It's almost 3 o'clock at night and I can't sleep. Probably due to the larger quantities of coke and coffee I had the evening before...but also because I have a lot of stuff floating around my head that keeps my brain from slipping into sleep-mode.
In a few days time it will have been 10 months since the international portal for AirlineSim was launched. This basically marked the final public step towards my decission to do browsergames for a living. As you can see, I don't live under a bridge just yet, so it hasn't been all bad. But it's also been a tough time that brought to light many weaknesses of AirlineSim that never appeared to me before. Most importantly I underestimated how difficult it would be to transform a hobby project that's been around for several years into a commercial one that needs to sell well enough to pay the bills of at least one person (and his cats).
AirlineSim has always been layed out as what the name suggests: Being a realistic airline simulation. This never included making a game that achieves a revenue per player of X or a conversion rate per new visitor of Y. In fact, no such "KPI" ever occured to me or anybody else on the team and obviously it didn't have to because there was no reason for the hassle. So several thousand files and 10s of thousands lines of code after it's first appearance in 2002, AirlineSim has developed into what it is today: A huge piece of software that will never be "finished" and will never become a "bread & butter project".
Don't get me wrong! I still love AirlineSim, it will always remain my baby and I won't stop working on and extending it any time soon. But there's a saying that I picked up quite some time ago somewhere on the net that sums up the problem quite well:
If you have to keep putting money into it, it's not a business, it's a hobby.
Now I'm not exactly putting money into AirlineSim. In fact, it pays most of my bills. But "most" isn't "all" and there needs to be a point where I have to shift at least some of my resources (being time, primarily) towards something that will a.) close that money gap that AS fails to fill right now and b.) permits to further support AirlineSim as what it always has been and always will be: A niche game for a rather limited group of enthusiasts (including myself).
And there we go: The reason for my insomnia! It's not the fear of living in cardboard boxes but the constant brain-storming about a follow-up project. It's the first time in years that a new, large project appears on the horizon and whenever the daily work is finished I can't stop thinking about all the different themes, possible features and hibernating ideas that would make for an interesting game. At the same time all these "nice-to-haves" mix with the experience I took away from 10 months of commercial AirlineSim that tell me something about what a web-game has to look like nowadays to become successful.
I'm pretty sure that, whatever it will end up to be, the next project will once again be some kind of business simulation. It will be a lot more streamlined than AS ever was and there will be a much stricter and better structured "master plan" to everything. There will be a focus on usability and intuitive gameplay from day one and I will put more emphasis on reaching a generally broader audience. At the same time there really mustn't be the kind of feature-creep I've experienced in making AS, meaning that I could spend weeks after weeks adding new (important?) features without getting anywhere in the larger picture, pushing the development costs of the whole project through the clouds. A first playable release of the new project has to be out after a few months' work and earn money from the start.
So...exciting times coming up! I'm still looking for more ideas and I'm sure there are themes that you have always wished for in a game but never got realized. If that's the case, feel free to drop me a line! For the AirlineSim fans among you: Rest assured that development of AS will continue as planned at least until 1.5 has been out the door and through it's first few iterations. After that I'm planning to scale back on AS a bit but to keep supporting and extending it with regular patches.