Confidence in Nonsense


How we manage the virtual team

By Kyle Kulyk

Itzy Interactive is, at its core, three primary individuals working from their home offices.  We’ve found it useful, and cost effective, to contract out specific work around the world but the main group consists of three.  Myself, the ex-financial guy, Will, my brother-in-law and friend of almost 20 years who’s been programming the last 15 years and Cole, a 20 something programmer and designer I met and worked with while re-training for a career outside of the brokerage industry after losing my job with an economy in free fall.  You wouldn’t think that managing a three person team would present many problems, but without the financing for a centralised studio, the challenges presented managing a team working from their homes using email as their primary communication became apparent quite quickly.

Managing our projects this way produced unique problems.  During development of our first mobile title, Itzy3d, the main issue was one of communication.  From the start we were using Mercurial for our version control while we managed our project using Acunote as our project management software.  This enabled us to keep track of our task lists while letting each member know what the other members of the team were currently working on in hopes that we didn’t trip over each other or duplicate work.  The thought was that by using version control and tracking/reporting our progress would keep everyone moving forward together.

The problems we ran into were decidedly human problems.  They were issues of miscommunication that quickly lead to bruised egos.  As all of us can attest to, email is a limited means of communication and the longer we went without speaking to each other, the more issues would simmer.  We quickly came to find that using only email was detrimental to the well-being of the team.  Often recommendations were taken as criticism, omissions made team members feel like their comments were being ignored and issues that seemed straight forward to one team member would be misinterpreted by another.  Added into the mix, the delay between emails due to work load or different working hours often left comments to fester in the minds of team members to the point where they would become blown out of proportion by the time clarifying emails arrived.  As much as we’d like to think we were all professional enough to address these types of issues rationally, the reality was steps needed to be taken to mitigate problems before they grew into more than they needed to be.

Luckily we were always able to address the challenges as they arose, usually by initiating a group voice chat.  This helped us maintain our team dynamic but we certainly couldn’t spend an hour each day chatting about what we were currently working on to make sure everyone was apprised to limit confusion.  There had to be some sort of balance.  While working on Itzy3d we decided that to make sure everyone was moving forward in the same direction we would endeavor to meet, face to face at least every month and a half.  These meetings were always informal and we would alternate the location.  What we found was the meetings enabled us to not only make sure that we were all on the same page on the project, but they also served as a useful break from the monotony of the solitary coding existence we had condemned ourselves to during our regular working week while helping us become more at ease with each other.  In the same room we could work on our “common ground.”

Now as we’ve recognized the benefits of these types of face to face meetings, we’ve taken steps to have more regular meetings without taking the day off required to meet each other physically.  Starting with the development of our new title, Vex Blocks, we’ve mandated a regularly scheduled, weekly meeting via webcam using Google Hangouts.  During these scrum meetings, despite continuing to track our tasks and progress using Jira for our project management software, we still take the time to recap our weekly progress and outline what we plan on working on in the coming week.  Then we take time for a quick brain storming session to share ideas we had during the week.  While many may balk at the thought of using video in these chats due to an aversion to video in general, we’ve found team members are more likely to pay attention to what’s being said when you can see that everyone is paying attention.

So far this seems to have completely eliminated the type of conflicts we experienced during the development of Itzy3d.  We still try to have our physical meetings due to the much needed break it affords, but the weekly scrum meetings have proven invaluable in keeping everyone on track while helping build upon our existing team dynamic.


The devolution of gaming culture

By Kyle Kulyk


Gaming culture has a problem and that problem has a lot to do with gamers themselves.  To be clear, I’m not talking about all gamers but rather a subset of gamers whose antisocial behaviour and habits drive people away from gaming.  Analysts at Piper Jaffray recently conducted a survey that found nearly 66% of high school students surveyed across the US claimed they were losing interest in traditional videogames with slightly over 66% stating they were interested in social, mobile games which was an increase from 34% who answered the same question the year prior.  Gaming as we know it is changing for a variety of reasons and one of those reasons is gamers have chosen to turn on each other as well as the people who make the videogames they play.  While gaming culture tries to evolve and leave the primordial seas, certain gamers are busy running along the shore with sharpened sticks trying to force us all back in.
The problem lies with the internet and the anonymity it affords its users.  This effect certainly isn’t limited to just gaming circles but as gamers tend to be a largely wired group of individuals the impact is pronounced.  Gaming has always had a social side but over the decades that’s changed, and you could certainly argue, not for the better.  Back in the 80’s and 90’s, gamers would flock to arcades or journey to friend’s houses to partake in the hottest, latest releases.  To illustrate how it’s changed, imagine four friends over for an afternoon session of GoldenEye sitting in their family den.  Now imagine one of those children lets loose with a barrage of profanity laced, racist, homophobic rants aimed at his fellow gamers.  Or imagine someone’s little sister is also invited to play and subjected to a stream of masturbation and rape jokes.  There’s a very good chance that the child would simply never be invited back for another GoldenEye marathon.  There’s also a chance that little Jimmy’s mother, having overheard the obscene rant would never allow that child in her house ever again and would make a quick phone call to inform the offending child’s parents of their unacceptable behaviour.

This type of antisocial behaviour infects network gaming and social interactions across the internet and therein lies the difference between gaming culture now and gaming culture then.  There are few, if any, social repercussions in gaming today and the impact of these behaviours eats at the fun factor of gaming for a large number of gamers, children and adult alike.  It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to game socially on your console or if you’re looking to partake in a general gaming discussion on the internet, odds are your experience will be sullied by another gamer hiding behind their internet pseudonym.

Researchers refer to this as “toxic disinhibition”.  The anonymity the internet and online gaming networks offers often results in the complete abandonment of social restrictions that would generally be present in face to face interactions such as in the days when we gamed locally with other people in the room.  The result of this “trolling” is we see more and more gamers being turned off of gaming, or seeing their enjoyment of games lessened, thus inhibiting the growth of gaming culture.  The impact of this online disinhibition also affects developers who can find themselves loathe to engage their own fan base for fear of fanboy backlash through internet flaming.

