Continuing on from Part 1 of our conversation, I get to ask Rami Ismail (of Vlambeer) about his rather candid opinions on developing for multiple platforms, and why independant developers should target Sony’s Vita handheld platform. Enjoy!
If you look at the Vita, whose sales have relatively picked up because of Sony and their big…
PlayStation 4 push…
Well maybe not so much even that. Even before that, they did the whole indie push.
Yeah, the indie push, yeah.
And to me, to be fair, it’s one of the reasons why I picked up the Vita. But with Sony having announced that the company has over a hundred developers making games for the Vita, or something stupid like that… they’ve basically nailed the Vita as being the indie platform. Considering that Sony’s strategy of having game developers on board for the Vita has worked successfully enough for the handheld to pick up, why do you think developers have gone for the Vita, yet aren’t prepared to go for the Wii U?
I think that’s very simple. I think Sony was very, very good at being proactive. They reached out to developers instead of the other way around. They made sure the developers knew that if they had a good experience with Sony, that they could just refer other developers to them and just be like “hey by the way this is a good game, you should probably…”. I did that two days ago on Twitter. A developer from Texas made a game called Love+ which I think is a tremendous game. It’s a very hard, rough as nails platformer, but it’s made with a lot of love and passion and care and you can tell from the game. And the creator of that posted a Photoshop image of a PlayStation Vita with his game running on it. And I mean that game isn’t available for PlayStation Vita, but the developer would love that and the tweet is that I would love to make something like this happen and I just forwarded that tweet to the Sony team and apparently they’re talking now. So, Sony was really proactive and really reactive to people that were responding to it and then made sure that those developers had access to the hardware, the tools, the software, everything they needed to make those games, so all Sony did was cater and facilitate. And they did that in a public way, in a way that everybody can see that that’s the thing that they did. That’s all you need. I mean, indie developers are going to make games either way, like that’s what we do. There’s no way to stop us from doing that. If you just facilitate us making games in a way that’s easy, in a way doesn’t cost us months of our lives to make the game, you’re going to get games.
So basically, actions speak louder than words?
Yeah. Of course, I mean, making it possible for developers to make games for your platforms is all you need to get indie developers to make games for your platform. There’s nothing more you need to do. The more rules or limitations you have, the harder you make it. That’s what’s happening with Nintendo. They have a lot of rules.
And rules that ultimately aren’t worth the entry fee.
Not worth it for us. I mean, we could easily do it. We could easily pay the entry fee. We can easily get started and just do it. I expect the company, and especially how Sony and Microsoft are treating us, I expect that as a base line. I expect a company that asks us…because a lot of people get that relationship wrong. It’s not an honor to be able to publish on a platform.
Not anymore it isn’t.
Not anymore. I mean, if you as an indie developer want to do well, if you want to make your game and ensure that as many people as possible play it, you release on Steam and that’s it. You’re done. And the other ones are nice, they’re good, but Steam is the one, right. So, making your game on Sony, or Microsoft, or Nintendo platforms is not us indies doing them a favor. It’s us committing six months of our life to making a game for them. It’s us… it’s not even us doing them a favor, it’s just a lot of work for us and a few check boxes and bit of work for them.
I’m not saying that they don’t do work on releasing a game, I’m just saying that for an indie developer, it’s a huge commitment to do, so I would like to see that reflected in the way a company approaches independent developers. Sony and Microsoft have found the right tone and Nintendo is still searching.
Now, Vlambeer is obviously a two man team, and you’ve released Luftrausers on how many platforms?
You’ve said there’s a lot of work involved in porting a game across to a platform. How many months of work did Luftrausers require in order for you port it across the five platforms and release it day one?
Eight and a half months.
Eight and a half months?
Eight and a half months. It was really, really, really, hard. We are never doing a simultaneous launch like that again. God, that was awful. It was the worst thing. Shipping a game is a miracle. Any company that ships a game has the utmost respect from me, because shipping…
Even Electronic Arts with Battlefield 4?
Even that. Just the fact that they got it from start to a point where it shipped is amazing. After that there’s varying degrees of quality and success, but just the act of shipping a game is tremendous. And shipping a game across platforms is just multiple times of shipping…
So, basically Luftrausers for PC was done almost a year before we launched and then we had to go back and make sure it worked on all the other platforms. We adhered to all the rules, went through all of the qualifications, and certifications, got the game rated, did stuff like that.
Everything has like two weeks of delay because you’re dealing with big companies, so by the time we were done it was almost a year later and part of that was our own inexperience. I’m not going to deny that. Part of it was just that we didn’t know what we were doing, so we just assumed that things would work out and they didn’t because there are strict rules. But, increasing the amount of platforms you do that for increases the amount of rules you have to deal with, which increases the amount of design things you have to consider, so now on Nuclear Throne we have all of this in mind up front and we already sort of calculated it into our development, into our development budget and development time. Overall it’s a lot of work, and it’s way more work than we ever expected it to be.
What platform did Luftrausers do best on?
PC. Followed by PlayStation Vita.
That surprised us as much as it surprised you.
Oh, no. I’m an advocate of the PlayStation Vita. I love that machine, so…
I love it, but I didn’t expected it to outsell Mac, Linux, and PlayStation 3, and it did. It destroyed the other platforms.
It destroyed them?
Yeah. It was PC and then I think a tenth of what we see there was on Vita and then the other platforms were minor compared to that. So we were very, very, very happy. It was not a tenth, it was a sixth.
So, considering the level of success that you had with the Vita and PC, does your success somehow illustrate to other indie developers that the party is basically where Steam is – ie PC – and where Vita is? That those are the platforms to target?
I think what it says is that indie games can do well wherever. I think that’s sort of the bigger point. I think what it says is that if you know what kind of people your players are, they tend to focus around certain ideals. For Vlambeer, we make niche games. We make games that are hard, we make games that are for game enthusiasts, for designers, for people that like the art of game design, that appreciate the art of game design. Those types of people apparently focus around PC and the PlayStation Vita. And they exist on Mac and Linux and PlayStation 3 and Xbox One. They exist on all those other platforms, but they are mostly on those platforms. I think that is really all you can take away from that. I do think that the Vita is a good indie platform though. I think Sony is offering an amazing amount of support for that and I hope they continue to do that with the PlayStation 4 and it seems like it. I mean, we’re making Nuclear Throne for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3, PC, Mac, and Linux, so we’re excited. And Sony has been tremendous in their support, like almost overwhelming so. They made costumes at E3…
They made what?
Costumes. Fish and Crystal from Nuclear Throne wore costumes walking around at E3…
…At E3 and they just did that. I think it’s something that I’ve been telling people. The difference between the E3 platforms is… let’s say you go to Nintendo and you tell them “I want to make a game with you”, they look at you and they say “But do we want to make a game with you?” If you go to Microsoft and you tell them “I want to make a game with you”, they say “Yeah!” and then the conversation is sort of like “Okay. Okay, cool. Yeah.” If you go up to Sony and you say “I want to make a game with you”, they say “Can we put you at E3 and maybe Gamescom and make costumes or something?” So there’s a big difference in the way the companies approach indie developers at this point. They’re all getting better, slowly, but getting better. I think everybody is just increasingly aware of what indie is and how large of an impact it can have and I think the Vita really proved that indie can really turn something around.
Click here for Part 3.