In the third entry of this 2014 'Year in Development' series, we chat to Renegade Kid's Jools Watsham on a challenging 2014, the realities of being a small Indie studio and promising plans for 2015, including early year arrivals to complete the Moon Chronicles first season.
First of all, can you give us a general overview of your year, in terms of major moments?
Jools Watsham: As far as game releases, we had Moon Chronicles in May and Xeodrifter in December. We also had a failed Kickstarter in April, and we also announced the rights of Dementium returning to us. I think that's it for the year, as far as I can remember!
The Moon Chronicles episodic launch began, as you say. There was plenty of buzz for that, even before it was announced. Was that testament to the continuing importance of social media?
Hm, I don't know if I would say it was a testament to the continuing importance of social media, as you say. I think the buzz was generated by a few things — including the popularity of the genre and the positive reception the original Moon title received on the DS. The awareness was generated by the press websites and Nintendo more than our social media efforts.
The fact that the game was featured on a Nintendo Direct helped a lot in amplifying the games' message — does the Nintendo Direct fall under social media?
I recall you doing a lot of tweets that prompted reports, but of course a Direct can be vital. Did that initial enthusiasm, from various sources, prompt positive sales of episode 1? Also, do you have an update on the next episodes and the European release of the full game?
Yes, Episode 1 of Moon Chronicles has performed well. The remaining 3 episodes of the season are all sitting at Nintendo of America awaiting their approval for release. If everything goes well they will all be released in North America in January 2015. We do not have an update on a EU release at this time.
With hindsight, would it have worked equally well to have the full game release as one, especially due to the gap between episodes and the potential that 2, 3 and 4 will now be bunched together? Or have you been happy with the experiment?
I am glad we tried the episodic approach with the game, but in hindsight I think the game would have been received better as a single release instead being broken up into separate episodes. The remaining three episodes will be available as a single "season pass" purchase, as well as separate episodes.
You also planned an episodic approach with Cult County, at one point, and that leads us to your Kickstarter campaign. Were there any particular lessons you learnt from that setback, and does the project have a future?
Cult County was born from the fact that we did not have Dementium rights at the time. Now that we have the rights to Dementium, it is unlikely we will release Cult County — but you never know what the future may hold, so I won't rule it out completely. The main lessons I learned from the Cult County Kickstarter campaign is that potential backers want a very clear idea of what the game is, in terms of a playable demo or at least a representative gameplay video. This is obvious for a game that has a set destiny, but we were trying to present an opportunity for the backers to be involved from the ground floor in the creation of a new survival horror game from concept phase. This idea could still be accomplished, but we were not effective in doing so.
Is there also a possibility that the Kickstarter bubble has burst, to a degree, or do you feel it's still a strong platform for potential funding? Will Renegade Kid be returning to KS in 2015?
I think Kickstarter might be more challenging now than before due to saturation and other issues such as failed projects and projects taking so long before they are released, but I still think the right idea can be successful on Kickstarter. We do not have any immediate plans for a Kickstarter campaign, but it is something that we may still consider in the future.
You've wrapped up the year with Xeodrifter, which seems to have been well received. Have you been pleased with the reaction to this project, and has it been a labour of love?
Yes, Xeodrifter has been received very well by players and press, which is extremely satisfying. I am very proud of Xeodrifter and what we accomplished in the five months of development. It was a real shotgun project in terms of focus, speed, and effort. It was definitely a labour of love; we could not have completed it without that passion and desire to create something special.
What sparked that shotgun project, did the idea just strike? We ask as, naturally, some fans are keen to play Treasurenauts, in particular.
It was a combination of wanting to create a Metroid-like, because it's an awesome genre, and our need to release something in 2014. Treasurenauts could not have been completed for release this year, so we chose to develop a smaller scoped game instead of reducing the scope of Treasurenauts.
I think considering the half-finished and disappointing efforts seen at triple A level this year on some platforms, that sentiment will have some support. Just to follow up on a key point from last year, can we have an update on your plans for Europe? Last year you expressed hope that the scenario with ratings, for example, would improve, but some publishers including you haven't been releasing titles promptly outside of North America throughout 2014.
We are a very small team and, honestly, are struggling to make ends meet as it is. The fact that sales of Mutant Mudds in Europe is about 35% of the sales in North America means we have to focus on releasing games in NA first in the hope that they generate enough cash for us to continue developing games and find the means to release them in other territories when we can.
Reflecting on 2014, how would you judge the overall outcome for the company? Generally positive, disappointing, a runaway success?
Speaking creatively and in regards to the quality of our games, I am very happy with what we produced in 2014. Financially speaking, though, it was only OK. We are a 4 person team, with some part-time contractors occasionally, so that will hopefully put some perspective on our situation. We need to figure out how we can generate more cash somehow!
I recently wrote a postmortem of Xeodrifter on Gamasutra, which goes into a lot of detail in the ups and downs of that project.
On that note, how optimistic are you for 2015? With Dementium and Treasurenauts on the agenda, can fans also expect additional surprises or even news on Mutant Mudds 2?
I am much more optimistic about 2015. Like you said, we have Dementium, Treasurenauts, and some other surprised planned for 2015 that will hopefully be huge successes!
Great, do you have any final comments for our readers to close out 2014?
Thank you! it has been a pleasure chatting with you, and thank you to everyone who has supported us in 2014 by buying our games. It is a pleasure to create games, and we really appreciate everyone's enjoyment with our games.
We'd like to thank Jools Watsham for his time.