Articles

A collection of things I’ve written.

Where The Money Goes

12 min read

I wanted to share with you a presentation about Where The Money Goes that is received from making video games. I made this presentation a few years ago to a game development studio I was running at the time and I believe everyone found it useful and gained a better understanding of where the money that comes into the business goes before it pays their wages and why ‘when’ it comes in is important too. I’ve updated this post since then with more up-to-date principles, information and costs as I learn new things ever day.

These are general principles that apply to any business and I’m going to cover the basics to hold on tight, feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section.

Breaking out where the money goes

My initial motivation for writing this post was to answer a question I’d long since asked myself when I was starting out: “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 Studio

I’ll start with an example pie chart that includes typical costs that are taken out of revenue fees received for development of a game for a mid-size UK studio containing about 35 staff or more. Again, these are typical but vary depending on the nature of your business.

WagesGraph

Let’s walk through the components of this example:

  • Wages - this is the gross salary you receive before tax and national insurance costs are taken off
  • Corporate NIC - These are the National Insurance contributions a UK 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 the recruitment agency that got you the job and I’ve chosen a figure I think is typical. It’s typically a one-off payment made when you pass your probation period. This figure obviously varies massively depending on the deal your employer has and may not even exist if you applied direct.

We then have 2 more figures that scale with your business but we’ll assume that they apply in a linear fashion for this example

  • Business Costs - this figure of 40% is typical and includes a whole host of costs that I’ll go into later. Needless to say that if there’s only 1 of you then it’s going to be 100% cost against your salary.
  • Platform Fee - many platforms such as Apple, Sony, Microsoft all take 30% of the revenue received as a platform fee. It’s a way for them to recoup the costs of developer support, administration, marketing and whatever else they consider worthy. I’ve taken this 30% and applied it directly to your salary as a ‘tax’ to show the amount 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 how many games you’d need to sell for you to get £1 and also an example salary of £36,000.

Price Point

Unit Sales to get your £1

Unit Sales to get £36k salary

£39.99

0.06

2,294

£19.99

0.13

4,589

£9.99

0.26

9,182

£4.99

0.51

18,382

£1.99

1.28

46,094

£0.59

4.32

155,471

As we can see, if let unchecked typical business costs could easily career out of control and result in a game never breaking even.

Lean Studio

Of course not every studio is like this so lets take a further example of a ‘lean studio’ where all the costs are as thin as possible and I’d assume this is typical of a micro or nano studio of employees, not self-employed people.

LeanBusiness

Blitzing through the points about we get to a salary taking up 59% of the revenue or in other words for every £1 you earn the game needs to earn £1.72. This figure is obviously much lower because all the costs have been stripped out.

Again, using the same format as before we can arrive at some figures for how 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 to get 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 and they apply to different components at different rates and these are indicative numbers only but it doesn’t take long to get these figures for any game, studio or business and I have a myriad of tools to capture and expose these costs as well as work out what the break-even unit sales and costs are for numerous platforms.

E.g., How many units of a game would you need to sell on iPhone to break-even?

Business Costs

There’s a large chunk of they money that goes into a mysterious pot called ‘business costs’ and this little section includes everything that the business pays for outside of salary costs. Lets take a look at a list of the obvious ones:

Project Costs

First, lets take a look through some typical costs that come in at the project level and are duplicated for every project the studio undertakes:

  • I.T. Rentals - this is the cost of the hardware & software you use every day to make the game: 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 the work done by people outside of your studio
  • QA - engaging people to test your game costs money, whether it be £50 to your friend or employing 100+ people to get your game from Alpha to Master
  • Materials - all the other bits & pieces you consume: blank media, pens, paper, ink for the printer, books, reference games, etc.
  • Travel - travel to see publishers, marketing events or trade shows all costs money.
  • Training - now you’re at the event you probably need a ticket to get in, or maybe a specific training course
  • Subsistence - maybe you’re old skool and get some Pizzas in during crunch, maybe you like to take the team out on occasion or even just a Christmas party.
  • Agent fees - some companies use agents to help them get their games signed up to publishers and deals are typically based on a percentage of gross revenue and 10% is a typical value.

Studio Costs

Secondly, the studio itself costs money to run if you’re making 20 games or even if you’re not making any games at all!

