The Unlikely Three-Year Journey of a Niche DS Game

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Posted by patrickklepek (3947 posts) -

Diamond Trust of London should have died years ago, but designer Jason Rohrer refused to let it go.

Rohrer did not expect to be working on his tiny DS strategy game for more than three years. If all had gone according to plan, Diamond Trust of London would have been out in 2010, published with Majesco’s logo, and he would have made a little bit of money and moved on. That never happened.

When Rohrer signed up for Diamond Trust of London, he was only starting to become known.

It will finally be released this year, however, because of Kickstarter. Rohrer’s Kickstarter proposal to bring Diamond Trust of London to life ended more than a month ago, more than $12,000 over its goal.

The game is a two-player strategy game set before the United Nations passed the Kimberley Process for diamond certification in Angola, an attempt to eliminate “blood diamonds.” There was a lucrative, secretive diamond trade happening in the region before this, and Diamond Trust of London turns that into a game of manipulation predicated on protecting secrets from the other player.

Rohrer was not a known quantity when he sketched out this idea, though he was getting there. Passage, a minimalistic game about death, had been released, and Sleep is Death was not far off. Diamond Trust of London was a project driven by money, a way to help support his family.

“When I signed up for this project three years ago, I had no traction,” he said, “and this publisher came to me, and I was looking at the numbers and saying ‘You know what, I could maybe make $5,000 off of this! Yes!’”

Back then, the idea of a developer supporting themselves by releasing games on their own was...crazy.

Diamond Trust of London was the result of a partnership with Majesco, back when that company was really into the idea of making video games. It published Psychonauts, remember? Majesco set Rohrer up with a development kit and an office. The game was nearly done, missing a tutorial and music, when Majesco got cold feet, and asked Rohrer about releasing on the DSiWare platform. Rohrer crunched the numbers, and didn’t like what he found.

“If you’re making a niche game, you can’t release it on a platform that’s even more niche,” he laughed.

The two ultimately came to a disagreement, and since his contract allowed him to retain rights to the game, he was left with some options. But it’s not like Rohrer could just call up Nintendo and have the game get made.

“Nintendo doesn’t let anybody just come in and let them publish a game on their own,” he said. “You have to be a licensed publisher, and Nintendo won’t license me as a publisher--they’re very strict about who they license. You have to show them this whole business plan, a whole bank portfolio showing how much capital reserves you have--i.e. millions of dollars in capital--and this huge history of publishing games on other major platforms and everything else.”

He shrugged it off, and figured the game was dead.

Then, an opportunity arose later in 2010 with Zoo Games, whose indiePub label was interested in in games like Diamond Trust of London. It seemed like a perfect match, as Zoo Games had published DS games in the past.

As the final pieces fell into place for Diamond Trust of London, Zoo Games started getting nervous, as the 3DS was not far off. It was deja vu for Rohrer, though he actually understood where Zoo Games was coming from.

“They realized it would be crazy to throw this kind of cash at something that’s so uncertain,” he said. “How many people still want a DS game at all? How many people who are in my fanbase actually want to play a DS game, and so on? I certainly wouldn’t want to put up my own money on that, and here I am asking this publisher to do this!”

Once again, a publisher wanted Diamond Trust of London released in Nintendo's digital storefront, but the prospects for success were even bleaker. This time, however, Rohrer had cartridge creation written into the contract.

For the record, the idea of moving Diamond Trust of London to another platform crossed Rohrer's mind, but Rohrer designs his games tailored to that platform's strengths. He couldn't conceive of a way to put Diamond Trust of London on an iPhone or iPad without huge changes, and so it remained exclusively a DS proposition.

This is where Kickstarter comes in, and how Rohrer came up with the very specific Kickstarter asking price of $78,715. According to Rohrer, that is the exact amount of money needed to make this happen. Most of the $78,715 figure comes from having to order a minimum number of cartridges from Nintendo, a number Rohrer was forced to dance around for contractual reasons. At the time we were speaking, not long before the Kickstarter ended, there were about 900 backers who had committed to buying the game.

