Losing the narrative: Mayor’s signature issue slipping away

first_imgThis story was originally published in February 2020.Five months into his mayoralty, Bill de Blasio blasted out a press release that quoted 80 elected officials, developers and advocates praising his new $41 billion housing plan. He’s been taking victory laps ever since to celebrate its progress.But Vicki Been, his deputy mayor for housing and economic development, acknowledged last fall that some New Yorkers aren’t buying it. In fact, many have come to believe that the hundreds of thousands of new apartments de Blasio vowed would keep their rents down will instead drive them up.“We’ve lost the narrative,” Been lamented at an October forum. “We’ve lost the hearts and minds of neighborhoods in the sense that they are worried about being pushed out when they see affordable housing that is not affordable to them or to their neighbors.”Her words proved prescient. The mayor’s housing plans have suffered a string of setbacks in the past two months, as three sweeping rezonings hit roadblocks and a major apartment project in Queens was shelved.The task of reclaiming the narrative — and salvaging the mayor’s housing legacy — is now in the hands of a team he tapped just last year following Alicia Glen’s departure. Led by Been, it also includes new heads at the Department of Buildings, Department of Housing Preservation and Development and New York City Housing Authority.“Throughout the administration we’ve been raising the bar to do more and more and more,” Been told The Real Deal, downplaying the idea of a new urgency. “That pressure has always been there.”But now it’s greater than ever, as losses continue to pile up halfway through de Blasio’s final term — especially when it comes to his signature Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which depends on rezonings. Key City Council members last month came out against big rezonings planned for Bushwick and the South Bronx on the heels of a judge in December annulling the mayor’s rezoning of Inwood.That leaves de Blasio with less than two years to rezone nine of the 15 neighborhoods his administration has targeted. Of course, the mayor has made significant strides toward his goal of creating or preserving 300,000 affordable units by 2026 (up from his original target of 200,000 by 2024). Administration officials say they are on pace with 137,000 affordable housing units created or preserved since 2014. At the same time, criticism is mounting about the levels of affordability offered in these projects and their perceived effect of increasing area rents.“It’s difficult for us to believe the administration or City Planning when they say, ‘We’re not going to displace the community,’ when they aren’t studying it,” Bronx Council member Rafael Salamanca said in an interview. Last month he declared his opposition to the rezoning of 130 blocks in his district, effectively killing it before the public approval process could even begin.    Developers are increasingly looking to affordable housing as a profitable alternative to markets that are lagging, such as luxury residential. But such projects require heavy subsidies, and the city and state’s resources are strained. Just as daunting are the political obstacles, as advocates continue to argue that the administration is placing too much emphasis on the volume of apartments and not enough on affordability by the city’s most vulnerable. “I think that the legacy as it stands now is a really mixed bag,” said Emily Goldstein, director of organizing and advocacy at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. “There have been huge leaps forward,” she explained. “On the flipside, this mayor’s housing plan is actually remarkably similar to [those of] previous administrations. It focuses so much on a unit count and loses sight of some of the things that matter more.”The high cost of low rents The City Council approved de Blasio’s MIH program in March 2016, implementing affordability requirements that he hoped would be welcomed by communities otherwise resistant to development.The program, a cornerstone of the mayor’s housing plan, requires developers to set aside affordable units when they build in neighborhoods rezoned to allow larger projects. Its structure of income tiers was designed to make projects profitable as well as socially diverse, rather than concentrating poverty as past housing programs had.“Years from now, when working-class families and seniors are living soundly in their homes without fear of being priced out, we will look back on this as a pivotal moment when we turned the tide to keep our city a place for ALL New Yorkers,” de Blasio said in a statement at the time.However, critics from both sides of the political spectrum have questioned the program’s efficacy. Conservatives lament that it hasn’t produced much affordable housing construction without significant subsidies.Just over 2,000 MIH units were permitted or constructed from the start of the program through September 2019, according to an analysis by the Manhattan Institute, a think tank that advocates for free markets. In about twice as much time, more than 8,400 affordable units under previous mayors’ voluntary inclusionary housing plans have been approved since de Blasio took office. Those projects were eligible for tax exemptions but didn’t receive other subsidies, the study noted.Goldstein faulted the de Blasio administration for having only rezoned low-income communities of color, such as East Harlem and East New York.And while voices on the left claim that poor communities have been targeted — portraying the mayor’s ballyhooed rezonings as a burden — the Manhattan Institute’s report points to the effect of wealthy ones being spared: The administration has yet to rezone a housing market that can support MIH’s affordability requirements without public subsidy.But it has done so for individual sites. The report’s author, former city planner Eric Kober, pointed to one in West Chelsea as a rare example of the program succeeding.Douglaston Development is building two rental towers at 601 West 29th Street with 25 percent of the 931 units pegged as affordable. There is no subsidy beyond a tax abatement unrelated to MIH, according to its developer. In a weaker housing market, such as Downtown Far Rockaway, that would not be possible.“When you are building in emerging areas, the market rents in these areas are not the market rents that you would experience in Manhattan or the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront,” said Douglaston’s chairman, Jeff Levine. “You’re in a tough place.”The mayor’s office picked the first neighborhoods to rezone in part because the local City Council members were open to the idea (lawmakers customarily fall in line with the member whose district is affected). City planners are thus loath to commence the long, arduous rezoning process without a clear path to approval. The public review alone takes seven months and must be preceded by extensive preparation and environmental studies.During a Jan. 24 appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio said in his time left as mayor, he wants to continue to focus on rezoning efforts where there is support at the outset.“Do we need more affordable housing in areas that are privileged? … Of course, the answer is yes,” de Blasio said. “We have to be honest. We fought these battles in brownstone Brooklyn. If you lock in place a privileged community, you are on that pathway to San Francisco.”The mayor often cites the California city to argue that if growth is not accommodated, demand for housing will send prices skyrocketing and push the non-wealthy to distant neighborhoods.But even in poor and working-class communities, opposition to his plans has been significant. The mayor’s office has had to make concessions and promise substantial city funding to secure the necessary political support for the rezonings accomplished to date. And in Inwood, local opponents sued anyway — and were pleasantly surprised when a judge ruled that the city didn’t adequately examine the rezoning’s potential socioeconomic impacts. The administration is appealing.