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.

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