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Tales From The Under-Realm: After Midnight Kickstarter

As already announced earlier this month, the Kickstarter of my next dark/gothic yuri game in the Tales From The Under-Realm series is now live:

the game title screen

I invite you to visit the link below to discover more about the game: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/winterwolves/tales-from-the-under-realm-after-midnight

One of the first scenes of the story with Evelyn being scared about the night in Lothark

A bit of behind the scenes

And now for those curious about how I came to this game idea, here’s some “behind the scenes” stuff. A thing I often like to do, is read again my old games, with a particular attention to secondary characters. I like to imagine how they became to be like what they are, their morals, their personality. What is their backstory?

The lead can be anything, from their personality traits, to something they said about their past lives. For example, I’m currently thinking about a game story about a single scene of Season Of The Wolf, in which Vaelis mention a certain Rogan The Red and a revolt happened in some far away islands.

For this game instead the inspiration came directly from Loren, and in particular General Samael. Do you remember the first things he says in Loren? When he meets with Apolimesho?

“If it isn’t the heretic Archwizard himself. You will not bewitch me to your elf agenda. You might as well leave.”

From a simple sentence like this we can evince the following things: that Samael and Apolimesho have a past, and they dislike each other. That Samael has something against the elves.

Then as the scene goes on, when Amukiki (the ex-gladiator) speak, it’s obvious that Samael has in high consideration people like him. So naturally Samael likes gladiators and the arena.

All those things inspired me to write a story when Samael was younger and he was just the Captain of the guards, but was already aiming to be something more. It will show the ruthless man and what he was capable of doing.

But Samael is only a secondary character of this story. This time the protagonist can be fully customized, skin color and name included (it’s a stretch goal but I really hope we’ll reach it). There are two love interests like in Hazel: Tara the childhood friend who is a guard too, and Cynthia, a mysterious girl from Dingirra that arrives at the beginning of the story. But this time, there will be more death and dark turns of the plot. Many characters can die, depending on your choices.

from left to right: Samael, Martha and Evelyn

Yes because this time the cast of secondary characters is much bigger. There’s Martha, Samael’s wife and elf. Their daughter Evelyn who is a secondary character but has the biggest impact on the story. There’s Gus, Tara’s brother, who is a guard too. Nadja, Cynthia’s mother and poledancer.

And lastly there are two other character who I cannot mention because of spoilers, but that they will play an important role.

Like Hazel, there’ll be a base version of the game with sexy outfits but nothing more. Then there’ll be an optional version with full adult content for those who like it.

Nadja is Cynthia’s mother and work as dancer

As already said, I’m working on a demo of this game for the Steam Next fest, which will introduce some of the characters. It won’t be very long but hopefully interesting enough. Also, I am planning to have a full voiced trailer for the game next week, so stay tuned!

Why I’ll keep using Kickstarter

A while ago I mentioned how I was completely against the introduction of crypto-stuff on Kickstarter (or on any platform, for that matter). Since then I’ve researched alternatives and spoke with many other indie devs who ran crowdfunding campaigns on other platforms (either exclusively or beside KS).

Unfortunately the conclusion is that, unless you’re already famous (which I am not haha) any other crowdfunding platform is a waste of time. I won’t make names or figures since all was confidential, but basically every single person told me that if they could go back, they wouldn’t have done it.

But there’s more to consider. Nowadays most of my income each game (at least the initial one) comes from crowdfunding. I made a graph for 3 kickstarted games (Curse Of Mantras is still too new):

immagine
Revenues of my latest 3 games split between KS and Steam

Itchio is very small so I didn’t include it, on average 10-15% of the total. Of course, as time passes, Steam sales will (more or less slowly depending on the game) catch up. Anyway the point is that, even for a game that’s been out since 1 year or more like Hazel, KS money was still the majority of income. This also because on KS you lose about 5-10% of gross, while on Steam is normal to lose 30-35% of gross amount, which makes things even worse.

As you see there isn’t much choice for me if I want to keep making games. So don’t be surprised if soon I’ll announce a new crowdfunding for a game in the series Tales From The Under-Realm!

