Thursday, September 30, 2010

AI War and the hidden cost of indie games

We're still hard at work on the AI War 4.0 work, which should be hitting the initial public beta today or tomorrow (for real this time).  In the meantime, if you're interested in facts and figures about the costs of indie game development, you might enjoy this article that came out on PC Gamer's website today:

"Earlier this month Chris Park revealed that his company could be bankrupt by November. His company is Arcen Games, the developer of popular space strategy game AI War. Despite that game’s excellence, it wasn’t a surprise to find he was struggling: most indie games developers do.  Prompted by the tale of trouble on his site, I sent him an email asking for more information."
AI War and the hidden cost of indie games, by Graham Smith (PC Gamer)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dev Log - AI War "Midnight Starfields"

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Exclusive first peek at a new music track coming in AI War 4.0! Check out how the tempo shifts around 1:40 or so in the video -- Pablo's outdid himself, as usual. The entire AI War (and The Zenith Remnant) soundtrack is fully remastered for the upcoming AI War 4.0, but there are also some new tracks (even outside of the new Children of Neinzul expansion), and this is one of them.

This music track is set to a visual display of the new starfields and nebulae in the AI War 4.0. The quality and variety here is incredibly better than in the older 3.x versions, and really gives each planet a unique feel. Some of the ones right at the very end of the video happened to be particularly awesome -- they were generating at random as I clicked through them, so I never knew what I'd get (there are two billion possible starfield/nebula patterns, this shows only a couple of dozen).

Note that this is from within the Unity 3D editor, in sort of a programmer test mode, so the bar along the top of the screen, plus the little graphics status window at the top right, are both part of the Unity 3D Editor and not part of AI War itself. Programmers in the crowd might note how little graphics memory and how few draw calls are actually needed here, though -- pretty cool, it's far less overhead than what the uglier 3.x stars/nebulae needed! The fact of fraps recording was dragging down the framerate into the 30-60fps range, but without fraps on this same scene was rendering at about 600fps on my machine.

Just a little status update from our progress with AI War 4.0! A public beta is coming within the next week.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Recent Reviews For Tidalis And AI War

"It's evident from the onset that a vast amount of passion was poured into this game, from the superb piano-and-string musical score to the detailed and smoothly animated backgrounds... Seriously, the effort poured into this game cannot be stressed enough. You can submit scores to twitter, customize the appearance of blocks, even directly edit the animated backgrounds to better suit your taste. There's nothing they haven't thought of."
Ben Tyrer, SavyGamer

AI War:
"Combining deep strategic gameplay with AI that is worthy of the moniker, AI War: Fleet Command is a game deserving of a much larger audience. Indeed, it is a must-have title for anyone who takes games of interstellar conquest seriously."
- Scott Tortorice, GameSquad

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Point of Clarification: We're Debt Free

The fact that Arcen is debt-free is an important point, and I wanted to make sure that didn't get lost in the larger posts from the other days.  Why is that so relevant?  It means that, in the grand scheme, the company as an entity is in no danger of disappearing whatsoever.

Even in this super slow period, even after the royalties it owes staff, Arcen makes about five times what it needs to in order to continue operating the website, pay our LLC fees, and that sort of thing.  That means that AI War and Tidalis and so forth would still be on the market a year from now, two years from now, and so forth.  Rumors of our impending bankruptcy are greatly exaggerated, in a manner of speaking -- one only has to declare insolvency if one can't pay one's debtors and has no assets.

What Stands To Be Lost, And What Doesn't
So what's the big deal been?  Well, the problem was never about Arcen-the-entity.  The problem is about Arcen-the-team-of-people.  Myself, Pablo, Keith, and Phil, primarily (Lars is happily employed elsewhere fulltime, anyway, and has only ever worked part-time with us).  The financial challenge that we've been facing was that we wouldn't be able to keep paying the actual staff, providing benefits for those who have them, and that sort of thing.  In other words: laying everybody off, including myself.

