Keeping Class 3 Outbreak Alive

TL;DR: Google have shut down the Google Maps Flash API which the web versions of Class 3 Outbreak and Zombie Outbreak Simulator were using. I’ve hacked together a workaround which mostly works. Full details below :)

Jay and I started working on Class 3 Outbreak way back in February 2009, about five and a half years ago. Jay had pitched me his idea for an RTS zombie game, but initially we hadn’t decided on any details such as if it should be 2D or 3D, or for PC, web or mobile, etc.

At one point during the discussion Jay sent me this quick mockup he’d drawn over a screenshot from Google Maps, showing the kind of scale that the game would be played at, and how zombies would move down a street, infecting civs and taking over the city. Then he said something like “wouldn’t it be good if we could use Google Maps?”.

Jay's Google Maps Mockup

In my day job in the mining industry I’d used the Google Maps JavaScript API before, so I knew something would be possible, but slow. These days the HTML5 canvas element can be used to make web games with high-performance 2D graphics. However 2009 was a different era in web development. Chrome had only been released a few months before, with only a couple of percent market share. Internet Explorer was still the dominant browser, and wouldn’t add the canvas element until IE9 in 2011.

Test

Image from Wikipedia

Back then the dominant platform for web games was Flash. After some research I discovered that Google had released a Flash API for Google Maps about 9 months earlier. I did some experiments and found that it worked really well for what we needed, and so we jumped into development.

Using the Flash API we released Zombie Outbreak Simulator in November 2009, the original Class 3 Outbreak in April 2010, and the new editor-based Class 3 Outbreak in April 2011. In total we’ve had over 4.5 million plays of those games on the Flash API.

However, trouble arrived in September 2011 when Google announced that they were deprecating the Flash API. They were going to keep it running for 3 years, after which they would shut it down, and so our games would no longer work.

By this time web technologies had improved, and so it would be feasible to build Class 3 Outbreak with JavaScript. At one point I threw together a quick proof of concept of drawing sprites and overlays over a map (as required by the game and editor).

JavaScript Proof of Concept

However, there’s obviously a big gap and a lot of work between this proof of concept and a complete rewrite!

At the time of Google’s announcement we’d already decided to take a break from the web version of C3O in order to focus on making ZOS for iOS. So we were now hoping that we’d earn enough from ZOS on iOS to be able to afford to rewrite the game.

Our initial sales on iOS were encouraging, but not enough to fund a new JavaScript version of C3O. So in April 2012 we decided to keep focusing on iOS for the near term, releasing a few updates over the next 5 months.

In December 2012 Jay and I decided to part ways, and I took over Binary Space. I announced a two-prong strategy where I was planning to continue work on both ZOS on iOS and C3O on the web. Binary Space had barely broken even from sales of ZOS on iOS. There was no spare cash to fund a JavaScript rewrite, so I just continued to update the Flash version of C3O. I knew that eventually I’d have to throw away any new work on C3O and rewrite it, but I figured I’d worry about that later :) Over the next approx 6 months I released some updates to both ZOS and C3O.

Screen Australia Logo

In mid 2013 I decided to apply for funding from Screen Australia’s Interactive Game Fund, which the (former) Australian government had set up to support the local games industry. A ‘third prong’ of my plan for Binary Space had been to release ZOS on Android as well, and so I applied for funding to make an Android version. Besides wanting to release the game on Android for all the people who’d been asking for it, I hoped that an Android version would bring in some extra income which could be used to fund a rewrite of C3O.

At the end of September 2013 I heard back from Screen Australia – my application for funding had been successful! From there it took a couple of months to work out the contract with Screen Australia, so by the end of November the money was in Binary Space’s bank account and so I was ready to start. On my funding application I’d partnered with James to make new artwork, and I put out a call to hire a programmer to help me out, after which Tim came on board.

At the time I planned to start development in January 2014 and then release the game in May.

Planned schedule for ZOS on Android

This obviously turned out to be a bit optimistic! :) We’re now in September and the game’s not done yet. We’ve released five beta versions over the last few months (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), so it’s getting close though.

I knew the planned completion date of May was pushing up very close to Google’s shutdown date of the Google Maps Flash API of September. I was optimistic (aka deluding myself) that this might be enough time to rewrite the game in JavaScript, if the Android release was successful enough to hire another programmer to help me. As I passed the May release date this time frame got more and more squeezed. Even when it got into August I figured “September” was “some time next month” and so that surely meant “September 30th at 11:59pm” which was heaps of time, right? :)

Then 3 weeks ago Google sent me a reminder email saying that they’d be shutting off the Flash API in 3 weeks, ie today. Oops.

