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Congratulations, Your First Indie Game is a Flop

June 27, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

One battle won... kinda

At this point we could have (and, looking backward, should have!) closed the book on Monkey Labour. From what I know now, it was our first game and it has in fact earned more than the majority of titles do. We should have turned the page and started working towards the second one.

But not so fast. Your second game won't sell twice as much just because some statistics say so. It's the culmination of everything you've learned, the gamers you reached, the connections you made. It's easy to be a general after the battle, but unless you gain the experience on the field you haven't raised your potential.

I say you should try everything and see what results you'll get. Unless you go ahead and do it yourself all the estimates in the world won't give you the real answer. That's how, with one completed, critically-acclaimed game (still quoting the green 75 Metascore as a good enough proof of that), I set out to conquer yet another mountain: downloadable PC space.

Part 2: Your desktop is not your smartphone

Proving the concept

I mentioned I spent the summer of 2010 writing my own game framework for iOS and the following autumn/winter teaching students how to make iPhone games. Coming from a Windows/Xbox background I used to write my games with Microsoft's XNA Framework.

It's one of the most cleanly designed objective-oriented libraries, which makes it well-suited for education. In practice, it's used by hobby and independent developers, and even triple-A studios utilize it for faster development of tools. There are many compelling reasons to use it, except that it's only available for Microsoft's platforms. So I decided to do the students a favor and bring it over to Objective-C for iOS game development.

I registered Retronator as a sole proprietorship at that time and received about $5,000 as a government grant for self-employment. The plan was to slowly use it to cover insurance payments, but I ended up buying an iPad and spending the rest of the summer rewriting the XNA Framework for iOS. I named it XNI and it was very well-received in class (unlike the Objective-C language itself). In those two months of part-time teaching, part-time indie game development at Dawn of Play it served me well as a fast way to make Monkey Labour.


Student games made with the XNI Framework which reached the App Store

After the iOS story of Monkey Labour was over, I returned to my own studies. I wrote my thesis on XNI, and while waiting for my mentor to read the draft, I was curious to test one premise I hadn't had the chance to yet. Because XNI was written as a class-to-class copy of XNA, I thought it should make it relatively easy to port an XNI game back to C# and have a version for Windows/Xbox/Windows Phone with the XNA Framework.

To approach the task of bringing my code from Objective-C to C# in a lazy, programmer kind of way, I looked at tools for source code translation. I sure as hell wasn't manually going to rewrite all those smalltalk brackets. After a week of learning an obscure functional programming language TXL and another two writing formal grammar and transformation rules, I had a working version of something I called Automagical. With the press of a button and eight more hours of manual tweaking I had a playable version of Monkey Labour for Windows.

So what to do with it? My plan was to release it on a new distribution channel I previously heard about on Gamasutra. Called IndieCity, it was like Steam or Desura, but without the gatekeepers, focusing only on small, indie games. It was to launch towards the end of 2011, and I was excited! We could finally be first somewhere when the doors open for customers. I really believed in it and decided to risk my own (Retronator's) time and money, splitting the potential profits with Dawn of Play later.

The IndieCity fiasco

It took me a month of lazy full-time work (four effective hours per day on average, 80 hours total) to make it happen. This included coding the integration of IndieCity achievements and leaderboards, making a PC version of the game's webpage and, to keep things fun, a new “homemade” trailer recorded in my parents' attic. I even begged a voice actor to record the line at the end of the video for 30 bucks plus a promise of my signed artwork and a couple of Monkey Labour promo codes. I was going broke, since I was doing this on my own (I'm not great with saving money), so I hustled everything to get this done in time IndieCity launched.


On set (meaning my parents' attic) filming the new trailer

At this point I should say that I love IndieCity, especially since I'm going to follow by saying how badly it turned out for us. Its premise is great. Lovely designed website. I didn't even give the downloadable client grief, because Steam and Desura force you into one as well. Hell, since it's torrent-based, it scales more easily and offers higher royalties in return (85 percent if you integrate with their system, 75 percent otherwise). Last but not least, it offers support for leaderboards and achievements, both of which are utilized to great extent in Monkey Labour.

