Blog Articles

A collection of things I’ve written

September Page Speed

1 min read

Hitting 100 on Google Pagespeed feels like it’s impossible to hit right now. Despite a lot of effort to hit & maintain the current rating it’s really hard to push past 97%.The main reason appears to be that Google down ranks speed when including external javascript libraries such as their own Google Analytics javascript include. It isn’t possible to store GA.js locally as that would negate the metrics anyway.It would be possible to spoof the results by removing the javascript, getting a pagespeed score, then putting it back but that seems like a pointless exercise.So, 97 appears to be the best I can hope for until I find around it.

Relocating to Github.io

1 min read

I recently chose to take up the challenge of using github.io to host my long-standing blog.As I write, I’ve hopefully move all of my old posts over to Jekyll Markdown format by the magic of some scripts, some regex search & replace and some sheer effort.There’s a few missing edges but I’m hopeful that keeping the content in Markdown format will mean I don’t have to go through this pain again.Some of the images didn’t make it through the process so I’ll be churning through those in the coming days.Issues to solve: Missing images Random post dates & times Formatting/style issues lost in translation (Tables are going to be fun!)

How To Achieve Some Focus

2 min read

I’ve been fortunate recently to take a break from video game developmentand really focus on what the next exciting stage of my career is goingto be.  I was overseas for a week recently in a remote area of Spain andI was taken away from the ubiquitous 24/7/365 connectivity with theworld that we find ourselves part of everyday whilst trying to devoteourselves to video games. Back home internet access has become asimportant is breathing: wifi hotspots, fast data over 3G, netbooks and the iPhone mean that you’re only ever seconds away from a rich world ofcontent. Strip this away and you can really escape the noise and focus.

Outsourcing Artwork for Better Game Development

3 min read

Hi, my name is David Tolley and I’d like to share my many years ofexperience and extensive knowledge regarding successfully setting up,managing and working with art outsourcing teams for computer and videogames to throughout the world. Lot’s of practical experience indelivering a wide range of art assets into game and managing externalteams. Anyone new to (or interested in) the subject of outsourcingartwork for video game production should hopefully find what followsinteresting.

Book Review - Linchpin, Seth Godin

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I recently finished Seth Godin’s recent book entitled “Linchpin: Are YouIndispensable? How to Drive Your Career and Create a Remarkable Future”“Why are some people easily outsourced, downsized, or freelanced intoobscurity, while others have their pick of opportunities? In his mostpowerful book yet, Seth Godin argues that it’s more essential than everto become indispensable - to become a linchpin. Linchpins are theessential building blocks of greatorganizations: they invent, lead(regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and createorder out of chaos. They love their work and pour their best selves intoit and turn each day into a kind of art - and, in today’s world, theyget the best jobs and the most freedom. Godin shows that the key tobeing indispensable is overcoming the fears that hold most of us back.If you have you ever found a shortcut that others missed, seen a new wayto resolve a conflict, or made a connection with someone others couldn’treach, then you have what it takes to become indispensable. It’s time tostop complying with the system and draw your own map.”Here’s what I thought…

Why fixed 9-5 working time is bad for video game

2 min read

I often wander between favouring and hating the idea of a 9-5 culture atwork. On the one hand it fits in nicely with a family life where we workto enjoy ourselves, we turn up, do some work, go home and disconnect andplug ourselves into an entirely separate life.On the other hand, what we do as game developers is a creative process,it requires thinking, passion and creativity that simply cannot beturned on and off at preset times of day.Imagine a day likethis: 9am – be creative and passionate when you punch in 12pm – stop being creative and thinking about your art. 1pm – start being creative again, now, you’ve only got 4.5hrsremaining 5.30pm – stop thinking, park your creativity, go home, disconnect rinse and repeat.

How To Improve Your Video Game Developer CV

1 min read

The way we apply for roles is still baked into the tradition of a paper CV along with the formatting that goes with it. Stop, think about it.Imagine your Resume sat in a pile with the recruiter shuffling throughthem at high speed, what makes your CV stand out? Do you get your keymessage across in the 1st few lines?Does the recruiter need to know your address and education first? Do wecare about what you did 10 years ago? What are you offering? How do youfit the role you’re applying for? Does it communicate you?If you’re an artist or designer, show your creativity in your CV.Remember, if you’re CV passes through an agency they will inevitablystrip it of all of your contact information and ultimately re-format it.

Marketing your video game is everyone’s job

1 min read

In a world of freelancers, contractors and small, tight developmentcommunities. Everyone is on the public face of their business andreputation.We are all constantly marketing something, be it our company orourselves in one shape or another. Everything we do matters - yourweb-site, your comments in forums, the clothes you wear. It's about themessage we convey in our appearance, our design, our gameplay, ourtechnology, our ethics and most importantly our interactions withothers. The sooner we realise this the better.

Thought - What does Quality mean?

1 min read

Without looking it up, what does quality mean to you in terms of how youfeel about a game or service? On it’s own it almost has no meaning, itneeds to be preceded by something like “low” or “high” for it to makesense. Lets investigate it’s true meaning.I think in every day life in the UK we actually omit the word “high”when we use it on it’s own. “I saw a quality film last night”, “thecustomer service was quality” all have to imply high quality as itdoesn’t make sense on it’s own. A poor quality game is one that crashesall the time, looks shoddy and I think the most important one is that itlacks some decent gameplay.But what does it mean to you? Quality is an entirely subjectiveconcept, I think it typically refers to our expectations, we feelsomething that exceeds our expectations is “high quality” and somethingthat falls short is “low quality”. Therefore, we may disagree on whethera game is low quality or whether I did a high quality job for you. Thinkabout what expectations people may have about your game or service andconsider how you can improve from there. It almost always doesn’t comefrom just spending more time at your desk.In order to be consistently perceived as high quality you must exceedexpectations, go the extra mile, be dedicated to what you do and turnout amazing work. Put that little bit more love into the game, pop inthat little featurette. Failure to exceed expectations instantly placesyou in the realms of average and may even render your offering as lowquality and it will take a long time to recover from that.

Myth of the Silver Bullet Game Production Process

1 min read

There is no one development process that fits all; Scrum, Prince, Lean,Extreme and whatever the current fashion is all have their place and canwork but it's typically a hybrid that works best for you now. Thingswill change over time and the next team, platform, role or project mayrequire an entirely different approach. Having an adaptable approachwill make things smoother for you.Consider more formal methods for the meta-project such as milestonestructure and operate an agile process within those. Consider "beachhead" style changes to your production pipeline by introducing the newprocess to aspects of your project, e.g., introduce Scrum on your AIteam before you unleash it.This way, you'll get to iron out the bugs and if things go well then atleast you'll have trusted people on board when it comes to making thebroader change.Consider running agile process for the highly creative periods such aspre-production and concept and more formal methods for the middle bitwhere you're largely implementing your design.Whatever it is, think about the implications on the production andpeople involved as they're both intrinsically linked.

How do you think?

2 min read

When working with other people it’s important to consider how they see things, as their view is often very different from your own perspective. In ourworld of game development there are, broadly speaking, 2 high level waysof looking at things.Firstly let me put things in perspective by explaining that I come froma background of logic that took me in the direction of Programming,which I found a good fit for me. I lived in a world of abstractlanguages, numbers and weird concepts and the ‘creative’ people justdidn’t understand. I arrogantly thought that anyone could draw picturesand it took raw talent to do what I was doing. These were the days whennon-programmers were paid a pittance and weren’t coveted by businesses.Those were the days when programming skill made for better games.

Opinion - Small businesses STOP USING AUTOMATED REPLIES!

1 min read

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s receiving an automated reply from asmall business, in particular one that’s supposed to connect with me asa person. OK, I’ll confess I’m having a rant about recruitment agencies,which is a pretty dangerous thing to do when you’re looking for work.I have a special hatred for ones that pretend to be from a person. Iknow you’re not there due to the nature and content of your email sothe “personal touch” is just lost. There’s no name, there’s nothing.Also, PLEASE don’t direct me to a web-site to fill in my details. Ifyou’re too busy to even bother to talk to me in the first place and findout about me then I know for definite you won’t “process” my CV in ameaningful way and you definitely won’t find me something that’srelevant.There’s one fundamental point, I know you only get paid when I find ajob! In the modern world I have many means of finding work but Irecognise that the recruitment role is important and can make a realdifference.My point is, there are recruiters out there who maintain the personaltouch and they succeed and get my vote every time.When I get back to recruiting, which I will, I will absolutely focus onthe agencies who I had the best experience with from both sides.Make it personal, make the candidate feel like you have their bestinterests at heart and you’re not just looking  for your next 10%.What’s your experience been like? Recommendations? Story to tell? Keepin touch.

Thought - How do you prefer to communicate?

1 min read

There are many ways to communicate with people, what’s your preference?I have to admit that I find telephone conversations the hardest, theyfall between the disconnection of something like email or status updatesand the ‘proper’ face-to-face meetings we have with people every day.Telephone conversations also tend to be one-to-one too, conference callsare a nightmare. There’s no visual clues on when it’s anyone’s time totalk or how people are reacting.We all know It’s entirely possible to hide behind emails, you can spendhours crafting every word, editing and re-editing until your happy.Meeting up with people is always fun, the spontaneity and interactionobviously surpasses everything else.I’d rather write a long, carefully crafted email or make a long distancejourney to meet up than make a call.Everyone’s different, do you have a preference?

Thought – Who will make the 1st carbon neutral game?

1 min read

Hmmm…. this could be a tough one to work out. Imagine all of the powerused; development hardware like PCs, food eaten, servers, travel forbusiness and commuting, air-conditioning, manufacturing of the discs,manuals the list goes on and on. Don’t forget everything at thepublisher too. A killer title like God Of War 3, Modern Warfare 2 orDead Redemption must have an astronomical footprint!Has anyone made a carbon neutral game? Wouldn’t that be a great USP foryour game? Who will be the 1st?

15 seconds of fame

1 min read

"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." - AndyWarhol, 1968Time has become compressed, 15 minutes is a long time now. Move fast orget left behind.The take away here is that everything has a much shorter lifetime now.Recognise that your job won't be for life, your game will be forgottenwithin 2 months of launch, 10hrs of gameplay is a lifetime, even themassive investment in a typically massively multiplayer online game willonly last 3 years. Things change rapidly and you need to be prepared with your nextsuccessful venture, always think ahead, always expect change, never becomplacent.

10,000 hours to success as a game developer

1 min read

In 2008, Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success” repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. This equates to 1,250 working days, or 5 working years of focus on your core skill.Is this how long it took you to get to call yourself a successful? Icertainly wonder just how much of anyone’s skill or experience isrelevant anymore. I believe only the last 5 years is relevant to whatyou do as the rest is just old hat and knowledge that can be easilyachieved by someone chasing your heels.The kicker is, it can all disappear in an instant for no apparentreason.

Weakest Link - Be A Better Game Developer

1 min read

![](/assets/FEATURE_YenYen_GlassCeiling.jpg)Has your business hit a glass ceiling?Most businesses are formed by a core set of individuals who cometogether at the beginning to make their collective dream come true butare they limiting your potential?Business roles arise and distil over time placing more specialiseddemands on your skills.  Operations Manager, Creative Director,Technical Director, Art Director, Finance Director, DevelopmentDirector, Managing Director, Business Development, Human Resources, IT,Marketing etc. all grow in significance as your business grows.In the early days one person will perform multiple roles at once, theroles are typically allocated based on relative merit, e.g., the morecreative person takes on the creative roles such as creative director,the more logical person becomes the business manager. What happens later is that the business demands more than one person’spotential enables them to deliver and the business hits a glass ceiling.Your business can only be as strong as that of the weakest link in thechain.The hard part is recognising that this is happening and doing somethingabout it. Maybe there's a shift in roles to something more appropriate,maybe it's time to step aside and bring in someone who can really pushthings along, maybe you're happy where you are?

5 of my favourite Game Development Twitter Feeds list

1 min read

![Twitter](/assets/t_logo-a.png)Here at @GameFreelancing, we use Twitter to connect with the gamefreelancing community and really get to grips with what's going off fromall aspects and distil it down into items our readers will find useful.We select the cream of gaming, developers, business and freelancingtweets and send them straight to you. [Follow us to keepup](http://twitter.com/gamefreelancing).We've listed here the ones we've found the most interesting this weekand definitely worth following. Don't forget to mention @GameFreelancing!**1. @milkstone** - A great Spanish Independent Game Development studiothat's launched it's new iPhone title this week and also produces somegreat tweets about being an independent developer. One to watch.[Follow @milkstone](http://twitter.com/milkstone)<http://www.milkstonestudios.com/>**2. @ericries** - Eric is the originator of the phrase "Minimum ViableProduct" and he also talks about starting a business in a 'lean' way,which always makes for an interesting read and something I'll becovering more about here on @GameFreelancing .[Follow @ericries](http://twitter.com/ericries)<http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/>**3. @ThisIsSethsBlog** - the blog of popular author Seth Godin has hisfinger on the pulse of promotion and connecting with your audience thatsappropriate in many ways, such as how to talk to your game audience, howexpectations change, how marketing has changed. It's often a thoughtprovoking and inspiring read.[Follow @ThisIsSethsBlog](http://twitter.com/ThisIsSethsBlog)<http://sethgodin.typepad.com/>**4. @Michael_French** - Michael is on the bleeding edge of video gameindustry news as his position as the Editor-in-Chief of Video gameindustry news web-sites [Develop](http://www.develop-online.net/),[MCV](http://www.mcvuk.com/) and[CasualGaming.biz](http://www.casualgaming.biz/) means he often gives clues as to some breaking news well before it hits the press.Follow @Michael_French**5. @allvideogames** - Lester writes about gaming from an interestingperspective and often uncovers things that go missing from the morepopular news feeds. As such, it's worth a follow.[@allvideogames](http://twitter.com/Michael_French)I hope you find these useful and remember to connect with@GameFreelancing and [subscribe to keep intouch](http://blog.gamefreelancing.com/p/subscribe-to-game-freelancing.html).Which twitter feeds do you think I should follow?

7 of my favourite Games Industry RSS Feeds

2 min read

I spend a lot of my time keeping in touch with what’s going off in theGames Industry and I thought it worthwhile sharing 7 of my favouriteGames Industry RSS Feeds to keep you all up-to-date.I personally subscribe to these via GoogleReader, which I find to be an excellent way to keep everything in 1 place and really get the most out of my valuable time. I’d recommend taking this habit up if you haven’talready. DevelopOnline -This is a little bit of a cheat as Develop splits it’s feeds into 3topics: regular, Blog and Feature so you can choose which is best for you. I tend to go for all 3 as it’s always a fantastic read and much of the content appears way ahead of it’s paper variant through the post. I like seeing people I know with their names up there and also spotting pictures of them too. GamesIndustry.Biz - Thisused to be my most visited UK-centric industry feed and itproudly sat at the top of my Google Reader list. It got bumped downmy list because you now have to register to read full articles,which you don’t have to on other sites. It’s still great, just notas convenient as it used to be. Gamasutra -This was the game industry web-site a few years agoas it was pretty much the only one. In addition to it’s US basednews feed, it’s packed full of useful articles, interviews andreviews of all things to do with game development. The iPhoneBlog - in their own words“The #1 iPhone, iPad and iPod touch blog!”. Strong words but thisis a useful little site that also sucks in other smartphone infotoo. I believe it’s important to always keep your eye on theperiphery to make sure you don’t miss out onsomething. EscapistMagazine - pretty muchthe only popular games feed I read as it tends to have the mostinteresting articles, interviews and genuine reviews. I alsoregularly visit many of it’s sister sites. PlayStation.Blog(Europe) -A blog dedicated to all things specific to PlayStation in Europe,including specials, interviews, previews and sometimes limited Betacodes. Again, used to work for Sony Europe so I like to see theproducts coming through and the people I know doingwell. XBoxEngineering -This feed a little ‘tech thirst’ for me and it’s a great insightinto some of the tech that MS publish to show ‘under the hood’ oftheir SDKs.What about you? Do you have sites that you visit regularly? Have Imissed a ‘must see’ site?Let me know in the comments sections.

Finishing Your Video Game Production is Hard

1 min read

Every new projectstarts out exciting and fun. Then it gets harder and less fun, until ithits a low point-really hard, and not much fun at all. And then you findyourself asking if the goal is even worth the hassle.Are you a finisher?You’re probably at Alpha and the hard work really starts now, it’s timeto stop tinkering, tweaking and adding features and it’s time to shipit. Remember, the later in the project you add a feature the more itcosts and the riskier it is. Remember that feature that you added inMonth 1? It’s been well and truly tested against everything else in thegame, the new feature you added this morning is just waiting toexplode.Post Alpha - resist change. Test it, fix it, balance it, polish it andyou’re done. Save your ideas for the next one, it’ll be bigger andbetter anyway.Send me a link to what you’re passionate about, your game, business oranything! I’d love to know what you’re working on.

Recommended Read - Small is the New Big - Seth Godin

1 min read

For me, even though this book is a few years old the title of Seth'sbook "[Small is the NewBig](http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0141030534?tag=gamedevelcons-21&camp=2902&creative=19466&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0141030534&adid=0R84FDVHR1W0QC4H58ME&)" sums up the changes that are happening throughout the Games Industry and the global economy where new, small companies are stealing the march on the bigger slumbering giants and making a real difference.This book is a collection of the best of Seth's blog posts that reallycapture the essence of what was going off in the world where people werepeople have more choice and ways to spend their time & money.The series of short stories make this easily digestible and great forfilling the odd moment or too.I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the myriad of short stories in thisbook and I have learned a lot from it. It has changed my perspective ona lot of aspects of business and truly opened my eyes to how thingsshould be in the 21st century.A highly recommended read.I'd suggest you also take a look at Seth's other work including his blogand other books.Visit Amazon via the link below to check out more details includingsynopsis, ratings and other reviews.

Are you and your game unique?

1 min read

In a world of seemingly infinite choice of games and staff, how do youstand out? How can you differentiate your offering so that everyonewants it? How can you make it easier for people to find your needle in aglobal haystack? Why would someone employ you from a global talent poolof thousands of people?These are all things to consider if you’re going to be successful atwhat you do; communication, experience and knowledge can help guide yourway through this chaotic landscape and achieve your goals.

Building The Creative Business

6 min read

title: Building the Creative Businessdate: 2014-12-30 08:19:17type: post—Building the Creative Business is a management course aimed atentrepreneurs operating within the creative industries. I attended atLondon Business Schoolwhere I learned about how to grow a business that is inherently complex and unpredictable due to the creative aspects involved. Ideas often don’t work, challenges arise in trying to sell an idea and implementing that idea is often fraught with problems.Most new ventures fail within the first three years and most failuresare related to poor management. The average life span of anentrepreneurial venture in this country is only 24 months. It’s at thispoint that a poorly conceived business strategy begins to ship water. Building the Creative Business is an integrative programme thatconcentrates on the general management challenges facing founders andmanagers of creative businesses after the start-up.The course asks the following questions Is my vision realistic? How am I actually going to do it? Will it always be this hard? Where are the great people going to come from to help me make ithappen? How will we recruit, reward, motivate and retain them? Is our current team up to it? Am I? How do we finance the business to take the opportunities? Will the wheels fall off when I don’t control everything myself? Am I building capital value or have I condemned myself to being awage slave for life?My ExperienceThere were 9 companies involved in each session, with two delegatesattending from each one (the theory being that it needs two people toactually implement the changes, once you return to your business).The idea is that it helps you to transform your business plan, and thento create an effective five-year growth strategy. It also teaches keybusiness, leadership and financial skills to enable you to implementyour new strategy. We discovered that we were still operating as if wewere a group of friends rather than a business. Other than a small coreteam, no one was taking responsibility for anything, and there was a lotof confusion as a result. We started implementing a middle managementstructure. It will benefit everyone when it is in place, but thechallenge is to keep our culture intact. How do you keep the feel of abuzzing game development team as you grow?The next realisation was that, by creating a middle managementstructure, those managers could then run teams more effectively, whichwould free up the art, technical and design director to do morestrategic work, and allow us to run a broader ‘pyramid’ structure,employing more graduates, and increasing our margins.Course ContentThe course itself focused on 3 key elements, each of which had it’s owndedicated multi-day course People Strategy FinancePeoplePeople is about ensuring the business has the right people in the rightplace with the right training and ensuring that the business has theright structure and culture to accommodate growth and ultimately buildvalue.Core Concepts Our vision Our resources & capabilities Our leadership style & culture businessFinanceFinance is about ensuring that all of the base financial understandingis in place to capture and build profit and value in the business. Everybusiness and it’s owners & investors need an exit strategy to maximisethe profit for all stakeholders in the businessCore Concepts People & process Finance & control Creating & capturing shareholder valueStrategyStrategy is aboutchoice: the choices that we make about our place in the market-place, and the choices that we make about building the resources that make a great position possible. We explored what factors govern the best choices that you can embed in your business plans, through tools and frameworks that you can apply and insights drawn from a range of sectors.Core Concepts Our markets Our industry & competitors Strategy & tactics businessI captured some more detailed notes on the areas we covered in thismoduleBusiness plan updates John BatesWhat is Strategy? – Taking an external view Dominic HoulderStrategy - Innovating to create value Dominic HoulderStrategy – the challenge of strategic inertia Dominic HoulderGetting to grips with the numbers – building your financial model John Bates & Oliver RiversYour Business Plan – next steps John BatesStrategy - Understanding competitive forces in your environment Dominic HoulderStrategy - Understanding competitive forces in your environment Dominic HoulderStrategy – Managing your environment to capture value Dominic HoulderStrategy - Your strategy Dominic HoulderDemystifying accounts Oliver RiversFaculty**Course Director** John Bates is Director of the Foundation forEntrepreneurial Management and Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship atLondon Business School. Over the last seven years, he has built up theschool’s practical initiatives in developing entrepreneurial firms,including £12m of ‘pre-seed’ and ‘seed’ capital funds and variousnetworks of entrepreneurs, advisors and investors associated with LondonBusiness School. John has been teaching and developing courses at LondonBusiness School since 1985, while also starting up and running twosoftware-based businesses, a consultancy and a venture capital companyassociated with London Business School, Sussex Place Ventures Ltd.**Organisational Behaviour** faculty Brian Willman is a Teaching Fellowin the Centre for Management Development at London Business School andis linked to the Faculty of Organisational Behaviour. Brian also runshis own business, People Dynamics, specialising in the development ofleadership skills for managers in businesses facing change. Brian hasworked with many businesses in the creative sector providing seniormanagement development and consultancy services. He has worked with themarketing services agencies that are part of WPP Group and with editorsand commercial managers at both EMAP and IPC. He has also worked withThe Financial Times and The Guardian and is currently involved in amajor change initiative driven by Sly Bailey at Trinity Mirror Group.Other clients include Polygram and the media buying group Aegis (Carat).**Strategy faculty** Dominic Houlder is Adjunct Associate Professor inLondon Business School’s Strategic and International Management subjectarea, and Associate Dean for the Sloan Fellowship Programme. At LondonBusiness School, he lectures on strategy, values and corporatetransformation across Masters Degree and Executive Education programmes,and won the School’s Distinguished Faculty Contribution Award for 2002and Teaching Award for 2003. He has been a member of the teaching teamon custom programmes for EMAP, Diageo and Electronic Arts, directspartner-level programmes for Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and led theDirectors’ Forum, a learning-as-theatre experience to help developnon-executive directors on the boards of public companies. Dominic hasalso advised the Secretary of State and Permanent Secretary at theDepartment of Culture, Media and Sport on strategic issues.**Finance faculty** member Chris Higson is a Visiting AssociateProfessor of Accounting at London Business School, where he was formerlyChair of the Accounting Group and director of the School’s FinancialSeminar for Senior Managers. He has degrees in philosophy and economicsfrom University College London, and has a doctorate in finance fromLondon Business School; he is also a chartered accountant and worked forDeloitte and Touche. Chris specialises in the financial performance andvaluation of firms, in tax strategy and mergers. He appears regularly onradio and television as a commentator on these issues. His textbook(Business Finance, Oxford University Press) is in its second edition andhe is shortly to publish a new book on financial statement analysis.Chris has been actively involved in launching and managing severalstart-ups in media and consulting. His experience in the creativeindustries includes Electronic Arts, Polygram, John Harris Partnership,Vivendi, Playlouder, and Apple.

Syncing with Apple iPhone without iTunes — and it actually works!

2 min read

Yesterday I’ve spent like 7 hours trying to upload music and videos tomy iPhone. Nice going Apple, you put more effort into making the deviceimpossible to work with, instead of solving known issues. Anyways, Ifinally did get it working, and it works really, really well. There wereactually several methods I found to work, but only this one doesn’tfreeze. The software is called IMTOO iPhone Computer Transfer.Basically, what you do is connect your iPhone via USB and voila — thesoftware sees your phone and automatically creates the music and videodirectories. There are couple of catches though. First of all, the software isn’t free - the license costs $30. Andalthough I did buy it, I got a refund for some reason the next morning.Without the license, you are limited to 10 file transfers at a singletime. You can manually add as many files as you like though, so if youdon’t mind clicking the “remind me later” button after every action,you’re all set.The other catch is that you have to create playlists, other than juststack all your media in the music/video folders. This is very important,as I was pissed off trying to get the iPod in the iPhone to work —because it crashed after I uploaded more than 20 songs. The iPod justturned off and took me to the desktop.Other than that, it works really well.The other methods I found working was MNPLight and iPhonebrowser.The first one is a web-based app that is installed on your iPhone, andlet’s you access the files on the Phone both through the Safari iPhonebrowser and your PC. Neat, huh? The bad thing is that when you add aplaylist through MNPlight, it overrides your iTunes library (made byiTunes or IMTOO), and replaces it with the playlists you made throughMNP. There is no option to combine the two — and that sucks.The second one is a drag-and-drop file browser of the iPhone. Naturally,I thought that I would be able to find a conveniently placed Musicfolder, where I could drop all of my mp3’s. Fat chance. See the videowhere I show you exactly HOW bad Apple wants you to use iTunes to storemusic.Here is a video on how iPhoneBrowser and MNPlight.To sum it all up, here are theDownload IMTOO iPhoneTransferDownload MNPLIGHT Instructions for theiPhoneDownload iPhonebrowser

What Clients Want

1 min read

A potential client calls and wants a website, as a web developer you aremore then happy to help. You show them your work, explain how your workis better then the rest and sell the person on the importance of WebStandards. Do you think that a client wants to hear all about WebStandards? Most likely they do not. They do want to here how you aregoing to make there website a success.This does not mean that Web Standards are not important or that youshould not follow them and yes you should tell your clients that youbuild websites using proper coding. But this is what they expect from aweb developer, otherwise they would be trying to build a website onthere own.A web developer should be responsible for explaining to a potentialclient what it takes to make a website successful before they pay foryour services. Many people still believe that all you have to do isbuild a website and visitors will show up at your door begging to buyyour products. A web developer knows better and should make his noviceclients aware of this. No client should think that a website will be asuccess without spending money on advertising. If you do not offeradvertising or SEO optimization to your clients you should be preparedto recommend companies that do offer such services.It is very important to remember that if a client’s website is acomplete flop they will put some or all of the blame on you. Especiallyif you did not explain the pitfalls of owning and operating a website.On the other hand if you do promote there website or teach them the insand outs of promoting a website they will be a satisfied customer. Mostof my customers are referred to my company by existing clients and Itruly believe this is because we do not just build a website for thembut teach them what it takes to be an online success.

Performance and Development Review Template

1 min read

Performance and Development reviews are an important aspect ofeveryone’s career where ever you happen to work. We needed to providestandardised reports that were kept in a staff members file. Here’s an example:Performance and Development Review {align="center"}----------------------------------Name of person beingreviewed: **Dave T. Producer** Reviewedby: Dave Manager & Sarah ManagerDate: **11^th^ January 2028**### ReviewNotes:*Discuss areas that were of note in the review. *Focus on relevantdetails related to their work* **How has the staff member performed since the last review?**Any changes in roles & responsibilities?**Discuss at length the current roles & responsibilities including areasthat have & haven't met expectations of both the person being reviewedand what is expected from the role.**Discuss any boundaries inherent in the role such as managers &sub-ordinates**Discuss interactions with other members of the business & stakeholders**How is communication amongst peers, sub-ordinates, managers and allstakeholders?**Discuss any feedback given from others.**Discuss performance relative to grade.*### **Development and Training***Identify training that has already taken place and any that has beenidentified as being required. Include gaining experience over timeand soft-skills such as communication & visibility, technical skillssuch as operating software, best practicse in roles & responsibilities.**Training opportunities may arise within the business.**Self-training such as reading, researching and discoveringopportunities to improve. * ### **SMART Objectives for the next period:**- **Specific** - Be precise about what you are going to achieve- **Measurable -** Quantify you objectives- **Achievable** - Are you attempting too much?- **Realistic** - Do you have the resource to make the objective happen (men, money, machines, materials, minutes)?- **Timed** - State when you will achieve the objective (within a month? By February 2010?**Have these objectives been met? (to be filled in at end of period)**### Notes fromreview:*Provide a summary of everything that has been discussed & writtenpreviously including what next actions are required.*Signed:  _(Staff Member)                                           (Reviewer)  Reviewer to forward performance review form to the HR Department** The HR Department to forward copy of performance review form,together with a Feedback Sheet to member of staff for approval

600+ of the best WordPress Plugins

13 min read

Here is a list of Wordpress Plugins that are currently very popular andwell worth investigating. While I don’t use all of these plugins, I douse a good few of them to bring you this Wordpress blog.Wordpress Plugins by CategoryAd Management Ad Code Managerhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ad-code-manager/ Ad Codes Widgethttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ad-codez-widget/ Ad Inserter http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ad-inserter/ Ads in Right Bottomhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…-right-bottom/ AdSense Managerhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/adsense-manager/ AppAd Managerhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/appad-manager/ Better AdSense Targetinghttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…nse-targeting/ Custom Ads Sidebarhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/custom-ads-sidebar/ Float Left Right Advertisinghttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…t-advertising/ Google AdSense Pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/adsense-plugin/ In-Text Advertisinghttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-text2ad-lite/ Quick Adsensehttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/quick-adsense/ Simple Ads Managerhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/simple-ads-manager/ WP Auto Post ADShttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-ads-auto-post/ Yepty - Pay Per Click Advertising. Monetize Blog and SkyRocketIncome with Relevant Contextual Adshttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/yepty/ Ad Injection http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ad-injection/Admin Tools Admin Management Xtendedhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…ement-xtended/ Adminimize Pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/adminimize/ AIO Cache & Performancehttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/aio-cache/ Akismet Plugin http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/akismet/ Analytics360 http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/analytics360/ Audit Trail http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/audit-trail/ Ban User By IPhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ban-user-by-ip/ Codepress Admin Columnshttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…admin-columns/ Count per Dayhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/count-per-day/ Duplicate Posthttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/duplicate-post/ Easy Google Analytics for WordPresshttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…for-wordpress/ Gallery Carousel Without JetPackhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…thout-jetpack/ GD Press Toolshttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/gd-press-tools/ GoCodes http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/gocodes/ Google Analyticatorhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…-analyticator/ Google Analytics for WordPress pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…for-wordpress/ Google sitemap pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…itemap-plugin/ Google XML Sitemap for Imageshttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…image-sitemap/ Google XML Sitemap for Mobile Pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…obile-sitemap/ Google XML Sitemap for Videos Pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…ps-for-videos/ Google XML sitemaps Pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…map-generator/ Hyper Cache http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/hyper-cache/ Jetpack http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/jetpack/ Peter’s Login Redirect Pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…ogin-redirect/ PS Auto Sitemaphttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ps-auto-sitemap/ Quick Cache ( Speed Without Compromise )http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/quick-cache/ Quick Count http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/quick-count/ Relevanssi A Better Searchhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/relevanssi/ Thank Me Laterhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/thank-me-later/ Uji Countdownhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/uji-countdown/ Visitor Maps and Who’s Onlinehttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/visitor-maps/ W3 Total Cache pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/w3-total-cache/ White Label CMShttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/white-label-cms/ WordPress Admin Bar Improvedhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…-bar-improved/ WordPress Importerhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordpress-importer/ WP Content Copy Protectionhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…py-protection/ WP Google Analytics Pluginhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…gle-analytics/ WP Greet Box http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-greet-box/ WP Super Cachehttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-super-cache/ WP-Activity http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-activity/ WP-Ban http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-ban/ WP-DB Managerhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-dbmanager/ WP-o-Matic http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-o-matic/ WP-PageNavi http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-pagenavi/ WP-PostViews http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-postviews/ WP-Sticky http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-sticky/ Types - 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http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-recaptcha/Coming Soon / Under Construction Custom Coming Soon Pageshttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…ing-soon-page/ Site Offline or Coming Soonhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…ffline-plugin/ Ultimate Coming Soon Pagehttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…ing-soon-page/ Ultimate Landing Page and Coming Soon Pagehttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…ing-soon-page/ underConstructionhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/underconstruction/ WP Coming Soonhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-coming-soon/Comments Comment Redirecthttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/comment-redirect/ CommentLuv http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/commentluv/ CubePoints http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/cubepoints/ Disable Commentshttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/disable-comments/ Disqus Comment Systemhttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/…omment-system/ KeywordLuv http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/keywordluv/ Livefyre Comments 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Job Interview Assessment Form Template

3 min read

Back in the days of old, we used standard templates for a lot of companydocuments to ease & standardise communication throughout the business.Here’s an example of a job interview form that was used to summarise aninterview and share it around the various departments who needed to knowvarious aspects. This document was often referred to through the initialprobation period.Name of CandidateJose SmithDate of InterviewThu 8^th^ May 2028Interviewer/sStuart Programmer, Richie ProgrammerRole Interviewed for:AI ProgrammerResults of Tests [poor, average, good](please show your rating score if undertaken)C TestMath TestJava TestOtherSkills/Knowledge [poor, average, good]Pretty good; plenty of experience with a variety of games and platforms.Communication skills [poor, average, good]English wasn’t excellent, but he got his point across very wellnonetheless.  He was quite verbose and not at all shy about talking,which is a good sign.In your opinion will the candidate fit in with the team i.e. teamdynamics?I can’t see why not.In your opinion can the company satisfy the candidates careeraspirations?He appeared to want to work in an English speaking country, which we cancertainly satisfy.Overall impression of candidate [attitude etc]  He came across as someone willing to turn his hand at everything, but atthe same time concious of his limitations.  He has crafted AI systemsfrom scratch and likes to stick out projects to the end.Current Salary, plus bonus payments etcWas on approx £50K in SingaporeSalary Expectation:£35-40K, with relocation expensesCandidates preference for Studio:Sheffield, he has Spanish friends nearbyPeriod of Notice with current employer: n/aAvailability to start:Immediate (pending relocation)Will the candidates journey to work be long/difficult? n/aWill the candidate require relocation assistance?Yes, this was asked about specifically.Overall summary of the interview:   If I’m honest, the interview was hastily held (due to Jose turning upunannounced) so there wasn’t the time to prepare appropriate technicalquestions for him.  As such, we can only make an assessment based onwhat he had to say about his roles elsewhere.Given how much he has moved around over the past few years, I’d beconcerned how long he might stick around, especially if he’s dumpedstraight onto a deathmarch project.He will need relocation expenses paid.Suitability to be offered employment:(a) Applicant not suited to the role.  I would not recommend foremployment (Give reasons)(b) Applicant on hold until further interviews have been undertaken forthis position(c) The applicant is a strong candidate however not suitable for thisposition.  Should be considered for other roles if available,alternatively candidates details to be kept on file for the future(Please give indication of role applicant would be suited to)(d) The applicant should be invited for a 2nd interview(e) The applicant will do well in this role and I would like torecommend employment - provide brief outline of proposal (salary, grade,start date). Please complete the Request to Make an Offer form(Intranet/HR/Forms)and send for approval (cc to HR)Jose would add value to the team and the studio, bringing much knowledgeabout building AI systems from the ground up.  I have a few reservationsabout whether he’s an ideal candidate, but we have to take a few risksto ensure we build up a solid team for the future.I suggest we bring him in somewhere in the middle of his desired salaryrange, offer to pay relocation expenses, subject to him repaying thempro-rata if he leaves within 12 months, and have him on a 6 monthprobation period.  He’d probably come in as a grade 8 or 9.  To startearly June.Additional comments from Interviewer on suitability of candidate to beinterviewed 

Studio Policy Bible

5 min read

Every business needs some policies to keep teams aware of everythingthey need to know and working smoothly. Here’s one of our old policydocuments that’s a little skewed towards a game development studio butmost of it should apply to most types of businessA central repository for all the bits of miscellaneous policy staffshould be awareof:1.   HR Policies1.1.  Please see company general HR policies, available on intranet.1.2.  Please note that your employment contract will also containdetails on certain policies (e.g. working hours)1.3.  All holiday/unpaid leave etc. forms should pass up the linemanager chain before final approval/rejection when they are sent to HR. Project Managers may finally approve all holiday forms themselves,without need for Exec Producer approval unless holiday is for more than1 week in which case Exec Producer approval is still required.1.4.  All recruitment forms should pass up the line manager chain beforefinal approval/rejection by the Studio Head1.5.  All interviewees should complete an NDA and this should beprovided to Studio Head, or sent direct to HR, for filing1.6.  Any information provided for purposes of advertising vacanciesthat relates to potential clues as to the nature of the project oridentity of the client should be cleared with Studio Head before beingsent to HR2.   IT Policies2.1.  Please see company wide IT policies, available on intranet.2.2.  New Starter forms should pass up the line manager chain but (assuming requirements within agreed standard range) may be approvedand sent to IT by the Project Manager (CC Exec Producer / Studio Head)2.3.  Install forms should pass up the line manager chain but may beapproved and sent to IT by the Project Manager.  The Project Manager mayagree that Leads can approve install forms directly.2.4.  All Purchase Requests Forms and Network Request Forms should passup the line manager chain before final approval/rejection by the StudioHead2.5.  Please note that Richard Heasman is responsible for switching andstoring back-up tapes under direction of IT, Richard will appoint coverfor when he is absent.2.6.  All software install media to be stored by Studio Manager (staffto hand over any install discs that are ‘loose’)2.7.  Exec Producer(s) and Project Manager(s) will have IT helpdeskaccounts and be responsible for logging IT requests from their staff. Help desk accounts may be requested for other members of staff and willbe granted / withheld on a case-by-case basis.3.   PR3.1.  All PR content (including draft material) to go through StudioManager on way to external or internal (i.e. other staff) destinations.4.   Expenses4.1.  When possible staff to seek confirmation from Studio Manager thatexpense claims will be accepted in advance of spending money4.2.  It can be assumed that reasonable travel expenses (e.g. standardclass train tickets or mileage) for meetings which staff have been askedto attend will be accepted4.3.  Both electronic versions and hardcopies, with attached receipts,to be handed to Line Manager in advance of monthly deadline4.4.  Line Managers to collate expenses forms and send on to their LineManager etc. until reach Studio Head who can actually approve expensesand send them to Finance5.   Absence / Lateness5.1.  Should you be absent due to sickness or any other reason or latefor work (in respect to agreed working hours) you should telephone bothHR at head office and your Line Manager to inform them in advance ofyour expected time of arrival5.2.  Please note other general HR policies in this area6.   Line Manager Misc.6.1.  Please note Line Management policy separately available from theStudio Head, this covers staff supervision and similar meetings.6.2.  All Line Managers to ensure that on the first working day (or thenext practical opportunity) of each month that timesheet information isprovided to the Studio Head.  The nature of the information requiredwill vary from time-to-time and therefore Line Managers expected toclarify requirements with the Studio Head.6.3.  All Line Managers should appoint a deputy to cover their essentialduties during absence.7.   Office Misc.7.1.  The last person to leavemust: ensure all windows are closed, turn off the lights, lock both locks on the door7.2.  If you sign for any delivery, please get a receipt and give thatto Studio Head, also please email Admin and IT to inform them of thedelivery.7.3.  Keep desks reasonably tidy7.4.  Don’t ‘store’ food / drink etc. anywhere but in the kitchen7.5.  Tea, coffee, sugar and milk will be provided by the company. Whoever uses the last of the milk will need to buy more (and claim costback via expenses until petty cash system established).  Everyone isencouraged to pre-empt the potential disaster of temporarily running outof milk by buying some when it is convenient.  Also please alert StudioManager if tea, coffee or sugar supplies are running low.8.   Telephone8.1.  Please answer the phone when it rings8.2.  Say ‘ – how may I help you?’ or similar with appropriate upbeat,professional telephone manner!8.3.  Find out who is calling and check that the person requested cantake the call before handing it over (there is a C/Mute Icon button thatmutes the call!)8.4.  Note, guide on how to use the phone system is on the studio wikki9.   External documents9.1.  Please send all external documents in PDF format9.2.  All external documents relating to sales activity must be clearedby the Studio Head and final versions filed Confidentiality 10.1.      Unless explicitly told otherwise please assume that allinformation regarding company activity is confidential Server 11.1.      Only alter the contents of any network drive with permissionof whoever is responsible for that drive.  The exception being Tempwhich is a free for all (within reason).  The Project Manager isresponsible for a project specific drive, New Projects Lead isresponsible for the New Projects drive, and the Studio Head responsiblefor the General drive.  Overrides 12.1.      The following policy from the Employee handbook is modifiedasshown:Game PlayAt the discretion of the management the use of company machines and thenetwork for personal playing games is permitted during the followingperiods: Before 9:00 am between 12:3045pm and 1:1530 pm after 6:30 pmGame Play during these periods must not interrupt any members of staffworking in the same area – use of headphones rather than speakers isrequired. 

