Happy Holidays!

This year the latest blog post of the year will be the Friday 25th, so I’m wishing you happy holidays now 🙂

About the future : 3 points to survive

I’m going to review this year in the blog post next week, but here I want to talk about the necessary changes I’ll need to do in future.

You may have heard the word “Indieapocalypse” around the net. What is it? Well, some developers (I’m among them) have this theory that it’s going to be a tough future for indies, since the quality bar has raised, the market has been flooded, prices have collapsed, and exposure is really hard to get.

All those things are happening at same time.

While I’m not a big/famous indie, I’ve noticed this phenomenon myself too. Personally, I never had much exposure (I wasn’t on Steam until last year!) but what really changed is the prices drop and the market flood. I honestly think it’s an uncommon situation that will settle itself in the next 4-5 years (lots of devs entered the market thinking to make big bucks, but when they’ll see how hard is to just break even, they’ll probably quit and do something else). But the real challenge will be to survive those next 4-5 years!

Yes, because while for now things for me are “OK”, if the current trend continues like this, I would be likely forced to shut down everything next year around this period or early 2017. And absolutely don’t want ever to write a blog post called “I’m quitting the game business”! 🙁

Note added later: it sounds scary but to continue like this, means I shouldn’t release any game even in 2016. I’m fairly confident that it won’t happen! 🙂 However, I need to do some adjustment to my workflow, described below.

Point 1 – release games more often

If you have noticed, my newer games feature a LOT more content than before, and I kept more or less the same prices as before. But what I really need to do, is go back to releasing at least two games in a year. That is of course impossible, if one of those two games is a big RPG like SOTW, or a complex card game like PSCD 🙂

Which means, I really need to go back making more visual novel/dating sims. I have already a lot of them started to be honest (as you might know) but I need to get personally involved in some. Never Forget Me is one of those: I did all the storyboard myself, which was quite helpful for the writer since she is almost finished in about 10 months (and she had some troubles during Summer, otherwise would have been faster!).

This method works well because writers don’t need to imagine each scene or think about the story or anything else: I do that, and then they expand the storyboard I write. Luckily I don’t lack imagination, so I can do the storyboard rather quickly: I did Never Forget Me in a month. Of course writers still have a lot of freedom about writing the scenes. But is definitely easier for them this way.

So in the coming years I will need to make sure to have at least 2 games out each year, like I always did in the past.

From what I’m writing it seems that making a good visual novel or dating sim is easy: not at all!! But it’s just that… compared to a RPG/card game or similar, it’s honestly MUCH easier, for obvious reasons (think that just the balancing part of SOTW took me 4-5 months… lol).

Another possibility of course is to still do the usual games, but on a smaller scope. Long Live The Queen by my dev friend Hanako is the perfect example of something smaller, but still definitely fun to play.

Point 2 – I’m done with bundles

One of the big mistakes I did in the past 2 years was to do too many bundles. I thought it was harmless and a way to get more fans/attention, but the long term impact of doing too many is really disastrous and apparent now. No surprise there, it’s all my fault. So it’s safe to say that you’ll never see again another “Winterwolves Bundle” because was a total loss of money for me, thinking long-term.

The only bundle I might still consider is Humble, but anyway it won’t happen as often as before for sure.

Point 3 – moderate discounts

I still want to offer discounts to people, since I know not everyone can afford to buy my games at full price. However even in this case I need to be a bit more careful, and never go higher than 50% discount. Why? also because luckily there are still several people buying the games when they’re just out at full price, and I want to “reward” them. It’s not cool to see the game you bought at full price discounted by 50% shortly after. To be fair, I always waited at least 1 year before doing a big discount (for example SOTW was out in November 2014, and the first 50% discount was indeed last month, not sooner).

So it’s not like I’m doing what too many other indies do, starting to discount the game already after 6 months. But in future I’ll stick to smaller discounts and go up to 50% only when a title is really old.

Conclusions

The points above might make me look like a greedy person. The reality is that it’s what I think I need to do to survive 🙂 I see a dangerous trend recently in which everyone is bundling and discounting everything, without thinking about the future. And while I don’t know about the others, I plan to stick around for several more years to come.

