Osmos Developer Interview: Part 1

Osmos is one of the most unique and fantastic indie games released in recent memory.  The developer of this great title, Hemisphere Games, was kind enough to interview with me.  In Part 1, Eddy from Hemisphere Games talks about the birth of Osmos, DRM, piracy, life as an idie developer, Valve and more.
Adam:

Tell us how Hemisphere Games was founded and why develop Osmos? 
Eddy:
I founded Hemisphere Games in the early nineties (believe it or not) as an umbrella to work on some hobbyist game design projects. At that point it was a cheap and simple sole proprietorship, and I worked on a few concepts over the years.
Several years ago, a few ideas on spacecraft dynamics and deformable modeling I had been thinking about came together in a combination I felt would be compelling, and “Blobs” was born. That game, over the course of a few years of development – along with some friends who joined in at various stages, including Dave Burke, Kun Chang and Andy Nealen – eventually became Osmos. I finally incorporated Hemisphere Games a couple months before releasing the original PC version.
Adam:

What were some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Osmos?
Eddy:
The biggest successes were in simply following my creative inspirations, working with friends I respect and trust, and being “a psychotic perfectionist.” ;-)The biggest failure was in trusting my own judgment with respect to the difficulty curve of the initial release on PC; after years of development I was simply too good at the game. While I listened to feedback from friends and testers, I didn’t listen *enough*. I think I learned from this however, and we struck a much better balance in the iOS versions of Osmos.
Adam:

Were you surprised at the success of Osmos? 
Eddy:
Incredibly. Each step felt like a miracle. First, the multiple IGF nominations; then the success of the PC release; and more recently the even greater success on iOS. We’re very grateful for all the love and positive feedback that have been heaped on our baby.
Adam:

What is your relationship with Valve and other digital distributors?
Eddy:
Our relationship with Valve has been excellent. All the talent, quality and professionalism that comes through in their games and services are present in their backend tools and developer relations as well. I really have nothing but good things to say. Our relationship with distributors in general is very good, though some have been better than others.
Adam:

How did you go about setting the price for Osmos?  Do distributors have any say?  What about sale pricing?
Eddy:
Most distributors are content to allow the developer to set the price of their game, so long as they feel it’s within reason. That said, we debated the pricing of Osmos prior to release, and turned to our Steam and Direct2Drive contacts to get their advice. It was our first release after all, and they have a lot more experience with what a “good price point” is than we do. We were considering anywhere from $10 to $20, but decided to go with the relatively low $10 to make sure people were happy with their purchase.As for sale pricing, most distributors (Valve included) have been very professional, and always clear it with us before putting the game on sale. Not *every* portal is that professional unfortunately.
Adam:

You can watch a video demonstration of Osmos via Impulse with commentary from gaming journalists.  How did that come about? 
Eddy:
The folks at Impulse put that video together, which was very cool.
Adam:

How do you feel about Humble Indie Bundle and the “Pay What You Want” pricing method they used?
Eddy:
I think it’s incredible. All the developers of the first bundle – and especially the guys at Wolfire – took a big risk with that and put a lot of faith in the gaming community; and the results were better than anyone could have expected. I don’t know if it could work in a non-temporary-sale model, or for larger portals, but I’m sure it raised a lot of eyebrows and has people thinking.
Adam:

What are your thoughts on DRM and piracy?
Eddy:
I strongly believe in software – and all media for that matter – being DRM free. Pirates are very skilled; state of the art DRM in AAA releases is often broken within a day. It’s a losing battle as far as I’m concerned. So we’re really dependent on the goodwill of paying customers. The best we can do is provide them with a game (and service) they feel is worth their time and money, and trust they’ll support us. I feel DRM only gets in the way of that, annoying legitimate customers.
Allow me to give an example: several years ago I bought a CD published by EMI which included “copy protection”. The disc wouldn’t play on my CD player due to the protection! Needless to say I was annoyed, and had to “go elsewhere” to be able to listen to the music. I’m still a fan of the artist, but at that point I decided to never buy an EMI CD so long as they included such protection on any of their media. Not quite the effect they were hoping for…
Adam:

PC demos are slowly becomming a thing of the past.  Why did you choose to release a demo?  Was it difficult to do so? 
Eddy:
Personally, I appreciate when developers release demos of their games. Sometimes I know I want a game and jump straight to buying, but sometimes I’m not sure. Screenshots and trailers are great, but the video game is an interactive medium, and the proof – and fun – is in the playing. I hope demos continue to be a standard.That said, putting together a good demo requires thought and work. As a developer you want to show players the potential of your game without giving away too much, otherwise you risk shooting yourself in the foot.

Adam

What are some of the struggles you faced being an indie developer?

Eddy:

Financial uncertainty is a big one, especially when starting out! A steady paycheck makes for much less stress.

Another is getting your game noticed. In the end this worked out well for us and Osmos, but it was incredibly tough and discouraging at the beginning. We owe a lot to the IGF, which is an incredible showcase for independent developers.

Finally, being “indie” means you have to wear *many* hats — at least if you hope to make a living at it. If you had told me five years ago I never would have believed I’d be willing to do accounting, business development, support, PR, and all the other necessary tasks associated with running a business. It’s not for everyone, but it can also be very rewarding; and the creative freedom is prime.

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