Twelve months ago, we never expected to spend 2015 working on a game about self-delivering cardboard boxes, or have an office and a publisher for that matter. Everything changed last December when we decided to take a break from the rigors of game development… by taking part in the 3 day long Epic Christmas game jam!
Below, we’ll recount how we went from a few devs in a kitchen to an office based business with big plans for 2016.
It’s a point that’s been made in indie dev circles many times, but it’s worth repeating: game jams are a very effective way to use limitations to produce wildly creative games, resulting in a product that can stand out from the crowd. Competing in the jam was easily the most life-changing decision we’ve made even though we didn’t realise at the time. Despite only using UE4 for a few months, we felt we had got to grips with Blueprints enough that we could produce something interesting. Three days later, and much to our surprise, we had Unbox.
The first trailer for Unbox created after three days of jamming.
It was weird, wacky and we liked it. More importantly other people liked it and while we didn’t win the jam, it was the positive reaction that was more important to us. The games market has recently been flooded with a plethora of titles; suddenly doing another 2D platformer or shooter didn’t seem like it was going to cut it. When we realised the potential Unbox could have, we dropped everything we were working on and began developing on January 4th 2015.
What followed was a completely unpredictable and amazing year.
Road To Rezzed
From the beginning, we understood that to make a good game into a great one you need to take in a lot of feedback from your target consumers. This can be achieved in part by attending & exhibiting at events, so our project plan for Q1 2015 was structured around delivering a stable pre-alpha for Rezzed.
Using our limited resources (and plenty of deal hunting), we took Unbox to Animex, Indiecade East, GDC and finally Rezzed. We used our time at these events to meet the right people who would help us shape Unbox into a viable product. A range of industry professionals gave us guidance, valuable feedback and provided important intros to the people we needed to connect with.
After 2 months of development we start using this trailer to build up interest.
Armed with a wealth of valuable feedback from consumers and peers, we felt relieved that our decision to make a game about cardboard boxes was paying off.
By April, we were still developing Unbox remotely and working in our kitchen - not exactly the best conditions for making a game. Along with going slightly stir crazy, we knew that growing as company would eventually require office space. After a few weeks of searching we found the perfect space right on our doorstep. To add to our luck, we also found two new members of staff who were perfect for the job.
It was at this point that reality set in: we’re running a business and the money (sourced from personal and private funds) was running out fast. This led to us spending the majority of Q2 - Q3 2015 working in the office for long hours while stepping up our efforts to speak to publishers and investors about potential partnerships.
Despite the major improvements we made to Unbox, there was a dark cloud hanging over us during this period: Singleplayer.
While Unbox began life as a local multiplayer game, the addition of a solo campaign was to ensure that individuals, as well as groups, can enjoy the game. Unfortunately after 2 months of work, the obstacle course orientated singleplayer was not as engaging or intuitive as we had hoped. This eventually led to a "Euruka" moment when we realised that Unbox, having all the hallmarks of a platformer, could make for an incredible Super Mario-style open world adventure.
The nail in the coffin for the original singleplayer was MineCon. Out of the blue we were invited to exhibit at the premier Minecraft event with just over two weeks to prepare. At MineCon we saw audiences engaged with Unbox’s local multiplayer and largely disinterested in its singleplayer, reaffirming how necessary a change in design will be.
Now our attention turned to building worlds and once again (EGX) Rezzed was on the horizon, the perfect chance to put our gamble to the test.
Go For Greenlight
If you want to get a game on Steam, the most direct route is through Greenlight. After two months of research we realised that just having a good game isn’t a surefire way to get through. You need an audience to amplify your call to action, so we decided to time our Greenlight campaign with EGX, securing a three screened booth at the event.
The latest trailer for Unbox
The campaign couldn’t have gone better, we reached number two on the charts within four days and were greenlit within two weeks. The show provided a much needed boost to our "yes" votes, and the result of that was media coverage from Destructoid, Kotaku, Eurogamer and more.
We had only one more looming decision to make before the end of 2015: who will publish us?
We Sold Out
While it might seem strange to seek a publisher after a successful Greenlight, the truth is that we had been in talks with many companies for months prior. While our space on Steam had been secured, there are many challenges in releasing a product that a publisher can massively alleviate. From organising events, arranging meetings with journalists and being able to spot your mistakes before you make them, a publisher can alleviate many of the pressures surrounding the development of your product.
With a decorated history in the industry and a shared enthusiasm in the potential of Unbox, we announced our partnership with Sold Out in October 2015.
In 12 months we built a crazy game, formed a hard working team, built up an audience and partnered with a publisher. It’s been a slow uphill struggle and a blur at the same time with 2016 set to be far more hectic and exciting. All the pieces are now in place and we’re working day and night to turn Unbox it into the commercial success we know it can be.
2015 was a huge learning experience for us, and this blog only scratches the surface of our story so far. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, developing your own IP or looking for advice on an existing game, feel free to contact us. We’re not experts, but we’re fast learners.
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