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32 Responses to Happy Holidays!

  1. fortifel says:

    Well, its sad to hear those news, and perhaps bundles was not so good idea, long-term. But steam will have 70% or even bigger discount and people, who cannot afford/does not want to pay that much know it and will wait for sales. Maybe making shorter games/dlcs/episodes is the way to go.

    • admin says:

      Yes but I can decide my own discount on Steam. So if I decide to never have it higher than 50%, that’s the limit it will be. But the real problem was bundles, for each copy sold I got CENTS. Not even 1 dollar, but like 20 cents or less (in some cases). That’s clearly not sustainable long term 😀

  2. Troyen says:

    To be honest, I think you’ve let some of your games get a bit bigger than they needed to be. I think you’ve mentioned most of your upcoming games are around 200-300k words (that’s about half the length of the Lord of the Rings trilogy). That’s nice now and then, but I’m not sure it should be par. It would be nice to actually get a small game sometimes.

    Maybe more pushback on expanding the scope and/or moving some of the extra “want to have” or character arcs to expansions. It seems like these days 75% of the content is in the base game and 25% in the expansion, but perhaps it would be better from a cash flow perspective if the split was more 50%/50% (sort of like Loren 2?).

    This is also more controversial and I’m hesitant to say it, but smaller casts would help out on the RP/simulation games too. When only dealing with six or (if you must) eight characters, there’s less to write, less art needed, fewer branching paths, and hopefully a smaller product. Yeah, true, there are fewer romance options, and I know you want to accommodate all audiences, but perhaps doing them all at the same time is too much for little benefit?

    Personally, even with 16 options in PSCD, there’s maybe two or three I’m interested in. Could do a couple others just to explore. But I’d be surprised if someone went all sixteen. Same with Loren 1. That said, I know it’s really hard to decide which combos to include and how many, and so I don’t have any good suggestions. (Having nearly all your characters bisex might help a bit, even if it seems like cheating on paper.)

    I have been kind of worried all year. Last year was spent on a big SotW release, and this year you’ve announced game after game after game, each with multitudes of options, sometimes overlapping content creators, and still it looks like we’ll only see one or two in the first half of next year. But I think there were even more being announced? I’m assuming you have to pay the artists/writers up front or as they go, but when you have too many projects going at once all on a long development cycle (because they’re so big!) – I hope that doesn’t weaken your financial position. Of course, it’s naive to assume simply working on one game at a time will make them come out faster – it won’t, and a lot of stuff can be done in parallel – but maybe there are a bit too many. Would rather see a game actually get released (even a VN) than another project announcement.

    But, lest I sound too harsh, I do see a number of interesting projects in the pipeline. And hopefully some of them aren’t too far away. You’re one of the few indie studios I actually follow. It’s very difficult to find a worthwhile game in the sea of cheap junk flooding all the game markets, so I always prefer to find a set of studios I like and buy direct rather than wade though an endless stream of “75% off this game you’ll touch once” advertisements on Steam.

    • Troyen says:

      Sorry, I didn’t mean for my comment to be longer than your blog post! But your Point 1 touched on something I’ve wanted to say for a while.

    • admin says:

      I agree on several points, I have already mentioned I wanted to make some SMALLER GAMES, but a way or another it never happened. But things will change next year. People associate small with bad, but definitely not the case (like the LLTQ example I did in the blog). Even RPG could be made “smaller” but still be interesting I think.

      The real change I need to do is to go back “in charge”, from start to finish, on a game. Planning it, storyboard and decide how many characters there will be, etc. Sometimes writers got carried away, in most cases because they’re young, too enthusiasts or in general they don’t know what happens behind the scenes, how much it costs, how longer will take if you add more characters, etc.

      But I have also to say that this year objectively talking, it was also a series of bad luck events. We all know the “game that must not be mentioned “- that game was supposed to come out like… TWO YEARS AGO 😀 and I never had so many delays on a game. I think if I just released that one this year, I would be writing a different post already.
      And so I found myself with the only two games written/ready to be coded in last two years that were SOTW+DLC and PSCD. Two BIG games. Thank God Roommates was ready last year, or it would have been a total disaster lol

      Anyway, I clearly wrote “if things continue this way”. So to “go bankrupt” I shouldn’t release ANY game next year. Which I suppose won’t happen!! Would be something really crazy considering there are several at good point right now.

