The Rollover Report

Alright, that’s it for 2013. I’ve still got a few lingering projects, and I’d like to write up some postmortem reports for my modding activities.

Where I’ve been
Although things have died down for me on this blog, I’ve actually been quite busy with modding and modeling, but more and more of it has been on commission and even a little bit of it has been related to interviews. I’d love to go in depth about them, but part of doing these things is not discussing details. That and if anything worth mentioning comes of my endeavors, I’ll likely be blasting it over a loudspeaker.
On top of that, I’m trying to get into photography as a hobby. With years of tinkering with scenes and lighting in garrysmod and SFM, I thought it’d be fun to bring that interest out into the real world and see if any of that translates over. Since I started, I’m seeing that those programs represent an ideal environment far removed from the problems real photography has. It’s a like doing a physics problem as a freshman where you assume everything is in a frictionless void and has perfect weight distribution, and then jumping into the deep end of the pool and finding out that even though gravity is constant, a rock is going to hit the ground before a feather. Also, unlike gmod or SFM, camera equipment is very expensive.

That aside, I did manage to release something this week: a set of cell phones and tablets that expand on the military tablet Nirrti modeled and I textured back in 2011. You can check it out here.

tech_tablets_full

I am glad that I got these out the door – the tablet needed to be updated to even work at all in SFM, and I took the opportunity to change the shaders for the screens to reduce overall texture size. All three models and textures weighed in at only slightly more then the original release in 2011. I also used a few tricks from my holograms to provide some simple animations for a few of the screens and improve the overlays for the user interfaces. I’m actually proud of my cell phone UI given that I did the bulk of the screens in two days. The iconography was done in illustrator which allowed a good bit more latitude in controlling the style of the paths. I’ve always enjoyed doing these mock UIs because they can be quick, dirty, and fun.

Screens ahoy!
I had too much fun with the text messages.

Regrettably, I was unable to release anything for Christmas. The 12 Berets of Christmas lapsed, and I was just as unhappy as anybody. My ideas for a last-ditch release were put on hold because of an interview, so there was a legitimate reason for it. All that said, there was an incredible release on Christmas that I had no direct hand in making but still love: The definitive Call of Duty: Black Ops Vehicle Pack by Kali. I was asked to test the models for SFM compatibility and spent a weekend making a preview video for it.

I also accidentally triggered a timelapse recorder for part of the video so enjoy that if you’re into such things:

For those of you wondering what a good high quality release looks like, this should be a great point of reference. The amount of effort that went into it is obvious, but I love it more for the great deal of care that was taken in the small details and thought for cross-compatibility for gmod and SFM. Everything that you might want to animate is rigged for it, and if you’re in gmod, they’re all excellent ragdolls.

Man that's a lot of rigging
Man that’s a lot of rigging

By the numbers
As a numbers guy, it’s neat to dig in and see performance metrics for things I’ve made. I’ll try to discern some meaning to them instead of just posting them like a scoreboard.

2013 was the first real year I’ve done anything on youtube, and of the 16 short clips, model/feature tests, and trailers I made in the second half of the year, I accrued 6000 views and 21 subscribers.
All of my videos that surpassed 100 views were used as promotional video for content uploaded to the workshop. Speaking on the workshop, 2013 was a good year for me there.

On gmod’s workshop, I submitted 7 addons (6 model/packs and 1 map), totaling:
57 thousand workshop page views
54 thousand current subscriptions (as of today)
88 thousand total subscriptions (before uninstillation decay)
1100 thumbs up
180 thumbs down

My most popular addon this year were the Sci-Fi Citizens, totaling 25 thousand unique subscribers. The pack was 300MB uncompressed, so copies of that file takes up roughly 7.5 Terabytes globally, although that number is likely higher given that it was one of 3 download spots that I know of, and gmod was my secondary audience. Since they were in SFMBox and that is now mirrored in a few places, plus my skydrive, there are plenty of untraceable ways to get it. The pack topped out the weekly top spot for a solid week before getting knocked off.

It's pretty cool when you have a real-estate monopoly on your favorite steam game
It’s pretty cool when you have a real-estate monopoly on your favorite steam game

There are some very interesting takeaways I gathered from these numbers as a whole, and other trends I’ve noted.
Gmod addon users are ‘click first, read later (or never).’ A whopping 31 thousand people that downloaded one of my addons never ever actually visited the description page and downloaded purely from the thumbnail, name, and first line of the description. Sweet Baby Jesus, that’s hard to believe. What does this mean? Don’t undersell the importance of first impressions. If these numbers are to be believed, one third of all your downloads will be generated off it and it alone.

Retention is what it is. I can’t say if it’s a larger trend or just specific to models, but about 1/3 of your total users will delete your file over time. The only correlation I’ve found is with ratings, the more negatives you have le less retention you’ll get. That’s kind of a given though, but for anything under 90/10 +/- will see lower retention then a 90+ positive.

