and looking good for the public.

The people I chose to work with refuse to do that, further backing up the argument that I chose the wrong kind of people to work with.

This was not their mistake.

It was mine.

See how I put that on separate lines? I think it adds emphasis to two statements that are certainly true. I made a huge mistake in starting a business with them. This is not a black mark on their records, it is a black mark on mine.

Now you are thinking, but aren't you blaming your programmers for your (you and your partners') business's failure?


Remember the too many chefs? They are all to blame for the failure of their soup.

Management is there to take credit when his team does well, and lay blame on somebody else when they fail. Good management gives credit to his team, and accepts the failure as his own when that team fails. I think somebody said that more eloquently once, but it's true.

What else happened at Skill City though? Clearly there were personality conflicts between the founders that we just couldn't hold in any longer. What was the trigger? Why didn't it make any money despite that?

I know you are all wondering these things, and I did make that list of questions to keep me on track. I'll answer it tomorrow though, I have many an email to answer today and a throbbing headache that demands my attentions.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The center cannot hold

1. How long did you spend developing Skill City?
2. How long has the service been running publicly?
3. What marketing did you use?
4. Have you thought about advertisers, selling the eyes you have to somebody?
5. Didn't you have a business plan? You have to have had a plan to get money in.
6. Are you going to pull your games out and sell them as stand-alone games?
7. What exactly happened? What events lead up to the decision to shut down?

This is what I am being asked on the Indie Forums. I write it down now so I have some kind of guide to adhere to, otherwise I'll just spew information all over this page and it might get confusing to read for somebody without actual experience of the events I reveal.

It's funny, because most of these questions are answered already, many times in fact, on this very blog. I am a gracious host, and have no problem repeating myself in these long days of unemployment. It gives me something to do other than send my resume out to everybody I can think of.

To do a post-mortem of a business that has officially failed at it's original business plan is hard, because one must say why it failed. That means that laying blame is inescapable, and therefore I feel like I should lay that out near the beginning. Nobody likes to be told they are the ones responsible for something bad, people only want praise. I was always more fond of saying: Spare the rod, spoil the child. Nobody likes a prima donna.

The first major problem with Skill City: It had no captain. Have you ever heard the old saying that too many chefs will spoil the soup? Did you wonder that means? These little idioms we use every day aren't just parables, they are tiny ways to convey absolute truths in a general sense using words every common person can grasp.

Skill City was the product of two things: My desire to create an online game community for puzzle games to chat and play, and my experience working for a game shop called K2 Network. I worked there for about 2 months, and it was a bitter experience indeed. I watched a company blunder from one huge mistake to another and just spend amazing amounts of money to fix those mistakes only to make another. Yet to them, it didn't seem to matter. They had money coming out their arses. How were they making it? Hideous games like Mu and Knight Online. Games that were "free to play" MMO treadmills in ever sense of the word. They looked terrible, they had all the exciting game play and user interface of a torture device. Yet they made money, lots of it. They still do. I don't know if its just amazing amounts of hand waving and crafty salesmanship to investors, or if people really are forking out tons of money to play bottom of the barrel cat-barf looking MMO games.

I watched this and thought about my dream to start a game company and then decided
if they could do it, so could I. I did some more research in the evenings and found indie game sites and read all the forums and news. I downloaded a bunch of games and tried them out. Most of the time I was still shocked at the low production quality, or the lack of polish they got. Then I was always attracted to the social aspects of gaming. I don't care if I win or lose, I care that I got to spend time with another person. Playing a lot of these games is the pinnacle of total isolation. Ever chat with another playing while playing Cake Mania? You can't.

All the while the technology / internet industry is spouting on about communities, building social networks, and interaction. They are making sites like MySpace and FaceBook. The games community continues to fawn over MMOs for their massive social spaces, and slowly a few sites start to catch on.

I saw this is an emerging space, and wanted to take my little dream of games in to it. I thought about how to make money with it too of course. An idea isn't a good one if you can't monetize it, at least according to our standard of success these days. One such revenue stream would be wagering. Yes, gambling on the outcome of the game. As long as you are playing in the game and not betting on third parties, and the game is based entirely on skill and has no chance or randomness involved (poker) then you get in under many state's ignorant anti-gambling laws.

A little research on that lead me to Skilljam, World Winner, and King.com. Of course I signed up for an account and played them inside and out while my technologist mind deconstructed them. What sucked about them? What could be added to make them more sticky? Etc.

Skill City was born in my apartment living room in February of 2006 as I sat down and wrote all this down in what was then about a 20 page business plan. How would we be different with avatars that played in the games with you, avatars that you could dress up with our virtual currency and give a virtual home, avatars you could walk around in a world. Ok that last part ended up getting scrapped despite the creation of the virtual world because there just wasn't enough time to get all the art for a world done.

I went to my two friends here in Orange County who were then working for Compudyne writing bland police department reporting software and said "Wanna write video games?" and they said no. You see I had been one of the founders of their company Copperfire that was acquired by Compudyne and made them some money. The other founder was my brother Scott. About 4 or 5 months in to the creation of Copperfire, Scott and I had a falling out when I asked him if he had a business plan, an exit strategy, or if sloppy day-by-day operation was going to be the business plan and we would just struggle forward without a real blueprint. My brother doesn't take criticism well and when he lashed out at me for raising such concerns I washed my hands of Copperfire. It struggled forward for nearly two years before it was finally bought and made some money in the process. I got nothing of course, and was bitter about that, but I had come to terms with the fact that I was ultimately my decision to react to my brother's obnoxiousness by departing.

Why am I telling you this? Well Drew and Chris were the programmers of that venture and were also friends of mine. Scott never would have known them if I hadn't brought them together at the founding of Copperfire in my role as the technical director hiring programmers to code the product. Drew and Chris saw Scott through rose colored glasses from then on. He had made them some money, and had done with it without me.

If I wanted them to join me in a business venture I would have to get Scott to be part of it as well. Anything he did, they would climb on board.

So one afternoon in March the four of us sat on the floor of Drew's living room and said "Can we work together on this business if we are all equal owners?" and they said in unison "Only if you don't freak out and try to ruin the company like you did at Copperfire." At that moment I should have seen it. They didn't just see Scott through the lenses of children seeing somebody who had brought them success, they saw my departure as something that threatened their companies well being and even years later they still held a grudge. Not just that, but their grudge was twisted and sharp.

I needed them, so like I always do when I need something I sacrificed. This time I sacrificed my own pride. I hadn't tried to ruin their company, but telling them otehrwise would be futile and lead to arguments that would get me nowhere. I was convinced I needed them on my side so I acquiesced and just accepted their derision.

We decided to all be equal founders. That nobody could override anybody else because we were equal. Anybody could decide the business' fate or folly because we held equal percentage of ownership and authority.

That was the second mistake. A ship cannot sail when 4 navigators cant decide where to take it. To put it another way, 4 chefs in a kitchen are making a pot of soup. Each has an idea of its flavor, and each puts in spices. You are left with a pretty shitty pot of soup when each one finally realizes what they have done.

