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Why I keep investing in a game that no one cares about
by Boon Yeo on 06/10/13 10:48:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Space Truckers, like all ambitiously (read: inexperienced) laid out projects start with underestimation. We originally set out to complete the game in a single month, then into 3 months considering polish and time tabling. Our deadlines included start of December, before the Christmas Holidays, Mid-January and then every subsequent Friday beyond that.

The sensible side of us agreed that we would only complete the original project levels (80 in total broken into 4 level packs) if the game picked up interest on Android and iOS stores. We would try an optimistic (read: doubly inexperienced for me anyway) marketing push with half of those levels as a feeler.

It was simple. If we got 100 premium sales then we would deem it worthwhile to make the other levels. Mind you, we released Space Truckers then immediately started prototyping other projects so if it did not get to those sales numbers, we would just ignore it and move on. It was a sound and logical, no point putting effort in to a game that is not going anywhere. (I actually scoffed at Matt at the time saying 1000 was a better target.)

That effort was not insignificant either. A level pack, 20 levels in total, would take roughly a 4 weeks to complete due to layouts, play testing, art pass, second round of play testing, difficulty balance and ordering, tip text,  final art pass and taking the occasional break so you did not lose your mind and destroy the equipment in front of you.

Now we are in May moving to June. Space Truckers started at the start of November. We are still involved with this project 3 months after saying “No Buys equals No Work”. So why do I find myself, and Matt, tending to a project that no one either knows or cares about?

Fairly typical launch sales behaviour and, without context, quite successful

Sales Graph, Fairly typical launch sales behaviour and, without context, quite successful

81 short of our total

Units sold,  81 short of our total

We have rational reasons like “We just got our In-App Purchase system working” and “Matt thought the original art was bit crap and wanted to make adjustments”.

Then we have the irrational reasons.  

There is an emotional wanting to keep working on this game. I feel excitement when I am experimenting with a level layout and discover new aspects on how to play Space Truckers which, more often than not, leads to me adding new features. Yes you can call it ‘feature creep’ but I am just going to be straight up corny and call it ‘fun creep’. One thing that did not make it into the latest level pack was a Police Ship which would track you down rather than patrolling. Now I am sitting there thinking “I need to put this Police Ship in but I have to do the Racing Style level pack first... Okay 80 more levels, let’s do this!” and it is insane because that amount of levels would give me so much SAN loss I would out do any Dagon cultist a run for their money.

The greatest moments I have had while making levels is seeing Matt rage up because his ship ran out of fuel, barely misses the home base and crashes into planet. Here is how the level creation process happens; I make a level, Matt plays the level, Matt shouts profanities including calling me a ‘mad man’ and tells me the level is fine, I counter follow his advice and make the level easier.

Just this process alone wants me to create more and more content but I have to take a step back at times and say ‘Is this financially viable?’ Usually the answer is ‘No, we need to be looking at other possible games.’

Space Truckers is currently in a market that is so saturated that quite possibly no one will ever care about it. And nor should they. It will possibly never see more than 1000 views which is a drop in the ocean considering how many mobile users there are in a world. But honestly, we are having too much fun to give it up.


Another 120 hours of my working life

New Expansion Screenshot, Another 120 hours of my working life

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Eric Robertson
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Or.. like many developers, you have become emotionally invested in your product. The more you work on it with no reward, the more you invest in it.

If you stopped working on it, you would lose all of that investment! Just like in one sided personal relationships.

Boon Yeo
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We knew about that easily-fall-into hole before we started the project and you are absolutely right about the emotional investment.

I think for us, we still enjoy working on the game as opposed to trying to scrape a living. We have lots of ideas we're working on while maintaining Space Truckers so there's always that question in the back of our heads of when we should let it go, much like you example of a one sided relationship.

John Kelly
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So how does one fight the attachment baggage that comes with picking up a project? I'm curious what you have to say about avoiding emotional investment like that and in turn making you and your team (arguably) more productive.

Maybe work on 2-3 projects at once and maintain (as much) balance between them as possible?

Boon Yeo
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My best tip is before you start a project, list down the what you want to achieve and the time frame you are happy to spend on. Time extensions to projects are quite natural, as is scope creep, and there is nothing with that so long as it falls into your initial list.

At one point we wanted it Space Truckers done inside 2 months but that goal was completely unrealistic.

We have so many side projects we've probably got a mild form of ADD. I'm actually working on a board game on the side of our next mobile game I suppose you would have to find out what is best for you just by not only doing the work but assessing your own performance.

Dan Felder
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I recommend making a general list for yourself of factors that make something worth working on for you. Mine is as follows.

1) Do I seriously enjoy the work?
2) Is it financially practical?
3) Will the project significantly improve my skills or give me new capabilities for future projects?

There's so many great ideas out there - I don't work on anything unless it significantly meets at least 2 of the three criteria. In general though, I won't work on something unless it meets all three to a serious extent. It's easy to analyze a project based on these three criteria and has helped me make some tough decision in the past.

