Inside the Incubator: Ninja Tag and Sumer

This is the second story in a series by Game Center alumni Justin Snyder chronicling the eight games progress in the 2015 Incubator.

As the crew of incubator participants work (mostly) silently at their desks, the tense atmosphere is palpable. As , and the developers who want to exhibit their projects at upcoming convention are furiously polishing their submissions, putting together press kits, sprucing up their websites, and fine-tuning builds of their games.

pax10“The deadlines snuck up on me,” says Leandro Ribeiro, designer of Ninja Tag. “There were five festivals that were all due in the same day, and I spent that whole day just working on submissions.” One of those was PAX Prime, an annual convention in Seattle that has grown to be one of the largest gaming-focused events in the world. Leandro wasn’t totally sure he would go, even if Ninja Tag was accepted, with the exorbitantcost it would take to cover the trip.

 

“I remember everyone saying [going to PAX] was really expensive,” says Leandro. “So I got this email from them and I didn’t even read it because I didn’t think I would actually go.” But he showed it to Gabe Cuzillo, another incubator dev, as he was about to delete it and Gabe showed him that it was important.  As opposed to a run-of-the-mill acceptance, Ninja Tag had been awarded a spot on the PAX 10, the highest honor the convention gives. The sincere mix of surprise and excitement still came through in Leandro’s voice as he relayed this story a week later.

Every year, prior to the convention, a group of 50 industry experts plays through all of the submitted games and chooses the 10 best based on “gameplay and fun-factor.” Past Pax 10 selections have gone to games like Ridiculous Fishing, Rogue Legacy, Towerfall, Antichamber, and Fez, so Ninja Tag is in some very good company. This year’s selections were announced just two weeks ago, and the timing could not have been better, as Leandro launched the Steam Greenlight campaign for Ninja Tag just prior to the announcement. The traffic that poured into his newly-created website was directed to the Greenlight page, and the campaign has already found success and the game is cleared for release when the time comes.

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While Leandro is dealing with the unexpected twist that is PAX 10, and others are working on their own exhibition plans, some of the teams have started working more closely with the incubator advisors in a new aspect of the program added this year. Advisors have been given the option of “adopting” one of the games and focusing more of their time on it, working with the team and providing consistent feedback, planning advice, etc. While other, similar programs will see advisors come in periodically, offload their knowledge, and drop out again, the minds behind the incubator have introduced this new practice in hopes that the right mentors will gravitate toward the games to which they can offer the best insight and work with them more closely. To encourage that further, adoption isn’t mandated in anyway, and is instead left entirely up to the advisors. While the reasoning behind their decision can vary, several have already jumped at the chance to focus their efforts on a particular project.

One such advisor is Simon Ferrari, a New York native who’s returned to join the NY indie scene after attending . He has always gravitated toward eSports and local multiplayer games in both his personal taste and his work, which is ostensibly what drew him to partner with Josh, Misha, Geoffrey, and Sig, the team behind Sumer. Their first meeting came on a Friday night after a long day of working on the game, but after two hours of discussion and deliberation, the group came away with a more focused plan for release and a new energy to get working. Things like finalizing their website and forming their company, which most would vaguely describe as “next on the list” are the things that they referred to as “urgent priorities” that they would be starting on the very next day. Meanwhile, Simon was also encouraging them to start investigating publishing partners, so they would have the time to explore their options and lock down a contract, if necessary, before the end of the incubator. While some of this year’s incubator projects are looking at self-funding and releasing totally independently, Sumer and a few others knew from the beginning that they would want to find publishing partners.

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The crew is targeting both console and PC for release, so publishing the game on their own has never been on the table. While this route means reaching out to the indie publishing wings of both Sony and Microsoft, there are other options they are also investigating. One such option is Indie Fund, a sort of venture capital firm for indie games. The fund was started by a group of successful indie developers who wanted to insure that new devs would be able to secure a funding source that wouldn’t take a debilitating cut of the profits and inadvertently stifle their growth.

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Ninja Tag and Sumer are at very different points in their development process, which speaks to just how varied that process can be. They have been in the incubator for the same amount of time, but while Leandro has spent most of that time hashing out new features and searching for the most fun his concept can be, the Sumer devs are ready to focus on publishing partnerships and developing the business side of things. They have the benefit of being a team, which means the work can be split up and move at a quicker pace than a solo dev, like Leandro. But, Ninja Tag benefits from having a single, clear designer at the controls, crafting the experience with the finest idea of what it should be. Despite their different places in the overall design process, both of these projects are moving at breakneck pace toward the end of the incubator and, ultimately, release. All of us watching from the sidelines are  excited to see where they go and, perhaps even more so, how they get there. If you want to read more about these or any of the other 2015 Incubator projects, you can find them through the Game Center’s hub.