Earlier this week, Double Fine released its free to play superhero management game Middle Manager of Justice, the first real mobile title to come from the San Francisco-based studio. Fans swarmed over the game when it launched Tuesday night, but there's just one problem: The game wasn't supposed to debut for another several weeks.
Double Fine has since pulled the game from the iOS App Store, but not before plenty of fans got their hands on an unfinished, and unfortunately buggy version of the game. We recently spoke to the game's project lead, Kee Chi, who told us exactly what happened, and how Double Fine turned its unfortunate blunder into a helpful production resource.
As the lead developer on Double Fine's first mobile game (excluding the Psychonauts companion app), Chi suspected he'd run into some hiccups when working on a new platform, and he said the game accidentally found its way into the wild because he wasn't aware of the idiosyncrasies that come with submitting an app to the iOS marketplace.
"Yeah, it was totally my fault," he said. "With the way you submit things on the App Store, you have to specify what the release date is, and a while back we had set the date to September, but at the time we didn't know if that would be final or not.
"Once we submitted the game, we realized we had a lot of things we still needed to tweak and fix, but at the same time, we didn't want to remove it from the [submission] process in case Apple catches other things we need to take care of, and we didn't want to do a double submission."
Unfortunately, Chi and his team didn't realize their "tentative" September launch date was still very much in effect.
"So I was on the train heading to work this week, and I get a call from our tech director saying, 'Hey, um, so it looks the game is live in every territory.' And I just went, 'What!?'" Looking back on it, Chi laughs, but for a time he was worried about how this early launch could affect his game's reputation.
"It wasn't what I wanted the world to see quite yet," he said. "At Double Fine, we pride ourselves on putting a solid product out there, so having something out there that was buggy and not quite ready yet was really frustrating."
With an unfinished version of the game already in players' hands, Double Fine couldn't fix the issue, but instead chose to make the most of its inconvenience. Shortly after unpublishing the game, Chi and other Double Fine staff reached out to players on a number of different message boards, telling them that if they had downloaded the game, they were encouraged to become impromptu playtesters and help Double Fine work out the kinks before Middle Manager's official release.
"I guess it kind of just turned into a beta test," Chi said. "I mean, if people find bugs that we haven't found internally, I'd love to know about them so I can fix them," Chi said.
Even just a few days later, Chi says he's received a ton of valuable feedback that's helped Double Fine eliminate bugs, and make the game's free-to-play elements less restrictive for non-paying players.
"If anything, I welcome these suggestions from people, because we're still learning and we plan to work on this well after it goes live to make the game deeper, and luckily this means we'll get an early start on that process," he said.
Reflecting on the mix-up, Chi's certain Double Fine will stay clear of this issue in the future, but his experience serves as an important lesson for anyone working on a new, perhaps unfamiliar platform: Mistakes will happen; the real trick is learning how to adapt to them.
The final version of Middle Manger of Justice will find its way to the iTunes App Store in the coming weeks.