That would be the end of us doing much work for you, but the prior work that we've already done would live on.  That said, many of us have decided that we'd still try to do some stuff part-time in the off hours even if we had to look for other work (we all love what we do), but it won't be the same at all, especially for me -- as a new dad, I can't put in nearly the hours I did back in 2008 or 2009 when I was working two jobs.  I have no idea what we'd be able to accomplish and in what timeframe, but it would be just a tiny fraction of what we do now, I'm certain.  And if one or more of us found other employment with other game developers (a few have offered, over the last year or so as well as recently), then odds are we wouldn't be able to do much with Arcen aside from selling what we'd already made.

So when I was saying that would be the end of Arcen Games as people know it, that's what I meant: that we'd go into sort of a shadow half-life, like Voldemort did after his curse rebounded upon himself.  Like the dark lord, we might then be able to claw our way back into full life, but it wouldn't be the same and it would take a long time at best.  Okay, perhaps I shouldn't be comparing us with an arch-villain of a fantasy work, but it was the only analogy that came to mind -- I've been re-reading the Harry Potter series lately, so I'm sure that's why.

Things Have Improved, A Bit, The Last Couple of Days
None of this makes the situation any less serious, of course, but at least it does mean that the products themselves won't completely disappear, and that we'd have some hope of making a comeback even if we did completely go under.  The outpouring of support and help over the last few days has been absolutely amazing, though, and has helped at least push our dead-end date out by a good half month so far already.  That's pretty stunning for a couple of days without anything even being on discount -- we're extremely grateful.

We've also had a number of businesses offering us support in various manners, and for that, too, we are extremely grateful.  "No man is a failure who has friends," to be sure.  I've felt alternately a bit like George Bailey and Kathleen Kelly lately, which is not something I'd ever expected.  Of course, the main thing on my mind with Kathleen Kelly was how it turned out for her despite the outpouring of support, but that's just cynicism.

I think that, if it's possible for things to work out, we'll find a way with the help of those who have rallied to support us.  We've got a few things brewing in the works for after AI War 4.0 at this stage and even before, though we can't talk about most of them yet.  There hasn't been a magic bullet to solve all our problems yet, but every bit helps and things are moving in the right direction for the first time in months -- that's all we can ask for.  I'm certainly filled with a sense of hope, and it's all thanks to you.

We can still use all the help people care to throw our way, though, to be sure.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wow, a lot of people love AI War and/or Tidalis...

MANY, many thanks here, everyone.  A lot of great ideas came up through the forums discussion on this, as well as in the comments on my last post, as well as on Rock, Paper, Shotgun's post about this, as well as elsewhere.  Some great work has already been done getting the word out the press, a lot of it by our faithful fans, and a number of sites have picked up on this and have offered support in various fashions.  I expected a big response and a lot of posts from the core fans on our forums, but the amount of response outside the forums has been really unexpected; we're extremely grateful. 

Clearly related to all this publicity, we've made around $1500 all of a sudden in one day today (so far), where recently it's been more like $150ish per day or sometimes even less (much too small when split essentially 5 ways, plus split to general business overhead and taxes, no?).  So, that's been a nice little bump in revenue already -- and we are exceedingly grateful -- but the main thing that we need is sustained revenues, rather than flash-in-the-pan one-day boosts from discounts, etc.  But it's a start, and certainly people are thinking about us a different way, which is good, I guess. 

I've felt kind of weird talking about this at all, honestly, as in some ways it feels like asking for a handout, and it's not like we're imminently on death's door -- after all, we have until November, and a lot could change between now and then.  But at the same time, if I wait until the last minute, then it's too late for anyone to do anything to help, and we really are sunk.  As it is, I think the timing was right to breach this topic, but it still feels a bit odd.

Product/Company Visibility Is A Tricky Thing To Gauge
On the other hand, I think that a lot of times people fall in love with some product or other, and then just because it's good they think it's well-known.  That's been the downfall of more than one product, I'm sure, and certainly some indie developers.  The Big Download news item about this referred to Arcen as "one of the more well known indie game developers," which was a huge surprise to me, for a number of reasons.  For one, I have never once, ever, met a stranger who knew who I was or had even heard the vaguest hint about AI War.  When I think well-known, I think more like 2D Boy and those guys; the indie darlings. 

