We recently went to EGX – the UK’s biggest games event and we had a very productive time! It wasn’t all fun and games as our team, consisting of Nathan and Berni – the company founders – and Sarah – who kindly volunteers as our community manager – gave a talk at the show.
For the first time this year there was an EGX Fringe Theatre with a schedule “consisting entirely of panel sessions proposed and delivered by the EGX community”. We proposed a session called: “Lessons from game Development – If you build it they will come. (Spoiler: They won’t)”
The blurb of it was: “Join the team from Centrifuge (makers of Interference and other casual games) as they discuss their gamedev journey over the last few years and share the incorrect assumptions and mistakes that they made along the way. Featuring panellists Nathan, Berni and Sarah.”
We were pretty pleased when it was accepted and we were given a slot on The Fringe stage at 2pm on the first day of the show. We didn’t expect many people to come as it was the first day and no-one really knows who we are. Imagine our surprise as we were setting up the AV for the presentation – the room started to fill up. Then a class of school children came in with their teachers and there was standing room only!
We really enjoyed talking about our game development journey so far and framed the session as: Assumption followed by Reality then Advice.
Assumption: We’ve had an interesting idea, and made a game. Let’s send out a press release, and people will talk about it
Reality: You can contact the big sites, but you’re probably not going to be as interesting as the other press releases they receive
Advice: Start small
Try your local press (they’re always interested in new stories in their area)
We met with our local business editor and she covers any new developments we have
Look for more specialised website/magazines
When we released Interference on Windows 10 we sent press releases to sites like Windows Central, because it’s more relevant to their readership
Contact individual journalists who are interested in your type of game
Don’t rely on sending messages to a general tips address
Nathan talked about the actual making of the game, Berni talked about social media, awards and PR and Sarah chatted about managing and engaging your community.
The 45 minute slot flew by and we only had time for one question from the audience, although a few people stayed behind to talk to us afterwards. It was nice to see so many other game developers in the audience and the comments we were getting were that it was refreshing to hear a realistic and honest account of what it is like to start small and make games!
One good thing about having a slot on Thursday was that we then had the rest of the show to relax, play games and enjoy networking with other game makers and players. Well, that and the fact that we could get in early before the masses!
If you’d like to see our talk then we’ll be editing it soon and throwing it up on YouTube. Will put the link in here soon!
If you’ve been reading our blogs you’ll know that we have been campaigning on social media to get Microsoft to put our drawing and describing game, Interference into the Apps for Windows Ink Collection – a curated collection of apps that are perfect for the Surface devices and pens.
Each day we would post on Twitter and Facebook our plea – along with a gif of a particularly good drawing that we’d had submitted to the game that day.
… when Jen from Microsoft got in touch and said that they would have a look at it. Seems we didn’t have many recent reviews – as we have forums in the game so players usually say nice things about Interference in there. We put out a plea to our players for a few new reviews in the Windows Store and got them. Then we were told that we could have Interference in Apps for Windows Ink for 30 days – to see how it went.
It is so great as we’ve had lots of new players already and get emails from the Windows Store to say that our trends are up.
It’s good to know that persistence pays off – we’re not sure how long we will be in the collection – but long may it last!
With this being our first game jam, we weren’t quite sure how to plan or how to manage our time. As the jam started at 02:00 in our time zone, we decided the best idea would be to check what the theme would be, then to go to sleep hoping that we’d subconsciously come up with some ideas overnight.
By the time we were actually ready to start (after recording and editing the weekly Interference update video), it was Saturday afternoon – about 11 hours in to the jam. We’d had time to think about the theme (“A small world”) for a while, and decided to do something based around looking at a petri dish through a microscope. We’re both fans of puzzles, so decided to make some kind of simple puzzle game.
Berni quickly came up with the idea of showing the player a petri dish with various “bugs” in that would have several attributes (eg colour, shape) and the player would have to apply the correct drugs to make the bug shrink (but using the wrong drug would cause it to grow). For example, a spiky yellow virus would grow if given a round yellow drug (wrong shape), but would shrink if given a square yellow drug (correct colour, correct shape (well, it has corners!)).
I’ve been spending my spare time learning about Unity, so decided this would be a good excuse to play around with that. My experience consisted of reading “Teach Yourself Unity Game Development in 24 Hours” and doing half of a Unity course on Udemy, but I hadn’t actually made anything from scratch. Still, never hurts to have a go at things.
