So 2016 was pretty bad globally, but really quite good for me personally. In June I finally quit my part-time job at Waitrose, because 1.) it was killing me; I should never have stayed as long as I did, and 2.) it started to seem like I might be able to make a living picking up odd projects and commissions.
And so far it definitely seems like that was the right decision. I'm on track to earn more this tax year than I would have if I'd stayed at Waitrose, doing work I'm far better suited to, and far more interested in. It's a bit unsettling to not know where my next paycheck is coming from, but financially I'm in a pretty good place right now. It looks like this might just be sustainable.
I also made the decision to no longer release projects for download on the internet, which feels like a big weight off my shoulders.
Over the past couple of years I've come to realise there's no chance I could ever make a living selling the kind of games (etc.) I want to make on the internet. But even without the expectation of making any money, I found that the constant presence of analytics - or more, the constant awareness of just how few people were downloading the things I made, how few people cared - had such a negative impact on my own motivation that I needed to make a clean break. I needed to find a better way of getting my work out into the world.
And I'm honestly really happy with that decision. This feels like a far healthier way to make things. Anyway, on to the things I worked on in 2016:
2016 was the year I finally released this one. Another weight off my shoulders :)
Cancer genome visualisation/sonification project
Got a small commission from the University of Glasgow to handle the technical side of a project dedicated to visualising and sonifying cancer genomes (to see if we could better identify the harmful mutations involved). Lots of fun research involved.
We did I think 3(?) more performances of Whispered Truths in 2016. The above video is of my favourite one, at the Hidden Door festival in Edinburgh.
A very simple procedural story generator.
A game of interpreting your computer's idiosyncratic descriptions of a room as music. A sequel of sorts to awaitingTheProjectedCurve. The lack of response to these two pieces played a big part in my decision to stop releasing work for download.
A controller I built for Hummingbird, to take to Games are for Everyone Vol.4. This was a really fun project, and helped remind my why I had spent so long working on Hummingbird in the first place. I like that game.
Play On Exhibition
And finally, in December I won a tender to build 4 interactive exhibits for the Play On Exhibition at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 2017. I'm super excited about this one :)
Just a quick note to say I've released two new things in the past couple of weeks (I guess the start of a new year makes me more productive than usual?):
Leaving Hungry Waters is a short series of procedurally-generated snapshots about the sea. It's the first time I've worked with video, and I definitely want to do more interactive video stuff (also optimise my video code; the game's overlapping three 720p videos are remarkably CPU-intensive).
GrainSketch is a kind of granular sketching tool, and the first purely utilitarian thing I've made in years. You can do interesting things with it, but it probably would benefit from being part of a more comprehensive drawing package.
So compared to 2014's post I guess I'm feeling better about things than I did this time last year, but honestly I'm still not sure how I feel about 2015.
First, the good: Financially, this is the first year I've (just) broken into making 4 figures outside of my day job (working part time at a supermarket). For the past 5 years I've been living on ~£8k, so that's a fairly big deal. All the same, only ~£250 of those 4 figures came from selling my games/artwork. It's pretty obvious by this point that I'm never going to be able to survive purely by selling stuff I make on itch.io and at games events.
(the rest of the 4 figures came from some mentoring and tutoring/consultancy work that came my way. More than the money this actually led to new friendships, for which I'm very grateful. That stuff doesn't come easily to me)
Frustratingly, this year I was involved in one way or another with 4 different funding applications, any one of which could have provided me the means to quit my day job and spend my time doing work I genuinely care about. Every one of them fell through. I guess I need to get used to this, because there's bound to be more of that in the future. Still, it does make for a pretty grim future, forever hoping some faceless institution will deign to give me the money I need to do the work I want to do :\ (Harry Giles' Funding a Ritual seems particuarly relevant right now)
Anyway, things I made this year:
Never to Tell
A procedural puzzle game/roguelike. I think it has potential, and I do really like it. At this stage though I'm unlikely to spend any more time polishing it. I'll try and upload the source code at some point.
