Saturday, February 13, 2016

Developing in Groups: Why Developing by Yourself Doesn't Work (for some)

I've never successfully made a game by myself.  I remember that when I started doing development of games in high school, I'd get past the very initial stages of developing a game and scrap it because something about it "wasn't working" or I felt that I didn't have the ability to fully realize this game into something fully fleshed-out.

I like to pretend I actually finished this game

What I hadn't realized is that I was running into a stumbling block about my development personality that I didn't know existed - that I was really unable to do "closet development," or developing something totally by myself.  This "closet development" can't exist in a pure form - any game gets input from somebody at some point during development, even if that input doesn't have a direct effect on the outcome of the product.  That said, there's a pretty distinct difference between "Matt Makes Games" and "Matt and Greg Make Games," with the second implying that Greg has a pretty central role to the development of the title outside of Matt.

Now, a lot of "Matt-s" have made a lot of games quite successfully - Undertale, Braid, and FNAF to name a few.  But some developers simply cannot realize their potential without a Greg at their side to help.  I might even argue that, outside of the world of games with very specific story or mechanically-driven purposes, closet development without Greg almost never works.
 This came up when I Googled "I made it myself"

These are some of the benefits to working with at least one teammate:

  • A teammate keeps you accountable to the project
    • It's far easier to keep focused on development work if someone else is counting on your doing a share of the work.  This point is particularly important on projects that aren't destined or projected to make any money, since the primary incentive to continue the project essentially lies in finishing it. 

  • A teammate fills in your development weaknesses
    • This point should be pretty obvious, really.  To use my own development as an example - I'm not a very gifted artist.  Whenever I start a new project, the question that burdens me the most is "how am I going to make this game look pretty when I still can't reliably get the 'line' tool to draw correctly?"  I've only been able to actually finish the art on just a handful of my projects, so, planned or not, that job most often has to fall to some "Greg."
  • A teammate helps polish ideas and remove roughness in design
    •  Even if your teammate doesn't specialize in any particular task, they always offer very valuable ideas and feedback on what you're doing (and you generally offer good feedback for them as well).  No designer can truly see their game with a fresh perspective - far from it.  What seems like inconsequential quirks can actually mean the difference between a marketable game and a student project (I'm l looking at you, Rubber Ducky Beta).  A teammate who is dedicated to seeing the project work offers the best feedback on what flies and what doesn't.

So, in closing, let me complain a little.  Every game I start of my own volition fails, but every game that I start with a Greg generally ends up going farther and working better than either of us initially intend.  I cannot function as a closet developer.  Make sure you know whether you don't have the ability to develop on your own so you don't frustrate yourself out of development with un-finished projects and failed ideas.

Solus Deus
John Szymanski

Friday, December 18, 2015

Dev Vs Community: Day 2-3

Developer is asked several times on forums to give achievement.

Youtuber declares media war on developer and asks his audience to spam developer with Tweets.

Developer receives "I will find you" photo.

Developer finds that some community members have hacked game to get achievement.

Community member that does not own the game asks for achievement.

Community member threatens to beat developer high score if he does not get the achievement.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dev vs. Community: Day 1

The Dev vs. Community Achievement of Rubber Ducky is an achievement that is acquired for the entire community once they have sufficiently convinced me, the developer, to give it to them.  These are the actions that have happened during the first day of Rubber Ducky being out:

Community member starts a thread on the Steam discussion board.
Small heckling of developer occurs.

Developer responds with heckles.

Community member suggests giving achievement as a Christmas gift.
Community member offers fan art as bribe - developer recieves this:

Developer receives bribe from community member offering a Youtube video to small audience for achievement.

Developer is offered chicken emoji for achievement.

Developer receives this email:

Dear game developer,
As a duck connoisseur myself,  I thoroughly enjoyed Rubber Ducky and the Rainbow Gun. The graphics were very nice, the music was very nice, and the game play, well just as you expected was very nice.
I love your game there's no hiding that, but I am very disappointed that I cannot show my full enjoyment of the game through my achievements. It fills me with dread every time  i look at those achievements,
"Pshh 18 out of 19 I can do better than that" I tell myself, but yet the achievement never unlocks leaving me in a constant state of anger and depression. Please end my sorrow and unlock the achievement.
Sincerely, Ducky

Developer responds with this:
Community Member:
I have read your message several times and shed quite a few tears.  I feel very much for your predicament, and I promise to do whatever I can to help.
That said: the decision is does not lie with me alone.  In fact, it lies with each and every member of the Rubber Ducky community.  Once the time comes in which we can all band together, our mutual goal shall be achieved.
In the meantime, I hear that tea can be good for wild bouts of anger/depression.
Thanks for reaching out,

Community member flags achievement as being broken on achievement website, then tells developer that he will un-flag it if the achievement is given.  Community member recognizes the fact that this is extortion.

