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Interviews

March 22, 2012

‘Making a Game For Everyone is a Game For No-One:’ An Interview with Arrowhead Game Studios

Things are going well for Swedish development house Arrowhead Game Studios. Magicka, the absurdly hilarious and chaotic magician simulator, has sold over 1.3 million copies since its release last January. And they’ve announced their next project (in partnership with Pixeldiet Entertainment): The Showdown Effect, a side-scrolling arena combat game, not unlike Super Smash Bros. but with lots of 80’s action movie cliches.

With a pile of DLC, PvP, and a at least one more expansion on its way, Magicka was a major success. I got a hold of them to see what the team was feeling after such a huge achievement, and the influences behind Magicka.

Magicka has sold over 1.3 million copies since its release last January. How does that feel?

Amazing!  We knew it would do good – but it was a breakaway success and it’s been a real challenge to catch up to all expectations and requests from gamers.

It seems like you’ve had a great relationship with Valve for promoting the game. How helpful was having Steam as a main platform?

Actually Steam plays no part at all in promotion before the release. But what they’re really good at is once they see that a game “takes off” they can really help push it through their channels in fantastic ways.  It’s been a breeze working with them to do different fun activities! Like the summer promotion where we gave away a PVP map for free.

With 4 million DLC packs sold — and the first expansion pack selling over 500,000 copies — you don’t seem like you’re stopping anytime soon, announcing yet another one in development. How important do you think DLC support is for games?

DLC is extremely important – first of all it’s all about giving the gamers the kind of content they want. Instead of us spending an extra year of development trying to guess what players want we’re happy with releasing a smaller game and then listening closely to what players want and then give them exactly that. Secondly it’s a great way to expand the financial success of the – which in turn allows us to make even more Magicka.

Did you plan for all the extra content during development?

Not really – we had a million ideas of course – and once player feedback started pouring in we sorted through those ideas and made the ones we felt gamers wanted the most.

Playing it cooperatively adds a neat dynamic to the combat and you’ve since added PvP. Was multiplayer always something you wanted to include?

Absolutely – Multiplayer together with the spellcasting system are the two most important factors of Magicka. Playing with friends is always more fun.

It released with some bugs that were later fixed and even referenced to in DLC; what are your thoughts on making games playable before they’re finished, like Minecraft? Would you ever consider trying that approach?

Not really – being an indie developer without any marketing support you don’t have a choice – the only way to build hype for your game is to release it earlier and hope word of mouth does marketing for you. Since Magicka was developed with a publisher (Paradox Interactive) we could keep up interest in the game with a great marketing campaign. Since a game like Minecraft only comes along once every 10 years going down the path we do feels better.

It has a distinct sense of humor, something many games have a hard time pulling off. Do you think that it worked in your favor?

It’s actually kind of simple – we operate according to a very important principle when we do humor or game development in general – “A joke for everyone is a joke for nobody”. Essentially it meant that we never tried to be particularly funny or design/write jokes for a wide audience. The jokes/humor has to come naturally – that’s why different people find different things funny. If you don’t like ACDC you don’t get those music jokes – but that Highlander joke is hilarious if you get it. And that’s really it – gamers are smart – they know when they are being pandered to. Having smarter more niche jokes means that when they get it they feel, rightly so, that they are on the inside.

You guys are very open about your target audience and it’s apparent in Magicka. Is that going to be something you’ll carry over into future games?

Absolutely. We just announced our next game – The Showdown Effect  – and again we try to target a very specific fanbase – “Making a game for everyone is a game for no-one”.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from Magicka’s development that you’re going to apply to future titles?

Prioritize, work on what’s most important. Iterate a lot. Remember to have fun doing it.

You’ve mentioned your interest in console versions before, are you going through with any console ports?

A big part of Magicka’s success has been that both Arrowhead and Paradox have been very flexible. We updated the game so much in the beginning that even pirates had a hard time keeping up. Not that a game should need that much updating but it shows how we like to work. Fast and close to the gamers. We’ve followed up with lots and I mean LOTS of content, small and big. This wouldn’t have been possible on consoles as they have much stricter processes for getting stuff approved. So we lose a lot of that flexibility and ability to give gamers what they want. With that said Magicka is designed as a couch co-op game and we’d of course love to release it on consoles!  But the way the industry works is that we can only build it for the consoles and then Microsoft and Sony have to decide if they want it.

A sequel has been confirmed elsewhere, how has progress been going on that?

Has it? Where? To be perfectly honest we (Arrowhead/Paradox) are focusing on The Showdown Effect and then we’ll see what we’ll do. More Magicka games are an inevitability.  But right now we also want to create a  ”more is more” experience in The Showdown Effect. Something completely different!



About the Author

Tyler Colp
Tyler Colp is a writer at SideQuesting. He's into dying, restarting, intentionally going the wrong way, and accidentally skipping cutscenes. When he's not talking about games or tech, he's probably confessing his childlike love for Lego.