My one big release this year. A short-form abstract roguelike where all the text is encrypted. Not sure how I feel about it. Its combination of encryption, procedural sound, and puzzle roguelike mechanics is completely unique as far as I'm aware, but I struggled to get any press beyond an initial handful of articles while it was still in development. And I'm pretty sure my writing for it is, well, trash, so it's just as well no-one has cracked the encryption (to my knowledge, at least. Let me know if you have!).
Also, [encrypted] is the game I took to Feral Vector, which was a bad experience for me. Not through any fault of the organisers I should stress, but it's led me to reconsider my plans of travelling to at least one big games event every year. I think in the future I'm going to limit myself to small, nearby events. It makes for a far smaller financial and emotional cost.
MUSIC IS FOR EVERYONE
A 4-player music improvisation game for gamepads. Was meant to be exhibited at Games are for Everyone, but no-one could hear it over the noise of the event so I quickly switched over to showing Gravity Series instead. A note to anyone showing music games at events: always insist on a PA for your game. I've still not actually had a chance to play this with 4 players myself :(
Mount Pleasant Drive
The thing I am most proud of making this year. My plan is to work on more things like this in 2016, and step back from most of the more game-y stuff above.
A Dance of Whispered Truths
An adaptation of A Diary of Whispered Truths to be played in collaboration with a band (Mantra Collective). We played our first gig on Sat 12th Dec, with members of the audience improvising with the software as the band improvised in turn. We're going to be doing more of this in the new year, which is exciting :)
A simple snowflake generator. I wrote this to generate unique gift tags for the various christmas presents I was giving out this year, and figured I might as well make it public.
(still unreleased) I'm still working on this. I had planned to release it around November, but then A Dance of Whispered Truths happened and took up most of my time. Was exhibited at beta public V down in London. Maybe I'll manage to get it out the door sometime in 2016? I have made a zine to accompany it if I ever do finish it.
The idea is to have the above controller set up in front of the band so that audience members can come up and play with the band in a kind of group audiovisual improvisation. We're calling this A Dance of Whispered Truths, and we had our first public outing on Saturday as part of Tinderbox Fest in Edinburgh.
The band had prepared 5 loose sections each with a set key they could improvise within and on the day Luci - the conductor - directed them, switching sections as she felt appropriate based on what Whispered Truths was putting out. I also gave Luci a tablet running a TouchOSC patch so she could update Whispered Truths when the key changed.
It went well! There were a couple of technical hitches on my part (see the end of the above video), but I think we've got a solid foundation for going on with. People seemed to be really into it, and more than one person asked when we'd be running it again (that'll be the next Games are for Everyone in Edinburgh, though I don't have a date yet).
There were some interesting things that came out of our first public performance though. Firstly, Whispered Truths' bitcrusher does not fit at all with the sound of the band. You can hear it in parts in the video above, and it just sounds like the PA is malfunctioning. I'm definitely going to have to replace it with something more appropriate for next time.
Secondly, and maybe more significantly, there were times when the players (from the audience, not the band) seemed a bit lost, resulting in quite static visuals. I think there are probably two causes:
One is the design of the thing, how the buttons are laid out and what they do. There's currently 6 buttons dedicated to manipulating the mandalas for instance, which is too much. It means that a mandala winds up dominating the visuals and ultimately limits the player's expression.
So one thing I need to do is remove some of the existing actions and replace them with a more varied range of things. I'm also (based on Luci's suggestion) going to try and arrange the actions into 4 categories to match the 4 coloured rows of the main bank of buttons on the controller. This will mean I can give players an idea of what the buttons do without specifying each individual button's action.
...which leads me on to the second thing I want to do differently next time, and that's make a conscious effort to frame the performance for the (audience) players. I was very hands off on Saturday, more or less just saying "Press buttons. Have fun!" But I think that probably contributed to the players feeling a bit lost.
What I'm going to do next time is explicitly tell them they're engaging in an improvisation, that the band is going to be reacting to them, and that they should be reacting to the band in turn. I'm also going to point out a few of the buttons; particularly the colour palette buttons and the reset button.
The other thing I want to do is give them permission to go wild if they feel the urge. The design of the controller means it's a lot of fun to just mash your entire hand down on a whole bunch of buttons at once, but so far nobody's done that. Which suggests that maybe I need to explicitly say that it's okay to be a bit rough with it. Nothing's going to break if you just start mashing a whole load of buttons.
