Tom, from Goodsol Development
, talks about independent game development.
You can download the podcast here...http://www.indiegamepod.com/podcasts/goodsoldevelopment-podcast.mp3
Thanks again for all of the feedback and comments. They are very helpful for improving the show.
This show incorporates the new recording software to improve the audio quality. Feel free to add other suggestions to improv the podcast (such as types of questions to ask,
refining comments, etc.)
Also...a big thank you to all of the interviewees who have taken time out of their busy schedule to do an interview and help the community.
* Welcome to the Indie Game Development podcast show. With me today is a special guest - how about you introduce yourself?
* I’m Tom Warfield of Goodsol Development, author of Pretty Good Solitaire.
* Great, how did you get into games?
* Well, actually, it was rather accidental. I didn’t intend to go into games. What happened was, back in about 1994, I was looking to get a job programming in Visual Basic, and in order to do that I really needed to have some experience with Visual Basic. I had a copy of it and I had done a little bit, but I hadn’t done much. So, I was looking around for something to do, and I considered a bunch of different things, and one thing I had looked at, and thought might be simple to do, would be to write a game. And Solitaire came kind of naturally because I had actually played Solitaire a lot, and so I knew the rules to the game, and I also had seen some Solitaire games that were being distributed as shareware at the time, and I said, not only could I do one of these, I could probably do it better than the ones I had seen that were out there. So, pretty much late 1994, I started working on it, and after awhile, in mid-’95, I had one that I put out and people actually liked it, and so I just kind of kept going with it. So, it was totally accidental that it was games. I like games, obviously, and I play games, but it could have been anything else that had had…if I had taken the time to write something else and it could have worked and I could have easily wound up with something else. But it happened to be games, and it happened to be Solitaire, and once I got going, and once people started to like it and especially once people started to send in money, then after that, it just kind of built on itself.
* OK, basically, were you in the shareware scene before you started Solitaire?
* No. I wasn’t actually writing anything in shareware, although I was certainly paying attention to it. I mean, I had been using shareware programs since the mid-80’s,
* Oh, wow.
*and I was very familiar and I was actually quite familiar with a few of the more famous names, and so I’d had an idea that it might be something that I might like to do.
* OK, what inspired you to put the game online?
* Well, at the time, first of all, there wasn’t really an Internet yet. What you did was you went to places like AOL and Compuserve mostly, and they had file libraries, and you’d upload the files to those file libraries, and that was actually where I downloaded most of the stuff that I looked at, and that’s where most people got their, if you were into games, that’s where you got your games was from the AOL file library, the Compuserve file library. Those were the main ones, and so that’s where I originally put them. And then of course, that started, and then some got into that fairly quickly when it became clear that that was going to be a major source of where people were going to download the files, and download shareware and download games. And, so then we started moving into the Internet. But there wasn’t even Internet ordering for a while.
* Oh, wow.
* There was a nice way, one of the best ways of making money back then was to sign up for what was called SWREG on Compuserve, and it was a way where people would order games or programs and they’d have it charged to their Compuserve bill instead of to a credit card. And then Compuserve would send you a check every month, and it was fantastic.
* OK, and so you were getting sales and stuff. Were you thinking of that as more of a side income or were you thinking, ...Hey, you know, this is now a business that I need to sign......
* Yeah, it was a side income for a couple of years total. But it didn’t take long for the growth to become clear that it could become a full-time job pretty quickly. I actually used, when I...I actually got a job basically because I was able to, I mean, I made Solitaire game with VB and actually shortly thereafter got a job, and it probably helped, because it gave me the experience. So I was working with a full-time job for the first couple of years.
*Were you involving yourself in the shareware community at that time?
* Yeah, I joined the Association of Shareware Professionals back in 1996, and at the time, that was actually the best place to get information, ...cause there was no, there was no community specifically oriented towards games that there is now. It was all just shareware in general, and the ASP was the best place to get the best information on what everyone was doing at that time. So, I joined that back then, and I’m still a member now, and it’s still a great place of information.
* Now, you’re known for focusing on marketing and promoting the concept of marketing over necessarily the quality of the game. When you first started out, were you just marketing from the beginning, or was that something they escaped...?
