Caterpillar with red horn

The caterpillar with red horn, is also known as the tomato hornworm, and if you are growing Tomatoes its almost a sure thing that you have meet them.   If you’ve ever grown tomatoes, chances are good that you’ve dealt with these green caterpillar pests. There are two main garden pest species, tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms, which can […]

Designing with Cold-Climate Succulents

Originally from https://gardeninggonewild.com/designing-with-cold-climate-succulents/

Becky Sell of Sedum Chicks plants cold-hardy succulents in repurposed wood-and-metal containers, hypertufa pots, wreaths and more. She grows the plants, too, where she lives in Turner, Oregon, near the Washington border.

Becky’s compositions can overwinter outdoors in northerly climates (Zones 4 to 8), providing the potting medium drains well. Cold-hardy succulents such as stonecrops and hens-and-chicks will also grow in Zones 8 and 9 if protected from heat in excess of 85 degrees and scorching sun. Some varieties, notably shrub sedums, die to the ground in any locale and come back the following spring.

In her designs, Becky often combines sedums (stonecrops), sempervivums (hens-and-chicks), and Delosperma ice plants. Of a little-known Rosularia species with soft, light green leaves, she says, “When people ask which plant is my favorite, this is definitely on the list.”

There are about 35 species in the genus Rosularia. The sempervivum-like succulents come from Europe, the Himalayas, and northern Africa.

Find more photos of succulents for Northern climates—including many of Becky’s favorites—on my website’s new Cold-Hardy Succulents page. I photographed the designs shown here during the Northwest Flower & Garden Show at the Sedum Chicks booth, which won an award for outstanding visual appeal.

Below: This bright red vertical container was a hit. At right, I darkened the photo to make plant IDs, in white letters, stand out, so you can see them better.

Below: Sempervivum ‘Jade Rose’ repeats the teal blue of a Sedum spathulifolium cultivar.

Below: In a cold-hardy wreath, Becky surrounded a large sempervivum rosette with smaller sedums, Delosperma cooperi (at lower left), and Sedum confusum (lower right).

Below: I’ve ID’d the three sedums in this wreath at right. Becky gives her plants “hair cuts” to keep them compact.

“I like its dark edges,” Becky says of Sempervivum ‘Black’, shown below in dramatic contrast with chartreuse Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’. At lower right is a succulent native to Oregon: Sedum oreganum.

Becky and husband Paul create planters from repurposed wood and metal. The bronzy succulents below are Sedum confusum, which blushes red-orange in a sunny location. When less confused, it’s bright apple green.

For wreaths and vertical gardens, Becky uses sphagnum moss to help hold plants in place. She emphasizes the importance of good drainage, which is true for all succulents, but especially those in rainy climates. Succulents from cold climates tend to have thin or small leaves and want a richer potting soil than thicker-leaved varieties from desert regions. Becky recommends Black Gold’s organic mix.

In my YouTube video, “Sedum Chicks at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show,” Becky explains how to select, cultivate and beautifully combine cold-hardy succulents.

 

Learn more about succulents for northerly climates:

On my website:

— Find tips for care and cultivation, plus resources at How to Grow Succulents in Northerly Climates

— See labeled varieties of excellent, readily available varieties on my Cold-Hardy Succulents page.

On my YouTube channel:

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates: Part One of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. See gorgeous new Sempervivum cultivars and inspiring, eye-catching design ideas.

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates, Part Two of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. More cool succulents for cold climates and how to select, grow and design with them.

Sedum Chicks at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Pacific NW designer/grower Becky Sell explains how to select, care for and beautifully combine cold-hardy sedums, semps and other succulents.

Make a Frost-Hardy Succulent Wreath with Hens-and-Chicks. Simple steps to a stunning wreath!

In my books:

— See the Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens section of Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

— Find info in all my books about succulents in the genera Sedum, Sempervivum, Delosperma and more.

Scientific Gardening: A Personal Experiment with Hydroponic Gardening

Originally from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/UrbanOrganicGardener/~3/JWRTzx9-XM4/

It’s that time of year again – to get your hands dirty and plant the yummy array of veggies you’ve picked for your garden. Traditionally, we plant our gardens in the ground, but last year my boyfriend and I investigated the topic of hydroponic gardening and were fascinated by the idea! He and I both being handy people plus his science major helped set us up for success with this new endeavor.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to be super handy and/or have a science major to have hydroponic gardening work for you. When doing our research on how to get this project started, we found multiple pre-made kits you can buy online.