Finally, here's audio of the entire performance, courtesy of Barry, our sound engineer for the day:
So on Saturday I gave a talk and released my roguelike [encrypted] in front of a room full of people at Feral Vector. I think it went pretty well? You can buy the game (and an accompanying zine, if you want) over at itch.io.
Update 20/1/15: itch.io has now become a VAT-registered seller! I'll keep this post here for reference, but as far as I'm concerned, itch.io is the only option you need to consider now.
Having said that, I have also updated the Steam section and added a section on Paddle following conversations on twitter.
Note: I wrote this under the assumption that it will be a while before itch.io comes up with a better solution to the VAT mess. You might not want to jump ship just yet though, if this tweet by Sophie Houlden is any indication.
The recent changes to EU VAT rules have thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for those of us EU-based devs who have, up till now, sold our games through itch.io. I've been looking into the options available in this new landscape, and figured it would be worthwhile to summarise my findings.
I should note that this is aimed at those of us who are not earning a full-time wage from our games but simply wanting to earn a little money from them. If you're already earning a decent living from your games, you no doubt have a different set of options available to you. Also, disclaimer: I'm not an accountant. Before you sign up for any of these services, make sure you read their terms and conditions and know what you're signing up to.
First, How Does This Affect Me?
This site has a comprehensive explanation of the issue, but the short version is:
Starting on Jan 1st 2015, new EU laws came into force stating that if you sell any digital goods to someone in an EU country, you must charge VAT based on that country's rate. You then have to pass that VAT onto your own country's tax authority (which, in the UK, means registering for the HMRC's Mini-One-Stop-Shop, and filing quarterly reports).
In addition to this, you need at least two pieces of information confirming the customer's address, and if those two don't match, you will need a third. You will need to store that information for ten years on an EU-based server, in case your country's tax authority decides to check up on you. This being relatively sensitive information, I believe you will also need to register yourself under data protection rules, though I'm a little unclear on this point.
All of which adds up to an enormous headache if you're a lone dev and you're not earning enough to afford an accountant. Luckily, there are options if you want to comply with the law, but don't want to jump through all those hoops.
Update: With the recent news, this section is now out of date.
itch.io is, sadly, the odd one out in this list. All the other options I'm going to list are essentially VAT-registered storefronts. This means that they take responsibility for ensuring their customers pay the correct VAT etc. and you, as a dev, don't have to worry about it.
itch.io is not a VAT-registered storefront. Instead, it is a marketplace which "facilities a transaction between buyer and seller. The buyer is ultimately paying the seller directly for each purchase." In which case you, the dev, are responsible for ensuring the correct VAT is applied, with all the various implications that result from that.
itch has introduced some VAT-specific features to make this slightly easier to do than it was previously, but you're still responsible for filing quarterly reports etc. The itch.io blog has a good post which goes into more detail about their approach to the VAT issue.
Unfortunately, because of this, I can't recommend selling your games through itch.io :( For small devs having to handle the VAT stuff yourself is far more hassle than it's worth. Which is crushing, because itch.io has been a hugely positive force for small devs, and it's not their fault that the EU changed the rules on them.
That said, I'm going to be judging the following payment options based on how they compare to itch.io. This is because, prior to the new VAT rules, itch.io was by far the easiest way to sell your games online. So before we move on, a quick list of the things itch.io gets right:
- You are paid immediately for every sale.
- Minimal fees (currently just paypal fees).
- You get your own page for your games on the store; you don't need to work out hosting for yourself.
- Reputation; itch.io has earned a reputation as the place to find interesting, unusual and niche games.
FastSpring is a general purpose (VAT-registered) e-commerce platform that's been around for a while now. It basically lets you put a link to a payment page on your website and, once payment is completed, emails your customers a link to your game. This does of course mean you will need to sort out your own web hosting.
The need for hosting aside, FastSpring offers relatively good terms compared to some of the other options here. It pays out twice a month (with a $25 minimum), and its fees are 8.9% of every purchase (or optionally 5.9% + $0.95). For a £3 game, this works out as roughly equivalent to the paypal fees you'd incur when selling via itch.io (though it doesn't scale as well for higher-priced games).
