Sumo Digital: How we sold Snake Pass, what we learnt, and why it’s ‘bloody hard work’

Sumo digital has worked on a range of massive IPs for many of the biggest names in publishing. In recent years its clients include Microsoft, Sony, Square Enix and Disney, working on brands such as LittleBigPlanet, Forza and Crackdown. But it’s never taken the leap into creating its own IP or self-publishing.

Late last year though it did just that, developing puzzle platformer Snake Pass for pretty much every platform going, including the just-launched Nintendo Switch. We talk to business development director Ian Richardson about how the game came about.

Sumo isn’t known for home-grown IP, so how did Snake Pass materialise?

Snake Pass was the winner of our first ever internal game jam which took place in October 2015. Our game jams are a great way for our staff to unleash their creativity and provide the opportunity to form teams outside of their current projects. With Snake Pass, even early on, we knew we had something special – this was confirmed when we took it to our first public show, EGX Rezzed, in April 2016. The reaction was fantastic and we went into full production shortly after that.

Why did Sumo Digital decide to publish the game itself?

We were in a fortunate position that several publishers wanted to sign Snake Pass, but we felt that
self-publishing was a great opportunity to update our knowledge and experience, which added value to our business when working with our partners.

What did you learn from the experience?

The importance of creating key artwork and assets earlier than we previously thought, the differing publisher submission processes, and a better understanding of metadata that is supplied to the various digital stores.

What was your experience of the various console stores?

Dealing with all the digital stores was a brilliant experience and the respective platform teams were very supportive of Sumo and Snake Pass. Everything is about discoverability on the stores and that was the biggest challenge for us.

It sold well, but it seems to have done particularly on the Switch eShop?

The original creator of Snake Pass, Seb Liese, is a huge fan of the old Rare N64 games and that shows in our game’s art style and gameplay. I believe that was one of the contributing factors in making it so successful on Switch. And because we have deep cross-platform experience we published the game three weeks after the launch of Nintendo’s new console, so we were one of over 20 games available.

Also, Nintendo was very supportive in helping us promote Snake Pass by amplifying our message through their social channels, as well as on the eShop. The timing was perfect for us and we were No.1 in 16 countries and No.2 in the U.S on the first ever Nintendo eShop charts.

What was the big lesson, and would you self-publish again?

Although we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and may do it again, our core business is to continue to work with our partners and develop triple-A titles based on established IPs.

We learnt a lot, for instance that publishing can be fun, challenging and bloody hard work and you need a dedicated team to be successful as there is so much to do to launch a game. 

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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