The Google Maps Flash API was deprecated on September 2, 2011 and will continue to work until September 2, 2014. On that date, the Google Maps Flash API will be turned off and requests to the API will fail. This will not be delayed.

Obviously, 3 weeks is not enough time for a complete JavaScript rewrite! However www.class3outbreak.com gets about 12,000 visitors per month, so it would be a shame to just let Class 3 Outbreak die. I quickly finished off the helicopters beta for ZOS on Android, and put the Android version on hold to see if I could hack together some kind of workaround in the time I had left.

What I’ve come up with is an ugly Flash and JavaScript hybrid. Instead of including the map in the Flash code, the Flash app is set to transparent, and a JavaScript map is inserted behind it. With a bit of hackery, the two are kept in sync.

Here’s how the game was put together before, all in Flash:

Class 3 Outbreak app layers in Flash

And here’s the hackery of how it fits together now:

Class 3 Outbreak app layers Flash and JavaScript hybrid

For the most part, this hack works reasonably well. For example here’s how it used to look:

Class 3 Outbreak using Flash maps

And here’s how the new version looks:

Class 3 Outbreak with JavaScript maps

Other than the copyright messages, it looks about the same. There are a few other glitches though. The main one is that the map and game don’t perfectly synchronize with each other, so they jump around a bit when the map is being dragged. The following is a demo, although this has been slowed down, so it looks worse than it really is.

Flash and JavaScript maps synchronization

This approach has been used for the editor-based version of C3O, which includes the game, the editor, and the world map. The editor and world map also look slightly different to how they were before, but the functionality is much the same.

However, there are two other apps using the Google Maps Flash API – the original versions of ZOS and C3O from 2009 and 2010.

Flash games are generally designed to spread around the Internet. While there are large Flash game portals like Kongregate and Newgrounds, there are thousands of other sites, and a successful game will be copied everywhere. Flash games usually include ads of some kind (or sponsorship by a website), so that the original author can earn some income from having their game spread around.

This was a problem for the original Class 3 Outbreak, because the Google Maps Flash API required a key which locked it to a specific domain. This meant it could only work on a limited number of sites for which we’d inserted keys into the game. We worked around this problem by having two maps in the game. The original Washington map used Google Maps, and we added a second map of Leicester, England which used aerial photos embedded into the game itself.

Classic Class 3 Outbreak map selection

It was therefore possible to play the Leicester map anywhere, and so the game could spread to portals (over 2,200 of them!). The Google-based Washington map could only be played on our site (and we also added a key for Kongregate). Players on other portals would see a link back to our site, where they could play the Washington map.

Classic Class 3 Outbreak map selection with Washington disabled

Although the Washington map never worked on the thousands of portals out there anyway, it did work on Kongregate. Obviously there’s no way I can hack JavaScript into a page on Kongregate, so that means the Washington map had to stop working there at least. Although around 18,000 people a month play the game across all portals, only around 9% of them play on class3outbreak.com itself. In theory I could have kept the Washington map working on my site with a JavaScript hybrid, but with the clock ticking before Google’s deadline, I don’t think I had time. So I decided that the easiest thing to do was to just replace the Washington map with a big fat ad for the new Class 3 Outbreak.

Classic Class 3 Outbreak map selection with world map

Although most portals are running an older version of the game and so will see the old ‘play Washington at class3outbreak.com’ message, if they click through to class3outbreak.com they’ll now see this promo instead.

The original Zombie Outbreak Simulator is where it all started, way back in 2009. Despite its age this still gets played by around 5,500 people a month. It featured only the original Google-based Washington map, and so only ran on the three sites we uploaded it to – class3outbreak.com, Kongregate, and National Geographic.

Classic Zombie Outbreak Simulator on the Washington map

I didn’t want to let ZOS die, and so I grabbed the Leicester map out of C3O and hacked it into ZOS. So now ZOS is completely Google-free, and can live to see another day :)

Classic Zombie Outbreak Simulator on Leicester map

I got all of this done in the nick of time – I was uploading the new version of everything at 1am this morning, the 2nd of September :) At the moment the Google Maps Flash API still seems to be working, but I assume it will disappear very soon.

