2019/09/15

Happy 20th Anniversary Panzer Elite!

20 years ago we released Panzer Elite, a World War 2 tank simulation which became an international hit over the years. Years? Yes, read on. Warning, long article.



In 1996 I was preparing coming back to the AAA game industry after having a short trip through Apple and afterwards doing Advertising games for companies like Kelloggs.

Anyway, I found a partner I knew from my Rainbow Arts time in the 80's, a really good programmer. He wanted to do the prototype, I did the design & pitch. We wanted to found a development company with this title and were looking for a publisher. But what game to make?

I did a list of all historical topics and wrote the best games beside it to see which was occupied, looking for a gap. And there it was: back then simulations was the king class of PC games and everyone did Flight Sims, but why wasn't there a proper tank simulation?

The answer was technology. Remind you, there were no 3d acceleration back then, all 3d was software only making development very complicated as you had to spend half of your time on engine and technology.

Still, Heiko was eager to try and came up with a demo of a Panther tank driving through a very detailed landscape. You could even see the suspension working. He did some crazy things to pull off the level of detail we needed: far reaching landscapes, detail and my idea to let everything be blown apart - as tanks needed cover and be able to go hull down - and of course blow away that cover.

Born was our destruction system, even synched over multiplayer, a first time worldwide back then. But we didn't know that.

As we were a German developer I knew we will have problems getting the trust of the big publishers, as back then the German industry wasn't known for potential worldwide hits. It was the 90's, when everyone did console games - but we weren't. Oh well, so I followed advice of a good friend of mine David Braben (yes, that one, who made Elite) to get an Agent helping with the deal.

So I approached Jacqui Lyons, his agent, a former book agent who widened her portfolio with game developers. She was very successful having sold many hits already, so all publishers had to be nice to her and not ripping of her developers - as they feared losing the next hit she has, right? A strong position to be in.

So armed with print outs of our pitch and a 3.5" disc with the demo (yes, print out, disc, you read that right, the internet wasn't there yet) we came to E3 (when it still was a good show) and had over 30 appointments.

Want a peek in our pitch doc? Here it is: DesertFox as PDF, our working title back in 1996. Unfortunately the prototype no longer works (and I don't have a 3.5" disc drive anymore).

Most publishers weren't even understanding what we were trying to do. Most were looking for console or the next "big thing like game ABC in the chart". Tank sims? Who plays these? They didn't have any reference.

Our favorite pick was SSI - Strategic Simulations, back then the king of War Games, Sims and RPG's. They immediately fell in love with ours and also said they tried to do their own tank sim but would stop doing it if we sign. Three more showed interest, but we went home with SSI being our favorite. Jacqui warned us to hold our breath as deals can go wrong, so we let her do her thing.

Faster than ever we had our contract and offer and Jacqui said this is a good one, contract was negotiated, and we send back the signed one. SSI was owned by Mindscape and they had to verify the contract - and Mindscape came back they would only sign if they got the IP rights (no go for Jacqui) and the source code (no go from us). Oh well, so we cancelled and went on the other three interested parties. As SSI continued their own tank sim they incorporated a lot from our design as they knew we were their strongest competition. Ideas are cheap, nothing you can do.

Second interested party was Acclaim, a big name back then. Contract negotiations dragged on and when everything was ready we flew to London into the CEO's office to sign - and we saw on entering his office that something is wrong. HE had to admit his boss from USA called and due to the situation of the company had to cancel all third party development. Including ours.

Ah well, lets go on should we.

Jacqui made an office invite party to show new products and invited publishers and we were showing Panzer Elite. A guy came up and looked at our demo and simply said "I want this". Which company? Psygnosis, awesome, a good name, a Sony company. So we signed a couple of weeks later and hired people, expanded to 7 developers and started the full production (yes 7 people, teams were smaller back then). Our fine little development company was called Wings Simulations. We were proud as we were a new triple A studio - in Germany. A rare feat back in the days.



Production was going fine, working with John Meegan, our producer at Psygnosis was awesome. Getting near launch we saw not everything went well with Psygnosis, the market changed. Everyone was going console as the Playstation was a huge hit and Psygnosis with being a Sony daughter company had trouble making a point with PC games - a competitor platform for Sony.