200+ RSS feeds from carefully cultivated reading list

2 min read

Over the years I've found that RSS feeds have made it easier for me tokeep up the latest news in my reading list. I have a carefullycultivated list of 200+ home & work related feeds that I patrol everyday. Here's how to import my list for your own use.The imminent demise of Google Reader on 1st June 2013 has prompted me tofind an alternative reader. To be safe I exported my reading list in[OPML format](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OPML)so I could take it with me (linked to this post).How can I use your reading list?Since most RSS readers sync with Google Reader you can use that as away to get the feed setup. After which you can sync it with yourfavourite reader of choiceHere’s a quick way to use my feeds as a starting point: Download my reading list in OPML format - http://db.tt/Sad7oSAT Open Google Reader - http://www.google.co.uk/reader Go to Reader Settings (via the little cog at the top right of theGoogle Reader window) Find the Import/Export tab in settings, then import my OPML fileyou downloaded earlierWhy Feedly?After much investigation I chose [Feedly](http://www.feedly.com/) as my weapon of choice.Feedly gives me everything I need for my reading list between browser &mobile in a clean, elegant way. *Feedly* enables me to send posts to*Pocket* too where I can read & share them at my leisure. I often patrolthe headlines and my iPhone and then send interesting posts to *Pocket*where I can read them in comfort on my laptop or tablet.![Feedly Browser](/assets/Screenshot_18_04_2013_14_12-1024x651.png)**How do I import into Feedly?**It really couldn't be simpler as you don't have to import anything!1. Go to *Feedly*, register and connect to your account to *Google Reader* -  <http://www.feedly.com/>2. *Feedly* will import all the feedsThat's it. **Stick with *Feedly*** as it supports 'Send to **Pocket**'Obviously my feeds will only get you started as there's probably a lotof stuff in there you're never going to read but it's a start. :)You can also install a *Feedly* plugin for[Firefox](https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/feedly/) &[Chrome](https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/feedly-your-news-rss-goog/hipbfijinpcgfogaopmgehiegacbhmob?hl=en) that makes curating your feeds ever so easy.**Boom!** You now have an awesome easy way to keep up-to-date witheverything that's going on around your favourite websites.Handy- Download my blog reading list - <http://db.tt/Sad7oSAT>- Google Reader - <http://www.google.co.uk/reader>- Feedly - <http://www.feedly.com/>- Feedly for Firefox - <https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/feedly/>- Feedly for Chrome - <https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/feedly-your-news-rss-goog/hipbfijinpcgfogaopmgehiegacbhmob?hl=en>**Related- Pocket - <http://getpocket.com/>- [Feedly: Your Google Reader, Youtube, Google News, RSS News Reader - DevHD](https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/feedly-your-google-reader/id396069556?mt=8&uo=4) 

What I was responsible for as Studio Head

4 min read

I’m having a bit of a dig about in some old documents and I found my oldjob specification for when I was Studio Head for Kuju Sheffield.Studio Head Job SummaryThe Studio Head has ultimate responsibility for building and maintaininga profitable business based on creating quality products in a timelymanner delivered to the market through long term business partners anddeveloped by a balanced high caliber motivated team.Studio Head (SH)  ResponsibilitiesCorporate Manage the studio as a profitable business unit. Develop the studio’s Strategy working with the CEO for approval bythe board. Develop the studio’s Brand strategy working with the CEO forapproval by the board. Develop the studio’s BP working with the FD & CEO for approval bythe board. Execute against the BP including responsibility for the studio’sfinancial performance. Agree accounts with F&A in advance of monthly studio board meeting. Complete the studio report for monthly studio board meeting. Attend and execute actions from the monthly board meeting. Liaise with the other SHs, Department Managers and Executives on allmatters with a cross studio (including Digital Hobbies) elementincluding sales opportunities, corporate intelligence, customerfeedback, staff feedback, recruitment.Production Execute the timely, profitable, high quality delivery of all thestudio’s projects. Manage the staff within the studio including team/projectallocation, take direct responsibility for key team memberselection. Ensure authority and responsibility is properly delegatedand is transparent within the studio. Ensure appropriate development processes are in place for studio andare used effectively by development teams. Develop project budgets for approval by the CEO & FD. Develop project plans & designs with the team for approval by theCEO. Execute on production within these budgets & plans. Ensure that a clear creative and commercial vision for each projectis maintained and is well understood by the team, especially the keyteam members and stars. Manage the level of creative ownership by the studio compared to thepublisher. Take line management responsibility for lead team members, includingstaff development, time and attendance management, discipline andreward as required. Provide customer marketing and PR assets in a timely, high qualityfashion. Evangelise the products within their publisher and to the consumer.Maintain interaction with any title’s player community.Business Development Develop and maintain all commercial relationships for the studio. Specifically develop customer relationships to maximise productsuccess and be responsible for sequel and follow-on business withexisting customers. Ensure that the studio is professional, open and honest in all itsrelationships. Ensure that all new business is within the studio’s Strategy andcomplements the Brand strategy. Ensure that the studio has sufficient workflow. Prepare pitches, concepts and prototypes as agreed with CEO. Prepare quotes and other bid materials as agreed with CEO. Negotiate contracts including directing legal support. Negotiate deals for final approval by the CEO. Provide marketing & PR assets in a timely, high quality fashion, tothe BDM following the processes laid out by the BDD. Provide timely assets to support the up to date maintenance of thecompany’s website to the BDM. Initiate and develop sales opportunities, work with the BDM & CEO onqualifying, prioritising and closing opportunities. Provide the BDM with timely accurate sales updates. Support the BDM to open new relationships and opportunities. Support group and other studio’s business development activities. Maintain awareness of the external perception of the studio’s brand. Execute on the brand strategy. Agree the BD budget for the studio with BDM and FD. Execute on BD tasks within the agreed budget.HR & Recruitment Develop the staff within the studio including motivation, training,salary review, performance, morale and structure. Manage recruitment of new staff within the studio. Identify and nurture star staff. Identify under performing staff and manage remedial action. Ensure studio the staff understand the Strategy & Brand andobjectives for the studio. Develop an effective studio culture. Agree studio staff sourcing plan with the CEO & HRM (covering fulltime, contract, outsourcing ratio, graduate recruitment andinter-studio cross charging). Execute on the staff sourcing plan. Operate within the processes laid out by the HR Department. Agree the HR Recruitment budget for the studio with HRM and CEO. Execute on HR Recruitment tasks within the agreed budget.**** Finance & Administration Provide timely accurate accounting information to F&A. Provide timely accurate staff allocation/timekeeping information toF&A. Agree accruals, deferrals and WIP monthly with FD. Manage the office and all facilities of the studio. Manage the administrative systems at the studio level (PRQs,sickness/holiday, etc). Operate within the processes laid out by the F&A Department. Agree the administration budget for the studio with FD. Execute on administration tasks within the agreed budget.IT Operate within the processes laid out by the IT Department. Ensure the studio’s staff operates within IT policies/practices. Agree the IT budget for the studio (not the projects) with ITM & FD. Execute on IT tasks within the agreed budget.Research Source tools, technology and supporting systems as agreed withResearch. Present the games to Research (QA) at regular intervals indevelopment. Present the plans/code/assets to Research at regular intervals indevelopment. 

SSH auto-login with shared key fails

1 min read

I recently had trouble when my SSH auto-login via shared key failed andit took a while to figure out what was wrong. I’ve made some notes forposterity. It turned out to be SSH not being happy with thedirectory/file ownership and permission on both the target and client.Finding the problemWhen running Centos it’s important to ensure that SSHD logging is on soyou can discover what’s wrong and also track login attempts.Enable logging for sshd by editing the config file$ nano /etc/ssh/sshd_configLocate the following and make thechanges:# Logging # obsoletes QuietMode and FascistLogging SyslogFacility AUTH #SyslogFacility AUTHPRIV LogLevel INFODon’t forget to restart the service to apply the changes$ /etc/init.d/sshd restartCheck the logsWith logging enabled you can now watch the end of the messages logwhere you should find the error messages. I did this with 2 boxes open.Box 1 was logged into the target and watching the logs while Box 2attempt to login.$ tail -f -n 100 /var/log/messagesIn my scenario this immediately presented the followingmessage: Authentication refused: bad ownership or modes for directory /rootFixing The ProblemIt turns out something had changed the owner and permissions on my/root directory and SSH didn’t like it. I have yet to find out how &when this happened but I suspect a system wide update via ‘yum update’did it.Here’s the commands I ran on thetarget:$ chown root:root /root$ chmod 755 /rootThis immediately produced a new error on the client side when attemptingthe SSH@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@ WARNING: UNPROTECTED PRIVATE KEY FILE! @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@Permissions 0755 for '/root/.ssh/id_rsa' are too open.It is recommended that your private key files are NOT accessible by others.This private key will be ignored.This simple error was fixed on the client byissuing:$ chmod 700 /root/.ssh/id_rsaFixing the above problems on the target and client enabled me toauto-login on SSH using shared RSA keys.Note: these fixes didn’t require any changes to the keys as they were purely down to permissions and ownership. 

Pinterest pins fails to stick

1 min read

Pinterest is a fantastic way to discover content, styles, products and ideas. As such, it’s crucial that websites make it as simple as possible for their content to be ‘pinned’ on Pinterest.Sadly, it appears that many web developers are struggling to get theircontent on their due to silent errors. Many pages around the web giveworkarounds for clients but they don’t address the issues faced by thewebsite itself.I tried a few ways to find solutions for the websites I manage.Pinning typically fails in 2 ways: When pinning via the common ‘Pin It’ bookmarklet or using theonpage embedded ‘Pin It’ button the Image and description appear OK forthe javascript pop-up but when the ‘Pin This’ button is pressed nothingis pinned and the dialog refreshes with no content.Directly pinning the content when on pinterest.com reveals “Wecouldn’t find any images” despite the javascript app clearly findingimages.As a web developer I’ve attempted to fix this in a number of ways basedon findings from around the web. Is the image too small? Reports say minimum size is 109x109 andanything smaller will fail. Strip parameters from image URLs such as timthumb ‘w=300&h=300from URL’ Improved image quality and therefore image filesize on the‘found’ images Changed http headers for the images to ‘Cache-Control: public’ Added/removed Facebook opengraph image hints ‘og:image’ meta tag Double checked reverse DNS and other potential quirks. I also built a specific page that only included a 300x300 high qualityimage and some content for testing and this failed too.To date, none of my changes have made any of the pins stick onPinterest so I have raised a support ticket with them and I await someassistance from them. However, evidence from around the ‘net seems tosuggest the Pinterest support is a blackhole for support tickets.As a web developer, have you found a solution?

OSX reports incorrect disk usage

1 min read

If you’re OSX disk usage is being reported incorrectly then you’veprobably got caught by a Time Machine feature introduced in Apple OSX10.7. This typically happens where your free disk space erodes over timeor when you delete some files and yet the disk still claims to have thesame space usage as before.This is a silently introduced feature where Time Machine can operate onon laptops (Macbook Air / Macbook Pro) when the TM volume isn’tavailable. The system essentially snapshots your changes for backing uplater.Read about ithere http://arstechnica.com/apple/reviews/2011/07/mac-os-x-10-7.ars/18If you want to disable the feature and reclaim your space go in toTerminal andenter:sudo tmutil disablelocal**followed by return, and after entering you password and hitting returnagain, it should delete the local snapshots and free up the missingspace. 

Carbon Copy Cloner OSX - micro review

1 min read

Carbon Copy Cloner - micro reviewCarbon Copy Cloner a.k.a. CCC is adonation-ware disk duplication application for Apple Mac OSX. I recentlyused the app to successfully move my data from a HDD to an SDD and Idecided to give it a go as part of my regular backup system. Here’s mymini review…My gripe with the app is that while the scheduled events do start ontime, even waking the computer up to do so, the app doesn’t keep thesystem awake. This means that your power settings are likely to causeyour system to sleep and therefore the backup to pause in the middle.This of course means that it will resume when your computer wakes againand that will most likely be when you get back on your system in themorning to start work and be faced with the rest of the backup job.Further to this last point, if you have ‘sleep when done’ as a settingthen it will do just that. Good in one sense but not good when it’sresumed because you’ve woken it up and you’re in the middle of some workand then your system just drops to sleep. I appreciate this is asdesigned but the app should recognise who woke the system up and onlysleep if it woke it up.SummaryOn the whole, it’s a great free disk duplication software for OSX witha few gripes related to scheduled backups that can be worked around.References Carbon Copy Cloner SuperDuper

Resurrecting a Synology DiskStation

3 min read

I walked into a minefield of problems when attempting to connect back tomy Synology DS210j after a regular firmware update. The approved desktopapplication DSAssistant was used to upload and apply the firmwarebut something just went wrong. DSAssistant claimed the IP address wasset, but the device wouldn’t accept web connections. I eventually founda solution that helped me get the device back up & running.BackgroundI retried to apply the firmware but during installing DSAssistantclaimed to be unable to update the status and simply gave up. It advisedme to check error logs via telnet but the default password is **(despite setting this in the setup). A password won’t be accepted bytelnet so that just wouldn’t work.I tried different firmware versions, re-downloaded old ones to removethe possibility of it being a corrupt firmware download.Nothing worked.In hindsight, I can only assume the system software on the drives hadbecome corrupt or badly configured and as the system was setup in RAID1(mirror) it meant both drives had identical corruption.My SetupTo give some context I have the followingsetup: Synology DS210j - should work on variousmodels 2x 2Tb WD Green Caviar temporary SATA drive, tiny capacity is fine. Synology Assistant(a.k.a DSAssistant) softwareIn my case, there’s no data on the system as I’d previously moved it offso everything could be reformatted.SolutionAfter reading around the ’net, there wasn’t one solution but this oneworked for me. I’ll list the process as-is but be aware that the firmware softwarechanges so things may move around a little.BEWARE this process destroys all your data Physically remove the existing SATA drives and put them to one side Install a single different old sacrificial SATA drive to forcereinstall. I assume that this mustn’t have been already used withoutbeing reformatted to remove existing data. This must beinstalled in the upper slot as this has priority over the lower slotand the system will boot from it’s contents. DSAssistant now installs the firmware properly Connect over the web interface for the device Leave the system to create a volume on the old SATA drive as we’regoing to need a working boot drive. It will contain the seed we’lluse to resurrect the drives. It’s worth ensuring that your admin password isn’t blank or youwon’t be able to get in via SSH/Telnet incase of emergencies. EnableSSH & Telnet services to ensure we can connect incase ofemergencies. Enable the required services under Control Panel ->Terminal When the default volume is setup, power off the system. Leaving the old drive in the upper slow, install the 1st of yourdesired drives in the lower slot. This will enable the system toboot and connect to the new drive Remove any existing Disk Groups & Volumes. This will includeremoving the one that was setup a few clicks ago. Create a new Disk Group and set to RAID1 to mirror the data from theolder drive to the newer drive Create a new volume with the previously generated Disk Group Wait for the volume to build Shutdown Remove the old drive and move the newer drive up from the lower slotto the upper Slot 0 so it becomes the boot drive. Pop the 2nd drivein the lower slot. Power On. The system will beep when beeping indicating a RAID failure, whichis expected as we’ve just intentionally removed 50% of it. When youarrive in the web interface you will see the volume has beendegraded. You’ll see the Storage Manager and you can press the ‘BeepOff’ button to shut it up while you work. :) To establish a RAID with the newly added drive go to Disk Group >Manage > Repair and let it do it’s thing. Be aware that this cantake a very long time. It’s likely that the volume size isn’t what you’d like and you cannow setup your system as you desire.SummaryHopefully this guide will help you resurrect a Synology disk station andget your system back up & running

Installing Jenkins as Continuous Integration builder on Windows

5 min read

While most of my work is Mac/Unix based some of my business work isbuilt on VB.NET/ASP.NET inside a Windows development. While striving formore robust, predictable code I chose to implementa Continuous Integration (CI) system. I had already used CI in largescale game production environments with great success following the TDDmodel.Setting up a Continuous Integration server was the 1st task and I choseJenkins for the task in hand. This had to be setup on a Windows system so that it could invoke Visual Studio 2010 in order to build the required projects parts that were a mix of VB applications and ASP.NET web services. We also had a requirement to use Perforce as the SCM of choice.I’m assuming you already have a working build of your product on a hostmachine with your VS2010 build already cleanly building via a solutionfile.Here’s how I didit:Install Java Runtime Edition (JRE)Jenkins requires Java so you’re going to have to ensure you have thatinstalled before you can go much further. Oracle maintain the JRE so gothere now and pop back when you’ve got it installed. http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/java/javase/downloads/index.htmlDownload and install JenkinsOnce again, there’s a nice handy page over at Jenkins HQ that includesall the info you need on how to get Jenkins installed. Don’t forget tocome back for more settings.https://wiki.jenkins-ci.org/display/JENKINS/Meet+Jenkins#MeetJenkins-InstallationJenkins SetupWithin our organisation we typically keep all of our development filesin a common directory regardless of host machine that maps straight intothe Perforce Depot at a consistent point. This ensures we can getdevelopers up & running very quickly. In our case, it’s:C:\devFirstly, we’ll relocate Jenkins into that directory so we can maintainit inside our Perforce Depot. So locate your downloaded & unpacked‘jenkins.war’ and move itto:C:\dev\Build\jenkins\jenkins.warTo test our setup, we’re going to start a static server via the commandprompt so we can see all the various messages it produces. This willhelp us spot errors and get to know how Jenkins works. Inside yourCommand Promptissue:java -jar C:\dev\Build\jenkins\jenkins.warIf this all looks good, then check the Jenkins web service is running byvisiting the default web browser location http://localhost:8080/. Remember this is a localhost setting so it’ll only work if Jenkins is running properly. We’ll be running Jenkins as a WindowsService once we’re happy everything is running OK and we can trust it to work cleanly in the background and startup when the system starts.Install MSBuild plugin for JenkinsHere’s a link to the plugin you’re looking to setuplocally: https://wiki.jenkins-ci.org/display/JENKINS/MSBuild+Plugin . You’ll notice there’s no download link on there as plugins are installed through the local Jenkins browser interface. {style=”color: #333333; font-style: normal;”}Inside the Jenkins browser you’ll be installing the MSBuild plugin viaJenkins>Manage Plugins>Available then you’ll find the MSBuild inthe ‘Build Tools’ section.NOTE: This page should be populated with available plugins, howeverif you’ve just installed Jenkins and got to this point quickly then it’slikely that the list will be empty. If so then try 2 things. (a) waitfor the repository to download but we warned there’s no indicators forthis (b) restart Jenkins service to populate the list.Configure location of MSBuild.exeGo to your local Jenkins Configuration viahttp://localhost:8080/configure Navigate down that page to MSBuild section click ‘Add MSBuild’ Name: .NET 4.0 Path : C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v4.0.30319 Default Params: emptyYou should now have the prerequisites to be able to make a build Job viaJenkins.Build JobAdd a new Build Job– New Job http://localhost:8080/view/All/newJob – Job Name: ProjectName – Type: Build a free-style software project – OK Setup your Job to execute a MSBuild script: Navigate down through Build -> Add Build Step -> Build a VisualStudio project – MsBuild Version: .NET 4.0 – MsBuild Build File:C:\dev\Projects\ProjectName\Project.vbprojThat’s it for the basic build. You should now be able to get Jenkins torun your build job and have it build locally without errors. If it’s notworking right, sort it out now before adding in SCM.Continuous Integration via PerforceNow you’ve got a working build (if not then read up and come back) it’stime to connect your local build to the Perforce depot so we can getyour build system automatically syncing & building your project whenanything changes in Perforce.Install Perforce pluginInstall Perforce plugin for Jenkins in a similar way to how weinstalled the MSBuild plugin via Jenkins -> Manage Plugins ->AvailableConfigure PerforceWe’re now going to configure the default Perforce command for the wholeof Jenkins.Go to http://localhost:8080/configure and navigate down to Perforce section of the configuration click ‘Add Perforce’ – Name: p4 – Path: C:\Program Files\Perforce\p4.exeThe system wide default Perforce command is now installed and ready forconnection to a Job.Add Perforce to JobNext we’re going to join the command into the job so they execute whenappropriate.Go to the job configuration page for the Job you’re setting upand locate ‘Source Code Management’ and select ‘Perforce’ — P4PORT: your perforce server IP:1666 — username: your perforce username — workspace: jenkinsEnsure the perforce workspace/view mappings are accurate inside theJob -> Perforce settings. A good way is to copy the view from a workingp4 workspace inside the p4v application itself and replace the originalworkspace name with ‘jenkins’Check Perforce Works It's now time to see if you're done everything right. Starting a Buildfor the Job inside Jenkins should work smoothly now. But we're not doneyet, we've still got to setup the triggers to complete the CI process.Poll SCMSo now you’ve got a working installation of Jenkins, you’ve got yourbuild working cleanly and it now Integrates your project from Perforcewhen you initiate a build. It’s all good but it’s not veryContinuous. To make this work we’re going to get Jenkins to pollPerforce every 1 minute for changes and then automatically start the Jobwe already setup. Find the setup portion inside Job -> Configure -> Build Triggers – [x] Poll SCM (checked) – Schedule :# every minute* * * * *DoneWell, that’s it. You’ve now built yourself a Continuous Integrationserver to watch over you and make sure your builds are consistentlybuilding and you’ve not forgotten to add something to the repository,submit a complete working build or a myriad of other reasons.You may want to install some desktop notifications for clients, setupsome NUnit tests and really start building on the good foundationsyou’ve setup.

Setting Up Osx For Web Development 2

3 min read

title: Setting up OSX for Web Developmentdate: 2012-04-11 16:57:46type: post—(I will be maintaining this Post with my current setup steps as timemoves on)I’ve been using OSX for Web Development for a while now, initially on aMac Mini, then migrating to a MacBook Pro and on to a MacBook Air. Ithought it was a good idea to get my web development software setup downso I can recall it more easily and get things moving a lot more quicklywhen I need to re-set everything back up again.Read on to find out how.Main appsAfter starting from a fresh OSX Install I usually follow up with a fewdefault web development applications that I have stored on my localserver under ‘app_0’ to indicate that they’re the critical. XCode - install via the App Store. While it’s not used for webdevelopment it is required as it includes vital system tools thatothers depend on, such as PEAR, Brew/MacPorts. It’s a big olddownload so it’s worth starting early and make sure you’ve got someelbow room on your locale HD. Google Chrome - my browser of choice, Iuse the regular suite of Firefox, Safari and some VMWare FusionVirtual Machines for testing MAMP Pro -the nuts and bolts Mac Apache, MySQL and PHP setup Sublime Text 2 - an awesome texteditor. I was using the ubiquitous TextMate  for a long time but Ishifted over to ST2 and I can honestly say it’s awesome. More on myconfiguration later. Sequel Pro - a useful interface intoMySQL when the default phpMyAdmin isn’t enough. It has a very handy‘Optimise Type’ that I’ll cover. Tower - an GIT visual client that’s gotsome amazing features when you fancy moving away from the Terminal CodeKit - I use this as acontinuous integration SASS (scss) &Compass compiler for my web projects.Install XCodethen install the command line tools by running XCode then viaPreferences->Downloads->Command Line Tools->(Install)Stop losing disk spacePrevent disk space erosion and incorrectly reported free space bydisabling Time Machine local snapshots with the followingcommand:sudo tmutil disablelocal fFix TerminalOSX Terminal has a nasty habit of dropping characters over SSH and I’vehunted down a Preferences change that I’ve found to really help fixmissing characters over SSH.Inside TerminalPreferences:-> Advanced -> Declare Terminal As: (xterm-color)Setup PEARPEAR is used as to install and manage some PHP tools so it’s worthsetting up early.Reference:http://blog.borntocode.com/2011/03/complete-php-dev-environment/ln -s /Applications/MAMP/bin/php/php5.2.17 /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5This final ‘mv’ operation fixes a broken default PEAR installationwithin MAMPmv /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/conf/pear.conf /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/conf/pear.confg.backupnano ~/.profileadd export PATH=/Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin:$PATH to ~/.profilesudo /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin/pear channel-update pear.php.netsudo /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin/pear upgrade pear/Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin/pear -Vcheck versions are runningsudo /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin/pear channel-discover pear.phpunit.desudo /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin/pear channel-discover components.ez.nosudo /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin/pear channel-discover pear.symfony-project.comPHPUnit - testing frameworkPHPUnit is a unit test framework that allows you to run automated tests on your code to ensure it’s consistently robust and error free. Unit Testing is a fundamental part of Test DrivenDevelopmentsudo /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin/pear install phpunit/PHPUnitPhing - build toolPhing is a build tool that can save you a whole load of grief by running unit tests (PHPUnit), syntax checks(lint), deployment scripts and much more. All of this automaticallychecks your development is pretty solid before it gets published.sudo /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin/pear channel-discover pear.phing.infosudo /Applications/MAMP/bin/php5/bin/pear install phing/phingI'll post more on the specific configuration laterInstall DiffMergevia http://sourcegear.com/diffmerge/downloads.phpInstall GITGitHub maintains a great page on Set Up Git forMac, which you should follow before returning here. We’ll be using GIT for semi-automated deployment to your production servers later.Local Terminal ConfigurationNow you have all of the necessary files installed you can go ahead andstart configuring your local system.I keep a GIT repository of all of my hidden ‘dotfiles’ at the link belowthat you can use as a great starting point for your own configcd ~/Projectsgit clone git@github.com:gamelinchpin/dotfiles.gitcd dotfiles./bootstrap.shRestart Terminal and all the relevant config files should be in theright places.SummaryHopefully you’ll be starting to get a decent setup and the followingposts should help solidify a nice web development environment.

Game Development Post Production - SHU GSPM S2W2

1 min read

Below is a link to the presentation I gave at Sheffield HallamUniversity for the BSc (Honours) Games SoftwareDevelopment module Game Software Project Management about Post-Production.**[The Post-Production Cycle - Game Software ProjectManagement](http://www.slideshare.net/gamelinchpin/the-postproduction-cycle-game-software-project-management "The Post-Production Cycle - Game Software Project Management")** from **[gamelinchpin](http://www.slideshare.net/gamelinchpin)**presentation

Optimising an eCommerce Site

4 min read

Our development work this week has included a lot of server optimisationfor an eCommerce website and we dramatically improved responsetimes, lowered overall CPU use and memory use by making changes to theserver configuration.The benefit is a better experience for the Visitors, Customers andGoogle (page load speed is a factor in Page Rank) and it also enablesthe server to cope with higher volumes of  visitors without becomingoverloaded.All of the changes were made to the configuration of the server itself,no changes were made to the website to gain these benefits.MemoryWe started by improving memory use, as this was frequently consumed andcaused the site to become unresponsive and on rare occasions it becomeunusable.The main changes came from changes to the Apache, MySQL and PHPconfigurations to reduce peak memory use to something the server couldcope with.MySQLThe first thing to do was analyse the MySQL peak use, which is a complexaffair but our tools enabled us to quickly discover what the peak memoryrequirement is and enables us to identify areas we can safely change.There were multiple changes made to the MySQL configuration that broughtthe peak memory requirement down from 18Gb to 6Gb, which ensured thatMySQL remained in RAM and didn’t get swapped out to disk all of the timeand that is very bad.Apache & PHPApache was tweaked to cope with the regular demands by modifying thenumber of servers it keeps running and the memory they each consume. Thechanges themselves were small but they are multiplied by the number ofservers that are created so the peak memory usage drops significantly.PHP was quite an easy one to fix, this was a simple case of dropping thememory used per instance and there was one of these per Apache server soeven small changes get multiplied to save lots of memory.CPU UseHaving monitored the server for some time there were peaks in the loadthat corresponded with some MySQL queries being ran, we investigatedfurther and  identified some particularly slow, and CPU intensive,queries by setting up and monitoring the slow_queries log.MySQLThe CPU optimisation came by setting up the correct MySQL indexes tomatch the queries being ran, in a number of cases this dropped queriesthat were taking above 40s (yes! 40s) down to 0s (instant). There was asingle query that was taking anywhere between 85s and 240s to completethat was painful to watch but thankfully this was just from the Admininterface and was ultimately brought down to 0s with correct indexes.XCache - PHP cachingTo simplify things, PHP is a text script that is interpreted every timeit is loaded, executed to generate the page and then discarded. This isrepeated every time the page is requested and this all takes time.With this in mind, the way to improve response times is to use a PHPopcode cache, in our instancecalled XCache. This is an Opcode Cache that stores the interpreted PHP scripts and a way that is very fast to execute and generate pages. This in turn reduces CPU load and also improves page response times as the pages are served much quicker.We installed, configured and monitor the installation of XCache and atthe time of writing the cache is serving over 80% of pages from itscache.Page Caching - Not sending contentPage Caching is the means that your browser stores files locally anddoesn’t download files from the server every time it wants it.The dilemmais: long expire times mean fewer hits on the site *but* this isn’t great if you’ve got frequent content updates as you want the new content to be sent to the visitor.The improvement here was to get a correctly configure the expirationtimes for numerous different file types. E.g., dynamic webpages expirewithin 1hr, the product images expires after 1yr. Once an item expires,the browser will refetch the original.Bad Robots - stopping leechesThere are lots of computers out there looking to steal your content,hogging your bandwidth, crawling through your site and generating pagerequests that don’t bring you any business at all.There is a ‘nice’ way to request they don’t crawl through your contentby using a file called ROBOTS.TXT but it’s not a requirement thatservers use it and most malicious ones simply ignore it.There is a way to block the robots from every connecting with your sitethat’s quite simple to do and we have configurations that block over 75known bad computers and prioritise genuine visitors and good searchengines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.SummaryOverall, the changes highlighted above along with some other smallertweaks enabled the server to cope with a higher volume of visitors andalso improve the response times for each customer.These are general principles for well configured servers that can beapplied to pretty much any website without the need to change thewebsite itself.Contact us if you’d like us to improve your visitorsexperience or maybe you think your existing server just isn’t up toscratch.

Move your Business to the Cloud

4 min read

Ring Alpha recently undertook the task of setting up and migrating acomplete business over to the cloud. The task included migrating all ofthe User Accounts, Email, Documents, Calendars and Contacts to GoogleApplications for Business. If you’re thinking about improving your availability, cost savings andensuring your documents are backed up and shared then give Ring Alphaa call to see how we can help you migrate Google Applications represents significant benefits over hosting yourown services and here are a few keyreasons:### Proven cost savingsGoogle's web-based messaging and collaboration apps require no hardwareor software and need minimal administration, creating tremendous time and cost savingsfor businesses.End users can use the familiar Microsoft Outlook interface for email, contacts and calendar as they transition to Gmailand Google Calendar.A leading research firm found that Google Apps is as little as 1/3 thetotal cost of competing solutions.Want to see how much you could save with Google Apps compared toMicrosoft Exchange 2007?### 50 times more storage than the industry averageEach employee gets 25 GB for email storage, so they can keep importantmessages and find them instantly with built-in Google search.Gmail is designed so employees can spend less time managing theirinboxes, and more time being productive. Time-saving features like message threading, messagelabels, fast message search and powerful spam filtering help employees workefficiently with high volumes of email.### Mobile email, calendar and IM accessWith several options for accessing their information while on the go,employees can be productive with Google Apps even when they're not at their desks.At no extra charge, Google Apps supports over-the-air mobile access onBlackBerry devices, the iPhone, Windows Mobile, Android and many less powerfulphones.### 99.9% uptime reliability guarantee with synchronous replicationWe guarantee that Google Apps will be available at least 99.9% of thetime, so your employees are more productive and so you can worry less about systemdowntime.**With synchronous replication, your data and activity in Gmail, GoogleCalendar, Google Docs and Google Sites is simultaneously preserved in multiple securedata centers. If one data center is unable to serve your requests, the system is designed toinstantly fall back to another data center that can serve your account with nointerruption in service.The Radicati Group found that Microsoft Exchange typically has 60minutes of unplanned downtime per month. Google Apps customers typically experience lessthan 15 minutes of downtime per month.### Information security and complianceWhen you trust your company's information to Google, you can beconfident that your critical information is safe and secure.Google's information security team, including some of the world’sforemost experts in information, application and network security, are focused onkeeping your information safe. Google and many other customers trust this system with highlysensitive corporate data.Businesses get these customizable security features with GoogleApps:- Custom spam and inbound mail filtering tools, powered by Postini, to complement powerful spam filters that automatically work with no up-front configuration.- Custom outbound mail filtering tools to prevent sensitive information from being distributed, powered by Postini.- Custom information sharing rules to determine how broadly employees are allowed to share with Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Sites.- Custom password length requirements and visual strength indicators to help employees pick secure passwords.- Enforced SSL connections with Google Apps to ensure secure HTTPS access.- Optional email archiving, up to 10 years of retention.### Full administrative and data controlAdministrators can deeply customize Google Apps to meet their technical,branding and business requirements.Integration options let you connect Google Apps to your existing ITinfrastructure.- Single sign-on API connects Google Apps to your existing authentication system.- User provisioning utility and API connect Google Apps to your existing user directory system.- Email routing and email gateway support let you run Google Apps alongside an existing email solution.- Email migration utility and API let you bring mail from your existing email solution into Google Apps.System branding and data ownership give Google Apps your look and feel,and ensures customer ownership of employee data.- Custom user accounts on your compay's internet domain.- Custom logo and colors in the applications.- Contractual customer ownership of employee data.### Helpful 24/7 customer supportGoogle Apps is highly reliable and easy to operate, but support isavailable for administrators should you need it.Support optionsinclude:- Phone support for critical issues- Email support- Self-service online supportGoogle Apps also has a deep network of partners ready to help businesseswith deployment, data migration, user training, system integration andcustom application development.\*\* The 99.9% uptime SLA for Google Apps is offered to organizationsusing Google Apps for Business, as described in the Google Apps for Business Termsof Service.

Live Customer Support, chat and monitoring of your website visitors

2 min read

[![](/assets/125x125-go-chat-with.png)](http://www.olark.com/?r=tcg0p7ld "Olark live chat")Live Customer Support and Realtime Information about your websitevisitors is absolutely critical to improving your business online.Add Live Chat/Support to your website TODAY for ~~£100~~ **only £50**!   [Contact Us](/contact) to get started straight away.UPDATE: Our clients with a small number of visitors are using this tool to chat to all of their customers while they’re in a buying mood.Understand who’s on your site, make your customers love you, and earn more money. Want to know who’s on your website RIGHT NOW? Want to catch your customers before they abandon their basket?Chat to your customers live while they’re on your website and help themfind what they’re looking for with a great online support tool likeOlark.Integration is easyWe recently integrated this into our own website and were so impressedwith the results that we began to encourage our existing clients to takethis up.We simply added the code snippet to our webpage and then connected it toour desktop client - Pidgin for Windows or Adium for Mac.Once installed, your website visitors appear as chat clients rightinside your desktop chat client along with basic information about thatparticular user. On the website, they see that you’re ‘live’ and they can choose to chatwith you if they need help and you can also choose to start chatting tothem.IMMEDIATE benefitsSince installing it, we’ve been able to catch multiple customers beforethey walked away and we’ve genuinely got business we wouldn’t have had,all because of the live customer support thatOlark offers.Our major eCommerce client installed it too and quickly caught ordersand helped their customers while they were still shopping, thosecustomers would have walked away without live customer support. LiveCustomer Chat paid for itself very quickly.Olark is our recommended choice of real-time customer chat becauseit can be extended to capture more business information you can use toreally drill down into those opportunities that may go away without livecustomer support.[![](/assets/125x125-live-chat-blue.png)](http://www.olark.com/?r=tcg0p7ld "Olark live chat")So far, we’ve enhanced thiswith: known user names - find out who’s registered and who hasn’t current basket value - focus on the customers who have a largeamount of value in their basket page priority - catch users who are on your Contact or CheckoutpagesComprehensive Features {style=”clear:both;”}The realtime chat and customer support software is great whether you’reon your own or if you have a team of support people. The software also generates lots of useful information about your onlinechats and visitors, as well as pushing more data out to Google Analyticsso you can really drill down into the detail. Want Real-Time Chat on your website?We can help you setup your website and desktop client to enable you tocatch real-time visitors on your website and improve your chance ofconverting those visitors into customers. Contact us to find outhow I can honestly say that we are genuinely impressed with Olark LiveCustomer Support and so our customers, especially as it brought themreal orders within hours of being installed.