“You cannot make 900 cartridges,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many you need to make, but you need to make a lot more than that. That’s what Kickstarter is raising the money for, there’s this big expense.”

The mysterious amount of cartridges Rohrer will be ordering from Nintendo will, he suspects, fill an entire room in his house. All of them are being shipped directly to Rohrer, and will be hand mailed.

Zoo Games is still involved in every step of the process, too. This couldn’t be happening otherwise, as Nintendo would not deal with Rohrer directly, even with Kickstarter backing proving player interest.

“They had promised to make cartridges way back when,” he said, “and as things were changing over time, it became less and less sensible to be doing that, but they had this promise--they didn’t want to totally screw me over. The idea of Kickstarter came up."

Diamond Trust of London is about what you know, what they know, and taking chances.

It’s an interesting model for a publisher, since even Rohrer admits it’s hard to imagine anyone making too much money off the game, when it's all said and done. Diamond Trust of London is more of a vanity proposition, but one that allows a project that would, in ordinary situations, lose a ton of money, to possibly break even.

The project ended with just under 1,300 backers who will receive a game. Imagine if a company released a game and sent out a press release bragging about 1,300 sales--it just wouldn’t happen. Kickstarter allows Zoo Games, Rohrer, and Nintendo to scale properly, and make sure the game isn’t some financial disaster.

“Let’s say we put the money up-front and got the cartridges made using our own bankroll, my bankroll or our publisher’s bankroll, and distributed it on Amazon or GameStop.com or something, right?” he said. “Let’s say 950 people bought it at $29.99, which would be a reasonable retail price point. That’s $27,000. [laughs] That is before Amazon takes their cut. Just looking at the numbers, how many of these would we need to sell at retail prices before we, given that the retailer is going to take a cut and so on, before we break even on this? This is just not [feasible]--sounds insane!”

Diamond Trust of London could be the last original third-party game produced for the platform, it seems. A quick perusal of GameStop’s upcoming lineup for the DS shows a whole lot of nothing, besides an endless sea of licensed products. Through it’s taken Diamond Trust of London years to arrive at this moment, barring any last-minute hiccups, it seems like it’s all finally going to happen.

If you’re reading this, you probably missed out on the Kickstarter, but the sheer amount of cartridges headed to Rohrer means plenty will be available through his online web store for probably some time to come, once they're finally available. The game isn't expected to start shipping to backers until August.

Staff
#1 Posted by patrickklepek (3947 posts) -

Diamond Trust of London should have died years ago, but designer Jason Rohrer refused to let it go.

Rohrer did not expect to be working on his tiny DS strategy game for more than three years. If all had gone according to plan, Diamond Trust of London would have been out in 2010, published with Majesco’s logo, and he would have made a little bit of money and moved on. That never happened.

When Rohrer signed up for Diamond Trust of London, he was only starting to become known.

It will finally be released this year, however, because of Kickstarter. Rohrer’s Kickstarter proposal to bring Diamond Trust of London to life ended more than a month ago, more than $12,000 over its goal.

The game is a two-player strategy game set before the United Nations passed the Kimberley Process for diamond certification in Angola, an attempt to eliminate “blood diamonds.” There was a lucrative, secretive diamond trade happening in the region before this, and Diamond Trust of London turns that into a game of manipulation predicated on protecting secrets from the other player.

Rohrer was not a known quantity when he sketched out this idea, though he was getting there. Passage, a minimalistic game about death, had been released, and Sleep is Death was not far off. Diamond Trust of London was a project driven by money, a way to help support his family.

“When I signed up for this project three years ago, I had no traction,” he said, “and this publisher came to me, and I was looking at the numbers and saying ‘You know what, I could maybe make $5,000 off of this! Yes!’”

Back then, the idea of a developer supporting themselves by releasing games on their own was...crazy.

Diamond Trust of London was the result of a partnership with Majesco, back when that company was really into the idea of making video games. It published Psychonauts, remember? Majesco set Rohrer up with a development kit and an office. The game was nearly done, missing a tutorial and music, when Majesco got cold feet, and asked Rohrer about releasing on the DSiWare platform. Rohrer crunched the numbers, and didn’t like what he found.

