Subscriptions & Indie Games

only in Planet Stronghold 2 you’ll be able to learn intergalactic laws!

First of all an update: work on Planet Stronghold 2 continues smoothly, I finished chapter 3 and all the “old romances” routes! But I still need to write the last chapter and part of the new romances routes. And of course, the editor needs to fix the game texts. Considering the current wordcount is 280k words, the full story will exceed 300k words for sure lol

Now back to the blog post topic: you might have noticed that subscription programs are popping up like mushrooms recently. Apple has its Apple Arcade. Google Play followed suit with Google Play Pass.

On desktop, we already have the Humble Monthly that for a fixed monthly fee gives you games each month. Microsoft is doing their Game Pass thing too. EA and Ubisoft have already a subscriptions for their own titles. And let’s not forget that Epic is giving away free games every week.

It’s the end of the world and we know it

So, is this the end of the world? How does a small niche indie survives in middle of all this? I will share some thoughts, but of course it’s just my opinion and you should take it with a grain of salt!

First of all, game devaluating is nothing new – since the first bundles showed up, that was a thing. The main difference is that with the bundles you saw the games included and a price, and then you could decide if to buy it or not. With these subscription models in practice you rely on Apple/Google/etc to pick the games for you.

Now I must make a confession: I am both Humble Monthly subscriber and Gamepass too, and maybe I’ve played 10% of the games. But I’m not the typical gamer – I stay subscribed mostly to check the game trends, what’s selling, since games picked for those offers give you (the developer) a good idea of what is popular / is selling.

In case you don’t know – some services pay a flat out fee to the developer. I know some figures and I must say, that if one of my games was picked for them, I would be very happy, since the upfront money would cover the “potential future copies lost”.

So, it’s not necessarily all bad for developers, even if of course you need to be careful about what you sign and how much to ask. No, in this case the main hurdle is getting in. Since they hand-pick the titles, we’re again in a on/off – yes/no situation. Your game is accepted? Good, here’s the cash and you can keep making games. Your game is not? You have to sell it the “old fashioned way”. Which for now, still works! But in future? That is not certain.

Give me a thousand fans!

For a niche game author like me, there’s really not much hope to get in one of those offers. Then, what’s left? the good old “thousand true fans” theory that I borrowed from Jeff Vogel (Spiderweb games), and to be honest I’m not even sure if it’s his own idea, but I heard first from him!

He says that to keep going, you only need to have a thousand of loyal fans that will (more or less!) buy anything you make. Then doing a simple math, if a game is $25 x 1000 fans = $25.000. Which, to be clear, is really NOT a lot of money once portals’ cut, taxes, expenses are taken into account, for a game that took you a year to make. But that is a sort of “safe money”, then there will be also the other non-fans potential sales.

Of course that’s easier said than done! While I am lucky enough to still have many fans, all those enticing offers might take away some, also simply because not everyone has enough money to buy/support all their favorite authors (I know this well since I was a teenager too once!).

Anyway my summary is: those subscription models probably are here to stay. The few titles going in will be blessed and get good money. The gap between the 1% of devs making lot of money and the remaining 99% will grow bigger and bigger. Many companies will go bankrupt, including many indies, but I still think that “pay-once” full price games won’t go away, as well as seasonal sales and discounts. They simply coexist one next to another.

A final consideration

Also a final consideration: people who like games and spend money on them, now with $9.99/month can get most of the AAA titles and famous indies with the various gamepass. Which means they can actually save money. Money they can use to buy niche indie games like – totally random example – mine, which will very likely never end up in one of those subscriptions services! So maybe, there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel.

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Lessons learned and ideas for Loren 2

I know that Planet Stronghold 2 is not out yet, and it’s definitely too early to do a postmortem. But as I am coding Planet Stronghold 2 I am learning a lot, and it was really a good thing that I did it before embarking on the odyssey that will be making Loren 2.

Too many romances!

Planet Stronghold 2 romance graph. Notice how foolishly hoped to have it done by Q1 2013! lol

If you ask a player, there’s no thing as too many romances! But if you ask me, or any other developer who cares to bring good characters and realistic romance routes to life, they’ll shake their head and say “yes”.

While writing Planet Stronghold 2, I realized how complex is a game that offers a lot of romance options AND also the possibility to continue a previous romance. I will explain better with some examples, because I understand that for players some details aren’t immediately noticeable, but for people like me who are behind the planning and coding, it’s a nightmare!

Let’s not talk about the fact that for each single romance combo (male/female and straight/homosexual) I had a different starting scene in PS2, in that case even if you were loyal or rebel there were different variations (for example, Michelle moved away if you were Rebel).

So that aside, for each scene in PS2, I had text variants depending if the character was in a romance or not. For example, if Rebecca saw Joshua looking at other girls and you were in a starting romance with her, a jealousy scene would follow. Which of course would make no sense if you were NOT in a starting romance with her! And so on. There are a lot of those variants thorough the whole game, and they take time and effort since they must merge with the story well.

A small parenthesis: this is one of the main reasons why I didn’t use an external writer for this game, because either that writer knew very well how Ren’Py / branching games work, or would have been a mess to explain what to do.

