Perceived vs real success

I want to talk about an aspect of indie development/business which is very often ignored, but in my opinion is important: the perceived vs real success of a game.

Recently I released two games, Cursed Lands and Love Bites. As always I got some positive reviews but also negative ones (it’s inevitable). Beside some obvious troll-reviews, one thing that always amuses me is when a player decides if a past game was successful or not depending on his/her own tastes or perceived success.

For example: I like sci-fi, so if you make a game that is not sci-fi, I could say “you should do another game like Bionic Heart which had really an original plot, was popular, etc etc”. If I like card games, I could say “instead of making a new RPG you should do another card game because clearly did better” and so on. Assuming results that are real only in the mind of the person who is writing it πŸ˜›

A popular game is not always the best selling one

This seems strange, but it happened to me in the past, and I also know of other indies who had the same experience. A game could be popular, meaning that has a big following, many people tried the demo, people and review sites talk about it, youtubers do let’s play, but… it’s not as successful as you might think. Maybe a smaller, hidden niche game has made definitely more money than the other, for a variety of reasons (game price, bundles, platform, time of release, piracy, luck).

I could make some examples with my own games: my game Bionic Heart was definitely more popular than Heileen (the first game of 2008). It appeared in some japanese sites, many bundles, has more Steam reviews…Yet, Heileen sold almost double its amount!

Another case is when a game, for some unknown reason (really, sometimes we developers have no clue ourselves!!) sells very well on a specific platform, that screws up perception. Loren did well both direct and on Steam. But if we exclude Steam and consider only direct and mobile, Roommates did better than Loren. So as you can see it’s really hard for the users to know how a game really did simply because only the developers have the whole picture.

Steam reviews are also very misleading, since people assume that a high rating means it’s a better game, or a game that sold more. It’s true in many cases, but also not true in many others. Personally I think that rating is high if the product meet people’s expectations. That’s why you see many short, super linear, but erotic VN with 90% positive: people know what it is, they buy it, they like it and leave a positive review. If you start to add gameplay, non linear plot (or, an ACTUAL PLOT haha), allow to choose the gender, have many romances, the score will decrease. It’s ironic but making simpler and shorter games will be rewarded much more on Steam (and that’s why most of other indies I know doing VN follows that system).

Also, back in 2014 or even earlier, releasing a game on Steam automatically meant a LOT of exposure. Right now things have changed completely. So a better game released now could perform much worse than an average game released back then. As you see, there are many things to consider.

The morale is…

The morale of this story is that if a developer says something like “from now on I’ll only make yuri games” (no, don’t worry it’s not my case…yet) there is a reason. Maybe that developer saw that the 90% of the top selling VN games on Steam are yuri, and this for sure had an impact when planning their new game(s).

Or if the public clearly want content of a specific type. It’s no secret at all that more sexy/erotic contents in VN does better. Like, a magnitude of order better. I think that nowadays if you make a VN that doesn’t at least have a sexy component, you could save your efforts (obviously exlcuding already famous indies) since it will be wasted time. Luckily, in this case I can solve it “simply” by having suggestive content on/off in options screen, so it’s not something drastic as deciding to have only a specific romance type.

Of course everyone has their own favorite games or themes, settings, romance types and it’s normal to support your own ideas, you should totally do it. But ultimately, since this is a business, the choices are made usually thinking about profit.

So far, I moderately ignored the “profit factor” when making games. Spending 10 months making SOTW RPG part, or all the time doing Amber’s crafting without a clue if was worth it or not (spoiler: it wasn’t). Making a yaoi only game (Heirs & Graces) when every dev I knew told me that was a bad idea (and from profit point of view, it definitely was!). Trying ot make BIG games with a lot of love interests and protagonist gender choice, when almost every other developer is making much more money doing MUCH shorter games with just one gender and less romances and erotic content.

All of these choices nowadays make little sense from a business point of view, but I honestly hope to be able to keep going like this thanks to the generosity of people supporting me in various ways, buying the games full price, being patrons on Patreon, leaving positive Steam reviews even if they’re not completely happy about the game, and so on.

We’ll see how it goes in future, but remember, very rarely the decisions of an indie (serious ones doing it for a living) are taken because of personal tastes or randomly. When players think of an indie as truly independent artist, I laugh. Maybe in the beginning we were, but right now if you don’t obey to the market’s laws you won’t stay in business for long.

Posted in development tricks, general, indie life, marketing tips | 12 Comments

Doing sequels is a good or bad idea?

First of all, a small announcement: like all years I’m doing a Summer Sale! Here are the links:

https://itch.io/s/11532/summer-sale-older-games 75% off for older games
https://itch.io/s/11536/summer-sale-newer-games 50% off for games released in last 2 years

Back to the post topic: as you know I’m working right now on Planet Stronghold 2, a sci-fi RPG sequel of my first RPG released back in 2011 (you can see a video showing some alpha gameplay above). I often asked myself if doing sequels is a good or bad thing, and this is my experience so far.

Why is a good thing

The most obvious thing is, if your first game did well and got a following, it’s worth doing it just because people who liked the first game, would probably like the second too, as long as the gameplay/story remains more or less the same.