There are a couple of things to note if you want to try this project for your garden, which I will explain… roots cannot get direct sunlight indoors, therefore if you have five-gallon buckets laying around that you want to use, be sure the sun cannot penetrate through the plastic. When you hold the bucket up to the sun and can see through the plastic, similar to when you shine a flashlight on your fingertips at night, you need to spray paint them with a of couple coats until the sun can’t get through. Also, when it comes to nutrients and PH levels, be sure to do specific research on what your veggies will want.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE: https://www.sentinelsource.com/elf/scientific-gardening/article_f43ae68e-a5ba-11ea-8fe6-2f0b2336e337.html

This Newark Couple is Transforming a Vacant Lot into a Community Garden

Originally from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/UrbanOrganicGardener/~3/0kEQnNiVpOs/

Photo: Bilal and Breonna Walker

NEWARK, NJ — For the past 15 years, Lot 50 on Grafton Avenue in the city’s North Ward has been a wasteland of syringes and garbage, bringing down the community’s morale.

Those days are coming to an end, according to Bilal and Breonna Walker, two educators who are transforming the lot into a community project unlike any other in Newark. Dubbed Jannah on Grafton, what was once a blight on the neighborhood will soon be a community garden providing access to healthy food options, urban gardening advocacy and sustainable education efforts for North Newark residents.

The project came about due to divine inspiration, according to the couple, who are practicing Muslims.

“There’s a saying that loosely goes, ‘If you plant a seed, and it grows and an animal or human benefits or eats from it, then you get that reward.’ That’s something I’ve been reflecting on for a very long time, and I’ve always thought about how I’d like to leave my mark on the world,” Bilal said.

The lot’s vibrant graffiti would always catch the couple’s eye, and so through the city’s Adopt a Lot program, the Walkers began their endeavor to bring grassroots sustainability to an underserved population. Through Jannah on Grafton, they’re setting a goal to provide 20 families locally grown produce and cushion their monthly food income.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE: https://www.tapinto.net/towns/springfield/sections/other-nj-news/articles/this-newark-couple-is-transforming-a-vacant-lot-into-a-community-garden-4

Recipe: Arugula Salad with Pan-Fried Herbed Potatoes, Cherry Tomatoes, Feta Cheese & Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette

Originally from http://inmykitchengarden.blogspot.com/2012/07/recipe-arugula-salad-with-pan-fried.html

Arugula salad with pan-fried herbed potatoes, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and kalamata olive vinaigrette
This light main course salad is a perfect way to celebrate the summer harvest (recipe here).
I’m kicking off BlogHer’s new Market Fresh Cooking series with this beautiful Arugula Salad with Pan-Fried Herbed Potatoes, Cherry Tomatoes, and Feta Cheese that’s full of flavor and bursting with summer bounty. For this batch I used arugula, parsley, thyme, and red onions from my garden.
The crisp, herby potatoes also taste great on their own, and the Kalamata olive vinaigrette is wonderful on other things too. I love it tossed with cucumbers and tomatoes. To make this a more substantial meal, simply add some leftover grilled chicken or steak.

No arugula? Make it with romaine lettuce instead. My favorite variety of romaine is an easy to grow heirloom called Parris Island Cos, which is crisp, tasty, and amazingly heat tolerant. 

Coming up next on In My Kitchen Garden: Can you grow arugula during the summer? Yes!

13 Reasons Why Gardening Is Good For Your Health

Originally from https://gardeninggonewild.com/13-reasons-why-gardening-is-good-for-your-health/

Wildflowers at Chanticleeer

The results of a multitude of research is now showing what gardeners have intrinsically known for generations –

that gardening is good for your health.

Now more than ever, as our culture becomes more technologically obsessed and increasingly nature deprived, this information is critical to digest and embrace. The reason why? Because our country is in a national health crisis with substantial economic and social implications.

