New Year Goals

If I look back at my 2020 goals, I have mixed feelings: https://www.winterwolves.net/blog/2020/01/new-year-goals-3/

I mean, yes I finished Planet Stronghold 2 and Volleyball Heaven, and I’m at good point with Summer In Trigue, but I didn’t release that third game I was hoping to. Of course 2020 wasn’t exactly a normal year, and in the end at least I managed to run my first successful Kickstarter campaign for Tales From The Under-Realm: Hazel.

My goal from now on, will be to release each year a couple of “standard sized” (not my standards! industry standards so around 70k words) or less visual novels and maybe a bigger game (not necessarily a RPG though) every 2 years. So let’s see what’s the plan for 2021:

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This is too hot for Steam, even if they’re more covered than girls on the beach with bikini, so I’ll leave it here!

Tales From The Under-Realm: Hazel – this one for sure should be in beta this month and likely out Q1. Since I did a Kickstarter, it will be my main priority early this year.

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The first time you met with Shiori is almost like a dream

Summer In Trigue – this one should be out this year as well, since we’re at very good point. Not sure exactly when (I might take a break after Hazel release) but it will be out.

still a work in progress, as you see some levels are still missing, etc

Curse Of Mantras – even if I didn’t manage to do it in the past year, I have at least storyboarded most of the game plot. And it wasn’t an easy task, since I was so foolish to include 10 love interests (plus the two main protagonists Ace and Lily, so a total of 12 backstories to write). And if that wasn’t enough, even a complex card battle gameplay which will be similar to PSCD (but different under many aspects like resources allocation and cards selection). I think this time a beta this year should be possible. I might need to do a crowdfunding campaign for this one since it has really drained me (both of money and time lol) and it’s an example of one of the games I’ll never make anymore (too big!!)

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even in this case, work in progress, skills aren’t final and so on

Tales Of Aravorn – An Eleven Marriage. That’s the title of the first new game with Elenor/Saren. Of course, if this year I do Curse Of Mantras, I surely won’t be able to do a RPG. But I’m putting this here since who knows, I might finish this one first? Yes, a RPG is harder than a card game, however this one has a smaller party and “only” 4 love interests. Basically, depending how things go, I’ll decide what game to finish first. But if I don’t finish it this year, it will likely be out next.

Secret games – I have 2-3 smaller projects going on, but as you know I’m not talking about them publicly until I’m sure they’ll be out in 2-3 months max. So I cannot talk about any of them yet, however I hope that I’ll manage to finish one of them.

Conclusions

I know what you’re probably thinking! That there are too many games. Yes, they are haha. However only Curse Of Mantras and An Elven Marriage are really “big” (CoM in particular with 10 romances). I honestly think I’ll finish the plain VN games for sure, while those two big games, don’t know. Now you see why I am not making them anymore – doing a game like that takes 5-6 times the money, time and efforts, and in current market they aren’t rewarding enough. But since I started them, I’m going to finish them, and I hope that maybe I’ll pick a winning ticket at the Steam lottery this time! 🙂

Also, since I’m going to start making smaller games at the same time as the bigger ones, it means that in the next years I should manage to have a more consistent release schedule, and this means I’ll probably focus on a couple of niches. One for sure it’s yuri, for a lot of reasons: more profitable, easier to find artists to draw females, personally I like it, etc. But I will also try to make more games for my usual public, like otomes (I checked and basically 9 games out of 10 of the one I released in past years have otome romances!).

In the end, since it’s a business, it’s the market who decides. So if you like yaoi/yuri/otome whatever, remember to support devs who do those genres, that’s the best way to encourage them to make more 🙂

Merry Xmas and year review

First of all, Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays to everyone! I am running the usual sale on itchio: https://winter-wolves.itch.io/
and Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/pub/winterwolves
(but if you buy on itchio my cut is bigger and you get a Steam key anyway!)

Today I’m going to do the usual “end of year review” post, and I think will be interesting. As you probably know, this year I released Planet Stronghold 2 and Volleyball Heaven.

