With more and more games coming to the Switch eShop every week, it really can be a hassle to keep up with them all, but one name that keeps appearing is 10tons!
10tons are a video game publisher from Finland that just today released Crimsonland on Switch and with them having so much to offer the Nintendo platform, we felt it was best to have a nice little chat and talk all about their games for Switch, which includes the planned Tesla vs Lovecraft. Here’s how we got on:
In typical interview fashion, would you be so kind as to introduce yourself to our reviewers?
Jaakko Maaniemi: I’m Jaakko Maaniemi and I work at 10tons primarily as PR Coordinator. I stay in touch with media, largely handle our social media accounts, do customer service, and most of the non-technical stuff related to distribution. I’ve also been a team leader in a handful of game productions, and also the lead designer in Xenoraid. As there’s only 10 of us, most get to wear many hats anyway, most typically testing and pitching in in design discussions. Before becoming a developer, I worked as a game journalist.
Thank you, and now with the introduction out of the way, we can properly commence with the interview.
14 Years and Still Going Strong:
Miketendo64: First founded in 2003, it’s been a busy 14 years for 10tons. How are you guys enjoying the ride and do you have anything planned next year to celebrate your 15th anniversary.
Jaakko Maaniemi: 10tons is indeed among the oldest indie developers in Finland. I’ve personally been with the company for about six years, but from what I’ve seen it’s definitively interesting!
We get an unusually wide view of the indie scene, as we operate on everything from Steam to PlayStation to Xbox to mobile, and most recently Nintendo Switch. We’re really happy we now have our feet planted firmly on all major platforms, apart from VR, I think we can take it easy regarding reach expansion for a while.
During my time I’ve seen a lot of things change dramatically, some for the better and some for the worse. The most clear phenomenom across platforms is how the amount of competition is skyrocketing year by year. We haven’t had much time to plan what’ll go down in our 15th year, but a party to rival our grand 10 year anniversary seems to be in order.
The Indie Gold Rush & Lessons Learned:
Miketendo64: Briefly in 2014, 10tons represented 10% of the games available for PS4 on the PlayStation Network. Given the number of games available on Switch already, I doubt that’s going to happen for Switch, but there can be no denying you guys have been knocking our releases left, right and center. Is there a reason for this in which you can share?
Jaakko Maaniemi: This is a good question, and ties in with our experience on multiplatform publishing. Every time a new console comes along, there’s a period of low competition among games as there are simply very few around. On PS4 there were 49 games available when we released our first title, so the chances for someone discovering our game in the storefront were great.
Unsurprisingly, the titles we released for PS4 in 2014 sold really well. But once a couple of hundred competing games came along, we saw each release sell less than the one before. We got to repeat a similar success with Xbox One a year later, and saw the exact same dwindling effect on sales graphs. So we knew exactly what to expect with Switch, and were somewhat disappointed that due to various reasons, only got there when 149 games were already available.
It was also instantly clear that most indie developers were also perfectly aware about the briefness of the so called gold rush period, and that’s why the Switch is getting 10-20 games every week. Now it’s good to bear in mind that rushing to a new platform as early as possible has nothing to do about greed or wanting to exploit gamers starved for content. It’s not like that at all.
All our titles have carried a 4-5 star user rating average out of 5 stars, so people have clearly been very happy with their purchases. But that’s simply not enough once the majority of competition shows up. Indies like us will see their sales go down dramatically, and that’s why it’s difficult for most indies to stay afloat. The gold rush period lasts a year at best, and with Switch absolutely everything seems to happen on fast forward. I’d stay the gold rush period for indies on Switch was probably more like six months, measured from the point when dev kits started to become widely available sometime in the summer.
In practical terms, with 262 titles in the NOE eShop, it’s all but over by now. Opportunities like this don’t come along every year, so it makes sense to bring our titles to eShop at a rapid pace, even if we compete a little with ourselves. It’s nothing compared to the competition from other publishers, and it only builds up week by week. It’s also worth noting that we’ve spent years and years building up our catalog, and we’ve never put together and published a rushed title.
The Benefits of Proprietary Tech:
Miketendo64: Now you actually have your own engine that helps with developing and publishing games. Has the engine in anyway had to be modified to work/be more compatible for when you are porting games to the Nintendo Switch?
Jaakko Maaniemi: The cornerstone of our strategy is indeed wide multiplatform distribution, and that’s really only possible with proprietary tech. We’re constantly working on our engine and framework, and after more than 10 years of development, it’s pretty swank. The way we approach a new platform is that we integrate the SDK with our framework and make sure our engine works with it, and that’s pretty much it. Our entire catalog of games can then be run on the new platform.
The handiwork that remains for porting each game fully is hooking up and testing platform specific tidbits, like achievements, leaderboards, and user/controller handling. For example, with Nintendo Switch, we got the dev kit on Monday, and submitted our first release, Sparkle 2, to Nintendo’s technical testing on Friday.
As expected the game didn’t pass on the first try, as unforeseen platform specific technical issues are always discovered at first. That’s why there was a two week gap between Sparkle 2 and our second release, Neon Chrome. But ever since we’ve been releasing one game a week, going on for seven consecutive weeks now. I don’t think any developer of our size is capable of that. The most unique aspect of supporting Switch was the docking/undocking feature, or rather the real time switch of resolution that comes with it.
Switch Love, but Discoverability Issues:
Miketendo64: Well, given the fact you guys are heavily supporting Nintendo’s latest home console due to all the constant releases, you guys must think a lot of the Nintendo Switch, in your own words, what are your feelings?
