Mikael Forslind is part of the development team at Zoink Games, the studio behind Zombie Vikings and the upcoming game Fe. He took the time to answer some questions about going from working in retail to full-time gamedev and how to spread the good word about games.
Q: How did you get into game development?
A: I got tired of working in the same video store as a manager for too many years and I needed a way out. I sent my resume to Bergsala here in Sweden. They have the distribution rights to all Nintendo products in all the Nordic countries. I didn’t just send a plain old boring resume, but instead I made a whole Nintendo magazine with reviews, news and an article where I interviewed myself. It was only four pages long, but I spent like forever on that thing.
They were really impressed, but it didn’t land me a job. So I thought to myself: “What do I need to do to get a job at Nintendo?” And the answer to that was business school. So I spent two years in business school and got myself a degree. Then I landed an internship at Coffee Stain Studios (Sanctum and Goat Simulator), which led to Image & Form (the SteamWorld series), which led to Zoink Games. Now I work with marketing and publishing for all Zoink Games and I couldn’t be happier!
Q: What’s the premise of your game?
A: Embark on a crazy adventure with the Zombie Vikings. A posse sent out to retrieve Odin’s lost eye that’s been stolen by Loki. With up to four friends, you can hack ‘n’ slash your way through an epic brawler adventure. It’s a very story-driven and funny game, perfect for an evening with some friends over.
Q: What inspired the art style?
A: It’s the style we’ve had at Zoink for a few years. We previously made Stick It to the Man, which has the same art style. And we’re also working on a new unannounced game with the same art style.
Q: How did your dev team get started?
A: Zoink has been around in different ways for over 10 years. It got started when Klaus, our CEO, made a game called The Kore Gang for the old Wii.
Q: What’s your guilty gaming pleasure?
A: I don’t think you should be ashamed of any games you play or watch, so I don’t really know. But I do watch almost every PewDiePie video that comes out. But so do 49-million other people!
Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not making games?
A: What do you mean “not making games?” Is there such a thing?
Q: How do you balance real-life obligations and game dev work?
I try to keep a good balance between work and my personal life. I disabled notifications on my phone a few years back and I never touch it when I’m at home. I think that helps me a lot to relieve stress so I can fully be in the moment when I’m spending time with my friends and wife. Sure, I still check my job email once or twice when at home, but that’s mostly because I work with video games so it’s always fun to see what has happened since I last checked.
Q: What tools are you using to build your game?
A: Zombie Vikings was made in Unity and so are the new games we’re making.
Q: What platforms is Zombie Vikings available on?
A: It’s already out on PS4 and Steam. We’re releasing the Xbox One version this winter.
Q: What keeps you coming back to game development?
A: I always finish stuff. I’m more fond of projects, you know? Getting an idea, executing it, and then moving on to the next idea. The actual process of creating stuff and being creative is fun and all, but the actual reward of finishing something is even more satisfying.
Q: What’s a game designed by someone else that inspires you?
A: I’ve always been a fan of Ron Gilbert’s games, mostly because of the humor. I had to check his Wikipedia page and, wow, that guy has made a lot of games! I’m going to say Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is a favorite, because I loved that game as a kid and I haven’t played it since I had my Amiga. I want to revisit it again, I remember loving it.
Q: How do you market your games?
It’s a really tough question and I think the answers depends from title to title. I try to follow these things myself but it’s always hard to market games these days.
Build a community from day one: Even before you announce your game, tell everyone about your game and how awesome it’s going to be. Then when you’re ready to announce you already have a small following. Research your target audience and - without compromising on your game and design too much - try to make a game that can be sold easily. If you do that, marketing the game is going to be so much easier.
Take care of your community: They are your players and make sure they are treated well and being listened to. Have your social media and website always updated. But don’t be everywhere posting about the game. Find where your core audience is, talk to them directly, and focus on doing a great job on the outlets you can manage. Don’t spread your efforts too wide so you can’t keep up and make a good job.
Attend trade shows: Showing your game at conventions is great for a number of reasons: you get invaluable feedback from the people playing your game, you meet press, streamers, fans of your game, and potential employees. I don’t think trade shows will ever show a return on investment right away. It’s more about building an awareness of your game instead of actually selling copies. Also go to local events like an Indie Beer Night and things like that. It’s always nice to talk to others and see how they tackle different problems.
Launch your game successfully: Make sure you have your landing page website, you have your press kit, you do your press releases, you define your game USPs, and focus on them when you’re creating your promotional artwork.
Follow up on your release: A lot of people seem to think launching the game is the goal. But that’s when one journey ends and another one begins. Remember to rest after a release, but now you’re looking at years and years of promoting the game. You’re releasing something into the wild that’s going to be around forever, so make sure it’s good and that you’re always promoting it. Everywhere you go.
Wes Platt is the lead writer/designer for Prologue Games. Their first game, an episodic narrative adventure called Knee Deep, launched its final act on Steam in March. Before that, he was a professional journalist for the St. Petersburg Times and Durham’s Herald-Sun. He designed collaborative real-time adventures at OtherSpace, Chiaroscuro, and Necromundus for players at jointhesaga.com. He also worked as a design lead on Fallen Earth, a post-apocalyptic MMORPG, from 2006-2010. He's on Twitter at @DougPiranha. Reach via email at [email protected]