Category Archives: Blog

The Cattle are Lowing

Last week, we launched Interrupting Cow Trivia, our fun online multiplayer trivia game. We got a GREAT response from our community, and sundry other ne’er-do-wells who wandered by to check it out.

As promised, we have “herd” your feedback, and are happy to update you with the Alpha 1.4 release!

Cow.

Interrupting Cow Trivia Alpha 1.4 Release Notes

  • As the first of many member perks, when you log in with your Untold Entertainment member name and password, your avatar will show up in the game. (Create an avatar if you haven’t already. Go to the Boards and log in. Then click User Control Panel>Profile>Edit Avatar! Or Sign Up for an Untold Entertainment membership before someone scoops your username!)
  • The game dimensions have been increased so that we can pack in all the awesomeness on our future feature list
  • The game now keeps track of which questions it serves up, so there’s no chance of seeing a repeat until you’ve cycled through 500 questions. That’s 50 rounds! Try it! i encourage you! (thanks for the suggestion, Kilby)
  • You can use the UP/DOWN arrow keys on your keyboard to cycle through the stuff you’ve already typed. So if you type an answer perfectly, except you miss an “s” at the end, you can just hit UP and type the “s” and re-submit (thanks for the suggestion, Erik!)
  • The clues come in more slowly so that you have a chance to read them (thanks for the suggestion, Slow-Readin’ Cross-Eyed Mcgee!)
  • The letters fill more quickly. They come in faster for longer answers, and more slowly for shorter answers (thanks again, Erik!)

If you’ve played before, i encourage you to play again to try on these changes. If you’ve never played Interrupting Cow Trivia, why not give it a go? Awesomazing feature upgrades for the game loom on the horizon. If you like the game and want to see it get better and better, here’s what you can do to help:

  1. tell your friends about Interrupting Cow Trivia
  2. keep giving us feedback
  3. add the Untold Entertainment rss feed to your feed reader, or follow Untoldent on Twitter, and you’ll be the first to know when we publish updates!
  4. Thanks everyone!

    Moo.


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Where’s the Beef?

So we just launched Interrupting Cow Trivia late Friday afternoon. Friday’s not a great time to launch things, because you usually spend most of Monday super-gluing back together the shards of whatever assploded on you over the weekend. But after sinking twenty-five hours into the Music portion of the game alone, we were anxious to share the results to keep from going nutso.

Interrupting Cow Trivia

“Black” is the new “graphics”.

In another gutsy move, we launched the game without graphics and called it “alpha”. It’s an honest moniker – the game is fully playable – even multi-playable – and i figured it’d be best to test the waters of functionality before applying the paint n’ spackle that the game requires.

Most importantly, i want the game to be “hooky”. i want players to be sitting at home or at work, thinking “gee, i’d certainly love to scour the net for that mythical Britney Spears sex tape again, but that cow trivia game was pretty fun too.”

Why Buy the Cow …

The plan is to distribute the game as far and wide as possible. With original titles like Two By Two, which is featured in our Pimp My Game series, free distribution was a bit of a sore spot. i didn’t feel great about giving my work out to as many people as possible for free, in excange for a few pennies of ad revenue every day. And i figured if i couldn’t recoup the cost of a game like Two By Two, which was built in a single weekend by one resource, how could i ever justify a longer, more expensive development cycle on a better game and give it away for free too? All babies must eat.

Interrupting Cow Trivia was a far pricier game to develop. Jeff was our primary developer on the product, and the man has expensive tastes; each morning, i am forced to fashion a new chair for him out of crisp twenty dollar bills, or he threatens to quit his job. Despite this, there are some key differences between our strategies for Interrupting Cow Trivia and Two By Two:

  • Like 2×2, ICT will have injected MochiAds, but they’ll be shown more frequently. We’re considering popping up a 10-15 second MochiAd before each round of ten questions. Higher ad frequency = (potentially) higher revenues.
  • ICT was made to take advantage of our new membership features. You can play the game as SomeSchmuck69, but you can also log in using your Untold Entertainment login and password (get yours here!) When the game travels far and wide, there will still be that membership hook to our site. With a little more development, members’ avatars will be displayed in the game while they’re playing. We’ll enable members to submit new questions, and we’ll recognize top submitters when they enter the game with glitter and sparkles or some other nonsense. And we’ll be able to track members’ progress by storing scores and handing out trophies, which will be displayed on members’ profile pages.
  • We’re planning to integrate the game with Facebook to up the Crack Factor a little. i’ll be leaning on all my old high school friends and sixth grade crushes (i’m looking at you, Jenny Kennedy) to help kickstart this initiative when we launch.

