Last week, Bossa Studios started a free week for its new game Decksplash, which means that the first 100,000 players can download the game for free. It's the first in a unique experiment from the studio that could easily have 'unique' as a middle name. Henrique Olifiers, co-founder of Bossa Studios addressed this in a press release last week.
"It cannot succeed without a thriving live community, as players depend on a minimum amount of other active participants to get a good matchmaking experience and have fun with it," Olifiers said. "This is why we devised this experiment: give the game away for free, no strings attached and, if people genuinely like it, then launch in the knowledge we’re focusing our energy into a game that will work for every player and the dev team for years to come.”
At Develop, however, we wanted to know more. How does this affect the game? Was this always the plan? And what happens next? To find out, we spoke to Ricardo Rego, product manager at Bossa Studios.
Why are you giving away the game?
It’s all about multiplayer! A multiplayer game is a big commitment for a studio in terms of delivering ongoing support, and internally we need to hit a certain scale for it to make sense, or for it to be a truly fun experience for players - no one wants to hang around waiting for matches. We decided it’s fair on players to make this transparent and to give them the chance to tell us if and when we should release the game!
The best way to quickly see if this scale exists in the marketplace is to run a free week. Players get a slice of what the game will be and they can let us know directly if they want this to continue existing; not just by talking to us, but by hitting the install button, trying it out, and recommending it.
We’re very conscious that while we love Decksplash, it may be too much of a niche project, so the free week removes all friction with no cost or obligation to really test the market and see if players would engage with the concept.
Was this always the plan or is this something new that you wanted to try?
Internally, we’re always looking for innovative ideas, not just in our games but in the way that we launch them. Our community is also hugely important to us and we enjoy giving them new things to talk about and engage with.
The free week is something new that we’d never done before, or had seen anyone else do. It quickly became a really exciting idea that we wanted the gaming community at large to talk about, regardless of whether their opinion was positive or negative. We would rather have a polarizing opinion than no conversation at all, and maybe we inspire lots of other studios to take similar bold risks to inform and shape commercial decisions that buck current trends.
Steam is a great partner in supporting us trying to do things a little bit different - which is all the time! We wanted to use Steam in a different way to get the game in as many hands as possible, and as early as possible, to see if there was a market - and either launch the game or fail fast, which is something integral to Bossa’s philosophy.
When we have game jams we’re willing to try new ideas and we’re equally willing to discard them if they’re not good, even if they might have commercial potential. The game and the community are the most important thing. Every Bossa game goes through validation steps and for Decksplash we have created this big, very public one.
What research went into this idea and are you aware of other similar cases where this has worked?
For Decksplash we started by building a small, super dedicated community of players, but we were wondering how we were going to validate that at scale. We always want to be honest and generous with our players, and make what happens internally visible, not shying away from the realities of game development or marketing.
Taking player’s money isn’t how we validate our games. Research shows Steam is considered the most prominent place to discover and purchase downloadable PC games, so where better to go directly to our potential customers to see if there was a place for Decksplash and offer it for free?
What does this give you that a closed alpha or beta does not?
We have seen how effective the power of free can be in of delivering scale in player numbers across platforms and is open to all to jump in which traditionally closed alphas and betas don’t offer. We really wanted to take this idea and open it up to everyone by applying it to Steam and its customers. A number of PC games have done free weeks and we have looked at what they’ve done which helped us get a sense of what an appropriate target might be.
What kind of roadmap is there for a project like this, which now comes down to public uptake to continue development?
Like all projects at Bossa, Decksplash started as a game jam which internally we thought was a lot of fun. As much as we may love it, it’s important to see if our players feel the same way. From looking at the response from the initial announcement to building a dedicated alpha community, our focus has always been on delivering a really tight and fun polished core game loop. The bulk of development time up to this validation point has been focused on making the game feel good to play.
We already have really cool plans to produce new arenas, new loot, and new modes for the game should it launch into early access, and we’d fully commit to delivering these if the public says this is what they actually want. We welcome they to keep working with us to make this game a big splash!