|12-30-2011, 02:17 PM||#1|
MinMax Games Ltd.
Join Date: Sep 2008
MinMax's Story, A 6 Part Sticky Story
Hi everyone. This post was originally from the thread here:
Here is the original context. I want to thank Geno for this idea. It has been cathartic, and it hopefully a lot of fun to read. At the very least it is a history for my old age
So with some crashing problems I haven't really gotten to play the game enough to praise it sincerely, but in just a few days seeking help with it I've come to have a pretty high opinion of you guys. Clearly loyal fans, instant friendly support with the problem. I know even if I don't end up loving the game I'll remember MinMax.
I'm a CompSci major myself, and the dream for anyone in that area is working on games, so it can be a bummer to see some of the greedier, corporate trends taking over the industry.
But this isn't going to turn into a rant. I'm just building up to say how much hope I get from and respect I have for little operations like yours, and the guys over at Terraria, who make a fun game, put it up on Steam, and support it like you really care.
So I don't know if this sounds cheesy, but I find myself interested in hearing your story. What background led up to this? What was it like getting a game from pencil and paper to the Steam front page with just the two of you?
Going to post all 6 parts below.
|12-30-2011, 02:18 PM||#2|
MinMax Games Ltd.
Join Date: Sep 2008
Thanks very much for the support and the interest. I feel a wall of text coming on
I knew that I wanted to make games since I was about 10 an got my first computer, 27 years ago. From that point, I pretty much spent all my free time playing computer games. I actually never had a Nintendo or Atari which I always thought was a great injustice, but it may have given me a different games focus growing up than my friends.
Eventually I made it into college, and then university (taking 7 years for a 4 year degree as to not interfere with my gaming) First years were super slack, but by the end I had gotten a job in the games industry and was working 40 hours a week with a full course load, while still keeping my gaming hours intact. I lacked a social life though, but who needs those. My degree was in CompSci as yours is, however aside from it getting me in the door, and providing some good math skills it has not been terribly relevant. This will not be the case for everyone though because my career path is odd, and I am very much a generalist programmer. I am not a guru at any particular aspect of coding... at all... but I can fumble by with all of them enough to build what I need at the time. Mostly I have always dealt with high level implementation. Now more about the interesting part. The industry job.
So how do you get into the games industry? Simple, it is like the Mafia and someone needs to vouch for you. In my last year at university, I found out that one of my room mate's friend's was a designer at Black Box Games in Vancouver (A pretty big game making hub because it was one of the early campuses for EA) So I proceeded to head out with my buddies and this designer and drink many many beers. We hit it off, I got an introduction and a shot at the possibility of becoming a tester. This was beyond a dream come true (i did not know then that this is the worst job in the industry and generally leads no where but management, which I may touch on later.) This was mid year 2000
The day of the interview arrives, and it is awesome. I am talking to the owners of a then 50 person company (grew pretty massive b4 EA bought and over the years dismantled it) Swearing, the promise of alcohol, everything you want in an interview. I was sure I had the job. Waited a couple days, and got a rejection phone call. I was not qualified. Keep in mind, I was in my last year of comp sci, had a 3.75 GPA and was beyond an avid gamer. Did I mention it is hard to get into games.
Broken hearted for a few days, and I get a call. During my interview I spent a lot of time talking about our Starcraft network in our university quad. This gets me a job in IT there. I am the one and only IT guy for a 50 person company. I jumped at the chance, but was pretty intimidated. I realize this story is getting long now, and we are no where NEAR SPAZ yet, so maybe I should pick up the pace. I proved myself in the IT department, and got a chance to actually run the QA (testing) department while still in school. I jumped at that and was then doubled up on jobs. Proved I could handle those, and got a job scripting AI on Sega Soccer Slam. So at one point I was full course load in school, IT department, QA Lead, and AI scripter for my first game all at once, and it was the best time of my life.
Quickly I was extricated from my other roles to focus on gameplay, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I had become a designer. As a programmer, I always felt slighted and thought "scripter" was a dirty word among programmers, and that I should be writing AI because that's where its at. Little did I know I was on the perfect career path for me. Sega Soccer Slam turned out to be a great success, and people all over the world were playing vs player brains that I had created (did all player scripting aside from goalies) This was absolutely awesome. Next I went on to programming defensive gameplay for NHL 2004 (Also, I hate hockey and it is my fault that game was too hard hehe) This gave me a programming half to my scripting half so I had a better idea of what goes on under the hood. But everything I did was always high level.
By the time NHL came out, EA had bought Black Box Games and it had gone from a frat house to a typical corporate office with suits galore, butt kissers, the whole bit. TPS reports anyone? I just walked in one day (after NHL shipped, as not to hurt the product) and told them that I couldn't do it any more and left. I didn't have a job waiting, I was just too heart sick to see my dream of the games industry rot in there.
