Robot Tales: A Brief History of 60 Seconds!
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Our team was a bit of a sorry sight 12 months ago, hours before the release. I have been sleep deprived for almost half a year, but kept on pushing the coding effort to the limit. The rest of the studio fared no better and as the tests for our final release build were completed minutes before the launch, the feeling of relief was almost palpable.
That's when someone asked the question we did not dare consider before:
"So, how many copies will we sell in the first month?"
Any of these were equally likely for us. So was the last estimate...
- "Six... no, wait! Twelve!"
A month later over 29000 gamers were prowling the wasteland.
We were hoping to get at least 10 thousand copies of 60 Seconds! out there in the first year, in order to allow us to continue to working in relatively safe conditions, budget-wise. Our estimates turned out to be highly inaccurate. As of today, more than 200 thousand players decided to go on an atomic adventure of their own.
With these experiences and a more objective perspective than our dead tired selves could afford last May, we want to share our story with fellow developers and gamers. This is only the first of many Robot Tales to come, which will go into detail about all the adventures, good and bad, that we've experienced during our work on 60 Seconds! and other projects.
Today's episode - A brief history of 60 Seconds!.
Originally, 60 Seconds! was not planned as a standalone game. When we started the development, back in 2013, we intended to experiment with several new things for the benefit of other projects that we had in the works at the time. Most importantly, it was supposed to be a proving ground for using the Unity engine in our future games.
The idea behind 60 Seconds! was relatively simple and yet largely unexplored by the post-apocalyptic genre - what if a game about surviving the apocalypse would start just before the events that caused it. One minute before an atomic bomb obliterates your 1950s suburban neighbourhood, to be exact. With only 60 seconds to spare before the impending doom, the player was expected to quickly navigate their house and make rapid choices about which family members to rescue and what supplies to take with them to the fallout shelter. The gameplay was concluded with a story about the family's survival after the bombing, generated on the basis of player's decisions.
This concept looked great on paper and early prototypes had proven that it was quite captivating in practice. We felt it was so promising, that we chose to focus all of our energy on it. At the time it was not clear if this was the right way to proceed. With key team members busy at their full-time jobs, it left us very little room to manoeuvre, in case this project did not work out. As it turned out, we would not find out until the game got released in 2015.
60 SECONDS OR 60 MINUTES?
Some projects start off with ambitious goals and in the course of development need to be downsized. It was different with 60 Seconds! - our initial scope for the game was limited. Only after we started playing with the initial prototypes it came to us how much more we could reach for with our idea. Generating a story of the surviving family was interesting, but it seemed much more appealing to be a part of it and influencing what happened to them. This motivated us to expand the game by adding a second section - survival in the shelter.
This modification created a cohesive narrative. However, instead of 60 seconds, a single playthrough of the game could last up to 60 minutes, with the significant portion of the game spent in the fallout shelter. We really enjoyed the altered dynamic and a contrasting clash of the fast-paced scavenge run and the very claustrophobic, text based adventure nature of the survival gameplay. However, this presented us with additional challenges of the hugely increased scale and complexity of the game. And of course we were not sure if this bizarre idea of genre splicing would be appreciated.
GOOD ADVICE IS NOT ALWAYS GOOD
Although some of us had prior experience with game development, 60 Seconds! was to be the first independently released title for all of us. Because of the tiny team size, every single one of us had to wear many different hats to keep up with the amount of work required for the project to be finished. There were many firsts during our work on 60 Seconds! and we felt some advice from more veteran game developers would help us a lot. Even if that would not be the case, it is always a good idea to gather external feedback from individuals who are less biased than the development team and can offer valuable production-grade advice.
Some of the tips we were given had proven to be very helpful. However, significant portion of the pointers we received suggested that the unorthodox genre mixing will be our undoing and the game will not succeed. This was sound, rational advice, which resonated with our initial concerns. It was also incorrect. Had we followed it, 60 Seconds! might have been abandoned, severely limited or simply become less appealing and original. Challenges encountered during development may not necessarily be explicit obstructions.
Our inexperience in terms of independent game publishing manifested itself in several mistakes that we have made in terms of marketing. One of the most significant of them was waiting far too long with revealing the game. When we eventually did in September 2014, we decided to show it off soon after on our very first expo event. The amount of interest we received from gamers was highly motivating. It also translated into valuable feedback that helped us polish the game, making it more accessible and captivating for our future players. This was a turning point for us. Thus far the only people who were convinced that the project was a good idea were the members of our team. Suddenly, this was no longer the case. Our determination was boosted in a way we did not expect. This prompted our team members to abandon their full time jobs a few months later and fully focus on finishing the game.
GREENLIGHT AND THE TRAILER
We did not lack resolve and enthusiasm, but we did lack a community of players waiting for the game. People who were interested in 60 Seconds! thus far were few in numbers and not really grouped in any way. We knew that this had to change sooner or later and decided to make the best of our upcoming Steam Greenlight campaign in late February 2015. We produced our very first trailer for the game and thoroughly prepared to showcase the best features of the game.
