One project is getting towards completion, while another is beginning the development! It’s the cycle of life, applied to indie videogames.
Yes, because you can play the Tales From The Under-Realm: After Midnight beta right now on itchio! I’ve already sent the Steam keys to everyone who backed the game on Kickstarter, as well as itchio beta links for those who signed for it.
In any case, the final release is planned for next month, so there shouldn’t be much to wait in any case if you prefer to play directly the final version.
I’ll write a proper post-mortem later but for now I just want to say: thank to everyone who supported this game, and wow, it’s really hard to have a customizable character and many different CG! The game final size is over 300mb, of which probably there’s an extra 100mb due to all the different hair/skin color customization options!
The Beastmaster Princess Kickstarter
I’m also really happy to announce this new game! It’s a game that started development several years ago but then for various reason I had to pause it, but now I’ve finally time to finish it.
The setting is rather original vs my other fantasy games, since takes you on the role of Kunya, the daughter of chief Goro, of the Desert Snakes tribe. So for the first time you’ll be playing as a Nomad.
First of all, a quick update about TFTU: After Midnight. Development is at very good point, I’m basically just waiting for the last remaning CG scenes (the various endings) but apart that, everything else is finished.
I hope to start the game beta sometimes this month (mid/end of it)! If you missed the previous one is currently on sale together with a couple of other indie games from friends, check it out: https://itch.io/b/1524/cute-gothic-yuri
What it means to create a brand?
Today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind since a while. What do I mean exactly by creating a brand? Specifically in visual novels (or story-based games)?
Sometimes I check reviews on Steam and itchio (on itchio they’re hidden to public, so only devs can see them). In one of them, I don’t remember which game it was but it was very negative, said something like “I don’t recommend buying any game from this dev”.
They drew this conclusion by simply playing a game. One game out of 40+ I’ve made in my indie career. It’s a bit like saying that you won’t watch a TV channel because you didn’t like one TV show out of the 100 they’re currently airing.
But when I think about it, it’s something that many people do, it’s not completely uncommon. Why? Because people assume that game A is representative of that dev way of work, writing style, their ideas, the way they make the game.
This, in my case, is completely wrong, for a simple reason: I wrote several games myself, but I also used a LOT of external writers, always leaving them a LOT of freedom. In many cases I just gave them a generic plot but then left them total freedom on how to develop the story, the characters and so on.
But was it a good idea?
Maybe not always? Wait, I’m not saying that I didn’t like the results. Of course, I had my own preferences but it’s also a matter of tastes. But it’s normal to say that in my opinion some games turned out better than others. That’s not the point though: the point is that is normal to have a specific style or ideas. For example I’d never describe explicitly torture or rape, or I like to always have a bit of humor and romance in all the stories. Other writers could have different priorities or ideas.
But even the same writer can do different kind of stories. I wrote Heileen, Hazel, Planet Stronghold 1-2, Bionic Heart. They’re all very different settings, some more funny, some more mature, and so on.
I can understand why some companies seems to develop mostly the same kind of games (cute otomes, dark / horror stuff, sexy yuri games, etc). For me is a bit hard because I like to always experiment, indeed I’ve done a bit of everything in my indie career. Probably the only genre I haven’t done yet is cyberpunk (though Bionic Heart is close).
Is there really a solution?
It’s complicated, to be honest. In my more recent games, with only a few exceptions, I’ve resumed writing them on my own, with the help of an editor of course. And for the ones I outsourced I wrote a detailed storyboard, so that the writer followed it closely.
The games done with this system so far have amongst the highest review rating on Steam for my games. It makes me proud, sure, but on the other hand as I’ve explained in last month’s blog post, the review rating is not really representative of a game’s success (well unless is totally negative of course!).
Anyway, for the games done this way there’s more uniformity I think. On the other hand, I’m not so cocky to think that I can write better than anyone else, or that I’m the only one to have good ideas, so I think I’ll still want have stories fully developed by external writers sometimes.
There are other VN authors that always write their own games themselves, and I am a bit envy of them to be honest. This way they’re sure that if a player likes one game, their style, their brand, they’re likely to like/try other games as well.
In conclusion, I think I’ll still do what I’m doing now, trying new ideas, new genres, not producing games in series with always same topics, style, etc. And if someone picks one of my 40 games and thinks that because they don’t like that single one, they won’t like even all the others, well… I can’t do much about that.
I’m curious to know how they decide what to watch on TV though. Because if you try a series on Netflix and you don’t like it, for sure you won’t like even all the other 99, right? I’m being sarcastic obviously!
First of all, short update on Tales From The Under-Realm: After Midnight. I am at good point, I’m finishing to script the ending scenes and waiting for some art, but overall I believe I should have a beta out next month!
And now let’s get to the topic of this post.
Many people use Steam reviews to judge a game success. And up to a point, it’s a valid metric. If a game has an insane amount of reviews (in the order of hundred or thousands) in a short time, one thing it’s sure: has sold a lot of copies!
But what about us small indie devs? It’s really hard to say, when reviews are under 50-100, if a game was successful or not.