Luckily, my mentor of sorts at BlackBox came with me and we started a company together called Quasar Interactive. There is actually a game called Statesmen that we made that never saw the light of day. it sits in a box on my self, but the company we made the game for, never decided on a means for distribution and it languishes. (It is a board game by the way) For this project we were paid about $20,000 each which gave us just enough to survive. The money ran out and I needed a job. (We are almost to the forming of MinMax, you said you wanted the story)
Interestingly, Statemen used Torque (what SPAZ uses) but Radical Entertainment was also working on a game called Scarface that was in serious trouble, and it also used the same scripting language as Torque. (Both engines were built off the tribes 2 engine, crazy eh?) I had an interview, told them that I had written in the order of 50,000 lines of Torque Script and was hired in about 15 minutes.
Scarface was in serious trouble and my role quickly went from bolt on gameplay scripter to technical designer as my previous high level experience and programming plus my familiarity with torque script and the fact that I am a benevolent (I hope) dictator lead me to begin to implement changes to that project that got the scripting team to use a common set of gameplay tools to bring the game into a humming machine. Scarface didn't come together until about 1 week before we shipped. But the most important part of that project was that I met Richard Clifford (other half of MinMax) This was his first job, and we became good friends and worked together a lot. I taught him everything I could and he was always willing to learn.
After Scarface's success, we were both put on Scarface 2 and in an office together. We began to work out the metagame for our opus. Let me tell you, Scarface 2 was going to be friggin awesome, and we designed the core of the game in a pub one night. We even made a board game for the metagame that we made each team member play when they joined the project as to infect their brains with the awesomeness of what they were creating. Oh, by the way, Activision and Videndi merged and Scarface 2 was canceled because XYZ executive bull♥♥♥♥. (So Genocide1812, I feel your pain about the industry's direction) We poured our souls into Scarface 2, it was awesome, the team loved it, it was to be the best thing any of us ever made, and they killed it.
This pretty much broke Richard's and my Spirit but we tried to persevere. Richard went on to work on Prototype, and I spent time on two undisclosed and ALSO canceled projects at Radical. Both were canceled after I left, but the writing was clearly on the wall. Dysfunctional teams and broken spirits all around in the company. Oh also, when they killed Scarface 2, they laid off half of the company. Great feeling that was losing all those friends.
So finally, I had enough and so did Richard. We were chatting in the same pub where we designed Scarface 2 and said #$@! it! after about 6 pitchers of beer, we didn't want to live that way and the next day we marched into work and resigned together. Note, I had a 1 month old first child at this point, and didn't want him growing up with a dad that was spiritually broken.
FINALLY WE GET TO MINMAX. A few days later, after the glow of quitting wore off, Richard and I thought, what now (at the pub again) and decided to make a game together. We had both dabbled extensively with Torque and decided to go for it. Richard's job in general is to run around with rainbows flying out of his head, and I chase him around dual wielding with a butterfly net catching the good ideas, and a baseball bat to smash the bad ones. We both REALLY missed games like Star Control, so we decided to merge all the favorite bits from our favorite games to make a "space game." In the Dev branch, our game is still called "Space Game"
We spent 1 whole week designing the game and scheduling out 6 month dev cycle. 5 races, persistent universe, random tech tree, epic story, ship construction, betrayal , hybrid races blah blah blah. FOOLS!
So we ended up with a design in our heads (never anything on paper to this day) that we decided we loved and was perfect (almost none of it is in the game today) and we instantly set to work.
|12-30-2011, 02:19 PM||#3|
MinMax Games Ltd.
Join Date: Sep 2008
Part II (The Making of Space Game)
So, Richard and I had quit our soul sucking industry jobs, and were in the midst of a huge wash of unbridled creativity, that was almost our downfall. Each day we would meet up and discuss our ultimate space game alternating coffee and beer consumption in his backyard, which was pretty awesome after being caught in a stuffy office for 5 years. Just about every sentence began with “wouldn't it be great if.” Please note, beginning sentences with this statement after alpha is punishable by death.
Initially we spent a lot of time on the story, none of which was used in the final version. There were 5 races. The Terrans (which later split into the UTA and Civs), Pirates, Plant race, Rock race, and a race of hybrids that eventually became zombies. Richard busily made art for the weird rock and plant races that you can still see whispers of in the game today. Rez crystals are actually left over bits of the Rock space ships. They were meant to break apart and merge into new ships as you fought them. Yes this is definitely in scope for a 6 month project... no problem.
Over the course of the project, Richard was a superstar making and recycling art. Every piece of wreckage or space junk was at one time, something that was part of the design. Richard does not have an art background, and the original ships for “space game” were rough to say the least, but as the project progressed, I had faith in him, and he got many photoshop levelups and we ended up with some really nice art.
Interesting side note: Most of the sound effects and chatter are Richard making noises into a cheap mic with his shirt pulled over his mouth as a pop filter
Early on, there was a lot of experimentation. In fact initially, you played the game as a Terran (cop) but as the game evolved, we realized that being the pirate is just a lot more appealing. After about 3 months Richard and I had a meeting, and sadly cut the Rocks and Plants, but we realized that it was better to make the Terrans, Pirates and what was then called Zombies into full fledged factions than to have a soup of half finished good ideas.
