I’m very sad to announce today that I’m cancelling production of The Stanley Parable Mobile Edition.
Okay, yes, you have questions. Let’s answer them one at a time.
The game entered production like this: A small team of independent developers contacted me in late 2011 saying they wanted to help me work on an iphone version of TSP. They had no completed work to their name but I said they were free to mock something up and show it to me. I maintained throughout that I would have the right to veto the project at any time if I did not think the quality of the game met a certain standard. But for a long time it seemed to meet that standard. The team produced some art and level design that I quite liked, and they were optimistic that it wouldn’t be more than a few months that we’d have the entire thing together. Excited about the game, I began showing off photos on the website and an early build to people at GDC.
But the surface-level impression doesn’t always tell the full story, and beneath the surface things were not how I wanted them to be. After the team missed a major deadline that they’d been telling me for weeks they’d hit, I began to more seriously question what they were telling me. This led to a series of conversations where I found that not only did at least one member of the team actively dislike working with me, they had been intentionally severing communication with me and avoiding my requests for information. Tip to independent developers: this is not a good thing to say to the person who controls whether or not your game gets released.
Keep in mind that I had only been involved with the development of the game from a distance. I tweaked the script to fit iphone, had the narrator record new dialogue, and asked for updates and looks at how the game was progressing. At the same time, I was deeply personally involved in the development of the HD Remix, investing more and more of myself in that game. It took several month to notice, but I was creating a gap in my own mind between games I was working on that I cared more about and games that I cared less about. By mid-2012 I was actively planning on releasing a game with my name on it (stanley iphone) that I didn’t particularly care whether anyone played it. That began to send up warning signals in my head, why was I releasing something I didn’t care about? I found myself hoping the game would not sell.
This happened about the same time communication broke down with the team. When the team told me they did not want to be working on the game I realized that zero people making this game wanted to be making it. Any money I might possibly (that being a very strong “POSSIBLY”) make on this couldn’t be worth sending a signal to my fans that I’m okay releasing games I don’t care about. I’d be lowering the standard of quality in my work for maybe some dollars, and that though just sends yucky shivers through my gut. I realize that many people were very excited to play the game, I regularly get posts from fans looking forward to the iphone version, and knowing that they’ll be let down is what makes this decision hardest. But I hope that the cancellation of the game conveys my desire to only put games in your hands that are absolutely fantastic, that I couldn’t be happier with, that are more than worth your time and money. This was not that game.
So what exactly was it? Basically it was the original Stanley Parable except on iPhone. I’d tweaked the original script to work on a socially-interconnected platform, so instead of a button at a computer that Stanley pushes, he has a device in his pocket that he carries with him everywhere, pressing it when commanded. He only knows of his co-workers’ existence because of lights on the wall of his office that light up when they also push their buttons, a play on the social interconnectedness of mobile devices. From there the same exact thing happens, the lights stop appearing, everyone is missing, you know the story. There were a number of iOS-related gags, like in the timer sequence the narrator would ask Siri to extend the amount of time on the clock, and instead of going to Half Life 2 you’d go to a fruit ninja clone. But again, other than that, there wasn’t anything that wasn’t in the original game. Plus you’d have to play with twinstick FPS controls on a touch screen. Ick.
So I think this decision was worth it. I take no pleasure in abandoning the work that the team did, nor in disappointing fans who were eager to play, but I’ve learned from my mistakes and this is one mistake I won’t make again. I believe that success in any creative field means knowing what to release as much as it means knowing what not to release, which of course means understanding yourself and the relationship you have with your fans. This experience has taught me that little bit more about what I think my fans do and don’t deserve, and perhaps over time I’ll be good enough at making that distinction to really earn your trust. In the mean time, as I make and learn from these mistakes, all I can do is convey my immeasurable gratitude for your support and understanding. <3