The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Bag It!

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, Charley Price and David Marino of Hidden Variable point out life's little joys with Bag it!, the grocery-bagging puzzle game that you didn't know could be fun.


What's your game called and what's it about?

Charley Price: Bag It! is a Tetris-style grocery-bagging puzzle game with a fragility twist.

What's the coolest aspect of Bag It!?

David Marino: The groceries are the coolest thing about Bag It! They started out as colored blocks and gradually grew to become pirate watermelons and flirtatious baguettes. And who doesn't like crushing aristocratic eggs?

CP: One of the coolest things I love about watching people play Bag It! is how the game resonates with different players. Bag It! presents a wide variety of unique modes (from Standard to Multi-Bag to Rampage to Puzzle), which helps the game feel fresh and ensures that there's something in there for everyone.

What inspired you to make Bag It!?

CP: I strongly believe that there is fun to be found in just about anything. In the past, I have often used the notion of "a game about bagging groceries" as an example to illustrate that point. As such, when the time came for us to decide what our first title was going to be, a grocery-bagging puzzle game was one of the first concepts on the list. In many ways, Bag It! really helped us to define our company's philosophy -- finding the fun and fantastic in the everyday world.

So you turned grocery-bagging into an entertaining game -- how was that idea successfully pitched to the team?

CP: When we first started the company, we pitched a whole host of game concepts. At a really high level, the concept behind making a simple and mundane task fun really resonated with the three of us. This was especially important to us since, as our first game, it was going to effectively establish our "brand" and identity as a company. Out of all of the ideas that were presented (which varied pretty significantly in terms of genre, audience, and scope) Bag It! -- or "Puzzle Bagger" as it was originally called -- really jumped out. It was a fun way to tap into something that was inherently familiar and present it in a fresh new light. Furthermore, the scope of the project was something that we felt was very achievable for our first year as we slowly built our team.


How do important decisions get made in a startup that has multiple owners with no previous organizational structure?

DM: I think anyone who has started a business with multiple partners can tell you that it's a bit like a marriage. As much as we would love everyone to be in agreement on everything, it rarely happens. We are all strong-minded and passionate individuals, and with that passion, comes conflict. If one of us feels strongly on a particular topic, we respect each other enough to really weigh that facet and try and find a way to address that person's ideas or concerns. To be effective, the key is always communication and compromise; there is often a common-ground solution for just about any scenario. We all share the same high-level goals and principles as founders, so building consensus with those in mind allows us to weather any short-term storms that we encounter.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

CP: Opportunity! Entrepreneurship! There's never been a better time for a small independent developer to be able to make interesting, reasonably scoped, approachable games and in turn, publish them worldwide on a host of different platforms. While there's always risk involved, there's also a tremendous upside. It makes the little victories all the sweeter!

DM: For good or ill, established companies also come with their own cultures, legacies and personalities. While it's great to be part of an established company you closely identify with, it's altogether mind-blowing when you can create that identity yourself. Hidden Variable Studios is a reflection of myself and my two partners, our goals and beliefs. It's a scary, risky thing to start something from nothing and nurture it into something greater than you ever thought possible, but the payoff is infinitely more rewarding.

Has the positive mainstream press had any impact on Hidden Variable or Bag it!?

DM: It's likely the positive press has an impact on Bag It! due to the sheer volume of eyeballs seeing the articles, though it's difficult to say how much of an impact. There are so many variables that affect sales and the reception of the game that trying to figure out the total impact of those placements is tough. We chart all data and try to analyze it to discover trends, so we definitely see spikes related to press coverage. At the end of the day, we try to plant as many seeds as possible and hope that the groundswell of positive news ends up generating overall growth for the game. Good press does have real benefits -- it makes us feel better about ourselves and publicly reaffirms that others are having fun with Bag It!


Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

DM: Yes. We see Hidden Variable as a company that offers innovative and long-lasting interactive mobile entertainment to people of all ages and backgrounds. We love playing games that really stick with you -- those types of experiences that show you a new perspective on something you hadn't thought of before. Our goal is to channel that into games. If we can make just one person happy or, dare I say, cause them to look at their world in a whole new way, then we've accomplished what we set out to do.

The other positive aspect of the indie movement is the community. We've learned so much through generous information sharing from so many other developers in the indie community, and we are eager to reciprocate and give back by helping out other developers in any way possible. There's something fundamentally inspiring and rewarding about helping others achieve their dreams, so if that qualifies us as part of the indie movement, then sign us up!

Sell your game in one sentence:

DM: Bag It! is Tetris meets Toy Story in a grocery bag -- the game you've been training your whole life to play (whether you knew it or not)!

What's next?

CP: In the immediate future, we're working on our next big free update for Bag It! -- including new grocery characters, levels and modes of play -- so that's definitely exciting!

We're also in the early stages of prototyping out our second title, which is due out later this year. We can't say much more than it will be a fun and unique experience that reflects our company ethos of "finding the fun in the everyday world around us."

Bag It! is available for iOS, Android and ereaders Nook and Kindle Fire right now for just a few bucks.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.