It’s been a while since I posted here. In fact, it’s been a whole of 8 months since the last post, and many things have changed. First of all, by now I have discovered the secret of why all the small studios whose work I admire, either have no blogs or post updates only once per quarter: because there is simply too much work to do for everyone – if you want to stay small – and thus, based on priorities, 99% of that time is assigned to development or business issues. Maybe things can change after the first release, when there is enough cash coming in + enough things going on with the community, to mandate a separate person in charge of the communication w/outside world? Most probably, yes.
Secondly, by now I also got rid of the illusion that a dev studio’s blog – like this one – can serve as a sort of a diary, offering younger developers an insight into the real industry process. What works is something like #FCOVilnius, an industry-focused blitz-podcast that I’m running with a fellow producer from the studio next door, where we try to summarise our practical experience in a way that will be relevant to most of other studios because we just list facts and figures. What does not work, though, is a more personal/emotional position of trying to summarise the feelings and the specific perspective of the dev team at any given moment – because that perspective changes so very often.
I started Charlie Oscar after more than 10 years of publishing experience and I had few surprises in the way of how things work on the business side. However, this is the first time that I’m doing such a deep dive into the actual development (I’ve funded games before, but never acted as the real producer) – therefore I feel like someone on a safari, who takes a photo of two zebras, thinking that it’s great material, only to discover 10 zebras around the corner, and then 100 zebras further down the road. By that time, the excitement – and the relevance – of the initial post about how great these two zebras look, pretty much fades.
As an example, a year ago I was really happy working through Basecamp. Since then, I stopped using it altogether, because our project’s flow became non-linear: we switched to Asana. But just last week, I opened three new projects on Basecamp, again, because for certain specific dev needs, this is the best option there is. And there you go: my post from 2014 about how great Basecamp is, would be incorrect; my post from 2015 about how we outgrew Basecamp, would be inadequate; it is only now that I can say that it’s actually useful – within certain confines; and I’m not even sure that this will be the take-away for us on this issue, by the time when we actually ship the game.
Based on the above, I think we need a re-think of how we’re going to use this blog for the studio. As far as the game is concerned, we’ll serve that need through game’s own web site, which we should open in a matter of weeks: the rules, the screens – basically, a product-like approach. As far as the industry is concerned, I’m doing the best I can through a combination of events (e.g. this summit) and the podcast we run w/my friend Flazm. So what’s the best use for the studio’s blog, then? My best guess – right now – is that we should use it to communicate what’s happening with our business. E.g. sales stats, hires, plans, et cetera: irrelevant to any of the specific games we develop/release; and too personal to broadcast in the peer-focused industry projects, which are aimed at sharing w/others something applicable to their own studios just as well.
I’ll start with an update on where we are at the moment, then:
We still have one game that we develop: Gremlins, Inc. And we still use a combination of on-site work (when everyone flies into Vilnius for a week or two at a a time) and distributed work (Vilnius, Kiev, Crimea) between these occasions. Our burn rate has gone up a little, due to having more freelancers on the payroll as we get closer to the release, but it’s still fairly manageable. We have the equivalent of about 4 to 6 months of burn rate stacked in the bank and we’ll quite likely start to have some cash in-flow before we run out of this budget, not the least because of royalties from my previous titles which keep pouring in (sometimes rather unexpectedly).
We’ve made the decision to create three games in this universe: the card game, the videogame, and the board game. The card game has playtime of 15-30 min per session, we have the prototype ready for testing, and we will try to use Kickstarter in order to fund the manufacturing of the first 1.000 copies.
The videogame is by now somewhere around beta, we’re not feature-complete and e’re not content-complete – but we’re getting there. We expect to come to Steam Greenlight same month as when the card game will have its KS campaign going, and we’d like to come out in Steam Early Access not later than by midsummer this year.
Finally, the board game is still classified as a project that may or may not happen: the current prototype was built to test the videogame, and requires too many manual calculations; we’ll need to simplify, while keeping the diversity of all of its decks. Based on this, we agreed to push back the decision on this product to after the launch of the videogame, as some of the changes we’ll make there based on Steam EA feedback, will quite likely provide insights to the improvement of the board game just as well.
The winter is a bitch here, though not as much as in Stockholm. The best things so far?
1) it takes 15 minutes for me to walk from home to the office, including a few stops requested by my dogs.
2) it takes 2 minutes for me to walk from the office to the cafe where we normally have lunch.
= there’s more time left for creative/business issues + there are almost no distractions, which allows me to keep the context of everything in my head from day to day.
3) there is already a small but very healthy eco-system of games industry here: on average, I’m seeing people from 4-5 different studios every week.
4) the city and the country are still in love with #gamedev and everyone goes out of their way to help grow this sector further.
= a couple of days ago, one of the founders of a new startup came over to check out Vilnius, we agreed to go out for dinner – and in about 90 minutes there were people from 5 companies sitting around the table over some beers. This is possible only when you live in a walkable city and within an eco-system with plenty of young/active founders.
5) the country switched to €, but the prices remain reasonable.
6) we dealt with the few cases when we’ve met doctors/police/etc. in their professional capacity and things are good.
= sure, Portugal is cheaper still: I’ve rented squash courts in Cascais cheaper than I can rent them in Vilnius. But every time when I now go back to Stockholm for business, I’m shocked by the prices there (to which I got so used last year): a dinner in Vilnius costs like a breakfast in Stockholm, and that’s saying something about the burn rate/ease of moving to a new location for any dev team. As to the doctors/police issue, whenever I moved to a new city/country, I always had that question ticking in the background: sure, the village is nice, but how nice are these people when you’re stopped past midnight for a random document check? Well, in the case of Vilnius, things are good.
Three things: a) putting the card game Kickstarter on track; b) getting ready for our next Vilnius-based crunch week; and c) personally for me – switching most of my time and attention from production to publishing, as we’re entering that exciting period when logo/cover should be finalised, PR agencies hired and roll-out planned. Which is the part of the business which I love as much as pre-production, because almost everything is possible.