I am looking at the mind map I created on Monday, April 18, 2016, and it has very little in common with the one I’ve just printed now. The new one is all about games and cool initiatives for our users, while the old one was all bullet points and Defold features. A pivot happened, or a set of pivots thereof.
Today we know we’re all about games made by talented indies. This is why we had released Defold publicly last GDC. This is why we’re bringing best indies to GDC in San Francisco for free this year. But we did things differently at first and made some mistakes.
I joined King with a background of bringing an ‘engine the industry does not care about’ to the market. Back in the days Unity was a Mac-only engine for enthusiasts, while the coolest devs were with so called AAA-engines. So Unity’s messages of democratisation and “build once, deploy anywhere” were just right for the wave of emerging indie publishing opportunities, such as the Apple AppStore.
The key had been to deliver this message to the market that hadn’t been entirely in a mood for a new game engine. Nowadays games industry is much bigger, more vibrant, and is traditionally not in the mood for a new game engine. And while old engines are enjoying the market share and new ones are enjoying investments to find place in the industry, we have a luxury to focus on the product, tailor it to the flagship stakeholder needs. This means that the Defold roadmap is clean and focused, dictated by market requirements for King games.
With this in mind, why would we do marketing overall? Indeed, we’re not monetizing the engine. Defold is free, no price, no royalty, just free. Why don’t we use Defold marketing budgets to help indies who use our engine be more successful instead?
This wasn’t an obvious decision, but it was a natural result to the industry response to our initial marketing fireworks. The industry response was very honest, in lines of “so how much are you paying us to use your engine?”. We tried to mitigate such response with arguments like “we don’t lure you in with marketing opportunities” and “you may really use the engine if you like it”. In fact we had a world tour with engine features on the slides until we figured out the approach wasn’t good.
These days instead of bullet points we just show games. This is my slide about use-cases for Defold. Nails it perfectly.
We believe our technology is superior, we use it ourselves at King for multiple games, we do have a released Saga built on it. Rightfully, instead of talking loudly about the engine we decided to let Defold users do it, while we would help market their games. Happy indies make sure the world knows they are happy, we thought.
Then we had to invent lots of new processes, not only within our group, but also within industry. If a King or Defold-branded booth is hosted by several indie teams with their games, how to explain to the world that these are independent developers not published by King, not actually sponsored by King, and not exactly affiliated with King? These developers just use our technology to make games and sometimes we do help some of them in small ways (but usually we don’t), with things like marketing, trade shows, ads, traffic, industry connections, and/or whatever makes sense.
We may be Agile and crazy with most communications happening over our forums and Slack channel. While we’re figuring out a way to scale this, everything has been built on trust, with a minimum of legal paperwork. That ‘everything’ is: printed and online ads, sponsored Facebook posts, expo space and promos. Sometimes even cookies.
This is how the Defold expo space looked like at White Nights in Moscow in October 2016. It is all about games, all about indies, the fresh wave of young talent. Their games art is on the walls and they host the booth, show games, do meetings, give away swag and arrange promos. King people don’t really operate the show, but we do help out.
Then we tried a games expo, a huge GameOn show in Vilnius with teams showing their games and educational projects. Same concept – we helped out and the indies try make the most of the show.
What if the teams sign a deal and earn millions there? This is exactly what we expect, this is exactly what we want these teams to do. And no, we still would not ask for a revenue share.
Defold is as good as games #MadeWithDefold are. We’ve piloted this approach with some indie teams in smaller regions and now feel ready to roll it all out at a global scale. As global and scaled up as GDC in San Francisco.
In fact, we’ve decided to cover travel and accommodation expenses additionally to all the event activities, expo space, and marketing for selected teams. That’s right, we’re bringing, flying over, accommodating, and hosting three members from each of the six winning teams at GDC in San Francisco.
If you feel like we’re talking about you, read on out Defold competition rules – www.defold.com/competition and join our #GDC Slack channel on the defold.com/slack to stay tuned to updates. Good luck and make better games.