We prioritise: Simplicity, Quality, Sustainability.
In exchange, we don't prioritise: Growth, Scale, Money.
Always Educational, Always Fun.
We make intuitive education games. That's all we make, and if we want to make a different type of game, we'll start a new studio.
At the core, our games need to fulfil three criteria.
First, they need to have real education value. Whether it's learning the writing system of a new language, music theory, or algebra - our games need to leave you with some new understanding or knowledge about a system that exists in the real world.
Second, the way our players learn and develop their understanding needs to be subtle and deeply interwoven with the mechanics of the game itself. We don't make interactive textbooks, we make games. As a result, for us success is players not even realising that our games are "educational".
Third, our games have to be fun. It doesn't matter if they are revolutionary from an education perspective. If it isn't fun, it's not the kind of software we make.
Trying to balance these three concepts is surprisingly difficult and is almost always the major constraint that we need to overcome in our development process. But so far, it's lead to some unique and fascinating experiences that we would have never thought of had we been content with simply education or fun.
A founding principle of our studio is that we're never going to grow beyond about 10 people.
Codifying this as a value is important because it creates constraints. Productivity is a huge priority for us because when you can't hire more people you need to be able to get more done with less.
It means that we need to be realistic about the scale of the projects that we work on.Simplicityis another core value for us and putting a cap on the number of people involved not only reduces the complexity associated with managing a large team of people, but also forces us to simplify our games if we want to get things shipped.
Staying small reduces or eliminates the need for complex project management and communication tools. Most communication can be amongst the entire team without being too noisy. Context can be shared in a casual setting without being overtly taxing. It's much easier to keep a small number of people on the same page, to have the synchronicity required to produce a deeply polished end result.
The ultimate aim is to never update our games once they are released. No seasons, no content patches, no bug fixes, no expansions.
Our ideal process is to finish an entire game to an acceptable level of completeness and polish before release, play test it extensively, then ship it and never touch it again. The reason this is so important is because it creates an environment where quality and completeness is prioritised.
If features are too ambitious or a sub system in a game isn't working - it's either reworked or cut. There is no room for "fleshing it out later". If there are bugs that occur rarely but break the experience, we delay the game until we fix them.
One of the less commonly understood benefits of this approach is that it allows you to let go of a project once it's finished. This completely changes the relationship you have with the code, with the assets, and with the design. Projects that are constantly updated or worked on later by a completely different group of people have significantly more complex requirements. Systems need to be designed to be extensible, rather than simply fit for purpose. Narratives need to be left open to expansion. Design systems need to be built for assets to allow a continuity of style.
All these things disappear when you know from the outset that what you're producing is a self contained, finished product. You'll find you're much more inclined to simply build what you need to get the job done, rather than trying to prepare for what you guess you'll need in the future.
Of course there are external factors that necessitate updates - forced operating system updates or security bugs for example.
We don't include any kind of analytics or telemetry in our games. We don't collect any data on what players are doing, and we don't expect our players to be connected to the internet while playing single player games.
Firstly, this ties in with ourNo Updatesvalue. Access to up-to-date data on player behaviour makes it much harder to let go. There is always the temptation to attempt to intervene and "fix" things if player numbers start to decline.
However the primary reason we don't collect any data is because data weakens intuition. There is something bizarre about the way humans interact with numbers. We want numbers that represent good things to go up, and numbers that represent bad things to go down. Data is incredbly important when making scientific decisions, for issues that rely on facts alone. But for something as creative and expressive as a game, the simplistic and mechanical data we are able to gather and visualise doesn't tell the whole story.
There are huge AAA game companies that are very successful in their use of data. It helps them to make reasonable decisions that affect millions of players, especially when there are many competing and incompatible ideas about how those games should be designed. It's also a much easier to justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars developing a new game or update if you have statistical proof it will be a success.
We're not, and will never be at that size, we will never have that many people, and we will never be taking financial risks of that magnitude. As a result, we want our games to be developed using the intuition of a small group of people. Data just gets in the way.
Not to mention that collecting data on the scale and level of detail that is done today is extremely unethical.
No Release Dates, No "Crunch".
We don't announce the release of our games until they are completely finished and physically ready to ship. We don't even give a ballpark estimate of which year.
