Terraria dev saw a genre gap on consoles, and went for it
Minecraft-style sandbox games are making bank on Xbox Live -- the Xbox Live Arcade edition of Mojang's Minecraft has sold over 4 million copies in less than five months. And on Xbox Live Indie Games, CastleMiner Z moved more than 1 million units, while FortressCraft has raked in $1 million from its sales.
Other than Microsoft Studios helping bring Minecraft on XBLA, though, not many major publishers and developers have attempted to cash in on the craze, at least on consoles (Epic is creating its own take on the genre with Fortnite, but that's Windows-only so far).
"I'm not sure why the big studios and console developers haven't picked up on the sandbox idea already," says Re-Logic's Andrew Spink, one of the two fellows behind another hit sandbox game for PC, Terraria. "It seems like the indie crowd or smaller teams are the only ones getting it."
Publisher 505 Games sees the potential to reach a large console audience that's waiting for more downloadable games like these, and it took notice of Terraria's devoted fanbase; that's why it signed a deal to bring Terraria to XBLA and PlayStation Network early next year, enlisting Engine Software for the port.
Like Minecraft, Terraria has seen a lot of success on PC, selling over 1.6 million copies since releasing in May 2011, with very little publicity beyond word of mouth. Not bad for a project built by just two people.
The game was built with porting in mind, too, making it more attractive to interested publishers. "The idea has always been in my head to try to bring Terraria at least to XBLA. That was one of the big reasons I went with C# [and Microsoft XNA] to write the game in the first place," Spink explains to Gamasutra.
505 approached Re-Logic about bringing Terraria to consoles well before Mojang's game released to XBLA, but the publisher is certainly encouraged by Minecraft's performance. "It's hard not to notice how well Minecraft XBLA has done, and for us it was definitely interesting to see the nuts and bolts of how they handled the jump from PC," says 505's global brand manager John Merchant.
And it's not just the XBLA edition 505 is excited about. Merchant points out that this will be the first block-building type experience on PSN, so there's an opportunity there for companies to really tap into an audience that's been underserved so far.
He adds that it's certainly an attractive genre to publishers when they look at some of the aforementioned successes, but Merchant doesn't think it's one that companies can effortlessly jump into with a slipshod clone or generic title: "[It's] not a particularly easy genre to deliver on when you consider that you are delivering an endless canvas of construction and adventure."
Terraria for PC
Terraria isn't a sandbox game you would confuse with Minecraft's many clones, as its 2D world is made up of sprites that look like something out of a 16-bit RPG, instead of the 3D blocks that build Mojang's game. Merchant compares the feel of the game to Metroid and CastleVania, which he believes makes Terraria feel at home on a console.
That diferent visual take and feel, along with Terraria's multiplayer focus, Re-Logic's reputation for listening to its community and tweaking the game accordingly, and the already dedicated fanbase for the title, convinced 505 that partnering with Re-Logic would be a better plan than trying to pick up just any Minecraft-type game.
Both Spink and 505 expect more publishers are starting to pay closer attention to these kinds of games, and are searching for other similar titles from indies or small studios to scoop up for digital release. They might need to look hard to find one that will be a hit, though.
"No doubt other publishers will try and emulate the success [of other sandbox games], however you've got to have the community buzz behind you and also have that special something in terms of gameplay," says Merchant. "The consumer is very savvy to something that is just treading water."