Recently, gamers made headlines for their disproportionate backlash against Mass Effect 3 developer Bioware.  The actions of certain gamers painted all gamers as whiney, entitled children prone to screaming fits when denied their pacifier.  Bioware found itself facing a FTC complaint while its writers and staff were targets of hate campaigns and death threats as some found the end of their latest game offering to be unsatisfactory.  Other gamers and non-gamers alike shook their collective heads in disbelief.  Blizzard also suffered a ridiculous backlash from gamers when screenshots of their now released Diablo 3 title were deemed “too bright” by some prior to the game’s launch, prompting Blizzard to mock the users by releasing screenshots containing unicorns shooting rainbows from their posteriors.  While Blizzard used the experience to have a bit of fun, the example illustrates a growing trend among gamers to instantaneously and viciously attack developers and other gamers alike for even perceived slights and as a whole, the gaming community becomes a less inviting place.

The online disinhibition effect certainly isn’t limited to gaming forums either as the development community itself isn’t immune from unprofessional behaviour.  I’ve seen my own personal blog postings regarding my development experiences targeted by other developers leveling harsh and often unfair criticisms.  For example, I’ve had a developer lambast the simply inclusion of our company logo on a splash page because “no one cares about your company”.  I’ve even had a local developer I didn’t know and had never met criticize my company online for the slight of not consulting with their group prior to launching our first game.  This type of challenging behaviour is far more likely to be witnessed online than in face to face interactions or official business communication and unfortunately it is becoming more prevalent.

They say in general you need a thick skin to blog but backlash I received from a recent blog post made me question the value of blogging my own experiences as a developer.  I posted a personal blog listing some of the complete, all in one game engines available that may be of interest to independent developers.  While researching game engines for my company I would have found such a blog useful as I looked for a game engine that offered features I required, such as Android and iOS porting and clearly the blog was not meant as an in depth review piece.  As I had not the opportunity to try each engine I listed, I made sure to note that where I was unfamiliar with the engine I was simply relaying information and opinions from various reviews I had come across and I provided links to each product so users could conduct further research.  Rather than promote a thoughtful discussion on the merits of various game engines as I had intended or to provide a starting point for further research, the resulting comments were almost all attacks against myself personally and my attempt to inform other indie developers.

The comments included people calling me a liar, posters comparing my blog to vulgar activities, writers incensed that I didn’t whole heartedly endorse their particular favorite engine.  I even read claims that I was intentionally trying to harm product reputations despite the fact I noted these opinions were sometimes not even mine but were simply being passed along when I lacked particular knowledge of the product being discussed.  I was frankly shocked by the lack of decorum I witnessed in response to a personal blog intended to simply inform and facilitate further research, and if other developers hadn’t contacted me directly to offer their support (with one commenting he would have done it publicly if not afraid of being “flamed” himself) I most likely would have never written another blog regarding my game development experiences.  This general lack of professionalism in a workplace environment would never be tolerated.  Indeed, when gamers and developers are afraid to share ideas due to fear of reprisal it’s time to take a hard look at the current situation and what repercussions this could have to our industry as a whole.  As a community, this type of behaviour should not be allowed to propagate.  I’ve been subjected to all manner of hate mail and threats from casual gamers and stalking fanboys alike over the years writing opinion pieces regarding the games industry, however the lack of professionalism I’ve witnessed since becoming a developer myself truly surprised me.

Gaming culture is suffering due to experiences like this, due to experiences like those Bioware recently endured and due to the ongoing profane, racist and homophobic behaviour tolerated every day in online gaming matches and in internet gaming forums.  The anonymity of the internet mixed with complacency among gamers and developers has led to this situation and the associated cyberbullying that goes along with it but as the genie is out of the bottle with regards to the internet, there is little that we can do to curb its impact.  The removal of anonymity in online gaming by the companies that operate these networks could potentially result in fewer incidents as people are less inclined to act in socially unacceptable manners when their real names and locations are attached to their actions, however this system would still rely on reporting tools that already exist are underutilized by the majority of gamers.  Most prefer to simply ignore the problem, and this does nothing to stem the rise of anti-social behaviour in the gaming community.

As more teens are turning towards social gaming where they can exercise more direct control over their social interactions through use of things like Facebook friend lists, as more potential gamers are turned off by what they see of gamers in the news and more core gamers turn away from online gaming and game forums based on the sliding social environment, today’s gaming culture must change or it will face decline.  We’re already seeing traditional game sales slide as gamers look elsewhere and a shift towards mobile games is evident.  Partial blame falls on gamers themselves for creating and tolerating an increasingly toxic game culture that runs contrary to the social spirit that videogames created for many of us while gaming in the 80’s and 90’s, and even some developers themselves are letting professionalism standards slump in their online communications which itself is the start of a slippery slope.  We can never go back to the way gaming was, but we can shape the future of gaming culture for the better by being conscious of where it went wrong and why.



Game Engines for Indies

By Kyle Kulyk


There’s a lot of choices when it comes to development tools for indie developers. As a new developer, we put a lot of thought into which commercial game engine we would license and choose to focus on going forward. There are a number of engines available that could appeal to indie developers and I thought I’d take a look at some of the top engines out there and offer my opinion based on the research I conducted. Itzy Interactive formed with mobile game development in mind and multiplatform development was important to us. We were looking for a “complete package” solution. Bear in mind, I haven’t had the opportunity to work on all the engines mentioned so some of my points are based off the opinions of other developers on various forums and there are certainly other engines available depending on the type of work you’re attempting.



Most are familiar with the Unreal Development Kit. It’s a proven engine that’s been used in a tonne of AAA titles, but how does it fare for indie developers? The first thing you’ll notice with UDK is the learning curve. It’s steep. Developers I’ve spoken to have all expressed this same sentiment, and my own experiences with UDK left me feeling that UDK seemed needlessly complicated. I had taken a few courses using UDK and while practice makes perfect, even when I became more familiar with UDK I found I simply didn’t like using it compared to some alternatives. The second strike is the need to learn Unreal Script. It’s a fairly straight forward language in my opinion however just that you need be confined to Unreal Script can take away from valuable development time when you’re starting off.

UDK is capable of delivering high quality graphics out of the box but it seems geared towards First Person Shooters (much like CryEngine). I’ve heard some complain about the difficulties involved in trying to bend UDK to other genres. FPS games developed with UDK also have a tendency to end up feeling like Unreal Tournament clones. UDK now supports iOS development in addition to Windows but don’t expect to port your projects over to anything else.