Demos on the way!

And now, let’s talk about the Steam Next festival. This time, I plan to participate with two game demos! One is ToA: An Elven Marriage. It will be a full demo with battles and everything, probably useful to get some early feedback (and maybe bug reports) on it. It won’t be super long of course, but it will introduce Lydia and Nathir, the two new characters, and continue Rei/Myrth romance storylines if you choose to.

Image

I’m really enthusiast of the moon elves race lore, and also on Nathir “gambling” religion (I know said like this sounds bad, but just wait to read it). They’re both very original and interesting, so I’d be curious to know what people think of it.

The other demo should be of TFTU – After Midnight, but I’m not going to post anything for now since I’m not 100% sure I’ll have all the art needed to do the demo. It’s a normal visual novel so if I get the art in time, it shouldn’t be a problem, but as always I’m being very cautious.

If all goes well I’ll make another blog post later this month announcing the Kickstarter for this new gothic game in the Tales From The Under-Realm series, even darker and full of deaths (but also romance! yay).

Market Changes

I’ve already talked about market changes in the past, and how quick they are in the indie game developer’s world. In today’s blog I want to talk about what you can do when this happens.

First of all analyze

The first thing to do is to check your statistics and draw conclusions. This because it’s always better to verify yourself if what other people say it’s true. Or maybe, it could be for them, but somehow not for you.

turn based isometric RPGs are dead! or maybe not

I know what you’re thinking: yes there can be generalized effects, but sometimes a small group of developers can still find profitable what they’re doing. For example: let’s say that RPGs are no longer a popular genre on Steam (that’s false obviously but it’s just an example). A developer who has built a following over the years might find that it’s still better to keep doing RPGs, than trying to reinvent themselves doing a new genre.

Of course it’s not an exact science, and also depends how quickly you release games. Since I usually release at least 1 game a year, with an average of 2-3, I was able to see market changes much quicker than other indies releasing 1 game every 3 years!

I distinctly remember two episodes, in 2016 and 2018. I had just discovered that somehow the Steam algorithm changed, or perhaps was the market. Anyway, I suddenly had much lower revenues than in the past, and I told other indies, who though I was exaggerating or maybe was just my games. A few months later, those same people finally released new games and they all went to me scared screaming “WTF you’re right!” 😀

This not to say that I’m always right (you know I am! just kidding), but that obviously if you release a game every 2 years you can’t really know what/if things changed. If you release 2-3 a year instead…

Find a solution

After you’ve analyzed your data, and discovered exactly what happened, it’s time to find a solution. I did this already many times in the course of my indie career. First big change was back in 2008 when I stopped doing strategy/sim games and moved to visual novels/dating sims. The other big change was in 2011-2012 when I did my first RPGs. The last big change I did was last year when I started doing crowdfunding and changed the way I develop games internally to be able to release games at good pace.

Sometimes a solution can be simple or obvious, other times can be a guess and very risky. But as the saying goes, if you keep doing a thing, and that thing doesn’t work anymore, it’s stupid not to change.

Yes: trying something new can be scary, and it’s not guaranteed to work, but it’s better than just keep doing the same thing that is failing over and over, and end up bankrupt a few months/years later.

A practical example

Let’s see how I applied this system myself. As said back in 2018 there was a big change. That’s when I decided to do some yuri only games (never done before) and also include more adult content (more erotic than hardcore, but a further step from the kissing and partial nudity of past games). While I don’t have and never had issues with adult stuff myself, for someone coming from tame otome games was a big risk!

Anyways, how did it go? Below you see the revenues on Steam of a few games, 1st week, 1st month and 1st year.

Now you can see that PS2 is outselling everything else ,but as already said in the past, what matters is the ROI. I spent 1 full year on PS2. So even if it sold more, in the same amount of time I could have done 3-4 games like Hazel, for example (PS2 script is indeed about 4-5 times Hazel! and let’s not forget all the branching and RPG gameplay coding part lol).