Is at desk internet access bad for productivity?

1 min read

I know a few development companies that do not have internet access atthe staff’s desk. Internet access is restricted to separate systems thatare shared between multiple people and are in public areas so people cansee who’s on and when.One such company also has a ban on external calls at work, via the worksystem or your own personal mobile.I know that these are justified as being for productivity reasons, staffhave their distractions removed and live in a vacuum that consists onlyof known work and known processes.Aside from security issues, is this really necessary? I appreciate thatsome people simply cannot resist procrastinating and checking up ontheir social networks every 1 minute but I’d also argue that at deskInternet access is as important as having electricity to yourworkstation. We know that it gives us access to an almost infinite arrayof knowledge, reference, learning, inspiration and also connections topeople who can help us solve problems quickly.Why limit the growth of everyone on your team because 1 person canresist Facebook? How and when do people find time to learn and bring newideas to work?I’ve ran a studio and I’m aware of all of the implications of both sidesof the story but I believe there’s a compromise that’s easy and almostfree to implement. Put a transparent proxy between the internal andexternal networks and tighten it up bit by bit, but only for those whocan’t control themselves.Generate a real-time report of who’s online, this weeks top downloaders,this weeks top page hits and share it on your intranet. It works wondersand you’ll see the balance restored between having the freedom of atdesk access to a sea of knowledge and the few who just cannot controlthemselves and need to be brought into line.

Get my business on Google Maps

1 min read

Getting your business on Google Maps (aka Google Places, GoogleLocal Business) is critical for every business as search results nowprioritise and display local results over regular non-map basedsearches, if your business isn’t on the map then you’re missing out on asignificant amount of potential customers.UPDATE: We are now offering a service to get your business onGoogle Maps for only £50.Thankfully, getting on the map is  a simple thing to do, it involvescreating your own Google Places account and then submitting variousbusiness details such as address, contact details, categories, images,reviews and more to Google for consideration. Getting noticed is alittle harder. The tough part is getting your business noticed on Google Maps, as there are more and more businesses claiming their place and competing for attention. There are various components that need to be done right or it’s just a waste of time. A well constructed place marker can generate genuine customers for yourbusiness and is absolutely vital in todays crowded market place. Thereare some proven tricks to use to jump up the listings above yourcompetitors if you know how to play the game - these include gettingyour categories right, using key phrases in your copy, getting importantrelatedGetting noticed on Google MapsWe have experience of getting businesses onto Google Maps andgetting them noticed, generating real value to your bottom-line andbringing you more customers and ultimately orders. We have multiplebusinesses now appearing in the coveted top 8 map slots, bypassing theircompetitors in regular search results.Contact Us to see how we can help you get your businesson Google Maps with a well built Placemarker for only £50..Related Google Places Our Google Maps listing service foronly £50.

Improve Google Adwords advertising campaigns

4 min read

Managing an effective Pay Per Click advertising campaign on GoogleAdwords takes experience and skill to do right as there are manyfactors that come into play in order to really maximise your budgetand effectiveness.At the time of writing every new Adwords account gets a £30 voucher touse within 15 days of the account opening so it’s worth grabbing thatfree cash and using it will.Before you go ahead, setting up a single campaign, with 1 advertpointing at your homepage driven by lots of keywords is a sure-fire wayto wasting your advertising budget but with a little effort you can makeit work for you.It’s important to understand how your advert will be chosen to bedisplayed based on the adverts content, the bid (usually automaticallyset) and the page on your website that the advert points to, all ofthese components need to work together for the best effect.Adwords QualityA core concept is a number between 1-10 that you will see displayed askeyword ‘quality’ within your campaign, the higher the number is thebetter the ‘quality’ of your advert is. The actual mechanics of how thisis calculated is a closely guarded secret by Google but it’s definitelybased on the relationship between the keyword, the advert copy and thecontent of the web page your linking to.Here are some examples to try and give you some ideas.Good - quality is likely to be 8-keyword: ‘ecommerce website’-advert: ‘Get great ecommerce websites that deliver more customers’ link topage: http://yourwebsite.com/ecommerce-website (note thekeywords are in the linked address) pagecontent: a page on your website focusing on the keywords‘ecommerce website’ pagetitle: Amazing eCommerce websites pagedescription: Amazing ecommerce websites for businesses ofall sizes. pagekeywords: ecommerce website, website ecommerce, ecommercewebsite Bad - quality is likely to be 1-keyword: ‘ecommerce website’-advert: ‘All jobs taken, no job too small. Call us now’. link topage: http://www.yourwebsite.com pagecontent: the home page that contains lots of images and contactdetails without the key phrase ‘ecommerce website’The previous 2 examples of pay-per-click adverts clearly show thedifference between an effective collection of components and ones thatdon’t work together at all.Now, here’s how advert quality plays how in the advertising campaign.You can essentially think of ‘Quality’ as a percentage of how efficientyour pay-per-click bid is for any particular keyword, lets look at anexample. To make this a little simpler we’ll imagine fixed bid of £1 forthe adverts above and the formula.Bid Value = Quality x Your BidAdvert Bid Value your bid ————————– ———– ———- Ad A (Good - Quality 8 ) £0.80 8 * £1 Ad B (Bad - Quality 1) £0.10 1 * £1In these examples, Ad A is generating £0.80 of bid value compared toAd B generating £0.10 of bid value for every £1 allocated. If these2 webpages were competing for the same keywords then Ad A is verylikely to be seen in prime locations where Ad B is never going to beseen because £0.10 simply isn’t enough to out bid their advertisingcompetitors to be seen for those keywords.Sadly, it’s all too common to see businesses spending money on onlineadvertising without realising how ineffective their pay-per-clickadverts are and those businesses are wasting money on bad internetmarketing and this isn’t something you can afford to do.Putting together an effective Google Adwords campaignAdwords advert quality is a critical component of an effectiveGoogle Adwords PPC online advertising campaign but it must work inconcert with the page your visitors will land on,aka: landing page. If you’re looking to start an Adwords pay-per-click campaign or maximise your internet marketing budget then you need to get a few things right if you’re to make best use of your budget. Create landing pages for your campaigns on your website Choose relevant keywords Write advert copy that matches your keywords and landing page Check your keyword quality to make sure not wasting cash Split your campaign up into multiple keyword:ad:landing pagesegments Avoid negative keywords that don’t bring you visitors such as‘jobs’, ‘career’ Target specific ad placements such as competitors, forums, specialgroups, to focus on your audience.NOTE: this is about where your adis place rather than what keywords you useYou can take this further by adding in some data capturing throughAnalytics Optimise your landing pages to convert your visitors into customers Automatically track conversions and adjust your campaign to beincreasingly efficientThese are some of the elements we carefully setup and manage for anycampaigns we undertake along with a number of other techniques onlyavailable to our clients.Effective Adwords Pay-Per-Click CampaignsGenerating highly visible effect pay-per-click advertising campaignsshouldn’t cost the earth and you careful management can really make adifference to get your campaign noticed in the right places and bringpotential customers to your online business.Our pay-per-click campaigns are well-managed, efficient and make bestuse of your  budget. Can you afford to waste your precious internetmarketing budget? Contact Us to find out how we can helpyou.

Five eCommerce Website SEO tips you can use

1 min read

We have a great deal ofexperience in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for eCommerce websites toimprove the position of both your online store and the items you sell.We have some secret ways of doing this for your eCommerce website but wecan share our most common tactics that are specific to eCommerce togenuinely improve your orders. Navigation around the eCommerce website must be easy for bothGoogle and your customers. There are specific tasks that need to bedone to ensure that you make the most of website layout to ensureyour items rank highly. e.g., the URLs of the products themselves,how the categories interlink, location of your checkout. You must avoid duplicate content by ensuring that your productsare unique, even if the same product exists in multiple productcategories, that can be achieved with some clever use of meta tags. The website needs to respond quickly to keep your Page speedvery quick. This is especially tricky in category listings that showlots of products, but we have tricks and tactics that can reduceyour load times massively through on site and on server fixes. Product Reviews are big news for Google and other engines butthey must be able to find the reviews and make sense of them inorder to display them against your listings in search results byusing hReview microformats. Get your products out of your online store and into globaleCommerce website places like Google Shopping, Facebook, eBay andAmazon to reach massive audiences. We have experience in adaptingexisting stores to make this happen and our new online stores comewith these features built in.These are just a few of the things we do to make your website rank highon search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo to get you morecustomers and more sales.

eCommerce Website Developer

1 min read

It’s fair to say thatwe’re experienced experts in ecommerce web development havingdelivered multiple ecommerce websites of all sizes that serveanywhere from 100 to 90,000 customers per month and have over 1,000products listed on Google Products.We offer a number of ‘out of the box’ ecommerce packages that cansupport your business whatever your scale now and in the future.All of our ecommerce packages are built on proven, secure,extendible eCommerce web platforms that will scale with your business. Small eCommerce websites are built on the popular Wordpressplatform and can support from 1 to 100 products in multiplecategories and come with a rich feature set including securepayments via Paypal or Google Checkout. Mid-size eCommerce websites are built on the proven and featurerich Magento eCommerce web platform that is used by hundreds ofexisting eCommerce stores around the world. Our eCommercewebsite is capable of handling 1000s of products and 1000s ofcustomers every day. We have experience in improving your existing eCommerce websitewith new features, Google Product listings, Search EngineOptimisation (SEO), new payment schemes, Price Comparisonintegration, new layouts or anything you wish. Our custom ecommerce web development projects can bring you acompletely bespoke eCommerce store that’s finely tuned to the needsof your business without breaking the bank.Our eCommerce website hosting is especially chosen to cope with allof the demands of your eCommerce store.

Spring Clean Your Website to improve your Search Results ranking

2 min read

Keeping your websiteup-to-date is important to ensure you keep high in the search listingsor you will be overtaken by those that do. We can help you find and fixany issues that may affect your search results position, it’s never beenmore important to keep your website up-to-date.There have been a few recent Google announcements that are likely toaffect your site if your website isn’t updated to consider them. February 2011 saw Google change their search results formula and11% of old sites disappeared off the radar, many others aresliding down the ranks. March 2011 raised the profile of Page Speed, where fasterloading pages appear higher in the Search Engine Results Pages.This website scores 88 out of100,how does yours compare? Jan-April 2011 has seen a major update of  Wordpress andnumerous security fixes to mitigate hacker attacks May-June 2011 will see Google Product Merchants beingrequired to include extra data in their product feeds. Google said“While these attributes will not be required for your data feed toprocess correctly, they may prevent your items from appearing inProduct Search results if not included”These are just a few of the recent changes in an ever changing weblandscape, it’s never been more important to keep your websiteup-to-date.Here are some website self-helptips:Further Spring Cleaning AdviceContact us for a FREE Website healthcheck to keep your businessappearing high in the search results.Broad view of your Online precense {style=”clear:none;”}Take a birds eye view of your websites online presence with Open SiteExplorer - http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/.Clean websiteSearch engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo prefer clean websites withno technical errors. You can check your own website is compliant atthese Markup Validation -http://validator.w3.org/ CSS Validation -http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/Page SpeedWe’ve all visited websites that take an age to load and we’ve allclicked away to find a faster website, here are a few ways to checkyour web page load speed - anything over 2 seconds is considered slow,anything over 5 seconds is very bad: Google Page Speed Pingdom Page Load testerWhat next?These are just a few of the tools to keep you informed of how yourwebsite is performing in todays internet climate, Ring Alpha Web Designis ideally placed to do this work on your behalf and keep your websiteappearing high in the Search Engine Results Pages.Can your business afford not to keep high in the search results?Contact Us now

Ten Website Design Mistakes to Avoid

3 min read

As the economy took a downturn and fuel prices soar, more people areturning to spending money online. But, with millions of sites competingfor every customer, competition is tough, to say the least. Tocomplicate matters, studies show that the average website visitor spendsapproximately 8 seconds on your site before moving onto check out yourcompetition…unless your product or service hits ‘em right between theeyes with the kind of impact that makes them want to stay and buy.To stand head and shoulders above the competition, you should know theseten business website design mistakes to avoid. With only a few secondsto convert browsing visitors into paying customers, striving to becomethe first –and best –destination for your products and services willbe much easier if you follow these keypoints: Using Design Templates Dull, Drab Colors and Words Too Many Words Confusing Menus Inaccessibility; Poor Navigation Lack of Professional Appearance Hard to Read, Frustrating Fonts Only One Purchase Option Neglecting Upkeep & Site Maintenance Annoying Ads, Pop-Up and OtherwiseLooking over this list, you’ll notice all of these points fall underthree main points vital to your business website designsuccess: Presentation Precision PrioritisationPresentationThe main goal of any profitable business website is to attract potentialcustomers and convert them into paying customers.  Thus, presentation isvital to the appeal of your website. Grab ‘em while you got ‘em, or risklosing them to your competitors. It’s that simple. The best businesswebsites combine great design with the features customers want most, toget their attention, draw them in closer and open their wallets.PrecisionHave you ever landed on a site where the home page has ten paragraphs ofdetailed information in a teensy-tiny font you can barely see? How longdid you hang around? Do you remember what they sold? Better still, didyou buy anything?Wordiness, confusing navigation, poor quality images, insufficientexplanations of who you are and what you offer are just a few of theproblems web sites often encounter. Here’s theproblem: Most website owners create the site based on what they think people want to know, not what people really want to know. They miss the mark in serving the needs of their customers, and it can mean death for their business.Uncover your customer’s real needs so you can precisely address thoseneeds via the design and features of your business website. That’s asure path to success.PrioritisationFinally, no business is successful without prioritization.  For example,the needs of a customer should come first.  When a question or problemarises, can you be reached for customer service, or are youunreachable?  Does your business website design make it super-easy forpeople to contact you for help, or do they have to hunt all over thesite to find your phone number or email address? If you make yourcustomers feel as though you’re happy to take their money quickly, butnot so quick to respond to questions and problems, your low conversionsand high bounce rates will show your website’s true colors.Likewise, if a visitor is sitting in front of the computer, open walletin hand, is your sales process simplified? Does it offer several paymentoptions? Is the product or service up-to-date? A customer friendlybusiness website, where the buyer feels he/she is a priority, meansrepeat patronage in the future.To get started designing an incredibly efficient, effective andfunctional business website customers will love, and to avoid thesescommon mistakes and others, knock the socks off your competition with acutting-edge, highly interactive website design from Ring Alpha WebDesign. 

Don’t miss the growing mobile web audience

1 min read

Mobile purchasesand mobile web viewing are increasing every day and it’s simply not goodenough to expect users to view your regular site. iPhone, Android andtablet viewers expect custom built views.Thankfully, all of our regular and content-managed websites take fulladvantage of the iPhone, iPad, Android and other devices with viewsand touch-based interfaces especially built to get the most out of them.Our new elegant iPad specific view is a joy to behold and features largebuttons, swipe gestures and much more.Can you afford not to have a mobile website? Especially a FREEversion of your existing site?Contact Us to find out how we can help.Following are some pictures of this web design site running on iPhoneand iPad, I’m sure you’ll agree they look very impressive.iPhone Web ViewiPad Web ViewWant to capture the growing mobile audience?Contact Us to find out how we can help.

How to Choose the Best Website Designer

3 min read

In order to compete in today’s tough hospitality economy, businessowners need a strong online presence. The convenience of onlineshopping, coupled with the high price of gasoline, means a growingnumber of potential customers are on the Internet right now looking foryour business and dreaming of their next vacation destination. So,whether you are just beginning to sell online or want a more competitiveedge for your existing business, knowing how to choose the best websitedesigner is a crucial skill.One word ofcaution: when choosing the best designer for your business, never choose based on price alone. While price can be one indicator of whether the designer meets your budget needs, you may unfortunately get what you pay for, which will certainly cost you more in the long run. Hire the best designer you can afford to avoid this common and expensivemistake.Of course, paying top dollar does not guarantee you’ll get the bestdesigner either. So let’s consider the top 5 qualities to look for inchoosing the best website designer for yourbusiness: Professionalism Portfolio Experience Creativity ServiceProfessionalismUnfortunately, all website designers can create graphic design for yourbusiness website, but not all are professionals. Professionalism seemsto be fading as more and more website designers jump on the freelancebandwagon to get their share of the buying public’s money. Simplyclaiming to be the best is not good enough.  Doesn’t everyone claim theyprovide the best services at the best prices? So pay close attention toother important signs,including: Is the business web design company interested in specifically whatelements you’ll need on your website for growth, or are you herdedinto their client group and given a select number of templates tochoose from that look like everyone else’s? Is the business web designer prepared to take the time to determineyour target audience? Are they interested in your overall business goals? Does the designer know enough about your industry, or are theywilling to learn, in order to trounce the competition? IS the design company responsive when you call or send an e-mail? Ifit takes 2 days for them to return your call just to discuss theproject, what will happen after they’ve gotten your money? Does the designer talk in terms of the future- how they will supportyour needs or continue to work with and maintain your businesswebsite once is completed?PortfolioBasically, a picture does speak a thousand words. The best websitedesigners will have a portfolio of successful sites.  So ask questions.Seek references. Visit websites they’ve created. Notice the page rankingwith the search engines.ExperienceIn essence, the best web designer has the experience necessary to makethe competition pale in comparison. With an in-depth know of SEO (searchengine optimisation) and other marketing strategies, a growing knowledgebase to stay one step ahead, and the focused expertise to increase youInternet presence, your online visitor will be converted into an onlinebuyer.CreativityTemplates are a dime a dozen.  Actually, a growing number are freeware.A novice can take a pre-made web page and, with limited knowledge, builda website. Thus the end result looks like a thousand other sitesscattered throughout the Internet.  To be number one, you must look likenumber one visually, with concise information, consumer-friendlyinteractive navigation, stunning pictures and enticing content thatsells.ServiceProbably the most import aspect of the best website designer isservice.  A good designer will back up his/her product with ongoingservices to ensure your success.Ring Alpha Web Design offers all of this and more,including: Unique Web Design-updated periodically Web Hosting-to keep the site up and running Domain Registration Online Marketing of the Site-to bring potential customers SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)-to make sure your site is #1Ready to begin creating a business website that really has impact?Please contact Ring Alpha Web Design to discuss your needs today.

How SEO Boosts Your Page Rank

3 min read

Do you ever use search engines to find a product or service on theInternet, rather than physically getting in your car and driving to thelocal department store?  You’re not alone. Millions of others are doingthe same every day. How often do you go beyond the first two searchresults pages to find what you’re looking for?  How about beyond thefirst few entries on the first page?Perhaps without realising it, you’ve just demonstrated know how SEO(Search Engine Optimisation) can boost the ‘page rank’ of your ownbusiness website.Page Ranking Determines SuccessWhat exactly is page rank? Page rank determines whether potentialcustomers will find your business on page one of a web search, or page1,022.  The ultimate goal is for your website to be the first businesslisted on the first page. Generally, buyers of products and servicestype a specific word or words into their browser to describe whatthey’re looking for. For example, ‘Jamaica travel’ or ‘cruise toBermuda’. If they know the name of your business, even better, becausethe search engines return hundreds, thousands, even millions of resultsthat match the words they are using to search, either completely orpartially. The customer then browses through page one…maybe page two…butvery few will go beyond that to find what they’re looking for.Many factors go into putting your company on page one, but greatbusiness web design is one excellent way to boost your page rank andbring customers knocking at your virtual door and scheduling vacations,SEO Boosts RankingsThrough: Key Words and Phrases Increased Relevance Popularity Improved Weeding Out the CompetitionAlthough success does not usually happen overnight, with good SEO, yourbusiness website will rise swiftly through the ranks, moving your onlinepresence from the back page to front of all the competition.  Here’show:Key Words and PhrasesWhen consumers are looking for a business via the Internet, they do notput a complete description in the text box.  Likewise, general words maybring up a whole slew of sites having nothing to do with the need. Forexample, typing in ‘the renaissance’ as a search term brings up resultsrelated to The Middle Ages, an investment firm called Renaissance, asearch engine marketing club, and others. If your business is named‘Renaissance’, it may be listed on the 3rd page or further down, andwill never be found by the visitor. Therefore, targeted words or phraseshelp narrow down the choices for optimal sites to peruse. In a casewhere the business name is similar to many other company names, otherSEO strategies and keywords can help in this regard. With good SEO, yourpages will be peppered with the most common words used to consumers tofind what your business has to offer.Increased RelevanceWith proper key words and phrases blended into your web site content,your business website design and pages will increase in relevance, whichtranslates into more consumer dollars spent on your site.  During asearch for business, the competition will be left in the dust, if yourpage pops up as the most relevant to the consumer’s search terms. Thebest SEO companies, like business Web Design, know how to uncover whatpeople are searching for to get the best results.PopularityAs soon as your site begins to show more traffic (visitors), searchengines will pick up on its growing popularity.  Then, subsequentsearches will be more likely to see your business chosen as the best.Thus, your page ranking has hit a major milestone in page rank. Soon,search engines scour the web for pertinent information, and yourbusiness will be at the top of the list.ImprovedAs your pages increase in popularity and begin to rank higher, you cantrack how improvedstart elsewhere and end up on your page.  With greatbusiness web design will be instrumental in out-selling the competition,and your bottom line will reflect that change.Weeding Out the CompetitionIt’s simple supply and demand. As your business grows, your competitorswill be further left behind. Your pages will rank even higher thanbefore. Finally, the first page, and possibly first place, is attainablethanks to SEO.Want to outshine the competition? Allow business Web Design to apply ourexpert knowledge and experience in SEO to boost the page rank of yourbusiness’s web design. Please contact us to find out more.

Extend the Range of your Home or Business Wifi Network

3 min read

I am sometimes asked how to extend the range of your home or businessWifi network using cheap hardware and the ADSL Router your ISP gave youfor free and I wanted to share with you my tips.**UPDATE:** This also works with the [D-Link DAP-1160 Wireless G Open Source AccessPoint/Router](http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B000VS08QC/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=gamedevelcons-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=B000VS08QC), although the control panel interface is different the principles stillapply.Extending your home or business Wifi network can be a great solution toconnect a remote set of devices like printers, home consoles, desktopcomputers to a Wifi enabled router that sits in another room.I have used this solution to extend physical networks into remoteoffices and also connecting home computers and even XBox 360 to abroader network.The key to all of this is the amazing D-LinkDWL-2100AP, which you can pickup for about £55 and it’s a much cheaper and tidier alternative to running cables around and also using the ethernet over power devices.The D-LinkDWL-2100AP is a great little device and I’ll take you through how I connected a remote home office at the bottom of a garden to the BT Homehub back in the house.To extend the range of a BT Homehub you need a fewthings: D-Link 2100AP with firmware 2.2eu, the one it usually comes out of abox with. BT Homehub v1 - the white one. NOTE: This does not work with theblack v2 Homehubs as BT disabled the WDS feature that you need Your network needs to all be running on the same sub-net, thesimplest way to do this is to simply change your netmask oneverthing to 255.255.0.0.The trick is in configuring the software correctly *AND* not upgradingthe firmware beyond the build-in v2.2eu as the newer versions tend tocause more incompatibilities and they don’t add or fix any problemsyou’ll have with this configuration. Stick with firmware v2.2eu.1. D-Link 2100AP Setup your D-Link and connect via the web management interface,usually found at http://192.168.0.50 Navigate your way through the menus to Home->Wireless Select Mode: AP Repeater Under Site Survey, hit Scan to find all the devices on your homenetwork. You should now see your regular home network listed, select yournetwork and you will see the information be copied above into the‘Root AP MAC Address’ and ‘SSID’ Make sure your Authentication details are identical to yourHomehub, if they’re not then it simply won’t work. Select ‘Apply’ and then you’re done here2. Homehub Login to your Homehub’s web interace, typicallyat http://192.168.1.254 Go through the menus: Advanced -> Configuration -> Wireless ->Repeater Scan for wireless access points to discover all of theAccessible Access Points Tick the box next to your network in the Accessible AccessPoints list Hit Apply and thats that.That’s it, once your devices have rebooted themselves your 2 networksshould be able to see each other. I’ve done this a few times now andit’s worked like a charm every time.This has failed for me if I’ve tried to change settings or upgradefirmware (v2.3, v2.4, v2.5) and all have caused me much grief. Stickwith firmware v2.2 and it’s a breeze.Hardware You’ll Need D-Link DWL-2100AP - 108Mbps Super G 802.11G Wireless AccessPoint OPTIONAL - Netgear GS108 8-port Gigabit Hub The 2100AP sadly only has 1 network port so you’ll need a littlenetwork hub if you want to connect more than 1 device to theendpoint. I’ve had great success with the small but fast 8-port hub. Alternative to 2100AP: D-Link DAP-1160 Wireless G Open SourceAccessPoint/Router

eCommerce Site - ApprovedFood.co.uk

1 min read

Today saw the first public showing of the eCommerce site refresh forwww.approvedfood.co.uk, which we’re amazingly proud of.This is an ongoing extensive web development project and encompassesreplacing the existing eCommerce site, refreshing the design,revitalising the customer experience, improving security, fixing bugsand much more. This is much more than a simple reskin and it will helpthe thousands of daily visitors find their way around the products mucheasier and Approved Food get more control, data and a rapid turn-aroundon changes and support.One of the things we did is to incorporate greatly enhanced trackingvia Google Analytics using Custom Vars, Custom Reports, Goals/Funnelsand eCommerce tracking so Approved Food can find out, down to theproduct and user, what’s working and improve areas that need attention.The site uses not only uses up-to-date visual elements to improve theexperience but it also gracefully scales back to the rogue and basicbrowsers.ApprovedFood.co.uk will continue to improve over the coming weeks alongwith the associated Mobile and Social Media streams like Twitter andFacebook as these now come under Ring Alpha’s remit to manage.

New Hosting service for mid-size eCommerce site

1 min read

Ring Alpha recently provide a server migration service for one ofour ongoing clients, a mid-size eCommerce store with thousands oftransactions going through every day. The requirement was to improve theperformance and technical specification of their site ahead of RingAlpha providing them with a new eCommerce solution.Lets find out what we did…After a number of discussions with our client, it was obvious therapidly growing eCommerce business had grown out of their existinghosting company and were in need of a technical upgrade that could copewith their increasing number of customers.What’s needed?Our first task was to evaluate what they would need out of a newserver and new hosting company to enable their business to scaleover the coming months.Discover the technical needsThe evaluation task itself involved detailed analysis of how theirexisting server was currently performing at a low level to highlightareas that needed improving. We checked out the server loads on variousareas and made our checklist.The new technical spec was a massive leap forwards and criticallyincluded 4 times the amount of memory and new hard-drive configurationthat improved the disk performance of 4 times too.Hosting PartnersThe next job was to make a shortlist of hosting providers that metall of the requirements, one of which was that it should be UK based andideally local to the business.RecommendationsWe contacted our regular list of hosting partners, negotiated improvedspecifications and lower monthly costs before making ourrecommendation of 2 of them, which were a good match for this particularjob.SummaryOur work has delivered an improved technical specification that meetsthe needs of the business, all at a reduced price.Our experience in working at a low level with server and networkhardware, understanding the demands of the base level software likeApache and MySQL, the higher level loads of the eCommerce softwarematched with the needs of the business and their customers all rolled upinto Ring Alpha being able to find a new server and hosting partnerspecific for this job.

Tips for Pricing Website Design

2 min read

If you are fairly new to the website design business, then you may be ata loss as to what to charge. If you charge too much, you may never getany clients. If you charge too little, your perceived value can be lowerthan your time is worth. In order to choose the right price for yourservices, you will need to do a little research and make a fewdecisions.See what others are charging You can talk to other website designers in your area to find out whatthey are pricing. You could also go to trade shows and converse withpeople. Check out the Bureau of Labor statistics to find out what otherprofessionals are charging for services in your area.Figure out how much you want hourly Decide on an annual salary that you can live with. Then choose arealistic number of hours you will be actually working. Divide theannual salary by the number of hours worked and you should have areasonable hourly rate. Before you set your price, make sure to checkwith others in your market to see what they are charging.Dissect your services so that you can put a price on them One way to come up with a good estimate is to determine how much timeyou will be spending on the website design. To the best of your ability,make a list of all the smaller parts of your project. Just as if youwere designing for poster or brochure printing, you need to gathergraphics, arrange layout, add text, and proof. Once you have this list,you can estimate how much time each of those jobs will take.Include other possible costs Add the different tasks together and multiply by your hourly rate. Add10-20% to the cost for contingencies. Then include prices of graphicsyou might have to pay for or any other costs. Just as with brochureprinting, there will be some pieces that you have to outsource. Thisshould be a pretty close estimate of your time and costs. It is alwaysbetter to estimate high. Projects almost always take longer than youthink they will.Don’t reduce your price to get business The clients that want to pay close to nothing for your valuable workwill not be easy clients to work for anyway. As you build a name foryourself, you will find clients who are more than willing to pay areasonable rate for quality work.Market yourself for a higher priced bracket When you build a portfolio of quality of projects, your proven valuewill go up. Utilize personal branding and clients will start coming toyou specifically to do work for them. Once you are in high demand, youwill be in a position to raise your fees. Until then, keep your pricesat or just below the average market price in your area. 

Top Link Cloaking Plugins for WordPress

1 min read

If you have a blog with affiliated link hijacking. It does not matter if you are writing about posterprinting or computer programing, this is problem that every blogger willface. In order to prevent someone else from taking the money for youraffiliatedyour site. There are many plugins available for WordPress, but here aresome of the best.Pretty LinkIf you want to mask your affiliatedcome from your own domain, tack clicks from emails, and spreadforums and comments on blogs, then Pretty Link is the best option foryou. You can also upgrade to Pretty Link Pro so that you can have thecapability to automate your Pretty Link creation.WP MarketerWP Marketer is a free plugin for WordPress that will manage youraffiliatedto manage your inventory, set up ads in posts and landing pages, ortrack your results. With WP Marketer, you will have more control thanever before.Link HopperLink Hopper is very useful for managing your affiliatedmake changes in one location and Link Hopper will then also make thischange throughout your site for you.W-Shadow“Slightly Advanced Computer Stuff (and some magic),” according toW-Shadow. This link cloaking plugin for WordPress will cloak youroutgoingwhen.Max Blog Press Ninja AffiliateNinja Affiliate contains common WordPress affiliate pluginfeatures: link autolinking, customer styling forEclipse CloakerIn order to avoid loosing your commissions, choose Eclipse Cloaker tocloak yourthe link cloaking and track link stats so that you know where you aremaking the most money. It is compatible with all browsers and providesfree upgrades.Instant WordPressLinkThis plugin specializes in “in-text” advertising. With Instant WordPressLink, you can count clicks, style customconversion, shorten URLs, and much more. Created by the well-knownplugin developer, Tricks and Tips HQ, Instant WordPress Link is one thatyou can rely on for quality.No matter what your topic, your blog should be free of worry. Keep yourblog safe from hijackers by cloakingother features that come along with link cloaking plugins. 

Where have I been?

2 min read

It’s been quite a long time since I posted about Game Production as I’vebeen focusing my efforts on my new venture ‘RingAlpha’ where I’m currently focusing on making my own video games and collaborating with other indie developers around theworld.It’s pretty obvious that the UK games industry has been in a massivestate of flux for the last 2 years and there’s no sign of this slowingdown anytime soon. I’ve been caught in the midst of this shift andpersonally suffered a few times this year but it’s not stopped me yet.Right now I have lost faith in the large traditional companies who arereally struggling to redirect their oil-tanker like ideas and my onlydesire is to work with Indie developers right now.We’ve seen the fallout from these changes and there have been massivelay-offs this year as we’ve seen some of the UKs biggest developer closetheir days and the upshot of this is that the job market is crowded withlots of developers looking for fewer and fewer jobs. The failing gamedevelopers have been left to rot before the vultures swoop in and pickover the carcases looking for tasty morsels of IP and down on their luckdevelopers.The makeup of a typical team means that production/management roles arefew and far between and what few there are have many applicants, whichof course means that salaries get driven lower and lower as it’sessentially a buyers market.On the flip-side skilled, experienced programmers who can work onsiteare a rarity. There is opportunity out there if you can work hard andfind it.On a more personal note, unlike most Production staff I have always keptmy programming skills up-to-date and I’m now taking advantage of this tomake my own games and collaborate with others around the world via siteslike oDesk, Elance andPeoplePerHour. At the moment I’m concurrently developing games for iOS devices and also HTML5 and I find the experience invigorating and pain-free.What I have witnessed and experienced by engaging with the globaldevelopment community is that the UK remains are very expensive locationto make games and if you’re able to work with a global sparse team thatyou direct accurately and manage efficiently then there are thousands ofpeople out there who can bring your game to life (me included).All things said, 2010 has been a painful year for me personally but I’mover it now and I feel like I’ve escaped the cul-de-sac of ‘traditional’game development and joined the mainstream, even though it’s a littlebelated.So, it’s back to work, heads down, making things happen.Thanks.

Precisely how To Add Content material To A Joomla Website

4 min read

I will teach you how one can make pages with static content.To begin with, make sure you log in to your web site AdministrationArea.Then choose Content –> Article Manager. At the same time, it ispossible to click on Article Manager icon in your Administration homewebsite page. Within Article Manager you might discover a list of yourweb site content webpages. But if your in the beginning stages thismight be a listing of most of the default Joomla articles. You are ableto select the checkbox on the left, pick the ones you don’t needpublished, next on the top right, press “unpublish.”To design a new web page, mouse click New at the top right of thewebpage.At this point you are on a website page where you may produce yourcontent. You will see certainfields:*Title: Give the website page a title. It should be brief and also detailed (ex: ‘About Us’);*Alias: You can also make a title to the point on your page. In case you leave this field blank Joomla will set up an alias through the page title changing spaces by hyphens. (i.e.: about-us when your page title is ‘About Us’);*Section: Select a category to your website page. If you don’t haveany, select ‘Uncategorized’. This field is required and your articlewon’t be published if you leave ‘-Select Section-‘ value in the field;*Published: Here you could change your web page publish state. You can check ‘No’ radio press button if you do not desire your content to bepublished. This area is set as ‘Yes’ automatically;* FrontPage: This field tells whether your webpage will be viewable on the front page of your website or otherwise;*Category: Pick a category for the static content material webpage. When you’ve got no categories or don’t need your article to be in anycategory, select’Uncategorized’;*Text: Type your own text right here. Here’s the static web page. You may use the TinyMCE provided editor or download some rather enhanced editors and employ them to create your own pages. We advocate to give JCE a test.On the right side you observe the article’s overview and 3 sectionspertaining to advanced controls.Setting the Parameters (Article):*Author: You should have various authors on your site therefore if you want to individualize your write-up, pick a name within the list;* AuthorAlias: The same as with Article Alias - ensure it is understandable or Joomla ! will do that for you. This is going to help when you’ve got many authors writing for ones webpage;* AccessLevel: Right here you’ve got threealternatives: Public, Registered and Specials. Choose who’ll see your article and who willnot;* Createddate: While default the current time is placed with thisarea. Yet you may create make it published earlier.* StartPublishing: Modify this particular date if you want your article to be released afterwards. It will be published at time chosen;* FinishPublishing: When you require the web page to end up being released for just a limited time type right here the actual date (andhour) if you want an article to be unpublished. This particularcharacteristic is also automated.Parameters (Advanced):The vast majority of these fields happen to be established as ‘UseGlobal’. The easiest way will be to set the most suitable fields inParameters (it appear in Article Manager) and customize a variety ofthem for each and every article when necessary. I will summarizetheactual function of every field in another tutorial.MetadataInformation:*Description: It’s a field when you type in written text for your meta description tag. It is significant to make it informative in addition to describing the information of the web page. Ensure that it stays detailed along with short about 156 characters.*Keywords: Right here you can include keywords your website page will be optimized for search engines. They are included with your meta keywords tag. A number of authorities think keywords are no longer utilised by search engines; and we would certainly concur; however, you can still include them if you like.*Author: This field will add meta author tag for a webpage. Virtually pointless through the Website seo position seeing that search engines does not pay that attention to all meta tags.*Robots: You ought to limit crawlers’ the means to access your own content material which is not for any individual to find on a searchengine. If that’s so, you should put values “noindex, nofollow”. There’sjust 4 values in this field - index, noindex, follow, nofollow. But youneed to use only 2 of these separated by comma.Whenever done, it is important to check your spelling, examine justabout all fields and click on ‘Save’.You now are done with your new ‘About Us’ webpage and it is time todevelop a Menu hyperlink for this webpage.

