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.
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.
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!!