Risk, Reward, Failure, Success: The Bumpy Development of Superbrothers EP: Sword & Sworcery

Posted by patrickklepek (2215 posts) -

Capybara Games co-founder and president Nathan Vella thought Superbrothers EP: Sword & Sworcery would take about $110,000 to make over 10 months. In reality, the game took more than 18 months and more than $200,000.

Vella discussed the risks Capybara Games took while developing Sword & Sworcery during the first morning at the Game Developers Conference today. He wasn't involved in the day-to-day design of the game, but he was the one responsible for making it came out on time and on budget.

In that sense, he failed, but in retrospect, Vella argued it was absolutely the right decision.

"You should know a risky project is risky and make the definite decision to leverage that risk to your benefit," he said.

Perhaps most surprising is that 90% of Sword & Sworcery's profits came from full-price sales.

The concept of risk is relative, said Vella.

Is it riskier to create something crazy, experimental and targeted at a niche audience that will end up totally loving it, or crazier to create something imitative and safe that could be lost in a sea of other games trying to ride the exact same wave? See: Angry Birds.

The goal of Sword & Sworcery EP was to create an experience for players who Capybara Games considered a "cultured" audience and were deeply interested in art and music as part of game design.

"Making games that stand out is surprisingly important for the business of game development, especially for an independent game developer," he said. "Making a game is just as much about making a game that you care about than it is about making a game that you care enough to stand out."

Designer and artist Craig Adams of Superbrothers and musician Jim Guthrie (who also composed the music for Indie Game: The Movie) complicated the development because both were new to various aspects of game development. In Adams' case, he hadn't worked on anything released for iOS. With Guthrie, it was making games period.

About seven months in, the team took a sobering look at the project, and realized there was no game. There was a vision, a feeling, and the team had won an IGF art award because of that vision. But there wasn't a game.

"So we had about 2-3 months from the original schedule to finish something that we kind of didn't even know what it was," he said. "We were just trying to find the project, trying to figure it out. Then, a harsh reality set in. This project is going to go really, really long and really over budget."

There was a moment where Vella's business brain kicked in, and he devised a plan to "slash and burn" the design and ship the game in a few months. He eventually stepped back from that, figuring there was more reward in giving the game the time it needed, even if it meant asking everyone involved to enter a period of self-imposed stress.

"This risk required way more trust from everyone around," he said.

This trust meant knowing the team members would always push on, even in their "darkest moments."

This paid off. Sword & Sworcery has told 350,000 copies to date, and while that's nothing compared to a game like Angry Birds, it's worked out very well for Capybara Games and Superbrothers. Sure, there were moments when it looked like it wouldn't work out, but Vella wouldn't have it any other way.

"Keep calm in the face of insurmountable odds," he said.

During the Q&A someone asked Vella about a PC version. His response?

"No comment."

Excellent.

#1 Posted by patrickklepek (2215 posts) -

Capybara Games co-founder and president Nathan Vella thought Superbrothers EP: Sword & Sworcery would take about $110,000 to make over 10 months. In reality, the game took more than 18 months and more than $200,000.

Vella discussed the risks Capybara Games took while developing Sword & Sworcery during the first morning at the Game Developers Conference today. He wasn't involved in the day-to-day design of the game, but he was the one responsible for making it came out on time and on budget.

In that sense, he failed, but in retrospect, Vella argued it was absolutely the right decision.

"You should know a risky project is risky and make the definite decision to leverage that risk to your benefit," he said.

Perhaps most surprising is that 90% of Sword & Sworcery's profits came from full-price sales.

The concept of risk is relative, said Vella.

Is it riskier to create something crazy, experimental and targeted at a niche audience that will end up totally loving it, or crazier to create something imitative and safe that could be lost in a sea of other games trying to ride the exact same wave? See: Angry Birds.

The goal of Sword & Sworcery EP was to create an experience for players who Capybara Games considered a "cultured" audience and were deeply interested in art and music as part of game design.

"Making games that stand out is surprisingly important for the business of game development, especially for an independent game developer," he said. "Making a game is just as much about making a game that you care about than it is about making a game that you care enough to stand out."

