uEXTREME GEAR : DEMOLITION ARENA – POSTMORTEM
One year after its release, Extreme Gear had finally been taken up by a publisher. A stronger publisher than us, which we hope will be able to help the game have more success than we had with it. That’s feeling a bit like letting his baby go with other people. But in an other way, we know that’s the best decision and it’s like a revenge for us, after having been refused by nearly all publishers existing on earth who told us our game was not good enough .
We obviously think that the game had potential, but it clearly haven’t been big success. Oh yes, it has its small fan base and more downloads than 96 – 97% of games you’ll found on mobile stores, but in mobile games industry, being in the top 3% or 4% is clearly not enough.
Here’s a post mortem of Extreme Gear : Demolition Arena, the game that had been the first real demolition derby-like game on mobile, with real destruction and action.
RESUME OF THE GAME AND DEV HISTORY.
1) The idea
The first idea of Extreme Gear came when we created Zero Games Studios. The main inspiration was the very first Destruction Derby. I was playing the game on my Sega Saturn at the time (I love my old consoles …) and had a lot of fun with it. I wondered why there wasn’t much destruction games on the market.
First we began to work on a PC version prototype, which wasn’t very successful despite a very good level editor which was very powerful.
After nearly one year of work, we finally switched to mobile in order to create a commercial version, re-using some work from our original prototype.
2) The team
At the beginning of the project, while working on prototype, we were 3 developers, 2 artists and 1 game designer. When we switched to development of mobile, final version, there had been only 1 developer, 1 artist, 1 game designer and 1 project manager.
3) Why this postmortem ?
Game development is never easy (will never be.). Sharing its experiences may help other developers or few fans of the game to understand mistakes that have been made.
WHAT WENT RIGHT ?
1) Creative Freedom
Since the beginning we made the choice of total creative freedom and we kept it till the end of the development.
Although many publishers wanted us to change core aspects of the gameplay (Seriously … A demolition derby with weapons and rockets ?? We’re not in Vigilante 8 or Twisted Metal!), we always refused external requests that we felt would not suit the game.
Creative freedom was in the team. Everybody was free to suggest new ideas and had an impact on the creative direction.
We made reunions with the team sharing their thoughts about the environnements of arenas to work on and it had been something very cool. Even if the creative director (myself) had the last word on choices, everybody had ideas which had been implemented in the game and it have been something very nice as some very weird ideas at first sight (the arena in a space hangar? Thanks Doriane, our artist !) became things we included in the game and which had nice reception from players.
2) Nice reviews and feedbacks
Despite average ratings on few german gaming websites, EGDA had nice reviews from many video games (or not) websites. For sure we will never win any award with Extreme Gear and nobody will tell that we have a chance to be the game of the year, but it had been well received all across the world and very few websites listed the game as a must have on his mobile. It’s honestly something we’re quite proud of.
And more than that, people feedback had been very positive in a global way. We had many feedbacks from players on a lot of forums or by mail. It’s something we’re even more proud of !
On Google store, the game never did less than a 4,1 rating. It’s even better on iOS with some countries close from 4,6, while few are at 5 stars overall and very few did poorly (We really don’t know why Germans particularly don’t like the game …).
3) Harder goals quickly achieved
Good point during development is that the destruction engine for the vehicles and many difficult tasks have been achieved a bit sooner than expected. Thanks to amazing job from the team, we had more time to dedicate to adding content and improving many things.
It was also more motivating for everyone as we felt the potential of the game earlier than expected and had a reliable version of the game to show despite only few months of work.
4) The team and its enthusiasm
Team is the key. And our team was really great.
Everybody in our small 5 people team (at the time) gave ideas and had a major impact into development. There was a great friendly atmosphere despite all difficulties related to the company and working on this game had been a real pleasure from the beginning till the end.
5) Global Development tasks
Development haven’t been easy since the beginning, but in a global way, nearly every task had been done within targeted time.
Thanks to nice project and team management from a producer we hired at the beginning of the mobile development, most tasks were finished on time or with very little delay, which was nice.
6) Collaborative work
Collaboration between every people working on EGDA had been very efficient all along development time. Everybody did all the best to provide to their working partners eveything done in time and many valuable feedbacks about the project. This helped us to reduce testing time and nobody had ever been blocked in their work because of someone else.
