Gamasutra's first-ever WiiWare postmortem reveals the story
behind RiverMan Media's overlooked block puzzler MadStone
, with technical, design, marketing and productivity lessons galore from developer Jacob Stevens.
With a history of successful casual puzzle games released for PC, naturally RiverMan Media decided to produce another puzzle title for its first WiiWare project, hoping that adding enough of a twist to the genre would make the game unique and exciting to Wii owners.
The studio later found, however, that deciding to make a falling-block puzzle game was a "serious mistake," as gamers were initially dismissive of the title, many taking it as "yet another puzzler" and having little interest in its specifics:
Obviously I was disheartened by a lot of the feedback we got. We'd worked hard at giving MadStone an interesting mechanic and unique aesthetics. Don't people love games like Tetris Attack, Meteos, and Lumines?
Of course they do. The problem is, in the last few years, we've been absolutely inundated by matching and falling block puzzle games. There are hundreds of these games available for download on casual gaming portals. Many are offered free as Flash games.
It's no wonder that players uttered a collective 'meh' when they read about MadStone. No matter how interesting it was within its genre, it was still a falling block puzzle game. We did our absolute best to make it stand out, but the sad fact is that the world has already seen our game many, many, times in other forms. Players like to be surprised and excited. Standard puzzle games can't do that anymore. Looking back, I understand that MadStone's fate was sealed the moment it was conceived.
While most quickly dismissed MadStone
, many blog commentators aggressively criticized its music, gameplay, and graphics. Stevens found that accepting the community criticism and being nice to pundits even when he didn't want to eventually paid off:
"My first instinct was to defend ourselves against the criticism. Then, after I'd cooled down, I thought maybe it would be better to shake it off and ignore it.
Ultimately though, we decided that we'd participate. We'd introduced ourselves to readers and responded to their comments. Rather than outwardly defend ourselves, we explained our goals and let them judge for themselves whether they were interested. We thanked them for their feedback and left lots of smiley faces!
Forcing ourselves to befriend a tough audience paid off immediately. Comments on blogs instantly went from dismissive negativity to genuine interest and support. We started receiving fan letters. Editors of sites emailed us to thank us for our participation. They requested exclusive interviews and previews. In general, I think players were happy to have the chance to interact with a real game developer.
There's no way of knowing for sure, but I think a significant number of MadStone's early sales come from the sites where we were able to actively engage with readers."
You can read the full MadStone postmortem
, which includes more examples of what RiverMan Media felt went right and wrong with the puzzle game's development (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).