Here are some statistics that bear this out:

  • The U.S. public spends more than 90% of their time indoors, leading an extremely sedentary, disconnected, unhealthy, and unnatural lifestyle.
  • The latest statistics show that 33% of U.S. adults are obese, incurring $148 billion in medical costs annually and contributing to 18% of U.S. adult deaths.
  • Publicly available data shows U.S. healthcare costs are the highest per capita in the world—and that amount continues to increase.
  • Recent research funded by Disney shows that 65% of U.S. parents see it as a “very serious” problem that their kids are not spending more time outdoors. According to the survey, this is equal or a close second to their concerns about bullying, the quality of education, and obesity. Preschoolers spend about 12 hours a week outside, and by the age of 16, our children are spending less than 7 hours a week in nature.

Ideally, these statistics will put some fire in your belly to spend more time outdoors in nature and gardening. But those of you who may need more hard core facts to help galvanize you to get your hands in the dirt, below are

13 Reasons Why Gardening Is Good For Your Health

1. Gardening can reduce your risk of stroke (along with other activities as jogging and swimming) as reported in “Stroke: Journal of The American Heart Association”.

2. Gardening burns calories. Gardening is considered moderate to high-intensity exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can burn up to 330 calories during just one hour of light gardening and yard work — more than lifting weights for the same amount of time. The National Institute of Health goes so far as to recommend 30 to 45 minutes of gardening three to five times a week as part of a good strategy. If this is something that interests you and your garden is in need of some TLC, don’t fear! You can buy any appliances and tools you need from somewhere like https://buyersimpact.co.uk.

3. Heavy gardening is not only helpful in weight maintenance but also in reducing the risk of heart disease and other life threatening diseases. Just 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity a few times a week can prevent and control high blood pressure. In fact, gardening scored a place on the The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute‘s recommendation list for battling high blood pressure.

2005-05-07 12.17.20.jpg- Chanticleer spring garden

4. Gardening decreases the likelihood of osteoporosis. When you dig, plant, weed, and engage in repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching, all of the major muscle groups are getting a good work out.

5. Gardening is a stress buster. As a matter of fact, it may be an even more effective stress buster than other leisure activities. In a study in the Netherlands (as reported by CNN), two groups of students were told to either read indoors or garden for thirty minutes AFTER completing a stressful task. The group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the group that read. And they also exhibited lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This links well considering the marijuana plant can be cultivated in your garden with little maintenance, while providing you two compounds that can also decrease stress as well as having many other health benefits, look into getting some cheap CBD thanks to these cbdMD coupons.

6. Being surrounded by flowers improves one’s health. In behavioral research conducted at Rutgers University by Jeanette M. Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., the results showed that flowers are a natural and healthful moderator of moods and have an immediate impact on happiness, a long term positive effects on mood, and make for more intimate connections between individuals

7. Gardening is a way of making meaning out of our lives. Being in the garden and feeling a profound connection to the land affords us the opportunity to focus on beauty and inspires us to experience feelings of awe, gratitude, and abundance.

8. The act of gardening enables us to enter the ‘zone’, also known as an altered state of consciousness – similar to what a jogger or one who practices yoga or mediation can experience. This transcendent state is a magical and spiritual place where one experiences the best of who she/he is.

9. It is likely that gardening and flowers serve as a means for survival; or in Darwinian terms, ‘survival of the fittest’. For more than 5000 years, people have cultivated flowers. There must be a reason why this practice continues to exist. As Michael Pollan has written, “It was the flower that first ushered the idea of beauty into the world the moment, long ago, when floral attraction emerged as an evolutionary strategy.”

10. Digging in the soil has actual health and ‘mood boosting’ benefits.

2005-08-24 09.26.02-26

Larry Dossey, M.D. who wrote the new foreword for The New Revised Edition of Digging Deep and author of One Mind: How Our Individual Mind is Part of a Great Consciousness and Why It Matters writes: “The importance of gardening and “digging deep” is written into our physiology. Evidence for what’s called the “hygiene hypotheses” is abundant. Briefly, we know that children who are exposed to dirt in the formative years develop healthier, stronger immune systems when compared to children whose parents keep them squeaky clean, and they have a lower incidence of asthma, eczema and allergies later in life. Exposure to dirt in childhood promotes good health.” 1

Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has been injecting mice with Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless bacteria commonly found in soil, and has found that they increase the release and metabolism of serotonin in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood — much like serotonin-boosting antidepressant drugs do.