What’s interesting is that even considering games released back in 2016 (when it was MUCH MUCH easier to make money on Steam!) like C14 Dating or Heirs & Graces, recent yuri games with adult stuff like Volleyball Heaven outsell them! So it seems it was the right move, and that’s why last year I made 3 more yuri only games with adult content, and all of them did well, much better than my other recent releases (yes, even including At Your Feet lol!).

Also those graphs are only about Steam’s revenues. I didn’t include the KS. Including Kickstarter money, Hazel would be in 2nd place after PS2. I didn’t include it since it wouldn’t be a fair comparison with older games but of course in the end still matters.

In summary: I took a risk, but it worked. Of course I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I still tried. This is how you stay in business. Try new things until you find what works, what the market really wants. What people pay for, and not what the vocal minority says.

Conclusions

I must say that I was unsure if to post this last part. It seems like that I have something against certain genres of games or content. No. It’s not about me or my personal preferences – indeed I just finished a game with all romance combos, and I’m working on the first Loren spin off that once again has all romance combos. So I repeat, it’s not about my personal tastes: those are hard numbers, statistics. Which could even be different for other devs, depending on platforms, following, art style, etc etc there are too many variables to consider. But for me, that’s what happened. After doing 3 more yuri games last year, now I clearly know it wasn’t random.

As I said in the past, if you’re a fan of a genre, you should support the authors, spread the word, and so on. Complaining or voicing your opinion won’t change things. If I was just doing games as hobby, then it wouldn’t matter. But I’ve been in this business since almost 20 years and I want to keep doing this until retirement age (hopefully!).

To make you understand better my position here’s a comparison: imagine at your job one day the boss tells you that you can choose between two tasks. Both are identical to you, you have no preferences. But one pays twice vs the other. What would you choose?

The Curse Of Mantras is out

As you probably already know if you follow me on social media, my latest dating sim, The Curse Of Mantras, is out on itchio.

It’s out since about a week so it’s too early to draw conclusions even if early numbers are encouraging. To be honest, I’m already happy that I’ve managed to finish it!

If you backed it on Kickstarter, you should have got a private message with the itchio links. I’m also going to send you the Steam keys in the next days, since the release on Steam is coming soon too.

The Adult Content dilemma (again)

This is love, not pornography

I hoped we would be done talking about this, but sadly, when I submitted the game to Steam, they put it in the “Adult Only” category: https://store.steampowered.com/app/618000/The_Curse_Of_Mantras/

Which is bad for two reasons: people browsing that category usually expect much more explicit stuff, while the game has nudity but in general very tasteful love scenes, and second because it prevents the game being viewed, or worse even purchased, in certain countries like Germany (this isn’t due to Steam but to some Germany laws I think).

The same thing already happened in the past for my games Volleyball Heaven and At Your Feet. But in this case it’s a pity, since it’s not just a plain visual novel focused only on romance/sex relationships: the game also has a very complex, detailed and fun card battling game, and I think it’s really bad if people can’t even try it because it’s labeled Adult Only.

Why this game was important to me

this was the old artwork of the game, done many years ago as prototype

This is not a postmortem since as I said it’s too early and I can’t draw any conclusions about the game performance and so on. It did a successful Kickstarter, but that money was barely enough to cover its development costs (not even including my own time).

But this game was important for a lot of reasons: it was a game in development since around 2013-14. I had this idea of the afterlife/limbo, but at the time it was supposed to be a sort of Pokemon-style battle game. I hadn’t a clear idea how the game would be, but since I put out the first sketches/concept art, fans seemed enthusiast about the idea. I admit I was a fool to let myself carry by this enthusiasm too, because you can’t do that, it’s dangerous. And indeed, until 2018-19 I still had no idea which gameplay to use, until I finally made my mind and picked card battles.

The main issue was that in 2020 I released Planet Stronghold 2 which, despite being one of my biggest/better games, greatly underperformed compared to my expectations. So it was clear that the market had changed, and maybe such big games weren’t profitable anymore. But I had already started doing it, already invested time and money.