7) Few crunch time
Crunch time is always a problem : having to rush to release a particular version of the game unexpectedly is, and will always be a bad idea, but is sometimes necessary for many different reasons.
Apart 2 or 3 very small crunch time periods due to publishers who wanted to see particular things in the game that were not integrated or developed for a precise date, we barely had to work under heavy pressure. That’s a good point for all the team as it kept everyone sanity !
8) Some well-inspired choices
In term of design, we made some well inspired choices during development. Scrapping racing mode to concentrate all our ressources on arenas had been the best choice we made for example.
Keep the game in Free To Play format had been an other nice choice as it allowed the game to have a quite big fanbase from people who usually don’t like racing games and who wouldn’t have purchased the game if Premium.
9) Creating a small community
A small community around the game emerged as soon as the first videos hit some specialized websites.
This kind of game is rare on mobile and we provided something quite different from our few competitors with a large variety of arenas and 3D graphics that were truly original, not assets from the Unity Asset Store or something else like that.
So we received a lot of emails from players all around the world that helped us to improve the game and keep our motivation up ! Few people also helped us with translations, which was really great as it helped us to reach some markets as Russia, Brazil or China.
10) It helped the studio gain few notoriety.
Who knew who we were before Extreme Gear ? OK, now that the game have been released, very few people know us, but at least we’re not anymore only an obscure work for hire studio who work on cheap projects.
Maybe very few people in the industry will remember us as the small studio that achieved to create a not so bad demolition derby game with very low ressources and some other studios & publishers offered us nice projects to work on after release of the game.
WHAT WENT WRONG ?
1) Too long development time
Development time was of nearly 2 years. That’s definitely too much for such a small team as Zero Games.
2 years is a very long time for an indie mobile game. This was mainly because of a too small team, too few ressources and a very difficult technical challenge. Even for people who believe into the game and friendly atmosphere between team members, a so long development period will create some little occasionnal moral drops on everybody involved into the game when you feel the release is far despite very hard work periods.
A shorter and easier game project should have been more appropriate for our first 100% homemade production
2) No global publisher. Too much indie ?
Zero Games was searching for a global publisher for the game, but all of them turned out the proposal for many reasons : Demolition Derby games are not anymore considered as fun, graphics were not as good as Asphalt 8 (I always believed comparing AAA team vs 5 people indie studio was something extremely stupid … And I’m remaining quite polite here …), controls were bad, user acquisition nearly impossible, etc …
Some of those arguments were right while few of them were completely stupid. But the main problem is that we originally lacked of a global publisher who believed in the game to collaborate with in order to improve the game and help us into marketing and advertising.
This had resulted in many additionnal problems during development, as we had to take time to market the game and advertise it. It also means we lacked of many valuable ressources and expertise to improve some crucial aspects of EGDA.
So it was a bit too big indie game for such a small team who didn’t had any help from anybody despite we needed some (and we had instead many mocking laugher from some of them, which is always very motivating …). The marketing aspect was finally too « indie » for game with such potential as we had a 0 Dollars budget to advertise on it.
3) Badly balanced economic model
Despite many tests session before release of final version, economic model of the game was not very good and badly balanced.
Our test methods were too amateur at the time for a such project and it had negative impact on players during release week as some of them felt that our bad economic model was like this because we were too greedy.
We made changes faster as we can, using datas and making more tests to redefine our economic model, but it was a bit too late for everyone and had negative impact on in-app selling at release.
4) Unscrupulous local publishers/partners
Many other people I know in the video game field resume the industry by « Swimming in a pool of sharks ». And we learned it by ourselves.
As we hadn’t any global publisher for the game, we had to find some local partners and publishers to help us publish the game in some particular areas like South-East Asian territories, Middle East, North Africa, Japan, China, etc …
Without any help, it would have been impossible for us to translate the game for those countries and reach local stores. I met a lot of those potential small publishers during Game Connection Europe 2015, this time with a nice Alpha version of the game in my pocket which made nice first impressions to many people.
Then, we retained few potential publishers to work with. Not the biggest, but the ones who seemed the most interested into the game and its potential.
So we begun to work with some of them to add few content they wanted for their territories (such as particular cars for example) during many months.
Finally, despite signed contracts, nearly all of them cancelled their agreement with us at the last moment. We would have been in position to sue most of them, but it would have cost us too much valuable money we desperatly needed to finish the game at the time.
We lost a lot of time and few money at the time because of this, and we missed the opportunity to do well in concerned territories at release.