I don't really mind being thought of as well-known, that's fine and certainly flattering, but my point is that I think it is indicative of that sort of mindset that winds up letting companies like us languish in more obscurity than people expect; the people who already like our stuff and know about us naturally think that others with similar interests do, also.  Normally that's something that can be fought with marketing or advertising or something, but only when you have something that is really surface-accessible, which is not what our games are known for (well, Tidalis is, but we have the opposite problem of people assuming it's generic when it's not). 

That's the scariest part there, is that we could fold as a company simply because there's all these potential customers out there who we never could communicate with about what we actually have to offer them.  Outside the gaming business I've seen that happen multiple times, and it was kind of scary to suddenly sense that happening here.

Did We Piss It All Away?
So, on RPS in particular there were a few folks commenting that they wondered how we could let it get to this point.  As in, we must have just been spending money like crazy, thinking that a rush of money after AI War came out would keep coming in indefinitely.  But it wasn't like that at all (and we're so cost-conscious that we don't even have office space, and delayed getting proper web hosting that cost more than $100/year until the servers were about to buckle, etc).

On the other hand, these folks are right in that if I'd just wanted to stay a solo shop, working with occasional contractors and largely churning out AI War expansions for pay, I'd be sitting fat and happy right now.  I'd have several years' worth of income sitting in my bank accounts gaining interest, and I could slowly start venturing out into territory beyond AI War.  Certainly there are indie developers who do that, and some are successful and others are not.  Most of them tend to remain one-man shops forever, though, and I just can't stand working in isolation when there's an alternative; and, frankly, a lot of what has been achieved in the last year has only been possible because of the amazing and talented folks who have joined me on the team.  I wouldn't trade that for being fat and happy and alone.

Momentum Can Make You Too Comfortable 
Until this problem surfaced, the momentum had been going strong for the last year or so.  For each distribution channel of the game (our site, Impulse, GamersGate, Steam, and then Direct2Drive, in that order of arrival), there had been a floor under which sales never dropped, and a ceiling over which they almost never rose, during the course of normal business -- except when we did a discount promotion, and those always had predictable results in terms of raising sales volume, too (though increasing in scale 10% to 20% with each sale, actually, as word of mouth spread). 

That safe, comfortable pattern lasted from late May of 2009 all the way up to around April-ish of 2010.  I knew that might start tapering off at some point, and honestly expected it to happen long before the doldrums hit, but in the end I don't think that's what happened.  But anyway, Tidalis was expected to pick up whatever slack arose, and then some.  It was an ambitious game in a completely different genre, and wouldn't cannibalize existing sales, and had a nice broad appeal while still keeping my hardcore sensibilities, and all that.  I was feeling pretty safe about what I was doing.  And then the bottom fell out, inexplicably and without much in the way of warning.

Silence Isn't So Golden On The Internet
The scariest part was that nowhere on forums were people talking about Tidalis -- there were just the reviews, and that was it.  A few people talked about the game on our forums, but only less than 2% of the people who bought it.  People consistently talk about AI War in various venues, and tiny conversations pop up here and there all the time (Google Alerts is wonderful for catching all that, to gauge response), but Tidalis just wasn't catching on in forums.  That was one of the biggest things that led me to feel like something just wasn't right (aside from the fact we were bleeding money all of a sudden after 12 months of growth, obviously).

To some of the specific questions/thoughts raised in forum threads and comment areas in general:

1. Trailers.  I plan to do a trailer for CoN, and one for AI War 4.0.  However, time is limited and I want to wait until all the new art assets are in place with AI War 4.0, etc, before I do that. The 4.0 version will look pretty markedly different in a lot of respects (the starfields and the HUD in particular, but also some of the special effects), and I want the new trailers to reflect that.  So, hence my waiting at the moment -- but, if other folks want to do trailers or just fun/exciting/interesting/informative videos in the meantime, oh my god would that be a help.

