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What Went Wrong
Not enough iteration on tutorials. As many iterations as we did, we ended up falling into an old trap of not budgeting enough time for tutorials. Yes, we spent a good month tweaking the tutorials and testing it on users who have hardly played a game before, but in retrospect we should have started earlier, and used more rigorous testing methods.
The tutorial needed to be more robust, shorter, and more responsive. Even more so than the rest of the game, a tutorial should feel rewarding in every thing you do, and be incredibly intuitive. This is something we are adamant on getting right next time, and for a game that depends on a 60-minute trial, this was a misstep. To be sure, our conversion rate is currently slightly above industry standard, but I believe we have the potential to do a lot better.
Loss of community after preview. During our July preview period, we had an active community in our forums, begging for more content. Of course, we had none to give them, and the preview was built to simply solicit feedback. We then made the huge mistake of letting the community die out, as we spent all our energies creating the final version of the game. Now, we must rebuild the community.
A large part of the problem was we didn't know what to tell them. Were we going to be on handheld? Self-published online? Retail PC? We essentially had to have an information lock while we negotiated with the publishers. Even in October, we were not sure whether we would release online ourselves or over Steam. Had you asked me in November, I would've guessed we would eventually go with Valve.
I still don't believe we could have kept an active community going for nine months before the release of the game, but one thing we definitely should have had was a newsletter signup to let them know when an announcement was made. Today, we have an optional opt-in for a newsletter on the same page as the demo download, and our newsletter user-base is increasing steadily.
Tight budget / Low man power. When I started Klei, our initial capitalization was whatever I had saved up. Note that I was 24, and you can begin to understand that much of the work that was done up to the release was done on sweat equity. In addition to working on a shoestring budget, Eets was the result of an immense amount of favors. We would have been in a much better position to finish the game quicker if we had some level of capitalization.
I am extremely fortunate to have so many talented friends that believed in my vision of the product and company. Without their support, Eets would never have existed.
In addition to outside help, we were lucky to have multi-talented staff. As an example, Marcus Lo, our brilliant level designer, actually has a programming background. As such, he wrote much of the logic of the items via Lua script, without as much support as a conventional designer might have needed. I acted as programmer, artist, designer, and executive.
On a side note, our Art Director is actually a programmer by trade. Thus, between me and Mike, 90 percent of Eets consists of programmer art!
|A casual game, and yet with fancy lighting!|
|90 percent of the art in Eets were done by people trained as programmers.|
Blurry Target Market. Upon inception, Eets was created as a prototype to see what a group of friends could do in their free time. We wanted to know how far we could go, and learn as much as possible in the process, using as high production quality as possible. At the time, little thought had been given to commercialization, and thus no target market was formed.
Our problem was that the art style led people to believe we're a children's game, whereas our game truly appealed to an older crowd. In fact, we've found that kids do enjoy our game, but after much debate, we decided to focus on two core groups:
We were able to successfully make the necessary adjustments for our demographic, but things would have been much easier had we decided this from the beginning.
Unclear ship date. The constant shifting in priorities and dates put a significant strain on the company and staff. In the course of nine months, I made at least six different schedules, to take into account the different paths that we could take. We were delivering proposed timelines to publishers, and at the same time looking for staff to make sure we could hire if we signed a deal.
When it became clear we were self-publishing, I needed a new schedule and a new feature list. As we neared a deal with a distributor, we budgeted time to integrate into their system, and then the contract fell through, so our product was delayed, giving us more time for polish as we looked for the best deal for our company.
The delays turned out to be a blessing in disguise – we were able to polish the game to heights not usually known in the independent scene – but made it a nightmare to keep our financial models and cash flow documents up-to-date.
Eets, like many games, was a very ambitious project. Klei's staff went out on a limb to create the best independent game possible, using our team's experience on AAA games to break away from the notion that indie games are built with low production quality, and are rough around the edges. We believe that not everyone wants to play games with cut-scenes they can't skip, cost upwards of $50 per copy, and feature more than 100 hours of gameplay.
Certainly, we're learning as we go along, and we've had our fair share of problems. But Eets was originally created as a learning experience, and boy, have we learned. We had a lot of fun making this game, and we are lucky enough to be in a much better position then when we started. Our next project is proving to be even more exciting, and I look forward to writing another one of these essays that remind me of being in school again.
Developer: Klei Entertainment Inc.
Publisher: Klei Entertainment Inc.
Number of Full-time developers: 3
Number of Contractors: 10
Length of Development: 3 years part-time to get to prototype, 9 months full-time from prototype to Gold.
Release Date: March 27th, 2006
Platform: PC (Windows)
Development software used: Visual Studio .NET, Flash, Photoshop, Maya.
Development hardware used: Various PCs.
Project Size: Released game is compressed to 19.9MB, uncompressed 50MB.