Monument Valley: Forgotten Shores just went live on Amazon as an Android exclusive. Dan Gray, Executive Producer of the game, reflects on his experience and offers helpful tips to developers.
Ustwo is a 120-head design studio based in Shoreditch, East London. Our main activities evolve around designing digital products like apps and services for clients. The game-side of the business, and with it Monument Valley, is actually really small – only 9 of us work on games. As such, Monument Valley was never part of the core business of ustwo. With all of us having a lot of freedom in what we wanted to create, our team were inspired to create the most beautiful product possible. Four months later, after vigorous prototyping sessions and lots of different concepts and mechanics, we came up with a visual basis that became Monument Valley in April 2014. Our emphasis was on quality, not quantity, and on engagement over distraction.
Based on our experience creating Monument Valley and Forgotten Shores, we’ve gained some interesting insights into building games.
Premium over Freemium
Premium can still monetize even in a world when many games are moving toward freemium—Monument Valley broke even in only 7 days!
A year ago, most people in the industry believed that you were wasting your time creating a premium game and that nobody would pay for it but we thought that adding leaderboards, achievements and consumables would distract the users from the experience they were having. What that meant was that we had zero ways to make our development costs back without charging a fee for it. Consequently, at $3.99, the game has a price point that some may consider high.
We had no idea that the game would be as successful as it turned out to be, and in such a short time span. We expected to break even after 1 year, but instead we reached that milestone after only 7 days. In addition, it was very surprising that a high proportion of our Android downloads came from Amazon. In fact, 25-30% of our revenue on Android comes from the Amazon Appstore.
Engagement over Distraction
Games can target people who don’t see themselves as gamers through providing a great user experience
We have a very big emphasis on our social interaction with people since last year. Before we released Monument Valley we had 350 followers on Twitter. Now we have almost 40,000 followers, people who are really dedicated as well. If your customers feel they are part of the development process, it humanizes you as a developer and creates a much stronger bond between you and your customers.
What surprised us most was the breadth of users, ranging from 9 year-olds to grandparents. We thought we would have a broad range, but this completely blew us away.
Monument Valley takes Ida and her friend Totem through a mysterious world of geometric structures. The story ends after chapter 10, and we didn’t want to challenge the finality of this by bringing out a sequel. But we did have so many ideas for more mechanics that we wanted to explore. And customers were screaming for more content, asking us every single day: ‘When is the new Monument Valley out?’ That’s when we decided to create Forgotten Shores, the forgotten chapters you didn’t know existed. They are extra chapters that take place within the main story of Monument Valley, without conflicting with Ida’s journey and without disrupting the user’s experience.
Quality Over Quantity
Quality can still sell games—Ustwo has a team that is passionate about gaming and focused their efforts on a beautifully designed game
At the get go it is not about making money, but about making a great product with the hope that it would lead to success. It has been a long 7 months since we first launched Monument Valley. Our main learning from this experience is that there are genuinely many people out there that care about high quality products. We invested a lot personally in making this game and to know that our stake has been repaid by those players is a very good feeling.
Generally speaking, when you are coming up with a game concept, the most important factor is not the business side, your technology or your game engine. It is the passion in making that game that is more powerful than anything else. Make sure that every single person on the team cares about the game. Empower them and allow them to feel like it is theirs. Everyone on the team needs to be trusted with the creative directions so they are emotionally engaged with it.
After these exciting last months, we are going to take some time off from Monument Valley for a while. Until then, we hope you enjoy Forgotten Shores.
About Dan Gray and ustwo
Dan Gray is an Executive Producer for Monument Valley & Land's End at ustwogames, ex Producer at Hello Games & Lionhead Studios. BAFTA Breakthrough Brit 2014.
ustwo is a global digital design studio with a 200-strong family of designers, developers and strategists based in New York / London / Malmö, Sweden. We create meaningful digital products and services that drive innovation for the world's leading brands, the next big things and our own product initiatives. Founded in 2004 by two friends, Mills and Sinx, as a 'studio of dreams' – a place where people come to do the best work of their lives. Our heritage and ambition remain to this day and has seen us grow from humble beginnings in London into a global family with a proven track record of delivery from concept to launch.
We consider user-centered design and integrated design & development the foundation to deliver standout user experiences. Our studios are self-sufficient homes to multi-discipline design and multi-platform development teams, all committed to agile process. Together, our designers and developers work and collaborate directly with our clients (we don't have 'account management' layers in the way). Driven by our focus on good process we are always open to new ways of doing what we do better.
We're a studio not an agency, so for us it’s about good design & development practices, iterative product design and products going live. We're independent, self-funded and on a mission to grow and establish a world leading studio with a work and revenue blend of client service, own product, joint venture and games.