Last June, we learned that Imagine Cup 2013 game category winners, Team Schein,
were gearing up to submit Schein to Steam
, the leading independent platform for computer games. After a lot of work, including numerous tweaks to the game and jumping through the seemingly endless hoops for Steam, Schein launched in October of 2014. We caught up with two of the members to find out all about that process.
Schein is a puzzle game that tells the story of a father who enters a dark, mystical swamp in desperate search of his son. A wisp appears, offering him a light that reveals hidden worlds.
means "light" or "shine" in German, but the team named the game for
second meaning: "illusion,” referring to the different realities and illusions revealed in the wisp’s light.
Tiare Feuchtner and Michael Benda told us about the uphill battle and determination needed to get Schein ready for publication on Steam.
“The road from Imagine Cup to Steam proved to be a long, long journey,” Michael, CEO of Zeppelin Studio, told us.
After Imagine Cup, Zeppelin Studio worked for a year to implement the vast amounts of feedback they got from Imagine Cup teams and judges such as Alexej Pajitnov (the founder of Tetris). Finally, despite knowing the game could always be better, they made themselves lock up the project and send it to Steam Greenlight.
Steam Greenlight is a system that enlists the community's help in picking some of the new games to be released on Steam. Getting “Greenlit” requires a lot of work not only to have a great game, but also to get the word out. Of the Greenlight process, Michael said they really pushed themselves, “We did it quite fast, within 2 months.”
Tiare, in charge of marketing and PR for Zeppelin Studio, explains that the Greenlight timeline really varies. “We have heard of games that were approved in less than a month and have spoken to others who have been stuck in the process for over a year now. You can influence your Greenlight campaign though: The more 'yes' votes you get in a short time, the more attention your game receives in general and the better your reviews are, the faster the process. So it really pays off to do as much marketing around it as possible.”
Once they were Greenlit, Zeppelin Studio eagerly launched Schein on Steam.
“You start with great expectations, you know. You think, ‘we finally met our main goal, because it's Steam, the number-one platform for selling downloadable computer games.’ The difficulty is boosting the marketing campaign so everyone can find your game. There were thousands of other games released at the same time, and we kind of drowned in the flood,” Tiare explained.
Sales were good initially, but they peaked and slowed, which is the natural lifecycle for games, Tiare points out. They know they needed to market the game better, and in a strategic move, decided to hire a third-party marketing firm to take over building excitement around Schein.
“Schein was our baby. We were indie gamers, developing for an indie platform. There’s a certain amount of pride in that, but it was time to let go of it,” Michael confesses.
From Left to Right: Philipp Schäfer, Philip Kasper, Michael Benda, Tiare Feuchtner, and Bernhard Klemenjak.
The team does not sound the least bit discouraged by the change of plans. Despite hoping sales from Schein would fund their next project, they have since adjusted expectations and sound very optimistic about the future.
They are putting their Imagine Cup lessons to work as they seek funding, says Tiare. “We still draw on our learnings from the Imagine Cup each time we showcase our game. We really learned to present ourselves at the Imagine Cup and have further worked on perfecting our pitches since then.”
After the release of Schein, the team downsized to three members (Philipp Schäfer, Michael and Tiare) and are in deep brainstorming mode for the next project. As soon as development starts, the group will grow back to five members again.
The Imagine Cup and the Steam release experience assures Michael that “it will take us much less time than three years to get a game to market now. We were learning the process, but now we are confident we could consolidate that timeline into six months. That’s how much experience we’ve gained from Imagine Cup.”
We asked both Michael and Tiare what advice they would give to younger student developers.
Michael says he preaches one thing to would-be devs. “SHOW your project and submit to tech competitions like Imagine Cup! That is how you get your feedback, and feedback is the only way your project gets better. Too many student teams are afraid to show their project because they think it's not as good as it should be or fear the idea might get stolen. That mentality can hold you off from achieving greater things, just get it out there.”
Tiare speaks to the unique value of joining Imagine Cup. “The Imagine Cup can help there. Anytime I speak to students who have a great project, I really recommend submitting to Imagine Cup. First of all, it’s a free competition - and most aren’t! Plus, other tech competitions are tough to get into, and you are often not competing against other students, but professional, advanced developers. Imagine Cup is the competition with equal resources for everybody; there’s no other competition like that.”