“The MIH program has a ton of potential, but the devil is in the details,” said Michael Tortorici, a founding member of the commercial brokerage Ariel Property Advisors. “It’s a delicate balance between the goals of the administration and what the local communities allow.”The administration’s plan to rezone Bushwick suffered a potentially fatal blow last month as the local Council members, Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal, backed a highly restrictive alternative proposed by community groups. (Espinal, who has since resigned to run the Freelancers Union, had carried the mayor’s initial rezoning, in East New York, across the finish line despite some local opposition.) And the city’s South Bronx rezoning was pre-emptively killed by Salamanca, who argued it would gentrify his district. Salamanca, who chairs the City Council’s powerful land use committee, is backing a bill proposed by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams that would mandate racial-impact studies for land-use actions requiring an environmental review. Neighborhood-wide rezonings allow developers to build larger projects without the added cost and uncertainty of negotiating for the local Council member’s approval. But Salamanca said he is better off working with developers on a project-by-project basis so that he can push for deeper levels of affordability.As the mayor coped with the rezoning troubles, the Durst Organization shelved its seven-building, 2,000-unit Halletts Point rental project in Astoria that was set to include hundreds of affordable apartments. The developer contends that the mayor insisted on terms that made it uneconomical. “A project as large and complex as Halletts Point requires a partnership between the developer and the city,” Durst spokesperson Jordan Barowitz told Politico. “Unfortunately, we have never been able to forge this partnership, and without it, the project is impossible to build.”Hard numbers gameTax exemptions and abatements play a major role in the mayor’s affordable housing agenda.The city gave up $2.3 billion in residential property taxes in fiscal year 2019, according to the city’s Department of Finance, although not all of that was tied to affordability. The old 421a program granted tax breaks lasting up to 25 years to new apartment projects, but only in the city’s pricier neighborhoods did it require some units to be affordable.The new version of 421a, dubbed Affordable New York, only grants the exemption if a certain portion of a project is affordable. Other tax breaks adhere to that same principle.In June, a joint venture between Camber Property Group and Belveron Partners bought a 400-unit apartment building called Highbridge House from Stellar Management for $76.3 million. The partners re-regulated rents for the property’s 400 units to get a 40-year tax exemption through a program known as Article XI. (The deal closed just after the state passed a rent law that made it nearly impossible for landlords to deregulate apartments.)Camber’s Rick Gropper said he expects more developers to turn to affordable housing construction as New York’s luxury residential market continues to slow. “There’s more demand than ever for city resources for affordable housing,” he said.De Blasio knew from the beginning that ample public funds would be needed to build affordable housing at scale in weaker markets. He allocated $5.9 billion through September 2019 and has pledged more than $9 billion between now and 2029, although his successor is not bound by that commitment.Alan Wiener, head of Wells Fargo Multifamily Capital, said de Blasio’s successor must dedicate significant public resources to meet the city’s ballooning housing needs. But the longtime banker also praised de Blasio for his housing record. “I think it’s actually one of his crowning achievements,” Wiener said. “They’ve made it and kept it as a priority.”City officials have become more deliberate, however, in doling out housing dollars.“For a while it was gangbusters, and then it was, ‘Whoop, we don’t have any money,’” said Lisa Gomez, chief operating officer and partner at affordable housing builder L+M Development. “There’s finite resources even in a city like New York. There’s a very long queue for financing.”Been, who previously served as de Blasio’s HPD commissioner before leaving in early 2017 for a 28-month stint in academia, said there has been no decline in capital financing. But she said the administration has worked to be more transparent about the federal cap on tax-exempt bonds, which finance tens of thousands of affordable units across the state each year.The wait for financing isn’t the only bureaucratic hurdle for affordable housing developers. Real estate attorney Alvin Schein said there is “little coordination between HPD and DOB” on aspects of the building process.One issue Schein has encountered is securing a waiver from the buildings department to include less parking than normally required with a development, as permitted for projects near mass transit under a measure approved in 2016 called Zoning for Quality and Affordability. The agency sometimes declines to issue a waiver without documentation that a project includes affordable housing. But Schein said Affordable New York developments don’t receive such documentation until after construction is complete. “In most cases it just slows down the project [and] makes the project more expensive,” he said. “The mindset should be, ‘Let’s get affordable housing out in the market as fast as we can.’”A representative for HPD denied any lack of coordination, noting that projects are presented to the two agencies at different times.Housing for the poorestA perennial criticism of de Blasio’s housing plan is that it doesn’t help enough of the city’s lowest-income residents.In a 2018 report, City Comptroller Scott Stringer called on the administration to redirect housing funding to severely rent-burdened New Yorkers, noting that the average city household with income between $10,000 and $20,000 spent 74 percent of that on housing.Meanwhile, the city’s homeless shelter population, although it has edged down 1 percent in the past year, is still nearly 60,000, about 18 percent higher than when de Blasio was sworn in.Last month, Stringer — who is running for mayor — criticized the MIH program, saying it has failed to create enough deeply affordable units and has “cherry-picked” communities for rezonings that exacerbated speculative buying.“In the name of development and in the name of growth, we’re leaving far, far too many of our people behind,” the comptroller said. “The status quo is nothing less than taxpayer-funded gentrification.”The latest data from the de Blasio administration shows it has created or preserved about 23,500 units for tenants who make 30 percent or less of the area median income. Its most robust tier has been for those making 51 percent to 80 percent of AMI: more than 57,000 apartments.The administration often notes that housing for very low-income tenants requires a lot of subsidy, reducing the number of units that can be built for working-class and middle-class households. That’s important because middle-income earners who don’t win lotteries for subsidized units then outcompete lower earners for other housing, pushing many into living doubled-up or homelessness, the mayor’s housing officials say.But their argument that adding housing at all levels indirectly helps low earners has not resonated. And while the mayor talks of the benefits to the poor of living in economically diverse areas, community activists characterize it as gentrification that forces minorities to leave their neighborhoods.“Many people believe you can ask for more [affordability in private projects]. You can ask for more, but they are not the ones looking at the data, the spreadsheets, the pro formas every day,” Been said. “At the end of the day, you push too hard, you get absolutely nothing.” (The Durst Organization said its Astoria project is case in point.)But the deputy mayor acknowledged that the messaging about unit count has not won over New Yorkers.“I don’t think people relate all that well to just numbers,” Been noted. “We need to be telling people a lot more about the actual people who are being helped.”Shifting gearsOver his tenure, the mayor has turned more of his attention to very low-income and homeless New Yorkers.Late last year he compromised on a City Council bill that aimed to reserve more housing for people emerging from homelessness. The bill, which passed in December, requires city-funded projects of 41 units or more to set aside 15 percent of them for homeless individuals.De Blasio had opposed an earlier version that applied to all city-funded projects, arguing that it would make some unviable. Before that, in February 2017, the mayor had dedicated $1.9 billion to set aside another 10,000 apartments for New Yorkers earning less than $40,000.In December 2018, the mayor launched NYCHA 2.0, a 10-year plan to help address what is now $40 billion in capital repairs needed by the city’s public housing.While the administration is privatizing the management of many of the Housing Authority’s properties to pay for renovations, its plan to allow private development on underutilized land and to sell development rights to raise $2 billion has been stalled by opposition from tenants.The Bloomberg administration had the same idea and ran into the same problem. To date, not a single private housing development on NYCHA land has been approved.De Blasio will not be cutting ribbons on any such projects before leaving office in 23 months. Nor can he expect to finish nine more neighborhood rezonings. Meanwhile, the developers who were counting on de Blasio’s housing plan may have to rely on his successor to finish the job.But it remains to be seen how much the mayor can build on the efforts of his first six years and what that will ultimately mean for his legacy.“I think that the administration has made a lot of strides,” Tortorici said. “The seeds that they plant today will take a long time to come to fruition.” Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on LinkedinShare via Email Share via Shortlink Share via Shortlinkcenter_img TagsMayor Bill de Blasiolast_img read more

