TumbleSeed patch makes game easier as developer dissects slow sales

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TumbleSeed [official site], the colourful arcade game about rolling a seed up a monster-packed mountain, has been updated to make it less difficult.

In a very thoughtful blog post, developer Greg Wohlwend has written about “what went wrong” with the game’s release last month, and addresses feedback that the game was just too hard to be enjoyable (although the Steam reviews remain positive). He writes that sales have been slow, and the game may never recoup its costs. The whole thing is worth a read not just for a take on TumbleSeed, but on the dilemmas of development in general.

“In this case the verdict seems extremely clear. The game is ‘too hard’. Anyone who’s heard of TumbleSeed could tell you that. But it’s not so simple. It’s important to be precise, so I’d say the real core issue is that ‘Players find the game to be too hard’.

“Why do players find the game too difficult? The reason I make the distinction between the game’s difficulty and its perception is because after watching reviewers and players play our game over many days, it became pretty clear that we left a gaping hole in our game. Players become desperate because they aren’t even close to ready for the kind of challenge Adventure Mode poses. It’s too hard. And it’s too hard because there are too many new things going on at once. It’s undigestible.”

To address those issues the team have released a fairly beefy patch called Four Peaks, which adds new levels and a sprinkling of gameplay changes.

Up to now the themed levels have been procedurally generated, but the update adds four standalone mountains that are the same every time: Forest, Jungle, Desert, and Snow.

On top of that the team have changed how Auras work. Previously, these powers added a mixture of positive and negative effects but now they’re purely beneficial, and there’s also 8 more of them that can be unlocked by completing the new levels. They can do things like nullify any damage taken from falling in holes or allow you to bounce higher and fall slower.

There’s a new weekly challenge mode too, which will spawn a mountain every Sunday that you can replay as many times as you want until the next one comes out.

Wohlwend again:

“While I don’t think this update will change the course of our success, it does feel really good to know we gave it our all especially when it was hardest to. Working on this update acted as a sort of therapy for all of us. We felt better working towards solutions than we did wallowing in problems.”

There’s many more minor changes, such as making certain enemies easier, which you can peruse in all their glory here. TumbleSeed is available for £8.79 on Steam (a 20% discount) or $14.99 on itch.io.

And once again, do read that blog post if you get a chance. It’s a great analysis of what went wrong with the launch.

12 Comments

  1. mechavolt says:

    “When a game is accessible, it doesn’t just mean it has that quality, it’s also a kind of aesthetic. TumbleSeed is a game that looks accessible. Some may call it “casual.” Regardless, it presents itself clearly with bright colors and a distinct visual language in hopes its inner systems will be more easily understood.”

    And that’s why I didn’t buy it. I saw the pictures and trailers, and thought, “That looks beautiful! I’d love to sit down and have a nice relaxing evening messing around in that world.” And then I read the reviews, and realized that this is one of those “hard” games. I don’t have hundreds of hours to master that sort of game — what I do have is an hour here and there to play casually.

    While I do appreciate the developer trying to learn from their mistakes, adding what is essentially an extended tutorial isn’t enough for a player like me. Looking at those percent completion stats makes me shudder — there isn’t a tutorial in the world that is going to get me over that hurdle.

    • bill says:

      I just ‘finished’* A Story About My Uncle, which is also a game that looks lovely and seems full of joy and relaxation until it suddenly decides to become bastard hard.

      As mentioned, I think the clash between the casual/charming presentation and the difficulty can both throw people off, and attract the wrong kind of players.

      *I used a cheat to disable grapple limits, and suddenly the game was fun again.

  2. bl4ckrider says:

    I recently played Devolver’s RONIN, a pretty cool Ninja game. It has great missions and cool power ups. Unfortunately you only gain a power up if you master every side objective which makes the game really hard and it dangles these cool abilities in front of you but out of reach because passing a level is hard enough.

    Eventually I gave up.

