Powerhoof! Crawl Launch Impressions...


Hello!

A year and a half ago I quit my job (along with my buddy Dave) so we could make some games together. Crawl is our first game- a local-multiplayer dungeon crawler for PC- and the plucky little scamp was released on Steam Early Access around twelve days ago! Here are some thoughts and figures on the whole escapade, along with some photos from our launch party:

imagePlaying Crawl on a big projector, at our launch in a Melbourne bar

The Launch

Crazy rush for final gameplay features, crazy rush for tutorial info, crazy rush for balancing and polish and bug testing, eighty-hour work weeks trying to make a launch trailer while Dave is going crazy with accountants and lawyers and banks and IRS mumbo-jumbo… pretty much a cake-walk, assuming these cakes are really, really hard to walk on!

We fixed and balanced what we could from player feedback, we did extensive bug testing, made trailers, made a press kit, contacted the press, sent out builds and blabbed like idiots through Twitter, Facebook, our blog, and anywhere else people would listen- trying to tick every box on the indie game-launch checklist.

Press Coverage

Our launch marketing was well received, but didn’t really take off like we had hoped. Previous marketing had spread very well, and we’re not sure why the response was smaller this time.

Our Greenlight trailer had 100k views within the first day, our launch delay .GIF spread like crazy and ended up on the front page of Reddit, but our launch date announcement and our “OUT NOW” launch day marketing both fell quite flat by comparison.

The noise around Twitter seemed bigger than previously, but many sites which covered the game announcement and delay did not cover the actual launch. Our coverage has come in a steady trickle rather than the burst we previously experienced, which makes me wonder if our press mail-out missed the mark in some way, or perhaps local-multiplayer and/or Early Access are more of a deterrent for coverage than we had anticipated.

Still, the coverage has been amazingly positive, and has put to bed so many niggling fears and insecurities about how the game would be received!

imageLovely launch photos by our friend Rina

Player Reaction

Let’s just say my life’s secret purpose now has a big red tick next to it! Crawl is a big silly expression of our taste in fun and art- we sent it out into the world and people are having a ball playing it… life purpose complete!

I’ve been grinning madly over the internet- watching people laughing and griefing their friends on Youtube, reading people’s excited suggestions in the forums, hearing anecdotes about “that time I was driven insane”, seeing my pixel guys interpreted in crazy awesome fan-art… it all makes us so happy!

We’ve had compliments and support from so many people we look up to in the industry- shout-outs from Double Fine and Penny Arcade and countless indie developer heroes of ours, this is really so much more than we ever expected. We feel like we’ve been welcomed into this developer community we had been looking up to for so long and it is surreal!

For me the biggest thing is young kids playing with their parents or each other- I remember the games I played as a kid, how the in-game worlds filled my imagination and made up such a big part of my thinking in the “real-world”, and it’s pretty awesome to think Crawl might offer that same inspiration for some little dude or dudette out there :)

Sales

The clear figures and info for Dust Force, Shovel Knight and a handful of others has been extremely useful for us, so I’d like to add our story as another point of reference for indies looking to launch their own games.

hilary_enviro2small
(click to enhugeify)

It’s hard to make a comparison with the other games we have figures for- Crawl is Early Access and local-multiplayer only, so even with some good stats for reference we really had no idea if we should be expecting a few hundred sales or a few hundred thousand.

At this point, we don’t really know what the numbers mean for us- it all depends how well we can keep Crawl visible and keep these sales coming in, but being a team of two with very low overheads, we are in a good position to make the most of whatever sales we can get.

With regular updates, not to mention full release and potential console ports, we have plenty of opportunities to boost our marketing. With more presence in expos and competitions, and a lot of “let’s play” opportunities with Youtubers, we should be able to continue getting coverage and sales for some time to come.

imageI wish all bars had big projectors for drunken multiplayer showdowns

Barriers to Entry

We knew right from the start we were making a niche game, pretty much started this whole thing specifically to make niche games!

