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Interview Prelude interview: The Zero Sum story

Vault Dweller

Commissar, Red Star Studio
Developer
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Messages
28,017
Tags: Prelude to Darkness; Zero Sum

We've tracked down <a href=http://www.zero-sum.com/about.html>Zero Sum's CP McBee and Mat Williams</a> and pretty much demanded to <a href=http://www.rpgcodex.com/content.php?id=134>answer our questions</a>. Or else.
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<blockquote><b>2. You must have realized that the game won't sell as much as an action RPG or at least as a somewhat familiar RPG with orcs and elves and knights in shiny armors would. Yet you made it anyway. Why?</b>
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Our goal was to build games specifically for hard core role playing gamers. Both Mat and I had worked at video game companies before, but it didn't take much foresight to tell where the industry was headed. Overhead costs were soaring and people were becoming much more conservative with what kind of creative risks they were willing to take on a game. They lacked originality and required no thought whatsoever. So, we decided to proceed even though there was not so much money to be made initially. It was more important to us to build a sustainable business model based on the creation of good games. We thought it would be feasible because our margins would be lowered via exclusively distributing through the internet.</blockquote>
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Naked_Lunch

Erudite
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Jan 29, 2005
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Very good, albeit short, interview with a great bunch of guys. I wish them luck and hope Ceasar IV does good so they'll at least have some reserve of cash to make a sequel/add-on to PtD.
 

Twinfalls

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Joined
Jan 4, 2005
Messages
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What a terrific read.

Mat and I both could have gotten great jobs in the industry at the time, but we did not feel that we'd be able to make a game we'd be happy with. With all the terrible games I'd worked on, I just couldn't stomach the idea.

Just the other day I was reading some articles in an old film magazine from the 80s I had lying around, and there was an interview with Lawrence Kasdan, who was (is?) a screenwriter with a lot of success at that time (he's the reason Empire Strikes Back is the best of the trilogy, and he also co-wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark). Anyway, he was asked about the 'jobbing' that most writers do in Hollywood and TV, how whole careers are made of writing stuff that's basically crap, but sells.

He basically said that he couldn't do that to sustain himself, not because he is above it or anything, but he's simply incapable of writing something which he has no personal stake in, he isn't really able to churn stuff out that isn't what he would want to watch.

I think this is a personality type, that these guys share that nature, probably the same with Iron Tower and Vogel and others. Also:

a few palm pilot games (including a version of Below the Root)

Stumbled on this one at the Underdogs a while back, very interesting work, considering its age.
 

Roqua

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Great interview, great subject. Thank you for doing an interview like this.
 

HanoverF

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MCA Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Codex USB, 2014 Divinity: Original Sin 2
Twinfalls said:
What a terrific read.

Mat and I both could have gotten great jobs in the industry at the time, but we did not feel that we'd be able to make a game we'd be happy with. With all the terrible games I'd worked on, I just couldn't stomach the idea.

Just the other day I was reading some articles in an old film magazine from the 80s I had lying around, and there was an interview with Lawrence Kasdan, who was (is?) a screenwriter with a lot of success at that time (he's the reason Empire Strikes Back is the best of the trilogy, and he also co-wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark). Anyway, he was asked about the 'jobbing' that most writers do in Hollywood and TV, how whole careers are made of writing stuff that's basically crap, but sells.

He basically said that he couldn't do that to sustain himself, not because he is above it or anything, but he's simply incapable of writing something which he has no personal stake in, he isn't really able to churn stuff out that isn't what he would want to watch.


Bullshit, he also wrote Dreamcatcher...

Different than being a programming monkey tho, if you're a writer you're supposed to be able to inject that personal meaning into the work. Hell, Ed Wood could do it, just not very well
 

CP

Liturgist
Joined
Nov 20, 2002
Messages
110
Naked_Lunch said:
Very good, albeit short, interview with a great bunch of guys. I wish them luck and hope Ceasar IV does good so they'll at least have some reserve of cash to make a sequel/add-on to PtD.

Sorry if it was a bit brief. I could go on forever, but I wasn't sure what people would find intersting. Is there anything in particular you'd like us to elaborate on?

Thanks.


CP
 

Roqua

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Dumbfuck Repressed Homosexual In My Safe Space
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How many units sold?

