Monday, May 21, 2018

New Focus and New Feels for 2018!

A lot has happened so far in 2018. It is already looking like a very busy year for Atooi. Here’s a list of the key events so far in 2018.

February 15 – Xeodrifter released on Nintendo Switch.
March 1 – Totes the Goat released on Nintendo Switch.
March 1 – Mutant Mudds Collection on sale at 50% off for 20 days.
April 1 – Xeodrifter on sale at 50% off for 20 days.
April 5 – Chicken Wiggle Workshop successfully Kickstarted for release on Nintendo Switch.
May 1 – Totes the Goat on sale at 20% off for 20 days.
May 16 – Development of new secret game started.
June 14 – Soccer Slammers releasing for Nintendo Switch on same day the World Cup kicks off.

Looking at that list I would understand someone thinking that everything is chaos and stress at Atooi Towers, but it is quite the opposite surprisingly. Sure, we’re busy. No doubt! But, everything is going really well with positive energy flowing through each project. Quite a contrast in emotion compared to my previous blog posts.

A lot of this for me is a matter of perspective. I have accepted the fact that I missed out on the gold rush that happened for the lucky indie devs who were allowed to release their games in the first 6 months of Nintendo Switch. Am I jealous? Yeah, totally. But, I am also genuinely happy for them. The launch window of a new platform is a short and exciting time to release new games. I was lucky enough to be a part of this with Mutant Mudds on the 3DS eShop. I tried to be a part of this golden time on Switch, but it didn’t work out. Hakuna matata.

I have also accepted the fact that I cannot and should not expect marketing support from Nintendo. My VIP membership has expired. 😊 And, that’s fine. Each business must do what it thinks is best for their own business. I am fully embracing that concept and focusing on what I must do for my own business without relying on others. Obviously, I wouldn’t say no to some help from Nintendo’s marketing machine, but it is healthier for me to assume it is not going to happen and forge my own way ahead.

I hope this does not come across as a rant, because that is honestly not how I feel about it. I am at peace with it, and I feel driven and energized to make my own independent path ahead. We have managed to release our current catalog of titles on the Switch and have new games on the way. Everything is going really well, and I am very thankful for that.

Soccer Slammers
We just finished up Soccer Slammers, which was a really fun project I created with programming pal Phil Elder. We first created a prototype for the game in June 2017. We spent about two weeks trying out different ideas to see what would work well. Initially I wanted to try it with no goalies, but that made it too easy and too simple. It lost that sense of mystery with shots on goal.

One of the first elements to get working right was the camera. We opted for a simple camera that does not move up or down, only horizontally. It’s like it’s locked on one of those rails that Spielberg would use to film a tracking shot in Indiana Jones! This combination of smooth, fast, and locked positioning shows off a great deal of the field, which does a good job of keeping track of most of the players in the game while staying focused on the ball.

The slam tackle went in pretty fast and felt good immediately. It was a balance of getting the slam speed, duration, and the period of time the player is static at the end of the tackle to produce a good sense of risk and reward when performing the move. Slamming someone and stealing the ball feels great.

The player movement speed and sprint took some finessing to present a nice feeling of jogging at default speed and really feeling like you rocket off when using sprint. A parameter of this was also the sprint meter, which controls how much the sprint can be used and not abused. When we got the smoke trail behind the player working properly I was very happy. The goal was to capture a similar feeling to the smoke trail in Super Mario 3D World, and I think we got pretty close.

Massaging all of these elements together to form a cohesive experience was a ton of fun, and it came together very well over a short period of time. A lot of my inspiration came from a combination of NBA Jam and Speedball and seeing how that gameplay could be adapted for soccer. Working with Phil was very easy and fun. That really helped the process go well. Positive attitudes go a long way.

We didn’t return to the game until late January 2018 – after Totes the Goat was submitted to Nintendo Lotcheck for approval. Since then, we’ve been hammering on Soccer Slammers pretty hard to finish up and polish the gameplay experience and add the structure of the different modes and features. We submitted the game to Nintendo Lotcheck on May 9, 2018. It was approved on May 17, 2018. We got lucky. That’s a very fast turnaround!

Sales Promotions
During the first few months of 2018 I decided to put all of Atooi’s Nintendo Switch games on sale. The timing for Mutant Mudds Collection felt natural (3 months after release), while the timing for Xeodrifter and Totes the Goat was a bit quicker than normal. Due to the nature of the Nintendo Switch eShop market and the fact that both games are direct ports, I felt this was an acceptable move to make. Not something I would be eager to do with a new original title on Nintendo Switch (read: Soccer Slammers will not be going on sale as quickly).