UDK is free for non-commercial use. Plan on selling your game and you’ll need to fork over $100 with no royalties to worry about until $50,000. After that, expect to pay a 25% royalty, which when you consider IOS development and the 30% Apple takes, can certainly add up. UDK is a bit of a sacred cow for some in the development community, but for indie developers it’s big, unwieldy and just limited in supported platforms. If you’re looking to add your shooter to a saturated shooter market, UDK may work for you but I wouldn’t recommend for smaller teams of developers.

Notable title: The Ball

Shiva3D problems with Shiva3d for indie developers start with its lack of a free option and continues with its smaller community size. Shiva’s community simply isn’t there and for indies, that means few tutorials and support resources. It may be interesting to keep an eye on Shiva3d as it evolves but indies may want to give this one a pass for now. Shiva3d is very similar to Unity3D in terms of its available features and offers a variety of build options including Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Wii. Some developers have commented that Shiva’s layout is unwieldy but everything a developer needs is in there. Shiva offers good dynamic lighting (but no prebaked lighting solutions), pathfinding and a robust physics engine as well as LUA and C++ support. It’s also been reported to have lower memory requirements than Unity and tends to be a stable and fast if you can get past its confusing layout.

Notable title: Nesquik Race. That’s right. That’s about all I could find.


Unity3d is ultimately what my studio decided to go with for our development on Android and iOS platforms and Itzy3d is our first release on both platforms using the Unity engine. To me it just seems the complete game solution for indie developers. What helped sell us on Unity3d was the ease at which you could build your project with a one click button solution to build to different platforms. Unity3d supports Android builds, Web, iOS, Windows, Mac as well as Wii, Xbox360 and PS3 development. They also recently added Flash support. Aside from specific tweaking for things like the way each mobile platform handles their Storekits, the amount of customization necessary to publish on one platform compared to the other seemed minimal. Programming for Unity3d was also a breeze as Unity3d is able to handle C#, JavaScript and Boo. One of my pet peeves having to learn some obscure, scripting language to use a product.

Unity3D also has a robust development community with excellent support from other users sharing scripts and tutorials. As well, the Unity Asset store has some excellent plugins that can shave weeks off development time and most are reasonably priced.

Although a free license is available, anyone serious about game development will want to shell out for the pro licensing to take advantage of more advanced features, from built-in pathfinding and physics to shadows, occlusion culling and for the ability to strip out all the unrequired assets when creating your builds. No other fees required. Unity Pro with the Android Pro and iOS Pro licences will set you back $4500, but if you keep your eyes open it’s not uncommon to see them offer the pro licenses for 20% off. Still, this is pretty steep for an indie developer starting off, but once you have these upfront costs out-of-the-way, that’s it. It’s free to try and there are cheaper licenses available. I would certainly recommend giving it a spin.

Notable title: Battlestar Galactica Online



C4 Engine

Edit:  In response to comments received, I apologize for including C4 in this discussion.  As I was looking for all-in-one, game engine solutions that included mobile support, C4 was never seriously considered but thrown in to simply inform indie developers of it’s existence and provide them with a link for further research.  I’m sure it has it’s advantages, but for the purpose of this blog it should have never been included as it’s not an all-in-one type game engine.  For indies not interested in any type of mobile development, C4 may be a viable alternative.  


The Torque3D engine was originally based off the Tribes 2 engine from over a decade ago and allows users access to the source code. While many fondly remember Tribes 2, unfortunately the general consensus seems that Torque hasn’t been able to keep pace, with many complaining about an unchanged engine and broken tools. Also, like UDK, Torque uses a non-standard scripting language – “Torquescript”. Generally, Torque is serviceable but most of its features met with a resounding “Meh” on the indie forums.

What Torque has going for it is some nice networking code and a low price, although be warned that Torque3d, Torque2d and Torque2dIOS are all separate programs with separate licenses. Also, expect to shell out for pretty much everything, from basic tool packs and editors to genre framework packs. You can easily end up paying hundreds extra for some basic features. Android support appears non-existent.

Notable title: Penny Arcade

Final Thoughts

By no means is this meant as a complete list of available solutions out there. Certainly there are other options available with a few geared towards specific types of development and developer skill level but I hope that if you’re considering becoming an independent game developer and are looking for a more complete solution, these summaries will help start you on your way.


There are eight million blogs about Mass Effect’s ending. This is one of them.

By Kyle Kulyk

When Mass Effect 3 was released earlier this month it was met with much anticipation and critical praise as the popular space epic concluded. Immediately, however, a certain subset of fans became enraged by some of the decisions Bioware made with respect to the series. Even before the game was announced fans expressed anger that the series was daring to go multiplatform. At launch gamers raged at the “day one” inclusion of downloadable content, something quite common in games today but the real spectacle was the fan reaction to Mass Effect 3’s ending and the subsequent hate campaigns targeting Bioware staff, the FTC complaints of false advertising and the seemingly never-ending series of petitions to force Bioware to alter Mass Effect 3’s endings. It was on this topic that I thought I’d weigh in and add my voice to the many who think some gamers have lost their damn minds.

First, I’d like to say I understand some fan disappointment. Without going into spoiler territory, Mass Effect has always been about choices and the choices the player makes throughout the game brings with it a very personal connection to the characters and events as they play out. It’s the interactive nature of our media that differentiates the consumer experience of videogames from that of other media such as movies or television. Bioware has never been shy about discussing and promoting the impact of the moral choices in their games, however those familiar with the series know that when it came to player decisions versus main plot points, plot points won out every time. This should not have surprised anyone when it came down to the series conclusion. Criticisms regarding plot holes and the lack of a satisfying ending may be warranted, but the fan reaction seems completely out of proportion. We’ve all been disappointed by the ending of something or another and the more complicated a plot, the harder it is to wrap everything up into a neat little package. This may come as a shock to some fans but you can’t always get what you want.

Good stories have a beginning, middle and end. Not “ends.” I feel it is unrealistic to expect writers to create a strong, complex plot and then be expected to create multiple, satisfying endings. I’m happy with one satisfying ending but many would argue that Mass Effect didn’t even give players that. Many also think the ending was just fine. I feel the gamers being the most vocal need to ask themselves, what would actually make you happy? If there was an update tomorrow and when you replayed the game the ending was completely different, would that erase the memory of the original conclusion you received and leave you satisfied? If the new endings still didn’t satisfy a certain amount of fans would you demand they do it again? What are the rules on how many fans need to be vocally dissatisfied with an ending before you feel a company should be forced to change their artistic vision for a game? What consideration is given, if any, to those happy with the current ending and what gives you the right to change the experience for those gamers?

