Author Topic: Interesting year...  (Read 33463 times)

ArenMook

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Interesting year...
« on: October 25, 2012, 01:52:44 AM »
What an interesting year this has been… In November last year I left my full-time job because I wanted to take some time off from the exploitative environment of corporate-driven game development. My plan was simple -- spend a year working on a game, living off my savings, recovering my "mojo" in the process.

FREEDOM

My first order of business was creating a simple UI system as I was not happy with the UI solutions present in the Unity engine at the time. After about 3 weeks of development, NGUI was born and released in early December.

It was very simple at first -- exactly what I was aiming to create. It was a tool I made for myself -- for what I needed and nothing more. Releasing it on the Asset Store was mostly an afterthought because I thought that if I find it useful, maybe a few others will as well. The initial reception was surprisingly positive, but everyone who tried NGUI inevitably wanted more: more widgets, more tools, more example videos, more tutorials… and so I, inspired as I was by the fact that people actually liked it, was happy to oblige.

Fast forward a month -- NGUI was now earning me more than my previous job. I was thrilled -- who wouldn't be -- and kept working on it. Sure, it delayed my original plan of working on a game with a friend, but it was fun and profitable, so I didn't mind. A month later NGUI reached the #1 spot on the Asset Store, and two days later it was finally pirated (I'm surprised it took this long!), resulting in the first day of the 4-figure daily income. Weird, huh? I soon learned of two different people who pirated NGUI, but liked it enough to actually go legit and pick up a paid copy. Now that… was awesome.

The whole "piracy is good for business" thing gave me an idea of releasing a free version of NGUI for people who just wanted to try it out without having to pay for it upfront. It was a risk, with a potential of blowing up in my face. After all, why would people pay for it if they can just get it for free? Surprisingly, the sales were not affected at all, and varied from the previous week by only about 0.5%. To make this even better for other developers I decided to also release a version of NGUI that can be included freely with other packages, opening up NGUI to be used in other people's Asset Store-bound work, free of charge. While there was no immediate effect on sales, I'm certain it proved to be a positive force in the long run.

Once NGUI was feature-complete, roughly 3-4 months after its release, I was finally able to go back to my original plan of working on a game. The idea of which game to make was changed though -- from an open-space based exploration game to a fast-paced naval combat game instead. This change was due to the naval game's smaller scope. In retrospect, I probably should have stuck to my original idea, as it has a broader appeal and a more welcoming target audience… but that's not how I saw it back then, and so Windward was born.

RESENTMENT

Now, it's worth mentioning that by that time NGUI was earning me more than 3 times the amount I was getting paid at my full-time job, and all I had to do was keep an eye on the forums and answer questions -- something that was taking roughly 2-3 hours a day, giving me the rest of the time to work on Windward… and work I did -- 100 hours a week for 7 months straight.

Now, some of you may think -- "that's insane!" -- but it really wasn't. To me it certainly didn't feel like work -- it felt more like a hobby. I was doing what I wanted, working from home on a project I enjoyed, all the while earning a steady income from a side-project that I maintained alongside. Dream come true, right? Well, not exactly.

Unfortunately the more I focused on Windward, the more I started to resent having to support NGUI. After all, it was never supposed to eat up my time and attention, and some of the more frequent requests people wanted -- such as a built-in font solution and the depth / Z issue fix was out of my hands. The problem was in Unity, and I had no contacts within it that would help me fix the problems. Plus, I was keenly aware of the fact that Unity were working on a better UI system themselves, so NGUI always felt to me like a product that was destined to meet its end sooner or later -- the end that seemingly kept getting delayed, which frustrated me more.

I was also sincerely hoping that Windward would get a following of players, a community, and less importantly -- start paying the bills roughly 6 months into its development. Unfortunately, that never came to pass. In the first 7 months, Windward sold 68 copies of the game, even though it was featured on an assortment of game-related news sites. By that point I had hired two others to help me work on it, so it was costing me a good $2800 a week, not including my own time, which was obviously considerable.

DISAPPOINTMENT

Understandably, I was growing increasingly concerned about its future. The game itself was pretty solid. It had multiplayer, a variety of ships and maps to play with, equipment, talent progression, a built-in IRC chat… it was even playable freely throughout its lifetime. And yet, it never succeeded in drawing people in or establishing a community of more than a pair of players at any given time. At the end of its 7th month of development I was tempted to call it: it simply didn't seem worth working on it anymore.

In the end, after 8 months of development and as of this writing, I have sunk about $71,000 into its development, not including my own time, and have sold around 100 copies at $7-$10 each, earning me roughly $800, with a final net loss of about $70,000.

Meanwhile, NGUI was still earning me 3 times of my previous job's pay… 11 months after its initial release.

Looking back at the stats (which I've tracked daily), even the simple Game Starter Kits that I've put up on the Asset Store over a year ago, and spent roughly 2 weeks of my time on, have been pulling in about $700 to $1500 a month. That's a gain of roughly $13,000 for something I created over a year ago and barely spent any time on… versus a loss of $70,000 for 7 months of my time working 100 hours a week.

Needless to say, after going over all the stats and seeing the quiet reception I got on Steam Greenlight and Desura, it was not that difficult of a choice for me to put it on hold and work on something else.

CHANGE

Curiously enough, around the same time I was mulling over what to do with Windward last month I happened to get an email from Steffen over at Unity. He was curious what my plans are and if I'd be interested in making a change. At first I just chuckled at it -- after all, Unity can't possibly pay me what I already make just supporting NGUI, let alone what I can make if I was to focus on making more game kits and other useful packages. But… I figured, why not, let's meet and talk about it. So we did.

