Friday, March 16, 2012

“Publishing games on the 3DS is hard. I give up!”

“Publishing games on the 3DS is hard. I give up!” That’s basically what I am hearing from publishers these days. “Only first-party games are selling on the 3DS,” is what they tell me. Hm, I wonder why that would be. It wouldn’t have anything to do with the quality of the first-party games compared to the third-party games, would it? I doubt it would have anything to do with the marketing and PR efforts put into the games either. No, it must be the fact that first-party games use known brands and have the word Nintendo on them; nothing more. You can bet your bottom dollar that if these games were handled in the same manner as most third-party publishers handle their own games they’d be in the bargain bin in no time.

I think the problem with a lot of publishers these days is the fact that they spend too much time looking into the past instead of looking into the future. It seems like every move a publisher wants to take must be measured by sales numbers of the past. Sure, I get it. It is smart to see what happened in the past. It helps gauge what MIGHT happen in the future. But, it does not dictate or predict what WILL happen in the future. There are so many variables you might have to – god forbid – use your human instincts to make a grown-up decision on your own and not fall back on stale data.

Publishers may think they’re playing it safe by relying heavily on old sales data, but I believe they are forcing themselves into an ever-narrowing funnel towards extinction. Publishers are so scared to make any bold moves it is almost as if they’re paralyzed. I understand that one bold move gone bad could result in bankruptcy. I am not suggesting you put everything on the line every time. That is a sure way to go out of business too. But, at least move forward with some moxie.

There are some simple steps to take in order to produce a successful game. I know these may seem insultingly obvious, because they are! The key is to actually understand them, believe in them, and follow through with the plan.

1. Go after an audience that you know exists!
I think it goes without saying - but I’ll say it anyway - that the larger the audience, the larger potential there is for success. If you’re making a game for a niche audience, then expect a niche return. This is where old sales data can help you determine whether an audience exists in a certain genre and how big it might be. By the way, this does not mean that making another pet simulator is a good idea. There has to be a legitimate reason this proven audience will want your game.

2. Make a good game, and know that it is good!
OK, I know that sounds ridiculous. I feel ridiculous even saying it. But, this is probably the most important - yet underrated - factor in this plan. If you’re about to bet your life’s/company’s savings on this game, you’d better make sure your game is good! Focus test it. Force strangers without an agenda to play it and give you honest feedback. You must KNOW that your game is good before risking anything on it. This is something that Nintendo do so well. They know their top games are good and do not consider them finished until they are. This is the key! Don’t release crap games, especially if you know it is crap. It is also just as insulting to the player if you are unaware of how good/bad your game is. If you don’t care about the quality of your games, please go and sell soap instead.

3. Ensure development budget is relative to assumed return from sales!
Whether you’re going for an eShop game or a PS3 game, don’t overspend on the development of the game. Be smart with how much content you can deliver in regards to the genre, audience, etc. If you spend too much money here, your marketing budget will go down to compensate, and you just lost. Spending less on marketing simply means less people know about your game, which means less people will buy it. This also means that you shouldn’t go cheap, either. Too many publishers want to spend next to zero on development budgets these days, which will produce low quality games. Shocker! You need to be smart with the budget, for sure, but don’t cut the knees off your project before you even start.

4. Invest money and effort into exposing the game: marketing/PR.
I think where many publishers give up is when they see the impressively expensive marketing campaigns that Nintendo put out. Don’t forget that Nintendo earned their ability to run these campaigns. They didn’t do this with their first game. They slowly built up their company piece by piece and added cash to their bank account with smart decisions. So, if you want to dish out fancy ad campaigns, like Nintendo, do what they did. Work hard to gain that ability.

Even if your game is relatively small, and your budget is relatively small, it is vital you get the word out there to your audience as much as possible. If people don’t know your game exists, they can’t buy it. It is possible to get a small but decent ad campaign going on many of the higher-profile gaming websites for a few thousand dollars. You can easily spend $2,000 or $15,000 on a single website, depending on which site you’re talking to. The exposure your game will get will be worth it. It not only exposes the existence of your game, but it also gives the game a sense of importance; important enough for the publisher to market it. If they’re willing to put money into advertising it, then it might be worth checking out. But, be careful. Don’t overspend here either.

Let’s take Mutant Mudds as an example:

1. Go after an audience that you know exists!
Not only is the eShop a captive audience due to the newness of the market, most players who are currently active on there are tech. savvy hardcore players. An old school platformer that delivers an authentic experience should have a good chance with this audience.

2. Make a good game, and know that it is good!
I knew Mutant Mudds was a good game and ready for release. The response we were getting from everyone who played it was great. This helped give me confidence in pushing Mudds out.

