Within the polity that is game making, Sportsfriends is something of a political statement.
It’s a game that argues for bringing back local multiplayer games. Anyone who played video games before consoles connected to the internet remembers gathering people up on the couch and playing games together in the same room at the same time.
Local multiplayer is very much out of fashion in the world of AAA games. Why play with two other people in your own living room when you could play with 77 people online?
Because being in the same room with other people is kind of fun — at least that’s what the crew of New York gamemakers who combined forces to make Sportsfriends believes. It’s a set of edgy, fun games with a little bit of a critique built in that very much speaks to broader agenda of the local gaming industry.
Even six or seven years ago, New York was pretty irrelevant in terms of video games.
We’ve been watching the indie game scene here for almost two years now, and, in our estimation, its tenets come down to these: bring people together, be nice and say something.
New York is too expensive for game studios, and that’s why it’s such a cool ferment for game making. That’s the argument that Crown Heights’ Douglas Wilson, co-owner of the cross-continental game company, Die Gute Fabrik, makes when he talks about why he returned to Brooklyn, from Copenhagen, where he’d studied game making and found business partners.
Wilson says a lot of great stuff is coming out of this place, but it’s not commercially driven. Which isn’t to say work from here doesn’t make money, but it tends toward the artsy or the experimental. And he thinks that’s good.
“Even six or seven years ago,” Wilson said, “New York was pretty irrelevant in terms of video games.” Not anymore.
While a lot of games are coming out of here, Sportsfriends is probably one of very few games for PlayStation.
Sportsfriends is actually a combination of four local multiplayer games:
- Johann Sebastian Joust: A motion controller game that’s more like IRL tag, but where music also tells you how to play. This is Wilson’s contribution.
- Hokra: A two-on-two, nonstop sports game that’s hockey-ish.
- Super Pole: Pole-vaulting meets Street Fighter? Here’s PewDiePie and CutiePie playing it.
- BaraBariBall: A 2D, 8-bit looking fighting game with elements of soccer or basketball.
The games are not like other stuff coming out for PlayStation, which is typically stuff coming out of big studios.
That aspect of game making is the one largely absent from New York City, as discussed at a recent Tech Triangle U event. That said, Wilson said Sony liked Sportsfriends. He said the company has grown warmer to indie makers in recent years, as illustrated by Philly’s Final Form Games landing its neoclassical shooter, Jamestown+, on PS4.
Real estate is so expensive here that it’s really hard to justify renting a bunch of office space to set up a studio, but with lots of skillful people around, they can meetup at coffee shops or the NYU Game Center or at jams and work together.
The idea of getting the four Sportsfriends games onto a console (in truth, it’s six games) reflects what amounts to a business strategy for the team. They didn’t do it to make money, exactly, but they had a feeling that every game would reach more people if they tried to move them together, onto a mainstream platform.
That said, porting a game from web or mobile over to a console is no small feat. They needed a good amount of money to do it. Wilson said the makers all agreed to do it under Wilson’s company, so it had a legal home, and agreed on a deal for sharing income. Then they came up with a very realistic budget, and put it up on Kickstarter for $150,000.
Wilson said that felt like a big number to all of them when they did it. “We hit it right on the nose,” he said. The team didn’t pay itself anything out of the Kickstarter money. It used it to pay 1.5 developers to get the thing ported and manage other business expenses, and it turned out to be just enough.
Looking back, Wilson said he’s glad they went for what they really needed. He said that failing to meet your Kickstarter goal is not nearly so bad as raising too little and then failing to deliver for those who gave you money.
If you check out the four (six) games in Sportsfriends, they clearly were all made with four different visions. That said, Wilson says they have a coherence in terms of what they do for people in the room. Additionally, he feels like they did a good job with the design of the opening screen in using that space, within the game, to make it feel of a piece.
This is not Die Gute Fabrik’s first foray into this space. It’s also part of making maybe the most subversive of all local multiplayers, B.U.T.T.O.N. Wilson doesn’t feel like there’s quite a full and robust market for these boundary-pushing games yet, but, with conferences and game jams and sites like Kill Screen Daily, he said, “Now there’s kind of an audience to make these games for.” Which may not be enough to keep a developer in housing yet, but it may be enough to keep them going.
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