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Raising Money for Indie Dev Studios

Hello again

Today I’m going to outline two approaches to raising money while setting up an indie dev studio. Grants and Game Shows.

Firstly – applying for grants. There are many grants out there and all have different criteria and terms. Some need you to raise matched funding – which means they’ll give you an amount of money if you can match it with the same amount of your own. This is not too helpful when you are starting out and your games and other products are not making tons of money yet.

So, we just applied for a £25,000 grant from the UK Games Fund. The money, if we were to get it, can only be used to pay wages for UK-based staff and contractors on one particular project, which you had to pitch to them.

The first stage involved filling in a form with our details and something about our top secret new game – and also uploading a video pitch about our team and the game.

The form was fairly simple and only allowed 100 words for the game pitch. However the video had to be 2 minutes long and tell them about the team, what we can do, what we’ve done before (they like it if you can show that you’ve actually finished a game and brought it to market) and some footage of the prototype of your new game idea. You had to finish off with your plans for the future.

So, the form was due in at noon on November 23rd – and we actually made the deadline! We were then invited to upload our video pitch – so now we have to wait until January to hear if we’ve made it to the second round.

The second round involves a much longer form – so we’ll let you know if we get that far! Check out the blog in the New Year 🙂

Meanwhile, we had another plan to raise money – why not go and win some money on a TV game show? Well, we have been on Pointless a few years ago (although we did get knocked out in the second round on both our shows!) so maybe it was worth a go.pointless

We both liked The Code when that was on a few months ago and we had noticed that they were asking for contestants for the new series. I filled in the form yesterday and attached a photo of Nathan in a sombrero and sent it off via the web.

Within half an hour we had a TV researcher on the phone asking if we were free to answer some general knowledge questions over the phone. There would be 10 questions – but she wouldn’t tell us which we’d got correct. We agreed, so I had to take my phone into another room, while she asked me the questions, then leave Nathan alone in the office while he did them too.

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There was a variety of topics including history, geography, celebrities, maths and poker! I’d better not tell you them all – in case they are still using them, but I knew the celebrity question and Nathan didn’t. Not sure what that says about us! Anyway, as soon as Nathan finished his questions, she asked us to come to Birmingham for an audition on Tuesday!

So, wish us luck! If we get through that, which involves written general knowledge test and a run through of the actual game format, then the TV programme is filmed in January. So, next year could be quite interesting!

Check back soon to see how the audition goes…

 

 

Team IFX go to the TIGA Awards

Last week we enjoyed another jaunt down to London – this time to attend the very swish TIGA Awards at Christ Church in Spitalfields. wp_20161110_18_15_10_pro

We went because our first game, Interference, was shortlisted for two awards – Most Original Game and Best Casual/Social Game – so we had to dress up!

We managed to find some where to stay (as it was going to be a late night!) just down the road from the venue. It was Commercial House – a kind of aparthotel – which was lovely! We especially liked the swans 🙂 It was easy to get dolled up and then walk the 3 minutes down the road to the venue.

The ceremowp_20161110_13_32_21_pro-1ny started at 6pm with a drinks and canapés reception. There was plenty of champagne and the smart staff circled guests with trays of tasty treats – the tiny ham and eggs were delicious, as was the smoked salmon.

When we got there we were assigned Table L, so we hung around there waiting to see who we would be sitting with. We got chatting to Gareth Wright from Double Eleven – the UK studio who reimagined Prison Architect for the Xbox and PS4 as well as making Goat Simulator for the Xbox last year!

We had a very interesting chat about prisons – as I used to work in a couple. Hopefully I gave him a few tips on what it’s like in the “inside” 🙂

Then we had to take out places at our tables so that the food could be served. We were sat with a couple of chaps from a technology tax company MMP – who were up for an award and staff from Spirit AI who make digital interactions between game characters and players “feel human”. They were handing out one of the awards.wp_20161110_22_40_29_pro

There were bottles of beer, water and wine on the table and the first course was fillet of beef with baby baked potatoes and salad. It was very nice, although the chap sat next to me said “I thought that was a starter!” The dessert was delicious though – an individual lemon meringue pie. It was perfectly baked – no soggy bottom here and the top was beautifully browned and crisp. Yummy!