*Well, I’m not sure that’s actually true. I mean, the game quality has to be there and you have to have a good game. But that’s obviously not going to be enough. There were a lot of good games but if you didn’t make an effort to try and sell it, it wasn’t going to go anywhere. You always assume you’ve got a good game to start with, but just having a good game isn’t going to necessarily make you any money unless you do some things to get it out there. That said, the market is a lot different now than it was then ...cause then what you did was just...you could do a lot of marketing things that didn’t cost you any money, and that was a way to really get going because you could go and do a lot of marketing over the Internet, and there was lots of download sites, and places where you could basically get some publicity and some traffic to your website, and there was no cost to you or it didn’t cost very much to do those things. And they’re really not quite as available today, although some of them are still available, but it’s a lot different now in that the search engines are just so much more important now than they were then.
* OK, so when did you make the transition from promoting on the Compuserve and those websites and the AOL websites, or services, compared to just going online and promoting on these shareware sites?
* Well, it was sort of a process that’s really started about 1996, I think I got Internet ordering probably in late 1996, and so by 1997, things were starting to shift totally over towards the Internet side and you start things like the search engines start becoming important and download sites like download.com started becoming important, although back then there was...the ZDNet site was extremely important, and there were a bunch of other Internet sites that would get you lots of traffic if you got listed on them, and they don’t exist today. But it was a process that...basically over a couple of years things moved, and it actually was pretty quick. Things moved pretty quick over to the Internet and then everything that wasn’t on the Internet pretty much died.
* Were there shareware authors then talking about how times have changed and how you can’t make money on shareware?
* Yeah, yeah. There was a lot of the same sort of things. A lot of people didn’t make the shift.
* OK, gotcha.
* There were a lot of shareware people that didn’t make the shift over to the Internet. They were used to working with what were called BBS’s, Bulletin Board Systems, which were little places where people phone up to download software and so forth. It was similar to the Internet in a way, but it was a lot less structured, and they had gotten used to that style of things, and when the Internet came along, a lot of them just didn’t adjust over and they didn’t...they basically fell by the wayside and a whole new crowd of people came in at that time, and I was one of them. It was people who were just starting out with the Internet, and so you had a lot of the old-timers around saying, ...Well, you just can’t make money anymore because this Internet thing is coming along and it’s going to take off….(laughter) And we were saying, ...Well, that’s just crazy,...because we’re making all this money from the Internet, and you just have to change the way you’re thinking about distributing your product. And, so, it’s really...it was sort of the same thing that occurred years later when you have the people with the whole, game portals coming along, and now some people didn’t make the shift for that, and so you have the same situation of people saying, ...Well, you can’t make any money anymore ...cause everything’s changed.... And basically the only thing that’s changed is you need to adjust the way you’re marketing the product and you can still do as well as you used to be able to do.
* Now, in your shareware career, I guess, how many shifts have you been through in your experience?
* Well, there was a big shift when the Internet started, which I got in right at the beginning of. There was a big shift when the whole ...dot-com... bubble burst, because there was a whole range. And one of the things that got going in about ‘98, and especially ‘99, was the whole advertising in software thing, which looked like it had a chance to become really possible, and the fact...it made quite a bit of money in a very short period of time off the advertising in software thing. But it didn’t last very long, because right around 2000, when the stock market started to go down, it just collapsed, and it collapsed fast. It started collapsing in 2000, by 2001...by the end of 2001, it was gone. So, it was a very short thing. But everybody...it started to look like it was going to be something really big, but it didn’t. So that was the one shift. And then, at around that same time, then the whole game portal started with real arcades and so forth. And that started...it took a few years for that to get going, but of course now in the last few years, it’s become the dominant thing in the whole independent games market, is the game portals. But there’s been a number of different shifts, and one gets the feeling we may be at the top of the whole game portal thing and something else may come along soon to change it again.
* Yeah, it seems like people who survive in say, one era, don’t necessarily make it to the next era, you know, because of a shift that changes things.
* Yeah, a lot of people don’t.
* How are you able to, just, keep on top of things and just keep going?