Our Plan for World Domoonation

More savvy readers will wonder how, financially, ICT is any different. Same thing, right? Another game with MochiAds in it that may well under-perform. We’re looking at ICT as a gateway drug for our upcoming projects, an entertainment delivery system that will help us build an audience, so that when we launch a game that we want to charge actual dollars for, we’ll have actual people to whom we can charge that money. And they’ll figure “well, i play Interrupting Cow Trivia every night for thirty-nine hours … their new game is probably worth a few bucks.”

It’s along the lines of the patronage system that Blurst is attempting, except that we’re chasing different patrons – a kinder, gentler crowd that prefers trivia and jigsaw puzzles to oh, say, running over velociraptors with a spiky ball-bedecked Range Rover.

Blurst's Minotaur China Shop

Off-road Velociraptor Safari may not be everyone’s bag, but the concept for Blurst’s Minotaur China Shop is HILARIOUS

Who’s Got Your Back?

The technology we’re using for the ICT back-end is Electro Server 4 by Jobe Makar and friends. We’re using the free version, which gives us something like ten or twenty simultaneous connections for free. Once we see the game bumping up against this limit, we’ll consider upgrading the server for 700 clams, but it’s definitely not a cost we’re keen on absorbing until we see some worthwhile traffic from the game.

And we won’t see worthwhile traffic until we see cows. The art style planned for the game is unique and fun, and involves at least one cow. Unfortunately, Untold Entertainment has no resident artistic staff for the time being. We’re sitting on a mountain of code IP, including ICT, just waiting for an artist to give it life.

What’s in a Name?

i hope that clears up any burning questions about the game and our strategy for it? The one remaining question you may have is “why did you give it such a stupid name?” As with Kahoots™, our fun crime-themed puzzle game that we’ve modeled entirely in clay, we see a real need to differentiate our products from the crowd of freely-available online games. How many trivia games do you know that are called “Super IQ Trivia!” and “Smarty IntelligentPants Quiz!” and “BrianPuncher Challenge!” ? Probably a lot. But i’m hard pressed to come up with any trivia games named after every six-year-old’s favourite knock-knock joke.

So there you go.

Also: moo.


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Interrupting Cow Trivia – Alpha

Interrupting Cow Trivia - Alpha

Interrupting Cow Trivia is Untold Entertainment’s first multiplayer game. Programmed by our amazingly talented game developer Jeff Gold (ue_jeff), ICT is currently in alpha, which is a game industry term for “I can’t believe you published that game without graphics.” Interrupting Cow Trivia will be a constantly-evolving project for us, with new question packs being released regularly, along with graphics! And yes, to answer your burning question: there will be cow.

Oh, yes. There will be cow.


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Pimp My Game Part 5: GameJacket

i’m taking Two by Two from the Untold Entertainment library to see how various online monetization methods for Flash games pan out.

GameJacket Logo

Part 5: GameJacket

GameJacket is the year-old competitor to reigning game ad-injection champs MochiAds, and they promise to OH CRAP

GameJacket Closes

GameJacket Closes.

i guess that’s what happens when you offer your devs a $1000 cash advance, when clearly the going rate for a Flash game is hovering somewhere around a buck seventy-five.

So, uh …. (twiddles thumbs). Let’s see an update of those stats, shall we?

The Graph

Pimp My Game Updated Graph

I think i’m going to have to achieve immortality before this rate of return will really mean something.

Pimp My Game Updated Pie Chart

Keep your fork – there’s pie!

Pimp My Game Hourly Wage

I could make more money faster by lighting dollar bills on fire.

Another reminder: the money i’ve “earned” is, to date, virtual. MochiAds, the clear forerunner, doesn’t pay out until the $100 mark. So, in essence, my efforts have been squandered on a big fat nothing. Now i know how my wife feels.

Epilogue

i hate to say it, Jim, but i have a sneaking suspicion that Kongregate is next. i don’t have a lot of faith in FlashGameLicense either, whose referral-based contingency model started as a sort of “pay what you can – we recommend x%” kind of deal. i can’t see these ventures that subsist solely on venture capital lasting much longer through the economic crisis. Maybe i’m wrong?

Keep watching this feature for more info on monetizing your Flash games! If you missed the other articles, catch the rest of Pimp My Game here!

The Ethics of Hiring Students

Untold Entertainment is closing in on its second year of operations. The longer we’re in business, the clearer it becomes that we do business differently.

Location 3x

Many of the small interactive studios and game shops here in Toronto have one or two leads who work from home offices, and a gaggle of programmers and artists from around the provice (or around the world) who work remotely. These companies sometimes boast that they employ 10-15 people, but those 10-15 people often include three students from the Philippines and a guy who died five years ago whose government id is still active.

The problem? It can be really tough to keep a bead on your business when your employees are scrambled hither and yon. There’s a distinct advantage to having people within what i like to call “strangling distance”.

We made a different decision. We don’t have 10-15 people working for us. We have two people. But those two people share the same air in a physical office and sit right next to each other, where they can talk and collaborate on projects without the snafus of time zones, cultural and language barriers, alternate full-time jobs, or abysmal Skype connections.