So now we had three factions, but realized, how the heck does the galaxy work with just cops, pirates, and zombies. We needed some “filler” the Civs were born. Initially, their job literally was to be picked on background filler for the pirates. Pirates steal from Civs, UTA warps in to stop it. Then there is a real fight. This was also all happening in an open world environment at that time too. Richard and I had worked a lot on Scarface and Scarface 2 which were both open world games, and it heavily influenced our initial thinking. So we build a fully functional open world with enemies spawning and flight from planet to planet etc. And you know what? Flying in space is boring. It is called space for a reason. AXE. So we started adding interface screens.
Here is probably a good time to describe Richard vs. Me and why we work well together. Even though we share a brain, our game preferences are kind of opposite. This forced each of us to test our ideas by the fire of the other person's preferences. Richard loves Diablo, explosions, bullet trains in head on collisions, sound effects, action, goofyness, and the ability to jarate off in a game to do whatever insane task he wants. Apparently he used to make trains of tow trucks in GTA just to climb mountains and drive them off. Me on the other hand. I love games like Eve, spreadsheets, numbers, tricks that “break” the game, building a home, nesting. The middle of the Venn diagram for Richard and I is probably procedural systems, and choices, and consequences. We have enough in common to build toward a common goal, but we also bring completely different elements of gameplay to the table.
So back to what we had. We were in a GTA style world with space cops, you were a pirate (no fleet just yet) there were some civs with terrible ships to kick around (the surplus tech in game now used to be civ tech) and Zombies were something in the back of our mind menacing the galaxy from a story perspective. Ding, space travel is boring, we need instances. Now Richard as described above being an action guy hated hated hated menus. I loved them. More more more. Richard won a lot more interface battles than me (thank him for the light interface, that I now also love) But after many tears, we got the System map. Removed the pointless travel time, and Space Game became action on demand. This we really liked and was a key turning point in the feel of SPAZ.
At this time, the galaxy was also a line of 8 or so Stars. You flew from left to right, get to the end of the line and you win. Somehow we thought this was ok. OH by the way were are now on month 7 and our savings are gone. There is no game yet, BUT we do know that we are building something fun. We must continue... For the children!
We tighten our belts and I start pulling money out of a home equity line of credit. I have an 8 month old son and a nervous wife at the time. Richard's life style was less expensive, so he was able to stretch his savings a little longer, but the point of being screwed was rapidly approaching for him as well. The only thing that let him continue in the end was a family tragedy that I won't go in to. Now the Mantra of Minmax was born. “3 more months.” For the next 18 months, SPAZ was always 3 months from being done, and we believed it and told that to our families. We just need to survive for 3 more months, make it awesome, and it will pay off. It will be done in 3 months, that is a long time. OH S!&T, Look at how much money we have spent on this, the game has to be really good and sell well or we ruined our lives. We need to make the explosions better or add some floating bodies, or something. More polish. We need people to buy this thing. Oh crap 3 months have passed polishing, we REALLY need it to be good now. That cycled about 6 times. It is painful to write.
|12-30-2011, 02:19 PM||#4|
MinMax Games Ltd.
Join Date: Sep 2008
Part III Iteration, Space Game → SPAZ
So now we are in the just 3 more months death spiral, but each day it seemed we added something new that kept us excited and we never fell into a deep hatred of the game that was dooming us as you would expect. With a 2 man team, iteration is so easy compared to what we had dealt with in a AAA studio with 100 people trying to scrabble to the top of the heap to be heard. And iterate we did. The next few chapters maybe temporally out of order because all the changes become a soup in the mind after a while.
The evolution of the mothership. So as stated before, I am kind of like to build a “home” in a game and am also a HUGE fan of Star Control, so we needed some kind of persistent home in the game that traveled with you. A mother ship worked for Starcon, so it should work for us, but there was a problem. Being that it is a “mothership” and pretty darn big it is also pretty tough. In general the mothership became an “I win” button on missions in the open world galaxy. It was a big slow pig, but when it arrived its guns obliterated the competition, especially early on in the flow where you want a lot of struggle to establish yourself. You could even fly the mothership for the longest time, but flying something that can barely move was also not that fun, CUT.
So we really couldn't just axe our home, although it would have made more sense. I so wanted the base building from XCOM as well, and at one point the mothership was actually a huge space station that was fairly modular with science bays for research, colony bays, security sections etc etc. The idea was that you could put the base together however you wanted. Did I mention SPAZ went through a lot of iteration. There are bits and pieces of these modular station components all over the backgrounds as wreckage in the game. In the end what actually killed the station above all was it was over complex and unwieldy to use, but also devastated the frame rate with hundreds of little connections to piece the thing together.
