MMO dev: Steam Greenlight still 'a big black box' for indies

MMO dev: Steam Greenlight still 'a big black box' for indies

Fairytale Distillery is an independent studio based in Munich, Germany, with four full-time developers and a handful of freelancers who help out as needed – and they're all making an MMO for PC, Mac and Linux called Das Tal. It's not as massive as EVE Online or as intricate as World of Warcraft, but it's a huge project for such a tiny team to tackle. Fairytale Distillery co-founder Alexander Zacherl seems to have a solid development and launch plan that sees Das Tal thriving until the late 2020s, when he expects it to shut down.

With just two founders and two developers who work on the game daily, Fairytale Distillery is overextending itself trying to handle all aspects of launching an MMO. Everyone on the team has hands in designing, developing, marketing and selling the game, Zacherl says.

Part of promoting and selling Das Tal was the game's Greenlight campaign on Steam. Das Tal was approved for sale on Steam on November 6, after 91 days on Greenlight. During this process, Zacherl noticed a shift in Steam's approach to Greenlight – approved games aren't announced in batches anymore. Instead, it seems as if games in the top 100 are constantly getting the go-ahead with no official announcements, he says. "Greenlight still is a big black box for most developers who are in the system," Zacherl says. "I know of games who have been in the top 100 for a long time and who haven't been Greenlit. I have seen games being Greenlit at something around '35 percent of the way to the top 100.' Nobody knows how many votes you need to make the cut or how good your yes/no ratio needs to be. I personally think that these numbers are not really important. There are probably one or two people at Valve who look at games in the Greenlight section and who sometimes decide to Greenlight games. And if you're higher in the ranks then your chance to be seen (and liked) is higher. But it's definitely no guarantee."

Das Tal, at least, is in. It offers a new niche of MMO gameplay, something simplistic but with rapid-fire PVP and a player-driven economy in a dark fantasy sandbox. Zacherl is happy to exist in this fresh space, he says: "Our gameplay will be too fast and hectic for some MMO players. Too slow and deliberate for some Dota players. Too complicated for a pure mobile gamer. And too simplistic for a Dwarf Fortress aficionado. And that's OK. We don't need to satisfy everyone with our game. There's enough other games out there so that everybody can find theirs."
Fairytale Distillery started full-time work on Das Tal in 2013, and in June 2014 the team secured $136,000 from an angel investor and the Bavarian Games Fund, a local government funding program for games with cultural and educational value. Before that, the team paid for development with their own money. Now, Fairytale Distillery is working full-steam to launch an alpha version with a complete, playable game loop by the middle of next year, and an "early access" version with more polished features and mechanics by 2016.

"And yes, we will definitely add features all the way from now to until the game shuts down sometime in the late 2020s," Zacherl says. "That is the great thing about our game: We do not have to patch every single server with a new feature anytime we're done developing it. We can take risks with our designs and launch an especially crazy feature (did anyone say 'permadeath?') on one game world at a time. Just try it out and then either cancel the experiment or make it available to all players."

Not that Zacherl means all players – Das Tal isn't a game for everyone, and he doesn't want it to be.

"Das Tal is definitely not a game that will satisfy every player out there," Zacherl says. "Yes, we're trying to be very inclusive in our world and character design and community management. Yes, we're trying to make the game's base mechanics and UI as accessible as possible. And yes, we want to run as many game worlds as we need to give players the choice they are seeking. But even doing that, our core gameplay will still only cater to a certain kind of player."

[Image: Fairytale Distillery]


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