  • Office space - the space itself costs money to rent, plus there’s local taxes, insurance and all sorts of maintenance you’ll be needing
  • Utilities - internet, electric, water and the air-con for your server 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 make the games on the front line but are still there and for corporations these 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 with personal visits, trade show attendance and maybe adverts in trade magazines for recruitment.
  • Events – Does your studio have events to celebrate key milestones being passed? Summer Events? Christmas Parties?
  • Legal & Finance - Maybe you need to use accountants to run through your figures or audit your returns? Business contracts need a valid legal pass over them that usually involves engaging a specialised lawyer. If you’re working on long international contracts 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 Apply

The items listed above are ones I typically find and look for in a games business but just like us, they’re all very unique and the costs vary wildly and in some cases may not apply at all depending on how the business is setup.

When The Money Comes In

So far we’ve covered a broad range of topics about where the money goes so lets work through some examples of When The Money Comes In as this is critical for any business, whether you’re making games or anything else.

In my experience, the lack of understanding and focus on Cash Flow is what kills businesses very quickly and is particularly important for Work For Hire studios who rely on doing work and getting paid for it so they can in turn pay their bills.

Here’s an example timeline for a work-for-hire studio when they send their milestone after spending 1 month working on it and considering typical contracted dates for payment terms that happens in an ideal world. The reality is that these dates slip on both sides but we’ll cover that later.

We can see that it can be typically at least 45  days before any payment is received and for those paying attention this is after your next monthly salary run. Even in an idealistic world, this causes strains on the businesses cash flow.


Days Event

-30 Milestone 1 work in progress for 30 calendar days

0 MS 1 Submitted on this date starting a chain  of events

15 MS 1 approved, purchase order raised & invoiced

30 MS 2 Submitted

45 MS 1 Revenue received MS 2 Approved

60 MS 3 Submitted

75 MS 2 Revenue received MS 3 Approved ———- —————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Delayed Revenue

I’m sure you can imagine the cascading effect of slipping dates anywhere in here: 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 1 month on a business that’s expecting consistent monthly revenue.

Here’s what this example should look like where the money is received consistently, 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 see the dramatic effect this has on the business as it’s forced to support all the costs without any money in the bank to do so.

This is what happens when Milestones slip by 1 month and I’m sure you can imagine what happens if this keeps slipping and slipping with the studio incurring more costs with no more revenue coming in, just the figure that was promised. If the studio doesn’t have enough cash in the bank then this could be fatal.


Revenue Costs Net Profit Acc. Profit ————- ————- ————————————————– ————- ————-

Increased Costs

Taking a slightly different view we can see the effect of the project costs increasing in Month 1 resulting in the studio spending all it’s money just paying the bills. Since the profit isn’t increasing the buffer isn’t building up so if there’s any late delivery then it’s curtains for the project and it could be for the studio.

This can happen when the team size increased to cope with late delivery or scope increases without a corresponding increase in the revenues.


Revenue Costs Net Profit Acc. Profit ————- ————- ————- ————- ————-

Forward Planning

I believe I’ve said this a few times by now but business costs can vary immensely depending on the structure of your business and the working relationships you have with your partners.

Being predictable and reliable is a core part of running a business as it’s easier to deal with issues if you can expect them upfront and I believe this is a critical skill for good business managers to have.

This predictability becomes absolutely key if you work within a listed company as this is typically more important than making a profit or a loss; anticipating this, communicating it and hitting the expectations is how these companies become successful. Amazingly, if you predict or are expected to make a loss and then you make a profit this can be potentially bad as it means you don’t have a good grasp on your business. The city is a complex area and people can make money even if you lose, hitting expectations is key.

Growing your business and having a large volume of work brings with it an economy of scale as the fixed costs of running the projects is spread across a larger revenue stream. However, large volumes of work also need more effort and support so it’s a matter of getting the balance right and choosing a level that you’re comfortable with.

Making profit isn’t just about buying yourself a Ferrari, although that could happen one day. Your business will probably need the banked profit some day to get through an inevitable sticky patch.

Profitability also brings with it more flexibility in what you do as you can afford to speculate and take risks on projects that may be even more profitable for you but it’s no great loss if you end up breaking even.

Summary

I’ve covered a lot of finance related topics at a very high level in this post and there’s obviously more too it than a simple blog post can cover but I believe it’s a great introduction to the business that pays many of our wages.