Do you think a big mistake was not enough exposure? Did you harrass other rpg sites into covering your game, or try to?

I would have never heard about this game if I didn't visit this site. And once rpgdot covered it a couple of months ago a lot of people expressed a lot of interest in it. Imagine of that interest was expressed in when the game was released. You guys really didn't get into PR/marketing beyond fans spreading the good word.

What do you see as the future of the indie rpg market? How many units do you think AoD will sell with its level of exposure and awarness?

What is your take on McCarthy's interview here?

Do you have any advice for people who want to make rpgs without funding, as VD did? Is there any material you recommend for game developers so they can avoid making the mistakes you guys cited?

What is the guy who isn't making games doing? Is he now a chefe? Why isn't he still making indie games? Too much fame and money to handle? Can't you guys talk your bosses into financing PtD 2?
 

Twinfalls

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Messages
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HanoverF said:
Bullshit, he also wrote Dreamcatcher...if you're a writer you're supposed to be able to inject that personal meaning into the work.

Gotta be the same with a designers, quest writers, etc though. If its not a game you would ever want to play.....

Roqua said:
Is he now a chefe?

Lets hope not.
 

GhanBuriGhan

Erudite
Joined
Aug 8, 2005
Messages
1,170
Roqua said:
How many units sold?

Do you think a big mistake was not enough exposure? Did you harrass other rpg sites into covering your game, or try to?

I would have never heard about this game if I didn't visit this site. And once rpgdot covered it a couple of months ago a lot of people expressed a lot of interest in it. Imagine of that interest was expressed in when the game was released. You guys really didn't get into PR/marketing beyond fans spreading the good word.

What do you see as the future of the indie rpg market? How many units do you think AoD will sell with its level of exposure and awarness?

What is your take on McCarthy's interview here?

Do you have any advice for people who want to make rpgs without funding, as VD did? Is there any material you recommend for game developers so they can avoid making the mistakes you guys cited?

What is the guy who isn't making games doing? Is he now a chefe? Why isn't he still making indie games? Too much fame and money to handle? Can't you guys talk your bosses into financing PtD 2?

Good questions. Answers please? :)
 

FrancoTAU

Cipher
Joined
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Brooklyn, NY
I think the guys readily admit that they sucked with all the producer/marketing aspect of the business. I too, never heard of PtD until i started coming to this site in 2005 and i'm huge RPG fan.

Anywho, I hope Iron Tower has some sucess which hopefully will prod Zero Sum into making a sequel.
 

CP

Liturgist
Joined
Nov 20, 2002
Messages
110
Roqua said:
How many units sold?

Ack. Hmm... less than we would have liked.

Roqua said:
Do you think a big mistake was not enough exposure? Did you harrass other rpg sites into covering your game, or try to?

No, I think our biggest mistake was biting off more than we could chew. We had a fantastic group of advisors who all told us the same thing... start with something smaller. But we were dead set on creating the game we had wanted to make. I mean, after all, that's why we had gone off on our own rather than hopping on board at a game company. So, armed with far less experience than we though, we made the joint decision to take on a monumental project.

I'll discuss the exposure issue a little bit further in the post...


Roqua said:
What do you see as the future of the indie rpg market? How many units do you think AoD will sell with its level of exposure and awarness?


I think that there is a viable business model in developing RPGs independently. It's very tough and requires a lot of grit, but I think it is possible to create a self sustaining business by developing indie games. The fact is, however, developers that create successful games or cultivate 'cult' followings will always have the option of opting for cushier jobs, or to distribute their games through developers. This begs the question, how many folks would actually turn down a great contract to stick to their indie business model? Vogel seems a good example of someone who has. VD will... we would have as well, and very well may rebuild. But I'm not sure that there are many people out there have that kind of grit and commitment towards the creation of good RPGs. To that end I think the indie RPG game development industry will, unfortunately, always remain small and fragmented. Course I could be wrong, but that'd be my guess.

VD has set the standard for marketing indie RPGs as far as I'm concerned. I have no doubt that this title will sell well, and will be the first of many games for him. I certainly hope that he makes the most out of his venture by leveraging any success with proper financing. This way he can get paid to do something he loves and is clearly good at for a long time :D


Roqua said:
What is your take on McCarthy's interview here?

