Ninja Fever studio was born in the second half of 2009 in Castellon, Spain. The studio is focused to on-line downloadable games development for the main console platforms.
For its first title, Dual Zone was chosen as a remake of an old amateur project, empowered and adapted for the Xbox Live Indie Games platform.
What went right
Quality. The game was planned to have a better visual quality than the XBLIG average and an original gameplay. Thanks to our graphical artist’s skills we reached by far the first item and, according to the reviews, also the second one. But as we’ll see later, this doesn’t mean necessarily good sales. As an anecdote, the music was very well received by reviewers, even when we put much more effort in other aspects of the game.
The reviews. The great majority of specialized media and individuals were very positive, with a lowest score of 7/10. Lots of them appreciate the learning curve and the avoiding of possible player color-blindness issues. These reviews helped us give some visibility to our studio in its massive media launch. Again, we’ll see that this doesn’t necessarily have an effect in sales.
All systems functional. When the project started, we didn’t even had a studio. One of its main goals was to help us establish a development methodology (or its bases at least) that we could use in our next projects. Definitely, Dual Zone has been a test ground to check the proper functioning of several tools as Mantis or Subversion, backups, a private developer blog or the XNA Framework itself. In that sense, at the end of the project, almost all systems were functional and general development methodology was improved considerably.
Getting information about the market ground. Contrasting our sales expectations against reality gave us lots of interesting data, such as the validation game’s cycle for XBLIG by other developers and its idiosyncrasy, the peculiar best sellers, the fact that quality isn’t a deciding factor, and overall, the internal chaos of this specific platform section.
The experience of a first job with freelances. Despite all that can be improved in this area (we will talk about it further), the experience of telecommuting with a graphical artist has been very enriching. It helped to have worked together previously for another company.
What went wrong
Sales. We estimated 10K units sold to reach the break-even point. After a month in the market, we have sold 21 units. Download/Buy ratio of 1′15% (almost 1.700 downloads) tells us Dual Zone isn’t suitable for all audiences, maybe too hard for some players or maybe repetitive gameplay. These low sales have surprised even other XBLIG developers, that pointed us as possible factors a low representativity of the trailer, the demo or the game description in the marketplace. Extrapolating with better iPhone application sellers, maybe also the price chosen (middle range of 240 MSP, instead of 80 MSP or 400 MSP) has been counterproductive.
Total lack of design document. Since we took the idea from an older project and we were in the middle of our company creation whirlpool, we didn’t give the time and attention required to write and define extensively all the game components and interactions. The game vision (two opposite but complementary players) wasn’t even written anywhere, and that caused a communication failure with the graphical artist and occasional course loses of the programmer, in the form of content addition requests that where incoherent with the game’s universe, not accurate graphic requierements and, which is worse, the unnecessary development time delay.
Low exploitation of the graphical resources. Despite the high graphical quality, they could have had a much better mise en scène: investing more time in the creation of some cinematic intro to the play would have allowed people to see the space ships better (that, although they are high detailed, their shapes are barely seen), or improving the particle system, the enemy explosions or the enemy models themselves (in their bigger versions, hard edges can be seen).
Work tools. As we were building the pipeline on the way, we suffered problems parallelizing the programming framework with the game itself. In addition to this, some third party model and shader exporter bugs contributed to slow down the development considerably. As an additional trouble, we didn’t have yet a FTP server and this was another communication handicap between us and the graphical artist. Anecdotally, we had serious trouble in order to find an official Xbox Memory Card for testing.
The review process. It was slow, chaotic and exasperating. The fact of having the game stopped for its review during uncertain time, or even to get low scores in the marketplace without buying the game gave us a very bad impression about the XBLIG system.
And we learnt…
In the marketing foreground, we need to invest much more time in market studies in order to create projects better adapted to the user preferences and with a suitable prize. The lack of a detailed design document agreed by programmers and art staff from its conception is inadmissible for future projects. Focused testing would have helped in finding weaknesses in the game play, the trailer and the description, weaknesses that we only found when the game was too much advanced.
In conclusion, although the overall project has reached their original goals, it left us a bad taste to see that other kind of games succeeded in the platform.
Developer: Ninja Fever
Publisher: Ninja Fever
Release Date: December 7th, 2009
Platform: Xbox Live Indie Games
Number of full-time developers: 1
Number of contractors: 1
Length of development: 3 months
Development software: Visual C# Express, 3DStudio Max, Photoshop, Acid Xpress
Technology: Ninja Framework XNA, kW X-port
This postmortem of Dual Zone has been taken from our blog:
We want to know your feelings about the game, so if you can try the demo, your feedback will be much appreciated :)