Then each of them points at the other and says "You ruined my soup." Nobody looks in the mirror and says "What a stupid idea it was to try and make soup with 3 other chefs."

I do now of course. I had the realization halfway through the creation of our product that this was doomed. The fighting had begun, and when it came time to take responsibility and be equal partners nobody would. "You do it." I was told. Yes, the one they were scared would "freak out and ruin the company" was the guy they would just look at and say "You take care of it."

It was easier that way because then if a bad decision was made nobody could blame them, it wasn't their fault. Then when a good decision was made it looked like money was on the horizon everybody would come up and want a share, to take credit.

The resentment began.

Communication and group dynamics built on trust and loyalty would have been the medicine for such a hideous affliction. I tried many times to get the employees together and talk all the issues out. Sometimes it worked.

Once I was having a severe bout of stress related depression from doing everything at the office. I had headaches and sleeplessness that wouldn't cease. I was so busy running everything at the office and having those who demanded equality not make any of the crucial decisions that I felt like my head was going to pop. I took the day off and stayed at home so I could self analyze and solve the issue. I'm good at that. I sat on the couch and thought about life, about what it was that was wrong. I realized I needed to simplify, to just relax and instead of fighting the torrent I should swim with it.

I had this epiphany while I was peeling a pear. I don't like the skin on pears so I peel them first. I realized it was so relaxing to just slow down my whole life and pay attention to something little like peeling a pear, and to do something that forces you to go slow. It's one of the reasons I always liked gardening too. You can't rush it. Nature forces you to be slow and still your mind.

I felt so much better. I blogged about it the next day on this blog. That same morning at work I was litereally screamed at in my office by my partners who told me I was posting terrible things on this blog, and that it reflected badly on the company. Verbatim I was told that "posting my suicidal thoughts on this blog was the worst."

I laughed. Suicidal? They brought up the pear peeling, saying that it was a metaphor for how I wanted to slash my wrists.

That was the third sign that our business was doomed.

If the people I worked with would see my blog entry about a personal realization that made my entire outlook on life turn around, and gave me an exit to the soul crushing abyss of hectic business management, then what else were they grossly misinterpreting? Not just grossly, but offensively.

As always, I kept my outrage at such a foolish and stupid accusation to myself. I needed these programmers to stay with me, and see Skill City through.

I highlight some dark times, but know that these were flickers in the 11 month period of development we had. They were only brief flareups. Most of the time was pretty good. I designed games and we had meetings to talk about how the games would fit, how the interface of the client would look, what people could do and how they could do it.

I really liked that stuff. To design something in your head limited only by your imagination and then see it become real is what being alive is for. It's the ultimate fulfillment. It's why people sit around and chat about "Some day I'm going to make a game / build a house / paint a picture / start a band."

I am happy knowing that I didn't just sit around a table with some beers one night and talk about how great it would be to build a dream. I did it. I architected the fantasy in my head and brought it out in to the real world for people to see.

Over three thousand of you liked it. Probably more if I had enough money to advertise and show the rest of the population... Sadly, most didn't like it enough to PAY for it. Other game companies saw it and liked it too. We had several interesting conversations with some very big names out there... I can't name them, because they asked for confidentiality.

I'll type more tomorrow or something. It really makes me sad thinking about all this and how it ended, and how there is still a chance I could be running Skill City from my own home except that the two programmers I need to help me do that aren't speaking to me any more.

Remember: don't hire immature "even my spare time is worth 400 dollars an hour" coders to work for/with you. The world has enough spoiled, passive aggressive, little bastards in it without people like us contributing to it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

They make a cream for that.

I have been procrastinating writing up the post mortem on Skill City because I vainly hold on to the hope there is a way out for the company.

There isn't of course. I'm busy interviewing for any jobs I can line up. Most are like the games industry. They want you to come in and talk to them, a lot, they take several days between the times they talk to you and you wait a lot.

Then eventually they get in touch, if you are lucky, to tell you thank you but they are going to hire somebody else, or contract to somebody else, or build that game themselves, or that they have decided to admit they are evil time burglars and give up their world possessions and move to a Buddhist monastery on a mountain top.

Ok I sort of vented there but I just watched an episode of this show called Chuck and it has to be the worst thing on TV. When will idiots in Hollywood stop making shows for geeks without hiring a single geek to watch the show and say "Dude, this sucks, we don't talk like this. We don't act like this, and your show isn't funny or cool and has all the attraction of a deer carcass."

I hacked your firewalls and stole your webs.

Maybe when I'm not drunk as a hobo to drown the out the buzzing throbbing sorrow of having my game company blow up I'll write a post mortem on why it blew up.

Pointing fingers or saying "This is why things didn't work" isn't exactly going to make me any friends. Then again ... I can't exactly damage my relationships more than they already are.

If you haven't picked it up by now one of the major destructors of Skill City was the fact that the founders (me, my brother, and two programmers) didn't get along, at all, and instead of talking out the problems everybody just held them in until the angst and passive aggression blew up in a steamy fount of liquid hot magma.

I'll type in more words when I am not distracted by this awful teen horror movie I stole on the internet.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Goodnight moon

Goodnight chair.

Goodnight desk.

Goodnight little server with the humming disk drives and the little green blinky lights.

Goodnight bank accounts.

Goodnight equity.

Goodnight 3379 registered users.

Goodnight avatars.

Goodnight games.

And goodnight to all those who stuck with us on this wacky journey.

Today Skill City was forced to re-structure itself and go back to it's roots as a garage company. Literally, everything is now in my garage.

I will take some time to write up a post-mortem and maybe even send it in to Game Developer magazine or something. Although they usually only want PMs on successful titles instead of businesses that made several bad decisions and then slowly crawled their way to the grave.

So welcome the new Skill City in to existence. I'm going to keep the game servers up (although they will be slower now without a robust data center). I am also still taking contracts for development.

After all, I have proof that I can get a game made quickly and cheaply. Most others have a hard time making that claim.

Anybody wanna hire a game producer? I am currently filling out the immigration papers to move to Australia as a "skilled worker." Like many countries, certain job experience is in demand enough that they will let you immigrate if you can prove you have those skills. The process takes months, but I really do want to move someplace with the warm sunny beach like where I live now only without the hideous cost of living. Aside from the great pleasure I would get from not being subject to the dumb little Texan who runs this country.

Aside from that, I'm also offering the Skill City source code and all of it's assets to anybody who wants to buy them. All you need is a C# compiler and you have your own online skill gaming community! (some assembly required, offer not valid to people I don't like)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why do we fall?

I been thinking a lot about personal evolution lately. The events in a persons life that shape who they are and set them apart from the rest of the cattle that is the human race.

Lately, I haven't been able to say much about what's going on behind closed doors at Skill City. Stiff upper lip and all that.

