No one, I reckon, really wants to talk about David Johnston, the one-man dev team behind Smudged Cat Games‘ The Adventures of Shuggy. That’s because his four years of development hell illustrate most of the systemic shortcomings of the modern game development landscape.
Shuggy made his debut at the 2007 Dream. Build. Play competition. “The time travel mechanic was there, the rotation was there, the rope swinging was there,” Johnston tells Edge. ““It could have done with a bit of polish – but not three and half years’ worth.”
Johnston penned a deal with Sierra Online to publish the game on the Xbox Live Arcade, but the cash flow stopped when Activision Blizzard acquired the publisher. “Things went quiet” during this time, he says, until his contract was finally terminated, at which point he was free to find another publisher. This was in late 2008, and it took him almost a year to find Valcon Games and another two to finally publish.
During that time, other games with similar mechanics — Johnston mentions Braid, The Adventures of P.B. Winterbottom, and Lazy Raiders — had been successfully published and had gained a lot of traction, both in the games press and within Microsoft.
Conversely, Shuggy languished on the platform, despite strong reviews. Its release date — chosen by Microsoft — didn’t help: the game was released alongside Magic: The Gathering in June of this year and couldn’t compete with the powerhouse franchise. Shuggy never appeared on the Xbox Live Dashboard.
Johnston’s story hits all the beats of the perils of game development — games need stable publishers and strong advertising, and Microsoft seems particularly inept at pushing new, independent content. This, despite the express purpose of Xbox Live Arcade and the Xbox Indie Games channel being to promote independently developed games.
But Johnston takes solace in the fact that Sierra Online’s initial payments were enough to float the entire project and that Shuggy shipped before the birth of his first son.
You can read Johnston’s full account over at Edge.
Humble indie fumble: an XBLA horror story [Edge via Joystiq]