5) Global lack of ressources
During development of the game, we lacked of nearly everything. The team was too small and we were always running short on money, which means we had sometimes to work on other external projects in order to be able to continue development of the game.
It had consequences as it’s the main reason we had to delay the game many times. We also had to lower graphic quality if we wouldn’t have too few content for release as we had only one 2D/3D artist who made everything in the game.
Then, at 80% of the development of the game, with no more other external projects to work on, we ran out of money and had to release EGDA or we would go into bankrupty without releasing it.
So, despite the game missed some content and features, we had to launch it (which is a beginner mistake, I agree …).
Finally, we needed at least one more developer and one more artist to be able to deliver the game on time without sacrificing quality.
We also had to make some crucial choices to not spend too quickly the few money we had. For example, we choose to have very few high quality musics and then add non-original free-licenced musics than just have cheap quality but original musics.
We also made the choice to concentrate more on handling and controls than Sound FX for example.
So, the global lack of ressources had been a real problem during all development period that limited the final game quality.
6) Too much pressure, too many expectations.
Expectations from many people for the game were maybe too high. We knew we were making something cool and quite innovative as original demolition derby games on mobile are very few, but it was surprise to see one day an article on Toucharcade about the game many months before its release.
We really don’t know how Toucharcade managed to find our game as we just spoke about it on 2-3 forums and our Twitter account (which had less than 20 followers at the time) with few screenshots and a small video showing rough gameplay. But suddenly, we had many mails of fans, and press articles during the following days appeared on many websites. It was the cool side of all of this …
But the bad side was that we weren’t prepared to this, as we planned to massively communicate about the game far later. We made the mistake to show a bit too much too early. It put some pression on our shoulders as we felt many people’s expectations were too high for Extreme Gear. And as I said earlier, the game was released unfinished and lacked some planned cars, arenas and more game modes. So it had been a disappointement for many people and we felt that we did something wrong.
We had the desire to share the development of the game with few people who followed our journey, but it finally turned against ourselves as we didn’t controlled well our communication. That have been a mistake.
Without any marketing budget, advertising of the game just consisted of a website, videos on Youtube, a Facebook page and contacting press and video games websites all over the world.
Even despite nice coverage from some medias, it wasn’t enough to help the game to reach success.
Advertising is the key and we clearly made the choice to put money in the game, not in advertising as we didn’t knew at this time how to do it properly.
8) Bad decisions
Some bad decisions during development created some problems that delayed release date.
At early stage of the game development, it would have been a better idea to focus on one or two spectacular arenas and one or two very well made cars instead of thinking in a more global way. Publishers had difficulties to see the game potential as we weren’t focused on things that could convince them to invest in the game such as better graphics.
9) Lack of knowledge of mobile industry at the time
Despite some members of the team having worked on some mobile games before for different publishers or developers in France, most of us had very little experience of mobile games and its industry.
Making a mobile game is very different from a PC or Console game. Not easier, not harder, but really different.
So we had to learn many things, which made us lose time and make few mistakes. At least, now we made more mobile games and those mistakes will not be repeated.
10) Underestimating competition
We knew our competitors. And we were sure to beat them as their demolition games were not very good despite nice ratings in stores.
Big mistake ! In fact, there’s unfortunately a big chance that EGDA will not catch them in near future. They have too many downloads, have far better SEO, and real marketing budget. More than that, their fan base is even bigger than ours.
We were sure that a better game would be enough to beat them but that was for sure a huge mistake.
Despite critical success, Extreme Gear Demolition Arena struggled to find its way up to the mobile stores charts as up as we expected. That’s a deception for all the team who worked hard on it but we also learned many great things from this experience.
At least, the game had few hardcore fans and its technical innovations at release are a great opportunity for our portfolio.
Extreme Gear is now having a second life and more updates will help us catching our rivals on the demolition-derby market !
We will use this experience to create even better games and who knows, maybe Extreme Gear licence will be back in the future for a new episode …
Developer : Zero Games Studios
Publisher : Zero Games Studios, then Greenlight Games (Global) & Medrick FZE (MENA)
Release Date(s) : 29/03/16 on iOS and Android
Platforms : iOS & Android
Website : Extreme Gear : Demolition Arena
Dev Team :
Number of developers : 1
Number of Artists : 1
Game Engine : Unity
Budget : Around 80K€