Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Wild Ride of Development

Renegade Kid’s start was somewhat of an explosive one with the release of Dementium: The Ward. It was the right game, in the right market, at the right time. It put our company on the map – at least within the Nintendo DS community.

The success of our debut title lead to the development of Moon, which may not have met with the same success in terms of sales, but it connected with fans thanks to improved story-telling and sense of adventure – scoring higher with reviewers across the board.
With SouthPeak's purchase of Gamecock, Dementium II was born and enabled us to pour more resources than we ever had into the development of a game. The result was something very special with variety and gore to please those who appreciate such things.
In terms of development, we were building some great momentum as a team and felt very fortunate to have developed three first-person shooters in a row. However, the market was changing. It was 2010 and everyone seemed to be cranking their “mitigating risk” levers up to the max!
Publishers have always been tight with their cash, understandably, but it was getting to the point where we could not find any publishing partners willing to invest in the development of… well, anything really.
Forget original adventure games, we couldn’t even land license game gigs! It was a very difficult time for developers in the industry as a whole, and the DS market was no exception. We needed to get creative! We needed to find a way to land a deal and still try to have fun doing what we do.
I turned to the data. The sales data, that is. Looking at which games sold well in the past does not predict the future, but it shows you where audiences have existed, which at least suggests they may still exist.
After filtering out all of the Nintendo games and big license games (movie and TV tie-ins) you are left with virtual pet games, racing games, and… not very much else in terms of consistent genres that performed well in the DS market. Huh, well that’s a bit depressing.
Believe it or not, we did actually create a concept for a virtual pet game, but never found a home for it. That’s probably a good thing. And with regards to the racing genre, many of them utilized licensed vehicles and such to help promote them. That is, except one specific racing genre.
There was a number of ATV racing games released on the DS that sold quite well. At least enough to show there’s potential for investment there. I immediately tracked them all down and played them. Unfortunately, none of them were fun to play. Fortunately, none of them were fun to play! This gave us an opportunity to actually offer a good ATV racing game for the DS market.
The ATV racing genre is an interesting one. At the time, I was not sure if the term “ATV” was owned by someone. Was it something that needed to be licensed, y’know, kind of like NBA and stuff like that. Apparently, the answer to that is a wonderful “no”. It is just a general term, kind of like SUV.
It just so happened that I had been playing Pure on the Xbox 360 around that time, and found it to be tremendous fun. More on that later…
Now, the reason I wanted to find a genre that had sold well was primarily to sell the idea to a publisher. Even if you present a publisher with an outstanding game concept, if you can’t back it up with sales data you’re going to have a tough time convincing them to invest their money into the development of the game.
So, we had a genre that had generally performed quite well in the DS market. There are a handful of ATV titles that sold a respectable amount. From this we can present a decent justification for why a new (and better?) ATV game is a great choice for the DS market, right? In theory, yes, but…
In reality, it was a tough slog trying to find a home for the game. At that point we were just sending out pitch documents to publishers, which explained the features of the game and sales data on how previous ATV titles had performed in the market. It wasn’t working, so we needed to step up our game a bit.
If you have played Moon, on the DS, you’ll be familiar with the buggy sections. My hope was to use this as the foundation for our new ATV racing game. In the span of just two weeks we cobbled together a playable demo of an ATV racing game. It did not feature everything the game needed, but it demonstrated the basic concept and, if I may be so bold to say, proved that a good ATV racing game could be achieved on the DS!
We started shopping the playable demo around to publishers, and got some good feedback. Things were starting to look a bit more promising. However, no contracts were being sent to us despite it being a somewhat “safe” proposal. It was time to get even more creative!
We looked at our development budget and cut it in half, offering publishers a co-development deal. This reduces the financial risk publishers need to take, off-loading a large amount of it onto us, while also offering us the opportunity to make more money on the back-end in royalties.
Yes, we got a bite! The fine folks at Destineer were on-board with the new proposal and we went full-steam towards completing development of the game. Working with Tony and Matt at Destineer was great. The executive producers/producers you work with at a publisher can make all of the difference. Thanks to the fact that both Tony and Matt are great people, the development process fun and creative.