* Well, you have to be able to say...you have to be able to try new things, to try some different forms of distribution and do something that’s a little bit different. And of course, if you’re...it’s really, largely the marginal people who really get hit the hardest. If you’ve got a business where you’re profitable, and you’re controlling your costs, then it’s a lot easier to make a shift. Because you’re not operating on the edge all the time, and that...there’s a lot of people I’ve seen it over the years, a lot of companies, a lot of people really operate very marginally. They only make just enough to get by, or they do make a whole lot, but spend a whole lot, and that doesn’t do them any good when suddenly things shift around and they’re staring at change in their revenues in the face, and they’re not able to have a cushion to deal with the change.
* OK, going back to ‘97 and ‘98. So, you have your game on the Internet. What were you thinking at that time? Were you thinking, ...I’m going to focus on the marketing.... or ...I’m going to focus on improving this product......?
* Well, the biggest thing at that stage was improving the product. I had the one big game of Pretty Good Solitaire, and the biggest thing I was doing at that time was just adding more and more games to it, and making it...adding more features and making it bigger and better all the time. So I was releasing regularly a new version at least three times a year, sometimes as many as six times a year, and just kept making the product bigger and better, and that was really helping the sales move higher and higher all the time. And plus, I was getting more and more into the marketing side as it went along and trying to do more and more to try and get more traffic to the website.
* OK, did you also have competition at that time, or were people still thinking, like, ...Look, Solitaire’s free with every Windows machine. How could anyone sell Solitaire?...
* Yeah, but that’s not the, that wasn’t the main competition. I mean, the Microsoft...the games that come with Windows has actually been a great plus. What that’s done is that actually shows people a solitaire game, which they might not have otherwise seen it. A lot of people, their only...the first time they’ve ever seen the Solitaire game is when they saw the game with Windows, and so, it’s actually been a great way for people to be familiar with the game without my having to familiarize people with it. And every time Microsoft added a new game in Windows, it made that game popular. People would go around looking for better versions of it. And the first one that happened was FreeCell.
* Oh, wow.
* FreeCell wasn’t in the original Windows. It was with Windows 95, was the first time it was with Windows. And so when Windows 95 came out, that’s the first time anybody had ever heard of or seen FreeCell. And so, that’s when people started getting interested in that game. And then a lot of people started looking around the Internet for a better version, or different versions, of FreeCell than the one that came in Windows. And that was huge for me, because I was just getting started right when that was happening. And so having FreeCell on Windows 95...it was just an enormous boom for Pretty Good Solitaire, and for my Specific-specific products that I put out at that time. And then they did it again when Windows ME came out ...it had the game Spider in it, which is the first time that had been in Windows. And so, most people only first saw Spider when that came out, when either ME, or well, a lot of people didn’t see it until XP came out, ...cause not that many people got ME, anyway. But when XP really came going, then Spider really became a popular game because people were just seeing it in Windows for the first time. And so again, people would go on the Internet and start looking for a Spider-Solitaire game, ...cause they look for something better than the one that came with Windows. And so I made a Spider-specific product, and it also helped the Pretty Good Solitaire having Spider and lots of games like it in it. So, every time they added a different Solitaire game, it’d make that game popular, and it would increase my business. People would look for a better version, because the version that came with Windows was just basic, and they don’t have any special features or anything. So anybody who was selling a better version than what came with Windows...if it worked better, it would succeed.
* OK. Well, since you are one of the first ones on the Internet, did you have any other competition from other shareware authors?
* Oh, yeah. There was a huge number of different shareware Solitaire games when I just started. I looked at the different ones on the market, ...course at the beginning they were all just mostly either single game or a small collection of games, maybe five games or something like that. And then after I got going, there were a number of other competitors who got started within a few years at the same time, and there was quite a lot of competition there in the late 90s, and so on. And there still is, I mean, there’s still other shareware collections of solitaire games. Most of them...some of them have stopped being updated, in fact a lot of them have, but there’s still a couple people updating them fairly regularly. So there’s still competition out there.
* OK, and how did you go about differentiating yourself, then, from the competition?