I was sure launching on IndieCity would be big. And I was wrong. And things would soon start turning out badly.

First, completely out of nowhere, the site launched on December 8. A little heads up would be nice, but they called it a "soft launch", just to test out if the system was responding as it should before they let the masses in. We sold about four copies to our friends and parents who could finally play our game (WIN!) After the “real launch,” planned for the following week, the crowd would pour in and all our troubles would be forgotten.

I guess I expected some heavy press, all the big gaming sites writing about it. After all, I read about it on Gamasutra and IndieGames, something I couldn't do with my tiny indie game press release. Unfortunately it didn't happen. One Rock Paper Shotgun post can't change the world.

The guys at IndieCity are in fact like us. Just another small startup with hopes to change the world, but little power to succeed with their first appearance. Unfortunately, for what press IndieCity did get, people haven't responded with great excitement. Most hate download clients (or at least having yet another one) and they hate DRM.

The user base of IndieCity may have grown by the time this article is published, but my plan of being out of the gate at day one failed miserably. After almost two months, the numbers stayed scary low: seven units of Monkey Labour for Windows sold.


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Comments


TC Weidner
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nice article. I agree. I look at it as my hobby and my art. The pleasure is in the creation. As long as Im proud of my work, enjoyed it creation, what ever comes next ( distribution/business wise), comes next, thats not important.

Matej Jan
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Yeah, that's a very legitimate way of looking at it. After all, if you spent one year having fun, no matter what happens, you had one year of fun. No-one can take that away from you. If you can keep that up if it fails, even better.

Making the PC port was a fun technological challenge and it proved my Ba. thesis to have merit. Filming that stupid trailer in the attic was the most fun I had in that otherwise dreadful time (family stuff). I'm not sorry I put that time into it. There's much worse stuff I could have been doing.

TC Weidner
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@matej

for whats its worth, I liked the trailer, both of them. It was fun. I'm not one for copying what big boys do, do your own thing IMHO, isnt that why we went indie to begin with?

Anyway, I justed wanted to say I liked the attention to detail you gave the game. It oozes style, I think you should be very proud of what you created there, I really like the art design.

Curtiss Murphy
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Matches my experience exactly! I felt like I was reading a story about myself. My 1st app reached 3000 users. So far, my 2nd product is doing better. (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/1-livebetteryou-happiness/id528470
911?mt=8)

And, I'm still learning. Thanks for sharing this fantastic story!

Gigi.

Matej Jan
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That's awesome news. We're also looking forward to see if that linear correlation of revenue with the number of apps you've done previously has practical evidence.

Giuseppe Cornacchia
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Thanks for sharing. Quality is not enough, unfortunately... as a one-man-band, the best way to me is working as a contractor in order to leverage the entrepreneurial risk to others. My own small games/apps are no more than a pleasant hobby. Good luck and keep your vibe going!

Matej Jan
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Yeah, that's the reality for us as well. Couple of guys that do enterprise software are basically bootstrapping our game development.

Jonathon Walsh
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Great article and awesome read. I love hearing about this side of the indie game business.

I'm curious if you did anything more in the style of personal or guerrilla marketing (ha!). The sort of thing like Twitter, blogging, posting on forums, etc. One of the things that I notice with the indie community is that having a connection to the developer really helps. If you really put yourself out there, and as a human not a PR machine, it seems to help significantly in growing a fiercely loyal fan base that can really ratchet up your marketing efforts. Even articles like this drive interest to your game.

Matej Jan
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Jonathon, I'd so love to say that we did as I have many times tried to evangelize constant marketing in form of developer updates and side projects to keep traction for the brand. Unfortunately I don't have infinite patience when it comes to convincing people into my beliefs.