3. Ensure development budget is relative to assumed return from sales!
I had no idea what the sales would be on the eShop as it was so new. So, we just made sure the team and budget were as small as possible while maintaining quality. Fortunately, the tiny team was extremely passionate about developing the game, which helped with the limited resources assigned to the project. The dev budget was small.

4. Invest money and effort into exposing the game: marketing/PR.
I researched a lot on the cost of advertising, and honestly it seemed too risky to invest marketing money into an eShop game at this time. Once the eShop market grows it will become more effective to spend money on advertising, but at this stage I think exposure in the press with news, interviews, previews, reviews, and competitions is the way to go. This takes a lot of work, but it is worth every ounce of effort.

In the end, Mutant Mudds is a success. It has met our hopes for sales. It encourages us to make more games for the eShop market. If we had spent more time and/or money on Mutant Mudds we might have a different situation. Likely a worse one. That’s not to say that the eShop can't handle larger scoped games. It will just take some time before the eShop audience is large enough for that, which I believe is just a matter of time.

Please share your thoughts on my write-up, and let me know what you think is the best way to tackle today’s volatile video-game market from your unique perspective.

28 comments:

  1. The publishers are right. Namco did a very good Tekken game. Konami did a very good Metal Gear game. SEGA put a lot of money into RThief, paid a famous actor to do the marketing in Japan, two famous singers to sing the theme song, a lot of money into anime cutscenes, a very good game for a popular genre. And all thoses game had terrible sales. If you go into any nintendo site, the fans are only talking about nintendo games and about ThirdParty, "well, maybe i'm gonna buy when hits the bargain price", they say. Nintendo released a rithymn game and sold a lot, SEGA with RThief sold...50k. Even with a good game and good marketing. And Tekken and Metal Gear are big franchises.

    I don't believe nintendo will ever go third party because their game will always sell 20 or 30 millions of copies and give money, but that's it, the destiny of nintendo fans is basically play nintendo games and look the sony-microsoft fans playing the super games from third parties. And, like i said, seems they don't care for this, nintendo games are the only things they need.

    For example, we have this Namco-SEGA-Capcom game coming, people are expecting something big and i'm pretty much sure its gonna be some shitty card game or some puzzle. That's what's the TP will do in nintendo hardwares.

    So, i disagree with you. It's does not matter how much effort you put into nintendo consoles, only big-mega-super franchises like Monster Hunter will have good sales. Nintendo fans are closed mind and only cares for Mario, Pokemon and Zelda.

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    1. Hi, Antonio.

      I'm a Nintendo fan and I disagree with your comment. I personally care about third parties as well as first party games, I also supported Renegade Kid's most recent title, Mutant Mudds, because it's a fantastic game!

      It's not that Nintendo fans don't support third parties, we just don't support games that a) we never heard of (can't buy what you don't know about) and b) sloppy efforts or bad games.

      I have friends that are Nintendo fans who feel the same way that I do. Also, Monster Hunter, Tekken 3D, and other third party games in my gaming library sit right next to my favorite Nintendo games.

      Also, Nintendo sites where fans only care about Nintendo games?!?!?! I think you're looking at the wrong articles. The Wii U is set to be released this year and ALL I hear fans talk about these days are what third party efforts we will see on this new console. Nintendo fans have been burned in the past by bad third party efforts and THAT'S why some of us are weary of third party games. Not to mention, some of these games don't get nearly enough hype.

      I believe that it's up the publishers and developers to tell fans WHY we need to buy their games. Gameplay footage alone made me hype for Mutant Mudds. Why? Because it looked like a great game and that hard work was clearly put into it.

      With all due respect,

      Nia

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    2. Not really. I have eight 3DS games and only three of those are Nintendo titles.

      Tekken and MGS might be big franchises, but honestly their 3DS outings aren't the best both franchises have to offer. (And it's a version on... Nintendo hardware. How conveniant.) I played Tekken Prime. While it is impressive on a technical level, it's content is severly lacking. SSF IV and Dead or Alive are better. MGS SE on the other hand is an okay port, but interest for the game on 3DS dwindled down because they launched a HD collection containing the same game and two others. These two games hurt themselves, not the other way around.

      Btw, I doubt that Rhythm Thief was a failure. These type of games don't cost a lot to produce. Even with a few oneliners from a celeb.

