August 2, 2011
Interview with Zeboyd Games!
Some of you may remember an article I did a while back about a two-game bundle of indie RPGs by a small company called Zeboyd Games. They exploded onto Steam and made more in under a week than they had in an entire year on Xbox Live. If you haven’t read the article yet (and received my somewhat violent demand to purchase the games), I recommend you click this link before continuing on.
This afternoon, I had the chance to chat with both members of Zeboyd Games about their games, their company, and their way of doing things. They’re a couple of really nice guys who were more than happy to talk with me, which only further cements my “You must purchase their games” stance. Enjoy, and be on the lookout for details on their new game!
Charcoal: First off, how many people are a part of Zeboyd Games? Is it just the two of you?
Robert: Yes, it’s just the two of us. We usually have another person working as a contractor with us for music. Like right now, we’re working with Alex Mauer for the music on our next game. For Cthulhu Saves the World, Gordon McNeil did our music.
Bill: Yes, Robert is the designer and programmer. I do the art, maps, and other visual assets.
Charcoal: So, when you designed Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII, how many people contributed to the project in total?
Robert: Breath of Death VII was made by the two of us and we just licensed some premade music for it. Cthulhu Saves the World was made by the two of us + Gordon, so 3 total.
Bill: We licensed a variety of songs from different artists for the music in Breath of Death VII through indiegamemusic.com, so the total number of people who contributed was larger, but those actually “working on the game” were the two of us. For Cthulhu Saves the World we worked closely with Gordon on the OST. We’re a lean and mean team 😉
Charcoal: Was Breath of Death VII your first game together? How long has Zeboyd Games been a producer?
Bill: Robert can tell you a little about his pre-official-Zeboyd time, as he released a couple of games under his own name before we started working together as “Zeboyd Games.” But as the team, Zeboyd Games, Breath of Death VII was our first game. We have both developed various things in the past seperately, but we both compliment each other’s skillsets pretty well, which is why we make a good team for Zeboyd.
Robert: In late 2009, I released a couple of text-based Choose Your Own Adventure games (Epiphany in Spaaac! and Molly the Were-Zompire), but Breath of Death VII was the first game we worked together on.
Bill: Breath of Death VII was the first “Zeboyd Game.”
Robert: Yeah, it’s the first time we actually used that name.
Charcoal: How hard has it been to turn a reasonable profit, being an indie developer? Is it something you can live off of, or have you had to consign it to the “side job” or “hobby” role?
Bill: That’s a good question, there’s a lot involved in answering it actually. Starting any business from “scratch” is often difficult, to get the ball rolling and bringing revenue in. For an indie developer, it can be difficult to get word out about what you’re working on, and get people interested; for many indie devs, it is merely a hobby – and for some, it’s simply that. Robert and I started out Zeboyd Games with Breath of Death VII and a business oriented approach. We were both working (rather, he was working and I was in law school) when we started Breath of Death VII, but the idea was that if we could sustain a business, then we might eventually do it full time.
Bill: With that in mind, we both approached everything from a business standpoint, including market research, which has been very important and I feel is often overlooked by indie devs.
Robert: Exactly. My goal with Zeboyd Games was always to turn it into a full-time job eventually.
Charcoal: And you would say that it’s become that now?
Robert: However, it took quite some time to get there. I’d say now that we’ve released on the PC on Steam and Gamersgate, we’re finally self sufficient.
Bill: The original idea was to only focus on the Xbox Live Indie Games market. While we were Xblig focused, we probably could have survived as a company, but it would have been extremely tough. Robert is right, now that we have expanded to the PC market, we are comfortably able to sustain our business and focus on it full time for both of us. So it was a lot of work up front, and we were doing OK for the Xblig market, but to sustain our business and make a career out of it, we had to expand to another market (in this case PC).
Charcoal: Given the overwhelming success on Steam, will you change the way in which you choose to release your games in the future?
Robert: Instead of releasing on XBLIG first and then on PC, we’re planning on releasing on PC simultaneously. We’re also looking into other platforms.
Bill: Yes, going forward we plan to release our next games on both the Xbox and PC markets simultaneously. Right now, we have fans and there is a market for our style of games on the Xbox, and while we are seeing more sales from the PC market, we want to continue to support the Xbox and our XBLIG fans. Fortunately it is not too terribly difficult to support both, and we plan to do so simultaneously.
Charcoal: Have you considered releasing anything for mobile platforms? The Apple and Android “App Stores” have become very popular for indie developers recently, as well as download stores on mobile consoles such as the DS and PSP.