Practical Ways to Improve Website Readability

2 min read

A readable website will encourage your viewers to remain on your websitelonger and investigate your content further. Perhaps they will even comeback and maybe share your website with their friends. The alternative,unfortunately, is an unreadable website to which viewers get annoyed andpromptly leave, never to return. Here are some easy ways to avoid thiscatastrophe and make your website more readable.Keep your pages clean.Do not try to stuff your pages with unnecessary junk. Image backgrounds,flashing ads, and pop updistractions to ruin the point of the page. Instead, use a solidcontrasting background and font. Keepentire viewing experience will be much improved with fewer distractions.Stick to the standard.When someone picks up a brochure to browse, they look inside for thebulk of the text and on the back for contact information. Just as withbrochure printing, websites need to contain certain elements to be morereadable. To vary from the standard usually means to confuse andirritate viewers. Therefore, always make youror both. In addition, do not make any other text blue or underlined.Place the site map at the top of the page and the contact, terms,conditions, and other similarMake the format simple.Do not use frames since these take longer to load, in addition to anumber of other problems. Keep your text blocks small, and separatechunks of text with bullets and subheads. Another way to separate textchunks is to write many small paragraphs. Your text width should also bekept small, about 600 pixels wide, so create columns if need be. Bybreaking up your text, you will make reading more inviting.Organize your site well.A great navigational menu can be a lifesaver. Make sure that your frontpage looks like a front page. Also, keep the basic format, headers,footers, menus, and such the same on every page so that everything iseasy to find.Use text that is easy to read.Avoid tiny fonts and if possible make your text scalable so that yourviewer can choose the size for themselves. Sans-serif and plain textrather than italics are easier to read. Keeping your text consistentwill also help. This means you need to avoid using multiple styles offont and bold or italic fonts.Creating a website with better readability is a gift to your viewers anda smart business move. Take a little bit of time to make sure that yoursite is readable and you will see much better results with your website. 

Early Days

2 min read

title: Early daysdate: 2010-10-16 18:34:30type: postslider_style: sample.cssslide_redirect_url: http://ringalpha.com/blog/early-days/—Over the last few weeks I’ve been ramping up my efforts to get my teethinto all these prototypes I’ve got milling around, most of which arelinked from my homepage. They work but they’re not really manageable oragile from a development perspective.PrototypesAll of the prototypes exist in one form or another, most are in aplayable form but none of them are what I’d consider publishable so theyneed quite a bit of work on them yet. They certainly don’t have goodartwork that will come by me joining with a great artist nor the designfinesse that comes from playing the game and working with smart gamedesigners.Tools & TechI’m focusing on my tech & tools right now and I’ve tidied up lots of thelegacy bits & bobs, things I threw in just to test out if I liked anidea once it was translated into something you could play. More formalclass structures, tidied up the interfaces and generally movedeverything towards C++ to enable me to move prototypes to otherplatforms relatively quickly. I’ve also unified the common bits of codeinto something that’s more usable across titles, which was the aim goingforwards.Hardware I code everything on a Mac Mini now and my PC hasn’t been on for manymonths. My PC is faster and I prefer W7 to OSX but it’s also true thatit’s a damn sight noisier, consumes more power and I can’t make iOS appson it *but* I can do everything on a Mac. I never thought I’d be inthe Apple camp but needs must.I did buy a cool bit of kit in the form of a Synology DS210j DiskStationNAS with 4Tb of storage. It’s cool because it’s a little server; not only does doe the usual file serving, media serving it also has an inbuilt downloader (NNTP/Torrent/file) but I’ve also got it running a SVN servertoo! How cool is that!Building a SeriesMy intent is to bring out a series of games, all of which build on theexperience and tech of the previous one. This not only shortens thedevelopment cycle but it also means that core elements get thoroughfield testing by real people like you as there’s only so much I can testmyself.So, I sit here feeling a bit happier that everything is consolidatingand I’ve chosen which project I’m going to bring out next so it’s allhands focused on that one for now.Studio needs a better nameOh, I’m not too struck on the name ‘Ring Alpha’ either so I may changethe name at some point. The name was thrust upon me when I needed tosetup a UK legal entity for my work, which includes things beyond gamedevelopment so it needed to be something techy and unique, not strictlygames, not strictly IT, not strictly consultant like so I plumbed forthis. I do think I need a new name for the Game Dev bit though.I’ll keep you all updated on progress.Simeon

Where The Money Goes

12 min read

I wanted to share with you a presentation about Where The Money Goesthat is received from making video games. I made this presentation a fewyears ago to a game development studio I was running at the time and Ibelieve everyone found it useful and gained a better understanding ofwhere the money that comes into the business goes before it pays theirwages and why ‘when’ it comes in is important too. I’ve updated thispost since then with more up-to-date principles, information and costsas I learn new things ever day.These are general principles that apply to any business and I’m going tocover the basics to hold on tight, feel free to ask me any questionsin the comments section.Breaking out where the money goesMy initial motivation for writing this post was to answer a question I’dlong since asked myself when I was startingout: “Why do I get paid so little when the business is getting lots of money?”. I wanted to help people understand what the business spent its money on before they got their wages. I appreciate that everyone wasn’t stupid and just thought that 100% of the money coming in went straight to wages but I think there were various pieces of the pie missing.Mid-Size StudioI’ll start with an example pie chart that includes typical costs thatare taken out of revenue fees received for development of a game for amid-size UK studio containing about 35 staff or more. Again, these aretypical but vary depending on the nature of your business.Let’s walk through the components of thisexample: Wages - this is the gross salary you receive before tax andnational insurance costs are taken off Corporate NIC - These are the National Insurance contributions aUK business makes in addition to the NI payments you make yourself Benefits - this is a general roll up for things such as bonus,pensions, healthcare, time-off in lieu and a myriad of other things Recruitment - this is the money the company pays to therecruitment agency that got you the job and I’ve chosen a figure Ithink is typical. It’s typically a one-off payment made when youpass your probation period. This figure obviously varies massivelydepending on the deal your employer has and may not even exist ifyou applied direct.We then have 2 more figures that scale with your business but we’llassume that they apply in a linear fashion for this example Business Costs - this figure of 40% is typical and includes awhole host of costs that I’ll go into later. Needless to saythat if there’s only 1 of you then it’s going to be 100% costagainst your salary. Platform Fee - many platforms such as Apple, Sony, Microsoft alltake 30% of the revenue received as a platform fee. It’s a way forthem to recoup the costs of developer support, administration,marketing and whatever else they consider worthy. I’ve taken this30% and applied it directly to your salary as a ‘tax’ to show theamount of money required to pay your wages.Using these figures, your salary comes in at 39% of gross revenue, i.e.,for every £1 you earn the game needs to earn £2.55.Lets take an array of price points a game may sell at to find out howmany games you’d need to sell for you to get £1 and also an examplesalary of £36,000.Price PointUnit Sales to get your £1Unit Sales to get £36k salary£39.990.062,294£19.990.134,589£9.990.269,182£4.990.5118,382£1.991.2846,094£0.594.32155,471As we can see, if let unchecked typical business costs could easilycareer out of control and result in a game never breaking even.Lean StudioOf course not every studio is like this so lets take a further exampleof a ‘lean studio’ where all the costs are as thin as possible and I’dassume this is typical of a micro or nano studio of employees, notself-employed people.Blitzing through the points about we get to a salary taking up 59% ofthe revenue or in other words for every £1 you earn the game needs toearn £1.72. This figure is obviously much lower because all the costshave been stripped out.Again, using the same format as before we can arrive at some figures forhow many units you’d need to sell to break-even and get your money back. **Unit Sales to get your £1** **Unit Sales to get £36k salary** **Price Point** £39.99 0.04 1,545£19.99 0.09 3,090£9.99 0.17 6,184£4.99 0.34 12,380£1.99 0.86 31,043£0.59 2.91 104,705 —————– ——————————- ———————————–Stripping away the costs obviously means you need to sell fewer games toget the same amount of cash in your pocket at the end of the day.I know I keep saying this but there are so many variables at play andthey apply to different components at different rates and these areindicative numbers only but it doesn’t take long to get these figuresfor any game, studio or business and I have a myriad of tools to captureand expose these costs as well as work out what the break-even unitsales and costs are for numerous platforms.E.g., How many units of a game would you need to sell on iPhone tobreak-even?Business CostsThere’s a large chunk of they money that goes into a mysterious potcalled ‘business costs’ and this little section includes everything thatthe business pays for outside of salary costs. Lets take a look at alist of the obviousones:Project CostsFirst, lets take a look through some typical costs that come in at theproject level and are duplicated for every project the studioundertakes: I.T. Rentals - this is the cost of the hardware & software youuse every day to make thegame: desktop machines, laptops, monitors,dev kits, art packages, IDEs, etc. Middleware - if you use any licensed software such as Unreal,Unity, Scaleform, SpeedTree or anything else like this. Outsourcing: Art, Anim, Audio - these are other costs for thework done by people outside of your studio QA - engaging people to test your game costs money, whether itbe £50 to your friend or employing 100+ people to get your game fromAlpha to Master Materials - all the other bits & pieces youconsume: blankmedia, pens, paper, ink for the printer, books, reference games,etc. Travel - travel to see publishers, marketing events or tradeshows all costs money. Training - now you’re at the event you probably need a ticket toget in, or maybe a specific training course Subsistence - maybe you’re old skool and get some Pizzas induring crunch, maybe you like to take the team out on occasion oreven just a Christmas party. Agent fees - some companies use agents to help them get theirgames signed up to publishers and deals are typically based on apercentage of gross revenue and 10% is a typical value.Studio CostsSecondly, the studio itself costs money to run if you’re making 20 gamesor even if you’re not making any games at all! Office space - the space itself costs money to rent, plusthere’s local taxes, insurance and all sorts of maintenance you’llbe needing Utilities - internet, electric, water and the air-con for yourserver room need to keep on being delivered for you to keep going Equipment - desks, chairs, servers, shelves, whiteboards, Management - larger studios have people who don’t actually makethe games on the front line but are still there and for corporationsthese include people you’ll probably never see including CEOs,Studio Managers, Production, IT, Office Admin, Finance, Marketing,etc. Sales - The studio needs to sell both itself and it’s games withpersonal visits, trade show attendance and maybe adverts in trademagazines for recruitment. Events – Does your studio have events to celebrate keymilestones being passed? Summer Events? Christmas Parties? Legal & Finance - Maybe you need to use accountants to runthrough your figures or audit your returns? Business contracts needa valid legal pass over them that usually involves engaging aspecialised lawyer. If you’re working on long internationalcontracts then maybe you need to dabble in Forward Exchange rates? Miscellaneous - There’s a myriad of small costs such as postage,blackberry fees, free fruit, etc.Tick All That ApplyThe items listed above are ones I typically find and look for in a gamesbusiness but just like us, they’re all very unique and the costs varywildly and in some cases may not apply at all depending on how thebusiness is setup.When The Money Comes InSo far we’ve covered a broad range of topics about where the money goesso lets work through some examples of When The Money Comes In as this iscritical for any business, whether you’re making games or anything else.In my experience, the lack of understanding and focus on Cash Flowis what kills businesses very quickly and is particularly important forWork For Hire studios who rely on doing work and getting paid for itso they can in turn pay their bills.Here’s an example timeline for a work-for-hire studio when they sendtheir milestone after spending 1 month working on it and consideringtypical contracted dates for payment terms that happens in an idealworld. The reality is that these dates slip on both sides but we’llcover that later.We can see that it can be typically at least 45  days before anypayment is received and for those paying attention this is afteryour next monthly salary run. Even in an idealistic world, this causesstrains on the businesses cash flow.Days Event-30 Milestone 1 work in progress for 30 calendar days0 MS 1 Submitted on this date starting a chain  of events15 MS 1 approved, purchase order raised & invoiced30 MS 2 Submitted45 MS 1 Revenue received MS 2 Approved60 MS 3 Submitted75 MS 2 Revenue received MS 3 Approved ———- —————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————Delayed RevenueI’m sure you can imagine the cascading effect of slipping dates anywhereinhere: slipped delivery, delayed approval or late payment can all bring a business to it’s knees very quickly.Diving a little deeper we can see the effect of delaying revenue by 1month on a business that’s expecting consistent monthly revenue.Here’s what this example should look like where the money is receivedconsistently, no slips, no delays and everything is perfect.Revenue Costs Net Profit Acc Profit ———— ————- ————- ————- ————-Now lets take this and delay 1 of the payments by 1 month and we can seethe dramatic effect this has on the business as it’s forced to supportall the costs without any money in the bank to do so.This is what happens when Milestones slip by 1 month and I’m sureyou can imagine what happens if this keeps slipping and slipping withthe studio incurring more costs with no more revenue coming in, justthe figure that was promised. If the studio doesn’t have enough cash inthe bank then this could be fatal.Revenue Costs Net Profit Acc. Profit ————- ————- ————————————————– ————- ————-Increased CostsTaking a slightly different view we can see the effect of the projectcosts increasing in Month 1 resulting in the studio spending all it’smoney just paying the bills. Since the profit isn’t increasing thebuffer isn’t building up so if there’s any late delivery then it’scurtains for the project and it could be for the studio.This can happen when the team size increased to cope with late deliveryor scope increases without a corresponding increase in the revenues.Revenue Costs Net Profit Acc. Profit ————- ————- ————- ————- ————-Forward PlanningI believe I’ve said this a few times by now but business costs can varyimmensely depending on the structure of your business and the workingrelationships you have with your partners.Being predictable and reliable is a core part of running a businessas it’s easier to deal with issues if you can expect them upfront and Ibelieve this is a critical skill for good business managers to have.This predictability becomes absolutely key if you work within a listedcompany as this is typically more important than making a profit or aloss; anticipating this, communicating it and hitting the expectationsis how these companies become successful. Amazingly, if you predict orare expected to make a loss and then you make a profit this can bepotentially bad as it means you don’t have a good grasp on yourbusiness. The city is a complex area and people can make money even ifyou lose, hitting expectations is key.Growing your business and having a large volume of work brings with itan economy of scale as the fixed costs of running the projects isspread across a larger revenue stream. However, large volumes of workalso need more effort and support so it’s a matter of getting thebalance right and choosing a level that you’re comfortable with.Making profit isn’t just about buying yourself a Ferrari, although thatcould happen one day. Your business will probably need the banked profitsome day to get through an inevitable sticky patch.Profitability also brings with it more flexibility in what you do asyou can afford to speculate and take risks on projects that may be evenmore profitable for you but it’s no great loss if you end up breakingeven.SummaryI’ve covered a lot of finance related topics at a very high level inthis post and there’s obviously more too it than a simple blog post cancover but I believe it’s a great introduction to the business that paysmany of our wages.Not everyone wants to run an ever expanding studio as the size incursit’s own increasing risks and stress to go with it. Striking a balanceyou’re happy with is important, for some it’s a 1-man game making gamesin their study and this low overhead, low turnover business can actuallyreap more financial rewards let alone making the owner very happy thatthey are in total control of their own destiny and lifestyle.I’ll spare you the details of the more complex areas of corporatefinance including EBITDAR, COGS, SG&A, CAPEX, gearing and leverage butfeel free to ask.I hope you’ve found this useful and I welcome any questions in thecomments section and I’ll answer what I can.How Does Your Business Tick?I’d love to hear your experiences and get an understanding for whatmakes all of your businesses tick, why not drop a post in the commentssection?Thanks.

4 of the Best Spam Filters for WordPress

2 min read

When a blog receives lots of comments, it is a sign that the blog is apopular one among visitors. On the flip side, a blog with spam commentslooks unprofessional. You can either spend your days deleting all of thespam that your WordPress blog is sure to receive, or you can leave themajority of the work up to spam filters. There are a lot of options outthere for WordPress spam filters, but the following are some of the mostpopular that you may want to try.AkismetAutomatic Kismet (Akismet for short) is very well liked by all who needspam blocked from their blogs. You can get it as a WordPress plugin oryou can go straight to Akismet.com to download this spam filter. Keep itupdated and you will enjoy a spam-free blog space. As Akismet gets toknow your site, it will be able to spot spam with even more efficiency.BadBehaviorThis spam filter vows to slow the “flood” of spam by stopping thembefore they even get sent. In their own words, “Bad Behavior alsotranscends other link spam solutions by working in a completelydifferent, unique way. Instead of merely looking at the content ofpotential spam, Bad Behavior analyzes the delivery method as well as thesoftware the spammer is using. In this way, Bad Behavior can stop spamattacks even when nobody has ever seen the particular spam before.”DefensioDefensio not only acts as a spam filter, it also blocks maliciouscontent and filters profanity and unwanted URLs. This is clearly aone-stop shop for creating a cleaner blog environment. PoweredbyWebsense‘sThreatSeekerNetwork, Defensio is supported by most platforms including WordPress.SpamHitmanThis is a simple spam filter for WordPress, but the best part is thatyou can decide on some of the details. For instance, if you think thatyou might write about poster printing in your blog and you will sayposter printing 10 times but no more than, you can set the spam filterto pick up a comment that says poster printing 11 or more times. Or youcan allow your regular visitor to always be able to comment, even ifthey use poster printing 11 or more times.Spam filters will save you a considerable amount of time and effort whenkeeping your blog clean. Try out each of the above WordPress filters tosee which one works best for you, and then sit back and let your filterdo all of the hard work with blocking spam.

5 Ways to Remote Test Your Website for Usability

1 min read

The usability of your website can be measured to an extent. There areprograms that will test the usability or you can use people to test it.Remote testing allows you to find trouble spots on your website so thatyou can fix them. Let’s say that you have a website the specializesin brochures. You need to know if your users understand how to order brochure printing on your website. Otherwise, you could be loosing valuable customers with a difficult to use website. Here are few ways to remote test yourwebsite.1. Have someone you know test out your website while you screenshareThis can be a very good way to test your website usability. Find afriend or coworker who is honest and helpful. Have them visit yourwebsite while you are screen sharing and on the phone with them. As theylook over your website, ask them general questions that will help you tosee the usability of the site. Ask about their impressions while youwatch them click on2. Use an electronic test that will give you an idea of yourusabilityThis type of unattended research will automatically read your websiteand tell you where individuals will generally look and how you websitemeasures up. You can find many online tools that will measure yourusability in one way or another.3.Usertesting.comUsertesting.com will give you results in less than an hour. For $29 peruser, you will get a 20 minute video of that user making their wayaround your website. They will also give you a written report along withthe video.4. Use forums to answer your questions about usabilityBy asking other impartial users to test out your website, you will get agood idea of itsusability. Hackernews is a good place to get advice on creating a new website. You can also ask about testing your website there.5.Silverbackfor Mac andMoraefor WindowsHere are two programs that use gorilla testing techniques to help youbetter understand your customers and how they use your website. Theyrecord facial expressions along with clicks and other actions. Othertechniques they use are surveys and focus groups.With one or more of these remote testing tools, you can make sure thatyour business website is as effective and successful as it can be. 

What’s going on with Sony, Android and Google?

1 min read

Yesterday we witnessed Google TV open it’sweb-doors and it reminded me of a common thread between Sony and Google.Nov 2009 saw Sonyannounce it was releasing a Xperia phone using Android OSMay 2010 saw Sony announce the first TV to feature GoogleTV,it’s a fair guess that it’s running a variant of Android. “I am delighted to announce the unique alignment of Google’s rapidlygrowing, open source Android platform with Sony’s unparalleledexpertise in the field of TV design and technology.” - Sony’sChairman, CEO and President, Sir Howard StringerIn addition to this alignment there’s also lots of rumours about thingsyou’d associate with an Androiddevice:Aug 2010 rumours around Gamescom about RearTouch, whilst Rear touch isn’t specific to Android, touch alone is somethingwe’ve not seen on a Sony device.Sept 2010 - PlayStation looking for Androiddevelopers. This could be anything from partner marketing apps, PSP2 systems or Google TV PSN connector?Sept 2010 sees Yoshida-san say “Future platforms will bedeveloper-friendly”, could this be an Android based PSP2? It’d certainly be a damn sight easier to make games using a common open-source OS and Sony have been long term fans of open-source platforms such as Linux as we saw when they used to let you install it on your PS3. And many developers will know that all the early development software for their consoles that comes from Japan is typically Linux based, which is a royal PITA.Sept 2010 saw Shaun Himmerick ‘confirms’ the nextPSP in his PAX10 interview. Well, all he did was recognise it’s existence.Does this mean anything? Is it leading anywhere? Who knows but there’s alot of pieces out there. Yes, I did work at Sony but it doesn’t mean Iknow anything more than anyone else as I’m sure you can imagine howlimited information is in a large corporation and it wouldn’t be the 1sttime that everyone else got to find out before the people closest knew.Maybe it’s wishful thinking but I really hope they do use Android, it’dmake all of the game developers lives an awful lot easier and gain someof the ground lost to Microsoft and Apple, who both make it an absolutedoddle to make games for their platforms.

Episodic Game Content Done Right

3 min read

I think there’s a missed opportunity with Episodic games that arecurrently being launched, they’re largely just about delivering a knownexperience over an extended period of time and splitting the coststhroughout each episode.There’s very little focus on the user experience and, more importantly,the social experience that episodic content can repeatedly deliver.I think they key to this is engaging everyone in a simultaneous andrecurring experience, like a TV show.Imagine a chapter of a story driven game like Halo Reach being madeavailable for everyone to play at 8pm on the 1st Sunday of every month,just one chapter, no-one can play it before that time so everyoneexperiences the same event. It could even be that this chapter is onlyavailable to play for a fixed period too, if you missed the event thenyou’ve got to wait for a repeat or get yourself the box-set.I believe this will generate much more exposure for the game where theanticipation of what’s in the episode and the discussions afterwardsmake for a continued presence in peoples minds. Everyone would get thetime to savour the experience and look forwards to the next one, hopingto share this with your friends.A great side-effect of this is that it enables others to join theexperience and catch-up with the previous episodes with everyone liningup at the next event.It’s completely important to give people and end-to-end experience,i.e., a boxed off series with a compelling series ending. This giveseveryone something to share and builds to a great crescendo for youridea.How would you make this happen?I believe that a pre-sold box set, either retail or online, would enableplayers to get their content ready *before* the content is unlocked ata specific time. You have the content in your hands, it’s ready, youknow it’s going to be delivered to you over time so you can judge thevalue.This is a different position to making the game available fordownload/purchase at a set time, this is about unlocking the experience.iTunes has incorporated the idea of a ‘Series Pass’ for TV Seriessince 2006 with the exact model with series such as The Inbetweenersbeing unlocked as they’re aired on TV. It would seem likely that thismodel will extend to games too.Steam have also been supporting this kind of pre-load and unlock foryears where they pre-download content to your PC so that the game isready to play at a specific time, no additional downloads or waiting isnecessary.For other platforms, it would seem trivial to unlock the content basedon a live connection to an ‘unlock server’ instead of the obviousunlocking at a set time based on your PC/phone/console clock.Bonus ExtrasThere’s also the opportunity to engage your audience between events byadding in the usual layers of Making Of documentaries and DeveloperCommentary (Valve have been embeddingcomments this since 2005). These extras could be made available to series subscribers to encourage people to take up the whole package.Benefits to your businessThere is a middle-ground to be had here. As a business you could makeenough content to release but the whole series would be incomplete asyou’d be making the later episodes as you go along.There are pros & cons to this approach.It means you *have* to hit all of your production dates for the laterepisodes or you risk breaking the series and therefore the experienceand we all know there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. This risk ismitigated by the length of your series and the lead time on yourepisode, i.e., if you get 6 months worth of content in the bank beforeyou release the 1st episode then you’re probably going to be OK.One benefit to overlapping release & development is that you can startto incorporate feedback into your episodes that are currently inproduction and also use the revenue to keep your business going.SummaryI believe there’s a great opportunity for well thought out andspecifically written games that maximise the potential of Episodiccontent.It needs a well written story that spans multiple episodes with theemotional peaks & troughs to keep you coming back for more.All of the pieces have existed for a while but no-ones really made a goof it and I believe that the synced mass shared event is key to this.It’s not enough simply to make your game available to download at afixed time, the experience must be shared.

My Favourite iOS Music Apps

1 min read

I’ve spent a little while this week whiling away the hours with a coupleof music related apps for iPhone / iPad I’d recommend you check-out.Perfect for a Sunday morning.BIT.TRIP BEATI sawa video of BIT.TRIP being played over on YouTube and it looked exactlylike my kind of game. It look fun and furious with a great graphic styleall of its own. I had to have it! BIT.TRIP BEAT is the arcade game for the new millennium, fusing Pongwith interactive beats. Use the accelerometer or touch controls tomove the paddle up and down bouncing beats back from which they came!Listen and react to different beat progressions as you try to survivean onslaught of spectacular retro visuals. Successfully chain beatsand obtain the megasphere to go for insane scores, not to mention theelusive “Perfect Score.” Team-up with your friends for the intenseMultiplayer Gameplay Mode! Bounce to the beat with BIT.TRIP BEAT!BIT.TRIP foriPadBIT.TRIP foriPhoneModizerModizer is a great way to check out those old game tracks like ChrisHuelsbeck’s Turrican 2 Intro, and Rob Hubbard’s Lightforce and Zoidsplayed on SID and MOD, not only does it sound amazing but it includes anice visualiser too.It has built in access to HVSC and other libraries of music making it abreeze to find your favourite tunes and be amazed at what can beachieved in a tiny bit of memory.Get your self some old skool tunes! Modizer is a multiformat modules & chiptunes player which allows youto listen to computers and consoles music (C64, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST,Amiga, PC, GB, NES, SNES, SMS, Genesis/Megadrive, PcEngine, PSX,…). Minimum requirement is iPhone 3G/iPod 2G, iOS 3.0 or more. Modizer is also optimized for iPad & iPhone 4. Based on multiple high quality playback engines and using either theFTP server, the builtin WEB browser or the integrated Modland & HVSCdatabases you can discover or listen again to the best music from thevideogames (8/16bits era) and demoscene history. Discover some real gems from famous people like Chris Huelsbeck,Jochen Hippel, Purple Motion, Lizardking, Audiomonster or Rob Hubbard,… Modizer foriPhone Modizer foriPad **

The Definitive Guide To Pitching Your Video Game

12 min read

Over the years I’ve both pitched many games and been on the receivingend of pitches too, all of which range from a small game worth £100k upto AAA hits of close on £10M. I’ve worked my way through the good & badand I wanted to share with you my complete guide to pitching a game.In essence, Pitching is about building a bridge between the Artand the Money, let’s learn how to make that bridge.In order to make this connection we need 3 key elements to besuccessful. Theseare: -------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ A **Great Idea** A **Good Business Case** and a **Great Team** to execute it ![image](/assets/image47.png "image") [![image](/assets/image_thumb7.png "image")](http://game-linchpin.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/image48.png) [![28561_401001936774_749226774_4419975_4373594_n](/assets/28561_401001936774_749226774_4419975_4373594_n_thumb.jpg "28561_401001936774_749226774_4419975_4373594_n")](http://game-linchpin.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/28561_401001936774_749226774_4419975_4373594_n.jpg) -------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------A WarningWhat’s presented in this post are general rules that work in most casesbut these aren’t definitive rules, you’ll need to adapt them to suityour own needs but the principles are sound and are well-tested.I also focus on the more traditional slide based presentation that canbe done in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, a series of slides oreven a flip book. These forms work for most projects but the morecreative and unique projects sometimes need something more tangible likea video or prototype to get a complex idea across.Great IdeaLets drill down into the most important part, the Great Idea that yourpresenting. There are 3 main properties your great idea should have… ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ [![Glastonbury-Festival-2008-001](/assets/Glastonbury-Festival-2008-001_thumb.jpg "Glastonbury-Festival-2008-001")](http://game-linchpin.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Glastonbury-Festival-2008-001.jpg) ![image](/assets/image5.png "image") [![six-sense](/assets/six-sense_thumb.jpg "six-sense")](http://game-linchpin.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/six-sense.jpg) It needs to be **relevant to a big enough audience** It needs to **stand out from the crowd** And be **Innovative**, in that it offers something new in actual game experience that sets it apart from other games in the genre. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------So how should we structure the pitch? A good structure for a pitch is tocover some basic areas to make sure that all the key information isshared High Concept Key Features Storyboards Business Case Pitch Summary Defensive SlidesHow Long Should It Be?It’s been scientifically proven that 10 minutes is the greatest amountof time a person can concentrate before their mind starts to wander.It may not sound very long but you may well find you struggle tocommunicate everything you want in that time and you’ll be constantlytrimming your presentation, finely tuning each word and image to makesure you get the most bang-for-buck.I would say that you should be able to get across your High Concept inless than 1 minute, leaving you 9 minutes to get across your features,scenarios, business case and summary before questions.High Concept {style=”clear: both;”}The first element to share is your High Concept, what is the gamereally all about?It should be a compelling and unique idea that can be communicated injust a couple of sentences. This is commonly known as the “ElevatorPitch” with the idea being that you could jump in a lift on the groundfloor with the person you’re presenting to and make your pitch memorablebefore they leave on the 2nd floor.This means that it’s important that your high concept is easy tocommunicate, memorable & easy to pass on.Once that person gets out of the elevator they’re going to tell someone“Wow! I just heard a great idea in the life, let me tell you aboutit…”Remember this is a hook, it’s a seed, it’s the first contact with youridea but it should be finely tuned and water-tight.Preparing this short High Concept is a tough exercise but it reallyfocuses your attention and gets to the core of your game idea.There’s an even shorter form of High Concept that’s often called the“X Statement”, this encapsulates the essence of your idea in just afew words. They’re not intended to tell someone everything about youridea but just enough to get their appetite going.Here are a few examples, you could probably guess the game from just thestatement, which is the idea.![image](/assets/image10.png "image")"Improve the Age of your Brain in just 10 minutes a day"![image](/assets/image11.png "image")"Create virtual people and run their lives"Set The Scene {style=”clear: both;”}So, you’ve nailed the High Concept and now it’s time to give somemore detail so everyone understands exactly what our offering is. TheHigh Concept followed by this extra level of detail will frame the restof the presentation.You’re aiming to go top-down, start high and drill in to more detail asyou go deeper into your presentation. This way the concept starts tobecome clearer and clearer as you progress.Adding in layers like this also ensures that everyone is expecting thesame thing, it would be awful if you got 1/2 way through your pitch andsomeone said “Ohh, I thought you were pitching a Racing Game but it’sactually a Farming Game”Cover thebasics: Who is the player in the game? What are they doing in the game? Why are they doing what they’re doing? Where is the game set? How do they do it? Who’s the audience? What platform is it on?Remember, keep it high level, add in the layers later in yourpresentation.Key FeaturesIt’s generally held that you only need 4 elements to a product before abuyer will make their decision. No more, no less.We have the High Concept so we only need 3 Key Features to getto a decision point. This means it’s incredibly important that these fewthings add up to something amazing and it’s a lot of pressure to makesure they’re complete and enticing but it’s a tried & tested formula.The Key Features need to deliver on the promise set by the HighConcept, they need to expose unique and exciting elements of your gameexperience.Remember:We only want 3 Key FeaturesIt’s probably true that your game has loads of features but you have topick the 3 strongest features on which to hang your pitch.Make It VisualBy far the best way to communicate your High Concept and 3 KeyFeatures is to use visuals in whatever format you choose.Let’s use one of my favourite games, Burnout Paradise (the only PS3Platinum I have), as an example of how this may work by using some stockfootage from around the ‘net. You’d obviously need to use relevant andspecific imagery for your own pitch. These could easily be anything frompencil sketches, concept drawings, renders or screen captures from aprototype.High Concept The original Burnout game’s X Statementis: “High-Speed, High-Octane, High-Impact Action”The use of the word “Impact” has 2 meanings here, firstly it meanscrashing, secondly it refers to the effect it has on you.Risk = Reward {style=”clear: both;”}What takes Burnout beyond a regular car driving game is the element of“Risk = Reward”. The more dangerous you drive, the more risks you takethe greater the reward. This goes around in a loop as the Reward isboost, which enables you to go faster and take more Risks, whichgenerates more Boost.Paradise City {style=”clear: both;”}“Explore over 250 miles of open road, discovering jumps, stunts andshortcuts.”This was one of the first games to take place in an expansive open worldcalled Paradise City. Races and events took place on streets you cruisedaround, they crossed over each other and the end of one race became thestart of another - or you could just cruise away.Choose Your Route {style=”clear: both;”}The open world naturally facilitated choosing your own route through theworld, you could take short-cuts, scenic routes and weave your way underfreeways to beat your opponents to the finish line.These are obviously simple examples taken from stock footage but you cansee how they all fit in with Burnout Paradise’s High Concept and theysupport each other to make a compelling case. Remember, you don’t needall of your features exposed; just the Key 3 Features to sell youridea. You can leave your various online modes, customisation, range ofvehicles, DLC plans for later.Movies {style=”clear: both;”}If you have the time then a Movie can be a great way to get across yourpoint. You may splice bits from other games, TV, Hollywood, DVDs in aform referred to as a “rip-o-matic” to get the energy, emotion andessence of your game idea across but it’s very easy to bemis-understood and set the wrong expectations using this method. Youdon’t want to be promising life-like visuals or amazing narrative ifthey’re not in your plans so be careful.Stick to communicating your Key Features and the basicsof: High Concept Core experience Character / Objective Theme & toneStoryboards {style=”clear: both;”}A great way to get across an idea is to take your audience through theexperience in the form of a storyboard, walk-through or scenarios.The aim of your storyboard is the same, its sole aim is to get acrossyour High Concept and 3 Key Features. Hollywood and TV have usedthis model for years and it’s also a great tool to use once your game isin production too to make sure everyone is going in the same direction.Think of them as a comic that show your features in action as the playermay experience them. This gives them context, meaning and detail thatfurther cement your idea.Don’t go crazy, stick to 1 or 2 Storyboards and it’ll be enough to makeyour point and you definitely don’t want to bore anyone by saying thesame thing over and over.Some ideas benefit from more of a narrative context to get the emotionacross and telling a Story is the best way to do this. The emotionmakes the feature more memorable too. Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideallyset up to understand stories Roger C Schank, Cognitive Scientist An example Storyboard {style=”clear: both;”}Let’s use another of my favourite games as an example of how we can usea Storyboard to get across our Key Features in a way that is compellingand memorable.Here’s a Storyboard that we could use to describe the action of aSurvival Horror featuring Close-Quarter Intense Fights, InteractiveWorld and Highly Intelligent Opponents in one go. Read through and I’msure you’ll agree it’s a lot more exciting and compelling than abullet-point list. Player is trapped from all sides in a building and must make a stand The fight begins as the zombies pile in through the broken windows Running upstairs isn’t enough, the zombies pursue from the outsideand break in on the 1st floor Player’s only hope is to push the ladder away along with all thezombies climbing up The fight is too much so Player escapes through a 1st floor brokenwindow Sadly, Player lands right in front of a tooled-up zombie whofinishes Player offBusiness CaseNow you’ve got the game idea across its time to focus on the money;costs & profit are key areas to cover by discussing the business casefor the project. As a Developer you’re aiming to prove that you can makethe game you’ve promised for a sensible amount of money and what theup-side is for both parties.“This is show business, not show friends” - Jerry Maguire![image](/assets/image23.png "image")As we’ve seen on Dragon’s Den many times there are 2 main aspects to adeal: the Emotional side where the buyer is figuring out if they like the Idea (including the Team making it) and the Practical business needs. There are many times on DD where the idea is great but the Dragon’s just don’t like the person pitching the idea.They’ll be asking the followingquestions: Is there an audience for it? Can this team make it? What’s the teams heritage? Have they donethis kind of game before? How much do I think it’s worth? Is the proposal about right for thisscope of game? Does it meet my business needs? Does it fit with portfolio & strategy? Show them that fits withintheir portfolio of games and expands it in new areas How much Risk is involved? Can *we* make money?As a presenter, your role is to make sure that you answer thesequestions accurately and with confidence and make them want to giveyou the money!Portfolio fit – show who this fits in with other games the companymakes by doing your research beforehand.Team heritage – Give a brief overview of the highlights of the teamspedigree and expose key people to bring kudosHeadline costs & timeline – keep the figures high level but don’tforget to include a time-line too, how much and when does the money goout. Share your expected time-line for delivery of the game to enablethe buyer to think about the earliest point they could sell the game.Next Steps – remind them of the next phase of concepting orpre-production and what it will bring. After all, the money you need upto that point is all that you’re really looking for a commitment for atthis stage.Pitch SummaryTell them what you’ve just told them!The sticky bit of business is now down and it’s time to re-emphasisewhat a great idea it is and remind them that it’s something they reallywant to be a part of by re-stating your High Concept and 3 KeyFeatures.Defensive Slides {style=”clear: both;”}Now here’s a top-secrettip: Defensive Slides.These slides hide at the back of your presentation, beyond the “AnyQuestions?” slide  and their sole purpose is to be there to support youranswers to any detailed questions that may come up.Think about what these questions could be during your preparation, maybethey’re slides you culled while you tried to get it down to 10 minutes.Think about the worst questions you could get, the ones you dread andget the answer ready and pop in any additional slide you have thatsupport your answer. It’s comforting to know that they’re there andawesome to flick to if the question comes up.They show you’re ready and you’re thinking about your proposition fromall angles.I’d usually include a more detailed financial break-down in here as wellas relevant slides such as detailed milestone schedules, DLC plans,feature lists, competitive analysis, detailed team bios, references,alternative date scenarios (bigger team/longer time), etc.SummaryLets cover the main pointsagain:Make sure your Great Idea is unique and has a big enough audiencePresent the idea visually, cut the word count on the slides themselvesto make it more memorableFocus on the key points, get the hook in to entice the buyer for moreinformation. Don’t overwhelm them.Provide a completesolution: Great Idea, Great Team, Great Business CaseI hope you enjoyed this post and find it useful, I’d love to hear youropinion in the comments section below.Further ReadingThe original BioshockPitch, kindly shared by Irrational Games.An article written in2007 on pitching games