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    3. Wow, talk about judgmental. Somebody sure hates Nintendo gamers! Quit forcing your stereotype on people, Nintendo makes some pretty killer products and are rewarded appropriately. Why did MGS sell poorly (if it actually did)? Maybe because the game still had issues that should have been addressed, or maybe because it came out at nearly the same time and price as another MGS title that had this game PLUS two others for home consoles. Maybe Tekken for the 3DS played it way too safe and did nothing extraordinary for the series (other than their huge focus on 60fps). And look at the collective reviews for some these games, then tell me why they may not have sold well. Tekken 3DS has a metascore of 65. Mutant Mudds has a score of 83. Are the sales results merely a coincidence? I don't think so. Games don't sell well just because of a single company's "fans", and to base your entire opinion on that falsity is asinine. Disagree with him all you like, but the man (Jools Watsham) co-founded a growing video game company and might have some idea of what he's talking about.

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    4. I also disagree with you:
      -Tekken: not sure if you saw the reviews but it was a barebones game with little to nothing to make it special. It didnt even have a story mode. This game also had no marketing.
      -Metal Gear: did you miss the fact that the HD collection just came out on pretty much every other console? who would buy the 3DS version with 1 game when you could get 3 games in HD from pretty much the same price?
      -rhythm thief: only released in japan so far and it really didnt sell that badly. I will buy it if it is good so hold your judgement.

      Also, i am a member of a gaming site and first of all, why do you think that these games arent talked about as much? Could the things i said have anything to do with it?

      On top of that, MGS, Heroes of Ruin, Monster Hunter, Kingdom Hearts, Tales of, Etrian Odyssey are all talked about quite often.

      On top of that, there have been quite a few japan only games that have done well. Inazuma Eleven, Professor Layton, Harvest Moon etc...

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    5. Antonio, I'd like to point out that both Tekken and Metal Gear came out around times when there were other choices for people interested in both franchises. Usually, fans of both series's own many systems under different companies. The Metal Gear HD collection was announced after Snake Eater 3D, came out before Snake Eater 3D, and was quite frankly, the superior version. Tekken 3D Prime Edition came out about a month before Street Fighter X Tekken (which most fans decided on getting) and while the game wasn't bad it was lacking in features in comparison to other Tekken games.

      If they wanted these games to sell, they needed to get them out earlier or release them later with more content and polish.

      One big problem with publishers and bigger name designers putting games on Nintendo systems is they'll have much more space on the discs or carts but they don't really fill it. I know this comes down to budget costs and dates they need/want to hit but when you're putting out games at full price, you need to have the type of content available that makes it a full price game. If you're putting out an established series that is a port/remake with less content then the original games or other games in the respective series's and/or the games don't run as well, you can't expect the games to sell well, on any system for that matter, even with a huge publishing campaign.

      On the flip side, you jump over to a game like Resident Evil: Revelations which is definitely a fully featured retail game, which imo, is on par with what you get out of the big Nintendo games, and the game has sold respectable. Not ground breaking CoD, WoW, and Wii Sports numbers but enough to show there's a market there and people will buy good games regardless of what system.

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    6. To add on to everybody else, I'd like to mention that there's been a bit of a disconnect between what publishers want out of portable gaming systems and what an audience expects.

      From the advent of the PlayStation Portable, many audiences have believed that we can achieve console-level gaming on a portable platform. This was largely sought out by several publishers to test out either: 1) "B-team" projects, or 2) projects deemed to be too experimental/risky for home console development.

      This ties in with the earlier comments that "Nintendo gamers" do not buy into games that do not have pre-established histories and/or news items. This is true; however, this is not to say that publishers did not also realize this.

      In order to get portable gamers into buying their products, many publishers have jumped onto the bandwagon of publishing "portable-ized" versions of their mainstream franchises, such as the ones you've mentioned: Tekken, Metal Gear, etc.

      However, for the most part, there has been a failure to recognize that "console experiences" on portable must adapt to the fact that the platform itself is not essentially a home console. A game doesn't have to succeed by using all of the 3DS' features, but it does have the need to exemplify what makes portable gaming handy and accessible in tandem with console gaming.

      These franchises, when "miniaturized" (such an ugly term) to become a portable title, are often cannabalized to remove features and/or gameplay components of the game. Shortcuts are taken, or the audience is believed to be "okay" with certain decisions because the game is on a portable, and thus does not have to fulfill the entire prerequisite "set" we expect from a game.

      This is certainly not true. We expect a game on our portables; whether or not this correlates with console-level gaming is another issue entirely. Publishers need to take better initiative in understanding the audience that exists in portable gaming, which does not necessarily match the audience that plays on their home consoles or on PC. They need to establish new franchises that take to the strengths of the system, as well as shed the need to match up to this idea of “console-level gaming”. This term is becoming baggage for development on mobile platforms; there needs to be more interest in nurturing new IPs and even genres in order to find real success in the coming future.