Then the nerve-wracking part began – the giving out of the awards. Well, to tell the truth we weren’t too worried – we knew we weren’t going to win over all the big companies in our categories. So many of the teams who went up on stage were huge – and we are just two people who make games in a home office!

wp_20161110_18_21_27_pro-1The winner of most Original Game was The Assembly – a virtual reality game from nDreams and the Best Casual/Social Game was a motorbike racing game, Raceline CC by Rebellion. They both looked very impressive – congratulations to them. There were so many amazing games shown that we felt privileged to be sitting there with them! In fact Nathan’s Imposter Syndrome was kicking in bigtime! He’s going to writewp_20161110_21_03_33_pro a post about that very soon – so look out for that one. Still it was fun to see Interference up on the huge TIGA screen when they showed our video!

After all the awards had been handed out and all the booze on the tables drunk – the party continued below in the Crypt. It was an amazing space, where a bar was up and running and there were sticks of TIGA rock liberally spread around.

We had a chat with a few of the winners and the TIGA staff as well as reconnecting with Gareth and others. It was a really good night and we were so happy to have been TIGA Finalists in our first year!

 

 

 

Why we Develop our Games for Microsoft First

Microsoft are a huge global company and are always hooking up with other big organisations to improve life through technology in so many areas. But, Microsoft also look after the little guys who just make games too – which is why we love them!

Ever since we started making Interference – our first ever game – they have given us so much help and encouragement along the way. Even though we are just two people making games as a hobby they couldn’t have been more encouraging and helpful. We got to know some of the evangelists and they would often call up and ask how things were going.

Our Critters Award!
Our Critters Award!

Back in 2012 when they were launching Windows 8 they set up a fantastic place in London for 18 months called Modern Jago – where developers, designers and artists could work and meet for free in a disused school in Shoreditch.

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Magical Modern Jago

 

 

 

Sadly for us we couldn’t make use of it frequently as we live in Staffordshire – but Microsoft invited us to many free events there over the months.

We attended the Windows 8 Launch there, the Critter Awards and also the Future Publishing’s App Generator Awards where our game was one of the 10 winners. We were given lots of equipment (laptop, tablet, phone) which really helped with our app development at the time. We were very proud of being selected at the Windows Elite who were first to store with a Windows 8 app.

Our certificate and photos from the Critters Awards
Our certificate and photos from the App Generator Awards

 

They certainly know how to put on a party too! There was always free food and drinks and unusual entertainment such as Mixology lessons, Oxygen bars and Make your own T-Shirt Sessions. They were also responsible for introducing us to the awesome Rayguns Look Real Enough band and the tiger onesie!

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Wall of Fame – Interference 2nd in on top row!

Since then we have both quit our jobs to become full-time developers and have been accepted on the BizSpark programme which gives us so much more help for our indie games studio. We gain Visual Studio Enterprise with MSDN Subscription,  $150/month of Azure Credits, Office 365 Developer, and Windows Store membership. We also get the ability to sign up for 4 Technical Support Incidents for our start-up.

Toasting the Windows Elite :-)
Toasting the Windows Elite 🙂

 

This is saving us a fortune in storage costs each month as Interference – being a drawing game needs a lot of space! So, the first thing we did was to relaunch the web version of Interference – optimised to work on all devices. Then came the UWP (Universal Windows Platform) Windows 10 App – even though we are constantly being asked for an iOS and Android app by our players.

Nathan, our chief geek explains “Developing for Windows is so much easier than the other platforms because they have the best development environment in Visual Studio and in the language, C#  a lot of annoying details are taken care of automatically like downloading something in the background is much easier to implement than in Java or other languages.”

So, our shiny new Interference Windows 10 App is now in the Windows store and the wok begins on the other versions…wish us luck!

PS Before that we are launching our brand new word game (on Windows first!) called Loose Vowels. Look out for announcements soon!

 

 

Team IFX go to Future Decoded

We had a nice break this week and headed off to London for the Microsoft event – Future Decoded. It’s a yearly event that started three years ago and we’ve managed to attend all of them so far.

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It’s great to get out of the office and see what is going on ( and will be going on in the future) in the world of tech. Microsoft always put on a good event and are so supportive of developers – and there is usually free drinks too 🙂

We decided to go to the Business day as the speakers seemed to be the most interesting and relevant to what we are currently doing. We were particularly excited at the thought of seeing Professor Stephen Hawking! Sadly, when we got there we discovered that he wasn’t able to make it. We hope he enjoyed the Pride of Britain Awards the night before! 🙂

We were still very happy to be there though, as we could catch up with our fellow local company Risual from down the road in Stafford. They are sponsors of the event and their latest corporate video is always one of the highlights of the day for many people.  All of them are very funny – and I remember well the reception their very first one got from the packed auditorium of thousands of geeks – mainly along the lines of “What on earth…???” Have a look here http://www.risual.com/about-us/ to see it.