Corona-what? Two condos at 220 Central Park South fetch $109M

first_imgThe 5,935-square-foot unit was listed at $60 million, according to the most recently amended condo offering plan. Vornado increased the price from the original offering plan’s asking price of $51.5 million. The sale closed July 21.A week earlier, a unit of the same size on the 64th floor closed for $53.9 million. Purchased through an LLC, it went into contract in 2015. The final listing price for the four-bedroom pad was $58 million, up from the original $49 million.A similar pair of deals closed in April for a combined haul of $110 million. Those transactions were on the 63rd and 65th floors. Weeks earlier, sales of units on the 61st and 62nd floors closed.Vornado’s luxury condominium continues to be a cash cow for the real estate investment trust as the coronavirus pandemic has forced a massive writedown on some of its retail properties. In the second quarter, the REIT reported a $49 million after-tax net gain from sales at 220 Central Park South.Write to Erin Hudson at [email protected] Share via Shortlink 220 Central Park South and Vornado chairman Steve Roth (BrillLyle via Wikpedia, Getty)It’s been another solid month for big-ticket sales at 220 Central Park South.Deals for two condo units at Vornado Realty Trust’s Billionaires’ Row tower closed this month for a combined $109 million. Both buyers are unnamed in property records.The pricier of the four-bedroom units, on the 68th floor, traded for $55.5 million. The buyer, a foreign limited liability company KMZM LLC, went into contract for the property in October 2018.Read moreVornado: Coronavirus responsible for $306M loss on value of prized retail JVBack-to-back closings at 220 CPS net Vornado $110MVornado sees “tragic abyss” now, better times ahead Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on LinkedinShare via Email Share via Shortlink Tags220 Central Park SouthResidential Real Estatelast_img read more

