I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1 is a game that was popular for exactly 23 minutes, 5 years ago. But it’s nonetheless an important game - and one AAA developers could stand to learn from.
It’s a pretty basic game. Created in the infancy of indie gaming as a relevant form of game purchasing, it’s a fairly bare-bones twin-stick shooter where you fend off hoards of zombies, asteroids, and pixel art. What sets it apart, however, is its price point - a mere 80 MS Points when I bought it, or $1 today, which was an amazing price point when it came out - and it’s absolute balls-out insanity. Now, the game basically lasts about 10 minutes... You accumulate a score, and try to survive until the titular song is over. Once the song ends, the game ends. It’s very tightly paced, it does what it needs to do, and it ends. You get everything you paid for, and it’s damned satisfying.
And it was actually the first indie game I paid money for. It could have been easy to write off indie games for another 2 or 3 years, but Zombies was made at a competitive price point, and demonstrates that games can successfully be more than an overblow “cinematic experience”. It was this game that ultimately showed me that indie games aren’t just sleazy Mario rip-offs or art projects made by hipster douchebags and that’s a very good thing.
Now, this runs completely contrary to the ethics of modern AAA gaming, a monster that very deservedly gets attacked on a constant basis. Every criticism you could levy at AAA does not apply to Zombies, which is exactly why people need to really sit down and think about how they’re making games.
Does it have DLC? No, it’s a complete experience.
Is it to short? No, you paid a dollar, and it puts that loonie (explanation for yankees) to good use.
Did its developers get shafted and abused? No, they probably made a killing by making a simple product at a fair price point.
Generic white man with gun? Could be, but it’s ambiguous; the character is your avatar, not a statement.
Day one patch? This game came out in 2009, has no glitches, and has never needed a patch or update to work as intended.
Pre-order bonuses? Fuck you.
It doesn’t need all that. Now, I’m not saying every game should be a 100-cent twin stick shooter. What I am saying is that this game does what it needs to do, and with none of the bullshit. And it was profitable - the developer made $215,000 on it, after Microsoft’s cut, as of August 2010, from over 300,000 units sold. The rules of game development are firmly in place here - if you make a game that respects your customer’s time, money, and intelligence, you will profit. It’s simple. There is no secret sauce, no magic phrase, no dumb luck. If you make a quality product with a reasonable level of resources and a reasonable pricepoint given your target audience, you will profit. If you shove you head up your ass and start telling yourself you can make infinite money by throwing infinite resources at a project and start expecting customers to pay whatever dollar value you feel your brand is worth, you will fail miserably.
Hell, you’ll go patently insane - you’ll start saying asinine, dim-witted comments like, “Mobile games are the future of gaming.” Are they? Step back - ask yourselves: “Why did mobile gaming become popular?” Is it because customers are fickle? Fuck no. It’s very simple - mobile developers gave the customer what they wanted. If you look at the Japanese mobile gaming market in particular, you’ll find JRPGs, platformers, and other genres that have always been mildly profitable, but that big developers have ignored in favour of focus-tested dudebro smoothies of game design. And these games generally respect their customers. Yes, many are laden with microtransactions, but in general, you will get a fulfilling gaming experience with modest financial investment. Customer are getting smaller games, made on smaller budgets, at a smaller pricepoint.
The developers? They’re going from sketchy office space on the wrong side of town to publicly traded stocks practically overnight. The idea that mobile gaming is instant money is fallacious - these companies are getting rich by providing a product that most of the big dogs feel they are above. Taking the same philosophy that customers decided they didn’t want anymore and applying it to a new gaming space is fucking stupid, and any developer that thinks this way is overdue for a painful, painful death at the hands of the free market.
Zombies set an interesting trend for gaming as a whole - cheap, short, but high quality. And lord knows, gamers aren’t dumb people (well, some are). They aren’t going to pay $70 (Canadian) for a four-hour, low-quality, high-budget piece of shit like The Order 1886 when they can buy Shovel Knight or Freedom Planet - substantially better games in every respect - for $15 or less.
So developers? If I have your attention... Stop the shit you’re doing. Play I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1. Make your snooty executives play I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1. Make you developers play I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1. Study it, think about it, and understand why it succeeds and why your game was a “failure” after moving 2 million copies.