* Well, the number one thing I always did was I always tried to have the most games, and I almost always had that ... had more games than anybody else at any given time. And the other thing was just to simply have the best features, make it the most playable. And that didn’t necessarily mean have the fanciest and the flashiest features, but simply to have the features that the people who play the game most want. ...Cause one thing a lot of the...if you’re a programmer type...one mistake programmer types tend to make is, they tend to just throw in programmer-type features into their product, and even into the game. They do programmer-type features into a game ... something that would really appeal to programmer types, but that doesn’t necessarily appeal to the people who are playing the game, in which, in the case of the Solitaire was, I discovered early on was a largely female, largely older demographic. It’s standard now, everybody knows. But that’s the demographic for casual games, but nobody knew that back in the late 90s, and so the people, the programmers who were making programmer-type features, and they may have thought, ...Jesus, this is gee-whiz stuff, they’re better than Pretty Good Solitaire because they’ve got this great gee-whiz feature,... but it’s not that kind of thing that the players cared about, and there’s a lot of good features that I put in that the players cared about that made the playing of the game better. And that’s how I differentiated from the competition was making...basically, a lot of the features came from users who said, ...Wouldn’t that be cool if we could do this?... ...It would make it so much easier if we could do this,... and so forth. And I’d put them in if I thought that was the case, and so, it just kind of grew.
* And then, during the late 90s, you were talking about the advertising boom.
* How did that play into then your business?
* Well, basically what happened was we put out a free version, a free game of a small collection of solitaire games, which was called Free Solitaire, and had that out there as freeware, and it got a ton of downloads during that period. Originally it was just freeware to try and get people to then advertise the full shareware version. But then we started putting banner ads in it, and started showing a ton of banner ads every month. It was just astounding, the number of ad impressions that it generated, because people...we had a lot of users to begin with, and plus people would play it for a long period of time, so if it showed an ad every 30 seconds or every minute, if somebody’s playing for half an hour, it just added up to an incredible number of ad impressions. But of course, right about that time that it was really starting to show all these ad impressions, the whole Internet ad market just completely fell apart, when the stock market crashed.
* OK. The reason I asked that is because now, you know, the Internet advertising market is also supposedly picking up.
* Yeah, you’re hearing it again. But you’re hearing about, ...Let’s put advertisements in games....
* Yeah, what’s your opinion on that, then?
* Well, it sounded good then. You know, it might work, but I think you’re going to run into the same problems that they ran into the first time. They basically ran into two major problems. There was the problem of, basically, spyware problems, and the problem of getting advertisers to actually pay a significant amount for these ads. The spyware problem’s a really big problem because you have...the main thing...the issue with those advertising permits is that they had to report back how many ads they were showing, and so forth, in some way. And that caused problems with being called ...spyware.... Because if it has to report back, if it has to phone home somehow, because you’re showing the ads and you need to charge the advertisers for the ads, and they had to know how many ads they were showing, and so forth, so you had these applications that had to phone home somehow. And the original advertising companies did a really bad job of it technically, and they didn’t disclose what they were doing very well, and so forth. But anybody who’s going to do that today is going to have the same issues of ...How do you phone home in a way that’s not going to get you called spyware?... And then the second issue is, then, how are you going to get a good price for these ads ...cause advertisers...they aren’t familiar with advertising in games, and so, are you going to get good advertisers and are you willing to pay a lot, or are you just going to get junk advertisers? And that will be one of the issues. Anybody who does it is going to have to deal with those.
* OK. But it’s still could be a viable shift.
* It could happen, but I wouldn’t want to put all my eggs in that basket. (laughter)
* OK. So let’s go back now to the dot-com crash, the stock market crash. At that time, what are you thinking then about the shareware industry and where your product and company can go?
* Well, the interesting thing was while the advertising revenue dropped, the actual shareware income was going higher and higher, ...cause even though the whole Internet industry was having problems, the traffic was continuing to go up, and in retrospect you can see that what was happening was that older people were getting computers more and more during that period, and so there was the national demographic, the older and more female demographic was really starting to get computers because a lot of them hadn’t had computers up until that time, or hadn’t been, weren’t on the Internet up until that time. And so what was happening was that the market was just getting bigger and bigger, and so that’s when sales really started to explode, was right in 2000, 2001. I think it’s probably mostly because the market just was getting so much bigger.
