The Global Game Jam and beyond: Pulse (2009)

December 13, 2012 — by Mariia Lototska


The Global Game Jam and beyond series sheds light on the few brave Global Game Jam (GGJ) teams that have decided to take their GGJ projects to the next level and continue development after those challenging 48 hours. We ask each team to tell about their experiences, share learned lessons and offer advise on their attempt to turn their Global Game Jam project into a full fledged commercial product.

Pulse was made during the first ever edition of the Global Game Jam in 2009 and was the result of a highly collaborative effort of a bunch of the enthusiastic Dutch ‘Team Alfa’ during the very first edition of the Global Game Jam in 2009. The game ended up becoming the very first game in the history of the Global Game Jam to receive a publishing deal. The original Global Game Jam version looked like this:

The Pulse team won third prize at their GGJ site in Hilversum, the Netherlands and received a publishing deal with the Dutch game studio Virtual Fairground shortly after. It was launched in the Apple Appstore in March, 2010 as Pulse: The Game a year later as a promotional game for the popular Dutch DJ Ferry Corsten, who also produced an exclusive soundtrack for the game. The game received rather good scores on various popular mobile game websites, including TouchGen (3.5/5) , Pocketgamer (7/10) and many others.

The final iOS version featured above was released in March 2010 after being completed by Dutch game developer Rough Cooky, famous for their famous iOS game Star Defense.

It also forced us to make some solid agreements because not all of our original team members would put in an equal amount of work in the future development.

What triggered your initial consideration that your game was worth to continue development?
From the very moment we decided on the game’s concept during the first hour of the jam, it felt like we we’re working on something valuable. Our team was radiating with energy as each of us produced our separate parts. When everything comes together like that it just feels right. We won the popular vote through our site’s Audience award, so we knew there was an audience. Also the Dutch game studio Virtual Fairground was one of the judges and was interested in further development of the game. It was super exciting, but it also forced us to make some solid agreements because not all of our original team members would put in an equal amount of work in the future development. We solved that problem with a one contract between all the original team members and another one between us and Virtual Fairground.

What do you believe was the main element of your game that allowed it to be commercially viable?
It was a game focused on experiencing dance music in an interactive fashion. It was one of the first of its kind and super casual with its one button controls. The way the audio works together with the rather trippy and colorful visuals instantly gave it that special look. We had some pumping beats and vivid colors going on from the very start, creating an experience that would make you bang your head without a doubt. A lot of people also liked the GGJ version because it was co-op, but we made sure to make the single player experience on mobile as fun as possible when we developed it for Virtual Fairground.

One of many pieces of concept art team member Samar Louwe drew after the Global Game Jam to further flesh out the game’s visual style.

How did you manage the step to go commercial in your team?
We decided to split the IP right evenly over the team members. So if there was going to be any revenue it would be divided accordingly. A few team members where hired by Virtual Fairground to work on the game at their offices. I was responsible for initial project planning before it was gradually passed on to Rough Cookie.

What were the three most important experiences/learned lessons and/or challenges that you had while further developing your game?
1. It’s hard for people to make a switch between the GGJ-mindset and a commercial mindset. It was the first commercial project for many of the team members to work on from start to finish. A lot more stuff comes at you and if you don’t have the experience to turn your prototype into a product or the proper guidance from senior developers, prepare to learn a lot of new things.
2. Good ideas depend on a lot of factors to turn into good products.
3. We were funded with €10.000 euros to turn the original GGJ version into an extended version, but that wasn’t enough to finish it completely with just a part of our original team. Virtual Fairground ended up deciding to pass on the development of Pulse to another Dutch game studio, who eventually made the iOS version. In hindsight, we could’ve made the game for mobile ourselves, if only we had more time and funds to do so without the involvement of another party. Then again, we all had responsibilities at college, a job or a company to worry about outside of our team effort for Pulse, making the further development quite tricky.

Our team was completely exhausted at the end of the Jam, but the vibe after finishing version of Pulse and the excitement of showing it kept us psyched until the very end of the jam!
Our team was completely exhausted at the end of the Jam, but the awesome team vibe after finishing Pulse and the excitement of showing it kept us psyched until the very end of the jam!

In your case, what did you learn from getting the game out to the public?

Assumption is the mother of all great screw-ups, they say. And it’s true.

A lot of things came up, but if it comes to releasing a mobile game, especially now more than ever, good marketing really makes a difference. In our case, the marketing done for the game wasn’t optimal and Ferry Corsten’s fans apparently didn’t all own an iPhone as we hoped. As for getting the game ready for the public, testing remains the most important part of development. It’s always a scary moment to show your game to new players, but you want to do this as much as possible before getting your game out.

What kind of tips would you give to other GGJ participants who might decide to continue developing their 2013 project?
1. Make sure to have a solid agreement in place with all your team members before continuing to commercialize your GGJ game, so everyone knows what to expect from each other.
2. How will you fund your game development? Free time just doesn’t cut it. You need a better plan, divide the responsibilities among your team and find more support to further develop your ideas into a real product.
3. Do you have enough skill and knowledge in your team? Just having a game designer and programmer isn’t enough. Bringing a game to the market also requires product management and a ton of PR & marketing. Prepare for it to be quite the learning experience.
4. Make good decision tools. Or find someone to advise you, like a game studio or experienced game developer.
5. Try to keep your team small. Don’t involve too many extra people in the development process.
6. Don’t create too many features. Remember how you made this game at the GGJ in the first place!
7. Try to finish your game quickly. Promote it as much as possible and put it out there. If it’s successful, you can go on building all the features you wanted to in the beginning and introduce them with updates.
8. Make very nice graphics. High polished graphics are a must to stand out in the oversaturated mobile and tablet markets of today.
9. Playtest a lot. Every build, every prototype, you should play test on at least a few people. It speeds up your process, and makes it easier to make decisions.
10. Recognize assumptions. Assumption is the mother of all great screw-ups, they say. And it’s true. If you ‘think’ something will be great, or won’t be very hard, chances are reality proves you wrong. Be honest about what is unknown and unproven.

Pulse: The Game sadly is no longer available for download after Virtual Fairground closed down in 2011.