Virgil, creator of the sensational indie hit, Creeper World 2, offers his insights into the world of indie gaming, DRM, piracy, the beginning of Creeper World and much more in this detailed e-mail interview.
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Creeper World 2.
I’ve been in professional software development for 20 years and have been writing games since I was a kid. I started creating PC games seriously about 4 years ago… right in the middle of a very successful enterprise software career. I’m both the designer and developer of Creeper World 1 and 2, and they have been an absolute blast to work on.
2. How did you get started in developing PC games?
Back in 2007 the itch got so strong I had to scratch it. I implemented a little game called WhiteboardWar:ChopRaider as an experiment to explore modern indie game creation, marketing, and sales. It was a much bigger success than I had anticipated and was also a lot more fun… This Win/Win led to further investment and the eventual creation of my company Knuckle Cracker.
3. Where did the idea for Creeper World 2 come from?
The main idea of behind the Creeper World games is the “Creeper”. This oozing, flowing enemy that spreads across the terrain like a toxic hazardous spill. This idea came out of weeks of thought centered around introducing a new kind of enemy to strategy and defense games. I’ve played my fair share of RTS and strategy games and I’ve enjoyed most. But I was looking for a way to create a new dynamic that had never been seen before. I have a background in physics and computer science… and one day the idea of using cellular automata to simulate ‘heat-flow’ hit me. That might just make an enemy that was both unique and interesting….
4. What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Creeper World 2?
Marketing is hard, design and development are easy…. at least for me. The Creeper World games are really innovative and fresh. I have extremely high conversion rates from demo to purchase. The huge majority of those who have taken a serious look at the game are impressed by the game play. But, I’d venture 999 out of 1000 gamers have never heard of Creeper World. This is something I need to correct and I’m working hard to do so.
6. Some indie devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Creeper World 2 and if you faced a similar challenge.
This is always a major concern. Every developer knows that they will lose objectivity as they create the game. You can lose creative objectivity, ‘fun-ness’ objectivity, and difficulty objectivity. To counter this, I ran a lengthy beta program. I watched and took notes on both the initial, mid-life, and long term feedback of the beta players. This helped me judge not only the longevity of the game, but also the difficulty of the game.
7. Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Creeper World 2 would run on the various PC system configurations?
The Creeper World games were written on the Adobe AIR platform. This has many disadvantages but also some important advantages. One of those advantages is that the differences between different system configurations (even between PC and Mac), mostly disappear. Of course the overall performance of the player’s system is still a huge concern, but this is always true on the PC platform and just something you have to deal with.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but figuring out how to turn your game into money. You can have a great game and make very little money if you aren’t careful. There are some notable examples on every platform. Exposure equals sales, and getting that exposure isn’t something that comes easy. You have to work really hard at it and be both patient and persistent.
9. As of this interview (7-10-11), Creeper World 2 is not available on the major digital distribution platforms. Are there any plans to change that?
Creeper World 1 is on GamersGate and CW2 will be there shortly. I am a big believer in consumer choice, so I’d absolutely love for the other platforms to pick up the game. Applications are in, and I’m sure as press exposure for CW2 kicks in over the coming months that the big players will take a look. That said, even with my abysmal marketing skills and the relative unknown nature of my games, I still manage to move tens of thousands of sales via KnuckleCracker.com. This is a testament to the uniqueness of the game and the intensity of the player community in spreading news of the game. If CW2 were to hit a channel like Steam… look for a massive explosion in interest.
I did. I looked at a spectrum of indie and traditional games. Like most self publishing developers, I worried that it was too much or too little. But I think that $10 price point has become a pretty standard and accepted fair value for most indie titles.
11. How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?
It’s awesome. It has allowed a new golden age of independent game development. Very small teams can now create and profit from absolutely excellent game creations. They don’t have to ask permission, or get some guy in a suit to sign off. They are free to create, discover, and get rewarded all on their own.
I spent half of the development time of CW2 specifically supporting mods. In the coming month I will be releasing a very sophisticated map editor for CW2 that allows not only map creation, but also modification of graphics, custom units, game constants, etc. I even go as far as to host these player creations on my web site and make it all available for free to players. So yeah, I like modders. It’s a way that players get to participate in the living community created around the game. And that is just something that I think is really cool and unique to games as a form of entertainment.
13. You released a PC demo for Creeper World 2 in an age where demos are becoming scare. What made you release a demo and was it difficult to develop one?
I couldn’t imagine not releasing a demo. Demo’s have sold me on so many games in the past, that it seems like the natural and fair thing to do. People, I think, ought to have the right to legitimately experience the game via a ‘test drive’ before they buy. I think this is good for players and good for the game as well.
14. How important is it to get instant feedback about Creeper World 2 from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Oh, extremely important. I host my own forums and am always open to input and feedback. A few years ago I debated if I should have forums and be accessible to the fans of my games. I wondered if it would take too much time. Now looking back, I can’t imagine it any other way. Being there for your fans and your supporters is important. It helps you grow and maintain perspective and it provides the players and community something they can’t easily get outside the indie community.
I read every review and take it all to heart… perhaps too much to heart. That said, I have the thousands of “little reviews” that the players of the game send me. Those matter a great deal to me as well.
16. How do you feel about the Humble Indie Bundle and “Pay What You Want Pricing”? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?
I think that “if it works, why oppose it”? Programs and incentives like this can create exposure for games that they would never get otherwise. This translates into real reward for the developers and its a good thing. Would I consider such a program…? Of course!
17. What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I’ve read a great many opinions on this subject from across the industry. There was recently even a Reddit posting about this that pointed back to a discussion on the Knuckle Cracker forums. My personal opinion is that most games should invest only in absolute minimal protection. Overboard DRM schemes are wasted investment and can interfere with the game experience. I think that most people get confused in thinking that very simple things like locally checked serial keys, or something mostly transparent as provided by the platform (like in the case of Steam), are about curbing intentional and malicious piracy. They aren’t…. They are targeted towards casual or even unintentional piracy. People want to play games, not click on buttons and pay for things. Minimize as much as possible the hassle while still making it clear that the game isn’t free, that’s what any requirement should target. Do this, and everyone will win.
18. How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
Anything that provides consumer choice is good. The market can decide if this is a good or passing thing. That said, I personally prefer to buy my games as a “whole pie” rather than the apples, brown sugar, and crust.
19. What are some of the games or genres you like to play? Are you a fan of other indie developers?
I wish I had more time to play games… I spend 98% of my time working to create my own. But when I do play I will play everything from the popular FPS titles, to current RTS titles. My favorite game of all time was Total Annihilation. That game became the very meaning of “Epic” in my mind and will likely remain so for the rest of my life. Indie wise, I’ve always admired the Introversion Software guys. Darwinia ruled…. ‘nuf said.
20. What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Don’t expect to get rich, or famous, or get to play games all day. If that is what you are after choose something else. If, though, you would do it all for nothing and in the end only you would get to play your game, then you might have what it takes. Consider this carefully, and you might… just might… end up rich, famous and playing games all day.
We would like to thank Virgil once again for taking time out of his busy day to share his thoughts on Creeper World 2 and PC gaming as a whole. You can pick up a demo of Creeper World 2 here.
Interview conducted by Adam Ames.