So the Clockwork was born. A fragile little mothership that no one in their right mind would ever bring into a battle, especially early on. It was more of a collection of random parts held together by spit and twine. This facilitated the idea of a home instance. Somewhere we could leave your “home” while you take your favorite ships out of the toybox to play somewhere else. And this leads to the old fleet system.
Now we had two locations for our fleet. There was the comfy safe home instance where the mothership hid away from the UTA, and there was the active instance where we sent the ships we wanted. Early on, each time you entered a new instance a screen popped up asking you all the ships that you wanted to deploy. It was of course confusing as heck and completely broke the simple flow from place to place we have today. A lot of what we did over time in SPAZ was to try to automate mindless actions for the player. To make fewer and fewer mouse clicks required to get into the actual fight. This lead to a little less fine player control and a game that seems really arcadey/simple on the surface. But as anyone who has actually played knows, we just hid the depth, instead of removing it.
So yes, those of you who dream of fleets of twenty ships. It once was that way, but the frame rate was pretty terrible and at that time the ships were a lot simpler. You would painstakingly select your ships to enter each mission area and they were stuck there until the missions was over. Then we realized we needed some way to go back and forth so the beacon was born. The fleet worked on what was called the command point system. So clockwork 1 had 7 command points, CW2 had 15, and CW3 had 31. Tiny ships were 1 point, Smalls 2, mediums 4, larges 8, and huges 16. This meant that it was never possible to deploy 2 huges at once because that would be 32 command points. But it would be possible to deploy 31 tinys. Balancing was an issue with this system as well, as you would think 16 tinys is the equal of a huge, but they certainly are not, even if the math works out on paper.
So this gives a decent insight into where Space Game was and how it evolved. We really suffered for not spending more time on the initial design, but in all honestly we were totally different designers when we started Space game than where we are today. We threw out so much work. There has to be at least two other games worth of stuff that sits floating as wreckage in the background, and sometimes is is strange to see it all floating out there kind of laughing at us.
The biggest thing that I learned is that complexity can be hidden and it is possible to get a deep game while not burying the player in data and spreadsheets. We are always giving people the jist of the information in as compact a form as possible to let them make informed “enough” decisions to follow their in game career plan. This was a really hard one for me. For example.
Early on in development, long before we had Rez, there were much more conventional space trading components housed in universal canisters of various sizes like EVE Online. Thankfully we hadn't built the economy yet, but just the pieces. But there were most of the elements in the periodic table with proper atomic densities, we even had an odd unit of measurement that was 10cm^3 which turned out to be exactly 1 litre/1 kilogram of water, we called them cubes. So all resources were found in these cubes. A 10cm cube is about 4 inches on each side. It weighs about 2 pounds for water. For gold on the other hand, it is 19.6 grams/cubic centimeter so since a cube is 1000 cubic centimeters, it is 19.6 kg/cube, or about 43 lbs, so a LOT heavier. So here you are flying along, you blow up a ship, pick up a generic canister that turns out to be full of gold, annnnnnnnd you can't move. Over time, we color coded the canisters by size, and then forced them to only contain one element, then we changed our element to a universal RU (Resource Units, from Star Control), then Resin, then Risin, then Rez after much arguing. Finally we dumped the idea of canisters all together and when Rez was picked up it was color and size coded rocks and when it was dumped it was rocks. I hate canisters so much.
So imagine about 18 months of what you have read above. Some other highlights were the 3 complete redesigns of the hangar screen, the tearful realization that people needed to be able to fly CIV ships if they blew them up. Conversion of the Civs into a real faction, deciding that although cool, egg laying zombies were not as cool as their much better technologically equipped human enemies and we needed a ship infestation mechanic. The BIG realization that we needed to somehow generate an entire galaxy instead of a small chain of stars on an anemic star map. Each time we made one of these decisions, Richard had to make a vast amount of new art because we never designed the systems to handle simple faction based color schemes on the ships. We still grumble about this. Next time, color look up tables!
Finally, it is around January of 2011 and we are feeling like we are actually on our last “3 more months cycle” We couldn’t ship “space game” and soon we needed to make videos and tell the world we existed. We needed a name for this beast. Neither Richard nor I have any experience talking with the outside world about the games we worked on in the past. We were always behind the scenes guys and loathed even in company presentations. Long story short, we are not slick, at all. So we have a meeting at my place and start discussing names. Our game is about Space and Pirates and Zombies. It didn't take us long to realize that we had a catchy and playful acronym, SPAZ. Oh that is so awesome we thought! It is memorable like WOW, full of energy, it is absolutely perfect. Oh what a happy day, nothing could ever be wrong with a title like that. Umm Yeah.....
|12-30-2011, 02:20 PM||#5|
MinMax Games Ltd.
Join Date: Sep 2008
Part 4: Our first steps into the world of marketing.
So we had settled on a name, SPAZ. It was time for me to delve into the world of marketing while Richard worked on a trailer and builds us a website, he drew the short straw. I would start trying to learn how to exit my dark coder cave and burst forth from my cocoon into a marketing butterfly... nope, I wrote a quick mail asking wtf do I do now.