You can’t please everyone all the time. Whenever anything becomes popular, there will always be a subset of fans that find a reason to hate simply because they can. There is no pleasing them. It doesn’t matter if it’s videogames, music, movies or television you’ll always have a vocal minority that will hate what you’ve created just for the sake of hating, especially if something becomes popular. We saw fans turn on Rockstar after their masterpiece Grand Theft Auto 4 was released; we’ve seen a backlash against Infinity Ward despite consistently shipping an excellent product. We’re seeing it now with Bioware. To cave into these vocal fanatics sets a dangerous precedent and takes creative control away from the artists to see their creative visions realized. I firmly hope Bioware doesn’t touch the ending. All it does is teach the entitled among us that if they scream and cry long enough and loud enough, they can get their way and as a parent I can attest, that’s a recipe for future disaster. Give in and it will never end. Bioware needs to stand by their work and continue their strong stand against those targeting their staff directly. If gamers don’t like it, let them vote with their wallets.

Fans have often influenced their favorite series and if a writer wishes to remain popular it is important to listen to fans to an extent, but ultimate creative control needs to reside with creators. Sherlock Holmes appeared to be famously killed off only to be resurrected at a later point due to fan demands. Spock met his heroic end in Star Trek 2, only to be brought kicking and screaming back from the dead in the terrible, terrible Star Trek 3 but some Mass Effect fans are asking for a complete do-over of the ending. Bioware has commented that they were willing to possibly have loose ends addressed in upcoming DLC (and I support this move as should fans) but imagine Star Trek 2 edited so Spock makes it out alive and pops out of his coffin at the end to yell “Hiyoooo!” because it would be more pleasing. Expecting Bioware to simply rewrite their ending is carpet chewing mad and Bioware shouldn’t even entertain the idea. Already we see Hollywood taking fewer and fewer risks with story-telling trying to cater to everyone. The end result is often bland and generic. This happens to an extent currently in the games industry with developers and publishers erring on the side of caution in an attempt to protect the massive investment associated with developing big titles. Gamers always rally against this effect but here the message Mass Effect gamers are sending resoundingly to the game industry is “Don’t take risks and don’t upset us or we’ll turn on you in a heartbeat.”

I’ve heard others draw parallels with Stephen King’s Misery where a crazed fan holds a writer captive and submits him to numerous tortures because she’s unhappy with his recent book’s ending. She forces him to write a follow-up novel bringing the main character back to life to continue the story. I don’t think this is a fair comparison. Even in her madness, Annie Wilkes never expected the author to rewrite history and change the ending as some Mass Effect fans are demanding. For the good of games as a truly creative medium, this movement needs to be squashed. #ChangeTheEnding


Indie devs, the odds are against you

By Kyle Kulyk

So you’ve done it. You’ve worked for 4-9 months without pay with the rest of your team and you finally completed your app and are ready to unleash your indie game upon the mobile world. It’s soon after this point you’ll likely come to the same conclusion that I did. The game is rigged. The deck is stacked. The odds are against you. If things weren’t made complicated enough by your own inexperience, the realities of the app markets surely weed out more than their share of bright-eyed, indie developers. This isn’t meant to discourage indies because you can do it, but you need to be aware of the nature of the game you’re about to start playing. You now have a completed game but that’s really only half the battle and here are some of the challenges that you’ll face. These are the realities that indies need to be aware of.

Failure to Launch

Launch is vital for indie developers and here you can be your own worst enemy. If you’re trying to make as big a splash as possible on the Apple marketplace, you need to hit the ground running and that means making sure your game is ready. Test, test and test some more. Making a minor change? Play through the game again. If you fail to build momentum off your launch, expect your app to become invisible shortly after. It’s possible to pick it up from that point but it puts you at a serious disadvantage. You need to have all your ducks in a row and hit your launch with everything you have. You can’t do that if your game isn’t ready.

In January, when we launched Itzy3D. Our game was running fine and we launched on the Android Marketplace while waiting for approval on the App store. While we waited we received useful feedback from our Android users and, as the Apple binary was pending, we made a few modifications (this will also set you back in Apple’s queue. Beware). When our game finally launched on the App store, we noticed that a seemingly minor change had borked gameplay in every level but the tutorial. So, no problem, right? Just fix, update and move on. Not so fast. By the time our updated version was approved by Apple, 3 weeks had passed with a broken version of our game sitting on the App Store. When the game was fixed, our visibility on the app store was next to zero. With no momentum from the initial launch, there was no chance for our game to rank in any of Apple’s charts. Test, test, test. Make sure you’re ready.

Then, there’s the icon. Your first chance to make an impression is with your icon. That’s the first thing people see. You can have the best game in the world but if no one feels compelled to click on it in the first place you’re not going to make any money. In Feb, 148apps estimates that 823 apps are being added into the Apple marketplace every day. Will you stand out?

Marketing, reviews and money

So what can you do to get noticed? Well, you can spend money. Want to run some ads? That’ll cost you. Want to get reviewed? Reviewers are buried under a tonne of games all wanting the same exposure that you want. So they’ll either ignore you, get to you in a few months – or you can always pay them for expedited reviews, and it can cost you. Want to issue a press release? Oh, there’s free ways to go about this too, but if you want to get noticed, if you want pictures, if you want to hit more media outlets? That’ll cost you.

If you don’t have the money for all these things you’re already at a disadvantage because you can bet the established companies have no issue with spending money on marketing their products. They’ll be noticed with their established advertising networks and partnerships. Most likely, you won’t. Make sure you have a plan. $1000 to start your marketing at launch couldn’t hurt, and expect to reinvest a percentage to keep the ball rolling after that.

The Apple Fix is In

I had a chat with successful mobile game developer awhile back and he told me something that made my stomach knot. “If your game doesn’t take off on its own, you can always pay the Russians. That’s about the only hope you have. And if your game doesn’t stick after that, pull the plug.” That’s right. If your game doesn’t go viral, his recommendation was to spend between $30-50k for one of these chart manipulating services to artificially elevate your game to the top of the Apple charts. Once it gets there, see if it stays and if not, move on. Those with the money can pay others to manipulate their way to the top slots. Can indies compete in an environment where the top slots are bought and paid for? It’s possible, but not probable.

