Poker Smash is not your typical Kickstarter project. Instead of funding the development of a new indie title or physical release of a game, it’s attempting to bring a five year old XBLA game to PC. While that may seem like a tall order, it’s also a backdoor Kickstarter of sorts to help fund development for Void Star Creations’ upcoming title, Junction. We sat down with studio head Drew Card to talk all things Poker Smash, Kickstarter and find out more about their intriguing next game.
[Hardcore Gamer] It’s been five years since Poker Smash hit XBLA. What have you been up to since 2008?
[Drew Card] Right after we shipped Poker Smash, we started working on a new game for XBLA. It was an action RPG called Legends. We worked on that game until the end of 2008, but we didn’t get a great response from Microsoft when we sent them an early build. One of their concerns was the fantasy theme, so we did a little pivot and reskinned the game with a Sci-Fi theme. We worked on that version for about 4 months, but we didn’t have much more success getting traction with the portfolio team. After those failed attempts at getting another game on XBLA, my partner Ryan (the art side of our company) decided that he wanted to get back into mainstream game development. He left Void Star in the summer of 2009. After Ryan left, I decided to try another pitch with Microsoft on my own. I pitched my dream game, which was a multiplayer 3rd person shooter I called Lift. The pitch was pretty bad without Ryan’s art, and they decided to pass on my idea.
That brings us to 2010, where I decided to port Poker Smash to iOS. I released Poker Smash iOS in the summer of 2010. The iOS version never got much traction, and it kind of turned me off to iOS development.
I did some contract work for the next nine months to try to pay the bills, and then I came up with the idea of my next game, Junction. I worked on Junction for a few months and raised some money to build a prototype. By January of 2011, I had a good prototype and we got some more follow on funding to bring the idea further. All told I have about 2 years of work into Junction. One of the features of Junction was the idea of incorporating mini-games into the game, and our first mini-game was going to be Poker Smash. I started bringing Poker Smash over into Junction, and I was reminded of how much I loved the game. With money running short, I decided it might be smart to release a PC version of Poker Smash to try and get some cash flow, and that’s where we are now.
[HG] Kickstarter can be tough to gain traction on, but also rewarding when it works out. How have you been finding the experience?
[DC] It’s been a lot harder than we expected to get people to check out the Kickstarter. I guess we expected a little bit more organic discovery of the project. So far we’ve only had about 900 people watch the Kickstarter video. I’m realistic though…I know that porting a 5 year old puzzle game from Xbox to PC isn’t going to garner a groundswell of support, but I did expect a little more than we’ve gotten.
[HG] What kind of research into successful Kickstarter campaigns did you do before launching your own project?
[DC] My business partner Chris has handled most of the Kickstarter planning. He did a lot of research into other successful campaigns. He made lists of people who back lots of game projects and sent them early mock ups of the campaign for feedback. We found that people were eager to give us feedback, and we tried to incorporate their suggestions
[HG] Thinking about it, it’s kind of odd that Poker Smash didn’t already have a PC version. Any reason for doing this now as opposed to earlier?
[DC] After Poker Smash launched on XBLA, we were ready to move on to bigger games. Ryan and I both agreed that our next game should be something bigger than a puzzle game. With limited resources, we decided to focus all of our attention on our new idea. Looking back, it would have been a smarter business decision to bring Poker Smash to PC sooner, but we were so focused on moving forward.
[HG] The Poker Smash campaign also mentions your next project, Junction, and it’s a very different kind of game. Can you tell us a bit about Junction’s origins and basic premise?
[DC] Junction is a universe built on top of your friend network. Back in 2005, I was blown away when Microsoft launched Xbox 360 with Xbox LIVE. I feel like the implementation was way ahead of its time. One of the things that I loved about it was how easy it was to interact with your friends both online and off. Obviously, the best part was that you could find your friends to play games, but you could also see what games they were playing and how well they were doing. We used the power of Xbox LIVE’s features in Poker Smash with things like our leaderboard ticker and leaderboard playbacks. Playbacks allowed everyone to see how the best players were playing Poker Smash, and the leaderboard ticker showed you what other people were doing in the game every time you logged in. With Junction, my goal is to expand on these ideas, and I have been guided by one concept…what if your friends list was a place? What would it look like? How would you realize such an abstract construct? So, that’s the concept for Junction from a high level. More specifically, Junction is a universe that allows you to build worlds and then link them together with your friend’s worlds. Every world is a game server where you can see other players and interact with them.
Over the past two years I’ve spent most of my time trying to focus on how people build their worlds, and not enough time focusing on what people do on their worlds. Now I have a “game” that isn’t really a game at all. It’s a set of tools for building worlds and linking them together with a few sprinklings of gameplay. I’ve come to the realization that this project is far too big for one programmer. I’m very passionate about the work I’ve done on Junction, and I’m hoping that bringing Poker Smash to PC will help me bring my vision for Junction to reality.
[HG] Not a question, but- Good luck! We’re rooting for you!
[DC] Thank you so much! I really appreciate all of your support!
Head over here to check out the Poker Smash Kickstarter