After years in the industry working on games which are so desperate to appeal to as wide an audience as possible- games which end up palatable to millions but wonderful to nobody- I was desperate to make something with its own damn personality, rather than more of those deeply beige, mid-tier knock-offs of knock-offs…

In doing so, we came up with a pretty weird game with some significant barriers to entry. Early Access, PC local-multiplayer, Ultra-low-res pixel art… we really used up all the niches on this one!

Early Access

The service is very young and lots of websites don’t seem to have figured out exactly where these games fit in their coverage.

We made sure we developed and tested our gameplay to a level we would be proud to sell as a finished product before putting Crawl up for sale, but a lot of buggy and semi-playable games have given the service a bit of a bad name.

Hopefully these are just teething problems, because I think this is the perfect environment to develop a game like Crawl, and the community interaction will lead to a much better game than we would have developed in our own little vacuum!

Local Multiplayer on PC

This is our biggest barrier-to-entry. Not just for gamers, but also for coverage. A given journalist would be expected to organize three extra people (and a good chunk of peripheral equipment) just test the game out and give some basic impressions.

We have been inundated with requests for online play, ranging from people begging kindly that they don’t have real-life friends (poor guys) to people utterly furious with us for making a local-only game and throwing all kinds of insults- we are actually pretty stoked people care enough to be angry with us!

It would have been crazy over-scoping to launch straight into an online game for our first project, but all this noise around the feature, coupled with the positive gameplay feedback- definitely indicates it is worth seriously looking into!

imageWe got some time with the classics- Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Street Fighter 2

So what does it all mean for us?

The main thing is we get to keep developing Crawl as planned! We haven’t become millionaires, but this really just means we need to keep learning and working hard on marketing!

A year and a half ago, if you told me I’d have anything like this kind of success, I’d never have believed you and I’d probably have told you to get out of my kitchen anonymous stranger, I’m trying to make year-and-a-half-old toast here!

-Barney

  1. really nice, personal and informative article…

    i enjoy playing your game alot and i wish you the best for your future work on crawl and hopefully multiple other projects i may look forward to…

    Reply
    • thanks :) I wish there was more time in the day- there is soo much I want to do with Crawl, and about 4 other sweet projects I’d love to get started on, it’s hard to be patient!

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing this information. It is really helpful to have. Wish you all the luck with your projects. Crawl is awesome!

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  3. Great post Barney :)

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  4. Never give up, you have something special here.

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  5. Awesome post!
    And yeah, I’d say that, just like Towerfall, the only thing in the way between this game and A BILLION SALES (I almost wrote “complete success”, but IMO it already is because it’s fucking awesome) would be the lack of online play! Though it’s the hardest part to do, too, I think. Maybe hire the guy who wrote the netcode for Risk of Rain, that one works wonderfully. IMO it would just do wonders for the game, and god how I want the whole world playing this!!

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    • hey thanks, I think we’ve talked with that risk-of-rain guy about exactly that hehe :)

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    • Maybe that code works great if you can figure out how to do it, but the method of getting online could certainly be a lot more elegant and simple than it is in Risk of Rain. My brother and I are tech savvy enough to have gotten our way around for the last 20 years, but evidently *not* enough to ever get online Risk of Rain to work.

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  6. Jackson Hill

    Guys. Keep updating. The target you’re missing on your initial launch was some added content. I was all about Crawl for the first few days of launch but you’re trying to capitalize too hard on what you’re calling ‘Early Access’. I wanna see dev plans, I wanna see conversations with fans, and I want to see progress. Where does Crawl go from here? I care about that way more than the game as is.

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    • cheers- we’ve tried to be vocal on the forums about our plans, but there’s only so many replies we can each write every day hehe :) once all this crazy launch stuff settles down, I’d like to rework the Crawl page (and probably the steam page) to give better specific info about our update plans- once we’re back to full development again, I’d also like to be tallying the stuff I’m adding everyday, so people can look and see what’s building up for the next update

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      • An info-graphic akin to what you might see on a KickStarter project page would suffice I think.