But that’s not even the worst – the worst is, that since I offered the option to “change your mind” and break the current romance to pursue a new character, for each starting love interest I had a “break up scene”. Then, for each character I also had an “engagement scene” which would “set” your love interest in chapter 3 and until the end of the story. Phew!

Even for Cursed Lands there was a lot of effort but at least there, all the romances except Leena and Jasper were bisex, removing several problems. And you had no starting romances. Here there are all the previous romances: Rebecca, Tom, Michelle, Rumi, Cliff and Damien, plus the new entries: Milo, Lakadema, Shiler and Avae!

To use a technical term, this amount of work behind the game romances is fucking insane. Lol, jokes apart, at least for the new entries I had “only” to write the engagement scenes since you couldn’t start in a romance with them.

Talking about Loren 2

As I was saying, this experience with Planet Stronghold 2 made me realize once more that all the romances of Loren 2 was a totally reckless decision and I don’t think I can possibly do a good job as it’s currently planned.

My idea (which is not set in stone of course) is to have a full experience with the new romances, I mean like the first game, so that each character has a long, satisfying romance arc. And then, maybe a sort of smaller story or something for the existing romances. It could still be done in form of a DLC, but what I want people to understand is that I simply cannot have both games of same length, also because it’s hard to find new ideas for the existing romances (there’s already 240-250,000 words of texts of the first game after all!).

But beside length consideration, even for Loren 2 I simply cannot have all the combo of Planet Stronghold 2, so probably I will have either a starting romance that will be the same for the whole story (with no possibility to change) or starting with no romance, and then you could romance the new characters only.

Already the change described above would cut a lot of work, making the story much easier to write and I wouldn’t need to have 500 variants of the same scene depending on the starting romances!

In summary right now my idea is that at beginning of the game, the choices would be two: 1) start as “new”, with no pre-exisiting relationship and possibility to engage with the new characters only 2) start with an existing relationship from Loren 1 and keep it until end of the story (this probably would be done as DLC to be released later)

Anyway, there’s time, since after Planet Stronghold 2 I plan to “take a break” and work on Undead Lily since that’s also another game delayed for too long (and that has too many romances problem as well! haha). I’ll also be releasing other “regular” VN/dating sim games along the way since taking 1 year between each release is really too much time and bad for business.

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Your feedback is welcome

PSCD is probably one of the games where I listened more to the feedback

Haha sorry for the odd blog post title! Anyway, the basic concept is this one: any feedback from you is welcome. You, who bought and played my games. You who never bought any of my games and pirated them all. You who have somehow played my games and think they’re awesome and the very likely few of you (really, just a minority, I’m sure of it!) who think they are bad ! 😛

Jokes apart, I always welcomed feedback, even when it was made in a somewhat arrogant/presumptuous way, like “why have you done XYZ when clearly nobody likes that?” and often I laughed looking at the statistics in my possession saying exactly the opposite.

Tastes are tastes, but stats don’t lie

Doesn’t matter if what you think is “right” or “wrong” (also because we can’t really say that, it’s all about personal tastes), I am interested in hearing it. If you follow me I know that I always try to reply whenever I can, explaining why I do what I do, even if ultimately the main reason of all my choices is that I run a business and I need to make money.

For example, I already said a while ago that I won’t make any more yaoi only games, but this doesn’t mean that there won’t be anymore yaoi romances in my games, especially RPGs. It means simply that there won’t be another Heirs & Graces game, with 4 love interests, all gay. This is not about personal tastes (even if I personally like more yuri) but based on the statistics in my possession. It’s better for me to do a game with two romance combos or even all romances, maybe with fewer love interests or with all characters bisex (like Love Bites) instead.

Anyway, sorry for derailing! But if you have any comment/suggestion to make, feel free to do it, here in the blog, in my forums, on my discord server (even if I sadly I don’t check it often) or in the social networks. Even if I mostly base my decisions on my data/stats, many times suggestion also helped me come up with new game ideas, gameplay or other thing. Small details, big changes.

Indeed, several times I made choices based on people’s suggestions! For example I have:

  • named a main character (Nicole)
  • tried making a game in a new genre (PSCD, Amber)
  • changed an ending/epilogue (Cursed Lands)
  • made a game more “hot/explicit” (PSCD, Roommates)
  • named a game (Heirs & Graces, Amber)

and the list goes on. So as you can see, I take them seriously into consideration! Then maybe of 10 suggestions only 1 gets implemented, but doesn’t mean I don’t care about them or that I don’t read them.

Some examples

PSCD is a good example of features implemented based on suggestions. The manga art update, which increased sales by 300% and showed me to never make again a game with non manga art. Or for the same game, the “quick match” option in the main menu. At first I was reluctant but in the end was probably a week of work more to implement it, and people definitely liked it.

Or for those who beta-tested Cursed Lands and participated in my forums, I changed the epilogue of the game after talking with people and Loren’s original writer to remain faithful to a certain character (I won’t go in more details since is a spoiler).