We thought we might be able to get through Greenlight in maybe two weeks. It took less than five days. The reactions from Steam players surpassed our expectations. Any doubts that we still had about our potential to finish the game vanished. We were almost ready for a home run.<br/><br/>
Following the successful Greenlight campaign, we decided to set the launch date for the 25th of May 2015. Three months seemed like enough time to finish our work. In a way it was also the latest time we could afford to release the game at. We were funding the development ourselves and unfortunately with our full time jobs gone, our budget reserves could not be infinitely stretched. We originally hoped that 60 Seconds! would be ready by March 2015, but we were unable to compromise our full time jobs and the amount of remaining development work. Emotions were running high and soon we found ourselves in a constant rush of pre-release adrenaline.
Just a week before the launch, we were showcasing the game on a local game developer conference. Between presentations and hot fixing the expo build, we found ourselves with some new, valuable feedback that convinced us to introduce a new, core gameplay feature. There were quite a few bugs we had to fix after the launch, but despite the fact that the fore mentioned feature was implemented in a 48 hour game jam equivalent craziness, it never caused any technical issues. Crazy work mode continued until the release day and we just barely made it. But in the end, we did.
A few days before the launch we had a chance to watch the very first stream of 60 Seconds!. Most viewers of that stream were actually our team members. It was a very enjoyable moment for us. Exhausted and barely standing, we were able to admire what we have created and it felt good. That stream was happening because of a minor thing we did a few weeks earlier. To make a press impact for the launch, we decided to spend some money on marketing. We found a company to help us with a press release and contacting press outlets for $300. Having done little marketing work, save for the effective trailer, attending a few events, some social media activity and the successful Greenlight campaign, we thought any push in that area could make a difference. And it did! The buzz that was generated thanks to that move focused the attention of smaller gaming sites, Youtubers and streamers on 60 Seconds!. Suddenly we found ourselves with plenty of requests for press copies of the game. The word was spreading, first pre-release previews and reviews started appearing all over the place.
All that was left for us was to keep our fingers crossed. As we managed to upload the last build and push the release button five minutes after the planned release time, we sat down and started refreshing the Steam sales page. We kept refreshing it for the next two days straight in 60 second intervals. No pun intended.
Not even a month had passed and 60 Seconds! was all over the place. With a few clever and simple decisions we were able to support the launch: not only did we schedule it in a time that was relatively free from big releases and their marketing noise (due to the upcoming E3), but also positioned ourselves just three weeks ahead of the 2015 Steam Summer sale. With the price of our game set at $9.99 60 Seconds! was constantly featured in one or more slots on the Steam's front page for over a month.
Although a lot of our players found the game through Steam, Let's Players provided us with a respectable stream of their curious viewers. In some cases, like Poland, most of the sales could be attributed to the buzz generated by Youtubers. Between checking all their new videos, reading the reviews and taking care of our community (this effectively became a full time job) we were able to get some much needed sleep and started working on patches and new content for the game. The future was looking bright.
EXPANDING AND INDIECADE
Skip ahead a few months. It's September 2015 and the game has been out for a while. Despite our concerns that the initial success had been a lucky break that would not last long, 60 Seconds! held strong and was warmly received by players. To further promote the game, we were preparing to visit a number of expos, festivals and conferences. The first DLC was almost ready. It brought new features and content, including 50 pages of text to expand the original textual content of 150 pages. Although we were ignored by higher profile gaming press outlets, the self-driven, bottom-up marketing did wonders for the game.
We were also very happy that a lot of people praised our fresh approach to the post-apocalypse genre and an original combination of scavenge and survival sections of the game. Among them was the IndieCade Festival jury, which decided to nominate 60 Seconds! and include it in the festival finals.
Things seemed much calmer than before the launch and yet we found ourselves with plenty of work and keeping up with our community.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS
Come January, many decide about their New Year's resolutions. In a way, so have we. With an intense and exciting 2015, we were keen to keep the pace and venture into new territories, both as a studio and the developers of 60 Seconds!. With the announcement of the upcoming DLCs and plans to bring 60 Seconds! to more platforms, our ambitions for the year to come were set.
THE MONTH OF YOUTUBERS
After all the experiences of 2015, we did not expect any major surprises from 60 Seconds! in 2016. We were obviously very interested to see how it would fare on new platforms, but we did not anticipate to see Youtube playing any bigger part than it already did. And yet, in the course of a single month, two major Youtubers (Markiplier and PewDiePie) picked up the game and made videos about it. The result? Best sales month of the year. No one saw that coming! We would love to see more surprises of that calibre.
25TH OF MAY 2016
Here we are today, celebrating the first anniversary of the release of 60 Seconds!. Although Robot Gentleman has been around for a few years, it is fair to say that we really came to be only after publishing our first title. It also allowed us to continue operating as a fully independent studio, pursuing the kind of projects that we find enticing. We are hoping this is only the beginning of our exciting journey and that further adventures await.