I spoke to developer David Galindo over email about Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!, including the game's journey to release, and what's coming next. I recommend reading David's frank and fascinating recollection of how the launch went on Gamasutra, which inspired some of the questions below.
Can you talk about what stage you're at with CSD2 now? You've been adding a lot of updates to the game post-release—are you close to the finish line?
I think that the latest updates before v2.0, back earlier this year, would have been a nice sendoff to the game. But post 2.0, with the Barista Update and the additional improvements, has always been more of a thank you to all the fans for supporting the game. I could probably update this game forever, but there's a point where I need to start work on my next project, and I think after the console releases we're prepping right now it'll be a good time to move on. That said, there are still a few more smaller updates I have in mind for the game that will be released in the next few months.
You mentioned that you don't think CSD2 will make the same amount of money CSD did for a number of reasons. What do you think the challenges are of visibility on Steam now?
CSD 2 got a ton more coverage on Steam on the outset than CSD 1 did, full placement in the News section and major placements in the Winter sales, as well as further coverage once we got the Barista Update out in June. So the opportunity to succeed was there for sure, but I stumbled on the outset on launch. Your launch day is typically the biggest sales day of the lifetime of the game, especially for sequels, and the game was just a plain ol' mess day one. That's totally on me, for a lot of different reasons, but since then the game has been getting better and better. So I don't necessarily think CSD 2 not selling as much as CSD 1 is a part of the visibility problem, especially as we've been getting fantastic coverage. I think it's more about general sequel falloff, not nailing the launch, and just being in a much more competitive environment than ever before. But visibility is always in the back of my mind when releasing a game. Its partly why I've hired a PR team to help me break through everything- making a good game just isn't enough anymore.
You mentioned in the Gamasutra piece how you reached out to Adult Swim with a pitch to get them as your publisher. How important do you think publishers are to indie games?
I'm really of two minds about this. When I reached out to them, I was in pretty dire need of funding. Once I didn't hear back, I had to clamp down and set a release date and just go into full crunch mode so that I could have the game out in September. Had Adult Swim picked me up, I wouldn't have had to rush the game out before the end of the year and I think I could have really nailed the launch- but then the question is, would I have sold more copies to offset the publisher take? And I don't honestly know the answer to that. I don't think I would have.
If you can do it yourself and not give up the publisher's cut, the rewards are plentiful. I think at the time I wished I would have gotten the deal, but now that I'm away from the launch, not getting that deal was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I see some of the cuts they take—some I've heard as high as 50-60% of the cut after the standard 70% you get from distribution platforms—and I just can't believe how bad it can be for some devs. But at the same time I think, for safety and security, publishers are the way to go. It's still not a sure thing, and you're going to give up a lot in return, but if you're just starting out it's hard not to have that, especially in this highly competitive market.
What have you learned about your audience post-release? Have they surprised you? What kind of features and updates have they responded best to?
This is going to sound a bit strange, but I had no idea I had a fan base before I launched CSD 2. When I released it, I had these massive fans of the game, who loved the original, just tear me to pieces in some of the most negative Steam reviews I had at launch. I was like, wow, they really care about the game, that's amazing! Also I'm super sad now! Most of the people who didn't like it have moved on. Those who saw the potential, or actually liked what I did with the sequel, stuck with it and have really enjoyed all the updates I've been putting out. I'm at a Very Positive 88% User Rating on Steam with over a thousand reviews, up from the 80% where the game was at its lowest at launch, and I feel like I'm in a great place for my next game. I couldn't have done it without all of their positive feedback post-launch.
In spite of the market changing a lot in the time between releases, as you say in your Gamasutra piece, you're happy with the performance of the game. Do you think it helps that the subject of your game is so specific in standing out?
Oh, absolutely. When I made the first game, the main reason behind the second game was that I was worried that multiple games would kind of copy the "hardcore restaurant sim" angle I had. And while there have been a lot of great chef-themed games that have come out over the last few years (Overcooked, Battle Chef Brigade, many of the VR food simulators), I'm still kinda surprised that I'm in my own space here even after CSD 1 has been out for over six years. It really does pay to go outside the boundaries of what's being made right now. My next two projects are in areas that are still woefully under-represented, even with the thousands of games coming out every year. And because of that, I already have a nice advantage, and you need all the advantages you can get these days.
You're creating a studio and looking to hire developers—do you want to increase the scale of the games you're making, or is this partly to make the process of making games generally a bit easier on yourself?
A bit of both honestly. It would be super cool to be able to make two games at once- myself making a game and having a team doing something else. I see high profile indie devs make a game every four years or so and I think, man, there's no way I could be out of the market for that long. It would drive me crazy. I'd love to make a new game every year if I could. I am probably already crazy.
Can you say anything more about your next project?
I have two new projects, one that I just started production on in September and another I have lined up after that. The first new project I'm planning on announcing next year, and it's something you'd expect, but not at all in the way anyone would have thought. If that's not cryptic enough, the next project after that—one I shelved in order to make CSD 2 and already have about $250,000 invested in with art assets—is on a scale that could either be the biggest game I've ever made, or it could easily be the worst. I think about it every day. I can't wait.