Perth developer Gnomic Studios discusses launching on Steam

Aranda Morrison talks to us about launching a multiplayer game out of Perth, Australia
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Square Heroes, a multiplayer 2D arena shooter by Gnomic Studios out of Perth, Australia, launched on Steam today. The game – one of the last recipients of Screen Australia's funding before the arts support program was cut – features eight modes, local multiplayer, ELO ranking leaderboards and more. It's currently available at a discounted price of $8.99 USD.

Aranda Morrison – director and lead programmer at Gnomic Studios – spoke briefly with Develop Pacific about launching a multiplayer-only game out of Perth.

Was it difficult getting Square Heroes on Greenlight?
Aranda Morrison:
Going through the Greenlight process is a slog. It's not easy. You launch on Greenlight and you have all these ideas that everything's going to be wonderful, and that you'll get through it in a few weeks and you get a massive influx of traffic at the start when you're brand new on the Greenlight list, but then obviously yeah, it's pretty well documented that you go into the Greenlight doldrums, where you get no votes without actually going out and working hard for them.

So we took the game to PAX [Australia] in 2013, but that was before we were on Greenlight. In 2014 we put it on Greenlight around June/July, and then we went to PAX [Australia] in October and it still hadn't been greenlit by then, but then by around November we were finally Greenlit. So yeah it was a pretty long slog.

Does working out of Perth pose any specific challenges?
Aranda Morrison:
I don't think so, not really. Other than things like being isolated in terms of the community. Melbourne and Sydney have pretty big indie development communities, and there's some Government funding, and there's less of that over here. But there is a very passionate small community of independent developers here, but obviously there isn't the critical mass for things like Government funding. The biggest issue is just getting to things like PAX and other expos and conferences and stuff, the travel costs are a lot more expensive from over here.

How do you handle high pings, being based in a very isolated part of the world?
Aranda Morrison:
We built [Square Heroes] around the idea of it being a peer-to-peer game so you don't need a server, anyone can be the host, but at the same time we realised that our biggest challenge was (and is still going to be) getting and maintaining a player base. So if the player base falls off then the game is pretty much dead in the water. Without the players there's not much there. So one of the things we did is making dedicated servers where someone can jump on and fight with bots until someone else joins them.

With a multiplayer shooter it's important to make it simple for people to get in and play. Are there tricks you've used to get the game out to a wider audience?
Aranda Morrison:
[Square Heroes] is also cross-platform, it's running on Linux. Which means we can get some pretty cheap Linux VPS. We use Digital Ocean, and it's five bucks a month to run our dedicated server. So we've got one in Singapore and one in New York, and we're spinning one up today in London. And if the demand increases further it's not a problem for us to scale it up. Because our game's fairly light on resources we can handle it on the lowest available servers.

Were these circumstances deliberate or a happy coincidence?
Aranda Morrison:
Dedicated servers were always something we thought we might do, but once we realised we needed to do stuff to help along the player base it was a happy coincidence that we were already ported to Linux, so we just needed to do a bit of extra work to strip out any calls to the graphics.

Congratulations on your Steam launch, and good luck.