Additionally 3d acceleration cards became a thing and we had to implement hardware acceleration on top of our software renderer. Psygnosis gave us the time and budget though, so all was fine. We build up a community with a forum and web page, developing along with the community. Back then this was unique, so we had a fan base ready before we even launched. Oh, and Ultima Online shipped, distracting me from the game ;)

So 1999 we were ready - but Psygnosis wasn't. Word from Sony came that all PC products had to be cancelled and focus on Playstation. But they also said "Keep the best 3 to make money". We were among them - which was a pain as Psygnosis shipped the initial market order and shut down their commpany. Wait what? Yes. Over 30 simulations shipped during 1998/99, the market was flooded. Still, numbers of Panzer Elite were promising.

Psygnosis sold off their PC catalogue to GTE Interactive, a subsidy of GTE, the telecommunications giant from USA. They reprinted with a new packaging and released it again - only to be shut down 2 weeks afterwards. Wait what? Number 2.

Meanwhile we pitched out next games and CDV from Germany was ready to sign - when a new Austrian company called JoWood approached us and asked what we really want to do. I said we want to make a MMO called Getaway Driver, basically a GTA Online. They asked to purchase us, the whole company and we sold. My first exit.

When they heard the story and success of Panzer Elite they asked us to try to buy the rights back. Original copies of Panzer Elite were selling for $200 on eBay (Internet was here now) so there was potential. It took a while but we reached the lawyer of the defunct Psygnosis and paid 30k pounds sterling for the rights and had our game back. Meanwhile the mod community went crazy and expanded the game heavily. Remember, the community was still ours in control and the best mod teams even had the source code we gave to them - a new thing to do back then, not many developers did that ever.

So we remastered the game, called it Panzer Elite Special Edition updated it with a mod enabler and shipped all mods along with it with our new owner Jowood. It became one of the best selling games of Jowood and we sold more than Psygnosis & GTE combined, again. 2 years after release.

What we didn't know is how long the game will live. 10 years after release the game was still on the shelf - selling. When Jowood went away and we had to shut down our studio in 2005 the new owner of the IP THQ Nordic rereleased the game with the (bad) IP derivates Panzer Elite action it again appeared on the shelf. You still can stumble upon a $3 copy of the game sometimes. An everlasting title. And the mod community still releases mod updates for the game today!

Please take a look into the credits of the wonderful team who made it happen here.

Panzer Elite won numerous awards and did many things for the first time in games.

Panzer Elite had destructible terrain like trees could be run over, houses collapse, shells leave craters. And this even in Multiplayer. Something we repeated in our later game Söldner . secret Wars, with only Crytek managing this achievement 5 years after Söldners release.

Maps of the historical terrain were using elevation data to recreate the scenarios - often using historical maps from the wars found in archives by our scenario designer and history expert Matthias Siedlaczek. Many anecdotes around that, like one archive only giving us the maps when we do NOT mention them in the credits. Hmmm.

We simulated a lot in Panzer Elite, down to the experience gain of the crew and the stats of the tank depending on their skill levels. Yes, World of Tanks has that, but they shipped 2010, 11 years later.

Our terrain renderer was one of the most detailed of its time considering we didn't have the cool new tech from hardware acceleration like prebaked maps & lightning.

We were one of the first teams in Germany having a world wide publishing contract. We were only beaten by Yager who shipped a title earlier with Microsoft.

Panzer Elite was one of the rare games having three consecutive publishers and still be a success. But hey, we got three different boxes with art in return :)

For accessibility we had a "mouse tank interface" which allowed you to play the whole game without any keyboard shortcuts - yes, that was a thing in 1999.



Panzer Elite had a shelf time of way over 10 years. People still talk and chat about it decades later. Or release mods for it in 2018 ... 20 years after its release (click for link).

Panzer Elite was one of the first games using community driven development, which is sexy again today after it has been forgotten.

Panzer Elite kicked off the career of many involved people, later joining companies like Wargaming, Sony, Blizzard and more.

Panzer Elite was a simulation, so we even simulated visibility depending on tank type and its vision slits and wether or not the commander was looking through his open hatch on the turret. We even tracked the passage of a penetrating bullet through the innards of the tank to see which modules we disable due to being damaged.

