In the first part of my interview with Kris Steele of FunInfused Games (who, among others, has released “Abduction Action!” and “Hypership Out of Control”) we visited the island’s governor and discussed various subjects. Wait, no, that was a classic “Sid Meier’s Pirates!” flashback. Kris and I discussed XNA development, the Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) community, XBLIG price points, whether XBLIG developers on Twitter have too narrow a focus on what hashtags they use, and the Commodore 64 game Choplifter. Part two commences with Kris and I still debating the Choplifter influence in Abduction Action!, how many people are part of his XNA development team, the influences for some of his games, his sales, and last winter’s Indie Games Winter Uprising. Finally, we preview part 3.
Writings of Mass Deduction:
Now as you know, in Choplifter you had to fly in and rescue people while avoiding both ground and air fire. In Abduction Action! you fly in and abduct people while avoiding air and ground fire. It’s kind of like turning Choplifter on its head (replacing the altruistic mission with a destructive mission. All kidding aside, Abduction Action! is a better game, more of a sandbox version of Choplifter in reverse. But that’s the similarity I see. Just for the record.
Yeah, it does have similar elements. Rescuing is much like abducting. If Choplifter was more like Abduction Action! though, you’d be able to drop people to their deaths or chop them up with your helicopter rotor blades. The sandbox-ish feeling is a little nod to the GTA series of games.
Now in part 1 of this interview you used the word “we” a few times. Who else has participated in the development of your games, if anyone?
I often say “we” because it makes Fun Infused Games seem more important and bigger than “we” are. In reality I’m the only official member of the studio but I do contract out for pieces of the games that I cannot do. Phil Chabot did most of the artwork in Nasty, Liam Tarpey has done most of our music (besides AA! in-game songs and the Trivia or Die menu music), along with a few others contributing here and there. I’m working on a couple of upcoming collaboration projects as well where the artists will have a much larger say in game design issues too. Everyone’s names are in the credits of each game.
You also mentioned in the first part of the interview that you use C# (the programming language that Microsoft’s XNA development tools are based around, and that all XBLIGs are written with) in your day job. My familiarity with C# begins and ends with XNA, what were you using it for & what is your day job?
I’m a programmer / developer for a state agency. Mostly I do web apps but occasionally I do Windows applications too. XNA primarily handles game specific stuff like drawing, sound effects, controller input, etc. That was really the gist of what extra I had to learn to really get going making games on XBLIG.
How have each of your games fared in the Marketplace compared to each other? I recall you tweeting that Trivia or Die had been your biggest success yet.
Nasty was priced wrong, it was too high initially and gamers didn’t buy it. By the time I could drop the price, I had really lost all exposure for the game. It has a much better conversion rate now that the price is 80 points instead of 400, but it is also very rarely downloaded.
Abduction Action! sold pretty well, far far better than Nasty did.
Hypership has been my best rated game but it never had as much success as Abduction Action! did. I think XBLIG is a more casual marketplace and a younger marketplace. A difficult game with retro graphics in a crowded genre (shooters) wasn’t that appealing despite great reviews from those that did play it.
Trivia or Die has been my most popular game, passing Abduction Action! by a few hundred sales last month. It’s probably the most casual of my games, features Avatars, and is in a genre that doesn’t get a ton of games released. I think these are the three biggest contributing factors to Trivia or Die being my most successful game.
I list all my sales for my games on my website for anyone to check out. http://www.funinfused.com/SalesData.aspx I usually update this page with new data around the first of the month.
The Cattle mutilation element of UFO visitation/abduction stories features in “Abduction Action!”. Did you do any research into that, or are UFOs something you’re already interested in and knowledgeable about?
I find UFO’s fascinating. I’ve watched all kinds of specials, read books, and watched movies that depict them. I didn’t have to do any research for Abduction Action!, that stuff was already in my head.
In part 1 you discussed the positive effect you felt the Winter Uprising had on the visibility of the Indie Games channel, and of public perception about the quality of games. There were some great games that came out around that time, such as Astroman, that weren’t part of the campaign. Can you tell us a bit about how that team of developers came together to do that promotion?
I believe Robert Boyd (Breath of Death VII, Cthulhu Saves the World) was one of the biggest driving forces for the promotion. I’m unsure if it was originally his idea, but he was instrumental in organizing it. He presented the idea and asked who was interested in joining the promotion. Again I know Robert was involved in choosing the games from those that said they were interested but I don’t think he was the only one with a say in that matter.
Chances are good games that came out during that time, like Astroman, simply did not ask to be included in the promotion.
I agree with you that the Winter Uprising was a success, overall. What were your takeaways on how it could have been better last time, as people start thinking about whether there will be a next time?
I think there needs to be an earlier notice of the promotion to developers. There was only a few weeks prior notice to the Winter Uprising and because of that small window, only a select few developers could have games ready in time. If we had known about this a few months in advance, more developers could have targeted that timeframe as a time to release their game.
I think the state of the games needs to be evaluated more closely before starting to promote the event too. Not every game was ready when the Uprising started and one game wasn’t even released. Most of the exposure for the Winter Uprising came right at the beginning and those that weren’t ready missed out.
On the outside looking in, I also wonder about the timing. Was it good to target the peak Christmas sales window where hotly anticipated retail games are releasing, or would spring or another time of year when releases are slower might be better? The big fish in the little pond, as it were. (Though the Winter Uprising ad on the Dashboard was a huge win, no matter how you slice it, for visibility of the Indie Games channel.)
I don’t think Christmas was a bad time. The most expensive price we can release new XBLIG titles for is $5. $5 is a lot easier to swallow than shelling out money for a retail release and gamers needed something to get them through until Christmas when they may receive those games as gifts. Many gamers got point cards for Christmas too.
I’d like to see another event at a different time of the year as well. I think the bigger issue than time of the year is finding a time when there are enough good games to make a promotion like the Winter Uprising appealing. We had that last winter so it made sense to do it then.
Part 3 of the Kris Steele interview will be posted tomorrow, which among other things will cover:
- his experience so far, and future plans, with XNA development for Windows Phone 7
- his feelings about iOS ports
- our discussion about Games For Windows Live Marketplace, and whether it should be something XNA developers should be talking to Microsoft about
- his experience as an indie game developer, and whether he would recommend others follow in his footsteps
- how his recent date went
- his feelings about ad supported Windows Phone 7 releases, and whether he would like to see that option for XBLIGs
- his recommendations of XNA games from other developers that he feels people should try (and that I should review in the future)
All this, and much more, this time tomorrow.