Final hours for our Merch store and Steam winter sale!
Take 30% off all items in the Argent Games store with coupon code: NEWYEARS2021.
We look back over 2020 to review everything we learned and accomplished and think about what’s next on the agenda for 2021.
Edit 1: Adjusted streaming times to 0730PST/1030EST (dev stream, Saturdays) and 1700PST/2000EST (first game stream, Saturday the 16th)
Placing the table of contents for our 2020-2021 post at the top so that you can make use of the handy dandy little button that scrolls the page up to the top!
Table of Contents
Happy New Year!
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AG Games Steam sale
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Argent Games Shop: At checkout, enter in the coupon NEWYEARS2021 to receive the discount. The coupon has unlimited use!
2020 was a busy and productive year for us, despite all the global circumstances. We released Self-Checkout Unlimited (our first 3D game, made in Unreal), the demo for *Dead Man’s Rest*, and announced *Pale Cachexia*. Red Embrace and Your Dry Delight received translations in Russian and Italian, and Chinese, French, and Russian, respectively. We also opened a merchandise shop.
Our plans for 2021 are just as packed! We plan to release two VNs in the early part of the year: Pale Cachexia and Dead Man’s Rest. The shop will be getting some more merch, at minimum some mugs and more posters/print-type products. We’ll be working on another Argent Games visual novel (likely an LGBT VN) and recruiting for at least one new visual novel under Gallium Games. We also plan to explore Godot (or Unity, which we already have experience using) for another game not in the visual novel genre.
There will be a community event on our Discord server on the 15th: hop in for details! We’ll also be doing a game stream on the 16th on our Twitch channel!
- We released our first 3D game (using Unreal Engine), Self-Checkout Unlimited!
- It was a huge learning process in every aspect of game development (programming, art, music/sound and game design, mechanics, and business matters).
- Game design is very different when gameplay takes place in real-time, allowing the player to explore the world at their own pace with mechanics-driven story progression, rather than showing the world through a minutely scripted game. We needed to consider how to set the atmosphere and pace the story (both explicitly and implicitly) when the player can choose how they progress through the game. Are they running or walking through the environments, and are they exploring the rooms or just trying to go straight for the next checkpoint? We knew we wanted to include some puzzles, but they needed to be simple enough to not detract from the story (the game is ultimately a narrative experience, not a puzzle game) while still being engaging. They also needed to be easy to implement, since we learned how to use Unreal Engine through making this game. In addition to setting the mood of the environment through colors and object types, we needed to think about the layouts of the rooms (wall and object placement). The 3D environment means the player can walk around and between objects, so it’s important to consider how the environment looks from every possible angle. Should rectangular toy boxes be on the front and back of a shelf, or should we use a differently shaped toy on the back? If the player sees the “back” before the “front” of the shelf, will they receive a vastly different feeling of the prop/room/story?
- This was the first time we commissioned concept art of the environment, passed it along to our 3D artist, and received all the 3D environment assets back. The artist had a lot of creative freedom because it was not feasible for us to detail out exactly how each and every prop should look, as well as how to place items within the world. Giving the artist so much freedom was both relieving and frustrating. We were not always on the same page for designs, and changes were difficult to request. For the next game with a similar situation, we will try including a lot more concept art, tightening deadlines, and having more regular meetings to make sure we understand each other. Art assets took longer than they should have, and before we knew it, many extra months had passed.
- Scaling of the environment in a first-person 3D game is confusing. Working with real-world dimensions seemed to make everything appear too small in-game, but then we fell into an uncanny valley of objects being Not Quite The Right Size. It became a game of guess and check to scale objects rather than having a fairly straightforward scaling multiplier to use across all objects. We also did not notice any scaling or object dimension issues until late in the development cycle.
- We’ve documented some of the 3D and Unreal Engine-specific knowledge (and frustrations) learned during the development process. It’s a living document and may be updated in the future if we use UE again (or randomly remember other items to add to it).