Now it’s time for me to get back to the Android version of ZOS!

cya,
Saxon

ZOS for Android: Beta 0.5, with rescue helicopters!

Hey everyone,

I’ve just pushed out a ZOS for Android update to the beta testers. This version includes rescue helicopters, which you can use to evacuate civilians out of the map!

ZOS for Android: Rescue helicopters

Here’s how it looks animated:

ZOS for Android: Rescue helicopter animation

This is the final new in-game feature that I have planned for ZOS for Android (for the initial launch, anyway!).

ZOS for Android: Rescue helicopter UI

If you’d like to be a beta tester, just fill out this form and I’ll give you access.

More screenshots of the beta are available in these recent posts: version 0.4, version 0.3, version 0.2, version 0.1.

cya!
Saxon

 

ZOS for Android: Beta 0.4, now with soldiers!

Hey everyone,

I’ve just pushed out an update to the beta testers for ZOS on Android which adds the ability to drop soldiers into the map by parachute!

ZOS for Android soldier drop

It looks far cooler when animated though :D

ZOS for Android soldier drop animation

There is room for one more new feature on the UI, which we are working on now – adding rescue helicopters!

ZOS for Android soldier drop UI

If you’d like to be a beta tester, just fill out this form and I’ll give you access.

More screenshots of the beta are available in the other recent posts: version 0.3, version 0.2, version 0.1.

cya!
Saxon

 

ZOS for Android: Beta 0.3, now with bombs!

Hi everyone,

I’ve just pushed out version 0.3 of the ZOS for Android beta to the testers, now including bombs!

ZOS for Android bombs

This means ZOS for Android is now pretty much the same as ZOS for iOS as far as features go. However there are a few other things we’re planning to add for the Android version, as you can see from the empty space on the UI :)

ZOS for Android weapons menu

Next up will be dropping soldiers into the map via parachute! James has already created some cool soldier sprites, so I just need to code them in.

As before, if you’re interested in being a beta tester, just fill out this form and I’ll give you access.

cya,
Saxon

ZOS for Android: Beta 0.2 just released!

Hi everyone,

Just a quick post to say that I’ve just uploaded the second beta (version 0.2) of ZOS for Android to the beta testers.

The major changes in this version are the addition of the offline maps, as well as music and sound effects.

ZOS for Android offline maps

You can see more screen shots in the last post about beta release 0.1.

As before, if you’re interested in being a beta tester, just fill out this form and I’ll give you access.

cya,
Saxon

 

 

 

ZOS for Android: Call for Beta Testers!

Hey everyone!

I’ve been very quiet for the last several months, since announcing that I received funding from Screen Australia to develop Zombie Outbreak Simulator for Android. Along with James and Tim, we’ve been busy working away at bringing ZOS on Android to life.

So, I am very happy to say that we are now at the stage where we can finally begin some very early beta testing! :D There’s still quite a lot to do, but we have the core game working. So perhaps it’s more like alpha testing… :)

Here’s a bunch of screenshots of the current build:

ZOS for Android game screenshot 1

ZOS for Android game screenshot 2

ZOS for Android map select screenshot

ZOS for Android settings screenshot

I think James’ new UI artwork looks awesome, and Tim is doing a great job on bringing the UI to life!

The key focus of this first round of beta testing is to try the app out on a wider range of devices. Way back when I first developed ZOS for iOS I only had to test it on about 4 devices to cover the full range of available iOS hardware. However there are literally thousands of Android devices out there – Google Play says there are exactly 4262 devices that ZOS is compatible with!! There is no way we can test it on all the combinations of devices out there, so we need your help!

If you’re interested in helping to beta test ZOS on Android, please fill out this form, and I’ll get back to you when we’re ready to start (should be within the next week).

Thanks!
Saxon

 

Looking to Hire a Programmer

UPDATE 9 Jan 2014: This position has now been filled. Thanks to everyone who applied!

Hi all,

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, Screen Australia is giving me funding to develop Zombie Outbreak Simulator for Android.

When I submitted my application to Screen Australia I was planning on doing all of the programming myself, partnering with James Filippone to do the artwork and Surprise Attack to help with marketing advice. At the time I was doing contract work and so could have fit ZOS in amongst that. But I’m now much busier as I’ve recently started a full-time job.

So, I’m looking to hire a programmer to help me out!