Chicken Wiggle Workshop
To throw a Kickstarter campaign in the midst of all this development activity could have been a disaster, but Chicken Wiggle Workshop was the right kind of campaign for that moment. I felt that if the Kickstarter video and the Kickstarter page effectively presented the concept of the campaign, then it had a chance to have an explosive start with a steady middle period and a spike towards the end, which is very common for successful Kickstarter campaigns. Thankfully, this is what happened.

It was a simple proposition: do you want this 3DS game to be ported to the Nintendo Switch with fancy new artwork and possibly a stretch goal that adds a sweet orchestral soundtrack? If the video and page showed off the qualities of the original game and what it would look and sound like on the Nintendo Switch, it left the viewer with a simple yes / no answer. 1553 people said yes and raised $35, 634. Wow! Amazing!! A huge thank you to everyone who supported the project. I’ll have some delights to share on our progress soon.

Since we finished Soccer Slammers we have been able to dive back into the development of Treasurenauts. This is now Phil’s fulltime focus. We were working on the game in 2017 too, but then we spent some time to get Totes the Goat and Soccer Slammers finished up.

The current task is moving all of the original goodness over to Unity. We want to get everything working on Unity for many reason, but the short version is that it makes everything simpler, quicker, and easier for us in the long run. Progress on this is going really well. I will join Phil in creating new content for the game soon, which I am very much looking forward to.

Each time I return to the development of Treasurenauts it is a wonderfully interesting experience. I spend a little time getting reacquainted with everything. It’s like going to the pub with old friends you haven’t seen for a while. After the first pint it’s just like old times and everything comes rushing back like no time has passed at all.

What’s really nice is that I have been able to bring my new experiences to Treasurenauts on each of my revisits. I haven’t been able to do that with any other game. Sometimes it is a small idea or detail, and sometimes it’s a big change that fits perfectly into the big picture, improving the overall concept.

My vision for the game is clear. It’s just a matter of making the time to finish it and finish it well. I know it will be a really fun game. It will probably be the best 2D platformer that I have had the pleasure of working on to date. That’s why I don’t want to rush it out for the sake of it. It will be done when it’s done, which will not be 2018 unfortunately. It will offer a bright shiny piece of treasure for folks to look forward to in 2019.

Secret Project
We are developing a new secret game. It is for Nintendo Switch and will release sooner than you may expect! It’s sort of new territory for me, and I am very excited about it. It is not connected with any other Atooi property. It is completely new. It is my hope that it leverages two future public events and benefits from its connection to them. How’s that for a cryptic clue?

New Focus
My focus for the foreseeable future is to try and be more mindful of the games that Atooi publishes. The two simple goals for each game is 1. High quality. 2. High sales. That is nothing new. But, how those goals are achieved differs greatly from project to project. Soccer Slammers was a case of making a fun arcade soccer title to coincide with the World Cup. I believe the game is high quality, and the soccer theme of the game should align well with the World Cup fever. Whether that is a recipe for high sales remains to be seen.

More Secrets!
I have one other exciting secret for 2018, which should be happening sometime between June and August. I have done something similar to this in the past, which was successful, and I hope this works out well too. I run the risk of setting high expectations for myself, but I think the dangers are somewhat limited with this one. Fingers crossed! More news soon.

Thanks for reading!

Oh, and if you like watching videos, here's a VLOG entry I made recently:

Monday, January 29, 2018

Whine & Dine with Watsham

Every now and then I like to write about what's happened over the past few months. It is a cathartic exercise for me, and hopefully offers something of interest to you. A common theme over the past few entries has been one of complaining about bad things that have happened. This may present an impression that I am a negative person who likes to whine about things. My friends can back me up that nothing could be further from the truth. I am naturally a very optimistic and positive person. I don't think I would have managed to start two video game companies of my own and developed titles such as Dementium, Mutant Mudds, Xeodrifter, and Chicken Wiggle without a hopeful outlook on the world.

If everything was going well, I would title this entry Fine Dining with Watsham. We're just not there... yet (there's that optimism).

My previous blog entry discussed the results of Chicken Wiggle's launch on 3DS, which was unfortunately less than stellar. However, once I picked myself from the floor and dusted myself off I was ready to make my mark on the Nintendo Switch with Mutant Mudds Collection.

Mutant Mudds' entry to the Switch library could have been a vanilla one. It would have been fine to release only Mutant Mudds Deluxe on Switch at $9.99 and then later release Mutant Mudds Super Challenge as a separate title. But I did not want to do that, because I believe first impressions can be important.

