“Post mortem” is a game industry thing, reflecting on a project for our own benefit (to learn from our mistakes and successes), and for anyone that might try to follow in our footsteps. Production for Outwitters has been suspended, but servers and season support will continue for as long as there are players to spend the wits. The forums will always be around to find active teammates and opponents.
This is being written by Adam, the artist half of OML, and doesn’t necessarily reflect Alex’s experiences making Outwitters. I’m responsible for artwork, and we collaborate on the business and game design decisions.
What Went Right
As the first prototypes for Outwitters were being assembled, we had never balanced a competitive multiplayer game. I had never done real character animation for games before. I hadn’t done digital painting since high school, and I didn’t have much in the way of level design experience.
In the roughly 1 year and 10 months we worked on this game I tried all of these things, scrapped the work, and redid it until it felt right (or we ran out of time). Looking at the project in terms of what I was capable of when we started versus what I can do now, Outwitters was an amazing learning experience. We really challenged ourselves and got outside of our comfort zone, and I think that paid off.
The stated goal of the project was to create a turn-based strategy game for everyone. It started as sort of a reaction to strategy games I thought were too complex to get into. I think Outwitters is easy enough to pick up, and we’ve had a fantastic fan community that’s really taken to it. But there is one caveat:
What Went Wrong
When you set out to make a “strategy game for everyone”, that includes people who don’t like strategy games. While working with some of our testers, we learned that these people don’t like them on a molecular level. They do not want to play your turn-based strategy game, no matter how cute your bears are. So catering game design decisions to them, like keeping teams the same except for one unit, was probably misguided.
A bigger problem, financially, was that Outwitters took a really long time to make.
After release, I remember Alex wondering at what point we would break even. How do we even calculate that? We wrote it off at first; we’re a small company with no office, so our games must only cost sound effects money and the occasional equipment purchase. Then it occurred to us that if we need this much in salary to feed our faces and X to run the company each month then, gasp, our time has value! It sounds crazy, but only now do we know what a month of game production costs us. And Outwitters cost many months to make.
The rationale behind our business model was something like “it’s multiplayer, so we need lots of people playing” and “freemium seems to be working well for other companies.” There was definitely a dash of “we can do it without getting all shady with ads and timers.” Not much thought was put into pricing, conversion rates, or how many users we’d need to break even; because that had never really been a problem for us before. We didn’t understand what made the freemium business model work. I’m glad that we learned something about the business side of game development, and we’re still very much alive, but it was an expensive lesson.
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