Saturday, March 30, 2013

Muddy Steam - Before and After Greenlight

When we decided to port our critically-acclaimed and award-winning title, Mutant Mudds, over to the PC I looked at the library of game available on Steam to get an idea of pricing and genres available. Based on the games that are available on Steam I expected that Mutant Mudds would not have a problem getting on Steam. Not because I think Mutant Mudds is oh-so deservedly so, but because the library of games available on Steam ranges greatly in genre and quality. It does not give the impression of any strict guidelines.

My development experience with Renegade Kid has primarily been with Nintendo platforms. When we submit a game to Nintendo they test the game to ensure it does not crash or have any major bugs that impede gameplay. If the game contains any issues in this regard Nintendo sends us a report that explains why the game was failed. We fix it and resubmit. Nintendo works with developers where needed to isolate issues and correct them.

Valve is a successful company that is reportedly in good financial shape. With this in mind I assumed they would have a robust team in place that provides a similar submission service as Nintendo. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a Steam team member via email thanks to a friend. The Steam team member sent me a friendly email with a link to the submission form and said they look forward to checking out a playable build of Mutant Mudds.

I filled out the form and uploaded a playable PC build of Mutant Mudds with the hope of opening up a dialog about the game to see what features they would like to see supported on Steam, such as achievements, etc. I received an email from Steam about 10 days after submitting:

Thank you for submitting "Mutant Mudds" for potential Steam distribution. We have taken a look at the information provided and determined that Steam is not a good fit for distribution. It is our company policy not to provide specific feedback on a submission but we would like you to consider Steam distribution for your future products.

I was shocked. Like most developers, I never truly know whether one of my games is good or not, but due to the high review scores and fan reaction we received for Mutant Mudds on the 3DS I assumed the game was at least above average and at least on-par with the quality and genre of games currently found on Steam. Steam’s rejection of Mutant Mudds made no sense to me. And, to boot, their policy is not to provide feedback. That’s helpful.

Soon after this, news of Steam Greenlight was heating up and offered potential for Mutant Mudds on Steam – and possibly offered an explanation for Mutant Mudds’ rejection. Did the Steam team want to include it as a relatively ‘well-known’ title in their new Greenlight system? Maybe. Many folks tweeted me saying as much, and I wanted to believe them. I felt fortunate that the Steam team wanted to include Mutant Mudds with the launch of Steam Greenlight. That was awesome.

And then, it quickly seemed as though the games that were being received well on Greenlight were either first-person games, contained zombies, and/or were supported by a built-in PC community or a unique publicity angle. Mutant Mudds could not find its audience. Greenlight is, after all, a popularity contest. Some seem put-out by calling it this. There is nothing wrong with it being a popularity contest. Isn’t that the point of asking a community of thousands to vote? It is what it is. But, now do I need to launch a dedicated PR campaign to get my game(s) noticed and accepted on Steam? I respect and commend those teams that have had their games greenlit. Nicely done, ladies and gents!

Mutant Mudds sits at #82 on the Greenlight list right now. It has hovered around there for some time now. It was at around #40 or so at one point. About 30,000 folks have voted either yes or no for Mutant Mudds to be included on Steam, with a 54% / 46% split in favor of yes. Yep, those numbers pretty much sum up what the Greenlight community thinks of Mutant Mudds: polarized. At this rate I can’t see how Mudds will ever be deemed suitable for a Steam release.

It is puzzling though. How can a game that has been accepted with open arms on one platform be shut out on another? It is truly a fascinating case study. The 3DS audience is more-than-likely very different than the Steam audience, which is one factor for sure. I suppose Steam’s original rejection of Mutant Mudds is somewhat justified now that the community itself has also not accepted the game. Perhaps this means that a game like Mutant Mudds is not suitable for Steam. But, hang on... there are games like VVVVV, Offspring Fling!, Capsized, Beep, Braid, Serious Sam Double D, Super Meat Boy, and even Commander Keen available on Steam right now.

