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'Owlboy' Took 10 Years to Make, But What Happened Next?

Spoiler: it's a happy ending.

When Owlboy hit Steam last November, it wasn't just a game being uploaded, it was 10 years of work by developers who'd refused to give up, despite the long journey. When I interviewed them, the exhaustion was palpable; releasing Owlboy was desperately needed catharsis. But hard work doesn't guarantee success; lots of great games don't achieve financial success. So, what happened?

"Just woke up in Vegas and feeling very woozy and flabbergasted," said programmer Jo-Remi Madsen in an email to me last week, after Madsen found himself sitting near developers from Bethseda Softworks and Blizzard, afterOwlboy had been nominated for a design award at DICE.

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Owlboy didn't win—like many awards that night, it went to Overwatch—but it was still thrilling.

"We're still not properly adjusting to the reality of it," said Madsen.

It's been easier to adjust to Owlboy's financial success; the game has sold more than 100,000 copies, enough to keep D-Pad Studio in business for games to come.

"We can fund our next 5 projects with this kind of cash," he said.

(It helps the team wasn't in debt when the game shipped.)

Header and all Owlboy screens courtesy of D-Pad Studio

At the moment, Madsen and others from D-Pad are traveling, using gaming events to guide them. They're currently road tripping to San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference next week, and trying to emotionally recover from the experience of making Owlboy. It's been a process.

"I'm no longer constantly worried about ruining our lives at the hands of this project," he said, "which has been a huge relief. Our only goal is to keep working, and keep together. We hired Simon's [art director] wife on the day of launch, which we could safely do. She is now relieving us from having to work with marketing. We're still very much amateurs, but I hope to spend this year teaching people the errors of our ways."

One way he'll be doing that is participating in three presentations at GDC, and publishing an extensive postmortem about the mistakes made along the way. The first one is already up, in which the team was blindsided by how much support they had to give an experimental game they released during Owlboy's development, after it achieved unexpected success. It sidetracked them for a year.

Their next game isn't far off, with Madsen saying it's "more or less done." Right now, they're trying to figure out when to release it. We should hear more soon.

"I think what has had the most impact how some players have reacted to Owlboy's backstory," said Madsen. "It's is very much about reflecting our troubled lives and our failings—the insecurities we've lived with. So many can relate, and we are hearing from players who did not expect an emotional outcome from playing a colorful game about an owl. I think nobody expected it."

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