Why making RPGs is harder than you might think

First of all, an update – ToA: An Elven Marriage beta could be out this Fall, September or October (much depends on editor right now).

A preview of the game theme song

I’ve been working on this RPG since past year, taking frequent breaks. It’s taking me so long due to my eye issues (now solved in one eye, but likely will need to do surgery on the other as well) and to avoid burn-out. But also because, making RPGs is very very very hard.

Personal quests design and coding

Just an example, I decided to have even in this game the personal quests. Personal quests are optional quests you can do, for each character in your party. In this case, since the party is made of six people, the personal quests are five (I’m excluding the protagonist).

Each quest consist on a unique storyline, takes into account success/fail (you can fail them and still go on with the story) and offers a custom battle and custom item reward (or in Lydia’s case, a custom new book with alchemy recipes).

Now you can clearly understand how much work is that. Think about the scene, write it (2-3k words of length), design new enemies, design the item reward, balance it, etc. All of this for something that’s also completely optional. In the same amount of time, I could surely have written 20,000 words for a “regular” VN!!!

You can easily see that doing a RPGs is much more complex than a simple VN (if you want to do it properly and not just reuse assets, enemies, items, etc). And you can also see why after I make this game, I’ll need to see how it goes before doing more RPGs.

Doing indie RPGs is no longer viable?

a screenshot of Planet Stronghold 2 exploration map

Already after Planet Stronghold 2, which is the most long, and complex game I’ve ever made (easily offering 50h of gameplay) I had my doubts if it was a good move or not to keep going with the RPGs. I decided to do this one because I love doing RPGs and also, because this one is fantasy, vs Planet Stronghold 2 that was sci-fi.

But if even this one will give me disappointing result in sales, then I’ll definitely need to stop and think. I was doing RPGs in the past because each one would earn me from x5 times to x10 times a normal VN. In recent times however, this has changed, especially considering the time spent vs revenues. How? Let me explain.

It’s all about the return of investment (or time)

I’ve already talked about this in the past, but I want to repeat it: even Planet Stronghold 2 sold x3-x4 the amont of a normal VN like the ones I released after (TFTU series, At Your Feet, Volleyball Heaven, etc). So it’s not like the game did badly, not at all. The problem is that took me 1 year full-time to make since I had to do everything myself (design, writing, coding).

For An Elven Marriage I wanted to do it faster, and I tried, but just the design part already took me 4-5 months, and even on the writing side I’m already past 185k words (editing might make it closer to 200k)! Differently from Planet Stronghold 2 though, this time I had Kickstarter funds which will help to recover some of the money and time already invested.

I don’t remember if I already explained this, but for each game I try to keep track of expenses, and the development time (in months, I’m not too accurate). Then, I divide the earnings by the months, getting a sort of “virtual salary”, basically how much I earned each month making that game.

Of course, the longer the development time and the bigger the expenses, the harder is to have a good virtual salary. For example, a simple game like At Your Feet has a higher virtual salary than Planet Stronghold 2… I think I said all lol!

Plan for the future RPGs

Anyway, too early to talk about this. And in any case, don’t worry – I still plan to do all the four Elenor/Saren spin-offs, worse case, they’ll just be simpler VN, or I’ll come up with some other gameplay idea but that’s not as complex as doing a party-based RPG like the one I’m currently doing (an idea could be doing a RPG in which you control just one character and not a party, that would simplify things a lot already I think).

4 thoughts on “Why making RPGs is harder than you might think

  1. Hades

    Small details makes a big difference but story is the most important thing in games like these. VN’s are cool, KN’s are okay. If it’s a good story anything is fine. It doesn’t have to be a complex rpg (even though I love them) or stat raising or turn based combat. If it stresses you out its probably best not to do that. Maybe you can keep the script shorter if it makes things easier.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling. I like your games so Im up for whatever you come up with next. Good luck on your projects.

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks, the thing is that I like doing the RPG part, so personally I’d like to be able to keep doing it 🙂 So it’s just a matter of making sure I don’t go bankrupt while doing it haha
      As I wrote in the post Kickstarter was a big help. And if I can make some shorter VNs in between the bigger RPGs, maybe it will be OK!

  2. G Anderson

    Hi Celso,

    I wrote to you before about Planet Stronghold 2. It was one of the best games I ever played. But from a business perspective, it might have not been great for you, because you spent so much time developing it that you effectively may have gotten paid a low hourly rate to create it.

    It looks like your newest game [ToA: An Elven Marriage] might be like Planet Stronghold 2. That is, you have apparently spent a lot of time creating it, and it is not clear if you will receive enough money from sales of the game to justify the time you put into developing it.

    I want to respond to your below comments, and then offer some advice which I hope will help. You wrote

    I still plan to do all the four Elenor/Saren spin-offs, worse case, they’ll just be simpler VN, or I’ll come up with some other gameplay idea but that’s not as complex as doing a party-based RPG like the one I’m currently doing (an idea could be doing a RPG in which you control just one character and not a party, that would simplify things a lot already I think).

    I have played and enjoyed a few Visual Novel games, like Katawa Shoujo and Doki-Doki Literature Club. But both of those games are free. I do not think I have ever paid for a VN. If I am going to pay for a game, I want to get more out of the experience. RPG’s that you have created [Loren, Cursed Lands, and Planet Stronghold 2] all gave me hours of fun, and they were worth every penny for me.

    So, if other fans of yours feel like I do, then: What is your best strategy for creating future Loren sequels? I think that a pure Visual Novel would be “too little.” I would likely not even buy a Loren sequel if it is only a VN and not an RPG. But I understand that also, Planet Stronghold 2 may have been “too much”, because it took too much of your time and effort to create.

    My suggestion is this: Do not spend ANY more of your time on game mechanics. None. Just copy all of the game mechanics from Loren, or from Cursed Lands, or from one of those other games you already created. I as a player do not feel any strong desire for “new” game mechanics, as long as the game features “good” game mechanics. What I want as a player is good characters, and a good storyline, and a good challenge. If I am able to customize a starting character, and then see my character gain more skills and equipment over the course of the game, and overcome more and more difficult challenges, while having some good romance options, then I will be very satisfied.

    I think that many of your other fans feel the same way. And if they do, then you can maximize the time you spend creating what fans want (good new stories), and spend little or no time on things fans do not care about (“new” game mechanics, when you could re-use existing game mechanics from previous games).

    1. admin Post author

      Thanks for the feedback and honesty, and yes you raise some good points. For An Elven Marriage I merged features both from Cursed Lands (skill in items) and Planet Stronghold 2 (crafting, defense/resilience, autobattles). But indeed I was planning to keep this system I made fixed for all the 4 spin-offs, so that’s probably already 2-3 months of work less. On every new game I’d have to design the skills, but everything else would be already in place.
      Also in PS2 a lot of time was spent doing the isometric maps, which were cool but definitely took a lot of time to make. Plus crafting which I reduced in An Elven Marriage to just the potions (which integrates well with Lydia being an alchemist) and upgrading weapons.
      So I think this plan to reuse the system and add new conttent only could work in the end-


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