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Building An Indie Studio In An Unlikely Place - Part 4

by Sergio Rosa on 11/28/11 12:15:00 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.

 

As you can read on my bio here, I'm the founder, partial owner, and "Somewhat-Creative Director" of The Domaginarium, an indie game development studio in El Salvador. We opened the studio in December 2010 and went through the process of shaping it and laying out the plan.

Disclaimer: Before I continue let me just say this is about sharing an experience, and not about writing a guide of "dos and don'ts" or giving you a plan on how to build your own studio in El Salvador or any other latinamerican country, in part because our plan/vision/experience is not the same as yours, and thus there's no reason why "our" plan should work on "your" company.

I missed last weeks post because there was too much going on at the studio, but here I am again.

Designing SteroidS.

I just wanted to mention this is not a postmortem. I'm not going to go through "what went right, what went wrong" since I think it's still too early for that.

The idea of the came up in a very unusual way, but it's an example on how a game concept can come up in unlikely situations. The producer and I were discussing about possible "arcade-style games" and I said something like "Remember Space Invaders and Asteroids? Well how about we take Asteroids, cross out the A, and come up with an excuse to why the game is titled 'steroids'? That's your game." However, when the joke was over, we realized the idea wasn't bad at all, as there are some games using the Asteroids formula (for example: Geometry Wars). So the next step was to think of the "excuse" to use the word, and we thought it would be cool if we had this guys shooting steroids to bad guys, and that steroids would make them stronger so you had to shoot them many times so these steroids would kill them.

(Just to clarify, I don't encourage the use of any type of drugs or enhancing "things").

And that's what pretty much the game is: SteroidS is Asteroids or Geometry Wars without the glowing geometric figures, but with shirtless guys running around. The idea is simple enough, and the mechanics work perfectly, but I've come to realize some people don't quite get it (more on that later).

We decided to go after a cartoony look since that would fit the entire mood of the game better. Besides, I didn't want to have the first arcade shooter with photorealistic big head dudes running around. Besides, a cartoony look allowed for a faster development cycle.

The game was developed in around 3 months, using a crew of 2 people, from concept to "final" release. I consider 3 months a pretty good development time compared to other indie games that could be considered as "simple" as SteroidS. I used quotes because we will be adding more stuff to it, but the current release is already comparable to other products, feature-wise. Unfortunately we didn't finish on time for the IGF, though.

In a way, it's like we're treating SteroidS as "game as a service" since the game will be constantly updated for some time. I think we, indie devs, can afford to do this since it's not insanely expensive to improve create more content for our games over time. Thanks to digital distribution we can patch and improve the game over time, while larger AAA games work more on a "fire and forget (after you're done with DLC)." This doesn't mean "release an unfinished game" unless you're going the alpha-funding route.

Launching.

You can find many indie video game marketing resources on the Internet, and many of them will start with something like "nobody cares about the game except yourself," which can be true when yours is a game nobody's ever heard about. There are some sites that will pick your news, ask for reviews and stuff (mostly indie-related sites), but others (mostly bigger sites) will not.

So far it's been about contacting people on gaming magazines, posting on forums, and also contacting gaming channels on Youtube. If we're lucky enough, people pick the news.

I think the biggest mistake so far was assuming our concept was clear enough and that the audience would fill out the blanks. I am not going to talk about how SteroidS is a "misunderstood game" because it's extremely original, since, as I just said, SteroidS is Geometry Wars without glowing figures, and with shirtless dudes instead. The problem is that small change was enough to confuse some people. For example, I got a comment on how SteroidS was a "mini-game" because there it doesn't have level progression and stuff like that, which is something isometric shooters have.

But SteroidS is not an "isometric shooter" but an "arcade shooter à la Asteroids."

By the way, I don't think I ever heard someone complain about games like Geometry Wars of being a mini-game for similar reasons.

So I realized that, while our idea of the game was clear, and when I pitched it to people it also was clear, when we wrote the "press material" the idea wasn't translated well enough. Maybe because whenever I pitched the idea I simply said "it's a Geometry Wars like game where you shoot dudes with an steroids gun, and they become faster," but when working on the press release it was something like "it's an arcade top-down shooter where you use an steroids gun..."

Lesson learned: we have to be clear with our ideas so people actually know what we're saying.

How I learned this: learning to ignore comments from "hardcore gamers" (or better say hardcore MWers) simply saying "this game sucks" because it's a simple arcade shooter, or saying "this game sucks" because "it doesn't take advantage of Unreal Technology." In other words, having thick skin and also cut through the crap (no pun intended) to find the comments that are useful.

As a matter of fact, reading those comments helped a little to shape version 2.0 (due in a couple of weeks or so).

Right now SteroidS is only available on Indievania, but other stores have expressed interest. Someone asked on a previous blog post if I'd write about digital distribution services (like Steam or GamersGate) on my "Building an indie studio" series. I plan to do that, but I obviously need more experiences with other stores before I can actually write anything about them, since right now I've only worked with Indievania.

So I think there are a few things that can be learned here:

1. An idea from a game can come up at any time, and even from the simple things. You don't need some Inception-leve concept to make a game.

2. Use the web to read what people are saying about your game based on actual gameplay experience or impressions from the news you posted, and use that to shape your following iterations.

3. Learn to write...


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