Dezer’s 30-acre megaproject in North Miami Beach gets first approval

first_imgShare via Shortlink Renderings of the project and Gil Dezer (Getty; Renderings via Zyscovich Architects)A nearly 30-acre mixed-use development that would bring luxury condo towers, a harbor and public promenade secured a key approval from the city of North Miami Beach.Developer Gil Dezer’s plan to transform the Intracoastal Mall will return to the North Miami City Commission next month, after commissioners voted to pass zoning amendments and a 30-year development agreement between the city and developer on first reading after a meeting that stretched past 3 a.m. Friday morning.The developer is proposing 2,000 residential units, 575,000 square feet of retail and office space, 250 hotel rooms, a harbor and central park and more. The megadevelopment would replace the 234,000-square-foot Intracoastal Mall and a three-story office building.ADVERTISEMENTDezer, whose recent projects include the Residences at Armani/Casa and the Porsche Design Tower, — two luxury condo towers visible from North Miami Beach — tapped Bernard Zyscovich of Zyscovich Architects to design the development.(Rendering via Zyscovich Architects)In July, Dezer Development received a favorable vote from the North Miami Beach planning board for its plans for the 29-acre property.The four-phased project would include 200,000 square feet of office space and 375,000 square feet of retail space with a grocery store and entertainment retail, for-sale townhouses, condos and rental apartments, and a waterfront promenade.As part of the approval, Dezer would also build police and fire substations, a community center, and infrastructure around the project.Tracy Slavens, an attorney at Holland & Knight who’s representing Dezer, introduced the project and said the developer shifted the building height and reduced the “intensity” by more than 70 percent. Dezer plans to relocate some retail tenants of the existing mall into the new project.Mayor Anthony F. DeFillipo urged the commission to move the plan forward.“Use the Aventura Mall as an example,” DeFillipo said. “At the end of the day they have a community that’s thriving. Where do we want to be?Dozens of nearby residents spoke against the plans and urged commissioners to reject the proposed changes. Many talked about the impact it could have on traffic, especially for those living in the Eastern Shores neighborhood.“You have the right, the obligation to stop this thing and you have to do that,” said Bruce Kusens, a resident who opposes the zoning changes. “This was supposed to make things better, not make things worse.”An ordinance amending the zoning and land development code related to the Intracoastal Mall property passed 4 to 3, with commissioners Phyllis Smith, Fortuna Smukler and Barbara Kramer voting against it.The ordinance gives direction to city staff to make changes related to the hotel component. The second ordinance, approving the master development agreement and conceptual master plan request by the developer, also passed 4 to 3 with the same commissioners voting for and against it. The latter ordinance passed with amendments.Arthur Gallagher, who works for the developer, said construction of the first phase could take three years from the time the developer receives building permits.If the commission votes to approve the ordinances on second reading, Dezer would have to get site plan approval, in addition to approvals from other government agencies, including Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management.Contact Katherine Kallergis Email Address* Message* Full Name* Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on LinkedinShare via Email Share via Shortlink TagsDevelopmentlast_img read more

NAR amends code of ethics to ban public hate speech

first_imgNAR president Vince Malta (NAR, iStock)Realtors can no longer publicly use discriminatory language without consequence.The National Association of Realtors’s board of directors voted Friday to officially expand its Code of Ethics to cover realtors’ conduct outside of their real estate duties. Previously, the code of ethics only applied to a realtors’ conduct in the course of a real estate transaction.That means any NAR member who uses hate speech or harassing language in public, whether as a part of their personal or professional business, could be expelled from the organization.Amending the organization’s ethics rules became an issue NAR’s standards committee began to consider earlier this year, after the organization began receiving complaints about its members using discriminatory speech online, particularly on social media.In the weeks leading up to the vote, NAR’s leadership acknowledged the expansion of its code of ethics had generated controversy among its 1.4 million members by creating a video explaining what was motivating the change.In the video, posted last month, Matt Difanis, who leads the standards committee, read out several examples of hate speech that members posted on social media this year. (He noted that these were just a couple from the “mountain of hate speech” complaints NAR had received.)Under NAR’s previous ethics guidelines, Difanis explained, it was “OK to say vile, abhorrent, disgusting things and still … wear the Realtor badge.”As of Friday, that’s no longer the case.Vince Malta, NAR’s president and a San Francisco-based broker, applauded the board’s decision.“Combating and overcoming bigotry and injustice starts with each of us,” Malta said in a statement. “Realtors today took tangible steps to ensure we are held to the highest possible standard while providing a mechanism of enforcement for those who violate our new policies.”Read moreNational Association of Realtors cracks down on hate speechIncidents at Nooklyn and Core outrage Black agents, staffCorcoran axes broker who cursed at woman planting Biden signs Message* Full Name* TagshomeownershipNational Association of RealtorsReal Estate and PoliticsResidential Real Estate Anyone can file a complaint against a realtor alleging the use of harassing language or hate speech in public. Complaints are considered on a case-by-cases by the local realtor association in which the agent is a member, according to NAR.Consequences for members found in violation of the code of ethics vary from fines to requirements to attend educational courses. In the most severe cases, a realtor’s membership can be suspended or revoked.In response to critics who may claim the new rules infringe on free speech, Malta said, “the First Amendment does not preclude NAR from imposing this ethical duty as a condition of membership.”The effort to expand NAR’s code of ethics began after a June meeting in which Black realtors shared their experiences of racism on the job with their colleagues, according to Difanis’ video.And, as he noted, real estate agents have been deeply involved in upholding racial discrimination for decades.“Colleagues, remember, we quite literally drew the color lines,” Defanis said. “Our fingerprints as realtors are all over the redlining maps.”A Newsday investigation last year found widespread racial discrimination by real estate agents on Long Island in New York. Brokers denied the findings in a state hearing earlier this fall, for which senators had to issue subpoenas in order to have the implicated agents participate.Contact Erin Hudsoncenter_img Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on LinkedinShare via Email Share via Shortlink Share via Shortlink Email Address*last_img read more