      My blog might have seem a bit too depressing, but it’s how I’ve felt in last weeks, because I’m working like crazy and sales don’t come in, so it’s not the best. But I know what my mistakes were, so I am actually more optimist for the future and for sure next year 🙂

  3. fortifel says:

    Regarding VN or VN-like games, it seems that mobile market has more potential to grow in the following years.

  4. yourealfan says:

    Hey Riva. Im still one of the old guard who is following you since Magic Stones (still a darn good game), so a quick response to your post.

    Maybe you should finally consider some crowdfunding option like kickstarter, indiegogo or something else. I KNOW you think it’s pointless, but the amount of useless crap (including stuff from countries you didn’t even know existed) that gets kickstarter is absolutely amazing, so there is a big chance you will slip through the cracks. And EVEN if you gain 5000-10000 dollars you get to do one game for free + later sales.

    Remove discounts completely. Add an account system to the website. If someone bought games from you before he gets a discount for later titles. No buy history, no discount. I’m pretty sure that most steam sales were expecting hentai stuff from your games anyway. Which brings me to the next part.

    Start doing REAL hentai games, gore stuff and the like. There is a niche for this, and it’s awfully hard to buy english stuff of this ilk.

    Also, don’t know if you heard about http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com/ and Jeff Vogel. This guy is indie as well, but he’s staying strong and has written some interesting things about indies on his blog.

    Hope you stay strong as well and earn plenty of money next year!

    • admin says:

      Yeah the crowfunding is something I’ve been thinking about, and to be fair I don’t think is really pointless, but speaking with other indies, reaching even “small” goals like the one you mentioned takes a lot of effort, effort I’d rather put in doing the games. Anyway, depending on how things go I might reconsider it in future 🙂

      Adding an account system and such could also be a good idea, I need to ask a few friend (I don’t know much of web coding) and I hope is something that my vendor (BMT) could be adding. If it was done by them directly would be better 🙂

      Regarding hentai, is a complex problem: however for sure you’re right about some people’s expectations, in particular on Steam. I don’t think will go full-hentai but going back to something like Loren stuff could be possible.

      I know Jeff, I spoke with him a few times in the past (spoken by email of course) and I read his blog regularly. He seems to agree with me about the indieapocalypse 😀

  5. Franka says:

    You’re underestimating Long Live the Queen – that is one of the most complex games I have played in recent years. If Bionic Heart 2 made you tear your hair out in frustration, LLTQ would give you a heart attack. 🙂

    You should definitely look into doing short, semi-hentai/teasing visual novels. When you look at games like the Sakura series, these are very short, quickly released, but definitely make their investment costs back quickly.

    It’s probably bad planning / not enough supervision that’s lead to some of your games getting out of hand. I think it’s great if you have one complex game in development while working on shipping 2-3 smaller games, but you do need to make sure they remain “small” – I know how easy it is to get carried away.

    While I wouldn’t want you to renege on quality, sometimes you also have to just get something out the door, so you can make some money.

    • admin says:

      No no, I know how LLTQ is done. But doing PSCD was rather complex too 🙂
      Haha doing semi-hentai VN… lol, I admit makes me laugh because I know those games (I played only Huniepop and honestly was quite fun) and while before I’d never consider doing one, as you said, sometimes between some bigger games you need to make something smaller just to build a “safety net”.

      Coming soon: Sakura Wolves! hahah, anyway yeah, I’ll need to think about it.

      A good friend of mine (Amanda from Amaranth games) once said: “do a game you want to make, and a game you are sure will sell”. Like saying, you can experiment/try but remember to make also something to get your money back in case the experiment doesn’t work as planned 🙂

  6. daikiraikimi says:

    Just wanted to throw my hat into the ring with regards to making smaller games. I’ve been a fan of WW since 2008-2009, and follow your blog + posts on various forums, etc. I buy all of your games when they come out, even if they’re out of my regular “niche”. But because I live a hectic life, I don’t always get the chance to finish some of the longer games (esp. RPGs.)

