February 24, 2009

“Sketchable” and “The Lab”

Andrew Russell’s “Sketchable”

I have been somewhat surprised by Andrew Russell’s “Sketchable” Blog. It seems Andrew is aiming for a very similar goal to mine; a business making our own games, free from cubicle life. Not only that, but his plan is very similar to mine; starting with simple prototypes to find ideas that work. And Andrew’s an Aussie as well, so we’ll have similar logistic issues. And we’re starting at roughly the same time. Wow, talk about coincidence!

If you haven’t already, I recommend signing up to the “Sketchable” blog and following Andrew’s progress. I thought I already had his RSS feed entered into Google Reader, but I only got the first entry. Hopefully I’ve got it right now.

One of the big differences between “Sketchable” and my project is that, with delays due to my dilly-dallying with my PhD, Andrew Russell is now at least a month ahead of me. I was planning on going full pelt with blogging about my plans once I had a new website at my new location set up sometime in late March, early April. Now I feel like my hand is tipped. While I am glad to have another Aussie blog going down the same path to inspire me and to keep me on track, Andrew Russell is now blogging competition. My only recourse is to challenge Andrew to a race around the world.

Game Plan for 2009 & “The Lab”

It’s also timely to read Andrew’s blog because I’ve been doing some paper calculations and I realise I need to kick things up a notch if I am still to entertain the concept of releasing a sellable game sometime in 2009. I will most likely blog about this some more once my new website is up, but it’s time to outline my broad approach to game development this year.

As I see it, there’s three big business areas I should work on:

  • Marketing - letting people know I exist and have something they’d like to buy/try/see
  • Research - prototyping out new ideas
  • Production - making products to sell

As well as this, there’s also administration (keeping everything running) and training (learning new skills), but those are fairly straightforward as to their purpose and value.

Marketing gets an important billing on my list as I think it’s the area most neglected by indies. It seems most indies prefer to be working on making games, not promoting them. However I think marketing is the most important activity to success in this field. If people don’t know you exist, how will they know about your game?

My marketing plan is still in development, and hinges a lot on just how much I can get done in a day. Basically, my plan is to draw people to my new site with as much interesting material as I can. I’ll have a developer’s blog, obviously, but I also plan to write a few tutorials and articles to host there. I’m also planning on having a few freebies and game prototypes as a drawcard, very similar to “Sketchable”. This is a nice tie in to “research”.

Research is the fun part of trying out new ideas and technology without caring too much about production values, deadlines or marketability. Plus after several years in academia, I really need to have a research outlet worked in here somewhere!

The genesis of my approach to research stems from the Experimental Gameplay Project. I marvelled at how these developers could pull together idea prototypes in a week with such flair. The success of World of Goo only shows how valuable this approach is to creative indie development.

Also, like Andrew Russell, I think these little prototypes will be a great way to market our existence to the outside world. My little research wing is currently nicknamed “The Lab”, as it’s catchy and short to write in my plans. I’ll probably keep the name unless something better strikes my fancy.

My plan is to extend The Lab to cover technology demos as well as gameplay. The idea is to completely separate out “production” from “research”. Ideally, all production will be doing is taking ideas and tech developed and proved in the The Lab and bolting them together. Less risk, little fuss. Seems sensible to me.

All of this is planned to launch on a new site sometime in March or April, depending on how long it takes to build the website. I expect rapid changes on site for the first few months as I learn the ropes, but things should settle down later in the year when I start working towards a product.

For the first couple of months, I have my focus on setting things up and finding my feet. I’ve been a bit hesitant to get started for a while, but that might be due to my Ph.D. status at 99%+ for the last month or two. Once that is well and truly behind me (which it should be in the next week, barring any mishaps), that psychological weight should be lifted. I think Andrew Russell’s “Sketchable” approach is probably more sensible then a tentative one, and I should just dive in and start building stuff instead of learning each piece slowly and separately. Part of the problem with starting a big venture is that everything is uncertain; it’s like a jigsaw puzzle with no pieces on the table. Instead of spending time locked in planning it’s mostly likely better to jump in, throw a few pieces down and see if they make sense, with the option of rearranging them later.

That will mostly likely be my plan for March. February’s almost over regardless, so I won’t feel guilty about using the time left this month to tie up loose ends and get everything prepared.

Best of luck to everyone in their projects. If I’m to race Andrew, I’ve got a balloon to catch.

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1 Comment on “Sketchable” and “The Lab”

February 26, 2009

Andrew Russell @ 12:50 pm:

I wrote you a nice long reply here (but your blog didn’t accept the pingback, it seems):


Good luck, TZ :)

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