Designer and artist Craig Adams of Superbrothers and musician Jim Guthrie (who also composed the music for Indie Game: The Movie) complicated the development because both were new to various aspects of game development. In Adams' case, he hadn't worked on anything released for iOS. With Guthrie, it was making games period.

About seven months in, the team took a sobering look at the project, and realized there was no game. There was a vision, a feeling, and the team had won an IGF art award because of that vision. But there wasn't a game.

"So we had about 2-3 months from the original schedule to finish something that we kind of didn't even know what it was," he said. "We were just trying to find the project, trying to figure it out. Then, a harsh reality set in. This project is going to go really, really long and really over budget."

There was a moment where Vella's business brain kicked in, and he devised a plan to "slash and burn" the design and ship the game in a few months. He eventually stepped back from that, figuring there was more reward in giving the game the time it needed, even if it meant asking everyone involved to enter a period of self-imposed stress.

"This risk required way more trust from everyone around," he said.

This trust meant knowing the team members would always push on, even in their "darkest moments."

This paid off. Sword & Sworcery has told 350,000 copies to date, and while that's nothing compared to a game like Angry Birds, it's worked out very well for Capybara Games and Superbrothers. Sure, there were moments when it looked like it wouldn't work out, but Vella wouldn't have it any other way.

"Keep calm in the face of insurmountable odds," he said.

During the Q&A someone asked Vella about a PC version. His response?

"No comment."

Excellent.

#2 Edited by DarkbeatDK (1370 posts) -

*EDIT* Just achievement whoring... Or does that only work on videos?

Anyway, Sword and Sworcery is an amazing games and I'd actually prefer it NOT coming to other devices. There is something about the uniqueness of it that I think would ruined with rigorous porting.

#3 Posted by vegetashonor (660 posts) -

DAMNIT!!!

#4 Posted by Rirse (276 posts) -

Funny, a recent Steam registry entry suggested that this game is on it's way to Steam. I think. Man, I still have this unplayed on my iphone!

#5 Posted by iAmJohn (6135 posts) -

Fuck yeah, PC version!

#6 Posted by RockinKemosabe (619 posts) -

GDC story week!

#7 Posted by BrockNRolla (1694 posts) -

S&S is incredible. I was just listening to its Jim Guthrie created soundtrack this morning. I don't necessarily feel emotional connections to games very often, but S&S really delivered in that department. It's amazing what they managed to milk out of the bit-art style and music.

#8 Posted by Winternet (8059 posts) -

I would love to play this on the PC.

#9 Posted by bvilleneuve (266 posts) -

I'd probably buy it again from Steam, to be honest. Particularly if it came with a digital soundtrack of some kind.

#10 Posted by MisterMouse (3564 posts) -

Looking forward to playing this game as soon as I get an iPad.

#11 Posted by nemesisND1derboy (34 posts) -

Lovely game, lovely soundtrack. I'm actually writing an article for a digital magazine on the soundtrack, which was a great excuse for me to listen to the soundtrack again and again. Glad they took the risk, and glad it paid of for everyone, including gamers,

#12 Posted by Ravenlight (8011 posts) -

@Winternet said:

I would love to play this on the PC.

This right here. I don't own an iOS device but I'd love to play and support this game.

#13 Posted by Ali_D (129 posts) -

I'd love a PC version because I only have an iphone 3 and the game runs like crap on it. Not the devs fault but I can't afford a new phone anytime soon.

#14 Posted by Rox360 (1080 posts) -
@DarkbeatDK said:

Anyway, Sword and Sworcery is an amazing games and I'd actually prefer it NOT coming to other devices. There is something about the uniqueness of it that I think would ruined with rigorous porting.

But that means I will never get to play it, and that makes me sad...
#15 Posted by HarlechQuinn (451 posts) -

Although I already own the IOS version, I would like to see a PC version as well. Then I could finish the game, this is not a statement of the quality of the game, which is pretty awesome, just a statement about me and IOS games in general, besides Space Invaders Infinity Gene (the sole reason why I bought an iPhone in the first place... dumb I know, especially when it was later ported to the PS3 and 360) I never finished a game on that device...

The tremendous Jim Guthrie Soundtrack received more play time on the phone than the actual game itself.