The only case in which I definitely don’t implement something, is if the idea itself requires an insane amount of extra money or work and I simply cannot afford to do it. If you haven’t, check a post I made a while ago about feature creep and vocal minority.

Keep the suggestions coming and even if I don’t have time to reply to all of them, I swear I read them all!

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Planet Stronghold 2 update

Shiler apologizing to you? this isn’t something you see every day!

So, we’re already at the end of August!

Work on Planet Stronghold 2 is progressing nicely. In case you don’t know, it’s taking me so long to update the beta version simply because I decided to release both the last two chapters, the 3 and 4 at once. While the last chapter has a shorter main storyline, it has all the romance scenes and personal quests, so it’s definitely important!

Getting personal…

The personal quests are optional (you’ll be able to refuse them if you want), but still need to be written and tested. Also, for EACH quest, there’s going to be two variants depending on your alignment with that character (loyal/rival).

What happens if you’re neutral? There will be another choice in the quest itself that will force you to be either Loyal or Rival. So we have two different fights, and then also different texts.

The main reward (usually a powerful item usable only by that specific character) will always unlock, while the variant will provide extra different bonuses (money, epic items, grenade/medikits, special items, etc).

…and getting hot!

The romance scenes, since there are 6 love interests, are taking a long time (I have planned 5 romance scenes for each character for a total of 30 !!) and I’m also putting special care in the “final romance scene” with the CG offering two versions, a suggestive/mature version and a more tame/soft version.

This time since with the suggestive option turned on you can see fully naked characters (depending on the pose you might not see some details of course) I decided to make the suggestive text version much more spicier than any other games I’ve done in the past ! While the soft version will have still undressed characters but not fully naked and the text will reflect this.

All of this, as you can imagine, requires more text (both version must be satisfying to read) so for example one of the romance scenes I wrote is almost 3000 words long!! Even if they’ll be of varying length, if we consider an average of 2k words each for 6 love interests, that’s already 12k words just for that scene for all characters!

I’m currently around 250,000 words of story, and as expected (LOL) it’s going to be another SMALL GAME ™. I remember when I finished Cursed Lands and thought about its crazy size of over 300,000 words I said “I won’t make another game as big as this one”. Last famous words…!

Release date

The downside of all this is that the game will probably be ready during the WORST moment of the year to release a new game, that is end of October/November. I will still release it on itch.io of course, but I will probably delay the Steam release until after the holidays, since I think it might be a bad idea. I haven’t made my mind yet, but it’s very likely!

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Volleyball Heaven Update

is Lana seeing a guy? Suspense! Also see, new backgrounds!

It’s about time to give you an update on this game. There have been some unexpected delays due to events out of my (and the writer’s) control but finally things are moving again! Towards the end of 2018 / early this year I had finished scripting the game until the Christmas events.

Now, the final version of the script until Valentine’s Day / Easter is done, I’d say about 2/3 of the total game script is finished. I still need to code it and test of course, so it’s not like 2/3 of the game is FULLY finished. However it’s still a dating sim, not a complex RPG, so nothing compared to Planet Stronghold 2!

Breaking the Curse!

In case you didn’t know, Volleyball Heaven will become my first yuri-only released game. I had already planned another, the “cursed game” aka Nicole yuri but I got exasperated up to a point that I canceled it. I also had another one in the works, Summer In Trigue, which is going to be finished too by the same writer taking care of Volleyball Heaven (that writer will be now known as the ‘Yuri Finisher’ !).

Plus, I’m working on another “secret yuri game” but following my new philosophy of not announcing anything until I am 100% sure that the game is almost ready, I won’t talk about it for now. But even this one is coming along nicely.

In summary I want to break this curse and get forgiven by yuri fans for taking so long to FINALLY release a yuri only game. Thinking that my first (and very likely last) yaoi only game was done back in 2016, already three years ago, yuri fans deserve some justice!

Hot Stuff

I’m also curious to release Volleyball Heaven because it will be my first very “adult oriented” game. In previous games (like Loren) I had already sexy scenes but in this game is different, also the general tone of writing is more “mature”. A bit hard to me to explain. But anyway, I will work with the writer to make a “clean enough” version so that it can appear on Steam listings (which is important since if it’s marked as adult-only, it will be hidden by default, lowering the exposure).

But even the “clean version” will still be rather hot – compared to my previous games of course! Compared to some hentai games I’ve seen on Steam it will still be much tamer!

I know some people might agree (some might even say “finally!”) with my new more “adult oriented direction” while others not, but after the Google play ban, my main market is PC/Steam and on Steam if you don’t have at least a sexy version you could even not bother making a visual novel at all. Of course, unless you’re already famous with millions of followers.

Just a random but interesting data that reinforces my point: after several months Corona Borealis still sold better on my own site/itchio than Steam, and it’s a very clean game. Similarly, other “clean games” like Always Remember Me almost sold same direct vs Steam, and so on. On the other hand, every other game with more sexy content (Roommates, Cursed Lands, PSCD after the manga patch, etc) are selling between x3-x10 times more on Steam. Which is a clear indication about what people want on that platform I think!

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