Second Generation Game Makers

In the movies we have Kirk and Michael Douglas, in music Bob and Jacob Dylan, and many, many, many more. It is natural for kids to follow in their parent’s footsteps. It happens in all industries, but the games business was too young for it to happen until just recently. Being one of the earliest career guys in the games business, I think this is an exciting trend, and I am happy my son is moving it forward. At a recent Casual Connect, we ran into John Romero, and found out that his son, Michael, is a designer. Game attorney Thomas Buscaglia’s son, Thomas just finished up on the mobile game BladeSlinger as the lead designer as well. I’m sure there are others, but I don’t have a list. Please comment if you know of any more.

Third Grader Design

Third Grader Design

Since he was a young boy my son, Jonathan, has designed his own games as well as analyzed, play tested, and demonstrated games for me. I was always on again, off again about whether I would encourage him to try to make a living in the games business, but my encouragement was not needed, for Jon, getting into games was pre-ordained. After years of play testing, he joined GarageGames as an Intern while he was finishing up his Digital Arts Design degree at the University of Oregon. Upon graduation, he joined us at PushButton Labs as a designer, where he was the lead on Social City and Grunts. After we sold PBL, Jon was asked to be a partner at Spotkin, where he is designing and producing our lead titles.

It is such an honor for me to be able to work with Jon on a daily basis. After so many years of discussing how games work, we have a shorthand, almost telepathic way of talking about design. Kind of how musicians that have played together for a long time know what the other guys are thinking. I love it!

Again, I am looking for more second generation game makers. I hear Frank Lantz has an offspring in the biz, but I have have not been able to get through to him. Please leave comments if you have any leads.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games

The Day the Google Music Died

Normally, I write about making games here, and I am woefully behind on my duties, but I have been trying to figure out why I was so upset that Google killed Reader. I think I figured it out, and I have to get it off my chest.

For the last ten years I have been the world’s biggest Google fanboy. From the first time I ever used their “magical” search engine I was hooked. They literally made my life better in many ways, but while I might have been in love with search, but I was totally blown away by GMail. It just worked, and it gave be a GIGABYTE of storage. Boom, mind blown. After years of running our own email servers or using some bullshit isp mail address, I could finally relax, fall back into Google’s arms and never worry about email again.

After Search and GMail, everything else was automatic. If Google came out with, I used it and recommended it to friends. Even if they didn’t quite get it right the first time, they would iterate until it was great. I signed on for Calendar, Reader, Picasa, Apps, Drive, YouTube, Chrome, G+, Android, EVERYTHING.

Google was a bunch of geeks, just like us, but they had this other thing that made a ton of money (ads) that supported all of the cool things we all wanted to do, but couldn’t afford. They thought big. They shot for the moon, and created things beyond my imagination. I mean, how could a company even think of running a million servers, or creating self driving cars, or gigabit Internet? I cheered them on, bought their stock, and was over the moon in love.

I always joked that Google knew way too much about me for my own good, but I was willing to go along because we were buds. They were not going to do “evil”, their founding story always told us that, and I believed them. Yeah, I was naive, but happy.

Even though our company was one of the only ones in the world using it, when they cancelled Buzz, I didn’t think twice because they replaced it with G+, which was a much better product. Even though they stole the design from Diaspora, I still thought the product was awesome (we use it as a free private Yammer-like service). Kind of like a free, much better UI, much more private, less spammy version of Facebook. So, I was still hypnotized by the big G.

Then it happened. Killing Reader was like a glass of cold water thrown into a drunk guy’s face. I’ve woken up and realized that the geeks are no longer in control of Google. They are not on our side any more. It’s not just the death of Reader, it is the death of a rich, geeky friend that I could count on to solve big problems for me.

I realized that I had gotten lazy, relied too much on a single vendor for incredibly important services in my life. I need to get hard again, like the old days when all good geeks had to rail against the Microsoft Borg to keep their vision of the future from coming true. I need to look into Linux again. Consider using markdown text and storing it on my own servers or on Dropbox to replace Docs, spread my photos and documents out onto different services, look into Linux or Firefox OS powered tablets. Everything is on the table. It’s going to take a lot of work.

It sucks when a friend dies.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker

Blogging In A New Gaming World

If any of you still have your RSS readers connected, you know it has been over a year since I have posted anything to this blog. The reasons are myriad as I’ve been under intense product deadlines, tight NDA’s, and entrepreneurial/company pressures. While NDA’s prevent me from giving you all the full story, suffice it say that all of that pressure is now gone, we got a great exit, and it’s time to start firing up the blog again.

While I still stand by my thoughts that all professionals should blog (see The First Day of the Rest of My Life article), in a world filled with Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and Google Plus, etc. blogging is starting to feel quaint. I do most of my everyday posting and observations on my Google Plus account because it is just so easy to click on the +1 button, and instantly be connected to a large audience. However, I don’t want to be a Google sharecropper forever, and longer in-depth posts need the attention and depth that only a blog post can provide.

I am bursting at the seams to get started telling you about my take on the wonderful opportunities that are available in the gaming market today. These opportunities have been building for years, and you should count yourself lucky to be making games right now.

Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big in Games
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Sad Day… R.I.P. GarageGames, Instant Action, Torque Powered

This post on the Torque Powered site says it all…

Today, InstantAction informed employees that it will be winding down operations. While we are shutting down the InstantAction.com website and Instant Jam game, Torquepowered.com will continue to operate while InstantAction explores opportunities with potential buyers for Torque. We thank all of our past and current customers for their support.

