Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of The Sandbox.
Hello, I´m Pablo “Oni” Iglesias, creator and lead developer of The Sandbox. The team working on this game consists of ten people and, while the company (Pixowl) is based in San Francisco, most of us work from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I originally started working on PSP and DS titles, then moved to mobile. As The Sandbox got a fanbase, it was a natural step to find the resources and start working on a PC version.
Where did the idea for The Sandbox come from?
The original idea of The Sandbox came from the underground genre of falling sand games, which have been around for 20 years or more. Our contribution to the genre is having brought it to the mainstream, with nice graphics, user friendliness and puzzle-like missions (which is a first for a falling sand game). Games like The Sandbox, Minecraft and Terraria ignite the imagination by offering the players the opportunity to create while playing, setting their minds free to come up with fantastic worlds!
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing The Sandbox?
We have found only success while developing The Sandbox. Never imagined that we would reach such a big audience. The mobile version has been downloaded more than 10 million times!
In its current form, how close is The Sandbox to your initial vision?
I can tell it’s pretty close to what my initial vision of the game was. Of course, some compromises had to be done when making the iOS original version, but the game grew stronger and was more widely accepted thanks to the opinion of every team member.
Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for The Sandbox and if you faced a similar challenge.
A great QA & Play-Testing team helps to put things in perspective, and that includes difficulty and flow-breaking features. Luckily, you cannot become an expert at The Sandbox. The Sandbox is by definition an open-ended type of game, so even when you know the main solution to a puzzle in a level, it doesn’t mean you can’t solve it in other ways. You can always improvise a new way to pass a level. In the Create mode, we have seen players become more and more skilled in certain subjects, such as Music or Pixel Art (sometimes both combined) or Electronics. It makes the Online Gallery worth visiting. Also, we’ve had a monthly update plan going for the past two years, which means new content that interacts with the old one and provides new mechanics. Right now we have almost 600% of the content we had on release day (May, 2012), and we plan to keep releasing stuff for at least another year.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring The Sandbox would run on the various PC system configurations?
As you can probably imagine, coming from a mobile platform means that our requirements were pretty low. =p We did add an HD (4x the resolution of mobile version) mode to it, but that was taking advantage of the superior power of the PC platform. Almost every computer will be able to play the game.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for The Sandbox.
The art style -pixel art- is a trademark of the falling sand genre. It provides a constraint to the gameplay possibilities, but it also empowers the imagination of the player. I’m really happy we got to keep it over less flexible approaches to world building. The level design team was a pioneer, no one (that I can think of) has done a puzzle oriented falling sand game. I only have compliments for what they did to the game. Minecraft opened a new way for players to build their worlds and share it. The Sandbox is following and improving upon this revolution!
The sound effects and music were very difficult to integrate, we didn’t want to tire the user with the same melody or overwhelm them with the same sound effect over and over again. I think we got it right. Having the users make their own songs is one of my favourite features, and so we silence the game’s music when they play.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
I would say that it is getting paid for what you love to do, but I was lucky enough to have Pixowl to back me up on this adventure. For us lucky ones, I think that the toughest aspect is putting your feet on the ground and learning a little business. It is HARD.
How did you go about funding The Sandbox and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Emotional support is important (doubly so when close to a deadline!). As I said, financial support came easy to me in the hands of Pixowl (for which I’m grateful).
Tell us about the process of submitting The Sandbox to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Not really, the game was original and well-established enough on mobile to be accepted to be posted on Steam for Greenlighting. We’ve been very focused on optimizing it for the PC with exclusive features and reworked controls for keyboard & mouse support.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
While there is nothing similar to The Sandbox on Steam, we did some math and got a small enough number that will let us keep updating the game.
How important is it to get instant feedback about The Sandbox from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
I like to walk around inside the community, listening to their ideas. I’d say about 20% of the game’s features after the iOS release were at least inspired by them.
The only thing I think social networking has against this is that good ideas get lost into an ocean of hastily written posts on walls or feeds. I prefer an email, they are more personal and the extra effort required almost guarantees that the user’s contribution is well thought.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review The Sandbox professionally?
I had the opportunity of being a game reviewer himself, so I know of the long hours behind an article. Readers are smart enough to tell a bought review from a fair one.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?
Indie Bundles are a good idea but nothing new in the industry as game compilations have been around since prehistoric times. If a bundle has several games I like, then I considering purchasing it. As simple as that. The “Pay What You Want” model is interesting, but I think it’s main purpose is for raising funds for a cause or a charity. I would consider putting The Sandbox in a bundle.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
The PC gaming industry is blaming piracy for it´s own failings. Most players are more than willing to buy a good game, but AAA studios only think in terms of revenue and not of quality. Meanwhile, we indie studios strive in the apparently piracy free world of PC gaming.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of The Sandbox?
For ye olde me it is still incredible, but I’m cool with it.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I miss expansions, magical cds that doubled or tripled the amount of content available in the base game. That’s the philosophy behind The Sandbox’s DLCs, the only way I feel it should be.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for The Sandbox?
Modding is great! Every game should be moddable. We have in our roadmap to provide modding support for The Sandbox in the following months.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
The most important advice we can give to other indie developers is to not take criticism personally. The idea of games as art is incompatible with the reality of the market, but that doesn’t mean you have to “sell out”, just try to compromise and trust the ones that know how to sell your game. Nurse a community around your game, the players will help you to make it grow. Keep it up!