Over the course of the project, I had discovered a site called Reddit which seemed to have a pretty helpful indie community that were always ready to answer questions, so I made my first stop there. Here is the original post for those interested in where my promotion started:
So a few things happen as a result of this post. We put our contact with Steam on hold to create a demo, we get noticed by Notch (MineCraft), and we are contacted by Frank Dokter, the PR guy for Total Biscuit. Now up until today, pretty much no one knew about our game. We were always sure that Steam would accept us, but we wanted to be extra sure and we decided to make a demo and get some comments from our you tube video to really wow em. We will knock their socks off we thought.
While I worked on the demo, Notch's tweet about SPAZ worked its magic. We immediately had 7000 hits to our website that was maybe getting 30 hits a day, mostly us refreshing to see if there were hits. In the end, it amounted to 12000 hits and a huge flood of interest in our game. We quickly jumped to 500 forum members. This was a good sign and we were feelin' great now.
Next there was Frank. So people on Reddit had mentioned, talk to Total Biscuit a few times. At the time, I didn't know who he was, but that was gonna change. Here is our response to Frank reaching out to contact us.
We received your email offering to do a "WTF is?" for SPAZ. It definitely
piqued our interest. MinMax is a very small indie developer. There are 2
of us working on SPAZ, but we are also very proud of it and think more
people should know about SPAZ and soon. SPAZ has taken us 18 months of
concentrated effort to produce.
SPAZ is currently in an alpha state, meaning there are still bugs and minor
technical issues, but it is quite playable. My partner and I have been
weighing the promotional value of a Totalhalibut first look video vs. the
fact that the game is not currently for sale and does have a few bugs and
tuning issues. Looking at your reviews, you seem to be funny and fair and
we believe that a segment done by you would be a good fit and really could
tell people "WTF is?" SPAZ.
Our current trailer, while flashy, is too short to touch on the deeper
metagame elements of SPAZ that we think will attract many players. One of
your segments would highlight those elements nicely.
What I suggest is: We provide you with a personal copy of the demo we are
building for Steam. This demo contains the first two stars (about one hour
of game play), and by the end, you'll have a good idea of what SPAZ is
You would be the first person out there in the "wild" to put their hands on
SPAZ. We would also like your input if there are menus or concepts that you
do not easily understand. We would like to fix them before the final game
comes out, but not hinder your "WTF is?" video in any way. Our only real
requirement is that you let people know that SPAZ is an Alpha and this is a
first look, so there will be problems, but we are dedicated to fixing them.
We think you will really enjoy SPAZ though, and we would like to pounce on
Once you are done with the demo, we also ask that you destroy it and do not
distribute it. We are taking a large leap of faith, and this demo is not
meant for the general public.
Thanks for reaching out,
MinMax Games Ltd.
So that is where it began with Total Biscuit. Looking back, it was pretty insane to give out a copy of our mostly non play tested alpha project to someone who could tear it to shreds and kill it while it was still in the cradle. This does show you our level of faith in SPAZ at the time though, and is what makes the next part of our story so mind bendingly horrible, at least for us.
We busily worked on a demo, and decided finally that the best demo would be the actual game, so we decided to package up the tutorial and first open world star. As work on the demo progressed, we tuned and tuned the tutorial chapter and got it to where we thought it was perfect. Finally we were happy with it and we sent the installer to Frank and John (Total Biscuit)
About a week passes and we wait for news on the WTF Is? video. The slowest week of our lives. I tentatively poke Frank in an email as not to be annoying. Everything is sort of sinking in and feeling very fragile. Finally with my last poke to Frank, he says that John (TB) is making the video right then. Ok, big relief, then the negative possibilities sink in and terror commences. The video is going to happen, our work is going to be unveiled to 100,000+ people and there is nothing we can do to stop it. We are naked.
The next day, a mail:
Hey there, the two videos are up! You're probably already aware of this, but
the links are:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxJTul3AEAE Part 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_U1bQ7HfEo Part 2
A short mail, but I was shaking. I quickly send Richard and MSN ping and we begin to watch the thing. It is a bit of a slow start, and TB is falling into every trap and hole that we missed. By the time we are getting into the second video, I have about a page of notes, my hands are still shaking, but I am getting a very very good vibe! Somewhere in the notes, I have underlined an offer of voice acting. I will have to follow up on that. By the end of the second video, TB says “Overall, I am very impressed.”
These are some of the sweetest words I have ever heard. Things are coming together. We aren't going to lose the house. Steam will love us. We will send them this video. I bet Steam sends a limo and we get to meet Gabe! Richard and I are a wash in excitement. We quickly get to work tweaking the demo, and send it off to Steam a few days later.
It is all happening! MinMax is gonna make it. We don't have to crawl back to Activision. No more ketchup sandwiches. Phew.
Oh, hi Damocles, geez that's a nice sword.. wait WHAT!