But it definitely does work as I've seen first hand later on with my personal projects. I've focused my marketing effort after hours into my illustration/gaming brand Retronator, keeping active on Facebook, forums, Twitter and it has paid off. My pixel art poster (http://www.retronator.com/tribute) was featured on Kotaku and Destructoid after being reblogged on Tumblr by it8bit, an influential site I kept networking with after they featured Monkey Labour. My posts then got featured on Tumblr radar and that lead to a massive increase in followers from what I was used to (in six hours from about 150 to 1500). That feels like a massive level up and your work exposure gets on the next step where each subsequent post gets 10x more attention. My Facebook page doesn't have that big amount but I keep putting content out, talking to people, appearing in all possible places and it has a slow, but constant growing in likes. Dawn of Play, where I'm not focusing my energy into marketing is sitting still at the amount of people we reached during the marketing of Monkey Labour.

So I am a firm believer in that marketing and developer-customer connection is something you can and must do constantly. That is provided you have a clear vision, unique values basically something people will connect with strongly. I find that very easy to do with my personal brand, but much harder in a company where you have to bring everyone's values in sync first.

Luis Guimaraes
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Not all games are suited for guerrilla marketing. For instance, casual games aren't because casual players don't read about games in Twitter, blogs, indie game media, forums...

And there are games that people have to play to know they like it, and games that just mention gets everybody interested.

Robert Boyd
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Thanks for the honest and informative article.

Matej Jan
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You are very much welcome.

Thomas Happ
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I like working full time at a regular job and making my Axiom Verge as a hobby. There is so much less pressure (except everyone wanting to know when you'll be done, and not liking the answer because you can only spend 20 man hours a week on it) But it could totally flop and there will be no repurcussions since I already have a solid means of covering my bills.

Adam Bishop
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That's great if you can swing it, but most game developers will require you to sign a non-compete agreement when you start that prevents you from working on your own games in your spare time.

Matej Jan
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That's an interesting point. I personally find it impossible to work on my own game ideas after I've spent 8 hours coding at work. It's not even that I can't spend that much time behind the computer, because I go spend evenings doing digital drawing or, if stars align, even playing games. I guess I have a low tolerance for the amount of programming I can do in a day.

Sometimes I wonder, if I didn't had the chance to make games that I can at least somehow relate to, I'd rather quit programming altogether get a job that deals with customers and then I think I'd be very happy to code in quiet in the evenings for a few hours every day. But I've never actually gone to testing this hypothesis out. :)

Daniel Marcoux
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Thanks for this great article.
Always nice to hear the story of other indie developer who do it for the love of games. :)
Keep it up and thanks for the advice.

Matej Jan
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Thanks for reading through the 4 pages. I see I spend too much time on Tumblr where writing two paragraphs is tl;dr and I'm constantly trying to find ways how to engage people with my content in ways suited for the zero attention span I'm seeing there.

It's very awesome to see so much response actually. There is still hope for the written word after all. :D

Luis Guimaraes
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That's the problem with the casual market: they aren't looking for games.

I don't mean casual games aren't real games. I mean that if games ceased to exist, they wouldn't care. If game marketing ceased to exist, they wouldn't get any games anymore. If games aren't in their face, they won't search for it, because: they aren't looking for games.

The "make it and they'll come" is only valid for gamers. They'll only come if they are looking for it. If it's a niche, even better. If you're part of that niche, then it's perfect.

The casual audience is mostly passive. Make it for an active audience, and they'll come.

Matej Jan
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That is an effing great insight. So well put. One truly inspiring example of this is alpha funding that companies like Wolfire or the free Dwarf Fortress are able to pull off. Make something that will attract a very strong following and there are ways to live on that support alone.

Vipul Patil
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Left my day job a month ago to make games. My day job was also making games, but I wanted to try turning my own ideas into reality. Loving it so far! Great article, tells me what to expect. Will read again after my game hits the stores.

Matej Jan
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I'd love to hear how it goes. Hit me with an update at retro@dawnofplay.com. Best of luck!

Nina Roussakoff
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Thanks for the article!

I was really nice to hear about your experience and how you went about learning from it. I've had a similar experience with my first game, but not been half as pro-active about promoting it! It's a great encouragement to hear that having your first game flop is perfectly normal. :)

Thanks for the great advice which I'm sure will come useful in future creations!