Instead, we set out to make Mudds on Switch special. Combining MMD and MMSC into a single game was a fun idea, and to top it off we decided to throw in a mudderized version of Bomb Monkey, called Mudd Blocks, which not only offers variety in gameplay to the trio, but also supports two player action. I was convinced this would be a big hit on the Switch among all the news of indie titles selling like hotcakes on the new platform.

Feeling good about the content of the game - having spent a lot of time and effort to add 100+ HD Rumble entries to cover every conceivable opportunity in the three games and support online leaderboards for all three games - I turned my attention to the other aspects that contribute to a games' successful launch: Pricing and PR.

My first thought was to set up Mutant Mudds Collection with a loyalty discount, so folks who purchased any of the muddy games on 3DS or Wii U would be able to buy the game at a lower cost. Unfortunately, this feature is not currently supported by Nintendo. OK, so the next best thing I could think of was to offer the game at a lower price as a pre-order so muddy fans could at least save some dough that way.

I wrestled with the pricing of the game for a long time. Many indie games had released at $19.99 on Switch, and that was becoming the norm at the time. But, due to the fact that MMC was a port of older games, and my thought that the indie gold-rush was coming to an end due to eShop saturation of games, I believed $14.99 would be a more attractive price. With that, I decided to put the game at $9.99 as a pre-order, which was surely a very appealing price for anyone interested in the games.

OK, great - that hurdle was figured out and now I needed to think about PR. I sent out dozens and dozens of codes to websites, youtubers, and anyone else who might give a little exposure of the game to a new audience - which is all fairly standard practice. In addition to this, I was fortunate enough to land a spot on IGN's Nintendo Voice Chat on the week the game was set to release. So cool!!

IGN is located in San Francisco, and I am located in Austin, Texas. I am becoming somewhat of a homebody as I get older, but this seemed like an opportunity I had to jump on. The folks at IGN are truly great people, and the chance to get the word out about MMC to an audience I may otherwise never reach was just too fabulous to miss. I invested in the time, flight, and hotel to make the appearance happen. It felt like an investment that would pay off.

I set up some Facebook ads as well as promoted some Tweets to try and get the word out during the pre-order period as well as post release. It's always difficult to gauge exactly how effective this can be, but I wanted to leave no stone unturned for Atooi's debut title on Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo's social channels on Twitter and Facebook are potentially massive opportunities to get the news out about your games to an audience who is likely interested in your game - or at least curious enough to check it out on the eShop. I emailed folks at NOA to put the game on their radar for consideration of inclusion in their social activity.

It felt like I did everything within my power to launch an interesting game on Nintendo Switch at a great price and get the word out so folks knew it was available. I had heard stories of games selling tens of thousands of copies within the first two weeks. Even though I always try to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, I truly felt that this could be a big hit for us.

I don't want to dive too deep into the sales details, because this blog entry is not purely about the sales of Mutant Mudds Collection, but more about everything that's going on right now. MMC has sold only "OK". I really shouldn't complain, but it's difficult to keep expectations in check when you read about success stories like Enter the Gungeon selling 75,000 copies in it's first two weeks. The same two weeks your game released, and you're seeing results less than 10% of that. The sales of MMC will help Atooi move along a little further, but I won't be throwing a celebratory party any time soon.

Why did Mutant Mudds Collection not sell as well as a game like Enter the Gungeon? It is difficult to say, exactly. Everyone will have their theories, and I expect many of them will be written in the comments section and/or tweeted at me. But, without actual data it's all anecdotal assumptions. The comparison of Mutant Mudds Collection and Enter the Gungeon is a very interesting one. Gungeon was originally released in April 2016 and Mutant Mudds Super Challenge was originally released in March 2016. Both are pixel games. Both were priced at $14.99. Gungeon was not offered at $9.99 as a pre-order, though. And, MMC is a collection of three games.

Enter the Gungeon was published by Devolver Digital, who is a fantastic publisher. I have many good friends who work at Devolver who I love and respect. I am truly happy for their success with this title, and for the developer who created it (Dodge Roll). But, I can't help but be a little jealous of their success over mine and try to determine what might have contributed to the different results. I always assume I made mistakes, and I expect I made many, but I also look for significantly different events that may have contributed to one games' success over another similar title.

I know that Devolver Digital is very good at promoting their games, and I am certain that this played a big part in the games' success. Maybe I just need to work with them... hmmm!? Another key event that I noticed happening prior to the launch of our games and on release day was the activity on Nintendo of America's twitter channel. Enter the Gungeon was retweeted prior to the games' release - announcing the release dates - and was also retweeted on launch day. I know that this may not be the singular reason a game will sell 75,000 copies in its first two weeks, but being tweeted out to over 8 million folks sure won't hurt.

