SonnyReady for some more interview related goodness?

In this installment of my Manufacturing a Hit series I had the chance to talk to Krin Juangbhanich, the developer of one of my favorite role playing games: Sonny. With an excellent zombie-based storyline and lots of upgrades, its easy to get lost in the world of Sonny.

In his interview, Krin discusses the inspiration behind his game and gives tip after tip on how to develop a game that players and sponsors alike will love.

1. How did you come up with the idea for Sonny?

I just had an urge to make a turn based RPG, and really focus on the gameplay of it. I wanted an interface that is very clear and visually intuitive – hence the ‘ability wheel.’ I also wanted to make buffs a big part of the gameplay and strategy, so you have little tags with the buffs and the duration on it. Then I spent a few weeks brushing up the small details, like how the camera zooms in when you hit, and the screen shakes when you land a critical. It was all about making a solid, polished turn based RPG system. I didn’t even think about the theme or story of the game until the gameplay engine was 80% done. At that point, I was a bit bored of the fantasy setting and wanted something a bit fresh for turn based RPGs. So instead I just went for zombies and sci-fi! But this is bad practice – I think you should always try to design gameplay and theme together.

2. How did you design and develop Sonny?

I developed Sonny mostly with the players in mind – in the sense that I made all my decisions based on how I think it will affect the player’s experience. At the end of that day, I think it just boils down to whether the players will have fun or not. So it was important to me to consider how the interface worked, how gameplay mechanics are introduced, how the story unfolds, the speed and pace of the game, and so on. I find that the opening of a game is the hardest to design, and also the most important part to get right. So the first stage in Sonny is probably the best example of everything I’m saying here. It throws you into the game right after the cutscene, and slowly teaches you to play while you advance in the story as well. As for sponsors, that doesn’t really figure into the design of the game. Perhaps a blank space in the menu somewhere for a logo, but that’s it. The important thing is to make it fun for the players. Do that, and the sponsors will come.

3. Was marketing the game a consideration before it came time to release it?

In Sonny’s case, no. I was just too excited to get it released, and didn’t really think about marketing. But I have done marketing for every other game since Sonny, including Sonny 2. Usually I would just post previews and images on forums and blogs a couple of weeks before release. That can create some buzz around it. I think it is important to let people know what you are working on, and give a heads up when you are about to release it. It is not just so that you can get a bigger opening, or more views – some players might really be interested to play your game, but if you don’t promote it well, they may not know about it.

4. How did you go about marketing your game once it came out?

Once the game was out, there were a lot of people commenting on it – maybe to complain about something, or to give suggestions. I think at that point, the best thing to do is to engage with the players as much as you can. Here they are telling me exactly what they think and what they want. Not only is it a great chance to learn how to improve your skills as a game designer, but it also gives you an opportunity to talk to the people who play your games, and show them that their opinion matters to you. A game like Sonny tends to create a post-release buzz around itself fairly easily because of the depth of customisation and strategy it offers. People like to compare builds, or items, and sometimes even write guides. Last year I released a game that was also quite popular, called “Flight” – but it did not create the same kind of buzz because the nature gameplay is very straightforward.

5. Why do you think Sonny did so well?

I think that the success of a game depends on a combination of things. In Sonny’s case, the player is given a lot of options in how to customise their character, and how to fight in combat. About 15 minutes into the game, there are already about a hundred permutations in the way that you can build your character – from the stats, to the skills, to the items. I think players enjoy complexity. But they also like things to be simple. So in essence, I think the key to Sonny’s success was its ability to be complex without being complicated.

6. If you had to sum up the lessons you learned about marketing a game from Sonny in a few sentences, what would you say?

Communicate with your players, a lot. Make blog posts, forum posts, and reply to emails and comments. Be nice! Listen and respond. Focus on the design of the game – the more exciting new features you have (that no one else has done before) the easier marketing will be. Be excited about your work! If your game does nothing to stand out, even Don Draper will have a hard time selling it. Don’t ever think about designing a game to be ‘viral’ – just focus on designing a game to be good :)

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