n-Space Blog

Alive and Kicking

Posted in Analysis, Editorial by Dan O'Leary on April 6, 2011

Six months ago I wrote about n-Space “hitting the wall.” In October of last year, a perfect storm of circumstances forced me to do the unthinkable – layoff the entire staff after almost 16 years in business. Things have changed a lot since then and it’s well past time for an update…

n-Space is still very much alive.

The week after the layoff many of us were back in the office, putting the pieces back together and finalizing deals to rebuild the company. We now have 5 titles in development – three on 3DS, one DS and one for 360 Kinect. We have rehired as many previous employees as possible, and picked up several new ones as well. Our total headcount now almost 60 and climbing, and we’re all very excited to share with you what we’ve been working on. Look for more on that front in the run-up to E3.

None of this would have been possible without the hard work and sacrifice of our staff who have, through it all, showed great strength and done amazing work. Coming back from the dead is hard to do and it left n-Space somewhat fragile, but with our reputation and capabilities intact. Later this year I intend to roll out plans for employee profit sharing and stock options, among other new benefits. Until then, irreverent t-shirts, carmel apple lollipops and an upcoming retreat are how I show my thanks for their hard work and undying support.

Disappointingly, but not too surprisingly, our recovery has received no significant coverage by the local or game media. It’s funny how quickly bad news spreads, especially in this internet age, and how many ignorant, hateful people rushed to dance on our grave that day. Sour grapes? You bet. Thanks to our fans, friends and family that have supported us through this challenge.

The industry seems to have turned the corner. <Knock On Wood>

Both DICE and GDC were very good conferences from a business development point of view. n-Space attends these shows to meet with potential partners, pitch concepts and discuss their upcoming development needs. We had nearly such 20 meetings at GDC alone, with a variety of publishers. All were anxious to place products on console, handheld, web and mobile platforms. This is a welcome change from the last two years, when meetings felt more like obligations than opportunities.

I believe that established independent developers like n-Space who have managed to survive the recent bloodbath are set to flourish. It’s not a return to normal, but establishing a new normal as the industry has fundamentally changed. Here are a few predictions / observations:

  • The traditional console and retail box product approach still faces many challenges in the coming years as consumers spend more and more of their precious money and attention in other spaces.
  • Mobile and browser-based gaming are here to stay, supported by powerful new price points and monetization methods. There are some really great games out there that cost absolutely nothing to play, unless you want to accelerate your progression, improve your character, etc. This isn’t something new, of course, but it is gaining a lot of traction as evidenced by TenCent’s recent $400m acquisition of Riot Games, creators of the popular multiplayer online battle-arena game, League of Legends.
  • Almost nobody in the industry, except maybe Nintendo, wants another console before 2014. Most are very thankful for the success of Kinect (especially Microsoft!) as it will extend the lifespan of the 360 and this entire generation. Expect to see Microsoft and Sony both delay a new console launch as long as they can.
  • 3DS is hot. Publishers see the staggering success of DS, with over 130 million units sold, and can’t help but get in line to support this platform. The hardware is awesome and the launch has been Nintendo’s best in history. The 3D visuals are very compelling and provide immediate WOW factor, but also create a dramatic improvement to the overall visual aesthetic and quality that lasts well past the initial impressions. Combined with the significantly improved graphical capabilities, the games look fantastic and the whole system totally delivers on the “magical” experience that everyone has touted since E3 2010. Look for more of our impressions in an upcoming blog entry.
  • Impressions of NGP are mixed. As gamers we love it – awesome hardware is something Sony does best and they have a great slate of titles planned. As developers with tremendous handheld experience we are rooting for it – more business opportunities and new challenges. As a business we’re curious how viable it is financially. Games will be very expensive to develop, requiring high unit sales to be profitable. Publishers will likely look to minimize those costs by porting PS3 titles, with as few changes / improvements as Sony will allow. I’m not sure the result will excite consumers enough to drive sales. A classic Chicken and Egg scenario may play out. Publishers we’ve talked to mostly share our position of cautious enthusiasm, but a few are enthusiastically supporting it.
  • Kinect is hot. Hotter than anyone (Microsoft included IMHO) expected. With more than 10 million units sold it has gone from niche accessory to bonafide success and a bandwagon that everyone is looking to get on. How long it will last is the bigger question now, but it’s clear that Microsoft is committed to it for both core and casual markets and retail as well as XBLA. If the sales trend continues and some must-have software titles emerge it could become a real force to contend with. Oh, and it sells 360s too. At Christmas 2010 my home 360 popped the RROD, sending me to secure a replacement before the family had new games and no system. The first three stores I went to were sold out! Impressive.
  • Next, next gen is around the corner. CryEngine, Unreal and Frostbite have all shown us what’s to come and it’s pretty amazing. I just wonder how our industry will bear the cost of development.
  • Apple may win it all. iPad 2 is a warning shot. Most initial analysis of its hardware have focused on the additional memory and dual core processor, somehow glazing over the fact that the GPU is 9x as powerful as before. That kind of jump is unheard of in a single generation. What would it take for Apple to roll that into iPhone 5? How about the next revision of AppleTV? Add App Store support and Bingo! You’ve got a $99 console with virtually unlimited games for $5 or less. Oh, and it also does anything else you want. Want more? There are rumors that Apple is looking to license AirPlay to TV manufacturers. No AppleTV needed – play games on your near-360/PS3 powered smartphone or tablet (using the devices touchscreen, gyro and accelerometers for WiiMote+ style controls) and push the video to your living room set. All of this could happen in the next 12 months. In fact, it will very likely happen, and maybe sooner. I don’t think there is any coincidence at all that Apple arranged to have its last big announcement at the same time as GDC, nor that WWDC 2011, their big annual developer conference, is scheduled at the same time as E3. Also expect more on this in a future blog entry.

The job market in the game industry is flooded with entry level talent.

As part of our hiring efforts, n-Space hosted a space in the GDC career pavilion this year – a first for us. It was a positive experience and worth it for PR and Good Will alone. Jen, Cheryl and Erica worked the booth for three long days and kept smiling throughout it. They met a lot of great people, collected some strong resumes, gave out n-Space t-shirts and carmel apple lollipops.

The overwhelming majority of candidates were entry level. Thanks to a recent surge in the number of schools selling the dream of a job in game development, there are a tremendous number of kids looking for a start in this challenging industry. I’m afraid this will end badly for many of them, who are often poorly prepared by opportunistic programs and are competing with many other experienced candidates affected by rounds of recent layoffs around the world.

If you are in this group, you better know your craft and be prepared to work very, very hard to make yourself stand out and get noticed. We’ll do a separate blog post on that topic very soon.

That’s all for now. Sorry for the long-winded post, but I have a lot on my mind after 6 months of silence. Look for more activity here from now on, with posts from myself and other n-Space staff.

Thanks for your interest in n-Space.

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