“If you’re making a niche game, you can’t release it on a platform that’s even more niche,” he laughed.

The two ultimately came to a disagreement, and since his contract allowed him to retain rights to the game, he was left with some options. But it’s not like Rohrer could just call up Nintendo and have the game get made.

“Nintendo doesn’t let anybody just come in and let them publish a game on their own,” he said. “You have to be a licensed publisher, and Nintendo won’t license me as a publisher--they’re very strict about who they license. You have to show them this whole business plan, a whole bank portfolio showing how much capital reserves you have--i.e. millions of dollars in capital--and this huge history of publishing games on other major platforms and everything else.”

He shrugged it off, and figured the game was dead.

Then, an opportunity arose later in 2010 with Zoo Games, whose indiePub label was interested in in games like Diamond Trust of London. It seemed like a perfect match, as Zoo Games had published DS games in the past.

As the final pieces fell into place for Diamond Trust of London, Zoo Games started getting nervous, as the 3DS was not far off. It was deja vu for Rohrer, though he actually understood where Zoo Games was coming from.

“They realized it would be crazy to throw this kind of cash at something that’s so uncertain,” he said. “How many people still want a DS game at all? How many people who are in my fanbase actually want to play a DS game, and so on? I certainly wouldn’t want to put up my own money on that, and here I am asking this publisher to do this!”

Once again, a publisher wanted Diamond Trust of London released in Nintendo's digital storefront, but the prospects for success were even bleaker. This time, however, Rohrer had cartridge creation written into the contract.

For the record, the idea of moving Diamond Trust of London to another platform crossed Rohrer's mind, but Rohrer designs his games tailored to that platform's strengths. He couldn't conceive of a way to put Diamond Trust of London on an iPhone or iPad without huge changes, and so it remained exclusively a DS proposition.

This is where Kickstarter comes in, and how Rohrer came up with the very specific Kickstarter asking price of $78,715. According to Rohrer, that is the exact amount of money needed to make this happen. Most of the $78,715 figure comes from having to order a minimum number of cartridges from Nintendo, a number Rohrer was forced to dance around for contractual reasons. At the time we were speaking, not long before the Kickstarter ended, there were about 900 backers who had committed to buying the game.

“You cannot make 900 cartridges,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many you need to make, but you need to make a lot more than that. That’s what Kickstarter is raising the money for, there’s this big expense.”

The mysterious amount of cartridges Rohrer will be ordering from Nintendo will, he suspects, fill an entire room in his house. All of them are being shipped directly to Rohrer, and will be hand mailed.

Zoo Games is still involved in every step of the process, too. This couldn’t be happening otherwise, as Nintendo would not deal with Rohrer directly, even with Kickstarter backing proving player interest.

“They had promised to make cartridges way back when,” he said, “and as things were changing over time, it became less and less sensible to be doing that, but they had this promise--they didn’t want to totally screw me over. The idea of Kickstarter came up."

Diamond Trust of London is about what you know, what they know, and taking chances.

It’s an interesting model for a publisher, since even Rohrer admits it’s hard to imagine anyone making too much money off the game, when it's all said and done. Diamond Trust of London is more of a vanity proposition, but one that allows a project that would, in ordinary situations, lose a ton of money, to possibly break even.

The project ended with just under 1,300 backers who will receive a game. Imagine if a company released a game and sent out a press release bragging about 1,300 sales--it just wouldn’t happen. Kickstarter allows Zoo Games, Rohrer, and Nintendo to scale properly, and make sure the game isn’t some financial disaster.

“Let’s say we put the money up-front and got the cartridges made using our own bankroll, my bankroll or our publisher’s bankroll, and distributed it on Amazon or GameStop.com or something, right?” he said. “Let’s say 950 people bought it at $29.99, which would be a reasonable retail price point. That’s $27,000. [laughs] That is before Amazon takes their cut. Just looking at the numbers, how many of these would we need to sell at retail prices before we, given that the retailer is going to take a cut and so on, before we break even on this? This is just not [feasible]--sounds insane!”

