Interview: Super-seller Michael Lyashenko of Tasharen Entertainment
We are blown away by how the developers and designers selling their wares through the Asset Store are fuelling a unique and largely self-sustaining microcosmic industry. Just look at the example of Michael Lyashenko. In the last week of the Asset Store Madness sale, Lyashenko had earned $12,086 in profit with his popular NGUI.
To date, in 2012, he has raked in over $77,000. Lyashenko, and many other Asset Store publishers like him, now have a steady source of income that lets them focus on their continuing game development. In turn, their products help customers optimize and save critical amounts of time on their game creation.
What history does your team have with Unity?
My team just consists of myself for the time being. I have a game development background, and I’ve been using Unity professionally since early 2008. Back then we had to use Mac computers to do everything as it was before Unity 2.5, and MonoDevelop was not even on the horizon. Anyone remember Unitron? Fun times! (no, not really)
I have to admit adjusting to Unity was a difficult process for me as I was coming from an object-oriented C++ background. The whole component-based approach was quite alien to me at first. I kept trying to do everything in an object-oriented way – singletons, numerous non-monobehaviour-derived managers, everything created via code. As you may guess, I was fighting “The Unity Way” of doing things every step of the way, and as a result I did not enjoy using it in the least.
It was not until Unity 3.0 came out that I finally decided to throw away my preconceived notions of how the code should be structured and start fresh with an open mind. That was about the time I finally learned something, and became a huge fan of the engine. Go figure!
Around November last year I decided that the current overtime-laden, profit-above-fun corporate game development environment was not for me, and decided to go indie and work on my own game. I only got as far as the UI system, released as a stand-alone package roughly 3 weeks later.
What was your inspiration for the NGUI?
NGUI is a tool that makes it easy for anyone using Unity to create user interfaces for games. Its inspiration was quite simple – I did not enjoy using the other UI packages that were available, and always knew that there had to be a better way. Finally deciding to put my money where my mouth is, I started working on my own solution. People seemed to like it, so I kept at it. I wanted to create a tool for myself that would make it easy to create pretty fancy user interfaces “The Unity Way” – component based, drag & drop small scripts to get the behaviour I want. I wanted something flexible like that so that I wouldn’t have to spend hours digging through the UI code.
What do you like about Unity?
What’s not to like? It’s well-designed. Building for different platforms is an effortless click away. Testing the new code changes takes seconds, not minutes. There are no hour-long build times. There is no need to spend a day setting up the environment for “the new guy” before he can run the project. And the ability to pause the game and modify just about anything visually? I love it!
How did you hear about the Asset Store?
I heard about it when it was first released, back when there was pretty much nothing on it. My first thought was, ‘an integrated asset store? This is going to be huge!’ Unfortunately working full-time didn’t leave much room for side-projects that could be submitted.
Do you have any advice for middleware developers who might sell their work on the Asset Store?
Simply put, find a hole and fill it. Do you see something that there is a lack of, or that you know you can do better, such as good-looking non-cartoony spaceship models (hint hint)? Create some, put them up, and you will earn some money. That said, don’t set your goal to make as much money as possible. Aim to make a great product first and foremost. The coins will come naturally.
One other suggestion I can make is regarding the price. You may think that your work is far superior to everyone else’s and that might tempt you to set a really high price for your product, but my suggestion is – don’t do it. A lower price will tempt more buyers, and if they like your product they will likely tell their friends, who will also be tempted to buy it. It’s like a domino effect. The lower the price, the faster the dominos fall, and the more money you earn.
What can developers look towards in the future from your company?
I’m going to continue to support and expand NGUI, although the latter is somewhat indirect in nature. I’ve been working on a game using NGUI for the past 6 weeks, and the vast majority of updates to NGUI were the result of me finding things that were missing or could be done better, and adding them in. I figure it’s the best way to go about adding features anyway, as then I am my own customer as well, and I can see exactly what can and should be added.
What is your vision for the future of game development and game developers?
The way I see it, the industry started off with small teams working on games out of their own basement and evolved into large mega-corporations pushing their money-driven agenda on the thousands of developers working 60+ hour weeks. The industry became a rather unhappy place to be. Unpaid overtime became the norm. Copying other games turned into a sure ticket to success. This sort of environment left little room for innovation or trying something new, let alone something “fun”. Fortunately I feel that we are currently transitioning past that era.
We are now in the age of digital distribution. We have venues like Kickstarter to fund the project, alpha and pre-order purchases to sustain it, and, should it fail or fall short, there is the Asset Store to provide additional funding, by selling off the individual components, or even the complete project as a whole. And in some cases, the components sold on the Asset Store can become so popular that they will provide the ability to fund the project all by themselves. In other words: money if you finish, money if you don’t. With a lack of risk like that, it’s hard not to imagine more developers following the indie route in the near future.