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GDC 2012: The Business and Development of Sworcery

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Posted on March 5, 2012 AT 02:59pm

Thousands of games hit the iOS market each week with hopes of breaking through into the pop culture and making an impact. One such game, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP has been considered widely successful with both critical acclaim and solid sales (350,000 units sold in less than a year of being available). But what makes this game stand out above those thousands and thousands of other games out there, and what might keep it from reaching an Angry Birds level?

It was this idea behind Nathan Vella’s panel, the Co-founder and President of Capybara Games, the developer behind Sword and Sworcery, that made it an interesting panel to help kick off Day 1 of GDC, especially for all those prospective iOS developers out there. Nathan wanted to give us a glimpse inside the development process that went into Sword and Sworcery as well as offer advice to those who might be looking to use iOS as a jumping off platform for their Indie game.

Much of the panel’s focus revolved around the fact that the game’s success came from the game’s uniqueness and it’s very specific demographic, which he admitted they had assumed could not have been more than 10% of what the game has actually sold. Condemning the notion of “Everyone” being a demographic, Vella explained that is the target that most of the games released on a weekly basis are also trying to hit and how much harder it is to compete against the world. That’s why Sword and Sworcery, a unique game tailored with a very specific audience in mind, stood a much better chance of floating to the top of the sea of games out there on the iOS platform.

“There is a set of gamers, maybe even a subset of gamers, who really just want to play something new. If you provide that something and its worth playing, you’re not actually competing against 99% of the market. You’re competing against the other one percent. Sure, you’re not reaching for the biggest slice of the money pie, but you’re at least ensuring that your project will be successful and be successful in the right way, which is beginning with the people you care about as a game developer,” said Vella.

He continued on about how nice it would be to sell the millions of units of an Angry Birds or a Fruit Ninja, but that for most people that is just completely unrealistic.

“At Capy, we talk about it a lot as if we are playing the iPhone lottery. And basically that’s what happens when you try to compete against all these guys who are trying to do the same thing. If you’re trying to make the next Angry Birds, you’re basically walking up to a slot machine, putting your game budget into the slot, pulling the lever, and praying to God you get three f***ing cherries,” added Vella.

Along with this, Vella talked about how collaboration and contributions from sometimes unexpected sources were very helpful and even crucial to the project, but that if you and your team believe in your product and stay true to it, while troubleshooting some of the more stressful aspects of going over budget or schedule, that good things would happen in the end. It was refreshing to see Vella’s conviction and that by staying true to the game’s concept, all the way through to marketing and PR and sales of the game in the iTunes store, and by being different, that they were able to rise above much of the mucky-muck out there to make one of the more memorable games in recent iOS memory.

Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor
Ray Carsillo has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course! Follow Ray’s exploits on Twitter: @RayCarsillo. Meet the rest of the crew.

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