This year’s production was very swish featuring cardboard versions of Richard and Alan – the company’s founders. On their stand in the expo you could see the actual models (and the real-life ones). They were handing out bottles of Risual water and at the end of the day – RisuALE – actually brewed by our friends Brad and Viv at Lymestone brewery!

Anyway – back to the point of Future Decoded!

The morning was taken up with keynote speeches from a fascinating array of speakers from different backgrounds. I think the most eye-opening one was from Dr Ian Levy, Technical Director of the National Cyber Security Centre.

I’d never thought about it before, but when he talked about how users of technology are told to change their passwords frequently or make long and complex passwords for every different application they use means that they are being blamed for the weaknesses in the system! What should happen is that the systems should be properly protected in the first place! We as developers have a responsibility to make our applications as safe as possible. it was good to hear about the new National Cyber Security Centre – part of GCHQ. Dr. Levy promised that they would be as open and transparent as possible about the cyber threats they deal with – how they work and where they come from, so that the public is aware of the growing threat from cyber crime.

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Following on from that, at the end of the morning session we heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond who launched the UK’s new National Cyber Security Strategy. It was quite scary to hear about the possibility of another “rogue state” as he called it, could try to air traffic control, power supplies and other vital services to leave us powerless. He said that we would track down the people responsible and retaliate “in kind” to any such attempts.

On a lighter note we were earlier treated to a demo of live translation of Skype calls. They started with two phones simultaneously translating between French and English conversation. That was then joined by Chinese, German and finally Klingon. Very impressive! It’s not quite ready for launch yet – but will be a game-changer when it goes live!

There was a long lunch break – so we took the chance to visit the other Fox pub – at the other end of the Excel Centre – the Fox@Excel They seemed a little unprepared for a sudden influx of hungry geeks – but we enjoyed a very nice chicken chorizo and avocado granary sandwich before returning to the Expo part of the event.

There were quite a few Microsoft partners there and we were particularly interested in the Surfwp_20161101_14_02_50_proace stands with the whole family of amazing machines. We were very tempted to ask one if we could open up our game Interference on it – to see how it was drawing on such a massive screen. It would have been awesome!! 🙂

The afternoon keynotes were also brilliant. We heard from Martine Wright, an amazing woman who lost both legs in the 7/7 terrorist attacks on the London underground. She didn’t let it ruin her life or sit around feeling sorry for herself instead she  skydived, learned to fly, and become a member of the British 2012 Paralympic volleyball team.

It was an inspiring story from someone who had been through so much and yet rebuilt a new life and is having a ball! She even says that 7 is now her lucky number! Makes our petty problems pale into insignificance.

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The final speaker of the day was world famous author Bill Bryson! Having recently become an author myself (see the CUP Diaries on Amazon!) this was an added bonus for me! He was funny and insightful and he certainly raised applause and rueful laughter when he said his biggest problem with technology was everytime he switches on his laptop he has to wait for an hour while all the updates get installed. Interviewer Ryan Asdourian, Windows & Devices Business Group Lead at Microsoft.

Ryan asked him then which one device would he take with him to a desert island – Bill replied that there’d be no point as after 48 hours everything would have run out of power. Ryan said “Yeah, we’re working on that.”

Before we left we attended the free drinks reception with beer, wine and the aforementioned Risuale. We stayed to see if we’d won one of the many Surface products they were giving away on the day – but sadly we had not. Then it was onto the DLR and back to Euston for the slow train back to Stoke.

Our next trip to London is just next week – for the TIGA Awards, We are beyond excited to be finalists in 2 categories – as well as Game of the Year. Come back soon for a full report of the night – or we’ll be live tweeting @playifx

 

 

The Joys of Working from Home (cue car alarms…)

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Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorker

“On the internet – no-one knows you’re a dog” from Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorker  is one of our favourite phrases. What it means to us is that we can make games in our spare room and sell them all over the world – and no-one knows we’re sat there in our pyjamas.

