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Bombball Postmortem
by E McNeill on 07/02/13 06:46:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Bombball is an abstract sports game that I released on the OUYA last week, on 6/26, one day after the OUYA launched. The game was inspired by Hokra and the indie eSports panel at last year’s IndieCade, and it was first created for Kill Screen’s 10-day CREATE game jam, for which it won a minor award.

First, some juicy sales metrics! After six days of being featured, Bombball has been downloaded about 8000 times and has actually sold 46 full copies (at $4.99 and $2.99 after a recent discount). It’s still early, but I feel that this was a weak launch, and I figured that now was a good time to do some public reflection on the project. I’ll start with the good:

 

WHAT WENT RIGHT

1. Gameplay

During the game jam that spawned Bombball, I knew there were a few things I wanted to focus on: a high skill ceiling, spectator-friendliness, good local multiplayer, and simple mechanics. The version that won the game jam delivered on these goals pretty solidly, but the game was still a little awkward in places. It wasn’t until I demoed the game at a San Diego indie meetup and got feedback from other designers that the game finally got whittled down to its current form.

It’s a small game with simple mechanics, but I’m very proud of how it plays. I achieved my design goals, and although it hasn’t reached a large audience, the people who have played it seem to enjoy it too. My favorite bit of affirmation:

2. Visuals

Bombball started out with my usual ugly prototype art. When the time came to finish the game jam version, I gave myself some constraints (highly saturated colors, no black) and made the best programmer art that I could, but it still looked very amateurish to my eyes.

The art was completely transformed after I got put in touch with Will Stallwood, the genius designer from Cipher Prime, who generously agreed to help out with the art style. He completely redesigned the visuals, introducing a crazy awesome shifting-prism look. While we weren’t able to bring it up to Will’s own high standard in time for release, I’m still immensely pleased with the gorgeous new graphics.

Here’s a look at how the game evolved from prototype to game jam version to released product (and check the trailer to see it in motion):

3. Music

While trawling for some Creative Commons audio during the game jam, I was reminded of the incredible music in Brendon Chung’s Atom Zombie Smasher, and I decided to go for a similar surf-rock-inspired soundtrack. I was lucky enough to find enough CC-licensed audio for the game jam version, but I was initially at a loss when I needed to expand the track list.

Royalty-free licensed music saved me. I found a few sites that were selling the sort of music I was looking for, and I bought tracks from a few different sites, but I ultimately found my best stuff on shockwave-sound.com, thanks largely to their excellent search function. A composer named Pierre Gerwig Langer had a collection of polished, professional, energetic surf rock that fit my needs completely. Most of the tracks in the final game come from him, and I’ve heard more than a few people comment that this music is their favorite part of the game.

 

WHAT WENT WRONG

1. Bad Scheduling

The CREATE game jam was in January. After winning, I knew that I would want to develop the game further for a release on the OUYA, but I figured it would take me about 1 month, or maybe 3 months at max. I hoped to get the game out before the console started shipping to Kickstarter backers.

Instead, it took nearly 6 months. Some of that was due to my own slowness (see below), but it was also because I waited too long to find an artist. I finally did get a talented artist to agree to work on the game, but then it took until mid-June before he was able to get started in earnest. Then, he got sick soon before launch, and I had to crunch for the last few days alone. In the end, I missed the OUYA’s official launch, though only by one day.

2. Wasting Time

During the time I was waiting to get started on the art, I barely got anything done on my own. I should have been more actively finding ways to improve the game, or working more ambitiously on other major projects, but instead I puttered around on features that I never really expected to include in the game (side note: online multiplayer is very difficult to do with a fast physics-based game). When I finally showed the game off to other indies, I was able to get some good revisions done, but that was an exception to the general pattern of waste. I lost months of time thanks to my own inability to focus or temporarily move on from the game.

