Hazel is officially out and my first Kickstarter thoughts

despite the dark setting, this game has a lot of cute/sexy moments!

I’m happy to announce that Tales From The Under-Realm: Hazel is now officially out! You can get it from here: https://winter-wolves.itch.io/hazel

As usual, you’ll be able to redeem Steam keys from itchio once the game is out on Steam, very likely early next month. And now some thoughts about my KS experience.

As you probably know, Hazel was my first Kickstarted game. Before I never did it for two simple reasons: until 2 years ago (I think?) it wasn’t available at all in Italy. So that was already a major issue. And second, because I was scared to not met the goal or fall in the trap of overpromising stuff.

Overall it went pretty well. Here are some thoughts/considerations that might be helpful for people thinking about doing one. Bear in mind that I’m no expert though!

About the goal / stretch goals

I had in mind almost all the stretch goals from the first drafts of my KS. We didn’t reach them all but I expected that, it’s always better to have more goals than you think you’ll need.

Regarding the goal / funding target, I kept mine really low, mainly because was my first time and I had no clue how it could go. I think in general the goal should match the kind of game. You can’t do a KS for a complex VN/RPG and aks $5000 since people are going to wonder how you can actually produce anything good with that amount!

In my case, I had already some stuff done so I didn’t need the full funding of the game. This is also another possibility, asking for funding to finish a game you have already started (like you could have a draft of the story, sketches, etc already done). I think I’ll do this again, I’d feel less anxious this way, but that’s just my personal view, nothing wrong with asking the full funding.

Regarding the project size, Hazel was intended from the start to be a smaller yuri-only visual novel set in my world of Aravorn. So it had a smaller market compared to my usual RPGs which have all kind of romances + gameplay (even if it really seems that yuri is the bigger part of my fans).

In the end, thanks to the stretch goals the game became bigger than originally planned, around 70k words and with 15 CGs, full OST+theme song so definitely can’t be considered small by everyone’s standard (maybe by my standard yes!).

However I think as first KS was a much better idea to pick a small project. If I did a KS for a bigger game, there was the risk of going into feature-creep, and also on missing deadlines. I am not sure if people really care a lot or not (I’ve seen KS late by YEARS!) but by how I am made, if I say a game is ready before a certain date, I want to keep my word. Not even one month later. This is subjective of course, but if possible I’ll always try to met every single KS deadline for all my future projects.

Marketing

This is always a major point. Prepare to get spammed by “services”, which will be completely useless. I spoke with many other devs who did KS before and they all confirmed that if you get a spam message from someone claiming “they can do KS marketing, increasing goals bla bla” have no doubts: it’s a bullshit 😀

At the end of the KS, you see a nice pie-chart and where the pledges comes from. It was particularly interesting for me to see that over 50% of pledges came from KS website itself, meaning that’s money I’d normally not see (not coming from my usual fans, but just by random people who stumble in my project while visiting KS).

I was also very surprised to see how little impact social media had. Think that Twitter only accounted for 5% of total pledges. Facebook was even worse, close to 1%. And I spammed Twitter and Facebook every day (Twitter in particular).

Now it might also be because I have very little followers, someone with 10-20k followers could have more luck. But still, for me was almost irrelevant, and definitely not matching the efforts I put. A good chunk of pledges came from my mailing list, but those were fans so I kind of expected it (thank you by the way!).

Conclusions

Would do it again? Yes, absolutely, I am already planning another one right now. Would I do a KS for a bigger game? I am not sure. Beside the issues listed above, and the fact that I’m still burned out, I don’t like to get a big amount of money upfront to make a game. This world is full of risks, and I definitely don’t want to get $25k (assuming it was possible) and then have a constant worry to finish this big epic RPG I got the money for. No thanks.

Once again are personal preferences: but for now I think I’ll stick to using KS for smaller projects, rather than big ones. Or for the big games, only after I have already developed a good part to finish them (like Curse Of Mantras, which will talk about in next month’s post).

Now excuse me, I’m going to finish planning this new slice of life / comedy yuri dating sim for the next KS!

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!