    I get the Dark Souls vibe, but not every game (especially not independent games) need to be stretched to 30 hours because they are so unforgiving. There are too many indie games that seem to cater for an older audience but demand the persistance of young gamers.

    Respect the elderly and make games optionally easier again!

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      It’s not really fair to call the game “too hard” because you decided you had to 100% it your first time through. You really don’t need every powerup to finish the game, and a lot of the side missions–especially early on–are quite easy to get.

      Also, I *did* 100% it the first time through, and it took maybe 10-12 hours. I think you’re overstating the difficulty.

  3. fuggles says:

    Do you know what should come back? Cheat codes. I very much enjoyed seeing the end of games i could otherwise not finished, such as silkworm, swiv, ninja warriors etc. No undermining of my sense of achievement, just me and a buddy playingin a game through for about 60 minutes. Game too hard, type idkfa or whatnot and solved.

  4. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    I don’t want to be too nasty, but they’re going to continue failing.

    ‘I fired up the game alone on my couch a week or two after launch and was reminded by the simple act of playing it. This is it. It’s good.’

    No, it’s not good. If the reviewers and testers are universally reporting that the game is too hard *it’s not a good game*. Not to mention wasting money on booths and expos when all your testers are still screaming the game is too hard.

    It might have some good parts. It may be pretty and technically solid, but it’s not a good game.

    I do hope the update has improved things for them, but it’s notable that they haven’t accompanied the statement that they ‘fix the game’ with evidence that their testers no longer think it’s too hard..

    • GeoX says:

      Except…it’s not true, or even almost true, that reviewers are universally saying it’s too hard. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t; I haven’t played it and even if I had that would just be my subjective reaction against a bunch of others. But I have no idea why you think you can definitively state that “it’s not a good game.”

      • Premium User Badge

        syllopsium says:

        The developer themselves are saying that both the testers and reviewers rated the game as ‘too hard’. That’s a planning failure.

        If very few people complete the game, and it’s also not made much money, I really struggle to see that’s a ‘success’.

        • GeoX says:

          A. A quick look at the steam reviews will definitively rebut your claim that reviews “universally” say it’s too hard.

          B. It may or may not be a “success” (since you haven’t defined that word, it’s hard to say), but that’s a long way away from your blanket statement that “it’s not a good game.”

  5. Morcane says:

    ‘I played on the couch and it is good. It is my vision and you should agree with me’.

    Whatever. I refunded it and never go back.

  6. tslog says:

    This cult of diffiCULTy is totally out of control. We’ve gone from frequently not hard enough to way too hard over 1 generation. The overall reaction has been insane. And I’m an average skill level player in the ” core ” Group of gamers who prefers harder settings.

    Difficulty tension is treated as the most valuable element in games nowadays. And that tension is almost always treated as always good, without justification or explanation. It’s how 1 note Devil Daggers got so much praise that I find frankly absurd.

    There are more systems important to rewarding gameplay than difficulty. Halo proved this years ago with its AI for eg, and multiple difficulty levels that were enjoyable from the normal to harder levels.
    If the gameplay systems are not enjoyable on moderate difficulty levels and the underlying systems are wanting, then I’ve got a problem. And I’m looking at you Souls series. Soul series medium difficulty would be boring as hell because the combat systems don’t stack up compare to far better ones out there.
    Wonder why souls doesn’t have variety of difficulty levels, it’s also because it would expose how unsatisfying the combat really is . All tension with nothing else rewarding combat wise going for it.

    Good fundamentals of gameplay should be rewarding no matter what the difficulty level, so if a developer is relying on difficulty tension most of all, and the underlying systems are clearly left wanting, it’s obvious their hiding faults or flaws.

  7. Levity says:

    Tumbleseed is also a 2D platformer with pretty niche controls. That, along with the difficulty, I guess was too much.

    Also, the game came out and just barely made a splash on steam. Who can predict exactly why that happened? Nobody. Maybe most people just don’t care for rolling up a mountain, or aren’t prepared to spend a tenner on what could be seen as a gimmick.

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