Matej Jan
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I can't begin to tell how relieving it is to see so many people can relate to this. I mean, I wish the best for every single one and hope our next projects will succeed. But all we are used to hear is the success stories, which is normal because if it wasn't for them I'd still be making xbox games with XNA. It's hard to talk about failure, especially in this part of Europe where we have a saying along the lines that if my cow dies, I wish my neighbor's would too. :) But for all the jackpot success stories I probably heard one where success came after time, after struggling to do your thing and then a right moment came along and boom. So for every Tiny Wings there's one Angry Birds.

Shay Pierce
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Excellent article. I had thought about writing up my experience with launching Connectrode in more detail... But I could pretty much point people to this article, as your iOS experience almost exactly matched mine.

Your attitude and takeaways are also ones I'd absolutely say are correct, as someone who's been there. For people watching Indie Game: The Movie or hearing about the huge successes in the indie space, this is a great reality check for how hard it actually is to make a profit; how not every indie gem makes millions (or even enough to subsist) for its creator; and how in the end, games are a hit-driven business and the people who did succeed probably had a lot of luck as part of the equation.

From what I've seen and experienced, hard work, perseverance, and patience for that moment of success is the only formula for real success in this space... And doing it because you love it more than doing anything else is the only formula for staying sane during the ups and downs.

Matej Jan
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There is nothing smart to be said left after this. So I'll shut up, thank you for reading and commenting and I'll go play Connectrode. And I don't even like puzzle games that much. :)

p.s. Haha, my brother has a similar dedication in his Ph.D. thesis :D

Ian Fisch
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I'm sorry your game isn't doing very well.

I might suggest a simpler trailer. You don't see AAA publishers filling the first 30 seconds of their trailers with unrelated nonsense. Just show the game.

Matej Jan
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Yeah, you're probably looking at the Windows trailer, which I admit, like my other attempts, fails at the basic selling point. It was great fun making it, but no cigar. :)

The initial trailer for the iOS game was done by someone more competent as you can see here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9guRU8gIWBI

So we actually had a focused by-the-book app store trailer for part 1 of this story.

Kenneth Blaney
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I think there is a subtext here that is similar to lots of major sales pitches for things like AIR and Unity... that is, choose tools so you can distribute through multiple channels. That is, you spent a long time bringing your iOS game out to Windows for not a lot of benefit where as had you been working in AIR or Unity it would have only been a half dozen mouse clicks to bring it out to mobile, PC and web.

That said, if XNI is a good framework for porting XNA games to mac and iOS, that is probably a market in and of itself. You could probably make a small chunk as a middleware provider for any modestly successful XBLIGs or WP7s.

Matej Jan
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Yeah, I agree completely. XNI is a freak child out of a lot of circumstances of the times it was conceived: Apple's initial firm stand against using non-native languages and later my need for an iOS framework with which to teach at the University. I raised a serious debate at Dawn of Play whether to forget about this and move to Unity and I'm still not sure in which direction we'll go after our current game, also done with XNI, is finished.

That said, XNI is free and open source which is something I do randomly sometimes to keep my karma points up I guess. I did package up the automatic translation from Obj-C to C#, called Automagical, and that has had a couple dozen developers paying for it so far. Even more interestingly, Zynga has spent an hour on the phone with me, trying to evaluate if Automagical would be a useful tool for moving their large codebase of Cocos2D games to WP7. One of their employees actually bought a license to give it a go, which led to that phone call. I'm a nice guy and there's no DRM and you can get the whole thing for $15 at the moment (beta). Keeping things indie-developer friendly was my guideline. Imagine how I'd feel if Zynga translated 10 games with it, saving millions in gained opportunity. So yeah, middleware is one way, but I guess I could write a separate article about that or maybe one day a funny anecdote. :D

Kenneth Blaney
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Ah... seems you are one step ahead of me there Matej, especially if you can get a decent deal going with Zynga that makes it all worthwhile (Contract work as a technical consultant or some such). If it doesn't pan out, lots of XBLIG devs exist out there with needs that could be met by XNI. Take, for instance Zeboyd which is just now getting around to bringing Cthulu Saves the World to Android and iOS.