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  7. Franivelius

    Hi guys. Nice article. I wanted to let you know that I will buy your game when its no more early access.
    Awesome looking game BTW.

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  8. Paul Furio

    Thanks for sharing! It’s a great game, and 10k sales in 10 days is nothing to scoff at!

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    • cheers :) yep, it’s great for us in that timeframe, we just need to do what we can to slow the tapering off and spread the word that our game exists and can be played right now!

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      • In that case, you should try to contact pewdiepie, he seems like a nice guy, i’m sure he’d accept. How many of us were like “stumpd brought me here” ….pewdiepie has 30 millions followers, according to thé steam numbers, 5 percent of the viewers actually bought crawl. 5 percent of 30 millions is 1.5 million… That’s huge.

        Anyway, i’m having a blast playing crawl, thank you so much, hope to see the online soon so i could play with my irl friend (since i moved out :( )

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  9. Paul Georges

    Amazing article boys and girls! Thanks so much for sharing and for having created such a fun gaming experience. Suggestion: work those contacts and get this baby running on PS3/PS4/XboxOne/EVERYTHING. It will sell and be a lot more accessible to console players (it is a console game, after all). And add 2 more dungeons with new traps, visual styles and bosses. GO!

    Signed,
    Some Unity dev living in Montréal

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    • hehe :D thanks- yep this is perfect for console, but it’s one step at a time- first fleshing out our content, looking at online, then looking at ports!

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  10. Christian Mu

    Crawl and the powerhoof blogging has already put Crawl in a place deep in my heart. This is an amazing game with amazing full release potential.

    I’ve had my roommates and my friends ask me to fire up crawl more than a few times since I’ve purchased it, and they think it is a badass amazing game as well.

    Please keep up the good work Barney and David, you guys are inspirations to indie developers and pixel artists everywhere.

    Thank you for making such a sweet game and putting up such informative blog posts like tutorials and insights into your development experience. I’d love to read more blog posts :j

    Reply
    • thanks for the support! it has turned out really fun having this little community to chat with about development and share ideas and animations and stuff- I always wish I had more time to share more of the working process, I’d really like to look into some capture/streaming :)

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  11. Great job, guys. Solid, informative post, off the back of a fantastic game that is already a blast to play but still has lots of potential for expansion.

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    • thanks! the hardest bit ahs been getting the foundations figured out and roughly balanced! from here in, refining things and adding crazy content is going to be a blast!

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  12. Wait which bar is it that has these classic arcade machines? and checking out on Steam now!!

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  13. What a great read! You guys really worked hard and poured everything into this game, and in my opinion it really shows. This game fills a hole that has been really missing in the industry. Everything is impersonal and online these days, but with Crawl, it’s really refreshing to just sit with good friends and play games like when we were kids. You guys deserve everything and more and I wish you both great success in the future!

    Jas
    Stumptgames

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    • thanks so much :) it’s awesome to see you guys playing and having a blast- still o lot of tweaking and balancing and extra content to go, but it is a massive relief to see the core fun is working for people

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  14. Warren Carroll

    Interesting read, and great work on the game too, though definitely add my voice to the list of people begging for online multiplayer :P

    Grats to you and Dave on all the well deserved success!

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    • hey Warren- cool to see you in here :) yep, online definitely seems like the way to go- not to mention that Dave has to do all the work hehe

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  15. Adam Templeton

    I agree with Warren, it was a good read on the process of getting it out to the world. It is cool that it is finally out. Been playing it with friends at work. Quite fun even one on one. Does look good on a 55 inch tv. I agree online Multiplayer would be great. Feels nice and polished for what is there. Waiting to see what’s next. The controlling of the boss was cool love to see more in that direction.