The company itself never really had a very strong market, I have said that already. What we do have is some very fascinating technology, and a team of people that are talented at creating it, though about as easy to motivate as roadkill.

I have been looking for a second round of funding, you know this because I have said it here. What happens if I don't get it?

Skill City is my dream and my vision. It is that which I always had in my heart finally come to life for others to see. I would say that its only half done as it stands, and I need to get the other half complete. I am a driven person, and I will do anything to see it get completed.

I'll post more on Friday, until then I am busy trying to find where the next paycheck will come from... you know, the usual.

My advice and lesson from all of this going on here today is this: have at least two years of operating funds in the bank before you start. At the end of your first year, start raising the next five years worth of operating funds. If you can't then your product isn't interesting, or has no market, or you are a poor salesman who doesn't really really at his core want your product to succeed.

Your entire staff needs to be that way too. If they aren't and they quit when things get choppy, it will ruin you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Your friend, the time burglar.

So the business is in need of a round two, a phase B, whatever you want to call it. We need money to continue development of both our web based front end, and our uber cool back-end.

Having read the Andreesen blog yesterday I will not call it a platform. It is a back-end. I know that some people want us to call it a platform because thats the current buzz topic among various people with lots of money who want to invest it in to tech stuff.

Anyway I have two very nice opportunities, and of course I can't talk about them here because of many things. The first would be that I have a corporate image, and blogging about the inner workings of my company is already sketchy. I share here more than I think most people would, but I do keep a lot of things close to my chest.

I think thats a card analogy. The only thing close to my chest right now is my shirt.

I had a few meetings, and a few people who asked me for things like white papers or full documentation on my entire system and its design before we had even begun to talk about partnering or shaping any sort of deal.


People know that you are a small business, and they can sense the chance to milk you for information. Information that might let them, and their larger team of coders simply reproduce what you have. I know its one of the top 10 fallacies of business startups: not everybody is out to rip you off. Guess what? In casual games they are. These are such tiny games that its very very easy to copy somebody else. Why buy what you can just create yourself for cheaper?

Well most of the time they look at something like we have and go "Whoah... hold on. This is very complex." and then they set up meetings where they pump us for information.

They may have no intention of doing anything at all with us. These meetings do two things. One is that they waste your time, and theirs. They should be smarter than that but if every executive was a genius then one company would rule them all. The other thing they do is give you important face time with your competition, or cooperation.

Face time is critical as a small business. You want people to know who you are when you walk up to them at an industry mixer. Even if it's because that abortion of a meeting you had a week ago is how they know you, it's still an excuse to shake hands and say hello. You might get linked to somebody else through it, and then meet the one guy who says YES to your proposals.

Anyway you can tell by reading between the lines I have been told NO a few times, and that I have been dealing with lots of people who "think there might be a good opportunity here, just send me all your designs and then we'll see!"

Yeah right. I'll let you drive that car off the lot and if you want to buy it maybe you'll come back later and pay too.

Part of your job as the good entrepreneur is making these dead ends in to something useful, or knowing when to turn the tables and say NO first.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Google yourself.

I know, that sounds like some sort of derogatory remark doesn't it?

It isn't. If you google for your own name do you get a lot of hits? If you do, you are doing well building the brand known as YOU.

If you start a business and you google it, or you google some things that it does like "casual games" do you see yourself in the results?

No? Get on it them. People need to link to you, talk about you, and search for you a lot so that your google rating rises. Set up some dummy sites... just kidding that's evil. I would never do that.

I found this while googling myself today:

Skill City Interview

Lol! Im on TV mom!

Don't google yourself too much, you will get hairy palms... or go blind... or get addicted to internet porn or something.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


You are thinking of starting a video game company, or a restaurant, or maybe a comic book store. It doesn't matter honestly. You are going to need money. Where do you get it?

First go to google and read up on how to approach investment groups. There are some good coaching articles out there, and there are even some good professional places that will give you a weekend class on how to talk to investors. Then you will be ready to go out and talk to them for real.

Remember that most investors already know you are just an entrepreneur, they don't expect you to be a big money roller because then why are you talking to them?

So you need that startup money. I usually tell people that its easier to sell something that partly done, or all done, than to sell them vaporware. This is usually true. If you can keep your day job and get the foundation of your new gig well laid before actually start drawing on your startup cash you will be better off.

Common sense? Probably. Did I make this mistake? Yup. I learned not to do this again though. While the benefit was great, I could dedicate all my time to getting us up and running, that time spent could have kept another month worth of money in my bank account and would only have delayed my time to market by like a month. A month wont kill ya.

I would like to stress two things for you to consider, and I think they are pretty important.

1. Go to friends and family (or your own reserves) for your startup cash before you try to seek outside funding.

2. Do not screw around with equity / stock. It's a trap, it's filled with paperwork, just don't go there.

Its going to be a lot easier to try and get your friends and family to give you some money for your business idea. The best part is that it will give you practice trying to sell a good idea to people, and if you totally screw up your presentation they are more likely to forgive you since they are relatives. Then there is the other side of screwing up: your business fails. Your friends and family are once again more likely to forgive you for losing their money than a stranger is. Sure your mom may get mad, your friends might not call you to go to the pub with them, but they probably aren't going to sue you like a stranger would.

Okay now for number two, do not bother with stock. When you first create your company you can create a corporation. If you are taking other people's money you will probably want to do that, but you might want to so sole proprietor instead. It really depends on how you forsee yourself raising money, and how you want to be taxed on everything you do.

Talk to a small business attorney and find out the pros and cons of each one.

If you create a corporation you have to issue stock (I think) and I would recommend creating something like a million shares. It's easier for the future. Now, just give yourself 100. You are now the sole owner of stock, and own 100% of the issued shares, so you are the boss. You can also write off the business' losses and do other crazy tax things. Laws vary by the state in which you incorporated.

DO NOT give out shares of your company to the friends and family that invest in you. They want something in return for the money they are giving you? Fine make a contract with them that says you will pay them back their money within the first year (or 2, or 4) that your venture is profitable and that their money to you is a loan, interest free. Now, that takes care of paying them back, but what else? They probably want to make more than they paid because that's the whole point in investing. So add on something like "You also get a percentage of any profits that the board of directors decides to pay out to the investors."

That way you are selling them the promise of future money, but you are avoiding the sick mountain of paperwork that selling them securities (stock) requires.

If you do this, you might want to think about acquisition or how it will affect your investors in the future. If you have a pile of loans that need to be repaid is anybody going to want to buy your little company? Probably not, nobody is in the business of buying debt. So take your friends and family money and make it last long enough to get your product made, and launched, and in to the "it's making money but I need that push to really take off."

Now you are more attractive to an investor. You have a real product, you have a market share, and you have some revenue. Your loans become less off putting now.

Thats my advice so far. I learned this by doing it, and by shopping Skill City around to various interested parties. Hopefully you will find your experience easier now, having read this.

