Crash Wave Games, founded in August 2015, is an unusual pairing of two game developers from Finland and South Africa. As two developers of entertainment, the Vancouver-based indie studio has travelled all across the city and its borders for opportunities to showcase their first turn-based tactics game Iron Tides for the PC/Mac. The duo emerged from the hustle-and-bustle world where they met and made a pact to pursue the lifestyle of their dreams.
When you have a new studio (particularly indie), you experience a rolling flurry of emotions. From heightened anxiety and stress, to delusions of grandeur and joy. There is no in between or rest, because sometimes, all you have is 5 minutes at the showcase to wine, dine, and explain all the rules. For the Iron Tides development was sculpted from a paper prototype and built over the span of a week. There is no denying the systems were flawed, but the prototype showed a unique promise, and during the days of tweaking and re-tweaking, pivotal moments developed as all the pieces came together.
We worked hard, and we hustled even harder. The first step was to meet and find the players who might later convert to fans, or super-fans. We didn’t have much to show but we arrived with a bag of dice, hand-crafted tiles and cards, and an eager unbroken spirit. Our story really begins in an ample-sized board game store, where we claimed seat and table at the back of the room, and encouraged new players to playtest what would later become Iron Tides. The feedback these players provided was an invaluable asset, and was what pushed our game forward with new ideas and insight. What excited us as developers was not always praised highly by our players, and vice versa. It was an emotional mix of what we knew, what we thought we knew, and what we soon realized we didn’t have the slightest clue about.
Turning Paper into Digital
A month after the partnership of Crash Wave Games was made official, we immediately began our long descent into the realms of the digital landscape. This process can largely be summarized as throwing things into the ever-evolving, ever-growing mass of the internet collective. We started with a blog, a handful of social media channels, and a free Unity Software license. It was a matter of building up with nothing in our pockets, nor any ace up our sleeves… but soon, we learned we had friends in unexpected places.
During a round of early concepting, we found Ysabet the Ale Maid who became our first super-fan. A gaming enthusiast with a love for video games and board games began to follow our progress starting with an early concept image on Twitter. In our early development phase the only relevant content we were able to produce were 140-character stories, scanned images and ideas, and work-in-progress shots as we built the game in Unity. We simultaneously played with the paper prototype, continuing to adjust and tweak as we went along. A player from our paper prototyping days suggested we create interchangeable tiles and board pieces, and so we tweaked our process again and started developing a procedurally generated world system. We spent countless nights on the brink of sleep deprivation, lying awake, contemplating our next steps towards game development – this often led to iteration upon iteration because we are, after all, perfectionists and completionists at heart.
Joining the Ranks of Steam
Within two and a half months from our start, we had produced an MVP, gained a fraction of a following, and had collaborated with two new contributors. To our surprise, we even grabbed the attention of voice talent Erik Braa (commonly known for his lustrous League of Legends voice acting), and by this time, we realized it was time to bring Iron Tides into the commercial spotlight.
We announced our arrival on Steam Greenlight (an announcement that was heard mostly by ourselves), and spent an additional month preparing Iron Tides for launch. This long month of prep proved our digital game held far more than promise and potential, and three weeks after our submission went live, we received the message that Iron Tides had been Greenlit! With a higher than average portion of voters saying YES, our efforts had paid off. Now we had a platform to distribute on, and what we needed was a strategy. Greenlight was only the beginning, and there was a long road ahead of us.
Finding Promotional Material (For Free!)
With Greenlight all set, our next step would take us towards crowdfunding. It was at this time our focus shifted to marketing, and we made a concerted effort to increase our presence on social media. In preparation for Kickstarter, we wanted to ensure Iron Tides was visible, and this brought us to the Square Enix Collective (SEC). The SEC would be the perfect progression. Not only would Iron Tides be front and centre on the Collective for a month, the service would also provide us with a measure of how our game was doing through a simple yes/no vote (similar to Greenlight). Voters of the Square Enix Collective were asked whether or not they would support Iron Tides in a future crowdfunding campaign, and with this information we would be able to get a better feel of the potential our indie game had if we chose to Kickstart it.
Being with the Square Enix Collective also opened the doors to press and during our month with SEC, we were featured in four online game magazines. We experimented with a few nifty social building tools along the way, gained new super fans, and connected with projects from across the globe. We took to the streets and returned to our roots as we traveled around Vancouver in search of playtesters. Only this time, instead of paper and dice, we had a fully functional demo. We brought this demo with us to indie dev meetups, and at these events we were able to show off the project we had poured all of our passion into.
From Dice to Demo
As indies, our life is often cobbled with unexpected challenges and delays, but at long last we can safely say we’ve made sufficient progress with lessons learned to boot! I’ve outlined a few tips and tricks to help any uncertain indie start their journey:
- Have a plan. And then make up a contingency plan.
Being stuck during a demo is never fun. Don’t be that dev who hovers cluelessly around the player. Engage with your player and know the answer before the question is asked.
- Don’t be afraid of rejection. Take risks.
Launching onto Greenlight and SEC showed us we had an audience in curious places and that if we fall (or in this case, feel rejected), there would always be a community net to catch us.
- Haters are going to hate.
Not everyone will love your game. Get used to it. Learn more about these players and communicate your process to the highest of your abilities. If you continue to thrive, you will find fans and superfans elsewhere.
- You’re always being paid to playtest.
If you’re an indie… Remember this is a lifestyle, and a job. Get used to it, and don’t forget to bring all your passion and energy into your game. Your community will love you for it.
- Take a break. Do not burn out.
Burning out can be solved with 20 minutes of rest every 2 hours. It’s not rocket science, and it’s good for you. Entrenching yourself in development can be a rewarding feat, but always manage and prioritize your health first. Taking a break gives you a chance to return with fresh eyes, and that in itself is worth taking a step back for 20 minutes of rest.
And this brings us to the present day, as we move towards a Kickstarter launch on September 28. It has been a wild ride and we have learned a lot about how to build a community, independent development, and pivoting or re-structuring our plans.
There are so many people we have to thank for supporting us along this journey. Erik Braa, the talent behind the voice of Fenrik the Red; John McKeiver, the genius behind the music of the Tides; Morgan Schinkel, James Frizell, and Daniel Callahan for keeping us sane.
The devs admit they have a lot more to do, and a lot more people to thank. As they move into their launch into crowdfunding, they’d love to reach out and connect to any indie developers who love turn-based tactics and PC games. Feel free to join them through Twitter, Facebook and email. “We want players to start talking about their experience in the Iron Tides”, the devs say, and direct players to check out the game.