Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jools Watsham's Developer Diary: Two New Contracts Signed!

Saturday, March 27, 2010: Yes! It's official. We have signed two new contracts, which means we're making two new games, codenamed Spirit and Face. Hoorah! I expect we'll be able to share more on at least one of them at E3 this year.

We also have a couple more proposals we're kicking around with other publishers, including Red, so we'll see how those progress over the coming weeks/months.

Needless to say, last week was pretty much full of contract reviews. We also made some great progress on Spirit with the AI.

I'm off to finish my champagne. I hope you're having a great day. TTYL.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jools Watsham's Developer Diary: More Contracts!

Sunday, March 21, 2010: Wow, another busy week of contract goodness. The Spirit contract is very nearly final; both us and the publisher have dwindled any issues we had down to just milestone schedule details now. So, I expect to have that signed next week. I am very excited about this project, and can't wait to share more information about it soon. I am also very impressed with how pleasant this conract phase has been with them - thank you for that Mr. Publisher. It is truly appreciated.

We also received a contract for Face from a different publisher this week. As we've spent less time on this contract, we're still coming to mutually agreeable terms on some elements. Let's hope next week brings resolution to all issues and we can proceed with making the game soon. So far so good.

The contract period of game development is typically the least pleasant time of a project. It is interesting how the tone and attitude of the contract negotiations can really have no bearing on how the development phase of the project will be. The reason for this is because with contract negotiations you are typically communicating with a lawyer and/or someone who is responsible for business development with the publisher, whereas the day-to-day activities of a project are spent with folks such as producers, PR, and marketing. One particular project, which I will not name, had a fairly terrible contract negotiations phase where the publisher wanted to pretty much screw us out of everything purely out of greed (which we didn't allow), but the development of the game was one of the smoothest and easiest projects I have ever worked on. That just shows how working with different people can make all of the difference.

I also had a phone call regarding Red this week. It was basically a verbal pitch of the proposal I sent to them a few weeks ago. To be honest, I have absolutely no idea where we stand with that project. I hope we get it. But, I also wouldn't be surprised if we didn't. I say that based on my prior experience with potential deals falling through. It is staggering how tiny, seemingly insignificant, details can kill a deal.

[* rant on *] I think if publishers put more of a priority on game quality over mitigating risk and other terms that I am becoming more and more tired of hearing, the industry as a whole would be more successful. Now, I should say that I do not consider myself one of the "artiste" types who think a game should be made for ones self and everyone else can either jump on-board and "understand" it or just leave it. No, I want to make games that lots of people enjoy playing. So, with that in mind I naturally respect and listen to those fine folks in business development, PR, and marketing because their unique perspective on the industry is as equally as important as mine. The aim to produce a game of high quality and making money from said game are equally as important in my mind. However, when the shift in balance leans more towards the mighty dollar than quality we start to see games that simply don't deliver an experience worthy of a release. That's when the uncertainty starts creeping into the industry and number crunchers. That's when a game that marketing thinks should sell loads, suddenly doesn't. Keep it honest. Keep it simple. Put your money where your mouth is and you'll see the rewards. Nintendo understands this. It is easy to say that Mario games sell because they have Mario in them, but that simply isn't true. You can bet your house that if Nintendo released a crappy Mario game Nintendo's house of cards would come tumbling down. Their games do not rely on staring a portly plumber. What Nintendo does masterfully is extremely, and almost embarrassingly, simple: they make good games, and they know that. Now, that probably sounds ridiculous, but having a publisher truly KNOW that their game is good is extremely rare. But, it is also vital to success. Because, if you know your game is good, and it hits the audience that you want it to, then the only thing left to do is make sure as many people as possible know about it. And, that takes cash and PR/marketing smarts. The problem with 90% of publishers is that they don't do either, or they just do the latter - hoping it will mask the fact that their game is crap in a box. Doing this hurts the industry as a whole, because now the audience doesn't trust us. They were fooled into buying crap in a box. I mean c'mon, is it really a mystery why these games have sold a ridiculous number of copies: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare I & II, New Mario Wii, Cooking Mama, Mario Kart DS, Scribblenauts, and Bioshock I & II? No, they're all great games, and they all received effective PR/marketing campaigns. Sure, some of those games aren't perfect, and they may contain issues, but they're still great games that capture our imagination. I think the reason most publishers are unable to decide whether their games are worthy of a marketing push is because they simply don't have qualified people working for them who can tell them. And, this has to start with the seed of the game concept, not judging a game once it's already in production. What's the plan? Why are we making this game? Who is it for? Why will anyone like this game? What I hear all of the time from publishers is: what makes it different than other games? I say, who cares if it's different? James Bond, Mission Impossible, and the Borne Identity are all basically the same movies, but I like all of them because of the details - not the bullet points on the back of the box. Or I'm asked: how do we sell this to Walmart? That's a great question, and I don't really care because I have no idea what Walmart wants because, beyond making money, neither do they when it comes to putting games on their shelves. Walmart's decision process on placing games on their shelves has more to do with how much money they think they'll make from it than the quality of the product. Sure that's obvious, right? I think they would literally put an empty gum wrapper in a box and put it on their shelves if Hanna Montana was on the front of the box. I understand that they are a business and they want to stay in business by making money and selling products that will sell. But, when did the quality of the products take a back seat? Crazy stuff. [* rant off *]