    I think that especially for people who are very busy, shorter games are not at all a drawback, but a bonus– it means that I’ll actually get to finish them in one go and am way more likely to actually see the end. XD (And you might get more sales from folks who don’t buy longer games because they think they won’t finish them.)

    • admin says:

      I am in same boat too, as player. I recently got some games like Witcher3. Really awesome, but… too long! I don’t know if I’ll ever see the end 😀

  7. Matthew says:

    Can you code a “hentai mode” where if the user wants porn they choose that and get nude pictures swapped in? Otherwise is shown normal art.

  8. Ellen says:

    I don’t mind adult content, but in all honesty it would be disheartening if you end up doing it like other certain games that portray women in such a bad way….Your games always have amazing and strong female characters, so making them be like ones in hentai games would be really upsetting….Also….I know it’s a selling point, but hentai is usually badly done though I do believe you can do it well. But yeah if you have adult content I really do hope you do it in a good way and not make the girl eye candy…

    Sorry if I sound harsh but so many games with hentai are bad and show women off badly. They may be popular, but they are bad and the only selling point is breasts.

    I’m saying this because I’ve been playing your games for over five years and you always have good characters and story, so I hope you don’t take the route like Winged Cloud has DX.

    • admin says:

      Even if I added hentai content, it would be fitting the story, like I did with Loren. And even if I wouldn’t mind some comedy stuff (like Roommates) in which you could accidentally stumble into cute girls (seems the most common setting in those games lol) I would still want them to be written in a decent way.
      I mean there should still be a story, strong characters, etc. The nudity would just be an extra thing 🙂

  9. lilypuff says:

    I truly hope you’ll be able to continue making great games. Not everything you make is 100% my taste, but those titles that DO hit well with me…*drool*
    No one makes them as good as you do. Especially your semi-naughty dating RPGs. I swear, discovering Loren opened doors for me to multiple new gaming experiences, and I’m in constant pain awaiting the sequel and Nicole – Yuri Edition.

    Criticism – hopefully constructive:
    With all that said and done…you DO seem to take your sweet time finishing your games. I’m not saying that you should skip back on the quality, that would ruin your brand, but I think your biggest problem in regards to actually surviving as a game developer is that you take too long. If it was possible for you to release some games more often, AND a bigger one/special one at least once every two years, that’d be something.

    I’m not sure if you have an active role in making each and every one of the Winterwolves games, but if that’s the case then I think it would be good for you to focus on fewer projects at the same time, thus ensuring both quality and efficiency, instead of multitasking on 14 different titles, as you do right now.

    • admin says:

      No actually is the opposite, perhaps I even leave too much freedom 🙂
      But as I said in other replies it was also a series of bad luck. I never planned to do two big games like SOTW and PSCD one after the other, but by pure chance it happened. The other smaller games all accumulated and there are 2-3 which are very close from being finished. So I guess I’ll see what happens, and maybe in 2016 I’ll make my new record of releases 😛

  10. Rincewind says:

    Happy Holydays to you too!!

    Hopefuly things will be better the next year. And you will get lots of more sales!

    I must confess, that I got the two first Heileen games in a bundle. Still haven’t played them. Heileen being so blatlanty hetero was a turn off. Of course, Heileen 3 at the start have the same problem, Heileen 3 is quite different.
    Ah, by the way, I gifted to my sister the games that I already had. And the heteros ones, because I only work with yuri-fuel. 😛

    And about the discounts, yeah, I quite fond of Steam Sales. Unless the game is already cheap or I really really really want it (like a game with lots of yuri) I wait for a 66% or 75% sale.
    But I already understand that I must play the wait game. And sometimes is a really looong wait. Expecting a big discount in a recent title is insane.

    That’s my particular stance about that. But of course, I know that I’m not the primary target of… well, anything.

    Anyways, waiting warmly for Nicole Yuri.
    Merry Xmas!!

    And thanks for making such nice games.
    In particular Spirited Heart Girl’s Love, for the cute art and writting and Heileen 3, the Marie path is my favorite. So cute!!

  11. Katicflis says:

    Hey. I’m one of those people that discovered your games through bundles and got hooked as a long-term fan. It may not have paid you off immediately, but I wouldn’t have encountered/purchased your games otherwise.