When making your best game is not enough

I’ve put a lot of effort in making Planet Stronghold 2. More than I should have. In hindsight, it probably would have been better if I made it half-size, cut several romances off, and sold it for $15. But I felt particularly attached to this game and this world, and I thought that if this had to be the last sci-fi game, the last Planet Stronghold game, I had to make it special. Yet, it was still “a mistake” (from business point of view of course) because I believe the market has completely changed.

when making your best game is not enough

As you see from the screenshot above, Planet Stronghold 2 is one of my games with the highest review rating. Currently, it is the RPG with highest review score, though of course the amount of reviews also matters, not just the score.

But anyway, I can say without being cocky that there’s no other RPG I made (and that I’ll ever make!) with a more complex gameplay part (RPG, isometric map, crafting, auto-combat, etc) and I think also a good story. For sure, I’ll never make one again with such a long, branching plot (350k words) and 11 different endings!

The game was released back at the end of March. And after the first completely terrible weeks (I still think there must have been some Steam bug not showing the game to people who wishlisted for it, since many didn’t even know it was out) it finally picked up. I know, other top AAA games were released around same date and some pointed out that might have impacted sales. But by this reasoning one should never release a game anymore, since there’s always some other big game out a week from another! 🙂

Overall, the game didn’t do too bad – but it definitely super-undeperformed based on my expectations and the time/money I spent on it. Might have been the sci-fi curse? Very likely, since in all polls I made (except the one in my own forum!) sci-fi is always one of the least favorite settings, and talking with other VN devs they all had bad results with sci-fi. But as the months passed I started to think about another factor: with a few exceptions, most people don’t finish long games and they aren’t willing to spend anymore twenty bucks (or more) for indie games.

This became even more apparent after putting my games on consoles. Of course, it’s not like game quality doesn’t matter at all – obviously, you can make good or even exceptional games that don’t take 50h to finish! And the vast majority of players definitely prefer to spend $5-10 for a 30-50-70k words long game, than $20+ for a complex multiple branching RPG that they’ll likely never finish! (makes sense, duh)

The truth is that in terms of ROI (return on investment) is much better to make a simpler/shorter game, like Volleyball Heaven (ok probably that one is still not that short or simple, but less than a RPG yes). That’s also one of the reasons why I decided to split Loren 2 into 4 smaller games ! Which, put together will be much longer than a single game, but that I can code and write separately, making my life much easier!

Speaking of Volleyball Heaven, it was an interesting experiment, however it’s also the game on Steam with the highest refund rate of ALL my games by a huge margin (lol). I think the combo between Lana, the overall tone of the game and the sexy scenes scared people who bought it thinking it was one of those almost plotless porn games!

In any case even without considering that, I don’t think will try again making a game clearly sex-oriented with such a “dark” mood. It’s just my guess, but I think people especially in times like this, want more light/comedy stuff. Not that in Volleyball Heaven there weren’t any funny scenes, but I’d be lying if I said that the game in general didn’t feel pretty angry/sad (OK, I’d say realistic, but maybe people playing those games want to escape reality? Could be).

So, what now?

Let’s say it loudly: the games market has changed! And who am I, a small insignificant little developer, to challenge this new status quo? I must adapt and survive. I must not fight and perish!

Jokes aside, in the next years alongside smaller games I’ll also finish some already announced bigger games like Curse Of Mantras and the four Loren spin-off games. But it’s completely obvious that the future is made of much shorter and simpler games, sold cheaper. No more big games for me (my definition of big is a game over 150-200k words or that has complex gameplay). I must say, considering how burned out I was after PS2, it’s even a good news!

Putting so much time and resource to make PS2 the biggest game I made, was a mistake for two reasons: first, market changed and I’d never recoup the costs/time before YEARS. Second, since doing it kept me busy for 1 year full time, it meant that in 2019 I only released Corona Borealis (at beginning of it) and nothing else. And that’s bad. You need to keep releasing many games each year. And let’s not talk about the burn-out I had after PS2 was out…

This means that after I finish the last remaining “big games” in progress, all the future ones will have a smaller cast and won’t probably even reach 100-120k words (though it will be hard for me lol).

