I spoke with Peter about their growing staffed indie studio that took form after developing Mini Metro for a Ludum Dare game jam. Now their game is selling successfully simply from word of mouth on Steam and mobile app stores!
Who Are You?
Dinosaur Polo Club. We are currently at seven people now, though the core Mini Metro team from 2014-2017 were myself (Robert Curry), my brother Peter Curry, (both programmers), Jamie Churchman (art) and Rich Vreeland (audio).
Now the studio consists of myself, Peter, Navi Brouwer (producer), Michael Block, Tana Tanoi, Tom O’Brien (all programmers) and Poppy de Raad (artist).
What’s your Game?
Mini Metro. Made in Unity. It is a minimalist subway layout game. Your small city starts with only three unconnected stations. Your task is to draw routes between the stations to connect them with subway lines.
Everything but the line layout is handled automatically; trains run along the lines as quickly as they can, and the commuters decide which trains to board and where to make transfers.
How did you come up with the idea/concept for this game?
We’d both been thinking about getting back into video games for a while (both Peter and I worked at a studio, Sidhe Interactive, from 2002-2006, then had dabbled in indie dev until 2008).
We’d been spitballing ideas and I had had one inspired by my recent holiday in London travelling the tube. I thought we could make a game about choosing routes on a subway map, but Peter suggested that it would be more fun if you were the one building the map.
We shelved it for a while but brought it back out for Ludum Dare #26, with the theme of “minimalism”.
We verbally designed the game in about 15 minutes, coded it up over the weekend, and that formed about 90% of what Mini Metro is today.
How long did it take to build? What was that process like?
Two days to game jam it out, then sixteen months till Early Access release (only three of which was full time). It took us another fifteen months till full Steam release, then eleven more for supporting the desktop version and working on the mobile release in November 2016. We’ve been updating it ever since!
The process got easier as we went along, but it did start very rocky. We wrote about this extensively in our Gamasutra post-mortem.
Have you released a game previously? If so, how did it go?
We had both worked on releasing titles back in the early 2000s, but that was mainly on PS2 and Xbox (the original one). So this was our first Steam and mobile release. It went surprisingly well!
The tools are good, and we did get a ton of attention after our Greenlight campaign so that helped make all of our releases a big success.
Certainly helps being an “odd” game that does something different – not that many other games in the subway map aesthetic.
Is this your full time job?
It is, yes. Try to keep it to only 40 hours but sometimes emails creep in after hours.
Have you used an external publisher before?
Did you have a marketing budget? If so, what was worth it? What was a waste?
No. We relied almost exclusively on word of mouth for Mini Metro.
Do you rely solely on game purchases for profit?
What was/is your marketing plan/strategy?
Word of mouth! We have learnt a lot from Mini Metro and realise that we did get very lucky just through what the game is about and how it looks. We now plan marketing right from the start for our new titles – it’s an integral part of development and especially important for independent developers.
What advice did you take 5 years ago? Is it still true today?
Scope for your abilities. Ruthlessly cut anything that you don’t have the skills for. This always holds!
What advice would you pass on to developers who are looking to launch their game?
If you launch without an audience already ready to buy your game, you are making things very difficult. Yes, there are breakout hits – Undertale, Stardew Valley, etc – but these are by far the exceptions. There are many more games sitting on Steam and the App Store that have had years of effort poured into them that just sank straight away. “Build it and they will come” isn’t a good marketing plan.
Do you have a dev log?
Where can people follow you?
What’s your favourite element of the game that everyone should know about?
The audio. Disasterpeace put an immense amount of thought and effort into it, far more than we expected, and it’s incredibly rich and deep. When I read interviews that he’s given about his work on it I learn things that I had no idea about!
Why should I play it?
Mini Metro is an easy, zen experience to get into, yet ramps up gently into a challenging strategy experience.
Where do you get inspiration to build games or come up with an idea?
I spend a lot of time looking outside of games, and watching for experiences that might be interesting as a game.
For aspiring gamers reading this who want to work in the games industry/make games, what advice can you give them?
Best way to get good at making and designing games it to make games. Picking up an immediately applicable skill like programming or art is your best shot at getting a job in a studio. Get involved in your community – most of the people we’ve hired we already knew through volunteering at events or getting to know them at developer meetups.
What marketing information did you wish you knew before launching your game?
Talk about your game as much as possible, and use the feedback you get (or don’t) as a form of evaluating your concept.