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Phil Fish: Long dev cycle hurt Fez sales

Phil Fish: Long dev cycle hurt Fez sales

Fri 25 May 2012 3:53pm GMT / 11:53am EDT / 8:53am PDT
Development

Indie dev claims Xbox Live sales "slowing down" as console cycle nears its end

Polytron's Phil Fish has claimed that Fez's long development cycle had a negative impact on commercial success, due to slowing sales on the Xbox Live Arcade platform.

In an hour-long presentation about effective design at the Nordic Game Conference, Fish recounted the five years it took to complete his game, and the long process of defining what it should be from the large amount of content he had created.

However, while Fez was greeted by high praise from the critics, Fish was less sure it had fulfilled its potential in terms of sales.

"The fact that the game took so long to come out I think ultimately hurt it," he said." I think it would have done better if it had come out two or three years ago rather than now, because things are kind of slowing down on Xbox Live Arcade - it's the end of that life-cycle."

Fish admitted that one of the biggest setbacks was not having a clear idea of what the finished product should be from the start - "a rookie mistake". The game's ultimate form only became clear after four years in development, but it still required another year of work before it was ready to ship.

"We knew what the finished game looked like, in our heads, for a long time. We kept working on it; we just didn't know exactly how much stuff was going to be in there," he said.

"It was about four years before we knew what the finished product would look like, and then it was just about finishing it... I could have kept working on this game forever - there was a lot of stuff I didn't manage to put in there - but at some point, when you've been working on something for so long, you have to set limitations for yourself, and tell yourself that it's done."

However, Fish is "super happy" with how Fez turned out, particularly when, at one point, he wasn't sure it would ever be released at all. It was only due to the financial and logistical support of the Montreal-based studio Trapdoor that Fish and his programmer Renaud Bedard completed the game at all - Trapdoor is credited as "co-publisher" of the game.

"It was a great help to have that sort of fostering, to have this studio that was looking out for us... Doing it alone for so long, I was going mad, particularly with all the business responsibilities that I had no idea how to handle.

"Trapdoor basically saved Fez - Fez was about to die. There was a three or four month period where I thought that it was never going to come out. We were going to dismantle the company, and get a regular job, and our dream was going to die. But the Trapdoor came along and saved the day."

3 Comments

Martyn Brown
Managing Director

137 33 0.2
I think the recent astronomic success of Trials2 and Minecraft on XBLA suggest that there is certainly life in XBLA.

I think the problem here is a niche (admittedly well crafted) retro-cool title that has simply been a labour of love for too long. And as nice, charming and well executed as the game is, most commercially minded people in the industry would like tell you that it's not the kind of title that will blaze through sales numbers - although 3-4 years ago, it would have likely had much more success on XBLA.

Admittedly XBLA has become, like most of the digital platforms, a problem in terms of getting noticed, of discovery, especially with all the other options for tv, film, social. Higher profile titles don't have that problem so much.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Sergio Rosa
"Somewhat-Creative Director"

62 35 0.6
"Fish admitted that one of the biggest setbacks was not having a clear idea of what the finished product should be from the start - "a rookie mistake". The game's ultimate form only became clear after four years in development, but it still required another year of work before it was ready to ship"

That is pretty much the idea I'm not completely fond of the "feel free to iterate as much as you want, because you're indie and you don't have the pressure of a deadline" idea. I like to try stuff and then change it if I come up with a better idea, but sometimes (and coming from some people) iteration sounds more like "I have no idea what I'm doing so I'm trying whatever I can come up with until something seems fun enough." Ultimately sounds like you have no idea what kind of game you're making.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Terence Gage
Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
I think, as Martyn says, clearly the record-breaking success of Trials and Minecraft in the last couple of months shows he is wrong. However, I do think Fez suffered most of all because of its release window timing - no doubt a lot of folk were saving their MS points for Trials, and then a couple of weeks again after that the biggest modern indie success story comes to the platform.

I wonder what the conditions of Fez's 360 exclusivity is, as they might find more success if they can also release the game on Steam, as Team Meat did.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

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