* And were you still using the same marketing techniques at that time? Or did you start trying out or testing new things?
* At that time, the big thing that was changing was pay-per-click search engines were coming.
* Oh, wow, OK, yeah.
* Prior to then, you didn’t have to really pay for anything, and you’d get on sites like ZDNet and download that...and I mean, it was all free, everything was free up until that period, around 2000 or so, and that’s when the pay-per-click...at first it was goto.com, which eventually became Overture which is now a part of the Yahoo!. And so I started spending a lot of money ...cause I was getting a good return on that, and through Overture, where you pay for traffic basically. And then Google came along and started their pay-per-click thing, and so I started with that on their first day they had it, and that just grew and grew. And a whole bunch of pay-per-click search engines kind of came and went, but now it’s mostly just Yahoo! and Google. And so what that did was that allowed you to buy a whole lot more traffic than you ever could have gotten before, only the downside was, that you had to pay for it.
* I also noticed that you have a freecell.org. Around that time, were you also putting in, or adding more content to your site, or adding more creative websites...?
* Yeah, one of the best things that I did was to build content sites. I actually started with a site called solitairegames.com. It still exists, although it’s not the same as it was years ago. It started out as a content site where we would just have information about solitaire and the rules to the game and so forth. And that was a huge source of traffic ...cause it would rank high in the search engines and so forth. And the freecell.org is the same sort of thing. It was an information site about the game FreeCell, and that became a huge source of traffic, too, because it gets into the search engines, and if you’re highly ranked in the search engines, you basically get the free traffic there. So those were the things that I was doing in the late 90s as well, is building those content sites. And you really only do that if you’ve got a...if your products fit in some sort of niche. It’s really kind of important to have your own little niche where you can have a product that’s specifically about something that people are searching for, and then you can build sites that are about that topic, so people search and find those sites and then move on to your games. And that was a huge thing in towards getting traffic to my website.
* And then 2002, 2003...it’s just seemed like a lot more people were considering the independent games route. Did you change your strategy somewhat then, or just reaping the rewards?
* Yeah, and while I was thinking about it...what happened there was around in 2002, we released a new MahJongg game, a Pretty Good MahJongg game, so that sort of moved it out into a different niche, although it’s really closely related. So what I was thinking about doing at that time is, the puzzle games were getting really popular, and the portals were really coming along, and of course PopCap had come along, and so forth, so I seriously considered for awhile jumping into that market and making other types of games. And I thought about it, and very nearly did it, but finally in the end just decided to stick with the niche that I’m in. And I think it was probably a good decision because as it turned out, the level of competition, the number of people who just jumped in was just insane. The number of puzzle, and type games that are out there now, all competing for exactly the same people, is just amazing, and I was just kind of glad I stayed in the niche that I can do well in because I’ve been in it for awhile and really know the customers well, rather than trying to jump out and do something where I would have been facing all those different competitors who were all doing the same thing.
* So it was 2002, 2003...you decided to forgo the puzzle opportunity. Were you then just going to pretty much just focusing on the card niche?
* Yeah, basically we decided to stick with the Solitaire and MahJongg tile games, and just keep building on what we have there, making new games when we find them and just keep coming out with new versions of our current games and keep making them better and concentrate on the niche that I know best.
* OK. Now, around that time, pay-per-click was getting better known. Did you have to then differentiate again in terms of marketing?
* Yeah, the main problem with pay-per-click, of course, is that it starts getting more, over time, the price you had to pay per click kept going up and up. And so you have to pay more and more for the traffic, and the other flip side is, the traffic got less and less quality as time went on, too. So, it’s come to the point where, while I still do pay-per-click, I don’t spend nearly as much as I used to, because it just doesn’t give the same return that it used to give in the early years.
* OK. In 2004 and 2005, it just seemed like the portals were becoming a much huger factor. And...
* Yeah, they just keep...seem to dominate the whole game industry now.
* OK, from your perspective, because it seems like the demographic for your audience is similar to the demographic of the portal audience, were you then thinking of going through the portals?
