Since I had the pleasure and good fortune of attending the first Steam Dev Days conference out in Seattle a few weeks ago, I thought I’d do a little write-up about the event. Joining me will be a little dinosaur friend of mine who has shown up at my studio recently. Continue reading
It’s time for my year end summary! Yeah, I know we’re half way through February but what can I say? I guess I haven’t been doing a great job at keeping folks up to date on what I’ve been working on. I am aiming to get back on the blogging horse (is that a thing?) in 2013, but I better start off with reviewing what has transpired already: Continue reading
I had the good fortune to be able to attend GameLoop in Boston again this year. It was held at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge, MA and about 150 folks attended. This was GameLoop’s fourth year and it continues to draw a great group of participants interested in all aspects of game development–both digital and non-digital. The event is priced ridiculously low for the amount of value you get out of it in both shared knowledge and networking. The $40 ticket price even includes a kick-ass T-shirt, breakfast, and lunch!
For those unfamiliar with the unconference term, the gist is that an unconference is a type of conference that self-organizes during the day of the event.
This year we all had a chance to say three tags that represented topics we were interested in. There was a 10 second time limit and it only took 15 minutes to get through us all. This helped gauge the potential topic interests in the room.
After all the proposed sessions have been written onto large pieces of paper the boards holding them are then moved out to the hallway. Participants then get to vote with 5 individual stickers on which sessions they might want to attend.
This was still a bit of a bottleneck but I felt it worked better than last year. I hope next year they have 3 boards instead of 2 and keep the notes to the top halves of the boards so you can preview the topics from further away. I also think putting more space between the boards will help spread out the crowd a bit.
After we all voted the organizers then curate the most popular sessions to form the schedule by distributing or combining the topics in an intelligent manner to get good coverage throughout the day. I thought this curated approach worked really well this year. Each slot had something I could find that interested me.
Sessions tend to be a round-table conversation-based style where everyone can have a chance to contribute to the topic being discussed. The session leader is whoever proposed the topic and moderators are available to help out just in case things veer too far.
This whole process works surprisingly well! There is even a brief wrap-up session at then end of the conference where the whole group is able to provide feedback so that iterative improvements to the process can made for next year’s event.
The three tags I announced at the beginning of the event this year were web, mobile, and small studio business. I then attended sessions that largely related to these topics. I enjoyed two different sessions related to indie business and marketing lead by Ichiro Lambe and Leo Jaitley of Dejobaan Games. I find a lot of useful stories and information in what those two have to share about their long term experiences with being an independent game studio that has released a lot of very original games over the past twelve years. The sessions they lead were titled Platforms That Make Indies Money and Staying in Business as an Indie Forever. Other useful contributions came from participants like David Carrigg of Retro Affect and Alex Schwartz of Owlchemy Labs. They all had experiences to share and it was very useful to hear what various studios are doing to stay in business and try and make money from their games.
I also attended a more tech oriented session lead by Sean Flinn of GameSpy Technology (thankfully a long term GameLoop sponsor) about online analytics, multiplayer, and distribution needs of game developers. I have a very big interest in game analytics and currently use the Playtomic service but it is always good to keep an eye on the various technologies out there. GameSpy Technology doesn’t currently have an ActionScript API but I was able to share some of my needs, concerns, and requirements with them about being a game developer on the web.
Of the two final sessions I attended, one was a session on Building a Personal Brand by Kwasi Mensah of Ananse Productions and the other a session on Prototyping by Caleb Garner of Part12 Studios. I find these conversation style sessions so helpful to hear other game developers stories and experiences. Afterward you can approach and followup with someone based on what you heard them talking about in the session and that is an excellent chance for further building connections.
After a long but incredibly rewarding day about 70 of us headed over to Cambridge Brewing Company for dinner and locally brewed beer. A perfect way to end the day!
Once again I would like to thank the founders of GameLoop–Darius Kazemi and Scott Macmillan. I think the following photo may hint at where they get all their incredible energy from!
All photos used by permission of Michael Carriere.