Originally my stance was neutral -- there was no reason to work for "the man" again. As I kept thinking about it more however, I realized that I simply wasn't happy with how things were -- both with NGUI, and with Windward. Windward obviously wasn't working out, and with NGUI I had to create a lot of "hacks" to work around Unity's limitations -- such as checking transform position / rotation / scale changes every update for every single widget. These kind of hacks negatively affected performance and resulted in a UI that was slower than it could have been. Then there were feature requests that I simply couldn't address, such as unification of Z and Depth properties that were causing frustration for users working with multiple atlases.

In the end, my decision came down to one simple question: was I happy with how I left NGUI, or can I do better? The answer was the latter. No, I was not happy, and I most certainly can do better, given the low-level access to the engine. Working for Unity I would have that access and more.

And so I've accepted their offer. I start on November 1st.

It certainly has been an interesting year…
« Last Edit: November 09, 2012, 05:14:56 PM by ArenMook »

ArenMook

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2012, 02:04:54 AM »
And so to questions that will inevitably surface:

Q: What will you be working on at Unity?
The UI system, of course. ;)

Q: What will happen to NGUI?
Unless someone wants to buy the rights from me, I will be able to maintain it -- small tweaks and bug fixes, mostly. Or in other words -- exactly what I've been doing for the past 6 months. Since I'll be working on the new built-in UI system over at Unity you can likely expect to see a lot of familiar content when it's finally released (which won't be anytime soon, in case you're wondering). I'll also try to make some tools that will auto-convert the UI from NGUI to the upcoming UI system. Also, in case you're wondering, NGUI's earnings for this year are going to be around $300,000, so serious offers only please.

Q: OMG! I JUST bought NGUI and now you won't be working on it!?
You bought a well-polished and battle-tested package that has been out for almost a year and will serve you well for another. I will still keep it up to date until the new UI is ready (and possibly beyond). Look at it this way: you will be getting the next UI system that will be relatively familiar to you, for free... and you will have a leg up on everyone else because you'll be familiar with the UI system that came before it.

Q: What will happen to Windward?
In all honesty, I haven't decided yet. Someone can probably buy it from me (including all the rights) with the right offer, and add things it's missing such as micro-transactions, facebook integration, or whatever else you think will help it make money. If not, I have an option of releasing it as a full game on the asset store. If I do, it won't be cheap. Expect it to be around $1000. Reason being, it's a complete game and it has a metric ton of useful game systems and many, many lines of well-commented code that all developers will likely find very useful. I may also not release it anywhere, and just keep working on it quietly... we'll see.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2012, 07:05:45 AM by ArenMook »

Buey

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2012, 02:06:45 AM »
Well, I've done my [tiny] part by voting for Windward on Greenlight.

http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=93552173

ArenMook

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2012, 02:10:36 AM »
Well, I've done my [tiny] part by voting for Windward on Greenlight.

http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=93552173
And thank you for that ;)

Buey

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2012, 02:23:24 AM »
Keep us posted on the future of NGUI.  Juha Kiili (RageSpline author) got picked up by Unity and essentially disappeared.  Progress completely halted until Freakow (RageTools authors) took over the project.

ArenMook

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #5 on: October 25, 2012, 02:25:17 AM »
Yeah I'm not going anywhere. I'll always be here, Tasharen is still my company.

Schlumpfsack

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2012, 02:51:56 AM »
I have to say...wow :)

i think it is the best thing Unity coudl do in hiring you.
I bought NGUI one month ago and i am happy with it (i am not a coder/programmer/scripter by all means) and i like it.
I am really happy that you will try to implement a port from NGUI to the new Unity-GUI, so no lost money for anyone and i wish you much luck and fun with your new job!

helioxfilm

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2012, 07:34:47 AM »
Congratulations, Michael! I think you have made a wise decision and I am look forward to see how your talent will shape Unity's GUI system   :D

Nicki

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2012, 07:53:09 AM »
Wow, that's awesome! Congratulations! My optimism for the new Unity GUI just increased ten fold.

I'm looking forward to all the things you can do, once you can get deeper into the unity core than now.

Will you be going to Copenhagen then? I'm in (aarhus) denmark too, and I might just want to shake your hand and/or buy a beer. ;)

ArenMook

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2012, 08:10:47 AM »
Yeah I'll be there for two weeks from November 1st onward, then back again sometime in December.

PixelEnvision

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #10 on: October 25, 2012, 08:43:42 AM »
Congratulations & good luck! NGUI has been and will be (till Unity GUI comes around, I think) one of the most useful add-ons for me...Helped me much to get started with Unity earlier this summer...
Pixel Envision - Creating fun apps for iOS & Android

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badawe

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2012, 10:10:13 AM »
This is the best addition to unity since the release!

Congratulations, you deserve it!

SketchWork

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #12 on: October 25, 2012, 10:16:52 AM »
I agree this is great news and I wish you all the luck for the future.

Justin.

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #13 on: October 25, 2012, 10:35:15 AM »
Blessing you !!!!!!   But would you still answer our question in here ??^_^

chipnuts

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Re: Interesting year...
« Reply #14 on: October 25, 2012, 11:13:02 AM »
This is AWESOME news!  Can't wait to see how it's integrated or revamped.  Congrats and hope it stays worthwhile for you!