Last edited by blorf: 12-30-2011 at 04:20 PM.
|12-30-2011, 02:20 PM||#6|
MinMax Games Ltd.
Join Date: Sep 2008
Part 5 Vomiting partners and getting covered in Goo.
While preparing the demo for Steam, we are contacted by GamersGate, and they want to distribute SPAZ. Oh this is an awesome sign, everyone loves us! We better hold off a few days though as although Steam doesn't require exclusive distribution, we want to make sure they are happy. We realize that everything is riding on them. We dug ourselves a massive debt hole and it would take a lot of sales to climb out.
So we send off the demo to Steam, and we hear back within a day. They have had an odd issue with direct 3d, and the game won't run. OMG. We quickly force the game into OpenGL and send then a new copy. This has me worried and embarrassed, but it doesn't seem to phase Steam, phew. They must be reviewing the title. We are nervous, and I am wearing out my F5 button refreshing my mail. Finally the next day at 4:41 pm I get the mail. “RE: Steamworks inquiry.” This is the one! This is just like the university admission letter times ten. Click Click.
Thank you for submitting Space Pirates and Zombies for potential Steam
distribution. We have taken a look at the information provided and
determined that Steam is not a good fit for distribution. It is our company
policy not to provide specific feedback on a submission but we would like
you to consider Steam distribution for your future products.
All I can hear is my heart pounding. I immediately MSN Richard that there is a problem with Steam. He thinks I am pulling his leg as always, but I forward the email and silence. We don't type anything on MSN for a long time. I can see Richard typing a message, but then deleting it over and over. Just the heartbeat. I start to cry. I later found out Richard was off vomiting. Richard has had one hell of a bad year, and although this was not the worst thing to happen to him, it was definitely second.
I just wrote, that we need a meeting right away and he needs to get over here. “On my way.”
While waiting for Richard to arrive, I tell my wife what has happened, and she luckily isn't a gamer and does not get the full implications, but I see our house gone and us living in a small apartment with our new baby as we try to rebuild from my arrogance.
I know that I should not, but I call my Steam contact because I see his number in the tagline of the email. Luckily there is no answer. He would have just heard me sobbing anyhow so that is good. I manage to put together an email before Richard arrives.
Hi (Name removed)
I am devastated. Is there some method of resubmission? If there is a
problem with the title or any gameplay we can change it. Once reviewed by
Rock Paper Shotgun in the next few days, if there is a flurry of love for
the game would you reconsider? I am just in shock. We spent 18 months and
our entire savings on development.
MinMax Games Ltd.
I don't hear from Steam again for 3 months.
We are now in emergency mode. Richard is over now, and we are pacing in the bushes at the end of my street, where once we spent our time discussing factions and battles and crazy weapons, we are now stumbling around in shock murmuring and trying to figure out a plan. We need to start selling our game, and now. Our savings are gone, my house is leveraged, there is nothing we can do. We need to put out a Beta and hope we can get enough to finish the game. We will finish it damn it all, even if we have to work after our new jobs at the supermarket and gas station. No we will not go crawling back to Activision. What the hell are we going to do.
When we get back to my place we quickly get back into contact with GamersGate, and then send a build to Impulse and Direct2Drive. We hear back from GamersGate and Impulse right away, never a word from D2D, but we have bigger fish to fry.
We need SPAZ to work, so we rally our forum members, now swelling after the TB video to over 1000 and a few superstars come to our aid, you can see them in the credits now. We need a compatibility demo, this issue with the Steam compatibility cannot be random. We then provide the demo for a 24 hour period to the public. We want about 50-100 to go out, but there are 1200 downloads. We quickly resolve the compatibility issues, and are ready for the press.
By now, we have the Beta ready, and Impulse and GamersGate are ready to go. We need some form of copy protection for the beta. Both distributors provide them, and I have no idea how to build one, so we take Impulse’s option because it is transferable to all distributors. Goo, what a silly name, but after doing some reading, it sounds great. We need to get SPAZ out there, and right now. Another month has ticked by, my bank account is dry, and we are now pulling from my wife's grocery money.
SPAZ is wrapped in Goo. Time to sell this puppy, lets just transfer the Goo version over to GamersGate. Oh you say Impulse was bought by GameStop. Oh... The new lawyers need to reevaluate distributing Goo. Ohh... This won't take long right? Tick tick tick... Oh... Ok We NEED to sell now. I have to email GamersGate and tell them that we need to launch or die. And GamersGate was awesome about it. They said go ahead and wished us well. We then were ready for an Impulse exclusive launch.