I spend a lot of time thinking about things that will improve my Flash games. If you use sponsorship or licensing models in the Flash game business you are really marketing to two audiences–your players and your potential sponsors.
I want to provide the best experience I can to my players within a reasonable amount of effort while at the same time I also want to make sure my game is going to provide as little friction as possible to potential sponsorship or licensing.
To that end I have 5 tips I wanted to share for dealing with audio in your Flash games that I’ve found helpful:
Tip #1 – Normalize your music and sound effects
This is a very simple tip but it is too often overlooked. Normalizing is basically just making sure that the loudest volume levels of all your sound effects and music are at a consistent and good target peak.
Normalizing your audio assets before you import them into your Flash library is a good way to improve your workflow. You know that all your audio is within a consistent peak range and you can balance further with your software volume settings.
You can use a free program like Audacity to provide normalization. I’ve found the default setting of normalizing to -3dB works well. If you are using Windows 7 you’ll want to get the beta for Audacity.
Tip #2 – Individual controls for sound effects and music
Why provide two controls? A nice thing about having independent controls for sound effects and music is that it can give the player more freedom over the experience of your game. It can allow them to keep your sound effects playing but still jam out to their own music. Another reason is sometimes the player doesn’t mind the sound effects but maybe the music is starting to get repetitive the 100th time they’ve played your chain reaction game. I look for any little tips to keep players happy and in the game and I’ve had many positive player comments from implementing this feature.
Tip #3 – Provide common key bindings for audio control toggles
Setup a keyboard listener in Flash to respond to some common keys. I like to bind the ‘S’ key to toggle the sound effects and the ‘M’ key to toggle the music. This is a real simple touch that allows your players to quickly mute your game when they can’t find the onscreen audio controls. Remember to provide text somewhere to let your players know these settings controls!
Tip #4 – Use volume sliders for sound effects and music
The good thing about providing volume sliders over a simple mute/un-mute toggle is that your players can mix the volume to suit their individual speakers or headphones. It can be incredibly hard to master and mix your game volumes correctly so that it will sound decent and in balance across the many audio systems it will be played through. Volume sliders give the power to the players to tweak one up or down to get that balance that is pleasing to their ears.
Tip #5 – Save sound and music settings in a shared object
This last tip I have implemented most recently based on some player feedback I got. I really like this tip because it never occurred to me until I received a story from a player. The player got busted by their boss for playing one of my games in the office because they were surprised when they loaded it up again and the audio of both the preloader intro movies and the main menu music was still enabled. They had just assumed that since they had muted the game audio the last time they had played that it would have remembered!
Well I had never really thought of this feature before but it was quite easy to implement and has been really awesome. You can use a Shared Object in Flash to track any changes to the audio controls. You might be using one already to record local highscore data and you can just record your audio settings to this object. Then when your game loads you can check the Shared Object to see what the audio settings were (if any) the last time they played. If there isn’t any data then you can just enable it as as default. This allows you to mute the preloader intro movies and menu music when they return if they had disabled it in a previous gameplay session!
Got any other good audio related tips? Share them below in the comments!
I’ve been spending a large portion of the past week or two working on studio infrastructure.
What do I mean by infrastructure exactly? I mean everything from working on dedicated web pages supporting the studios’ games to setting up and configuring social networking apps like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
It is amazing how much time this kind of work can eat up and I tend to get a little frustrated wondering when I might be able to do some actual game development again!
I believe this type of infrastructure and organizational work is necessary though for a small independent game studio to succeed in the long run. After reading great indie marketing articles like The Zero Budget Indie Marketing Guide and Wolfire’s PR Tips I got inspired to spend some of my valuable time making progress on these fronts.
I’ve learned a good bit over the past two weeks as I’ve started using both YouTube and Twitter for the first time. (Yeah I know I’m a bit late to the party but at least I’m here now!) I’ve finally setup a Facebook page for the studio as well.
I wanted to share some of my experiences and thoughts so far on the various tools I’ve begun exploring to help increase the studio’s marketing reach and fan base. I’ve been carefully watching what other studios I admire are doing and what tools they are using and in what ways.