2. Facebook.  This is another case of the-grass-is-greener syndrome, I think.  "Make a Facebook version of Tidalis" is a popular suggestion.  People have this sense that if you put out a game on the iPhone, you make a jillion dollars.  I mean, Facebook/Android/whatever-trendy-thing.  You see my point.  Well, people have the same mistaken ideas about casual games, too -- I can tell you from experience, as can many indie developers, that making a casual game is in no way a cash-in; it's almost a harder road than the hardcore niche route, I think.  The problem is visibility -- there again, people look at the top 1% of games, and see how well they are doing, and assume everyone does as well.  Right now, to hear Gamasutra tell it, almost nobody but Zygna is making any money on Facebook.  Anyway, point is that I keep in touch with a lot of other indie developers in a variety of markets (though not many on facebook, admittedly), and they all complain about their markets just as much as I could complain about mine.  Except for the lucky darlings of any platform, everyone else is going to struggle to some extent.

3. Porting in general (Android, iPhone, Facebook, web versions, and so on).  So: I addressed this partly with #2.  But, that's not to say that I think the porting suggestions are without merit.  It's simply that this is never easy or simple.  Well, in the grand scheme it might be easy -- it only takes a month or two of effort, right?  But that's about all the time Arcen has left on the clock, unless things change (which, with all this recent press, maybe they will, I hope -- but it's far too early to tell).  Leaping into a brand-new platform on which I have no prior experience, and spending all the remaining time that the company has doing so, strikes me as far more risky and reckless than anything I've done with the company since founding it.  Some of the Unity-supported platforms (iOS/Android, mainly) could be a calculated risk that is worth taking if there is time after the AI War 4.0 porting work (which is a far more safe bet in my opinion), but that really remains to be seen.

4. AI War on mobile devices.  This has come up for years, and it's just a no-go.  A few RTS games work pretty well on the iPhone, I've played them, but by and large you only have games with a few small bands of units, and a really REALLY revamped UI.  Also, they are all inherently single-threaded, and have to run on processors less than half (at best) of the minimum that AI War supports.  In the case of AI War, it's just far too large a game for those platforms.  Our consideration of mobile devices would be limited to Tidalis and future titles like Alden Ridge Arcade, if they are a fit (that one would be).

5. A small web version of Tidalis, as sort of a free demo.  We've certainly considered it, but it's not something that can instantly be done because of the way we load assets into Unity.  Long story, but our way is better except when it comes to something like this.  But, it's something we're considering more seriously of late, to be sure.

6. Microtransactions.  Goodness, aren't these trendy?  They just seem a bit unethical to me, like players are being nickeled-and-dimed.  And for multiplayer games, it creates all sorts of challenges for which players have what smaller components, unless those are non-gameplay-affecting components like the infamous horse saddles or something.

7. Work-for-hire.  Some folks suggest on occasion that we do work for hire, rather than our own original work. And, we've been approached by some companies asking us if we're interested in that arrangement (both today, and in the past in general).  As sort of a last resort, we might consider doing something like that before getting booted entirely out of the gaming industry... but we're not indies because we couldn't hack it in the mainstream games industry, if you get my meaning.  I'm grateful that people think well enough of us to offer, but it's just not our bag.

Signing Out For Now
It's been a super busy day, and I haven't been able to talk to everyone I meant to.  I've gotten a lot of emails from folks from various businesses offering advice, support, or various potential opportunities, and I'm trying to respond to everyone, but it takes time.  There's still a pile of emails in my inbox waiting to be read and responded to (there usually is, seems like, especially now with the baby).  I'm not complaining -- far from it, I'm extremely grateful.  But, I did want to let people know that I'm not ignoring them if they sent me an email this afternoon and I haven't yet responded.

Love AI War and/or Tidalis? We could really use your help...

Most game companies probably wouldn't share this stuff, and certainly not on their front page, but as our fans know we're not like most game companies.  So...

To put it bluntly and briefly, at present we're only bringing in about one half of the minimum money we need to survive as a company, and that's quickly eating through the rainy day money that we'd set aside.  At this rate, if sales don't pick up then we run out of money sometime in November.

This is despite the fact that we've largely been very careful and prudent with our money and expenses over the last year.  We're just a young company, and thus more vulnerable to market fluctuations than most -- though, as you might realize from the gaming news, even many AAA development studios are about one failed game away from dissolution.  It's a cut-throat business.

