'GARDENS BETWEEN': In an exclusive interview with The Fly, Simon Joslin, co-founder of video game developer The Voxel Agents, said that the company's most recent puzzle game "The Gardens Between" was a "great success" for the company. "Players are loving it and have given us feedback suggesting that the kind of subtlety and nuance in the art and the way we deliver our story has been well-received," Joslin told The Fly, noting that the game "received what we were aiming for," which wasn't a given since the game was "a bit nebulous, a bit strange, a bit oddball." He added that "The Gardens Between" has been the most critically well-received game released by the company, which has also released the "Train Conductor" games and "Puzzle Retreat" in the past.
PERFORMANCE ON SWITCH: "The Gardens Between" is The Voxel Agent's first game available for major consoles, including the Nintendo Switch (NTDOY), and Joslin said that Nintendo has been a "hugely supportive partner" for the game. "They've helped bring us to Gamescom and helped us push some pretty major announcements and updates leading up to launch,” he told The Fly. “They’ve put us into some TV ads, they’ve done Facebook (FB) ads and all kinds of other things to help promote the game and really push awareness of it. So the relationship, from our side anyway, is very pleased with their support. We really appreciate it.”
INDIES ON CONSOLES: When asked whether it was essentially a necessity in the modern gaming environment for independent developers to release games on consoles instead of just PC or mobile, The Voxel Agents' co-founder said that it would be "advisable" for developers and publishers to release their games on a variety of platforms if possible, as current tools "make it easy to do." "The hardest part is the publishing side, which is getting it [in stores], and back-end is not the easiest thing to use and take a bit of wrangling and understanding," Joslin told The Fly. "But the effort is worthwhile because you really don’t know where you’re going to hit necessarily. Each of the platforms seems to have their own audience with their own sort of behaviors." He noted that "The Gardens Between" has performed "quite differently" on all platforms, and that it was impossible to predict such results prior to launch.
MONETIZATION: Video games in recent years have experimented with multiple monetization strategies, with concepts like free-to-play and live services entering the market at a rapid pace. In response to a question about how his company navigates such an environment and whether they'd consider releasing a game with a non-traditional monetization model, Simon Joslin told The Fly that The Voxel Agents' history on mobile has prepared them for this environment, as it "watched platform race to the bottom and then transition to the free-to-play model."
“From our own personal studio standpoint, we don’t see an issue with finding the right business model for a game," he said. "The way we approach it, we come up with the game idea first and think about the business model second. In the case of ‘The Gardens Between,’ it was obvious that experience is going to be kind of limited and has linear storytelling, and it made sense to be a premium game. But we have made free-to-play games in the past and we have no issue if you do it wisely and consider it fair to the player. You can actually utilize that model in a smart way that makes an experience that really harnesses the power of that. You’re building with a different mindset: you’re building for the player to play for a really long time, and you’re trying to make it fun over the longer period, and then players can enhance that experience along the way if they wish with payment. We don’t see an issue with that, we would definitely consider that model, we have in the past, and we’ve seen success in both sides. We just think it’s about finding the right match for the game that you’re making and treating it with respect and doing it appropriately.”
GAME PASS: "The Gardens Between" initially launched in September 2018, but just a couple of months later was available on Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft's (MSFT) service where players pay $10 a month for access to download titles from a wide collection of games at no additional cost. When asked why the company decided to launch their game on the platform so soon after release, Joslin said, "The reason why we were interested in Game Pass is simply that we have seen the power of greater distribution with our free-to-play games, where the barriers are greatly reduced. The power of that is that it can lift all boats. For example, if you go back to our early history in 2010, we launched one of our existing titles, where we changed its pricing to free. And, suddenly, we had barely seen any revenue to date, and our free title shot to the top of the charts and had about five million downloads, and suddenly there was so much more activity around our game, people were buying our sequels, they were interacting more.”
Joslin said that the business arrangement with Game Pass, specifically that the company was getting paid up front to make its game more available to a wider audience, was a "good deal," noting that the title saw nearly ten times the volume of players the week it release on Game Pass. “It feels great from our point of view that it’s played by more people,” he added.
FUTURE OF VIDEO GAMES: On the subject of the future of video game distribution, which appears to be shifting towards streaming, the cloud, and services like Game Pass, The Voxel Agents' co-founder said that its a "trick topic," since new models could allow developers to take more risks creatively since the "riskholder" is ultimately the subscription team collecting payment for the title. On the other hand, such models could limit upside for indies, who may not be able to bring in the same kind of financial return if their games are part of such services, Joslin noted. “Indies are kind of being squished if you’re not following along with one of those trends," he said. "But I think there’s some possibility there if you’re building strong relationships with your players or have a really unique identity that sets your game apart, people will be interested to know what you’ll do next. So it probably continues to get harder, but it was already hard anyway.”
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