Oh and read this: http://blog.pmarca.com/

Thursday, September 6, 2007


You are a new company to the games industry, and you are wondering how it is that you make those important connection with others in the same industry.

The answer is trade shows, conventions, expos, whatever you choose to call them.

You need to go. A friend of mine who is now the successful business man in the games world once told me the same thing when I asked him how it was that he met all the contacts he now has. Go to trade shows, he said.

Today I was standing in my booth alone, because I hate to admit this but my staff abandon me. They decided they didn't want to come to the trade show because its very time consuming and far away from home. I agreed, it is hard to see a benefit to something that hasn't happened yet. For a moment, I wanted to stay home as well in the safe womb of my own space and enjoy a week of doing the usual comfortable task to which I have grown accustomed.

Then I woke up and smelled the stench of reality, and decided that here lies another lesson I have learned and deemed worthy of sharing on this blog.

My business, and if you are reading this probably yours too, will utterly fail to achieve the greatness you seek if you do not attend these shows and speak to those who matter, and those who don't. You will never know until you talk to them for a while.

Who are those people? Who matters to you? You have a game and you are distributing on your own website and it appears to be doing well, so why bother right?

Well those people are your peers for starters. You need to know them. Know your enemy, because they compete with you, and know your friends because they are there to help you when you need it. For example I have met several business people at this show alone who provide a service I had no idea was even in existence. These things benefit me, I need to move forward and incorporate them to get that important leg up on those who are in the same market as I am.

Then I also met my competition, and received enlightenment. There are things I am doing, that they are not. Should this be cause for arrogant triumph? No, it should be cause for a meeting with them to discuss how what I have could benefit them, and in so doing I can turn a competitor in to a partner and we both flourish. Seeing this beneficial synergy (and yes I hate myself a little for using that word but this is a case where it makes sense) is what sets apart a savvy business owner from one who will blunder in to becoming a statistic: 80% of start up companies fail.

Don't give in to your desire to stay in your comfort zone and stay home. Even if you are anti-social you need to go to these shows and network. It may be acting, but like any role you will find that which you pretend to be is what you eventually become.

Be friendly, talk to everybody who approaches your booth. They will skirt you, and dive in o grab a brochure without making eye contact. Trump them with a friend greeting, a smile and a question about how they are doing and what it is they do. Don't talk about yourself at first.

Don't sit. Don't stand behind a table. You are there to connect, so make your physical self connectable.

Don't put your hands in your pockets, and do shake hands with people when you meet them and begin a formal conversation.

Don't eat at your booth, and keep some breath mints around. You can't smell the slaughterhouse of your own horrid exhalations because you are immune to them.

I have learned these things through careful observation as some sort of scientist observing an island of untouched wildlife would.

I talked to a few people who were just passing by, and discovered that they were in fact looking for exactly what it was that I am selling, only they didn't know it until I spoke to them.

Diamonds in the rough, but one has to brush the dust aside first to find them. These gems do not arrive gift wrapped in to your hands.

Oh, I would also like to add that while the cost of attendance is high (about 2,500 dollars for a booth, and then about 2000 more bucks for table rentals and hotels and plane tickets) your option of making a sale to somebody would pay for this ten fold. Do not be daunted by the high price, because it is part of your advertising budget. You have one of those right?

Have any observations of your own? You do... I know it... share now or you must narfle the garthok.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A fan?

I am currently at the Austin GDC show. I was just sitting there in my booth, getting things ready for the expo hall to open up to the public in he morning when two very strange things happened.

The first was this: a guy walked up to me while I was busily getting things ready to go. He began to ask me about our games, and then before having seen them launched in to a pitch for a game he is currently developing. Then he told me all about how it is a perfect for Skill City and that there are some good options for partnership and revenue sharing.

Now, let's not get confused about my intention here. Lets call him Jim because it's a short name that isn't his. Jim is a nice guy, I have nothing against him, and his game really was neat.

Jim's pitch was horrible. Please all ye seekers of publishers, distributors, do not make these mistakes.

First, I am busy, and most other people who you would like to meet with are busy as well. While a tradeshow is a great place to pitch your idea and to network, you have to know there is a time a place. I am extremely annoyed when people fail to realize that I value my time as much as they value theirs. You cannot approach a CEO and pitch your game out of the blue. Call me? Email me? Make an appointment. I will set aside time just for you, time that is all yours, even if your game is trash or you don't have anything I care about... I have set aside that time for you.

I have met with several other people in the video game production world, publishers, and developers. Some may be terse, some may be rude, but all will respect you if you call and ask to set an appointment so that you can pitch your game idea.

The second mistake was his complete lack of knowledge of what we do at Skill City. When you are going to pitch your game to somebody you must do your homework. Take a moment to get to know them. If you are going to cold pitch like this (that's the pitch to somebody you haven't talked to before) then that's fine but you must understand that you know not to whom you are talking, and you need to adjust your pitch.

If you don't, you might give one the impression you are arrogant and even worse than that you might impress upon your listener that you are foolish.

My visitor made this mistake a few times and I am a nice guy so I just smiled. For all he knew Skill City was an online porn site and had some web based games people could play while switching photo galleries.

The third mistake, and honestly the most fatal one was that he bad mouthed the other companies he had spoken to about his game.


You never do this. You do not walk in to Microsoft and try to impress them or win them over by talking trash on Nintendo. Why? Everybody sitting in that room knows, personally, somebody over at Nintendo. Your chances of them ever talking to you again go down by an order of magnitude every time you make this blunder.

I have made this blunder too. I am not without sin. I learned from my mistake though and now when I am in meetings and the names of another company come up I nod and agree that I have dealt with them in the past. If details are pressed from me I might say something like "It didn't work out and I am not doing business with them right now." See? I didn't say I am not doing business them ever, or that things went badly. I left any emotional qualifiers out.

Please let me remember to do this from now on, because its an easy pit to fall in to.

The final mistake that was made by Jim Von Doomedpitcher (I made up that name just now) was that he had no game design spec, no timeline, no milestones, and brought up such immediately. His defense was just that he was a fast coder and needed no such things because his game would be done on time, and he was a man who was always timely. Further he blundered in to his last pitfall once more and slandered the last executive he pitched to for asking for such a ludicrous thing as a plan for his development.

At this point I finally had to halt Jim because a time burglar left un-checked will consume an entire day of mine, and I am nothing if not busy. Simultaneously I knew that Jim was a man with talent, and no experience.

Ah, you are leaning in to your monitor now and saying to your screen as if speaking to me that I am also a man of no experience. Nay, for I am one of little experience, but certainly more than your average basement indie developer. It may seem common sense even, the wisdom of my experience.

Back to Jim. I told him that he needed to stop, because Skill City had no use for his game, and while it was impressive he needed to be talking to other people. I offered him their names and pointed him in the right direction. Undaunted he pushed on insisting there was a synergy for us, me as the holder of a site with traffic and him as the maker of a game.

