The developer of Order Up!! speaks on the retail and digital scenes and their experience working with Nintendo.
In 2009, a Wii game called Order Up!! was released to positive reviews, but little-to-no marketing. Now, three years later, the game is coming back with a vengeance on multiple platforms. After hitting the retail market in Europe last December, the studio decided that a digital release was a better fit in North America. In the next few months, the game will be available on the 3DS eShop. We talked to Chris Rausch, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Supervillain Studios about that decision, and the rocky road to release that the game has seen. We found his answers were interesting and revealed a lot about the nature of the retail market today, and we think you'll agree.
NWR: Now that it's been a few years since Order Up!! launched on Wii, were you happy with how it performed compared to your expectations? What prompted you to continue bringing this game to new platforms?
Chris Rausch: You know honestly, we didn’t know what to expect. What we knew was that we had created something that we really loved at the end of the day. When the initial concept of "Hey, how about a cooking game" was presented to us by Zoo/GreenScreen (who actually briefly owned us at the time), it was hardly the type of thing that we jumped at. But after the team started talking about what this could be, we went for it, and ended up with something really fun and funny. Unfortunately, the game came out right around the time that the financial markets were crashing, and Zoo's investment plans had to completely change, thus there was almost zero advertising for the game's release. Then the reviews started coming in and people were liking it just as much as we did, so while that was awesome, it was also a bit more heartbreaking that no one really knew it existed. Sales-wise, the game did OK in spite of all that, but we really felt like the opportunity to build awareness for something really good was lost. So, a couple of years later (and with us having bought back our studio), we got the rights to the property from Zoo so that we could try and find new ways to get it out there. There were brand new audiences and control devices that fit great with this type of game, and we set out to try and find partners that would help us get there.
NWR: Last year, the game came out in Europe at retail. Why has there been such a delay in getting the version out in North America?
CR: When we first started shopping around the prospect of a 3DS and Playstation Move version of the game, FunBox Media jumped right at it. 3DS wasn't yet released and had great buzz, and the Playstation version wasn't actually limited to the Move controller, so they were very excited. They were formed by some ex-Zoo folks who had been through similar hard times with that whole period, and were big fans of Order Up, then and now. As time went on, we were still looking for a publishing partner for North America. We had serious interest from several, but the more time went on, the more we kept hearing about how their retail projections were getting more and more grim. This isn't a $60 blockbuster with a $40 million dollar ad campaign, just a fun and simple game for anyone to pick up and enjoy. Unfortunately, that middle area at retail is getting slimmer and slimmer. If you’re not Halo, Uncharted, Skyrim, or stuff like that, retail is not particularly interested in you anymore, and traditional publishers are quick to follow, obviously. We were very fortunate to finally land with Ignition, who were really excited about the game (it's the highest rated cooking game out there) and the potential for what looked to be new and developing casual audiences. But once they started running their numbers, again, that retail scene wasn't picking up the interest that we'd hoped for. This put us past the Holidays and into the first quarter of this year, while they basically reset and represented the game to buyers as it was now completely finished. They were just as devastated as we were. In all of that time, the 3DS has been a really bumpy ride at retail, as we all know, unfortunately, which makes those retail buyers even more gun-shy. Have you walked in to a Best Buy or Target and checked out their 3DS section? It's pretty slim. There are a bunch of cart/card games that I know of that just aren't even carried (Cave Story 3DS anyone?). And the Best Buys around me typically look like a tornado hit the video game isles. Awesome. It breaks my heart, but it's almost like no one is even trying anymore. I found the game (PS3) at one GameStop near me (and not even carried at 3 others), and it was 4 inches off of the floor, along an endless column of case spines that no one will ever see unless they're actually looking for it. I didn't even see it myself. My son found it, and we were both looking for it specifically. This was even the week it was released! That just sucks, no two ways about it. So delays aside, it was a struggle just to get it out there at all.
NWR: Having now dealt with the digital distribution platforms held by Apple and Sony, how does the eShop stack up in terms of flexibility and and ease of use from a developer standpoint?