People expect all possible features, and don’t care if they’re crap. Anyone that’s released anything will know this, but I’ll put it in black and white. If you release a character model, people will want a playermodel, playermodel hands, an npc version, and if it’s a port, more ports form the same game. The base content doesn’t even have to be high quality (but it doesn’t hurt), the release literally just needs to fill those check boxes and have a good thumbnail. If you release a vehicle, it better drive, even if it is a cheap reskin of the default HL2 vehicle. If you release a weapon, it better shoot. No proper animations required, it just needs to blow away those npcs. The source work can be terrible, but as long is it’s functional, gmod players will eat it up. I’m not condoning anyone releasing less quality work, it’s simply an observation and a sad truth.

Bumps do exist, and collections matter more than I thought. When I released the sci-fi citizens, I saw something really interesting and unexpected. Upon analytic review, I saw a nontrivial bump in every other addon I had released up to that point.

That's a 10 on the richter scale
That’s a 10 on the richter scale

That spike is the September 1st release of the scifi citizens, and the addon is a map I had released in February. Interestingly, I added the map to a collection of items that fit with the scifi citizens, and every other item on the list benefited. This means that people do press ‘subscribe to all’ on collections, and if they like your work, thy’ll give your other addons a try. If you want more numbers, make a hit and all your numbers will go up. If you want specific items to increase, try building a few appropriate collections. Collections you have added your own release to are listed before the description on your addon page, so for the 66% of people that do visit, they will read that first.

It takes a week to peak. Generally speaking, once you drop an addon, it won’t hit its best numbers for a week. If it’s a hit, it’ll steal the top spot, if not, it should at least breach the top 12. Since valve represses addons that are on the list for a week, you will see your new subscription numbers essentially stop after that, depending on your ability to publicize outside of the workshop, and the likes based ranking on the global ‘Top Rated Addons’ view. That first week will also give you the overall success of the addon, and (unless you’re in the first few pages of the best mods on the workshop) your gains after a month will be trivial to negative. This suggests that the default weekly popular view is the way most people browse the workshop. Once again common sense, but there are numbers to back up that claim.

The SFM workshop has been too volatile and changed too much in 2013 to discern anything useful. Submitting duplicate files to the gmod and SFM workshops at the same time yields less downloads in SFM then gmod, but not overly so. Once again, my dataset is limited, but SFM workshop users comment, rate, add to collections, and favorite far less then gmod users, but tend to keep the files they download. This could be the SFM user interface encouraging less engagement and addon management then gmod’s, but it is worth noting. I was going to discuss the slower success curve to gmod in that downloads are more cumulative then short burst, but given the recent explosion of new content, that trend will likely end.

Dr. Hopkinfort's Disintegrathon - the workshop release
Dr. Hopkinfort’s Disintegrathon – the workshop releases

(Note: That bump in the decay on the right image was – you guessed it – the Sci-Fi citizens. Interesting considering that this is a model of a steampunk blaster, and it’s worth noting that although subtle, it even has an impact on the SFM release.)

Well, that’s my breakdown of my gmod/SFM contribution presence in 2013. I hope my conclusions are in some way useful, and if you have evidence that debunks my findings, please let me know. I <3 statistical analysis.

My plans for 14
So I’m slowly getting more confident in 3dsMax, so my next major goals are to develop skills in high poly modeling and improving my overall craft. I’ve been texturing for what is coming up on 8 years, but my time doing anything model side is closer to 15 months. My 2014 goal is to improve the quality and range of my hard surface modeling and venture into organics. I’d specifically like to develop high poly to low poly baking and expand on that. I did my first baking experiment a few weeks ago, but I’ll need to really start looking into doing it properly this year.

Not sure what it is but it was baked.
Not sure what it is but it was baked.

On top of high poly modeling aspirations, I’ve been trying to develop at least basic animation skills. Some of it has been education via osmosis working with Source Filmmaker, but learning it as a skill would be nothing but good.

In terms of specific projects, I’m shooting to finish up my black snow map conversion sooner rather then later, and release a set of ragdolls I’ve been developing for that environment. I want to finish my illustrated guide to source materials, and want to better document some of my workflow. I have tips that I want to share, I just need the time to give them context for maximum impact.

Finally, in long term ideas, I want 14 to be the year I start work on a mod. I’ve been toting my sci-fi assets for a year and a half and continue to develop the artstyle today.

A crystal platter data storage device
A crystal platter data storage device

My assets were used extensively in Cloud Odyssey, a SFM project backed by Oracle (the Java update people), and that alone is a huge accomplishment for me. That said, I think there’s a great deal of use left for what is already half a game’s worth of models, textures, maps, and canon. I have an idea for a total conversion mod in my mind; I have even started putting pen-to-paper for what kind of game I want it to be. Right now, it’s incredibly ambitious – the mod veteran in me knows it’d never come to fruition in its current state. My goal for 14 is to start a total conversion mod for a source engine branch that a team of people would like to help make. With a few exceptions, I’ve been essentially freelancing in the Source mod scene, so this would be a huge step forward for me. I know that everything hinges the pitch for team members. If this were simply a model pack, I could rally my contacts in the gmod scene, but I want this to be more. To do that, I need people that are outside my skill-set. I’ve got the foundation for it, but I need a proper presentation to find the right people needed to make it a reality.

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