I keep thinking about Agile

How can I use Agile methodologies to deliver better and faster with my planned update on Find the Gnome?
It is a question that is bothering me for some time now.

This is an article in the ‘Behind the scenes’ category where I share my personal experience developing games professionally.

The things at hand

When I look at developing games from a birds-eye perspective, I see the following area’s where Agile development has its impacts:

  1. Planning and executing on work
  2. Delegating responsibilities, building on trust
  3. Team-only driven improvements, Full-product deliveries after (a few) iterations, Course alignments on real consumer data only. (Inspect & Adapt)

For point 1, I think everyone is already on board. Across all industries we know the iterative approach is a more manageable way to execute on work. I had trouble finding evidence that game studio’s are on-board too, but I recently saw this YouTube video from a big studio that confirms my thoughts on this (link below).

Point 2 is already a bit more difficult as it seems. I know from personal experience this delegating/responsibility thing (and most of the times, combined with true multi-disciplinair teams) takes already place in the smaller companies. For larger companies though it is really difficult to get away from the line thinking, because due to the scale of the organisation the money and legal things tend to be too concerning to let them being handled by individual teams.
However, I’m seeing signs of change too. Due to the huge amount of pressure to innovate. But they are still doing it ‘differently’ from the small companies because at large there are KPI’s, organisational guidelines and other steering tools that are introduced to keep things in line.

Point 3 is where the icing is on the cake. Because this is where even small companies don’t dare to venture. In this area of Agile, the bosses aren’t the ones leading but facilitating (and don’t like being called ‘the boss’). It is this area where you aren’t an expert when you have idea’s but you are an expert only when you are able to execute on proven demands from consumers, or when you are data-proven able to forecast real consumer demands.
I know of a few companies that seems to have this down, or at least had it down in some point of time: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla, Netflix (or the Chinese counterparts). But these are way too big to be an example for most of the companies in the world, especially game companies.
I did find one example of a small game dev studio that is even able to execute on point 3, see the links on Gram Games below.

But, how?

To succeed on my own game development projects, I have to think big when maximizing benefits from my experience as software developer in business software.

So, I think I have to go with the maximal Agility on my own projects. Inspired by the Gram Games YouTube video I think it will look like this:

  • Keep releasing full products at steam at low intervals
  • Release features stand-alone to mobile platforms
  • Move winning features to the full product release

The release-feature-to-mobile-first is the core idea, and here is some more depth to it:

  • 1-3 iterations
  • Real stand-alone gameplay
  • Full of metrics (but AVG compliant: I don’t need user specific data, only the global feeling)
  • No monitization
  • When 10 people use it 7+ days it is a win for me

The odds

Do I think I am right by choosing such a strange method?

Well, I can only think of 1 real cave-eat

  • It is really hard to separate features and prove their individual value

But other than that, I think It is worth the try.

The links

The video on a recent (2019) big company (Total War series, 550 people) that are doing some Agile form of planning and executing on work:

The video on a recent (2019) small company (Mobile games, 20 people) that are doing maximum Agile:

Booting up

This is an article in the ‘Behind the scenes’ category where I share my personal experience developing games professionally.

I am currently working on Find the Gnome again 😛

It is almost a year ago Find the Gnome hit the markets.
A lot of the original intended game-play didn’t make it into the version that came out on March 2018.

Expect a few updates in the coming year. They will change Find the Gnome quite dramatically.

I am still recovering from a burn-out, so I don’t promise anything.
But in the past months I was finally able to squeeze some code out again.

For those who think: why not abandoning Find the Gnome and bring a total new version instead?
Well… I am stubborn. It’s my game and I think it could be improved upon.

How did the launch go

How did the launch of ‘Find the Gnome’ go?

Thanks for asking 😉

This is an article in the ‘Behind the scenes’ category where I share my personal experience developing games professionally.

Well, it was a really great launch. Way better than expected and received way better than expected. The sales do lag behind, but more on that later.