To be fair – we did spend quite a bit of time converting the second floor of our terraced house into a cool office where we would enjoy working. We have an orange wall for inspiration and a metal plaque on the door that says Centrifuge Ltd – so that we have the psychological barrier between home and work.office

We don’t have much of a commute – but it is two floors up from the breakfast table – so we feel like there is some effort involved in getting to work.

It’s a bit of a pain when the doorbell rings and we have to hare down the stairs quickly – only to find the postman has a package for next door but they’re not in so could we take it for them. I think Nathan feels bad always being in when the postman calls – he’s even got a t-shirt that says “Yes – I am working when I’m at Home” to wear when we’re expecting a parcel.

Another downside to home working is that relatives and friends think that if you’re at home then you’re free to come out for lunch, tea, shopping or any random appointment they have and would like company. They quite happily ring up any time of the day – expecting to be able to chat at length about the new Wetherspoon’s menu or to let us know that M&S have the “2 Dine in for £10” offer on again. It is quite hard to say  “I’m really sorry I am in the middle of something without upsetting them.”

Luckily we both get on very well, even when together all the time. It is quite calm in the office most of the time! However, we do miss seeing other people and bouncing ideas off someone from outside of the company. We need to find ways to network with others. There used to be a monthly Stoke GameDev Get–Together at a local Japanese restaurant – but sadly everyone seems to have moved away or drifted off now. Maybe we need to set something up ourselves and try to get a group of like-minded people who also work at home and crave intelligent company!

Then, there is the problem of car alarms and other distractions. Being in a residential area whilst working can mean that there’s always something to distract you. Our area seems particularly bad for random car alarms going off. Even worse, last week there was a brief (thankfully!) power cut – but when it came back on several house alarms started wailing and did NOT shut up! If the occupants were at work then I guess there was no-one to turn them off or reset them. It was very difficult to tune them out while trying to concentrate.

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Awesome Drawing by miramiramira

Home working does have it pros too though! When we wake up and put on the local news and hear about the traffic accidents, long delays and torrential rain – we can smile and grab a few extra minutes in bed before popping upstairs to begin our day. Not having a big commute saves us time, money and sanity. Imagine I used to travel to Birmingham everyday – which involved a 30 minute drive to the station, a 40 minute train ride and a 15 minute bus journey – before I could even start work! Then the same back at night. It was four hours of travelling every day!

Now, I am fresh and awake when I get to my desk. Also, if I have any ideas or there’s any server crisis for Nathan to deal with – we don’t have to go far to get it sorted.

Also, think of the overheads! As a very new company starting out we only have our own funds to keep us going until the games we make start making money. So, we save a fortune by NOT having an office with rent or heating or power or upkeep. We can keep costs to a minimum while we make our fortune. Of course, as we get bigger and take on staff then we’ll need to fins somewhere bigger to suit us, but until then we can concentrate on the games and make them the best we can…

Going for Gold

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Drawing by Zephonarch

Another way to get yourself noticed and make interesting contacts is via awards. Before starting this company I had no idea that you could just nominate yourself for awards – but you totally can!

Start with your local area – does your local paper or Chamber of Commerce have a yearly awards event? There is usually a category for new businesses or small businesses or entrepreneurs – you’re bound to find one that you can fit in. Most are free to enter – they just need a bit of work and imagination on your part. The submissions are usually done via an online form which asks about your company, who works there, what you do and some will ask for financial information and forecasts.

Our local Business Boost Awards asked for a Business Plan too and offered a free course on how to write one. This was great – as I attended it and it made us actually get one written. These are useful for trying to get financial backing or a business loan down the line – so I was so happy to learn how to do a really good one. The course was actually run by an ex-bank manager – so he told us exactly what they look for when asked for loans by companies.

All that information for free!

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Drawing by A.S

So once you’ve submitted your application you have a few weeks of wondering when you’ll hear something. If you are new, a little bit different and interesting then you will stand a good chance of at least being chosen as finalists. We’ve discovered that have “Award Finalist” on your website and promotional literature is practically as good as “winner” Quite often you’ll get a ready-made logo to use wherever you want and you’ll be invited to the actual Awards Ceremony.

Our local paper’s Sentinel Business Awards don’t charge finalists or their guests for the event itself– as it is sponsored by other businesses – but usually you will have to pay, and they can be quite pricy. However, if you can afford to send a couple of staff (which is actually the whole company in our case!) then not only will you get lots of publicity but also have chance to meet other business owners and influential people in the business community. It’s all about the networking!