For the first few hours, I had a go at implementing the system Berni had devised, but – if I’m completely honest – didn’t have much success. I managed to set something up where you could drag coloured shapes onto other coloured shapes, and then they’d change size depending on whether the colours matched or not. It sort of worked, but didn’t feel very fun – you just piled drugs on to one bug, then moved on to the next. Berni suggested making different bugs grow at different rates, and introducing bugs that had two colours, but I thought it was getting a bit complicated (and whilst I could cope with changing the colour of a sprite renderer in Unity to make different coloured bugs, I had no idea how to handle things with two colours – swap in different sprites, rather than colouring the same sprite?).
I suggested that we keep things simple: display the bugs in a grid, then have the player add drugs which would affect adjacent cells. You’d have to work out the correct placement in order to get the right combinations of colours. To make it a bit more interesting, we’d make the grid out of hexagons. I mean, that can’t be too hard to work out, can it?
Several hours (and a few pages of scribbled notes) later, I’d finally made a system that could generate a “circle” of hexagons, given a number of layers. The problem with hexagons compared to squares is that it’s harder to refer to a particular hexagon – in a square grid you can say something like (1,4) and it means “one along, four up”. The problem is that whilst one row of hexagons will fit into that, when you do the next row everything is shifted across by half a hexagon. I eventually implemented this by assuming that rows would alternate between sitting on even numbers and odd numbers on the grid. It seemed like a good idea at the time (just shift everything by 0.5 on every other line), but in hindsight I think there’s probably a better solution involving adjusting the Y axis of your grid to go at an angle. By the time I realised this, I’d already done a lot of implementation, so decided to leave things as they were.
Next was dealing with drugs being dropped into the grid cells (or “hexes”, as I called them in the code). That was pretty simple – Unity’s collision system took care of most of it. Whilst a drug was being dragged, we kept track of any hexes that it collided with, and when the mouse was released we dropped it into the last empty hex it touched. This just involved setting its position to the same as the hex and setting the drug’s parent to the hex. At this point, we also check the colour of the drug, and then set the colour of the hex to match. If a drug is picked up again, we set the colour of the hex that was its parent back to white. To change the adjacent cells, we check the two above, the two below, and the ones to the left and right – six in total. Well, I say six – one of the obvious things that I forgot to check was whether those hexes actually exist (eg if the cell is on the far left of the grid, then there won’t be any cells to the left of it). Fortunately, that was easy to fix once I’d realised my mistake.
I’d written a lot of code in the last few hours, so decided to do something else for a bit – making some sprites. I’m not much of an artist, but thought I could probably manage something that looked a bit like a virus. Using the excuse that I was aiming for a minimalist style, I came up with a few varieties that looked OK. They did seem a little boring, though. One of the things that had just been covered in my Unity course was animation, so I messed about with that quickly, setting a simple animation that made the sprite shrink a bit then grow (as if the virus was breathing). Surprisingly (for a change that took about two minutes), it looked pretty good and made a big difference. It gave me the idea that the viruses shouldn’t be removed when treated, just suppressed – so they’d become active again if you moved a drug away or added the wrong drug next to it. I quickly made another animation that made the virus shrink and stop moving.
To test things out, I made a script to pick random hexes and spawn viruses of random colours, then edited the “do stuff when a drug is dropped” script to check the colour of any adjacent viruses and set an “isSuppressed” flag if the drug colour matches the virus. That triggers the animation to change from “idle” to “suppressed”. I was rather pleased when I ran the game, saw a few viruses spawn and start “breathing”, then stop when I placed drugs next to them. It was starting to feel like a game! We made a minor adjustment to the drug sprites here – adding a “C” to the centre of them – to make it more obvious when a hex contained a drug.
Something that I’d learnt from the Unity course was that adding sound makes a big difference, even if it’s just a small thing. I didn’t want to spend ages looking though lists of sounds, so just grabbed a microphone and recorded myself making a “pop” sound. Playing that when a virus spawned made things feel better, but it still seemed that something was missing. We thought that perhaps a sound for when a drug was picked up or dropped would help, so I recorded a “chk” sound. Almost there – but the whole thing was a little quiet when you weren’t doing anything. We added a bit of background music (a track from our friends at Vivid Muzik), and everything came together 🙂
It started to feel like things were almost done, but then I realised the big oversight that I’d made. Whilst the virus spawning system seemed to work well, it was just picking random hexes with no consideration for whether the puzzle would actually be solvable. I’d not had to write anything like this before, so wasn’t sure if there was a standard approach for it. In the end, I reasoned that if I made the game generate a solved grid, then pick viruses to spawn based on that, it would always be solvable. It appears to work, but perhaps there’s an edge case that I haven’t thought of!
