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The Flock has a 36 Metascore and a 2.3 user score on Metacritic. The creative director and game designer of this indie title, Jeroen Van Hasselt, gave a talk on why his game failed at Control Conference 2015.
The Flock received a lot of early hype before its launch. They took a risk and with that risk came amazing exposure and hype for the game. 500+ websites wrote articles about The Flock including non-gaming sites, and their trailer video views also jumped tenfold. People could not wait to play this game.
Jeroen and his team also had their three core design goals of how they wanted the game to play in sight. They planned to make it one that was an immersive game that would make you feel like you actually were the monster or that you’re being hunted, it was to be a scary and intense game that genuinely scared you without the use of gore or blood, and it was to be an unconventional game that would be unique and different.
What Does It Mean to Take a Risk?
- It means you have high stakes
- It means less likely other people are doing it
- The rewards are much higher along with the risk of failure
For Jeroen, taking a risk also means that people won’t understand, you’ll hit a cap in your sales, you’ll have a higher chance of failing, people will be much more critical towards you, and you might not make any returns at all.
In the beginning, 75% responded negatively at first on the idea of their game and also had a lot of questions. However things really turned around. Their beta build ended up being stable, the responses to the previews were extremely positive, players that actually played it were super enthusiasts about it and indie fund and devs believed in it.
Then Flock Launched and It Felt Empty and Dead
Before launch there was a lot of hype, and at launch there wasn’t anything. The issue was there was no stable build at launch. They had 20 negative reviews on Steam within one hour of launch and most got refunds. Another issue was there were games that were similar to theirs that was cheaper as well. YouTubers also weren’t playing due to an issue with a bug with the full screen and dual screen.
Only 3,000 copies sold so now he is in debt, only had enough money to pay off indie fund, and situation is looking quite grim.
So with All This Hype and Planning, Why Did His Game Fail so Hard?
1. Couldn’t Keep Up With the Hype
They started off with the mentality that they would just do it and make a game that is awesome. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, they couldn’t keep up the enthusiasm or the pace. They couldn’t keep up with the press coverage and keep the hype.
The expectations for the game far exceeded the reality of it. The price was much too high for the amount of content they had. It didn’t match. The bugs also were destroying the game at launch. People with Windows 10 couldn’t play it and the longevity of the game was short because it was too repetitive.
2. The Team Had Different Ambitions and Views for the Company
Out of the original team, he is the only one left. Everybody left Vogelsap. They had to drop the people that wanted different things (most difficult part). The group also didn’t function well together with the people that were there in terms of game development.
3. Prototyping Was a Lot More Different than Production
When you prototype you can make a lot of changes easily and get feedback versus when your in the production phase you think about how it would work in the player’s hands, how it would work with Steam localization and everything else. They didn’t think ahead to make it a full game that they could sell, even though they reworked the game about four times or so.
4. Having the Right Skills Wasn’t Enough
Everybody had completely different work schemes. Some people start at 11, the morning, or some just want to play games. They tried to make sure there was bonding within the team and do activities together. Also openly discussing things was a problem, the issue was everybody wanted to have a say in everything, which was hard to keep up with.
5. There Was a Lack of Vision
There was a lack of vision for everything especially outside of the game. They didn’t think enough about how they were going to run the business, what they were going to do to sell this game and how they would sell it.
They were just inexperienced students when they were making the game, and three years later, after lots of journeys and challenges. They had to become professionals so they started working with Slack and other things to do well. He failed to communicate his vision for the game.
Post-Launch Surprise at Events
The odd thing was at events the game still was loved and people were enthusiastic about it. This is what confused Jeroen and his team. Why was it so positive before launch, shit at launch, and after launch it got better?
He then came to a conclusion. It was about building a game based off of feedback. They never took track of how when people would get sick of playing the game. The didn’t record that, that was their mistake. They needed player to play more than just one hour. They weren’t able to see exactly when the life of the game would die for players.
Solution for This
Because they focused on the reviews and made an effort to really pay attention to what they want in terms of improvements and fixes, during halloween they will drop the price, patch bugs, add several new game modes and a map, give out a thank you package for current players and also sustain the player base with smaller updates, and make a free demo or have a free weekend.
A Lesson Learned
For Jeroen, what him and his team gained was they’ve shipped the game, they have much more ideas for new adventures and they obtained a lot of experience and learned a lot of lessons. Now when it comes to taking risks, he says you should take risks but keep these tips in mind:
- It’s a creative, innovative technology industry so you have to take risks, but be prepared to succeed or fail.
- Make sure it’s in line with your design goals.
- Make sure you know your market and audience.
- Embrace it as your vision.