Interview: Oozi and Steam Greenlight

One of the aims I had in mind for Coffee Break Gaming is to be a place for people to talk about their projects; their podcasts, their art, their game or their website. This is the first part in that project. An interview with one of the creators of Oozi: Earth Adventure on the development, completion and subsequent frustrations that they’ve faced in the project.

“I hope you found no crashes,” Marcin Draszczuk, programmer at Awesome Games, jokes. “Also I’m pretty caffeinated!” I don’t know much about Polish coffee, but Marcin is eager to talk; “Andrzej Pasiński started the project in June 2008, he designed the game and made all the art and animation,” and Marcin himself has worked on the project on and off for two years.

Game development remains a mystery to many, myself included, a seemingly secluded endeavor that few are privy to. When we are it can paint an unsettling picture. Indie Game The Movie shows the development of both Super Meat Boy and Fez, two titles that went on to be hugely popular. Despite their successes both titles went through struggles; lack of funds, tight deadlines, missed deadlines, and, in Fez’s case, complicated legal issues and personal attacks.

Distribution: Microsoft, Self Publishing and Steam

Watching Indie Game The Movie in light of the titles successes lessens its impact slightly, but the questions it poses remain; what kind of pressure are developers under, what happens if they miss deadlines for publishers and, in the case of Oozi, what do they do without publisher backing?

“We talked to Microsoft about the possibility of XBLA publishing,” Marcin explains, “but they decided it wasn’t a good fit.” XBLIG was the answer in that particular instance, a smaller, predominantly indie-focused storefront, separate from XBLA, where titles such as Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid found themselves.

It’s a similar story in the PC space; outlets like Desura and GamersGate provide some revenue and exposure, though sales “weren’t significant at all” with an audience, he suggests, of “less than one per cent” of his aim. The elephant in the room is Steam. “We had already released three episodes on XBLIG when we submitted to Valve [sometime in February 2012]” but, again, the game wasn’t a good fit for the service. Valve themselves have explained the pressures of a small team approving content for Steam, especially considering the rapid growth of the platform, and introduced Steam Greenlight as a way for the community to ‘upvote’ the content they’d like to see.

“We submitted the game to Greenlight within hours of the launch,” Marcin continued, “and have been overwhelmed by the positive response, within hours we’d had a hundred or so supportive comments but it wasn’t enough.” While Greenlight is another avenue for titles to find their way onto Steam, it has one  important problem that many independent developers struggle with; exposure. “We have tried almost everything we could think of to bring attention to the game; bundles, giveaways, paid PR, reviews etc It all worked but to a very limited degree.” This struggle through Greenlight has brought him to the conclusion that “the most important thing to succeed on Greenlight is to have a game that is already popular.”

Getting Noticed: Style Over Substance

It’s a fine line to tread: certainly there are more high profile titles that sail through Greenlight with little issue, but lesser known titles have also found success with the system. SUPERHOT has recently been Greenlit with nothing more than a short, in browser demonstration. SUPERHOT, however, has a hook. Stylised and unique, it’s no wonder it amassed the votes needed to pass Valve’s criteria. Oozi relies on something more than a hook; this is a finished, tightly balanced, polished product “heavily inspired by titles like Super Frog, Rayman and Earthworm Jim, designed to bring back those childhood memories.” It exists, however, in a sea of 2D ‘retro’ platformers. Marcin is philosophical about the game and it’s competitors however, “I know the game isn’t the next Braid or Limbo, but we never intended it to be,” though without Limbo’s striking visuals and Braid’s time mechanics, it’s difficult to get noticed.

It’s been a slow process for the team; playable demos, sales and exposure through other distribution channels have finally put them into the top 40 on Greenlight. I ask if it’s at all heartening, knowing that at the end of almost six years of development, the process could soon be over, Marcin is a little more withdrawn than I’d expected however, “Votes are just one criteria,” he explained “We’re still not sure, in practice the top 10 is a guarantee, but we’re currently about 3000 votes away from that and running out of ideas as to where to get those votes from.” He sobered further, saying that “about 6 months ago I had no hope we’d ever get through Greenlight.”

A month ago, however, Valve announced the number of titles greenlit would be increasing on a monthly basis, with over 100 titles making it through on that occasion. That same number again would put Oozi: Earth Adventure comfortably in that bracket. “I hope you didn’t find any crashes,” he jokes, though there was little chance of that, Oozi is ready to be released to that wider audience. There are no guarantees at the titles success beyond that of course, but it’d be a shame to see 5 years of work go to waste over a little bureaucracy.