11. Gardening Improves Relationships and Compassion. Research shows that people who spend extended lengths of time around plants tend to have better relationships with others. “This is due to measurable increases in feelings of compassion; another effect of exposure to ornamental plants. Studies have shown that people who spend more time around plants are much more likely to try and help others, and often have more advanced social relationships. People who care for nature are more likely to care for others, reaching out to their peers and forming shared bonds resulting from their common interests. Extended exposure to nature and wildlife increases people’s compassion for each other as it increases people’s compassion for the environment in which they live. In short, being around plants can help to improve relationships between people and increase their concern and empathy toward others.” 2

12. Gardening may lower the risk of dementia. Some research suggests that the physical activity associated with gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia. Two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, that those who gardened regularly had a 36% and 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account. The impacts of dementia can be life changing so prevention is very important.

13. Gardening strengthens your immune system. While you’re outdoors basking in the sun, you’ll also soak up plenty of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. In turn, calcium helps keep your bones strong and your immune system healthy.

Some of the material from this article has been sourced from:

1. New Revised Edition, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening

1. Ellison Chair in International Floriculture

2. The Daily Mail

3. Health.com

Please check out my recently published, New Revised Edition of Digging Deep Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which maps out how to get unstuck, awaken your innate creativity through gardening and experience a life of joy, abundance, and well-being.

To sign up for my newsletter, in order to receive inspirational and informational posts on gardening, spirituality, creativity, and well-being, click on: Fran Sorin

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends on social media. The more the word gets out about the incredible benefits of gardening, the more positive change will happen. Sharing is a simple yet important act of generosity.

And now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear how gardening has had an impact on your health and well-being. Your thoughts are important to me so please comment!!

With love and blessings, Fran

Gardening can boost your confidence, self-esteem and body image, a new study has found

Originally from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/UrbanOrganicGardener/~3/G2ERqGDeEG8/

According to a new study, gardening can increase our confidence, improve our self-esteem and boost our appreciation of our bodies. This confirms what we already know about gardening being the perfect activity to get us through the current social distancing regulations.

The research, conducted by Anglia Ruskin University, looked specifically at allotment gardening. 84 allotment and community gardeners from London were asked to complete a body image ‘measure of state’ before and after spending time on their allotments. This was then compared to scores from non-gardening groups.

Both groups were also asked to rate themselves on several body image traits, including ‘body appreciation’, ‘functionality appreciation’ and ‘body pride’.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE: https://www.countryliving.com/uk/homes-interiors/gardens/a32027282/allotment-gardening-boost-body-image/

The History Of Gardens In Times Of Turmoil

Originally from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/UrbanOrganicGardener/~3/Hn0t5jhfWB4/

Spring weather and extra time at home may have you thinking about putting in or tending to a garden. It’s something past generations always did in times of turmoil. Home gardens provide extra fruits, veggies and herbs when store shelves may be bare.

During both World Wars, the U.S. government encouraged Americans to grow their own food to relieve shortages. Gardening was promoted as a family-friendly activity that provided exercise and stretched food budgets.

With wartime food rationing in 1942, the Oregon Victory Garden Advisory Committee formed to help people grow personal plots of fruits and vegetables. Community groups and government agencies partnered to offer free public classes, they produced and distributed how-to manuals, provided hands-on assistance through home visits, and broadcast gardening information on KOAC radio – later known as Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The coordinated effort worked. All over the state, residents dug up and cultivated their yards, public parks, empty lots and even a portion of the Oregon Zoo.

READ THE FULL STORY: https://www.opb.org/artsandlife/article/victory-gardens-america-coronavirus-history-oregon/

Scenes from the Mid-Summer Vegetable Garden

Originally from http://www.veggiegardeningtips.com/scenes-from-the-mid-summer-vegetable-garden/

The vegetable garden was slow developing this season but things are finally shaping up and it looks to be a pretty productive and rewarding year. So far the stars of the garden are the eggplants which are gorgeous and have not suffered from the flea beetle attacks that often riddle the leaves and weaken the plants.

The beets and carrots are also growing well in thick stands that hide the roots which are developing underneath. The pepper plants don’t look like much right now but they have already ripened fruits in an assortment of colors and shapes. All of my garlic was harvested this past weekend, the bulbs look great and are now bundled and curing before they go into storage.