Our focus was to try and capture the excitement and energy of Pure. Even if were able to capture only an ounce of what Pure offered, we felt that we'd have a fun game on our hands. To me, that means exotic locations, big jumps, cool tricks, and nitro boosts!
Despite all of this goodness, the short version of how well the game performed in the DS market is: not good. We won’t know how well it could have performed in the DS market due to the unfortunate fact that Destineer was in a difficult situation at the time and unable to distribute the game as originally planned. Some copies went out to retail, but it was a very limited run. It was no fault of Destineer’s. It was just bad timing.
ATV Wild Ride on the DS was received well in the press with Destructoid scoring it 8/10 calling it, “One of the best racer offerings on Nintendo’s handheld to date.” Games Abyss scored it 9.5/10 saying, “ATV Wild Ride not only delivers on the fun factor, it makes me appreciate the genre a whole lot more than I ever would have imagined.”
So, the idea of bringing ATV Wild Ride to the 3DS was not a difficult one for us to decide. We have faith in the game. It delivers fun! Now, due to the fact that we have been busy working on a multitude of different games for the 3DS, and other platforms, it has taken a little longer than originally expected to complete. But, we’re nearly finished!
As with the DS version, we initially pitched the game to publishers for a retail release, but got no bites due to the newness of the 3DS platform and the early negative reports of the 3DS and how it was doomed due to the mobile market. I am thankful this happened. Not only has the 3DS market grown to be a very successful one, it has also given us the opportunity to publish it ourselves on the Nintendo eShop.
Our focus for ATV Wild Ride 3D has been to create an enhanced port of the DS game. The sad fact is that practically no one bought the original DS version of the game. However, even those 10 people who did purchase the DS will hopefully agree that the 3DS version is closer to a console racing experience than ever before. Not only have we upgraded the art, with the fancy tricks the 3DS affords such as, specular highlights, mip-maps, higher resolution textures, real-time lighting, shadow maps, and the like – we have also been able to work on the physics; adding suspension to the ATVs. This is a relatively subtle addition that, in my opinion, improves how the game feels.
We have fully funded the development of ATV Wild Ride 3D. This not only means the cost of creating the game itself, but also additional expenses such as the QA team to ensure the game is bug free and ready for Nintendo’s lotcheck. And, now we’re in the final stretch. This is the first week of what we’re expecting (hoping) to be a three week QA focus before we submit the game to Nintendo for their approval. The game is already very solid, so I think we’re in good shape.
Now starts the PR push. With little to no money to spend on advertising, we just have to put our thinking caps on and try to drum up some exposure and interest in the game. We have created a 3D trailer for the eShop, which will hopefully be included in the “Coming Soon!” section in the next few weeks. We will send the game out to the press a week or two before the launch for previews, reviews, and interviews.
And then, we wait for the game to launch, which as of today looks like March 2013. We would like to release the game in the US and Europe at the same time, but it depends on when we receive age rating from PEGI, USK and COB. We already have the ESRB rating. In fact, I got it within 10 minutes of applying for it. ESRB are great. The others need to follow suit. So, if the game does not release in Europe at the same time as the US, you’ll know why. That would make me sad, but we cannot risk missing this quarter with the US release of the game.
Will the game sell well or will it meet with a silent reception? I don’t think anyone can predict. The game has potential to meet both scenarios. The game is good. I firmly believe that. The team has worked well in producing a fun arcade racer for the 3DS. In fact, it will be the first eShop racer released, which is really cool! Let’s hope that helps with sales. If we sell a decent amount, we’ll be able to stay in business and make more games. Now that we’re relying more on our self-published titles for revenue, each sale could not be more important to us.
Due to the lackluster release on the DS, this, in many ways, is the moment we’ll find out if this game was worth it all. I hope to post an update on the game later this year that talks about how well it has been received by the players and the press. That would be a good result to what has been somewhat of a wild ride!

15 comments:

  1. I think your biggest hurdle is this:
    The people who are into ATVs don't care as much about game quality; where as the gamers who would appreciate Wild Ride for it's SSX and Pure style arcade-style and not boring "sim" gameplay are immediately turned off by "ATV" because it just sounds like a Cabella's Hunting or NASCAR game. Heck, I think the only reason people even discovered the gem that was Pure was because it started being bundled with PS3s.

    Fortunately, the 3D eShop Wild Ride might fare better as competition is minimal due to Nintendo being clueless on the Virtual Console side of things and everything else each week being DSiWare that 3DS owners don't want to fill their limited system memory with.