The rest of this long post is background and explanation about how this came about and our business model in general, as well a request for help at the end, with ideas for how fans can contribute without spending a dime (as a commercial enterprise, we dislike asking for donations, though occasionally players offer).

One slice from our 3-month sales graph;
even those spikes are less than half the usual for promotions.
AI War Has Always Been Community-Driven
It's been nine months since I wrote or updated the topic Love AI War? Want to know how you can help?, but a lot of that still holds true: the short version is that what we need most is publicity and new fans.  Word of mouth has always been a huge driver behind the success of AI War, and we need that now more than ever.  For AI War to survive in its current frequently-getting-hugely-updated form, it has to keep continuously selling. 

AI War went on sale in May 2009, and it's grown enormously since then -- as has the customer base.  We've sold somewhere around 30,000 copies of some flavor of AI War and The Zenith Remnant.  All in all, that's probably around 18,000 customers, since those who buy the expansion also have the base game.

Right before the start of the summer, AI War was more popular than it had ever been -- sales were up, forum membership was at an all-time high, and all over the Internet, it seemed like random threads were popping up with players talking about this strategy game they'd discovered.  This was an amazement to us since that's not something that typically happens to year-old games.  It looked like we had something with enduring niche popularity along the lines of Dwarf Fortress, largely thanks to our ongoing free updates. 

Around that time, we decided to do both the upcoming AI War 4.0 version (free for all existing customers), as well as a for-charity micro-expansion to the game that was partly to celebrate the upcoming birth of my son (he was born on 9/1/2010).  All of this seemed easy to do, because profits were such that we were doing great with AI War alone, and Tidalis sales were soon to be added to that and we knew what a great game that was long before reviewers came around to confirm it.

The Summer Doldrums
The problem is, the summer doldrums hit.  It's a well-known phenomenon in the games industry, but for whatever reason it didn't happen to us last year.  Actually, apparently it didn't happen to a lot of companies last year, but I didn't realize that until recently.  I'd thought we were immune because the nature of our game and its audience, or something along those lines.

Suffice it to say, this year it has happened to us, and it's wounded us pretty badly over the last four months; I always try to keep a healthy operating cash buffer (and we have no debt), but that cash had already been about half depleted by the extra expenses of creating Tidalis.  This was an annoyance but not a crisis, except now the summer is over and sales have still been slower-than-average by a large, we-can't-survive-on-this margin.

Recent Sales Volume
The more detailed picture of the situation is this: at the moment, with Tidalis and AI War on the market, we're averaging about 1/2 to 1/3 what we were making in our "bad" months (where there were no discount promotions) with just AI War back in the spring.  Worse, if you average all the spring months together (discount sales and all), then these last couple of months we've been making about 1/4 to 1/5 of what we normally had been making.

Or, again, about 1/2 the minimum we need to survive.  Since last July, we've been in a position of growth and taking on new staff  -- it started out as just me, recall -- while still saving for as rainy day (such as this).  My expectation had been to comfortably bring on two, maybe three new staff members in the fall of this year, while still bolstering our savings at the same time.  And then mysteriously and suddenly everything changed.  The summer doldrums.

Ouch.  This stems from sudden sales problems with both Tidalis and AI War.  Tidalis has sold only a few thousand copies so far, despite largely euphoric reviews and player response.  And it's not even that large numbers of players weren't connecting with the game: Tidalis had some of the top sales spots in the casual, family, and indie categories on Steam and other digital distribution services in its launch week, despite my utter screwup of the advance marketing/PR for the game.  Just not much of anything was selling well in that week, it seems.

Under the circumstances, I suppose Tidalis has done well, despite having done about 10x worse than I'd expected the worst case with it to be.  It's still done better than the bulk of small indie games, but it's still not yet at the point where it's even nearly earned back what we spent to make it -- right now it's earned back about 1/16th of our cost of making the game.  Again: ouch.

What We've Been Doing About All This
It's not like I woke up this morning and realized this was a problem.  We knew that Tidalis was draining more of our rainy-day funds than desired back as far as April, and took appropriate cost-saving measures.  Then throughout the June and July, we knew things were uncomfortably slow, but we had two discount sales (one on AI War, one on Tidalis's launch) that we thought would  tide us over.  They helped, but basically only brought it up to around that minimum monthly figure we normally needed.  Yikes.  The plans for bringing on more staff got put on indefinite hold at that point.