3. Lack of Playtesting

I can excuse a dearth of playtesting for the game jam, since there was never much time to do anything except finish the game. But even during the long period of slow development described above, I never played the game with anyone other than a couple of friends and a few indies at a single meetup. The feedback was useful and largely positive, but there wasn’t enough of it to actually make informed decisions, and I still worry that the final version of the game has poorly balanced AI and other issues.

4. Narrow Audience

I’m proud of Bombball, but it’s ultimately a game that’s built for local multiplayer with controllers. That’s a limited audience, and a rough bet for any indie. The OUYA seemed like the perfect system for this type of game, but now it's apparent that its audience is smaller than I had hoped for at launch, and from what I can tell, only a small portion of those who download Bombball ever play a multiplayer game with it.

Let me interject here that I love the OUYA team, and I support their ambitions. They’ve been great to me, from early dev support to featuring the game after release. Still, the system didn’t live up to my hopes as a developer. It was a tall order for them from the beginning, but I still find myself a little disappointed.

5. Poor Marketing

A few OUYA games released early, got some attention and traction, and were mentioned in most of the reviews of the system. Bombball, in contrast, released silently a day after the system launched, and probably owes most of its downloads to the fact that it got featured. Some of this weak reception can be blamed on the fact that the game doesn’t have an easily marketable high concept; it’s abstract and simple and only interesting when you play it or see it played. It’s not a game that sells itself. It’s just a fun local multiplayer action game, and that niche is also occupied by more prominent games like Towerfall and BombSquad.

This issue also ties back, in large part, to the scheduling problems mentioned above. For a long time, I knew that the game was going to radically transform once the new art came in, but I didn’t have any of that new art to show. I was reticent to market my game to the press or to OUYA owners before I had the sexy new look. When the art was finally ready, I was too busy implementing it to focus on promotion. I didn’t even have a trailer finished until a couple days after release. The game got a couple of nice mentions in the press, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be one of the more talked-about titles on the OUYA.

6. Flawed Monetization

Bombball released with 10 free rounds of multiplayer and unlimited singleplayer for the easy and medium levels of AI. This seemed like a good idea since the game is focused on local multiplayer, and I thought that hooked players would quickly want to access the hard AI too. Unfortunately, based on the comments I saw online, most players seemed to focus on singleplayer, and they were satisfied with the easier AIs. I only sold about 35 copies at a $4.99 price point with this scheme, and that’s after fixing an issue in which the option to buy the full game was unnecessarily hard to find. I recently updated the game to put the medium level of AI behind the paywall (which felt bad to do retroactively, but also felt necessary) and simultaneously drop the price to $2.99; whether this will be any more successful remains to be seen, but I’m reluctant to go much further.

 

WHERE TO NOW?

As you might gather from above, my belief is that I succeeded in making a great little game, and that most of the problems came from the process of the development and release of the game. At this point, Bombball is “done”, but there are a number of places it could still go. I’ve submitted the game to a few festivals (fingers crossed for IndieCade 2013!), and it sounds like several small, indie-friendly, controller-based platforms might be worth looking at. MOGA, Project Shield, PS Mobile, the new iOS controller API, the rumored Google OUYA-like console, et cetera could all be possible homes for the game, though I’m not sure if any will really work out.

Also, since this is a Unity project, I have a PC/Mac version available. If anyone reading this is interested in playing this game on their computer (hopefully with a controller nearby (and ideally with some friends to play against)), shoot me an email (address found here) and I’ll gladly send a free copy! More than anything else, I want my game to get played.

@E_McNeill
Cross-posted from my blog


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Comments


Peter Eisenmann
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Thanks for that! Could you elaborate your disappointment regarding the system?

E McNeill
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Just the reach and market reception. It's obviously still very early, but I was hoping for a bigger splash at launch. I don't see a ton of enthusiasm among gamers or press, and I was hoping that I'd get bigger download numbers after launch.

That said, there are some games that are having much more success than mine, and the rate of downloads for Bombball is not dropping off very quickly. So it's possible that I'm just being a worrywort, or that Bombball is just being received poorly despite ample opportunity.

