Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP developer, Nathan Vella, argues that making games for everyone really means making a game for no one.
While both Angry Birds and Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP have both enjoyed critical success, they couldn’t be more different. Angry Birds attempts (and succeeds) to appeal to everyone, and has clocked up somewhere in the realm of 350 million sales. Superbrothers on the other hand, is an unapologetically niche title, with sales standing at respectable 350,000. While most developers would much rather see 350 million sales rather than 350 thousand, Vella reckons that trying to emulate Angry Birds is a poor business decision.
“I personally believe that one of the scariest parts of the massive success of the iOS platform is that it has taught developers that they should try and make games for everyone,” said Vella.
“It seems like an obvious choice because games like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Cut the Rope sold 10, 20 million copies but, believe it or not, I actually I think that’s a really bad business decision.”
“Everyone wants to make a million-selling game, and that’s cool,” he continued “but the problem with the hit-based mentality is it puts you in direct competition with all the other people who have the same hit-based mentality – the people who aren’t creative enough to make a unique game, and the people who aren’t willing to take the risk to make something that actually has a soul, or is fresh, or flies in the face of conventional wisdom.”
Angry Birds isn’t all that original. It’s polished and well presented, but the core concept of hurling X at Y until Y falls down has been floating around the internet in the form of various flash games for years – I also distinctly recall playing a similar game with bricks and the elderly during my misspent youth. Angry Birds simply came along at the right time and, most importantly, on the right platform.
“There’s a subset of gamers who want to play something new. If you provide them with something worth playing you’re not actually competing against 99 per cent of the market. You’re competing with the one per cent. Sure, you might not reach the biggest slice of the money pie but you’re ensuring your project has a really good chance of being successful.”
Vella went on to compare the hit-based business model to a slot machine. Claiming that developers were throwing their game budgets away like gamblers with a poor grasp of probability.
“You’re trying to make the next Angry Birds, so what you’re doing is basically walking up to a slot machine, putting the budget of your game into the slot, pulling the lever and praying to God that you get three fucking cherries. In reality, one in 10,000 maybe do okay – I don’t know the odds,” he added.