This game is still one of my most important ones in my career. And no, a remake won't do well, as simulations are unfortunately dead. Back in the 90's we could sell 250k of a simulation and it was considered a hit. Today 250k doesn't even pay development.

One of our lead and best programmers I met in my career died recently - far too young. I wish he would be remembered for all his efforts, but he always stayed in the dark and was too humble to tell everyone how brilliant he was. This is for you Markus.


2019/08/27

Ah sorry

Wow, the last post is like months ago. Sorry for this but too many projects came to me and I couldn't resist. News will follow during PAX what I am up to and a general update whats coming next.

Also, the video of my talk at Digital Dragons is still not online, but I will post it here as soon as I got a link.

Next up is Baltic Dev Days in two weeks and then GiC, with all new content!

Talk to you soon.

2019/02/22

Publishers fireing people all over

You heard the news. Activision fires 800 people despite best year ever in terms of revenue. Arena.net, the operator of Guildwars, seems to get large layoffs. EA will fire a lot of people from their Australian studio (For Americans: that's near the Hobbit place, not the one in the Alps).

Longtime readers of my blog know why this happens now. Others can read my 6-year-old entries here:

https://teut.blogspot.com/2012/11/transition-years.html

https://teut.blogspot.com/2014/03/transition-years.html

Let's take the Activision case. Why fire 800 people when you had a record year? The reason is, you don't fire people due to the current year's results, but what you see in your forecast of the next. If you look at Activision's portfolio for 2019/2020 there is a large gap of original titles. Even Blizzard, part of Activision, said there is no new Blizzard game coming for a while. So the next one or two years will look bleak for Activision. That's why you optimize your company and fire the bottom 10%.

I am not defending this, I am just explaining. The one thing you can blame Activision is that they knew this is coming, its poor planning (and letting Bungie leave, wtf?).

Activision needs to invest their best teams into the next console generation. As the current one will drop in revenue in terms of software and the new one won't do much at first that gap is what we call transition years. EA is very experienced in this and already cut off workforce last year and will continue this year. If you google back into 2012 you will notice the same happened.

This transition year might not be as bad as the previous ones though as the rumored backward compatibility of the next generation, the Switch and the mobile market might buffer some of the previous revenue losses.

2019/02/05

2019/01/11

GaaS

So Bungie got Destiny back - and finally can run it as a proper game as a service, which Activision refuses to adapt for most of their products (aside from Blizzard). Mobile games go GaaS for some years. In fact, most successful games today are GaaS games, even GTA V or Red Dead 2 are managed as GaaS.

What is it? Look at this video from 2011 showing Knowledge from 1997 which again has been gathered for 20 years at that point. GaaS is old. The knowledge though is deluded due to the death of subscription MMO's - at least in the classic industry. To learn about GaaS all you need to do is to google - and watch talks from 1997 ;)


2019/01/10

Happy New Year - here is whats up ...

2018 was a year full of travel. You will have access to most of my talks which were taped. I also published the ones online for download. So what's coming 2019?

I am busy with two large clients so I actually stopped taking new ones - but I do have partners I can recommend working for you. So don't worry.

I will also cut down my conference visits as I am starting my own mobile game project soon. Watch this space as soon as we can talk about it.

The next conference up is White Nights Berlin. I will talk about the "Lost Art of Immersion on Mobile". Something completely different but its a topic by heart.
The only other conference fixed so far is Devcom right before Gamescom. I do not know if I go to GiC or Digital Dragons in Poland yet - we will see. GDC USA isn't a place for me since years, although I have been on the first 10 since it started (yes, 1988 onwards) and triple-A and console aren't much for me these days although I am helping on a AAA f2p title at the moment. There is also the fact that the advisory board of GDC USA keeps ignoring my submissions, which is strange to experience when most other conferences fight about me but GDC isn't. Well, their loss.

So, if I visit other conferences which topic would you love to see? Let me know. I have covered so many that I might have lost track what you want to hear or learn about.



