Steam sales have made The Swindle dev’s IP “more valuable than it’s ever been”


It’s been exactly three years since the release of the wonderfully foul-mouthed and commendably comic Time Gentlemen, Please!, and four things have happened since then: Size Five Games’ main man Dan Marshall began work on steampunk puzzle platformer The Swindle, then he started planning a sequel to Time Gentlemen, Please!, then some other guy raised three and a bit million dollars to fund his own adventure game, and Size Five Games won a BAFTA for a twin-stick shooter about sexually transmitted diseases.

We poked Dan Marshall and made him think long and hard about what he’d done, what he’d change about Time Gentlemen, Please! if he could, why he won’t use Kickstarter, what’s happening with The Swindle and how Steam sales, contrary to what EA’s David DeMartini would have you believe, are a very good thing indeed.

PCGN: So, where have you put your BAFTA?
Dan: It’s in the office, on a shelf, glaring at me with its one hollow eye like a Doctor Who baddy, reminding me that the next thing won’t be as good and I’ll never see this sort of acclaim ever again.

PCGN: Time Gentleman, Please! turns three years old today, does that surprise you? Or do you have a reminder set on your phone?
Dan: I hadn’t realised that, actually. I should seize the opportunity for a Steam Sale, or at very least some sort of bundle. Can you believe it’s been three years and despite all the great reviews and high, high praise there are still millions upon millions of people out there who haven’t bought a copy of the excellent Time Gentlemen, Please!? Those people make me sick.

PCGN: Do you still get player feedback on it? Has anybody been offended, or said anything really lovely about your work?
Dan: Yeah, I still get loads of lovely emails. Usually after a sale when people have finally cracked and gone “FINE, I’LL TRY IT”. They normally send me an email thanking me for reminding them of The Good Olde Days, of why they’d enjoyed games like Monkey Island in the first place.Maybe that’s part of why TGP does so well, it’s a retro game that you played when you were a kid, but with the swearing and naughtiness you giggle at as an adult.

Some people moan about TGP’s sense of humor (I’ve used the American spelling there, because the people who moan seem to invariably be American), and think it’s childish or immature. Which is a shame, because while on the surface there’s quite a lot of that, there’s actually some clever, deep, dark satire in there or jokes about smarty-pants things, or pop culture stuff. It’s one of the things that it gets praised for – if a joke’s not to your taste, keep clicking, because it can go from nob gags to Nietzsche in a heartbeat.

PCGN: Do you appreciate that game any differently now, three years on? Would you change anything about it?
Dan: I think the only thing I’d probably like to do given all the money in the world would be to hire a trendy artist to give it a swishy, exciting visual makeover. With professional graphics and animation, that game would be amazing. I’d keep the walkcycles though, obviously, they’re the best joke. I suspect part of why despite three years of great reviews and high, high praise, people are still hesitant. The “let’s make it just looks shitty, like South Park did” doesn’t really help when you’re trying to sell a game, I guess.

While I was there I’d probably put in voice acting. That probably puts people off too these days.

PCGN: Where do the majority of sales come from this long after release? Visibility on Steam must have a huge effect?
Dan: Yeah, sales from the website still trickle in, but I’d say most cash probably comes from Steam. Fortunately they filter by Metacritic, and with TGP at 84 I suspect it piques some interest that way. I stopped actively plugging it long ago, but it’s still being talked about and finding new players.

PCGN: Origin bossman David DeMartini recently said that Steam sales “cheapen intellectual property”. Well your intellectual property must be positively worthless now?
Dan: Yeah, the game goes on sale every time Steam have a sale, it’d be stupid not to. Steam sales bring a heap of new people looking for bargains, and these days people are happy to take a gamble when it’s less than a dollar.I can’t see how that’s cheapened the intellectual property, though. Quite the opposite – there are now countless more fans pestering me for a third game, doing Let’s Play videos on youTube, talking about it, sending me fan art, that sort of thing. The IP’s more valuable now than it’s ever been.

PCGN: How is The Swindle shaping up? You’ve said you’re looking for artists, will the game look vastly different to what we’ve already seen?
Dan: It’s not looking massively different. For someone as new to programming as I am, it’s actually the art side of things I’ve found hardest. There’s a boring business part to it – in that given that I’m determined to make as much of The Swindle on my own as possible, I need to hit an art style that I can easily produce assets… but I don’t want the game looking arse. So there’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over exactly what the game’ll look like. I’m getting there, but it’s been a huger slog than I’d anticipated. That’s why I’ve released so few screenshots, and no video. The visuals just aren’t quite nailed, yet…

PCGN:What’s the last thing you added to it?
Dan: I’ve just added turrets. For a comedy game about stealing, I’ve accidentally made them damned terrifying. Level 1 turrets just sit there shooting, like a normal boring turret you’ve seen a million times, but at higher levels they get spidery legs, or start flying around the place like a daddy long legs. They’re horrible, they freak me out.

PCGN: Why are you averse to Kickstart-style pre-funding of The Swindle? It feels like you’re one of the few indies today without a cap in hand.
Dan: I’m not averse, per se. I’m certainly not saying “never”. It’s just early in development, and I’ve got the cash to make this game so it’s not really necessary. That said, there are two evils to Alpha Funding that have massively put me off.

The first one, which people will probably think is silly, is that I’m a solo dev. Let’s say I do a Kickstarter and raise a million, and then there’s a sudden gust of wind and I fall out of a window and die. All that money, all those fivers, all that promise… the game would never get made. People would probably wind up hounding my loved ones “I GAVE HIM A FIVER FOR THAT GAME AND NOW HE’S DEAD WHAT ABOUT MY RIGHTS” just sort of upsets me a bit. So until the game’s further down the line, I’m steering clear. Obviously for dev teams of 2 or more, that’s not so much of an issue.

The second thing is probably more serious – I love my job. It’s fun! I do what I want, and no one can tell me how to live my life. I’ve spoken to a couple of indies who have gone the alpha-funding route, and they’re living in this perpetual-crunch hell. The people who funded the game won’t let them take a break, or start grumbling about this-or-that feature, jabbing their “I’m a publisher now” fingers into the development process. It’s just messy, and it’s something I’d like to avoid if possible.

PCGN:I’m sorry if you’re bored of explaining that.
Dan: It’s alright, but that’s the last time I’m doing it.

You can keep up with development of The Swindle by following @danthat on Twitter. He also does some jokes from time to time, which is nice if you like that sort of thing.