Two Tribes made Toki Tori 2, one of the first independently published games on Wii U. To say the game didn't sell well would be an understatement. It bankrupted the company.
Actually, it bankrupted half of the company as Two Tribes is comprised of two different entities. One is a developer, while the other is a publisher responsible for the iOS version of Ronimo's Swords and Soldiers along with the Steam and Wii U versions of the puzzler Edge, among other games.
Speaking to Eurogamer at GDC, Two Tribes co-founder Collin van Ginkel was shockingly frank about the studio's missteps with Toki Tori 2.
"I don't think I would have bought Toki Tor 2 if I was a consumer," he told me. "That doesn't mean I don't think it's a good game. I think we did a really great job. But it's not something I would have bought myself."
"So why make it?" I asked. "Was it about making money to fund other projects, or did you simply lose your passion for it over time?"
Van Ginkel quickly clarified that he was passionate about turning Toki Tori 2 into a quality product - in fact, he was such a perfectionist that he and the rest of Two Tribes dedicated two years on the project that was expected to last 6-9 months.
"We were super passionate about making it into a really good game," he said. "It is a good game and it's the best game I think we've released so far."
Two Tribes co-founder Martijn Reuvers then clarified "We did not do it for the money."
So if Toki Tori 2 didn't appeal to the people who made it, Two Tribes wasn't in it for the money, and it wasn't being funded by a publisher, why make it at all?
"I think we were trying to please everybody," van Ginkel said. "We were trying to make a game that didn't leave anybody out."
Unfortunately, Toki Tori 2 did leave a lot of people out by virtue of it looking rather generic on the surface. This wasn't a big problem on Wii U, a console with a small install base but little competition in the indie scene. However, Toki Tori 2's lack of character made it fail to stand out on Steam.
While Two Tribes can't disclose exact sales figures or revenue, the developer noted that the game sold more copies on Steam, but only due to promotional discounts. Outside of that, full-priced copies were more popular on Wii U. Revenue-wise, it ended up being roughly an even split between today's most popular platform (Steam) and its least popular (Wii U).
"We've been on Steam since 2010 and back then for us it was a very, very interesting platform. And it still is, but it's way more crowded now and it's very difficult to make any money on," Reuvers lamented. "There are more 'snack games' that instantly grab you. And if it doesn't, then you just move on because there are so many games out there."
"It's easier to get placement in the [Wii U] eShop, because there's not like 200 games also having their sale at that time," van Ginkel added. "It's a shame more people aren't buying Wii Us, because that would make it even better. But I guess that would mean that more games would be coming to the Wii U."
Yet, despite Toki Tori 2 being a commercial failure, Two Tribes' founders made enough revenue from the publishing side of its business to keep on ticking as a three-person development studio.
This time out the Dutch developer is making a game that appeals to its members with Rive, a 2.5D twin-stick shooter/platformer. "We tried to make everybody happy [with Toki Tor 2]. And now we're just making ourselves happy," van Ginkel said. "So we thought 'what would we like to play?' What would we like to make?' And we liked 90s shooters and platformers, so we went back to that."
Furthermore, Two Tribes is working with a third party to get Rive ported to PS4 and Xbox One in addition to Wii U and Steam.
"With this game we tried to appeal to hardcore gamers. Shooter fans and not everybody," Reuvers explained. "This is what we should do now. Not try to please everyone, but pick a target and have some focus."