Impulse were very apologetic and really loved SPAZ. We found out later that we got brownie points for themeing our Impulse demo with their logos etc. It was launch day. Now, most distributors have live tracking of sales, usually delayed by about 15 minutes or so. We were in shock, and later we found out, so were the Impulse team. They had been rooting for us, and we had forged a great relationship, but sales were climbing and climbing. We were emailing back and forth, they were pulling for the little guy and high five-ing all around the office as we were overtaking the AAA titles. It was an amazing day. In the end we sold over 1000 units, and we were in utter shock. SPAZ was now sitting at the top of their top 5 daily sales list, and we would stay there for about 6 weeks. Soon after, Impulse themed their website to SPAZ, for WEEKS. We would log in, and every day, there was Richard's art, plastered all over the place. Out chests were so swelled with pride. If I ever wore anything but black t-shirts (I shop once a year and buy a stack of 10 or so) I would have popped a button.
Now something new had to rear it's ugly head. We thought we were safe. We had a demo, we were nobodies, our game was cheap, we were indie. Goo was cracked within an hour, and we were all over the torrents. How?
|12-30-2011, 02:21 PM||#7|
MinMax Games Ltd.
Join Date: Sep 2008
Part 6: “RE: Steamworks inquiry.”
So the next day, I start searching the internet for posts about SPAZ. As I have done every day since. Morning ritual: Coffee + “Space Pirates and Zomies” Last 24 hours. One of the first things that pops up. SPAZ 0.9.00whatever … cracked... page after page after page... It was pretty hard to sift through to the real news about our actual game, and I was furious. I felt betrayed. I bought into the whole Robin Hood mentality. It was all a lie. The cracking group is a machine that will crack everything in its path. It is a race and it is a game in itself. Take no prisoners, damn the consequences since it isn’t happening to me. In the end you HAVE to not take it personally because for days it ate me up.
I was furious, but still level headed. Oh how Richard and I wanted to lash out and reskin the billboards and radio with chatter about my most hated of all greek letters, but we knew that would just make things worse. We had to bend over, to us SPAZ was a piece of art, and they had the spray paint. We were trying to feed our families, and this made us know that we needed to grab our ankles. Lest they call in big butch or whoever their enforcer may be.
So there we sat, sales were brisk, but we now knew a joke compared to what they could have been. The thing that finally broke me of searching the pirate info about SPAZ was a site reporting 10,000 downloads of the game when we had still made only 2,000 sales. Of course most of those are just warez collectors but still, not all of them, and to us every nickel and dime meant a lot.
I would monitor the web hits from Pirate Bay, and it never amounted to a heck of a lot. Usually middle of the pack compared to the hits from review sites and Reddit, so we knew that they were not really contributing to sales either. Cost of doing business, moving on. I could go on and on about what was running through my head. How dare someone distribute something I worked so hard on for imaginary internet cred. What gives them the right yadda yadda. In the end, that piece of my brain is now bricked off. I don't think about it, and it is best to keep it that way.
What we knew was that we won't be getting Goo anytime soon for the other distributors (yay lawyers), and we will need some form of DRM, because even though we grab our ankles, we will at least let out a fart in their general direction. Time to call on some friends.
Over time on the forums, we built up a really great community, and some of our helpers were also technical heavy hitters and we began work on our own home brew DRM. Just a simple one time call home and verify dealy that we could give to the other distributors, wouldn't annoy customers, and was something we could monitor. Within a week we had it, and the distributors (aside from Impulse who were still using Goo) were using it. Now we watched our sales through the activation calls, and Impulses, and we were happy. Things were chugging along. Reviews were sometimes good, usually fair, and sometimes atrocious, but SPAZ is a niche game and we shrugged it off.
As a side note, by now Richard and I begun to call SPAZ “the lemon” in our conversations. We were fairly certain that we would be able to juuust dig out way out of our debt hole between Impulse and our other distribution. We knew we would never make any money on SPAZ, but at least we would break even and no harm no foul. We had a lot of love for SPAZ, and “the lemon” nickname protected us from having to talk about the eventual shutdown of MinMax and the walk of shame back into the mainstream industry. We simply forged ahead and worked to finish up the beta we had promised people. We would look for new jobs after, but people loved the game and we were gonna make it even better.
So I am reading my email and I see this title: “RE: Steamworks inquiry.”
It is 3 months to the day since Steam has rejected us, but this title sends chills and excitement down my spine instantly. I had been working up the balls to contact them again, but I really didn't know how to go about it. Steam was willing to take another look at SPAZ. I won't copy the email in this post simply because as you dear reader hopefully understand, my fear of causing annoyance to Steam in any way is mighty big.
Steam contacted US!!! The MSN message went to Richard. Again, Richard thought I was pulling his leg, so again I needed to forward the message. No delay in response from Richard this time, to paraphrase, “F*** Yeah!” Also “Im on my way” We needed to meet.
We spent a few days negotiating with Steam and it was terrifying. I did feel like David when sending the mails back and forth. Finally we struck a deal, now I had access tot he SDK and it was time to integrate Steamworks. The first time I saw that goofy little window telling me to press shift tab to begin, I was both relieved and incredibly satisfied. I rebooted the game over and over just to see it.
