4. Working with Sony
Guacamelee! was part of the Sony Pub Fund initiative. The Pub Fund works as follows: in exchange for a period of exclusivity Sony pays an agreed-upon amount to the developer after the game ships -- typically something approaching the budget of the project. This means the developer must fund their own project, but after the game ships they can be confident that they will at least make their budget back. The developer keeps ownership of their IP, and once Sony's payment is recouped the developer receives further royalties. This is a great model for developers who: A) can fund their own project, and B) greatly value a solid minimum return on their game.
Guacamelee! at Sony's press conference, E3 2012
Working with the Pub Fund was not our original plan, however. Although we talked to Sony about the Pub Fund near the beginning of the project, we did not reach an arrangement until almost a year later. In the meantime we were in negotiations with other publishers to ensure we could get a slot on XBLA, and we were close to striking such a deal before we came to terms with Sony.
In the end we were very happy with the Sony arrangement. It mitigated our financial risk and provided on-the-floor exposure for the game at trade shows we wouldn't have otherwise attended (E3, Gamescom, etc).
As mentioned, this came at the price of some exclusivity. To weigh the options we created a spreadsheet to work out the financial break-even point of an exclusive versus non-exclusive arrangement. That analysis, plus various intangibles (like placement at shows in the Sony booth and the risks associated with working with third party publishers), told us that the Pub Fund was the way to go.
In practice, working with Sony was fantastic. The Sony team focused on indie developers is passionate and in touch with the state of the scene. We never experienced undue pressure from them or unreasonable requests. Quite the opposite, what they offered were a series of excellent opportunities. For example, Sony put Guacamelee! in Vita kiosks at Best Buy stores, which no third party publisher could have accomplished.
Other Sony benefits: the spring sale and a Platinum trophy
For our previous two games public awareness wasn't quite what we hoped for. When we launched Tales From Space: About a Blob, we had never gone through the complete game launch process before and we had very little understanding of how to create awareness. We showed the game at PAX Prime, but struggled to get many preview articles written about it.
Members of the DrinkBox team were slightly visible at the IGF awards
Near the end of our second game, Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, we started working with a PR firm. We felt this was a good fit for us. Some teams do all their own media outreach, but this appears to rely on certain personality traits we weren't sure we possessed. In addition, we felt there was a lot we could learn from observing a PR firm in action.
For Guacamelee!, having deadlines driven by public shows meant we were constantly demoing the game, which helped get more articles written about it and acted as a long, slow burn on public awareness. Our PR firm also organized a press tour that helped build a strong awareness for the game leading into launch. Through our efforts we had proper previews, timely reviews and people seemed to generally know about the game.
How much was the increased awareness a result of our improved efforts versus a result of the game's intrinsic appeal? That's hard to say and we've struggled internally to assign concrete value to the different things we did, but regardless we can definitively say that we made substantial improvements in public outreach for this game.