Veggie Garden

Here’s a wide shot of the main raised bed garden here at Veggie Gardening Tips, and below are close-ups of some of the edible crops that I am growing this summer:

Winter Squash

Winter Squash – I usually don’t plant winter squash because of the space that they take up but this year I wanted to try a couple of varieties that sounded interesting, namely Thai Kang Kob Pumpkin and Choctow Sweet Potato Squash.

Amaranth

Amaranth – This is one of those crops like epazote and Sacred Basil that you can plant one time and you will have them in the garden forever. It’s nice to enjoy plants that re-seed themselves and produce volunteers that return each summer!

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes – These tomatoes are running behind schedule but will be worth the wait, the vines are looking healthy and disease free but still have a little time before they will be ripe and ready to harvest.

Broccoli

Sprouting Broccoli – This sprouting style broccoli missed the normal spring window for heading but it seems content to bud during the heat of summer and will hopefully offer additional side shoots as well.

Eggplants

Organic Eggplants – This isn’t the easiest crop to raise in the backyard garden, especially if you choose to avoid all sprays. But when things go well eggplants are such an amazing and attractive plant to have in the garden.

Purple Eggplant

Eggplant Fruit – Here’s a closer look at a glossy purple fruit. There are other varieties planted that will bear fruit that is green, lavender, black, or striped, and in shapes that range from long and slender to large and blocky.

Collard Greens

Collard Greens – There are several different collard varieties in the garden, this one is lighter green and has more texture in the leaves. They are all hardy plants that can tolerate the heat of summer and even survive through winter.

Beets

Beets and Beet Greens – Planting beets and carrots in blocks like this provides many benefits as the leaves form a lush living mulch that helps conserve moisture and also restricts weed growth in the bed.

Climbing Veggies

Climbing Veggies – Using vertical space in the vegetable garden really boosts production. Here lima beans, Red Malabar Spinach, Chinese Yams, and cucumbers all share a simple trellis made of wire fencing.

Peppers

Peppers – There are at least a dozen different pepper varieties in the garden this season from stocky bells to elongated cayenne, and ripened colors that include; red, yellow, purple, orange, chocolate, and even some stripes.

Ginger & Tumeric

Ginger and Turmeric – Two of my favorite new crops for the veggie garden; home-grown ginger and turmeric are both interesting plants that can be grown successfully by the backyard gardener, even those in northern climates.

Garlic Bulbs

Gourmet Garlic – So much better than store bought! If you like cooking with garlic than there should be a patch planted in the garden every year, and it’s not too late to start this year since it is typically planted in the fall just before winter.

Well that’s it for now but there is plenty of time left to share more pictures later this summer, and I have already started planning and planting crops for the fall and winter gardens!

Cincinnati’s urban farmers cross-pollinate nutrition, community to grow sustainable neighborhoods

Originally from http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/UrbanOrganicGardener/~3/g7_rNp2PHcE/

CINCINNATI — Domonique Peebles grew up in Louisville, Kentucky growing food in his backyard, taking what he and his family couldn’t eat themselves and giving to his neighbors and family friends.

“We would always grow more than we could actually eat,” he said. “I asked my dad one time, ‘Why do we do this?’ and he said, you know, ‘You get to go home and eat every night, but that doesn’t mean the people you live next to get to do that.’

“That’s just something that’s always stuck with me.”

When Peebles moved to Over-the-Rhine in 2011, he found himself continuing that tradition.

“I lived between two Kroger buildings,” he said, one on Vine Street in OTR and the other in nearby Walnut Hills, but it didn’t take long for both of those grocery stores to shutter.

READ THE FULL STORY: https://www.wcpo.com/news/transportation-development/move-up-cincinnati/cincinnatis-urban-farmers-cross-pollinate-nutrition-empowerment-to-grow-sustainable-communities

Autumn of Indie Game Markets

Originally from http://www.lostgarden.com/2016/11/autumn-of-indie-game-markets.html

Photo by Rosa Dik

Ah, the fall. A time to reap what has been sown and contemplate the cycles of the seasons.