I plan to do the core chunk of work of porting the basic zombies-on-maps gameplay from iOS over to Android – which is probably the most boring part :) I’m looking for someone to help build the new user interface using the new design which James will be making, as well as developing the new gameplay features like parachuting soldiers, helicopter rescues, etc.

I will be working on the app myself in my spare time – which is how I’ve built ZOS and C3O so far, over the last 4 years. So this would most likely suit someone who would like to work similarly. I’m imagining this might be appropriate for a current student or recent graduate, or something like that – but I’m open to anyone who is interested.

In the short term the plan is to build ZOS for Android. But this is part of a longer term strategy of expanding ZOS on iOS, expanding C3O on the web, and ultimately bringing C3O to mobile as well (see my last post for more details). If you’re just interested in a short-term gig developing ZOS on Android, then that’s cool. But I’d love to partner with someone who would be interested in continuing to develop ZOS/C3O in the future. I’d love to take all of the money Binary Space earns from selling ZOS on Android and funnel it into your bank account, to keep making awesome things :)

The key attributes you need are:

  • Smart
  • Interested in learning new technologies
  • Ideally interested in zombies

If you have these then I’m sure you’ll be able to pick up whatever skills you need to make cool stuff happen. I starting developing ZOS/C3O for the web without having done any Flash before, I started developing ZOS for iOS without having done any iOS before, I’m starting development of ZOS for Android without having done any Android before – learning new things is what I like to do :)

These are the kinds of things you’ll be writing / learning as you go:

  • Android
  • C++
  • OpenGL ES 2
  • Java

To see how I’ve done things in the past, and if you’re interested in the long-term, then you might be working with some of these:

  • iOS
  • Objective-C
  • Python
  • Flash
  • ActionScript
  • HTML
  • JavaScript
  • CSS

Think Flash is a bit uncool / old school? That’s okay, me too – I’ll need to rewrite the Flash in HTML5 before September 2014 anyway.

Besides the money, your work will be seen by thousands of people. ZOS on iOS has been downloaded by 200,000 people and gets played by about 13,000 people a month. The web versions of C3O/ZOS have been played over 4 million times, with 20,000 visitors a month.

Ideally I’d like to get a chunk of the main port out of the way before bringing someone on, so it will likely be late January / early February before I’ll be ready for you to start. But we can work around whatever works for you.

Since you’ll be paid using funding from Screen Australia, you’ll need to be living in Australia.

If you’re interested, send me an email at jobs@binaryspacegames.com with some details of why you’d be suitable (eg links to things you’ve worked on before, your linked in / stack overflow / github / whatever profiles, etc).

Saxon

 

ZOS for Android: Funding Successful!

Woohoo!

Screen Australia approved my funding application to make Zombie Outbreak Simulator on Android! Here’s their press release.

Screen Australia Logo

So for everyone who’s been asking for an Android version for ages (pretty much ever since we started development of the iOS version, back in late 2011), the answer is now that it’s “coming soon”!

TL; DR: The current plan is to release ZOS on Android around April/May next year. If you’re just interested in getting a copy, keep an eye on the blog / Facebook / Twitter, and come back in a few months :)

If you’re curious about all of the background behind getting to this point and what’s happening next, read on! I figured some people might find this interesting, including other Australian indie developers who might be thinking of applying for funding from Screen Australia.

As I described back in June, my future plan for Class 3 Outbreak and Zombie Outbreak Simulator looks something like this:

Class 3 Outbreak and Zombie Outbreak Simulator strategy

So there are 4 streams to this:

  1. Improve the web version of Class 3 Outbreak.
  2. Bring all of the maps of the web version of C3O to ZOS on iOS.
  3. Release ZOS on Android.
  4. Combine all of the above to release C3O on iOS and Android.

It seems tempting to apply for funding from Screen Australia for all of the above. However I don’t think that would be a responsible use of the government’s money!

The Lean Startup is an approach to building businesses and ideas which has grown enormously in popularity in recent years.

Google Search trend for Lean Startup

The core principle of ‘lean’ is not of running cheaply, but of minimizing waste. Traditional project development methods take a linear approach:

Waterfall Process

The problem with this is that it often results in waste. If the initial requirements turn out to be wrong, then the later effort is wasted.

The Lean Startup approach is to work iteratively in a Build / Measure / Learn feedback loop. The idea is to build some incremental functionality, put it in front of people and measure the results, and then learn from those results to decide what should be built in the next phase.