Peter Eisenmann
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I think the comment section of the last feature on Ouya (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/195047/Ouya_launch_Great_poten
tial_for_devs__lets_see_where_it_goes.php) touched the point of low launch impact.
Basically, the system is not too interesting for AAA developers, and indie games, even high quality ones, usually don't make too much of a splash in the mainstream world.

Kujel s
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@Peter sadly the mainstream only seems to care about graphics and not gameplay. I judge games based on gameplay more then anything but I know the mainstream looks at graphics more then anything.

Peter Eisenmann
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My opinion is that very often, you cannot divide the two. (Imagine Battlefield 3 with identical gameplay but abstract graphics - it would not work.)
But I know what you mean. Photorealistic screenshots and bombastic videos are easy to sell. A 16-color image with some moving balls a lot harder.

James Coote
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I'm kinda in the same boat with my game. Local multiplayer on OUYA, but not making a big impact in what is already a small market. However, going to be dedicating the next three months to just marketing / improving and adding to the game. I get the impression you've just kinda stuck it on the store and hoped for the best

I'd be interested to see how MOGA/PS Mobile/etc go for you. Been considering going towards PS4/Xbox one/Steambox, but MS seem at best indifferent to indies, and Steambox is so veiled in secrecy, wouldn't even know where to start

Kujel s
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Out of curiosity what is your game James, I might check it out if it's single player as I'm not big into multiplayer and I have a hard time getting the misses to play any kind of multiplayer with me.

James Coote
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Ah my game's no good to you then. It basically only really works when you've got 3 friends sat on the couch next to you. You can play it in "pass the controller" mode though if you just want to mess around on your own and get the idea of the game.

It's called "Executive Star"

E McNeill
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I didn't intend originally to "just stick it on the store", but I missed my opportunity to market it ahead of time, as described in the article. Since then I've been contacting some press, but admittedly I don't see a great opportunity to make it big after-the-fact, and on a personal level, I'm not interested in continuing development on the game much further.

Kujel s
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@James oh I tried that one, I had high hopes for it but it didn't really grab me. I lean more towards singleplayer games (mostly RPGs, strategies, action adventures, etc). I should point out that I liked the concept but I had a very hard time understanding how to actually play.

Tomiko Gun
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Your major fault was your price point. Your game will be a hard sell at 99 cents. You just wasted that OUYA "feature." Those 8000 people that are so used to seeing 99 cent games on mobile would gladly fork the money down for a game that they enjoyed. But $4.99 for this (now $2.99)? Please, you're living in the past.

E McNeill
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Except that my previous game, Auralux (http://auraluxgame.com), which actually is a mobile game, uses a similar system and prices its content at $3-10, and has sold very well. Throw in the fact that Towerfall is priced at $15, and that most OUYA games are priced above $0.99, and my belief that people will pay above a dollar is at least not totally naive.

Tyler King
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$.99 is not a sustainable business model for ouya right now. I don't know how many units have been sold worldwide, but I think they sold around 63,000 units from kickstarter or something like that. So let's say they have quadrupled that number since then that would mean that they would be somewhere around 250,000 units(Just a random number). I can't find release numbers and I'm very skeptical that they are that high. Maybe I'm wrong though.

Anywho with there only being that many units out there and already so many other games out there it is going to be harder and harder to get good market penetration. So let's say you get lucky and get 5% to buy your game at $0.99. That means that your game made $13,000, take away the 30% Ouya takes(If I remember correctly.) and you are left with $9100, now take away taxed money and you are left with pocket change for a game that took 3-6 months to make.

As an indie any money is good money, but that is in no way sustainable. For devs to be able to survive off only making $0.70 per copy sold there needs to be millions of Ouyas out there. So that the sheer numbers can make up for the fact that the games are being sold so cheaply. It is the only reason why the app store can function the way it does. Without big device numbers devs have to sell their content for a higher price, or accept that the Ouya will always only be a hobbyist console.

nicholas ralabate
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Hey, thanks for the writeup! Did you ever consider releasing the multiplayer version for free and the one-player version for money, or vice-versa?