The games industry is notorious for extreme levels of pressure and overtime in the run up to big release dates. While there are certainly cultural issues that contribute to this, one of the biggest drivers of "crunch" is that releasing a modern game is a complex, expensive and above all time sensitive process.
Release dates necessitate significant work and capital investment in creating and running marketing and advertising campaigns in the lead up to the release. This is one of the main reasons it's so painful to change a release date in the modern world. An enormous amount of money is spent locking in reviews, advertising space and publicity. This all needs to be done a long time in advance, and it all needs to be cancelled if a review date is changed.
If you don't have the concept of a release date, you don't need a project management system that includes time estimates. Time estimates in approaches like waterfall are notoriously unreliable, and often set people up to feel like they are constantly behind, or that they will be held to account for estimates that are impossible to make accurately.
Release dates also tend to set the stage for an antagonistic relationship between players and developers. Players are understandably upset when a game they are waiting for is continuously delayed, especially if they've already paid money to pre order the game.
Because we don't announce release dates for our games and don't run advertising in the run up to release dates, there is much less at stake when it comes to changing ideas or continuing to polish things that aren't finished.
Of course, this model is much less financially viable. But we consider it to be a worthwhile challenge.
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are extremely common in video games. There are a number of reasons why they are used - to create more hype around a release date, to control the expectations for the game in terms of graphics and gameplay, to prevent creative theft, and to reduce the opportunity for competitors to plan a similar game.
In the ideal case this simply means that people in the games industry have portfolios / resumes that lag behind their actual work by 3-5 years, but in the worst case it means that someone can work for 10+ years on projects that are under NDA and never end up shipping, leaving them with nothing to show for their hard work and creativity.
As long as it doesn't contain a notable spoiler or ruin a big surprise, people who work for us are free to share their work how they choose, and to talk about the development process of our games.
We don't run ads in our games, and we don't run ads for our games.
Advertising itself, and the businesses that make absurd profit from it in its modern form are intensely unethical and a drain on society in general.
One of the big trade offs of ourStay Smallvalue is that we will never have the specialised people or departments that larger studios have to handle administrative tasks. If we're limited to 10 people, marketing and advertising is not a priority.
No Subscriptions, No Microtransactions.
Our games sell for a single purchase price and include everything, forever. We don't have subscription fees, we don't have in app purchases, we don't run ads in our games. When you buy our games, you get the entire finished product and you are never expected to pay a cent more.
To put it more bluntly, you own your copy of the game that we are selling you.
You can expect a lifetime guarantee that if you purchase one of our games, it will be available for you to play on most modern platforms, forever. Even though one of our core values isNo Updates,we still rebuild games to support modern platforms as the gaming landscape changes over time (as long as the game is still appropriate for type of platform)
Encourage Healthy Play.
No intentionally addictive mechanics.
We don't useSkinner Boxmechanics in our games, we don't use randomisation in the distribution of rewards, and in general we avoid anything that could be construed as gambling. We try to avoid implementing mechanics that are addictive or leave the player feeling unsatisfied when they try to end their play session.
This is a big decision to make financially, as these addictive mechanics now drive a significant proportion of all revenue in the games industry (especially on mobile), but it's one that is in line with our core values.
Beyond simply avoiding the worst offenders, we want to encourage healthy play. This means designing our games to include obvious locations or "beats" where it's satisfying and easy to stop playing. We'd prefer to have players enjoying and savouring our games in sustainably short bursts, rather than binge playing for hours on end.
Encouraging healthy play session lengths is also essential if our players are going to learn real skills and intuition from playing our games. You need time to digest and reflect on new information.
Simplicity over Depth.
We want to aim for our games to feel exceptionally smooth, with every edge polished within reason.
The price we pay for a higher level of polish is a more "shallow" experience. Less features, less content, less mechanics. We're always looking for ways to cut things that aren't a core part of the experience so we have time to perfect the essential parts of our games.
There are extremely high quality and impactful games that include numerous extraneous unpolished edges. Fishing minigames, incongruous side quests, under developed parts of the world. There isn't anything wrong with this type of approach, it's just not the way we do things.
This extends far beyond just game content and into every facet of our identity. If it's too complicated or it's not working well for us, it gets cut. With such a small number of people and far less financial firepower than larger studios, we simple can't afford to spend time doing things that aren't absolutely essential and important.