#16 Posted by Neon_Knight (43 posts) -

Patrick, if you say "Perhaps most surprising is that 10% of Sword & Sworcery's profits came from sales." it doesn't mean anything surprising to the reader unless you mention where the other 90% could possibly come from.

#17 Posted by IndieFinch (242 posts) -

I loved the game, a PC version would be sweet. But the thing I would really like to see is Sony come in and give these guys a big amount of money to port it to the Vita.

#18 Posted by ev_rowe (67 posts) -

@Neon_Knight: I was super confused by this at first as well, until I realized that by "sales" he meant "periods of discounted pricing," rather than raw numbers. Probably should have found a better way of phrasing it, but I think that's what was intended.

#19 Posted by Brendan (8168 posts) -

@Neon_Knight said:

Patrick, if you say "Perhaps most surprising is that 10% of Sword & Sworcery's profits came from sales." it doesn't mean anything surprising to the reader unless you mention where the other 90% could possibly come from.

I thought that quote was the most interesting part of the entire article, and am a little disappointed it wasn't touched on.

#20 Posted by Tamaster92 (272 posts) -

This was the game that sold me on the iPad as a real gaming platform. I hope they keep making beautiful games

#21 Posted by Sergio (2261 posts) -

I thought the game was overrated and not as good as other Cappybara titles. The controls on the iPad contributed to why I didn't enjoy it as much as others.

#22 Posted by Questionable (619 posts) -

I by chance just purchased this game yesterday and from the experience i have had so far with it, it feels like i have robbed these guys with the small price they are asking. such a excellently witty game with superb presentation

#23 Posted by JazGalaxy (1576 posts) -

I wish I could wipe my dollars off hte total they made for this "game".

It's terrible and to call it a game is nearly deceptive advertising.

It looks beautiful, sure, and it's artistic approach is welcome. But it's artistic approach to what? To clicking on the environment and watching your character march across the screen, frequently without purpose or direction. It's not an evolution of gaming, it's a poor adventure game from 20 years ago with a great art style and modern music.

#24 Edited by BetonneTom (113 posts) -

loved the game, it put a spell on me, even if it took 3 months to grab me.

one of my best game experiences of last year. Also i would love a more in depth look at this game. This article is a bit 'lean' non busy gdc patrick would have made a bigger article, but it has a great title, and thats worth someting too.

#25 Posted by Nardak (583 posts) -

While I appriciate Patrick writing these articles I would like to see a little more attention being paid to grammar.

start of quote

"This paid off. Sword & Sworcery has told 350,000 copies to date, and while that's nothing compared to a game like Angry Birds, it's worked out very well for Capybara Games and Superbrothers."

end of quote

#26 Posted by Krisgebis (222 posts) -

I weep because it isn't coming to android systems :'(

#27 Posted by tiara (74 posts) -

I would love a more in-depth interview. This game was a really amazing experience and I'm glad that it all paid off for them in the end. And good job to Klepek as well for fighting for it in the GOTW awards as well!

#28 Posted by HaVoK308 (24 posts) -

I absolutely loved Superbrothers EP Sword & Sworcery! I guess I am more "cultured" then I thought.

#29 Posted by Xpgamer7 (2400 posts) -

wait wait wait. I might be able to play this even without owning an IOS device? YES.

#30 Posted by MordeaniisChaos (5730 posts) -

Never touched this but heard good things. Glad to know people out there have the balls to make those decisions.

#31 Posted by fishmicmuffin (1044 posts) -

I'd love to be able to play this game on the PC. Hopefully "no comment" actually means "fuck yeah it's coming to pc!"

#32 Posted by Progman9000 (258 posts) -

@JazGalaxy said:

I wish I could wipe my dollars off hte total they made for this "game".

It's terrible and to call it a game is nearly deceptive advertising.

It looks beautiful, sure, and it's artistic approach is welcome. But it's artistic approach to what? To clicking on the environment and watching your character march across the screen, frequently without purpose or direction. It's not an evolution of gaming, it's a poor adventure game from 20 years ago with a great art style and modern music.

I don't believe this is the right place to have this discussion, but I'm kind of in the same boat as you. I picked it up based on everyone going bananas over it and was sorely disappointed. Stopped playing it rather quickly. Came back to it a few months later and didn't have much better of an experience. Really wanted to like it, but I felt like I was missing what was supposed to be so great about it.