This rigging of the Apple charts came to light recently in the Touch Arcade forums where a developer explained that he was approached by a company offering these services. The company pointed to 8 of the top 25 games that were at the top due to their machinations. Apple issued a statement that these types of services were frowned upon and could, potentially result in your developer account being closed; forcing some to potentially pay new Apple fees to open a new account. Forgive me if I sound a bit cynical but I’m sure if these companies don’t mind paying tens of thousands on chart manipulation, the fees associated with setting up a new account aren’t much of a concern.

Android hide and seek

I’ve touched on this a bit in the past but the Android Marketplace certainly isn’t the answer either. Developers I’ve talked to have all tried to crack the Android market but even when they have a measure of success it usually pales compared to what they’re able to achieve on the Apple App store. Many I’ve spoken to have simply given up on the Android platform or weren’t interested in the first place. For indies, it’s even harder. On the Apple App store you can at least expect a small window of visibility at launch due to the “What’s New” section. The Android marketplace no longer has even a basic “What’s New” section. This means that if your app, god forbid, doesn’t instantly sell enough to be featured in a Top category, no one will ever find you unless they’re specifically looking for you. Of course, you could always win the “Staff Pick” lottery just as you could win the App Store’s “Featured” lottery. Someone has to win, but for an indie looking to seriously start a small business revolving around making mobile games, hoping for a lottery win isn’t usually considered a sound business plan.


You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake

There are tens of thousands of indie developers out there just like you and me. When the new, digital frontier opened up and suddenly developers were striking gold in the App store it opened the floodgates for every would-be developer out there to take a crack at the mobile market. Now, publications that would like to take us seriously are swarmed indies looking for exposure. Reviewers have to simply ignore the large majority of requests due to time and resource constraints. And worse, our customers are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new applications being added to the application marketplaces daily. So what can indies do to survive when the odds are clearly against us?

We can support each other and persevere. Our first game, Itzy3D exists due to the support we’ve received from others. Gamers and developers offering their feedback, indie developers raising awareness of our product via social media, indie Facebook groups and forums who were always there to offer support and advice based on their own hard learned lessons, and talented folks like Reuben Cornell who reached out to us via Twitter to offer his musical talents to help get us off the ground.

The worst thing an indie developer can do is isolate themselves. United we have a better chance at improving our products and learning from the experiences of others. Maybe your first game doesn’t take off, but you learn. Then your second does a bit better. Then your third does better still. Talk to people, talk to other developers, talk to publishers. Engage your peers and you’ll find that you don’t have to do this alone. The odds might be against you, it can be discouraging and you need to be aware of the realities indie developers face but don’t discount the support of the indie community nor their willingness to help. Use them and let them help you make better products. In the end this makes all indie titles look better and together we can change the game.


Feedback Loop

By Kyle Kulyk

Something that we’ve heavily relied on as a new, independent developer is user feedback which we listened to every step of the way in order to improve upon our final product. There’s no doubt that some feedback is more useful than others. For every well thought out piece of criticism we’ve received there’s the guy who just offers “it’s mediocre” with no explanation. For every user that emails us with something they’d like to see, there’s another who leave one star ratings without leaving even a hint as to the reason. As Plato once observed “Out of every hundred a hater is born and without effort, a hater’s gonna hate.” For the others who continue to bring us feedback, you’ve all been a tremendous help in creating Itzy3d (now available on the Apple App store as well as the Android Marketplace, plug..plug..plug). I thought I’d take a moment to highlight how some of the feedback we received changed our game during development.

“It looks like a grave yard”

Itzy3D was always about creating from the beginning. The central idea that the entire game was based on was that users like to create things, they like to draw, they like to make patterns, and they like to feel like they have an impact on the game world they’re part of. In Itzy3D’s case we gave the player the opportunity to create spider webs of various shapes and sizes, enough to complete a level and advance in the game. However our core group is made up of programmers, not artists and as we looked at other indie games like Feist, Limbo and Pixeljunk Eden, we liked the idea of a muted or shades of grey color scheme and the plan was to bring color to the levels with multicolored fireflies and spinning multicolored webs. The webs were quickly ditched. They looked awful. Rainbow spider-webs seemed so good in my head, but in reality it just didn’t play out. Add to that, our 3D, shades of grey layout made it nearly impossible to distinguish the background from the foreground which made it hard for users to figure out just where they should be making their webs.

“Give me a way to kill those buggers”

Another idea we had from the onset was that Itzy3D should be a relaxed, casual and user-friendly title. We didn’t want users to feel they had failed playing the game. We wanted each play through to be fun, but relaxed fun rather than hectic fun. One of the main enemies in the game is the wasps which zoom around each level before spotting Itzy and attacking. Rather than take away a life or lead to a game over scenario, we simply had them knock Itzy down if he wasn’t hidden and remove a portion of his available web. So we threw in an enemy that could never be defeated, much like the old Qix arcade game that had inspired Itzy.

We had no idea just how frustrating gamers would find this decision until our demo was released and we started to receive feedback about the inability to mount any offense whatsoever. And it was from this feedback that Itzy received a system of power-ups based on the color of large fireflies caught. Now, aside from other power-ups such as improved speed and web stretch, Itzy could also freeze his enemies in place, listening to them buzz furiously or actually take the fight to the enemies for a limited time much like Pac-Man powering up, but instead of eating the wasps he incapacities them temporarily with his mighty, Kung-Fu Punch!

“Monkey Factor 5”

I had the opportunity to sit down for coffee with a game industry vet and ex-Bioware employee who offered up this piece of gaming wisdom that has stuck with me. When discussing game controls, ease of use is king. While we thought our controls were simple enough, he asked “Yes. But are they Monkey Factor 5 simple?” The answer was a resounding no. For the sake of variety we built-in a few different moves for the player to interact with Itzy’s world. One problem, that was pointed out to us more than once was that we had two different controls for web spinning. A swipe started Itzy spinning a web strand; a tap on Itzy anchored the web strand. Watching people play Itzy, what we thought was straight forward always seemed to trip up players. They would swipe to start and then swipe, expecting it to anchor the web to an object. Or they’d swipe, then figure out the tapping, but then try tapping again when starting a new web. There was no reason to have two separate motions for web spinning. The two moves seemed simple enough, but they certainly weren’t “Monkey Factor 5” simple. Now, spinning webs is easy. You simply tap Itzy to anchor the web strands, stretch them out and anchor by tapping again.

