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.
Despite certain disappointments (no Moon or Mutant Mudds+ here in Aus, Cult County bungle) I'm still very much in support of Renegade Kid. Jools has always struck me as a great and honest developer, which is always welcome in today's industry!
Just waiting for the rest of Moon and Dementium to come.
I actually am considering getting Xeodrifter.
Renegade Kid did seem to have a rather mediocre year, but given the vibe of the interview, it looks like they are on track for a very solid 2015.
They had their ups and downs this year,but who cares next year will be great for them!
So I think I will start with the positives then the negatives.
Positives: we will be seeing the rest of moon next month or after( Nintendo may take some time), they are doing "OK" which for any indie dev is good news, we have some surprises waiting for us next year!
negatives: they lied to us and Nintendo we in USA were told that treasurenauts were going to come out in August they told us that by Nintendo website and by Nintendo Minute. He could have easily release a statement to Nintendo and us saying it was going to be delayed but instead we only got "were still working on it". this is how I feel, I don't mind the fact they delayed it. Its just the way they did it by going "Weeeell its going to take a bit BUT LOOK AT PRETTY Xeodrifter!!!!" I don't like. In all I will pick up Xeodrifter when its on sale 3-5 bucks off. Moon I like it, but I don't know If I will pick it up. treasurenauts I will pick up once it comes out.
Europe does want your games Jools.
I'm waiting for Xeodrifter, Moon (complete) and Treasurenauts.
I'll buy them all, I promise!
I'll buy the complete moon chronicles .....however, I bought episode 1 and I've been a bit disapointed by how lengthy the roll out has been.
The 3DS really needs developers like Renegade and Shin'en so that they can fill in the void left by the large publishers.
How to generate cash:
Step 1 - Release games in Europe
Step 2 - ???
Step 3 - Profit!
(Though of course European releases cost more than they're worth... )
Well said @sub12 regarding the large publishers void. Quite sad to hear RK having trouble making ends meet, perhaps the big N should be offering more support to these small loyal developers (without necessarily buying them out!) Hopefully Xeodrifter sells well and maybe they'l consider an expansion as like Mutant Mudds... A beefed up Xeodrifters could be epic. Keep up the good work RK!
I'll continue to wait for Treasurenauts, if it's really going to be that much better in the end, but it was my most hyped indie game of the past year so I can't help but being disappointed that it wasn't meant to be.
Anyway, good luck with 2015, RK!
Well, 35% of american sales for Mutant Mudds does not sound that much, but its still 35%. Out ouf 100.000 its 35.000. Out of 200.000 its 70.000.
Good job Jools, this is exactly what expecially NL needed. They're a small team, they made the mistake of promising things. But nothing is cancelled. They have learned their lesson. I'm also just a regular fan, but I didn't get mad at them.
The thing I understood right away was that they do what they feel. They felt like taking a little break and doing something else and that's what they did. Depending on what mood you are, that's what you do best. If you do something you don't feel like doing, expecially designing, game designing and other art, it becomes forced and the result won't be even nearly as good. And soon you'll lose your interest in game designing in general.
I could easily see a person being stuck in making one game and just not feeling it. And then he'll just force himself to do it till it's finished. And the next game he's going to make suffers from this.
RK did something many people would never do, but it definitely helped them as developers. They figured out a different and better solution, which not many could even think of, or better yet, have any guts to do so. They took the risk of getting hate from people, which propably did affect them a bit, but it was the right thing to do, they're in a good position now because of it.
(keep in mind, that this is not the only reason they put Treasurenauts and Moon Chronicles on a halt)
I love Renegade Kid, I look forward to everything they do. I thought they were a bigger company than 4 people.
This is a general question regarding kickstarter and is a little off topic, but is there a way or website to see what completed kickstarter games are coming? I remember seeing several that I've been interested in, but I can't remember all of them.
@JoolsWatsham: You are the man! But on a more serious note, I have purchased all your 3DS releases. We need more developers like you. Your prices are always fair, and your games are always swan songs to great older games. Keep up the great work, and I look forward to your upcoming games in 2015!
