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I thought of another way I could give back to the Fool community, which is writing up my thoughts on each day of GDC and posting them here. Let me know if this is of interest, and I'll continue or not as the group would like.

DAY 1 of the Game Developer's Conference
One Dude's Perspective

Today was a slow day - it really doesn't 'start' until Wednesday, but I did manage to get in a few talks.

First up was a talk by two of the guys at Owlchemy Labs, who gave a talk on Boostrapping your Game Startup by Remaining Agile. Something near and dear to my heart, since that's what we're doing. (voidALPHA does both contract and original IP work, and balancing the two is very tricky.) The upshot of their solution is to try to get solid, 6-month contracts that pays enough to cover the team for an entire year (actually not as difficult as it sounds, especially if a) you can get larger bodies of work to chew on, and b) you are 24 and live off Ramen). That way, you spend the second six months working on your own IP, and they've done this several times back and forth to good success, resulting in games like Snuggle Truck and Jack Lumber.

Their advice was to stick to one or the other at a time (contract vs. original), rather than trying to split your time between both. Good advice - again, if you have the luxury. I think in the end, their advice is hard to put into practice. It depends on a lot of 'ifs' falling into place, which are more risky for an unknown startup than they are for a studio like theirs which has been through the cycle a few times.

They also talked about different ways to pay your workers, from flat rate (easiest to find people - everyone wants to work for money, but also requires cash up front) to a back-end deal (allows you to afford talent you might not otherwise be able to and increases developer buy-in since they have skin in the game, but is harder to find, and has a higher level of trust required on both sides). Then there was the slide on people who will work for "free", but as we all know, there ain't no such thing. It takes time to train, to manage, to get them to groove on the studio vibe, etc.

Again, overall, there was less usable stuff than I'd hoped, partly because our studios are so different.

The second talk ROCKED THE HOUSE. It was by Shane Neville, designer of Shellrazer, which is free for iOS this week and you should go get it right now.

The talk was called "Designing In-App Purchases without Losing Your Soul". If any of you read my blog post, you know this near and dear to me.

The best summary line from the talk was "Players are not 'whales' to be 'monetized'".


()Howard Johnson is right about Olson Johnson being right!)

He went into great detail on the monetezation design of Shellrazer, and the key takeaway is that you do not need to pay a dime, and you can see the whole game.

Ok, wait - so how does he make money?

By designing for three types of players: those with skill (who can ace their way through), those with time (who can grind their way through/replay levels to collect coins) and those with money (who just want to skip the bits where they're having trouble).

It was all about the way it's presented, too - the 'store' button (where you can spend real cash) is almost hidden. It doesn't pop up at all until you try to buy something and have no coins. It's not in your face, there are no sneaky popups hidden in an endless stream of green "OK" buttons, etc.

It's all about RESPECTING THE PLAYER, and making ethical decisions about how you treat them. I was so pumped to hear that others have the same thoughts I do about putting the player at the center of the experience that I immediately emailed him, and spent the next hour tracking him down. We eventually hooked up and exchanged cards, so I'm hopeful that we can keep the discussion going around the topic. That was the highlight of the day for me.

After lunch I spent a while talking to the vendors with tables around the hallways - no big trends, although it was interesting that AT&T is offering a new speech-to-text gaming solution. (Think Siri capabilities in a videogame.) Not sure what to make of it, but it was curious-making. (Although apparently Google has a similar offering - it's not something I've ever researched before.)

The last talk of the day for me was NimbleDo's and Don'ts, by Ian Marsh, one of the founders of Nimblebits. A lot of practical stuff, but some of it also intentionally confrontational. Some of my favorites - stay hungry. Don't stop at one success. They had Pocket Frogs, and it was a breakout hit for them...but then went on to Tiny Tower, etc.

Unfortunately, the trend I saw between all 3 talks (being 'indie studio' focused) was that to be indie you need to have no more than 5 employees, all of them under 30 and living off Ramen. It would be interesting to do a survey of some kind and see what shapes and sizes indie studios come in. We're definitely not in the above category, and so our setup has different challenges and opportunities.

So, overall, a low-key day. This week is a marathon, so I didn't push it. I expect it'll get crazy around Wednesday, scale down a little on Thursday, and approach sanity on Friday.

Let me know if there's anything you want me to look into.
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