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How Coffee Talk 2 evolved from DLC to a full-fledged sequel

Game Developer Deep Dives are an ongoing series with the goal of shedding light on specific design, art, or technical features within a video game in order to show how seemingly simple, fundamental design decisions aren’t really that simple at all.

Earlier installments cover topics such asimplementing crossplay functionality in We Were Here Forever, how Strange Scaffold created seamless dialogue for narrative poker game Sunshine Shuffle, and optimizing a fully spray-painted world in Bombing!! 2: A Graffiti Paradise.

In this edition, the team behind the follow-up to 2020’s hit indie game Coffee Talktells us about the post-release journey to create new content for the game and how they ultimately decided to turn their DLC plans into a full-fledged sequel.

You’ve got a successful game in your portfolio and don’t know what to do next. The fans want more of it, and you have some ideas to expand the IP. Are you going to make a DLC or a sequel? How do you determine which option is better or which one to avoid entirely?

We at Toge Productions faced this kind of dilemma. Our game, Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly, which launched April 20, was initially planned to be a DLC to the original game. How it became a full-fledged sequel is a story of opportunity and a bit of hubris.

But before I tell you this story, let me introduce myself. My name is Arya Wiryawan Wibowo, Toge Productions’ PR and communications manager. For this ride, I bring along four personnel from the development team, and they are Kris Antoni (CEO/product owner), Andrew Jeremy a.k.a AJ (project manager/composer), Dio Mahesa (art director), and Junkipatchi/Junky (narrative designer/lead writer).

The original Coffee Talk garnered a lot of fans, and naturally, they asked for more. “We saw the response from the fans, and they were waiting for the next chapter of the story. So we tried to make additional stories from the original characters, how their life is progressing,” said AJ. To answer those demands, we initially wanted to make a paid DLC to expand the story.

The late creator of Coffee Talk, Mohammad Fahmi, had already left Toge just prior to the original game’s launch, so we asked Indonesian comics publishing company Kosmik—who helped us make the Coffee Talk comics—to write the DLC. Junki, who took the lead on the script, had a daunting task on her plate, considering how Fahmi gave his heart and soul to the first game, and we wanted to do him justice.

“A lot of fans demanded deeper stories. The first game felt like only digging the surface, so they wanted to know more. That was one of the main considerations for us to make the DLC,” Dio said.

But we underestimated the scope. Kris explains, “Honestly, we rather underestimated it because we thought, ‘Ah, it’s only writing. How difficult would it be? We can make the DLC in one or two months.’ That was the same mistake again, and we underestimated it.”

Yes, we made the same mistake “again” because that were the exact words that came out from us when we first made Coffee Talk. Junky and the Kosmik team even predicted they could make it in two weeks! She thought creating a visual novel should be close to making a comic book.

“The process was a lot more complex because I had to write the dialogue entirely on Google Sheets, so it was confusing at first. After we played Coffee Talk, it was clear that the characters must have bold personalities because it would be boring if they did not. That prolonged the process. As I got to know this new format, I began to like the process of bringing stories to life through gameplay. It is actually really interesting!” Junky said.

As her passion for game creation emerged, she took on the full responsibility of the writing role and began to communicate and collaborate with us more directly, eventually joining Toge as a full-time employee. She discovered that the game engine was underutilized, so after consulting with the team, she decided to expand the narrative branches. This was when we still considered it a DLC project.

AJ shared his experience scheduling the development as the project manager: “Back then, we were stuck in revising the story as we needed multiple iterations.”

As if we predicted the future, coincidentally, political real-life events that happened at the time of development had similar themes to what we were working on. Without getting into further details, we didn’t want our game to be perceived as referencing the event—because it truly wasn’t—so Junky had to rewrite the story from scratch.

“Creating an engaging story is really challenging. Where the story went, we couldn’t make it short. We had to extend more and more to make a good story. As time went on, we also added new features. We once considered making a kind of standalone expansion with this, but ultimately, we decided to make this a sequel,” AJ continued.

So, how did the team eventually decide to transform this into a full game?

“When discussing the DLC, our (development) plan was (maximum) six months. But we blew it. In Coffee Talk Episode 2, we added many new features, such as items, more latte art, more ingredients, and the story kept getting bigger,” Kris said.

“Because it was already more than six months, even a year, if we end up with only a DLC, from a business point of view, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot. Our effort was like making a brand-new game.” Kris continued.

At the same time, our publishing partner Chorus offered Anna, their writer, to help us and we gladly accepted the offer. This enabled Junky to focus on the main story while Anna expanded the tales of the old characters.

Marketing and platform considerations also played a big role in why we pivoted to making a full sequel.

As Dio explains, “I remember one thing. So if we make a standalone game rather than a DLC, there’s an opportunity to appear in Steam’s “Popular Upcoming” section. There’s no such thing for a DLC. So there’s a marketing opportunity there, and the visibility for a standalone is much bigger than a DLC.”

Theprice of a cup of digital coffee

The pros of making a full sequel really overwhelmed the cons because the development cost approached the cost of a complete game.

“(The cost comparison) was close. So the effort would not be worth the sales if it was a DLC. It won’t even get close to the original’s revenue. DLCs can not be more pricey than the base game. So why not make a full game instead?” Kris added.

“We can put a full price for a full game, and the benefits of being featured on Steam (Popular Upcoming, Sales, etc.) will also elevate the first Coffee Talk‘s sales. DLCs usually make 10% of what the main game makes. And we actually sell Coffee Talk Episode 2 for two more dollars than Coffee Talk because it has more features, content, and branching, with overall better production qualities. The pros were too many,” Kris said.

We finally decided to make this project a full-fledged game, and despite the ups and downs, the team really pulled through! The game, Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly, was released on April 20, 2023. It received many glowing reviews that flew in from both users and media, and we’re really happy with how it turned out.

But you don’t always have to prefer making a full sequel rather than a DLC. You should probably make a DLC if the content is only one-tenth of your original game.

“If you only make new content like a game from Paradox would, like adding new races, new types of units, or cosmetics, that’s okay. If the development process is quick, it’s alright. So that’s the consideration: how much is the effort, how big is the content? If it’s a full overhaul and many new features, why not make a standalone game?” Kris said.

We hope you can learn from our experience and avoid the same mistakes we made.

PC

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