A reprint from the April 2013 issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine, this article rounds up several mini-postmortems for a variety of high-quality indie titles.
If there is one thing we've learned over the last year at Game Developer, it's that dev studios need to stay current on every potential game platform out there, or risk missing opportunities to reach the widest possible audience. That's why we've put together a collection of four shorter postmortems, each for a game developed for a different platform: Muteki's Dragon Fantasy (mobile), Subset Games's Faster Than Light (PC), KIXEYE's War Commander (social), and RSBLSB's Dyad (console). So whether you're a single-platform dev wondering if the grass really is greener, or you just want to learn more about what went right and wrong with a handful of standout games from last year, read on for the mini-mortems.
By Adam Rippon and Bryan Sawler
We started on Dragon Fantasy on April 1, 2011 as a tribute to Adam's late father, Tom. Adam started making the game as a way to cope with the depression and stress in his life. While it probably wasn't particularly healthy to be as obsessed as he was with one project, he sure did get a lot of work done in a surprisingly short amount of time! The first chapter of Dragon Fantasy launched on iOS on August 23, 2011.
1. Regular Content Updates
The game was a modest success, and we immediately set to work on adding more content to it, hoping that by continually adding new content we could keep sales consistent.
While we weren't hugely financially successful from all of our free content updates, the goodwill and reputation that it earned us was a huge benefit. We've made a lot of friends in the indie developer community, which has been a huge help. We learned a lot about how to market our game via shows and via the press. Also, we bumped into Sony several times during the development of the game, and I believe that it was our dedication and cult-favorite status that led them to decide to include Dragon Fantasy Book II in the Pub Fund. Had we put out chapter one and called it a day, I wouldn't be writing this article right now!
2. Great Press Coverage
If there's one thing you absolutely need to have on your side, it's great reviews -- and we got lots of 'em. We enjoy a 4.5 star rating on both iOS and Android, despite the perpetually entitled rage of the "OMG WHY ISN'T IT FREE" crowd. We got great coverage from RPGamer, whose editor-in-chief absolutely loves the game. Joystiq gave us some great shout-outs. And our crowning achievement was our interview with Kotaku Australia -- Adam has a copy of it printed and hung up on his wall, and his mom even mailed a copy of it to his grandma. (It was that good.) Apparently it wasn't that common for Kotaku U.S. to run Kotaku Australia's articles, but they ran this one. Oh, and the sales bump from that beautiful article? Very, very nice. Great press goes a long way.
Dragon Fantasy may not look like it's a super high-end engine, what with all the ginormous pixels and whatnot, but you'd be surprised! We've always rolled our own engine and tools, and the work on Dragon Fantasy was a serious boon to the production of our very powerful and very easy-to-use UI system.
While we didn't make a ton of money on the game itself, we did make a fair bit by using the tech we built for the game on other contract projects. We've done numerous paid projects for larger clients using our MuTech engine, even going so far as to use it in a political news app! And despite being reviewed by dozens of blogs, not a single one noticed that it wasn't a native iPhone app. We're pretty proud of that. So while we probably could have just done Dragon Fantasy with some off-the-shelf engine, there are some serious benefits to building your own cross-platform, application-agnostic engine if you have the means.