E McNeill
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I wouldn't want to actually make split versions, and I think the current version splits it fairly well. You get unlimited singleplayer, but only on the easy difficulty, and you get limited multiplayer. It's try-before-you-buy without giving the whole thing away.

Matt Small
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Seems like you're giving to much away for free. Is it to late to change your monetization? Maybe just give away a couple of single player levels and then charge for more?

Diego Leao
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I would second that, I can't see why someone would buy your game if they are happy with what they got. I have at least 3 games on my phone that I'm so happy with what they given me in the demo that I never got to buy them.

Sometimes, all you want is that 30 minutes of fun and you're done. But I pay for those 30 mins if there is no choice (the demo is short). After all, it is supposed to inspire you to buy, not give a chunk of the game for free.

At least release a follow up, a "quick sequel", that it is paid. Don't put much effort into it, though, as you might discover that your game just doesn't sell either way. As you said, your concept is not very "marketeable".

John Flush
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from a consumer standpoint, OUYA needs help. Beyond a name no one can say without feeling like they said it wrong, I had no idea so much focus was on local multiplayer. Until this article I really didn't give too much interest into the console, I've looked through their website, shitty lite-boxes and all (ctrl+click that stuff, every link it bad? that is when I realized they have a crappy website), and I didn't notice it selling lots of local multiplayer (only their 'play with friends' tag).

As a developer by day and playing games with my kids at night I can say right now Castle Crashers, Minecraft and Terraria have dominated the gaming TV... I just wish there was more selection along those lines. This article has made me think again about the device again though.

James Coote
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There are 25-30 local multiplayer games or games that support local multiplayer on the OUYA. So about 1/4 of the games currently on the store.

Jeremy Reaban
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It's funny though, indie games are the darling of the press (and gamers) when they are on the right system (ie, those released by giant megacorporations), but not on an actual indie console.

According to NeoGaf, ouya games are "phone games" and the whole thing is a joke. But the Vita on the other hand, is the greatest thing ever. At least when it gets old ports of Indie games from the PC. Actual indie titles on PS Mobile, not so much. (Rymdkapsel is the only real exception)

Joe Program
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What license did you go for your music on shockwave-sound? I'd love to incorporate more music into my games, but have found the complexity of music licensing to be a huge turn off. For example, would you have to upgrade from a Standard License to a Mass Market license, since you've "given away" the game 8000 times even though you've sold it 46 times?

Thanks!

E McNeill
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I went with the Standard license at first, but I will be upgrading to Mass Market since the game has been downloaded over 5000 times. Most sites seem to have a similar two-tier license system, which hasn't been too difficult for me so far.

Francisco Javier Espejo Gargallo
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I got my OUYA last week at last. I have been checking the store part of the weekend and still did not reach your game E McNeill, mainly because the theme of the game is not interesting to me. I'll download it along this week if I get time.

And about making money, I feel like OUYA got too much on the launch. I'll be trying games the next two or three weeks as everything can be tested. I don't know which game I'll be buying still, but I liked a few ones. Next week I'll prepare an article for the spanish gaming website for who I colaborate, trying to get more attention to the system, however, traditional gaming media needs time too to get interested on these type of platforms.

Gaming media has a problem too with the too big too broad market, as they need a lot more staff to cover everything. A lot of the media still isn't covering ioS and Android at it's fullest, and they will never do it as the number of releases is too big. That's why a lot of media is asking money to do coverage...

private hidden
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Hey EM,
I am one of the guys who purchased this game last week and have enjoyed it quite a bit. It's slick, fast, easy to pick up and generally "feels" right. Would something like a 4 player mode be something you'd consider, or would that steer away from the simplicity mantra?


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