I am sorry, I told him, but we make our own games, and our business plan is such that we will continue to do so. Further his lack of a written plan and slander of those who request it was something I stated to him as being very foolish. Did he not understand that a million dollar business is only that because of its use of plans and documents? He cannot fault them for wanting one, and to be surprised when they ask for it, or offended, is just stupid because they will ALL want this. He was forced to agree.

Now Jim had a leg up on everybody else. His game, while a prototype that was 90% done, was way ahead of most who come pitching. He had a game to show me, not just a written plan. Why then do we want a plan? Here is the game laid bare before me. I want a plan because I want to see written down what the 10% that isn't complete is going to look like, and a written guarantee of when it will be done.

So will everybody else.

That my friends is todays object lesson, and I do feel badly that I am using this guy as the example of what not to do, but that is life. We learn the most from mistakes, we never notice the subtleness of a choice well made for very long.

I did say I had two visitors that surprised me.

The second from a reader of this Blog, and that was really cool. I have never met in person somebody who reads anything I put on here, and his words of praise motive me to keep going here. The best part? He is from Australia, so aside from the cool accent that's a really far away place, and to just walk past and say "Ah, thats the big logo on that booth for the guy who does that company with the blog I read while I am here in the US a billion miles from home."

Well that's just cool. It blew my mind for a second and I recognized again that this is a tight knit little industry we have here.

So, don't talk bad about anybody 'cause it will hurt if ya do. (sorry Jim)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


A long time ago in the isles of Greece there was a girl named Pandora.

The gods, feeling that the world needed to be tested as they often do, and having grown tired of springing out from behind trees with a series of trivia questions or math problems gave to Pandora a box.

They told her not to open this box, that it contained within it all the sorrow and pain, death and horror that the wide world could offer. Gods were much like that chef who knows that while he was baking you cookies he dropped one on the floor and he just brushed it off and hands it to you anyway. This box was just like that cookie, the gods knew she would eat it and therefore ruin everything, and they would laugh because they are jerks.

Pandora accepted the box, and for many days it sat upon her table. Dust gathered upon it, and the sun rose and set as the days past in the usual way. Her curiosity burned within her and so she set one hand upon the box, and decided to take a peek inside.

The moment the box was opened, the very second that its lid cracked and light entered the darkness within it, she knew that she had done something so Bad it had to be capitalized.

The box spilled forth the woe and tragedy that it held, and forever hence man has known that Pandora is ultimately responsible for the existence of attorneys.

Pandora also found hope at the bottom of the box, but the attorneys sued it for slander and it was barred from sale or use in all countries.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Your boutique teeters atop a pyramid

Think of the video game market, or better yet any market as a pyramid.

This pyramid is also a graph, its a 3-D graph made up of golden blocks. Also it's made of people. Soylent Pyramid is people.

As you go higher, the amount of money that a single person is willing to spend goes up. The man sitting at the top of the pyramid has lots of money to spend on frivolous things that he doesn't need, but that he wants.

As you go lower the base widens on this pyramid, because there are lots more people here being crushed under the weight of those above them. These people on the bottom are willing to spend less, because thats how our X axis of this 3-D graph works.

So this market has a large amount of consumers who are willing to spend little to nothing, and a few who are willing to spend a lot.

Skill Games is at the top of the video game market pyramid. There are very few consumers of it, and its very hard to reach them and say "Here I am, waiting for you to come spend yer money at my magical pyramid of gold."

So Skill Games get smart and say "Where is there a surplus of people, and how can I trick them in to using us?" or to put it another way "How can I make money off the rest of this goddamn pyramid cause the pointy bit at the end is one guy, and I need a few thousand."

So Skill Games tend to be casual. Casual games have a large market, and attract people easily. Who can't sit down and play Tetris for a half hour? Ok my grandpa can't, but he is dead so he is excused.

Skill City on the other hand is sending its thick ropey tendrils all over this pyramid. We have avatars and experience systems that attempt to go after the dress-up crowd, casual games to pull in the inexperienced larger mass of gamers, competitive titles that grasp the serious gamer who values a good fight, all of this wrapped around subscription models that give you just a little bit more if you are willing to pay, and doesn't feel like it hurts those who aren't.

Will it work? Who knows... that's what we are finding out. So far it looks pretty sexy though, and now all I need is that million dollar budget to advertise it to everybody.

I think that means its time for me to talk about going after investment money, because unless your daddy is rich you gotta get that money from somewhere. Its the money that helps you make the leap from startup to success. Lots of people use it, lots of people need it.

Even I need it. I'm contact every VC, Angel, and Equity Investment firm on the planet right now.

It's a weird experience, once that I am hip deep in and wading through as one crosses a murky swamp filled with things unknown.

I am eager to share these experiences with you, so that you don't get bitten by the same snakes I am. I'll even leave little signs on the trees as I pass them, marking the way for those who come after me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Best Mai Tai Ever.

I don't think I have posted anything in a while that is at least somewhat off topic. I also think that in my entire life (that's a long 32 years this November) I have never posted to a blog while intoxicated. Do forgive the typographical errors, I will hope to use the spell checker to remedy these and you will be none the wiser as to my current state of manual dexterity.

Allow me please to share with you the most splendid recipe for a mixed beverage ever.

First gimme a second to turn on some appropriate music. Alas, I have none, so I will instead play something by Dukas. It has lots of strings and rythmn and I do believe I heard this in a Disney film once...

The best mai tai recipe ever
by: The Mayor of Skill City (a monkey who knows his tropical beverages)

In a shaker combine:
2 jiggers orange juice
2 jiggers pineapple juice
1 jigger rum (vodka works too if you are outta rum)
1 jigger of peach/apricot schnapps (of peach/apricot brandy)
1 jigger of triple sec (please dont use Grand Marnier)

Shake vigorously. As the sage bartender said, anything with fruit juice needs a good kick in the ass in to wake up the flavor.

Now, pour it in to a nice tall glass. A collins glass would work swell if you are a barware fiend as I am, I like to have all the odds and ends. I even have that stupid spatula with the spiraly wire going round the outside.

You are not done. A Mai Tai needs to look like a sunset. Pour in some Grenadine very carefully so that it gathers at the bottom. No worries, its heavy and sugary and will go there on its own.

Now for the layer of smog, this is Los Angeles after all. If you are more nature inclined just think of it as a lovely night sky slowly darkening. Pour some very dark rum on top (Meyers is my dark rum of choice as its very sweet and very dark) using a teaspoon or some other device that you have handy. It will float nicely on top.

Now you have made a tropical three layered drink worthy of any puzzle game. Unlike puzzle games though, this is something you can then pour down your gullet slowly.

Warning: Not responsible for hangovers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A different angle.

If all these "at home" projects are making use of our computers idle cycles, those times when your CPU isn't doing something like running a web browser, when will I be able to plug in to the idle cycles of the human brain?

I have been thinking about a game for a while now, and I want it to be something that isn't derivative. I know, the post modernist in me says that isn't possible because everything has been done. The rapper in me says that it's played out. Yo.