Matej Jan
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Well, as said, there's no deal with Zynga. They just bought one license like everybody else and I don't think they moved forward in actually using it for translation of their code.

Craig Timpany
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Great article. The decision between investing in one more update/port/publicity stunt, or cutting your losses and moving on is a really interesting topic. I'd be curious to hear what other developers weigh up when they're making that call.

Matej Jan
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Me as well. Hopefully some of them are around and can comment. Guys?

Matej Jan
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I just wanted to say thanks to all who read the article. The response is really overwhelming and I hope I haven't missed any of you guys who took the extra effort of commenting. Thank you as well as everyone else who rather keep more quiet. :)

That being said, we are preparing an even more concise, fun and inaccurate version of the article. Stay tuned ... (on Facebook too if you want: http://www.facebook.com/dawnofplay)

Pauline Acalin
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The careful analyzation of your personal experience is insightful. I enjoyed reading this very much. I have discovered that marketing anything is its own beast, even when following all the steps perfectly. I agree with one point you made more than anything...you have to love what you do, without expectations. Well done!

Matej Jan
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Always glad to get your feedback P. :)

Zan Toplisek
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Thanks for sharing your experience, we definitely need more of these!

I know this was your first game and you learned as you went, but I'd like to know more about the following:

- Did you try to sign with a publisher to help you with the promotion and distribution? A more mobile-focused one like Chillingo? If not, do you plan to do so in the future?
- Looking back, do you think the price should have been lower? Taking a look at the game's App Store page, I'm not seeing enough bang for you buck. Also, "endless hours of fun" and "uniquely designed achievements" don't seem like proper differentiating factors to me. Just my view which could be shared by other users and could be one of the reasons users weren't convinced to make the purchase.
- Did you every consider trying out a different business model? Like, for example, having the game free of charge and then selling additional modes/features for 0.79 EUR apiece.
- What about releasing the game as a Playstation Mini or Xbox Live Indie Game? Would it require too much effort to port the game to those platforms?

Thanks in advance for the answers :)

Matej Jan
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Let me see how many I can answer:

- No, no and no. But we are open to hearing anyone's proposals. This is not speaking necessarily for our company, but for me the charm of Indie development was the premise that you can do it on your own without any gatekeepers that publishers have turned out to be in the past.

- The price was $0.99 for most of the game's time and sales. You can't go lower than that, other than free. The thinking behind pricing it at $1.99 initially was in that it's an universal app which usually had higher price. As said we dropped that to $0.99 for the update and it remained such until sales have dropped to about 1 per day. After that my reasoning was that this is such a niche game that if someone wants a game&watch game, paying 1 or 2 bucks won't make a difference. I agree on the differentiators with you.

- We didn't try it, no. We joked that it should be free and have an in-app purchase to stock new batteries. :) But we did discuss having 3 different games in there. My thoughts were that you have all this overhead with just making all the infrastructure for the game, it would be very big bang/buck to add two or three extra games in there. Somehow like pinball games have one table free that you can try and 2 extras to buy. But this was only my thinking afterwards and has somehow influenced how we're approaching our next game.

- The game would easily be release on Xbox Live Indie Games. I was an XNA developer from the very first beta and love the platform - obviously, since I created XNI which is a copy of XNA for Objective-C. Our windows version runs on XNA so it could easily run on an xbox. But XBLIG has unfortunately lost all my hope of being a good distribution channel. Unless Microsoft brings all games, disc, downloadable, live arcade and indie games into a combined games channel where all have to compete for attention and pricing in the same arena, I just don't see it becoming as important for small developers as the App Store turned out to be.

Hope this gives some insight. :)

Zan Toplisek
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It does, very much. Thanks! :)

Steven Barber
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Great read, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with us.

