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Why we made a Zombie DLC for our racing game
by Giorgio Ciapponi on 05/19/14 01:07:00 pm   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.

 

Real World Racing is our top-down racing game, using aerial imagery and geared toward simulative gameplay, published on Steam last December. With sales dead in the water, we made a zombie themed DLC as a thought provoking statement on the health of the industry and as a desperate outcry for visibility.

For reference, the game's Steam store page can be found here.

Real World Racing has a distinctive and recognizable Google Maps feel to it, which clearly states its core concept, selling point and appeal.

Licensing, processing and enhancing the source material took some work, as did crafting a full-featured game which includes over 60 tracks and 80 vehicles, a Career with more than 10 different event types, Arcade modes with in-game and Web leaderboards and two multiplayer modes, including even a card-collecting progression mode.

All of this was done by a 2 to 7 people team with proven experience in delivering finished and fair production value titles since the PS2 era, working on the project as needed over the course of more than 2 years.

In the end, as we reached the final release build, we thought we did a pretty good job for a downloadable budget racer, resurrecting a mostly dead genre and producing an original game, that hadn't been previously done.

There was no way we were prepared to have our honest, mid-sized game with a yet untapped idea that made a few headlines, met with such cold indifference. We had to do something, even if it meant alienating the few people that noticed and cared about our game. We released a zombie DLC, in order to provoke criticism, to be seen and tell everybody that there are tens or thousands of quality games that go unnoticed in Steam’s library.

When we read stories such as the recent Towns development uproar we can’t help to grow angry. To date we sold about 2% of their claimed copies, we are struggling to keep our game alive, we update it as regularly as we can, we talk and answer directly to any question our users ask on the game’s Steam forums, no matter how inconvenient. Two DLCs have been released and more free content is planned, as well as at least one more DLC.

Our game might not be flawless, but we are doing our best to keep it polished and supported in spite of utter lack of any commercial success, for the sake of our few, dedicated players, until we are forced to stop game development altogether.

Working on your game with care and passion for years, struggling through indie self-publishing, communicating with honesty and dedication with your audience and doing your best to keep improving their experience through months after release is in itself rewarding, but can, and probably will, lead to 4-digits sales. Even if a overwhelming majority of players recommends your game.

We feel that we have come to a point in the gaming industry, where releasing unfinished alphas or betas for an inflated price, now called Early Access, or inserting the Z word in a trite game, rewards a developer more than pushing into new areas and heightening the production value of their game. We wish we did not have to put the Z in RWR.


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Comments


Wes Jurica
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I'm not sure exactly how I feel about this. Because you thought that the gaming public rejected your game, you put the resources into developing a sarcastic DLC.

My brother and I own the game and the biggest problem for us is the unrealistic handling that doesn't match the beautiful aesthetics. It is very floaty and inconsistent. If you were to change the car models to jet bike I think the handling would be a better fit.

I have been following this game since it popped up on IndieGames.com and my impression from all the prerelease media was that this would be top-down simulation game (maybe a Forza-meets-SuperSprint). Upon playing the game I realized this wasn't the case. I see it as a missed opportunity that your team didn't spend the Z development time overhauling the vehicle physics to use the Pacejka Formula (http://www.racer.nl/reference/pacejka.htm). Here is an example of what that can do in a top down racer (http://www.psytronik.net/games/ACR_Demo_v2.2.zip). Considering the age of the game, I'm sure your team could take it much further.

Anyway, it might be best not to blame others for your failures, especially the customer. Ever watched the Kitchen Nightmares show with Gordon Ramsay? The owners always blame the customers for not knowing what tastes good even when a world class chef tells them their food is not good.

I hope your team can revamp the game and get the word out again. I know this game can be awesome!

Robert Green
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I haven't played RWR, but taking a quick look at metacritic I'm inclined to agree. The game has 3 critic reviews with an average of 63.3 and a user score of 5/10. This is a hit driven business with a huge amount of competition, so expecting an average game to be a commercial success is always going to be unreasonable. I mean no disrespect, but I've seen a few blog posts lately that come across as "this industry must be broken, because my great game lost money", and then when you actually look into the game, you find it's more that the game was just one among the thousands (or tens of thousands on mobile) of unexceptional titles in any given year.

karlo kilayko
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I strongly agree with Wes Jurica and Robert Green. You may have worked really hard, and even created an awesome game, but your tone of anger and frustration with being "met with such cold indifference" undermines all of your effort. Here are your options: 1) try harder, 2) give up.