While I use my idle time, the small spaces between emailing business contacts and writing up game design specs and making sure this company is still running, I think about how to make this game.

It's starting to drive me crazy that I can't think about how to come up with a compelling reason to play it. Then today I was sitting here in my office with this little wooden ball in my hand. Thank you macrovision for giving me this neat little toy at a trade show. It solved my problem.

You see, I was thinking about it all wrong. I knew I wanted to make a game and I knew how I wanted it to look and some of the key features. I was just having a hard time getting them all to fit together. I was trying only one approach, and then I saw that my problem is like a sphere and I only need to try another angle. The destination is the same, but my approach could change.

This is really really really hard to do. One suddenly has to shuck all their instinctive and learned problem solving skills from 31 years of life. Toss them away, and look at it with fresh eyes from another perspective that isn't your own. How would a concert pianist's approach differ from a molecular chemist's? The answer: one of their feet are both the same.

I know, that didn't make sense but I seek to guide you in a different way than simply spewing facts at you. Perhaps this is why nobody reads this blog...

Anyway I think that now I can see an idea beginning to brighten, that was once growing dusty beneath its star crusted vault of sky.

Where did I get the idea for a game like this? I dreamed it.

I saw this giant array of spheres in the universe and each one had a sound, and as I watched they all played their notes. It was neat, and pretty, and if I did it right I could make the galaxy do Mary Had a Little Lamb. This is a puzzle game, a challenge that is fun to look at and rewarding when done correctly. Well, thats what my sleeping brain said. It says lots of things, so does yours but perhaps you don't remember them as often as people like me? I don't sleep very deeply.

I'm writing it all down so that one day my music of the spheres can be played by others... maybe heard by them too. Then you can blog about how my universe opened strong but its current work isn't nearly as good as its first album, before it sold out.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Addiction of a different kind

It has happened. There comes a time when the maker of a drug tries his own product to the extent that he becomes addicted to it.

This is such a drug.

In looking at it, and the many other kinds of games that people have labeled as addicting I find there are many easily quantifiable properties of addiction in video games.

1. Tasks
2. Persistence
3. Simple rewards

People like tasks. They like to click a person and have them say "Go forth young Druid Warrior and bring me hence the head of 35 yellow Squigglsproing." and you gleefully go out and do it because you get a simple reward, for a simple task, in a complex world. Feels good.

Persistence is just there so you come back, again and again you return because you know that your avatar is waiting. You know that when left the city of Harvest Town that people were busy there and when you come back things have changed. The raccoon in the store probably has turnips on sale, or a new desk perhaps. Its safe, you like it there.

The tasks you did and the rewards you gained are there waiting for you too. Killing 35 Bloodfanged Gnar Gnar certainly isn't all for nothing.

The addiction chain is easy to follow, its been around for as long as people so it's nothing new. What people miss, is that it's very easy to interfere with it. We aren't talking a physical need, so your body doesn't demand that you play WoW and cause you to feel like you are dying if you go too long without it.

I'm talking about getting those first few links in to the addiction chain and really shackling a player to your game. It's very hard. People try all the time. They tried and failed? (inside joke) Well yes most do. Its irony itself that a site called AddictingGames.com is mostly loaded with horrible games that repel every fiber of my being. It's hard to call that addicting. Maybe revolting?

One or two titles there fun, and I could see myself going back. I have no desire to though, because the more I play there, the more I realize that I'm getting nothing back. I'm not being rewarded with anything I can look at an hour from now and say "I did that."

What else? Clicking. Nobody likes to have their flow interrupted by a menu. I hate it when I click "Play again!" after a game is over and it takes me to two different "OK or Cancel?" boxes before the game starts again. I agreed to them once already, let's not ask again.

That last one is an observation of my own site. I get playing Explodinator for an hour because it's so challenging, and yet so easy... but one tiny mistake and you are doomed but you just don't know it. I love this game, I play it about 30 times in a row. I loath when the game ends and I have to click OK 4 times before it starts again.

Getting addicted to your own games is great, I get insights I would otherwise have missed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Lately I have been thinking more and more about how we are automating our lives, and how wrong most people have been in their assumption that humans would welcome such advances with open arms.

Nobody wants to feel replaced by a machine, and nobody yearns for the existence of somebody who has nothing to do at all because robots do it all for them. How exciting is 72 years of life sitting on a sofa doing nothing? How horrible a fate that would be.

Anyway I was thinking along the lines of automation and how most tasks are being reduced to simply pushing a button. What if that pushing of a button was actually fun? Could you get people to do that task for you for free instead of paying them?

What if sitting at the console of a power plant watching all that information flowing around and monitoring everything was instead a game? Sure, it's a game where the lives of people are on the line but all video games have that. These are real people now, so its not so much a game as it is a job and you are all that stands between a city being powered and a huge explosion.

Still... what if that console was made differently, and the ideas and goals of a casual game were put in to it? Would it make your job more fun? Would it make you want to come to work every day and therefore get paid less?

See it has to come down to money at some point otherwise our reptillian overlords would never consider such a thing.

The power plant idea is just too over the top. But what about Taco Bell? I worked there once I kid you not. They have little bins with about 8 ingredients. Each menu item is really just those things combined in different ways. Didn't you notice how all their food tastes the same?

Replace the human workers with a robot arm and now make the entire staff just one person. He sits at his console playing a Diner Dash meets Cooking Mama type of a game where his moves are actually making real food and actually delivering these items to the pickup window. He gets efficiency bonuses, high scores, etc... they are compared to other workers at other stores and aggregate performance and customer feedback determines if you get paid a "High Score" bonus.

This is the psychotic world of the future I envision. Video Games will some day mediate our basic tasks. Children playing "shoot the zombies" really are controlling soldiers?

Hello. My name is Ender.

Monday, August 13, 2007

You get the ankles and I'll get the wrists

Couple of fun things to talk about today.

First, people are starting to cash out on Skill City. In the last week I have written checks or clicked submit on Paypal for an amount well over $2500 in total. People are winnin' the cash, and its pretty dang easy because most of you aren't playing for cash, so that monthly tournament for 500 bucks had like 10 people playing for it. Pretty nice odds, since the top 5 take the money.

Why is nobody talking about us on the news? I get a phone call from my sister in San Diego that there is a news story on Skill Games and how they are the new way to gamble in the US but since it's a video game that you play, and there is no house to benefit from the outcome, it's all legal.

Wow that's a hot news item, considering Skill Jam started doing this eight years ago. Then again the evening news on the telly has always been known for being written mostly by, and for, farm animals.

I'm bitter at the free press they gave to our competition obviously.