Rodolfo Ruiz
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Something similar is happening to me with The Tapping Dead. We developed it in 2 months... got 2 nice weeks of downloads, reviews, sells and stuff... meanwhile we found something was messing the user experience, released an update but by the time it went live we lost momentum.

Now I'm working in the 2nd and last update, I'll add some power-ups and remove a mechanic that was annoying to the players. Then we'll be moving on to a new game.

It breaks your heart, but you can't stick to something that is going to make you lose the opportunity of making more games and apply the knowledge you just got.

As soon as we started to discuss the new game, we felt it was the right move. You start fresh, motivated and with more experience.

Boon Yeo
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We have not quite deduced whether the issue is to do with marketing (notifying your player base that an update has come out) or whether the market is just that fickle (people picking up the game for 5 minutes and then never again). Could be a combination of both.

You're spot on about moving on though. It's a learning experience and even though you could look back on it and say: 'Wow we wasted a lot of time making this update or this game', every time you make a game you're learning and refining your development process. For us, we're taking our set up so we actually can make our games inside a reasonable time frame and not lose motivation.

Ryan Creighton
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If you wanted to be emotionally detached from your work, you be a banker. i think it's fine to pursue a life lived at the cost of financial ruin. It's your ART, man!

Boon Yeo
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Very true and couldn't agree with you more. People that say "Video Games are not art" should have horrible things done to them :D

Alex Covic
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... strangely enough, relationships work the same way? Sometimes you just cannot let go? People stay together for years, even if its over.

Still, good luck with that game. Good things, can happen? On a different scale, look at Stardock and their "Elemental". It bombed hard, but they kept working on it and it became "Fallen Enchantress", which seems to have solid sales now.

Boon Yeo
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Ahh yes, I've checked them out and they have a good and solid game.

I think my the next thing I need to work on is learning to say it's over when it's over. It's that very delicate balance of getting your artistic work out there, and the pride that comes with it, and the sustainability of that project.

Cheers for the well wishes :)

Marvin Papin
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I sincerely do not understand you, everybody knows that the market is flooded. There are millions of games on mobile. The question is : Why player are buying that game and not that one --> they often check quickly if that worth it.

So, i tried something :

Youtube --> "Space Truckers" --> [movie, movie, movie...] !?!?!?

Youtube --> "Space Truckers Game" --> [game dev tycoon, movie, movie, movie] !?!?!?

Google --> "Space Truckers Game" --> just the 6th link --> point to a forum (first post however)
1 ----> highlighted link --> redirection --> waiting --> login live --> XXX i quit
2 ----> wordpress link in paragraph into "()" --> Youhou! found a VIDEO...
VIDEO --> impressions : rigid gameplay! what the fuck is the goal? how do we play.

DO NOT BE SURPRISED THAT'S NOT WORKING (in Ucase just to show it no loud speaking)

Maybe your game is cool, but even if somebody manage to see the video they will probably not buy it, and i don't think they get there. The first things to get out from the mass is 1) game name, 2) a good video where you understand quickly how you play.

And even you disagree partially with me acknowledge that you could not win on that market.

Finally, didn't tell the price in your article ???

Boon Yeo
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Hello Marvin,

I think you have misinterpreted my article somewhat. I completely acknowledge that we cannot do well, as you said 'everybody knows that the market is flooded'. It also happens that we picked a name that went with a movie title with Dennis Hopper and unfortunately, we don't pay for bots to google bomb our search rating. It's tough and we get that.

I did not list the price in the article because it isn't about it, its about sharing a situation that most Indies find themselves in.

Marvin Papin
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the problem is that the price is an element that impact quite much on sales, so it cannot be avoided. I read your article but every thing lands on the fact that the game didn't actually sold "much".

and you focus on "time" "financial" "sales" "visibility" and "content" (which is somewhat impacting on sales if there are sales) and the way you distribute the game (i don't care about the costs and benefits) dictates the way you act. If you'd done great sales things would have been totally different.

and finally even with some adjustement, except if that change the global aspect of game (smoother moves, better graphics and effects...), that will not make your game sell more and people who bought it will probably not come back (for most) on the game because they are probably people who buy many games.

I hope you'll manage to do great things and a good communication campaign to get out from the mass. ;-)

PS : With some tricks with google classification and founding the right words for a simple site you get directly at the top with a simple search. My name is quite rare and if you type it in google, you fall directly on me. And if i give the example of the school prject we did :
"prison of will", the 2 firsts lines are what people expect. So with a little flash site on by example and by using right terms (repeat the name of the game, "indie" "game" "iphone" "android"...) you could go a way further.

Boon Yeo
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Thanks for your input Marvin :)

Marvin Papin
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Tried something else with a game on another article :

Youtube --> "1800 iphone" --> video directly --> clear video (thank to game "affordance too")

note : i tried 1800 game after but doesn't work (but i knew it's on iphone)

but admit...