Not everyone wants to run an ever expanding studio as the size incurs it’s own increasing risks and stress to go with it. Striking a balance you’re happy with is important, for some it’s a 1-man game making games in their study and this low overhead, low turnover business can actually reap more financial rewards let alone making the owner very happy that they are in total control of their own destiny and lifestyle.

I’ll spare you the details of the more complex areas of corporate finance including EBITDAR, COGS, SG&A, CAPEX, gearing and leverage but feel free to ask.

I hope you’ve found this useful and I welcome any questions in the comments 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 what makes all of your businesses tick, why not drop a post in the comments section?

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 a popular one among visitors. On the flip side, a blog with spam comments looks unprofessional. You can either spend your days deleting all of the spam that your WordPress blog is sure to receive, or you can leave the majority of the work up to spam filters. There are a lot of options out there for WordPress spam filters, but the following are some of the most popular that you may want to try.

Akismet

Automatic Kismet (Akismet for short) is very well liked by all who need spam blocked from their blogs. You can get it as a WordPress plugin or you can go straight to Akismet.com to download this spam filter. Keep it updated and you will enjoy a spam-free blog space. As Akismet gets to know your site, it will be able to spot spam with even more efficiency.

BadBehavior

This spam filter vows to slow the “flood” of spam by stopping them before they even get sent. In their own words, “Bad Behavior also transcends other link spam solutions by working in a completely different, unique way. Instead of merely looking at the content of potential spam, Bad Behavior analyzes the delivery method as well as the software the spammer is using. In this way, Bad Behavior can stop spam attacks even when nobody has ever seen the particular spam before.”

Defensio

Defensio not only acts as a spam filter, it also blocks malicious content and filters profanity and unwanted URLs. This is clearly a one-stop shop for creating a cleaner blog environment. Powered byWebsensesThreatSeekerNetwork, Defensio is supported by most platforms including WordPress.

SpamHitman

This is a simple spam filter for WordPress, but the best part is that you can decide on some of the details. For instance, if you think that you might write about poster printing in your blog and you will say poster printing 10 times but no more than, you can set the spam filter to pick up a comment that says poster printing 11 or more times. Or you can allow your regular visitor to always be able to comment, even if they use poster printing 11 or more times.

Spam filters will save you a considerable amount of time and effort when keeping your blog clean. Try out each of the above WordPress filters to see which one works best for you, and then sit back and let your filter do all of the hard work with blocking spam.

5 Ways to Remote Test Your Website for Usability

The usability of your website can be measured to an extent. There are programs 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 that you can fix them. Let’s say that you have a website the specializes in 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 your website.

1. Have someone you know test out your website while you screen share

This can be a very good way to test your website usability. Find a friend or coworker who is honest and helpful. Have them visit your website while you are screen sharing and on the phone with them. As they look over your website, ask them general questions that will help you to see the usability of the site. Ask about their impressions while you watch them click on

2. Use an electronic test that will give you an idea of your usability

This type of unattended research will automatically read your website and tell you where individuals will generally look and how you website measures up. You can find many online tools that will measure your usability in one way or another.

3. Usertesting.com

Usertesting.com will give you results in less than an hour. For $29 per user, you will get a 20 minute video of that user making their way around your website. They will also give you a written report along with the video.

4. Use forums to answer your questions about usability

By asking other impartial users to test out your website, you will get a good idea of its usability. Hackernews is a good place to get advice on creating a new website. You can also ask about testing your website there.

5. Silverback for Mac and Morae for Windows

Here are two programs that use gorilla testing techniques to help you better understand your customers and how they use your website. They record facial expressions along with clicks and other actions. Other techniques they use are surveys and focus groups.

With one or more of these remote testing tools, you can make sure that your business website is as effective and successful as it can be.

 

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

Yesterday we witnessed Google TV open it’s web-doors and it reminded me of a common thread between Sony and Google.

Nov 2009 saw Sony announce it was releasing a Xperia phone using Android OS

May 2010 saw Sony announce the first TV to feature Google TV, it’s a fair guess that it’s running a variant of Android.

“I am delighted to announce the unique alignment of Google’s rapidly growing, open source Android platform with Sony’s unparalleled expertise in the field of TV design and technology.” - Sony’s Chairman, CEO and President, Sir Howard Stringer

In addition to this alignment there’s also lots of rumours about things you’d associate with an Android device:

Aug 2010 rumours around Gamescom about Rear Touch, whilst Rear touch isn’t specific to Android, touch alone is something we’ve not seen on a Sony device.