Sweat Shop

Yeah – i’ve got, like, 25 guys working for me.

Often, i’ve come across people working full-time at large companies, and i say “i thought you were working at Small Company Inc.?” And they say “Oh, no – i do work for them, from time to time.” “But you’re listed on their employees page.” Hmm.

Taxes, Followed By Death (Due to Taxes)

Other Toronto interactive studios pay people as “contractors” who are actually working full-time hours. i don’t know if they remit payroll taxes. i remember talking with one Toronto guy who was aghast that i hired my people on as full-time employees. Him: “You have to remit payroll taxes for those people!!” Me: “I know.” Him: “Shriek!”

Payroll Taxes

Paaaayroll Taaaxes!!!

So – what? Do most of the Toronto companies remit taxes, or not? Do they leave it up to their “contractors” to figure out? Do those contractors end up remitting taxes? Or are they paid under the table? i’d love to know.

The problem? i wonder how many of these companies are taking provincial and federal funding whose paid positions aren’t actually funelling back into the tax structure? i’m not outright accusing anyone of anything in particular … i’d just really love to know, you know?

i'm just sayin

Nunchuku Skills, Bow Hunting Skills …

The quality of talent coming out of these companies can range. Most often, the small (and sometimes medium-sized) Toronto studios i know largely hire students and recent grads, if they hire locally at all.

The problem? Here’s a rough transcript of an IM conversation i recently had with the head of one such company:

Prez: Can i get your help on something? My programmer is stuck on an issue.

Me: (reluctantly) Sure. What’s going on?

Prez: Well, he wants to take a library asset in Flash and have it on its own in a separate Flash file.

Me: Uh … he just has to copy/paste the asset into a new file.

Prez: No. It can’t be that simple. i dunno. Can i patch him in and let him explain?

Me: (more reluctantly) Okay.

Prez: Ryan, meet Doofus. He’s our programmer.

Me: Hi, Doofus. What’s going on?

Doofus: Well, i need to take a library asset in Flash and put it in a separate Flash file.

Me: Uh … you have to copy/paste the asset into a new file.

Doofus: Let me try that.

Me: Or, you can open the library, start a new file, choose the old file in the library, and click/drag assets straight into your new file.

Doofus: Let me try the first thing.

Me: You don’t need to try it. It’s copying and pasting. Believe me – it works.

Doofus: Okay, well the first technique you explained works, so i’m going to stick with that.

Me: It’s not a technique. It’s copying and pasting.

Doofus: Thanks for your help!

We made a different decision. In many of the panels i’ve attended where successful CEOs talk about how they did it, “surround yourself with the right people” was a common refrain. Another tip: “hire people better than you.” So i made an early decision to grow my company on intermediate-to-advance-level talent. The people i hire have a minimum of five years experience in the games industry. This pushes our hourly rate up higher than some of the other Toronto game studios, but it provides some key benefits:

  1. We tend to know what we’re doing. We’re not going to waste your time and money asking another company how to copy/paste assets in Flash.
  2. We can take it on. We very rarely turn down work. The two times in recent memory when we said “no” to jobs were an under-paying salvage job (underpaying, naturally, because bulk of the money was spent paying the first guy to botch the job), and an “i know a photographer who needs a website” job. We avoid those like the AIDS. Otherwise, we’re extremely responsive, and we can finish the job you needed done yesterday.
  3. We’ve seen it before. You’re not going to get into a situation where you ask for a feature, and we say “sure”, only to find out a day before the deadline that we can’t do what we said we could do. By now, we know our limitations and the limitations of the technology. We won’t waste your time and risk your milestones on impossible or unfeasible features.

Experience

Experience brings a lot to the table.

That Being Said …

i’ve been popping into the various graduate art school shows around town. Now here’s the dilemma: some of these students are very skilled, and due to the global economic collapse, very screwed. They’re in that job/experience Catch-22, made even more deadly by the fact that big companies aren’t even hiring experienced people – and in some cases, they’re hemorraging the ones they’ve got. We’re in a situation where we can’t take on any more paid staff due to my ferocious cocaine habit and penchant for gold-leafed computer equipment. Some of these students might work for free. And my bank account is brimming with free.

i resolved early on not to ask anyone to work for free. Is that still sound ethical ground? Or am i actually doing a disservice to the students who need to ramp up their resumes in order to get a job with a paycheck? i remember when i graduated that i would gladly have taken an unpaid internship instead of getting doors slammed in my face everywhere i went, if only to use that company as a stepping stone.

What’s the solution here? To exploit, or no? To pay an “honorarium” that comes out to a third world wage, or to let it be? i’d love to get perspectives on this, whether you’re a student caught in the Catch-22, a company with experience running unpaid internships, or a Toronto colleague who i’ve pissed off by writing the first half of this article. Let me know!