Less than six months after Towns’ lead developer left the project, we heard about the game again to learn that the developer who had taken over the reins was also retiring. It confirmed what many had feared: the game was doomed. But let’s briefly summarize the story of this boy, although he paints a few gray hair, from Granollers.
Towns is a project that was born at the hands of Xavi Canal, nicknamed “SuperMalParit”. Xavi meets Alex Poysky on the Dwarf Fortress forums, who will be in charge of the design, script and act of public relations. Shortly after Ben Palgi comes on board, who will do the graphics. With this small team they continue to work on their game until, one day, Valve presents Greenlight. It seemed like the ideal platform for a small project like yours. And the result exceeded all their expectations. Towns becomes one of the first games to make it through the Greenlight filter and the young team is presented with the opportunity to distribute their game on Steam.
Xavi, being inexperienced in game development, believes that his title is good enough to distribute. The other members of the team are not so sure, but, in the end, they end up putting the game up for sale. And it doesn’t work badly for them. Many people are encouraged to buy the game and Towns sells, throughout these months, about 200,000 copies at $ 12.
However, community members seem to disagree with Xavi’s opinion about how good the game is. It should be noted that, at that time, Early Access did not yet exist, so Towns goes on sale like any other game, even reaching the cover of Steam. But important features of the game were not finished, such as the “multiplayer” mode (where you could visit other players’ cities, hence Towns, in the plural) or the trading system.
Even without the adjective of early access, and although Xavi needed a couple of emails from Valve to suggest that he advise that the game was still in development, the community assumed that the game would improve and try to achieve what was promised. However, after the game was released, a relative of Xavi fell ill and he was unable to keep up with the updates that buyers demanded.
The pressure towards the sole developer of the project became unsustainable for Xavi, who decided to leave the project in the hands of a new programmer, Florian “Moebius” Frankenberger. However, the deal was that you would work for a percentage of the sales. But, not surprisingly, after months of no updates, Towns’ sales had plummeted. Seeing the status of the project, Florian decides that it is not worth investing the effort to fix the game; so he decides to disengage.
Although this story could help us talk, once again, about Steam, Greenlight and Early Access, what has interested me the most is how the inexperience of the developer has moved him to ambition more than he can cover. And, above all, like that ambition, not only has it not been questioned by the public, but it has been applauded.
The main problem with Towns is not that Xavi has “scammed” his buyers, the problem is that he is not aware that if other indie (or AAA) developers do not try to mix Dwarf Fortress, Dungeon Keeper and Diablo, maybe it is for something. If you know a little about Tarn Adams, the creator of Dwarf Fortress, you already realize that he is a special guy and he needed to spend a lot of time programming his game until he started to see money for his work.
And this ambition is not just a matter of Towns or inexperienced people. Notch himself, who seemed to be the indie of reference for many a few years ago, found himself in a similar situation in his megaproject 0x10c and ended up abandoned. The difference is that Notch can afford to leave his megaproject hanging because he has several people working on Minecraft, a game that he has left in the hands of a very capable guy and that this year has generated a lot of money. Mojang has more money after canceling 0x10c than he had when they started it; they can still afford to stumble.
What can we fans learn from this story? Should we stop aiming for more ambitious games? I think not. I continue to support Kickstarters that I find interesting, but I am aware that I do it because I want that game to exist. I don’t consider myself a client, I consider myself a patron. And, as a patron, I do good scrutiny of the project. It is not only useful for me that a project “mole”. When I go to put my money I consider it an investment, and I want to see who is behind it. Your idea is important, but it is even more so if you are going to be able to carry it out.