Flow - Make Better Games

7 min read

I’ve been meaning to re-present something I did for a whole gamedevelopment studio a while back about ‘Flow’. It instantly improvedproduction and was something we held dear as a team.Have you ever said anythinglike: “Wow, is it that time already?” “Sorry, I was miles away” “I get my best work done when everyone’s gone home!”If the answer is yes, then you’ve experienced a state of Flow andmost likely been incredibly productive. It’s sometimes called being “inthe zone” too among others. Here’s my take on a well-known psychologicalstate and why it’s important to game developers.Flow is a highly productive state of mind, time slips by and you blitzthrough work, making fewer mistakes, no thought about how much effortyour making and generally higher quality thinking goes into it too. “Flow is a condition of deep, nearly meditative involvement. In thisstate, there is a gentle sense of euphoria, and one is largely unawareof the passage of time.” DeMarco.I’ve been a long time supporter of enabling people to enter this stateof Flow and stay there so they can do their best work and enjoy it.It’s important for managers, colleagues, producers and businesses torecognise that supporting this can make a real difference to the qualityof your game.As you settle in for agood working session, you slip from your Regular un-productive statethat you sit at your desk at, through your Immersion phase into astate of Flow and this whole process typically takes you about 15minutes to get through, although it can vary from person to person.InterruptionsWe’ve recognised that the state of Flow is important and that ittypically takes you 15 minutes to get there. The problem here isthat there are many distractions and interruptions that break yourconcentration and send you crashing back up through the layers toreality.These interruptions mean you’re now back to the start and it’s going totake you yet another 15 minutes to get back down there and if you’d onlyjust got there then it was also a waste of your last immersion. That’s15 minutes lost for every interruption you get. This can be incrediblyfrustrating and it drives me insane!Imagine a horrible state we’re you’re constantly interrupted and neverget into Flow.Explicit Interruptions You get an email pop-up – +15 minutes IM pops up – +15 minutes Telephone call – +15 minutes At desk requests - +15 minutes ‘ping’ from a new text message on your mobile - +15 minutes Starting a long build – +15 minutesImplicit Interruptions Noise Interrupting colleagues – how often does your neighbours phone gooff?You can quickly see how this can mount up to a problem and in a biggerteam the problem compounds itself as the people who have beeninterrupted start sending emails, pop around to someone for a chat, askif you want to join them for a coffee, etc.There’s also a consideration for time of day too as if it’s close toyour break/lunch/home time then you’re most likely to just not bothertrying to get backI had a particular problem when I was running a team and sitting amongthem. I often had to use the phone to make or receive business calls. Irapidly became aware that every time I did that people stopped workingto listen to what I was saying and I was obviously disturbing them. Theyweren’t cross, they were just interested in what I was talking about andoften asked questions. I intended this to be transparency but I wascausing a whole load of drag on people’s time.You’ll also see this happen when you approach to ask someone a questionand the others around them drift out so they can pay attention.Mitigating InterruptionsHere are a few things you can do to try to helpyourself: Turn communications systems off and let everyone know why you’redoing it; E-Mail, IM and Phone. It’s not going to be forever and I’msure your manager/lead will be happy you want to be focused. Use your email apps Out Of Office system to auto-respond lettingpeople you’ll get back to them soon. This prevents them fromthinking you’re ignoring them for no reason. Set your email app to only check emails every 30 mins or so. Doemails really need an instantaneous response? ‘Zebra’ Mail - I’ve also used the email apps rules systems topickup keywords in the subject line to bring an alert up. In myexample people knew that putting the word ‘Zebra’ in the subjectline would mean it would get my instant attention. I could alsochange the word to prevent people just using it all of the time. Put your headphones on. This seems to be the internationalsymbol for Do Not Disturb plus you’ve got a damn good excuse for notresponding to general chat as you can’t hear them! You don’t have tolisten to music either, just pop your headphones on. Door Etiquette - If you’re fortunate to have your own officethen adopt a door protocol suchas: Door Open - ready for interruption Door ajar - priority interruptions only Door closed - Do Not Disturb on pain of death Consider other people’s desire to be undisturbed, do you really need ananswer to that question now?  Try and use appropriatecommunication: Time critical: voice Immediate & discreet: Instant Message Can wait: e-mailTeams and Studios should support this whole way of working by beingconsiderate and enabling people to work for extended periods in anundisturbed state.How long to stay in Flow & ExceptionsIn our game development world there are typically 2camps: Developers and Managers.Developers generally need to stay focused for 2 hrs to get anythingmeaningful done and make progress. I’ve rarely seen anything take lessthan this and staying focused for more than that is difficult.Managers are exceptions as they typically work in 20 min batches ifthey’re lucky. Their job requires constant monitoring and attention toothers and they need to use email, phone and IM to communicatethroughout the studio.People in a Lead role are caught between the two roles as they are oftenasked to both Develop and Manage. In this position they need time to dothe work but they’re constantly interrupted and this often leads to asense of immense frustration. I often see Leads spending the regularworking hours being interrupted and attending meetings but staying lateto do their work. It’s a tough place to be and the only advice I cangive is to try to time-box your availability so people know whichhat you’re wearing at any point in time.ConsequencesThere are natural consequences of not considering Flow.Being mindful of it and actively supporting it improves efficiency,quality of work and aids progression. All of which make for happierDevelopers and a better game.The natural opposite of this in a world where interruptions are rife andpeople can’t work are poor performance, poor quality of work and mostlikely late delivery.We all know that the work still needs doing so in the latter example,people end up working overtime to compensate. This overtime usuallyoccurs when all the interruptions are gone so people get work done.Strive to keep a working environment that enables people to Flow asoften as possible.Meta-FlowIn addition to the regular working flow I also believe there’s a conceptof Meta Flow if we take the principles of having a continuous andfocused train of thought about a particular subject over an extendedperiod.This comes in to play when you’re team members are working on aparticular item for an extended period of days, even weeks. Their mindis full of a single task and shouldn’t be polluted or interrupted byother things occurring. Think of a physics programmer being pulled offto do work on the rendering system only to return back to physics ashort while later. In this scenario it makes sense for them toconsecutively focus on Physics.SummaryBeing aware of, honouring and supporting Flow can make a realdifference to your game development team and therefore the game.Encourage everyone in your organisation to learn about it and respectit.Further Reading•“Peopleware”– Tom DeMarco•“Cringe from crossing a concentrating coder”http://liw.iki.fi/liw/texts/flow.en•“Promoting Flow in Software Development”http://www.davethehat.com/ot2000/unblocking.htm

6 Excellent Tips and Resources for Web Design

2 min read

Web design is a whole new type of design. You still follow many of thedesign rules that apply to print designslike brochuresor posters.However, web design presents new possibilities and new challenges thatbrochure printing will never see. Here are some tips and resources tohelp with those new challenges and possibilities.Use a Neat and Tidy TemplateYour page layout has a lot to do with the usability of any web page.This list frompsd.tutsplus will show you some templates that will optimize the design of your web pages in the same way templates can be chosen for optimal brochureprinting. Or check out thisarticle that gives some incredible resources for improving HTML and CSS codes.Make Your Site Easily NavigableIn order for your users to feel at ease on your website, they will needto be able to find their way around. Yourtheir location on the page should make sense. Check out this article tofind out more about WebsiteNavigation.Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are Replacing Table-based WebsitesYou will find that there are many advantages to using CSS for your webpages, including a much faster load time. If you are unfamiliar withCSS, check out these CSS stylestutorials. Or you can check out these free free CSS templates and layouttemplates. You will also find these CSS tools and editors and reference chartsuseful.Make Sure Your Site Works with All Screen ResolutionsDesigning stretch layouts will ensure that all of your viewers have anattractive and easy to use site, no matter what their screen resolution.Find out how to achieve this goal by reading this article on designingwebsites for allresolutions.Make Your Site Compatible with all BrowsersThe big name browsers make up 95% of the world’s browsers. If yourdesign is compatible with them, you are in great shape. If you needhelp, read this article on making your site cross browser compatible in5 easysteps.Create a Scalable SiteYou need for your design to be scalable so that it looks good on anysize of screen. This can be somewhat difficult, since so many screensizes are available these days, but try out an easy code for CSSdesigns for your images for a simple solution. Or you can check out a tutorialon creating scalable sites using DreamweaverCS4.Designing a visitor-friendly website is important for the success of thesite. Make sure to follow the tips above so that your web design is aseffective as it needs to be.

20 years of a Video Game Developer’s Career – Part 4

9 min read

I’d like to share with you my game development career experience as partof a series of posts, let’s rejoin the story at during the twilight daysof PlayStation 2 when I started at Kuju in Sheffield. I’ve included alot of photos in this post so you may even make an appearance!Kuju Sheffield v1Iwas fortunate to be have formed strong relationships with people acrossthe industry and I was brought in as employee #2 for the newly formedKuju studio in Sheffield where the next phase of my career beganincluding many of the people I’d worked with in Leeds on the emergingplatforms.Kuju had recently been listed on the stock market and was expandingrapidly with studios in Guildford, London, Brighton and now Sheffield.Starting out at Kuju Sheffield was an exciting time, there wereessentially 4 of us in the 1st few weeks holed up inside a tiny officeunder one of the stands of the football stadium for Sheffield United.The room was long and thin with only a high tiny window at one end andit was very reminiscent of the early days of my career back at Alligata.In this tiny space we not only crammed ourselves but an immense serverrack that was built for the future, the server itself was incrediblynoisy and it appeared to be made even more so by the small environment.The room soon became hot and noisy but we were enjoying ourselves.Dave, Nick, Tony and myself beavered away making a few PS2/X360/PC portsfor the main Kuju office while we found our feet and got our ownprojects, which didn’t take long and we were expanding quickly. Date: 2003 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 4 Projects: 1 Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox, PCKuju Sheffield v1.1 Within a few weeks we expanded into a larger office on the same floorthat took us up to about 15 people before we needed to move again. Wewere working on a football game for Codemasters at this point and westarted to bring in some great staff who were unfortunate casualties ofthe demise of Warthog studios. It would turn out that we’d stay togetherfor many years and we had a great time.Working under a football stadium posed its own challenges with the mostprominent one being that we weren’t allowed in the building during aperiod of 2hrs before to 2hrs after a match! This was particularlyfrustrating when we had deadlines to hit as we were simply evacuatedfrom the building. As producer/project manager, I even went to theextent of planning the milestones to avoid home match days.The servers furiously buzzed away in the corner and we delivered thegame on time and this won us another contract.I was named as Technical Director at this point but I was pretty muchdoing anything that needed to bedone: building desks, installingcabling, running servers, finance, business development, training,project management, programming and a load of other stuff. All the stuffeveryone does in a small business and it was fun.We delivered the game on PS2 and XBox as a team and we were hungry forme but we really need to move out so we relocated across town into theposh Media Center. Date: 2003 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 10-15 **Projects:** 1 Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox, PCKuju Sheffield v1.2 Our studioincreased quickly over the next few years peaking at about 40 staffacross 3 projects being made on PC, PSP, Xbox & PS2.We had specialist staff now and we started to get some real traction.We were making a Flight Simulator for PSP, Football Action game forconsole, Football Management game for PC, Social Quiz game for PS2,Fitness game connected to a cross-trainer, TV<>game cross-over pilotand lots of little trinkets on the side.People came and went but we remained pretty stable and everyone appearedto be enjoying themselves.My named role as Tech Director was now largely being done by one of ouroriginal lead programmers where I was pretty much acting as DevDirector, setting out production process, managing finance, workingacross sites and a myriad of other things.I attended frequent meetings with the Execs at Kuju presenting projects,new business and finance reports all of which I’d prepared and ran. Ihad good relationships with our clients as I was their day-to-daycontact.I was also getting more involved in the people side of the businessagain, hiring, firing, reviewing and applying the regular attention thatan active group of developers required.Despite all of this, we were struggling to get in new work along withmany other developers and the prospects didn’t look good. Date: 2005 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 15-35 **Projects:** 3 Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox, PCKuju v2.0 - The King is Dead What happened nextwas a blur of rapid change.Our incumbent Studio Manager retired and I was asked to take over as I’dbeen doing a large part of the work anyway. It didn’t feel like much ofa change for these reasons and I relished the opportunity to take thestudio forwards.I made a promise toeveryone: I would take us into a new era and get us a ‘next-gen’ project, we would do this by standing on the shoulders of Unreal 3. We would develop expertise in this area that would benefit usall.Numerous people shifted around within the studio, backfilling all thepositions and this gave everyone a new round of energy.I worked hard over a few months and I got us another contract - thistime it was significant as it was on ‘next-gen’ consoles and representeda massive improvement in our prospects. We all relished the opportunity.We began work on our game, really pushing ourselves and learning newplatforms and new ways of working.Werapidly ran out of space and we outgrew our offices where the mainproblem was that our expansion had caused us to take on additional,separate, offices in the same building. This was workable previously aswe’d been split across 3 games in 3 offices so it kinda worked but itfailed when all of us were on 1 project.In hindsight, this is a great way to scale up. Take on multiple smallprojects then combine your team to make a larger team for a singleproject.So, I hunted around for a new home for our studio and I found one justaround the corner. Date: 2005 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 30-35 **Projects:** 1 Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox, PCKuju v2.1 - Custom Fit Office Our newoffices was brilliant. I managed to find us a large open-plan space andI planned the floor space incorporating meeting rooms, a small office(for me), storage space, kitchen and other bits and bobs. We got tochoose the colour scheme, flooring and everything! Of course I can’tclaim sole ownership of all of this.Our Art Director, Nick, and Tech Director, Dino, and many other peopleplayed a key role in making this a success.It took a few weeks to come together and we were so excited to bemoving, even it if was just around the corner.I think it’s safe to say that we enjoyed our new space.We had exciting times too, we had people trapped in a lift and had to call out the fire brigade that amused everyone except those trapped and we there was also a MASSIVE fire opposite our building and we just watched from our windows.During all of this we were still working on our game and all of ourother commitments but it all seemed to gel.I structured the studio to be as agile as possible and we started toinvade the new territory of Outsourcing the artwork that very few peoplewere doing at the time. It just made complete sense.Meeting the Stars Our football game was a dream come true for a handful of us as we wentto Barcelona and Milan to go behind the scenes of the largest clubs atBarcelona, Inter Milan and AC Milan to capture reference of the stars. From all 3 teams we got to meet all the stars, agents and managers,take detailed reference photos of everyone from many angles. We evenwent out for dinner with LionelMessi!Kuju v3.0 - becoming ChemistryThe higher-level business was goingthrough a transition. The many Kuju studios in London, 2 in Guildford,Sheffield and Brighton all had their own niche and identity and it wasbecoming increasingly confusing for us internally and it also must havebeen very strange for our prospective clients. We would attend meetingsand say “Hi, we’re from Kuju and…” …. “Didn’t we just see you guys?”… “No, that must have been one of our other studios…we specialise inX and would like to show you Y”. etc.Re-branding was the order of the day, Brighton went first and became ZoeMode and we followed on quickly afterwards changing our name toChemistry.The name Chemistry worked for us, it represented us bringing togetherdifferent elements of a game and making something new and neverexperienced before. It solidified our messaging and provided a greatidentity for us as a studio to get behind. We had banners, marketing,press, t-shirts and a whole range of other things branded up. Ouroffices were white, clean, sterile with a few hints of colour.Back on the floor, I’d also been pushingnew contracts and we were now working on 3 separate PS3 and X360 games.We had an FPS, a Football game and we were also helping Midway out onone of their projects.As a studio, we were immensely busy and the amount of personal work wasstacking up plus I was aiming to keep everything on an even keel.Due to the nature of working as a remote office, as well as running 3next-gen projects and running a studio I was left also doing Officemanagement, HR, finance, answering the phones, ordering toilet rolls,managing servers, doing the post, fixing desktop systems, buildingfurniture among other things.As management, there was myself and 1 other Project Manager doing all ofthis together. You can imagine what this did to me as a result. Date: 2007 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 35-40 **Projects:** 3 Platforms: PlayStation 3, XBox 360, PCEnough is enoughDespite great prospects and a wonderful team, I’d had enough and I worked with the Execs to bring in Mike as a replacement Studio Head and I sadly quickly left the business with nowhere else to go. These were tough times and sometimes people just won’t listen to repeated cries for support and see the issues that are staring them right in the face. It sometimes takes a drastic measure to make people realise what’s goingoff.So, I left Kuju and a great team. My time at Kuju was the happiest andmost complete I’d ever felt and it felt like I’d let a lot of peopledown but I had to move on.What next? Across to the dark sideThe next phase of my career was completely unknown and it took me a fewmonths to find a role that suited me. I was fortunate to have 2 greatoffers: 1 from Codemasters, 1 from Sony. Which one did I take?This is where we’ll join the story next time…A few memoriesFurther Reading Series Part1 Series Part2 Series Part3

A warm fuzzy feeling

1 min read

I always get a warm fuzzy feeling when I get to know that people enjoyedthe games I made all those years ago…in todays world it’s relativelyeasy to find people who were previously shrouded in mystery and youcould never reach them.Do you connect with people who make things you enjoy?  Arabian Knights (via satansam@YouTube) Just a little message to say this game was one of the staple games ofmy childhood. There was one level I could never get past, I think itwas on a pirate ship... by that point in the game I had no lives leftso it was a struggle for a 10 year old xD.But yea. You programmed a brilliant game. Every part of that game waswell made, the controls, the music, the artwork. Great stuff.So with that in mind, cheerio!

Epic Citadel - lean, mean development

2 min read

Therecent outing on iPhone of the amazing looking Unreal Engine 3 demoentitled EpicCitadel(available free) by Epic really shows the underlying capability of thehardware that current mobile devices have. In short, it’s like nothingyou’ve seen on any iOS device so far. But is it all good for gamedevelopers?I’m reminded when I see such apparent wonders of technology thatactually, this is what most developers can achieve if they’re preparedto go as low down in the API as they can, right down the HAL ifpossible. The closer you get, the more layers of noisy slow API you getpast and the more precious CPU & GPU time you get to spend on yourcontent.I’m also reminded of the fat, lazy techniques that it’s easy to get awaywith when you’ve got a lot of CPU & GPU power to play with on mostnon-portable systems such as PS3 / X360 / PC / Mac.Why bother to optimise your artwork, level design, code when you canjust let the video card do all of the work for you? This is a badattitude.Sloppy implementation really hurts handheld devices and the best teamsknow how to be lean with their systems and really squeeze every ounceout of the available hardware. This is generally good practice anyway.As an example for iPhone; If you can, go straight pastCOCOS2D / Unity /Prime to EAGL and Open GLES. From here low-level code, smart techniques, clever level design and diligent artists will all combine to get you a great, fast experience. I appreciate it’s tougher to do but the benefits are worth the effort.If you’re not careful, the danger then is adding in fat such asscripting languages such as LUA or UE3Kismet (Unreal’s embedded scripting language) that cost you performance to interpret at run-time.You should also consider the type of game you make. I’ve personally workon a few UE3 titles and from personal experience, and  many game devswill tell you, UE3 is great at making Gears of War type games. Thefurther you get away from doing short-view FPS games, the more and moreof UE3 you have to re-write to make it work. Just ask the team on APBwho tried to make an open-world MMO using it.Try and think about this when you’re setting out with your systemarchitecture and you’re choosing your low-level systems that you’regoing to build everything on top of. Make sure it’s right, make sureit’s going to stand the test of time and get the game *you* want tomake.Check out what can be achieved in just 4,096bytes if you try.

Avoiding Redundancy 2

2 min read

I very recently wrote a post entitled ‘Why Does Redundancy AlwaysHappen In GameDevelopment?’ that kinda hit the spot with a few people and I think it needs more context so I thought it worthwhile giving a separate update.It’s a tough topic to discuss and it always hasnegative connotations but it’s a fact of life and ignoring it and notbeing prepared is a bad thing.I can totally see how the provocative title and lack of context could have riled some people so here’s some context. Redundancy is obviously a real and horrible event that happens and it can be mitigated by properly running a business but it’s largely inevitable.My recent experience is based around running mid to large-scale teams of30-80 people across multiple projects and the level of commitment thatgoes with that. My focus is on quality, delivery and profitability ofall the work I do. The original post was intended to make people awareof the fact that if they do not consider what happens at the end of aproject and blindly go off on a creative whim then don’t be surprised ifyour business fails. This is obviously fine if you’re motives are purelyhobbyist and you never intended to be a business, or stay really smallanyway.Outside of the hobby developers making video games is an “industry”about making money, for which you need to “shift boxes”. As much as welike to think we’re being totally creative, most people in video gamesonly do this so they can pay their bills. After all, we all need to livesomewhere and pay for food for which we need money, that we get frommaking games, that people buy.It’s actually a “box shifting creative industry”, I completely supportthat as it’s ultimately creativity that sells games and the 2 areintrinsically linked. There is 1 more important criteria though, whichis quality. Quality sells games like hot cakes and there are manyfactors towards driving quality upwards. Oh, and marketing, goodmarketing will sell the most un-creative/poor quality things as I’m sureyou’ve witnessed. Oh and theaqueducts. :)During my career I have seen all the problems occur in business time andtime again from big businesses through to small businesses, I’veoccasionally been part of the mess and more frequently seen others getcaught up in the demise of a company. In pretty much all of these casesit’s been avoidable.Businesses, regardless of what they’re doing, need to be agile and ableto cope with the ebb and flow of the demands during the productionlifecycle. Smart use of outsourcing, freelance / contract staff in theright place and prove fruitful and help you’re business remain stableand able to weather the storm. I have strived to ensure that projectsand I run and businesses I’m involved with consider this and mitigatethe risk of redundancy where possible.Thankfully, redundancy always presents new opportunities and it’s timeto pick yourself up and get back on the horse. After all, what doesn’tkill you only makes you stronger.0bf3b211ae94473c89f5b05cc5f3cc23

Why Does Redundancy Always Happen In Game Development?

4 min read

It’s worth understanding why redundancies are a natural consequence foran independent studio when they finish a project.Firstly, it’s important to understand that the end of the project isalways the point when the team is the largest, QA come onboard, peopleare generally added to get the project delivered to a high enoughquality.So, what happens when the project ships? What do all of these people do?As much as we’d like to believe that 100% of the team have meaningfulwork, it’s not going to be the case. With the best will in the world a studio will plan follow-on revenuegenerating work but it’s incredibly rare that this work magicallydove-tails into utilising 100% of the available team, or even areasonable chunk of the team. Support work, patching and conceptingfuture projects may all soak up some people but all of this work isstill supported by the revenue of the game that’s now shipped and thecash flow has likely stopped.It’s quite common for studios to work for payments that are milestonebased and low margin so they can remain competitively priced and alsopay the wages but this money stops at the point of delivery. Some gamesare developed against an advance for royalties that usually means thegame was developed for almost no profit on the basis of a big upsideshould the royalties kick in. Publishers are generally not interested in paying for your team to idlearound between projects, they want to pay for the work only and eventhen it needs to be competitively priced.The danger is obviously the low and frequently negative profit marginsduring development that don’t provide a buffer to get the studio throughthe gaps between work.Imagine you’ve made a generous 15% net profit over the life of theproject and you haven’t spent any of this money on other things and it’sjust sitting in the bank. The obvious extension to this is that ifnothing changes you can remain open for 15% of the projects durationbefore your cash runs out and you’re bankrupt. So, if you’re projecttook 9 months to make, you’ve got enough money to fund you through a gapof 1 month. Using this example, if the team is reduced to 25% of itssize then the money will last 4 times longer for those that are stillresident.In reality, it’s not that straight forward because there’s a lot ofother factors coming into play and you’ve now got a big team in placeand a lot of mouths to feed so you’re commitment is high. No businessoperates in this way and net profit doesn’t go into the bank for a rainyday. It’s typically used to fund other opportunities to expand thebusiness such as paying for over promising / under delivering,concepting, attending conferences, preparing pitches, R&D and a load ofother things. Making people redundant also costs money too so it’s notsomething a business can enter into lightly.So, the natural conclusion is that a studio can’t operate by employing100% of the team 100% of the time and support that entireinfrastructure when there’s little or no money coming in. It’s simplynot going to work.The only sustainable way for single project independent studios to keepthis going is to operate on a Core+Contract basis where everyoneinvolved works on the understanding that the Core is a small set ofpeople that are central to the business and it’s buffered up withContract / Outsource work that is clearly only commissioned when it’sneeded. In this way everyone knows what their commitment is and there’sfewer surprises. The non-Core people are typically more expensive thanpermanent *but* it ultimately works out to be more cost effective onceyou factor in the recruit/redundancy/gap costs. The team shrinks back tothe Core in between projects.Sensible studios plan for all of these things and build their businesswith this in mind and also build in some contingency into their coststo enable them to burn some of their profits to keep a consistent teamrunning during the lean times. Larger studios can also mitigate this byhaving multiple projects and moving people between projects as thenatural ebb and flow of project demands occur.If you’re a work-for-hire/self-funded studio working for little profitwho employs 100% of your staff on a permanent basis then expectredundancies at the end of every project and or the businesscompletely failing.As the saying goes: Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.As a business owner, think about this when you’re starting out as itcan make a real difference to the viability of your business. As a developer, look at the business you’re working in for thesigns of whether or not your likely to be around when the projectfinishes.

20 years of a Video Game Developer’s Career – Part 3

6 min read

I’d like to share with you my game development career experience as partof a series of posts, the 1stparttalked about my early career and I followed up with a secondpostthat was more about how those games were made. Let’s get back on track with the series and rejoin the fun back whenthe transition for PS1 to PlayStation 2 was happening.Krisalis v2 a.k.a Teque SoftwareAftera long and fruitful period of key game development the rest of the worldwas moving over to PlayStation 2 but we were still making games for PS1.It wasn’t for lack of effort and respect, indeed I attended manyexclusive PS1 & Saturn developer conferences across the globe. Over theyears, the PS1 conferences were held in a variety of amazing locationsincluding secret clubs and even in the middle of the top-secrethigh-speed ring at Millbrook ProvingGrounds. Saturn conferences were always held just outside of San Jose, California where I visited later as the venue for the emerging GD Conference, which I was also fortunate to regularly attend.I wasalso chosen for the exclusive 1st unveiling of the PS2 to the “cream ofthe development community” at a secretlocationalong with short list of developers. What made this event totally cool was that it took place right before a solar eclipse gripped the UK and the event itself opened with a mock solar eclipse!I was doing magazineinterviews and I even made it onto TV once!This is largely because we were one of the best studios in the world fordoing this work and that meant that we were the ones who biggerbusinesses wanted to keep pushing the same work to and we were type-castas safe PS1 developers. However this PS1 work was always going to cometo an end at some point. The visual quality and scope of even the bestPS1 games was rapidly becoming lack lustre when compared to what wasappearing on PS2 and PC at the time that really reinforced the demise.This eventually led to some of our projects being cancelled as the PS1nose-dived and it took our company with it.Sadly, the studio imploded and a few of us took the mantle and tried tobreathe life back into it under a new name ‘Teque Software’ where Iplayed the role of Technical Director along side 2 other directors butit just didn’t work out and it only lasted for a few months as we stillhad the same reputation that we just couldn’t shake off. This wasbecoming worse as the other ‘new’ studios were pushing ahead on thenewer platforms and we were getting further behind.The closure of the studio came as a surprise to pretty much everyoneinvolved but if you’ve ever ran a business in the UK you’ll appreciatethe secrecy that these things have to be done under. As much as I wantedto tell people, I couldn’t as that would have been a clear breach of myresponsibilities to the business as a director. I would have probablybeen in a lot of legal trouble if I’d have done it too. So, the closureof the studio left a bitter taste in a lot of people’s mouths andeveryone scattered to find new jobs all over the UK. I had adouble-whammy here because my wife also worked there too, meaning thatwe were both redundant on the same day.Runecraft - levelling up and bad management.After the end ofKrisalis I quickly found a job going back to my roots as a programmer onPlayStation 2 where I worked on core animation related programmingsystems for a licensed platform game. Sadly, it turned out thatRunecraft’s management were a bunch of crooks and totally shafted theirstaff but I didn’t find that out until later.What I did get out of this period was an opportunity to connect withsome talented people and also work on PlayStation 2 games and reallylearn about those. I fortunately was seconded to a remote part ofRunecraft that was based in Leeds, 15 miles away from the head office.This meant that we had little involvement with HQ and we could just geton with things.I met a lot of truly great people in Leeds, all of which were ex-SonyLeeds and most had worked on the likes of Wipeout / Colony Wars. Theirskills were amazing and a real level above what I’d seen at Krisalis andI learned absolutely loads and I still connect with these people today.Getting back to non-management roots was refreshing and re-filled mytechnical knowledge to a level where I understood the nuts & bolts ofPS2 development that I’d later find to be incredibly useful.The over promising and dodgy dealings of the management caught up withthem and the company collapsed inwards. There’s only so many times youcan try to deceive a publisher before they find you out and that’sinevitable.How the Leeds studio closed was like something out of a movie. I wasmaking my way into work and I got a call from one of the otherprogrammers that things were kicking off. I eventually made it to thestudio to find the doors locked and all of my colleagues stood outside.I was told the studio had closed and we were all redundant. Now, givenwe all pretty much hated the management this was both a blessing and acurse at the same time.The door opened to the studio and a head popped out and called a name,that person was escorted to their desk where they collected theirpersonal belongings and then escorted off the premises. This process wasrepeated for everyone in the studio, a slow one-by-one procession.The mobwas angry but I never got to see the end of it. Why? Because it turnedout my contractual place of work was back at HQ along with 2 others fromthe Leeds studio. What happened next was just bizarre, one of those MPVlike vehicles turned up and the 3 of us were bundled into the back alongwith one of the managers and we were driven back to HQ. I’m notexaggerating, this is really what happened. When we arrived we wereescorted to our separate desks in the ‘programming barn’ and told to dosome work on project X. To say I was surprised was an under-statementand they almost dismissed the fact that any of this had happened but youcan imagine I vowed to leave ASAP. I was completely annoyed because mytransport home was back at the Leeds office so when I was released I hadto go back there, then back home. It’s making me angry just writing thisnow.I suffered this for a few weeks while I found another job but Iabsolutely hated it as we treated as immigrants, we were given all theterrible jobs and we weren’t motivated to really do any work either.What I learned was that annex/remote studios are always the 1st thingsto go when a company is hitting financial troubles. It’s like cuttingoff a gangrenous limb to save the body. All of the work can be broughtback in-house and it gives the business a clear criteria to dump a loadof people.I also learned that a tight-knit group of motivated and happy developerscan achieve more than the sum of their parts.What next? Onwards and upwardsI was fortunate to be have formed strong relationships with peopleacross the industry and I was brought in as employee #2 for the newlyformed Kuju studio in Sheffield where the next phase of my career beganincluding many of the people I’d worked with in Leeds on the emergingplatforms.This is where we’ll join the story next time…Further Reading Series Part1 Series Part2

Is A Game Development Career Compatible With Family Life

1 min read

title: Is a game development career compatible with family life?date: 2010-08-25 13:50:18tags: [“career”]type: postdescription: “What compromises have you made to balance your career and family?\r\n”—I’ve been following the thread over on Luke’s blog entitled ‘Goodbye,RealtimeWorlds’ andI’ve commented in there when the discussion turned to the collateraleffects that being made redundant has in an industry that’s so sparselyspread around the globe. The discussion isn’t about overtime in theshort-term, it’s more about long-term careers in games when you’ve gotother people to think about in your life.  Maybe your partner has agreat job, maybe you’ve got other businesses you’re involved with, maybeyou’ve got children?It got me wondering what everyone else’s experience is like.What compromises have you made to balance your career and family?

20 years of a Video Game Developer’s Career – Part 2

5 min read

I follow on from Part 1 of thisseries with some more information on how I got where I am today in the video game development community. Most of the old stuff is irrelevant but I hope it shares the need to actively plan your career to avoid some development cul-de-sacs.Let’s continue…I wrapped up the previous post where I’d pretty much reached a pointwhere I recognised a need to get a grip of my own career and make somelong-term plans, after all, no-one else was going to do this for me andthis wasn’t going to happen overnight. Of course, this was all based onassumption that everything else would stay the same in that the waygames were being made wouldn’t change too much and we all know how wrongthat assumption was.I’m not going to talk specifically about the games I’vemade as that information is available in lots of other places but but more about my career so far.Inresponse to some comments on the 1st part I thought I’d embellish ontypical examples of how we made the games back then too. I see echos ofthese early development concerns being raised on small mobile platformsall of the time. Remember we’re back in the days of no network(definitely no internet), no development conferences, no degree courses,no source control, virtually no support. You did this on your own,learnt everything yourself and the only way you got stuff around was tocopy it onto a floppy disk.100% system take overThe early games were largely done on the target machine with very littledebug facilities available. You made a change, compiled your code, ranit, if it crashed then it was obviously the last thing you did. It’strue to say that we didn’t have linkers either, so everything was in 1file typically called ‘MAIN.S’ or similar, graphics were largelyincluded within that file as a series of HEX numbers that weretranslated from the original files via some custom tools. A gametypically took over the whole system as there wasn’t really the notionof an operating system that was efficient enough for games to use, wewanted 100% of everything available tous: memory, cpu, gpu, etc. The games didn’t share the system with anything else, everything had to be within the game.You can imagine that these single files were pretty big and we startedto push the text editors capabilities but that thankfully coincided withthe advent of linkers that meant we could split our files out intosensible chunks.It’s worth remembering that the floppy disks themselves were largelyjust storage, we came up with our own file-formats and file loadingroutines from scratch typically accessing the hardware at a low-level.For us this was an iteration of the custom tape loaders that had beenthe norm back on C64/Spectrum where they were necessary to speed uploading times via ‘turbo’ loads and the like. Our loaders typicallyinvolved decompression routines too as we constantly tried to improvethe loading times and how much content we could fit on a disk. We alsorolled our own security systems with the hope of stalling the piratesripping off our games for at least a few hours.Memory ManagementClever games were starting to use dynamic memory management instead ofthe fixed memory maps of old, these came with a massive 12-byteroverhead per allocation so it was quite expensive. We naturally hitmemory fragmentation problems quickly such as where we’d load a fileinto region ‘A’, then decompress to ‘B’ and free up ‘A’ to be re-used,i.e., typically adjacent AB. Now, if the next file you wanted to loadwasn’t 100% identical to ‘A’ then you’d end up using some of it, maybeeven decompressing within that space too and the whole process rapidlybroke down into chaos as the largest single consecutive piece of memorydwindled into nothing.The quickest solution to fragmented memory? Bi-directional allocation,i.e., load files from the end of memory down and then decompress fromthe bottom up. This also resulted in the revelation that given a littlebuffer space you can decompress over the top of the source file, whichwas mighty useful when your last file was loaded.So, all of our game files obviously had to be compressed and this tookquite a while to do on the relatively slow systems we had too. The toolswe built on PC were entirely custom made and we had our own compressionroutines based on generally available ones, which were specialised toaccomodate the specific needs of bitmaps, audio and level data.The alternative use of compressionOur tools at the time had lots of stats, bouncing colours, meters goingup and down, progression bars and all manner of bells and whistles. Itwas often the case that most of the content of these frontends waslargely ‘fluff’ and that they gave us an excuse to do other things, I’deven say that some of our tools gave the illusion of them doing lots ofwork even though they’d finished! They simply waited a special keystrokecommand to ‘finish’ their processing. This was very handy sometimes whenyou just needed to be undistracted and you could just say “it’s stillpacking”. :)File Editors & Remote DebugThe advent ofremote debugging using SNASM dev-kits (later renamed PsyQ) brought inthe use of proper compilers, linkers, debuggers and text editors. Thedebugger was *the* most important aspect of the whole setup and thecompany called SN Systems still makes the systems of choice for PS3 development.Back then though, PC systems running DOS were the de facto standard andthe ubiquitous text editor then was‘BRIEF’, which was a revelation because it not only restored your session but also enabled you to have multiple files open in split windows! Later versions also integrated the error messages from your tools that meant you could quickly jump around your code and fix the errors quickly without referencing a separate compiler output file. I’ll continue my career story in Part 3…

20 years of a Video Game Developer’s Career - Part 1

9 min read

Since a young age I’ve always had an interest in making computer gamesand I’ve been very fortunate to have supportive parents who worked hardto get what I now understand to be very expensive bits of hardware overthe years. I thought I’d share some background of how I ended up where Ihave today with some luck and some foresight…I used to spend hours lurking around the only computer shop for milesaround, playing with the JupiterAceand the ZX80 in the shops marvelling at what they could do.I was extremely fortunate toget a Sinclair ZX81 for Christmas one year but it didn’t come with anyway of getting games into it other than the usual way of typing inlistings from magazines such as Sinclair User. I learned a tremendousamount during this period as I played around and adapted these earlyprograms into something unique and my 1st game was one about avoiding amonster for as long as possible so there was even a tiny amount of AI inthere (not that I knew that).I seemed to be on the periphery of the generation of Sinclair Spectrumand Commodore 64 owners as I managed to get a BBC Micro Model B, whichwas awesome for programming. I started to write 6502 assembler on theBeeb and migrated towards hacking ROMs and reverse-engineering otherpeople’s games as well as writing my own home-brew games.My background in 6502 (not Z80) made for a natural progression to the68000 series used on the Atari ST/Amiga whilst my friends who cut theirteeth on the Z80 used in the ZX Spectrum ended up going more towards8086 used in PC. This was my most active programming period when Iabsorbed so much info and I started specialising in the Atari ST via thedemoscene groups as I started to really push what was possible on the STas I desperately tried to prove the ST was just as capable as the Amiga(which it wasn’t). For those of you on the scene I wrote trackerplayers, full-screen scrollers, bitmap emulators, hi-colour displays,border busters, highly optimised sprite renderers and much much more.All of which emulated what could be achieved easily in hardware on theAmiga but I had to try very hard and be inventive to get the same out ofthe weedy ST. Everything I knew was entirely self-taught.The demoscene was super cool and underground, it felt like we were onthe bleeding edge of computer software and there are a lot of gamedevelopers who have been involved with the scene at some point or otherin their career. I still keep in touch with some of these people butmost have moved onto other things.I was alsoteaching other people how to program these demos & elements at my localcomputer clubs, all of which were the core components of games. I foundout later that some of these people were professionally making games andwere secretly bringing their problems to the computer club andpresenting them as challenges that I’d help them solve, then they’d goback into the game. They were quite surprised when I turned up later andthey were shown for what they really were.Being Paid To Make Games!So, this is where my professional career started as I was approached atthe computer club I’d been attending for nearly 2 years and asked if I’dlike a job making games! No interview, no test, just a job offer from abloke who’d been lurking around in the background at the club for weeksbut I only recognised this in hindsight.Alligata Software - 1987My first job was at Alligata Software in Sheffield where I wasprogramming both the Atari ST/Amiga versions of a C64 classic verticalshooter called ‘Trap’. There were 5 of us bottled up in an office in Sheffield churning away at making games the best we could. I know for definite that 3 of us are still making games today in 2010! We’d all work really hard during the day, we’d got to the pub together then we’d go home and do some more for ourselves. It was an addiction really and I can still see this happening in motivated, committed game developers today and I can sympathise with them.I was writing hardcore 68000 assembler code for ST and Amiga in aprofessional environment and this was going to be my first commercialgame, to be honest, I would have done it for nothing ‘cos I loved doingit so much. I wrote most of the early stuff on K-Seka, which was prettyhard-core low level stuff as it was all written on the target machineand there was no mouse interface. Crashes and lost work were just partof life but it was always better the next time around.There was no debugging other than to put coloured borders on your gameand then figure out which colour was showing when it crashed.What came as a surprise was when we turned up to work one day to findthe office doors locked and all of the furniture gone! Yup, the companyhad folded overnight taking our jobs with it and the boss didn’t havethe decency to tell us, we were left to draw our own conclusions. Jonno(there’s always one) hunted down the boss and we got our last wages andthat was that. Just when I’d got my favourite job doing what I love itall went pop overnight.Wise Owl Software - 1988I quickly got a job working for another game developer setup inRotherham called ‘Wise Owl Software’, which was initially setup toprovide educational software but we had better ideas. :)My 1st job was to make agame on Atari 2600 called ‘Oops’, yes the first home console, whichsuited me down to the ground because it was all about getting the mostout of the tiny bit of hardware. It meant pulling on all of my demo &6502 experience and it was a real test. As a synopsis, it had 4x1Kbmemory, no DMA for the display, 8 pixel wide ‘playfields’ that onlycovered 1/2 the screen width, 1 pixel wide ‘ball’ and that was it. Ittook some real skill to get anything like a game out of that thing but Iloved it. This was the 1st time I worked on a PC and had my work sent tothe target ‘2600’, which saved me a lot of time an meant I didn’t losemy work 1/2 as much.My next few jobs were working mostly on Amiga/ST where I made a fewgames that never really saw the light of day with the exception of ‘WarMachine’. All written in 68000 assembler along with some optimisation for the various flavours that were starting to appear such as the A600, 68020/68030 Amigas. Modular scalable code was starting to be a necessity.Things were going well and we decided to ditch theedutainment connotations of the Wise Owl name and after some jigglingabout we re-formed the company as ‘H2O’ and I joined as a director.Sadly, the other directors didn’t really do anything so I made off overthe horizon onto my next venture.Teque Software / Krisalis - 1989![](/assets/shadow_warriors_01-207x300.jpg "shadow_warriors_01")I joined Teque Software as a Amiga / ST programmer and I continued towork on those platforms, gradually working on larger and larger projectswith the biggest one being, Amiga+St+C64+Spectrum+Amstrad by 6 peoplefor 17 weeks! Wow! Yes, that’s how long it took us to make a game backthen.We were always trying to push what the St/Amiga could deliver and mybest commercial game on those platforms included streaming from floppydisk, borderless full-screen scroller with loads of sprites. That gamewas Shadow Warrior.Dev-Kits, QA, C and networks - a new ERANot long after that anew bit of kit appeared called SNASM, which was a remote development kitthat plugged somewhere into the target machine. This meant we all workedon fast Atari ST machines with hard-drives, remember it had all been onfloppy up to now, and we could send our code down to the target machineand debug it! Wow! You can imagine what a difference this made to ourworking lives.Along with these changes came the use of ‘C’ language for games but itwas too slow for what we wanted but it promised great things and I beganto use it for tools and whatever else I could get away with.We also got out 1st network around this time too as we’d previously beencopying things around on floppy disk. Again, this was a massiveimprovement over what we’d had before and enabled us to pass artwork andbuilds around quickly.I vaguely remember this is when we actually had a ‘tester’ in the studiotoo, whose job it was to just play the games and tell us about bugs. Itwas about this kind of time anyway.So, as you can imagine things were changing amazingly quickly and if youdidn’t adapt quickly you were dead both as an individual and a business.The Realisation of the need to plan a CareerThis is the time when I worked with some great people but I also workedwith some significantly older people who I really didn’t get on with. Ifelt these people were holding me back and I also didn’t want to be likethem. I don’t know what happened but something didn’t feel right and achange was required.It was around about this time when I remember stopping and thinking “DoI really want to be a 50-year-old programmer like them? Having youngerpeople running rings around me?”. So I made an active decision to plan along-term career and actively avoid being swallowed by the wave ofchange that follows us around constantly.I envisaged being some kind of technical manager or owning my own gamecompany at some point in the future and if I was to do that I needed tomake some changes. These were the days when there were seeminglyinfinite opportunities and adverts from Ocean proclaiming your Ferrariwas waiting for you if you made games.I started to push to what we’d now call a Lead Programmer role, stillfocusing on Amiga/ST at the time and I worked on a lot of football gamesthen too so I was gaining genre and management experience. I started tomanage more and more people and started to purely focus on managementand tech direction.Everything was changing around that time too, the SNES had taken off andthe Saturn and PlayStation were looming and I had to be on thoseplatforms.So, what did I do next? Lets find out in Part 2… where I’llcontinue the story along with some analysis on things like salaries,roles and events.