Tricks, Frustrations, and maybe some Tips for Unreal 4.23 from devs who knew nothing about making a shiny 3D game
- Developing Self-Checkout Unlimited was a challenge. We learned a lot about (general) workflows, specific 3D-game/first-person-related considerations and designs, and working with an artist who had a lot of creative freedom. Though we do not have immediate plans to develop another 3D first-person game, we can definitely transfer much of the knowledge over to our next non-VN project. We hope you’ll look forward to it!
Visual Novel Translations
- This year, we released a fair number of translations: Red Embrace received a Russian and Italian TL, and Your Dry Delight currently has Simplified Chinese, French, and Russian TLs.
- Pale Cachexia and Red Embrace: Hollywood might receive translations! We’re currently discussing with translators about these games.
- Red Embrace will receive a Polish translation.
- We opened our merch store in 2020! Having physical products to sell alongside digital ones has always been a dream, and it came true soon enough! There’s just something particularly delightful about the tactile and spatial nature of physical objects.
- Online Storefront. Though setting up online stores is a fairly common activity, it was surprisingly difficult to do, and we still aren’t completely happy with our solution. Researching various online storefront options will return popular hits like Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and Squarespace. There are plenty of products, and many online stores seem to be perfectly happy using them. When choosing an option, however, the real challenge comes with balancing affordability and features. In the end, we went with Square and Weebly (website builder owned by Square) because we wanted inventory tracking between the website and selling items at conventions (where payments are processed using a Square Terminal). When choosing an online storefront, which features are must-haves, and which are nice-to-haves?
- Easy interface for updating the site and product inventory tracking. Inventory tracking for making sales outside of the store (e.g. at a convention)
- Unlimited products and images
- Tax/VAT and Shipping calculation (real-time or flat fees)
- Customizable storefront
- Purchase receipt confirmation
- Email collection for marketing
- Promotional/announcement banners
- Discount codes, sale pricing and badges on products to indicate the sale
- Integrations with other services (shipping label discounts, text messaging customer service popup, popups saying someone has just purchased X product, etc.)
- Low-level customization by writing code
- Manufacturers. Though we offer a selection of products fairly common to independent artists (the likes of which you might see at Artist Alleys), sourcing the products has been an adventure. We store all our inventory within our house, and the store is fairly new, so we can only order products in small quantities. This raises the cost of manufacturing and narrows the list of possible manufacturers, since most bulk/wholesale manufacturers are looking for order quantities in the thousands. We’ve had some luck with ordering from Etsy, Zap Creatives, Alibaba, Sticker Ninja, and local print shops, but we haven’t yet found our go-to manufacturers. Something to remember when ordering physical products is that there will always be defects. Even if the manufacturer is thoroughly checking everything before sending you the shipment, it is highly likely that they will miss something, or a few of the items might receive minor damage in transit. Ordering 25 keychains might only give you 20 keychains in pristine condition! Although making the products at home would give us more flexibility with more designs, we threw out that idea because we can’t guarantee quality, and the cost to purchase the equipment and create the products probably outweighs ordering from an established manufacturer.
- Shipping. How do you calculate shipping and packaging costs when, depending on which products are purchased and the quantity, it’s possible the predefined shipping costs/packaging type are wildly inaccurate? Fortunately, our 2020 inventory has similar/simple shapes, so just having two different types of packaging and flat rates dependent on packaging type was sufficient. If you purchased a poster, you would receive the large envelope, and if you purchased anything else, you would receive the smaller envelope. Because our products are so light, the flat rate shipping is almost always an accurate estimate, even with extra goodies added to the package. Once a package weight crosses the 1lb threshold however, the shipping cost skyrockets, and our current flat-rate shipping model will not account for it. Our 2021 inventory will pose new challenges with shipping and packaging as we add mugs (fragile!) and possibly other heavier or oddly-shaped products (hats? pens? coasters?). Perhaps this is why some stores choose to include shipping prices in the product price?