    The pricing model the eShop offers helps as well. We can pick up Gunman Clive, Mighty Switch Force, Mutant Mudds, Liberation Maiden, Crimson Shroud, and Wild Ride all for less than the price of one physical game...which makes me sad because I greatly prefer physical over digital.

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    1. "The people who are into ATVs don't care as much about game quality"

      This statement could not be any further from the truth. If there's one thing that needs to stop, it's this: treating customers like they're retards. I am not a retard. If companies and even other gamers continue to insult gamers because of what they like (usually the "casual" gamer insult, which is really just a nice way of saying "retard"), then those gamers will push back and refuse to buy products from companies that don't respect them. Not that Jools is doing this. He's been respectable so far. I think self-publishing has caused him to have even greater respect for customers. But other gamers need to knock this crap off.

      I like ATV and Off Road racing games, as well as just racing games in general. But I am not going buy a game that sucks. The people who bought the not-so-good ATV games on the DS probably did so because it was the only thing available in that genre, or because they were willing to take a risk. I have certainly taken risks before (the Spider-Man games on GameCube. Bought them on a whim). The other possibility is that the ATV games were given as gifts.

      Why does no one discuss the ATV Off Road Fury games? Those were fun! I remember playing the first one at my neighbor's house on his PS2. I couldn't put the controller down. Too bad nobody bothered to release games like that on Nintendo platforms.

      Jools, I was originally going to buy ATV Wild Ride on the DS. However, I ultimately didn't. I'll tell you why that game didn't sell. It's simple. There are two reasons: it arrived too late and was too difficult to track down. The game should have released in 2010 or earlier. Also, I couldn't find it anywhere. None of the stores were carrying it, and Amazon kept delaying the release date, I think beyond the 3DS launch. At that point I just said screw and put my money into the 3DS. Then, when I heard about the 3D remake, I just waited for that. I'm glad I did. I think you said it has online racing, which is great.

      Here is what I predict: the game will sell well. 3DS owners are currently underserved in regards to racing games, and this one looks good. The price is reasonable, and it has online multiplayer.

      Don't worry about advertising. It'll sell itself by word of mouth and the eShop itself. I've browsed the eShop several times looking for decent racing games and never really found any. People will do exactly what I did and go actively looking for racing games. Don't forget that numerous WiiWare games sold with no advertising whatsoever (hello 3D Pixel Racing and Heavy Fire games).

      I think this game will prove to be a smart move. Might I also recommend releasing an FPS for the system as well? Preferably with online multiplayer? That's another genre that's underserved. If you start hitting these underserved areas, you'll really do well. Look at where there's no competition and then hit those areas. Blue Ocean Strategy.

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  2. The PR push... I believe poor marketing, on behalf of the publishers, is why your games haven't sold as well as they should have. When I first discovered Dementium: The Ward (two days after its launch), it was because I happened to notice it on the shelf at GameStop. Before that, I had seen no marketing whatsoever for the game. After just a few minutes of playing the game, I pulled out the booklet to see who the developer was and did my internet research after that. That's when I discovered you had a YouTube channel and such.

    Other than the really cool GameStop preorder bonus for Moon, I saw no effort from Mastiff to advertise for the game. Even SouthPeak was lacking with advertisements for Dementium II. Honestly, its a wonder the games have sold as well as they have. If it wasn't for your YouTube updates and this blog, many wouldn't have known anything else was in the works. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and word-of-mouth on message boards, word of your quality has gotten around.

    And thank God for Corbie and RawMeatCowboy and the friendships you've made with them as they reach an even greater audience. Not to mention, Nintendo's faith in you and the push they made for Mutant Mudds.

    Marketing is key. If people who call themselves your fans would tell others about your games, especially utilizing social media outlets, that would do more for you than paying the $10 or so for the one eShop they may buy.

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  3. I can't wait to play it! I was one of those "10 people" who bought the original ATV Wild Ride, and I loved every second of it. Are you planning on releasing a demo of Wild Ride 3D on the eShop?

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  4. A demo is a good idea, but I don't know how much work or the resources required. It provides the potential fan a small taste of what they can experience without the risk of wasting money on a game that sucks. And if I may, I too am one of "the 10," and as good as the DS release was, surely this version will be much better due simply to the hardware allowing you (Jools) to do more with the game.