“I’ve been playing for a minute already and I haven’t even seen your main character”

We struggled with the tutorial. Like the controls, we thought our game was simple enough yet realized that we had a lot going on that needed to be explained somewhere. We originally weren’t even planning on including a tutorial, but no one would read our instructions included and ultimately would play the game without any idea as to what they were meant to do. So we included a small tutorial level that the player needed to complete to move on to the meat of the game. We included our instructions as slides within the tutorial and we felt the need to explain absolutely everything.

We realize now, there were so many things wrong with that idea. No one likes to read walls of text, first off. They just skip through so we might as well have not had anything. Secondly, it’s not a game at this point. As a helpful developer offered, when you begin the game you’re immediately hit with walls of text. Games should make an impact immediately and our game had you reading text before we were even introduced to the main character.

The tutorial never satisfied any of us but we just couldn’t put our fingers on what was wrong and through the feedback we revamped the tutorial to encourage the gamers to explore and learn the game mechanics through play, not through walls of text.

We’re indebted to our fans and to the developer community for their continued feedback on our games. Time is a valuable commodity for everyone, so it means a lot to us to those of you who have offered your time to help us create better products. Cheers!


Performance Anxiety 3: Road Blocks

By Kyle Kulyk

The learning curve so far while developing our first mobile title, Itzy3D, has been steep to say the least. We knew the task in front of us wouldn’t be an easy one but to actually live through the stress and sleepless nights of it all isn’t anything I imagined it would be. Casual games as a small business plan makes sense to us, but creating our first product offering has proven to have unique challenges none of us had considered. It was in the interest of sharing that experience that I sat down and outlined my first two Performance Anxiety pieces. Those dealt with the specific hurdles we encountered making Itzy3D. Now that Itzy has been unleashed upon the world a whole new set of performance issues have cropped up. Road blocks – from trying to get our game to market to making people aware our game is available. It all rather makes me long for solving the performance issues related to the game’s development that I at least I felt I had some control over. I’ve recently shared some of the marketing techniques we’re employing to get our little game noticed but now I thought I’d comment on two of the road blocks keeping me up at night.

Apple – When will this frustration end?

Our inexperience on Apple’s procedures launching to the app store have been maddening, as has been Apple’s support. When we finished the game in early January, it took one button press and we were live on the Android Marketplace within minutes. With Apple, that button press turned into a yellow “Waiting for review” button. So we waited. And waited. Over a week went by and during this period we made a few upgrades based on feedback we had received. Since the app hadn’t yet been reviewed, we updated the binary file to the latest version. That action resulted in resetting us in Apple’s queue. The waiting started anew. Eight days later, we received the exciting message that our app was finally being reviewed! A few hours later, rejected.

The reason Apple gave us was we did not include our in-app purchases for review. When we contacted Apple to clarify as we had setup all our in-app purchases and submitted them as far as we could tell, a day later they informed us that if we went to the very bottom of the details section of our app (not the actual, in-app setup section), expanded a closed menu, all the in-app purchases were listed there and we simply had to tick off the boxes and resubmit. We followed the instructions and in another day, we were approved and Itzy3D was live on the App store after roughly two weeks since we initially submitted. It was then we realized that a seemingly innocent change we had made to the tutorial took away a significant gameplay function in other levels. We discovered and fixed this error within the day. Embarrassing, but these things happen. Surely it wouldn’t take long to have the fix submitted and approved now that the initial review of our app was complete?

It’s now over a month since we submitted our first binary and we still do not have our fixed version of the title on the Apple App store. The wait for review again seemed about 6 business days, and again our binary was rejected as Apple claims we did not include our in-app purchases for consideration. The difference is, this time we were submitting an update and the option did not present itself to check off the in-app purchases which have already been approved and are available for sale. Apple has not yet responded to a single one of our requests for help. It’s been over a week since we asked for help.

Reviews – I can’t get arrested in this town

As much as I fear what reviewers will have to say about our first title I’m also excited to finally see our work in the hands of others and hear what they have to say. It turns out everyone has an opinion until you need them to have one. I’ve crafted a mailing list which is still a work in progress, I’ve researched review sites and press release agencies and put together a nice little review package and a month after Itzy3D’s launch, not a single reviewer has offered their opinion. I have had two reviewers contact me and let me know they plan on reviewing Itzy, one contact me and ask to see the iOS version when it’s ready, but of the over hundred reviewers I’ve contacted so far, we have yet to see a single review.

There is an option with many sites to pay for reviews, but given our limited budget I can’t simply throw money at sites to review our game when I don’t even know how many visitor their site see in a day or if we’ll see any impact. Already, based on the results we experienced with our first advertising campaign I know my money would most likely be better spent on ads than reviews, but it would still be nice to hear something…anything from the review community.


I find what’s eating me up at this point is the feeling that I have so little control. One of the reasons we went into business for ourselves was so that we could have some measure of control over our ultimate fate for good or bad, but I can’t force Apple to make our updated binary available on the app store. I also can’t force review sites to skip over their review backlogs and rush to give our game a look. As much as it was a challenge to overcome some of the performance issues we experienced developing Itzy3D, at least those were challenges we could meet head on.


An Indie Marketing Story

By Kyle Kulyk

Last year there was a great disturbance in the indie development community, as if millions of small developer voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. In a move that severely hobbled the Android development community, Google had removed the “Just In” category from the Android Marketplace eliminating the indie developer’s best friend, a way to get their apps noticed without spending a bundle.

Currently, I’m working through a marketing campaign for our first title, Itzy3D, which is available on the Android Marketplace and seems to be in some state of limbo awaiting review and approval on the Apple App store. I thought I’d share some of the marketing I’m currently undertaking in an attempt to get our little game noticed. Later on, I’ll follow-up with the results from our marketing endeavours and what we learned in an effort to help others of the development community who may be struggling through the same thing.