After the launch of Tidalis, we've gone into overdrive trying to get reviews and press coverage for the game, and largely that has paid off well in terms of reviews and coverage... but had no discernible effect on sales.

We were already committed to doing the Children of Neinzul micro-expansion as a for-charity thing, and so we stuck with that -- that's not the sort of pledge we'd ever go back on, and it's something we intensely believe in, anyway.  Probably that will have a residual boosting effect on AI War and TZR sales numbers (and so far that has sort of been true), but also so far it has mostly been CoN itself that has been selling the best -- which we are thrilled about, quite apart from whatever our own challenges are.

The AI War 4.0 porting is something that at present we see as our best shot to pull in quite a lot of new customers in October, as it practically re-imagines the game as well as bringing it to a whole new platform.  As well as as making it vastly easier for folks to demo, since there aren't any prerequisites with the Unity 3D platform we're moving it to.

We've also thoroughly adjusted our fall schedule -- the plan had been to work on a large project called Alden Ridge, with a large (for us) team of 6.  Now we're looking at doing a smaller spinoff of that core game called Alden Ridge Arcade, with a smaller team of 3-4.  If income gets back on track, we'll do the full Alden Ridge game after that, but actually we're really excited about how the design for Alden Ridge Arcade has been coming along, anyway -- so even if the money situation magically resolved itself today, I'd still want to make Alden Ridge Arcade first.

As one part of our attempt to recover from the botched Tidalis PR, we've launched the Tidalis Design A Block contest to spur ongoing interest and player interactions with that game.  As well as a 30% off Tidalis discount promotion at GamersGate.  Some of the other planned stuff we can't comment on yet, but there's more in the works.

There's also the possibility of porting Tidalis to Android/iPhone/iPad, but there are a lot of risks inherent with that, as well as financial costs of licensing those versions of Unity, as well as opportunity costs of the significant time we'd have to invest programming that port.  Some of those costs are mitigated if we also port Alden Ridge Arcade to those platforms (which we'd definitely like to), but a lot of that is just up in the air because it's unclear if we'd have money to even make it through such a process.  And while the grass always seems greener in an unknown market, in our experience it rarely actually is (though Mac sales are now fully 10% of our income these last few months, so that was certainly a good move with Tidalis -- and hopefully also will be with AI War).

Internally, we've already done the stuff like salary cuts (for me), and of course the staff pulling royalties are really hurting based on the shortfall as much as the company as a whole is.  And we've cut pretty much every other nonessential expense that could be cut, long ago (we try to keep it lean in general, actually).

There are other things we're considering, too, but none of it is without risk, and at the moment I have the sense that we're one or two blunders away from oblivion.  Having Tidalis (so far) not perform as expected was a blow, but also having our AI War income drop so precipitously at the same time is something that would have killed the company in July if I hadn't been savings-oriented to start out with.

What Can You Do To Help?
Well, to some extent, we'd love your ideas on that.  But the bottom line is, we need people to actually buy the games that we've spent all this time and money making.  People with the right genre tastes have an above-average affection for our games once they find them and know what they are, but the huge challenge is getting people to actually find our games and know what they are.

AI War 4.0 and AI War:CoN are both hugely exciting, and the latest betas are already including an enormous, hugely-game-altering amount of stuff (not all of it is fully polished yet, but that's why it's still beta).  This is exciting stuff!  We think people would like to know, and we'd love help in telling them about it.  Through youtube, facebook, twitter, forums, plain old talking-to-friends-or-family, anything really...

Tidalis is a really amazing game, if I do say so myself, and while it's gotten a ton of great reviews, I get the feeling that most gamers don't even know of its existence.  Many people from our AI War fanbase enjoy puzzle games, but even those that don't probably know tons of people who do: moms, girlfriends, and sisters are one obvious source (and we've had many such stories already), but it's not like AI War is a game for boys and Tidalis is a game for girls -- my wife and I both play both.  But I guess everybody knows the stereotypical demographics for the genres.  At any rate, this is another game that we think is very exciting, and that a lot of people would like to know about who don't currently.  Despite their digital nature, our games also make great gifts!