Sept 2010 - PlayStation looking for Android developers. This could be anything from partner marketing apps, PSP2 systems or Google TV PSN connector?

Sept 2010 sees Yoshida-san say “Future platforms will be developer-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 next PSP 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 a lot of pieces out there. Yes, I did work at Sony but it doesn’t mean I know anything more than anyone else as I’m sure you can imagine how limited information is in a large corporation and it wouldn’t be the 1st time 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’d make all of the game developers lives an awful lot easier and gain some of the ground lost to Microsoft and Apple, who both make it an absolute doddle 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 are currently being launched, they’re largely just about delivering a known experience over an extended period of time and splitting the costs throughout 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 and recurring experience, like a TV show.

Imagine a chapter of a story driven game like Halo Reach being made available 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 everyone experiences the same event. It could even be that this chapter is only available to play for a fixed period too, if you missed the event then you’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 the anticipation of what’s in the episode and the discussions afterwards make for a continued presence in peoples minds. Everyone would get the time to savour the experience and look forwards to the next one, hoping to share this with your friends.

A great side-effect of this is that it enables others to join the experience and catch-up with the previous episodes with everyone lining up 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 gives everyone something to share and builds to a great crescendo for your idea.

How would you make this happen?

I believe that a pre-sold box set, either retail or online, would enable players to get their content ready *before* the content is unlocked at a specific time. You have the content in your hands, it’s ready, you know it’s going to be delivered to you over time so you can judge the value.

This is a different position to making the game available for download/purchase at a set time, this is about unlocking the experience.

iTunes has incorporated the idea of a ‘Series Pass’ for TV Series since 2006 with the exact model with series such as The Inbetweeners being unlocked as they’re aired on TV. It would seem likely that this model will extend to games too.

Steam have also been supporting this kind of pre-load and unlock for years where they pre-download content to your PC so that the game is ready to play at a specific time, no additional downloads or waiting is necessary.

For other platforms, it would seem trivial to unlock the content based on a live connection to an ‘unlock server’ instead of the obvious unlocking at a set time based on your PC/phone/console clock.

Bonus Extras

There’s also the opportunity to engage your audience between events by adding in the usual layers of Making Of documentaries and Developer Commentary (Valve have been embedding comments this since 2005). These extras could be made available to series subscribers to encourage people to take up the whole package.

Benefits to your business

There is a middle-ground to be had here. As a business you could make enough content to release but the whole series would be incomplete as you’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 later episodes or you risk breaking the series and therefore the experience and we all know there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. This risk is mitigated by the length of your series and the lead time on your episode, i.e., if you get 6 months worth of content in the bank before you release the 1st episode then you’re probably going to be OK.

One benefit to overlapping release & development is that you can start to incorporate feedback into your episodes that are currently in production and also use the revenue to keep your business going.

Summary

I believe there’s a great opportunity for well thought out and specifically written games that maximise the potential of Episodic content.

It needs a well written story that spans multiple episodes with the emotional peaks & troughs to keep you coming back for more.

All of the pieces have existed for a while but no-ones really made a go of 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 a fixed time, the experience must be shared.

My Favourite iOS Music Apps

I’ve spent a little while this week whiling away the hours with a couple of music related apps for iPhone / iPad I’d recommend you check-out. Perfect for a Sunday morning.

BIT.TRIP BEAT

I saw a video of BIT.TRIP being played over on YouTube and it looked exactly like my kind of game. It look fun and furious with a great graphic style all of its own. I had to have it!

BIT.TRIP BEAT is the arcade game for the new millennium, fusing Pong with interactive beats. Use the accelerometer or touch controls to move the paddle up and down bouncing beats back from which they came! Listen and react to different beat progressions as you try to survive an onslaught of spectacular retro visuals. Successfully chain beats and obtain the megasphere to go for insane scores, not to mention the elusive “Perfect Score.” Team-up with your friends for the intense Multiplayer Gameplay Mode! Bounce to the beat with BIT.TRIP BEAT!