That said, it's always good to hear about a small studio having success by trying to do something different than whats out there.

#33 Posted by vinsanityv22 (1064 posts) -

Capybara needs to make more games for...not ipad. One of the best games I've played in the past 5 years was Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes for DS. These guys are talented, and I wanna see - and PLAY - more real games from them. With real controls.

#34 Posted by ZmillA (2287 posts) -

I love the look of this game, wish it would come out on pc (or consoles) so I could play it.

#35 Posted by Deusx (1910 posts) -

God damnit yes. I want a PC version now! I've been dying to play that game. The soundtrack is nothing short from beautiful. Thanks for this article Patrick!

#36 Posted by Protonguy (306 posts) -

An amazing game and experience. Music and sound are such underutilized tools in many games today. It's amazing what they pulled off. I'm glad they went with the added risk and the stress that went with it. I'll buy it again on Steam.

#37 Posted by Shivoa (645 posts) -

That budget is pretty incredible (the average annual salary in the industry is $85k so when you add employer's burden of tax, rent/equipment, and benefits on top you don't get a lot of man hours out of $200k over 18 months).

#38 Posted by fuchikoma (41 posts) -

@JazGalaxy said:

I wish I could wipe my dollars off hte total they made for this "game".

It's terrible and to call it a game is nearly deceptive advertising.

It looks beautiful, sure, and it's artistic approach is welcome. But it's artistic approach to what? To clicking on the environment and watching your character march across the screen, frequently without purpose or direction. It's not an evolution of gaming, it's a poor adventure game from 20 years ago with a great art style and modern music.

Can't agree more. I love different and experimental games. I'd rather play a bad original game than a good rehash. This was neither. It felt like the dialog was written in 5 minutes by a kid, and while the palette was nice, it was basically a point and click adventure without the content. Then I fought the triangle and it was like pulling teeth - especially since you retry almost-dead and can't do anything but fight it forever until you pass, but it's paced like a city council meeting. I kicked it to the curb. I wasted my money and enough of my time; I wasn't about to throw more after it.

#39 Posted by BisonHero (7072 posts) -

I like the game overall, but the graphics and music really carry the whole experience. I found the dialogue made the game less enjoyable in every way, as instead of supporting the vibe of the music and the atmosphere, the dialogue just sounded like a bunch of hipsters who are trying really hard to not be very impressed by anything going on around them. Everything about the dialogue is too nonchalant and disinterested and didn't seem to fit with the tone of the game at all.

But whatever, maybe some idiots out there thought the Twitter integration was something other than retarded.

#40 Posted by Christoffer (1923 posts) -

I'm really tempted to buy that 120g 12'' vinyl with the soundtrack. The game looks beautiful but I've been burned too many times by those indie darling games. And considering the statement that this is for a "Cultured" audience I'm sceptical there's a game at all. Gameplay is part of the game culture, duder. If I want to put on some Bossa Nova and read some Marcel Proust, I'll do that. When I'm playing games, I want a fun challenge.

#41 Posted by JazGalaxy (1576 posts) -

@fuchikoma said:

@JazGalaxy said:

I wish I could wipe my dollars off hte total they made for this "game".

It's terrible and to call it a game is nearly deceptive advertising.

It looks beautiful, sure, and it's artistic approach is welcome. But it's artistic approach to what? To clicking on the environment and watching your character march across the screen, frequently without purpose or direction. It's not an evolution of gaming, it's a poor adventure game from 20 years ago with a great art style and modern music.

Can't agree more. I love different and experimental games. I'd rather play a bad original game than a good rehash. This was neither. It felt like the dialog was written in 5 minutes by a kid, and while the palette was nice, it was basically a point and click adventure without the content. Then I fought the triangle and it was like pulling teeth - especially since you retry almost-dead and can't do anything but fight it forever until you pass, but it's paced like a city council meeting. I kicked it to the curb. I wasted my money and enough of my time; I wasn't about to throw more after it.

I guess my biggest problem is with the idea of calling it a game. There's tons of content for Ipad and PCs out there that doesn't get covered as gaming related because it's NOT gaming related. So what makes this different? I mean, it is largely NOT a game. The amount of interactivity is similar to small child's educational game, but without the educational element.

