From Flash to Paper to Lessons Learned
We are an indie developer, but that doesn’t mean we shy away from publishers. Don’t get me wrong, we are very happy being independent, but from the very first beginning we have been looking for publishers for 99 bricks. Starting with the original Flash game, where you just had to build the highest tower with exactly 99 Bricks, hence the name.
We send e-mails to a lot of Flash portals, asking if they wanted to publish the game. Most of them wanted to and offered a flat fee for all rights to the game and it’s sequels between $1000 and $2000. This was ridiculous. We had been around long enough doing work for hire to know this was a bad idea.
Finally we got in contact with Kongregate who gave us a good deal, where we could keep the rights, get royalties and some money upfront and do what we wanted. We are still thankful to them. The game was originally released in november of 2008. The game got badges, gained immense popularity in the community and after a while was spread via the Mochi network to hundreds of other portals and has been played in every country in the world since (even in the non-UN recognized countries).
So then what happened? The game was doing great but we couldn’t make a living out of the game. We started doing more (non game related) work for hire. And decided to find a publisher for a sequel to 99 Bricks before doing any further development. This was the wrong way to go at it!
It lead to hours of talking, writing numerous game design documents, creating flyers, basically doing a lot of work but no actual game development. At GamesCom 2010 we had meetings set up with a lot of publishers, who said: ‘Sounds great, do you have something we can play?’. And we only had the flash game to show them. Which is basically a tech demo when you are proposing a full disc title.
99 Bricks flyer we created for GamesCom 2010
So that was the wrong way to approach this. When you have a great game you’ll just have to keep on developing, don’t expect to get money based on a piece of paper.
In 2012 we decided to start working on a mobile version of 99 Bricks, a straight port from the original to iOS. Just to get some experience with creating a mobile game. We wanted to keep it simple and do it fast. Luckily that failed.
Paid games weren’t making any money at the time and we decided to go with F2P, but do it nice and honest. We tried to make it more casual, using a more real world feel in what we called the Children’s room theme. The idea was to let you play in a kids room with wooden blocks, and have a giant bay stomping around to mess up your tower.
We started working and took the game to publishers at GDC and GamesCom and send out lots and lots of e-mails. Two times we almost signed a deal with publishers we knew very well, but in the end they backed out. This was in the first half of 2013. Dealing with the publishers was not a waste of time though, on the contrary. During the negotiations they gave us lots of free feedback, made us look at the game from more angles, pushed us to think about making money, while we thought about how to not turn it into an evil money making machine. But most importantly, we had remembered our first lesson; we kept developing. After the second publisher backed out we decided to stop looking for publishers for this project and do it our way and learned two other major lessons.
First, not everything in the game was aligned. What I mean by that is, gameplay and style, but also structure and business model all should go hand in hand. It just didn’t feel one hundred percent right.
Second, we were now officially indie. Therefore we had to get more out there and create a fan base.
The first action using both these lessons was posting a poll on Facebook asking people which theme they liked best. It came out 50/50 and we decided on a completely different theme afterwards. And that’s a story for next time…
Style poll among Facebook fans. Score 50/50