Anyway, that was far too much of a rant. But, I hope you enjoyed that and please share your thoughts with me. And, that last paragraph was far too long. Are there limits to how long a paragraph can be? :)

I hope you're having a great day. TTYL.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Jools Watsham's Developer Diary: Contracts!

Friday, Mar 12, 2010: We received a contract for Spirit, which is incredibly exciting. Now, even though you might think it is a done deal, we've still got a little ways to go. What happens now is that we review the contract - what a joy that is - and make any alterations we think are needed and send it back to the publisher, and they do the same. This tennis match typically only goes a few rounds before both parties are happy. Obviously, this stage can go on for a very long time in some cases. And, we've experienced both quick and drawn out negotiations. So far, (touch wood) it is progressing nicely. Our first round of change requests were accepted, which is a great indication that this may actually go smoothly - yay!
Face is also looking incredibly encouraging. I spoke with the publisher's lawyer this week and went over the basic terms, which was a very quick phone call. Due to GDC, things are a little delayed, but we're told we'll receive a contract to review next week.
Other than all of that excitement, we've been working on AI, design docs, and generally keeping busy. I'm hoping that my next "Developer Diary" entry has some stone-solid concrete news. :)
Hope you're having a great day. TTYL.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Jools Watsham's Developer Diary: Some Publisher Action!

Saturday, Mar 6, 2010: Well, well, well, what do we have here? We have some more publisher interest going on. Finally! Why is it that it never just rains, it pours? Hey, I'm not complaining though. This time they actually said "We are ready to move to contract," which is what I want to hear. :) So, now we have a couple of publishers interested in Spirit, and one ready to pull the trigger on Face. Now, even though I am over the moon about this and ready to explode; a project is never real until the ink has dried on the contract. Having said that though, I am feverishly working on the Game Design Document.

In other news, we sent the Red proposal off to the publisher only to find out that due to GDC being next week we won't be hearing or doing anything about that until the week after next - great timing! I wouldn't be surprised if progress on Spirit and Face is slowed down due to GDC too. Argh!

I haven't heard anything back on Puzzle. So, that could mean the publisher is too busy to review and respond or they just aren't that into it. Time will tell.

Our development progress on Spirit is going great. The foundation for the AI is coming along very well. I've been adjusting parameters for the player controls and had some encouraging results. What we have going is already leagues above similar titles on the DS. Sure, that probably sounds arrogant, but I'm just telling the truth and echoing what others who have played the game have said. I'm not sure if other developers just don't try as hard as we do or if they don't have the experience we do. Oh well, it makes us look better anyway. :) Now, before anyone goes crazy and thinks that's an attack on all DS developers, it's not. This perspective is relative only to the genre we're working on with Spirit. Other developers, such as Wayforward, do an outstanding job with their games. Contra 4 is amazing (a little too difficult for my liking), and I'm really looking forward to Shantae.

We have one other publisher we're in talks with about some future DSiWare action. Their focus is purely on digital distribution. So, that's exciting too.

Lot's of potential stuff going on. Let's hope I have some concrete news next week.

Hope you're having a great day. TTYL.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Love My DS

I just wanted to say that I love my DS. Looking over my collection of DS games, which is now at over 80 titles, I see so many gems in there. And to think that I can take those games anywhere with me is a very unique experience when compared to, for example, the PS3, 360, or Wii. This is magnified when seeing games like Mario 64 and Chrono Trigger, which were tethered to a home console on their original release.

Incredible stuff! I love my DS.