Cultist Simulator launched successfully. It beat Alexis Kennedy and Lottie Bevan’s expectations considerably, selling five times more copies than their estimates indicated it would. The game won a number of awards, got some solid press, and put the creative duo and couple in a financial position where they could finally purchase a home of their own.
The process of making the game, however, was a far simpler one than most people anticipated.
Over the course of the eight months that Alexis Kennedy spent developing Cultist Simulator, he estimates that his time was split as follows:
Alexis spent about a quarter of his time writing code, whether it be the code for the game itself or JSON configuration code that became content within the game. He spent about 15% of his time writing the game’s narrative in English, 10% of his time making plans for the game on a spreadsheet and 5% of his time making plans on a whiteboard. He estimates that about 4% of his time was spent thinking about the game or spending time on social media, 1% of his time taking urgent notes on Post-Its, 5% of his time talking with Lottie about the game and 5% talking to the artists, developers, composers, and editors who were also working on the game, 5% on Weather Factory’s business operations, 5% solving problems, 10% communicating with the Weather Factory community and appearing at events, 3% answering messages from Kickstarter backers and support tickets, 2% writing blog posts, and 5% taking care of their home, his child, and their cat.
In their home, Alexis set up a desktop workstation for coding, as well as a space in the couple’s extra bedroom to do the bulk of the non-coding work. This is a small room full of cats, screens, books, packages from fans, merchandise, and plans tacked on to walls where Alexis worked on his laptop from the vantage point of a small bed.
Each day, he’d write, fix bugs and problems with the game, and do the housework. It’s very different from what Weather Factory fans are doing, which is often playing their games in quite large numbers. Alexis and Lottie were astounded to think about how their game was downloaded, played, and talked about by over 20,000 people within 24 hours of the game’s release.
In many ways, this made Cultist Simulator a success. It wasn’t as big as games like Minecraft or Stardew Valley or Undertale, all of which were also developed by micro studios, but the game had considerable financial success and benefited the couple significantly. Though the game hasn’t made the couple $12 million, as Stardew Valley has Eric Barone, it and a number of other projects have exposed millions of people – many of whom have engaged with him online in some way – to Alexis’s writing.
Overall, he believes that the experience hasn’t changed his daily life in major ways. He continues to work with his favourite collaborator, continues to build games in unusual places (the first prototype of Cultist’s research mechanic was created on a train, a major code change took place on an Easyjet flight, and a major section of the game was written in a supermarket).
Until launch day, he also was convinced that the game needed more content. Lottie regularly talked him out of adding more mechanics or narrative text to the game to avoid blowing launch date, and he thanked her extensively for talking sense into him when he needed it most. In retrospect, he believes that the game needed less content and to be better balanced. He also struggled on a number of occasions to decide what content to cut, and finds this to be truly fascinating now given that he can barely remember why he so badly wanted to keep much of it.
When it comes to the game’s deadline, he now is truly grateful that they shipped the game on-time. Though he thinks back on to a potentially apocryphal quote by Nintendo leader and game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who supposedly once said “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is bad forever,” he also believes that the rules apply differently for AAA studios creating major console titles than indies made up of two-person teams.
Overall, he believes that if he’d spent more time on the game, it likely wouldn’t have doubled their return on investment, or even could have compromised what made the launch successful. More than anything, he believes that if you want to delay a game to improve it, you ought to have the support of a company as big as Nintendo to back your decision.