- Packaging. A surprising amount of supplies is needed to package products beautifully. When we first started the shop journey, we only thought we needed shipping boxes/envelopes, the products, and some pen and tape. Easily overlooked is the detail in the actual packaging containing the product. Since all our small products can fit into a 3inch by 3inch square package, we decided to print square backing cards with designs from each game and place the individual products into a clear plastic envelope. Some of the stickers are a bit too tall for the backing cards, however, so we ended up purchasing envelopes large enough to accommodate them and are folding them over to fit around the backing cards snugly for buttons and keychains. Posters are placed in a clear, flexible plastic envelope. We originally wanted to use the same stiff envelopes as with the small products, but those envelopes do not stack and store well into the poster box. Fun fact: The slightly sticky, rubbery material often used to hold credit cards to paper is made from dried tacky glue! We use it to keep the small products in place on the backing card, instead of cutting a hole into the card to secure the product. It saves a lot of time. Overall, materials needed:
- Exterior packaging: box and any padding materials like bubble wrap, padded envelopes, markers/pens for writing on the package, packing tape. Optional: thermal printer if you want a sticker shipping label. Our sales volume is not high enough yet to justify the cost, though taping labels to packages can take a surprisingly long time. Any exterior branding stickers to attach to the package (we have a large Argent Games sticker).
- Interior packaging: plastic to protect the product, branding/packaging/backing cards to hold products in place and display them beautifully
- Extras: business cards, branding/marketing materials (we send postcard-sized cards with all our games), handwritten notes <3
- Despite all the new challenges, we really enjoy having physical merchandise to sell. We can’t wait to be able to sell them in person at conventions when they are open again! Sometimes we think about how we would design the booth so that visitors can play our games, spectate, and browse the merch without the booth feeling too cluttered :).
(note, all business matters are with respect to the USA, and it is very possible that we are misunderstanding something, especially with respect to IRAs)
- Argent Games is an LLC, but in 2020 (2019? tax filing deadline) we opted for S-Corp election status. This means that instead of paying ourselves by pulling directly from Argent Games assets (and writing down somewhere that the random expense is in fact paying ourselves), we can now give ourselves salaries as employees of the company. The S-Corp election should hopefully help lower our annual taxes as well ^^;;
- Employee. Having employee status means that we have to pay taxes on our salary (Federal/State income tax, Social Security, Medicare). However, it also allows us to open retirement accounts (SEP/SIMPLE IRAs). If we were in the same location, then calculating taxes would be a simple matter. Unfortunately, we aren’t, and for fear of doing taxes incorrectly (and forgetting to pay them since doing it by hand requires using several different calculators every [pay period, quarter, year]), we had to look into using a payroll company. They take a fee every time payroll is run (and we are paid), but they also automatically handle all the various taxes.
- IRAs. SEP/SIMPLE IRAs are for self-employed or small businesses. They have different rules for employer and employee contributions. While you can have both accounts open at the same time, in any given year, only one of the accounts can receive contributions. We can also have our own personal Roth IRAs, which are not tied to any businesses. There is a contribution limit across all IRAs though. If the maximum contribution limit for all IRAs is 19,500, then you can do 6,000 in your Roth IRA and 13,500 in your SIMPLE IRA. You can also do 0 in your Roth IRA and 13,500 in your SIMPLE IRA (because 13,500 might be the contribution limit of the SIMPLE IRA). Opening these IRA accounts is fairly straightforward: choose your financial institution (Vanguard, Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, etc.) and follow their instructions. Be prepared to be on the phone for many hours at a time when things inevitably go wrong with opening accounts (passwords and authentication like to be particular).
- Bookkeeping. We use QuickBooks for all our bookkeeping needs. All the transaction information needs to be added to it across all our accounts, and then we pass it along to the accountant for the annual tax filing. Accounts consist of banks (PayPal counts as a bank), credit cards, and (NEW) the merch shop. (Learning how to add all the inventory and transaction information from the merch shop because it is powered by Square will be a process.) If the institution with the account is technologically advanced, then it will allow you to download your statements in various formats (CSV, PDF, QBO/QBW/QBC for QuickBooks, etc.). If not, you will need to manually enter in every transaction by hand cough PayPal. PayPal is very unfriendly from a bookkeeping standpoint. It enjoys providing minimal transaction information and having many, many transactions made in the process of handling a single transaction. For example, if you use your linked credit card to pay for something with PayPal, you will have a transaction for a credit card deposit into your PayPal wallet and then a transaction for the outgoing payment. When entering this into QuickBooks, this means we have to log a credit card deposit into PayPal, plus the PayPal payment going out of PayPal. Ever so helpfully (/sarcasm), PayPal transactions in the credit card statements often only include barely recognizable information when cross checking with the transaction in the PayPal statement (e.g. the credit card statement might say the transaction is from **PAYPAL*GAM when the PayPal statement says you made a payment to firstname.lastname@example.org), so oftentimes, the value and date of the transaction must be cross-checked.
