Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted back in January of 2010 when I was an intern at The Yarmouth Vanguard.
Brothers Jason and Matthew Doucette have a hit on their hands. Their newest game, Decimation X has become the top rated and top selling independent game on Xbox Live in Japan and third highest in Canada. Conway photo.
Brothers Matthew and Jason Doucette have come along way since creating their own video games on a TI-99/4A computer in the third grade.
Now in their thirties, the two brothers have had quite the year. Their retro shoot ‘em up, Duality ZF placed seventh in Microsoft’s 2009 Dream Play Build competition. It has also been named the second most anticipated Canadian indie game of 2010 by Village Gamer. Their newest title Decimation X has become the highest rated and selling Xbox Live Indie Game in Japan and now they have won the top prize in Innovacorp’s I-3 Technology Start-Up Competition, winning a $100,000 award package for their company.
Through that competition, Innovacorp offers small Nova Scotian start-up tech companies help on how to properly run their businesses as well as the chance to win up to $100,000 in funding and in-kind services.
Once he heard the news that they had won last week, Matthew said he couldn’t believe it.
“I am so proud of Jason and I for getting the job done. It’s not often I truly feel proud, because we expect a lot from ourselves. We had to get Xona Games into shape to win this contest.
“We did the best we could on deciding what needed to be done, and worked hard on getting them done. And we did it. We did what was right and it feels great.”
Jason said it’s great to have won and it’s also a good confirmation that they are headed in the right direction.
“The last few weeks putting Decimation X together from scratch was pretty hectic and I didn’t get as much done as I wished, but I believe it made a significant difference to the judges and investors we pitched to, since it shows we can make good products and get them done.
“I knew we had a good chance of winning, since we had a solid foundation with Duality ZF, but to actually win confirms everything.”
Prior to last week’s announcement, the brothers already knew they were a finalist in their zone. The competition divided the province up into five zones. They had given their final pitch to the judging panel on Jan. 15.
“Innovacorp is an amazing company,” said Matthew. “Everyone who first submitted, even if they didn’t make it to the first round cut, are still contacted and are still helped out.”
He said they aren’t like the business moguls you see on Dragons Den.
“They are not putting money in solely so they can make money, they will or may invest in you but they really want to help you whether you win or not. Even if we don’t win and get nothing, we really won’t because they will still help us.”
Matthew Doucette said Innovacorp will use some of Xona’s successes as leverage to help them get funding, as well as to help them discover the flaws within their company.
“Usually the main flaw with start-up companies is the lack of management. They will help us incorporate our company, to help us protect our intellectual properties and they’ll hire lawyers to do that. Whatever we’ll need.
“One thing we might need is a publisher from Japan that taps into the market over there to help us promote our games. Innovacorp will help us get that.”
The prize packages that come with winning the competition in each zone – $100,000 for first place, $40,000 for second place, is a big help.
“What that means is if there is something, which would require us to hire outside help, let’s say for example we need a web designer or we have accounting fees, things like that will be covered. They will only let you spend the money on a Nova Scotia based company, so they are indirectly helping other Nova Scotia companies,” said Matthew. “The Fact that they are giving away $100,000 to five winners in Nova Scotia is pretty amazing within itself.”
Since it’s release on Jan. 14, Decimation X has had quite a bit of success for a game that only took about three weeks to make. Not only has it had a good deal of success overseas, it’s also the third top rated indie game in Canada. Jason said for the game to be doing so well is pretty awesome.
“We knew it would do well in Japan because they really like intensity games, which is why the real Super Mario Bros. 2 didn’t make it to North America, it was just too hard for the American audience. Japanese gamers really like skill-based arcade style games. To be the top rated and top-selling in Japan is really amazing.”
Matthew said the company wants to establish a Japanese presence.
“We know our games fit that market and the funny thing is we are actually beating Japanese games and we haven’t even done a translation yet. A Japanese translation will be part of an update for the game which will be done sometime within the next couple of weeks.”
Xona Games lives by the slogan of “Intense Retro.” What does it mean? Matthew said it is used as a marketing tool that appeals to nostalgic gamers who remember the days when games were a little more challenging.
“What makes Xona Games different from any other company? We do intense retro. We make retro games and the intensity is sky-high.”
Jason said the company is out to fill the niche market for those who want to play games similar to the ones they played as they were growing up.
“Decimation X and Duality ZF both have intense arcade action, which requires a lot of quick reflexes. They are old school gallery shooters with four-player co-op and tons of power ups and both pay homage to games like Space Invaders and Galaga.”
Back in the day when developers were first working on these arcade games, they were pushing the very limits of their hardware but now those who are new to programming can produce the same results in a day, he said.
“Not many of the good programmers are making the old school retro games. We are filling in the niche and not just doing it as a programming project. These are a high-quality homage to old school retro games and upped the intensity factor to meet today’s standards and to make sure they aren’t boring.
“With the new hardware that is available we can take these concepts and make vast improvements in speed, gameplay and design.”
So what’s next for the two brothers? Jason said they are going to be pretty busy.
“There is the update for Decimation X, which will provide the Japanese translation, as well as an online scoreboard. We will also being doing some more work on Duality ZF before its official release next month.”
After this is done, Matthew said they will continue to develop games for Xbox Live Indie Games, as they look into other means of distributing their games, as well as trying to get a contract with Xbox Live.
“If you officially get onto Xbox Live, your game will sell for at least $10. You’ll have achievements, leaderboards and Microsoft will actually put money in and promote you, so it’s like hitting the big time. We are also looking into the possibilities of Nintendo development and online distribution. We would also like to eventually port our games to the PlayStation 3.
“Our goal is to have our games on all major platforms. Reaching all gamers is a better position to be in.”
Decimation X is now available for download from Xbox Live Indie Games for the cost of 80 Microsoft points (that would make it about $1 U.S.).
Epilogue: Since this story was originally published, Xona Games has gone on to develop Decimation X2, Decimation X3, and Duality ZF prequel Score Rush. Duality ZF has since been delayed but the game is still in development and is looking better than ever. It’s currently planned for a Q4 2012 release.