I still wonder about the Cult County reasoning...if the rights for the Dementium brand was going to revert to them this very year, why go with such an ambitious new IP project like Cult County, which according to the video and other info, solely existed because they couldn't do Dementium 3. Considering the scope of the project, the game would be released a long time after they got the Dementium rights, defeating the very foundation of its existence.
Right there with you. I haven't picked up Xenodrifter yet but the Gamasutra article convinced me to get it before the end of the year.
I lost my interest with Moon since I've been waiting forever for the other episodes. I question if that was a good idea. I would have gladly paid full price for the entire game. That or they should have released a new episode every month or so. I hope they don't do the same thing with Dementium. I want the full game.
Renegade Kid is one of my favorite developers! :3
Great interview, guys.
@DefHalan: If you like Metroid, jump on Xeodrifter.
They are s great dev. I buy their games day 1 and have never been dissapointed. Can not wait to finally play dimentium, I missed that back on ds. I hope all these devs patch all their games to add 2nd circle pad support in the future...
I would right now if the Steam Sale didn't drain me. Payday should be tomorrow so after Christmas Shopping and setting rent aside I will lol
I said some harsh words towards Jools before but I regret it now. I do respect their work. Even if I didn't enjoy some titles I still appreciate the effort. I do have plans to get Xeodrifter fo sho.
Nice read. I'm looking forward to getting Treasurnauts and the rest of Moon Chronicles.
Also, I'm amazed they were able to get Xeodrifter out so quickly as good as it was. I suppose the short development time accounts for its brevity though.
They make good stuff, but I wish they didn't have so much trouble with Moon Chronicles. I think I'll give Xeodrifter a try.
Nice interview, Jools. All the best for 2015. I can't wait to find out about the planned surprises. Deodrifter was my favourite surprise of 2014 - I'd been praying for a 2D Metroid-like game.
@C-Olimar you qould think so wouldn't you, surely the effort involved in getting a game out in europe would be worth it for the potential profit. I can't really get my head around this approach some devs have of only releasing in NA surely even if they paid 1 person to sort out whatever needs doing to get a game into europe it would be worth it.
@Morph It isn't about paying a member of staff to do the work, it's about localisation costs and paying the different ratings bodies in Europe quite a lot of money to rate the game. Then there's the Australian ratings system. That is in a league of its own as far as cost.
Seriously - it can easily cost more money than you'll get back to release the games in Europe and particularly Australia. It makes financial sense for Indies to release in North America first, where ratings cost nothing and localisation is not required, see if it sells a reasonable amount, project the potential profits for releasing in Europe, decide if you are actually likely to not lose money doing so.
Bout time with MOON. I've been so disappointed with the lack of episode releases and updates it almost put me off buying the rest. Luckily the Dementium announcements helped cheer me up again. Any word on Vita versions or is it 3DS only? I ask because the vita is also lacking in the FPS genre
@Yomerodes from what I have found, RK had no idea that they'd get the rights back this year. Back in March they were under the impression that it would never happen.
I think the fact that the PC port bombed is what lead to the publisher releasing the rights back.
Renegade Kid makes great games. Try 1, or a few of them, if you haven't already.
Keep up the good work, Renegade Kid. I'm a fan.
I'm looking forward to the rest of the Moon Chronicles, particularly as my original DS version of the game dealt me a game-breaking bug. I hope Cult County is able to rise again. We could use more horror titles these days.
@ImDiggerDan Smaller indies than Renegade Kid can manage it, I'm sure they can. If they have enough confidence in their product then there's no reason that it shouldn't sell and at the very least hit break even point.
@jools keep it up! I hope 2015 brings great things to Renegade kid and its employees! If things ever get you down remember you can always come race me on ATV Wild Ride! You beat my ass last time but I would love a rematch! Also is there any way to clear the ranking board and start it over? That would be fun to start the rankings again.
Xeodrifter looks great! What Id like most though would be a Moon Chronicles (or Dementium II) remake for Wii U.
Also, +1 for Moon Chronicles release in EU.
The only game I have bought is the Moon Chronicles because I be(LIE)ved in the story that the other episodes would be released soon after....... what ....... 7-8 months later nothing....... not sure about the rest of there catalog....
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