Can I Help You?

2 min read

I am frequently contacted by video game developers asking me for help ina couple of areas, some just want some feedback, some are asking me forfinancial investment to make their game a reality.Maybe your one of these people, or maybe you’d like some critique ofyour work?I’m currently looking for 1 other developer to mentor and devote somereal attention to, should this be you?I’m happy to say that in many cases I provide assistance and make adifference with their games and help re-direct them towards a moreprosperous future by providing them with not only advice on the gamesthemselves but also how to make them, what potential opportunities theyhave for revenue streams and even help them find a publisher. Basically,help out on which ever aspect of their game they need. The only bit Idon’t do is actually make it.In some cases my initial round of feedback can be hard to take as it’salways honest and open and what experience tells me you need to do tomake better games. It comes particularly hard when people start todefend their position, which is partly to be expected and communicationis always good. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know the magic formula orI’d be making my own games but I do have a good insight into how to makethe most of what’s there.I liken some of my experiences to X-Factor / Dragons Den type offeedback where the singer/businessman is obviously presenting somethingreally bad but they just cannot see that it’s ultimately just not theright thing to be doing. They won’t listen and are adamant that theirthing is actually really good because their friends/family have toldthem so.Thankfully, most of my experiences have been entirely positive andpeople do listen to feedback and we work together on making a bettergame.I’d like to point out that I also get a good set of games that are trulygreat and demand some attention and are obviously destined for greatthings. It’s these that I particularly like getting engaged with as therelationship is typically rewarding for both parties.And sometimes, things are succesful despite everything telling you thecontrary. Critique?So, if you want to join the others and get honest, open feedback on yourgame, be it a design or work-in-progress, then simply contact me andI’ll see what I can do. Please don’t ask me to invest, because I’dinvest in my own games if I had the money. :D

Interview with a Veteran Video Game Developer #1

9 min read

I recently circulated a few questions to some veteran video gamedevelopers I know about their experience and their insight into videogame development. The 1st response I received is from StuartHarrison who has been programming games since 1995. Stuart is currently a Lead Programmer at Sony Computer Entertainment and continues to be a top game developer.I’d like to thank Stuart for his contribution and please read on to findout what Stuart had to say…#### Join InIf you've been making video games for more than 5 yrs simply [send meyour answers](http://game-linchpin/contact) to the questions below along with a little bio and I'll happily post good responses. I look forward to hearing from youWhat inspired you to start developing games?Doom! In fact, I think it was Doom’s vast (and probably unintended) 3rdparty editing utilities that got me hooked. I was even credited withdiscovering (by trial and error) the full functionality of some of thetriggers.How did you get to where you are today (university course? Trial and error? Etc)I went to Birmingham University to study Chemical Engineering (aftersome duff careers advice) and only when I was there did I discover therewas such a thing as “Software Engineering”. I’d been programming on theZX Spectrum since I was 10 and never believed you could actually make acareer out of it. After the degree I applied to lots of local gamescompanies, including Rare and Codemasters (both of whom interviewed mebut ultimately turned me down - in retrospect I can fully understandwhy, but at the time I knew they were missing out), before eventuallygetting a job as an AI programmer (and then only just) at a companycalled NMS Software, in Aldridge. Within 3 months of starting there I’dmade such an impression I’d been given two pay rises and been promotedto Lead Programmer. From there it’s been a rocky, but mostly upwardsprogression!What qualities – apart from decent gaming designing – and factors should you have and consider when deciding to make a game (from an independent point of view)If I knew I’d be doing it!What’s the most frustrating thing when developing a game?I’ve been doing it so long it’s no longer a frustrating experience (Iprefer “challenging”) - but the most challenging aspects are trying to“find the fun”. It’s annoying, but just part of the process, when youdevelop a section of gameplay then find out it just isn’t fun and isn’tfixable and has to be scrapped entirely. I’m sure the same is true ofall creative industries - think of all the film footage that must end upon the cutting room floor…What’s the most satisfying thing when you’ve finished developing a game (or even during)?Seeing it on a shelf in a store - I will sometimes pop in to Game (orwhatever) and see what kinds of people will pick it up off a shelf andlook at it. By far the most satisfying experience was when I met up withmy step-brother (who I don’t get along with especially well) at a familygathering for Christmas one year. He mentioned a new game that he andhis family had been playing recently and having fun with, and it turnedout to be Buzz Sports. I mentioned that I was lead programmer on thatand had a big smile on the inside. Incredibly satisfying.Where do you tend to get your ideas from?The most unusual places. I think it’s important to try and be as closeto an old-school polymath as possible in this business as a broad baseof knowledge and experience serves well when it comes to problem solvingwhen your back is against the wall. Inspiration can come from the mostobscure angle, but (I’m guessing) only if you’ve been there before.Are there times when your finished version of a game is different to what you initially planned? Is this necessarily a bad thing?I don’t think the finished version has ever been how I imagined it andit’s never a bad thing. I think that’s part of the creative process. Ifpeople could design games on paper, it would not be a fun industry to bein. The fact that it’s not possible to design things on paper (otherthan broad brush-strokes of an idea) make it interesting and challengingand something that fires you out of bed on a morning. You need constantassessment and evaluation and belief that it’s all going to come good inthe end.Do you tend to change your ideas based on reaction from people or do you stick to what you had in mind?Well that depends a lot on circumstances. In some ways it’s good tostick to your guns if you know something is right, but it’s alwaysimportant to accept constructive criticism. In some ways, shows like E3are a double-edged sword. You generally get positive or neutral responsefrom the press (I guess because they don’t want big heavy publisherspulling advertising revenues if they say negative things), but theforums are often full of negative comments. It can be worth readingbetween the lines on the negative comments and extracting the core ofthe message and perhaps changing the game design to suit. But thenagain, it’s just as easy to let the tide wash over you and continueunabated. I’d say a measured response is best - if you trust the opinionand position of the person making the comment, be prepared to back down;if you don’t, file the comment and move on.What factors help in making an independent game a success and stand out?I guess the most important aspect is that it’s widely known and talkedabout. This implies it needs to be the sort of game that is played bythe “facebook generation” who are tapped into disseminating information.I think it would stand the best chance if it appeals to a wide audience,both male and female, of all ages (but mainly younger). Again, this isone of those questions that if I knew the formula for, I’d be out theredoing it…Have you ever had any projects that you cancelled? If so, why?No. I’ve been on projects that I thought should be cancelled and theynever were. I’ve been on projects where I practically pleaded for theopportunity to complete and they were cancelled anyway. Sometimes thereseems to be no logic to this. Fortunately I’ve never been put in thesituation of having to make that (oftentimes) illogical decision.Have you had your projects altered in anyway due to circumstances (e.g. financial troubles)There have been a couple of projects where that has happened, but to behonest, it happens with every project to a greater or lesser degree.We’re not all Peter Molyneux with unlimited budgets and imaginations. Wehave to do the best with the time and the money we’re given andsometimes features that you were hoping to get in have to be cut at thelast minute… c’est la vie.What genre of games (or styles like demakes for example) would you like to see being developed more?I personally love strategy games and while there is a lot of choice outthere, not all of it is to my personal taste. A lot of developmenteffort appears to go into releasing the same game every year - just lookat how many releases PES or FIFA have had and racing games aren’t farbehind. It’s nice to play games (like flOw a few years ago) that areunique in what they bring to the world of gaming - and I’d like to seemore of that too.Do you think the independent community scene is thriving, diminishing or at the same level as it has been for years?It’s both thriving and diminishing at the same time. I can’t remember atime in the past that has seen so many large independent studios closed,but at the same time, everyone and their brother appear to be trying tomake iPhone games nowadays. I think the games industry is stillremarkably immature, even after being around for perhaps 30 years, withdecisions being made as a matter of heart, not of head. A lot of moneyis wasted on pointless projects while at the same time there are dozensof great little independents crying out for a slice of the pie. All partof the cycle of life…Do you think projects like the XNA Creators Club Online is a good way to boost awareness to the independent scene?I’m not very familiar with that, but anything that lowers the entry barto people getting into the industry has got to be a good thing. The UKis currently struggling to get decent staff to fill games vacancies andI think part of that reason is that times have changed to a degree. WhenI was growing up it was dead easy to write your own programs, type themin from magazines, or just edit existing ones. It’s not quite so easy ona modern games console, so I applaud every effort made in thisdirection.What advice would you give to someone just starting out making games?Get a real job! No, seriously .. it’s hard to break in. I think there’sa lot of distrust within the industry about the quality of some of the“games” degrees that are being offered at present and perhaps some ofthe better (more enthusiastic) people are being enticed to take on thesedegrees when a broader degree (not focussed on games) would give them awider selection of skills. In my position as a recruiter I’m far morelikely to look at someone with a Computer Science / Software Engineering/ Maths and CS / .. degree than someone with a “Computer GamesTechnology” degree.How do you think you’ve survived this long developing games when so many people leave or get jaded?I am jaded! And I have considered leaving. It’s so hard to find theright job these days (in the right part of the country) that this is aquestion that repeated comes back to me. I ask myself whether we’relikely to see 55 year old computer games programmers in 10-15 years timeand I think the answer might be yes, but it could so easily be no. Wherewould they all go then? Honestly I’m not sure. Mostly I’ve survived bybeing flexible and moving to where the work was, but the older I get themore difficult that becomes as you start a family and want to settledown. Unless you’re lucky enough to plant your roots in one of thecrucibles of games development in this country (Brighton, London,Surrey, Leamington, Liverpool/Manchester, Cambridge), the future islooking dim.What are you most looking forwards to in the next 12 months?Finding a real job! Ha, no, just kidding… I’m looking forward toseeing how Kinect and Move work out. It’s a bold experiment by bothMicrosoft and Sony, both of whom felt they needed to moving into thespace occupied by Nintendo, who, undoubtedly, are going to play anothertrump card in the next 18 months or so that will shatter everything. I’dlike to believe Microsoft when they say they have no plans to iterate onXbox360, it would be great to have some stability in the platform arenafor a decade or so. We shall see…Do you have any other comments?Yeah, ask fewer questions next time!

Fellow Game Bloggers

1 min read

I’ve collected a list of all of the video game bloggers I’ve found sofar. These cover a broad range of topics include developers, producers,artists, designers, business and I’d wholly recommend adding them all toyour favourite RSS reader.A GreatBecoming…About everything and therestAvant GameBroken ToysComputer GamesDoolwind’s Game CodingBlogEating BeesEvidence-BasedDesignFreeToPlay.biz - AdrianCrookGame Producer BlogGame TycoonGameArchitect.NetGames BriefGames from WithingameslolHobbyGameDevMainly AboutGamesMeasuring Gameplay -articleOver00Plot is Gameplay’sBitchPsychochild’s BlogRaph’s WebsiteReality PanicRULES OF THE GAMESulka’s GameT=MachineThe DaedalusProjectThe ForgeWonder ArcadeWonderlandZen of Design

The Implications of YouTube Being The Second Largest Search Engine

2 min read

You tube has become the second largest search engine in recent years. It helps the viewers to get the exact idea of your product or the services you offer through the internet. It not only helps to drag the traffic towards your site, but also makes bulk revenue for you.This tool is highly efficient to give a specification to your web page.It is the best way to express your ideas and the thoughts about thecreativity. It not only gives you the recognition, but it pays yourshare of profit. It is very easy to access and even a beginner finds itvery convenient. If you are planning to generate some income through theYouTube, then it is suggested that you register the site and GoogleAdsense. This is the mode of payment that is used byYouTube.After you register your account, the next step includes of picking yoursubject. You must know the choice of the viewers; this factor plays animportant role in giving you numerous viewers. You should have thepotential to create a quality content that is easily understood bycommon people. You must have a perfect idea about the video creation.Right planning is highly recommended if you are amateur. Take sufficienttime to plan and create the correct content for your videos. If you havesome creativity in you, then it is very easy for you to create andupload your video. The video must be relevant to the subject for thepurpose. If you are using it for some product promotion, then thecontent must be related to the product usage, application and thepurpose of the product.Since this is a high ranking site, it also has some pros and cons.Once you become very popular for your product, then it is suggested thatyou start worrying about your privacy. You must have a total controlover your postings and the product. Achieving success on YouTube givesyou many opportunities for the commercials, television shows andsometimes even big ventures like movies.You can gain the traffic by promoting some charities on your videos.This result in heavy traffic for your video as this may go for someworthy cause. You can even donate a part of your earning for somecharity purpose. Once people become aware about your videos and thequality that you give, they subscribe for the updates from you. Thisenables you to know about the viewers you have for your content. Some ofthe viewers even leave some comment that helps you to improve theeminence of your product. The title that you place for your video must be very catchy. Thisattracts the people who are searching for some information regardingyour product. This title must show the exact content that you used inyour video. Once you become an expert with the tricks for videocreation, you can experience the currency rolling and that too withoutbeing a partner to any other firm. It gives you the right output for theefforts you put.

How To Make Documents Work For Your Team

8 min read

All video game production projects need documents, whether it’s a fourpage description for an iPhone game, Xbox Live Indie Game, Flash game ora 65-doc library for a AAA multi-million selling game on PS3, X360 andevery other platform. On all video game development projects, similarproblems comeup: people don’t read docs, people read docs but find themconfusing, docs don’t get updated or the updates don’t get acted on.Fortunately, there are some ways you, as a game designer (or aswhoever’s writing a doc) can help.Make it readableDocumentation that isn’t read is worse than not having the documentationat all because (a) game designer time is wasted writing it and (b) thegame design team assumes the other teams know what they’re doing, whenthey’re actually relying on other methods, like reading tea leaves. Gamedevelopers are busypeople: it isn’t easy to convince us to readanything. But there are some ways you can help to make sure the team isreading what it needs to.Make it approachableThat means no doc over 50 pages. If it’s over 50 pages, split it into adoc per section. Reasonable sized fonts. Diagrams instead of pages oftext. A glossary, if you need one. Don’t make it any scarier to readthan it has to be.Make it navigableMake a studio doc template and stick to it (within reason - a sportsgame and a beat ‘em up are going to need different docs, but they’llboth need a UI section and there’s no reason that section shouldn’talways be at the end and always run in roughly the same order. Help thepoor sound designer who’s just been shuffled onto his third project insixmonths: let them turn straight to a ‘Sound’ section with ‘UISounds’, ‘UI Music’, ‘In-Game Sound Effects’, ‘In-Game Music’ and so onall laid out as they’d expect. Nobody’s creativity’s being stifled by keeping the same structure (andof course the template can be tweaked and improved as time goes on) andjust having that template there is a great way to avoid designers (andproducers) overlooking things. It’s also a massive help to designerswriting their first design doc to have a skeleton to fill in.If you really do have to have a big doc and you want to make it quick toflick through, put a navigation bar at the bottom of the page, with theappropriate section highlighted to show where you are (this is a fiveminute job if you use Word’s section tools and put it in the footer).That way you can thumb through the doc flickbook style and stop when yousee what you want. For extra points, make it actually operate like anavigation bar on a website and skip you to the start of each section ifyou click on it.Exception: while it’s great to help teams find exactly what they’re looking for, be wary of people zeroing in on exactly what they think they need and skipping the vital stuff they thought didn’t apply tothem. There’s nothing wrong with putting a big note on the second pagefor each team, calling out sections they might otherwise skip over(‘Weaponsteam: as well as the ‘Weapons’ section, make sure you read the‘Animals’section: the rhinos have their own built-in particle cannons’ AND put a note in the Weapons section itself linking to ‘Animals’. By doing this, you’re implicitly confirming that it’s okay not to read the whole doc, but that’s probably going to happenanyway: use your bestjudgment.Now you’ve made it easy to pick up and start reading thedoc: how do you make it *work*?Avoid duplicationNever, ever, ever, state the same facts in two places. Every time youlist, say, the weapons in the game in both the introduction AND theweapons section, that’s two places you have to keep it updated and twicethe potential for outdated information. Cross-referenceinstead: usehyper-linking: it’s better to make people click a few times than have someone miss a vital widget because it was added in one section and not in another. Introductions and Executive Summaries (which producers always insist on) are a real pain forthis: producers (and publishers) like nice, simpile lists and they don’t want to read further than pagethree, so they want to duplicate all the essential information here.Keep it short, and check it every time you update the doc.State exclusionsYou have to realise that people will use your doc in ways you neverintended. For example, an artist will, when they’re in a hurry, look ata list of creatures in the game on page 42, see that there are five andschedule five artists to tackle one each. Only there aren’t fivecreatures: there are six. The list on page 42 was in the sound effectssection, and you only listed the creatures that needed sound effects(giraffes are silent). This isn’t a joke. I’ve seen lists cut and pastedfrom a doc, passed through a chain of ten people and then relied on asgospel for a completely unrelated discipline. So don’t list the animalsthat have sound effects in the sound effects section. List all theanimals, andsay: ‘Giraffe: this animal has no sound effects’.Remove ambiguityIt’s better to be clear. If in doubt, state it. Don’t write lazily. Thisislazy:All rhinos can be ridden by players of level 14 or above.Hold up. Does that means that all rhinos are rideable, and all rhinoriding requires players to be level 14 or above? Or does it mean thatlevel 14 players have their choice of all rhinos in the game to ride,but level 13 players can ride some of them? Let’s try itagain:All rhinos in the game can be ridden. Riding a rhino requires theplayer to be at level 14 or above.EnglishThis leads on to English (or whatever language your dev team has agreedto work in). Designers (and other doc writers - don’t forget theTechnical Design Doc author) aren’t necessarily greatwriters: in terms of technical English (spelling, grammar, punctuation) or writing clearly and in an easy-to-read style. And that’s not necessarily aproblem: *except* when it comes to design docs. Don’t get the wrong ideahere: good writing skills don’t make someone a good designer, andI’d much rather a designer have fantastic ideas but be unable to expressthem than have no ideas but great communication skills. Most designerson a large team don’t have to write docs. But for the ones who do haveto, writing skills *are* important because for every word they write,potentially 60-100 people are going to read it. Luckily, writing skillsare easy to assess and easy to learn. I give a basic English test (afive minute, half-a-side of A4, spot the mistakes thing) to every designcandidate I interview. I don’t exclude candidates with poor Englishskills, but if they move towards a position where they’re going to needto do a lot of writing I do make sure they’re trained up and ready forit when they write their first GDD.Understand the readerYou should be able to identify the common mistakes the rest of the teamwill make. Call them out, in big, friendly letters. If there are twoterms that sound very similar and could cause real problems if they’reconfused, say so. Better still, think up different terms. Behelpful:‘Remember, we don’t need to do this on PS3 because we have blah’.UpdatingDocs need to be updated constantly, to keep them in line with thedesign, at least until you reach whatever your agreed ‘the design is nowlocked’ stage and start using change control. Call out changes so thatpeople don’t have to read the doc itself, if you possibly can. Do adaily email collecting together any design changes (if you go dayswithout needing to do one, so much the better). Every change gets a oneline description, a link to the section of the doc where the changedsection can be found, and - and this is crucial - a note as to whetherthat’s it, or whether there’s more detail in the doc. What you’re tryingto avoid here is both people reading the doc when they don’t have to,and people not reading the doc when they need to because they’ve assumedthey’ve already gleaned all they need to. Here’s what Imean:UI: New PS3 hardware requirements - added ‘Move Disconnected’ message(link)SoundEffects: New 3D ambient effects added - MORE DETAIL SEE (link)Version ControlKeep docs under version control and have a change control section at thestart where you list everything that’s changed in the latest version.Yes, this will get long. If you’re doing the update email as describedabove, you can cut and paste the same text andcontrol section into an email, save the doc and check in, send the emailand everything’s done. ReferenceOn some projects, there’s a huge amount of information that all membersof the team might need access to, but that the design team isn’tcreating (say, lists of tire pressures for 400 cars, or the completeflight manual for an Apache gunship). The worst case scenario is whensome of the information is out on the internet and different teammembers are consulting different sources. Allocate one person to be the‘project librarian’. When the team needs a fact, they’re responsible forensuring it gets stored somewhere everyone can access it - saves timeand mistakes, and if a mistake is made it can be corrected once on yourWiki or in your reference doc and the change can filter down toeveryone.

How I use Twitter

1 min read

(mobile post) There’s an interesting post over on GameProducer.net about how Juusouses Twitter as part of his game blog that I wanted to emulate here.I use my @GameLinchpin Twitter feed largely to auto-post new articlesfrom this blog. This is done automatically when I hit publish so it’sthe best way to keep up-to-date. Simply followus and you’re all set.I also follow other people in the games industry, not companies, andjoin in chats there and also RT (re-tweet) anything I find interestingand relevant to game development. I also follow events such as #e3expo,#develop2010 and #gamescom and RT interesting items too.As Juuso says, you really need a client to use Twitter as the basic webservice really doesn’t scratch the surface of what’s possible. I use Tweetdeck on my iPhone, Home Mac and work PC as it’s by far thebest app. I use Twitterific on iPad as TD isn’t very good yet.If you’re starting out, start by following me then go through my listsand add people from there. Most people will follow you back and it’s agood way to kick start your Twitter addiction.Hashtags are pretty much like public chat channels, you simply follow ahash tag and you join the conversation. This can be an amazing way ofgetting involved in a community. I’ve met lots of people on thesechannels who I continue to chat with on a daily basis. Find a channel,add people for the channel as they’re obviously interested and engagedin that subject.I follow: #xblig - Xbox Live Independant Games #gamedev - general game development #iPhone - broad iPhone chat #leanstartup - small business bootstrappingEvent specific ones pop up too such as #gamescom #develop2010 #e3expoJoining Twitter was one of the best things I’ve done for. Long time andI’d consider it pretty much mandatory for game debs to keep up with arapidly changing industry.Which people and #hashtags do you follow?

Everything you need to know about Video Game Production

1 min read

By special request I’m going to dig deep and put together a series ofposts on Video Game Production, covering the whole cycle fromend-to-end to hopefully share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired overthe years and get your feedback too on what you think. This will includeelements from numerous training courses and also hard-earned bestpractice learned from doing the job and working with amazing people.Don’t missout: join the RSSstream or follow us onTwitter and be ready. Tell your friends to join too.I’ll aim to cover the following topics in theseries:Game Production - 1000ft view The Plan The Team The BusinessUnderstanding the Team-Implementation: Design, Code, Art, Audio and more-Support: Operations, HR, finance, legal and more-Stakeholders: Publishers, Platform HoldersGame Concept Key elements to include in your thinking Genre, Platform, MarketDocumentation-Game: GDD, TDD, Plan, Risk & Issues-Business: Contracts, Finance, ROIs, Breakevens Marketing, DLC plans, sequels, derivatives, partner itemsProduction Planning - agile, formal, phased, iterative Tracking Reporting RisksFinalizing the Game User Testing QA Endphase: Alpha, Beta, Master, Submission, Street What next?

Are you good enough to make 3D games?

1 min read

If you’re going to be looking to make 3D games, you’re going to need thebest programmers you can find, or strip your artwork down to nothing.I’m sure you’re familiar with the basictech: you wear glasses that control which eye sees the view from a slightly different angle giving the illusion of 3D.There is of course a massive technical consideration for 3D games, thatthey have 1/2 your frame rate as you’re now rendering twice as much asyou were before. (This is a gross assumption based on the fact thatyou’re render bound)Those beautiful silky games that did run at 60fps, drop a frame andyou’re now run at 30fps tops (2 frames at 60fps). There is no 50fps or40fps, it’s straight down to 30fps. The next jump down is 20fps (3frames at 60 fps) and it goes on from there but in less damaging leaps.I know from experience that it takes a lot of effort to hit 60fps andmost games only just scrape through as they try to balance content withframe rate so this jump is going to hit them hard. After all, why wasteempty frame time when you can make your game look even better.Optimising your game engine and balancing your content to hit therequired throughput is going to take some effort, and of course this iseffort your not spending on adding game content. It’s just a slog to getthrough.On top of these there’s the aesthetic game design to get through tomaximise the sensation of 3D and to avoid the problems it brings withit. The added sense of realism can amplify sensations of motion sicknessand it can all go wrong when that sense of illusion is shattered whenthe shark coming out of the screen at you clips the edge of the screenand your brain knows it’s fake.The 3D games I’ve played have been hit & miss and some haven’t made thetransition to 3D well and need to go back to the drawing board for someoptimisation and design improvements.There are some fantastic opportunities out there for 3D games and ittakes talent and expertise to make 3D game sing.Further ReadingHousemarque - SuperStardust HD at120fps The inspiringpost

10 Incredible CSS Resources

3 min read

CSS is becoming a very popular part of web design these days. Mostdesigners now offer CSS design as a part of their services, and evenamateur designers are learning all they can about CSS. The best partabout Cascading Style Sheets is that the pages load quickly and thelayout it very easy to change. So if you are looking for some tips,tricks, and cheats for CSS, the list below should help you out.1. CSS Level 2 Revision 1For those who feel they can tackle the technical language, this site isthe place to learn all you need to know about CSS. Those who are new toCSS can still benefit from this, although it might take a bit of work.Reading over the sections a few times, then attempting to complete CSSdesigns, and then re-reading the instructions is a great way to becomefamiliar with the language. Just keep in mind when reading through thissite that it also gives instructions on how to use CSS for other mediadesigns, such as posters or brochures.2. CSS Tutorial byw3schools.comIf you are not interested in learning CSS by deciphering the technicalspeak, this site is a great place for you to learn the basics as well assome more advanced tips. W3schools.com also provides CSS colors, areference section, web safe fonts, and more.3. CSS Reference by SitePoint.comSitePoint.com provides a wide range of CSS references, including CSSproperties, selectors, AT-rules, concepts, and examples. This websitealso has HTML and JavaScript references if needed. You can also checkout blogs, articles, books, kits, videos, and more while on this site.4. 50 Extremely Useful and Powerful CSSToolsNeed some tools for your CSS design? Smashing Magazine provides anextensive list of sites on which to find CSS tools. Plus, thedivided up into organized sections, making it easy to find exactly thetool resources you need. Find CSS Typography, Online Tools, Handy Kits,In-Browser Tools complete with Firefox Extensions, Coding andProgramming, Frameworks, Bookmarks, and Layouts in this very helpfularticle.5. Web-developer’s HandbookThis is an amazing site for both beginners and advanced users of CSS. Ithas everything from getting your creative juices flowing to tools andservices to usability and accessibility. Although this website alsocontains information for XHTML, JavaScript, and more, much of theresources are related to CSS. So whether you need some daily reading orCSS navigation menus, this is the place to go.6. ListamaticDo you need some ideas or inspiration for CSS lists? Listamatic providesplenty ofPlus, there are also some layout generators as well as a browser supportchart to help with your list design.7. CSS Layout TechniquesIf you need some help making the switch to CSS layouts, this site willhelp you out. The layout techniques listed are cross-browser and allsites listed have been stripped down to their very essential codes,making it easy to see exactly how a layout was created.8. Position is EverythingIf you are frustrated by trying to figure out the browser problemsencountered with CSS design, this site will help to end your troubles.The creator of this site, Big John, explains about common bugs found inbrowsers as well as gives CSS techniques that work with any browser.9. CSS Tutorials from Html.netThis site provides free tutorials for building a CSS website. Plus, itgives an explanation on how CSS works and what it is. Don’t want to wadethrough English instructions? Choose to read the tutorials in yournative tongue with translation options that include Dutch, Arabic,French, Spanish, and much more.10. CSSLayouts: 40+ Tutorials, Tips, Demos, and BestPracticesAnother very helpful article from Smashing Magazine, the resources forCSS layout found on this page are sure to contain what you need. Samplepage layouts, step-by-step layouts, best practices, templates, and morecan be found to aid you in your CSS experimentation and design.

All games should be free!

2 min read

(mobile post) Theres a debate raging over on LinkedIn about protecting the relativelyhigh price of iPad apps when compared to iPhone apps and i have to say idisagree. I got so faras: Games should be free!Why would I say this even though I derive a living from games along withmany thousands of other game developers?Because it’s entirely possible to make money from ‘free’ games with acaveat that some aspects of the experience can be embellished, enhancedor sped up at a price. OK, I suppose I exaggerated the first point but Ithink you understand the point I’m making. :)This freemium model has been proved to work time and time again but theold guard want to protect the old ways. Sadly the traditional lockedgame design is lazy as the current thinking about freemium requires justthat, some thinking. Notice I say “current” thinking as this has beenaround for a few years now. It’s proven to work and is well documentedincluding books like‘Free’ that explore the reasons why Free is such a radical price.Here are some quick examples to get youthinking: Think about items that decay over time, ultimately perishing onceexpired. E.g. 6 week ownership of a car, squad members contract Items that give you extra capacity but require regular payments tokeep. E.g., a garage that allows you to have more than 3 cars,football physic that improves your squad performance How about items that have a single use. E.g., refuel mid-race,distract referee Maybe you want to skip 10 levels of XP with your 3rd character? Jointhe game straight into the Premier LeagueI can guarantee a lot more people will play your ‘free’ game than wouldpay £5 for it. And the more of people play it, the more some people arelikely to drop you a bit of cash for some bits and that’s the beginningof a torrent.This extends into add-ons too, there’s similar evidence to say thatreleasing free DLC for a game has the effect of stalling trade-ins andalso improve up take as they increase the perceived value of your game.The hard part is getting a game that people really want to play, andkeep playing, and recommend their friends play too.If you have faith in your game design, let it free.I assume if you’re reading this you make games, do you agree with this?Is this selling you down the river?

Using Odesk For SEO Tasks

3 min read

SEO or search engineoptimization is a technique used to rank up high in Google. Deciding tohire a search engine optimizer is a big decision that can potentiallyimprove your website, as well as, help you save valuable time, money andbenefit your internet business further. If you’re thinking of hiringfreelancers to do SEO tasks such as link building and article writing,then you may consider oDesk freelancers. oDesk freelancers can provide clients with valuable service and it is advisable doing SEO earlier to get maximum benefits.The best time to hire is when you’re planning a site redesign, orconsidering to launch a new site. That way, you and your SEO can makecertain that your site is designed to be optimally search-enginefriendly from the bottom up. Also, a good SEO can help develop goodwebsites content.Competent employees are considered lifeblood of any business and findingthose honest, hardworking and knowledgeable employees can sometimes befrustrating. This is mostly true when searching to employ outsourcers.Whether you are lucky enough to find a qualified candidate or not, youhave no uncertainty wasted with your much precious time and money. Ifyou are looking for a faster, easier and cost-effective solution tofinding competent outsourcers, then there is no doubt that you can findthem in oDesk.First advantage of hiring an oDesk freelancer is you can definitely savetime and money. The most costly part of running any internet business isits employees. This does not refer to their salary, but the cost offinding them, training and retaining them. There are also other costsinvolved like overtime, health care, office space and finding dedicatedindividuals for certain projects. Using oDesk freelancers to create avirtual workforce answers these problems and frees up your capital tohelp manage your internet business.oDesk can help you post job position and search through thousands of competent applicants. It also gives tests to make certain each applicant has the required skills needed to do the work required. You can look further into an applicant’s work history by carefully reading comments from previous employers and viewing previous work samples. oDesk has streamlined the interviewing and hiring process, making it simple to employ short-term, long-term employees or build a team of freelancers.When hiring odesk freelancers, you can manage your team as if they wereworking beside you. One of the main problems with hiring outsourcers orany worker for that matter is making certain that they are basicallyworking and staying well-focused on task assigned. oDesk comes withadvanced technology where you can monitor your team’s activity on yourwide computer screen. Every minute that a certain task is being workedon is as well, logged into the system giving you total control over yourstaff, even more so than having all of them in the office beside you.oDesk does charge a little percentage of the money you make to pay fortheir valuable services. The quantity is stated when you apply to a joband is included to your bid requested so you can glimpse what youremployers would pay in full if they hired you.In terms of payroll, odesk has also done it very easy for you. Thedifficulty of paying outsourcers is taken care of in one easy line. Youget well-detailed reports on each oDesk freelancer at the end of everyweek and have the chance to object to any hours billed. If you are infavor to all the hours billed, then payment is done through your creditcard or bank account that you specify. oDesk gives you total control ofyour expenses at a touch of a button.Using oDesk is simple and hiring qualified freelancers is easy and freewithout the frustration you have come to imagine from seeking to findqualified outsourcers. Setting up your own account will only take lessthan five to ten minutes and you will certainly be on your way tosearching your next star employee.

What can we learn from location based games?

2 min read

Location based games have really taken off in the last year or so andthey’re only going to get better but do those ideas have to beconstrained to gps devices? Can you do location based game play on afixed console such as ps3?For a while now I’ve enjoyed using the likes of SCVNGR, Gowalla andFourSquare to discover new places and share tips. I’ve also enjoyed thegame side of these, in particular 4SQ badges and Mayorships.For those that don’t know about these the badges are much likeachievements or trophies you find on console and are awarded for doingsomething extraordinary such as the ‘Jobs’ badge for visiting 3 Applestores or one for visiting a pub on a “school night” or one fortravelling on a boat+train+plane. Whilst these are using rewards wereused to seeing on consoles the potential of something like Mayorships isinteresting.4SQ awards “mayor” status to a person who checkins in at a location morefrequently so you can become the Mayor of your local coffee shop, schoolyard or bar. Retailers ace jumped onto this and some like Starbucks arenow rewarding their Mayors with free real-world incentives. Just turnup, show your mayor badge and get free stuff. Imagine all those extravisits the store gets from the mayor trying to stay on top and all ofthe underlings trying to usurp the incumbent mayor. Genius!Fixed location ideas?Many of the fixed games have expansive online worlds so why not bringsome of those ideas in there too?Imagine how powerful a game mechanic this would be in a game?! Areas ofyour game map can have the equivalent of a mayor, even tracks, levels,bunkers, vehicles, avatars or anything else. Your mayor gets extra gamebenefits that they’re going to need to stay ahead of the thousands ofpeople trying to displace them.Naturally the mayorship would need to decay over time to enable newplayers to stand a chance and prevent someone being untouchable.Both mayorships incorporate the social mechanic of recalling theexisting mayor if they’re displaced to try and claim their seat back.There are some fantastic things that we can learn if we continue toexplore all aspects of our world bringing the best elements into videogames. We shouldn’t just look at other games and try and emulate them asyour naturally going to be 2nd best if you want to play that game.(this is a mobile post)

Games As A Service: Do You Really Know What It Means?