2018/11/11

Up close & Personal

The chance to ask me anything:

 Breakfeast with Teut in Berlin

https://www.medianet-bb.de/en/event/gamesnet-breakfast-with-teut-weidemann-monetization-money-makes-the-game-go-round-2/

My Poznan GiC slides were downloaded over 1000 times. So if anyone plans to develop this let me know, I would love to give additional input.

2018/09/16

Next Conference Visits

Casual Connect Serbia, October 1st to 3rd
Doing my Lootbox talk, maybe they tape it so I can post the video. I am also hosting a fireside chat with Patryk from Vivid, details see link above. Looking forward to this one, as I love Casual Connects.

GiC Poland
A week later I am in Poznan, Poland, to visit GiC. It is an awesome conference with high-quality talks, come to get some and see my talk where I try to design an f2p game in 45 minutes on stage.


2018/07/11

My Digital Dragon Talk as video

If you missed this talk at Digital Dragons in Krakow, Poland,  or didn't attend (which you should next year, awesome conference!), here it is:


2018/05/17

GaaS

If you never heard of GaaS maybe you should invest some time to learn. Game as a Service, or GaaS, is the latest craze on mobile and they are all hurrying to learn what it takes.

Some games implemented GaaS and made a mediocre launch a huge success. Like Rainbow Six Siege, which meanwhile is called the best tactical team shooter of the planet having over 30m players. OR GTA V, which, despite its age, is closing on selling 100m.

Maybe you don't know the fun part of GaaS. The lessons you need were defined over 20 years ago, by a game called Ultima Online. And the developers spread the knowledge of their experience on GDC. Just check Raph Kosters talks and articles here.

So sometimes I feel walking in the past when advising clients on what GaaS means to their development and company.

2018/04/21

My next talks & conferences

April/May is crazy. Too many conferences - all inviting me for f2p talks. So here is my schedule for now:

Week April 23rd: Quo Vadis, a talk about "Meta Games" and moderating a fireside chat with Lord British. See https://qvconf.com/

Week May 8th: Oulu, Finnland, there is half a day a public workshop about the Crazy App Store and More, organized by Fingersoft.

Week May 21st: Digital Dragons, talking about Product Strategy and how it decides your chances of success. See http://digitaldragons.pl/

Week May 23rd, GDD Frankfurt, talking about raising ARPPU/Conversion, the complete version: https://www.germandevdays.com/

Week May 29th, Casual Connect London, again raising APPU/Conversion, see http://europe.casualconnect.org/

and finally Develop in Brighton, talking about Lootboxes: https://www.developconference.com/

Phew. A lot, and I guess the next will be Devcom/Gamescom, but my talk isn't confirmed yet.







2018/04/14

This industry never learns

I do remember back when I launched Panzer Elite in 1999 - a WW2 simulation, but tanks. The same year over 30 (!) flight simulations were released - each one trying to hit the gold mine.

And this wave of followers to hit games was repeated over and over again. Why don't they learn? Remember the MOBA fiasco? A grave of games in the past years. So here goes another:

https://www.gamespot.com/gallery/the-11-biggest-battle-royale-games-to-play-in-2018/2900-1933/?utm_campaign=20160510


Just 11 mentioned I know a couple more.

and I agree here:

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2018-04-12-battle-royale-threatens-a-repeat-of-the-moba-bloodbath

DO NOT FOLLOW THE HITS. Unless you are fast and good. OR different, very different. A new setting won't cut it.

2017/12/15

Industry going conservative again

Consoles selling sub $200 (minus the Pro's) - entering last half of their cycle. 2019 will be hard for larger studios. So be prepared that publishers turn conservative not signing risky or expensive products next year as they already invest heavily in the next generation (it already shows this year).
So please, either split your studio into sizable teams working on multiple lower budget products or resize - yes, this means downsizing is a valid strategy.
Take the free advice, it happened before and will happen again.
The over 10-year-old talk describing the cycles can be found here:


2017/11/28

One of PC's best games of all time

I feel honored. Really. And yes its one of my career highlights I designed, with my own company Wings Simulations I sold in 2000. And it had a tremendously long shelf life and still can be found today sometimes for €5-10. The long shelf life is due to the community - and because we gave the source code of the entire project to them. That was a first back then ...

https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2017/11/24/best-pc-games/18/







2017/11/14

MTX & Loot Boxes - Discussion still going on

As written in my last post the Loot box controversy is still active - and getting worse. It is interesting to follow the press, customers outrage, and publishers answers. Battlefront II and their loot box system even created the most downvoted thread ever on Reddit.