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    • Hey dude, cool to see you in here too :)! Yeah i’m pretty keen to add more bosses, and still formulating a miniboss system to get a few smaller exciting bossy-style fights peppered through each match

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  16. The reason your sales did not take off as much as you thought is because of the local multiplayer only. I’ve bought the game because I can live with bots, but I know many people who said their only deterrent is that it doesn’t have online atm, and they’re biding their time until it shows up. I’m sure that if it had online when it launched sales would’ve exploded. I love the game, I think you guys have done a great job, but let’s be honest, the community wants – almost needs – online multiplayer.

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    • yup, this has been a very useful experience for us- if we released and the gameplay just didn’t work for people, then it would have been a bad idea to put in the time for online support- but considering people are having fun with the basic mechanics, it is a much stronger case for investing the time and money for a big feature like online multiplayer!

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  17. CaptainKraft

    You made an awesome game and I can’t wait to see what you do with it. Keep it up.

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  18. I wish you all the best, Barney and Dave!

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    • thanks! one thing i had kind of overlooked when i was thinking about starting an indie studio was how you get to be in direct contact with the people playing the game, and this has turned out to be one of the most fun parts of the whole deal!

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      • Just keep in mind that when/if sales really take off, it’s going to bring all those people that are never happy with anything. Add what you think is good from the community but don’t loose sight of what you want this game to be.

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        • thanks Elijah, that is a good point :) We have pretty specific goals for the game, and it will be a challenge if we have a really big community not to feel too much pressure from all the opinions going around!

          At the end of the day we have to remember the feedback is a tool for us use however it will benefit our process, rather than any specific requirement for us to live up to- staying true to our core design will give people more fun in the end anyway!

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  19. You guys are awesome! put the perfect amount of stuff in the release, and looking at the countdown animations, i can tell that this epic party game is way, WAY far from done. Everyone in the comments, prepare yourselves!

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    • :D :D hehe cheers! yep, we have sooo much more to add- I just wish I had a bit more time to work on the game right now- launch has taken up all my time with emails and admin, and I’m about to fly off to Seattle for PAX- I’ve only had a couple of afternoons to be actually drawing new art again, but I’m pretty excited with the new monsters I’m coming up with!

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  20. Youse are glorious, lads. Glorious :-3 .

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  21. Begging for you to please add support for multiple players to a keyboard as soon as you can, as of now the game is completely unplayable… 10 dollars down the drain…

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    • hey Jim- Dave has just added exactly that! He will be releasing a little patch soon to fix as many controller issues as he can.

      I should warn you though, most keyboards these days have a maximum number of presses they can send at one time- (this is why we didn’t think people would want the option) which means if 1 player is pressing two directions and attacing, it might cancel button pressed from another player! still it differs from keyboard to keyboard, and it works fine with multiple keyboards plugged in, so hopefully this doesn’t mess up your plans!

      I hope you know you can use the mouse as 1 player and the keyboard as another too.

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  22. Really good game love it but i wish there were more bosses, i know the game is still in early acces but thats something i would wish to be there in the next update.

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    • cheers dude! we probably won’t have more bosses in the first update, as they take a lot of testing, but we are definitely planning to add more as soon as we can! after i get back from PAX i can really get stuck into making content again!

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  23. lol i was reading and i guessed i skipped over a bit of words… of course the words i skipped over had to be “Dave is going crazy” XD

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  24. Hey guys, great stuff with Crawl, a bunch of us have been playing it fairly heavily since the Steam release. We’re all jonesing for more, I’m sure you’ll appreciate. Can’t wait for further word on updates etc. – I’ve subscribed and will be salivating by my inbox until new shit comes out.

    Kind regards,

    AAA

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  25. …although if this turns out to be some flash in the pan without reasonably regular updates I will henceforth be racist to everyone from Melbourne. You don’t want that on your conscience, do you guys?

    Keep the dream alive,
    AAA

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    • uhoh, we can’t be letting down the melboune team now can we! don’t worry, we have loads of stuff in store- monsters, bossed, magic weapons, loads more items and secrets- new environments, fixes to old monsters, and a more fleshed out leveling-up/inventory system!