Diamond Trust of London could be the last original third-party game produced for the platform, it seems. A quick perusal of GameStop’s upcoming lineup for the DS shows a whole lot of nothing, besides an endless sea of licensed products. Through it’s taken Diamond Trust of London years to arrive at this moment, barring any last-minute hiccups, it seems like it’s all finally going to happen.

If you’re reading this, you probably missed out on the Kickstarter, but the sheer amount of cartridges headed to Rohrer means plenty will be available through his online web store for probably some time to come, once they're finally available. The game isn't expected to start shipping to backers until August.

Staff
#2 Posted by Xeteh (51 posts) -

Awesome!

#3 Edited by baracudadk2 (26 posts) -

cool very awesome job patrick, been waiting this ever since i first saw you submitting pics of diamond trust.

#4 Posted by iAmJohn (6114 posts) -

Might have to pick this up; sounds absolutely fascinating.

#5 Posted by AlmostSwedish (551 posts) -

Didn't Edge already review this game (not so favourably, if I remember correctly)? How did that happen?

#6 Edited by Sogeman (867 posts) -

He still should it release as 3DSware later. (if possible)

#7 Posted by patrickklepek (3947 posts) -

@AlmostSwedish said:

Didn't Edge already review this game (not so favourably, if I remember correctly)? How did that happen?

I wouldn't be surprised of a pre-release cartridge was sent to Edge months before it was canned. Interesting footnote, though--thanks.

Staff
#8 Posted by Redbullet685 (6031 posts) -

@patrickklepek said:

@AlmostSwedish said:

Didn't Edge already review this game (not so favourably, if I remember correctly)? How did that happen?

I wouldn't be surprised of a pre-release cartridge was sent to Edge months before it was canned. Interesting footnote, though--thanks.

Looked it up and apparently Edge did review it on December 8, 2011.

#9 Edited by Dan_CiTi (3233 posts) -

Passage is great (even went and bought it on iOS when that came out). Awesome article and Jason rocks! I can't wait for the game.

#10 Posted by PulledaBrad (612 posts) -

Oh look. Another Klepek Kickstarter article. Huzzah

/pffffeeeerrrrrt

#11 Posted by TripMasterMunky (2402 posts) -

@Dan_CiTi said:

Passage is great (even went and bought it on iOS). Awesome article and Jason rocks! I can't wait for the game.

Yeah Passage is an interesting little indie game. And yes, Jason is awesome. I learned about him from the podcast A Life Well Wasted.

#12 Posted by Hilfemaster (101 posts) -

is that Will Smith in the screenshot?

#13 Edited by bucky (116 posts) -

I hate that it's sort of an "dude who likes indie games" cliche, but Rohrer's games were always super inspiring to me. He's definitely one of the more interesting developers out there.

#14 Posted by FakeKisser (323 posts) -

I have a copy of this coming to me via the Kickstarter campaign. I honestly am not interested in playing it as much as contributing to such a great artist and taking part in some videogame history. :)

#15 Posted by XaiaX (110 posts) -

Hurry up and ship me my limited edition, dammit.

#16 Posted by TehFlan (1944 posts) -

@Hilfemaster said:

is that Will Smith in the screenshot?

There's certainly a resemblance.

#17 Posted by mbr2 (564 posts) -

Rohrer is an awesome dude. Play 'Passage'.

#18 Posted by ch3burashka (5036 posts) -

Oh, I thought this was going to be about Bob's Game...

#19 Posted by ZombiePie (5629 posts) -

@patrickklepek said:

@AlmostSwedish said:

Didn't Edge already review this game (not so favourably, if I remember correctly)? How did that happen?

I wouldn't be surprised of a pre-release cartridge was sent to Edge months before it was canned. Interesting footnote, though--thanks.

Same thing happened to Juiced which was supposed to be released by Acclaim (yes, that Acclaim), but then Acclaim went bankrupt despite the fact that all of the major sites magazine getting review copies of the game. That still stands as the only game that X-Play "officially" wrote and published a video review released on television, twice.

