The Adventures of Shuggy, released to the wilds of Xbox Live Arcade this past summer, was fairly well received. Our own Jordan Devore praised it, specifically noting the sheer amount of content, variety, and co-op. Yet it didn't perform well, even by XBLA standards. This could be due to any number of factors, but developer David Johnston (of Smudged Cat Games) has shared his thoughts on the game's development successes and failures.
To the positive, Johnston is proud of a handful of achievements. The overall process of creating a multitude of game mechanics (including his signature time traveling) then systematically whittling down what doesn't quite work is something that went quite well. Rather than stick with his initial Wario Ware approach, he opted for a more focused game after noticing that some things were just more fun than others. The level structure with a choice of what level to take on next rather than follow a set progression, is generally a high-point in Shuggy talk.
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While the development proper went fairly well, though long and arduous, Johnston feels the issues lie primarily with the publisher. He blames himself for trying to do too much at once, but the impact of delays and marketing choices is clear.
Over the title's 4 year development, Shuggy's publishing fate was left to the hands of those who didn't share Johnston's connection to the project. In the beginning, he'd hoped to earn a top spot in Microsoft's Dream Build Play competition. Failing that, a deal was struck with Sierra. Sierra was thinned out, and Shuggy was dropped, after Vivendi was purchased by Activision. Eventually Valcon games signed on and provided the funding to complete the project. Throughout this, it seems decisions were made that did little to help the game.
One obvious issue is in Shuggy's marketing. Primarily, there was none. No one knew the game existed short of word-of-mouth. While Johnston concedes that the target audience was missed due to a disconnect between gameplay and visual design, a portion of fault also lies with the physical marketing, or lack there of.
Valcon didn't want me to contact any media directly, as this would be duplicating their efforts, so I left the publicity in their hands. It took ages for the official press release about the game to appear, because apparently Valcon was waiting on it being approved by Microsoft.
Also hampered by Shuggy's publisher roulette, was the trial. Under Sierra, Johnston believes that the title had eventually been given an acceptable demo that would have been successful in driving sales. After jumping to Valcon, however, that trial was swapped for the one now live in the Marketplace.
This isn't an altogether unique tale; horror stories of developer/publisher relationships are all-too-common in this industry. That doesn't stop this one from being so disheartening. A game that is so widely praised, hampered by development and production difficulties. It's a bit of a long read, but Johnston's full write-up is well worth it.