BIT.TRIPBIT.TRIP for iPad

BIT.TRIPBIT.TRIP for iPhone

Modizer

Modizer is a great way to check out those old game tracks like Chris Huelsbeck’s Turrican 2 Intro, and Rob Hubbard’s Lightforce and Zoids played on SID and MOD, not only does it sound amazing but it includes a nice visualiser too.

It has built in access to HVSC and other libraries of music making it a breeze to find your favourite tunes and be amazed at what can be achieved in a tiny bit of memory.

Get your self some old skool tunes!

Modizer is a multiformat modules & chiptunes player which allows you to 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 the FTP server, the builtin WEB browser or the integrated Modland & HVSC databases you can discover or listen again to the best music from the videogames (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 Modizer for iPhone ModizerModizer for iPad **

The Definitive Guide To Pitching Your Video Game

12 min read

Over the years I’ve both pitched many games and been on the receiving end of pitches too, all of which range from a small game worth £100k up to AAA hits of close on £10M. I’ve worked my way through the good & bad and I wanted to share with you my complete guide to pitching a game.

In essence, Pitching is about building a bridge between the Art and the Money, let’s learn how to make that bridge.

image

In order to make this connection we need 3 key elements to be successful. These are:

-------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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 Warning

image

What’s presented in this post are general rules that work in most cases but these aren’t definitive rules, you’ll need to adapt them to suit your own needs but the principles are sound and are well-tested.

I also focus on the more traditional slide based presentation that can be done in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, a series of slides or even a flip book. These forms work for most projects but the more creative and unique projects sometimes need something more tangible like a video or prototype to get a complex idea across.

Great Idea

Lets drill down into the most important part, the Great Idea that your presenting. 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?

image A good structure for a pitch is to cover some basic areas to make sure that all the key information is shared

  • High Concept
  • Key Features
  • Storyboards
  • Business Case
  • Pitch Summary
  • Defensive Slides

How Long Should It Be?

image

It’s been scientifically proven that 10 minutes is the greatest amount of time a person can concentrate before their mind starts to wander.

It may not sound very long but you may well find you struggle to communicate everything you want in that time and you’ll be constantly trimming your presentation, finely tuning each word and image to make sure you get the most bang-for-buck.

I would say that you should be able to get across your High Concept in less 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 game really all about?

It should be a compelling and unique idea that can be communicated in just a couple of sentences. This is commonly known as the “Elevator Pitch” with the idea being that you could jump in a lift on the ground floor with the person you’re presenting to and make your pitch memorable before they leave on the 2nd floor.

image

This means that it’s important that your high concept is easy to communicate, 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 about it…”

Remember this is a hook, it’s a seed, it’s the first contact with your idea but it should be finely tuned and water-tight.

Preparing this short High Concept is a tough exercise but it really focuses 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 a few words. They’re not intended to tell someone everything about your idea but just enough to get their appetite going.

Here are a few examples, you could probably guess the game from just the statement, 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;”}

image

So, you’ve nailed the High Concept and now it’s time to give some more detail so everyone understands exactly what our offering is. The High Concept followed by this extra level of detail will frame the rest of the presentation.

You’re aiming to go top-down, start high and drill in to more detail as you go deeper into your presentation. This way the concept starts to become clearer and clearer as you progress.

Adding in layers like this also ensures that everyone is expecting the same thing, it would be awful if you got 1/2 way through your pitch and someone said “Ohh, I thought you were pitching a Racing Game but it’s actually a Farming Game”

Cover the basics: 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 your presentation.

Key Features

It’s generally held that you only need 4 elements to a product before a buyer will make their decision. No more, no less.

We have the High Concept so we only need 3 Key Features to get to a decision point. This means it’s incredibly important that these few things add up to something amazing and it’s a lot of pressure to make sure they’re complete and enticing but it’s a tried & tested formula.

The Key Features need to deliver on the promise set by the High Concept, they need to expose unique and exciting elements of your game experience. Remember:

We only want 3 Key Features

It’s probably true that your game has loads of features but you have to pick the 3 strongest features on which to hang your pitch.

Make It Visual

By far the best way to communicate your High Concept and 3 Key Features is to use visuals in whatever format you choose.

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Let’s use one of my favourite games, Burnout Paradise (the only PS3 Platinum I have), as an example of how this may work by using some stock footage from around the ‘net. You’d obviously need to use relevant and specific imagery for your own pitch. These could easily be anything from pencil sketches, concept drawings, renders or screen captures from a prototype.