I am a huge fan and supporter of indie games, but your "what's wrong with you people?" post makes me disinclined to support your efforts. You don't seem to have a good understanding or appreciation of the capricious nature of the game business. Good luck!

Joshua Wilson
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No matter how good or innovative a game is it still needs a market to sell to. My gut feeling is that vehicle racing is a bit of a niche market on PC (I may be wrong on that but it certainly seems to be a bigger draw and move more copies on console) and then you've targeted a sub-genre of that which you say yourself was a "mostly dead genre" to begin with.

And by all accounts you didn't really hit it out of the park - high production values doesn't always mean high quality.

So I guess my point is that it seems a bit of a stretch to blame the game industry or the market for the game's failure to sell.

Survival (and by extension zombies) are a cultural thing at the moment. Not just in games. There will always be something like that (for a long time it was WW2) but plenty of games are successful without pandering to it.

Steven Day
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This is the first I have heard of this game and it does interest me such that I will look it up on Steam when i get home.

However, I have to say Wes Jurica's comments above already concern me as how the vehicles handle is probably THE most important thing for me.


edit: Having checked it out on Steam and bought it seeing as it's only £2 (80% off), I have to say the marketing for it on Steam is not that great and would not have induced me to pay the full price. Their just seems to be too much focus on flashy graphics and not enough on what the game is actually like to play, no notion of if I can modify the setup of the cars or how different cars handling changes etc

Not trying to bash, this is a game that interests me but i think you need to work on marketing - because I have also never heard of it till this blog.

Kenneth Nussbaum
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I think theirs a big discussion around indie games regarding doing something you believe or focusing on the consumer. I'm not going to suggest you didn't succeed because you made a bad game cause i believe that you didn't, but your target audience may be one that prefers the tried and true formula and wants familiarity over innovation. The difference in purchasing trends between a FPS fan and a JRPG fan are radically different. It seems niche games don't always need polish to be successful but seek to fill a need their audience didn't realized they had rather than delivering an improved version with a mix of familiar concepts. A great example of this is mercenary kings, its a beautiful game and has alot of character, but the elements just weren't innovative so much as they were borrowed and they just didn't work together.

Daniel Lau
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I'm just sorry you couldn't afford a Mac port.

Neal Nellans
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I can certainly understand your disappointment, but I think you should try to be less bitter with the public reception of your efforts and consider it a opportunity to learn something.

You seem to feel that early access release to development software is a negative thing, but it using that method of development would have helped you better make decisions about that your customer base wanted, or if the game should have been dropped. Rather than wasting time building assets and DLC that none of your players are interested in, you could have been getting valuable feedback from testers about what was working and what was not while at the same time building a community of players who would spread the word about your game.

John Bagoode
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All that I could gather from this article was:"WAAH. Why can't everybody appreciate my artistic vision. WAAAH. Every popular game is rubbish, because I didn't make it." This is childish.

Amir Barak
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Any chance of this coming to a non-DRM platform?

Beyond that though; did "putting the Z into RWR" help in any shape or form? Did you see a boost in sales?

Why would adding zombies constitute as controversy? every second game has zombies nowadays...

Having a "the customers are idiots" approach might be alright internally (to a point anyway) but as a public attitude I don't think it adds much to your marketing strategy.

In the end sometimes our best efforts fail. Heck we're towards the end of a Kickstarter effort that's been less stellar than we needed :P we can either be bitter about it or pull up our sleeves, try harder and go at it again.

Giorgio Ciapponi
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Amir, I'll answer your specific questions below. Please consider the general reply I posted below, regarding the general tone of my post.

Our game has been DRM-free for a few months before making through Greenlight and being migrated to Steam. We had to choose whether to completely implement Steam's features, particularly multiplayer matchmaking, or just have the bare essentials and keep our matchmaking server and pre-existing features. Planning on supporting the game as a "live" effort, the sensible choice, beneficial for the vast majority of the players, was to go with the Steam only version, as maintaining two versions and adding features isn't feasible for our small team.

