This week marks a monumental accomplishment for one indie game developer in California - Jason Rohrer, is the end of a three year long process to release his DS game, Diamond Trust of London. After multiple redesigns, publishers, and various other setbacks, the two-player diamond smuggling strategy game is finally on its way into the hands of consumers as of yesterday when Rohrer shipped out 861 US-bound packages. Thanks to his final push of support via Kickstarter, the journey of the first player-funded Nintendo DS game is finally beginning to come to an end.
For someone who is used to creating games experimental indie games on his own, Rohrer's first foray into dealing with a publisher and creating a game for the Nintendo DS didn't go as smoothly as he expected. When asked about the high points and low points of the development of Diamond Trust of London Rohrer called out the Kickstarter support as a high at the end of a road of lows. "It’s been a process of things that seem like they are going to materialize, and are going to work: Oh, here’s a way this game can come out, and then it actually can’t come out this way. Oh, actually this idea isn’t going to work. Oh, actually, these people are pulling out." With more than a few bumps, fans are fortunate to finally be able to experience the final product after all this time.
At first glance, this may come across as indie developer naïveté, and the hope that the games industry values creativity over profitability, but Rohrer, who has released eight other games on a variety of platforms ranging from the PC to iPhone, recognizes how unique Diamond Trust is, and that for a lot of people it might not be the most savvy business investment,
"I’ve gone through two publishers, and it’s a risky thing to do. It’s not really a sensible business decision to throw so much money at such a strange niche game. I have an audience of fans who seem to appreciate my work, who are dedicated, and will probably buy my next game, but that audience isn’t gigantic. It’s not like 100,000 people; maybe it’s 10,000 people. It’s a big risky thing to do. It’s very hard to get someone with money to want to follow through all the way to the very end once they realize how scary it's going to be to throw money at this. I wouldn't have embarked on this project if I hadn’t been talked into it by a publisher at the very beginning."
So, how did he end up here? Rohrer has been a big name in the indie games scene for a few years now, making a name for himself by crafting games well outside of the box. He first garnered some mainstream attention with his third original game, Passage, back in 2007. More of an experience than a game, Passage dabbles with the constraints of time, direction, and partnership in a way unlike any other game. (It's still available as a free download on PC, Mac, and Linux, as well as for purchase as DSiWare and App Store downloads.) As he continued to make more free thinking games on his own he eventually garnered the attention of Majesco Entertainment, who seemed to be willing to dabble in indie dev inspired games like Blast Works, a title based off of Kenta Cho's TUMIKI Fighters, and Diamond Trust was born.
"Three years ago Majesco approached me and said, 'Hey do you want to make a DS game?' I said, 'Okay, it sounds like a reasonable thing for me to do.' With A small screen and relatively limited hardware, this was something one guy could probably do by himself, and make something that's pretty good. So I pitched a couple of different ideas to them, and they rejected a couple, and finally accepted this idea about deception and corporate espionage that took place within the world of diamond trading."
However, things didn't end up going so smoothly from there, and Majesco dropped the game as Rohrer was just about finishing up the development. "I got the DS game pretty much done, and then lost my publishing agreement, and started trying to figure out how to save that work, and how to get it out to the people who have been waiting for it." The game eventually made its way into the hands of Zoo Games and their IndiePub imprint, and they signed on as the game's second publisher. However, things didn't go exactly as planned there either.
"After another year of me finishing the game, and negotiating with Nintendo, and going through lock check and all these other things to get the game approved and ready to come out my second publisher was like, actually we don’t want to throw all this money at this game. There’s a huge minimum order from Nintendo that they would have to put money front up for. There’s a really big financial risk, If you don’t sell enough cartridges after the fact, you won’t ever recoup that money, and it’s just like money thrown down a hole. It was just a huge risk that they just couldn’t justify any more. So then I’m sitting there again with this game that’s totally done, the packaging art is done, approved by Nintendo and it’s just sitting there, unable to come out."
But that's just the story of how this interesting little title game about trading diamonds came to be, but, in reality, all that doesn't matter if the game isn’t any good. While Rohrer's reputation precedes him, there's still the question of what the game is all about.
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