* Well, I actually have been in the portals ever since...I’ve had a game on Real Arcade since 2000. So I was there before the portals were even big. I was one of the first ones on the portals, in fact. But I’ve never really pushed it, and largely it’s ...cause I didn’t have to, because I’m getting so much of my own traffic that I haven’t needed to go on the portals. And plus I also have some...a little bit of problems with the way they price that stuff, is that they don’t...they tend to basically give their games away sometimes, and that’s not a good thing, especially if I’m trying to make a living selling it on my own, if they’re just giving the same thing away on their site, and I’m trying to sell it on my site, that doesn’t work very well. So, I haven’t done too much with the portals, although I am on them, and I’d like to try and increase the number of games I have on the portals, because we do have the same audience. The odd thing is that the portals don’t seem to pay much attention to the solitaire market for some reason. I mean, there have been some successes, some solitaire games that have done well on the portals. But they really seem to dumb things down a lot. I mean, the games they put out there in the solitaire genre are just incredibly dumbed down, and I think they’re misreading the market in many ways. They seem to think that’s the only thing that sells or whatever, whereas there’s a lot of intelligent, strategic solitaire games you can play, but you won’t be able to play them on any of the portals ...cause they don’t seem to care for that kind of game.
*A lot, well, some people say on Indie Gamer...have talked about that because of the portals, it’s really hard for an independent game company to even sell off their own site. Was that a concern for you? Do you think that’s going to be a future concern for you?
* Well, I think it always has been hard. I think the thing that they need most of all, again, is that you need to have some sort of niche where you’re actually in some sort of recognizable type of game where somebody could actually search for it on the Internet. That’s kind of a problem for a lot of people’s types of games - you can’t really search for a puzzle game. It’s not a...many of the type three matching games and stuff ... there’s no keyword on the Internet that you can search for that. They’ve almost given them up to the portals so there’s no way you could sell that independently, because you got no hook to put it on. There’s nothing like...with the solitaire games, I could type in ...solitaire,... and if you’re selling a hearts game or something, you could do a search on ...hearts... or ...hearts card game... or something like that. There’s just nothing that you can hang on to some of these games people are putting out that they could get Internet search traffic on them. And if you’re going to have your own site, you’ve got to get traffic from the search engines, and in order to get traffic from the search engines, there has to be a keyword to type in that you will come up in the search for. And forget about where they rank in the rankings. If you don’t even have a keyword to get you to the topic of your game, then you’re kind of screwed for getting traffic to you.
* OK. You also talked about on the forums before, you’ve tried to...well, you’ve done some retail deals. And in your opinion, do you find retail useful, or...?
* Oh, yeah.
* It’s actually a nice source of extra income. We’ve been on the retail shelves since 1998, pretty much continuously, and it really depends on how your publisher’s distribution is, what kind of distribution they’re getting, and that can really vary. Sometimes I seem to get great distribution and sometimes I get terrible distribution. But if you can get a retail publisher that can get you into the major chain stores like Walmart and Best Buy and so forth, then that’s going to sell some copies and that’s going to make some money. And so it gets a nice...if you’ve got a business going where you’re already selling it on the Internet and making money that way, then just selling it in retail is just extra money. It’s a great additional revenue source.
* OK. Another opportunity...well, around 2004, 2005, I mean, you have your products out, you’re constantly improving your products...were you then focusing on Solitaire the most, or were you trying to promote MahJongg and some of your other products?
* Well, I’m pretty much sticking with the Solitaire. I mean, I try to promote the MahJongg, but the Solitaire is certainly the core, and all my other products are all solitaire games, so I’m still trying mostly to stick to promoting the Solitaire the most.
* In the past year, there’s been rise of what’s called Web 2.0, social networking, stuff like that. In your opinion, do you see a potential shift in terms of building a community around your games, or is that something that you’ve already done before? Because I notice that you do have certain types of things that you release for free for paying customers of your game.