High Concept

image The original Burnout game’s X Statement is:

“High-Speed, High-Octane, High-Impact Action”

The use of the word “Impact” has 2 meanings here, firstly it means crashing, secondly it refers to the effect it has on you.

Risk = Reward {style=”clear: both;”}

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What takes Burnout beyond a regular car driving game is the element of “Risk = Reward”. The more dangerous you drive, the more risks you take the greater the reward. This goes around in a loop as the Reward is boost, which enables you to go faster and take more Risks, which generates more Boost.

Paradise City {style=”clear: both;”}

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“Explore over 250 miles of open road, discovering jumps, stunts and shortcuts.”

This was one of the first games to take place in an expansive open world called Paradise City. Races and events took place on streets you cruised around, they crossed over each other and the end of one race became the start of another - or you could just cruise away.

Choose Your Route {style=”clear: both;”}

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The open world naturally facilitated choosing your own route through the world, you could take short-cuts, scenic routes and weave your way under freeways to beat your opponents to the finish line.

These are obviously simple examples taken from stock footage but you can see how they all fit in with Burnout Paradise’s High Concept and they support each other to make a compelling case. Remember, you don’t need all of your features exposed; just the Key 3 Features to sell your idea. You can leave your various online modes, customisation, range of vehicles, DLC plans for later.

Movies {style=”clear: both;”}

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If you have the time then a Movie can be a great way to get across your point. You may splice bits from other games, TV, Hollywood, DVDs in a form referred to as a “rip-o-matic” to get the energy, emotion and essence of your game idea across but it’s very easy to be mis-understood and set the wrong expectations using this method. You don’t want to be promising life-like visuals or amazing narrative if they’re not in your plans so be careful.

Stick to communicating your Key Features and the basics of:

  • High Concept
  • Core experience
  • Character / Objective
  • Theme & tone

Storyboards {style=”clear: both;”}

A great way to get across an idea is to take your audience through the experience in the form of a storyboard, walk-through or scenarios.

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The aim of your storyboard is the same, its sole aim is to get across your High Concept and 3 Key Features. Hollywood and TV have used this model for years and it’s also a great tool to use once your game is in 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 player may experience them. This gives them context, meaning and detail that further cement your idea.

Don’t go crazy, stick to 1 or 2 Storyboards and it’ll be enough to make your point and you definitely don’t want to bore anyone by saying the same thing over and over.

Some ideas benefit from more of a narrative context to get the emotion across and telling a Story is the best way to do this. The emotion makes the feature more memorable too.

Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set 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 use a Storyboard to get across our Key Features in a way that is compelling and memorable.

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Here’s a Storyboard that we could use to describe the action of a Survival Horror featuring Close-Quarter Intense Fights, Interactive World and Highly Intelligent Opponents in one go. Read through and I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a lot more exciting and compelling than a bullet-point list.

  1. Player is trapped from all sides in a building and must make a stand
  2. The fight begins as the zombies pile in through the broken windows
  3. Running upstairs isn’t enough, the zombies pursue from the outside and break in on the 1st floor
  4. Player’s only hope is to push the ladder away along with all the zombies climbing up
  5. The fight is too much so Player escapes through a 1st floor broken window
  6. Sadly, Player lands right in front of a tooled-up zombie who finishes Player off

Business Case

Now 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 case for the project. As a Developer you’re aiming to prove that you can make the game you’ve promised for a sensible amount of money and what the up-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 a deal: 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 following questions:

  • Is there an audience for it?
  • Can this team make it? What’s the teams heritage? Have they done this kind of game before?
  • How much do I think it’s worth? Is the proposal about right for this scope of game?
  • Does it meet my business needs?
  • Does it fit with portfolio & strategy? Show them that fits within their 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 these questions accurately and with confidence and make them want to give you the money!

Portfolio fit – show who this fits in with other games the company makes by doing your research beforehand.

Team heritage – Give a brief overview of the highlights of the teams pedigree and expose key people to bring kudos

Headline costs & timeline – keep the figures high level but don’t forget to include a time-line too, how much and when does the money go out. Share your expected time-line for delivery of the game to enable the buyer to think about the earliest point they could sell the game.

Next Steps – remind them of the next phase of concepting or pre-production and what it will bring. After all, the money you need up to that point is all that you’re really looking for a commitment for at this stage.