It's early to tell if "the Z" has had the desired effects. We are indeed seeing a higher than expected amount of new players. Still extremely low, mind you, but definitely more than the few hundreds copies moved by the launch of the first "regular" DLC.

Adding zombies in a self-declared "serious" racing game which we willingly left almost arcade-mechanics-free, does seem controversial to us. Even more so given that our few early fans were especially satisfied by the inclusion of real car models, engine sounds and similar "hardcore" racing game features.

Good luck with your game!

Giorgio Ciapponi
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Hello everybody and thank you for contributing to the discussion.

To shed some light on how this post came to be, it was originally sent out as a letter to a few journalists. I have since been invited by a Gamasutra editor to sign up and post it here. It does indeed reflect our team's internal thoughts and is probably more personal than it should have been to be fit for public reading.

Aside from that, I'd like to try and point out that the point of the post is not to blame others for what amounts to a failure crafted by our own hands and with our own choices in a market we didn't know well enough.

That said, the discussion this wanted to start is: the market has changed. Certain marketing techniques are now required for a small or mid-sized developer to emerge, that, in our experience over the years, weren't needed before. We failed and didn't account for this. Does it feel fair, or does it diminish the importance of the actual development of the game too much in the equation?
Is everybody else making a niche game like ours aware that the game itself, regardless of its quality, couldn't be enough to be noticed by the users, given the enormous offer found on gaming portals?

Wes Jurica
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That last sentence still has the same misguided feeling as the original post, to me. You blame your struggles on marketing failures and getting noticed. Isn't it possible that you just didn't make the "right game"?

Steam's user reviews don't tell the whole story. The problem with them is that there is only room for those that loved it and those that hated it to voice their opinion. With regards to your game, I personally don't fall into either of those categories. My ambivalence means you won't ever see my opinion on Steam. Maybe they need an undecided (-) option.

Years ago I wondered why Microsoft didn't make a Forza Mini Motorsports top-down racing game. Something a tiny bit less hardcore than the full Forza that would be easy to pick up and play. This is what it seemed you guys were shooting for but the driving is not up to par. For a racing game, that is the thing that can make or break it.

You are right about the overall quality of your game. It is well put together, looks nice and runs smooth (at least on my setup). Quality isn't enough. You need to strike a cord with your audience. If you do that, you won't need to spend any time or money on marketing, as we found out with our niche, hardcore, mixed racing-genre game. If anything, quality was what we were lacking most but the core gameplay was there. Look at all the AAA games that fail to find success even with the huge marketing budgets. They missed the mark in some way and failed to find that thing that mattered most to players.

Robert Green
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Thanks for the clarification Giorgio, though I have one more question - what were your sales targets for RWR? I.E. What sort of numbers were you expecting before you launched?

Giorgio Ciapponi
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Hi Robert,
I'd say a sales figure at least approaching 6 digits would within the first 6 months could have been regarded as a success, as it would have allowed to cover development costs and planning what could come next.
That is why I mentioned Towns in the post: even one third of thsoe sales could have sufficed to get somewhere and stay afloat for a while longer.

Robert Green
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That's understandable. The reason I ask though, ties back to this recent analysis of steam games by ars technica:
http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2014/04/steam-gauge-do-strong-revie
ws-lead-to-stronger-sales-on-steam/

If you scroll down to the graph of median sales by review score, you'll see that the median game in the 60-69 group is sitting at around 50,000 estimated sales, which is well short of a six-figure. This does not diminish the points you were trying to make in this blog, of course, but it does highlight one of the most important aspects of the PC gaming space - that the most reliable way to sell a lot of units is to make a great game.

Steven Day
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I read the comments in this blog and I do find it frustrating that people are just assuming this is not a good game. It is. There are some weaknesses but every game ever released has weaknesses - including behemoths like WoW.

You simply can't look at metacritic review scores and believe that is indicative of the quality of a game. I believe Diablo (the first one) got slated by reviewers as being mindless button mashing with no depth that would become boring in short order.


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