Jaakko Maaniemi: Switch is a great platform overall and an especially good fit for our titles. As we’ve always been a multiplatform developer, even supporting mobile for a number of years, there’s a certain way we develop our titles. We aim for relatively low technical performance needs, so we won’t have huge issues in that regard when bringing our titles to mobile.
We obviously can’t support the low end of mobile, as we need a certain level of graphical finesse to have our titles look great on a TV. Switch stands right in the middlepoint of these worlds, and even combines them by supporting both console type gamepads and mobile type touch screen! So if there’s a category of devices that our games were made specifically for, it’d be Switch and PS Vita. Sadly Vita’s hardware is aged by now, and we won’t be able to support it for long.
We’ve also been very pleased with the developer tools and publishing services Nintendo has provided for Switch developers, all of that is just very good. PS4 and Xbox One appear very similar to us in pretty much every regard. The hardware is practically identical, the publishing experience is very similar on top level, financial performance is very similar, marketing opportunities and challenges are similar and audiences are similar.
What sort of worries us, is the discoverability challenge. PS4 is flooded with releases, and the store team has taken steps to increase the feature slots. Xbox One isn’t quite as flooded and thus far the discoverability is somewhat better. Switch is rapidly catching and probably actually overtaken Xbox One in amount of weekly releases, and it’s possible it’ll be close to PS4 soon. Some changes to eShop to address the volume of releases seem likely within the next year. Steam is the most progressive about discoverability, as they obviously need to be, seeing how Steam is getting a month’s worth of console releases in a day.
A Universal Gaming Experience:
Miketendo64: Given the number of games you have brought to Switch this year, how many of them have you played yourself and how do you find playing them in comparison to playing them on other platforms?
Jaakko Maaniemi: I play all of our releases on all the platforms we release them on, and its part of the job. Granted, we all play our titles mostly during development and while testing the initial release, but of course each port needs to be completed a couple of times on any platform it goes out on. We use automated testing massively, but there’s no substitute for developer hands on testing.
I haven’t personally completed all our Switch releases though, but someone at 10tons always has. When we, and I, play all our games on so many platforms, we stop seeing any platform specific differences much. Our games are as identical on all platforms as possible anyway, but even the slight differences get muddled pretty fast. To us it’s the same game regardless of platform. The form factor is the largest difference obviously, the experience is a little different whether on desktop, television, or handheld.
The more acute issue for me personally is that I often get asked for tips or some very specific bits of help in one of our titles, and I’ve probably played it the most during the last stages of development which might have occurred years ago! For example Neon Chrome is pretty new on Switch, but I completed it last probably two years ago. JYDGE came out in October, so that’s far more fresh even for me.
The Price and Risks of Going Physical:
Miketendo64: Given the popularity of a few of your games on Switch, while physical releases of each and every game is not feasible, have you considered doing a physical release of a 10tons collection, comprised of 2 or even 3 of your more popular Switch titles?
Jaakko Maaniemi: We have contemplated the possibility of physical releases, on various platforms, but it does seem risky. Indie titles like ours sell something like a few thousands to low tens of thousands of units on a single major platform, and that’s included discounts. Would we be able to sell 1000, 2000, 3000 physical units, or whatever the minimum amount of a run would need to be? At full price, or premium price due to extra costs of the physical run? We’re not sure. There’s probably only one way to find out.
Tesla vs Lovecraft and its Neon Chrome Origin:
Miketendo64: Despite your Switch releases being ports of old gamers, you do have a new game on the way in 2018 called “Tesla vs Lovecraft.” How is development on TvLC going and any chance you could give us an overview on it?
Jaakko Maaniemi: Tesla vs Lovecraft is a brand new title slated for early 2018 release. It’s a twin stick shooter featuring cult famous personalities in an epic showdown of metal and flesh.
We’re aiming for a somewhat wider potential audience than with our gritty sci-fi/cyberpunk titles, and flexing our graphical and technical muscles while at it. We only developed 3D graphics capability for Neon Chrome, before that our flagship title graphically was Sparkle 2.
With Tesla vs Lovecraft we’ve enhanced and built on the tech seen in Neon Chrome and JYDGE, the result of which is quite easy to see. We’re currently running a closed Steam beta for the title, and you’ll probably start seeing the title promoted more soon.
Prototyping and New Productions Talk for 2018:
Miketendo64: When Tesla vs Lovecraft is out in wild/in gamer’s hands, are there any other new titles planned for release 2018 that you feel would appeal to your fans?
Jaakko Maaniemi: We are prototyping new productions, and we’ve recently settled on one that will likely proceed into production. But we do need to put one or two more titles into production as well, so it looks like we have more prototyping in our hands in early 2018! It’s impossible to guess which of the titles might be in Switch gamers’ hands next year, except Tesla vs Lovecraft of course.
A Message for the Fans:
Miketendo64: And because there’s always time for one last question, here’s ours: Is there anything you would like to say to your ever growing fanbase and supporters?
Jaakko Maaniemi: Thanks for playing our games and for the enthusiastic welcome! We’ve dreamed of being on a Nintendo platform for years and years, and we’re so happy it’s now a reality. Please bear with our firehosing the eShop with titles a few more weeks, we’re almost done with our existing catalog. Please don’t feel any pressure to get every title on launch, that’s definitely not our goal under these very rare circumstances. We cater to a lot of different audiences anyway, and not every game we make is intended for everyone. If you’re into shooters though, please check out Tesla vs Lovecraft when it’s out, hopefully in January!
Jaakko, from all of us at the Miketendo64 team, we wish you and the other 10tons guys the best of luck with all of your releases. We’ve been loving what you’ve put out so far and always look forwards to what you bring out on Switch next!