I should add that I was thrilled and deeply appreciative when I saw Mutant Mudds Collection included on the Switch news channel as one of the indie titles highlighted for December. I have no data on how many folks view the news channels on the Switch, but it was wonderful to be included.

As a quick side note, if Mutant Mudds Collection sold 75,000 copies we would be looking at NET revenue of over $780,000. WOW! That would literally change Atooi's future over night. It is difficult for me to think of this in light of it being possible but not achieved with Mutant Mudds Collection, but I have to look at it as something that is still achievable and soldier on with that goal. I have had to do this multiple times in my career as an indie developer, and this is no different. One day I will achieve this sort of success, and I will use that success to make games that knock your socks off!

So, what's next? If you follow me on twitter you may already know that Xeodrifter is coming to Nintendo Switch February 15 for $9.99. After the exhaustive efforts I put into setting up MMC for success and its sales not meet that effort, I am opting for a more restrained and simple release of Xeodrifter. No pre-order. No triple pack. Just bringing an excellent mini Metroid game to Switch at a reasonable price. We did take the time to add HD Rumble and make sure the game runs super smooth and awesome on the Switch. Fingers crossed it finds its audience.

I have also announced that Totes the Goat is coming to Switch. This is a port of Atooi's very first game. A mobile title I released as a side project while still active with Renegade Kid. The original game was developed in Unity, so bringing it to Switch was fairly quick and simple. We still took the time to polish it up nice and pretty for the Switch, and added some new playable characters for players to unlock. Totes is going through Nintendo lotcheck now. No firm release date yet. It will be priced $4.99 and not have any of the ads or in-game purchases of the mobile release.

We have a new previously unannounced game that will be coming out in time for the World Cup! WHAT!? I know, right!! It is a fun side project that we've been kicking around for a while now (pun intended). It's an arcade soccer game, called Soccer Slammers. Taking inspiration from NBA Jam, Soccer Slammers is a 2-on-2 arcade soccer experience focused on fast, fun gameplay for Nintendo Switch.

We'll be bringing Soccer Slammers to GDC to show it off to anyone who's interested. :)

What else? So much more!! I'll get to Treasurenauts in a sec. But, first... Chicken Wiggle: Re-hatched. I put the call out to folks in the twitterverse to gauge interest in potentially running a Kickstarter campaign to bring an HD version of Chicken Wiggle to Nintendo Switch. Even though I know results on twitter are no guarantee, the most I expected to get from asking is whether this was a good idea or a terrible idea. I conclude it is a good idea! More on a Kickstarter campaign for Chicken Wiggle: Re-hatched coming soon!

And now, onto Treasurenauts!!! Treasurenauts is going to be fantastic. If there is one thing that I have learned from the recent releases is that nothing is as exciting as a new game. It can be a port of your favorite game, but it's still something you've already experienced. A new game!? That is full of potential and excitement.

Treasurenauts is something that I have worked on and off for many years now. I first revealed the game back in 2013, which was clearly too early. :) It has been a really fun project to revisit. Each game that I have worked on and even each game that I have played has contributed to what Treasurenauts is today. It is the amalgamation of everything that I have learned about platformers, and it is a game that is truly special to me.

The design of Treasurenauts is complete. I continue to tweak small details of the design here and there, but the bulk of what Treasurenauts is has been established. Now, we just need to finish all of the content and wrap it up. I have no doubt in my mind that it will be my most ambitious and best platformer that I've had the pleasure of working on. I am constantly surprised and thrilled that people are still out there asking about the game and demanding its release.

The reason the game has taken so long is because it is larger in scope than my other platformers, and as such can't be rushed. However, that also means that it is not earning money for Atooi. Therefore, other games must be developed and released in order to generate money to enable us to continue with development. This is why games like Xeodrifter, Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, Chicken Wiggle, and Soccer Slammers exist. They were each a delight to develop, and they all fit within a time period shorter than Treasurenauts, which made them great candidates to release and generate cash. Admittedly, Chicken Wiggle development totally went off the rails and ended up taking 16 months, but I am proud of the results. :)

I will be bringing a playable of Treasurenauts to E3 2018. I will have more news on the game at that time. Until then, thank you for your continued support.

Now, before I go: I wrote this for me and for the folks out there who care about me and want to know what's going on in my life. If you see this as whining or want to give me shit for it. Go fuck yourself. :) I don't usually swear publicly - even though I swear like a sailor privately - but, it's getting to the point where people sending me asshole comments on my blog and twitter is just getting boring and tiring. I don't care about your negative comments. They are a reflection of you. Not me.

To the lovers out there - keep on loving. I love you all! 💓