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  26. I hope you get tons more coverage my housemates and I have been having stacks of fun playing Crawl, it’s joined our regular co-op game list :)

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    • :D! sweet, it’s awesome how many people do get to play local- it’s definitely the best way to get the full effect of our little friend-griefing simulator!

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  27. What a great game I haven’t had this much fun since…The beginning of time.
    Great game, hope you guys keep working on it.

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  28. Gotta say, I bought 3 controllers and sat my friends down and it is a great experience EXTREMELY original Idea. I have bought (Pre-Release) Games before and they end up never being updated. So I’m hoping for everything you guys have promised the finished release will have. Also would just like to add after playing for 3/4 hours with my buddies no one was able to take down the boss with all the players controlling him. Work on the balancing a newbie has no chance in hell of not ending the game with all players (Lost forever)

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  29. Frank from Argentina

    “We are not millonaires yet…”

    Want to be millonaires? release an online mode, as simple as that.

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  30. This is literally what all my friends and I play when we’re together

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  31. Hiya, I am really glad I have found this information. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and web and this is really annoying. A good blog with interesting content, that is what I need. Thanks for keeping this website, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can not find it. baabkeagadfadfbk

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  32. lihimsidhe

    “It would have been crazy over-scoping to launch straight into an online game for our first project, but all this noise around the feature, coupled with the positive gameplay feedback- definitely indicates it is worth seriously looking into!”

    I agree with you 100%. I have just developed my first game myself and I can’t even IMAGINE the horrors of managing net code. Just to think about it just crushes my spirit under the weight of thousands of ; and stray {. :(

    However your game is out. You’ve issued forth updates. You are in the groove so to speak. It’s time to focus on online multiplayer.

    I am someone that has come to learn about your game via Polygon.com. I love the retro aesthetic. I love the Dark Souls influence. It just seems like a blast to play. However, I am not purchased the game yet because one of my first inclinations is to want to share the experience with friends and local multiplayer only is a barrier to that.

    Don’t get me wrong… more games need local multiplayer. It’s as if the industry has forgot all the fun that gamers had playing GoldenEye 64 and Perfect Dark. But with PC local it’s a bit of a different story because of the need for extra controllers.

    I have one controller for my PC. If I want to experience the full multiplayer effect of Crawl that means either I or my friends have to shell out $30 each for each controller. You’re modestly priced game of $10 is now at $100. Ouch. And that’s assuming my system has 4 USB ports… which it does not.

    That is world’s apart then sending my friend a message saying, “Hey I just got Crawl. Let me know when you get it so we can play.”

    The reason you’ve been hearing so much noise about it is because it’s such a crucial element to take your game to the next level. Listen to your fans. Listen to your potential fans. It’s kind of like how fans kept pestering Sony to add a second analog stick to the PSP and they just floundering around on it. Meanwhile fans are just like, “Why don’t you just ADD the second f**king stick already?! Can we be more obvious?!”

    In that same context Crawl’s potential is sorely damaged by the lack of this feature. That is not to discredit you for not launching Crawl with multiplayer because as I mentioned… it’s a lot easier said than done and I would have opted for the same route. However now that Crawl is out and about it’s time to focus on this sorely missing feature.

    Imagine going back to the same bar where you played Crawl on launch day with online player fully implemented. However the 3 other local players around you are also Heroes. It’s the original Crawl team and friends now battling the world of Crawl players at large. Can the original team of Heroes make it to the end vs the other players who don’t even know they are trying to slay the Creators? Who knows?

    But you can’t tell me that doesn’t sound so utterly fascinating.

    Have faith. Get to work. Take your dreams to the next level Powerhoof.

    Reply
    • Cheers dude- yep, rest assured Dave is now elbow deep investigating net code and all the tweaks and restructuring we’ll have to do for online craziness :)

      As a 2-man studio we can’t do many things at once and can’t move as fast as we’d like, but rest assured we are moving, and going in the direction that everyone is calling out for! :)

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