A screenshot of city-building/RPG game Towns. (Photo: Towns/Steam)

Towns creators explain why indie developers are struggling

It’s easy to create a video game, but hard to sustain it.  This is the point Towns game developers wanted to come across on the heels of the drama relating to their Steam title.

In an email interview, Xavi Caval said found inspiration for city-building/RPG game in similar titles like Dwarf Fortress or Caesar III. Having never worked for a gaming studio, Caval explained the development process for the title wasn’t anything “special” as far as coding and graphics were concerned, but the success they reached for the title were all in the mechanics.

“I never worked for a gaming company, my day jobs were pretty diverse, due to the Spanish IT crisis on 2000-2001 I worked on a lot of non-tech-related companies, until in 2004 I found a tech related job, working as a designer of banking software,” Caval said.  “In 2012, I left the company to create SMP and work only on Towns.”

Having a team helps when it comes to finding success as an indie developer. Caval eventually hired Florian Frankenberger as a second developer for Towns.  Frankenberger has only been working on the title for the past two months, but claimed working for Caval wasn’t difficult.

“Working with Xavi was quite easy. He always keept telling me that I am the new lead so I can add to the game what I wanted,” Frakenberger said in an email interview.

Towns has sold close to 250,000 units, but Caval claims not all of the sales were made at the full price of $15.  According to Caval’s calculations, 70,000 units were sold at full price, which would make up for $1.05 million in sales alone.  However, Towns announced on May 7 the game will no longer be updated.

“There is a lot of drama around Towns,” Caval said.  “We did a bad and rush release on Steam and that caused all that rage. But you have to take a look how many screenshots the users submit, you can also check some good gameplays on YouTube. The game is fun.

“Towns [is] three years old right now (half on Steam) and people are still there. That’s for a reason,” he added.  “We released the game saying the development was still active, and we fulfill that, since the release we updated the game 17 times (6 major patches and 11 minor ones).”

Frakenberger believes the negativity surrounding Towns is not accurate.  A Kotaku report claimed the developers abandoned the game, citing reviews on Steam stating Towns was full of glitches.

“[I think] this is exaggerated,” Frankenberger said.  “Granted, the game has a high learning curve and the tutorial is really not good. But aside from that, I think the game is a lot of fun. I myself spent hours playing it and never had the impression that it is buggy or unfinished. And I never felt the urge to bite my fingernails off.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_8fEJeZv74?rel=0]

However, Frankenberger agrees their Steam title is a good example for aspiring indie developers.  The lead developer claims the Towns’ problems lied within promises made to their gamers.   The takeaway from Frankenberger is developers should claim to add features before they can confirm it is possible.

“I think, learning from the Towns example, a big mistake is to make promises about features,” Frakenberger explained.  “In my opinion it is okay to give the people a vision of what you want the game to be, but you need to be sure that it is marked as such. Otherwise people will take it literally and keep asking for these exact things in your game. So if you talk about certain features, be sure you want and are able to add them later in the development process.”

As for the future of Towns, Caval confirmed there have been talks with a studio to take over the title, but negotiations have yet to finalize.

Frankenberger and Caval aren’t alone in the indie development.  One quick scroll through a Kickstarter search under video games will show you the aspiring talent who wish to join in the game development business.

Though Towns wasn’t funded by crowd-sourcing, an overwhelming amount of games are  The funding will go towards equipment and software necessary to code and create these games, as well as funds for developers to be able to work on putting out their game as their full-time job.

“We never used those kind of services,” Caval said, referring to websites like Kickstarter.  “We started selling the game on Desura and the game was flagged as ‘alpha’ there. But that’s not a crowfunding service. To make a game, unless you are a company with some employees you don’t really need money. You just need a computer and some time to spend on it.”

“I think to have a big vision and to aim high is always a good thing. And I strongly believe that you should create a game because it is a game that you want to play but doesn’t exist yet.  If you are just in for the money, then this is not the right business for you. Creating games to me is a form of art and art always involves passion,” Frankenberger said.

Titles like Minecraft on Steam have been able to rival the success of big name studios.  Minecraft is an indie title created by Swedish programmer Markus “Notch” Persson that has skyrocketed to success.  According to IGN, the indie game has sold more than 35 million copies across all platforms, including PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3.

“In my opinion only a few will reach that ‘big’ game developer status,” Frankenberger said.  “One that definitely reached it is Notch with Minecraft. But the question is: do you really need to reach that status at all? Or isn’t it enough to bring out a good game, that people love to play, and get enough money so that you can live a good life and have the time to create another game?”


Tags: Column Technology Video Games

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