Why 2m sales means the Human: Fall Flat developer never has to work in IT again

first_imgWhy 2m sales means the Human: Fall Flat developer never has to work in IT againWe speak to Tomas Sakalauskas of one-man studio No Brakes Games about the career-changing success of his physics-based puzzlerJames BatchelorEditor-in-ChiefThursday 15th February 2018Share this article Recommend Tweet ShareTomas Sakalauskas did not want to work in IT anymore. Not everyone does, and in this wonderful age of internet-enabled self-improvement, no one is tied to a single career path for life.In 2012, he decided to abandon his business and try out video game development. After a few years spent on unsuccessful projects, he eventually created the title that would secure his newfound freedom long-term – the physics-based smash hit Human: Fall Flat. Having successfully emerged from Early Access, the game has since been released on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and even Nintendo Switch, thanks to the publishing support of Curve Digital. It has impressed audiences at games shows and conventions around the world and been played by celebrities on UK TV game show, Dara O’Briain’s Go 8 Bit. And today Sakalauskas is able to announce it has sold more than two million copies worldwide.Tomas Sakalauskas, No Brakes GamesWe caught up the designer behind this indie sensation and his one-man studio No Brakes Games, to find out more about the journey towards this milestone.”Human: Fall Flat was my last chance at games development,” he tells GamesIndustry.biz. “Before that I was making mobile games, so I spent two years with a team on a mobile racing game but I had to let the studio go because we ran out of money. If Human: Fall Flat did not [take off], I would have returned to business software development.”But now I no longer have to worry about a different career path. I can stay in games development, which is what I always wanted to do.”There are tales of indies whose lives have been transformed by a single hit, trading in their runarounds for sports cars, but Sakalauskas tells us his personal life is “pretty much like it was beforehand” – albeit funded by a more satisfying career.”Human: Fall Flat was my last chance at games development. If it did not [take off], I would have returned to business software development” “I used to run an IT business, so it’s not that I haven’t been operating these kind of budgets before,” he says. “While developing Human: Fall Flat, I was really low on personal finances. Before I started receiving the first cheques from [game sales], I think I had €1,000 across all my accounts – that’s quite dangerous, given that I have three kids to support and a mortgage to pay. I was getting a little bit nervous at that time, but then Itch.io sales started coming in and I could relax a little bit. But it wasn’t on the level that showed any long-term stability.”I can now afford things I was deprived of over the past four years while building the game. Things got back to normal, more and less. With current sales, I could afford a sports car – but I already had one, so now I can install a rollcage on that and do some racing again. But no dramatic [purchases] on the way at the moment.”During playtests, most players tried to find alternative paths around the puzzles – leading to a key shift in the game’s designYou would think that getting down to your last €1,000 would cause tension at home, particularly given how competitive the games market has become. There was no guarantee Human: Fall Flat would reach two hundred sales, let alone two million, but Sakalauskas reports he was backed up by “tremendous support from family.””That’s why they’re in the game credits as well,” he says. “I felt no pressure from them because I could always go back to [working at] IT companies. It was not life or death, it was just a career choice and I really wanted to be in games, which is why I continued until the very last moment. Of course I had a lot of faith in the game when it launched on Itch.io, so I thought everything would be fine. I’m happy that it all went that way.””Before I received the first cheques, I had €1,000 across all my accounts – that’s quite dangerous with three kids to support and a mortgage to pay” Perhaps the biggest barrier to indie success is not game quality, but discoverability. With countless Sakalauskases hoping to move into games, how could he ensure Human: Fall Flat attracted the audience he needed? The answer, it turned out, was YouTube.”I got in contact with [various YouTubers] via Twitter – but I was not trying to reach the top channels, just some of the ones who are into games,” Sakalauskas says. “Initially I gave the game to small YouTubers, with channels under 100 subscribers, just to start getting noticed and most importantly to get playtesting footage – being a one-man studio, I cannot hire enough players to sit in a one-way mirror room and be taped. With YouTubers and small streamers, it was a nice collaboration because they got to play a new game and I got all the video footage, which is core to game design – you need video footage of people playing your game. It was a win-win situation.”Then there were viewers of those streamers who started promoting the game to streamers who were a little bit bigger, and then much bigger streamers, and its snowballed from there. My first Twitch broadcast was my family watching and one friend of the streamer, and it’s been magnificent fun to see that [grow]. So don’t ignore the small people making videos out there – they can be as helpful for you as you can be for them.””My first Twitch broadcast was watched by my family and one friend of the streamer, and it’s been fun to see that [grow]. Don’t ignore the small people making videos out there” Sakalauskas believes that Human: Fall Flat is just one of many titles that proves one-man developers can still make their mark on today’s industry. They may not be able to create the same premium-style products as big studios, but the chances of succeeding – to the point where it can sustain your career – are just the same. In fact, they could be higher if one-man studios invested even more time and energy into honing their craft.”The reason the rate of one-man successes are relatively low is because most of those are first-time projects where they are learning about game development and design, so of course their