ContributionsPostmortem

Clutter: A Repeatable Success

July 19, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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ContributionsPostmortem

Clutter: A Repeatable Success

July 19, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

Puzzles by Joe, a one-man company, started in 2000, working on pure puzzle games. Clutter was created in February 2011, and was soon followed by a sequel, Clutter II – He Said, She Said. Clutter III -Who is the Void, will be arriving later this summer. Joe Cassavaugh, the man behind the puzzles, shares his experience in creating the series.




Joe Cassavaugh
Joe Cassavaugh

There Is No “I” in Team

There are two “I”s in Indie though and one “I” in Idea. From ’04 to ’09, I was lucky enough to co-create the highly successful Mah Jong Quest series for iWin. My co-creator, a brilliant guy named David Fox, opened my eyes to what a complete game design can be even in a puzzle-genre like Mah Jong. Towards the end of my time at iWin, I decided that I didn’t want to be a “hired gun,” coding someone else’s game design. I wanted to do my own game designs and I needed to leave iWin to do that, but I needed an idea that was both good-enough and doable.

From Diamonds to Clutter

We talked about a sock on the back of a sofa, matching a sock over in the corner…and that’s when the seed of the first Clutter idea sprang to life.

Towards the end of my time at iWin, I did a game design that got semi green-lit called Diamonds. It was a sprawling murder mystery adventure set in a Clue-like mansion. Because of market forces and budget concerns, the project was derailed a few months later. On the way back from a fall trip to my parent’s home in New Hampshire, Ana, my significant other of 2 years (now 6 years) asked me if I could do Diamonds on my own. After tentatively answering, “Maybe a scaled down version,” we started talking about alternatives. The HOG market had just started dominating the casual space, and Ana suggested I do a game set in a nice-looking house with real items to pick-up (find/match). We talked about a sock on the back of a sofa, matching a sock over in the corner…and that’s when the seed of the first Clutter idea sprang to life. An HOG game was too art intensive for consideration, and I also didn’t like the idea of manually creating each room/level in an HOG game. I wanted a game that each level could be replayed over and over again. The following weekend, I threw together a prototype, and the basic mechanic hasn’t changed that much from that initial prototype. I stayed on at iWin for another month or so, and retained the rights to Diamonds and my other game ideas.

In January 2010, I began work on Clutter full-time. The core of the game was photo-realistic objects from an image collection that I owned. I verified from the publisher that the images could be used in my game without paying any additional licenses. I had difficulty finding a local artist with enough experience to do most of the interface work, but I learned enough from one of them to start experimenting on my own. In fact, once Ana and I learned the many joys of beveling, we decided that we could tackle simple things like Buttons and depressed interface objects.

Clutter
The core of the game was photo-realistic objects from an image collection that I owned.

Man Plans, God Laughs

I originally thought that I’d release Clutter in 6-9 man months max. A lot was done on-the-fly, and in May 2010, Ana took a transfer to Atlanta and took me with her. All in all, Clutter was a little over one man-year of effort. In February 2011, Clutter was born, and I thought it would either make over $100K for me, or make almost nothing. $100K would be a success and $10K or $20K would be a pretty big waste of my time. My prediction was as wrong as could be as I had yet to learn of a concept called “The Long Tail.” It changed the way I define failure and success.

If I could put out a sequel in half the man-effort, then the sequel would be worth doing.

While doing some consulting work for a local gaming company, a coworker and friend suggested I read The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. It’s a fascinating book about how digital marketplaces (like Amazon or iTunes) succeed by selling a little bit of “everything” as opposed to just the “hits” mentality that a brick and mortar business is restricted to. As an individual creator of a product, there is a different “Long Tail” that applies to me because of digital distribution over time. About three or four months after Clutter‘s release, I knew that although it had yet to break $30K, that it would make about $50K before it was done. And what that meant…is that it wasn’t a huge success, but it wasn’t a huge failure either. If I could put out a sequel in half the man-effort, then the sequel would be worth doing.

Playing it Safe

I decided to do the sequel, and I decided to work part-time (three days a week) while working on it. I figured the nice thing about having the game be semi-successful was that I could repeat that success. So, over the next year, I created Clutter II: He Said, She Said and released it in May 2011. For reasons I didn’t fully understand at the time I released it, Clutter II: He Said, She Said would prove me wrong once again.







Clutter II
Clutter II: He Said, She Said would prove me wrong once again.

What unexpected lessons Clutter II taught me, I’m saving for my Casual Connect talk. I’m currently working on Clutter III: Who is the Void? and after that, a game tentatively called Minigame Madness. After that, Clutter IV: Clutter No More will be the final game in the Clutter franchise. After that, it will be early 2014, and I think I’ll finally get a chance to learn Unity and start exploring the mobile space.




Clutter III will be in Casual Connect USA’s Indie Prize Showcase, and look forward to Joe’s upcoming games later this year.

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Mariia Lototska

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