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Slime Rancher's lead developer tells us about his Early Access success

August 11, 2017 | By Bryant Francis

A couple weeks ago, Slime Rancher plorted its way out of Steam Early Access (and the Xbox Preview program) and into our hearts. Since it’s been a while since we talked to the game’s lead developer, Nick Popovich, we decided to invite him onto the Gamasutra Twitch channel for a conversation about the art and business of ranching slimes. 

We’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk to developers who’ve used Early Access and similar programs over the last few months, and it was really enlightening to hear Popovich give some solid insight into what worked for developer Monomi Park. 

You can watch our full conversation with Popovich up above, but just in case you’re trying to ranch some slimes yourself right now, we’ve collected a few plorts of wisdom for your consumption below. 

Open development doesn’t mean sharing everything with your players

Popovich and his colleagues have had a lot of prior experience working in the live games business, which led them to develop Slime Rancher as though it were an MMO experience rather than a single-player one. This meant that Monomi Park spent a lot of time updating players about what features were coming down the pipe, but Popovich argues it was important to not tell players about ALL upcoming features in order to manage expectations. 

There are two reasons to adopt this tactic, as Popovich told us. The first is that pleasant surprises become a natural part of your development cycle, and the second is that it helps manage expectations for features whose development may take more or less time than you expected (Or manifest different results than what you predicted).

Solid prototyping advice, and ways to do early testing

Later in our talk, Popovich retread some of the ground he covered in his GDC Postmortem of Slime Rancher in order to explain the specific prototyping process that Monomi Park uses. To sum it up, Popovich says it’s important to build the one core “fun” part of your game as quickly as possible (think the Portal gun from Portal or Mario’s jump), and to test your game with friends and newcomers, asking both of them if they think the game is ready to be sold, based on its current state of existence. 

Even if you know the game is far from ready to hit Steam, Popovich explained that those two feedback sets will help you understand where to go next in development. 

The importance of “home”

As Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft has noted multiple times, Slime Rancher’s environment is just a nice place to exist in. Popovich replied that there’s actually a lot of thought put into the game’s pleasantness, to try and create an environment he calls “home” in video games. 

But to clarify this, “home” for Popovich isn’t just the ranch area that anchors the Slime Rancher experience, it’s the core exploration and farming loop that’s inspired by games like Diablo and Destiny. In those games, he argues that one reason players find them so comforting is that the basic quest/grinding system is so pleasant to just exist in, and lets players idly engage in a game’s mechanics while preparing for a larger experience in those games or another game. 

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel. 

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