Back in 2001, brothers Peter and Robert Curry joined the games industry working at developer Sidhe Interactive.
The duo went on to work on titles such as Adidas Football Fever, Rugby League and Gripshift. After a five-year stint, along with fellow programmer Lloyd Weehuizen, they set up an indie studio called Wandering Monster. But, by Peter Curry’s own admission, it was too early to be successful as an indie in 2006, so the trio went their separate ways.
But in 2013, the brothers Curry made a return to games and entered the Ludem Dare game jam. That year, the contest had the theme of ‘minimalism’, and they decided to make a game inspired by their experience of commuting.
“My initial desire was to simply make a game,” Peter Curry (pictured, right) says.
“By 2013 I’d been out of game development for about five years. I talked Robert into it, and we started by listing the constraints we needed to place around a project for us to have a realistic chance of finishing it.
“As neither of us were artists, and both had limited hours, we decided on something procedural with an abstract art style that wouldn’t require significant production art. We tossed some ideas around, one of which was travelling around on a metro map. Robert had visited London the year before and found the daily task of planning the commute on the tube surprisingly satisfying – ironically we don’t have any subways in New Zealand.
“I suggested that reversing the idea, and having the computer travel on the subway that the player builds, would be more fun. We parked the concept, but when Ludum Dare 36 began we immediately came back to it.”
"While a premium app would never go gangbusters like a free-to-play app could, it was the business model the game was designed around."
Peter Curry, Dinosaur Polo Club
The title – then called Mind the Gap – evolved into Mini Metro as the brothers set up a new studio called Dinosaur Polo Club. The game saw players trying to manage a subway system, making sure that stations don’t get over crowded and that people get where they’re meant to be going.
In August 2014, it launched into Steam Early Access. That edition was ‘properly’ released at the end of 2015, before iOS and Android versions launched last October. Curry says that the sales between the mobile and PC versions are ‘comparable’.
On mobile, the title sets consumers back £4, which is more expensive than your typical mobile game.
“Halving the desktop price for mobile seemed like a good place to start,” Curry explains. “A handful of games that had come to mobile after releasing on desktop had done exactly that, such as The Banner Saga, Thomas Was Alone, and Surgeon Simulator.
“Robert also thought a price point somewhere between Threes! and Monument Valley would be appropriate, but when we were looking them up we forgot the prices we were seeing were in New Zealand dollars. So we thought that Monument Valley had a price of $6 when it’s actually $4... whoops.”
Many mobile games, certainly the most successful ones, are free-to-play. While the team certainly considered taking Mini Metro in this direction, ultimately the team decided that a premium model was best for the title.
“We thought about the monetisation model for the mobile release a lot,” Curry says.
“Eventually we reasoned that while a premium app would never go gangbusters like a F2P app could, it was the business model the game was designed around and the one we understood the best. We knew we’d have to spend at least another six months redesigning the game around a different business model.
“And we’re not free-to-play experts at all — we know just enough to understand how much we don’t know, and how much work goes on behind the scenes.”
Overall, Curry is happy with how the game has performed – not least because Dinosaur Polo Club were able to hire some more staff.
“[Mini Metro’s performance has been] good, I think,” he says.
“This is the first game we’ve released ourselves, so we’ve nothing to compare it to. But it’s still paying the rent over two years after release and Dinosaur Polo Club has hired its first employee (Navi Brouwer, a producer — everyone should have one!), so it has by far and away exceeded all expectations we had.”