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Living the Dream - from Hardcore Gamer to Successful Creator

by Vladimir Piskunov on 03/23/17 05:50:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

 

Disclaimer:
This story is one of many, featuring the ups, downs and everything in between, of becoming an indie developer. This is, by no means, an attempt to promote or advocate a way to live/run a business in any way. This is just my personal journey and how I evolved from a gamer into a developer, and the many bumps in the road along the way.

Gamer and Dreamer (1983-2010)
My love of games  started many years ago, back during the beautiful era of ZX Spectrum consoles and the Commodore 64 (think Bomb Jack and Saboteur). Eventually, the object(s) of my digital affection evolved into single-player PC games, some notable ones from the time include: Sid Meier's Civilization, Command and Conquer, Quake and Ultima VIII: Pagan - and that's  just a few of the many noteworthy titles that many of us older gamers still cherish. I remember countless days and evenings conquering hard missions, completing engrossing quests and just simply...having fun. Ah, the glorious golden age of gaming!

Sooner or later, I experienced the wonder of multiplayer gaming (thanks, Counter-Strike) - I was hooked in no time, even turning into a hardcore cybersport gamer back in the 2000s. At this time, Cybersport was quite young, but I was still a huge fun. 

Daylong CS 1.6 tournaments in local computer clubs, filled with people and pumping with emotions and all types of drama really kept me sucked into the multiplayer gaming culture for some time! Truth be told, I still have a soft spot for competitive gaming (CS:GO, Dota 2 etc). 
That was another ‘*DING*: Level Up’ moment for me. But I still had far to go before max level!

The next ‘level up’, actually, for me as a gamer was achieved around the time that I learned about the amazing world of online gaming - thanks to MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons)- which didn’t last long, in all honesty - but the main and most significant title that sucked up all my free-time (and then some!) has to be: Ultima Online. It was so new: a whole world where every decision mattered, with free PvP, sandbox elements like house placement and decorative items, and without the usual set levels and levelling up - it captivated me for a long time.


Once the Ultima Online era had passed, I filled the void with almost every worthy, original MMO all the way up until now, leaning more towards those with sandbox and free gameplay mechanics:
Anarchy Online, Shadowbane, Lineage 2 (beta), Planetside, World War II Online, Guild Wars 1/2, WoW, A Tale in the Desert, EVE Online, Dreamlords Beta, Project Entropia, Face of Mankind, Wurm Online, Sphere, Darkfall Online, Mortal Online and Haven & Hearth.


Some of them had me hooked for a longer period of time, and created a hardcore MMO gamer out of me:

 

  • Shadowbane (Youtube didn’t even exist back then!)
  • EvE online  -  since 2004
  • Guildwars - won my first ever physical prize on 8 vs 8 GvG Tourney
  • Darkfall Online.

After a few years, for me, there were no interesting - or completely promising - games in development that I personally felt were worth waiting for. I simply felt there weren’t any games with really new and original (specifically sandbox) mechanics that engaged me for long enough to progress. This period of time stands out to me in my life since it was was during a time when I was going through a bad time, and one of the few times I was close to depression.

...So, with that, right after my 27th birthday, I decided that it I should act! 


Enthusiast (2010-2011)
“I had the game of my dreams in my head”

I came upon the perfect time for creating my own game - it was in 2010, when I  was working a moderately boring office job - which wasn’t too time-consuming, luckily, plus I had some extra cash for small expenses as well as some motivational bonuses for potential team members: this was the perfect time to start putting together a team!


    I posted my (admittedly rather ambitious) plan on a local game development site, and of course took on the feedback from the skeptics. I was told that, realistically, it would be nigh on impossible to create an MMORPG as a first-ever game development project, especially since, they felt, I had no experience, not nearly enough money and no team already in-place! As much as the majority were trying to bring me back down to earth, there were a small few who were just as ambitious as me. 
Initially, plenty of people came to our team - all burning with enthusiasm to jump into the project, but eventually, after a week or two that flame would burn out and they’d disappear. Through the (at least) one hundred who came and went, a few stuck with it through the ups and downs, and formed our core team: Mihey, Alexander, Link, and Furok - whom, together, we progressed our overall skills and worked really well together.


