Rami Ismail (ramiismail.com)                             

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Rami Ismail is the Business & Development Guy at Vlambeer, a Dutch independent game studio known best for Nuclear Throne, Ridiculous Fishing, Super Crate Box, LUFTRAUSERS, GUN GODZ, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter & Radical Fishing.

Through his work at Vlambeer, Rami has come to realize that the marketing & business facets of many independent game developers could use some help. As such, he created the free presskit-creation tool presskit() and is working on side projects such as distribute() and gamedev.world.

Believing sharing knowledge openly is the cornerstone of independent development, Rami has spoken on a variety of subjects at dozens of game events around the world, ranging from the Game Developers Conference to Fantastic Arcade & from University seminars to incubator mentorship.

He is a avid opponent of game cloning after Vlambeer's Radical Fishing got cloned. He is also a proponent of searching for new, beautiful things in places no-one is looking for them and thus organized Fuck This Jam, a gamejam focused around making a game in a genre you hate. Rami also worked closely with the Indie MEGABOOTH team to enable indie studios to showcase at the larger game conventions, runs the #1reasontobe panel at GDC, and helps as an advisor on events such as Devcom, Train Jam, PocketGamer, and NASSCOM GDC.

Rami has received several awards and recognitions for his work promoting game development around the world, including the IndieCade Game Changer award for the decennial jubileum of the festival.



The politics of four dollars

Imagine you need 4 dollar to make a sports game. Seriously, let’s imagine it costs four dollars. Sure, it’s going to be somewhat of a tight budget, but it’s doable.

It’s a sports game made with a great team, well-crafted and beautiful and progressive and in your mind, it is everything you want it to be. You go straight for some publisher funding, and through some rough negotiations you end up getting the project signed with EA Games at 30 dollars.

With all this extra money, you could make this a way better game for the consumers. You look at your scope – what we call our goals – and decide to re-scope the project for thirty dollars. You can’t make a game that costs 4 dollars with this budget – what will the publisher think? What will people think? It needs to show these production values.

You start working on the game and several month into the production of the game you’re down to the last 10 dollars and the things you’ve designed for thirty dollars might be a little bit more than you can afford to properly make with those last 10 dollars. Of course, marketing has already started talking about the game and expectations have been raised that this will be a production with good values. You look at the new scope and decide you need an additional 15% of funding, let’s say another 4 dollars. With 14 dollars, you should be good.

EA Games refuses the additional 4 dollars and you start running out of money. You mention this in the press and in interviews. You talk about how you can’t just cut down on scope at this point. EA still refuses the extra money. The game is released in a state that’s not nearly as good as it could’ve been. People are disappointed, your game gets slammed on Metacritic and finally, you decide to explain your side of the story in the press. You talk about the initial overfunding, the subsequent overscoping, the long hours, an increasingly battle-worn team struggling against an uphill foe while money was running out, a game that was going to under-deliver no matter what. If only you would’ve gotten that additional few dollars of funding to really wrap up the game.

Imagine what the comments would look like. EA would get slammed. Hadn’t they been warned about those four extra dollars?

Now multiply all the values by 100.000, replace EA Games with Kickstarter, sports game with adventure game and you with Double Fine. Isn’t this exactly the beautiful thing about Kickstarter? That developers don’t have to compromise, like they would’ve if they’d been beholden to a publisher? That we can find new, creative solutions to problems like these?

This is what they were thinking about.

There’s no doubt that overscoping is a problem and there’s no doubt the responsibility is on Tim and his team. Here’s the deal, though: this is game development and some games are made with under half the budget, some are made that need double the budget. Double Fine set out to make a game with eight times the budget we had on some of our titles and suddenly had to re-scope when Kickstarter expectations were they were going to release a game that’s worth three million dollars. Instead of holding back, they are trying to give every single one of their backers the maximum amount of game for their money.

Kickstarter has some weird quirks to it and overfunding combined with consumer expectations seems like one of the most devious ones. That they managed to stay within a margin of error of 15% is also on Tim and his team and I think that’s an impressive margin. I think it’s even more impressive that they communicate openly and honestly about these problems. I’ve always tried to be as open and honest about this at Vlambeer. This is not some hyper-idealized reality for a documentary: this is real.

Welcome to the trenches, internet – and thanks for taking people there, Double Fine.