Robert: We’re looking into the iOS market at the moment, but we don’t have anything firm to report yet. Ask us in a couple of weeks. 🙂
Bill: The nice thing about XNA is that doing Xbox and PC versions is relatively easy compared to other platforms. It’s not effortless, but we would have to do a lot of work getting it on other platfrorms. The DS and PSP markets at the very least have more up front costs. The iOS market though, like Robert just said, we are looking into as it has fewer up front costs. It is a nice market and we believe that a good number of people would enjoy playing these types of games on a mobile device.
Charcoal: So, what was it that inspired you to make the games you did, the way you did them? Was there anything about the “retro RPG” genre specifically that drew you to it?
Robert: I’ve been a big fan of RPGs ever since I was a little kid and played Dragon Warrior 1 on the NES for the first time. However, what really got me started was when I played Guadia Quest in Retro Game Challenge. I saw that game and how it was fun despite using very retro graphics and thought, “I could totally make this!”
Bill: I had played Retro Game Challenge as well, before we started working together. I’ve always loved the idea of creating a retro game with new gameplay mechanics. I have created top down 2D RPG style artwork before, so I thought it was an excellent idea and that it would be fun. Plus, it just sort of feels like you don’t see many games in this style any more, and that surely there’s a number of other gamers out there who feel the same.
Charcoal: About how many man-hours would you say went in to producing Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World? Were you able to recycle any pre-existing knowledge and material from Breath of Death VII into Cthulhu Saves the World?
Bill: I’m not sure we can put a hard number on man-hours for each game.
Robert: Breath of Death VII took us 3 months to make. For most of that time, I was only working part time, but towards the end I was working full days. No clue how many total hours we put in. And yes, we were able to reuse a lot of knowledge from Breath of Death VII when making Cthulhu Saves The World. The game engine for Cthulhu Saves the World is basically just the Breath of Death VII engine with a lot of improvements added on.
Bill: We definitely learned a lot while building Breath of Death VII, and much of the engine was upgraded and used for Cthulhu Saves The World. I learned a lot about efficiently making 2D RPG style artwork and pixel art, and so I think Cthulhu Saves the World looks significantly better and has more variety. I can tell you that Breath of Death VII has about 1,400 art tiles while Cthulhu Saves the World has about 5,500. I re-used very little art from Breath of Death VII, and those that I did received upgrades to make them fit the new game better.
Charcoal: With that in mind, are you planning on making any more games in that style? Namely, any sequels or universe-sharing games for Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World? What happened to Breath of Death I – VI? I want them!
Robert: We’re currently working on a new RPG but I can’t give any details. It’s not directly related to Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World though. We may decide to make sequels, prequels, or spin-offs to Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World in the future, but we have no plans at the moment.
Bill: As far as style, we’re going with the retro look and basic feel, though it is going to play differently than Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII. Cthulhu Saves the World was kind of a spiritual successor to Breath of Death VII, but we want our next game to have its own fresh new gameplay.
Charcoal: Is there any projected timeline or release date, or is it too early to tell at this point?
Robert: We probably shouldn’t say at this point. We’ll have an official announcement by the end of the month.
Charcoal: Alright! I can’t wait. One more question, and then I’ll let you guys go. Suppose I wanted to get a few friends together and create a game, for whatever purpose. What sort of capital goes in to making a game? What would we need to buy? What would we need to learn?
Robert: With XBLIG, you don’t need much money at all. The XNA/C# tools are completely free for download on Microsoft’s XNA site. To actually release on XBLIG or WP7, you just need to pay $99/year for a creator’s membership, and that’s it.
Bill: If you go the PC route, you don’t even need the Xblig $99/yr membership; you can make and release an entire game on Windows
Robert: That’s true. Really, the main expense is just time.
Bill: What you really need more than anything is dedication and discipline, and the ability to stick to a plan.
Robert: Yes, that’s very important. A lot of people are too ambitious with their first project and burn out.
Bill: Or they let feature creep kill a project.
Robert: It’s better to stick with something more conservative that you can actually finish and then work your way up from there.
Bill: Pretty much. Some devs will spend a whole ton of money on new hardware and software that they may or may not actually need. That’s an option, a route you can take, but in our experience it is not necessary. The bare basics of making a game don’t require much in the way of expense, basically. Talent, discipline, dedication, and enthusiasm are the biggest requirements.
Charcoal: Alright. Well, it’s been an absolute blast talking to you guys, and I can’t thank you enough for giving me the time for the interview.
Robert: No problem. 🙂
Bill: No prob 😀
Once again, be sure to give Cthulhu Saves The World and Breath of Death VII a try! Huge thanks to Robert and Bill, and I’ll keep you all posted on the details of their new game as they release them!