At the beginning of last year, I was still struggling with a bad burn-out, and even if I didn’t post about this in public at the time, I thought to cancel the game. Yes, even after I had already spent so much efforts, I briefly considered that.

Why? Because I couldn’t see a reason to finish it. It was a dying genre of games – big games with a lot of romances that had to be sold at a proper price, since it’s not one of those silly porn VN with 3 scenes and no plot, no character development, etc.

Also, because I was tired, burned out, and I feared of working months and months only to get the same results, if not worse, than making one of the games mentioned above – short, silly porn games that seems to sell well on Steam nowadays.

In the end, I thought this: this year (2021) I’ll make a few shorter games, to give myself some breath, both economically (those games are usually profitable) and also to relax, not having to code anything complex.

It worked: TFTU – Hazel, At Your Feet, Summer In Trigue and Love Notes were all fun, good games but not a huge, epic, 10 love interest game with ALSO a complex gameplay. So that was good, and by the end of the year I was ready to resume working and finishing The Curse Of Mantras.

This game will decide the kind of future games I’ll do?

Honestly? Probably. I mean, I’m definitely going to do the 4 Loren spin-off games in any case (indeed I’ve already started working on the first game in the series), but all those games have “only” 4 love interests each. I think, unless The Curse Of Mantras does extremely well, this will be my last “big game” I’ll ever make. For the reasons above. I love being indie and making my fans happy doing those big games, but I also need to keep an eye both on my health and finances.

Curse Of Mantras update

Time for some news about this game! First of all, you might remember that I wanted to put this game on the next Steam Fest event.

one of the final scenes of the game

In the end, I decided not to. But don’t worry, not because the game isn’t ready or not in a good state. Not at all! Indeed, I might start the full beta of the game towards the middle of this month!

The state of the game

As I already explained in the past, some devs use Kickstarter (or any other crowdfunding) as a way to recoup money spent, maybe to add more content, but when they do the campaign they might have already an alpha/beta of the game. In my case indeed, when I did the Kickstarter I had already done a lot of work on the game coding before. I had already started back in 2020, then paused it, and resume working on it.

Since the beginning of December to now, two months have passed, in which I’ve made very good progress, but I know that being a complex game the beta phase will take some time, so that’s why I put a longer deadline.

I wanted to participate on the Steam Fest, since with Summer In Trigue went well. The problem is, that with a visual novel is very simple to have a demo. You pick a point of the story, cut everything after it, and done.

one of Mantras’ exclusive cards

With a complex game like this ? Not so simple. Also because how the framework was coded. So in summary, even doing a demo could lead to bugs present only because I had to cut content from the full game to the demo (cards, scenes, gameplay stuff, etc).

I started doing it. But after spending 2h on it, I quickly realized that it wasn’t a good idea, for three reasons:

  1. I was effectively wasting my time to work on a demo that, once the Steam Fest ended, I’d have removed. So hours that I could have put to improve the full game instead
  2. if by mistake I left some bugs, it could have even backfired: imagine, people playing the demo, finding crashes / bugs, and it could have made a negative impression on them
  3. I said in the past that indie games aren’t directly competing with AAA titles. Sure, especially if are visual novels (and even better with adult content, which is not present in AAA titles for sure). But I also said that it might be different for more gameplay-oriented games like this one. I really think the next Steam Fest visibility will be much lower due to big AAA titles coming out around same time

And last but not least: since the game is such in an advanced state, in the end I’d have both a full beta out on my own site and a demo on Steam, which means I had to mantain two bulids and anyone who is developing games knows that this is a bad idea!

What’s Next?

I’m taking some time to polish stuff, and the editor is checking some last texts in the game. Then, sometimes around mid-February, I’ll start the beta as usual on my own site using itchio. Anyone who pre-orders it, or anyone who backed it on Kickstarter using the beta testing tier will have immediate access to it (with option to also have a Steam key later).

How long will take before the final game is out? I have no clue honestly, it all depends on how testing goes. For my previous card game I think the testing lasted 2-3 months but that was because the framework was still new, so I think this time should be a bit faster.

In any case, as always I’ll be sure to announce here once the game is officially out!