You may also get lots of coverage in your local press and even have a video made of your company and its operations to be shown on the night. You could get to keep the footage to use yourself too. So, it may be worth the cost of a fancy meal to get all this coverage and networking too.

You can also look out for awards in your own industry too – in our case computer games. It is worth having a look around. I wouldn’t bother with ones you have to pay to enter – but we have just tried for the TIGA awards, which has categories for Indie Games Studios like ourselves. We are just waiting to hear if anything comes of it… keep your fingers crossed!

UPDATE: We found out that we have been shortlisted for two awards – Most Original Game and Social/Casual Game! We are beyond excited!!tiga-award-finalist-logo-2016-01

That also means that we are also up for Game of the Year – as voted by the public. Here’s the link if you love Interference: https://tiga.org/awards/game-of-the-year

You’ve got until 31st October to vote.

EGX Adventures

Team IFX just got back from EGX  in Birmingham (or Brimingham as it said on all the wristbands.) Not only do we make games but we love playing them and attend all four days of the event every year. We loved it when it was at Earl’s Court in London – as it felt like a holiday and we could explore our nation’s capital in the evenings. However, since they knocked down Earl’s Court – going to Birmingham doesn’t feel the same. It’s not that far from where we live.

One of our main reasons for going is for the Developer and Rezzed sessions – awesome presentations and Q&As from actual successful game developers. It is always useful and informative for game developers like us. Everything from how to get a tax rebate to attracting YouTube stars to play your game on screen to their thousands of subscribers – there’s something for everyone.

At Earl’s Court these events were held in separate lecture theatres away from the noise and bustle of the main arena where all the massive games stands were. At the NEC though the Rezzed sessions are in an open area right next to the huge Virgin stand holding Destiny – Age of Iron competitions every 10 minutes. Each one ended with ear-splitting explosions after an enthusiastic countdown – and the whole thing was compered by an over-excited MC on the mike.

This meant that it was very difficult to hear what was happening on the Rezzed stage – especially during question and answer sessions where the presenters needed to be able to hear members of the audience too.

The main developer sessions were enclosed – by a curtain – but disturbingly near to the Gfinity e-sports arena where EnVyUs were annihilating all–comers in the CS.GO Invitational Tournament. This was also loud. (I do love watching esports though 🙂

But niggles aside – we had a good show. It was the first time that I had attended the Investment Summit – held in a nearby convention suite. I listened to talks by investors and publishers, such as Debbie Bestwick from Team 17,  about how to get your company ready for investment and what investors look for in a company and their products. Some said they never touch free-to-play games like Interference – but others, such as Saad Choudrie, CCO of Miniclip said “Free-to-play? Bring it on!” I got chance to have a chat with him over lunch and he gave us some good advice. To summarise (and quote Shia LaBeouf) “Just do it!” We are doing okay and if we get the iOS and Android apps out then people will come to us! Apparently

Nathan also got a pass to the Trade Zone which amazingly cost nothing!(Pro tip – just email EGX and ask for one – they just need a link to your LinkedIn page to see you are a legit indiedev)  It also came with two free days in EGX itself. The trade zone was a room where you could schedule meetings with any backers you met. Sadly, as we only found out about this and the summit the week before we went – all the available appointments were gone. We’ll know for next year though!

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Nathan enjoying VR

As indie game developers ourselves we spent most of our time in the Rezzed and Leftfield zones where there were some amazing and different games on show. Nathan enjoyed Unseen Diplomacy as he got to crawl around an empty square with a Vive VR headset on – saving the world.

 

We could see what he was doing on screen and it did look impressive. He didn’t have any problem motion sickness with the VR in this game – as he was moving around with the action in the game. It’s the ones where you are sitting down while things move around you that cause him problems.

I enjoyed playing The Little Acre which was a point and click adventure game and I had a go at Yooka Laylee which was also very fun. I liked that it had books and pages to collect.