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    7. I'm sure none of that has anything to do with the fact that Nintendo "fans" have been treated like crap for the past decade or so when it comes to 3rd party games and support.

      Let's make a cheap game for the Wii to test the market. 1> it sells? Oh, great, let's keep making cheap crap, it sells regardless!
      2> it doesn't sell? Nah, no money to be made on Wii, let's just focus on PS360.

      Gamecube ports were traditionally the worst, often broken, if the platform even got them. Wii was mocked by 3rd parties, and now Nintendo fans are supposed to go buy their games because they "might" have released something half-decent? Trust is something you have to earn, and that's why Nintendo's games have always been so popular. You really didn't have to wait for reviews in order to know Mario Galaxy was going to be fantastic. But i hope Ubisoft isn't surprised that Red Steel II sold a lot worse than the original while being a lot better. Fool me once. And if you've been doing a lot of foolin', don't expect the love to come overnight.

      PS: i own 4 3DS games atm: Revelations, OoT, SFIV and DoA.

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  2. Thanks Jools,and everyone else at Renegade Kid, for your commitment to quality games on Nintendo portables. Couldn't agree more with your assessment of the 3DS market as it now stands.
    FYI, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Mutant Mudds and look forward to any other Renegade Kid releases on the eShop!

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  3. I suppose this is about western developers/publishers in general? As an handheld owner, I expect nothing from western publishers to be honest. This not targeted towards you Jools, but looking into handheld history western publishers just don't care about dedicated handheld support.

    The reason why is simple: handheld games from Nintendo are polished and produced by their topdevs. Something a lot of other publishers are not willing to risk. No, those guys work on the newest big console game. Which is fine, but you just know the B and C teams are assigned to the handheld projects.

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  4. Antonio the only game that you listed that bomed was Tekken Metal Gear was just realed in japan and it sold over 30 thousand copies at a very expensive price for a port. A good example is harvest moon a game that broke the previous relese records in the series but i dont know why im bothering with you, thats not something you want to hear.

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  5. Hey Jools,

    I actually commented on your game prior to it's release (on Nintendo Life), saying that I thought it looked a bit dated in terms of the particular graphics and design and that I thought it might struggle to do well as a result.

    It is however good to hear that it's been a relative success for you and the guys, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    So congratulations and I wish you continued success with your future projects,

    Kirk

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    1. I think the stylized nostlagic graphics are anything but dated. Honestly, Mutant Mudds is one of the most crisp and eye-popping 3D games that you can experience on 3DS. The design is pretty much similar to what you'd expect from a 2D platformer.

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    2. Exactly. Mutant Mudds is pretty darn jaw dropping, in my opinion. It has an "old-but-new" feel to it, meaning it plays like an old school game, but it still feels modern. Mutant Mudds is a game that helps you remember WHY gaming is so awesome and fun. The 3D effect is absolutely awesome!

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  6. Mutant Mudds would do even better if you released it in Europe. I've been waiting for this game for weeks now!

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    1. Dont worry, Jools will have it there as soon as he can...its tough for a small developer to release games in multiple regions close together

      Im pretty sure he's said in the past that he's doing the best he can so hold your horses, its on its way

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    2. MD1500 makes a good point. I understand it's tough to release a game in multiple regions, but small developers could at least keep us updated. For instance: let us know when the game has been submitted to NoE and PEGI, and if the game is expected to be released this year or in 2013. It may not seem like interesting info, but it's always nice to know that a developer hasn't forgotten about us. At this point I don't think Mutant Mudds has even been officially announced for Europe. :(

      Also remember that most European gamers read American gamingsites. So all the hype (interviews, previews, trailers etc) you're creating for America influences us to. Then when the game releases in America all the hype suddenly stops. 9 Months later when the game is eventually also released in Europe it's usually with little fanfare.

      I realise there's not much a small developer can do about this, but like I said they could atleast keep us updated (via blogs, twitter or mailinglists). Also: there's no reason to stop making trailers just because a game is been released in America. Create a new one every 2 months especially for Europe. Say the game is "coming soon to europe" or something like that. Sites like Eurogamer are sure to pick it up and it might just keep the hype alive a little longer.

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  7. As for Metal Gear, I'd say that the poor sales are due to the fact that HD versions of all 3 Metal Gear games have been released on the other consoles for the same price as one Metal Gear game on the 3DS.