I did this with Heileen (3 games) and Bionic Heart. For Heileen, it worked more or less well. The games are different (also because they were made over the course of several years and the last one wasn’t written by me directly) but the setting and main characters are the same.

For Bionic Heart instead, it didn’t work as well because while the setting is obviously the same (sci-fi) the general mood of the game is different. The first game had more humor and insisted more on the robotic-love fetish, while the second had more sci-fi elements and mature settings (murder, mass murder, grim/dark world, etc).

Of course it’s not a strict rule that you MUST make all games in a series using exactly the same mood/setting/characters/whatever but personally I believe it’s probably better.

Oh, and don’t make the mistake to plan a series without knowing before if your first title (basically the idea, a sort of equivalent of the “pilot” episode of tv series) will be liked by enough people. I did this back in 2010 with Vera Blanc:Β  I started working on the second episode even before the first was out, and the first sold terribly but I was already halfway through the second that I just had to finish it even if as you can imagine my motivations were zero…

Why is a bad thing

Apart the case above (doing a sequel without knowing how the first title does) there are also other problems. First of all, if you have a game with romances, or tough choices, what happens? do you let player choose at the beginning of the new game who they romanced and what choices they made? if you allow this, you already know that writing the story is going to be a pain. Both in Heileen and Bionic Heart I just picked a “canon ending” and no romance would continue. I was smart.

For Planet Stronghold 2 and Loren 2 instead the plan is to let the player decide the starting romance/events. For example in PS2 you can choose if you sided with Rebels or The Empire, and the story will be different based on this choice (not completely different but many scenes will change).

So this already increases production costs and potential headaches by a LOT!

But it’s not just that. There’s also players’ expectations. For PS2, I am confident enough I can do a good job since the first game is really old, done in times where my English was much worse than it is now (I will use an editor of course) and I didn’t know well what my players wanted. But in any case, when people play a game and they like it, they build a sort of fondess to its memory. You forget about all the problems a game had and you only remember the best things. I know this happened to me with the old games I played when was younger. Then recently I tried to replay some of those games (back to C64 and Amiga times) and… they were unplayable! I wouldn’t even bother playing them for more than 5 minutes now! Still, I remember about those times with great pleasure.

All this rambling to say that probably for Loren 2, no matter if I’ll do a good job with it (I don’t know yet, but I’ll try my best as always) it’s completely sure that a big amount of people who played the original won’t like it, saying various things like “it’s not bad, but the original…” or “I liked the first one better…” and so on. This is basically inevitable. It’s a no-win situation πŸ˜›

Conclusions

Even if in certain cases doing sequels is a good thing, personally I’m almost sure that I’ll never make a sequel to a game anymore. Especially reusing same characters, and especially RPGs.

Doing other games in the same world/setting/lore? Sure, why not! That’s what I already did with my various fantasy games set in Aravorn. Doing cameos is also fun. But full sequels to existing games… no, because the cons greatly outweight the pros.

Posted in development tricks, game design, general, indie life | 16 Comments

Mid-Year Point of Situation


Planet Stronghold 2 character creation: pick custom skills

We’re mid-way through this 2018 and I wanted to make the point of situation. As you’re well aware if you already follow me, this year I managed to release two games already: Cursed Lands and Love Bites.

So, what’s next ? Let’s see!

Planet Stronghold 2

This is the game I’m working on mainly right now. It’s another RPG, and I’m just at the beginning (you can see a screenshot of the character creation) so don’t expect this to be out this year (but should definitely be out next).

I’m having fun so far, even if I’ll need to rewrite a good amount of code to follow the new rules (different shot types for example). The game story is currently at 50,000 words, with a general plot outline andΒ a few character scenes done, but I’m still tweaking it.

While this game won’t be another 300,000 words game like Cursed Lands, it won’t be a small one either (I don’t know yet but probably still around 200,000 words).

So as you can see there’s still a lot of work left to do, both coding and story-wise!

Corona Borealis

This will become my first really TRUE small game in a while πŸ™‚ However I’ve asked the writer to add a few more texts to develop the characters personalities more and get to know them better.

I don’t know yet how long will take to finish this but I think it could be out before end of year.

Volleyball Heaven

In this case the romance CGs are taking longer than expected, but as you can see from the close-up preview above (yes that’s zoomed in, despite the quality, the image is much bigger) the final result will be worth the wait πŸ˜‰ also in light of recent events, we’re going to have the game playable both in censored/uncensored mode. Before we didn’t think to provide a censored / tame mode, but in the end it’s probably better to do this so will reach a broader audience.

To do this we need to do some minor adjustments both to the CGs (provide a “covered version”) and texts.

The game scripting should also start very shortly and I’ll be posting some screenshot previews as usual on the social media when I start testing it myself!

Posted in corona borealis, dating sims, general, planet stronghold 2, roleplay games, volleyball heaven | 4 Comments

Love Bites is officially out!

Special thanks to Aleema for the awesome trailer video above. For sure the best trailer I’ve ever done for all my games!

You can find out more and purchase the game here: http://www.winterwolves.com/lovebites.htm

This game is a perfect example of a project where “everything went smoothly”. I know, it’s rare in the real world (and even more in the game development world!) but happens when you put together reliable people!