The main reason is that players paying $60+ for an AAA title do not feel eager to be forced to pay via MTX to gain significant important items or unlocks in the game. So EA responded by lowering the needed "grind" to unlock important characters by 75%.

See, that's where the problem lies. Users paid upfront and expect the complete game. They don't want to pay to unlock content (and let's not forget day 1 DLC's). The rule of F2P that content has to be free all the time was violated somewhat.  That's one point, that they didn't implement the Loot Boxes right.

My second point is one I said often during my talks when Loot Boxes came up, like here:


If you add Loot Boxes as MTX you admit your normal monetization system failed - unless your core mechanic of the game is Loot Boxes. Like Hearthstone. Clash Royale. Or Puzzle & Dragons. You will notice that these games never came up during those discussions. Or why do Overwatch Lootboxes do not spawn that controversy? Think about it.

Basically, EA admitted their AAA retail flat fee model of $60 for an AAA game is declining, isn't making enough money to return a sizable profit so they add MTX. 

Many games did this but EA of course brutally forced the MTX system on their game going over the top - while other games do it more wisely - as you should do too. Check out GTA V and their online Revenue, or even Assassins Creed IV Black Flag where I was part of the design team of the MTX system. They never had the backlash EA is feeling. 

There are signs on the horizon that the old AAA model is dying. PC revenue is rising but most of that us on the F2P or MTX side, the AAA revenue is not growing compared to previous years. Even console $60 sales are stagnant to previous years or growth curves of previous generations. 

It has come so far that AAA publishers contact me to teach them how to implement MTX correctly so the community accept it and it still raises revenue.

So AAA games feverishly try to adapt f2p methods to raise their profits to cover the ever-increasing development costs - and most of these teams never worked in F2p. They need help. Call me if you need to educate your teams. You can add MTX to your AAA title which players actually love to engage in. Loot Boxes aren't the answer. Believe me. Been there, done that.

2017/09/08

MTX in Destiny 2 and Shadows of Mordor 2 - Scandal?

So the web is alive with discussions about micro transactions in Destiny 2 or the upcoming Shadows of Mordor. Players don't like MTX shops in games they paid $60 for.

But this trend has been here since years. Ubisoft did MTX in the Assassins Creed series. Heck, I was part of the design team who did the MTX for AC IV Black Flag.

The MTX in retail games are adding revenue by x% (I can't reveal the number here, sorry). Publishers need this as games development becomes more and more expensive. Triple AAA products are 50m, 100m even sometimes more than 200m in development. So how many copies do you need to sell to achieve a return on investment? Roughly 3.5 million. That doesn't include marketing yet. Or other costs you need on top like HR, Management, Accounting etc.

So integrating f2p mechanics to raise revenue is perfectly fine.

Also, remember not everyone has hours each day to play those games, but really want to catch up with their friends to raid (like in Destiny) or to see the end, or unlock game modes etc. Why not pay for this service? It's not an alien concept.

Engaged fans of a series are able to spend $99 or more for collectors editions, season passes etc. but complain about some $ spending in game. This is all about perception by seeing a shop symbol in a retail game.

Rarely I have seen this complaint in GTA V. But they do like 700m per year on that. Hmmm.

We "F2P" people saw these trends coming years ago and it will get more intense soon. As the price wars are on and soon you will see AAA games being released for $60 and years after release being made free as their in game MTX mechanics make enough revenue. I have seen it, I know clients working on exactly this with their AAA IP.

So get used to it. It won't vanish and will get more expanded upon - until AAA products finally surrender and will be free ;)



2017/09/05

My Blogs Audience

Grafik der unter Blog-Lesern beliebtesten Länder

So are a large part of my blog's audience comes from Russia? But I never had Russian clients. Why is this? Dear Russian readers, can you enlighten me?


2017/09/02

Coming soon ...