- Our ideal release dates for Pale Cachexia and Dead Man’s Rest are end of Q1-beginning of Q2. We’ll be pushing hard to get them out early this year!
- After that, we’ll be developing 1-2 more smaller VNs in 2021. Another LGBTQIA+/BL game may come into fruition, possibly with a Kickstarter!
- Overall (not strictly limited to 2021 plans), we’d like to continue experimenting with more/different types of games, designs, and mechanics, whilst also developing more visual novels to keep delivering fun stories.
Community Building + Streaming
- We’re developing some regular community events for our Discord server! Depending on the types of events in queue, we’re aiming for 1-2 events per month. The first event for January is scheduled for the 15th. It will be a collaborative multimodal fic in a similar vein to past events. We will provide a prompt/scenario and characters, and the community will have 24 hours to add to the master document. Document additions can include writing, sounds (custom recorded or linked from an external site like YouTube), images (custom drawn or linked externally), and anything else that can live in the digital world and makes sense as a contribution! After the 24 hours have passed, if there are volunteers to play/read through the document, we’ll schedule a time to do so in the #audio_chatting channel, otherwise we’ll go through the doc during our dev stream on the 16th! There is no second event in queue just yet, so if you have any ideas (e.g. karaoke, setting pop songs to AG-related lyrics, etc.), we’re all ears! You can propose ideas in #community_events or send in an Ask.
- Our weekly Twitch dev streams will continue! They are generally on Saturdays at 0730PST/1030EST (but very much subject to change), and once a month, patrons at the Crown and Throne tiers get an extra exclusive hour of the dev stream before the public. The exclusive hour can contain tasks that we wouldn’t want to show to the public just yet, such as working on spoiler-y material. Currently, you’ll catch us working on Pale Cachexia, Dead Man’s Rest, and minor administrative tasks.
- There are game streams on the horizon! We’re thinking of doing a stream once a month, with the first one being on the evening of the 16th, at 1800PST/2000EST. (Unfortunately, we do have to stack all our events on the weekends due to schedule constraints.) A game has not yet been chosen for streaming, so if there is a game you want us to play, do please propose it. If the game has interactive decision making, you can tell us which option to pick in chat, and we’ll go with it! The games we’re interested in playing are generally of the narrative/story-driven sort but not necessarily visual novels.
- New products will be available, beginning with coffee mugs! The products will feature AG characters, both new and old, and we will be running polls to determine which characters, designs, and products to go with. Make sure to participate to get your dream product made!
- Other product types we’re considering: clothing, tote bags, and stationary. Are there specific product types (or dimensions, in the case of varying print sizes) you’d like to see? Send us a message with your opinion!
- Our first commercial game Dead Man’s Rest under Gallium Games will come out this year (our second game under Gallium Games, have you played Delusion Gallery yet?)!
- We are looking to develop more visual novels under Gallium Games and will be holding a recruitment event/competition for stories/designs. Do you have a story and world that you want to bring to life but need help with the art, music, programming, and general production side of things? Then perhaps you’ll want to submit an application! The details (and exact format) of the event/application are still in the works, but the application window will be open for at least one month, it will occur in Q1-2 2021, and it is a paid opportunity. We are looking for creatives who either have the experience to complete and a deliver a story/design in full when applying with a work-in-progress or those with an already completed story/design that has been waiting on an opportunity to become a game.
Thank you for reading, and for helping to support AG through 2020! We can’t wait to share our new games and experimental stories with you through 2021 and many years beyond.
Questions or Comments?
Feel free to send in any AG-related questions! Our Ask Box is always open.
Thanks so much for all of your amazing support, and stay safe out there!