Of course it’s even harder to say now because every year, average income for each game drops noticeably. So games with same amount of reviews or review scores could have very different results.
Lately getting past 10 reviews for an average priced game ($10-15) it’s super hard, since very few players leave them. Anyway, to make this post, I compared the revenues of the games I released back in 2016-17. I picked those since I didn’t do any crowdfunding back then and it was a time where you could still get decent exposure on Steam.
The graph above shows the revenues in red, the review score (in percentage) in green, and the reviews amount in blue. Note that I wrote this blog a few weeks ago so maybe I got some new reviews in the meanwhile, but it shouldn’t change by much.
Generally, higher reviews=better sales, but it largely depends on the genre: both PSCD and Queen Of Thieves have fewer reviews than C14 Dating or Heirs & Graces, but revenues are similar or slightly higher.
I think from my experience (not just those games but considering also all my others) is that games with extra gameplay, especially RPG (not so much card games sadly) bring more revenues with same review amount and similar rating. It’s also true though that games with gameplay take on average 2-3 times the amount to make.
I also believe that if a game has a particularly well done story or that somehow remains impressed in people for various reasons, like Heirs & Graces, it can bring a lot of reviews, but sadly not much revenue (it’s probably the game with the highest disparity between reviews and revenues that I have made!).
For comparison, Queen Of Thieves has 1/3 of Heirs and Grace reviews, much lower rating, and still it sold slightly more. Because is a RPG, and also because it features female protagonists and/or lesbian/yuri romance which seems to be the single highest selling point for VN on Steam market (it’s not random that most of the recent games I’ve made all are yuri!).
This is just my experience but speaking privately with other indies they had same results. That’s why I believe that if a game has less than 100 reviews, trying to determine how successful it was based on review amount is difficult. If a game has over 100, then it did well, and if has over 1000 then it was definitely a small hit! Everything else are just theories.
We’re halfway through 2022 so time for a general update about stuff in progress and what might happen in the next 6 months.
ToA: An Elven Marriage
The demo’s response was good, I had a lot of useful/interesting feedback.
Beside fixing some minor bugs people spotted, I might do an addition: for those who want to remain loyal to their only love from Loren’s game, I might add an option to pick that name. For this game and for the other games too. Of course, there won’t be any romance scenes (especially when the character is not even present in the story!) but this way it will let people roleplay better.
Right now in some scenes if you don’t continue a previous romance with Myrth/Rei, Elenor/Saren will start as single. Now instead I could write generic replies to imply tha they aren’t single, but still not interested in romance, that won’t require too much time to add.
For example Nathir might ask if we have someone. If single (as it is now) will answer no. If continuing a previous romance NOT present in the story (so not Rei or Myrth), the answer could be that “we have a special someone waiting for us back home”.
Just generic sentences like that should work and not require too much effort, so I think it can be implemented easily enough in this story and next ones. Also, in some stories the love interests will be present as NPC but not in the party, like the second game. There will be both Karen and Loren but they won’t actively join the party. But this way I’ll just have a few scenes with them for those who still want to roleplay.
I hope I managed to explain myself, it’s a bit confusing I know! I still haven’t decided if I’ll do this or not yet, but at least as idea doesn’t seem too difficult.
Tales From The Under-Realm: After Midnight
I’m making very good progress on this game, about half of the story is done and I’m scripting it. Still waiting for some more art, and the theme song is also ready (I posted it on the Kickstarter update).
Curiously I got way more withslists for this game than An Elven Marriage during the Steam Fest event, so it seems that at least the beginning of the story captured the interest of many people.
I’m making sure to have a good story with many branching points and having several dark/sad ending, alongside some bittersweet and happy endings: yes because as happened in Hazel (the first title of this series) despite the dark setting I like to provide at least one happy ending for each romance couple.
Since the game should be out in the next 3-4 months I’ve already set up a page on itchio with a pre-order option, for those who missed the Kickstarter or simply prefer to buy the game regularly. The game is not ready of course (you’ll get a simple wallpaper if you try to download it now), but you can already download the wallpapers and OST and listen to it if you want.
Other projects in the work
As usual I’m working on many other projects at the same time, since to meet my goal of at least 2 games out every year you need to plan in advance. I have posted several previews in my Patreon in the past months as usual. I have a project in particular that could be announced in the next months, perhaps even this Fall. Stay tuned!
Sadly only a few months after my other older cat Mirtillo died, even Lilly passed to a better life. She was 16 years old, so at least not as young as some other cats I had, but she had a special place in my heart also for a reason: she was the last stray cat that we rescued in our previous place, and by pure coincidence she’s also the last to leave us.
With her departure a chapter of my life closes. I still have three cats and a dog, but this was the last link we had to our previous home and in a way, previous life (things were way different back in 2006-2007 even professionally). When I think at her, I think at the difficulties I had in my early years as indie developer, the expenses, and still the courage to do the right thing and try to save as many innocent creatures as possible. And it was totally worth it.
Thank you Lily for everything and see you on the other side.