success rate is quite low,” Sakalauskas says, reminding us of his years spent creating mobile games prior to Human: Fall Flat. “If you check SteamSpy numbers, there are around 30 to 40 games that sell more than one million year in, year out. Yes, more games are being produced [each year] but in general, every year 100 people make good games. That did not change from 2013 to 2016 – I haven’t check last year’s numbers yet.”Human: Fall Flat has proven to be so successful that the developer is keen to continue expanding it, with no new project currently in mindBut with more than 7,000 games released on Steam last year alone, it’s getting harder and harder to be heard over the noise and become one of those 30 to 40 hits. Sakalauskas’ advice is that while quality is important, fresh ideas are the real key to success.Crucially, a firm understanding of game design is required. There are already plenty of books and courses available out there, and anyone planning to make a game alone needs to be ready to invest in all this and more if they want to content with multi-person teams. “The rate of one-man successes is relatively low because most of those are first-time projects where they are learning about game development and design” “If you just get Unity and buy an online tutorial, the chances that you’ll make a hit are not very great,” says Sakalauskas. “But if you know things about game design and playtesting, if you have interesting mechanics, the chances are quite good.”He continues: “The only way a small developer can make something that stands up is to make it a really unique experience. I was playtesting and retooling it a lot to make it fun to play. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee anything – all you can do as a game developer is essentially buy a lottery ticket, and you chances are based on luck. Will it go [big] or not? You never know. But you increase your chances by making a unique game, something that you would want to play yourself.”I wanted to make a game that was a child of Portal and Limbo, with a quite linear way to progress and Portal-sized puzzles. But after seeing people trying to hack the puzzles, levels started growing bigger and the focus shifted to alternative paths and connecting things together to allow speedruns. I ended up with totally different design goals compared to what I had planned initially.””If you just get Unity and buy an online tutorial, the chances that you’ll make a hit are not very great” Herein lies another vital lesson learned from Human: Fall Flat – listening to your community. As Sakalauskas says, seeing that his YouTubing playtesters were more interested in finding ways around puzzles and experimenting with the figures changed his priorities. As he drew on more feedback, he attempted to build the game his audience was expecting, not just the one he wanted. Of course, taking in every comment and suggestion while building an entire game on your own can be a challenge.”In the end, I’m the game designer so I have to filter that feedback – you cannot just take that random comments, throw the ideas into the game and see how it works,” says Sakalauskas. “I usually read everything on Steam, although when I’m working on new features like I am now, it can be a month or two where I’m not looking at feedback because it can easily throw you off your plans. “Eventually, I got a few nice members of the community to take care of the majority of the feedback – so if someone is having difficult playing with a certain controller, it can be something the community takes care of.”Sakalauskas believes that any one-man developer can create a million-selling hit with the right time, effort and fresh ideasThat community has continued to be the driving force behind how Human: Fall Flat has evolved. Back in November, Sakalauskas released a multiplayer update that enables eight players to enjoy the game simultaneously. Initially, he was reluctant to build multiplayer on this scale, but when some players experimented with implementing it themselves with Nvidia tools, he realised it not only feasible but could be popular.”Most of the features in Human: Fall Flat come from community feedback – not necessarily exactly as expressed by the community but by reading a lot of the feedback you can get a general idea of where your audience wants to take your game,” says Sakalauskas.Next on the agenda for Human: Fall Flat is Steam Workshop support, something Sakalauskas hopes will further invigorate his audience into creating their own content and forging a way for the game to live on – even without him.”I would be redundant at that point in the process,” he laughs. “I would really love to see the game carry on that way.”Related JobsSenior Game Designer – UE4 – AAA United Kingdom Amiqus GamesProgrammer – REMOTE – work with industry veterans! North West Amiqus GamesJunior Video Editor – GLOBAL publisher United Kingdom Amiqus GamesDiscover more jobs in games Until that’s finished, he isn’t even considering what his next project might be. Instead, he’s just happy to know that making another game is an option for him, buoyed by the success of this first hit.When asked if he would have done things differently with the knowledge he has today, Sakalauskas maintains that Human: Fall Flat is everything he wanted it to be and more.”I only wish I knew mobile was so hard five years ago when I started going in that direction,” he says. “I spent too much energy before working on Human. On the other hand, I got a lot of experience so maybe I would just keep everything the same – I’m quite content with where I am now.”Celebrating employer excellence in the video games industry8th July 2021Submit your company Sign up for The Publishing & Retail newsletter and get the best of GamesIndustry.biz in your inbox. Enter your email addressMore storiesEA leans on Apex Legends and live services in fourth quarterQ4 and full year revenues close to flat and profits take a tumble, but publisher’s bookings still up double-digitsBy Brendan Sinclair 4 hours agoUbisoft posts record sales yet again, delays Skull & Bones yet againPublisher moves away from target of 3-4 premium AAA titles a year, wants to build free-to-play “to be trending toward AAA ambitions over the long term”By Brendan Sinclair 8 hours agoLatest comments Sign in to contributeEmail addressPasswordSign in Need an account? Register now.last_img read more