About 2 months later, it was the big day on Steam. All my ill feelings toward the giant had been replaced with a glowing love for their majestic beauty. August 15th. It has arrived. SPAZ v1.0 the final was about to go on sale for the first time, and it was going to launch on Steam! We had the sales tracker primed, and were already refreshing like madmen. We had our forums open as well. Monitoring activity. 10Am rolls around, and I am watching the forum guest counter. It went mad. Up until then, on a good day, we had 10 concurrent visitors. We hit over 200 right before my eyes. A quick look at the sales and they were amazing. Like AMAZING. Like I need you to understand what I am talking about here. I had to go walk in the yard and think about what was happening while calculating what I was making per second.
So after my walk in the yard grinning like an idiot. It had been so long since I did that, my face muscles hurt. I came inside and we are number friggin one on the top sellers on Steam! Richard took a picture but it has a little “F*** YEAH” plastered on it so I cannot post. We even got an congratulatory note from our Steam contact, who had been my point of contact from that beginning, that I still treasure. We made it!
Phew, well that's it. Since then there has been a few big sales for us, and the Holiday sale yesterday was the capper with our highest daily income to date, and a massive increase in our user base. This has been awesome and in the end pretty emotionally draining to write, I got choked up a couple times in the last couple parts. Thanks very much to Geno for the idea to write this.
I am going to move this all to a convienient sticky post now for everyone to read. Feel free to comment there.
|12-31-2011, 12:50 AM||#8|
Join Date: Nov 2011
Well after reading most of it in the initial forum post a few days ago, it was actually good to read it again. Definitely recommended to others. Brilliant, thanks for sharing.
|12-31-2011, 04:26 AM||#9|
Join Date: Mar 2010
Thanks for posting that, as a fellow game dev (programmer with a few shipped titles, and half a decade in this industry, and I believe CompSci as a degree probably got me in the door, while what I learned in there was marginally important) it's a fantastic read.
It reminds me why I both never want to try to go off on my own, (too scary, what if steam never turned around). The exhilaration of my first published game, the first time a company turns you down for a job you KNOW you had, and so much more.
Thanks for shipping an awesome game, thanks for continuing to supporting it, and thanks for sharing the experiences.
Last edited by Kinglink: 12-31-2011 at 04:27 AM. Reason: added number of titles
|12-31-2011, 03:40 PM||#10|
Join Date: Jul 2010
Fascinating story. You could almost make a movie out of the ups and downs!
I must admit I wasn't able to buy it early but still played it (if you get me, I'm sorry), but I was following you guys from the start and as soon as you came out on steam I bought several copies for me and the friends who appreciate the genre.
I can only hope 2012 has more high points and no downers for both of you, and we'll be watching and waiting to see what you produce!
|12-31-2011, 04:49 PM||#11|
Join Date: Mar 2007
That was a great read, I remember when you found out about SPAZ going straight to number 1 on Steam, but I had no idea how much it meant to you guys, really a good read
Last edited by Ardbug: 01-01-2012 at 11:31 PM.
|12-31-2011, 11:05 PM||#12|
Join Date: Jul 2010
Yay! A happy ending. I love happy endings.
What have we learned from this story? Achievement ♥♥♥♥♥s will boost sales, so make sure you participate in Steam sales! =P
|01-01-2012, 07:55 AM||#13|
Join Date: Oct 2009
You never get tired of rags to riches stories. It was nerve wrecking to read that you almost didn't make it and you were very close to having to raise your family in paupers. I must imagine what it must have felt like at that time, with the future being so uncertain.
But I'm glad that in the end you did make it.
Also, damn the scumbags who pirate games. They never realized how close they were to ruining someone's life.
I like that you took the time to thank us and keep in contact with us on the forums. It makes us gamers feel appreciated.
The game could be so much more, and I would like to help you all make it better through suggestions. Now that you are in the green, I look forward to bigger improvements, such as probably a better reputation system (one that is global rather than local), more ships, more factions, more upgrades. Heck, maybe even multi player!
Last edited by Original182: 01-01-2012 at 07:59 AM.
|01-02-2012, 07:10 AM||#15|
Join Date: Feb 2009
Interesting story, well understood by anyone who ever went independent (not necessarily just as a game developer).
I'd have loved to read more details about Steam and if you know meanwhile while they rejected you first and if your success elsewhere was the reason why they reconsidered. But I understand very well that some details are not meant for the publicity.
Anyway, congtratulations on your success!
I heard about SPAZ relatively early, but the name itself rather pushed me away. There are simply far too many indie titles out their, catching for attention and often enough (ab)using Zombies.
So I figured that the shown gameplay in the videos seemed too simplistic for my taste, that this game would be another blender, and didn't buy.
During the x-mas sales I barely found a game of interest for me, that I didn't own already, so I was desperate to find ANYTHING new. When SPAZ came up, I checked how the game developed and found almost nothing but love.
So I bought it (making SPAZ one of just 3 purchases for myself during the sales) and SPAZ has been my most played title since. I feel almost ashamed that I couldn't register earlier what a rough diamond this game is!