Vlambeer has been a bit of an anomaly in the independent gaming scene for the last several years. Run by the affable Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman out of the Netherlands, the two have consistently pushed out hit after hit for the last three years, and finally spill the beans about how they do so.
In an overwhelmingly large room filled with nearly 600 individuals, the two studio heads bounced their sentences off from one another in a charismatic fashion which instantly won over the audience. The first key to the duo’s success is the prototyping phase, in which they quickly build a game in YoYo’s Gamemaker framework to determine whether or not it is fun.
Their upcoming title, Nuclear Throne, (formerly Wasteland Kings) was conceived during a game jam which they live streamed in early 2013. Noticing the instant feedback and attention it was receiving during that process, they soon decided to make the live streaming a frequent event. So frequent in fact, that it is now occurs twice each week, in four hour sprints.
Satisfied with the user feedback they received during these sprints, Vlambeer coined the term “performative game development”, which provides a fully transparent process in which players can both play the game while it is under development, in addition to watching its creators at work. This simultaneously satisfies two needs of every game; marketing and development. That’s not to say that it comes without shortcomings of its own, however.
“The process can be exhausting”, Nijman began, “with three hours of working on a game while still having to work on the game and entertaining people without taking a break.” On the flip side though, it really encourages the team to remain focused on the task at hand for that brief period of time. “When three thousand people are watching you do something, it really motivates you to stop checking Twitter and Facebook!” Nijman proclaimed.
To launch the live streaming process, Vlambeer contacted Twitch.tv and asked to have their work highlighted. Twitch’s terms were only that they the studio make it frequent on a set schedule.
In addition to the live inside views the team offers, they also make weekly builds of the game available to gamers who have paid the $12.99 fee for Early Access to Nuclear Throne via Steam. It can be grueling to be so consistent with your work, and broken builds have been submitted, but users eagerly anticipate each release. A bug in the audio engine has wiped any chance aural feedback in the next few weeks, but gamers seem to be comfortable with it, understanding that it will be corrected in a forthcoming release.
This early preview of the game also affords live streamers the opportunity to capitalize as well. Several have channels dedicated to covering Nuclear Throne pretty heavily, and even walk gamers through each and every difference from one build to the next. Educating your audience is important, and this team seems to really push that notion as well.
“Stream forums can be a cesspit of horrible people,” Ismail stated, “I spent the first few weeks commenting on everything. My full time role was spent replying to users, and now I dedicate Sunday to that.” In the end though, their proactive approach paid dividends, as the duo finds that dedicated followers will point new forum users toward answers to their questions, or parrot what Ismail has already stated. They community has gone so far as to create an entire wilki for the game already, and it hasn’t even been released yet!
Thus far development of Nuclear Throne has gone off almost without a hitch, but there was a slight hiccup for a moment towards the beginning. Ismail cited an instance when the Wasteland 2 developers sent them a politely worded e-mail, asking Vlambeer to change the title of Wasteland Kings, with the understanding that gamers may confuse the two IPs. “They were nice, and we agreed!” Ismail said, and soon thereafter the name was changed.
Ismail and Nijman have their own set of rules that they live by as well. “No sales”! Ismail decreed to the audience. “We also made the game more expensive during the early access period, because we only wanted truly dedicated fans to contributing feedback and building a community before the final product was released.”
In the end, Vlambeer left the inspired audience with a few key points of advice:
- Community is an investment – it requires lots of time on your part before you can ask the community to give back
- Being transparent makes things easier
- Educating your audience is important, and it’s interesting to consider where the player / developer disconnect lies