Pitch Summary

Tell them what you’ve just told them!

The sticky bit of business is now down and it’s time to re-emphasise what a great idea it is and remind them that it’s something they really want to be a part of by re-stating your High Concept and 3 Key Features.

Defensive Slides {style=”clear: both;”}

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Now here’s a top-secret tip: Defensive Slides.

These slides hide at the back of your presentation, beyond the “Any Questions?” slide  and their sole purpose is to be there to support your answers to any detailed questions that may come up.

Think about what these questions could be during your preparation, maybe they’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 and get the answer ready and pop in any additional slide you have that support your answer. It’s comforting to know that they’re there and awesome to flick to if the question comes up.

They show you’re ready and you’re thinking about your proposition from all angles.

I’d usually include a more detailed financial break-down in here as well as 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.

Summary

Lets cover the main points again:

Make sure your Great Idea is unique and has a big enough audience

Present the idea visually, cut the word count on the slides themselves to make it more memorable

Focus on the key points, get the hook in to entice the buyer for more information. Don’t overwhelm them.

Provide a complete solution: Great Idea, Great Team, Great Business Case

I hope you enjoyed this post and find it useful, I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.

Further Reading

The original Bioshock Pitch, kindly shared by Irrational Games.

An article written in 2007 on pitching games



Flow - Make Better Games

7 min read

I’ve been meaning to re-present something I did for a whole game development studio a while back about ‘Flow’. It instantly improved production and was something we held dear as a team.

Have you ever said anything like:

  • “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 and most likely been incredibly productive. It’s sometimes called being “in the zone” too among others. Here’s my take on a well-known psychological state and why it’s important to game developers.

Flow is a highly productive state of mind, time slips by and you blitz through work, making fewer mistakes, no thought about how much effort your making and generally higher quality thinking goes into it too.

“Flow is a condition of deep, nearly meditative involvement. In this state, there is a gentle sense of euphoria, and one is largely unaware of the passage of time.” DeMarco.

I’ve been a long time supporter of enabling people to enter this state of Flow and stay there so they can do their best work and enjoy it. It’s important for managers, colleagues, producers and businesses to recognise that supporting this can make a real difference to the quality of your game.

FlowTargetAs you settle in for a good working session, you slip from your Regular un-productive state that you sit at your desk at, through your Immersion phase into a state of Flow and this whole process typically takes you about 15 minutes to get through, although it can vary from person to person.

Interruptions

We’ve recognised that the state of Flow is important and that it typically takes you 15 minutes to get there. The problem here is that there are many distractions and interruptions that break your concentration and send you crashing back up through the layers to reality.

These interruptions mean you’re now back to the start and it’s going to take you yet another 15 minutes to get back down there and if you’d only just got there then it was also a waste of your last immersion. That’s 15 minutes lost for every interruption you get. This can be incredibly frustrating and it drives me insane!

Imagine a horrible state we’re you’re constantly interrupted and never get into Flow.

Explicit Interruptions

800-service-interruption-transfer

  • 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 minutes

Implicit Interruptions

  • Noise
  • Interrupting colleagues – how often does your neighbours phone go off?

You can quickly see how this can mount up to a problem and in a bigger team the problem compounds itself as the people who have been interrupted start sending emails, pop around to someone for a chat, ask if you want to join them for a coffee, etc.

There’s also a consideration for time of day too as if it’s close to your break/lunch/home time then you’re most likely to just not bother trying to get back

I had a particular problem when I was running a team and sitting among them. I often had to use the phone to make or receive business calls. I rapidly became aware that every time I did that people stopped working to listen to what I was saying and I was obviously disturbing them. They weren’t cross, they were just interested in what I was talking about and often asked questions. I intended this to be transparency but I was causing a whole load of drag on people’s time.

You’ll also see this happen when you approach to ask someone a question and the others around them drift out so they can pay attention.