Greenlight Tips and Strategies

Hey guys!  I've now run two successful Greenlight campaigns, and, although I'm anything but an expert, I think I've found a couple things that might help new-comers to Greenlight have an easier time.

First of all, only use a publisher if you must to get your product through.  Publishers can help a lot (and in my case of Sumo definitely did a lot), but there's a lot of benefits to self-publishing too, and I would urge you to look in that direction first.

Secondly, if you don't have a way to make a professional trailer, I would highly, HIGHLY recommend that you hire someone to do so for you.  The trailer is, for all practical purpose, the part of the page that will sell your game the most, so if the trailer is good, the game will do well, but if the trailer is bad, the game won't do well.

Next, don't be discouraged by the lack of votes after the first couple days.  The graph for every game on Greenlight absolutely plummets after day 2, since it goes off of the "Recently Added" list.  This doesn't mean that people aren't as interested in your game - it means that you're to the point to start marketing the game yourself!  :)

Add a "Check out this game on Greenlight" sort of button to your game.  Then, pursue distribution outlets.  I would highly recommend trying to get your game into bundles, which can be frustrating to try to do, but is very worthwhile when it works out.  Putting your game on GameJolt,, and IndieGameStand can help a lot too, but bundles seem to help more-so.

Fifth, and most important - ignore all of the negative comments, unless they're from someone that legitimately wants to see the game work out on Steam.  Greenlight is full of trolls, and it's really disheartening to see people beat a game up.  But it happens to literally every game on Greenlight, and does not actually reflect the quality of your game, which is really important to remember!  :)

Sixth - add some pictures to the description of the page itself.  Mine aren't very good, but you can get an idea of what I mean by looking at my Greenlight page for Rubber Ducky:

Seventh - run promotions with giveaways.  A good way to get pretty consistent votes is by running giveaways (even on random Steam keys you have lying around) on sites like  Add a small note in the description about your Greenlight game, and you're pretty good to go!

Eighth - be ready for the long haul.  Some games take time to get Greenlit.  Rubber Ducky was in Greenlight for way over a year, I think, but it eventually got in.  That's the very, very long end of the spectrum, but if a game doesn't get in after a couple months, it's not just dead in the water.  be persistent, and eventually things will work out.

Some very helpful stats:
If your game is at 30% yes vote, you are doing great.  If it is below that, you still definitely have a good chance.  Rubber Ducky was Greenlit at 21% yes vote - it just took a while.

Sumo rose from a low (I think it was 19% yes vote) to somewhere around 40% after I did some better marketing with bundles.

If you're like me, you tend to focus on the negative comments coming through on the page.  That said, often, there's not nearly as many negative comments as it seems there is.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A list of updates!

Hey ya'all!  I thought I might give a brief update on what's been happening of late.

As some may have seen, Sumo got released on Steam and picked up by a publisher (not in that order).  Black Shell Media has been great to work with so far, and I'm happy to be part of their publishing family!

I've gotten a lot of feedback about the lack of online of Sumo (which isn't unexpected).  A few months ago, my plan was to ignore all of it.  But more recently, I've upgraded my engine to the woot-woot Game Maker Studio and the networking support has made the online capabilities much more plausible.  I'm working on getting the online in a functional alpha state within a short period of time, so keep tabs!

Believe it or not, I'm turning back to Rubber Ducky.  I noticed that the Greenlight page has crawled its way to around 85% over the last 431 days, so I thought I might give a good stab at trying to finally get my little square friend on Steam.  Of course, along with a Steam release will come a small content-bug update to the original game, including a dynamic bounce-house and voice acting for the story!  I may or may not release this (hopefully) to-be Steam version outside of Steam, but I sure as heck would love to send it to anyone who wants to check it out anyway. Email me at

I'm also working on starting an actual website that will link to this blog and blog dedicated to Sumo and Rubber Ducky development and news.  It will hopefully act as a hub where all ya'all can subscribe to the various news outlets of Cr2cr and keep updated on whatever you'd like to keep updated on.

Finally, I'm starting to come up with plans for a new, shiny game that will take all of the things I've learned from Sumo and Rubber Ducky.  It's a little on the fringe of what exactly it's going to be like at the moment, but it's going to involve pizza, secret agents, rocket-jumping, and Resident-Evil path planning!

Lots is going on!  Thank you so much for reading this post and helping me make games!