The simplest thing that anyone can do is tell other people about our games!  It's always been the case that we wouldn't survive without word of mouth, and that's true more now than ever.  If you're reading this far, you probably already love one or both of our games, but that doesn't mean that other people that you know with tastes similar to your own even know what these games are, if they've even heard of them.  That's the greatest challenge for any indie.

With Tidalis, we have to combat the "ugh, yet another casual game" stigma that many people have until they actually try it and see how original it is.  With AI War, we have the challenge of people seeing how complex it looks, and how retro a lot of the graphics are (and our trailers are seriously outdated), and that turns off some of them for glitzier strategy games that they will then often endlessly complain about.  I hope to do more trailers for AI War coming up, but that will just depend on available time, which is in short supply.

Beyond the basics, if you have other ideas or special talents, we're always open.  A number of players have donated art or sound effects for specific parts of Tidalis or AI War over the last year -- that's always appreciated, but not what we most need right now.  Others have helped with writing stuff for the community wiki, or other little mini-guides elsewhere.  If you've got experience with video making, we would love it if folks want to do instructional videos, trailers, or otherwise for any of the games.  Those sort of promotional materials really do work, from what I've heard, though we've never done much with it in the past except in our own capacity.

And, of course, if you want to donate actual money you can, though the fact remains that that's not what we'd most like.  My view is that if we get dependent on donations, the only way we'd be able to survive is with continual donations unless something else changes.  Sure, maybe that can get us through a rough spot, but honestly if you could convert four or five friends to being fans of our work (and customers), that's worth a lot more to us in the long-run than a straight donation.

But beggars can't be choosers, don't look a gift horse in the mouth, and all that -- we're grateful for whatever folks can do, whether it's on this list or not.  As I noted, we'd absolutely love to have further ideas other than just what we've come up with, as some of them might work even better.

In Summary
In summary, we'd love anything that folks can do.  Right now Arcen staff is very tied up with the workload that we have to get AI War 4.0 and CoN done on time (the biggest blow to our company would not be to have those out sometime in October, or not at full quality at release), so our ability to launch or shepherd major initiatives on our own is pretty much nonexistent until mid-October at best.  That's why we're appealing to you.

Make no mistake, appealing to the fans for help was something I'd delayed doing as long as possible.  It's never good to be crying wolf at every slight dip in the business (dips are normal), but now that we're clearly in more than a dip, the time was right.  If things don't change, there will have to be some major shifts at Arcen by the end of the year at the latest -- lost staff, drastically lowered output, etc.

I still think that with AI War 4.0 coming out soon, and with our promotion work we're doing on Tidalis, we should see a resurgence.  What frankly scares the bejeezus out of me is that we haven't seen the start of any such resurgence yet -- and that instead we're still flying so far below our normal rock-bottom minimum.  I set up an elaborate series of safety nets for Arcen in case Tidalis didn't do as well as hoped (extra cash buffer, the AI War 4.0 project, etc), but so far things have gone in such a manner that we're crashing through safety net after safety net.

If that keeps happening, then the company could get into pretty much mortal danger.  This post is one attempt among many to try to erect some more safety nets in the way, to keep us from getting any nearer to that point.  It might well be that October is just an awesome month and completely makes up for this period, but I can't bet the company on that.  In the meantime, we could really use your help in making sure that, no matter what happens in October, there's still a recognizable Arcen Games in December or January.

The forum discussion on this is here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reminder - Tidalis "Design A Block" Contest

Tidalis Contest Don't forget Tidalis' design the next block contest! We already got some interesting ideas and there's still some time left until the next free DLC. Get a chance for your idea to be actually added in the core official game.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tidalis: Original Soundtrack

Hello everyone!

I wanted to take a moment to let you know that if you like the music from "Tidalis", then the original soundtrack is now available on iTunes!

You can log on to the iTunes store from your personal computer and search for "Tidalis" or "Pablo Vega".

You can also follow this link: Tidalis: Original Soundtrack

Thank you so much for your continued support!