MAKING A GAME IS HARD. GETTING PEOPLE TO BUY THAT GAME IS REALLY REALLY HARD.
Foundat.io/n was recently fortunate enough to chat with Flump Studios about their retro style shoot em up games! Some big things have been happening over at Flump studios and we’re excited to speak with Paul Marrable, the founder of Flump Studios about his work in the indie game space. However, before we jump into the interview, take a moment and watch the trailer for Flump’s most recently release game entitled “Horizon Shift ’81”.
Hi Paul. Thanks for joining us today to chat about your work in the indie game space. You started Flump Studios back in 2011 and you worked on developing video games since you were 8 years old. How did you learn how to program games at such a young age?
I think I started like a lot of people did back then, copying code from micro computer magazines and then started to take the pieces that made sense and make new stuff from them.
It’s funny really, I’ve been programming for about 30 years but it’s only been in the last 4 years that I’ve managed to do it professionally.
Fast forward to 2011. At this time, you decided to start your studio. Tell us a little bit more about that decision. You obviously wanted to turn game making into a viable business model without sacrificing your aesthetic taste or approach to game making. How difficult (or not difficult) has it been for you to balance the financial needs a company, with your desire to make video games that are meaningful to you? Do you ever feel frustrated with the process?
When I first started Flump Studios, it was really just a continuation of my hobby, but actually getting some stuff out there for people to play. So, I didn’t really think about the financial side of it too much. Then in 2014 it started to blow up a bit and I was able to run Flump Studios full time, which was super stressful!
You just never know how much you’re going to earn month to month, one month could be thousands and the next month could be almost nothing. After about 2 years I decided to go back to full time employment and work on the games in my spare time, I’m a lot happier and relaxed now. So basically, I’m back to not thinking about the financial side anymore, and I couldn’t be happier
Who are some indie game studios (or individual game developers) that you believe are doing a good job of balancing the monetary side of their studio, without sacrificing their artist approach to game making? Who do you draw inspiration from with respect to this delicate balance?
I’ve always been a massive fan of Llamasoft, their games are not only amazing but each game has so much personality and feel like they’re 100% what the dev’s want them to be. I’m not sure how much the financial side matters to them, but it doesn’t seem as important as making a damn good game.
I’m also a big fan of Thekla and Jonathan Blow, the Witness really feels like it was made to be the best game possible and the game made money because it just so damn good.
I love your website homepage tag line. It’s simple and to the point. Your site says “Welcome to Flump Studios. We make games where you blow stuff up”. I love it! Tell us a little bit more about your focus on arcade style shooter games? Where does the passion for this style of game have its roots? Have you ever thought about making a game where your players don’t blow stuff up?
I’m 37 now, so when I was a kid, arcades were a big deal. We didn’t have any dedicated arcades around where I grew up, so any time I got to play an arcade machine felt really special, that feeling has just stuck with me.
Arcade SHMUPs were always my favourite genre, especially Galaga , Tempest and defender, and it just stuck with me. In a weird way it’s kind of like I’m playing at being a game developer and emulating some of the awesome 80’s devs like Eugene Jarvis and Toru Iwatani.
Having years of experience as a indie game studio owner, gives you a unique perspective on the market. As you’ve already mentioned, you’ve seen your share of ups and downs. What are some of the biggest changes you’re seeing the game distribution landscape at the moment? How has the indie game distribution system changed for you over the years?
It seems to have changed so much so fast, when I started Flump Studios, making a game was a lot trickier. XNA made things easier but compared to today’s engine, it was still quite a bit more difficulty.
Once you managed to get a game together, getting it published was even harder, I started on XBLIG which was really cool, but didn’t quite take off like Microsoft had expected. At that time getting on Steam was hard and getting on a console was almost impossible.
I managed to get on Steam with my 3rd game, Super Killer Hornet Resurrection, which did surprisingly well. Fast forward to 2019 and I was able to make a game in my spare time, release it on PS4, Switch and Steam almost effortlessly. I’m still undecided if that’s a good thing or not.
It seems as though your games are getting increasingly more exposure on bigger console platforms. For example, I can see that Horizon Shift ’81 was recently on the front page of the Play Station store. First of all, congratulations. Second of all, can you tell other indie game makers with similar aspirations how you go about developing these partnerships with these bigger sales and distribution platforms? What’s the process look like? How are these connections forms and what’s required from game makers?
I’m afraid I can’t be much help here if I’m honest, I have a really good publisher who have dealt with all the PR stuff. Shout out to Lee at Funbox!
From past experience though, I’ve found doing expos and show the best way to get exposure and make contacts in the industry. There’s normally a lot of press and other devs who are normally a great source of information.
Due to a recent show I was able to get the game featured on network television, which I didn’t ever think would happen, that was great exposure.
How much grassroots game marketing do you engage in for your games? Besides getting the obvious exposure from bigger distribution platforms, how have other forms of online marketing helped you draw attention to your games? What newer forms of game marketing (platforms, strategies etc) have helped you draw more attention to your games?
For Horizon Shift ’81, nearly all of my marketing was done through social media. Twitter seemed to be the biggest driver of interest. One thing I’ve noticed is that people nowadays seem a lot more interested in the actual development process, so I found that tweeting about progress and sharing dev screenshots gained some good interest.
Even better, getting people involved in the design process, running polls to see what control scheme they like the look of or getting feedback on gameplay videos seemed to get people interested.
Lastly, if you could go back 5 years and give a younger version of yourself advice on running an indie game studio, what would the three most important pieces of advice you would give yourself be?
Always expect to fail. Making a game is hard, getting people to buy that game is really, really hard. Make sure you can afford to release a game that will bomb
Don’t make games you think other people would like, make a game that you will really like.
Launch success doesn’t mean much anymore. Most of my games have bombed on their launch but have ended up doing really well 6 months or a year later when they hit some of the bigger sales. With all the games on the market most consumers are probably waiting for a good sale before committing to a purchase.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today Paul. We really appreciate your insight and I know the indie game makers in our audience appreciate your willingness to help them. To our readers, if you’d like to pick up a copy of Horizon Shift ’81, you can do so over on Steam here.