How Iron Tides Navigated Indie Game Development
Vancouver’s got some serious game when it comes to the indie scene from industry faves Klei Games to more niche alternative indie game developers who made a game about playing Cribbage with your grandpa. On top of that, there’s a wealth of indie game developer meetups almost every other week where community members swap war stories and share game dev savvy.
As someone who’ve attended some of these events, Crash Wave Games’ Co-Founder, Carina Kom, was a recurring face who has helped host panels or gave talks at one of these many nights. When it came time to launch their game, Iron Tides, for Kickstarter, she ramped up the hustle to get the word out through her earned connections here. It paid off. Their Kickstarter campaign blew through the first few stretch goals and the two-person studio was able to secure enough funds to develop Iron Tides.
However, there’s still more to the story, and I got to interview Carina over email to learn more about Iron Tides‘s development.
For those who don’t know, can you tell us what Iron Tides is all about?
Iron Tides is a rogue-like dungeon crawler (or Viking simulator) that is turn-based and similar to chess – if chess was fast-paced with Vikings. It is a 3-D isometric game that takes place in a world drowned out by the gods and is intended for people who like strategy-casual games.
In what ways do you feel Iron Tides sets itself apart from its SRPG lineage such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Banner Saga, XCOM, etc.?
Why Iron Tides is different comes down to this: our game is meant to be casual but challenging. We have complex tactical features like blocking your line of sight and creating terrain advantages, and have specifically designed Iron Tides to stay intuitive for players of all ages. The experience is not meant to feel overwhelming by additional stats and rules. Our game narrative is also lighter and easier to follow, which separates it from Final Fantasy Tactics, Banner Saga, and XCOM.
What does your day-to-day look like in this phase of development?
Our day-to-day at Crash Wave Games begins with “check-in” (which is a crash version of “daily stand-up” via Discord channel). We make sure to reply to our discussions board and read comments from players who have new suggestions because this is critical to decisions made in production. As we are still in soft launch (Early Access), we check our daily performance (like the number of new wishlists from Steam analytics) and we adjust our launch strategy as we go.
During your development, Steam dumped Greenlight in favor of Early Access. What were your thoughts when the change happened? And, what are they now since launching on Early Access?
I was a bit disappointed in this change — albeit not surprised. I personally enjoy community-driven processes, and I thought Greenlight was the perfect conduit for instant player discovery. I believed uploading a concept to Greenlight was an organic way to learn the ins and outs of Steam, like a precursor before Early Access. However, after sending Iron Tides through the process, and watching other studios also submit projects to Greenlight, my thoughts have changed: a voting system like Greenlight can distract developers from actually making games, and was a popularity contest that advertising firms took advantage of.
Conversely, how do you sustain players’ interest during Early Access phase?
The best way to sustain players’ interest is to keep two-way communication alive. Steam has an announcement page and a discussions forum that helps to strike up a conversation, and we host contests that encourage players to submit their own Iron Tides content for a chance to be hand-picked for Full Launch. We are doing everything we can to keep momentum alive, by listening to our players and adding new content that satisfies what players’ are looking for.
One of your game’s upcoming classes is Wolf Priestess and Iron Breaker. How does your team decide what type of classes to add to the game?
We’ve had a basic outline planned since early production of Iron Tides, but we really like it when players submit videos and reviews to our team. Engaging with our players means we get to take our time observing and hearing what a player thinks or does in a tactical scenario. Through this process, we’ve refined our classes and their abilities, and we validate where the Wolf Priestess and Iron Breaker will make an impact.
You tirelessly visited local Vancouver indie game events in the community in the early days of Iron Tides. What would you have done differently if these places did not exist?
We wanted to start our venture with as much community-exposure and early player-discovery as possible. Iron Tides was a prototype made with paper and dice, and our story really begins at the back of a game store on the tables used for players to test physical board games. If we didn’t have a place to go like indie game events, we’d simply partner with studios for closed-play sessions and continue to test our game at local stores. We’d even go as far as to organize a games event similar to the recent PVP Pitch Circuit that took place in July, and pitch Iron Tides to an audience. Part of our plan for exposure also includes travel outside of Vancouver, as there are places and conferences that have indie events for developers like us (SXSW, Casual Connect, Pocket Gamer, etc).
As a small indie crew, you’ve hustled to keep the ship afloat (community, Kickstarter rewards, development, PR, etc.). How does your team avoid burnout/fatigue from taking on so many aspects of development with a smaller crew?
The truth is: it’s hard to avoid burnout with a small crew. Our secret to success is to communicate, and hustle every day – but stop as we need to. It’s good to have a business partner and a team that is empathetic because they will support each other toward a common goal. As independent developers, the deadlines we create are our own but when we need to take a break, it’s better to alert everyone and focus on a speedy recovery. This has resulted in some delays, but as I mentioned in an earlier question, keeping two-way communication open to the community is essential.
For any small team indies, what sage advice do you have for them?
My advice is to use your time wisely and strategize accordingly, hope for the best but plan for the worst. Also, seek to balance your finances to have a source of income, and do not throw yourself into debt without seeking help from an expert. With all the indie events available to developers, getting out there to test your game is a must.
We’ve planned and developed Iron Tides for close to two years with a small team, and it is our first indie title – as you can imagine this hasn’t been a cake walk. In spite of our team size and potential burn out, the process has been deeply rewarding and we’re proud of our game. We are now seeking a publisher who wants to take equal ownership in our project and be as proud as we are to bring Iron Tides to Full Launch and other platforms.
Iron Tides is available now on Steam for Early Access.