Mitigating Interruptions

Here are a few things you can do to try to help yourself:

  • Turn communications systems off and let everyone know why you’re doing it; E-Mail, IM and Phone. It’s not going to be forever and I’m sure your manager/lead will be happy you want to be focused.
  • Use your email apps Out Of Office system to auto-respond letting people you’ll get back to them soon. This prevents them from thinking you’re ignoring them for no reason.
  • Set your email app to only check emails every 30 mins or so. Do emails really need an instantaneous response?
  • ‘Zebra’ Mail - I’ve also used the email apps rules systems to pickup keywords in the subject line to bring an alert up. In my example people knew that putting the word ‘Zebra’ in the subject line would mean it would get my instant attention. I could also change the word to prevent people just using it all of the time.
  • Put your headphones on. This seems to be the international symbol for Do Not Disturb plus you’ve got a damn good excuse for not responding to general chat as you can’t hear them! You don’t have to listen to music either, just pop your headphones on.
  • Door Etiquette - If you’re fortunate to have your own office then adopt a door protocol such as:
    • 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 an answer to that question now?  Try and use appropriate communication:

  • Time critical: voice
  • Immediate & discreet: Instant Message
  • Can wait: e-mail

Teams and Studios should support this whole way of working by being considerate and enabling people to work for extended periods in an undisturbed state.

How long to stay in Flow & Exceptions

In our game development world there are typically 2 camps: Developers and Managers.

Developers generally need to stay focused for 2 hrs to get anything meaningful done and make progress. I’ve rarely seen anything take less than this and staying focused for more than that is difficult.

Managers are exceptions as they typically work in 20 min batches if they’re lucky. Their job requires constant monitoring and attention to others and they need to use email, phone and IM to communicate throughout the studio.

People in a Lead role are caught between the two roles as they are often asked to both Develop and Manage. In this position they need time to do the work but they’re constantly interrupted and this often leads to a sense of immense frustration. I often see Leads spending the regular working hours being interrupted and attending meetings but staying late to do their work. It’s a tough place to be and the only advice I can give is to try to time-box your availability so people know which hat you’re wearing at any point in time.

Consequences

There 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 happier Developers and a better game.

The natural opposite of this in a world where interruptions are rife and people can’t work are poor performance, poor quality of work and most likely 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 usually occurs when all the interruptions are gone so people get work done.

Strive to keep a working environment that enables people to Flow as often as possible.

Meta-Flow

In addition to the regular working flow I also believe there’s a concept of Meta Flow if we take the principles of having a continuous and focused train of thought about a particular subject over an extended period.

This comes in to play when you’re team members are working on a particular item for an extended period of days, even weeks. Their mind is full of a single task and shouldn’t be polluted or interrupted by other things occurring. Think of a physics programmer being pulled off to do work on the rendering system only to return back to physics a short while later. In this scenario it makes sense for them to consecutively focus on Physics.

Summary

Being aware of, honouring and supporting Flow can make a real difference to your game development team and therefore the game. Encourage everyone in your organisation to learn about it and respect it.

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 the design rules that apply to print designs like brochures or posters. However, web design presents new possibilities and new challenges that brochure printing will never see. Here are some tips and resources to help with those new challenges and possibilities.

Use a Neat and Tidy Template

Your page layout has a lot to do with the usability of any web page. This list from psd.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 brochure printing. Or check out this article that gives some incredible resources for improving HTML and CSS codes.

Make Your Site Easily Navigable

In order for your users to feel at ease on your website, they will need to be able to find their way around. Your their location on the page should make sense. Check out this article to find out more about Website Navigation.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are Replacing Table-based Websites

You will find that there are many advantages to using CSS for your web pages, including a much faster load time. If you are unfamiliar with CSS, check out these CSS styles tutorials. Or you can check out these free free CSS templates and layout templates. You will also find these CSS tools and editors and reference charts useful.

Make Sure Your Site Works with All Screen Resolutions

Designing stretch layouts will ensure that all of your viewers have an attractive and easy to use site, no matter what their screen resolution. Find out how to achieve this goal by reading this article on designing websites for all resolutions.

Make Your Site Compatible with all Browsers

The big name browsers make up 95% of the world’s browsers. If your design is compatible with them, you are in great shape. If you need help, read this article on making your site cross browser compatible in 5 easy steps.

Create a Scalable Site

You need for your design to be scalable so that it looks good on any size of screen. This can be somewhat difficult, since so many screen sizes are available these days, but try out an easy code for CSS designs for your images for a simple solution. Or you can check out a tutorial on creating scalable sites using Dreamweaver CS4.

Designing a visitor-friendly website is important for the success of the site. Make sure to follow the tips above so that your web design is as effective as it needs to be.