I had a couple questions I'd like to ask:

1. Why did you decide to make the transisition from iOs to PC/Mac? To me this game doesn't seem the best fit on those platforms so I'm a little confused why you made that decision.

2. What were the reasons Steam etc. blocked you project from being released?

Matej Jan
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1. I agree. It's an obvious mobile game. There were two triggers for me to go spend those months doing it on my own time. First, the game really got good reviews and it genuinely is a good arcade game on its own. Small, short, but worth your dollar or two of gameplay. Second, which might be even more important, I wanted to test my Ba. thesis out. Monkey Labour runs on XNI, a framework that is a copy of XNA in Objective-C. I graduated writing that framework and my main assumption was that you could then easily transfer a game from iOS back to Windows/Windows Phone. I wanted to prove that the technology works and it turned out it did.

2. I guess it can't hurt to show the actual response: 'Thank you for submitting "Monkey Labour" for potential Steam distribution. We have taken a look at the information provided and determined that Steam is not a good fit for distribution. It is our company policy not to provide specific feedback on a submission but we would like you to consider Steam distribution for your future products.'

So no specifics, but I don't think it's a wrong decision. It was a long shot in my eyes. I replied that we love the platform and will definitely try again with our bigger projects in the future.

Steven Barber
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Thanks for being so open. Will keep a close eye on your projects in the future.

Matej Jan
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Here it is, the short version of the postmortem ... Hitler style:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIaqWl7eLDw

Will Burgess
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That was a fantastic read, very inspirational.

Matej Jan
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I'm glad you took some hope out of all the bringing-down-to-earth! ^^

James Hofmann
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I should point out the comments to this article on /r/gamedev - http://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/vplgo/congratulations_yo
ur_first_indie_game_is_a_flop/

Lots of bashing there, but I'm bringing it up to illustrate the naive perspective - which I disagree with - which is "no True Scotsman would make this game." Needless to say, /r/gamedev is full of people who have never shipped a game(amongst a few who have).

Average revenue increasing with more games made is really indicative of the learning curve involved in making a game that markets well. It seems like there's no substitute for experience in getting past the curve - pretty much every success story has some footnote of "after a few years learning" to it.

Matej Jan
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I'm addressing the comments in that thread as we speak. Hope I won't feed the trolls too much. :)

EDIT: after going through ALL of them they raise some interesting points after all, but boy it is exhausting. Awesome to get so much feedback anyway, lots to learn, especially for me.

tony oakden
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A great read, Thank you! Exactly mirrors my own experience of Indie development. Somebody once gave me great advice which I think relates to indie game development but which originally was about real estate. He said "never think of property as an investment, real-estate goes up and down and if you buy somewhere because you think it will make money and then it doesn't, well you'll be really unhappy. Always buy somewhere where you think you'll be happy, then even if the value goes down at least you'll have the pleasure of living there". The same goes for Indie development, make the game you want to make and put your heart and soul into it. Then, even if it doesn't make a cent, you still have had years of pleasure making it and you'll have some great memories.

It's also great that hardly anyone here has told you what you did wrong or what you might have done better. So many wannabe indie developers think there is a magic bullet for success and see these articles as an opportunity to offer advice on things they really have no experience of. Sure you could have done something's differently but would it have made that big a difference? Frankly I doubt it. Indie success is a bit of a crap shoot at the end of the day :)

Matej Jan
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True. It's an amazing contrast in feedback here or in the reddit thread linked to a couple posts above.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, really appreciated.

Ron Dippold
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Well thank you for this, truly. We learn the most from failure, but it's also the hardest to get people to admit it (which is my most negative science studies never get written up either).

I was initially surprised and sad that you couldn't get your game on Steam, since a 100,000 sales at $1 each even with the Valve cut is still substantial - but on second thought the appish quick play, which is a positive on mobile, is a liability for Steam. It's not the sort of game I'd expect to find there. I'm not sure what you can learn from that except what you already learned - games targeted for mobile might not be well suited for PC.