Our favourite Rezzed session is always the funny “Pitch Your Game Idea” one – where you can just turn up and pitch a crazy idea for a game at a panel of experts. It is expertly MCed by Jon Hicks (@MrJonty ) from Gamer- Network – as are all the Rezzed sessions. They pick a favourite and give them a bag of swag from EGX. This time Nathan decided to have a go and pitch his “Bond Villain Simulator” ™ The experts seemed very impressed and he won a bag of goodies – along with a couple of other hopefuls. The other winners were a small boy who pitched a zombie game set in a shopping centre called “Shop ’til You Drop” and the other guy pitched a game that ran through the history of game design.  They both sounded excellent.

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Nathan receiving his swag from Jon Hicks

Nathan was very pleased with the reaction to his idea – one that’s he’s been talking about in the Centrifuge office for quite a while. He might even make a prototype now! I’m sure you can’t wait to see that!

Making Friends with the Press

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Drawing by Angel P

One way to get free publicity is to make friends with your local newspaper’s business editor. They are usually on the lookout for stories and unusual angles on businesses in their area. If you can come up with a good story around your business or game then it could catch their eye – and help you both out. Grab a copy of your local paper (or check it online) and find out who writes business stories and what day the business news usually appears. It is usually pretty easy to find a journalist’s email once you know a name – or see if they are on Facebook and Twitter to make contact even faster.

The easier you can make writing an article or feature about you, for them – the more likely it is that the paper/magazine will use your story. Write a good concise press release – but don’t waffle or go into too much detail. Something short and sweet and then say – if you’d like to know more contact us – and give your details. If you’re not sure what a press release looks like – then there are plenty of free examples on the web.

This one is pretty good:

http://www.marketingdonut.co.uk/marketing/pr/writing-a-press-release/a-complete-guide-to-writing-an-effective-press-release

This one has real life examples too:

http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Press-Release

Don’t worry if your first press release doesn’t get any response – it usually isn’t personal. It could be that the journalist is busy or has too much copy for that week’s paper. You could try over holiday periods when things might be a bit quiet on the business front.

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Picture by Gina Carpio

Once you have made contact and got a story in the press – then it is easier to drop them a line every now and again when you have new stuff happening. You never know – your local paper may be part of a big national group and other papers may pick up your stories too – so it is worth a bit of effort getting your story told locally first.

We got a lovely article in our local paper The Sentinel – and also recorded a video for their online version  http://tinyurl.com/htvj9t5

Also it might help if you look up your local Chamber of Commerce or Business Coach – as these will often have free mini-courses or networking events for anyone running a small business. You don’t always have to be a member. You can pick up quite a lot of good tips and make contacts in other fields – and you may well bump in to local press at these events too.

I’ve attended free courses in online marketing, social media and how to write a business plan so far – and they have all come in very useful!

Check other topics in this blog – like how to apply for awards and get yourself noticed – coming soon!

The Trouble with Trolls

One of the problems with having a game that allows player-generated content is – you guessed it – trolls! In Interference We start with a description, then let a chain of players take turns to draw and describe – but each player can only see the previous step in the game. It won’t take long for the original message to get lost in translation and turn into something completely different (and hilarious!). Well – that’s how it’s meant to go!

Trolling takes many forms from being new and not sure what to do to just wilfully derailing the game – for example we recently had a troll who wrote and drew nothing but “Peeps” – in game after game. This annoyed many players who had been looking forward to how their games would turn out or wondered how the next person would describe their lovingly crafted drawing.

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Picture by Aisha Yahia

Now I do like Peeps – they’re  marshmallow sweets from the USA, usually in the shape of chicks – but they were derailing every game.

This was quite a mild form of trolling – however, there are others where the words or pictures are totally obscene. This game is meant to be for players 16+ – even so, some of the pictures we have seen have ranged from child-like to actually talented and realistic depictions of genitalia and rude acts. Or as Nathan calls it “The Giant Schlong Problem”

Obviously we cannot be looking at what it being drawn every minute of the day and night (Interference is very popular in the USA and tends to be most busy when we are asleep.) So, how do we tackle trolls?

Firstly, we had to put in a Swear Filter – so that most obscene words could be caught and held for moderation before anyone saw them. That’s not so easy with pictures until we invent software that can recognise rude shapes and body parts. So, we have a reporting system – so that when a player is presented with a picture to describe – there is an opportunity to skip it and report it to the moderators. This will hold the item in a queue until either of us has time to have a look.

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Drawing by jeunslo

It is interesting because while some players will happily let something dodgy go through and describe it, others report things like a picture of someone smoking for example – because they do not like to see that sort of thing either! That makes it hard to try to think of players who will be good moderators. Which means that so far we do that job ourselves.

