The Part Of Making Games That Isn’t Making Games

[Posted to the Gaslamp Games blog.]

  1. Make game
  2. Profit!

Something is missing here, see, and what’s missing is what really does the trick for the commercial indie game development thing. It is those developers that can fill in point number 2 that are successful, I think, regardless of any sort of brilliance in point number 1 (and sometimes making up for a lack of it).

We’re all doing something to carry some of the weight of step two, Derek handling hosting and coding online things, Daniel spearheaded incorporation and is our business guy probably because everyone else hates the idea of doing it more, and Nicholas has shadowy “industry connections”.

As for me? I do art. And it turns out there’s more to a game than the graphics.

A. Beta Testing

Wait, this isn’t art.

Yes, that’s true!

But we don’t exactly have any fans of Gaslamp Games (yet?). It appears likely that fandom requires a released product. We have to very nicely ask all sorts of people we know to beta test for us rather than pick from hordes of enthusiastic volunteers. Then we have the manage and love our sets of testers to make sure they get the latest release of the beta, are appreciated, and have their bugs and comments reported to a central location. It all takes time and though we had some pretty good plans once upon a time to handle beta management and infrastructure, these did not exactly surface as-such because it turns out that the crunch for release also takes a lot of time and everyone is extremely busy with everything. And we need to ship this product ASAP so we’re not put out of our homes.

Ah, there is just so much to do! I believe we’ve almost got a beta forum ready, thanks Derek, but I’m waiting until we have a new version of the beta to release before giving out the forum info. I’ve also got to ‘prime’ the forum with a welcome message and whatever it takes to start the talking — an empty forum is a foreboding place.

All this trouble is worth it because outside perspective is absolutely essential. Testers see the game with fresh eyes, from a perceptive we entirely lack because we acclimatize ourselves to bugs and awkward UI and broken gameplay. Testers have all kinds of weird hardware and software combinations that break the game in mysterious ways that are better to catch now than after someone has paid for the thing and is ready to be pissed off!

I’d like to give a huge thanks to those of you out there who are testing Dungeons of Dredmor for us; Your feedback is essential and has shown us just how much more work we need to do on this game.

B. Dungeon Marketing

I’m setting out to build up the promotional image of Dungeons of Dredmor; getting a handle on “marketing”, if you will. (Props, by the way, to Nicholas for his fun video trailers. There has been talk of a third trailer that will outdo all that came before, you’ll see.)

It is not enough to put an online store with a product up and hope people wander in and buy something. A game has to have its worth shown off; information needs to be written up, screenshots taken, banners drawn, all put together in a nice page with shiny “buy now” buttons.

And what of external marketing? Do we do adwords? Banner ads? What sites do we target and buy advertising from? Shall we send reviewers and bloggers free copies of the game? How do we leverage social media or whatever it is everyone is going on about? What the hell is a “tweet”? And do I actually have to talk to people? How awful. (And we need to be taken seriously, too: see part C.)

As an aside on the marketing point, I’m having a hell of a time with Google Analytics, which is otherwise a wonderfully useful tool to find out how people are finding you — I have used it before to track traffic to my personal freelance portfolio. I made an account with Analytics a while ago using a non-Gmail email address. At some point the service was changed so you can’t share Analytics information with anyone not using a Gmail address — you also cannot change your own account’s email address. So here I am stuck: I can’t be shared with, I can’t change my email, I can’t delete my account to make a new one without losing everything else I use through Google’s apps. Bah!

C. Selling Gaslamp

Aside from the game is the matter of establishing the appearance of legitimacy for the entity of Gaslamp Games itself. The goal is to look professional, like the trustworthy point of sales and legitimate, stable company that makes good products to distribute that we are. It’s not enough to just slap any old logo up; Having a logo just right is a huge deal; It’s so easy to do a logo wrong that I’m surprised the Gaslamp logo came together as quickly as it did — over an afternoon or two about a year and a half ago in our German Porn Bunker* office space, as I recall, though it needs revision and vectorization. It is an essential undergoing to build an image for Gaslamp Games because without looking like a legitimate game company we won’t very well be treated like a legitimate game company by customers or publishers.

The starting point for that image is our webpage, so yes, the webpage is going to receive a huge makeover to make it both charming and useful. Those weird popping up social media icons under each blog post are going to have to be steampunkified and I’m going to rip them from their little hiding places and stick them in place because it bugs me that they move around like that.

And we need silly business cards once we get a budget for ’em! (Though it seems like the only people who ever ask me for a business card are customs officers. “No, really, I draw video games for a living!”)

* Note to self: Do not use this phrase in a press release.

D. Finish the Game

I need to write potions, touch up liquids, polish tilesets, make door sets per tileset, make more decor for all of the tilesets, make a lot more room definitions (and add decor spots and hand-add other decor), make icons for the game for Mac and Windows (and Linux?), test whatever needs testing, fix any graphics that are broken… and … … and I’m sure someone will find something that I need to totally redraw. Skill icons, probably.

Oh boy.

Back to it.

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