Chris Davis discusses the early days of the prison breaking game and how players have helped shape it

The Escapists dev: ‘I’m not afraid to ask the community for ideas’

For Mouldy Toof indie Chris Davis, the developer behind newly released PC and Xbox One prison breaking title The Escapists, game development is a far cry from his previous full-time occupation as a roofer.

After years in the profession with just some hobbyist coding on the side, in October 2013 he took his new game idea The Escapists to crowdfunding website Kickstarter to help pay for its development – money that would mean he could spend less time working of rooftops and more time on his personal project.

The campaign was a success, raising £7,131 from 851 backers, smashing its target of £3,000.

“It wasn’t a big thing back then, it was only a small project I thought,” he explains. “The Kickstarter funding was very moderate, it wasn’t silly.

“It was a very small funding goal and I thought, we’ll see how it goes. But it’s picked up quite well.”

By February 2014, Davis had picked up a publisher in Team17, which had just started its third-party publishing programme. Davis says he was approached by studio MD Debbie Bestwick about the deal, rather than approaching the publisher direct himself.

He states he wasn’t thinking of a getting a publisher during the game’s early days, particularly after a successful Kickstarter and passing through Steam Greenlight in a matter of days, but now believes the game wouldn’t have been as successful without them. The Worms developer has helped with marketing, promotion, making various assets, composing the game’s music and developing the Xbox One port.

“I didn’t think it was anything worth getting a publisher for,” he says. “At the start it was just a little project, but you never know how these things are going to turn out.”

He adds: “Obviously it wouldn’t have had all this scope that’s it’s taken on. I don’t think it would be as big as it is now without them.”

Community service

Though admitting not to be the kind of developer to constantly push his game through social media channels – something he could now leave to a publisher – Davis says he was still constantly on the game’s forum to engage with the community.

As well as providing a place to gauge interest in new gameplay features, particularly during the game’s Early Access days, Davis believes it was also an opportune place to find inspiration for new ideas.

“The community is what made the game into what it is, I enjoy going on there,” he states.

“There’s always good ideas. I’m always nodding my head as I’m reading, thinking ‘it does need that, that’s a good point’. The community behind the game has moulded it into how it is now.”

As well as paying close attention to feedback, Davis says he’s “not been afraid to ask for ideas” from the community, and has previously asked what achievements players would like to see in the title. He says that he’s also put some other ideas into the game.

It’s something he explains would likely not have been possible without Steam Early Access, and has given him the opportunity to take more creative risks.

“If you put a game out people will find a load of problems with it,” he says.

“But with Early Access you can iron out those problems as you’re working through it, so you’re not afraid to try new ideas out here and there, see how they go, and if people don’t like it, you can change it.

“If you release it as a full game you have this thing that is hard-coded into the game and is difficult to remove and change. You can put yourself into a corner. So yes, Early Access has been a really good experience for the game. It’s a better game for it.”

Given the game’s full release and success of the Early Access, does Davis envision ever going back to roofing?

"No, that book’s closed," he concludes.

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