    Just wanted to add my 2 cents.
    The games you’ve made that resonated most with me are Loren and the Bionic Heart games. I actually am currently replaying Loren and I repeatedly think ‘Damn, I forgot how well done the writing for this game is.’ The artwork, characters, the romances were really well done(I’m literally romancing everyone I can and am loving it). And it’s honestly a really good balance of VN and gameplay. SotW was too gameplay-heavy for me and too limited with its characters. I missed the large cast Loren/Planet-Stronghold had. And it’s kind of weird because I know you’re trying to bring further depth to the gameplay, but it’d be really, really hard to make an indie-RPG outside of the realm of simplistic without a larger team/budget and the effort probably won’t ever pay off. I bought SotW, I don’t regret it, but I won’t play through it a second time.

    Since cast and interesting plot means much to me, your next coming releases that I find myself extremely interested in are Roger Steel and PSCD, and Loren 2. Undead Lily’s got a flashy style so it has me curious. Those four games I’ll get immediately. On the surface C14 looks rather charming, so I may quickly jump on that one too. Your other games I’ll probably get when they go on sale — even if one of your games isn’t too my taste, I want to support you.

    As far as your dating sims go, Nicole and Roommates were your best ones. Nicole did a great job by having a tense plot, and Roommates just had ridiculous levels of charm. I gotta say, interesting plots go a long way with dating sims. I’d rather play a sci-fi dating sim where there’s paths that could end up with my lover getting eaten by an alien than play something as simple/generic as Always Remember Me. That said, Roommates had so much personality it didn’t need an epic plot.

    I enjoy the more sensual content. I’d support you if you made a game with hentai elements, but I’m also quite happy with the softcore nature of Loren. Just don’t eliminate sex entirely — thatd be the only direction that’d flat out disappoint me.

    Aaaanyway. Done ranting! Happy holidays!

    • lilypuff says:

      I wholeheartedly support and agree with this rant! 😀

      • admin says:

        No, if something, I’m going to add more sexual content in future 😉 but eliminate it, never!

        • Katicflis says:

          Thank god! You’re a hero!

          And I totally think you should start going crazy with the dating sims. Give me a dating sim about telekinetic teenagers, aliens, a witch academy, an army defending against a demonic invasion, a feudalistic ninja society, people-that-died-in-a-plane-crash-and-now-are-trapped-in-limbo! C14 and heirs/graces look like an excellent step in an exciting direction, but feel free to go even nuttier!

  12. I have never bought a bundle or a game at sale. Likely never will. I pre-order like a fox.

    • Katicflis says:

      For the record, I’d just buy everything at full price if I had money to burn, but my current situation is poor college student that literally sleeps on the floor at her aunt’s house cause she can’t even afford a mattress. I enjoy your games and want you to do well, but at the same time I do gotta pick and choose how I spend my money.

      • admin says:

        Haha no worries, I understand the situation. I’ve been there too 🙂
        As said I won’t bundle anymore but if Humble asks me, then I will (it’s the only one that is actually worth doing). However, I won’t bundle the games anymore unless a full year has passed, that for sure. I will still do the usual seasonal discounts from my site though.
        As for the content, I’ll do a bit of everything, and sometimes also experiments. You mention sci-fi dating sim, you should check PSCD demo, since it can be played as VN-Mode and I think the writing is quite good 🙂

        • Katicflis says:

          So I’ve been playing PSCD and, um, it is awesome. The writing is well-done. Love the large, quirky cast(even the less ‘marketable’ characters like Christophe and Mario are thoughtfully developed and interesting!). Wasn’t sure if the combat system would appeal to me but it’s quickly grown on me. Gonna grab it immediately upon its official release. <.<

          God you're wonderful. Thanks for creating games!

          • admin says:

            Thanks 🙂 Yes, PSCD turned out great, I heard lot of people liking it, even those playing only as a visual novel. But many who never played a card game before said they started learning and enjoyed it as well.
            Today got the deck GUI so I’ll do a game “soft release” probably first week of January. Soft release means it’s all done and there are no bugs as far as I’m aware 🙂

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