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Sword & Sworcery sells 350K: or, why inexperience can be a good thing

Sword and Swowrcery
Sword and Swowrcery
Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

Sword and Sworcery moved 350k copies

No one predicted that an illustrator and a musician with little experience in the games industry would create one of 2011's most critically praised and commercially successful iOS games. To date, Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery EP has sold over 350,000 copies.

Nathan Vella, president of Capybara Games, took an hour at GDC to explain how the unusual duo leveraged their supposed weaknesses to create something different and incredibly profitable.

Vela credits the power of collaboration, particularly between people who have different media backgrounds and bring different perspectives. With a collaboration, he explains, the vision of the game is inherently built into the team, because the people in the team are the vision. They don't have to be convinced what one person's idea is. He thinks this saved a lot of development time and money, because everyone "got it" immediately.

"The problem with a hit-based mentality is it puts you in direct competition with everyone else with a hit-based mentality."

What they got, and what they all set out to create was something different. It wasn't built for micro play sessions — a polite way of saying it's not a a game one plays on the toilet — development took over one-and-a-half years; the budget was comparatively large for an indie mobile game, roughly $200,000; and the storytelling was often obscure and self-aware. It wasn't an Angry Birds clone.

"The problem with a hit-based mentality is it puts you in direct competition with everyone else with a hit-based mentality." He refers to that as playing the iPhone lottery, putting a budget in a slot machine, pulling the lever, and hoping for Angry Birds level of success. The reality is most of these games flop.

He encourages developers to please a specific group of people rather than everyone. Or as he puts it, "Target 100% of 10%." SS&S:EP's target was "literate gamers." They had no real idea how big that group was, low balling at 20,000 people. What they learned was, thanks to the profile ration of iOS, is the smallest possible niche can be quite large.

Because they had a target, they could make decisions specific to those people. They chose to focus on the iOS, because they thought that's where the audience lived. They chose iPad for the game's debut, because they thought the audience would want the best version of the game first. The hunch turned out right. They hit number 4 on the iPad before even being featured by Apple in the App Store. Two-thirds of the revenue came from the iPad/Universal version sales.

The game had its hurdles – originally planed to be completed in 10 months for $110,000, it was only half done in eight months – but ultimately, Vella believes having trust in the product and the people making it and the audience wants it saved the project.

It's easy to get stressed and make crazy decisions, he says. He admits he nearly slash and burned the game, considering rushing it out at the darkest days. Confidence from his collaborators saved him and SS&S:EP. The reward has been plentiful.

The next level of puzzles.

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