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PAX 08: Torpex talks Schizoid, sales, marketing strategies and XNA development

As part of our PAX 2008 coverage, we had a chance to talk all things Schizoid with Torpex Games' founder Bill Dugan and, in the process, we learned a lot. Dugan talked XBLA development, the troubles with marketing Arcade games and the limitations of working with XNA. He also opened up about Schizoid's game sales, their development problems and even an admittance that he wished Schizoid would have sold as well as Braid. It's a rather candid interview and is one that can be read (in its entirety) after the break. Enjoy!

How happy were you with Schizoid as a whole, from conception to development through release?

Bill Dugan: We are stoked about it and we're sad about it, because you always want to work on a game forever. I'm a glass half empty kind of guy when it comes to being a manager, so all I see is the flaws. We could have worked on Schizoid for another year and made it incrementally better, but you never have time. We're delighted with the way it has come out as a co-op game though.

To the XBLA community, it seemed like Schizoid was in development for a long time. Is there a reason why the development cycle took so long?

Bill: There's a bunch of stuff I could blame it on. Every console game has a whole TCR list of things you have to do to make it work on the console precisely well and if it doesn't hit everything correctly, then you get rejected from manufacturing and you can't publish it on the console. If it would have been a PC game then we would have released it long ago, but it's complicated so we had to polish it up, make it work with profiles and make it work correctly.

You're talking about Microsoft's certification process?

Bill: Not just Microsoft, it would have been the same with any of the consoles.

Speaking of Microsoft, how involved were they in the development of the game, especially seeing that Schizoid was an XNA title?

Bill: Well, it's not like they did any coding for us or anything like that, I mean we did all the work. Though, we did work closely with them in finalizing a version of XNA that would work on the Xbox. Since we're the first XNA game to ship on the Xbox Live Arcade, they had to make a version of XNA that worked on Live Arcade a little bit earlier than they had been planning. So, we were going over there and meeting with them all the time and talking with them about performance and stuff like that. But they didn't write any part of the game if that's what you're wondering. Though, it would have been nice. Not that I'm saying they didn't cooperate or help us, because they were really awesome.

Now that Schizoid has been released, can you talk about the game's success in terms of its sales?

Bill: We're pretty pleased with it, though I would have been a little bit happier if it would have sold as many copies as Braid, but it didn't. The sales also were steady, so it might be that sort of thing where, since it's a multiplayer game, it might have longer legs instead of being a single player game that you get sick of quickly.

Like you said, you wish Schizoid would have sold as many copies as Braid. Knowing this, do you find it hard for developers to make a "big splash" on the Xbox Live Arcade or do you feel like you could have done something differently to market Schizoid to the Arcade community?

Bill: We spent 100% of our marketing money on PR and didn't spend any on marketing or promotion. Maybe that was a mistake and if we had to do it again maybe I would have spent more money on promoting it. You gotta roll your own, all the developers on the Arcade have to do their own marketing and it's just an area where, being a small studio, we don't have a large marketing budget.

What's your opinion on how Microsoft splits up the money for Xbox Live Arcade games between them and developers. Specifically, what do you think about the Arcade pay schedule?

Bill: All that stuff is under NDA so, obviously, they're really uncomfortable with us talking about it at all. As far as improving it, I could say we should get more money, but that doesn't talk about the success of the platform and how much they support it. So it all gets complicated.

How about downloadable content, do you have anything planned for Schizoid?

Bill: We can't do it for Schizoid, because the first version of XNA game studio is a version that doesn't support downloadable content. Schizoid is what it is.

So, it's a technical issue?

Bill: It is with us using the first version of XNA game studio, but I understand that they may have changed that by now, but I'm not really sure. When we look at 3.0 we'll have to look at the feature list.

Do you have any information to share with us regarding Torpex's next project, which platform it's being developed for, which genre it's based on or when we'll see it release?

Bill: We're working on a prototype right now for a publisher and is something we'll talk about at some point in the future.

Do you agree with us that Schizoid's "Sploderific" achievement is the best achievement to unlock out of the 360's entire game library?

Bill: There is no doubt in my mind.

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