Build Measure Learn feedback loop

Each iteration through the loop is a guess as to what might work. If the guess turns out to be wrong, then only that iteration is wasted. The goal of a Lean Startup should be to minimize the total time through each loop, to therefore reduce waste and risk.

So, instead of applying for funding from Screen Australia with a grand plan and a big price tag, my preference was to apply to develop the smallest increment possible. Developing Zombie Outbreak Simulator for Android seemed like an ideal candidate – it’s relatively small, but can also be considered a separate fundable project on its own.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Lean Startup, this Harvard Business Review article is a great intro. Also, the above two pictures are from Pollenizer’s Building Lean Startups course notes – definitely worth going if you can!

As I’ve described before, ZOS on iOS has earned about $30k (since my last sales update, the total is now just over $33k). According to App Annie’s data for Q3 2013, total iOS revenue was about 2.1 times Android. But this is just an average across the 1 million plus apps on both stores. Some apps make more on iOS and some make more on Android, eg according to this article “The Simpsons: Tapped Out” earned about 79% on iOS, whereas “Blood Brothers” by Mobage earned 61% on Android.

My “random guess” is that ZOS might earn $10k to $20k on Android, but the only way to know is to build it and find out. So my initial plan was to apply for $10k of funding from Screen Australia. I figured if I asked for less than I thought the game could earn, then the project would make sense financially. The $10k would be split between me doing the coding and James Filippone who will be producing new UI artwork. The current UI for ZOS on iOS is designed for iOS screen sizes, and so won’t fit properly on the variety of Android devices.

iZOS UI

Mike Cowap from Screen Australia came over to Perth in July (about a week before the funding application deadline). As well as some group presentations he had six 20-minute time slots available for 1-on-1 meetings, and I managed to book one in. A few days before that, I’d emailed Chris Wright from Surprise Attack (a games marketing agency), to get his thoughts on what kind of marketing might be useful for ZOS on Android (given that we did pretty much nothing to market ZOS on iOS, other than promote it to existing players of C3O on the web).

Armed with some advice from Chris, I discussed my plans for ZOS with Mike. Mike’s suggestion was to apply for $20k – so the $10k I wanted for development, and another $10k for marketing. I was a little apprehensive, as I felt $20k is over what I thought ZOS on Android might earn, and so possibly a waste of the government’s money. However even if ZOS on Android doesn’t earn that much, there are non-financial benefits such as feeding into the longer-term strategy for Binary Space. After further discussing this approach with Chris, the plan was to spend a small amount of the marketing $10k budget on strategic advice from Surprise Attack, and the rest on user acquisition (using that advice).

So, if you’re thinking of applying for funding from Screen Australia, I’d definitely recommend you get in contact with Surprise Attack (or some other marketing experts), and discuss what kind of marketing might make sense for your project. The application to Screen Australia requires a marketing plan, and for most projects this will involve spending some money. In my case a plan of “promote to the existing users” may have been good enough, but being able to spend some money on it too can only help! I would also recommend getting in contact with Mike or someone else at Screen Australia, to discuss your plans for your project.

When I put in my application I laid out a few options for the budget. The first was for the full $20k including marketing. However in case the assessors at Screen Australia liked the idea but not the cost, I also included the option of just spending $10k on development and cutting the marketing. I even suggested I could do the coding for free if they just wanted to fund James to do the artwork.

However it went in the other direction! When Screen Australia called me up to say I’d been successful (yay!), they also said they’d decided to give me $30k instead!! They want me to spend the extra budget on expanding the gameplay a bit further than what is currently included in ZOS on iOS. Will ZOS on Android make a return which beats the $30k funding I’m receiving? Only one way to find out! At this stage I’m “cautiously optimistic”… ;)

As I said above, one of the long-term goals is to bring C3O to mobile, which means the full gameplay of guiding survivors through a zombie apocalypse. However this is not the type of gameplay which I’m planning to bring to ZOS. Rather than being a proper game, I think of ZOS as being more of a toy or sandbox, something to tinker with to see what happens. However I have some ideas for extra ‘gameplay’ which could be added to make it more interesting, like:

  • Dropping soldiers into the map via parachute.
  • Sending in helicopters to rescue civs.
  • Dropping in crates of weapons for unarmed civs to defend themselves with.
  • Sending in additional waves of zombies.

Helicopter in Classic C3O

At this stage I’m not promising any specific features – I plan to produce the core conversion of ZOS to Android first, and then see what we can do with the budget which is left over. I also plan to back-port any of these new features into an update for ZOS on iOS as well. Let me know if you have any cool ideas for what you’d like to see!

