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Phil Fish: Long dev cycle hurt Fez sales

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."

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Matthew Handrahan


Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.