Meet The Indies will return at EGX Rezzed

first_imgMeet The Indies will return at EGX RezzedPublishers, investors and indie creators can attend for freeChristopher DringHead of Games B2BWednesday 4th April 2018Share this article Recommend Tweet ShareMeet The Indies @ Rezzed will return, and this time is completely free to attend.Meet The Indies is a B2B matchmaking area that enables investors, publishers and service providers to meet with some of the world’s best independent developers during EGX Rezzed.EGX Rezzed runs April 13th – April 15th.The event is sponsored by Wicked Sick, the investment firm owned by former Multiplay boss Craig Fletcher.”The UK has a long history of great creative talent in the games industry and in particular a strong indie base, but access to finance seems to be an ongoing issue, especially for smaller amounts,” says Fletcher. “We’re very happy to help support the coming together of the indie scene with those who can help give them the resources to make the next generation of indie blockbusters.”Related JobsSenior Game Designer – UE4 – AAA United Kingdom Amiqus GamesProgrammer – REMOTE – work with industry veterans! North West Amiqus GamesJunior Video Editor – GLOBAL publisher United Kingdom Amiqus GamesDiscover more jobs in games If you are an indie developer, publisher or investor eager to attend, simply email [email protected] And specify who you are and that you’d like to join the event. You’ll then be sent additional information on how to sign-up and list what it is you’re looking for. Whether you’re an indie creator seeking marketing support and funding, or a publisher/investor looking for that next promising Nintendo Switch hit, this is the perfect event for you.Sponsoring opportunities are available for the event. For more details, email [email protected] The Indies is one of three GamesIndustry.biz events taking place at EGX Rezzed. On Friday, April 13th, we will reveal this year’s GamesIndustry 100 at a special drinks reception. And the GamesIndustry.biz Career Fair will take place over the entire three days of the event.Celebrating employer excellence in the video games industry8th July 2021Submit your company Sign up for The Daily Update and get the best of GamesIndustry.biz in your inbox. Enter your email addressMore storiesEA leans on Apex Legends and live services in fourth quarterQ4 and full year revenues close to flat and profits take a tumble, but publisher’s bookings still up double-digitsBy Brendan Sinclair 4 hours agoEA Play Live set for July 22Formerly E3-adjacent event moves to take place a month and half after the ESA’s showBy Jeffrey Rousseau 6 hours agoLatest comments (1)Alberto Belli Founder & CEO, Gamera Interactive3 years ago Mail sent 🙂 0Sign inorRegisterto rate and replySign in to contributeEmail addressPasswordSign in Need an account? Register now.last_img read more

Bank of Innovation floats on the Tokyo Stock Exchange

first_imgBank of Innovation floats on the Tokyo Stock ExchangeJapanese developer hit $77 million market cap on first dayMatthew HandrahanEditor-in-ChiefMonday 30th July 2018Share this article Recommend Tweet ShareThe Japanese developer Bank of Innovation has listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.Related JobsSenior Game Designer – UE4 – AAA United Kingdom Amiqus GamesProgrammer – REMOTE – work with industry veterans! North West Amiqus GamesJunior Video Editor – GLOBAL publisher United Kingdom Amiqus GamesDiscover more jobs in games According to industry analyst Dr Serkan Toto, who translated the company’s official documents, Bank of Innovation opened the day at a price of ¥960, but closed the day well up at ¥2,199.At the end of the first day of trading Bank of Innovation reached a market cap equivalent to $77 million.Bank of Innovation expects to earn $43 million in revenue and $2.7 million operating profit this fiscal year, which ends in September. More than 90 per cent of its revenue comes from two RPGs: Mitrasphere and Genjuu Keiyaku Cryptract.Celebrating employer excellence in the video games industry8th July 2021Submit your company Sign up for The Daily Update and get the best of GamesIndustry.biz in your inbox. Enter your email addressMore storiesCEO says Paradox “can do better” as Q1 profits plummet”We are not satisfied with the quarter,” CEO Ebba Ljungerud saidBy Marie Dealessandri 14 hours agoStarbreeze’s Q1 losses shrink 95% to $505,000New CEO Tobias Sjögren says “the road ahead is clear” as Payday 3 is fully funded By James Batchelor 14 hours agoLatest comments Sign in to contributeEmail addressPasswordSign in Need an account? Register now.last_img read more

Nintendo Switch nears 5m sales in Japan

first_imgNintendo Switch nears 5m sales in JapanOnly 2m behind lifetime sales of PlayStation 4James BatchelorEditor-in-ChiefTuesday 4th September 2018Share this article Recommend Tweet ShareCompanies in this articleNintendoBy the end of this week, Nintendo Switch is expected to have reach five million sales in its home market since it launched last year.Nintendo Life reports that the latest sales figure for the Japanese games market, as published by Famitsu, show the console-handheld hybrid has now shifted 4.966 million units to date and with its current pace of sales, that five million milestone should only take a few days to achieve.It brings Switch’s lifetime sales closer to that of PlayStation 4, which currently stands at 6.979 million units – just two million units ahead. It’s a fine achievement for the Nintendo device given that Sony’s console has been on the market three years longer, although it has a long way to go if it wants to beat PS4’s global sales of more than 82.2 million units.The updated lifetime sales followed Famistu’s report for August, which was the sixth month in a row that Nintendo Switch has been Japan’s biggest-selling console. The device sold 199,000 over the course of the month, compared to PlayStation 4’s 86,000.Related JobsSenior Game Designer – UE4 – AAA United Kingdom Amiqus GamesProgrammer – REMOTE – work with industry veterans! North West Amiqus GamesJunior Video Editor – GLOBAL publisher United Kingdom Amiqus GamesDiscover more jobs in games Nintendo also dominated the software charts, with Splatoon 2 as the biggest-selling game of August at 96,639 units. WarioWare Gold came in second with 90,121 units, followed by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with 86,897.Even the rest of the top five had links to Nintendo; fourth best-selling game Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun! is a Switch exclusive from Bandai Namco, while Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey X is only available on 3DS. The two games sold 77,761 and 75,834 respectively.Nintendo was also the biggest selling publisher for the month, followed by Bandai Namco and Square Enix.Celebrating employer excellence in the video games industry8th July 2021Submit your company Sign up for The Publishing & Retail newsletter and get the best of GamesIndustry.biz in your inbox. Enter your email addressMore storiesNintendo appointing Despicable Me studio head to board of directorsAnimation studio behind Mario movie gains influence as Illumination Entertainment CEO Chris Meledandri expected to join board next monthBy Brendan Sinclair 5 days agoNintendo reports record full-year profits as Switch nears 85m units soldAnd, despite forecasting decline, the platform holder expects console to beat Wii’s 101 million lifetime sales this yearBy James Batchelor 6 days agoLatest comments Sign in to contributeEmail addressPasswordSign in Need an account? Register now.last_img read more