* Yeah, well, I’m sure that there’s going to be ways to do community. I do have a discretion forum on the site, which gets a fair amount of traffic. One of the...kind of the core problem with the whole community thing with me is that I’m selling what are fundamentally single player games, that’s why it’s called Solitaire. (laughter) So, a community of solitaire players is almost an oxymoron. So, it doesn’t really work that well for me, although there are things I can do. But I think if you have multi-player games, you can make a good community, I mean, if you have...a number of people who have multi-player card games do quite a lot with a community because they have a fundamentally multi-player game, and therefore, it makes sense to have various community aspects to it. And I think that will, as the technology keeps getting better for that, I’m sure that’s going to keep improving the people who have the multi-player type games. They definitely should be putting in various community aspects to their games. But I think there will also be a place for single player games, too, because there’s just some times where people just want to play a single player game.
* Another thing in the past year, you know, people have been talking about this advertising model and how it could actually work and it could totally change the way games are, or revenues made from games. I know you talked about the spyware issue, but what about...where do you see the concept of being online and just playing, say, solitaire online, and just seeing ads that way? Or this whole concept of, instead of having a downloadable product, it’s now an online product?
* Yeah, I mean, that could work, and I actually do have some totally online games on my site that generate some traffic and I use it primarily to promote my downloadable games. But sure, I mean, there’s going to be people who can play...that’ll want to play the solitaire games online. I suppose as the technology keeps getting better, there may well turn out to be sites where you can play lots of different solitaire games online, and we may wind up doing that. But for now, there’s not really much of an advantage to doing it that way over having a downloadable game where you can play online or offline and having it installed on the computer and so forth. I’m sure there’ll be lots of...there’s probably lots of opportunities for online games, but of course the only way to make money off of it would be through selling advertising, and then that’s where you run into the problems where you have to either have somebody to sell the advertisements for you, or you sell them yourself, and selling it yourself is probably going to be a problem.
* Well, what about software done as a service? So, it’s not necessarily advertisement, but it’s something where you subscribe to the service and then you’re able to play Solitaire or whatever game online, wherever you want.
* I think the only way that works is if it catches on across the whole software industry. I mean, if everyone’s paying for software that way and everybody’s familiar with it, then it’s going to work, because everybody’s doing it, and the customers are familiar with that [ ____ ] paying for software. But if you’re trying...if you’re going to try to blaze a trail, and become like the first person to sell software that way, then you’re probably going to have a hard time with it. Best thing is just wait.
* You have a downloadable demo, and you also have the online...you have some online games to promote your product. What do you find is the most effective?
* Well, the best thing that sells is the...the trial version is the bestseller of the game, more than anything. But people who actually download the trial version are most of the buyers. Now, you get people who go to the site and won’t buy without downloading, but the primary source of sales is people who download the game, try it, and like it, and buy it within the game itself.
* OK, now let’s go onto present day. Where do you see your company going, and what do you see as some of the concerns as an independent game developer?
* Well, I think the whole portal thing is probably the biggest thing going right now in terms of concerns. I mean, I’ve viewed...as far as my company’s concerned, I’m planning on basically staying the same course, maybe trying some new things as I go along. But for the industry itself, it’s going to be what happens with all these portals. There’s got to be some sort of shake out coming, because there’s too much product, too many games fighting over...even though the market is a lot larger than it used to be, it’s getting to the point where there’s so many games fighting for everybody’s attention. Eventually people are going to start finding out that they’re not making much money, and they’re going to start dropping out, and the portals themselves are going to start having problems. That’s what I’m expecting to see, is...you’ll know that the boom is over when the first portal starts having financial trouble, when the first portal goes under or something, and I imagine that at least half of them or more are eventually going to fail because there’s just too many of them. The market’s just not going to support that kind of...that many games going at the same time. So I think the biggest thing for an independent developer, I think, is going to be how are you going to survive when the portals suddenly stop...start having problems, if you have a way of surviving through that.
* On Indie Gamer, some people will mention that it was totally different a while back, that it was much easier to start a game company back then as compared to now, and that now, it’s almost impossible. What do you think? What’s your opinion to someone who’s thinking of just starting out?
* Well, I think they said the same thing back then, too, that it was almost impossible then, too. (laughter) It’s always hard to start, when you’re starting your own company, and most companies fail. I mean, it’s the simple fact that most companies fail, and only a few succeed, so it’s always hard. Ten years ago, the people who were in the market then, most of them failed then, so it’s not new. It’s always going to be difficult, and the best thing, you just...to succeed, you have to really keep trying at it, and you have to make sure that you make more money than you spend. That’s the key thing is be profitable and be persistent.
