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AI War: First Four Years Postmortem (And By Extension Arcen History)

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This is definitely going to shape some of my ideas for development in the future.

Thanks Chris!

My pleasure!

A fascinating post Chris, especially for someone interested in the business side of indie games.  Back when Valley 1 was cutting its teeth I worried that its relative failure might mean that we had seen the last big "opera" from Arcen, i.e. that you were going to start making cheap games that were low risk and quick to develop.  I find your new business and pricing  model intriguing, and I am willing to pay for the big opera games in bits and pieces instead of all at once if that helps the company.  That said, I did think SC was a tiny bit rushed (the alpha was what a couple weeks?) and that some of the features you've implemented in the past 2 weeks should have been there for 1.0.  I'm all for the new pricing model, in other words, but I don't want that model to mean that you're rushing things out the door before they are fully ready.  Skyward 1.0 was great, don't get me wrong, but if you'd have waited another three or so weeks then 1.10 could have been 1.0 and it would have been that much better.  Random maps, for example, were a huge addition that can really make or break the replay value of a game like Skyward when people are talking about it on other forums.

In terms of the big "opera" type releases, it's definitely not something we're shifting focus from, just methodology about.

In terms of Skyward's original release, I don't think it was particularly rushed; most all of the things that were reported post-1.0 were not found prior to 1.0.  The private alpha for that game was IIRC closer to a month.  A little over three weeks anyhow.  Though we did it in stages, so not everyone was in there the whole time.

In terms of rushing to market, that's not something we're intending to do either, but bear in mind that prior to Skyward we were coming off of two knock-down failures (Valley 2 and Shattered Haven) from a revenue standpoint.  I'd had to forgo all personal salary for myself, and put in some of my own money on top of that, in order to keep from having to lay off staff.  Given that we get paid on a net 30 delay most of the time, if the calendar month flips before money from a release is captured, then we have to wait almost 60 days to get it rather than 30.  In other words, we don't quite make it to the bathroom when things are very tight.

Anyhow, it was a rough quarter one for us despite the fact that by now we've earned about 75% (or something close to that) of our total earnings from 2012.  It's all about when the money arrives versus the expenses, etc.  So the timing of Skyward was pretty well something that could not be changed short of me shedding staff.  With the expansion for Skyward, and the Bionic Dues game, we have more time thanks to the breathing room that Skyward has given us, and so we're using that time.

Things are always different when you're absolutely stretched to the limit versus not; we've been back and forth in what mode we're working in here.  Our income has always gone up each year, but so have our expenses as we've taken on more staff in an effort to both be able to do more, and do better.  And reduce the insane workload on me, so that I can have more regular hours (which now I can, but it came at a lot of personal cost over the last few years to get to that point).

Totally understand the business decision and can't argue with what you say here.  I also don't mean to say that SC was overly buggy on release--it wasn't at all.  I just mean it wasn't feature complete, as they say, because you added some pretty big features the past couple weeks.  I am grateful you added those features as you could have just put them in the expansion and charged me for them.


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