Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Business and 80's Supervehicles

The final push continues, as I tie-up loose ends with company formation, and work on the website and related functionality. I already have the company name chosen and registered, along with the website, but before I start driving people to it, I'd like the website to be ready to receive new users. Part of that is simply having the game, community features, and information about the game for players to immerse themselves in the NEO Scavenger universe. Another part of it is a "call to action."

New Business Model

After some thinking, I've decided to abandon pursuit of sponsorship on sites like Kongregate, Armorgames, and Newgrounds. I'm worried that sponsorship would hinder the growth of the NEO Scavenger franchise. A sponsor's prime directive is to drive traffic to their sites, and my goal is to have fans of the NEO Scavenger universe coming to my site for more games in the series. These forces would be in constant opposition, and would probably confuse the message.

Furthermore, while sponsorship would've meant a nice injection of cash, that dollar amount would be fixed. I may not make more self-publishing NEO Scavenger, but at least self-publishing removes the artificial limit. As well, licensing probably would've meant a month or more of bidding, followed by additional time awaiting publishing on the sponsor site. And even then, exclusivity probably would've meant waiting longer still before getting the game visible anywhere else. I'm at the point now where I want people playing NEO Scavenger, and helping me understand if I should continue or switch to a new product. The idea of waiting over a month to start getting that feedback makes me uncomfortable.

NEO Scavenger isn't complete, by any means, but it's ready to be played. I'd want to make it more complete before opening it up to sponsorship, which further increases the delay. As-is, I think it actually makes a pretty good demo. There's an unlimited amount of sandbox scavenging and wandering to be done, and just enough story to make a 30-60 minute session interesting. So I've started making arrangements to self-publish on my own website, with a freemium-style model.

Users who visit my website will be able to play NEO Scavenger as it stands now. It's basically a demo, and gives the user an idea of where I'm heading with it. Development on the NEO Scavenger demo is over, and I'll begin work on a premium version. If they like the demo, they can "buy" access to the premium, which grants them immediate access to the closed beta builds on the site. i.e. they can play the premium version as it is being developed, not unlike Captain Forever, Cortex Command, Mount & Blade, and Minecraft did.

The price will be up to the user, within a range I provide. All price points grant access to premium, and at least one vote to be used on a list of upcoming features for NEO Scavenger. Paying users can cast their votes on which feature they're most excited about. It helps me gauge interest in upcoming features, and gives them some involvement in the development.

Higher price points will likely grant more votes, as well as other Kickstarter-like bonuses. I'm still working out the details there, but may include adding your own feature to the voting board, characters named or fashioned after the likeness of the customer, unique abilities or items to use in-game, etc.

I guess I felt I wasn't scared enough already, so let's try a crazy business model too!

UI Love

I've done some more UI polish lately, and I'm really digging the outcome. The game is really starting to look good, and a theme is developing with UI elements: one of scavenged controls from 80s super vehicles.

Nothing says awesome like illuminated push buttons.
Using elements like LED indicators, textured black plastic, arcade-style illuminated push buttons, and combining them with label tape, missing wires, and hand-written "do not press" notes, the game starts to feel more in-character with scavenging. Here's a shot of the buttons in action:

The new buttons for switching inventory modes harken back to 80s Mercedes dashboards.
The status bars already had a sort-of boom box equalizer style to them, so these new gaudy buttons seem to fit right in. You can also see some new cursors and mouse mode icons in the top of the screenshot above. It wasn't clear to all users what each of the mouse modes did, and which one was active. So I reworded them for clarity, and added different colors to each mode to distinguish which was active. The currently active modes also have LED indicators.

New title screen!
I finally got around to cleaning up the preloader and title screens as well. They had previously been dumpy-looking since the switch from 1280x800 to 800x600 resolutions. Now, things are back in alignment. You can see the buttons for viewing credits and instructions here.

Also, Chris B had a great suggestion for the NEO Scavenger logo: add a notch near the R ins scavenger, to follow the contour of the lettering more precisely. I really liked the idea, as it made the silhouette more distinguishable, and made the logo more quirky and memorable overall.

Security and Other Issues

As the game migrates from home development to web service, I've had to do a lot of work preparing it for the wild. I added the requisite site-locking code to the game, to ensure it only executes on authorized servers. The swf's reliance on local server data means that it should be a hassle to steal and transplant on another website. I also implemented a code obfuscator, for some security against decompiling.

Why all the security? I'm not actually concerned with folks playing the game without paying for it. I'm sure it'll happen. It's probably not even a bad thing, as long as I can manage to pay the bills. More eyes on a product at least means a greater awareness. Besides, waging a war on piracy is not what gets me up in the morning. Making cool games does.

No, I'm more concerned with pirate portals. People who take NEO Scavenger, strip out the links back to my site, and profit off of my work. I invested a lot of my own cash into making NEO Scavenger. So if someone is going to hack my name off the title screen and claim the game as their own, I'm going to at least make it not trivial to do. I owe that to myself.

And in the end, the game isn't a fire-and-forget title. It's an evolving thing. It's a different game on Tuesday than it was last week. Customers are getting access to a service: the "Dan Fedor is making a game for you" service. If you're a customer, and you want the best NEO Scavenger experience, you'll come to the source, where it's fresh, and better than anywhere else. All other copies are imitators: irrelevant.

Or so the thinking goes. I guess I'll find out soon enough!


  1. Oh noes, you beat me to my idea of "American Idol" voting style game development. :)
    I'll have to keep watching to see how good of an idea it was.

  2. Sounds good on paper, we'll see if it works in practice!