A potential downside is that customers might be more reluctant to pay via a general purpose e-commerce purchase page than with the other, more well-known options such as Humble, itch.io, etc. Beyond the 'I won't play anything that's not on Steam' crowd though, I don't know how much of an issue this actually is.
The Humble Widget
The Humble Widget is a widget provided by the folks behind the Humble Bundle which you can use to sell your games, with the option for customers to pay via PayPal or Amazon Payments. With the success of the various Humble Bundles, the Humble name is well-known and respected among games folk. Like FastSpring, you will need to sort out web hosting for yourself if you want to use the Widget.
Humble acts as a VAT-registered seller with the Widget, so you don't need to worry about that. As far as fees go, Humble takes 5% of the net revenue after payment processor fees (suggested here to be a further 5%). They pay out only after you've earned $250, within 30 days from the end of each calender month. It's not clear from the FAQ so I got in touch with Humble, who confirmed that the $250 figure is per-game, not per-dev. This puts it out of reach for me, as my games have yet to earn me much more than $200 combined.
Desura is a VAT-registered store à la Steam. As far as I can tell, Desura don't state their payment terms anywhere on their website, so the following information comes entirely from this gamasutra article.
Desura will only pay out once you've earned $500(!), and their fees are 30% of the sale price. Frankly this, combined with their incredibly unhelpful website, discounts them completely as far as I'm concerned.
Bandcamp is a bit of a leftfield option here, being an online music store and not a games site. The recent announcement that they would become a VAT-registered seller in time for the introduction of the new laws, however, got me wondering if it would be possible to sell games through bandcamp too.
The short answer is: yes, it is possible to sell games through bandcamp. The longer answer, naturally, comes with some caveats. Firstly, as bandcamp is a music site, you will need to upload your game's soundtrack to bandcamp first. Then you can include your game as a bonus download that people will get when they buy your soundtrack.
The catch is that bandcamp don't allow zip or exe files by default for bonus downloads. They do, however, allow torrent files, so you could feasibly provide your game to customers via a torrent. That is, assuming you are in a position to ensure the torrent remains seeded (my knowledge of torrenting is fairly limited, so I'm unsure how you would go about restricting the torrent to people who bought your game; that may be an issue).
That said, there may be another option. I got in touch with bandcamp to confirm that providing a game via a torrent bonus download would not violate their TOS, and they replied that, not only would it not violate their terms, but that they would be willing to enable zip file downloads for individual game devs. They would only do this on a case-by-case basis, and they do have relatively restrictive file size limits for bonus downloads (100MB, though they may be willing to increase that if you ask), so it won't be for everyone. If you have a game with a strong soundtrack and a relatively small file size though, this could be a good option.
Of all the options here bandcamp is the closest thing to itch.io, in the sense that you get your own a store page, and you are paid via PayPal as soon as you make a sale. Bandcamp take a 15% revenue share, the details of which are outlined here.
Included for completion's sake, but I don't view it as a viable option for most small devs. Paying $100 for the privilege of maybe, possibly, eventually being allowed on Steam is not a good deal as far as I am concerned.
Steam is really only worthwhile if you have already earned enough from your game that $100 is an acceptable expense, and you've garnered a big enough fanbase that you have a reasonable shot at making it through Greenlight.
Update: Following this post's initial publication, @nihilocrat got in touch to point out that Greenlight can actually prove an effective way to drive sales on other stores. So perhaps that $100 isn't necessarily money down the drain? This is definitely a YMMV kind of deal though. Both the twitter thread and his Greenlight stats are worth reading.
Another option I wasn't aware of before I originally published this post is Paddle. Similar to FastSpring, Paddle is a general purpose e-commerce platform, with slick-looking tools and checkout options. It is VAT-registered, pays out monthly, and has fees which compare favourably to FastSpring (5% + $0.50 for every transaction). If you were already looking at FastSpring, I'd definitely recommend you check out Paddle too.
That's a lot of words, so here's a TL;DR: right now, FastSpring's probably your best bet, though I'd say Bandcamp's definitely worth a look too. Update: Obviously, now that itch.io's VAT-registered, I'd recommend you stick with it.