Zynga sells San Francisco headquarters for $600m

Zynga sells San Francisco headquarters for $600mBuilding sold to real estate firm but Zynga will still operate there, sharing with AirBnB and moreJames BatchelorEditor-in-ChiefThursday 30th May 2019Share this article Recommend Tweet ShareCompanies in this articleZyngaZynga has raised $600 million through the sale of its headquarters in San Francisco — although it has no plans to leave the building.GamesBeat reports the premises have been sold to an an affiliate of Beacon Capital Partners, a US private real estate investment firm. Zynga will sign a lease for more than 12 years and reduce its presence to 185,000 square feet.The space occupied by Zynga will be revamped, while the rest of the building will be shared by other tenants. So far the only confirmed tenant is hospitality service AirBnB.CEO Frank Gibeau told GamesBeat the deal was “a nice gain for our shareholders” that will be put into cash, after transfer costs, that can be used for future acquisitions. The company raised more than double the $234 million it spent on the building back in 2012.”The goal is to grow as we’ve done with Gram, Small Giant and Peak,” he said, adding: “We’ll invest in running the business, acquisitions and our current buyback program.”Related JobsSenior Game Designer – UE4 – AAA United Kingdom Amiqus GamesProgrammer – REMOTE – work with industry veterans! North West Amiqus GamesJunior Video Editor – GLOBAL publisher United Kingdom Amiqus GamesDiscover more jobs in games Gibeau was referring to the recent acquisitions of Merge developer Gram Games, Empire & Puzzles studio Small Giant Games and the card games team from Peak Games.When asked why Zynga chose to sell its headquarters, Gibeau said: “If you look at the San Francisco market, it’s a high position. We are an interactive game company. We are not a real estate company.”The deal took no more than three months to secure and is expected to be completed by the end of July.Celebrating employer excellence in the video games industry8th July 2021Submit your company Sign up for The Mobile newsletter and get the best of GamesIndustry.biz in your inbox. Enter your email addressMore storiesZynga acquiring Chartboost for $250mFirst quarter financials show publisher’s continued acquisitions have led to soaring revenues, but it continues to post net lossesBy Brendan Sinclair 6 days agoZynga pledges $100,000 to Girls Who CodeNew partnership announced on International Women’s Day will enable non-profit to expand its program of free coding clubsBy James Batchelor 2 months agoLatest comments Sign in to contributeEmail addressPasswordSign in Need an account? Register now. read more

ThinkGeek closes site, moves in with GameStop

first_img 0Sign inorRegisterto rate and replySign in to contributeEmail addressPasswordSign in Need an account? Register now. ThinkGeek closes site, moves in with GameStopOver 40 US physical locations to remain open, online sales to close July 2Rebekah ValentineSenior Staff WriterFriday 14th June 2019Share this article Recommend Tweet ShareCompanies in this articleGameStopGamestop subsidiary ThinkGeek will be shutting down its online gaming and pop culture clothing, accessory, and toy store and moving the bulk of its business into GameStop brick and mortar and online stores.Related JobsSenior Game Designer – UE4 – AAA United Kingdom Amiqus GamesProgrammer – REMOTE – work with industry veterans! North West Amiqus GamesJunior Video Editor – GLOBAL publisher United Kingdom Amiqus GamesDiscover more jobs in games Over 40 physical ThinkGeek store locations in the United States are planned to remain open after the website ends its sales on July 2, 2019.It hasn’t been a great year for GameStop, which saw a stock drop back in January as it gave up trying to sell the company due to lack of financing. Following this, GameStop said it would commit to a focus on its core gaming business, as well as on collectibles.GameStop then posted a $673 million full-year lost in its financials reported in April for the year ending February 2, 2019. That loss took into account the $700 million the company earned from the sale of its Spring Mobile business back in November 2018.Celebrating employer excellence in the video games industry8th July 2021Submit your company Sign up for The Publishing & Retail newsletter and get the best of GamesIndustry.biz in your inbox. Enter your email addressMore storiesGameStop opening new US east coast fulfillment centerNew 700,000 square-foot Pennsylvania facility opens later this year, intended to support ecommerce “transformation”By Brendan Sinclair 8 days agoGameStop CEO reportedly due to receive $179m windfallOutgoing chief benefits from GameStop stock surgeBy Marie Dealessandri 20 days agoLatest comments (2)Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.A year ago Ah, Gamestop. Where independent retailers get bought up to go die. 0Sign inorRegisterto rate and replyDaniel Trezub QA Analyst, LudiaA year ago Oh no! Where will we be drooling over useless expensive pieces of pop culture that look so cool we just HAVE to share the link with our geek friends, but never buy any of it? (especially if you’re in Canada)last_img read more