How is Mutant Mudds not a good fit for distribution? I wish I knew. I briefly chatted with a Valve employee at PAX East, who asked for feedback on the Greenlight process. I was not expecting to be chatting about Greenlight at that moment, so I had nothing to offer. Perhaps I should have told them that it is my “policy not to provide specific feedback”, but that would have been rude, right?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

PAX East 2013

PAX East is THIS WEEK! So Exciting! I visited PAX East and PAX Prime for the first time last year, and loved them both. Even though Prime was great, I enjoyed East more due to the city of Boston being pretty awesome and the layout of the show floor being so simple and accessible. The layout of PAX Prime is kind of a mess, honestly, which makes it very difficult to navigate.

So, to have our very own 10’x15’ plot of pleasure at PAX East this year is supremely thrilling. What I like about PAX over E3, for example, is the fact that it is a sea of gamers that ascend upon the show – not just industry folk. Tens of thousands of gamers explore new games and experiences under one roof. That’s very awesome!

Preparing for PAX East 2013 has naturally added a substantial work-load to our already busy schedule. We might make it look like we take it all in our leisurely strides, but the reality is that it takes a tremendous amount of work to ensure we have – to put it bluntly – our shit together, in time for the event.

Not only must we complete our playable demos – of which we have Mutant Mudds Deluxe (Wii U) and our new FPS (3DS) – we also need to design and create banners and merchandise for the show. This year we decided to go with the ever so fancy vertical banners. They are 30”x80” – imagine the size of a sturdy door – quite large! One for Mudds, FPS, and our latest release: ATV Wild Ride 3D for the 3DS.

At least ATV Wild Ride 3D was already finished, so that was one less thing to worry about. But, Mutant Mudds Deluxe needed some attention to make sure it was ready for its close-up. Even today – three days before the event – we’re polishing the game so it presents itself in the best light. I must say, I am really enjoying the Mudds experience on the Wii U. I’m excited that PAX attendees will get to check it out for themselves.

Our 3DS FPS has been an especially challenging task that we thrust upon ourselves. Not only have we needed to get the playable ‘Atmosphere Demo’ in shape to show off, but there’s the fact that this is the reveal of the game to the world. No pressure there, right? This has forced us to finalize the name of the game, the game logo, and the key imagery that hopefully embodies the game theme at a glance. I know that the world will quickly judge and decide whether we have successfully presented an appealing game or not in just few days, but personally I am feeling really good about the game.

Another aspect of preparation I wasn’t quite expecting is the renting of Nintendo hardware to show off our in-development titles. A game that is in-development simply won’t run on retail hardware. They run on our devkits. But, we can’t demonstrate our games on devkits because that not only presents many security issues in terms of Nintendo’s hardware and such, but also runs the risk of the public thinking that the devkit units are special versions of the consoles and available for purchase – which they’re not of course. So, we need to rent Wii U and 3DS hardware that ‘look’ like retail units, but are in fact dev-units that run in-development titles. They do not, however, run retail games. Yeah.

One special setup I am particularly excited about is the 3DS display podium we will be using for ATV Wild Ride 3D. If you’ve ever visited a Nintendo booth in the past year or so you’ve seen one. They’re a fairly simple station that sports four 3DS units – one on each side – with a display header above head-height. I’m pretty sure there’s a fancy Nintendo 3DS logo along the side of the unit somewhere. This should fool everyone into thinking that we’re legit.

In addition to all that malarkey listed above, we had to arrange flights and hotel for our stay in Boston. Gregg and I will be staying at the Revere Hotel on Stuart Street. Seems like a nice place, and was one of the few hotels left with availability. We arrive in Boston on Thursday at around noon, and will have to race from the airport to the hotel and then to the show to setup our booth for the next day, which is the first day of PAX East. If everything goes to plan – ha – the banners will have arrived at our hotel and the flat-screen TV that Mutant Mudds Deluxe will be rockin’ it on will arrive on the show floor on Thursday. Yeah, we’ll see how all of that comes together. If you see just me and Gregg hanging out at our booth with our 3DS’s, you’ll know that the plan failed. :)

Oh, and then there’s PR. There was a bunch of stuff to gather for the Indie Megabooth website, which was done long ago now. We also needed to gather assets for the ever-impressive print magazine, Nintendo Force, so they can include the goodies in their next issue, which releases on the first day of PAX East – I think. We are also sending some stuff over to IGN for them to run something on the game this week at some point – in theory – so we won’t get to rest until… well, I’m not sure really. The important thing is that this is all fun, despite the sleepless nights and grey hairs. I love it.

See you in Boston this Friday!