5 min read

I was looking at the schedule for Develop Conference2010 ( @developconf2010 ) to see if there was anything I should pick up on regarding game production and development and I’ve spotted a couple of tasty things that I have experience so I thought I’d jump the gun and share a little before July comes along. Some of the content we’ve seen before from prior conferences and here’s what I’velearned:Games As AService: Do You Really Know What It Means? Online games have been around for a while now and we all know the keymantra “It’s a service, not a product.” Or do we? Very often, in thehaze of development, teams may lose their focus from this truth;especially as the concept of service is not that clearly defined tobegin with. As well as fleshing out the concept of Online GameService, this lecture will provide a practical overview on how itscomponents should be designed and integrated in the production cycleto form an optimal player experience.Well, I’ve done a lot of service related game ideas lately and here area fewideas:The game is just the startIn a nutshell, the players journey with your game starts before theyput the disk in the console, download it from PSN, XBox Live, Wii ordownload and install via Steam. Your audience already has an expectationbased on prior marketing, reviews and many other means of communicationthey’ve received up to this point. They’ve probably talked about it withtheir friends.It’s true to say that the game content delivered up to this point islargely fixed, it was probably made months ago before it went throughQA, format submission, mastering, distribution and sitting on theshelves in the store. Or at least some of that process if you’re totallyonline.So as a player, you’ve waited months, saved up, bought the game, you’veplayed it through. Now what? You’ve had a fantastic time and you needmore content now! If this were a book or a film then that would beit, you’d be waiting for the sequel at some point in the future,probably years away.Thankfully we are blessed with an opportunity to maximise everyone’senjoyment and if the developer and publisher are clever, then they’llhave a whole slew of things to keep you busy and invested in the game.Downloadable content such as levels, characters, vehicles, maps, wholenew features, tracks, music, new season data all keep the game fresh andalive and are all part of the service we offer.Why is this important?So, why not just package up your game and move onto something new? Well,I’m sure you’ve slogged your guts out and put a lot of sweat, blood andtears into making this the best game it can be and you hope youraudience appreciates it. Why not maximise all of this effort and keep itgoing for longer, after all you’ve written the tools, have experience ofhow to get things in the game and your team are probably producingpatches anyway to sort out those last-minute niggles.It’s almost trivial to make this content. I’d also guess that duringthe late parts of production from Alpha through to Master Approval thatyou’re creative team have been twiddling their thumbs whilst the bugsare ironed out. Making add-on content can be a fantastic way of focusingthe team, stopping them adding stuff to the version that’s shipping andallow them to expand and maximise the experience.All of these extras help create an attachment with your game and athirst for more content, it’s up to you if it’s free or paid for; whichis a whole other discussion.Bolting on upgrades and DLC also makes it harder to part company withthe game itself when it comes to trade-in time and you’ll see lowertrade in figures for games that actively promote a long-term connectionwith the game.The ultimate serviceThe ultimate service is user-generated content, which really bindsauthors and players to the game, giving them an emotional involvementand volume of content you’ll find hard to surpass as a developer. It’salso self-promoting as authors actively encourage their friends to divein a try the thing they’ve just made, either by demoing it locally orpointing them at it so they can play at home.You’ll find UGC authors in forums promoting their content and obviouslythe game is good too (which is why they’re making content for it). Allof this drives long-tail sales of your game. For these reasons, you’llrarely find a copy of LittleBigPlanet traded in.Integrate EarlyThese are all great ideas and you really need to plan these in early asI know from experience that retro-fitting the highly modularrequirements of supporting DLC into a hard-baked mess of legacy code isa nightmare and probably one that will just be a barrier to you evermaking it happen. I’m sure many of you will have had that sameexperience and wish to leave it long behind.From an architecture perspective, everything has to be dynamicallyqueried, validated and loaded into the game. You should treat your gameas a tool or framework into which everything plugs-in, nothing should behard-coded or you’re not going to be modular enough to cope with afuture of upgrades and DLC. How can you integrate another character(avatar) if you’re selection screen only supports 8 characters? You’llneed to design expansion into your game from day 1.Away from the gameThe ‘service’ can also expand out beyond the game experience itself andincorporate regular touch points such as social networks like Facebook,mobile phones running OS like Symbian (good luck!), iPhone, iPad,Android or Windows Mobile. Here are some examples of more extensivegame amplifiers: Browser games public league & competition systems In-game auction houses reflected onto the ‘net Training your game character online then playing them on console Clans, factions, guilds Managing your team for tonight’s game News feeds into the game and out againThe list goes on and on and I’m sure there’s some things you could addto the list too.SummaryThere’s a really easy way to remember this - “The game is just thestart”. It’s a mantra that suits every occasion and reallyencapsulates what “game as a service” means.We want to engage with game players for longer, enabling them to getbetter value from the games we make, after all they’re not cheap to makeor buy. Game players and developers have a symbiotic relationship andwe should nurture it over a long period of time for both our sakes.Further ReadingDevelop Conference 2010 -Evolve -ThomasBidaux will be covering this topicGabe Newell on ‘entertainment as aservice’ - DICE 2009

Blog - Game Development Social Media Partnership

1 min read

Fellow Game Development bloggersWe all know that after writing a great post and hitting the publish?button we’re not even halfway finished!There can be a seemingly endless marketing job to do by submitting a?blog article to various social bookmarking sites like Digg,?StumbleUpon and Delicious. We can also choose to submit tosocial ?networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.But after we’ve done this there is no way of knowing that our efforts?have paid off! The article will sometimes sit on the bookmarking sitewith just ?one vote and therefore unseen by the majority of the ?site’svisitors.Here’s where the Game Development Social MediaPartnership Google Group comes in…Promote your fantastic posts!After you have written your blog post you can post the link and askpeople to vote, bump, ?thumbs up, or generally big up your post. Maybeyou can provide the ?just click away very quickly to promote your ?article. I’ll write anexample post to the group to show you what I mean by this.Using the universal “I’ll scratch your back…” rule, people will be?compelled to vote for your articles if you’ve voted for theirs. You?may like to send them a private mail through the group to let themknow.Joining the group is easy with your Google ID and posting on the groupis as easy as writing an email. You are, of course, completely atliberty to vote for the articles you ?consider good enough. Remember, this isn’t confined to designers or developers, any bloggerwho wishes to promote their latest masterpieces can join thegroup.Happy blogging, happy voting and I hope you enjoy being a member of?this group! Thanks to Rob Cubbon for this idea.

Guest Post – Three Ways to Zap Stress During Crunch

5 min read

Stress is a fact of 21st-century life, and all the more so when you’reworking on big, high-pressure projects. I’ve worked in a projectsenvironment for most of the past 20 years, and I know how it gets. Youstart to become irritable, forgetful, you may find yourself dreamingabout work, you’re tired but you can’t sleep well, you might even startto find loud noises and bright lights painful. It’s not fun.Basically, what’s happened is that what is meant to be a short-termresponse for getting you out of immediate physical danger, increasingyour concentration and memory and awareness of your environment, haskept firing off over a long period, and now those exact responses aregetting worn out - as if you’d kept lifting a weight with the same hand,over and over, until your muscles get fatigued and stop workingproperly.So what can you do? On the principle that a problem well defined is halfsolved, let’s start with a definition of stress.What Stress IsThis is my simplified version of the Kim-Diamond definition (in NatureReviews Neuroscience, 2002). It has three parts. Something is measurably winding up your physical state. You don’t like it. You don’t feel in control.All three parts are important. If you love riding roller-coasters, forexample, part 2 of the definition isn’t fulfilled, and even thoughyou’re physically stimulated and you’re not controlling theroller-coaster, it’s not (by this definition) stress.Funny story, by the way. I was talking about stress to the local Rotaryclub, and had accidentally left my notes at home. At one point, havingalready told them that there were three parts to the definition ofstress, I realised when I was about to give the third part that Icouldn’t remember what it was. I started in on the sentenceanyhow: “And the third part of the definition of stress is…”Fortunately, by the time I got that far I’d remembered it. (Take a lookabove at what the third part is and you’ll realise why this gave me alaugh later on.)What You Can Do About StressAs I hinted, the definition contains important clues to three ways toreduce stress. There’s something we can do about each of the threeparts. The physical approach starts with calming down your body. Thevery simplest way to do this is with breathing. After all, you’repretty much guaranteed to be breathing (if you’re not, you haveworse problems than just stress), and while we can’t stop breathingvoluntarily, we can consciously control the depth and rhythm of ourbreath.The old advice to take a few deep breaths in a stressfulsituation works. The reason is that when your body gets into its“stress mode”, it starts to breathe shallowly and rapidly. You canturn that around and feed it back, so that by breathing deeply andmore slowly, you signal the brain to calm down and switch back into“maintenance mode”, where it can repair itself, digest food and doall those other useful processes. (The parts of the brain that control breathing and the parts thatdeal with strong emotion are practically next to each other, alongwith the areas that control heartbeat and blood pressure.) Other physical calming techniques include progressive musclerelaxation and meditation. The emotional approach addresses the fact that you don’t likethe stress, that you find it unpleasant. There are so many emotionaltechniques that I’m creating a whole course on them (the EmotionalCircuit-Breaker Toolkit), buthere’s one simple three-step process that works extremely well. It’scalled the Welcoming Practice.Step 1 is to become aware of thelocation of the emotion in your body. Something will havetightened, be vibrating, be warm or cool - you’ll know it almost assoon as you pay attention to it. Just be aware of it for now. Takeyour time. Step 2, when you’re ready for it, is to name the emotion andaccept its presence. The form of words I use is “Welcome, anger”(or fear or sadness or whatever it is - there may be severalemotions, in which case I welcome each of them by name). Saying thename sets up a circuit between the inner “emotion feeling” parts ofyour brain and the outer “word processing” parts in the cerebralcortex, and drains off the activation (Liebermann et al.,Psychological Science, May 2007). “Welcoming” the emotion (not thecircumstances, by the way, just the emotion) releases yourresistance to it, which is a big part of what is causing the stress. Step 3, again when you’re ready, is to gently let go of theemotion and allow it to subside. In effect, you’re telling yourbrain that the emotion isn’t needed right now, and so it can go backto its normal state. I used this to great effect not long ago. I was driving along theroad and some idiot in a Mini pulled out from a side road,completely illegally, right across my path. I braked and swerved andjust managed to avoid a crash. Now, at one time the fright and angerwould have stayed with me for an hour, but by using the WelcomingPractice, I was fine within a minute or two. The cognitive approach emphasises that, while you can’t alwayschange the outward situation, you can change the way you think aboutit - and that increases your sense of control.Newman & Stone wroteup an interesting experiment in Annals of Behavioural Medicine,June 1996. They showed two groups of people the same stressfulsilent film, and asked them to make up either a serious narrativeabout it (group 1) or a funny narrative (group 2). They hadpre-tested their participants for sense of humour, and haddeliberately put both high-humour and low-humour people in bothgroups.What they found was that, regardless of their score on thesense-of-humour test, the “funny narrative” group not only said theyfelt better but were less stressed, according to standard physicaltests, than the “serious narrative” group. The film was the same -only the story they told themselves about it was different. So there are three approaches to reducing stress. Whether you coachyourself to physically relax, shift your emotional state, or change howyou think about the situation, by using these practices you reduce harmto your body and mind and put yourself more in control.

Maximise your Developer Evolution

5 min read

Well, the inevitable has happened and by the time you’re reading thisI’ll have travelled 250 miles to start the next phase of gamedevelopment career in Guildford, the hub of game development in the UK.This prompted me to reflect on how things have gone over the last fewyears and what advice I can give.Why do I think that migrating to a game development  hub is inevitable?Because you cannot makes games in a vacuum and both your career and yourbusiness need talent to feed on or you will starve.(BTW pretty much all of my posts are scheduled, but don’t tell anyone)I have long supported game development throughout the whole of the UKand Europe along with  it’s self-sufficient pockets but ultimately thelarger your studio becomes or the further your career progresses themore you need to have access to talented people and lots of options.Long, long agoI cut my teeth in the video games industry around Sheffield, SouthYorkshire, UK. In the late 1980s there was of companies to choose fromand lots of people wanting to get into game development. I worked for 5companies in the area, all with varying degrees of success but we allindirectly relied on the mighty Gremlin Graphics (later to becomeInfrogrames) to underpin the area. People went in, people came out, theytrained people and we trained developers for them. It was a symbioticrelationship that was replicated throughout the UK. We needed eachother.These hubs of game development exist and can attract developers andtalent from far and wide, after all if things don’t work out thenthere’s plenty of other opportunities. Both as a developer looking towork on great games and also as a studio looking for talent. The creamslowly floats to the top and the detritus sink to the bottom andeventually leave.Micro-climatesThese symbiotic collections of game development studios and talent arecarefully balanced micro-climates and it only takes one thing to gowrong and the whole thing implodes leaving people reeling and trying tomake amends.The collateral effect of this implosion is often a collection of smallstudios all competing against each other for a dwindling talent pool asthe developers leaving seek stability. Some stay behind but new talentis hard to attract, experts are expensive and you need quite a bigstudio in order to fund this kind of beast, which is beyond the reach ofmany small studios unless those experts are the ones setting up thestudios.As a developer, it becomes a high risk strategy to relocate yourselfinto such a dwindling zone for a single job with no alternatives shouldit not go quite as you, your employer or your staff imagine. Thisbecomes even tougher if you have family in tow.Regional Development is KeyFor this reason, I had many meetings with the Yorkshire and HumbersideRegional Development agency to try to encourage them to stop promotingindividual companies and to nurture the region. At the time, they werewandering off to E3, GDC and pretty much everywhere saying “Come andwork for Company A”, “Why do you graduates come and work for Company B”.Why would anyone? We’re not stupid and we want to be making games for along time, not just until this bubble bursts and we have to relocate,again.Far, far awayI am aware that there are some developers who struggle because of theirisolation, I have talked to them, been asked by friends about going towork for them and considered them to do business with when I was lookingfor games to develop. This is primarily a concern for publishers lookingto commission games with developers who need to expand as this onlymakes sense if they can get talent.You cannot ignore this isolation and the distances involved inconnecting with the hubs as it can be a blocking issue. The prize has tobe very special to warrant the personal investment in both sides.Here’s a choice if you were commissioning a game: a) Developer A - easy to get to, has ability to tap talent to expandand game is “sure-fire hit”. b) Developer B - 6 hour one-way journey door-to-door, only “local”people work there, game is “amazing”Which one would you choose?Sticky Bad PeopleThere is of course another aspect to this where lack of local optionscan cause bad people to hang around rather than move on. They start outgreat but soon they get bored,  stagnate, begin to rot and becomeentrenched in a “job” doing “work” because they now need money to paythe mortgage and they can’t get a job anywhere else. Employment lawmakes them nearly impossible to remove so you have to be vigilant andpro-actively fix this before it becomes a problem.Thriving CommunitiesThankfully, there are still a few pockets that are thriving and haveproper regional development with protection of their micro-climate andthese remain good pockets to aimfor: North East UK and South East UK are the hubs right now with the strongest pool being Guildford.Bullfrog, then Electronic Arts was the fuel that the Guildforddevelopment community burned to get itself into orbit as a regionalstar.From personal experience, sadly my home region is now dead. There’spretty much 1 developer there now and if you don’t want to work for themthen it’s a 1hr trip to the nearest one. This makes it pretty muchimpossible to choose a nice stable location to setup.Where should you be?As a startup business, once you get your game up and running and youstart to need more talent to progress you obviously need to be somewherewhere there is an existing pool of talent you can tap into. Then theonly risk for your staff is the project, not what there future prospectsare if you don’t make it.Think: “If I need 10 people, why would they come and work here?”As your personal career progresses, you’re likely to want to settle downand to do this you need options so you can keep fresh and hopefullymitigate the threat of redundancy without the need to uproot your lifeand move somewhere far away. Therefore, settling into a hub seems theright choice.Non-UK developers - Is this an international phenomenon?I can only really share my observations of the UK industry but what doyou guys think of this internationally?I assume that the fact that most major publishers and platform holdershave their offices in the UK or USA must affect you?SummaryI’ve watched many developers and people make the wrong decisions theyneed to make to maximise their potential. I hope this post gives you abroader view on the nature of choosing your physical location within thegames industry and the impact it has.Let me know how you feel about this too.

Linchpin Manifesto

1 min read

### **Yes. Now.**I am an artist. • I take initiative • I do the work, not the job. •Without critics, there is no art. • **I am a Linchpin. I am not easily replaced****.** • If it’s never been done before, even better. • The work is personal, too important to phonein. • The lizard brain is powerless in the face of art. • I make it happen. Every day. • **Every interaction is an opportunity to make aconnection****.** • The past is gone. It has no power. The future depends on choices I make now.• I own the means of production—the system isn’t as important as mycontribution to it. • I see the essential truth unclouded by worldview,and that truth drives my decisions. • I lean into the work, not awayfrom it. **Trivial work doesn’t requireleaning.** • Busywork is too easy. Rule-breaking works better andis worth the effort. • Energy is contagious. The more I put in, the morethe world gives back. • It doesn’t matter if I’m always right. Itmatters that *I’m always moving*. • I raise the bar. I know yesterday’s innovation is today’s standard. • I will not be brainwashed into believing in the status quo. • **Artists don’t care about credit. We care about change.** • There is no resistance if I don’t allow it to defeat me. • I embrace a lack of structure to find a new path. • I amsurprising. (And often surprised). • I donate energy and risk to thecause. • I turn charisma into leadership. • The work matters. • **Go. Make something happen.****Source:** <http://www.squidoo.com/linchpin>**Book:** [Linchpin: Are YouIndespensible?](http://game-linchpin.com/8y)

Spotlight - 5 Indie Games Developers

5 min read

The phrase ‘indie games’ often refers to games made by small independentdevelopers, who fund the game themselves and release it out into thewild but self-publishing. After all, they’re not bound to a publisherand therefore independent.I would also like to remind our readers that the vast majority of gamesyou buy are made by indie developers but they rarely get the credit theydeserve as their publishers mask their existence in the name ofpromoting their own brand.Here’s a list of 5 indie game developers, in no particular order, thatyou may have missed on your travels around the world through the likesof the XNA Creator community or PC developers in general. It’s hard todiscover PS3 indies as they’re often hidden behind closed doors but Itry.ThatGameCompanyJourneyThatGameCompany are making the transition from a small indie gamedeveloper and are in limbo as they only focus on PS3 titles at themoment. This is a hard path to tread but they appear to be staying trueto their indie roots and delivering emotion and passion in a smallbundle. The pioneers that brought you the award-winning PlayStation®Networktitles flOw & Flower® are back with another title that challengestraditional gaming conventions. With Journey, thatgamecompany (TGC)continues its tradition of delivering simple gameplay and accessiblecontrols in a rich interactive environment that invites players toexplore and experience emotional chords that are still uncommon invideo games. An exotic adventure with a more serious tone, Journey presents TGC’sunique vision of an online adventure experience. Awakening in anunknown world, the player walks, glides, and flies through a vast andawe-inspiring landscape, while discovering the history of an ancient,mysterious civilization along the way. Journey’s innovative approach to online play encourages players toexplore this environment with strangers who cross their path from timeto time. By traveling together, they can re-shape the experience –creating authentic moments they will remember and discuss with others.Holographic DreamsRaptorI came across these Polish indie guys recently and they really struck acord with me as they’re showing the core indietraits: passion, commitment and a desire for success. I believe currently have this running as a XNA game (a.k.a. XBox Independent Games), which showsthey’re commitment to delivering something beyond a simple browser game.Here’s an early video of a game they’re working on right now, take alook and don’t forget to give them feedback!Strawdog StudiosSpace ArkStrawdog Studios are an indie game developer that I’ve known for manyyears, they’re particularly interesting because they have a fantasticart style that runs through all of their games and they have thecreativity to come up with something new and exciting. I hold them inhigh regard and relish an opportunity to work with these talented indiedevelopers.Here’s their current offering for XBox Live Arcade - Space Ark What is Space Ark? It’s is a fun arcade/puzzle game with a hint of retro arcade flavour;inspired by classic arcade games of the late 80s, such as RainbowIsland, Bubble Bobble and Arkanoid. A wandering black hole has damaged a number of planets, rendering themuninhabitable. The occupants of the Space Ark (the Arkonauts – a teamof space traveling animals) are coming to repair the damaged worlds sothat their refugee inhabitants can return.Curve StudiosExplodemonWhat can I say about the guys at Curve? Jason, Graeme, Jonathan and theguys (apologies if I’ve missed anyone) are all legends in their own timeand I’ve had the great fortune to work with them recently.Along with the other guys on this list, they epitomise what’s greatabout indie game developers and I’ve regularly referenced them as one ofthe best developers in the UK because they love games, love makinggames, are great to be with, always deliver great work and take me outto S&M or the Brazilian Meat Factory when I visit. :) Plus, they owe mea few dinners at PingPong. :PHere’s a quick look at their latest titleExplodemon: Explodemon! is a 2.5D action platform game with an explosive maincharacter. Mixing classic platforming action - from classics such asMario and MegaMan - with the refined contemporary gameplay of Halo andHalf-Life 2, it brings old-school gameplay bang up to date. Comingfrom Curve’s deep-seated love of video game culture and history,Explodemon! is wrapped up as a loving homage to SNES-era Japaneseaction games. Explodemon! will release on PlayStation 3 on the PlayStation Networkin 2010.Shadegrown GamesPlanckI hooked up with these guys on twitter recently and I really liked thepotential of what they had on their web-site so I’ll be keeping a closeeye on these guys. You should check out their blog as the IGF judgesalso think they’re great. Planck is an upcoming music-based experiment which looks to play outin a similar fashion to Audiosurf, but with different core elements.Enemies litter your path, and destroying enough of them unlocks a newinstrument for the current song. The game doesn’t use your own music - rather, it pieces together aspecifically-created soundtrack in a Auditorium-esque manner. You canalso jump between sections of the track to mix different sounds andchange the music how you see fit. Looks mighty interesting. No release date or platform set as of yet.SummaryWell, I’ve enjoyed this round up of indie game developers and all oftheir indie cuteness. I hope you show them some appreciation by droppingby to give them your feedback on their web-sites and ‘official’ youtube,or even in our comments as I’m sure they’ll be reading.Is there someone you think should be in the spotlight? Let me know inthe comments.Further ReadingThatGameCompany - http://thatgamecompany.com , twitter @thatgamecompany Holographic Dreams - http://holographicdreams.com , twitter@HoloDreams Strawdog Studios - http://www.strawdogstudios.com Curve Studios - http://curve-studios.com , twitter @curvestudios Shadegrown Games - http://www.shadegrowngames.com, twitter@shadegrowngamesBonus: One Bit Beyond - Curve Studios Creative Director blog -http://www.onebitbeyond.com Twitter @xnacommunity Twitter #xblig

Comment - Full Analysis of iPhone Economics - it is bad news. And then it gets worse

2 min read

I recently re-tweeted this article and I commented on the post butwanted to bring the discussion here to see what you think.Full Analysis of iPhone Economics - it is bad news. And then it gets worsehttp://communities-dominate.blogs.com/brands/2010/06/full-analysis-of-iphone-economics-its-bad-news-and-then-it-gets-worse.htmlThe piece openswith I promised toreturn with the full analysis of the iPhone App Store economicsanalysis, from every angle, with all data I have managed to find. Thisblog intends to paint the most accurate picture of the specificallyApple related iPhone App Store market economics - and lessons fromhere should apply to most other smart phone app stores as well. Theone final piece of the puzzle that had been missing, that wedesperately needed to ge the full, honest picture, was the Appleofficial revenue number, which we finally got a few days ago, at$1.43B total revenues generated over 2 years, and thus $1B paid todeveloper. Now we can do the full analysis. But first a few generalcomments.Here’s what Iwrote: It does make for interesting reading and I think there’s a few factorsthat mean iPad will improve the changes of indie games and majorpublishers alike. iPad enables the game authors to have 2 targetplatforms now, which must broaden their reach and increase sales,maybe not now but in the longer term this should improve as bothplatforms increase in volume. I really hope for game developers sake that the prices don’t drop toofar as people race to the bottom and try to compete on price as it’s aone-way trip and dangerous long-term game. Sadly, since the barrier todevelopment is so low we’re competing against cheap bedroom developersacross the globe so this is always going to be a problem. Market saturation is also a problem on iPhone, every new game/app is adrop in a massive ocean and it’s very difficult to gain awareness toget you promoted to peoples app store lists. It takes a concertedeffort to make it out of the pool and I know that there’s a lot ofgreat games that just get missed. After all, there’s a finite numberof people buying games and a seemingly infinite choice of games. So, I think iPad is a great opportunity for devs to make a bit moremargin but it’s not going to last long. As always, the gold rush willsoon run out of gold. Devs need to think of new ways to make money, 59p isn’t too far off‘free’ so it needs some thinking on how you’re going to make the leap.Godfinger is a good example (which is pretty much Mafia Wars bizmodel). I think we can draw parallels with the GB->GBA->DS->DSi->3DSprogression too, although the barrier to development is significantlyhigher than on iPhone. All in all, new platforms increase our audience, which should increasesales & revenue for little increase in dev costs.What do you think?

What’s your point of difference?

2 min read

Bear with me on this one…I’m currently sat watching a TV programme inthe UK called ‘Mary Queen Of Shops’, which is of particular interest because they’re focusing on a business I know near my house.The programme features Mary, who goes into a failing local businessand revamp it into something much more successful.Why am I writing about it? What on earth has it got to do with videogame development? I felt compelled to write something while theprogramme is still on airI can’t help but draw similes from thisprogram when comparing small indie games (local shops) and AAA budgetgames (supermarkets). The message here is that it’s absolutely pointlessfor the indies to try to be the big guys, you’ll never win them at agame that they control. You don’t have the budgets and backing they dobut it doesn’t mean you can’t be awesome.Find Your NicheWhat you have to do is find a niche, specialise, bring game playerssomething truly unique and special that whole teams of marketeers,producers, legal, financial people and a whole myriad of other peoplewon’t get behind because it’s not something they understand or doesn’tfit on an existing shelf.I love gameslike Godfingerand God Of War, I actually have more time for the former but I enjoy the spectacle of the latter.Indies - forget trying to emulate the big guys. Make something you’repassionate about as that always shows through in a game.Don’t Be BlinkeredDo you have a narrow-minded view of how your game works? Can you openyour eyes to criticism? Are you actually any good (I wrote aboutthis recently)?As I sit and watch these people on TV ignore the obvious truth and I canonly think about game developers I’ve met who are adamant that theirgame is awesome despite everyone telling them different. There’s only 1side that’s losing out here.Have an X StatementInterestingly, the programme has just show the tag line, by line, xstatement for the business. It’s a short statement that reallyencapsulates what you’re doing with your game, your business or even ifit’s what you as a person want to achieve.SummaryI started watching this series of programmes with local interest and Ihonestly think there’s something we can all learn for game developmentby watching the pain someone else goes through on our behalf.The trick is to think about what’s being said if applying it to your ownworld of game development.As Mary would say - “What’s your point of difference?”I would say, that we don’t need to end up naked covered in veg to besuccessful. :)Further ReadingBlog Post - Are YouUnique? Blog Post - Weakest Link – Be A Better GameDeveloper

Generalist or Specialist game developer?

1 min read

Whilst researching teams, I recently came across 2 similar concepts thatdescribe the skills of people working in your beloved game developmentindustry - “T-Shaped” people and “Generalising Specialist”.I wanted to know more about them and how these types relate to myexperience of people and if the idea gives me something for me to learn.The shape of the letter is a nice way to visualise someones skill withthe horizontal stroke ‘——–‘ referring to the breadth of someonesskills and the vertical ‘|’ referring to how skilled they are in thatparticular skill.Therefore, “T-Shaped” people have a principal skill that describesthe vertical leg of the ‘T’, they’re multi-player level designers,script writes, AI programmers or shader artist. However, they have abroad understanding of how things fit together and can branch out intoother skills when required although this may not be their strongestarea. They can also see  things from multiple perspectives and beinspired and diverse.“Generalising Specialist” is a term given to someone who has a broadset of skills that peak in one particular area *but* they can slidebetween similar roles when required. E.g., a level designer who can alsoscript, a gameplay programmer who can also prepare UIs, an animator whocan also sculpt.‘I-Shaped’ people are highly skilled in a particular area, more sothan is seen in people with broader skills, but they pay for this depthof knowledge with a much narrower skillset. This narrow, but deep, setof skills may not be required for a whole project and this may be whereyou consider outsourcing, freelancers or contract workers to hit thesweet spot without taking the hit of them having nothing to do outsideof that one task.When building a team it’s important to include various types of peoplein order to succeed. Generally smaller teams start out with all T-shapesand as the team grows and more specialists are needed then the‘I-Shaped’ people start to appear to when the team and the game start torequire more specialist knowledge.What type of person are you? I think I’m ‘T’ shaped. :)Further Reading GeneralizingSpecialists: Improving Your IT CareerSkills The Ten Faces ofInnovation -IDEO’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate & DrivingCreativity Throughout Your Organization.

Javascript Treegrid Control

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title: Javascript TreeGrid controldate: 2010-06-20 14:39:24type: post—JavaScript TreeGrid control aimed to organize and edit informationin grid, tree, or treegrid modes.-Link.10 things every good web developer should know –Link.Web Design and development process chart –Link.Web Design criticism – a how to – guidelines for constructive web designcriticism from Smashing Mag –Link.How to hire a great graphic designer – Business Insider War Room –Link.jbgallery is a UI widget webpage written in javascript on top of thejQuery library. Its function is to show a single big image, multipleimages, multiple galleries, slideshows, as a site’s background, in a“dialog” mode or as a common pop-up. –Link.30 web based applications useful for web designers –Link.A web designer needs a good method for delivering designs. Instead ofusing email attachments, PPTs and PDFs here is a fresh new way –Link.jQuery news ticker – liScroll – liScroll is a jQuery plugin thattransforms any given unordered list into a scrolling News TickerLink.Be a CSS TeamPlayer: CSS Best Practices for Team-Based DevelopmentBy Emily P. Lewis. “How many times have you picked up a project that someone else started,only to discover that the creator’s original code is a mess?Or you work with several team members, each of whom has their ownway writing code? Or you revisit a project you created years ago, andyou don’t remember what you were thinking?…”http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/scriptjunkie/ff679957.aspxForrst: Microblogging for web designers and developers – share pieces ofcode, design ideas, prototypes and engage in feedback with the webdesign community – Link.

What Really Defines A Social Game?

8 min read

Social Games are a bit like a ball, they’re inert when they’re in thegarage and not much fun on when your on your own*. The more peoplethere are the better the ball does it’s job and the more people havefun. Then you’re at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010! It’sultimately not about the ball but none of that fun would happenwithout it.Sound familiar? This is your game so lets explore what really defines asocial experience.*unless you’re John Farnworth.What I’ve learnedThis is a question I often wonder about as I’ve been working with trulysocial games from a number of years now and it really takes someconsideration to make sure you’re hitting a few fundamental points to besuccessful. Here’s what I think makes for a successful social game.I’ve learned a lot these last few years whilst homing in one what makesa successful social game, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to meetwith a wide variety of people who have all contributed to my world view.I know believe this is one of the contributing factors to way women nowplay more games as they are inherently more social than men and place alot more value on those interactions. All of which have been missinguntil recently.So, I’ve been for quite a few job interviews recently and I’ve beenasked “What do you think makes a social game?”Pillars of Social GamesI believe there are a few basic pillar measurements you can use to gaugewhere your game sits on the “social game” slider from, solo offlineexperience, to massively multi-player realtime action game.Fundamentally, social games connect people with each other andenabled people to have an entertaining shared experience. Thesestrengthen bonds and enable people to build relationshops.There are 3 high level examples of social gameplay: 1) Solo Offline - I play in my own world, disconnected and nothingis shared - Red DeadRedemption 2) Realtime multi-player - We share a world, doing the same thingas each other - Call OfDuty 3) Async multi-player - We play the same game separately but ourgames are inter-twined - FarmVilleTwo other principals that are compatible with all of the above: a) Competitive - we compete against each other, one of us is betterthan the other b) Co-operative - we share the same goal and share in the rewardsalong the wayAs game developers, we’ve known about this for many years and it’smoving forwards well as we explore more ways of enabling people to playtogether. Most of which has been made possible with the advent ofconnected games consoles and fast broadband.As with all game design, it’s not easy to get this right and gettingthat special something is hard work.In order to do this, we need to explicitly connect and share butalso implicitly have common ground.ConnectionThis connection is more than just the physical connection between twoconsoles, PCs or phones. This is about the players, who need to be ableto find each other and stick together. Thankfully most of this is takencare of with modern game systems such as Live, PSN and Steam but we’veyet to see this happen on Apple’s iPhone and iPad. They’ll get there oneday but they do have a tendency to take their time on anything otherthan beautiful industrial design (BritishCreativity!).A key aspect of a social game is our constant re-connection with thegame and each other. In part, it comes via the discussions we have aboutthe game, the forums we patrol, the Facebook pages we trawl.Clever designers incorporate a ‘call to action’ outside of the gameto bring people back in and raise awareness of a game on their shelf,these can be friends gaining trophies and you just have to have them,new DLC packs (even free as they pay for themselves in other ways) thatextend your  time enjoying the game. I would say the best example ofthese ‘calls to action’ are game items that expire, gifts or helprequests.Expiring items give you an impetus to come back to play the game tocomplete a delayed action or re-instate something before a timerexpires. Good examples wouldbe:![](/assets/Animal-Crossing-Dog.jpg "Animal-Crossing-Dog")**AnimalCrossing** - vendors at specific times of day or even day of month,seasons, fishing at night and fruit that goes bad. Special events onreligious festivals.![](/assets/hustle_kings_ps3.jpg "hustle_kings_ps3") **** **Hustle Kings** - a viral trophy that you can only get by playingagainst someone who already has it.![](/assets/farmville1.jpg "farmville")**FarmVille** - crops that needtending in X hours or they perish, limited time offers for 'free' sheepthat you must have, receiving a gift that I have to place in the worldbefore it expires, your friends have fertilised your crops for you andgot rid of pests.Shared ExperienceWhoah! This alone is a massive topic! Right, lets get stuck in with abig list of things we can share on a system such as Steam, XBox Live,Facebook, PlayStation Network. Each element binds us together andincreases our enjoyment We can see each other as avatars We can see each others achievements We have common friends and unique friends We share games we’ve played We can challenge each other We can brag about our success We can sit next to each other and play We can talk to each other We can collaborate on making new worlds We can join together as a team against others We can invite each other into games We can explore virtual worlds together We can lead others as a group We can give each other gifts We can step in and take over when the other isn’t around We can meet new people through new interactions We can ask for help We can grief  people if they’re hurting our experiencePretty much none of these things we’re around a few years ago and thislist is evolving all the time as the weak elements are dropped, thestrong ones survive and new things are tried.Playing a game co-operatively on a 3D enabled TV is something to beamazed at. Clever people use the technology to only show the screen to 1person at a time so we can both see a nice big picture but not have aclue what the other is doing!Common GroundThe smart teams have understood this last point for quite a while andit’s something that no piece of tech can give you and it has multiplefacets.SkillAs people playing your game, we need to be able to have fair commonground to play on. The old fashioned ways are thankfully long gone suchas the fact that it’s no fun dropping into a veteran multi-player matchwhen I’ve only just taken the shrink wrap off the box. I’ll die and I’llget frustrated and I’ll probably never play; but why should you care?You’ve got my money now but I’ll not buy anything you make. :PThe original Halo for XBox was the first game I experienced that made this work and I later went to one of their presentations at GD Conf where they explained about their skill matching systems. I believe this later went on to form the backbone of the likes of theTrueSkill system  on X360.Ensuring people have compatible skills isn’t something that’s restrictedto hard-core games were lightning fast reactions and dexterity areparamount to your success. You’ll need to understand tactics and aboutworking in a team too.KnowledgeThis is a particular point that I focused a lot on when thinking abouttrue social games. We need common knowledge too. In a similar point toabove, even if I’m incredibly dexterous (which I’m not) there’s littlepoint us competing if I don’t know where the weapon upgrades are, or howto play this new game round, the secret short-cut behind the town hallor to KEEP OUT OF THE FIRE in a boss fight (Yes, I’ve played WoW too).Social games rely on less game specific knowledge and really enablepeople to use simple things that everyone knows about to interact andconnect. We won’t have much of a good experience if there’s a massivegap between the people we’re playing with (not against) and it rapidlybecomes a challenge, that we may not enjoy. We can all understand thatplants need sunlight to grow, we know that a sheep will walk off if it’snot penned in, we know that an elephant is grey. We will get a wholedifferent experience if we have to sing an obscure song from 1976, orknow the population of Jakarta or know that you need 10,000 units of XPto be able to level up your mount.It takes a great designer to spot these things and provide elegantdesign solutions to get around these gameplay problems but when itworks, it’s a whole lot better for it and then we expect it as the norm.Social Game = Inclusive Catalyst For Shared Fun {style=”text-align: center;”}So there it is, a strapline, a byline, an X-Statement for a good socialgame. It should enable everyone to play by providing us with a commonplaying field that we all understand,  it should share our experienceand enable us to share in the experience of others and of course havefun whilst doing it; and that may be away from the game when we’retalking about it online, down the pub, in the school playground orsharing time with our families.Further ReadingNudge Social Media - a top social media agency based in London. Toby is a stellar guy and knows his SM inside out. Game Design Framework for SocialNetworks - an interesting article on the fundamentals of social game designGratuitous footage of John ;)

How To Get The Most From Social Game Reviews

5 min read

In the second part of the series on Leveraging Social Media ToMaximise Your Game Sales, I’ll expand on the previousarticle and cover the topic ofuseful easily getting Real Feedback, which already exists and youdon’t need to do anything to make it happen!This article started out with the intent of covering quite a lot ofaspects but one particular point expanded out and warranted it’s ownarticle in theseries…scraping Amazon. The rest will have to wait for another article, read on…Pro Reviews - a tiny voiceIn recent years, review scores onmetacritic have really driven game development as we chase a high score through compelling game design, amazing visuals and killer content. It’s quite common to find incentives for the team or business attached to reaching a certain metacritic scoreHere’s an example from a game I worked on, notice the 107 reviewstaken into account.Does paying someone affect their opinion?It’s worth remembering that these reviews are largely written by paidprofessional journalists who get the games for free and have peoplebegging them for good scores. Launch parties, previews, gifts and othertricks can all influence the game. In the early days, I can rememberhaving a reviewer come around within 1 week of us starting a game whenthere was no game to play. Our artist mocked up some screenshots of thegame on the spot and the ‘reviewer’ disappeared with his floppy disk.In the next months magazine we got a rave 3-page review for our game anda 90% rating (for 3 screenshots)! The review was entirely fictional andit’s coloured my opinion on reviews ever since.Why did this happen? Well, review scores used to be influenced by howmuch advertising the publisher paid for in that particular magazine. Themore ads, the better the reviews, the more the sales, the moreads……and around it went.Hopefully this no longer happens but the most valuable feedback you cangain as a developer isn’t from reviewers, it’s from the people who wantyour game.But, there’s a bigger, more important voice to listen to who may tell adifferent storey, noticed the 1,112 votes taken into account, over10 times the amount of proviews:Scraping Amazon - the BIG VOICEAmazon is your friend ifyou want to discover what the world thinks about any product, peoplehopefully buy your game there and it’s not short of people wanting toshare their views on how good and bad your game is. These are usuallypeople who have paid money for your game and have a vested interested init’s success, they want your game to be good because they handed overhard earned cash for you to entertain them and you’d better do it! Thisis a key difference between looking on Amazon and reading commentselsewhere, there aren’t many other places where people who bought it,review it.####Bonus: Cultural Game ExpectationsIt’s really hard to get a true feeling from pro reviews as they’re allso hard to find and come in different formats and they don’t allow youto discover regional variations either, e.g., what did the Spanishpeople think, what did the Polish people think, did the Germans love it?Thankfully, Amazon is pretty much the same the world over and it’scommon 5-star rating system is easy to discover and understand even ifyou can’t read the language.Below are some examples for Heavy Rain(PS3), which I worked on recently and I chose it as an example as it is an easier title to understand because it’s single platform and came with some anticipated cultural issues depending on where it was released.As you can see, we favoured very well and got excellent review scoresand you can see subtle variations in the general acceptance byterritory. I probably picked a subtle example but the principal isthere. :)FranceGermanyUnited StatesJapanUnited KingdomPromoted ReviewersYou also get indirect feedback from people who don’t write comments asthey will often click a button just to say if they like a review or not,where in most cases that review reflects their own opinion. Again, thisis something unique to Amazon as the other review sites don’t allow youto promote someone else’s opinion if you don’t have the time to writeyour own.These ‘promoted reviews’ are the ones to listen to and you shouldconsider these as amplifiers of opinion. You may even want to contactwith these rare reviewers for some inside information and work with theclosely, at least you’ll have the opportunity to amplify your gain theirconnection with the audience as a trusted reviewer.iTunes FeedbackI wanted this article to stay focused on Amazon / Metacritic for now butI thought it worth dropping a note in about iTunes as I think we allrecognise that the built in 5 star ratings system is welcome and enablespeople to at least give some feedback.However, the vast majority of iPad / iPhone users interact on the phoneitself and here’s where it’s painfully limited, I can only give it 1 to5 stars overall. No support for arbitrary text feedback, no support forgiving some detail “Game play was great, graphics were bad”, “Graphicswere great, gameplay was bad”, “Level 15 is lovely, Level 20 is justkiller”.On the iPad / iPhone it also has an inherent flaw in when people areencouraged to give feedback. An example: I buy the game on my iPhone (no ratings system) I play the game on my iPhone I’ve finished with it / bored of it / need the space, so I removeit. I’m prompted to rate the app/game out of 5There’s the rub, I’m at the point where my relationship with the gamehas ended and I’m moving on and that’s the only time I get to givefeedback. I can only guess that this affects some of the ratings.I guess the flip-side is that if you’re still willing to give the game5* at this point, then it must be good!SummaryRight, back to the point. In the last few years game developers havebeen given direct access to our audience, to listen to them, react tothem and share our feelings about the creative work we put into ourgames.The bright, exciting people will take this up this and make a differencewith this new opportunity to make more rewarding experiences and bettergames for everyone.I’m always looking to learn new ways and opinions so fire away! Don’t beshy to drop in a comment. :)Further ReadingMinimum ViableProduct - anapproach to the development loop of publish, listen, act - repeat

Why has multiformat games development become so problematic?

