Magicka's buggy launch: "We didn't know the game was being released"
Wizarding adventure Magicka might have gone on to sell 600,000 copies, but the game had a rocky start. When the game first launched, players experienced bugs that made it basically unplayable in both singleplayer and multiplayer, and it was weeks before it was stable.
At E3 last month, I spoke to Emil Englund, one of the founders of developers Arrowhead Game Studios, and asked him how the buggy launch happened.
PC Gamer: When the first game out it had quite a few bugs, how did that happen?
Emil Englund: Oh, I mean, you have to start from the beginning. First of all, we were students, we were a very small team. We didn't have any experience. We started working with Microsoft XNA initially, and we were looking at the XBox, and then halfway through we changed to the PC. So, I mean, already there you have a foundation for a lot of bugs. Combined with not having a lot of resources to try the game on different platforms, you know. I read an article in Game Developer Magazine about the Civilization 5 development, and they said, 'Oh, and we had engineers from Nvidia and AMD at our office who constantly helped us try the game on the different graphics cards.' We didn't have that. So it's kind of hard for us to do everything right from the get go.
Also, some other things. We didn't know the game was being released, the time that it did. It's kind of stupid, but we thought it was released the day after or something. And all of a sudden someone says, "It's live!" And we were working on the Day One patch already. We're like, "What!?" We had like three hours where the game pretty much didn't work because we hadn't got out there with the release patch. There were a few bugs that snuck through at the end. We had them fixed, but it wasn't distributed to Steam. It was a nightmare.
And then, of course, there were a lot of other bugs as well. Many of the bugs were simply things we hadn't noticed. We had beta testing, but nobody reported it, so we didn't find it. So the only thing we could do was promise everybody we were going to patch this a lot. Which we did. We pretty much lived at the office the first two weeks and just kept pushing out patches each day, to fix as much as possible just to show our good will. And it seemed to work out. People appreciated it, and we kept patching, only we had to put more and more space in between the patches. Right now, we have a lot better quality assurance about patches as well, to make sure that the new patches don't break the game further.
But yeah, working with XNA wasn't really helping us. And right now we have a lot more resources. I mean, Paradox is helping out a lot as well. If we need somebody that knows more about something, they'll help to get a contact for us to talk to, and that has increased quality for DLC and patches.
Magicka is now polished, and last month Arrowhead pushed out an enormous free update adding PvP. I asked Emil what had changed for them since the game's success.
PC Gamer: The game has sold 600k copies so far. How has that changed your lives?
Emil Englund:Oh, we actually have a salary now, which we didn't before. We had a really low one towards the end so we could actually pay our rent, and buy food without loaning from parents. Right now we have salaries so we can live regular lives. We managed to employ some more people. We've grown from 7 to 11 since release, which is always fun, to bring some fresh blood aboard. And I don't know, it's kinda strange, sometimes I just don't get how much we've sold, how successful the release has been. And though there were a lot of issues, we have more plans for the future, there's a lot more stability in the company now. I mean, there was no money in it at all at the start. Right now, we at least feel we might be able to get somewhere. I guess that's the main thing, that we have a salary, so we can live ordinary lives.
Magicka is available through Steam for £8.