If you’re considering applying for funding from Screen Australia, one thing to keep in mind is how long the whole process takes. The deadline for applications was mid-July, and from there Screen Australia said they’d take about 10 weeks to assess them. I think they had over 60 applications, so I’m not surprised that it takes a long time to get through them all!

Mike from Screen Australia called me up almost exactly 10 weeks later around the end of September, to let me know that I’d been successful. At the time he suggested it would take about 8 to 12 weeks to work out the funding contract and so get the money in the bank, mainly because they’d be busy doing it for the 21 successful applicants all at the same time! Factoring in delays over Christmas, I re-adjusted my schedule to assume a start date of the 1st of January. Mike’s estimate turned out to be pretty accurate – the money arrived in my bank account just a few days ago, about 9 weeks after I’d heard the good news.

So that means from early July when I first spoke to Mike just before the funding deadline, up to receiving the money this week, took a total of about 5 months!

For this year’s funding Screen Australia had a single application deadline of mid-July. Next year they’re planning to take applications at any time throughout the year, and assess each application as it comes in. The guidelines for next year are much the same as this year, and the notes there still say to expect a 10 week turnaround time, although they haven’t released the application form yet. However maybe this approach which doesn’t concentrate their workload all at once will make the process a bit faster?

From the start date of the beginning of January, I’ve scheduled approx 3 months of development, with both James and I working part-time. Way back when I first applied in July, I was doing contract work and figured if I was successful I could slot ZOS in amongst whatever contract work I was doing at the time. However in early September I started a new full-time job, so I’m going to have to fit ZOS on Android around that… somehow. I’m hoping to hire someone to help me out – so if you’re interested, look out for a job ad here soon-ish :) Since July, James has also become involved in another big project, so he’ll be dividing his time between that and ZOS. After those three months of development I’m aiming for beta testing during April, so release by the beginning of May. Given that the money has arrived a month ahead of that revised schedule I may be able to get started a little earlier, but we’ll see how it goes!

Planned schedule for ZOS on Android

Another thing to keep in mind if you’re thinking of applying for funding, is that receiving “$30k of funding” doesn’t actually mean getting $30k. It’s not like they meet you in the park and hand over a paper bag of cash after you say the code word :) There are a whole bunch of overheads which reduce the actual benefit.

The first overhead is time. I spent about 20 hours preparing the application – about 55 pages of documents and 5 minutes of video – and this doesn’t count the time I spent finding an artist to work with beforehand. And in the last couple of months I’ve spent another 15 hours or so reviewing legal documents and so on. All of this is time that I could have spent working on the game.

ZOS for Android Screen Australia application documents

The next overhead is that Screen Australia keeps 2% of the funding to cover their admin fees.

Another overhead is legal fees. Before sending the money, Screen Australia need proof that you own the full rights to develop the game. To get this proof you need to hire a lawyer to write up a Chain of Title letter. This involves paying the lawyer to review all of the legal documents you have for ownership of the game’s intellectual property, so they can write a letter which says that they believe you own the rights.

The cost to produce the chain of title letter depends on how complicated your project is, and so how many documents there are to review. And also if any of the documents are found to be inadequate, they might need to be reworked and then re-reviewed. This also means that it’s important that you have written agreements with everyone who has ever worked on your game, transferring their IP to your company – which is a good idea even if you’re not planning on applying for funding! The proper way to prepare those agreements is probably to hire a lawyer to do them. But if (like me) you’d rather spend your money on making games and eating than spend it on lawyers, then I’d recommend using a template from somewhere. For a few of my agreements I used the IP Deed of Assignment from Startmate, which seems quite comprehensive.

Fortunately, I had been pretty strict in making sure I had written agreements with everyone who worked on the game in the past, so I didn’t have to chase down people who worked with us way back in 2011 for example. However for Jay and I who’d done the bulk of the work, instead of transferring ownership of the IP to Binary Space, we had originally just licensed our IP to Binary Space. This turned out to not be good enough, so I had to ask Jay nicely to sign a new doc which extended the agreement we came to when he left last year, and I had to sign over my IP as well. All of these legal shenanigans have to be the most fun part of “developing” games… not.

The cost of my chain of title letter (involving reviewing agreements with 5 people) ended up being $1000, so that’s another 3% or so of the budget gone before I’ve even started developing anything.

