It's been a long and bumpy road, but we’ve made it. Oozi is now available on Steam.
It all started back in 2008. At that time Andrew was working full time as a 2D artist at a studio called InImages. They made platformers targeted at children that they sold via casual portals like Big Fish Games. But he always dreamed of making a game not only for kids, but also for those who played platformers of the early 90s in their youth. A game that would remind people of Super Frog, Rayman or Mario - classics of the genre.
Since his boss didn't share enthusiasm for his idea of bringing old school platforming back to life, Andrew decided to quit his job and start the project himself. He thought he should aim for something simple, since it was his first independent project and he didn't have a lot of funds to spend years developing the game. His initial plan was to make the game in 6 months, living off his savings. How little did he know...
He managed to convince his friend, Peter, who was a programmer at a corporation, to join his endeavor. They started working on the game, Andrew full time and Peter in his spare time. They chose to use an engine made specifically for 2D games, but a few months later it turned out that its performance wasn't satisfying and they started looking for another tool. Microsoft's XNA hooked their attention – it was designed specifically for small developers, but still powerful enough to achieve their goals. The possibility of publishing the game to Xbox Live Indie Games was a nice plus.
It soon turned out that it'd be impossible to complete the game in six months, but they kept working on it. Andrew was lucky that another friend of his moved abroad and needed someone to look after the flat he rented to students, and he offered Andrew the chance to live there paying very little rent. This allowed him to keep his cost of living really low, though he didn't expect he'd need to do so for such a long time.
Another year passed and the assets for the game – art, animation and level design were nearly complete. However, due to Peter's limited time, only the most basic gameplay mechanisms were implemented and it was clear that at this speed, it'd take years to complete the game. Peter decided that he wouldn't be able to complete the game. So Andrew started looking for a new programmer. One of his friends that I knew from work at Tate Interactive mentioned this to me and that's how we started working together.
Since I already had quite a bit of experience with XNA, I was able to take over the project seamlessly. I was also able to work full-time on Oozi thanks to the funds earned by the previous games I released on Xbox Live Indie Games. In March 2011 we had all the levels of the first world ready. We decided to release them as Episode One of Oozi: Earth Adventure on Xbox Live Indie Games, mainly because I believed that a smaller and less expensive game is a better fit for that marketplace.
The sales weren't very impressive, but Xbox Live Indie Games was never our main target – it was dominated mostly by games for teenagers. We kept telling ourselves that it'd be much better when we released the complete game on Steam. So we kept working hard and in February 2012 we had the game completed. We submitted it to Valve and waited for their reply. It came two months later and was negative. It shattered us, but we didn't give up. We started talking to various publishers, but they weren't interested either – platformer was an unprofitable genre to them.
However, a brink of hope appeared - in June, Valve announced that they'd be opening a service called Steam Greenlight. Two months later they did and we submitted Oozi within hours. We received hundreds of positive comments, but shortly after the initial rush, the traffic dropped and it was clear that it would take a long time before we got greenlit. We tried everything – giving away copies of our game, selling it in bundles, paying for PR and advertising – but nothing worked really well. We knew that an old school platformer targeted at now 25+ gamers who played games in the 90s was kind of a niche, but we didn't expect it'd be so difficult to get the game greenlit.
When we realized we wouldn't be able to release the game on Steam anytime soon, we both had to take a job to pay our bills – I returned to Tate Interactive where I used to work before going indie and Andrew took a job at Nimbi Studios. As months passed we were slowly losing hope, until Valve made an announcement that they were increasing their throughput and greenlit 100 games in August 2013. We suddenly appeared in the Top 100 most voted games and started to believe that we'd get greenlit soon.
It finally happened in October 2013, 14 months after we submitted it to Greenlight and 20 months after we contacted Valve for the first time. We decided that we needed to make our Steam launch as good as we possibly could. We've gathered all feedback we found, both from gamers and from reviewers. We've addressed every common concern that has been made – we've improved controls, added some cool features like other players' ghosts and even talked to our sound designer about reworking some of the sound effects.
The extension of development time and feedback we got from multiple sources led us to making an even better game than we initially planned. We'll soon find out if we were right and there's a market for a nostalgic 2D platformer with no puzzle, or if we were wrong all that time and Oozi was doomed from the beginning. No matter if it is a success or not, we're proud that we never gave up and eventually managed to achieve our goal. Andrew is a runner, he's been preparing for a half-marathon for a couple months now – but there's one full-length marathon he’s already completed.