Haven't read it yet :oops: . Will get back to you on that.

Roqua said:
Do you have any advice for people who want to make rpgs without funding, as VD did? Is there any material you recommend for game developers so they can avoid making the mistakes you guys cited?

We made so many mistakes from a software devlepment perspective, I'm not sure where to begin. We jumped right into programming rather than following any type of staged development plan. There was no design doc, no milestones, no feature creep guidelines, no risk analysis, no requirements development, no structured q/a, etc. Essentially we dove right in without knowing what we were getting into, and by the time we knew what we were doing, it was too late to rebuild the foundation.

Books: Anyone who develops any software should read the Software Project Survival Guide by Steve McConnell. I think he also does Code Complete and Rapid Development, neither of which I read, but are supposed to be great.

Roqua said:
What is the guy who isn't making games doing? Is he now a chefe? Why isn't he still making indie games? Too much fame and money to handle? Can't you guys talk your bosses into financing PtD 2?

Haha. Besides me and Ryan, the entire team went back into the video game industry. As for me... well, not sure you'll believe me, but I'm the VP of Internet Marketing at an international fashion company. I had been in the gaming industry all my life, and after Prelude I wasn't too keen on working on other people's ideas. So I took a different path. Ryan is fast becoming a well recognized actor having had leading roles in notable productions including Shakespeare in the Park.

As for raising more money... it might be possible to do again, but I just don't have it in me right now. Dunno if you checked out my article (http://www.zero-sum.com/press.html), but it's not easy to raise money. The people who financed ZS lost money, and though I am still on very good terms with them, they would not entertain another stab at game development (despite how the market may have changed). Besides, to pull off the kind of financing structure we had before would be near impossible nowadays.

FrancoTAU said:
I think the guys readily admit that they sucked with all the producer/marketing aspect of the business. I too, never heard of PtD until i started coming to this site in 2005 and i'm huge RPG fan.

It wasn't so much that we sucked at marketing as that we (and by 'we' I mean 'I') didn't market. I am currently a marketer by profession, and in hein sight I think that the mistake I made was the product of both my academic background and my exasperation. Indeed, I spent lots of time studying marketing and had a very well developed marketing plan for Prelude. But when the actual product created was so buggy, I was not sure how to market it. We had no budget left, so we were left to rely on word of mouth marketing. Rule#1 in word of mouth marketing is that bad word of mouth spreads 10x as fast as good word of mouth. As a marketer, that left me in an awkward position. I had seen the positngs on the codex and, generally speaking, we were getting reamed. That said, I felt that any effort I expended to market the product would only expedite people's knowledge of our product as being extremely buggy. This would of course harm not only Prelude's potential revenues, but Zero Sum as a brand. So... I opted to wait. I hoped that one day we would come back, fix it up, and put my marketing efforts towards a more stable game.

In hein sight, this was a mistake. I should have gone on a marketing blitz. But at the time my academic logic, feelings of discouragement, and general fatigue led me to not do all that I could have done. Now that we have rerelease I plan on making more of a marketing effort, but only once we fix a few of the most important bugs.


Hope this answers some of your questions. If you have any more, feel free to fire away.

Thanks.


CP
 

Roqua

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Thank you. I wasn't aware of the article. You guys made a great game and have a lot to be proud of and the adulation of a bunch of dorks.
 

Roqua

Prospernaut
Dumbfuck Repressed Homosexual In My Safe Space
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Shitgnat, despite your propensity for being paid not to work and saying stupid nonsense, you seem to be pretty good at kissing my ass.

Carry on: order arms (that means you can drop the salute you presented and go back to the position of attention).
 

drunkpriest

Scholar
Joined
Jun 28, 2006
Messages
328
This is why every codexer should play this game and report all the bugs and crashes. Sell it again, bug free.
 

GhanBuriGhan

Erudite
Joined
Aug 8, 2005
Messages
1,170
thanks for the answers, CP. It's really interesting to hear from the inside of indie project. After all most RPG players are probably would-be game designers...
Too bad that the project was a failure financially. Game design wise I think it it's a remarkable success, especially considering the apparently slightly chaotic development process. I'd encourage you to improve the stability of the current version. Even now the game can still do a whole lot for the reputation of indie RPG games, and that would be a good thing.

Cheers.
 

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