Dropout Games is a studio based in India, comprising of three dropouts and a graduate (unfortunately). After a successful release of their previous game, UNWYND, on iOS, they are back with a calmer and more relaxed attitude with their new endless puzzle game, Blyss. The team’s game designer Siddhesh Khatri shares the story.
A New Beginning
Our previous game UNWYND was in the AppStore in June, 2015, and we were excited about the phenomenal response it was getting. While we were busy fixing minor issues, implementing extended features and pushing out content updates, we were also thinking about what’s next for Dropout Games. After a certain point, we were satisfied with UNWYND’s state and finally decided to pursue something new. And that’s where the Blyss journey began.
There were just two of us and It was still unclear at that point where we both wanted to head with our next game. We weren’t certain about the genre or the platform. We just sort of began discussing and prototyping stuff. After weeks of brainstorming and prototyping, we finally came across the concept that would eventually become Blyss. We referred to it as Dotinator.
So, what is this Dotinator?
UNWYND was a concept with a complicated core and a simple supporting mechanic. It had the right kind of start but lacked depth. It also had a lot of limitations in terms of level design. So, this time we wanted to keep things on the casual side. Our approach to the concept was to have a simple core gameplay this time, and then build supporting mechanics around it. But we also wanted to have a unique core.
More than a week had passed until we figured out something we liked. I believe that the best concepts are usually the ones you stumble upon, the ones that just strike you out of nowhere. Dotinator was that exact kind of concept. It took us 2 days to complete the prototype. We showed it to some of our peers, and their response was positive. 2 weeks later, we had a complete working build, with 96 playable levels.
It looked good. It was fun. It was sellable. And yet something didn’t feel right. While the concept was completely different, it gave out an UNWYND-like vibe. UNWYND was definitely not a big success but it was a great learning experience, and one of the biggest learnings we had from it was content-related. We had done two major content updates for the game and yet it was still insufficient for the players. This time we didn’t want to take that risk or the results would’ve been similar.
Hence, we took a step back and started once again by breaking down the prototype into several pieces, and digging deep into each aspect of the game. It isn’t a surprise that this process led us to learning a lot more about the game, helped find a different approach to the concept. We were trying to reiterate our level design and were looking for ways to increase replayability when we stumbled upon an idea that helped us design an algorithm. With this algorithm, we could spawn infinite levels without compromising balance or difficulty. This was a much needed personal breakthrough for us and it changed the entire gameplay.
Small rounds of internal and external testing helped us gain some ground and helped solidify the concept further. But just an infinite number of levels wasn’t enough to attract the players. The gameplay improved significantly but still didn’t have the right kind of appeal. At that particular stage it was a lackluster game with a fun core mechanic and long-lasting gameplay. We knew what exactly was missing but avoided that particular aspect for a long time. It was the art and music. We neglected that important part mainly due to the fact that we had no artist on our team, and our previous negotiations with freelancers weren’t really fruitful. Eventually things changed when one of our fellow college dropouts agreed to join us, after months of not staying in touch. Luckily for us, he happened to be an artist.
Patience is virtue
Being an independent development studio is not easy, especially if you live in a country where gaming isn’t mainstream, industry conferences are rare and another interesting indie project is 300 miles away. Financial crunch is a second nature for us now. Sometimes, occasional freelance work helps us float and survive but it’s the bare minimum to keep us from sinking. Juggling between freelance and Blyss was no easy task: more than half of development was done in 16-hour work shifts.
We wanted to dedicate as much time as we could to Blyss. We wanted it to show off the best of our abilities when it went live in the store. As time went on and we attended more conferences, we also received a lot of critical feedback. With feedback came numerous changes, and development time increased. But thanks to the amazing team and a shared goal of making Blyss as good as we possibly could, we stretched the development timeframe and worked further on improving each aspect of the game.
Change of Plans
When it came to Blyss’ monetization model, we were stuck in a dilemma of whether to keep it free-to-play or make a paid game. While the initial plan was free-to-play with IAPs, our learnings from UNWYND forced us to ask ourselves if it’s really the right decision. What made things harder was the fact that the game fit both models well. And yet something drew us to experiment with the premium model. Perhaps it was our lack of knowledge about how things work for a premium game on iOS, or it was our lack of resources to market a free-to-play game well. Our decision was supported by our peers from the industry, so finally we unanimously decided to keep the game paid.
This caused more delays in development, since we had to balance the economy once again. With that decision in mind, we started working on polishing each and every aspect of the game even more, as well as more testing. Meanwhile, things looked amazing on the art side. Our new artist Saurabh had finally adapted to the work environment and those impossible work hours. Finally, he was a proper member of Dropout Games.
A lot of concept work was complete. We finalized the serene and soothing feel of the game. The art perfectly complimented our vision. New themes were added to the game and everything was falling into its place one piece at a time. We also contacted some musicians we met during our networking sessions and social media interactions. We asked them to prepare a score based on particular themes. We assigned a theme to each musician, and they came up with some interesting tracks. 4 of those were selected for the initial set that comes with the game.
The UI was scrapped completely and re-done with more focus on simplification and accessibility. These moments were some of the most enlightening ones for us as our art department earlier lacked this kind of synergy, which was present during the mid-stages of development. We picked up our pace. It was February 2016, and we wanted to release the game before the May-June period. Then came March and April, along with it came GDC and Pocket Gamer Connects. These conferences provided us with much needed feedback in the final stages of development, and we put final touches into the game.
After 13 tiring months and all the hard work invested into Blyss, it was time to make it live. On July 27th Blyss was released for iOS. “We were expecting a feature for the game since it had all the necessary ingredients, and we used the right channels as well. But when we saw the AppStore after refresh – our expectations were met tenfold! It was Editor’s Choice!” – the developers recall. And, unlike it happened to UNWYND, this time the Editor’s Choice was for over 85 countries, along with a worldwide feature in the New Games category. Dropout Games’ team’s hard work had finally paid off. They promise the Blyss story doesn’t end here: there’s a whole bunch of things to do from this point onward, but the journey up till here has been great.