Solus Deus (even when I'm awful at it)
John Szymanski

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Various bits of Sumo documentation

Here's some documentation for Sumo:

Mode editor:

Level editor (with tutorial):

Mode Editor Tutorial #1:

Mode Editor Tutorial #2:

John Szymanski

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Greenlight Experience

My first day on Greenlight with Sumo Revise was an absolute failure.  From a previously unsuccessful Greenlight try with my game Rubber Ducky and the Rainbow Gun and conversations with other Greenlight devs, I knew exactly what a doomed game might look like.  So when I saw my terribly low percentage and negative comments at the end of day one, I gave up.  Right there and then.

Four months later, I was Greenlit.

Here's what happened.

The beginning:
This is a screenshot of the game I had decided to try to get Greenlit, just for reference.

Yay!  This screenshot always makes me happy.

I think my artist did a great job considering the restrictions I put on him, but this wasn't and isn't the type of game that's instantly going to wow an audience like Machinarium or Limbo.  But, at the time that I started developing Sumo Revise, I didn't really care.  I was going to make a game, darn it, and it was going to be awesome!  I would be successful!  I would be famous!

The first day on Greenlight was a mess.  Me and my team had spent quite a while preparing screenshots, a trailer, a description for the game, and a lot of other stuff too.  After what was around a month-long cycle, we had finally put together something that we thought very well may have a chance of getting Greenlit, given some divine intervention and just the right timing for everything to come together.

One of the first comments on the page informed us that we had a misspelling both in the header image and the trailer, and a glaringly obvious one at that.  Something like 500 people had already visited the page, which didn't make me feel good at all.  We fixed the error as soon as we could, even trying to make a joke out of it.  Nevertheless, comments on the general of the quality of the game started flowing in, including:

Well, these comments aren't exactly condemning, but the stats were more-so.  Although I don't actually have a screenshot from the time, I think I can rough-ti-mate the stats by the end of the first week to be something like this:

This wasn't exactly the breakout success I had been hoping for. . .

Now, I don't at all think that these stats were unfair.  The majority of people who had visited my page had not liked my game - simple as that.  I've gotta' say - I was pretty sad about the whole business.  I was actually to the point of thinking about quitting the "professional" scene and just going back to hobby game design, because I was about to start my second semester of college and didn't really want to try to balance a doomed business and education.

I did something that probably wasn't a great idea: I stopped marketing Sumo for the Greenlight page just a week or so after the page hit.  I didn't know what else to do, and I didn't really feel like figuring it out.  It was my second Greenlight flop, and quite arguably worse than the first try.  I was the only developer I had ever heard of to do worse as he continued developing games.

The turning point
Now, something had actually happened that I didn't realize yet that I truly can chalk down to intervention outside of my own plans.  A while back I had submitted Sumo Revise to a bundling group called the Groupees because I had worked with them previously on other games and was kinda' bored on the day I sent the submission email.  I had been in one of the Groupees bundles before during my previous Greenlight stint, and although it was loads of fun, I can't honestly say it was that much help to my Greenlight effort for RDATRG.  I submitted Sumo to the Groupees more because I liked being in the previous bundle and less because I thought it would help the Greenlight deal - in fact, I don't even think Greenlight was much on my mind at the time.  I never heard back from them.

. . .until a couple weeks after the Greenlight launch.  One of the Groupees people contacted me out of the blue saying that they were putting together a "Retro" themed bundle and thought Sumo would fit in pretty well.  Although I had given up on the thought of Sumo going anywhere, I wasn't about to turn down a sweet bundle deal with some people that I liked working with.  I accepted the bundle deal, clueless (as I normally am) about what was going to happen.

Now this is the first bit of advice in this article - running a successful Greenlight is not about getting people to your Greenlight page.  Running a successful Greenlight is about getting the right people to your Greenlight page.  And, to boot, it doesn't necessarily need to be a lot of the right people.  This is a screenshot that I took of Sumo's Greenlight stats a few days after the Groupees bundle launched:

Now that's a bit better!

I had gone from being about 15% to the top 100 to 32% in a matter of days and about doubled in yes-to-no-vote ratio.  As it turns out, bundling Sumo Revise was exactly the thing I needed to do.  I always knew that Sumo's big draw had been in its gameplay, but I didn't realize until this moment that the people I needed to be drawing in to my Greenlight page were the people that would be able to experience the best part of Sumo, or the people that already owned the game.  Sumo had been artificially pushed into the user's hand because of the attraction of the bundle, and because of it didn't need to rely on what many saw as sub-par graphics to be judged.  And, to be fair, the Groupees community was predispositioned to want to upvote the Greenlight games in the bundle, so that helped quite a bit too.

The spike in the green line there (my game) is the first two days of the bundle

I took these ideas to heart and started marketing Sumo again, but in a different way.