Francisco Javier Espejo Gargallo
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Thanks for sharing Matej. My wife is just in the same positions as yours, teaching at the univertisy and also doing indie game development where I try to get time to help her out (i'm internship at another game company). Numbers with her games are far worse than yours and it's big deception... we decided to go for something that we really love trying to forget about releasing it soon and making money. Being and indie is just a crazy but lovely thing to do, and your experiences reminds us all that we're not alone. Thank you!

Cartrell Hampton
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Hey.

This:
"But if you love doing it, that won't be a problem. You'll keep your day job, you'll still be doing websites for business clients, and you'll still be creating games after hours, because this is what you want to do.
Your first game will probably be a flop in business terms, but it's an epic win for you."

That's me, except my day job is actually making browser-based Flash games for clients.

It's also interesting that you mentioned the $500 value for a first game, because that's EXACTLY the amount that my first Flash game made. (:

Nice article. Thanks for sharing.

___________________________
- Ziro out.

Jimmy Andrews
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"I was once again sure we had a great product that only failed in its marketing."

"Plan your marketing as much as you plan your game."

So much of this article is about marketing. Even at the end of this story, you still seem to think that if you'd just marketed it differently -- entered more competitions, made friends with gamers online, etc -- then you could have done better. But it seems like it's really a story of how marketing can't make an uninteresting product sell. You seem very proud of the 75 metacritic, and the few critics who really liked that game. That's ok. But these aren't really signs of a 'great' product -- just a solid, reasonable one. In the sea of apps, I wouldn't naturally expect a solid product with niche appeal to rise very high, no matter how good the creator is at 'reddit mastery' and press releases.

"Make a better game" is, of course, not very useful advice! But I wish some of the lessons you learned were more about game design, and less about marketing and business plans. Could you recognize failure faster? Could you change your process to lead you to ideas that really capture the broader public's imagination?

Eric Blomquist
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I agree with this more than any of the other comments - being 'aware' of the potential turmoil when following your dreams is not exactly new. The article would have been far more interesting and insightful for yourself and the readers if you addressed the game itself. Maybe it just wasn't good enough? I cannot help but shake the feeling you mostly did this to attempt to turn a profit, instead of making a great game.

I could be wrong but I think the article would have been focused on game design if that was what was most important. If I received a 75 I would know that the game creation effort must be improved - and possibly making some marketing and 'business' adjustments.

Matej Jan
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Yeah, the reason it's not an article about game design is I got the design into my hands, just to program and later market. I did try to make a better game given the base gameplay and I think without those improvements the players' initial perception that this will be a silly lcd game would have been more justified. But that doesn't really matter, as reddit showed clearly, just the fact that the initial perception is unappealing is enough to kill the sales for this game.

Thanks for your feedback. It confirms my general takeaway from reddit. I'm still glad I wrote this, as without readers' feedback I would lack this better perspective.

Ian Fisch
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It seems like the 75% is for the iOS version. This game makes alot more sense as iOS than it does a PC downloadable. Seems like a good candidate for a free Flash game though.

Matej Jan
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Yeah, that's right. I should have just made the windows version to test my tech, releasi it for free and ride into the sunset. Looking back at it now it's painfuly obvious.

Rik Spruitenburg
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@Matej Jan, It's not too late to release the PC and Mac versions for free. Maybe on Pirate Bay? What do you have to lose?

Amanda Fitch
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Your conversion rate is great considering the number of people who downloaded your game. The number of people who downloaded your game is very small. My bet: your game is good, BUT the first impression (before the game is downloaded) might well... suck. The first major issue that popped up for me was the name of the game. Labour. To me = yucky! Is someone giving birth or performing tedious work?

My thoughts: Change the name of the game to something that sounds like fun! And make sure to ask your target audience what names they like. Then re-launch the game. Obviously the people who got past the name (and maybe cover art) understood what a gem you created. The best part about being an indie is that you can experiment in ways that the big companies can't. :)

Matej Jan
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You are very right. I wish I saw this earlier. But I don't think we'll lose more time on this. The postmortem was written already in february and I am content with the game's turnout. We'll soon be releasing our new game (or two) which has hopefuly much bigger potential in the first place.