Brainstorming / planning

Miakoda, the game writer, had just finished writing the epic PSCD (over 240k words of text) and I wanted her to do something smaller (even if Love Bites is definitely not “small”, but you know how it goes, right?) and most importantly, simpler for me to code. I knew I would be doing more RPGs and complex games after PSCD (indeed I did Queen Of Thieves and Cursed Lands! Two RPGs, and now I’m working on a third, Planet Stronghold 2).

So I definitely didn’t want to have to deal with some more games with complex gameplay at the moment, and after some quick brainstorming, we decided to go with a game involving supernatural, horror, and romance. Seems a good combination!

Artwork

At the same time, I got in touch again with Rebecca Gunter, the artist who did my first games (Heileen and Bionic Heart series) and despite the very busy schedule, she said would have time to do the art for a new game.

Personally I love her style (might also be because I’ve a sentimental attachment to them) but if I try to be objective for a moment I think perhaps her best skills are with males, and I think yaoi fans will like this game in particular… even if both the females (Sabrina and Nadia) are hot too! The only downside is that she doesn’t draw full nudity, but you can’t have everything.

Writing

On the writing side, I think the game features the right mix of seriousness, jokes, and sexual innuendo. I also think the use of the “inner voice” (during the game, as your curse grows stronger, you start to hear a voice telling you… to do “things”…) was a brilliant idea by Miakoda and really adds to the game “something more”.

Gameplay

As mentioned above, I wanted to keep things simple. Originally I was going to use a weekly planner similar to Roommates, but then after some preliminary testing, and remembering well what people told me, I thought…”why?” πŸ˜›

So I reviewed everything and kept things simple. I didn’t bother to add a “visual novel mode” in this game simply because there’s no need. Yes you can trigger some early endings, and yes reaching a certain amount of money will play a slightly different text endings and so on, but overall you can definitely finish the game without going crazy with stat raising like my other dating sims.

This choice was almost universally well received and I think I’ll keep doing this also for future games: either I have some gameplay that works well with the story, or there’s no point in going crazy with coding when it’s not needed or doesn’t work well, just for the sake of it.

Conclusions

As you can guess I’m really happy about how things went with this project, and the previous one (Cursed Lands) as well. If you asked me in Summer last year I’d have never imagined that I would have two games out in the first half of 2018! Next stop is Planet Stronghold 2 and then, finally I’ll start working on Loren 2 πŸ™‚

Posted in dating sims, general, love bites, postmortem | 9 Comments

Making an indie game is like climbing a mountain

The weather is getting better over here, so like all years, this is the period where we can finally start doing some short trips on the mountains nearby. I always loved trekking and walking in middle of the nature in general. While I was in one of those trips I was thinking that in some way, doing indie games is like climbing up a mountain.

When I started working on Cursed Lands, my idea was for it to be a small game ™ – you can laugh obviously – however as time passed, new ideas came to mind and every time it was like “would be a pity to not do this” and “this character should definitely have a scene showing her weaker side” and so on. The result is what you can actually play here: there’s even a free demo! One of the few indies still doing them!

While it might not be necessarily true for all games, in particular small games (for real, not like my 300,000 words / 50h+ long small games!) the process of making a game is really like climbing a mountain.

Whenever I start a new RPG, for example right now I’m working on Planet Stronghold 2, I am super enthusiast. Defining the characters, setting, the general plot, thinking about plot twists, and on the gameplay side the various classes, skills, combat system, items, weapon types, etc etc. It’s great, no doubts.

Then, the climbing starts. And slowly but steadly the initial enthusiasm fades away. It’s normal, happens to everyone. I’ve never seen an indie say “it was great working on this game from first to last day”. If someone says this, he/she is lying! πŸ˜‰

As time passes, the climbing becomes harder, people find bugs, give you feedback, maybe not the kind of feedback you want to hear (the game is not fun! you should rebalance all the battles! and so on) until the end is on sight. The top of the mountain, you can see it! It’s there. But… you’re tired, very tired. Because you climbed the mountain until now, and you can’t wait to finish, to reach the top and then begin going back downhill.

This is the hardest part. This is where you should stand a few minutes on the top of the mountain and wait, looking around you. Look at the path you did to reach the mountain, think back at the experience. Did you do what you wanted to do? Is the game… yes being fun is important, but even more: it’s the kind of game you wanted to make? Is there still something you could do to improve things, without stumbling on your way down the mountain (spending too much time/money?)

The downhill is when the game is released. For many people it’s a nerve-whacking process, and I’m no exception. It’s when you know if all the efforts you put in climbing up the mountain were worth it or not. Though, in the (rare?) cases where I actually manage do finish a good game, it’s really nice to hear the customer’s feedback, the compliments, and the revenues, knowing that yes, you can still afford another trip. Yes this wasn’t the last one!

If you like something an indie made, spend 2 minutes to let him/her know. Send a short email, post on their social media, write one of those infamous reviews on Steam, spread the word, do what you want, but let them know, because it will make climbing the next mountain easier.

Posted in general, indie life | 12 Comments