Moderator
#20 Posted by RagingLion (1365 posts) -

Read up about this a little while ago. Considering the amount of respect I have for Rohrer and a bit of an understanding of what he gets up to, I was suprised it passe dunder my radar till then. It's probably one of the more unique sotries of a way in which Kickstarter has helped get a game made.

Hopefully Jason will have back at least half a room free in a short space of time by actually managing to make some reasonable sales on the cartridges.

Also, I wonder if there actul diamonds in some of the special editions since that was being hinted at.

#21 Posted by GalacticPunt (1039 posts) -

@CH3BURASHKA said:

Oh, I thought this was going to be about Bob's Game...

This story ends with real DS cartidges being pressed, the "Bob's Game" saga is bound to end in murder-suicide...

#22 Posted by Krystal_Sackful (808 posts) -

@CH3BURASHKA:

Ha ha ho, oh man, what a stupid farce that turned out to be.

#23 Posted by zitosilva (1839 posts) -

I'm one of the backers. The only sad part is that, when I receive the game, I won't be able to play it with ayone else, as I don't know anybody that helped with the kickstarter or has plans to buy the game later.

#24 Posted by UniversalRemonster (8 posts) -

@zitosilva: I believe the game allows multiple DSs to play the game with only one cart in multiplayer but the ones without a cart will not have music.

#25 Posted by Vinny_Says (5700 posts) -

I also thought this was about that guy who locked himself in his room when nintendo wouldn't aknowledge his DS game....

#26 Posted by WMWA (1160 posts) -

Wow. The narrative basis for this game sounds awesome, and screenshots make it look like something right up my alley. Thanks for finding this! Any way to pre-order?

#27 Posted by MariachiMacabre (7071 posts) -
@PulledaBrad

Oh look. Another Klepek Kickstarter article. Huzzah

/pffffeeeerrrrrt

You seem like a sad individual.
#28 Posted by ManMadeGod (1559 posts) -

Never heard of this guy. I enjoy these indie articles: interesting stuff

#29 Posted by jewunit (1056 posts) -

I remember actually e-mailing Mr. Rohrer about this game when it mysteriously slipped off of Gamestop's website in 2010. I blogged about it, but I wasn't sure I would ever see the game again. I am so glad that the Kickstarter was a success. Mr. Rohrer is certainly a tenacious fellow. Despite, all of these obstacles, he has still managed to find an audience and appropriate funding to make his game into an honest-to-goodness cartridge for the Nintendo DS. I look forward to playing this game when it is eventually released.

#30 Posted by PulledaBrad (612 posts) -

@MariachiMacabre said:

@PulledaBrad

Oh look. Another Klepek Kickstarter article. Huzzah

/pffffeeeerrrrrt

You seem like a sad individual.

And you seem like a sycophant. Hoooray!

#31 Posted by MariachiMacabre (7071 posts) -

@PulledaBrad said:

@MariachiMacabre said:

@PulledaBrad

Oh look. Another Klepek Kickstarter article. Huzzah

/pffffeeeerrrrrt

You seem like a sad individual.

And you seem like a sycophant. Hoooray!

Hey I'm just saying you aren't required to read his articles or even come to the website at all. Why subject yourself to such agonies?

#32 Posted by notdavid (836 posts) -

I had no idea Jason Rohrer was even still making games. I remember feeling really bummed out after finishing Passage. I have the iOS version on me at all times in case I ever need to remind myself that I'll die someday.

#33 Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

Too bad, it sounds like it'll be almost impossible to get a copy.

#34 Posted by DeF (4848 posts) -

but where is this "web store" on his page to order the game from? :(

#35 Posted by scottygrayskull (437 posts) -

For a brief moment I thought this was going to be about Bob's Game.

Not sure if I should be proud that I remember that trainwreck or not.

#36 Posted by MattyFTM (14364 posts) -

It's awesome to see that someone can triumph over adversity with a troubled indie release on the DS rather than resorting to locking yourself in a room and acting like a lunatic.

