When I delivered my Verdict on Gun Monkeys, one of the things I brought up was the general quietness on the servers with it being difficult to find people to play against. To help combat this, creator Dan Marshall has released an update which gives away keys to those sitting on an empty server to share with their friends. I grabbed hold of Dan and asked him some questions about this new approach, and Gun Monkeys in general.
Chris – First up Gun Monkeys is a bit of a move away from your recent adventure work with Dan That and Time Gentlemen Please. What prompted you to move into the monkey one-on-one deathmatch scene?
Dan – Actually, Gun Monkeys is more of a step back to my original love of platform games and competitive 1-on-1 multiplayer. It’s a remake of my first game, Gibbage, which was made as a kind of Bomberman/ Worms/ Unreal Tournament kind of thing back in 2006. I’d been working on The Swindle so long I needed a bit of a break, and Gun Monkeys was the result!
Chris – What has the reception from fans and players been like, has it sold well?
Dan – I’ve been blown away by how much people ‘get it’. I get loads of emails and comments from people saying they’re really enjoying it. It generally got 8/10s in reviews, some 7s, but universally really positive. I think it kind of works really well as a throwback to these old 1-on-1 Amiga games, the days of playing competitively against one other person, and it’s heartening to see people reliving those kind of memories.
It’s sold fairly well, which I think is probably part of the server problem. If I gave away 50,000 keys on Reddit tomorrow (I’m tempted!), I still don’t think that’d solve the problem. People have jobs, people are at school, people are playing other games or at the pub or having their dinner. I think you probably have to be looking at sales figures in the millions in order to have a server constantly with people on it at your skill level.
Chris – You’ve talked about your struggles in getting people online to play the game, why do you think this has happened?
Dan – I think it’s just quite a hard sell, the idea of a multiplayer-only game. I think it’s immediately probably quite offputting because typically with multiplayer games there’s a lot of work. You’ve got to arrange things, and decide what kind of game to play, and then the connection drops for one of you, or whatever. Gun Monkeys deliberately isn’t like that, by design, it’s procedurally-generated and 1-on-1, and set up specifically so it’s quick and easy to get into a game. No fuss!
It’s also almost certainly my fault, I was too busy making the game to spend months hyping it, and getting the word out. I didn’t have time to get review keys to people until about two days before launch. That probably didn’t help. Live and learn, eh?
Chris – After an initial price cut you’re now giving away free copies of the game when people are waiting without other players on a server. A great idea, how did you come up with it?
Dan – It just seemed obvious one day. The core problem was that people would pop onto a server, wait for an average of 4 seconds before getting frustrated and logging off. Then within seconds someone else would log in and do the exact same thing! So it was about keeping people in the server, bums on seats. I was toying with the idea of giving people free in-game cash for sitting on servers (cash buys perks and improves your monkeys) but actually that doesn’t solve the core problem.
Gun Monkeys wasn’t intended to be this game. It was supposed to be a game you organise. You message a friend and say “hey, fancy a game of Gun Monkeys?” and the free key idea really came about because of that. How do we get friends playing against each other? The answer was free copies.
Chris – Has it been a technical challenge to get it to work within Steam?
Dan – As far as I’m aware, it wasn’t massively tricky, but a clever chap by the name of Tim James handled all that for me! That kind of code is beyond me, sadly!
Chris – After a couple of days of the update have you had any problems or is it appearing to do the job?
Dan – There are a few people idling on the server trying to nab free keys. It isn’t working of course, they’re just getting all angsty when someone shows up trying to actually play a game. I expect after all the press coverage of the system has died down the system will work more as intended.
Other than that, it seems to be working well. Sales are well up, and the number of keys it’s actually generating is surprisingly low, because the servers have been more active.
Chris – Do you have any messages for other indie developers after your experience with Gun Monkeys?
Dan – Only make single player games! Unless you’re confident you’re going to have the zeitgeist hit on your hands, something that really captures the public consciousness like Limbo or Super Meat Boy, it’s probably not worth the gamble. It’s possible, obviously, but I’m not convinced the numbers are there to make it financially sensible to make indie multiplayer-only games.