Second, things zip along here at Skill City too. I have four separate companies that are currently exploring our super skillful and ninja like grace with which we can make a game, an engine, and tools to support it. Development contracts with them would be nice, so would a paycheck. I'm on NDA with these companies so they shall remain unknown to thee, my reader. I'm also looking at another deal that would be extremely sexy, and the details of it shall also remain undisclosed at this time but suffice to say that it will make us all happy and therefore you should pray to your various pantheons that it works out. It's a vague prayer without my giving you details, but hey, if you have some sort of omnipotent superhero for a deity then he/she/it already knows.

Just take a moment to think positive thoughts in my general direction, if you are so inclined. For most of you that would be roughly southwest.

I have taken to daydreaming about new games lately. As I sit and attempt to distract my mind from important tasks (television) I have noticed that the proliferation of the internet is much like some sort of cold war between products.

"General, Lucky Charms has built a website sir." said the nameless soldier handing his report to the superior officer.

"Dammit!" The General slammed his fist in to the desk hard enough to knock over his pencil jar spilling its contents across the smooth wooden surface. "We must respond in kind and show them we are just as strong as they are! Execute these instructions immediately. Fruit Loops will come out on top of this!" He growled, sliding a binder across to the waiting soldier.

The cover was labeled clearly: Plan 47A - Website with Casual Games. Probably Something With a Bunny

So as each warring product builds a website, then a bigger website, then a big website with games... someday they will build a website with games so big that it will destroy them all, or it will take over 20 minutes just to load and then people will stop going there.

I see myself as the guy who walks in to the office of Decision Maker and says to him "I hear you are escalating your defensive position against Product X. You need something to keep your brand in front of people. You need casual games, branded and dripping with the sweet honey of your intellectual property."

I'll smile and they will hand me a briefcase full of money that I will use to build them a game, cause that's what I like to do, and I'm good at it. Building the games is what I'm good at, not taking money. I don't have a lot of practice in the taking money activity.

Saving some of that money so I can mosey over to Decision Maker at Product Y so I can sell him the same thing seems like a good idea.

See how I just equated being an arms dealer with making games? Did you like that?

Coolest job ever.

Oh here. Have a screenshot of the new game. It's awesome. I would go so far as to say it's expletive deleted awesome.

Click for a larger view!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Game news

What am I particularly opinionated about today?

Mostly the total lack of interest I get from site owners who advertise. I send email like:

"Hello. I run a business and I would like to purchase a banner ad on your site. I notice you have ads up there already in the format of blah-blah and I have an ad formatted and ready to go. Please quote me on running a campaign for 15 days, include your CPM, and if you have stats on your site please include those too."

Lets pretend you run a site, and you sell a service. Somebody walks in and says "I have shopped around and chosen you. Here is a pile of cash." What is your response to this?

Thats right! You ask them to leave, because you don't want their money. Your bills pay themselves and you are independently wealthy, so why would you care about somebody who wants to pay you for the service that you sell and currently run a business to promote?

Sarcasm aside, that's the general response of many of the advertisers I am trying to buy space from. Project Wonderful has been nothing but wonderful. They are slow as crap and their website takes an age to load, but the prices are low and the impressions are high, so who can argue?

I can. Once you have run an ad on there for about two months you realize that the 500 hits a day that most sites get are the same 500 people day in, day out. Running an ad there for more than a few days every month or so is not going to get great response.

So off I go to various big traffic sites like Casino City where they rate lots of online Skill Game sites, as well as our less savory relatives: the gambling establishments.

Getting on their directory is easy, but getting them to return a phone call or email me a rate sheet has been a struggle I have been fighting with for over a month.

I gave up today. I sent an email to their ad rep basically stating that since they are clearly kajillionaires who don't need any more customers to toss cash at them I will be moving on and not inconveniencing them with my patronage. How dare I try to buy an ad from a website whose entire reason for existence is to sell ads?

I'm nervy like that.

Mostly though, I'm seeing that webcomics don't have the high returns on a product of the type that I have here. I need to find someplace else to put up my name... Maybe I'll tattoo it on the foreheads of sleeping hobos! I hear thats pretty cost effective.

Friday, August 3, 2007

I see good spirits, and I see bad.

I have been spending the majority of this week sitting in my office writing out proposals for the various companies that want to work with us. It's taking up all my time this "CEO" thing and last night I was thinking on my bike as I rode home how funny it was.

I started the game company so that I could be my own boss and avoid all that bureaucratic junk. How silly of me to overlook that as the company becomes more successful I would get more and more bogged down with business stuff.

But thats a good thing. That means my business is growing. So it has come full circle. I left the corporate world only to build a company that is slowly becoming corporate.

At least this time a big jerk isn't in charge though.

Sorry todays blog entry is stupid, I'm totally distracted by 800 things and I can't focus.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Cat hair nose job.

I was at Comic Con all week, and this weekend. I would like to start by saying that sleeping in my own bed was a blissful experience that only long absence can allow me to truly appreciate.

I think I also inhaled a helping a cat hair / dander that did a number on my sinuses while I slept on Iason's sofa. I have those good old summer time allergies to cats who aren't mine, and they seem to get worse every year as I get older and more battle weary.

I'll probably write a lot on this years Comic Con as the days pass, because I saw and did a lot there. Most of it was from the eye of a business man wondering to himself: "How can I get these people to give me their money?" and "What is that smell?"

First I would like to speak to all 20 of you (yeah, google says that there are more than 8 people reading this now) about seminars, and the dangerous misinformation they can give you.

I attended one called "FTW: How to break in to the video game industry" hosted by speakers from Foundation 9, Madcats, Sony, Capcom, and a guy who as far as I can remember was just an indie game blogger or somebody in the press/reporting circle of the video game stuff. I do recall though somebody saying he was there to give the indie side of the story.

After an hour of enduring questions that seriously were made up of deep insight such as "Do you like, read resumes that people send you, cause like, I sent mine and like, never got a reply?" the seminar didn't end. I was waiting patiently, and it just went on and on. I wanted to approach the bench and speak to the guys one on one, developer to developer, but I never had the chance because my phone kept paging me that Skill City servers were crashing and with no end in sight I had to leave.

I was there for 2 hours though, and what I did learn is that the big corporate game producers, and even the British fellow who was supposed to be reprezentin' us indie shops have a very biased view of their industry. I don't actually know why it surprised and dismayed me so much. I should have expected it, had I sat and thought it through.

I mean obviously a rep from a giant video game corporation is going to tell you that the way to "break in" to the industry is to start as a tester or QA person, then work up the long corporate ladder. It's what most of them did, and it's the method that is approved and effective for giant game factories such as theirs. Clearly they are now in positions of power and prestige, so who can argue?

Well... I would. I'm just a little scamp like that.

They never mentioned at all that to "break in" to the game industry all you need to do is wake up in the morning and say "Today, I am a member of the video game industry."

I'm serious, I speak from experience, and if you don't believe me just click here and let my work argue for me.

A lot of people will attempt this method of "breaking in" to the game industry, and they will fail, because once you declare yourself part of the industry you also have to act like it. That is the true sticking point. It's not that you failed to get a job for Soul Eating Corporation Number 91a. It's that you can't get anything done unless somebody is standing over you telling you to do it, and or paying you for it.

