As you may have heard, we’re about to release a game. It’s called Pocket Bonsai, and it’s a zen, 3D, real time bonsai growing game for mobile. It’s a game we’re really proud of and are excited to finally be able to share with you. For more info about it, please see our beta announcement here. This post will be less about the game itself and more about the decisions leading to its creation (with a quick update on Evergreen at the end).
While we hope that Pocket Bonsai is something all of you will enjoy, we know that many of you have been hoping to see an announcement for Evergreen instead. Honestly, we’ve been a bit conflicted about how to announce Pocket Bonsai because of this - we’re excited to release it but we don’t want anyone thinking we’ve abandoned Evergreen. In the end we decided that full honesty is the best approach, so here’s the history behind the Pocket Bonsai and the reason why it made sense for us to release it first.
There’s an issue that has been increasingly concerning to us throughout Evergreen’s development. While we show Evergreen at lots of game conventions and get a great response, we get a significant number of people telling us that they’d prefer to play Evergreen on mobile or tablets (many of whom don’t have a PC or Steam account at all). It makes sense to us - we think Evergreen’s gameplay would really suit mobile devices. But porting it to mobile was always going to be hard, maybe impossible without significant changes.
The main issues come from the smaller screen size and low power of mobile devices. The UI would need to be completely redone, the physics system is too resource intensive and much of the art wouldn’t display correctly. It’s a huge job - almost to the degree of making a whole new game. We might one day be able to pull it off for tablets, but we would be relying on good sales of the PC version to fund that development time.
So that leaves us with the problem that we’re developing a PC game while a lot of our audience are mobile gamers. We had a talk earlier this year about how to address this and ended up doing a few quick prototypes, which led us to this idea: we take the core ideas of Evergreen (and a lot of the code), and design a small mobile game that captures the feeling and gameplay that draws many of our fans to Evergreen.
I want to be clear that we have every intention to finish Evergreen. We’re really proud of the game and of the success it’s found so far, and we definitely want to push forward and release it in its intended form. There are a few reasons why we chose to do Bonsai first though:
#1: Reach We made the decision to make Bonsai free-to-play and easily localisable to help us get it to as many people in as many countries as possible. This will help to build our audience and make sure more people hear about Evergreen once it’s finished.
#2: Data We can use information on which countries enjoy Bonsai the most to give us an idea of where our localisation budget for Evergreen would be best spent.
#3 Financial By far the biggest diversion for us is the contract work we do to keep ourselves fed and keep the company running. Our hope is that Pocket Bonsai can help generate some cash in the short term and help us break the cycle of contract work, freeing us up to focus more of our time on making our own games.
#4 Our fans We really wanted to get something into your hands to play, and we felt that Bonsai would reach a larger audience more quickly. While they are very different games, we’ve developed Bonsai to appeal to many of the same interests that draw people to Evergreen, so we hope that it appeals to many of the same people.
#5 Motivation The honest truth is that it’s difficult to be as motivated about a project three years down the track as you were at the start, especially when you’ve already overshot a couple of release dates. The more we talked about Bonsai the more we realised that a break from Evergreen would make us really excited to work on games again - and it really has. We jumped into Bonsai with fresh enthusiasm that has carried through as we’ve begun to shift our focus back to Evergreen.
We've learned a lot through making Pocket Bonsai - on top of the experience gained in developing game feel and what it takes to polish an experience to a releasable state, there are some technologies that we have developed that we can seamlessly push into Evergreen to improve it as a game.
Now with Pocket Bonsai close to release, a few members of the team have switched back to Evergreen development. This is how we intend to approach things moving forward - the work left to do on Evergreen doesn’t involve everyone on the team, so we’ll have a 50/50 split between finishing Evergreen and adding features to Bonsai. In short, the work left to do on Evergreen is:
Some remaining art for the later levels
Testing and iterating on the design for the later levels
General polish and bug fixing (this part can be pretty time consuming)
It doesn’t feel like a huge amount of work so we’re feeling optimistic about announcing a release date in the coming months if all goes well, but we’re hesitant about giving a more specific estimate because these things can change without much warning. In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and hope you enjoy Pocket Bonsai!