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Denki's Quarrel brings wordplay to XBLA

A collective sigh of relief was no doubt heard in Dundee, Scotland last month, as independent developer Denki finally released its word game Quarrel for Xbox Live Arcade, after more than two years of limbo time.
A collective sigh of relief was no doubt heard in Dundee, Scotland last month, as independent developer Denki finally released its word game Quarrel for Xbox Live Arcade, after more than two years of limbo time. Quarrel was originally announced back in May 2009 as a "mixture of board game strategy and Scrabble-esque wordplay." Unfortunately, the company found it rather difficult to get picked up by a publisher, and soon found itself sitting on the completed game for over a year. Finally, the game was grabbed by UTV Ignition Games, who published the game on XBLA on January 25. As you'd expect, Denki's managing director Colin Anderson is tired, but happy. "It feels like having climbed a very high mountain, with all the simultaneous elation, relief, and tiredness that goes with it," he told Gamasutra. "We're just catching our breath and making the most of the view from the top before we embark on the next ascent!" Denki had originally said that publishers weren't interested in Quarrel because they believed that "Gamers don't buy word games." Now that Quarrel has finally seen the light of day, the question remains -- were the publishers right? "We're not able to disclose actual sales figures of course as that's up to our publisher, but what we can say is that we saw about 7,500 people on the leaderboards at the end of Quarrel's first week on XBLA," explained Anderson. "That wouldn't be setting any sales records for the platform of course, but it's certainly a respectable amount in comparison to other recent releases such as Joe Danger, Trine 2 and Bejeweled 3." "So, it's early days yet and the results are far from conclusive at this point, but the evidence we're seeing certainly doesn't suggest that gamers don't buy word games." Anderson also makes the point that board game-styled titles like Quarrel are usually slow-burners compared to more action-packed releases -- "less Avatar, more Shawshank Redemption," as he describes it. "Our testing showed that the basic concept wasn't usually enough to hook people on its own; it was generally after they'd played it they were won over and became advocates," he noted. "So we're far more interested in the conversion rates from trial to full-game and in the number of people recommending the game to their networks, as they're the metrics that will tell us whether Quarrel is likely to build an audience on the platform over the long-term." Quarrel's fate may well have been different if Denki had started development on the game just six months later than it did -- as Anderson notes that the iOS platform would possibly have been a better platform to aim for. Indeed, the company released an iOS version of the game last year while the XBLA version sat in limbo. "It might have made more sense to develop an iOS version first, but at the time Xbox was the most suitable platform for it by far, and by the time it became clear that iOS might make more sense we were too committed to XBLA to change," he told us. Unfortunately, since Denki was unable to find an immediate publisher for the XBLA version, it was forced to lay off a number of its staff back in 2010. Could aiming for a different platform rather than XBLA have helped the company stay in good health? "Not really," admits Anderson. "We were caught in a perfect storm, so it's not like there were that many options available to us at the time." "We were finishing off an original XBLA title just as iOS took off and the world economy tanked. Publishers panicked and weren't commissioning new games; most developers were struggling to keep teams busy which meant there was unprecedented competition for the few work-for-hire projects that were available; banks were only worried about their own problems and investors were sitting on their cash, waiting to see if there was still an economy left to invest in when the financial maelstrom finally abated." It's one of the "few cold comforts" that Anderson says he is able to take away from the whole debacle -- that, no matter what the company had tried, it would not have been able to pull itself out of the situation it found itself in. "Whichever way we turned we were going to take a hit, the only question was whether it would be fatal or not. So as bad as the outcome was, it's always worth remembering that it could have been a lot worse." "After all, Denki took an almighty battering, but the company survived, Quarrel's been released and we've started recruiting again. All things considered, that's not a bad position to be in given what we've been through these last few years."

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