I spent a few hours on Monday putting together a basic UI, instructions for the game (just some simple buttons and images), and a “plot” (you’re a scientist trying to prevent a pandemic) and the whole thing started to look like an actual game. On Monday afternoon we packaged the game, uploaded it to itch.io and submitted it to the Ludum Dare site – a few people have already tried it and left encouraging feedback.
I’m proud of what we managed to get done in a weekend (I think that our active time on the game was probably under 40 hours), and I’m tempted to add a bit more polish and release an updated version after Ludum Dare is finished. There’s a few things that would need changing, like trying to increase the replayability: at the moment, the grids are programatically generated – it would be interesting to generate levels based on a seed value (so different players could try the same level, and see who could solve it the fastest). Another improvement would be to calculate the optimal solution for each grid, so players could see how many steps over par they are.
Having spent a good few hours playing around in Unity, I’m very impressed with it – things that I expected to be tricky to implement were a lot easier than I anticipated, and being able to build for web, Windows, MacOS and Linux at the same time is excellent.
We’re definitely looking forward to the next Ludum Dare, but have decided to try and make a small game each month as a break from our big projects – it’ll give us a chance to try out random ideas without having to work out a long term plan for them. If everything goes to plan I’m going to document the process and share the results at thelab.wearecentrifuge.com.
Nathan has been wanting to take part in a Game Jam for quite a while – so when we saw that the Ludum Dare game jam was about to take place – and they were celebrating their 15th year – we decided we would give it a go this time.
Amazingly, as we are busy most weekends, this particular weekend everyone cancelled on us and we had an entire weekend to ourselves – we took this as A Sign and resolved to definitely try to make a game in just one weekend. We have never done this before so we thought it would be a great challenge and possibly fun 🙂
The first step was to vote on the possible themes on the LDJam website – these had already been posted by other users and game jam enthusiasts. The actual theme of the competition would be announced at 2am (UK time) on Friday night while we were sleeping. We were hoping that it would be “Keep it alive” as we’d thought of a really great idea for that – but when we stirred in the night and checked our phones we discovered that the actual theme was Small World.
We tried to go back to sleep and hoped we’d dream up a really good game idea before morning. We had a brainstorming session as soon as we woke and talked about what Small World could encompass:
there are already games out there already featuring small worlds that are fought over because they won’t fit everyone on
small world can also mean child-sized things
small world theory where everyone turns out to be connected to everyone else – could we make a game about that or would it just end up being too massive?
then, we had the brainwave that small world could also mean – microscopic!
That idea really got the cogs turning and we came up with superbugs – a game where you’re in a science lab and peer through a microscope at viruses in a petri dish. The aim of the game would be that you have to kill them off with combinations of drugs before they grow too big and become Superbugs – and resistant to ALL drugs.
We’d start with a few simple levels , where you just have to kill one virus with a drug of the same colour. This would be scaled up to many viruses – some needing multiple drugs and others needing colour combinations to kill them off.
As Nathan, our developer, is halfway through his first course on Unity – we thought we’d make the game in that. It seemed like a good way of testing his understanding so far!
Our first prototype was one petri dish containing the viruses – but it wasn’t very interesting and did not need a lot of skill. Also it was difficult to animate the viruses and get them to interact with each other.
Then Nathan came up with the idea of hexagonal cells – like a beehive – where each drug would affect the cells around the target one. This would make it into a proper puzzle game. It also allows for drug colours to be combined to make the other colours needed.
We didn’t have any access to sounds – so Nathan did the sound effects himself and recorded them to put them in the game. I especially like the “pop” as each virus explodes as it is eliminated by the correct drug combos!
One of the hardest parts of making the game so far is working out how to automate the production of each level to ensure that it is still solvable. They do it with Sudoku – so it must be possible!
Check back in a few hours for part two, where we’ll show how the game turned out and how you can play it!
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.
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.
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!
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 ceremony 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.
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!
The 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 write 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 Surface 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.
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
“On the internet – no-one knows you’re a dog” from Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorkeris 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.
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.
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…
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!
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!!