* What would you say are the top three lessons or realizations that you’ve had as you’ve grown in your company?
* Top three, boy, I don’t know...
* Any top one?
* Well, I don’t know what you mean by realizations.
* Well, oh, OK. Let’s say something that just made you, I guess, expand your company even greater, or just allow you to become even more successful. Like, for example, some people might...when they first started out, it’s more about the game, but then maybe they realized that, ...Oh, marketing’s a very important part,... or something like that.
* Yeah, it was the realization that mostly...the thing you had to realize was that it’s kind of a percentage game. If you’ve got a good game, you’re going to get a certain percentage of the people who try, to buy. So the key is to get as many people as you can to try it. You’ve basically got to realize that there’s really two ways you do it: you either increase your percentage of the people trying it, or you increase the number of people trying it. And there’s pros and cons on concentrating on either one of those, but you’ve got to get more and more people to try the games. You’ve got to do marketing in a sense. You’ve got to get people to your site. You’ve got to get people to your download. And then you’ve got to figure out how do you increase the number of people who are trying it, to buy it. And so, if you...you’ve got to look at the top line and the bottom line, both, and you’ve got to understand that both are playing into it, and you’ve got to get a certain number of eyeballs...you can have the best percentage converting thing in the world, but if you’ve only got ten people downloading it, then you’re not going to make much money. So, you’ve got to get a lot of people downloading. You’ve also then got to worry about trying to get as many...the highest percentage of people who are downloading to buy as possible. And it’s sort of an art form, really, of convincing people to buy your product, and of course the best place to do it, the best place to do your convincing, is in the product itself. The website’s nice, and you want to have something on your website to get people to buy it, but the main place where people are going to buy your product is in the product itself, and so your main marketing is going to be inside the game itself. How you’re marketing inside the game is going to determine how much money you’re going to make. And a lot of people just throw up a little screen, with a ...buy... button, and that’s all they do, and if you’ve got a great game, that might be enough. But if you’re a mere mortal, you’re probably going to have to work a little harder.
* So you pretty much constantly experiment with ways to increase the rates and stuff like that.
* Yeah, you’ve got to be experimenting with how to get people who are inside the game playing, to buy. And I’ve made tons of changes over the years on how I try to get people to buy from within the game itself, because that’s where your customers, your potential customers, are. They’re sitting there playing your trial version, and so you’ve got to figure out how you get them from playing that trial version, how do you get them to click to the order page.
* Now, if you were a new indie game developer today, and you were looking for a product niche, how would you go about doing that? I mean, do you think it would be wise to make something for the portals now, or...?
* Well, if you’re going to try to go to a niche, you probably might want to forget about portal. You want to look for...you look at different game genres, and come up with different search keywords, and I would basically do a lot of Internet searches. I would search on various types of game keywords and see what comes up, see what’s available, see whether it looks like there’s a sufficient number of people doing these searches for that type of game that you could make some money off of, if there’s enough traffic. And there are ways you can find out how much traffic certain keywords are getting. You could do that through the pay-per-click search engines themselves, ...cause they tell you how many searches there are on certain keywords, and you can also figure it out from the traffic on the various websites that come up in the searches, whether they’re getting enough traffic that you could get enough downloads that a game could make you money.
* OK, here’s the last question. Do you have any advice for people who are currently game developers or having their own indie game development company? What would you think is the most important thing for someone who has their company right now?
* Well, the most important thing is to make sure you’re profitable, and you’ve got a cushion for when things go wrong, because things will go wrong, and you need to be able to survive it when things do go wrong. So, I’m tremendously conservative about how much money I’ve made and how little I spend and stuff like that. The main thing is, the more profitable you are, the more margin of safety you’ve got, the more likely you are to survive should there be bad times ahead. And that’s really the most important thing. If you want to stick around for a long period of time, you’ve got to be prepared for the bad part of the cycle, because if you’re out there long enough, you’re going to eventually get there.
* OK, cool. Thank you. Thanks again for your time.
ActionFree Kids Games
Labels: Card Games, Indie Card Games, Pretty Good Solitaire, Shareware Development