I saw a review that called it "hipster Zelda". I'm a "hipster." I like zelda. This should be for me, right? I came to find out NO. Because it's NOT A GAME.

I get that it's cool to have hip-hop beats in a fantasy environment. I get that's it's neat to have characters speak in a lazy vulgar syntax. i get that the graphics are cool and the spartan environment is moody. I like all those things. But I got no more enjoyment out of SB:S&S than I would have just looking at the screenshots or watching gameplay video. It's NOT A GAME.

It's like a slinky or those clickity whacker balls on sticks. It's not a game and you get no more enjoyment out of owning it than you do futzing with it in the store for a few minutes.

#42 Posted by Seii (18 posts) -

Really interesting read. Keep up the good work Patrick, been loving the articles you've been putting out recently.

#43 Posted by probablytuna (3832 posts) -

Hmmm, disappointed that it's not on Android (yet?) This game looks pretty great, so if I would probably get it if I can play it on something.

#44 Posted by Buscemi (1106 posts) -

@JazGalaxy said:

@fuchikoma said:

@JazGalaxy said:

I wish I could wipe my dollars off hte total they made for this "game".

It's terrible and to call it a game is nearly deceptive advertising.

It looks beautiful, sure, and it's artistic approach is welcome. But it's artistic approach to what? To clicking on the environment and watching your character march across the screen, frequently without purpose or direction. It's not an evolution of gaming, it's a poor adventure game from 20 years ago with a great art style and modern music.

Can't agree more. I love different and experimental games. I'd rather play a bad original game than a good rehash. This was neither. It felt like the dialog was written in 5 minutes by a kid, and while the palette was nice, it was basically a point and click adventure without the content. Then I fought the triangle and it was like pulling teeth - especially since you retry almost-dead and can't do anything but fight it forever until you pass, but it's paced like a city council meeting. I kicked it to the curb. I wasted my money and enough of my time; I wasn't about to throw more after it.

I guess my biggest problem is with the idea of calling it a game. There's tons of content for Ipad and PCs out there that doesn't get covered as gaming related because it's NOT gaming related. So what makes this different? I mean, it is largely NOT a game. The amount of interactivity is similar to small child's educational game, but without the educational element.

I saw a review that called it "hipster Zelda". I'm a "hipster." I like zelda. This should be for me, right? I came to find out NO. Because it's NOT A GAME.

I get that it's cool to have hip-hop beats in a fantasy environment. I get that's it's neat to have characters speak in a lazy vulgar syntax. i get that the graphics are cool and the spartan environment is moody. I like all those things. But I got no more enjoyment out of SB:S&S than I would have just looking at the screenshots or watching gameplay video. It's NOT A GAME.

It's like a slinky or those clickity whacker balls on sticks. It's not a game and you get no more enjoyment out of owning it than you do futzing with it in the store for a few minutes.

It's quite interesting how all of you seemed to go in with the notion that this was going to be some epic story-driven game. You've got nobody to blame but yourselves for not looking into what it was. "Oh gosh! I think I'll buy that World of Warcraft game everybody's talking about, maybe it'll be a great racing simulator!"

I for one found it to be well worth the money. But then again I enjoy ambient and exploration games. Good thing I knew what I was buying, eh?

#45 Posted by JazGalaxy (1576 posts) -

Nonsense. I had no reason to think that it was an epic story driven game. I wouldn't have wanted that anyhow. What I DID have reason to believe, because it was billed as such, is that it was a GAME. Which it is NOT.

It's a toy.

#46 Posted by fuchikoma (41 posts) -

Yeah, that's a pretty big assumption. I wasn't expecting much of anything in particular except a "good game." What I got was the kind of thing I used to cobble together in HyperStudio in middle school. There are aesthetic elements that really seemed to draw people in, but I just wasn't feeling them, so all that was left was sloppy script, uneventful exploration and a difficulty curve that starts at 0, stays at 0 for a very long time, then spikes to 100 instantly. By all means, I'll take something different over more of the same, but polished, but there just wasn't much there to begin with. There are countless better games to simulate slowly walking around and backtracking while you do menial tasks for NPCs.

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