I will try doing some new experiments of course. Maybe shorter games, but with a lot of more art (assuming I get more successful crowdfunding campaigns) or even gameplay, but simple design, not stuff that requires months of testing/tweaks. Hazel game will be a good example of what I’ll be trying to do from now on.

This is not only a matter of being burned out right now (I still am from PS2!) but a matter of surviving as indie. Of course, maybe in the next 6 months things will change again. Because in this world, things change continuously at lightning speed! Indeed, right now there seems to be a comeback of censorship on Steam again, where looks like I’ll be forced to either make 100% clean games, or if there’s even a slight nudity, it must automatically be adult only… bah.

Conclusions

This has been really a weird year (and also not just for things related to my indie dev career! 2020 was fucked up, man!) but since I am always trying to stay positive, I’d say that I believe I found out what I was doing wrong, and that (if I understood the market correctly) the next years should be better for me, both for my own health and for achieving my goal to keep surviving as full time indie dev!

Happy New Year and may 2021 be a better year for everyone!!

Progress update

Time for one of my progress update posts! Later this month I’ll also do my usual “year in review” (around Christmas) and also at the beginning of next month I’ll do the “new year goals” as well. But now, let’s see what is happening.

Tales From The Under-Realm: Hazel

the relationship system is similar to my past games

I’ve scripted the first common part of the story, and the editor said she should have all the remaining texts (the biggest part) finished by end of month, which means the game should be out Q1 next year. While it’s definitely not a complex game, it still has a relationship system which will determine which endings you’ll be able to get. I put more weight on certain big choices rather than the regular ones (Friendly/Joking/Forceful/Romance) since some choices are really funny (like the joking one) and I want player to be able to pick them even if they usually give a negative relationship (in particular with Tori).

ROFL Tori’s face after hearing another terrible joke from Hazel is too funny

Summer In Trigue

hmm I wonder to who they’re referring to? 😉

As already announced on social media, I decided to redo the characters art of Summer In Trigue! Why? Well, first of all, I personally like Deji’s art a lot (and I am not the only one). Also, she adapted her style to the existing romance CG scenes (smaller eyes) and I think the result is even better than her usual art!

Summer In Trigue also has changed a lot from its “early years”, since it was obvious I needed to tweak the story and art to the new market’s demands. Which means optional adult scenes and different writing/art style. Since the project started back in 2014, I’m happy to see it finally coming to a conclusion!

I don’t have any estimate deadlines yet, and of course I’ll prioritize Hazel since I did a Kickstarter for it, but it’s very likely that Summer In Trigue will be out relatively soon 🙂

All the other games

As you know I’m also working on other games, however beside the first of the four Saren/Elenor games, Tales Of Aravorn: An Elven Marriage, and The Curse Of Mantras, I’m keeping them secret for now.

Speaking of those two, they still fall into the “insanely huge games” category, in particular Curse Of Mantras with its 10 love interests + card gameplay. Anyway I’m working and will keep working at slower pace on those games too.

p.s. yes I have changed the layout in the blog. Somehow there was a conflict in the CSS and the images would get badly resized all the times! No clue why. But not more time/patience to mess with such things so… I just put a default theme! lol

Goodbye Grillo

My cat Grillo (2005-2020)

Sadly I’m doing an unexpected blog post today because my cat Grillo passed on a better life. He wasn’t very old (even if 15 years are a good age for a cat) but considering all he went through, he lasted even more than I expected!

He was probably my most clever and agile cat, able to open doors, jump in the most unexpected places, always going outside whenever he could.

When he was age of 3 was bitten by a viper he was carrying on his mouth – somehow he survived (the viper might not have had time to inject the full poison in his body). Then, 5 years ago he was diagnosed a mass in the liver (cancer), unoperable.

In these last days, despite the mass growing to a big dimension and despite he becoming even more skinny, he always wanted to go out and stay under the sun whenever possible even in these cold days of November.

I loved all my cats, but Grillo was truly a special one. Rest in peace!