I've tried to include all of the most relevant options I'm aware of, but if you know of others, or if I've got any of the above information wrong, let me know via tweet or email. I'll try and keep this article updated as the situation changes (ideally itch.io will eventually find a better solution to the VAT issue and we can all go back to it).
2014 was a bad year. What with gamergate, losing the referendum, the tories in Westminster and the rise of UKIP down south, it was hard to find much cause for optimism.
And then in December I learned about the new EU VAT rules coming into force on Jan 1st. The new laws effectively mean I can no longer afford to *legally* sell my games via itch.io, having only just started doing so this year. So, yeah, not a good year.
Anyway, onto the stuff I made this year (rough chronological order):
(unfinished) At the start of the year I took Hummingbird to Lucky Frame's Tacos, Bluegrass and Videogames event in Edinburgh. They built an awesome coffee table for it, and it seemed to go down well. They put on an amazing event all round :)
Following this I had plans to run a kickstarter for the game, and spent the next six months working on a pitch, only to find my motivation slowly, painfully ebbing away. Ultimately I had to conclude that I just don't have it in me to run a whole kickstarter campaign on my own; there's just far too much work involved if you want to do it right.
I made a dumb joke game for the Retro Remakes Videogame 50 compilation. It'll only make (vague) sense if you've played Robocod and remember the cheat/easter egg from the world map/castle.
Dark is Yonder Town
Having spent months painstakingly putting together the fancy fold-out books to go with it, I finally released my Dark is Yonder town album in February. It was pretty much ignored by everyone, but even so I feel it's one of the strongest, most mature pieces of work I've put out to date.
(unreleased) A weird 4-player football game that uses controller rumbles to pass hidden information to the players. Unreleased because I'm still yet to actually test it with four people...
You Have Mistaken Me for Something I Am Not
A short, minimally interactive poem based on parts of the Hummingbird code. Quite proud of this.
An 8-player cat-herding game I made for Ludum Dare 29.
A collection of seven gravity-themed local multiplayer games I made for the makega.me Series pageant. Released for Pay-what-you-want on itch.io (17 people thought it was worth paying money for), and shown at Feral Vector. Very proud of this one.
Lucky Frame and Abertay hosted a cool alternative controller workshop in June, and I made this daft race game where you have to hammer cardboard tubes.
(unfinished) A short-form abstract roguelike where everything in the game is encrypted. Was planning on releasing it in the New Year for £3 or so, but with the new EU laws, I guess that's not happening anymore. Part of the Leftfield collection at EGX London, written up in RPS, Vice.
A Diary of Whispered Truths
My take on the GREAT ARTIST genre. More of a musical instrument than its inspiration. Written about in Kill Screen, RPS. I also took this to GameCity, along with a fancy custom controller I built for it:
Also at GameCity I had a stall where I sold zines, Dark is Yonder Town, and the above fancy DVDs containing every game and piece of software I'd written to date. I sold about 2/3rds of the stuff I took with me, which is pretty good going, I think. It might have been nice to do more stuff like this, but I guess it's probably not going to happen now.
...and all those lonesome stars
A (massively?) local multiplayer deathmatch, supporting up to 80 players. I made this specifically for the Whispered Truths controller above, though it'll work with any keyboard/mouse combo.
Wake Up, Little One
...and one last game made in the week before Hogmanay. Deliberately a very light, undemanding thing.
For the past five years, I've been working part time in a supermarket and making games (etc.) in my free time. Originally my plan was to turn my gamemaking into a full-time business, but realistically that's not going to happen (especially now the EU have effectively prevented me from selling anything on the internet). So, starting January, I'm officially looking for work. If you know of any job opportunities for someone with my particular talents, I'd be very grateful if you could send them my way.
I'm afraid [encrypted] and Hummingbird are probably not going to see proper releases. Having put so much time into them I don't feel comfortable releasing them for free, and as established I have no way of charging for them without breaking EU law.
