Eyebrow Interactive / Dabe Alan
Closure floundered on PSN, given second chance on Steam: when good games slip through the cracks
Promoting your game is hard work. You need to reach out to the press, try to sell writers and editors on the idea that your game is worth coverage, and stand out from the mountains of games released every week. “I know I didn’t do a very good job of it on the PlayStation,” Tyler Glaiel told me over coffee. He designed and programmed Closure, the game was reviewed well, and is now available on Steam. The problem is that it never broke through and found the sort of coverage that leads to good sales. The game floundered on the PlayStation, and he’s hoping for a second chance on the PC.
I asked for specifics on how the game sold on the PlayStation Network, and Glaiel refused to share numbers, but he did indicate the situation was pretty dire. “I thought, oh shit, we kind of got to go release on Steam as soon as we can, now,” he said.
The importance of reviews, and promotion
Closure is a 2D puzzle game featuring a rather dour theme. Comic artist and writer Jhonen Vasquez described it as “genuinely unnerving,” and that’s something coming from the creator of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.
Closure was self-published on the PlayStation Network, so almost all the promotion fell on Glaiel’s shoulders. Sony did invite them to Fantastic Arcade, there was a Destructoid article written where the headline compared Closure to Limbo, but said that Closure was good. I winced in sympathy. “There was like one paragraph saying that Closure is good, and three saying that Limbo sucks. I tried not to compare the game to Limbo, they are completely different.” I’ve linked the article above, and while it’s not as bad as Glaiel describes it, I can see his frustration. Glaiel also pointed out that he released the flash version of Closure before Limbo was announced.
There is some evidence that Glaiel is a little sensitive about people linking the two games in their coverage. “When people call it a copycat it kind of bothers me. I should just tell the press to say it’s nothing like Limbo, stop comparing it to Limbo, but they’re not going to do that,” he told me.
He also brought up some interesting stats about game reviews. He looked up reviews on PlayStation Network titles versus Xbox Live Arcade, and found that many PSN games only see eight or nine reviews total, where Xbox Live Arcade games are reviewed on upwards of 30 outlets. It took them a number of days to get to the minimum reviews necessary to even get a Metacritic score. (The game now has an 82 percent score with 10 reviews).
The reviews themselves were close to gushing. “Closure’s stunning aesthetics add a great deal to the game’s overtly somber feel. Likewise, the music provides perfect accompaniment that furthers the adventure’s sad, almost desperate arc,” IGN said about the game.
Destructoid was likewise effusive in its praise. “Closure’s faults can’t prevent it from, at times, reaching some of the greatest heights in the puzzle-platforming genre. Once you get to the final ten stages, you are in pure puzzle-platforming bliss. Or hell. I suppose, bliss, then hell, then bliss again,” the site’s review stated. Sadly, none of these positive reviews led to a bump in sales.
A second chance on Steam
Glaiel wouldn’t say what it would take for the game to be a successful on Steam, although he did share that the game would have broken even on the PSN… as long as no one on the team draws a salary. Closure was approved for Steam once it won an Independent Games Festival award; the low sales on the PlayStation Network merely pushed them to release the game out on PC quickly. I was told it took very little work to get the game running well on the PC; the title was always also aimed at the platform.
Luckily, Glaiel has plenty of time to grow from this experience. “I’m 22 years old, which many people don’t know. I didn’t want that used against me in business meetings,” Glaiel told me. He’s learned much from the experience of launching a game on a major platform, and has become much more media savvy since Closure was released. He told me that he had talked to Eurogamer to explain why the game wasn’t available in Europe. That’s a good question, why isn’t the game available in Europe? He smiled and said I’d have to read the article.
He’s also spent a few months helping Team Meat’s Edmund McMillen code the Basement Collection, which helped to pay his bills. I was curious how those sorts of business deals work in the world of indie gaming. It’s not rare for people to pool talent, but I didn’t know if the relationships were ever formalized. “I’ve known Edmund for a while, I made Aether with him, you can see that clip in Indie Game: The Movie, so that was before Super Meat Boy. He asked if I wanted to do the collection and I said yeah, sure. He asked how much of a percent do I want, I asked for this much of a percentage, and he said that’s fine.”
That sort of relationship doesn’t make Glaiel nervous. “If he did anything against that, or screw me over, what would that get him? He’s a good person,” he explained. “That was a good, short project.”
Glaiel came up in the world of flash games, where gaining a few million views wasn’t necessarily hard, but of course there’s very little money to be made in the market. “It’s really hard to get people to pay attention to you,” he explained. “Making the game, I can’t say it’s easy, but that’s the part that comes more naturally to me. You’re able to make the game and it’s good, and winning awards and competitions. But getting people to post your trailers or announcements and stuff or review the game… It took long enough to make that I never felt we were close enough to release to start really pushing the press, and then when it became time to start doing that, I had no good press contacts. I had a couple of them, but it wasn’t enough.” He said he should have started the process earlier, and pushed for more coverage. Glaiel was also doing interviews at PAX Prime, as he tried to drum up more press support for the game.
It’s hard knowing why good games don’t catch fire, but at least the modern gaming industry allows smaller games a second and even third chance across the various methods of distribution and consoles available to consumers. Closure is available on Steam, and it’s definitely worth the $10.