CR: We're really excited about the eShop release, because hopefully this is exactly where a game like ours can thrive. And this may be where 3rd parties find the most success on 3DS in general. You’re not competing with the Nintendo 1st party blockbusters here, so you can really stand out. Apple is great, but the iOS game is a re-designed and compartmentalized version, for both space (app size) and audience considerations. The reception there has been incredible though, so in terms of finding an audience for Order Up in general, that has been outstanding. There are now 3.25 million people out there that are familiar with Order Up, thanks to that version of the game. But they're missing quite a bit of the story, characters, and humor of the full game. The eShop will be able to give players the full, story-driven game with all of the extra touches that we've added. Nintendo has also shown to be excited about the game coming to the eShop, so hopefully they’ll help get it some visibility. The submission process is pretty similar to a retail game, but where you see the difference is in the release opportunities once the game has been approved. There's no waiting for manufacturing, or distribution, it's just ready to go, so that's where your flexibility is greatest with digital in general. I don't believe there's a lengthy queue either, like some other services. The game will be hitting the eShop in Europe and North America with our same publishing partners (FunBox and Ignition) and both are really excited again to see what it can do.
NWR: Where did the original idea for Order Up!! begin at? It seems like an interesting fusion of a few other idea that have hit the market such as Cooking Mama and Diner Dash, but with a unique twist.
CR: An upstart publisher (GreenScreen…later ZOO) had actually acquired us in 2007, wanting us to be a new IP creator, based on several internal concepts and designs that we had. But first and foremost they wanted to test the waters with something that wasn't overreaching. They actually brought up the cooking theme, as a couple of them were big foodies. We went around on it and made sure that they were on board with us making it more funny and off the wall, rather than a more serious simulator or cooking trainer tone. From there we just ran with it. We definitely took a look at Cooking Mama when it came around, and it actually steered toward some of the simplicity of our game. We tended to get lost in Mama with so many steps to cook an item. We forgot what we were making a lot of the time. And other than Mama's 2 or 3 lines, the game has no other characters to speak of. We definitely wanted to do more with character animation and the feeling of being in a world, more than just a kitchen backdrop. Other stuff like Diner Dash had some fun strategy elements in dealing with customers, so we really aimed to simplify mechanics on both sides of the restaurant experience to deliver a somewhat deeper game that anyone could pick up and have fun with.
NWR: How does the 3DS version of the game differ from the Wii version?
CR: It has a all of the new content that we added, including the new Kung Fusion restaurant, the reinvented drive-thru Burger Face restaurant, ninja waiter, new food, 3D features, new music, and more. It also controls differently, of course, with all of the cooking motions and the menu ticket interface being redesigned for the touch screen. It's really cool. We’re really happy with it. Oh and it plays left or right handed!
NWR: What are your thoughts on Nintendo launching into the "full games for download" mindset this fall? If that kind of market was present today, would that have influenced your decision to move Order Up!! to the eShop?
CR: I think it's great! I think 3rd parties and independent developers like us will really have new opportunities to put stuff out there. Hopefully we can be one of the earlier offerings in a long line of successful releases that really bolster the library. The device itself is great, so I'd really love to see it succeed.
NWR: Finally, do you have any games in development now or in the near future for Nintendo platforms?
CR: Well, we have a pitch for "Order Up 2: Return of the Chef"! Wii U is definitely in our plans, and we've talked to several publishers about the future of Order Up as well. But we’re not quite there yet. A lot of it hangs on reconnecting with an audience on the consoles, so we're really hoping for success as a download title. We also had an Adventure/RPG game in development for the Wii, during the same time that we were working on Order Up, which there is evidence of on the internet. We got the rights to that back at the same time as Order Up, so I'd love to get a chance to revisit that world for a Wii U game. The world and character designs are awesome. I think the tablet would open up some incredible co-op and new play mechanics for it (it was a drop-in/drop-out party game, much like you can drop in and out of any of the Lego games). We're also working on a fun new Tower Defense/Offense game called Tower Wars (check it out!) that would be an excellent Wii U game, both in terms of style and control potential.
Order Up!! is set to launch on the 3DS eShop sometime before the end of June, with a demo hitting beforehand. Stay tuned to NWR for more coverage of this game in the next few months.