I'm not being negative, I'm just saying that there are a lot of people who go the indie game developer route and never finish even one game or product. It's very common. That same person, were they to work for a small shop like mine, or a huge shop like Sony, might flourish and become the next star of our time.

I think, as I write this, that the indie gamer method of "breaking in" (I hate that term so much I refuse to stop putting quotes around it) to the game industry is actually so hard that maybe it just wasn't worth mentioning. Maybe it wasn't lack of interest in that obvious route that caused a panel of prestigious gentlemen to simply ignore it for two hours.

There was a point at which somebody in the audience yelled out, in answer to a "Will you fund my game?" question "Portals will." and the panel shot him down. It was at that point I looked at him, as he was sitting near me, and said "I think everybody up there on the panel has never made their own game before, and probably has no idea how portals work, because I have many friends whose games were funded by portals/publishers."

A few minutes later the idea of finding a publisher to fund a game for you, so that you could use this proto game in your resume when applying for Capcom was actually broached by the panel.

Wow... so go indie, but only because that will allow you to make a game that you can use to impress game companies in to hiring you.

Yes my friends. That is the moral of the story of that entire seminar. I came away from it with the taste of sadness for all the kids in there who genuinely wanted to get in to the game world, and probably wont because they will spend all their time trying to get a job at a huge company someplace rather than just following their dreams and setting out on their own journey to greatness.

I am by no means saying the seminar was a waste of the men of the panel are not wise, and worthy of praise for giving their time. I was just sad that such a great way to break in to the game business (see? I'm over it now) was totally glossed over.

I sleep at night by telling myself that after I left to fix the servers they had a very long discussion of going indie, how it can be more fulfilling than working for somebody else, or being a tiny spoke in a larger gear. They probably didn't, but I'm a dreamer.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The efficacy of making friends in higher places

Find somebody who knows more than you about what it is you have chosen to do.

In this case it's making video games, specifically making video games in a Skill Games Tournament setting. You might be deciding to grow lima beans in Ohio, or to finally take the plunge and start that antique book binding business.

Regardless of your chosen path through the tangled and web strewn hallways of small business adventuring, you should find a mentor, or an adviser, who will help you with your many issues.

By blogging my odyssey in to this strange realm for you I hope to at least provide a road sign here and there to direct you. I cannot ever hope to provide you with the level of advice that somebody who is a seasoned veteran can provide.

"But I cannot, because they are expensive these sages of business knowledge." you say to me. I will smile and let you know that for every horde of marauding bandits seeking to swell their wallets you will find one who is willing to help you, but only for the price of your friendship and gratitude. I mean that in a very Oscar Schindler sort of sense (go watch the movie), your gratitude needs to show that you aren't just happy to have found somebody you can mentally leech. Your gratitude needs to show that you are a person who takes care of those who took care of you.

I suppose a track record of success helps, but if you are genuine and sincere in all that you say and do those with true business acumen can sense this. We know who we can trust after about 10 minutes of conversation.

Take a shower too. Brush your teeth. Nobody trusts a person with an unpleasant personal odor.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Belle of the Ball

As a tiny indie game company, or love developer yourself, you might have thought many times about how you should get your name out there and let the whole world know that you have the next idea right in the palm of your hand.

Many people post that on forums when they ask for advice, and my answer to them is always the same. You need to actually have a game done.

I'm putting my arm around you in that confidential way that says I'm about to give you some important info (or that I have been drinking) and I shall impart the wisdom of the ages: Don't show up pushing vaporware. Please don't. The industry at this point is so used to people showing up with hand waving and a grand show of nothing that they are just kind of tuning many people out.

Instead, before you are going to call yourself a game developer, or announce that your basement is a game studio, please actually make a game. I don't mean start making a game, I mean FINISH a game.

You might be wondering how Skill City went over at the Casual Connect conference that the Casual Game Association et al put on.

Thats what I'm getting to. See, we made a huge splash there. I had no intention of accomplishing anything by showing up other than saying hello to some friends, and making some new ones as I strolled the aisles introducing myself. Instead I ended up going to meetings with people I had never met.

I started by simply sending out meeting requests along the lines of "I would like a quick meeting just to introduce myself and Skill City, maybe talk about how we can do business and get some advice from you; my more experienced peers."

Flattery. That's key, and always will be. They are more likely to talk to you if you admit at the start that they are better than you. In fact admitting right now that a big company with a million bucks and a ton of employees is better than you isn't strategic, it's obvious.

So during these meetings what was it that, at the root of it all, made Skill City one of the companies everybody was buzzing about? I honestly think that it's the fact that we showed up with a real product. We didn't arrive saying "Look at us. We make games. We haven't made any yet, but give us money and we'll make some. We promise."

How refreshing is that for an industry that is thick with hucksters?

So we had a real foothold, we had actually made something, and then all the publishers walked by and said "How is publishing you though? Surely you aren't successful without the grace of our vast distribution empire?" Ah but we are doing pretty well in fact. Just using a website to chuck our installer at anybody who wants it seems to be what everybody else is doing anyway... This way Im not giving up my much needed pennies to somebody who isn't really doing much.

And this brings us to the other little factor in why people were talking about us. We were doing it all, all of it, alone. We had no partners, we had no big rock star game developer names or huge studio making our games. All we had done is work really hard, and really well, for one year and produce something that is amazing and nothing less than anybody here would expect for one year of such passion and attentions. You see, a lot of business are actually created these days with one goal: to do as little as possible and just use other people to make money.

They are often called Middle Men. Somebody who kind of just facilitates a few things you could have done yourself if you were inclined, or had the time, or were an unmarried network engineer with a gift for disarming conversation who designed a game service one day. I'm also incredibly handsome and I smell like roses. Where was I? Oh yes Middle Men.

The industry appears to be FULL of them. So when somebody comes along who is doing well without them I think people take notice.

Course this is all just speculation on my part, hell this entire blog is one big anecdote about me runnin' a game company. The best part about anecdotes though is that you can affix the word evidence to it and suddenly you get facts.

So here is some anecdotal evidence:
1. Everybody I talked to at the convention was amazed at what we got done in one year.
2. Most people were amazed at the quality of the games and our product, given the above.
3. Everybody was taken aback when they saw the demo included me actually showing them 5 games (and half of a sixth) working in our system with other people online using it too.
4. I wasn't selling them anything, I wasn't asking them for anything, I was just a friendly guy who was genuinely interested in meeting them, and hearing their opinions and feedback.

It boils down to this: Skill City is a deviation from the norm, and I think in general people were glad to breathe in the fresh air we brought with that.

So the iron is heated, it has seen the fire of attention and generated the warm radiance of industry buzz. Now is the time for me as the smithee of this little business to strike while it's hot.

Can I do it? I dunno... I'll try my best and so far that's worked.

I will of course share it all here, so do tune in for all the gory details.