“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.
Having moved out of content production for Outwitters (no more new teams/map themes, but we’re still looking out for balance and bugs), I thought it’d be nice to at least show off some of the leftover race concepts. They’d have been redrawn for the actual game, but I’m still pretty fond of a lot of these designs. Maybe you’ll see some of them crop up in a future game. I’m especially proud of the ice pig.
Outwitters 1.6.2 is on the way! Hearing all of your feedback, we prioritized getting this patch out ASAP. It’s working its way through Apple’s approval process to WEED out some Bramble-related issues. That pun was intentional and I don’t have to apologize to anybody if I don’t want to.
Back by popular demand: Bramble thorns will return to 2hp, but still have the ability to attack and retreat. The nasty Bramble replay bug that’s been ending your replays prematurely is also fixed. We really appreciate your patience with this, and apologize for the issues with 1.6.1. I can assure you this update will be 0.0.1 better.
Outwitters 1.6.1 is out! Players are loving the new maps with the release of the 2nd gen maps in our previous update. Then they realized the new maps weren’t coming up in league play. Oops! This update fixes that. The new map pack should now start appearing in league matches.
On the topic of the recent Bramble buff, we’ve been listening to feedback and watching match outcomes in aggregate. With most drastic changes to unit abilities or gameplay rules, we see a slight upswing in favor of the new ability as players are typically faster at learning how to use the ability offensively than they are at defending against it. Defensive strategies tend to lag behind any metagame changes as players slowly adapt new tactics and let go of old ones that no longer work. While we do think the new Bramble is strong, we aren’t 100% sure if it is broken or a matter of the metagame lagging behind. We would like for the Bramble change to run it’s course through this weekend, and come next week we’ll look at the data and feedback and adjust from there. We do appreciate our player’s patience and support as we work towards a more balanced game!
Outwitters 1.6 is approved and on its way to your device! Be sure to grab the 2nd Gen Maps IAP to practice dominating on three fresh 1v1 maps and two new 2v2s.
Bramble fans will be happy to hear that you can now remove less-than-ideally-placed barriers (though you’ll also lose that patch’s children in the process). As if that weren’t enough, thorns can now attack your enemies for 1 damage as their action for the turn. Snipers, medics, and runners beware!
Another change coming exclusively to our free users is the addition of interstitial ads! Every third turn you take, you’ll be dazzled by images and copy from some of the brightest minds in modern marketing. All at absolutely no cost to you! You can disable them by buying anything from our store. We fought hard to find other adequate revenue sources, but now we’re trying this.
2nd Gen Map: Skullduggery
The results are in, and if you keep reloading this page there’s a 1 in 7 chance that Outwitters will be at the top of the Honorable Mentions for the coveted Best App Ever Award! We’re truly grateful to join such excellent company as Punchquest, The Room, and for some reason Google Maps. We even took home 2nd Place for Best Multiplayer Game of 2012, beat by a super-slick word game called Letterpress, which is totally fine by us.
Thanks a butt-ton to everyone that went out of their way to nominate and vote us!
Of the map pool we’ve been testing, we’re narrowing things down to three new single player maps and two 2v2s to include in our 2nd Gen Maps. If the poll we set up stays true, it looks like we won’t be retiring any of the first gen maps. At least the chances of you landing on your least favorite map will be watered down with the new additions.
We’ve been looking at analytics data since the last update’s Bramble buff, and it looks like he still needs a little help. So in 1.6, expect to see thorn patches with FOUR health. And we’ll keep cranking that number up until the damn thing works.
I’m kidding. We changed something else about Bramble, which you’ll see when the update hits. We plan to submit next week.
The new Outwitters maps are still being explored by testers, but you common folk should see some submission movement in the next week or two. I like testing against Alex, because I can beat Alex. I don’t enjoy testing against certain Super-Titans, because I believe they can read my thoughts.
Concurrently, Alex and I are fiddling with some new game design tools and something called a “Git”, which (as I understand it) allows you to push tortoises across the internet. I dream of a day when we learn the ultimate development tool, which we never replace with a different tool, so that our brains can finally be at peace. And then atrophy into a delightful pudding.
The new maps are on their way to our beta testers for the weekend. Names like Sweetie Plains II have been replaced by names like “Chocwit Chip”.