Sometimes I like to waffle about thoughts in my head. This is one of those times. I hope you enjoy or get something from this...
The first thing I want to make clear is that I do not
think that anyone can guarantee success – certainly not me. However, I think
there are some things you can do to help you stack the deck in your favor. Just
making a good game is not good enough.
Whether it means you have to work your tail off and/or
hire exceptional talent, you must go into the development of a game with the
intent and resources to produce a game of high quality. This should be in all
areas of game development: design, art, programming, audio, and planning. If
you skimp on any area, it is going to show and bring down everything else. Set
yourself up for success. If you are unsure of the level of quality that you
should aim for; look at similar games and analyze the overall production
quality as well as the small details. The magic is in the details.
With Mutant Mudds, I felt confident in my ability to
handle the design, art, and planning. If I did not, I would have hired someone
else to handle it. Matthew Gambrell is a very experienced programmer, and has a
natural interest in all things 2D and platformy, which made him a wonderful
member of the Muddy Team. I considered writing the music for the game, but I do
not have any experience with chip music. I have mainly worked with
samples/synth devices to create music, such as the Dementium title tune. Therefore,
Troupe Gammage was a perfect candidate to handle this aspect of the game based
on his prior experience with chip music as well as being an accomplished
musician in his own right.
Some people call this the games’ “hook”. My personal
issue with using this term is that it puts undue pressure on the hook being extraordinarily
important in comparison to everything else involved in the development of a game.
A great game is the sum of its parts – not just the “hook”. Nevertheless, you
need something a little different about your game; something that you can explain
quickly and easily when someone asks about your game. If you find yourself
going into too much detail each time someone asks you about your game, you may
have a problem. The unique aspect of your game doesn’t have to be groundbreaking
or innovative. It just needs to be different than the other guys’.
Super Meat Boy, for example, offers hard-as-nails
gameplay and a somewhat controversial theme. This isn’t to say that the game
relies purely on these qualities – Team Meat hit every aspect called out in
this blog piece – but at its’ heart, it’s easy to explain what’s cool and
different about Super Meat Boy. For fun, determine what’s unique about Braid…
Mutant Mudds is a challenging retro-themed platformer that
allows your character to literally jump into the background and foreground, thanks
to the awesome 3D capabilities of the 3DS. I’m sure there’s a more elegant way
of explaining the game, but you get the idea.
3. Familiarity vs. Innovation.
Don’t get caught up feeling as though your game must be
'completely' different from everyone elses’. Sure, innovation is great.
Innovation is important. But, I firmly believe that a healthy dose of familiarity
can be equally important in regards to connecting with your audience. Let’s
take Dementium, for example. When we announced Dementium: The Ward it was
immediately obvious that the game was a survival horror experience viewed from
the first-person perspective. If you like these types of games, and want to
play one on the DS, the only question remaining is, “Is the game any good?” A
quick look at your favorite website(s)' review will give you a good idea of the games’
If you’re developing a game that offers more new elements
than familiar ones, like Pikmin, Pushmo, or Pong, it may take a lot more effort
to connect with your audience. It could certainly take more words or imagery
due to the fact that it is something never seen or experienced before. This is
not necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of.
Looking at Mutant Mudds, as an example, it obviously
offers a heavy dose of the familiarity, but with a 3D twist. This small tweak
on the visual presentation and gameplay experience can spark the imagination of
the audience and take it from a standard game to a special game. A simple
concept can go a long way.
In my mind, value is relative to price. If you’re asking
for $40, you need to provide value equal to that of other video game experiences
offered for the same price. Not going overboard on content is just as important
as providing enough in terms of budget and return on investment. This is a
business after all.
Because Mutant Mudds was always intended as an eShop
title, I looked at Cave Story, Shantae, and Dark Void Zero for reference in
terms of content versus cost. In the end, I felt that Mutant Mudds sat well offering
40 intricately designed, challenging levels for $8.99. In fact, I think it’s a
The more people who know about your game, the more people
can buy it. Assuming your game is in –line with the aforementioned criteria, the
next thing to do is get the word out. I have found that contacting the press
directly via email, whether they are a website or print magazine, resonates
very well with journalists. The majority of games these days are handled by internal
PR personnel or PR firms, who contact the press and coordinate previews,
interviews, reviews, etc. This has many pros, of course, not least of which is
the fact that good PR people do an incredible job of presenting games to the
press. It is their full-time job, after all. However, if you’re like me, and
don’t have a PR rep or firm to call on, contacting them directly can have a
Make sure you send individual and personal emails to each
journalist. Nothing says lazy more than a standardized mass email that has
obviously been written in such a way that it can be sent to anyone. Take the
time to write a quick and personal email to each person. It makes a big
difference. The members of the press whom I have met are all great people. They
are gamers who want to play great games. You are on the same side. If you have a
great game, you should want to contact them and gush about it. When you do,
they’ll feel your passion and look forward to getting their hands on your game.
Independent games, with no PR/marketing budget, can
benefit from a long campaign to create awareness from word-of-mouth. I first
announced Mutant Mudds at E3 2011. Over the course of six to seven months I
attempted to keep the momentum going with interviews, carefully chosen
screenshots, previews, video trailers, music tracks, and competitions –
anything to keep the name out there and keep it fresh. Print magazines have a long
lead time, meaning they need assets a month or two before the actual article
will hit the street. Nintendo Power is a great magazine, and I felt it was very
important to make sure they had a timely preview and review in their mag. We
were lucky enough to have a two-page announcement in June, a full-page preview
in December, and a full-page review in January. I think working directly, and
respectfully, with the fine folks at Nintendo Power really made a difference. When
it finally came to the release of the game I also sent out dozens of download
codes to reviewers one week before the games’ release to ensure reviews would
be on-line on or before the day of release. The PR aspect of the project kept
me very busy, but it was well worth the exposure the game received. Awareness
of your game cannot be underestimated.
Success can be measured in many different ways. One of
the ways of measuring success, which is important to me, is the number of
people able and willing to play my game. This does not discount the feeling of
success, or accomplishment, from completing the development of a game that you’re
proud of. But, for me, I need confirmation from other people to convince me
that I am not just high on my own jazz-juice.
With that in mind, I feel that it is important to aim for
a large audience. Know where that audience exists. Have a good idea of what
that audience may like/dislike. Deciding today that you want to develop a
mature first-person shooter for the Wii may not be the best idea. The current
state of the market, and where you think it’s going, is very important.
We knew the eShop audience was going to be relatively
small at the time we intended to release Mutant Mudds. Being a new market,
there’s the added risk of no audience there at all. But, considering Nintendo’s
history, it felt like a calculated risk worth taking.
I think it is fair to assume some things about the early-adopter
audience who is eager and/or savvy enough to be on the eShop within the first
year of the market. A large majority of them will be gaming enthusiasts who
want good games and not just games with a Spiderman license attached to them. Chances
are, they like Nintendo style games. They might even like retro themed games.
These are all just hunches. In some cases, you can obtain historical data with
some of this information, which can help you determine whether an audience
In summary, you need to look at many different facets if
you want to set yourself up for the potential of success. You can’t rely on
just one of the things I listed above. You really need to focus on all of them
equally if your goal is to get a great game in the hands of the largest
Please share your thoughts on this subject. Good luck
with your future endeavors.