My next talk is in creation. I decided not to do any Dissection talks anymore due to many reasons but someone convinced me to do this one - simply as I spend a long time analyzing it (3 years in fact), the longest ever it took to finalize this talk. I will let you know when and where I will hold this talk.



2017/08/25

App Stores rip off Developers?

So this made the rounds:

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2017-08-22-tim-sweeney-app-stores-are-pocketing-a-huge-amount-of-profit-at-developers-expense

30%. Seems a lot. Rip off right? The problem is that most people saying this, including Tim Sweeney, never operated an F2P game outside an app store and have not the faintest about the operational cost.

So let's see what Apple (Google is similar but slightly worse) does for you if you sell through their store - all included in the 30%:

Payment Systems & Cost
The App Store offers payment systems and an easy way to pay, much easier than any other payment systems found online, increasing conversion immensely. This alone is worth a lot.
Everyone who worked on payment system integration knows how much work goes into this besides systems, UI, flow, optimizing etc. It is a lot of work and usually, you need 3-4 people just working on this - permanently.
Payment providers charge various single digit % of your revenue usually. So this is worth that percentage plus the bonus of ease of use.

In Store Payment System & Promotions
Apple offers iTunes cards in stores in most countries. Including promotions and sales of these. Remember if Apple does a sale on iTunes cards Apple pays for it, your margin is unaffected by it.
For free. This is an effective payment system for people without access to credit cards or bank accounts. Remember stores selling these also take a share - so this one is included as well.

VAT Handling
If you ever ran into accounting in F2P companies their biggest headache is VAT handling worldwide. Every country has different VAT rates, laws and handling of virtual goods. It is a huge problem and usually, accounting is busy fixing things and keeping track of changing laws - in every single country. With Apple, you get a single invoice per month. VAT is virtually gone here. So yes you would easily need an accounting department for handling payments yourself - with Apple you need none. Zero.

Returns, Cancellations, Fraud
The second biggest headache of handling payments yourself is fraud & returns. Apple does this for you.

Available World Wide
Yes, world wide. No issues with integrating how many payment systems so everyone in any country can pay? I remember that one company I worked for had 120+ payment systems online and integrated 2-3 per week (!). Want to do this yourself? Good luck.

Download Cost & Updates
You don't pay for traffic, hosting, and more important for updating your app. The app store and iOS do this for you, usually automatic for the users. And you don't even pay for the traffic or hosting.

In other words, if App Stores wouldn't do all this you, as a small to a medium sized developer, would need at least 5-10 more people handling all of this if you launch world wide.

Is this worth 30%? Easily. And btw Tim Sweeney charges 30% as well in their Unreal market place ;)

Did I forget another advantage? Let me know.



2017/08/18

Honorary Consultation

Sometimes I stumble across a game I really like - from an Indie team. And I offer to help them for free. The only thing we do is a handshake deal if they get filthy rich by their game they thank me.

So recently two of them have been released and I would love you all to download and review it in the app store ok? Give them 5 stars, they are small teams and did wonderful on both projects:

Cat Quest (iOS, Android, Steam)

Look here: https://thegentlebros.com/catquest/

It's a great action RPG and in my opinion, fits mobile very well.

Hades Star


If you like space games, logistics and PvE this one is for you. A very good laid back game pacing on your habit, not the games.



2017/08/15

Coming up: Devcom/Gamescom

I will be attending Devcom and Gamescom next week, speaking about general rules of F2P games and pitching a game - for the first time since years. Schedule is filling up, nice.

If you want to attend my talk:

https://devcom2017.sched.com/event/BL8J

See you there!


2017/06/20

Haha, Best of E3

Remember m Blogpost?

http://teut.blogspot.de/2017/03/why-old-publishers-dont-get-it.html

And here it is, Best of E3 is a .... Survival Game by Crytek!

http://www.pcgamer.com/best-of-e3-2017-awards/

I bet Crytek will push the PR hype soon but I am excited: https://www.huntshowdown.com/


And this:


2017/06/19

Common Mistakes in f2p Design - video!

Here is the video of my Casual Connect talk from this February - Common Mistakes in f2p Design.


Enjoy. And if you like it please consider visiting any of the four Casual Connects happening each year all over the globe.