How Pivots Helped Us Define Our Game
If you are involved in the startup world, you probably know the importance of the term pivot. A pivot is a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth’’.
Basically, a pivot is when you change plans midway through and tweak your product to test a new avenue. You’re changing the direction of your ship before it crashes into the rocks ahead... While we didn’t know much about startups when we funded Bishop Games 3 years ago, we eventually pivoted a few times for our game Light Fall. In hindsight, the Light Fall from day 1 and the Light Fall from today are miles apart.
The First ‘Click’ [February 2014]
The initial idea for the game was to create something where gameplay would meet art, where aesthetic would actually be useful. That’s why we decided to play with the light. All the environment would be faded in darkness and all the interactive and dangerous elements would be standing in plain sight, under a bright light. Therefore, a poetic antithesis was born : darkness is your friend and light is your enemy. The idea was simple enough, and we thought that it would require one year of development. Can’t go wrong, right?
The First Pivot: The ‘Facelift’ [August 2014]
Although the initial idea wasn’t too bad, we were far from a groundbreaking game. Oh, a world without light, cool. At that time, the visual style was solely black and white, which obviously didn’t help standing out. Even worse, we were identified numerous times as a ‘‘Limbo-clone’’, which in retrospect wasn’t completely wrong.
Taking all things in consideration, we realized we needed something else. We needed to develop further our world’s concept and shake away the Limbo comparisons. That’s when the idea of Numbra came about. We wanted the game to take place in an old and forgotten place. As if we had discovered a place with dinosaurs still alive on Earth.
We started to elaborate the different regions of Numbra, each with its own color palette, environment style and overall theme. That’s when we added the much needed colors into Light Fall. At this point, we felt pretty confident with our game. We had effectively created a mysterious feeling for the game universe and had developed a beautiful art style. We were ready to conquer the world and win all the awards!
The Second Pivot: ‘Bulking Up’ [December 2014]
After applying to several contests and funding programs, reality hit us right in the face a second time. We were rejected and turned down at every occasion. A comment from one of the judges still resonates to this day: ‘‘the game is visually appealing but remains a banal platformer in the end’’.
We still needed to work hard on our game and improve it, but at least the visual changes had been a plus. So we sat down as a team and questioned ourselves: ‘‘What makes Light Fall a common platformer and how exactly do we change that?’’
Our discussions led us to the conclusion that we needed to change the way people play platformers in general. We could do so in developing the story of Light Fall and empowering the player with a brand new in-game mechanic.
We had this cool world of Numbra and its many regions to explore, but we had never thought about the purpose of the player. Why is the player travelling around Numbra? What is even happening in Numbra? That’s when we started to create the whole story for the game.
It was also at this time that we thought about the Shadow Core, our main game mechanic, to give unparalleled freedom to the player. With the Shadow Core, the player would be able to create platforms beneath his feet and play the way he wanted to. Ultimately, both of these ideas shared the same goal: to offer complete liberty to the player. Liberty was the core motivation of Light Fall and we applied it to the many facets of the game; hidden paths and secret passages, hidden collectibles, different ways to beat a challenge, etc.
It took us quite some time to polish these ideas, but we were ready for round 2. We were ready to face the public’s opinion at PAX, on Steam Greenlight and ultimately on Kickstarter. It was the best way to see if we were in the right direction.
The Final Pivot: ‘The Last Touch’ [December 2015]
Thankfully, our ideas were well-received by the community this time around. Our successful Kickstarter and Greenlight campaigns were proof of that. The press was also interested in our game; we even made the frontpage of IGN.com!
Still, we felt that we needed one last push to make Light Fall a memorable game. It was at PAX East that we realized the true potential of Light Fall. Initially, we put an in-game timer in the PAX demo to compile data and see the length of an average playthrough.
Instead, we realized that friends would use the timer to race against each other while playing on two stations, side by side. It was there that we got the idea of creating a game mode for speedrunners. The Speedrun mode would not only present a new challenge to our players and increase the replay value of the game, it would finally bring competition in solo games.
The Speedrun mode also allowed us to get in touch with numerous streamers and speedrunners alike. These guys will slowly become influencers for the game. Twitch and YouTube are both very popular among speedrunners, and as such, will become important diffusion channels for our game.
This was the final pivot. With this new idea, we were confident that this time we would be able to get the funding we so much needed. And we did! It took us a lot of iterations and work, but we eventually were able to find success with our game by pivoting throughout the development.