Action: Blogging

Impact: No idea

Everything I’ve read about marketing your indie title recommends building a following through regular blogging and so early on in Itzy3D’s development; I started to write regular blogs which I posted up on our website. I’m sure this generated negative hits to the website, as traffic not only refused to increase, but left a hit deficit that future generations may have to contend with. Blogging on our site obviously wasn’t the answer. It’s like playing hide and seek when no one is looking for you. So, I began to reach out to the blogging community and post to other blog sites and it was during this process I found #AltDevBlogADay. So here I am. I can’t see that it’s generated any sales for me at this point, but certainly it hasn’t hurt our exposure, and the opportunity to converse with other developers from all walks of life has been invaluable to us during the course of creating our first title.

Action: Facebooking

Impact: No idea

I had also read that it was smart marketing move to establish a Facebook presence. We were able to put up an early, beta demo to gauge feedback and built a company Facebook page. All the way through our development I posted quizzes, looked for input, kept the page updated with screenshots and art and again the result was a like hide and seek without a seeker. We still sit at around 60 “likes” for our page which consists almost entirely of our own friends and family.

Itzy3D itself incorporates Facebook features as well, offering to share game achievements by posting cute little sayings and original artwork to the users Facebook wall to help raise awareness and bring users to our game site. Hopefully this will prove useful in the long run but currently the results of our efforts are hard to quantify.

Action: Twitter

Impact: No idea

Over the past 8 months of development I had also been tweeting regularly. I attended a talk at a developer conference last spring that taught how to use Twitter for marketing by establishing a personal presence while finding creative ways to tie in what we were doing to current trending topics. So far this has proved a great tool for networking within the industry, but not so much generating sales. Still, following the adventures of Drunk Hulk always brings a smile to my face. Oh, Drunk Hulk! What will you say next?

Action: PR Releases

Impact: No idea

So how do you get your game noticed? You have to tell people, and PR releases do exactly that. This is the phase that I’m currently the most focused on. After researching examples of PR releases related to game launches, I wrote our PR release for Itzy’s launch and away we go! I’m currently sending my release to as many gaming sites as I can possibly imagine in the hopes that they’ll either review our title or pass along our release to the public. So far I have no idea how effective this has been.

Action: Throw money at it

Impact: Oh hey! There we go!

Bootstrapping a project like this has been stressful, to say the least, but in for a penny, in for a pound. Installs of our free, ad and in-game purchase supported little game were dead on arrival on the Android Marketplace, and how could it be otherwise when there’s no way for users to find our content unless they were specifically looking for it. As an experiment, we’ve now clicked the “advertise your app” option on the Android Marketplace and through Ad-Mob, our initial $50 investment magically turned into almost 1000 installs. The problem is, how much do you need to invest to get noticed on the Android Marketplace and make any money? I’m sure this is exactly the reason why the “Just in” option was removed. So in order to be noticed, developers would have little choice but to spend money to do it.


The task of getting our product noticed is one I can’t see ending anytime soon. Unlike programming, there’s really no way of gauging how effective each marketing action is which is understandable, but certainly more than a little frustrating for a programmer accustomed to seeing immediate results from his hard work. It’s certainly discouraging at this stage not being able to measure the impact of your work but the hope is it’ll all be worth it in the end. Or at the very least, we’ll know better for next time.


Launch Day

By Kyle Kulyk

We launched our first game this week with zero fanfare. Sitting in my home office, the core three who make up Itzy Interactive looked up from our test tablets and phones after hours of testing and asked each other “So that’s it then? Are we ready for launch?”

The room was warm after the long day of testing and at some point the sun had gone down. I’d turned on two lamps giving the room a drowsy glow. Our coffees were emptied or cool to the point they were forgotten and I realized just how good a job my wife had done keeping our toddler occupied as it had been at least a couple of hours since he’d last come into the room and demanded a Youtube Elmo marathon. After 8 months of living Itzy3D’s development we had come to that point. There was really nothing left to do. I suddenly felt terrified.

There was a certain comfort for me in checking my task list each morning, pulling the latest updates down from the server and proceeding to move forward with the game development. It gave me a sense of purpose and confidence looking at that list. These were tasks I could handle, broken up into manageable, bite sized chunks. Finishing the game – admitting that we were ready to put our product out there meant a whole new type of work as I shifted from programming and design to marketing. None of us had any prior experience working on game titles and the learning curve was steeper than any of us had anticipated in the beginning but we had each fallen into our own routines. Often, we’d speculate as to when the game would be ready for launch and those deadlines would quietly pass by as if they never existed as what seemed like simple programming and design tasks revealed themselves to be much more complex, multi-headed beasts then they had appeared months prior. Then we somehow reached the end and once again we found ourselves staring out over dark uncharted waters. The abyss stared back at us.

“I feel like we should have a drink or something,” Cole suggested somewhat quietly.

It seemed like the thing to do and I went to the kitchen and poured three glasses of flat champagne left over from a punch we served for Christmas dinner the week before. We clinked glasses and I don’t recall anything being said. I swivelled in my office chair and began uploading our build to the Android Marketplace. I remember the butterflies in my stomach as I hovered momentarily over the “Publish” button. Then I clicked, a rather unceremonious action, and that was that. We packed up our little Mac Mini, our tablets, our phones, finished our champagne and called it a night.

I remember after everyone had gone home sitting down with my wife after our son went down to bed and feeling the fluttering nervousness in my guts as my thoughts began to race. What if there was some catastrophic error we overlooked? What if phones start to spontaneously combust? What if no one likes it? After being laid off from a decade in the brokerage industry in 2009 and spending 2 years to retrain and switch careers the stakes have never been higher for myself and my young family. Nothing’s certain and we’ve all sacrificed the last year for this project but none of us were turning back now. How could we? After this long, we’re committed. Or maybe should be committed?

I’m proud of our accomplishment but this isn’t the launch I had envisioned. I didn’t really have a picture in my mind of what it’d be like but when I imagined the launch of our first title the feelings I had expected to experience weren’t the anxiety storm I felt then, or feel now.

And so the marketing stage of Itzy3D begins. With zero budget it just comes down to us getting the word out anyway we can while attempting to entice reviewers to have a look. While we’re doing that, work starts on our next title as do our plans for Itzy’s continued long term support.

Itzy3d is currently available for free on the Android Marketplace while the Iphone/Ipad version sits in the App store, awaiting review. If you’d like, our first 4 levels are also available to try for free in our Demo section.

