Sunday, October 25, 2015

Go! Go! Meatball Postmortem

This is Parta Games' first blog post. It's kind of weird to write the first entry during one of the biggest letdowns in my recent memory. I would've liked to write something more positive at first - like hype our next game - but I guess that will have to wait. I'm going to write about our first game release. If my writing seems a bit bitter you are not completely wrong, but my general feeling is still that we got lots of valuable things from this release. Tons of important lessons and lots of experience was gained. Our next game will be and do better! Sorry about the lack of jokes! I'll try to add more next time.

The game and the launch

The game was slated to be released on August 10th. We had announced the release date in many places but we failed to launch because of some App Store approval hurdles. Missing the mark was not that big of a deal to us, we got some good press in Finland. A local magazine wrote about us, YLE (one of the biggest Finnish media houses) made a story about us and it went on local radio, local TV news and the internet where the story reached a lot of people in Finland. It was very exciting! We used every possible social media outlet, contacted every press we could, offered review copies and not counting YLE and local papers - were met with almost universal disinterest. The games press didn't seem to care about our game.

We were super excited that Indie Game Magazine published some news about our upcoming release a couple of weeks before the release and offered to maybe even review the game! We were super thankful... but it seems to have fallen through because we've not heard of it since. We were so thirsty for reviews that even a bad review score would've sufficed. We learned that in the current mobile scene no one wants to review bad or mediocre games. There is no such thing as a bad or mediocre review score or verdict for a mobile game because - to put it bluntly - no one pretty much cares about anything else but the next Angry Birds. That's to be expected when you realize the MASSIVE amount of apps submitted to the App Store every day. You can't afford to go through the garbage. At that point we weren't part of that garbage in our mind.

Our press releases weren't all for naught, though. Before the Android release we'd been noticed by and which made us really happy. We managed to not be invisible even though it currently feels a bit like it. Unfortunately not much of our press has translated into actual sales. Same goes for our small Facebook ad campaign that didn't translate into any sales even though we got hundreds of clicks. Bummer.

Go! Go! Meatball was released August 14th on the App Store, only 4 days late and only a couple of months after we started working full-time at Parta Games. We were at the top-10 of the Finnish App Store for a week and got really excited. We were at the top of the paid iPad games category after all! After the sales figures started updating, we learned the brutal first lesson of App Store popularity: you can get to the top of many smaller countries' App Stores top-lists with only a couple of premium sales. Sure, we had an initial sales burst, but it was small: about 20-30 copies which turned out consist of mainly friends and family members. Not many others seemed to buy.

Currently the game has sold under 100 copies after two months on the App Store and a month on Google Play. At this point I can pretty safely say the game will never make ends meet and I have doubts if it will even have any cross-promotion opportunities for our future games. Maybe if we release it for free some day... dunno. When we calculated our company's finances we thought that 2000-4000 sold copies would be enough to fund some of our future games' development. The reality is unfortunately a bit different. It's a huge disappointment, honestly.


We'd been making the game by the two of us for over a year in our spare time and despite our best efforts to keep the game small, it grew bigger than we imagined. In man hours we probably didn't invest that much into the game but when we take the time interval from the first prototype commit to the last before the Android release... the game took almost 4 years to make. You can't make a game on and off for 4 years and not let it grow on you and become a part of what you are.

You must be tempted to as what took us so long. It's not that big of a game?

Originally the game was supposed to be a lot bigger: a game with an actual story (albeit as mindless as the current revision). It was supposed to be a puzzle platformer with autorunning mechanics: touch an object to change the level so you can go forward, solve a couple of puzzles in the way... things like that. It went through couple of revisions under my care and at some point I realized I can't finish it alone since I've been developing it for 2 years without much actual progress.

Then I brought Ville along. We were two old friends dreaming of our own indie game studio since the last century so we thought why the heck not just release this game and start a company. We designed the game from scratch as an endless runner game and started working on it in our spare time, one day a week. I guess my old ideas of a bigger game were too persistent and the game design kept ballooning from every corner. After a while the game had become what it currently is, a non-endless runner platformer game with handmade levels and handmade engine.

So yeah... it took us way too long, the game is not that big and we tried to scope it even smaller, but failed. We removed things that should've not been removed, added things that should've not been added, scoped from the right and the wrong place. The end result is a bit of a mess design-wise. It tries to be something of the original vision but isn't, it tries to be an endless runner and it isn't that either. The biggest struggle was adding content to the game and on hindsight we should've hired a level designer because at least I personally wasn't up to the task. Also the tools and the failed scoping made creating levels a chore. If you don't have fun creating levels for your own game people will not have fun playing them.

We we're also too arrogant in that we wanted to create a nostalgic old-school game with modern mobile mechanics that ALSO has nostalgic old-school business model. Go! Go! Meatball is premium game and we have learned the hard way that your game has to be truly exceptional before people are ready to pay for it upfront. Maybe we would've done better if we went for F2P and in-app-purchases. Maybe not. When I was a kid my mother said that making games is not a real job. I think what she would say today that making premium mobile games is not a real job but F2P is. A little joke there.

End result

All joking aside, the end result is a game that doesn't sell but of which we are nevertheless proud of. We made it completely by ourselves, created our own engine, made all the graphics, music and content and even self-published the game. We think it's a good debut game.

I think it's important to write about failures in the industry that mostly celebrates massive successes. We're not going to give up, and we already have a couple of really cool game projects under construction. Our goal is to be a bit more open with our next projects so stay tuned for twitchy streams and developmenty blogs!

God bless you, Antti Kolehmainen, Co-Founder