For those of you who haven’t heard, this version of Steambirds is the result of a collaboration between Spry Fox and Halfbrick (aka the guys who made Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride.) We worked together to evolve SB:S, which we originally co-created with Andy, from its humble beginnings into a robust game with 120 missions — 64 available for free at launch — and some cool new features, like a recruiting system that lets you hire additional planes to help you beat more difficult missions.
I’m pleased to announce the public beta of Triple Town, our original twist on the match-3 genre, which is launching on Facebook and will soon appear on other platforms as well.
Triple Town has always been a very special game for Spry Fox. It was one of our studio’s first titles, and it was good enough to be chosen by Amazon as the first indie game to be released on the Kindle. Triple Town also has the highest user rating of any game we’ve ever released (4.72 out of 5 on Amazon.com based on 158 reviews as of the time of this writing.)
So, when Danc and I started talking about how we might want to dip our toes into the turbulent water that is Facebook, Triple Town seemed like a natural fit. We knew the game was fun. We knew it would appeal to a broad audience. We knew it wouldn’t require a massive development expense because it is a relatively simple game. And we had observed a relatively limited amount of content in what I’ll call “the Bejeweled Blitz genre” on Facebook… a market opportunity that we felt we had a decent chance of capitalizing upon with Triple Town.
Paul Hyman recently interviewed several folks, including myself, for a Gamasutra article on digital distribution that can be found here. I thought you might be interested in the full transcript of our interview. Here it is:
(1) What are your current thoughts on Xbox Live Arcade and how it has evolved as a platform for developers? What about your thoughts on how it should evolve? Please be very specific.
What’s interesting about Xbox LIVE Arcade is that, other than from a content perspective, it doesn’t seem to have evolved very much over the past several years. What I mean by that is the *games* have changed, but the platform itself has changed very little by comparison.
XBLA started out as a place for “bite-sized” and retro games; the kinds of titles that would typically have a $250k development budget. Today some developers are spending $2m+ on their XBLA games and Microsoft has very clearly sent the signal to the market that it is looking for “bigger, better” titles. So that’s a pretty big shift.
Just a short note to say that I’ve been really enjoying Google+ thus far. It feels like a perfect blend of Facebook and Twitter and enables me to easily take advantage of the things that I like best about both without some of the annoying limitations (character limit, inability to specify target groups, etc). If you’re using it, you can find me at: gplus.to/djedery.
This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the second in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.
Spry Fox currently has several original f2p games in development, not including ports of our existing IP. Each game is being produced by wholly separate teams that are geographically dispersed, using different technologies and tools, under different contractual arrangements. And each team is compensated entirely via their future royalty; none are being paid cash in advance.
While we won’t know for a while to come whether our development strategy has been wise or flawed, we’ve already learned a great deal about the ideal composition of small, geographically-dispersed development teams. Some of our active teams have exceeded our expectations in terms of game quality and development time, while some are significantly behind where we expected them to be by now. A few of the characteristics shared (or not) by the high-performing and slower groups may obvious to you, and some may surprise you:
Today, we launched an MMO called Realm of the Mad God (RotMG) in partnership with our friends Rob and Alex at Wildshadow Studios. It is, I believe, the first-ever massively cooperative bullet hell shooter. 85 people rampaging together, in real-time, through a bullet-riddled landscape. Oh, and its all Flash. Must be seen to believed. 🙂
RotMG is available exclusively via the RotMG website and via Chrome Web Store for the next several weeks. The game has been in open beta for over a year now, but we’ve never attempted to drive traffic to the game via portals (or announcements on our blog) before now.
Spry Fox and Wild Shadow
When Rob and Alex first approached us with RotMG, we didn’t know what to think. It was an insanely ambitious game from a technical perspective (several engineers who we trust said of the game, more or less: “that simply isn’t possible.”) It was Hardcore with a capital-H: difficult to play without practice and skill, very retro in its aesthetic, and it featured perma-death. When your character dies, it is truly dead forever, and all you get is a bit of virtual currency (we call it “fame”) as a silver-lining.
I’m pleased to share the news that Microsoft’s Ribbon Hero 2 is now freely available to all users of MS Office 2007 and 2010. If you have any interest whatsoever in the educational power of games or business-related uses of games, you absolutely must check this out.
Danc and I had the pleasure of assisting in the development of RH2, which improves on its predecessor in a variety of ways, including: the addition of a narrative, a more polished feedback system, substantially more interesting and creative challenges, and a tighter, more streamlined activity loop in general. Each of these changes are notable in and of themselves; together, they represent a remarkably evolved and polished gameplay experience. (See Danc’s just-published thoughts on the design.)
Most serious gaming projects fail because the organizations behind them lack the will to iterate on, test and polish their prototypes as needed. Microsoft, on the other hand, has been working on the Ribbon Hero franchise (can we call it a franchise now?) for approximately two years. The development team behind Ribbon Hero has approached the daunting challenge of “making it fun to learn Office” with humility and persistence. Its members have attended GDC, studied game design, consulted with expert designers, and playtested/polished the heck out of this game. Most importantly, they have developed skills which represent a significant competitive advantage to Microsoft. Two years may sound like a long time, but once you’ve figured out how to make learning fun, there are an unlimited number of ways in which you can dramaticallyimprovethe fortunes of your business.
So here’s to Ribbon Hero 2! May it be the first of many such educational experiences to emerge from Microsoft.
This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the first in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.
Ask anyone over the age of 30 how many times they’ve had to “learn something the hard way.” Most people can’t count that high. Businesses are just like people in this regard: they need to experiment in order to gather the data that will enable executives to make informed decisions. And experimenting often means failing.
Despite this, most game publishers and developers are profoundly averse to experimentation and risk. “Little” mistakes, like failed prototypes, are not embraced. “Big” mistakes, like failed attempts to capitalize on new markets, are assiduously avoided until those new markets “prove” themselves, by which point it is deemed necessary to spend a fortune acquiring a successful competitor.
Dan Ariely, the author of “Predictably Irrational”, has noted that there’s plenty of research to explain this behavior. In his own words: “Experiments require short-term losses for long-term gains. Companies (and people) are notoriously bad at making those trade-offs.” Put another way: short-term risk aversion is a major psychological handicap for businesses… one worth recognizing and confronting.