Video Game Woes: A Sad Story About Indie Game Development
Indie game development has seemingly erupted over the past couple of years, and it is now easier than ever for small teams to create their own games. That said, independent developers still face a myriad struggles, such as finding a publisher, getting a confirmed release date by a console manufacturer, and receiving significant amounts of promotion. For David Johnston, the man behind puzzle-platformer The Adventures of Shuggy, these three issues seemingly buried any chances of the game being a commercial success.
In an interview with Edge, Johnston was quick to point out that the time traveling mechanics in Shuggy were never borrowed from games such as P.B. Winterbottom and Braid, because he had already started development of his game back in 2007, long before those games launched. "By the end of that year, I'd entered into the Dream Build Play competition," the developer pointed out. "The time travel mechanic was there, the rotation was there, the rope-swinging was there. And this was all before the release of P.B. Winterbottom and Braid and Lazy Raiders and all that. It was frustrating to see those games get released which were obviously going to take away a bit of the thunder when Shuggy came out."
Johnston's whole fiasco was initiated while trying to find a publisher. Sierra Online was the first company to back Shuggy, but after being purchased by Activision Blizzard, the contract was terminated. Of course, that was following a lengthy period of time in which Johnston couldn't get into contact with the company, so the project's release was slowed further. After about a year of looking, the lone indie dev was able to get backing from Valcon. Unfortunately, the publisher didn't do much to help promote Shuggy.
The game eventually popped up on Xbox Live Arcade, but it had no promotion whatsoever, it didn't have a spot on the Xbox Dashboard, and it was released during the same period as Magic: The Gathering. Those factors, in addition to the slow release process, spelled nothing but doom for the sales of Shuggy. Johnston went through a ridiculously lengthy process as he tried to release the game, and Microsoft did nothing to help get the game some much-needed advertising. It almost seems like the manufacturer treated it like an XBLIG title. This wouldn't be the first time Microsoft ignores the indie scene, as a similar lack of promotion can be traced back to Super Meat Boy. Unfortunately for Johnston, however, Shuggy hasn't seen even a small percentage of the success of Team Meat's awesome platformer.
Johnston told Edge that after he finishes up some projects he's working on, he may be calling it quits on the whole game-making business. It's saddening and even a little heart-breaking that a small game developer feels this way after dealing with a load of BS during his title's development process. Here's hoping Johnston changes his mind, though. Perhaps the dev should try pushing the game on Steam. After all, other titles have found success after being ported from Xbox 360 to the PC download platform.