The right platform

Sasha looks so innocent, but is she really harmless? Somehow I doubt it

First of all a quick update about Tales From The Under-Realm: Hazel. I am currently working on the game GUI and began scripting the first part of the story, since the editor has already checked it. You see a screenshot above of one of the first scenes with Sasha.

Now about today’s post: since from time to time I get email/messages from people who want to start making games, this will be a post about the games market in general, not only related to my games. I am just sharing my thoughts/experiences, everything is my personal opinion of course!

What is the “right platform”

What do I mean by the “right platform”? I recently had my games ported to consoles and the result was good. However, I regularly chat with other devs, and they had very different experiences. My idea is: every platform has advantages/disadvantages that can impact a game’s success more or less depending on the genre.

I’ll make some examples: complex games that are best played with a keyboard and a mouse are of course going to work much better on a PC than any console. I tried playing the console port of several PC hits, like Frostpunk or Stellaris. They did a great job, and they play relatively well, BUT if I could choose, I’d always play them on a PC with keyboard!

For other genres instead, the consoles are clearly well suited. Platformers, racing, FPS, adventures, etc. So maybe you could have better results on console for those genres because that market is way less crowded than PC/Steam and in general the games price didn’t collapse (no bundles on consoles!) as much as the PC market in recent years. It’s true that on Xbox there’s the gamepass, but so far it didn’t seem to impact much non-gamepass games from what I know.

Too much offer, not enough demand

Of course, how a game plays well on a device is just a part of the equation: as already said above, a very big factor is also if a platform is crowded or not. That’s why I’d be wary when you hear stuff like “on that new platform XYZ my game sold 100 times Steam!”. Yes, when there are like other 10 games, sure. But after a while? So it also depends WHEN you release a game. I was lucky enough to release one of my best games (Loren) very early on Steam. But I made more games later that could have been on same level or close, but the market was already crowded so much that I could never repeat that success.

Mobile decline

Mobile is also very good for certain kind of games (like visual novels), or better it WAS. I feel now the “gatekeepers” did a great job in destroying that market, which is now full only of MMO and clones, with a few exceptions as premium games (but with the various “gamepasses” things not sure how much that will last). Personally I now consider mobile the worst possible market to be, because of a lot of factors: low perceived value/price, difficulty of developing (especially for iOS but even Android is rather unfriendly now), censorship, and last but not least all the income is concentrated on a super tiny fraction of the market and you need to spend a lot of money to “acquire users”. So overall I’d say the situation is much worse than what happens on Steam/consoles.

Yes, because another “bonus” of the game market is that it’s constantly changing – a platform that was good back in 2014-15 now could earn you next to zero (happened to me when got banned from Google Play!).

Plain luck

I know many people won’t agree with this, but sometimes (recently, it’s happening a lot to me!) you as developer have NO CLUE AT ALL why a game did well, or bad! As a joke, while talking with other indies privately (some of them much more successful than me) I made up the idea of the “Steam lottery”. In practice, while when I sell on itch.io or I run crowdfunding campaigns more or less I have an idea of how a game could do (based on past data/games and my true fans), on Steam every time I launch a new game is like buying a lottery ticket!

I really never had so varying results as with Steam. Excluding the first year, when there was no competition so all the data was screwed, in the next years I really had crazy results. Even talking with other indies, two visual novels (maybe even sharing same artist!) had really different results. Sure, different prices, different topic, writing skills. Different launch dates, competition on same genre/niche. There are so many variables that’s honestly impossible to know what’s going to happen.

So, in my view, it’s a sort lottery and you definitely need a good amount of luck to make a hit. Or maybe, a game that would have been an “OK” game, by luck turned into a hit, and vice-versa. I know it seems a silly thing, but I really believe it. And there’s nothing you can do about that, except trying to do your best.

Conclusions

I think that if you can, using a cross-development tool to create your game is always a good idea: however in the end, finding the right platform for your game genre is probably the single most important thing you can do to achieve success, or in most cases, to just stay afloat.

And last but not least, remember that the only way to know if something works, is to try. What didn’t work for me at all, for you could be a life-changing choice! Work hard and keep trying!