I was super eager, and personally did everything that I possibly could in order to provide basic or placeholder assets - modelling, texturing, animation, scripting and coding etc. It actually really helped me back then and continues to help now in the typical everyday game development struggles! And if you're wondering about the tools I used, you'll be happy to know they are pretty common stuff, no weird esoteric stuff, just programs like Maya 3D, 3DS Max, Photoshop, Torque3D scripts and Visual Studio. 


During the period from May 2010 to around late Summer 2011, we managed to create a tech demo that contained our main gameplay features - real time multiplayer terraforming and object construction - which you can check out here:

With that, we decided it was a good time to go look for investors. Luckily, a network of relatives and mutual friends resulted in us meeting an entrepreneur, who decided to take the plunge and invest! We too, decided to take the plunge and quit our day jobs and finally become full-time indie games developers.


Full-Time Indie Developers (2011- Fall 2013) 

For the first year and a half, five of us worked together in my flat, while most of the team (approx. 10 more) worked remotely from their homes - and we made it work. Later, we made the decision to move to another flat; as we had a huge game, which we needed to develop with an equally huge amount of complex mechanics.

Two years passed, and we approached an important milestone: it was time to present our result to our investor. Of course, we had kept him well informed about our progress throughout, but the end of the two years specifically were an important milestone, since the investor obviously expected some return of investments or measurable proof of our success, but we had previously only had an unfinished Alpha. That was a rough period for us. 


We decided to go for a Crowdfunding campaign, when we had a finalization of the alpha version of our MMORPG, Life is Feudal


Confessions of a Crowdfunding Loser (September 2013 - December 2013)


Crowdfunding seemed like a way to kill two birds with one stone. We were hoping to receive exposure to a mass audience and raise some funds to continue the development at the same time. We could not afford to fail, so we did everything we could do in order to make that campaign successful: 

 

  • Picked the best crowdfunding available in our country: indiegogo.com. Kickstarter would have been our first choice, but alas, Russian residents are unable to use that platform, and at the time, we had no one in the US/UK/Canada who could help us.
    Result: the platform on its own didn’t bring a single user to our page, unfortunately. All users who had visited our page were attracted by our direct outreach.

 

  • Put together an interesting project page (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/life-is-feudal#/ ), had all the trimmings and aspects of a typical and good crowd-sourcing page.
    Result: It was a bit too long and complex and platform didn’t seem to have the specific gamer audience we hoped for
     
  • Asked for a sum to cover our development costs until the release of our MMORPG. Result: it came across "too high" to the public to fund an unknown game and team.

 

  • Met an apparent PR person to help us with press releases and media relations.
    Result: In short: it wasn’t great. Overall, it didn’t turn out too well and gave us almost no media coverage. Despite boasting a well-connected Linkedin and experience as an ‘Indie Promoter’, it didn’t quite go to plan ...to say the least!
     
  • Ran live streams with Q&A sessions on Twitch, where I showcased my apparent Ivan Drago from Rocky IV accent! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SikSIRHSGI
    Result: a bit of hype started to build, and more players began to learn a bit more about our game.
     
  • Recorded the-most-Russian-video-ever, with a real live bear in our kitchen pretending to be an animal AI script developer: https://youtu.be/aO4m-bZ6NcY?t=33
    Result: Nothing too significant, we received roughly 10k views back then.
     
  • Rather desperately, we promoted our game everywhere, in anyway we could: family and friends, our website, gaming communities etc.
    Result: it actually brought us most of our backers!

In short, after the few first days of our campaign, it was obvious that our campaign would not collect the needed amount for us to progress. After waiting a bit longer, we still had barely any pledges coming in. We decided to close it. Our investor was angry. That was our toughest time.
 

Part II - Launching in Indie Development Studio and Launching Our First Game - coming soon


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