2013: Year in Review

Overall Performance Grade: B

Digital Gamecraft / SophSoft, IncorporatedAs the number of hours left in 2013 dwindles down to minutes, it is a good time to look back on the past year and do an honest performance review for the work we have done at Digital Gamecraft and SophSoft, Incorporated.

Major Events

#10: Lack of Ideas?  Really?

We created a roadmap of our upcoming development projects, which list “contains 30 games, in 6 different genres, spanning approximately one dozen platforms, plus a productivity application and an information web site.”  Toward the end of the year, we also did a reevaluation of our company purpose, vision, and mission, confirming our goals and how each of the above products help fulfill them.

#9: iOS Development

We finally released our first iOS titles this year, and once we started on the new platform, we shiped 12 SKUs for iOS (7 titles and 5 updates).

#8: Goodsol Solitaire 101 Touch Edition 1.0 / GSCITE 1.10

We released the initial iOS version of this collection of 101 favorite Solitaire games (plus 34 bonus games) on June 3, and we released a significant update on September 27.

#7: Most Popular Solitaire Touch Edition 1.0 / MPSTE 1.10

We released the initial iOS version of this collection of 30 most popular Solitaire games (plus 13 bonus games) on April 25, with a significant update on August 14.

#6: FreeCell Plus Touch Edition 1.0 / FCPTE 1.10

We released the initial iOS version of this collection of 8 FreeCell type Solitaire games (with 4 bonus games) on April 2, and a significant update on July 31.

#5: Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 2.50

We released this update to the premier Solitaire program for Mac OS X, bringing the total to 500 games, after two previous updates, PGSME 2.42 (420 games) and PGSME 2.44 (440 games), earlier in the year; we also launched a major upgrade project to make the next version of PGSME, due fairly soon, even better.

#4: Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.0 / PGSTE 1.10

We released the initial iOS version of our flagship Solitaire product with 500 games, the biggest Solitaire package available for iPad, on July 16, and then followed that up with a significant update on October 22, with 520 games (plus 72 bonus games).  We also refined our upgrade development process for this title.

#3: A Little Solitaire Touch Edition 1.0 / ALSTE 1.10

We released the very first version of this collection of 9 Klondike, FreeCell, and Spider Solitaire games, for iPad, on March 22, and published a significant update on July 26.  This was a major event not only because it was our first ever iOS game, but also because, on March 27, it became the #1 card game in the App Store.

#2: Demolish! Pairs FTP 1.0.1 for iPad

We released a free-to-play version of our arcade/puzzle game, Demolish! Pairs, on November 6.  This was the second SKU from Digital Gamecraft, and our very first venture into the “free” section of the App Store (with decidedly mixed results).

#1: Demolish! Pairs 1.0 for iOS

On June 18, we released Demolish! Pairs 1.0, our puzzle/arcade game for iOS, thereby reentering the self-publishing arena.  It was the first title published by Digital Gamecraft, and the last to contain fully custom artwork (and sounds) from our late artist, Rick Tumanis.  Although it was not the runaway success that it should have been, it provided a positive first step and, along with Demolish! Pairs FTP, gave us some very useful information about the iOS market.

What Went Right

Digital Gamecraft has remained a full-time independent game development company for (now) the 19th consecutive full year (stretching back into 1994, as Sophisticated Software Systems); this alone is a significant accomplishment.

Our product development continued apace, as did our strong affiliation with Goodsol Development, resulting in 15 SKUs released in 12 months.  We firmly established ourselves on the iOS platform, and Digital Gamecraft has published its own titles.

What Went Wrong

The video game industry, as a whole, is in a period of crisis, even though some “evangelists” continue to preach the opposite.  Continuing to survive in this depressed climate is a true challenge (though we strive to thrive).

We have seen falling sales and reduced revenues, and our entry into the iOS market with products on the App Store has done little to stem the negative trend.  In fact, it distracted us somewhat from Windows and Mac development, where the sales are slowing, but which are still a better investment than mobile platforms (for now).  Our experiments in free-to-play marketing suggest that it is not a general solution.

