Designing For The Future

The way “normal” jobs “normally” work is this: someone in charge at a company realizes that they have a need, and that need is going to require full-time service. They figure out the standard salary expected by new new employees doing that kind of work, and offer the position directly to someone they know can do the job, or make the position known publicly.

The way entertainment jobs “normally” work is that an entertainer trains their skills in a particular kind of entertainment. They then perform at a venue and get a cut of ticket sales. The venue does not manage their performance, but usually has some idea of the content of the performance ahead of time. For marketing reasons, the entertainment must always be significantly similar to existing entertainment so that people buy tickets and recommend that their friends buy tickets as well.

The way my job works is: I need to borrow enough money to complete production, and convince enough of you, while I am producing the product, to buy enough copies when the product is complete that I can continue working at this job.

Each video game is different. Many are made from scratch, some start with existing engines, and some are mods of other games but made so well they seem like new games. Gamers as an audience are fickle and prize novelty highly. Gamers don’t want to pay for the same game twice, and really despise it when offered an inferior product, but they are more than willing to pay for new games that are improved versions of the old games.

The problem is: Nobody knows for certain what they are going to want tomorrow. When you are working a “normal” job, you only have to please your bosses. When you are working a “normal” entertainment job, you have to please your audience who is right in front of you. A “normal” job means the people you need to please mostly do know what they want, and theoretically they will tell you how to please them.

I know the sort of games that please me and my brother. I know the sort of games that will please reviewers, critics, Let’s Players, and game analysts. I know that to sell the most copies, Game Blocks needs to aim for a general audience, be translatable into other languages, be available on the biggest platforms, and so on. I don’t know for sure what will sell in the year 2019, because if there was a way to know for sure how many copies a game will sell before it is made, there wouldn’t be any large-budget flops.

Games like Madden sell predictably because they are a series of sports simulators, not video games. When I write that, I’m not trying to be snobby or rude, but to point out that sports simulators are fundamentally different to all other video games. For example: video games need to teach you how to play them, and if they fail to do that they are considered objectively terrible. Each annual Madden release assumes it’s players already know the rules of American Football and gets away with not explaining it every year. Most people never criticize Madden for this glaring omission because it is a sports simulator, not a video game. Most Madden players don’t buy a lot of video games because they’re just not part of the audience for all other kinds of video games.

Video game sales cannot be accurately predicted. Just like movie sales, but even more so. Even if I had the money to do statistically sound market research, all I could possibly get is what people say they have wanted in the past, and that isn’t even the total of what people actually have wanted, but merely what occurs to them to admit to the surveyor. A video game designed around freshly obtained market research at the start of production is definitively a game that is designed around old market research at the end of production. All games designed to appeal to current market trends are unfashionable on release. Because time.

So instead of designing for what the audience say they want two to three years before the release, I need to design for what I think they are going to actually spend money on at release. I need to guess the future, and design accordingly. I need to make something similar enough to what exists that I know it will appeal to some, but different enough that it won’t turn off people who already own similar products.

I don’t expect to be the next Minecraft sales-wise, but selling somewhere in-between Minecraft and just making enough money to pay back all loans is not difficult. The hard part is getting the money to complete production.

(In case you don’t know: Minecraft is the second best-selling game of all time. Getting 0.1% of Minecraft’s sales would be enough for me to retire. Not that I plan to retire yet.)

Now: I just wrote that selling a lot of copies is the easy part after nine paragraphs of writing about why predicting what will sell is hard. One of the nice parts of this job is that, unlike the big game developers, I don’t have to sell 15 million copies to succeed. I only have to sell 15 thousand. That many sales, at the intended price point, will cover all production costs from now until launch and for several years afterwards. I don’t intend to make something that appeals to only 15,000 people, but getting 15,000 sales is a lot easier than getting a thousand times that.

So I need to produce a product that at least fifteen thousand people in the year 2019 will buy. Before that, I need to convince the people that I’m trying to borrow money from today that getting at least fifteen thousand sales in 2019 is a reasonable expectation. I feel the best way to do that is to finish the darn prototype and finally make it public.

So that’s why I’m spending the rest of today on the prototype, and still not explaining what Game Blocks actually is yet.

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