Expectations on forehand

First of all, what was my expectation before the release:

  • A few more people on my steam page due to being in the ‘just launched’ section. So instead of the normal 30 views/day average, an increase to about 120 views/day.
  • First 3 months a wish list conversion of around 50%.
  • One to three reviews, probably all negative or just indifferent. And a few notes in them how to improve the game for my audience.
  • A better understanding who the audience of ‘Find the Gnome’ is.
  • A few bug reports.

Reality at launch

The day before launch day there was a massive increase in traffic to my steam page. 11 times more to be precisely. And on launch day it peaked at 43 times more traffic. It has seen a decline since then but way less then I expected. Still on all time highs on 5 days since launch.

The wish list conversion is zero to nothing. But still got around 25 buyers in 5 days.
I got a load of people adding the game to their wish list: 4 months having a store page life NETS THE SAME amount of adds as from the day before the release until now (5 days)…

And I got a bunch of reviews: 1x steam review, 3x steam curator reviews, 5x YouTube gameplay coverage.

There were no bug reports.
But there was certainly some expression of not knowing what to expect. In the week before the launch I contacted reviewers to review my game and some of them told me the game was unclear in what to do: I immediately countered it by adding a help section to the game. It became clear to me that there the game-play is not guiding the people in what to do.

Retrospective of the launch

The game was received better than expected. The sales lag behind but I can’t be for certain yet because it is a common known phenomenon that you need to start doing sales in staffels to get people to convert. But yeah, this game is in the lowest regions of Steam units solds, compared to the other Steam games.

I am exhausted. That’s not good: It makes it a lot harder to counter some known issues that did arise on the launch day. As a father working full time at a job, I have a hard time directing energy to any kind of mind activity after working hours. I did promise some more updates on the game but I’m really glad I didn’t mention a time span. So mental note to myself: don’t target launch day as ‘the day there will finally be some rest’ but rather 2-4 weeks after it, and spread the energy accordingly.

The reviews were all-right. Although I did think my audience through, I have a hard time reaching out to them. Instead a whole other audience is playing my game now, and of course they have other expectations of the game.
But that’s oké for me. I just need some months redirecting the game a little so it fits my ‘real’ audience better.

The reviews

Goodies!
The youtube coverage I got so far:

‘Find the Gnome’ Released!

Finally the day is there: the release of Find the Gnome.
Months and months of work, hours and hours of crunch-time. And here we are.

As on 01:00 Central European time, this game is downloadable in the Steam shop.

The version that is now live is the v1.0.0 version. And as tradition dictates, there are some update notes attached to a version bump:

  • Music added. 1 menu track, 3 tracks that play while searching for gnomes.
  • Gameplay mechanics altered with a ‘Chaos’ indicator (more on this in the next update)
  • On the loading screen there is now information about the game type you are playing and what you are expected to be doing.
  • Added the scientist gnome type. That makes it for a total of 3 types of behaviors: run, teleport and callback.
  • Gnome animations. Weird ones shiver. And they turn to each other before interacting.
  • Story level 3. Makes a total of 3 now, only 1 still remaining. (Yes the release is without the last story level, it will be added in a next update)
  • Hide-n-seek medal system. You now have times to complete with in the timed mode. (Though not fully implemented yet: it is lacking some visual feedback)

Steam is learning…

Since the June 2018 update of Steam there are some updates to counter mis-use of tradingcards and achievements. That is because of a select group of ‘poisonous developers’ (not my words) use these system for things they are not ment to be used for.

This is an article in the ‘Behind the scenes’ category where I share my personal experience developing games professionally.

Don’t get me wrong. I like it when Steam tries to balance things out. They have special trained algorithms in place that will redirect users to to games they will like. Even in a crowded store.

But now this algorithm has marked my game… and there is nothing I can do about it.

screenshot find the gnome store page achievements issue small.PNG

It obviously is an evil mark to the uninformed potential buyer. Because it is a mark of something fishy that’s the algorithm thinks is going on with my game. Or that’s how I think the uninformed potential buyer will experience this mark.

