At a special Fireside panel today, Desmond Wong, CEO of Gentlebros opened up on his experiences making the wildly popular Cat Quest series.
According to Desmond, he and the other co-founders of Gentlebros are all former staff from Koei Tecmo. After working on games such as Fatal Frame, the team left the company and began work on their first game, Slashy Hero.
However, Desmond admits that making a free-to-play game was not without its challenges. The team’s background in pay-to-play games made it a lot more difficult to actually follow the design ethos of the free-to-play market.
“Back then when Slashy Hero came out, Free to Play games were really on the rise. Every game developer in Singapore was trying to make their own free-to-play game. So we thought “okay, easy enough, just release a game for free, people would definitely download it to play,” he says. “It turned out You have to be really good at designing a free to play game”
“It was around that time we learned we’re not that great at designing free-to-play games” Desmond says. “Maybe we should try to stick to something we are better at”.
Landing Back On Their Feet
Despite their admitted lack of experience, Slashy Hero did remarkably well. From there, Desmond and the Gentlebros would begin work on their next hit game, Cat Quest. According to him, one of the big design pushes for Cat Quest was its accessibility:
“In our company, we believe a lot in accessibility,” he says. “We believe that games shouldn’t just be played by the hardcore, that they should be played by anyone who wants to get into games. With all our games, we try to make sure that we design it in such a way that people who do not play games could get into it”.
Similarly, despite what they’d learned with Slashy Hero, Desmond says the initial prototype for Cat Quest was a free-to-play game. However, the team couldn’t come up with a proper way to monetize the game and so decided to make it a premium game instead.
“Okay, you know what, let’s just go to premium”, he said. “We’re more comfortable with that anyways”.
Although the game eventually found success, Desmond says that they didn’t always feel sure of this. The team spent time in an incubator in Singapore, where every other company around them ended up making free-to-play games.
“This was also around the time where we ran out of money”, Desmond laughs. “So we thought to ourselves, ‘ this is going to be the last game we ever make”.
“I don’t know if we were just very lucky, or we rested on what we were good at” he continues. “But as it turned out Cat Quest did really well for us”
Sharp-eyed Cat Quest fans would have also noticed that the Gentlebros weren’t content to just make Cat Quest and call it a day. Instead, they’d hidden an NPC in the game that teased the possibility of making Cat Quest 2.
Moving To The Sequel
Sure enough, with the success of the first one, Desmond and the team saddled up to start on the next installment in the feline adventure saga.
“We thought going into Cat Quest 2 it would be easier, ” Desmond laughs. “But it was challenging in its own way”.
One of the big new features in the game was that it added co-op play. Desmond says this was important so that people could play the game with their loved ones.
Cat Quest 2 was a particularly big success reach-wise, as the game ended up launching on both mobile and consoles. The game is also a part of Apple Arcade, Apple’s subscription-based game service.
One of the things that helped make Cat Quest II easier was how they’d built up the game’s lore. Desmond says they’d made the world’s lore in such a way that it could easily be built on for sequels. After all, since the first game featured cats, it was only logical the team would add dogs in the next installment.
“We can introduce a new species every game”, he joked.
He says that one of the important factors of making Cat Quest II was making sure the team was “building something within scope”. By building the game based on the resources available, he says it’s a good way to guarantee the game will be up to your own standards of quality.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it. We can’t verify if he was joking or not, but Desmond jested that the ultimate plan for the Cat Quest franchise was to have 9 games in total. These weren’t all going to be mainline games, as he said he’d love to explore the world through spin-offs as well. The reasoning was simple, though.
“Cats have nine lives!” he exclaimed.
Doing What You’re Good At
Despite going against popular opinion about the games industry, Desmond says its important to play to your strengths. That’s the principle The Gentlebros have operated on when making the Cat Quest series, despite starting out of their element.
“Just do what you feel strongest in,” Desmond advises. “We’re better at [making premium games], and that has served us well. Cat Quest has done better than Slashy Hero ever did and ever could ever do”.
“At the end of the day, what I advise is to know what you’re good at, and just keep doing that,” he says. “It’s not rocket science, but it may take a few tries to find out what you’re good at”.