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  5. Fortunately, every week there is a GameFAQs thread on the 3DS board discussing which games were put on the eShop that week, so your odds a pretty good when your competition is Sparkle Pony Riders (DSiWare), Paper Airplane Maker 4 (DSiWare), and Urban Champion (Virtual Console).

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  6. Really wish there was 8 player local multiplayer - I love playing Mario Kart with the guys here and I think I could convince everyone to try out ATV, but 4 players isn't enough. Still I'll pick it up, and am excited to do so.

    Really enjoyed the blog pots as well. The details about decisions and the inspirations for different projects are always interesting to hear.

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  7. Hey Jools,

    I'll tell you what I thought it needed when I recently watched some old 3DS gameplay footage on YouTube:

    Some more reaction from the vehicle, player and camera as you're racing around the dirt track.

    In the video I watched it felt a little un-immersive because the player and the vehicle didn't really seem to be "connecting" with the track convincingly. Obviously the vehicle was on the track but I didn't get any sense of impact or exhilaration watching the race footage. It felt kinda detached if you get what I mean?

    Maybe you can get a better idea of what I'm talking about by watching the following footage of Sega Rally Championship http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7MGZq-vZU0

    I'd like to imagine the your game on the 3DS was at the very least capable of that level of graphics and immersion etc.

    Other than that it looked not bad for an eShop game. If it were actually on the 3DS as a full retail title I'd say it needed a few more polygons on the rider, vehicle and courses in general, along with some more detail in the textures, but since it's not a retail game I think it's perfectly acceptable.

    I hope the final game all comes together as it should and if it does then I hope it sells as well as it deserves to.

    Cheers,

    Kirk

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  8. I got to be honest here. Visually, your game doesn't look too impressive for the 3DS. Sure it sports some fancy visual effets but geometry-wise, it leaves much to be desired.

    That said, as long as the game is fun, I don't really care. I'll be buying it from the eShop.

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    1. You do realize it is an enhanced port of the DS game, not a full out 3DS game, right? Don't expect it to be something that its not and was never meant to be.

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    2. Yeah you shouldn't complain because you're getting basically a full game not just a downloadable sized game.

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  9. Just gonna be honest here: I pirated both Dementium: The Ward and Dementium II... and Moon. I found the first Dementium to be somewhat frustrating but okay overall. The sequel, on the other hand, was exceptional and probably my favorite game on the DS.

    I was also one of the "10 people" who bought ATV Wild Ride, as I wanted to support you and at least do something to make up for not doing so with your other games (D2, mostly. Seriously, amazing quality to every aspect of it). I didn't overly like ATV Wild Ride all that much (same story for Moon), but that's just a matter of personal preference.

    All that aside, sorry for not buying Dementium II and the original Dementium. If I do eventually get a 3DS, I'll continue to support you by buying your games. Best of luck to you.

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  10. What part does Renegade Kid have in the development of the remake of Dementium 2?

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  11. Hello Jools.
    I loved playing Dementium. I loved playing Dementium II and not to forget playing Moon. They were all great games. It makes me kind of sad to hear that you're in trouble. Why did I miss that, although I loved playing these games so? Well, this is my little story ...

    I'm interested in classical games and these three (+ Mutant Mudds) are really getting me. But I really don't like the latest evolution of Nintendos hardware. When my DS broke one day, I bought an iPod Touch and since then had no intention to switch back to the family of DS. This is an interesting point since I believe that many people think that way today.

    Well .. gaming is a little bit different on iOS / Android / whatever touch-screen-only devices. No buttons :|. Fortunately some developers created well implemented controls. Some even added support for 8-bitty. Some developers failed at this important point.

    I've never bought that much software ever before I had an iOS device. When I saw Mutant Mudds for the very first time, I felt a bit sad because I couldn't get it. When this made it to the AppStore I was very happy and bought it instantly. Well done, Jools.

    Now we want to see ports of other great titles to iOS. What about Dementium on iOS (8-bitty supported of course)? What about Moon? I don't know if you could simply port them .. or have any license left on publishers .. if so, think about "Demoontium" ^^ I would pay for that, even more than 1$ :D ...

    Thanks for your games, renegade!

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