Moderator
#37 Posted by dropabombonit (1489 posts) -

Interesting story

#38 Posted by Bollard (5396 posts) -

@Redbullet685 said:

@patrickklepek said:

@AlmostSwedish said:

Didn't Edge already review this game (not so favourably, if I remember correctly)? How did that happen?

I wouldn't be surprised of a pre-release cartridge was sent to Edge months before it was canned. Interesting footnote, though--thanks.

Looked it up and apparently Edge did review it on December 8, 2011.

Ah a 6 from Edge is actually not bad at all. Edge are pretty strict on reviews, so for a one man job I'd say 6 is pretty good.

#39 Posted by Taklulas (401 posts) -

@PulledaBrad said:

Oh look. Another Klepek Kickstarter article. Huzzah

/pffffeeeerrrrrt

Oh look! Another unnecessary comment from an asshole! Huzzah!

#40 Posted by birdhermes (4 posts) -

I've been wanting to buy a 3DS, maybe I'll pick this one up :o It sounds awesome!

#41 Posted by sonicrift (295 posts) -

Nintendo requires publishers to manufacture a large minimum number of cartridges to fill the $20 bargain basket in Wal Marts and drug stores 6 months after release.

Not a criticism of this particular game, but everyone should know where I'm coming from.

#42 Posted by AlmostSwedish (551 posts) -

@Chavtheworld said:

@Redbullet685 said:

@patrickklepek said:

@AlmostSwedish said:

Didn't Edge already review this game (not so favourably, if I remember correctly)? How did that happen?

I wouldn't be surprised of a pre-release cartridge was sent to Edge months before it was canned. Interesting footnote, though--thanks.

Looked it up and apparently Edge did review it on December 8, 2011.

Ah a 6 from Edge is actually not bad at all. Edge are pretty strict on reviews, so for a one man job I'd say 6 is pretty good.

Absolutely! But on the other hand I have found Rohrer's previous work to be pretty brilliant, so in that context it's a bit of a let down. I think that's why I remembered being a bit disappointed in the score.

#43 Posted by MisterFaulkner (44 posts) -

Excellent, excellent article, Patrick - very impressive effort. I am not at all disappointed to have missed out on the Kickstarter, as I am happy to join the ranks of people purchasing this title after publication. I am equally impressed by how well Zoo Games treated this situation. It's great to see a publisher working with developers/creatives.

#44 Posted by DMGDeed (1 posts) -

@Redbullet685 said:

@patrickklepek said:

@AlmostSwedish said:

Didn't Edge already review this game (not so favourably, if I remember correctly)? How did that happen?

I wouldn't be surprised of a pre-release cartridge was sent to Edge months before it was canned. Interesting footnote, though--thanks.

Looked it up and apparently Edge did review it on December 8, 2011.

@Redbullet685: Even then, I'd call that review pretty favourable. Remember that Edge do not operate on a 6-9.8 scale--in their reviews, 6/10 means that a game is better than average. Given my limited knowledge of this game, I'm probably right in assuming that this game is just that. Not mind blowing, but still noteworthy as a title.

#45 Posted by fzcreations (1 posts) -

that sucks

#46 Posted by mot (34 posts) -

Gotta love Kickstarter.

#47 Posted by TheCableKid (206 posts) -

@MattyFTM: Wonder what Bob is up to now a days?

Online
#48 Posted by sirkibble2 (11 posts) -

Might have to pick this up simply because of the effort he put into it!

#49 Posted by Phos (15 posts) -

I can't help but imagine this game is going to be the thorn in the side of anyone wanting to make a complete DS collection 20 years from now.

#50 Posted by fisk0 (3986 posts) -

@Phos said:

I can't help but imagine this game is going to be the thorn in the side of anyone wanting to make a complete DS collection 20 years from now.

Well, there are at least 5000 cartridges. 1300 backers on Kickstarter, some of which who pledged for 2 or more copies of the game, and he lists 4100 copies still available on his site, with an unknown number of copies already sold. I'd think this may be slightly easier to find in the future than some casual or license games that stay unsold on a store shelf for a couple of years and then is probably sent away for destruction.

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