12 min read

With release dates slipping as titles need ‘further development time’and louder groans from coders regarding the trials of contemporaryCPUs, we look at how the increasingly contradictory nature ofdevelopment – with studios asked to make one game for a variety ofdifferent machines – has impacted the industry……are the opening lines from an this old video game production articleI contributed to a few years for DevelopMag about video game production issues.“Mike Cook” is actually Game Production Legend “MikeCox” as the author got his name wrong. :)Read the full article below, including me waffling on aboutmulti-platform video game development.Posted: Thursday, 3rd January 2008 at 9:38 am With release dates slipping as titles need ‘further development time’and louder groans from coders regarding the trials of contemporaryCPUs, we look at how the increasingly contradictory nature ofdevelopment – with studios asked to make one game for a variety ofdifferent machines – has impacted the industry… Looking at the current state of the game market, it’s clear that thedevelopment sector is having a serious problem with multiplatformdevelopment. Staggered releases have become morecommon: it’s not unusual to see aPS3 version of a title ship a week or two after its 360 counterpart.But it can be even more severe than that – some titles are appearingon some formats months after they’ve appeared on another, withslippage as developers continually shift attentions between platformsimpacting production schedules. In addition, more and more developers are starting to speak out on thedifficulties of being multiplatform developers in this latestgeneration – usually at the same time as they boast the large amountof work they’ve done on their own internal development frameworks toalleviate the situation. There’s even a feeling amongst some in the industry that simultaneousmultiplatform development isn’t possible with a single team any more. CHANGING SCOPE Going back to basics for a moment, development for multiple platformshas traditionally always been done because it spreads the cost andresulting risk of games development across the biggest audience. Withgames now costing more to create, it would seem that this would beneeded more now than ever before. Similarly, though, with the largedisparity between widely popular platforms such as the 360 and Wii,going cross-platform means more work, more ideas to exploitplatform-specific quirks and similarly more money. But is it gettingto a point where the benefit gained from going cross-platform isactually being outweighed by the cost – and is being a multiplatformdeveloper really as hard as some say? At first glance, it is clear that the very definition of‘multiplatform’ is muddier than it ever was. While it could havepreviously been easily defined as the development of a similar-lookingtitle on all of the ‘big three’s’ platforms, Nintendo’s decision toveer from the road of horsepower advancement and produce a largelylast-generation specced machine has changed the playing field. Similarly, with the PlayStation 2 enjoying a long tail in sales thatnone of its contemporaries managed, there’s much to be said fordeveloping on last-generation machines. And let’s not forget the twowildly different handhelds while we’re at it, and the player interfacedifferences that the Wii and DS bring to the table. Suddenly,‘multiformat’ encompasses a set of vastly different standards ofdizzying complexity. Or, as Eidos’ chief technology officer JulienMerceron thinks of it, possibilities. “Actually, all these platforms are quite exiting to support,” he says.“You can generalise most games into two cases. The first case is thatyou’re making a ‘hardcore’ game, in which case the chances are youmight only target PC, Xbox 360 and PS3, and that’s not hugelydifficult. “The other case is that, if you’re making a mainstream game, you’dideally like to support the Wii as well. In that situation, developingfor the Wii in addition to the other formats isn’t the easiest thingin the world – especially when each version needs to be cutting edgeon their respective platform.” One way of reducing the complexity of the latter case, says Merceron,is to actually open up to even more platforms. That way, “you couldpotentially develop three sets oftitles: one for PC/PS3/360, one forWii/PS2/PSP and one for DS and mobile,” he says. CAUGHT IN THE NET When taking a birds-eye view of the different ‘this generation’consoles, it’s tempting to generalise the differences based solely on performance: the Wii is weak, the PS3 is strong but the Cell posesarchitectural difficulties, and the Xbox 360 is powerful and less ofan alien layout. But to do so would miss some of the other largeissues, especially one such as online gameplay. Kuju Sheffield rebranded itself as Chemistry earlier this year, andwith it decided on Unreal Engine 3 exclusivity. And while that’scertainly insulated the team from some of the pain of multiplatformdevelopment – “We’ve got Epic worrying about the technology, so we canbe worrying about other things,” says managing director Mike Cook – asstudio manager Simeon Pashley explains, there are still significantissues to be worked around. “The very big issue, we feel, is networking. There’s no commonalityon any of the platforms, even to the end-user, on what the experienceis like,” he says. “There are very obvious differences between XboxLive, PlayStation Network and GameSpy or whatever other PC service youuse.” As such, part of the network implementation focuses on just gettingthe same core experience right across all of the platforms, andworking to create uniformity in the face of vastly different attitudesin the structures of the various networks. And that’s beforedifferentiating to take advantage of some of the other functionalityprovided by, say, Xbox Live. It’s a another major point that hasimpacted the bottom line for next-gen game production. Cook is keen to add that it’s not just the developers thatunderestimate the cost per platform of implementing network play – thepublishers are just as guilty of overlooking the complexity involved.“It’s a massive cost, and it will trip people up,” he says. “It’s notan easy thing to do by any means.” But isn’t it a problem alleviated by the studio’s use of UnrealEngine 3, though? “Sure, making maps is fine – that does come freewith Unreal, so to speak. But things like lobbies, the matchmaking,the leader boards – it’s a big job. The reality of using UE3 is thatyou’re still developing for multiple platforms, and you have to playto those platforms’ strengths and weaknesses.” REAL PROBLEMS Interestingly, Unreal Engine 3 has in some ways become the posterchild for both the ups and downs of multiplatform development. Whichis understandable, given that it’s often seen as a flexible, catch-allengine and has been epitomised by creator Epic’s own Gears of War butalso questioned by a lawsuit from licensee Silicon Knights. And thenthere’s the chatter that, despite UE3’s performance on Xbox 360, itsPS3 showing struggled. At E3, Sony even pledged to work with Epic toget the engine working on PS3 with all guns blazing. Six months on,and how is the engine faring? “Epic have done a lot of work on PS3 version of Unreal,” explainsCook. “The engine was obviously PC and Xbox-lead, by a long way, but Ithink the effort both internally and with Sony has got the PS3 versionof Unreal up to where it should be. It certainly looks the part.” Naturally, Mark Rein is confident about Unreal Tournament 3’sPC-equivalent performance on PS3, but admits that it has taken theproduction of one of Epic’s own games to get UE3 to ship quality.“Like we did last year with Gears of War on the 360, we’re kind ofreaching version 1.0 of the technology for PlayStation 3. It’s reallyexciting – it feels like we’ve reached a big milestone and hurdled wayover it.” Epic’s troubles are pertinent because more and more studios areturning to existing technology such as Unreal Engine 3 to facilitatedevelopment for multiple platforms. The alternative – buildingequal-footed technology for several different architectures andperformance envelopes – is a job too large for many small- tomedium-sized developers. Merceron points out several reasons for why building a bespokemultiplatform engine is more difficult in this generation than itmight have been in the past. “These days, experts are rare – losing one key person in your team canmake things tough, to a greater extent than before. Not only that, butthe scope of today’s games isbigger: even console games are movingdeeply into the online and social community spaces, an area wheremultiplatform needs to be applicable as well,” he adds. But it’s not just building for the now that’s important – despite onlya year having passed since two of the current-gen platforms launched,Merceron believes that cross-generation development will be a bigforce in the future. “Developers that are already trying to architect so that the coretechnologies can migrate to PS4, Wii 2 and Xbox 720,” he says. “It’s avery interesting trend, as it can really have a very positive impactfor the company in about three years from now.” (And, as we reveal onpage 6, this is a future Eidos itself is investing in.) OPENING THE FLOODGATE So, what should those embarking on contemporary multiplatformdevelopment be careful of? Amongst the people we spoke to, advice onmaking sure you have a solid architecture featured strongly. “It’s correct that there’s a lot of bespoke or tailored code,especially in the hardware intensive processes like graphics or audio,but it’s definitely the case that when it comes to aspects likemultithreading we’ve got an awful lot of common code,” says AlexMcLean, technical director at Pivotal, which itself has spent the pastyear building its own unified development base for 360, PS3 and PC. Assuch, it’s important to make sure you have a solid underlyingstructure that’s applicable across all of the platforms, so thatplatform-specific features can be abstracted out on top. It’s a point that Merceron agreeswith: “Whatever your approach,anyone can trip up on architectural aspects. Architecture work is nowextremely important so that you ensure the implementation will berobust and manageable. A poor low level architecture will generate alot of multiplatform issues when designing the high level features.” Part of the problem that developers have had adopting to the high-endmachines of late has been that of concurrency, the true power onlyobtainable when all of the cores or SPUs are working efficiently. Assuch, splitting big processes into smaller tasks and building asuper-scheduler to manage them is a major priority for developersstarting out. “The SPUs are incredibly hard to program and optimise for,” empathisesValery Carpentier, Emergent’s EMEA field application engineer. “Youhave to write data to special parts of memory or it’ll crash, you haveto transfer memory yourself – it’s a big nightmare.” It’s a problem that Emergent saw coming early – not just that ofprogramming for the PS3’s unbalanced concurrent architecture, butdevelopers having to plan how their game will work on anywhere fromone processor to six. As a reaction, it developed Floodgate, a new butintegral part of its Gamebryo engine aimed at helping game studios getthe most performance out of parallel systems. Although it could be(somewhat unfairly) described as a scheduler, Floodgate is inactuality a system that manages processes running on different cores,keeping them thread-safe and their memory managed effectively – andscales from the six core PS3 through the Xbox 360 and even the Wii. “When you’ve written the task program, you can tell Floodgate to runit on one SPU, two SPUs or even all five. It’s as simple as that – youjust say ‘run this task on this many SPUs’ and it will.” These ‘Floodgate programs’ can be written in pure C++ to ensurecross-platform compatibility and then later rewritten in chip-specificassembler during the optimisation stage. The benefit of Floodgate,says Carpentier, is that it allows people to get code running onmultiple processors quickly – and that time saving, which Emergentsays can amount to around 12 man-months, can be better spentoptimising, swapping tasks between cores or altering how many coresare working on the task. Issues with getting code running correctly on multiple platforms arecause to most of the grumbles we hear today, but what about actualassets? Are there significant performance differences between thehigh-end consoles, or are they similar enough to this gen’s stumblingblock one of code? “If you build assets, they are sharable across multiple platforms, sothat’s where you win. Assets that you build are usable on multipleplatforms. So long as you don’t do something like 360 and DS, theplatforms aren’t that different – you can genuinely share assetsbetween them all,” says Chemistry’s Pashley. “It’s when you get downto the technical sides of things – the things players shouldn’t careabout – that’s where there’s differences that need to be addressed.” BUILDING THE FUTURE Ultimately, however, even if there are performance differences, mostdevelopers are used to having scalable pipelines – it’s not as ifconsole specs have ever been identical. So in many respect it’spossible that growing pains today are aiding future developments.Certainly there’s historical precendent. Could it be the case thatthose developers with PC experience are better prepared, having dealtwith flexible specs for a while now? When asking Mark Rein if he’sever thought that having a PC background has helped Epic Games withworking on different architectures, his surprise is palpable.“No-one’s ever mentioned that as a positive before – people used tosee us as a PC company trying to make a go on consoles, and that’salways been a hard selling point for our technology,” he says. “But yeah, we’ve been dealing with different system specs, differentperformance envelopes, different CPUs and GPUs for years, so itprobably does make us better equipped – especially as these newsystems, the 360 and PS3, are very similar in nature to high-end PCsin terms of some of the parts that they’re using. So it’s important toremember that we had this problem already on PC in a much larger waythan we did on the consoles.” And so, as dual- and quad-core chips continue their onslaught intoeven entry-level PCs, there will come a time when a single-core chipis an anachronism and working in parallel is just the standard. Thetransition has been – and still is – a difficult one, for sure. Butit’s one that will gradually be overcome, leaving developers in abetter place to squeeze every last drop of performance out of whateverarchitectures the future may build. Read the originalpost

Weekend Reading - 12/Jun/2010

1 min read

As the editor of @GameLinchpin I love to hear from you and share thebrilliant things I find from other game development linchpins Idiscover.I’ve recently updated the site book shelf with books Irecently discovered from an amazing computer graphic artist Simeon usedto work with, Antony Ward.His work appears has appeared in many games over the years and alwayslooks amazing. His books are in the Authors IKnow section and well worth a read if you’re into discovering how to start and improve your high-end character art. I’m not an artist myself but I think that Antony’s work clearly shows that he really knows what he’s doing and produces some amazing art.You can view more of Antony’s computer graphic work via his online blog& portfolio http://www.ant-online.co.uk/Or contact him via twitter @ant_ward or his tips section @3dtwipsI also look forward to learning from you too via comments,feedback and having your articles appearhere.

How To Improve Your Video Game Pitch

4 min read

I’ve seen my game pitches in my time, and I’ve made quite a few myselfbut I’m continually amazed and just what some people think they’redoing.  Think about all those poor saps who’ve been sent to theslaughter on “X Factor” for our amusement when they totally and utterlyfail to deliver anything that a mother wouldn’t love.  Think about allthose sorry ideas you’ve seen on Dragon’s Den that are just pitiful. Butit doesn’t have to be this way…When I’ve been on the receiving end, it often feels like “X Factor”, theperson pitching stands up, stumbles to introduce themselves and thenproceeds to claim they’ve got the best thing you’ve ever seen, all theirfriends and colleagues have seen it and they’re passionate about it.It’s the next GTA, or God Of War, or Forza…and then….sitting on theedge of my seat I wait…out comes the pitch and the presentation to gowith it. I finally get to see something and oh dear, oh dear, it rarelylives up to the hype and expectations that the person pitching sets.The sad part is, some of the games are actually fundamentally good andit’s just that pitch itself and / or the person pitching is bad. Both ofthese are fixable or at least made a little bit easier.Here’s a few pointers to get you started X Statement. Produce a concise statement that sums up yourgame succinctly. It should capture the essence of what you’re gameis about and set realistic expectations. It’s difficult to do, andeven harder to do well, but the thought behind it will cause you toexplore what you’re really pitching. Who Am I? What Am I doing? Why do I care? These are things Iwant to know as a gamer, to check if this is something I want toplay. Ask yourself these questions to ensure that you’ve coveredthese key topics in your pitch. Would your mother understand it? When you’ve written your pitch,ask yourself if your mother would understand what you’re saying orshowing. This may seem silly but remember that the people you’repitching to have to understand your proposition in 15-20 minutes.They haven’t lived with every nuance of the design for months andknow everything you’re implying. It’s all about you. There are many case studies that show that alarge part of someone accepting the pitch is whether they like theperson (and team) pitching the idea. If you come across asunsure, incompetent, uncaring then why would you care should you getthe work? This can be a tough one to crack when you’ve taken thesame idea around lots of people but it’s very important to getright. Stay fresh or go home. Make every word and image count. Optimise the life out of yourpresentation when it’s ready to make sure you’re maximising yourpresentation time, communicating efficiently and clearly, notrepeating key statements and getting everything you want to say inthere. Keep it simple This is a little different to point 3, I’mreferring to the content itself. Your objective is to hook theperson and start a conversation about your pitch. Shy away fromgoing into uber detail that would scare someone off, keep numbers toa minimum, keep the text light on each page. Practise, practise, practice. I mean this. Really practice yourpitch, think about every word. The reason is that when it comes topresentation time you’ll know what you’re going to say, remembereverything you want to get across and also, critically, be moreconfident about what you’re doing.I would say that I have a pet hate, which is that the most common phraseI hear has to be  ”Pixar Style Animation” and it fills me with dread.There are 2reasons: Pixar communicates a style and ethos all of it’s own that goesdeeper than just it’s animation, it’s about how it makes you feel.There’s an emotion they’re you just can’t put into words, but it’sthere and it’s what makes it so good. More importantly you’ve set my expectations very high and I’mmore likely to be thinking “Prove It” or “I bet it isn’t” beforeI’ve seen anything. I’m instantly on the back foot and expectingfailure. What is the person trying to say in the 1st place?I’m allfor setting aspiration goals but you need to be able to prove them.Above all, do what you say you’re going to do.There are many similar phrases that you just simply have to be able toback up. Think about what expectations your setting and if they exist inthe real world before promising them. Would you fall for it?SummarySo, there it is, a few pointers on mostly what to avoid when preparingyour pitch and doing the presentation itself. Take your time, make sureyou’re ready, don’t rush and remember. To fail to prepare is to prepare to failIf you’re business depends on it, it’s worth the time and effort to getit right and get a professional to run through it with you! Shamelessselfplug.;)As always, if there’s something more you’d like to know, post a commentor contact me directly.###UPDATE:I’ve followed up with more information in ‘How To Improve YourPitch – Part 2‘Further Reading Presentation Zen - a blogdedicated to sharing the best presentation tips PresentationZen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery(Voices ThatMatter) -a great book that sets the basis for great presentations Presentation ZenDesign: Simple Design Principles and Techniques toEnhance Your Presentations (Voices ThatMatter) -a partner book that focuses ondesign

Why you should use Minimum Viable Product game production

5 min read

The term Minimum Viable Product (MVP) has recently come to be usedin the world of video game production but what does it mean and how canit benefit our games and the gamers themselves, including how to get thefeedback you need.The phrase Minimum Viable Product is a product development andrelease methodology pioneered by Eric Ries as part of a long seriesabout Lean Startup companies. Its main tenet is the development andearly release of only the core of your product, allowing the marketplaceto vet and feedback on its pros and cons. While the developer still hasa roadmap of their own, risk is mitigated as feature feature has analready receptive audience and the product offering more tightly focusedwhen the core is released early and iterated upon often, in response toreal customer feedback.[caption id=”attachment_54” align=”aligncenter” width=”300”caption=”Minimum ViableProduct”][/caption]Rapid IterationThe Minimum Viable Product is dependant on rapid feedback loops andis quicker these are the more successful the iterations will be.This approach is wide spread on web-sites and browser games where thegame is effectively re-downloaded every time the game is launched, it’sbeen used to great effect on games for iPhone to produce some greatexperiences.While it is possible to take on this approach for traditional consolegames, their closed nature and long approval and release cycles can makethe feedback loop a very long process and therefore seem disconnectedfrom the community.Get FeedbackOf course, connecting and interacting with the community around yourgame is absolutely essential and is likely to require specific communitymanagement staff to be successful. I have been fortunate to work with agreat community manager and I have witnessed what a real difference thiscan make, this is a skill that is not to be under-estimated.You will need to offer simple opportunities for your audience tofeedback. It has to be trivial and caught at key moments to gain themost valuable information. The closer the feedback loop is to the game,the easier it is for the player.As a minimum consider simple 5 star systems in the game, like iTunes oreBay as they’re easy and trivial for players to give you a rating. Maybeeven some pre-defined phrases that help them communicate feelings suchas “Happy”, “Great”, “Slow”, “Dull”, “Exciting” or “More!”. Try and givethe player an opportunity for extended feedback via a short text box andmaybe hook them up with a backend web-site if possible.When to get feedbackConsider collecting feedback at key points in the game such as when aplayer has finished all of the levels, tried a new character, tried anew download pack, experienced some user generated content or evenuninstalled the game.Social Media – connect outside the gameConnecting with your audience via social media warrants an article initself but I’ll cover some basics here.The old style way of interacting with “consumers” was to wait for themto discover some forums you had lurking around somewhere, on adiscretely hosted web-site hoping they stumbled across them. Such forumsstill have a valuable role and can gain some feedback that you reallyneed to know. A certain amount of “know how” is required to use theforums and they typically contain dedicated gamers used to givingfeedback in this area.The more modern way is to go to your audience on social media sites andconnect there. Good examples include [blippr]Facebook[/blippr] Fan pagesand [blippr]Twitter[/blippr] streams where people are likely to besharing feedback about your game anyway and you need to be there,especially if you’re doing Minimum Viable Product production andneed to iterate your game.MetricsYou can take advantage of a connected game by collecting hidden metricswithin your game and reporting them back to a central repository, eitherin real-time or caching them to be sent when it’s convenient.Collect data from areas such as level start, level completion, game modeselection, use of the abort/quit game, lives lost, time played, etc.etc.Analysis of global system metrics such as Achievements, Trophies orsimilar can be used to discover how successful some areas of your gamehave been. How many people have finished the game in under 5hrs? Howmany people have collected all of the cars? How many people have playedlevel 1? How many people have booted your game (includes rentals andre-sales)?It’s possible and advisable to engineer some of your achievements /trophies to bring this information to you automatically without the needto write your own systems.All of this is valuable information you can gain without asking theplayer specifically for it.Use It!Of course you need to use the information from you’ve worked so hard tocollect or the whole process is pointless!Quit EarlyA Minimum Viable Product also allows for game ideas to be releasedinto the market to see how it responds, truly weak ideas can beabandoned early and the developer can move onto something likely to bemore successful. It’s better to remove these failed attempts rather thanleave them hanging around unattended.Of course, this isn’t an excuse for releasing poorly thought out anddull games with a “throw enough mud at the wall and see what sticks”approach as your reputation is attached to each connection you make withyour audience. The last thing you want is to be known for releasing astream of half-baked ideas.Rapid PrototypingI would say that the Minimum Viable Product concept has been used bymany game developers for internal concepts and prototypes under thebanner “Rapid Prototyping”  where ideas are taken far enough todemonstrate before a decision is made to change or abandon games atreview meetings during its lifetime,SummaryThe development approach of rapidly incorporating feedback from youraudience is here to stay and the Minimum Viable Product conceptsuits this well. Consider using it where possible in your game lifecycle for maximum success.Further ReadingMinimum ViableProduct – Wikipedia definitionEric Ries – Eric’s website with lots of great information

5 Top Tips from a Freelance Game Programmer

1 min read

I recently reconnected with an old friend who’s been a Freelance GameProgrammer for many years, I asked him what advice he could give tosomeone just starting out and here’s his toptips:I particularly like his ethos: “value-for-money & minimum hassle”, because contractors/freelancers have a general reputation for being otherwise (Expensive & demanding)Rhys Twelves, 12 Code Monkeys Ltd, UKhttp://uk.linkedin.com/in/rhystwelvesHere’sRhys’ reply: The only real tips I have are:- 1. If you can, try to avoid VAT registration due to the overhead ofquarterly returns, and the VAT man being able to audit you morereadily.(unless you employ someone to sort this all out) 2. Get a good accountant, they are worth their weight in gold, as theyknow what you can/cannot claim for as a legitimate business expense, andgive could advice as to where to invest your profits. 3. Make yourself as flexible as possible. Making games is still a blackart (in terms of production especially) and so plans will almostcetainly change from milestone to milestone. For a contractor/freelancerit is important that you can adapt with the project (within reason). If5 days/week becomes 6 or even 7, then you should already have plansafoot that can support the change. It’s a second-guessing game, but it’sworth it. 4. In my experience, being flexible can be more valuable to productionthan being fast/excellent at your work. If a producer knows they canrely on you to be in the office on any given Sunday, they’ll take thatover having to find work for you from somewhere because you finishedyour milestones early. 5. To be honest Simeon, I’m still learning as I go along, and differentcompanies have different needs & expectations, but my ethos (if you cancall it that) is to be “value-for-money & minimum hassle”, and onlybecause contractors/freelancers have a general reputation for beingotherwise (Expensive & demanding).Rhys is a top bloke and I highly recommend him for any programming taskyou’ve got. You’ll be amazed at the knowledge Rhys has, how insightfulhis views are and just how quickly and well he solves problems. Rhys isworth his weight in gold.

Avoiding Game Development Contract Pitfalls - Royalties

6 min read

![](/assets/soundexchangeartist.jpg)Here at @Gamelinchpin we like to clear some of the fog surrounding themore complex business of making games.Negotiating contracts can be tough, and there’s a lot to think about butdon’t let some of the most important elements slip you by. Getting theseright can make the difference between scraping by and living well andit’s not easy if you lack experience but we’re here to help.I’ll start by going through some common elements of royalty clauses.  ** ** I’d like to start out by saying always take professional legal advicebefore signing a contract, the information below is my opinion onlybased on experience.Is it worth it?YES! There’s a myth that it’s pretty much impossible to achieveroyalties on anything but the killer AAA multi-million selling items butI’ve seen many cases where the route to success is often in being awareof what options you have, and what to avoid too.Common PitfallsWhen thinking about royalties it’s important to really think about allof the different facets of the deal piece together as even the smallest,seemingly irrelevant clause, can mean the difference between makingmoney and losing out completely. Keeping all the different elementsbalanced is something that comes with experience.There are a few things to think about but mainly always think about therate you’re going to recoup the advance at and what you are recoupingagainst as misunderstanding these 2 elements alone can be the ultimatekiller.Recoup RateIn this section I’m assuming that we’re talking about a typical modelwhere the cash you’re given to make the game (Advance) is recovered,along with other costs, before you start getting any royalties on theprofit. This Advance Against Royalties is a common scenario but it canbe improved. Think of it as a debt you have to repay.Now, this bit involves a bit of maths to understand the implications ofso I’ll go slowly for you all. :)Now, typical royalty schemes employ 1 rate that applies through youragreement. In it’s simplest form the publisher takes the money it getsand allocates a portion of that cash to repay the loan they gave you tomake the game (Advance). When it’s paid back you get the remainder asroyalties.Lets look at a work example where the royalty rate is 10%, but thisobviously varies in real life.The thing to watch here is the portion of the cash they use to repayyour debt (Advance), if this were your royalty rate of 10%, they wouldneed to make 10 times that amount (100% divided by your royalty rate)before your advance is fully repaid and you get royalties.Now, there’s no reason why the recoup rate cannot be different to theroyalty rate. Lets imagine that you now have a recoup rate of 25% anda royalty rate of 10%. Now the publisher only needs to recoup 4 timesyour Advance before you start seeing royalties at 10%. This is a bigdifference and really compounds over time.In a typical contract, the 2 rates are balanced based on how thenegotiations with the 2 parties go. I have seen quite a wide variety ofvalues suchas: 20% recoup and 30% royalty 10% recoup and 10% royalty 75% recoup and 30% royalty 100% recoup and 5% royaltyI have even seen 1 extreme case where the Advance was written offand a low percentage royalty was paid. In this case the developer sawroyalties from day 0.It is also possible to gain an agreement on hard unit numbers too onceyou’ve worked out the nitty gritty of all of the parameters. E.g.,instead of recouping your Advance at some rate, you start on royaltiesonce your game has sold 100,000 units.If you can work this out upfront and get the actual number of unitsdown in your contract, then there’s no variance or disagreement lateron and quibbling over what is/isn’t recoupable against your advance.Net ReceiptsBefore I move on, I need to explain some of the core concepts. I’llassume you know the difference between Gross and Net but there’s a keyphrase typically used in contracts called “Net Receipts” that I’ll tryand explain.Net Receipts refers to actual bit of money left over aftereverything else has been taken out. This typically includesundefined, variable and uncapped expenses such as Marketing andRetention / Returns.Marketing budgets are incredibly hard to nail down as they typicaldepend on prevailing conditions & rates, maybe there’s a competingtitles that warrants more of a push for yours, maybe there’s someco-marketing deal being struck. The key here is to try and get as muchof this known at the start, there’s should be some value attributed herebut try and get this defined or at least try and cap the amount thatgoes against your royalties.Retention or Returns These terms refer to the amount of cash the publisher retains to copewith unsold or returned stock. This figure is used to reduce the amountyour royalties are calculated against. There’s not a lot you can doabout this but be aware that it’s lurking in the background.The rest of it should be self-explanatory but I’ll happily respond tofeedback if I’ve missed a key component.CurrencyThis is something that’s often over-looked in our world of globaldevelopment and is something to consider if you deal with a publisherthat holds it’s accounts outside of your territory. It’s worth notinghere that some big international companies may not have treasuries inyour native country so currency exchange will come into play.Also, the time between you agreeing the contract and you eventuallygetting paid some royalties can be a very long time and the financialmarket changes rapidly.There’s a couple of things to investigatehere: negotiate the fees in the currency that gives you the best deal, in some cases it may not be the one held by the publisher or you.Secondly, if the time frames and values are considerable then look intoForward Exchange Rates with your bank, where you can get them to agreeon a future exchange rate.What you Recoup againstI’ve explained some of the elements that can massively affect the amountyou recoup against. Recouping against undefined Net Receipts is a dangerous game andone you should seek to nail down what the specifics are as above. Beaware of everything you’re getting yourself into.I’d strongly advice always using a professional company like TCAssociates to exercise your right to audit the royalty accounts as pretty much every audit exposes inaccuracies in yourfavour, sometimes a few thousand and have been known to be millions.Other Areas to ConsiderOne other area to consider is how your royalties are recouped againstitems such as Bundle Deals and how they are affected by any potentialretail discounts such as ‘Platinum’ packs.How will your royalties be affected by different distribution modelssuch as online or retail?Will you be able to gain any royalties on sales of other items such asdownloadable content,  t-shirts, merchandising, social network apps,etc?What next?Next TimeIn this series I’ll be going exposing another common contract point suchas Developer Technology and Intellectual Property.If you’ve enjoyed this item, please join the conversation in thecomments, share this item with friends and subscribe to get thenext installment. I’m happy to answer any relevant questions you mayhave that are posted in the comments.Further ReadingEntertainment Law Handbook - Sarassin LLP business affairs consultancy for the interactive entertainment industry.

Getting the most out of E3 Expo 2010

5 min read

Well, it’s almost here, E3 Expo 2010 and it will be followed by manyother opportunities to get out there andnetwork: Game Connection,Develop, Gamescom, and if you’re lucky, Tokyo Game Show, etc.Over the years, I’ve attended my of these events as both someonepitching and someone listening to other peoples pitches and I have a fewtips to share.By now, you’ve obviously spent a lot of time, effort and moneycarefully preparing your pitch andpolished your presentation.You’ve no doubt booked a flight, hotel, got some spending money and needto feed yourself and probably some clients too. Your team have packedyou off with some good wishes and are waiting for you to let them knowhow it went. You may have family waiting on you too. All of this is amassive commitment and you’ve got a lot riding on it.Start with the least importantWhen scheduling your meetings, try an schedule your least important onesfirst; maybe even with some people that you’re not interested in.The reason is that it will give you some real-life experience ofpitching in the environment and enable you to debug you’re pitch andtweak if before you get to the big boys. This can be a good way ofweeding out problems with your demo, powerpoint deck, laptop, pointer,screen brightness too.You’ll also get feedback that you can incorporate into your pitch, maybethese are in the form of questions that you are asked that you can thenthink about a really good answer for.Pick your slotBe aware of the typical fluctuations in a persons attention span andlikely state.I’d hedge my bets on the best time being late morning, just beforelunch.Early mornings can fall foul of preceding heavy nights out partying orjetlag. Try and avoid these is possible. If you get time, take a peek atthe party schedule and avoid the day after.Afternoons are usually toughest, as people grow weary through thedraining aspect of running back-to-back meetings in hot, brightly litenvironments, battling against a lack of sleep and the onset of jetlag.Take OwnershipYou’ll be meeting lots of people and have a lot to remember, but, sowill the people you’re meeting and you need to make sure you’re at thetop of their pile when it comes to getting your game signed.Firstly, be clear and concise in what you say. Make everything count anddon’t expect anyone to remember everything you said.Assuming you’re pitch went well, you need to secure 2 things: Get Their Contact details. Make sure these are for the rightperson who you’ll be dealing with, who may be different to the personyou’re presenting to, which leads on to…2. How, when, where for you to follow up. Try and get thingspre-defined, “lets have a catchup call next Wednesday at 3pm” is betterthan “I’ll call you soon”. Aim to secure meeting dates too don’t letthese slip.Miss these two and you’ve just wasted your time, don’t rely on thelistener to chase you, you can bet your last dollar that there will beother people shouting louder than you and getting some attention.If you find that the listener won’t commit, then you can probably takeit as a sign they’re not interested and it’s time to move on. the squeaky wheel gets thegreaseDealing with rejectionWell, dealing with someone not being interested in your pitch cansometimes be hard but don’t take it personal. Try and find out why, thelistener will often be able to give you a good indication of what youneed to change before the next pitch. Take this as an opportunity toadapt your presentation for the next person you meet.There’s a lot of reasons they make not take up you’re offer and here’s acouple of non-obvious ones. Pitch Went Bad. Maybe you fluffed it, maybe you’re laptopbattery expired, maybe the listener got distracted with what they’rehaving for lunch. There’s no real answer here, sometimes it just doesn’tgo the way you wanted it.2. “we have similar titles in our portfolio” is a typical push off froma listener and most of the time it’s genuinely down to something thatalready exists or something they have in development elsewhere. There are rare occasions when they want to take your idea and make itthemselves, claiming this is something they had in production already.This can be something as big as the game, or something as small as agame mechanic. There’s nothing you can do about this except to expect it on rareoccasions. I’ve only seen this happen a handful of times across a 20yrcareer and it’s always heart wrenching to see.Do You HomeworkYou can be in a much strong position by doing your homework on thecompany and person you’re meeting beforehand. This will not only exposeany likely competition for your game but also enable you to come acrossas interested in them. All it takes is a bit of Google action to take care of it for the mostpart. People can be harder to find but I’d try[blippr]LinkedIn[/blippr] andMobyGames as a starting point.What next?I’ll repeat this here because it’s REALLY IMPORTANT!Always get confirmation on next steps, try and arrange a follow up call / meeting, GET THEIR CONTACT DETAILSPerpetual ImpressionAs a little aside, remember that every interaction will persist throughyour career as everyone moves around and over time the associateproducer you dismissed at a small publisher could end up being in chargeof acquisitions for a large international publisher later in your careerwhen you really need them. A buyer never forgetsWARNING: Don’t pitch if you’re unsure. It’s not worth it in the longrun.SummaryAttending one of these huge conventions is an exciting and importanttime, everyone always enjoys it and always has good stories to tell.Although some of those stories should never be repeated back home. ;)