Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Indie Dev Insight: Christer Kaitila

When I first started writing this blog as a reflective tool to chart my progress through 10,000 hours, I got in touch with those more experienced than myself to see what insight they could give me on my journey.

Over the last year I have become obsessed by reading as much as I can about other devs experiences and advice, to the point that I thought I would reach out again to some for their wisdom to help me and you alike.

This is the first in a series of indie dev insight that in some way the individuals involved have had an impact on my journey to date.

First up is Christer Kaitila, a name that you may not be familiar with but one that I first came across when reading an article on gamasutra and subsequently signing up for his initiative of 12 games in 12 months. In fact as I write this I have just completed my first month effort which I commented on here. I put the following questions to Christer and found his responses to be very enlightening so I hope you find this of some use. I certainly have.

What got you into writing games?
The movie TRON. My dad. Pacman, Dragon's Lair, Gauntlet and 1942. My TRS80 coco. The warez BBS scene of the eighties. The demoscene that continues to be at the forefront of gamedev tech. The knowledge that the act of PLAY is what people do when their lower needs in Maslow's hierarchy are fulfilled. You only PLAY games when you aren't starving or being shot at. Therefore, play is a state of pure bliss, of innocence, of prosperity.

What's good and bad about what you do?
What's good? The inspiration. Waking up excited. The creativity. Coming up with new ideas and stories. The learning. Honing my skills on an infinite stream of new tools. The challenge: easy things are boring. Gamedev is not easy. That's what is fun about it! The sheer triumphant pride when you hit the finish line on a game.

What's bad? Seeing my own limitations. The lack of time to take some ideas to fruition. Monetization woes. Starving artists still have better jobs than rich folks with boring jobs, but sometimes we imagine what it would be link to sit around and collect paychecks for something mundane. Must be relaxing.

What would you do differently now given what you know from projects completed and experience from the gaming and app market?
Aim lower. Make simpler things. Collaborate more often. Release sooner. Market better.

What tools do you use. By this I mean software development kits/engines (Cocos2d, Corona, Unity3D etc), audio packages, art packages.
Javascript, html5, c++, openGL, AS3, Stage3d. Notepad++, FlashDevelop, Chrome, 3dsmax, Photoshop, Acid, FileZilla, CoolEditPro.

What made you choose these tools over others?
Ease of use. The best tool, to me, has the least number of features. I don't want a swiss army knife, I want a single blade of infinite sharpness.

What marketing tactics do you employ? Forums, twitter, paid PR etc
In order of success found: Twitter, Google+, My blog, Forums aplenty.

What effect do you think free to play has had upon your game design?
I'm 100% certain that $0 is the future average price for all games in all genres and all platforms. FTP means hit players hard with your BEST content in the first five seconds. Reduce barriers to entry. LOWER FRICTION.

What resources do you swear by for learning new techniques, getting more from the packages you mentioned above, news etc. e.g Books (specific titles would be appreciated), forums / websites, social media.
I never learn using books and videos are way too slow for my taste. Wish I could watch tutorial videos at 2x speed. I *love* tutorial blog posts. The best way to learn to make games is to rip apart and hack an existing open source game. Tinker with the internals of something that already functions. Learn from the masters. Stand on the shoulders of giants.

There has been a lot in the press recently that app development is going through a gold rush and that the bubble will burst soon. Do you see it like this?
The bubble has already burst. It did halfway through 2012. The gold rush is long over. Everyone calls the new economy of apps: the appstore lottery. This means that 99.9% of all apps make no profit and 0.1% are a HIT. There's more money in Windows/Mac/Linux games now on places like Steam. Apps, while popular, are a terrible way to make a living: the sales stats are everywhere if you google long enough. The average fulltime indie app dev makes less than the average McDonald's employee. Planning to make a HIT on the app store is as likely as a musician planning to become a rock star or a kid planning to play basketball in the NBA. The vast majority will never get there, despite hard work and natural talent. If you're just getting into app dev now, you missed the bandwagon. There are certainly lots of opportunities out there and there will always be a new exception to these rules, some dev who gets a big hit. Success in apps is still possible, but only for the luck (or very well funded) few.

Do you think app games will eventually kill off AAA titles as we know them?
No, I predict that these two things will merge into one. AAA will be the new norm for apps. I predict a massive quantity of free-to-play games with multimillion dollar user acquisition budgets for you to compete with if you're still on the app store. In the near future, installs will COST you money (this is how almost every game in the top 100 does it already: they don't sell games, they BUY users at a buck a head and hope to find a few "whales" to support their efforts via IAP).

What does 2013 have in store for you?
12 games in 12 months via the happy phenomenon that is

Additionally, all the joy that comes with releasing more commercial games (strategy/puzzle/tactics mostly), being a loving dad for my 2 year old, writing another book, a bunch of new articles, and spending lots of time outside or making music. I'm transitioning from being a starving game developer to being a wealthy gamedev TEACHER. For me, there's more money to be made teaching newbie gamedevs how to make games via articles, books, tutorials, courses and the like than there is actually selling games. I think I'll focus on producing many small freeware games as a means to attract more and more people interested in learning how.

Any additional advice you would give for up and coming indie developers?
If you yearn to make a clone of your favourite game, first add up the number of people who made it x the number of fulltime years of labour they put into it. If you want to make an AAA console game or MMO, remember that they have 300-600 years of human effort inside. Longer than your lifetime. Therefore, be wise and aim smaller: something you can make in a single month. Release early and often, iterate a lot, and see which games "stick" or resonate with others. Make a dozen games next year, get lots of people to play them, and then iterate and improve the ONE game from the dozen that people liked the most. Polish it, add more to it, and then sell it.

My #1 piece of advice for game developers of the future: make games for the fun of creation. Like art, your success shouldn't be measured in dollars but something more meaningful, like the number of people who got some joy and happiness from your hard work, or number of lives improved in some small way, or quality of new things you learned, or satisfaction your obtained from making something you're proud of.


I would strongly encourage that you check out Christer's books of The Game Jam Survival Guide and Adobe Flash 11 Stage3D (Molehill) Game Programming Beginner’s Guide.

You can also find Christer on twitter, google+ and his insightful blog.


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