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Jul 21st, 2017

On Sonny and Expectation

Sometimes releasing a game doesn't go as you've planned, and that means it's time for some honest talk and introspection.

Back in January, we released a game called Sonny. It was a sort of remake, remaster, reimagining of a series of Flash games by Krin Juangbhanich that had attained cult status over the years. Krin had been working hard on the game for years, and as publisher, we were not only proud, but excited to share it with the fans who had been waiting forever for it.

So imagine our surprise and horror when so many of them hated it.

Okay, well, maybe “hate” is a strong word. At the end of the day, Sonny, which is available on iTunes and Steam, has received mixed reviews. Some people really liked it, others really didn’t, and still others thought it was just okay. You expect criticism when you release a game, and if you’re smart, you never, ever dismiss it. Learn to separate the constructive stuff from the vitriol, sure, but no matter how much it stings, you wade through it and dig in and figure out what you can use to improve in the future.

In the case of Sonny, the bulk of the criticism for the fans we had thought would be thrilled came down to several points. The game wasn’t free, it wasn’t a direct sequel to the original Flash games, and it was missing the character sprite animation and visible equipment those original games had as well. The problem is, despite what some people think, this wasn’t willfull neglect, greed, or cutting corners. Hence, the reason for this article.

Sonny not being free is the simplest to address, though in some cases the hardest for fans who are unable or unwilling to pay to swallow. The simple fact of the matter was that games cost money to make. In the case of Sonny, a not insignificant amount for an indie game. And further, they’re made by people who put time and effort and talent into creating them.

With their smaller scope and scale, the original Flash games could afford to be free because they were someone’s passion project made in their spare time. The new Sonny, however, was a premium release because it was made by a group of people who can’t live on retweets or likes, especially not with the way online gaming has changed so drastically in recent years.

Did we want to make money off of Sonny? Of course. Anyone who makes and releases a game hopes it does well. But we didn’t look at the project or its fanbase and simply see a cheap cash grab. We invested in Sonny and Krin because we believed in both the project and the person… and still do. With Krin, we wanted to release a great, successful game done right… and that’s what we thought we had done initially.

As for the animation and equipment, well, the most basic answer is that they were overlooked. At least, in terms of how much they would mean to players. There was never a point when we sat down, twirled our moustaches over the puppies we’d just tied to some train tracks, and made the active decision to omit them. They just weren’t something we considered as the game began to take shape. We saw what Krin was making, the amazing art that artist Jet Kimchrea was crafting, and we were excited. Nobody thought it was missing anything… and therein lies the problem.

The obvious problem with that is that we neglected to bring the fans into the process early on. We thought we knew what we were doing, that we were doing right by them, and by the time we opened up to beta testers to help us tweak the game’s notorious difficulty and started hearing about it, well, it was too late to address it. Obviously when you make a game like this that has such a long history with fans, it’s important to understand the things that really matter to them about it, and the simple truth is that we should have done more testing, much earlier in development, and talked to them about it. Some never would have been happy with a game that wasn’t free, but to pretend all the feedback we’ve received is invalid because of that would be ignorant on our part.

A lot of people want to know why we haven’t said we’ll be adding animation and equipment assets into the game, and, well, it just isn’t financially feasible. Again, nobody likes talking about money, but the fact is that the quotes we got back (yes, we did look into it) for the time and resources needed to add this in now go far beyond what makes sense for us. Sonny just hasn’t performed well enough to make that sort of expense reasonable, and to hope that it would eventually pay off is idealistic. And at the end of the day, we have to responsibly consider what’s best for the people we work with and not gamble with their livelihood.

It sucks. That’s the plain truth. Not just for fans, but for us, because we love making games, and we want to make great ones that people enjoy. Krin is a dedicated, passionate developer who has spent years of his life making and sharing this series with its fans, and he has never taken for granted their enthusiasm for it, which allows him and us to do what we do. In the months since Sonny’s release, in addition to bringing the game to Android and fixing bugs, Krin has released some fairly significant quality of life patches based on player feedback. And we’ve read all the feedback, good and bad, because we appreciate everyone who has taken the time to leave a review or send us a message telling us what they think. We appreciate all that support, even if sometimes it stings a bit.

At the end of the day, we’re still proud of Sonny. It’s the culmination of years of hard work and dedication from not just Krin, but everyone who has worked on it in any capacity. We know it’s not perfect, but we’ve still learned from it. If you check it out, or already have, we love you for it, and we hope you’ll stick around and see what comes next, both from us and Krin’s own future projects. We’re a company, yes, but we’re a company made up of people who want to keep growing and doing right by what we make, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Thanks for being here for it.

Sonny

Cult-hit RPG Sonny is challenging turnbased combat that requires strategic skill mastery to survive a dangerous world.

About the Author

Dora Breckinridge

Journalist with a passion for strong narratives and creative minds. Handles editorials, press, and public relations while acting as a creative liaison for developers.