Xsolla had a chance to talk with a very friendly indie-game studio Halfbus. This small company is working hard on its upcoming strategy title Basement. Developers shared their views on game mechanics, sources of inspiration and told us about financing games in Minsk. Our guests today are Dmitry Minsky, Alexander Dyagterev и Vadim Kovtun.
What is Halfbus?
Dmitry Minsky: Halfbus is working at the first really big project Basement. This is a strategy game about production and distribution of drugs. Before we started our own studio we’ve worked at GamesLab – Minsk branch of Nival. This studio mostly worked with mobile products.
Why did you decide to make games?
Dmitry Minsky: Making games is great when you have a nice team, that can code and draw. I don’t think there’s any other task in the world that can unite such various people under one project. Artists, programmers, sound designers and hundreds of other specialists are working on games right now. Pretty cool, don’t you think?
In the beginning there was just the two of us: a programmer and an artist. We had very little money. The whole budget was the savings we managed to get on our previous job and some income from freelance jobs. We’ve worked like that for about 10 months and managed to publish a small mobile game and freeze a couple of big projects. Without a steady flow of income it’s nearly impossible to make decent games. Big games are really out of the question for indies.
A lot depends on the salaries. The majority of your costs are connected with pay. If you’re self-financing the game and expect to get revenue after the sales, all you really need is the money to pay for the food and the apartment. All you basically need is the basic version of Unity. It’s more than enough to make a nice product.
How much does it cost to make a game in Minsk?
Dmitry Minsky: It really depends on your goals. There are a couple of variants.
А. A company of friends decided to make a mobile game. Everybody is working full time and codes in the evenings at the apartment. You don’t really need any money to do this. You won’t achieve any success either unfortunately. There’s 99.999% probability that you are going to fail. That’s just the way life is.
B. You have some experience and common sense. There’s a great chance that you’re doing some kind of mobile or social project (everybody in Minsk does that, excluding Wargaming). The costs of making such a game are low: the office in Minks costs about $1000, the salary of one developer goes between $1500–2000. Sometimes cheaper (about a $1000). That’s it for Minks. Not that expensive.
C. You’re making a «ААА» product. This is even simpler. You either have the money or not. Minsk is not really the capital of gaming world. There aren’t many specialists here but they will cost just as much as guys from USA or Europe. Usually these guys all end up in Wargaming anyway.
Ok, let’s get back to Basement.
Vadim Kovtun: We’ve created this concept during the Ludum Dare 29 game jam. The main theme of the competition was “Beneath The Surface”. Basement seemed like a great idea. There was a whole city at the surface with shops, cafés, churches. Everything is fine and dandy there. Underground everything is much different. It’s dangerous out there. There are criminals and dangerous situations. We’ve integrated this idea into a game.
The mechanics is not the whole game. If you put some squares or abstract objects instead of the characters, it may be still interesting to play, but the whole atmosphere will be gone. Basement is special because of many things. Aparts of great visuals and cool gameplay the game constantly creates random events, which make the whole game incredibly fresh.
What are the main sources of inspiration for your game? Are you big fans of Breaking Bad, XCOM?
Alexander Dyagterev: We are hardcore gamers and out main source of inspiration was XCOM. I haven’t really seen Breaking Bad before we started working on this game. Vadim doesn’t even want to watch a single episode, because it may ruin his vision of the game.
Our playable prototype was created in two days during a Ludum Dare contest. We also organized the first offline hackathon in Minsk. It is great to know that our fist version of the game is still being played around the world. We’ve got 50k downloads and our Dropbox account was actually banned, because it broke all traffic limits.
Vadim Kovtun: Out main source of inspiration is the main lobby in XCOM. We’ve used many mechanics from that part of the game, including room creation, stairs and the general visual aesthetics. All the other elements were created gradually from those basic mechanics that we have chosen.
What engine did you use for this game?
Dmitry Minsky: While we were working with Nival we’ve started to learn Unity. This engine is the real blessing for game developers. It is very easy to start making games with this product. There’s a free version, a big community (there are over 200 people in Minsk Unity User Group alone). The advantages of Unity are pretty obvious. It saves time, money and allows making games as soon as possible.
How are you going to earn money?
Dmitry Minsky: We’ve thought about implementing a free-2-play model. Basement’s mechanics easily works with this monetization method. However we consider premium a more honest model. It should be said that free-2-play mechanics also limits the final design of the game. Everything becomes connected with the monetization and sometimes it could be harmful for the design. F2P also requires huge investments in acquiring new users. We just can’t afford it.
How do you market the game?
Dmitry Minsky: We really know more about development than about marketing. It’s not enough to make a game. You need to make it available to other people as well. If you’re a small company and you create a product, nobody really knows about you. Nobody! Everybody tries to find their own marketing solution. We’re making a bet on openness. We share our progress, show new screenshots, gif-files and other materials. If your content is good enough, people are going to love your product. Our posts in Reddit and Facebook were quite successful. Different initiatives like #screenshtsaturday zare also very popular. We are also actively working with the western press.
Do you work with the marketing agency?
Dmitry Minsky: We do not plan to work with a marketing agency. We want to be as close to our users as possible. Agencies really don’t give any guarantees. You can sign a contract, but the company just makes a press-release and sends it. That’s it. There are no obligations as to publication of content on some website or magazine. However these companies do eat your money. There’s no real profit here.