If you are a smaller game developer, you’ve likely noticed some cyclical shifts in how we make games. Games are looking nicer than ever, don’t they? That quality bar keeps creeping higher. With so much work to do, your team is a bit larger. And with so many mouths to feed, it feels riskier to lose everything experimenting on wacky new game mechanics. Luckily, it is pretty clear which genres will yield the breakout hits you need to keep going. It is too bad that there’s a such an abundance of similar games; it feels like you can’t even give them way.

What changed?

Remember when we had a revolution? One person teams could make original games with minimal content and strike it rich. Doodle Jump was a thing! A hit indie game like Braid cost a minuscule $200k to make. A developer and some lovely art and there was a complete top tier game. Press wrote about it.

But it feels if such games were released today, they’d likely be left to rot in obscurity. A modern hit by a “small” team is a game like Battlerite. 25 developers, lush 3D graphics, external funding. An order of magnitude increase in costs over a period of eight years.

To everything there is a season, and game markets follow predictable patterns of growth, harvest and if you’ve been luckily enough, stockpiling for the coming frost.

Have you been making games for less than 10 years? Are you a newer smaller indie developer who has only ever known the bright fields of opportunity known as Steam, console downloadable or mobile platforms?

Here’s what is coming. Here is what happens when game markets mature.

Memories of spring

Historical context matters.

A new game market opens when a new way of reaching eager players appears. In the early 2000s, digital distribution was a technology that cracked opened an industry previously dominated by retail sales. Apple and Google enabled phones to download games. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo enabled consoles to download games. And Steam created a cohesive and reliable ecosystem for PC players to download games.

If you don’t remember the retail era it is hard to overstate what a radical change digital distribution was to the dominant business models. In retail, about 15% of revenue went to the developer. The rest goes to marketing, publishing and the retail store itself. This creates a power differential that tends to squeeze creativity out of game developers. Forget tales of wide-eyed idealism. Retail game development was a factory job that churned out games tailored to the whims of a giant box shipping machine. This was a mature market with most major game developers owned art and soul by middlemen publishers or platform owners. AAA still follow this model to a large degree. Good people, bad system.

Two things happened when digital distribution hit. For the first time in ages, we saw high demand and low supply.

High demand: Platform owners pushed their new distribution platforms heavily. A platform much preferred a guaranteed 30% cut of digital, especially when compared to a paltry 0-20% cut of retail. Valve bundled Steam with their top selling games. Microsoft gave away prime real estate on their console dashboard. Apple and Google directed users to go through their storefront in order to do pretty much anything. The result is a torrent of customers flooding through these digital stores wanting to buy cool stuff for their cool new toys. Put a pretty picture and a buy button and bam, you’ve got a sale.

Low supply: But there wasn’t anything to buy. A lot of traditional game publishers didn’t want to risk being beholden to some new platform master. Every digital storefront is essentially a monopoly with the potential to exert absolute dictatorial control. So most publishers held back. A few fringe game developers put up games. These were the hippies and hobos whose niche products never broke into the more mature retail markets.

And their games sold like hotcakes. In large part because there was nothing else to buy. For a while it felt you could put almost anything up on a digital market and turn a profit.

Short hot summer

With digital distribution, anyone with a computer could make a game and release it. And because they kept 70% of the revenue, they needed to sell a lot fewer copies to make ends meet. This means lots of little game companies. Call them ‘indies’.

Most were untrained. They didn’t understand how to run a business. Many had never made a professional game before. So they experimented, often wildly. Bizarro mutants popped up. Journey. Day Z. Tower Defense. What can you do with the internet? Or Flash? Or a touch screen. Or a one person team? Who knows; let’s just try something. Will Wright, gushed about the “Cambrian explosion”. New genres were born. That was 2008.

What a time. I look back on it fondly.

End of the growing season

Low barriers to entry
But low market barriers mean new developers just keep flooding in. And the nature of digital distribution means games never truly expire. So the back catalog of great games grows larger and larger. This is no longer a low supply market.

Fixed demand
Nor is it a high demand market. Consoles are stable. Smart phones (aka phones) are no longer setting growth records. PC sales are dropping. All those digital customers are a known quantity, divvied in zero-sum fashion across the various DRM locked platform fiefdoms.

What happens to a market when demand is fixed and supply is high? Competition. Here’s the traditional logic. The following sequence has played out across thousands of games and dozens of markets.