To me it seems as that my game indeed correlates to the games that misuse the system, but there is no real connection at all. Yes my game is small, yes it’s quality is low, yes it is available at a low price tag, yes I don’t have many buyers…. But that’s not intentional. There is no intent from my part whatsoever to do ‘poisinous’ things like making money of trading cards / achievements / game counts etc.

I don’t have the power to change this system, nor do I have the time to improve my game to be less likely associated with this ‘Steam is learning about this game’ tag.

So I’ll leave you with this so you all know the background to this mark on my game.
Sometimes it is just better to let it go.

Project 1 – v0.5

Version v0.5 is here, and look at the beautiful gameplay!

I’m sorry if you didn’t expect a video in these otherwise static project updates. But with the upcoming release (3 weeks!) I thought it would be logical to include some actual gameplay with this post.

As you can see the following additions are in here: everything is working again, story gamemode, story all over the place.

So that adds up to a nice game if you think what is already in it: 8 hide-n-seek levels, 2 story levels, 2 gnome types, animations of all sorts, sounds, menu’s, interfaces.

There is a few catch though: story level 3 and 4 are not accessible yet (you can see them but they say ‘under construction’), the hide-n-seek levels that are accompanying level 3 and 4 are also off limits. This is because I’m still working on the last gnome type.

And with that in mind, the hide-n-seek 5 – 8 are currently lacking the teleport gnome type.

This will be solved in the coming weeks, together with the last beta test results.

The gamemodes ‘hide-n-seek’ are currently untouched. The plan was to convert the ‘timed’ to an arcade experience. That is still the plan, only it is after the release when it gets updated.

Last but not least: music is missing. I’m aware of that. Something did not work out as planned so I’m searching for an alternative.

Having fun, and, the timeline

A short blogpost to remind you all that v0.5 is on its way! And that I’m having fun building this game.

The following is already build so that’s in it for sure:

  • In-between levels story
  • Tutorial/intro level with story
  • The said ’15 levels Hide-n-seek’

The next things will be build in the coming week, but it will be a close call:

  • 4 other story levels
  • 2 new gnome types

After the v0.5 update there will be another update before the final release. Due to how Steam works they need it in advance so I have another 2 weeks after v0.5.
I will use those weeks to add:

  • New gnome types in Hide-n-seek
  • Music
  • Medails system
  • Minor fixes

After that last update I will submit a build to Steam for review. They will do some quality control checks on it.

And after the submit, I will continue working on the game until at least the following is in it:

  • I will alter the hide-n-seek mode ‘timed’ to be more arcade
  • Fixing balancing issues on the levels, if they occure
  • More settings
  • Achievements for doing normal and strange collection things

Project 1 – v0.4

The V0.4.0 milestone is there… but is hasn’t been reached! If you know what I mean 😉

This is an article in the ‘Behind the scenes’ category where I share my personal experience developing games professionally.

We didn’t get anywhere in the V0.4.0 milestone, it is in a state that you can’t submit it for Beta review. If you look at that from an Agile project methodology point of view, this means that something has horribly gone wrong.

Well, it is a lot better than before. There are now 15 levels in it, aside from the story levels. And there is a whole new immersing main menu in it. And story telling and story driven progress. And saveslots. And funny AI. And better animations…
You can see this for yourself in the youtube video on the progress I made in this version.
So I think everything will get right in the next release.

The not-so-bright-side is that the project did go southwards fast due to a few circumstances. Most of which I didn’t have influence on.
So the current approach to get going again is: freeze the scope. And to delay the release date. And: get to a Beta testable state as fast as possible, to get feedback on the (major) changes as fast as possible.

The next official project update is scheduled at 5 June 2018, we will hit version 0.5 by then. It will finish the gamemodes and complete the settings menu.
It is the last update before quality control and the release.