Hi! It's been a while since I've had any news to post. I've just uploaded the collection of local multiplayer games I made for the recent makega.me pageant to itch.io. I'm treating this as an experiment; I've set the itch page to pay-what-you-want, to see if people are willing to pay for an unusual collection of multiplayer games. If I manage to earn £100 from it, I'll spend a bit more time on the games and expand them in various ways. Realistically, it seems unlikely I'll hit that target, but I think it's worth a shot.
I just sent the following email out to a bunch of people as my inbox was clogged up with Pedalboard 2 requests. Figured I should make it public too:
Apologies for replying with such an awkward form letter, but I've let my inbox get so backed up with Pedalboard requests/bug reports that this is really the only way I'll ever be able to reply to everyone.
Long story short, Pedalboard development is on indefinite hiatus and has been for a while now. This is partly due to a lack of motivation on my part, but mainly because I have a number of other projects that have a far higher priority. In addition, I always developed the app primarily for myself and as things stand it does pretty much everything I personally need it to.
I've added any feature requests and bug reports I've received to my todo list, but it's unlikely I'll act on them any time soon. It is entirely possible I'll resume work on the app at some point in the future, but for now, development is halted.
Hope this news isn't too disappointing,
- Niall Moody.
Making a list of the things I made this year mainly to prove to myself I did actually get things done, despite my feelings to the contrary. Click the titles to go to the things.
Triangle vs. Square
Technically I released this at the tail end of 2012, but no-one played it so I'm including it anyway. It's a very simple local multiplayer game with asymmetric controls and a deliberate 3-tone colour palette. I really like it, and judging from the response when I showed it at the DCA in November, other people do too.
A ridiculous looping music maker/dancing simulator. FLASHING COLOURS.
Born from an error in my scaling code. I love this thing.
So Many Jagged Shards
The biggest thing I did this year, and probably the thing I'm least satisfied with. It was designed to be a slightly clumsy, awkward thing, and it plays like a slightly clumsy, awkward thing. I can't tell if I should have spent more time on it, or less. It did get an amazing write up from Porpentine on RPS though.
All Their Fever Dreams
Audiovisual sketching for up to 4 players, controlled via gamepad. It's kind of gorgeous.
Minimal 2 Player Game
A minimal local multiplayer game. It's designed to surprise you, so the less I say about it, the better. Hint: it's not (exactly) what it looks like.
A very simple proof-of-concept about using Open Sound Control to create a networked multiplayer game. It led directly on to...
EXCOSC game jam
My first attempt at hosting a game jam, and well, it wasn't exactly a huge success. Don't know if I'll attempt to host a jam again. You can download the game I made for it (Gunpowder's Kiss) at the above link.
A simple local 2-player duel. I think it's pretty effective, and I'm really happy with the music :D
All Will Be Artists
A zine I made to try and sum up my thoughts about music and where it might go in the future. It was meant to get me started on a big music-related project I've been mulling over since the end of 2012, but it's now almost 2014 and I still haven't started on it :(
The Moon is My Lover & I Sing a Pretty Song
Another wee audiovisual sketch. I wrote a folk song for this one.
Martin Swift Swallow
An EP I made with my band Lonesome Monsters. It's a bit of an odd one, essentially being a whole bunch of separate recordings condensed and merged into 3 tracks. I think it's kind of cool though.
Screaming Snakeball Tournament Edition
An updated version of Screaming Snakeball that I took to GameCity. It got the most amazing response (as you can hear from that video). The link goes to the original (non-tournament edition) version; I'm still trying to work out what to do with the tournament edition. I'm tempted to put it up on itch.io for a couple of pounds, but it has such esoteric system requirements that I'm not sure anyone would buy it.
A (local) multiplayer version of my EXCOSC game. This also went to GameCity, but it wasn't particularly successful. Unreleased.
A 4-player local multiplayer game with a boardgame-style traitor mechanic. I'm really pleased with it. I'll hopefully be taking it to Lucky Frame's Tacos, Bluegrass and Videogames thing on the 11th.
An odd thing: a top-down shooter with no enemies, no score, and no time limit. I'm still working on it. It's very pretty, but I'm worried that I'm starting to lose motivation on it, and it's the kind of thing where I have no idea whether it'll appeal to other people at all :\
Huh, that's actually quite a long list. I didn't even realise I'd done so much.