  • Standardization: Players form communities around the most popular game types. This creates a standardized demand.
  • Competition: Developers try to capture the entertainment dollars of these communities by releasing games in the same genre. For example, they might release a MOBA.
  • Winner takes all: Players gather around one or two high quality, well marketed examples within genre. Those games earn the vast majority of all revenue.
  • Escalating costs: In order to win that top spot, Developers invest heavily in art, narrative, marketing events and monetization. Maybe you can beat your competition by simply doing more.
  • Bloat: This results in larger developer team sizes. Larger teams burn more money, leaving less margin for mistakes.
  • Risk avoidance: A culture of risk avoidance dominates. You must make proven games with proven themes resting on proven mechanics for a proven audience. Layers of decision hierarchy grow to eliminate exuberant impulses. ‘Wasteful’ experimentation is deprioritized. All focus is on servicing the nuanced needs of expert (high value) players in an existing genre.

What success looks like
There are three broadly successful long term strategies for independent developers in this newly competitive market.

  • Become a genre king: Have a hit game in a popular genre. Invest those profits in ensure that you have the best developers, community and marketing to own that audience. Set the standard that all others hope to achieve. Be what Blizzard was to MMOs. If you pick the right maturing genre, you can gain 10 to 20 years of stability.
  • Dominate a niche: Find a niche that only appeal to a wealthy but passionate audience. Become hyper efficient at serving that niche. This isn’t so different from being a genre king except no one cares about you. The press barely cover you. The broader population of gamers doesn’t really know you exist. But a small devoted community cares. So you scope your company to the tiny size it needs to be to serve a tiny market. Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator or SpiderWeb’s retro RPG games are good examples.
  • Manage a brand: There are a handful of companies that have a powerful brand they used to secure funding. During hard times, they essentially freeze dry themselves. This minimizes costs until the next deal comes along. Jackbox is the most common game industry example.

False success of having a hit game
There’s a ton of money flowing through a maturing market and occasionally it arcs over to the random indie in the right place at the right time. Zot! A jigawatt of revenue powers them for years(!) without additional income.

But the result is a lesson in exponentials. Ever play one of those new fangled idle games like Cookie Clicker? As markets mature, escalating exponential costs rapidly consume existing savings. For example: A top shelf ‘Triple-I’ indie’s last game cost $200,000. They made back $2,000,000 in sales. But their next game costs $2,500,000. Maybe they make that back also. Maybe they don’t. The money in the bank only gives them 1 or 2 additional swings at bat, not 10.

We now use the term ‘Triple I’ for medium sized teams that had hit games, but we used to call that same spot in the ecosystem ‘midtier developers’. They all died off as markets continued to mature. It becomes increasingly hard to roll a hit every time. In the end, they had no sustainable advantage.

Selling the farm
So not everyone can stay independent. There are three common outcomes for those forced to give up ownership.

  • Hobbyist: The team becomes a non-commercial endeavour. Either people get a day job and work a few hours at night. Or their family support them. Or they get grants from some institution interested in their work. Or they make games as students and change careers later.
  • Hire yourself out: The team becomes a contractor to someone with money. This can be via a publishing deal. Or via outright purchase. Or you actually sign a contract to perform specialized labor like porting or multiplayer development. Mega studios love hired help.
  • Extinction: The team goes out of business. That whole ‘indie’ thing was neat while it lasted.

First frost

You may be curious what winter looks like. Here’s what is coming up for PC, console and mobile.

Consolidation: When a bigger company eats a smaller company..or a smaller company implodes and a bigger company hires their employees, we are seeing something called consolidation. Lots of little studios turn into a smaller number of bigger studios.

Consolidation is a longer term process that will play out over the next 4 to 8 years. These forces don’t apply equally to every team. Some developers earned enough from a hit game they can ride along for many years without confronting their inability to make another hit game. Others are willing to starve for a few years longer before they make any hard decisions. Be patient.

Distribution scarcity: It has already become increasing difficult to get your game in front of new players. The sheer number of games is part of the issue. Also audience capture and advertising cost (see below) limit the general availability of free customers.

Audience capture: The available audience will actually shrink as high value players are locked into long term service-based games like MMOs or other F2P titles. A player doesn’t ‘beat’ a game like Clash of Clans; instead they play one game exclusively for years. F2P companies will attempt to stretch the lifetime of their player to decades. These players are no longer looking for a fresh new games so they are typical unavailable to studios making new games or trying to replace churned players.