The contract with Screen Australia works out to about 40 pages of pretty dry legalese. The right thing to do here is probably to spend even more money on lawyers to review that too. However I chose to save the money and review the contract myself. What’s the worst that could happen…? :)

You might also want to consider insurance. Things like worker’s compensation are generally compulsory (depending on various factors), but I chose not to spend money on other insurances like public liability. I’m taking a calculated risk between the value of spending money on development instead of insurance, vs the possible chance of something bad happening.

The overhead of spending time on non-development stuff hasn’t stopped now that the money is in my bank account. To close out the project I will need to provide Screen Australia with ongoing reports about costs and outcomes and so on. And for example when I say “in my bank account” I mean “in Binary Space’s bank account”, and by “Binary Space’s bank account” I don’t mean Binary Space’s usual bank account, I mean a separate bank account which I had to open specifically to hold the funding, and which I need to get two people to sign off whenever I need to pay for something… which means I’ll be spending more time on accounting.

So out of all of that, the effective amount of money/time that I get to spend on making ZOS works out to a good chunk less than the “$30k”. Still a good chunk more than zero though :)

One final thing to keep in mind if you’re thinking of applying for funding is cash flow. Binary Space is a tiny indie company, and its only source of income is about $150/week in sales of ZOS on iOS. This is enough to cover its costs, but only just – so there isn’t much cash lying around in Binary Space’s bank account. If your company is like mine, then you’ll likely need to find some extra cash from somewhere to cover some expenses.

At the start of the project Screen Australia won’t send payment until they’ve approved the chain of title letter – so even if the cost of that is part of the project’s budget, you might need to pay your lawyer up front. I was pretty lucky with this – I managed to time my lawyer so that he finished the letter within a few days of me needing to send it to Screen Australia, and so I received the money from Screen Australia soon after – one day before my lawyer sent his invoice!

Screen Australia make payments against milestones – for my project they’ve paid me 80% up front (ie $24k), and the other $6k will be paid once the project is complete and all of my final reports have been approved. That means I need to spend that $6k before I will receive it. So near the end of the project I’m going to have to loan that $6k to Binary Space from my personal savings for a few months, and then have Binary Space pay me back later once it receives the final payment from Screen Australia.

Planned Income and Expenses for ZOS for Android

Anyway, despite all of the above challenges, this funding from Screen Australia is a huge opportunity to help bring Binary Space, Class 3 Outbreak, and Zombie Outbreak Simulator to the next level. Huge thankyous to everyone at Screen Australia for supporting the project, and to the (previous) Australian government for providing the funding. I’m looking forward to it! :D

cya,
Saxon

 

ZOS for Android: Screen Australia application

Hi everyone,

Way back in June I wrote a post to see if anyone would be interested in helping me build an Android version of Zombie Outbreak Simulator, by joining me in applying for funding from Screen Australia’s new Games Production Fund. For those of you interested in seeing ZOS come to Android, I thought I’d post an update!

ZOS on iOS has earned about $30k. Some apps make more on iOS and some make more on Android, eg according to this article “The Simpsons: Tapped Out” earned about 79% on iOS, whereas “Blood Brothers” by Mobage earned 61% on Android. My “random guess” is that ZOS might earn $10k to $20k on Android, but the only way to know is to build it and find out. So I figured if I could put a proposal to Screen Australia for $10k or less, they might accept it.

My preference was to spend that $10k on hiring other people to build the Android version of the game. Any income from sales of the game on Android would then be put back into building future updates to ZOS and C3O on the web, iOS and Android. So I put out the call for three people:

  • A programmer
  • An artist
  • A marketer

I didn’t get much response from possible programmers – only one person contacted me, and his estimate alone was over the total budget of $10k! His estimate was probably quite sensible though – as I’ve described before, although ZOS has made some money, my total profit for over 2700 hours of work is approximately zero. So my plan B was for me to do the programming, most likely at a loss (basically for whatever was left of the $10k budget after however much the artist and marketer wanted).

I got responses from a small number of artists – thanks everyone who got in contact with me! Many thanks to James Filippone who was willing to partner with me in putting in an application to Screen Australia! Screen Australia’s guidelines require teams to have at least 2 people who have worked on at least 2 games each. You can see some of James’ work here and here.