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  8. I honestly completely agree with your assessment, Jools. Look at Capcom. Street Fighter 4 did decently because it was a good fighting game and they got in on the ground floor. They also worked hard to ensure awareness. They invested a small amount of money into making Resident Evil: Mercenaries and used it as both a marketing and research too. They then put that experience and additional brand recognition to good use in making the stellar Resident Evil: Revelations. They made sure everyone knew it was coming and it's selling like hotcakes with a side of free platinum. They put in a Nintendo effort and received a Nintendo return. They have a very similar development outlook to Nintendo and that's why they do well on Nintendo systems compared to other third party developers.

    They also didn't have it available on any other systems for a significantly lower price point like some companies. Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater is available in a pack for 30 dollars on an HD console with several other top tier games. They destroyed they're own game by cannibalizing it's sales.

    Tekken was released in an over-saturated market. There's about 10 fighting games on 3DS and it's only been out for a year. I don't think Tekken is a very good fighting series mechanically, but even with that aside, I think it was a poorly chosen time to make and release the game.

    Rhythm Thief never looked interesting to me. I don't think it was on anyone's radar because I believe that music games have crushed their own genre under the weight of the immense number of releases in too short a time. People never seem to look at market saturation or whether people care about their genre of game anymore.

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  9. Publishers have become quite satisfied by chasing after past successes and trying to copy it in hopes that it'll make their own operation just as successful. Sadly, chasing success in such a lazy fashion stifles an entire industry that is full of creativity, but the people with creative thoughts are rarely ever allowed to have those thoughts come to fruition in the form of an actual game since they have to be able to appease to a publisher to remain as a somewhat profitable operation.

    Speaking of publishers following after success, THQ instantly comes to mind. Danny Bilson has shown that he's willing to create fun and creative games like Metro 2033 and Saints Row: The Third, but he also chased after genres that had already had very successful games and therefore THQ would have to create something incredibly polished and amazing to compete. After the success of Call of Duty and the like, THQ spent a ton developing and marketing the heck out of Homefront, which came out and received a pretty underwhelming reception. While I'm in the minority, I did enjoy Homefront more than recent Call of Duty games, because it did try to do some interesting story stuff, which I'm a fan of, but it didn't always succeed at it. Then THQ went off and got into the casual territory after the success of DS, Wii and iPhone, so they came out with uDraw, which nearly put an end to their operation. It seems like trying to follow other successes or trying to appease to a more casual crowd won't get you much when there are other companies doing it much better. Square Enix recently got Obsidian Entertainment to develop Dungeon Siege III, for example, which is a game that caters to hardcore RPG fans, and Obsidian Entertainment knows how to make those kind of games, but Square Enix made them make a more tame RPG game to cater to the masses, but it failed to do even that, because it's a genre and franchise that has always catered to a select group.

    Do I hope publishers will learn from their mistakes? Yes. Am I that hopeful? Not really. If anything, I hope Double Fine and inXile Kickstarter campaigns are a bit of an awakening to some in the publishing community.

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    1. homefront actually sold quite well - it has a sequel in development now.

      udraw actually sold *insanely* well on the wii - thq's big mistake was thinking that momentum would translate to the xbox360 and ps3, where it bombed horribly.

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    2. The sales were still miniscule when compared to the development and marketing budgets. They spent so much marketing that game.

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  10. I agree entirely with you jools, you pretty much hit the nail right on the head, I wish more ppl knew about this blog

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  11. Not much for me to say here except that this one post has taught me quite a bit about game development. I had never really thought very hard about step 3 before in terms of why games have the amount of content and the breadth in scope that they have.

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  12. If third parties want my Nintendo money they just need to step up their game. I bought Tekken 3D and it sucks ass! There is no content and online multiplayer lags like crazy. You can basically only use it to practice some moves on the go. Why did they scrap all the content for a shitty movie??? I want to play games and not watch anime!!

    Second, that One Piece game on 3DS, which is a port of the 2 Wii games in a bundle. They scraped the whole second game in Europe just for multilanguage text! Why not release regional editions with appropriate language? I dont give a shit about spanish, french and italian text, I give a shit about the second game! Which is missing!

    On top of that that mediocre at best port of tales of the abyss and I can safely say that Namco Bandai just doesnt give a shit about 3DS, they just want to grab some quick money with some of their brands and no quality at all. I hate them so much.

    I wish Resident Evil: Revelations would sell even better because its such a shining example of quality third party support on a Nintendo console. It's unfortunate that the majority of the 3DS audience is to young for this game.

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  13. Jool's article is pure common sense. Any publisher that knows the market should know they is opportunities within the 3DS environment.

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  14. I'm posting again just to say that i read everyone's opinions and i respect all, even if i disagree. Thanks for your respectful opinions.

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  15. really interesting 3D environment. . .wow. . .thanks a lot for showing it to me...keep it up . .really much appreciated...
    vapor recovery tower

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