– Torque Management

I am mostly posting it here for sentimental reasons.

Posted in Biz

Dear Google, Please Take Facebook Out

Dear Google,

This week’s announcement of Open Graph by Facebook, and the privacy concerns it raises, is too much. Even though I am making my living by making Facebook games right now, Google needs to respond to what is happening in FB land, and start your own “real” social network. It is obvious that the world needs a social network, yet there is no real alternative to Facebook. You have been farting around with social network ideas for years, with Orkut, Buzz, and Profiles, but your implementations to date have pretty much sucked. Just bite the bullet, and make a network as easy to use and obvious as Facebook. Please, no more back door attempts like Buzz or Profiles or the gawd awful sharing that is on Reader (it is getting better, but still sucks). My team uses and loves Buzz for one small use case, but it is not something I can ask my non-techie friends or family to use.
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I Think Zynga IS Worth $5 Billion

Traditional game developers are scared to death of what is happening with “social games“, but that is fodder for another post. This post is about the big gasp that went up throughout the game industry when the site Second Shares posted a well through out article that that came up with the $5B valuation.

NOTE: As a corollary to this article about why I think Zynga is worth so much, you should check out why I won’t invest in traditional game publishers.
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Torque Game Engine Enters Retirement… Bittersweet For Me

Yesterday Brett Seyler of GarageGames posted a blog announcing the release of version 1.0 of Torque 3D, which is a $1000 updated version of Torque, with new rendering, tools, art pipeline, COLLADA support, etc. It looks awesome, and I know their world-wide team worked incredibly hard on the product. I congratulate them on this release, and wish them great commercial success.

However, buried in a single sentence of the blog was the following statement:

“No matter what the results, there will be other changes to the Torque product line up as well. Biggest of all, as of November 1st, 2009, past versions of Torque (TGEA, TGE) will no longer be available for purchase.”

TGE and TimAste Art

TGE and TimAste Art

Before I get back to this, allow me a little history lesson. Torque Game Engine started life in 1997 as the 3D engine behind Dynamix titles such as Starsiege and Tribes. For those that don’t know it, I was the founder of Dynamix and the Executive Producer of those titles. In 1999, myself, Rick Overman, Tim Gift, and Mark Frohnmayer made an agreement with Sierra/Vivendi/Universal, the parent company of Dynamix, to license this technology, leave Dynamix, and start a company called GarageGames. Open Source was the hottest thing going in those days, and our original intention was to give away the engine, and help people sell the games made with it. A couple of months into our company, we realized we would need some revenue, so we decided to charge $100 for the Torque Game Engine (TGE) and all of the source code. We joked that it was as close to Open Source as we could get it, or it was “Open Source with a business model”. At the time, game engines like id’s Quake engine were selling for $500,000 or more, so our price was something of a shot heard around the world.
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PushButton Engine Open Beta Launched

Two days before Game Developers Conference we opened the PushButton Engine site in Beta form to the general public. The PushButton Engine is a Flash game engine released under the extremely liberal MIT Open Source license. If you are interested in Open Source Flash game development, you should check it out!

PushButton Engine Logo

PushButton Engine Logo

Nine years ago when we released the Torque Game Engine for $100 at GarageGames (for those who don’t know, two of the founders of PushButton Labs, Jeff Tunnell (me) and Rick Overman, were half of the founders of GG) everybody wondered how we could make a company charging so little for our products. To be honest, we thought we would make up the difference by selling games, and even though that did eventually work out, it took a long time, and in the meantime we made a meager living selling TGE one at a time for $100. However, any way you look at it, GarageGames worked out very well, and, like I always say, if you catch fish in a hole, go back to that hole next time you go fishing. So, here we are making another engine, but this time we are giving it away for free!
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Risk Assesment: Don’t Put All Your Games In One Market

Owen Goss, the owner of Streaming Colour Studios released a great article about his iPhone App Store experience that has been sweeping the Indie blogosphere. If you have not read the post, you really need to do it right now, but the gist is that Owen invested $32,000 in Dapple, a color matching game, that has returned only a couple hundred dollars in the first few weeks of release. Owen’s post was awesome. He was not whining. He was just putting out a data point for the community to digest, and I, for one, appreciate his honesty.

A day after the release, the article was picked up by Slashdot, and Owen wrote a follow up article describing the responses he has gotten. Here is an excerpt:

Perception of whining or quitting

Many people perceived my post as whining about my sales, or that I was giving up on the game. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The post was meant purely as informational. I thought it would help people to see that selling an app on the App Store is just like selling any other product: it takes a lot of work and you shouldn’t expect to be an overnight success. I am also not giving up on Dapple; far from it. I’m only just getting started with it. That post was only a single data point on what I hope is a long upward trend for the game. Every game, every company starts somewhere, and I wanted to document where that was for me.

Don't put all of your eggs in one basket, or your games in one market either.

Don't put all of your eggs in one basket, or your games in one market either.


The observation that I would like to make is that it would be great if Owen’s work could be leveraged across multiple platforms. I think Dapple looks like a game that would work in the casual portals, on Facebook, and in the Flash market. Adding all of those revenue streams together may not have made the game profitable, but it could lessen the blow, and who knows, maybe activity in one market will lead to recognition in another market.
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