Anthony Boterf
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I agree that this would make a decent entry into the world of Flash/Browser-based games, with Facebook as the platform. Even if you don't want to put any more time into this "dead" project, it is certainly an option to look at for your next release!

Mark Hinchcliffe
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Great article. I worked on a similiar LCD based game called Squibs Arcade http://youtu.be/wKFXVCwtPE0. Developed by Alten8. You may be interested in a Tie-in similar to the Humble Indie Bundle fire an email to the MD of http://www.andrewsuk.com/ there may be a deal you can strike there :)

Rofli Sanches
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Hey dude, thanks for share your story.
Surely, you changed my life, at least for now!
This don't have a price.

Really, thanks.

Bryson Whiteman
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Great article. Thanks for sharing!

Nick Borrego
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Really great article. I'm in the process of composing the music score for two indie games, and this was a great read to collect a little more insight on what to expect in the future. Thanks a bunch for sharing your experience!

Trent Tait
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Even with Kotaku loving my game and making it appear on the xbox dash, it had 0 effect on sales of my game, which amount to just over 100 before I gave up checking, which sadly, is also half the sales of my first game which is arguably far less exciting. I did absolutely no marketing or PR whatsoever though. I'm just a coder with a little art/sound ability and the business side of things eludes me. I'm not a people person at all. I most certainly feel you pain.

I'm glad I have a day job. While I have not done much in the last year, I hope to make something again soon, but it will be because I find the process fun, not for profit.

Gnoupi i
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Great article, thanks for all the details.

Now I wonder about something. Gamasutra is quite specific, and usually for people following closely the industry news, it's not exactly the place to touch a large public of random gamers.

My point is, it would be interesting to know the impact of a (semi) post-mortem Gamasutra article such as this one, on your sales. I assume it gets you at least to a double-digit number of sales, but maybe something more? I know it's not the purpose of the article, but it is still somehow a part of talking about the game.

It would be nice to see how it influences when you address such public with an article describing all your process.

Will Hankinson
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I'm curious how it would've done as a Flash game. My last super-simple game only sold ~50 copies on iOS (mostly to friends) before I made it free, but the Flash version sold a couple of site licences and has made a few hundred on ads.

I think it's a lot easier to make some money on a Flash game, but the ceiling is also pretty low.

Greg Quinn
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Great read. Thanks for sharing.

Anthony Buchalka
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Thanks for a great post. Lots of food for thought. Being a new Indie developer, its great hearing other people's experiences.

Prabir Biswas
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Thanks for a great article, this is really an eye opener for a lots of Indie developers , who may not know the hardship in game industry. This will make them realize the problems , as well as let them prepare well in advance for dealing with these problems. I am one of them :) , thanks again for all the infos.

boris piker
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Man that's some pretty tough stuff to deal with. My own dream is too have the chance to develop games at my leisure without any monetary problems, but I'm nowhere close to reaching that goal... I'm essentially a one man team with 0 actual development experience. Started making my first professional attempt at game development as my senior design project in college(killing two birds with one stone :p), but i'm a computer engineering major so besides strong programming fundamentals, i had to teach myself everything. Thankfully I (magically) got off my lazy ass and started learning Unity3D around 3 years ago, and I feel that i've gotten pretty damn adequate with it. I've been developing my game on and off for about half a year now, and i am very proud of the progress i made. Success or no success, theres nothing quite like that feeling of satisfaction that you get when looking at your own creation, and seeing it function as you envisioned it. Anyways, i'm pretty much done with college now and gonna be looking for any job i can get, itd be a miracle from heaven to get a game related job in New York City with an unrelated degree. It doesnt matter though, as long as i make enough money to survive and make games in the meantime, im happy :)

Iancu Stoica
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Thanks for this detailed and inspirational article.

Ana Morgan
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For a moment there I thought "Oh someone wrote our story", then I realized that while it was our story, it was actually about someone else's experience.


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