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.

Welcome

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Picture by Caketin

Welcome to Centrifuge’s development blog.

Who are we and what do we do? We’re an indie games studio based in Newcastle (in rural Staffordshire – not the one up North!) We make games for the internet and on apps for smartphones.

Our primary game, Interference, has been going a few years now – you can read about its history in the next post. We have recently given up our jobs to work on it full-time – and produce lots of other games too.
Our developer and coder (or Chief Geek as he’s known) is Nathan Beardmore – he’s responsible for the technical side of developing games and other fun things on Windows (10/8/Phone), iOS and Android, such as the award winning game Interference

He formerly set up an award-winning school apps company with a partner (and former student of his) – but has now resigned as director to spend all his time on what started as a hobby – making games!

I am Berni Williams and I am responsible for coming up with game content – especially for our upcoming word games “Loose Vowels” and “Bluffed!”– since I’m an ex-librarian and part-time writer. I am REALLY excited about those. I also do marketing, social media, customer engagement and game moderation as well as applying for awards and anything else that will get our name and games out there!

As I was made redundant in March 2016 I decided it would be a great opportunity to dedicate myself full time to this new company to see if we can make it work. The redundancy money should last 12 months – so let’s see how we get on…