For the marketing side, I got in contact with Chris Wright from Surprise Attack (an Australian games marketing agency). I met Chris when he came over to Perth last year to be part of an indie games marketing course put on by Let’s Make Games. Chris gave me some tips, and was also happy to help me out with some further strategic advice if I was successful with getting funding. Thanks Chris!

Also thanks to Mike Cowap from Screen Australia, who came over to Perth back in July (about a week before the funding deadline), to talk about the funding program. I was able to get a one-on-one meeting with Mike to discuss my ideas for ZOS on Android.

By the time I’d talked about all of the above with James, Chris and Mike, there was a week left until the first round funding deadline (the 12th of July). I figured I might as well give it a try! :)

Here’s all of the documents which I prepared for the application, laid out on my table:

ZOS for Android Screen Australia application documents

That’s 14 documents, each ranging in length from 1 to 14 pages, and each printed out 3 times. That makes over 170 sheets of paper! Also 3 USB drives, containing electronic copies of the documents, plus two videos that I had to prepare (each about 2.5 minutes in length).

And here’s that enormous wad of paper, at the post office getting ready to be posted off to Screen Australia, only 2 days before the deadline!

Posting Screen Australia application docs for ZOS for Android

The funding deadline was the 12th of July. Screen Australia’s guidelines say that they will take around 10 weeks to assess the applications and announce their decision. It’s now been about 7 weeks, so hopefully I will find out by the end of September? I’m crossing my fingers! :D

cya,
Saxon

 

Zombie Outbreak Simulator at Supanova Perth

Last weekend (29th and 30th of June) the Supanova Pop Culture Expo came to Perth.

Supanova Profile Picture

Anthony Sweet from Handwritten Games had booked himself a table on the Artists’ Alley, but his table had more space than he had stuff to show off. So he put out a call to see if any other local game developers would like to join him for one of the two days. I figured it’d be fun to show Zombie Outbreak Simulator for iOS, so I said I’d come along on the Saturday.

I hastily printed out an A2 (16 x 23 in) poster, and a hundred A6 (4 x 6 in) flyers.

iZOS poster for Supanova iZOS flyer for Supanova

I took my mac to play an endless loop of an iZOS promo video, two iPads to demo iZOS on, and set myself up on the end of Anthony’s table:

iZOS and Handwritten Games at Supanova

And then it was on! I must have said “It’s a zombie simulator set on Google Maps, you can change the outbreak settings like number of zombies, number of civs, zombie speed, then watch the outbreak unfold, or drop some bombs on them” several hundred times :)

The expo was open from 10am to 6pm – I’d given away my hundred flyers by 2pm, only half-way through! After that I had to ask people to take a photo of my last remaining flyer, or I suggested they Google “zombies on maps” ;)

It was a fun day, and it was interesting to see people playing the game (I noticed a few things in the UI which I should possibly change to make them more obvious). A few people even commented “oh I remember this from a while ago”, which was cool to hear!

But besides being a fun day out, I thought it might be interesting to post some figures on whether it succeeded in promoting the game. Sales take a day or two to filter through the system from Apple’s reports, but rankings are updated every hour. When I got home that night from Supanova, the Australian rankings had definitely jumped up:

iZOS Australian rankings June 29 2013

So clearly some sales had been made, although from the rankings it was impossible to tell how many.

Anyway, a week later here’s how total sales look in Australia for the last month:

iZOS sales due to Supanova

So there was definitely a very noticeable jump. From a previous average of about $1.50 a day it jumped to $10 on the day of Supanova, and stayed higher for a couple of days. It looks like it is now heading back to its average, but might have a few extra sales still going on.

So, total extra sales is probably about $20. This works out to about 30 sales, which is a 30% conversion rate on my 100 flyers, which seems pretty good! Thanks everyone who bought a copy! :) Given that it cost me about $55 to print the poster and flyers, it works out to a net loss overall. But it was still a fun day so it certainly wasn’t a waste of time! And as a bonus I got Raymond E Feist to autograph my copy of Magician while I was there ;)

Thanks Anthony for inviting me along! To those of you reading this, you should totally check out his Handwritten Games website :) If you’re into Mafia-themed comics, you should have a look at his Grand City comic, the first edition of which was released on the day of Supanova. Also during the lull from around 5pm onwards Anthony and I played a game of his Halfling Heist board game, which was good fun. During Supanova Anthony collected a bunch of signups for his mailing list – if you’re into halfling-themed board games (?!) you should email him and ask to be added to his mailing list, so he can let you know when it gets published later this year!

cya!
Saxon