It's hard building a community when you have no personal or pre-existing fanbase. That's something every developer, big or small, has been dealing with in the age of Early Access. So how did the folks behind Brawlhalla find their way with a free-to-play Smash Bros-like fighting game?
That's exactly the question we sought to answer today while talking with executive producer Zeke Sparkes on the Gamasutra Twitch channel. And as it turns out, he had some really useful insight!
We've archived our full conversation with Sparkes up above for your convenience. But in case you're riding the fury road to Brawlhalla right now, here are some highlights from our chat that may be helpful.
Have a mostly-finished product before going on Early Access
Toward the end of our stream, a fellow game developer watching the stream asked Sparkes in Twitch chat about what they should do before going on Steam Early Access, without any real community to back them up. Sparkes' key advice was that they should try to make sure their game was on the pathway to being finished, rather than a product with key components being updated as it went. That way, per Sparkes, you have something to show to people and the ability to explain what the game will be when it's done.
When updating core mechanics, move slowly and methodically
Inspired by some recent changes to X-Wing Miniatures that caught our attention, we asked Sparkes about what it's like when you're publishing a live game and need to make fundamental changes to core mechanics that have been in the game since launch. As Sparkes explained, this is exactly what the Brawlhalla team went through when they rolled out a major change to their dash/dodge mechanic.
It was a months-long process that involved a slow rollout to the community to help them adjust to the changes, and in the process, they were forced to examine every attack with every character to ensure some sense of balance remained in the game. Sparkes said it was a long, grueling process, but in the end the community responded well to the change thanks to the slow rollout.
"Just do it."
A lot of our conversation with Sparkes revolved around building a community and a business around events, conventions, and Early Access. But one of Sparkes' best pieces of advice was that when it comes to certain challenges, it's better to jump in and roll with the punches than just plan your way into eternity.
For instance, when the Brawlhalla team realized that Twitch streaming would be vital for their marketing plan, they decided to start streaming the game themselves...except no one on the team knew how to start a stream. Rather than overplanning their way into a delayed project, they chose to set a date for when they would start streaming and in his words "just do it."
Sparkes says you can see how rough those results were in the Brawlhalla Twitch archives, but he says it was worth it since it gave the team experience and confidence to try again and again, fixing their mistakes along the way.
For more developer interviews, editor roundtables, and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel.