Gumbug in the Year 3000
A Dustland Post Mortem!
It’s been awhile since we’ve dragged anything out of the Gumbug cabinet, but the time has almost come! Over the last year we’ve learned a huge amount about our audience but most importantly ourselves. Ourselves.
I’m going to tell you about what happened and what will happen next, so buckle in! Something something edge of your seat!
As you may or may not know, late last year Gumbug released our first title, Dustland. You might be able to tell from the upbeat sounding article title that this isn’t lots of pictures of us drinking champagne.
Look at those birds! So beautiful
It’s a seriously excellent character collection RPG with fusion, match-3-ing and (most importantly) hundreds of irradiated vagrants. We were lucky enough to get a feature in over a hundred countries on the App Store and Google Play, firing it into the hands of hundreds of thousands of players, clumsily mashing our icon and downloading over 70mb of pure joy to their devices.
The protagonist, Aki
We made the game over the course of 9 months with a small team, trying to bring together guild based interactions with casual/ midcore gameplay. The core mechanic was based fairly heavily on Puzzle & Dragons, a grammatically mysterious and famously impenetrable Japanese title. We were playing P&D near constantly when we began, and wanted to bring the same depth but with the accessibility of a Western title. We wanted a huge guild infrastructure to make Game Of Thrones style warfare and treachery but without the murders or nudity.
Did it work? Sort of! It sort of worked.
Why it sort of worked good:
The game looked beautiful. The setting was a futuristic apocalyptic wasteland where everyone was lost / drunk / lethal and the characters were rich and interesting.
The gameplay had some new and interesting features, like chain reaction explosions and guild based warfare.
We established some systems that we’ll use for all future games, like chat, guilds, events, wars and other things that temporarily escape my mind. This gives us a head start on all future games.
Why it sort of worked bad:
Our core assumption – that we could make a complex and difficult casual/ midcore mechanic work in the west – was right! But the scale wasn’t. The level of refinement required to make a complex game appear simple is enormous, and many of these problems are forgivable only to more experienced gamers.
Guild based mechanics, like any other social structure, require a critical mass to get cooking. The nature of guild interactions is that they’re a late game feature, and so will only be seen by a small percentage of players.
The game was very UI heavy, with menus, submenus and sub-submenus and in some parts of the game even more levels of sub. This, whilst functionally sound, was a bit of a nightmare.
We were confident that we’d made something excellent, but it didn’t quite hit the spot of the audience we were aiming for. Ratings were very high and feedback was great, but even a small barrier to entry is enough for people to move on to the next game. Lots of people complain about discovery and user acquisition. I also complain about that, actually. In this particular case though, it wasn’t our problem so much as having a game mechanic, game structure and art style that were very hard to digest in bite-size pieces.
Most important to us was the social mechanics. The match/fight/collect genre (is that a genre?) is mostly a solo experience. You enter a dungeon, fight some mobs, get some things and upgrade then rinse & repeat. At no point do you talk to other people unless it’s to boast or say how crap their drops are, and that’s done on internet forums – or sometimes, just once, by written and hand delivered post.
This made us realise that to have a strong guild mechanic and make people want to talk with each other about the game, they needed to be playing with each other. Sometimes playing with each other feels really good, especially if the other person is a stranger. It’s also nice to watch other people play, which was one of the most entertaining things about P&D and any number of others. We didn’t do enough of that.
So what did we do? We made another game! It seemed like the best thing to do as we’re a games company. The core tenets of this game were laid out before we began:
It needed to be fun immediately
It needed to be understandable immediately
It needed to have social interaction that was intrinsically part of the gameplay
It needed to look even better than the last one
It needed to be broadcast to all available video services basically constantly
It needed to have a blog post announcing it
The last one is the easiest and is what is coming next. The other ones are hard and I’ll ramble on about them for ages.
Any questions, please send by written and hand delivered post.