So this is indie game development…


Cyberbullying and gamers

By Kyle Kulyk

Bullying hurts the gaming experience. Full stop. We’d like to think of gamers as a great inclusive bunch but bullying among gamers whether on gaming forums online or via gaming networks is a huge issue, especially among children. It’s not simply a matter of switching off, as online gaming itself is socially relevant in kid’s lives – so what exactly can be done to curb this issue by gamers, parents and developers alike?


If you’ve played games online, you’ve probably been a victim of or been a witness to online gamer bullies. These faceless players insist on leaping over the line of good-natured trash talking to dive head first into the pool of homophobic, racist, profanity laden insults, emerging like a sheep dog to shake off and coat anyone who happens to have ears. I remember stumbling into a conversation in a match of Call of Duty where two US teens were actually trying to justify their use of racial slurs to two Brits who had taken offense. A few years ago, Microsoft filed a patent for software that could actively filter real-time audio streams but until something like this comes to pass, how can we protect ourselves and our kids from becoming a victim of continued and often targeted harassment during online gaming?

Bullying and gaming sites

There will always be a subset of gamers who exist to ruin the gaming experience of others, but why do we as a community tolerate this behaviour? As more gamers than ever before flock online the anonymity the internet offers has brought out the worst in some gamers, and there are gaming sites that have no issue catering to and encouraging this type of harmful behaviour through inflammatory articles written specifically to pit gamers against each other or by turning a blind eye to the problems their sites help facilitate.

While all gaming sites struggle with this issue, some sites are able to handle the issue of bullying better than others. Popular news aggregate and game discussion forum, News for gamers, (or N4G) is an example of a gaming site that not only turns a blind eye to bullying among its threads but offers cyber bullies digital tools to further harass. As a long-time and opinionated member of the N4Gcommunity, I have personally been on the receiving end of my share of bullying and can attest to the ways which members and staff use N4G’s failed policies to harass other gamers. For reasons that can only be described as bizarre, N4G has long implemented a system whereby users are given the tools to anonymously attack other users, effectively censoring gamers from sharing their opinions. This system is linked to a report and reward system. Flag a comment as interesting, that user may be allowed to post more comments. Post something offensive, the community may actively remove this ability of users to share their insights. In this way the moderators can wash their hands of their moderating responsibilities by leaving it the community to police itself.

In actuality, the result is a gaming forum that is rife with cyber-bullying, as vindictive users create multiple accounts to increase their status while removing other gamer’s opportunity to share their opinions while belittling members in the discussion threads. Once this behaviour starts, I’ve personally seen it escalate to cyber-stalking as N4G members have actively harassed me across other sites. N4G’s failure to police its own site makes it a breeding ground for this type of behaviour and emboldens cyber-bullies.

So where are the moderators in all this? Often engaging in the same provocation. Again, I’ve personally had a moderator censor my posts, suspend my account and threaten further bans if I didn’t bring my views in line with his own. I was subjected to threats after the moderator repeatedly censored my posts voicing opinions critical of certain Microsoft business decisions in threads discussing that very topic (while oddly I was given a pass for criticisms related to Sony and Nintendo). On numerous occasions I attempted to bring this harassment to the attention of site administrators but the issue went unaddressed for over a year until I escalated the matter further. I’ve been assured now that this moderator would not moderate my account in particular, but how many gamers has he bullied in the past? What’s to stop him from bullying more in the future? This apathy towards the bullying on N4G turns to downright hostility on the site’s forums when gamers who question the existing censorship system or put forth alternative methods of moderating the discussion threads are met by condescending and derisive comments from staff and other users. And so the bullying and use of censorship as targeted harassment continues.

Tools and reporting

One way to combat this behaviour is through the use of reporting tools. I feel developers have at least some responsibility to help combat this problem as opposed to simply shipping a product and letting the chips fall where they may. If you make an online game, you generally want that online experience to be as enjoyable as possible for your players. If that’s the case, why not take the effort to create reporting tools for gamers who are victims of harassment? Or if reporting tools exist, make them as accessible as possible. A bullied child isn’t going to sift through multiple menus to file a lengthy report. They’re going to either endure the bullying, mute the bully or move on to another game. None of these options addresses the cause of the problem, the harasser themselves and so bullying continues to grow and cases escalate. If you’re making a game with an online component, how much thought have you given to creating a safe, harassment free environment for your players?


Attitudes need to change. The biggest thing we can all help with is to create awareness of the problem. Bullied individuals suffer from low self-esteem, depression, feelings of insecurity, anxiety and in some cases these have contributed to suicides. As parents, know the signs. Bullied kids often spend more time at the computer or console, trying to have their voice heard. Are your kids evasive about internet use? Have their habits changed? Are they fearful or emotionally distraught after a gaming or online session? And for the love of all things holy, know what your kids are playing and become involved.

So what can be done? For starters, as gamers we can do something! The biggest problem currently aside from the harassment itself is the apathy towards the situation. You might be fine with just muting someone, but what if it’s someone you care about who faces the same harassment next, or their children, or your family? Use the reporting tools available. I’ve voiced this concern multiple times on multiple forums, and inevitably someone will comment “That’s what the mute button’s for. Duh.”

If I go to my local grocery store and a staff member or random stranger follows me around flinging insults at me, I could just put in earplugs or shop elsewhere – but why should gamers who just want to play or express their opinions be the ones who are silenced or forced to move on? Educate yourself on what you can do. If someone is constantly harassing you online or cyber-stalking, know your rights and know what steps you can take to address the issue. No one is anonymous on the internet. If a site’s being used for bullying, escalate the issue. If the site refuses to address the issue, talk to your service provider. Service providers often have strict terms of use agreements and they have the ability to see and notify of crimes committed on other networks, including harassment. There are steps you can take so you don’t have to be a victim. Ignoring the issue helps no one.

And as developers, we need to discuss the issue and come up with new ideas for improving the gaming experience for all players and we can help raise awareness. Gamers tend to listen to developers. This platform should beutilized. We can use our websites, blogs and twitter feeds to help promote the message that no one should have to endure bullying in any form. Gamers shouldn’t face bullying alone. We can make a difference and the first step is to stop ignoring the problem by hitting the mute button and moving on.

Actual response to a cyberbullying discussion on Gamespot forums:

“haha cyberbullying.. i always get a kick out of people saying that. we’re raising a generation of pansies. can’t even deal with people calling them names over the internet.. sad.”