You enrolled at a game school in an old cable factory with a doorless elevator that never stops. You made a group prototype, a little jumping cube that seemed like it could be the beginning of a real game…
Then, you and your teammates apply for an office on the sunken ground floor of your school and you actually get it. You apply to A MAZE with your prototype and get rejected. But then you get a sandwich and walk around the street at night and think about how plausible it continues to be that this could be a real game with just you and your three teammates holding the axe.
Time shifts and the game gets good. It’s a visceral, direct thing where the game was shit and now it isn’t because you realize collectively that it’s a music game. You’re happy to be making music all the time now, coming from time spent pasting the explicit lyrics warning onto imaginary album covers in microsoft paint. You infuse the soundtrack with that same attitude.
You start to exhibit under a working title that tells you something about the game but is difficult to pronounce. At showcases, when kids are into it, it’s really mindblowing because they suck at the game but they still enjoy it. They look like a poster to warn you against video games, with their mouths hanging wide open and the colours washing over them in time with the plastic, aggressive beats.
You start these conventions with a table, then get a cabinet, then get the Big Booth. By the time you’re in the Big Booth, the music is pumping and everyone is super hyped. Some streamer dude plays your game on a dance mat and the whole booth is raving, sweat dripping down the arcade cabinet.
You also see the variety of sleaziness at these events, the people who want to sell you their bitcoin cult, the chewing gum douchenozzle sunglasses guys. You’re in the big city and you’re generally overwhelmed, like actively feeling rookie, and you’re late for a meeting with a guy who goes on to use your name like he knows you. He throws around huge numbers, asking about your marketing budget and he swears a lot, probably because he thinks you’ll be impressed. He’s the business guy who talks to the artist and you align yourself with that narrative in the conversation but later wish you had just said no thanks.
You think about maybe releasing on mobile? No, that’s not the type of game you really play and mobile development is a different animal. A console is a console. On a phone, you’re competing with other apps, some as essential as ‘phone’. Someone gets interested in the project and they say money money money for a mobile game and you refuse. Ha! Integrity.
You found a company. There is a lot of paperwork and you’re glad to have the unspoken rule about which one of you is the best to handle bureaucracy.
The game is getting close to its final shape and you cast a wide net for a publisher. You have a lot of meetings that go nowhere, but there is that one longshot crush on an artsy publisher who would be perfect. They gave you prototype money, so you must have caught their eye.
You finally release the game on steam. It’s not a blockbuster but it’s respectable. Sometimes you work unhealthy hours and alienate yourself from loved ones. You become too invested in both the contents and the savings potential of ordering the company bottles through a weekly service rather than bottle-to-bottle like the old days.
You’re in a new office now. You have a special brick for propping open the door to the stairwell so you don’t get locked out while smoking. You still get locked out sometimes.
You decide to go ahead and make a mobile version anyway. The time seems right, now at peak burnout, and you imagine you’ll get whatever level of success is appropriate for a game of this quality. Your publisher has experience with releasing on mobile, so you let yourself get hopeful. You’re socializing at an event in the school and you don’t have daily numbers like on steam, but you have a couple app of the day features and it seems to have some presence.
It feels like it’s doing well. But no, the opposite. You become an outlier for how badly a mobile release can go in your circumstances.
How could this have happened? Between you there is a lot of experience in sales and marketing. You’re thinking. You’re trying to think of anything that would qualify as sales and marketing experience. None. Zero, null. But there were classes on this stuff. You didn’t really go. You’re more of a creative person. You used to do yard sales when you were young. You’d gather some neighbourhood kids on a sunny day and sell duplicate mickey mouse comic issues. You did a bunch of weird stuff. You didn’t really sell games but there were a lot of pirated copies of need for speed at one point. You lent out a lot of games that never found their way back. You sold oranges. You sold all the oranges.
Your sibling gets the whole family to play and review. Your mom gets the game and accidentally leaves a 1-star review. She can’t undo it.
You stream and party in your office and stream the parties sometimes.
You release a Level Editor that is so dear to you but not easy to explain. You’d think it’s all in the name, but you can only use it on PC right now. People still discover it and you watch as hundreds of community-made levels roll in. Clever, beautiful, strange stuff that you never would have come up with. These levels mess with you so much. It’s awesome.
You see some of these levels speedrun at summer games done quick, which is a dream within a dream.
You woke up this morning, already elbow-deep in a different project. When you started the prototype six years ago, you were just friends and now you’re a company. It still feels like a place of friendship, but also a place of work, of responsibility. The stakes are higher, but you know you can rely on your team because everyone understands that this work is something to be grateful for.
When you were a kid, you never dreamt of taxes or crunch or how well your game would do on mobile.
You dreamt you made a video game, and so did we.
Lots of Love,
text by: Marsha Courneya