Majority of studios priced out of buying ads: The ad market sells its inventory to the highest bidder (across a myriad of categories) And for games, the highest bidder is the game with the strongest Life Time Value (LTV). Do you have a high LTV game in a particular category? Great, you can buy ads that juice your player acquisition. If you have a low LTV game (all premium games, most experimental games, most independent games) effective ad-based distribution is priced out of your reach.

Fewer, bigger hits: As the market consolidates around a handful of high value genre leaders, they will earn enormous amounts of money. The downside is that fewer small developers will capture enough sales to stay independent.

Rise of new publishers: Larger organizations with strong marketing and business development can mitigate some of these trends. They also can build portfolios so that if some games fail, successes still keep the whole afloat. That organization usually is called a publisher. Expect a number of publisher to start snapping up contracts for games from the more capable indie developers. Indie developers get cash to offset the risk of their game failing and and publishers get another chance of owning a hit game.

Rise of first party: Longer term platforms will start taking full ownership of any genre that is a guaranteed money maker. This vertical integration pays off. Platforms can capture all revenue that goes through the game, direct players to their games via promotional spotlights and reduce the riskiness of dealing with a volatile 3rd party developer.

Future Springs

We should celebrate the perennials planted during this amazing cycle. Or at least the tulip bulbs that may one day bloom.

Grassroots game development will continue to thrive
I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the bad old days of early 2000 where ‘breaking into the game industry’ was an actual barrier. Several trends mean the flood of new developers will not cease.

  • Tools: The cost of tools has dropped dramatically. And the tools that exist such as Unreal or Unity are of unprecedented power and polish. Anyone with time and passion can makes games and I suspect it will only get easier.
  • Schools: Students want to make games. Schools can charge those student enormous fees to teach them how to make games. This dynamic will exist independent of whether or not there are paying jobs waiting for those students.
  • Open distribution: There are multiple ways to make your game available to knowledgeable players. Steam, Android and iOS stores have minimal gatekeeping. Sites like itch.io have no real gatekeeping. The vast swath of humanity that doesn’t know about your game will never find out about it from these locations, but at least it isn’t blocked from publication. For the hobbyist developer, even a couple dozen downloads from friends and family can be inspiring enough to encourage further game making.

Expect a situation closer to what we see with writers, painters and musicians. Schools enable the necessary but time intensive acquisition of game making skills. The commercial market for those skills remains difficult to break into without elite level portfolios. However, there’s still a vast community of extremely low income developers making games because their passion is stronger than the need to be wealthy. In my dreams, this group of game making hobbyists regularly gets together for wine and moral support. And maybe even funds the occasional indiegogo when one of them needs a new liver.

There will be new markets
VR is one obvious new market. VR isn’t quite able to stand on its own, but platform owners seem committed to market building. If they collaboratively spend a billion or so to seed VR content, that’s a new billion dollar market for game developers.

And VR is not one new market. A rolling wave of multiple VR and AR markets will appear over the next decade as new technology leapfrogs past efforts. Each will be characterized by tech giants engaging in market building. That’s an opportunity. Early PC development was likely the most similar sequence. We can have multiple Cambrian explosions.

The seasons turn

I hail from Downeast Maine where growing seasons are short and harvests valued. The spring is a (muddy) revelation. The summer a miracle. Even fall is greeted with a delighted grin. Yes, the wind blows so hard it is hard to walk straight. Yes, the frost will kill our gorgeous garden. But if we’ve planted well, the root cellars are at least full. And we’ve got hot apple cider.  And if we haven’t, we’ll do what we need to do to make it through. Even if that doesn’t involve owning our own garden.

The key to my admittedly insipid joy is to realize that the world runs in cycles. We can bemoan the loss of summer, but it does little good. Instead, as winter settles in, put wood in the stove, put on some tea and let the infinite snow silence the cacophony of the world. Take some time to think. What did we do wrong during the last big opportunity? Take some time to dream. What would we do right if we had a chance to grow again? A long term view means that there will be many seasons of growth, harvest and frost.

Some form of spring will return eventually.

take care,
Danc.

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