Final Evaluation

On balance, I awarded a grade of B (again) for overall performance in 2013.  My initial inclination was to grade our efforts as a C+, but when I looked back on what actually happened in the year, we met most of our development goals.  Digital Gamecraft released its first two games, and we broke into the iOS market with numerous titles.  Although reduced income does cast a pall over the year (and my mood), I determined that it should not count against our productivity grade.

That said, though, things will clearly need to improve in 2014, and we have already taken steps to achieve that, but this is a discussion for another post. 🙂

OUYA at First Glance

This inexpensive console has some real merit.

OUYALast week, as I was continuing to learn Android development, I was finally nudged into looking into the new OUYA console.  For those unfamiliar, the OUYA is an Android-based gaming console that sells for less than $100.  It got its start with a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign and, while it is not intended to compete with the PS4 and XBone launches, it is a legitimate player in the console market.

The reason that we considered the OUYA is that it is designed from the outset for open development, which makes it accessible not only for established indie developers like Digital Gamecraft, but also for anybody with an interest and just a little ability, and those who actually produce marketable games can find their titles listed right alongside AAA developers.  The unique thing about OUYA games is that all of them are free to try (so it is, in essence, a shareware console).

Acknowledging that it was a tiny investment, not to mention cheaper than most Android tablets or phones, we made our order on the spur of the moment, and 3 days later our OUYA arrived at the doorstep:

OUYA boxOf course, December is winter here in Michigan, which means that I had to wait a few hours for the electronics to come slowly up to room temperature.  During the wait, I contemplated how I had heard various complaints about the OUYA, but thus far, everything was very professional, exceeding my expectations.  Meanwhile, the contents of the box just sat on my auxiliary desk in anticipation:

OUYA package contents

The first thing that surprised me was how small the console itself was; it literally fits in ones hand, and it is smaller than the controller in two of three dimensions.  I was also surprised, and delighted, to find that the box included an HDMI cable, a very nice touch that is usually overlooked (cynically: deliberately left out to make more retail profits).  Indeed, if one counted the retail prices of the controller, HDMI cable, and batteries, the console itself was quite inexpensive indeed. 🙂

Finally, the time came to set everything up, and I ran into my first issue.  Therefore, I will start with the (few) cons that I experienced.  The OUYA is a bit short on traditional documentation, so there is nothing explaining how to install the batteries in the console!  I challenged our local console expert, and he was unable to figure it out, either.  (A Google search reveals that we were hardly unique in our confusion.)  Also, after a bit of use, it becomes clear that the OUYA has no ventilation to speak of, so it becomes a rather effective hand warmer in a chilly office, but this will likely be a liability in summer.  Returning to the initial complaint, it turns out that the black area in the middle of the controller is a touch pad (!), which fact I did not discover on my own.

On the other hand, there were more important pros.  The installation process, including the downloading of a system update right away, was embarrassingly simple, especially when compared to the PS3, as well as humorous (even in the license agreement).  The display is extremely clear, even on my poor 720p office/development television.  The whole interface is straightforward and easy to understand, and the purchase process is just about as painless as it could possibly be.  The controller (contrary to some opinions) is solid and comfortable to use, and, of course, this whole system was inexpensive.

The available game software is certainly the most fundamental aspect of a console, and unsurprisingly, this is a bit of a mixed bag, at least in my limited experience (so far).  You have top games, such The Cave (currently #1), which delivers everything that one would expect, and others, like Amazing Frog? The Hopping Dead (#3), which seems to have come up a few weeks short of prime time.  I really wanted Pinball Arcade to be as good as their attention to detail, but alas, the delay between clicking a controller button and the flipper reaction makes the game totally unplayable.  Conversely, and promisingly, the OUYA version of Galaxoid, by lone developer Jacob Davis, is loads of fun (for just a few bucks).  This variety makes the ability to try games that much more valuable.

The next step is development.  Though I spent a little time playing with the OUYA as a consumer would, I have been too busy with paying work to install the ODK (OUYA Development Kit) and build anything for this new console.  You can be sure that I will post more about the OUYA after that happens.