So, we need to check what the transgression is – and either let it go through – or delete it, restart that game and deal with the troll.

What happens to trolls when we catch them? In the first instance we send them a warning and ban them for 3 days. Quite often it can be a newbie who hasn’t understood how the game is played and what the rules are. If they behave after the first ban then all is well.

If it keeps happening again then the bans are for longer and longer– until a 1 year ban is put in place. Occasionally, when the trolling has been really bad and prolific (gross misconduct we call it) – then we go straight to the 1 year ban. This is when it is obviously deliberate and the troll is intentionally trying to ruin the game.

It can be quite nerve-wracking when, for example, we have been put forward for an award* and we know that judges will be looking at the game – it would be just typical if the first thing they had to describe was the aforementioned giant genitals. Arghhhh!

We are wondering about restricting new players to just being in 5 games until they have some likes from other players and we can see that they are well-behaved. Any helpful comments would be gratefully received! (No trolls please!)

*luckily when the TIGA judges tried Interference recently it must have been all good – as we are shortlisted for 2 TIGA awards!

The Story of Interference

Interference started as a side project back in 2010, which Nathan made for friends and family to play, whilst working as a freelance Microsoft Trainer. It really gained momentum in 2012 when Berni was diagnosed with cancer and Nathan gave up that job to look after her. There followed eight gruelling months of operations and treatment including chemo and 33 sessions of radiotherapy. While Berni slept off the radiotherapy sessions in the afternoons Nathan needed something to keep his mind occupied – so he decided to learn how to make apps. He watched some videos by Bob Tabor and produced a Windows 8 app version of Interference. As Windows 8 was new then, we were one of the first apps in the store and Nathan was given a certificate to say that he is one of the Windows Elite.

Drawing by Sinus
Drawing by Sinus

We also entered the app into Creative Bloq’s Windows 8 App Generator Competition. Happily, the game was chosen as one of the top ten apps, we attended the prize-giving event on the 7th February 2013 London’s Modern Jago .We won a Windows 8 Ultrabook, a Windows tablet and a Nokia Lumia 920 Windows phone. All very useful to test our future apps on! On top of this Interference was chosen to be on the front page of the store over Christmas 2012 – which helped us gain lots of new players.

However, as we both had full time jobs we could not devote much time to develop the game or interact with the players. We see now that this was a big mistake!

The problem was that bills had to be paid and Nathan was involved in setting up another company doing school apps. This took up all his work time – and much of our leisure time doing education trade shows and other events to promote them to the educational community. While we learnt a lot during the three years or so that we were actively involved with this, sadly our player base for Interference started to dwindle. Although we have over 35,000 registered players, there aren’t that many playing day to day. Now that we DO have the time to devote solely to Interference, we have to find ways to get these players back and also attract many, many more! So, what have we done so far? Over to Nathan:

Drawing by AuntTP
Drawing by AuntTP
  • The whole web site has been rewritten from scratch, and now should work much, much better on phones and tablets
  • New web drawing tool: the Flash drawing tool is gone, replaced by a shiny new HTML5/JS tool. In simple terms: it works on more devices, and tries to give players as much drawing space as possible (no more tiny canvas with loads of blank space around it). The number of colours has been reduced to 36 (so the palette isn’t so overwhelming)
  • Updated community page: The community page is a bit more useful now, showing things like the latest Picture of the Week.
  • Some new features are reserved for IFX Supporters. In return for helping us pay the bills, supporters get their usernames highlighted, and some other odds and ends. They’re also able to view any available drawing replays, whilst standard users are only able to watch replays for highlighted drawings like Picture of the Week.
  • Wait, did you say “watch replays”? Surprise 🙂 For the last few weeks we’ve been capturing how items are drawn, not just the finished thing. Click the orange replay icon next to a drawing and see exactly how it was done.
  • Written a completely new Windows 10 app – available soon in the app store.
  • Added in a whole new array of awards for players to achieve – to keep it interesting and help to hook players’ attention. (Yes – we have read Hooked by Nir Eyal http://tinyurl.com/hfrnm2y )
Drawing by Charlibronzes
Drawing by Charlibronzes

Thank-you Nathan! Please drop by and read our later blogs posts to see how we are getting on and what other skills and techniques we are using to get Interference noticed among the many games out there.