First off, I want to apologize. This is a very self-involved post about something that I think about from time to time. Today I was asked by someone I know, “So what do you actually do all day?” followed up after me trying to summarize my typical day, with “It must be fun to play games all day.”
Making games and playing games are poles apart, I’m sorry to say. And there’s two roles I take at Infamous Quests. One is the creative side. I create games, whether it be design or programming or the occasional piece of artwork. The other side is the business side and that’s the side that takes most of my working day.
Before I get into the business side I want to say this. There is something extremely satisfying and fun about game design. There’s a freedom in it that you will rarely find in any other job. During production of Quest for Infamy I was designing some of the sorcerer spell quests and I got to the point where I knew I needed the player to get the owl feather. Most of the elements came together easily, like the owl is a night animal so obviously I need to get the feather at night. But how do I get a feather from an owl sitting high in a tree. The obvious point (which I honestly just realised as I typed this should have been an option) was to climb the tree to scare the owl. At the time the obvious solution to me was to hit the tree and shake it, so that’s what I scripted. Mr Roehm hitting the tree with his sword. But I wanted multiple solutions and I was thinking about it while I was talking to Steve on Skype (Steve Alexander – my partner in crime in this game design caper). I said in passing “Mate, I should just burn the tree down. That’d be funny. Haha.” And he replied “Sure. Why not? It’s our game. Do what you want!” That’s a really liberating thing being able to just say, I want to burn down a tree in my game because I want to. I don’t need to justify it to any besides the two of us. That’s an example of why it’s so satisfying making games, although there’s a heck of a lot more examples that come to mind. I just want to be 100% clear when I say I love making games. It’s so rewarding and fun. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
The flip-side of making games as an indie developer is that the business side of things is where you end up spending most of your time. There’s a lot that goes into selling a game. There’s marketing, PR, promotions, advertising, social media, budgets, costings, people management, task management, and about a million other things. And I do these things every single day.
The most important thing to me is making sure our customers (and potential customers) are happy. That we’re doing everything we can to make sure their experience with Infamous Quests and our games is the best it can be. So every morning I wake up, make a coffee, and sit in my home office and visit my list of regular sites. I check Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, the IQ forums, our publisher Phoenix Online’s forums, Steam forums, GoG forums and a few others. I might not respond to everything I read but if there’s a query or complaint about something I get onto that straight away. While I’m doing this I have my morning conversation with Steve via Skype (evening for him) and we catch up on what’s been happening during the US daytime while I’ve been asleep. Then I check my emails and respond to anything that’s worth looking at. Usually there’s half a dozen emails I need to respond to, sometimes it’s a media outlet checking a fact, or somebody has emailed the company about an issue they’re having. Keeping ourselves out in the public eye is vital as our fans are what keeps us going, both financially and emotionally.
My main tasks for the day usually change depending on what we need. At the moment we’re running a Kickstarter campaign to fund our next three games (Roehm to Ruin, Order of the Thorne: The King’s Challenge, and Order of the Thorne” Fortress of Fire) so I check that out and get involved in the conversations there. This week, as we hit our goal early, I was able to finally have conversations with all our team about money. Everyone deserves to be paid for their work and our team do some amazing work. But going back a step we had some things to complete before we could have those conversations and over the last months Steve and I have taken the scripts of the two games (Roehm to Ruin and The King’s Challenge) and broken them down into every asset needed. We worked out what we already had, who had created that asset and then added in all the new assets still required. This is a big task. We needed to keep track of every single thing, from an animation of Finn taking out his lute, to the “Play” button and it’s three required states (Inactive, Active and Hovering Over) on the control panel, to a background that needed designed from the ground up, to one that was almost finished and just needed a tweak. Then we discussed between ourselves who was best at what tasks, what time they had available to commit to making their magic, and the order things need to be made in. For example, it’s pointless getting someone to animate a river on a background if the background isn’t finalized yet.
Once we had all that down we had to add it all to our assignment tracker. That of course was being redesigned by our web guru James Broom so I needed to talk with him first and make sure (a) it was ready and (b) how the heck it worked! So a good 5 hours of my day went into adding all those tasks to the tracker, as well as instructions and other artwork that may be useful as a reference. I then spent a couple of hours scouring YouTube for examples of music for James Mulvale so he had some concepts of what I wanted. It’s very hard finding examples of Gaelic / 80’s synth music, but we got there in the end!
Around 1pm I usually call it a half-day and spend some time with my wife and kids, catch up on some housework, go grocery shopping or any of the million mundane things that we all do in life.
Mid-afternoon the kids are asleep and I sit down to track where we’re going with sales from Quest for Infamy. It’s been slow but steady and surprisingly for me the outlets that I thought would be fantastic for us have been less than some of those I always considered secondary. That’s some thinking and conversations to have at a later time, should we invest in some advertisement on Steam to keep sales going there, and if so what does that cost? Is the potential reward worth it? Then I look at the figures from the recent bundle we were in. Crap. We moved a lot of copies but because it’s a bundle we end up with what in my part of Australia we call Sweet F.A. Oh well, I suppose I can look at those copies as almost free advertising for IQ and future titles!
Later in the evening (about 9pm my time Steve is just getting out of bed) I had another conversation (when I say another conversation, it’s really an ongoing conversation we’ve been having via Skype for about 6 years) with Steve, this time about the physical rewards for the Kickstarter campaign. We talked through the prices we had been quoted for various things and made a decision to only make a big box of Order of the Thorne, and a DVD case for Roehm to Ruin. Then we talked about taxes and how much money our respective governments were gouging us for this year.
To finish off the day I kept working on the script for Fortress of Fire (we were thinking about dragons – still undecided to be honest) and came up with a great hook for the story. While we were talking about that I was also having a conversation with two of our artists who were chomping at the bit to get started. So it was yet another full day.
So there’s a heck of a lot that goes into making games, besides actually just sitting down in front of a computer with Adventure Game Studio loaded and scripting. And a lot of it’s fun, but some of it’s just business. I’m not someone who finds spreadsheets and data entry fun, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get a game created and out the door.
So yeah, I make games for a living.
It’s a hard life, but somebody has to do it!
And I’m glad it’s me.
Shawn (writing this at 8:15pm when I could be sitting in the lounge room with my wife, eating dinner in front of the TV.)