So it being New Years Eve 2015, aka the last day one can officially drink egg nog without looking weird, I’m meant to look back on the year and wax poetic about its many ups and downs, at least from my perspective. Hi, I’m Megan, I run Glass Bottom Games. Anyways, aided by my good friend the aforementioned nog, I believe I can accommodate – so here we go!
Let’s set the scene – it was January 2015, start of the year, and my mom had just died the fall before, throwing a giant delay into an already tight production schedule. The money ran out in March. So what do you do? You crunch, of course. Hell crunch. I pulled 13 hour days, no weekends (and the rest of the team did their own versions thereof), for about 2 months. We were going to hit Feb 20th no matter what – and we’d bumped back from Feb 6th to give ourselves more time. More on that in a bit, by the way.
Since I was running press as well as primary dev, I threw together a press demo a month ahead of the launch, and got that out pretty widely. Unfortunately, it was a buggy mess, because – well of course it was, we were hell marching. The game was mostly in one piece by launch date, and we very quickly fixed the remaining bugs and confusions and got the game into a pretty solid state, but by then the damage had been done. We had a handful of negative user reviews at launch, but mostly, it was the shipping of the buggy press demo a month earlier that nearly killed us. We had a relatively quiet launch, our Metacritic settled out to a decidedly ugly 66, and that was that.
That isn’t to say the launch was awful, though. The game was selling, and doing at least better than the lion’s share of all the outright failures you see people waxing poetic over. It was just somewhere in-between. “Disappointing” is a good word. In a sense, the quiet / disappointing launch was godsend – as it stands, we only have 5 reviews on Metacritic, meaning if even a handful more positive ones trickle in, our score shoots up. That also means that relatively few saw the really, really broken state of that initial press demo. So probably a net positive, and a not-awful platform from which to do more with the game. We got into a Humble Weekly as a fixed tier instead of a PWYW, we’ve gotten some good promotion on GoG, we’re lined up solidly for a much less disappointing set of console ports in 2016, etc. All stuff that probably wouldn’t have happened had we managed to shout more loudly back pre-launch when the build was really, really broken.
Part of the reason for the relative quiet is the nature of Feb 20th. As it happens, that is uncomfortably close to PAX East and GDC. GDC was March 16th, so while you’d think we’d be fine, in practice GDC figuratively sucks all the air out of the press room for a solid week leading up to it. That’s when all the people at GDC are hurriedly trying to make last minute connections, and so on. Then you had PAX East hitting right after that. So we effectively launched into a press vacuum. I of course knew this, when I was planning our Feb 6th launch date originally… but then we were up to our necks in crunch, my brain wasn’t working quite right, and “heck, sure, Feb 20th looks fine, why not! Extra two weeks, woo hoo!”. Still, ultimately the somewhat quiet launch was probably for the best, and the extra 2 weeks of dev were clearly required, so – in a sense, it all worked out for the best.
In any case, moving on. The game was out, doing its thing, and now I had no distractions. Turns out I hadn’t dealt with the whole “mom died last year” thing properly. End result? I broke my hand by punching something way harder than my hand for very dumb reasons.
So yeah, that was a thing. It meant for a few months there, I couldn’t usefully type, but we found a cute way around that. It was none other than Michael Nielsen, the level designer on Hot Tin Roof, who did most of the actual programming in a lot of the Hot Tin Roof patches. We screenshared, and I half coached him, half taught him through the programming work. I did my own super-slow hunt and pecking when that didn’t work, but mostly, it did, and Michael developed from there into a full Jr Programmer with only minimal guidance required. Which means the whole broken hand thing was kind of net positive too. Seeing a pattern here?
That gets us through the middle of the year. Then there was this weird thing with LEGO dongs. Seriously, just google “LEGO dongs.” I had people from major press outlets contacting me within a day, I think I got 1k followers or so in a week, and the whole thing blew out of me telling a silly dev story. Oh, and because of this, my favorite LEGO reaction jpg ever was produced (by one of my followers, no less!):
Anywho, now we’re up to where things were looking grim. Hot Tin Roof was selling, but not quite enough to meet burn rate, at least not after all the revenue splits. We funded people working on Hot Tin Roof largely with generous revenue sharing to the whole team, which means not a whole lot for the studio proper at the end. We’d started experimenting with our next project, though (Spartan Fist), and we had this crazy idea to make it work in VR, so we had VR hardware floating around.
Then a company game along and threw a pile of money in our lap to do the development of their own VR project.
I can’t offer further details or clarifiers on that, thanks to a lengthy NDA, but the following sufficiently encompasses my feelings on the matter:
That’s where we are now. The project’s first major deadline is next Feb, and by that point, we’ll have enough money actually in the bank to fund the entirety of Spartan Fist dev. Including a decent PR budget. No loans this time, no advances, no Kickstarter required. Cool, right? Though that’s why you haven’t seen as much Spartan Fist work. As you’d guess, we’re full time on this thing, and will be until that first deadline. Then we can gradually pull people off and back to Spartan Fist development. Current plans put its full release sometime in 2017, but you’ll see Some Stuff related to it hitting in 2016 too.
So that’s where we are. Kind of a mixed bag. No major failures, we managed to get a generally well-regarded game out into the world, and even if it didn’t make as much as we’d like, it’s more or less made back its full costs at this point, including the (not great but hey) wages. A lot of indies don’t include cost of time spent in the budget, which is a mistake, but we do – without that, we’d be waaay over “cost” by now, but that isn’t super honest or useful. Furthermore, over 2015 we broadened the skillbase of the team, and now Michael’s a programmer too, and now he’s ALSO acting as a Jr Programmer on the VR contract. So it all worked out.
2015, you were alright. 2016, prepare to be invaded, and brace for Hot Tin Roof console ports. LET’S DO THIS.
Also, in 2016 I should probably update this site – it’s getting pretty creaky. The formatting on this post is awful. :[