The marketing
I figured that the best course of action would be to continue to get people that would want to like my game to go to the Greenlight page.  I started running promotionals on - I gave away the various Steam keys I had lying around and a free copy of Sumo to every person who entered and wanted one, writing in the giveaway description something like "if you like this giveaway and Sumo, make sure to check out the Greenlight page linked below!"  Again, not only was I gathering people who would have potentially played my game through the giveaway, but I was also gathering other people that would be pre-dispositioned to like my game because, ya'know, I was giving them stuff.  I started crawling up in percentage towards the top 100, while keeping the decent 42% or more yes votes on Sumo.  All I needed was 70%, I thought, because if I got that far I could sure as heck get 80% - and if I could get 80%, I could get 85% and so on and so on and so on.  One week I was at 44%.  The next I was at 45%.  Three weeks later, I was at 46%.  It was slow, but I had gotten my second wind and was sticking to it.

I also started to contact LPers with copies of Sumo.  Only one channel made a video of Sumo from this phase of development, and they were pretty small.  To help them out as much as I could, I embedded their Let's Play on the Greenlight page and didn't really think twice about it.  Their Let's Play became a very key component to the Greenlight page much later, and for it I will be forever thankful to Drinkio Games.  But more on that later.

Now keep in mind that my Greenlight graph still looked like this:

Believe it or not, this represents a total of about ten votes.

Although the Greenlight page was going quite a bit better, I still wasn't hitting a fantastic Greenlight experience like all of those online articles tell you is possible.  And, to boot, I had made no money except from the bundle and was still just selling Sumo off of this here blog.  I decided I should spend the time to try to spread my game to the distribution sites other than Steam, which to a college Freshman currently in mid-semester and trying to Greenlight his game isn't a pleasant thought.


Desura said "no" to begin with.  GOG was all like "AAAAAHHHHH WHAT IS IT?????" and the Humble Bundle offered me a widget but no place on the store.  At this point, I was just stubborn about the whole thing and continued anyhow.  As it turns out, the Drinkio Games Let's Play was the saving grace of the situation.  After a few emails back and forth, IndieGameStand accepted Sumo, saying something like "we liked seeing people having fun with your game!" which wasn't hard to pinpoint as referencing that exact video.  Having a place on an actual storefront gave Sumo something more of a professional appeal, and I noticed (although it may be coincidental) that people were generally more accepting of the game after that point.  After I added a single-player feature in the way of AI, Desura let Sumo on under the alpha-funding section.

The end
I didn't know it, but things were starting to wind down.  Over the next month, I slowly built more and more recognition through Desura, Steamgifts, and eventually more Let's Players.  I kept creeping up percent by percent on Greenlight, still thankfully keeping my "yes vote" percentage at a decent amount, and even got to present the game at a local computer science conference.  And then, something finally snapped.  In the space of two weeks, I had been featured on a much bigger Let's Player than I had before, was accepted into the IndieRoyale, and was about to break the 65% to the top 100% mark to boot, nearing my 70% goal.  Then, just after my college semester ended when I was going to go crazy marketing Sumo in my free time, everything changed.

Specifically, I got an email I wasn't expecting.  I get emails in my business account fairly often from subscriptions, people who own one of my games, or really anything.  This email had bold-ed sections, which I wasn't expecting, and almost seemed. . . business-y.  Confused, I started to read.  A man named Vanni introduced himself and asked me how I was.  He briefly talked about the game industry as a whole, and then very elegant way asked if I was interested in working with a publisher.

Holy cow.

Within a handful of days, I had been Greenlit.  See, although Vanni had done some initial contact work, I still had to pass QA on their end to be officially published.  Because I had spent so many days tiredly keeping my Greenlight stats at a decent level, and because I was on multiple distribution sites already, and because I had a couple Let's Plays of people "having fun" with my game, I had a fairly positive-looking product to show off.  When I had been accepted for publishing, the head of the company emailed me to congratulate me on the news and also to tell me that he personally had spent upwards of an hour of his day playing the game.  Now, I have everything good to say about my publisher as they've been fantastic to work with up to this point, but his first comment was the one that struck me the most.  I thought back to the beginning of the Greenlight fiasco, which had enveloped my every free moment for the past four months, and realized that the start of the success of my Greenlight page and the triumphant end had come about much in the same way - as Jonathan Blow's dialogue between the player and the developer, or, simply, as playing the game.

I really don't know how Sumo's going to do on Steam - it may do well, it may do poorly.  But I know that the work I've done up getting it there was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, and that's probably worth more than I really give it credit.  And, you know what?  I feel blessed.  Blessed beyond words.

I'm planning on writing up a different article detailing the marketing aspect of Sumo on Greenlight to hopefully help other no-name devs like me get through Greenlight.  Keep eyes out for that.

John Szymanski, Cr2cr Studios
Solus Deus