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3. Choosing the right engine, but not because of the rendering tech -- instead, as a step into digital distribution.
When we started working on our conceptual work with Zeno Clash we knew we would have to choose a solid engine. Several team members had experience with id Software engines (mainly the Quake III engine) and we knew we had to move on to something that had normal mapping support and all the latest technical features. The choice came down to whether we moved with the Doom 3 engine or Source. The main reason we chose Source was because of Steam.
When we started, only Valve games had been announced for sale via Steam, but we had a hunch the service would grow (and it obviously did). I personally believe that without digital distribution Zeno Clash would have never been possible. Since the game was too unconventional for publishers to want to take a leap of faith with it, its best chances were by getting it out through digital distribution. Zeno Clash eventually made contact with the retail market around the world, but only after proving itself through Steam.
While Valve's technology is fantastic and helped us greatly in many technical aspects of the game (and also has a strong community behind it), it was basically its strong ties to a solid digital distribution system which made us choose it.
4. An unusual stance on piracy.
Of all the press releases we issued I doubt any reached as many people or sparked as much discussion on the net as our open message to pirates, which was reported all over the web.
As with all PC games, it took a very short time for a pirated version of Zeno Clash to start being distributed via torrents and direct downloads. When we faced this situation, we knew we had little chance of doing anything.
So while I was checking the comments of the first pirated copies of the game (on torrent trackers of a popular website) I decided to step in and leave a post to the people who were downloading the game. The message was well-written, polite, and basically said that our income depended on sales and that the only way we could continue to develop games was if we made enough profit.
When a couple of gaming websites saw these posts, they immediately posted it as news, and the word spread out very quickly. The amount of exposure this produced was not the only big surprise for us; many people wrote to us saying that they had decided to purchase the game only because of the message. Not only that, but people started copying my original message and putting it on other torrent trackers and websites.
While I don't think a significant percentage of people who pirated the game changed their minds, I do believe that the event worked as a big accidental "marketing" strategy and helped create more awareness of the game. It also helped us project a good image of the studio.
5. Making a game from a "third world country".
I suppose few studios can choose where they want to build their projects, but in our case I feel making a game in Chile was far from a disadvantage, despite there not being a real industry here.
Game development costs mainly come from salaries, not the cost of licenses or technology. I believe that the reason that we were able to build such a project with very low resources is thanks to the fact that we live in a country that is not so expensive to live in.
This is obviously true for any kind of business, but as an indie game studio we receive sales / revenues in international currency -- mainly U.S. dollars. The conversion tends to be good for us. Whenever we hear about the budgets that U.S. and European studios spend for game development, even in cases of indie or small games, and compare that to the reality of how we started with Zeno Clash, we understand why there are so many reports that very few titles ever make any profit.
Now that Zeno Clash has been released, the studio is in a different situation. We don't have to make games from my living room anymore. But still, the costs of the studio remain considerably lower than those we'd expect from similar companies in the U.S. or Europe.