I have the pleasure of being involved in Extra Life both as a writer on this website and in a local capacity with the Minneapolis Extra Life Guild. Through my involvement in the guild I managed to connect with Dylan Zellmer who provides the social face for MurWare, an independent development studio that released their first game, titled Oley Poley, a little over two weeks ago. MurWare has decided that charity is a core part of their business and will be donating 5% of the profits from Oley Poley to Extra Life! That is just so great that I decided to have a chat with Dylan about the studio and what it is like to be a relatively unknown game developer.
Jack Gardner: I'm going to be honest, I don't know much about MurWare. Could you tell me a bit about how MurWare came into existence and what it is all about?
Dylan Zellmer: There's good reason for your unfamiliarity; we're brand new! Myself and two skilled programmers (Aaron and Ryan) decided to formulate MurWare about 60 days ago. Most of us have either been directly involved in the games industry, or have been toying with games creation for a long time.
At its heart, MurWare is the quintessential independent development company. We want to keep our operations relatively small, and will likely hold onto our day jobs while creating and self-publishing fun games. It's likely we'll stick to the mobile games as we hone our skills, and set out to the PC and console space later-on.
JG: What is your role in the company and the development process?
DZ: I'm the artist. So far, I've been tasked with taking the overarching game ideas and bringing them to life visually. Being a three-man team, we collaborate on just about everything. I've also taken the helm on the social aspects of MurWare, and our outreach. We're hoping to find someone (FREE) to manage that piece as it's rather taxing on top of the rest of our work.
JG: As a developer, what are your priorities for the games you make?
DZ: Well, as an indie we aren't concerned with creating the next Call of Duty. Essentially, we're making games for ourselves, and are really stoked when other people enjoy them.
From a design standpoint, I'm concerned with creating clean visuals that compliment our gameplay; gameplay being the most important aspect of our creative process. If we don't think something is fun to play, we won't let it past the early prototype phase.
JG: Could you describe some of the challenges in being a game developer working on that company's first game and getting it onto the Android and iOS app stores?
DZ: There are several, very real obstacles for us to overcome. It's amazing when you think of a studio like Supercell hitting the jackpot with their first outing (Clash of Clans). First off, staying organized and having any semblance of a plan to work with is problematic when we aren't devoted to the process full-time.
Another large undertaking is discoverability. Even after making plenty of connections within the industry, it's not easy to get your app in front of key people. In the end, whatever success, or lack thereof, Oley Poley garners is an important step in the evolution of our studio.
JG: On July 18, MurWare released Oley Poley for Android and (soon) iOS, could you tell me a bit about that game?
DZ: Well, I describe Oley Poley as "The Dark Souls of cute and cuddly reverse-platformers"; whatever that means. A more general description of the game would sound something like an informercial, but I'll take a stab at it. It's inspired by the Coin-Op arcade games all of us used to shove our allowances into. It's fast-paced, extremely challenging, and wonderfully satisfying. The object of Oley Poley is to help him survive a never-ending stream of obstacles, and while doing so, earn points for your hard work.
JG: You are personally involved in the Minneapolis Extra Life Guild. What is your story with Extra Life?'
DZ: In 2013 I was introduced to Extra-Life by a long-time family friend. He thought it was a great opportunity for me to get involved in charitable giving while doing something I truly love; gaming.
I thought it sounded like a perfect fit, formed a team (House Nerd), and raised more money than I'd ever hoped to. I was honored to donate to an institute that holds a very personal connection to another life-long friend whose son has received life-changing treatment therein; Gillette Children's Hospital.
JG: MurWare is a relatively new studio, but you have already announced that 5% of the money earned from your games will go to charity and that this year's charity will be Extra Life! Not many devs, to my knowledge, give direct cuts of their game revenue. What led to the decision to make charity a priority for MurWare.
DZ: To my knowledge (not extremely extensive, haven't dug for hours or anything) we're at least the only MN-based development team, possibly US-based development team, to give a direct cut of our profits to charity. (Editor’s note: MurWare is currently the only developer giving a direct cut of profits to Extra Life.) As I stated earlier, we all have day jobs, at the same company even, so our game dev career isn't ONLY about money; it's about doing something we love.
The decision to give to charity was one that was made very early-on; it was important to all of us to do so. My hope is that we are able to receive enough exposure to start donating large amounts of financial support to great organizations like Extra-Life. As I mentioned earlier, discoverability is the hardest hurdle to overcome, so help us spread the word!
It is absolutely amazing to be supported by a developer in this way! Thank you to the MurWare team for their support! Also, an update for the game was released today that includes new background music, art, and an updated logo.
Oley Poley is currently available on the Google Play store for Android devices for $1.