This is not how I imagined to start the new year… my cat Mirtillo wasn’t feeling good since a while, but being almost 16 we thought it was the usual age-related issues. Unfortunately about 15 days ago we discovered that he had cancer and it was already in advanced condition.
There was no possible treatment, so we decided to do nothing until he was still eating on his own. In the last 3 days, he always tries to hide, scratches his head continuously and is visibly in pain so we decided to put him to sleep.
He was almost 16 years old, and since he also was FIV positive, I can say that he lived a long life (I believe is rare for cats with FIV to reach such age). But of course, I’ll still miss him.
This is also the last male cat, we’re left now with “only” 4 cats, all females.
First of all, Happy New Year to everyone! Let’s see what I’ll try to do in 2022.
Of course, since I’m running a Kickstarter for The Curse Of Mantras, this is the game that will have my priority in the first months of the year. Like before, I’ve already done some work prior to the KS, and I’ve been working in the past weeks (slower since I sort of took some time off for the holidays). Gameplay-wise things are very good and even the writing/scripting of the story part is at good point so that (crossing fingers) I’ll likely deliver the game ahead of its deadline once again (still considering a longer testing time due to this game having a more complex gameplay than my recent releases).
This year will be 10 years since the first Loren release! It would be cool if the tenth anniversary saw the release of the first new adventure for Saren and Elenor, ToA: An Elven Marriage. And I’ll try my best to do it, though being a RPG, it won’t be easy. Also because, after finishing The Curse Of Mantras I won’t probably have the energy to do another complex game, so I might do a shorter/simpler one “as break”.
Indeed, I have plans for the next Tales Of The Under-Realm game. I won’t spoil too much but it will be set in the town of Lothark, and will see some cameos/references from my other games: Apolimesho, and Samael. Remember General Samael from Loren? He’ll be one of the main characters of the story, back when he was only the Captain of the guards.
It will be a dark fantasy murder mystery and you won’t be able to see everything / discover all that happened in a single playthrough. I have written a rough draft/idea and honestly I can’t wait to work on this, since I think the idea, mood, the character routes, the deaths (there’ll be many) are really interesting.
As said in previous post, being a smaller title will be yuri only, but even if you don’t care for the yuri part I think the story should be still worth playing, and if you like my fantasy world of Aravorn there’ll be many references, and many grey-characters. And also, many possible deaths, obviously!
Beside this, there are also a few other games that I’m working on during breaks, of some I’ve posted a few sketches/preview art on my Patreon but it’s still too early to talk about any of them, since now my policy is to talk publicly about something only when I’m 100% sure I’ll be able to release it.
So that’s the plan: Curse Of Mantras release, then crowdfunding for the next Tales From Under-Realm game, then ToA: An Elven Marriage and if there’s time, some other game. But I doubt it, since two of those three games are very big games with complex gameplay. You never know though, last year I never expected to be able to release 4 games!
I started this year still feeling burned out from all the work on Planet Stronghold 2 in the previous year! Yes, seems crazy but it wasn’t until May/June that I’d feel like working on complex coding again. I promised to myself to never get burned out again, and I plan to keep this promise!
Anyway, in March I finally released TFTU: Hazel, which had a very good reception. I was very pleased with its sales, even if for some mysterious way the review amount on Steam was super low compared to my other games. Later after talking with other indies I found out that this appears to be the new norm. But anyway what matters is that it was a very profitable game and gave me a breath of air after the so-so 2020.
After Hazel release I revealed to the world the craziest idea I ever had (probably too crazy lol): At Your Feet. The KS was successful, albeit I raised way less of Hazel. Direct sales had a slow start: on the opposite, on Steam it did rather well, much better than I thought! It’s still to early to draw conclusions of course, but it definitely overperformed vs my expectations, also considering the particular kink.
In summary, that game definitely was in the “experiments” category, and considering the crazy idea, it did well!
Summer In Trigue on the other hand was much more like my “classic games”, funny writing/situations, with some more serious/deep moments etc but in general comedy setting (and without weird kinks lol). And I was very pleased by the results, even if because it was still one of the “old games”, in development since years, didn’t do any Kickstarter AND also because I decided to redo the art (was totally worth it though!), the game hasn’t yet recouped its cost (which instead with Hazel and At Your Feet happened within the launch week).
In autumn I also did the Kickstarter for Love Notes, and it went as expected: yes, it didn’t raise a lot, but I knew it beforehand. The main thing is that the game is very tame (this artist doesn’t draw naughty stuff) and nowadays to have success doing a dating sim you MUST have at least optional nudity.
About Curse Of Mantras, I’ve already talked about it. I have registered for the next Steam Fest, so my next goal is to have a playable demo by end of February (not with all content but with at least 10-20 battles).
Conclusions (aka what the market wants)
Like always, some things worked and some didn’t. The important I think is to have fun while you doing what you do. And I certanily had fun!
Which lessons I’ve learned this year? Well, first that I should trust more my data. If out of 3-4 games I made with sci-fi setting, they ALL underperformed vs the game quality/lenght etc, it means that setting doesn’t work. So from now on, no more sci-fi games from me (I might do more sci-fi stuff like Black Mirror though, just not sci-fi meaning space, aliens and so on).
I was also pleasantly surprised to see, that at least for plain visual novels, releasing them during the “cursed periods” of September to December (when most AAA titles come out) had no noticeable impact on sales. So in future I won’t hold anymore a game release if it’s ready during this period. Maybe not if it’s a RPG since those could be more in direct competition with other bigger titles.
Another thing I’ve learned, is that I need to adapt to the market/platforms. As I said, At Your Feet did very well on Steam, very close to Hazel results. This is probably not related to the game kink, but the yuri/adult stuff power. On Steam (and on Kickstarter too to be honest), anything yuri + adult seems to sell twice other genres. Once again it doesn’t matter my personal tastes, I need to survive and follow what sells on each platform.
I’ve plenty of games with all romance combos in the works, like all the Loren spin off games, Curse Of Mantras, etc. However I decided that for all other smaller titles, I’ll likely go with the yuri only formula, including the next Tales from The Under-Realm game which I hope to work on later next year.
Next year is going to be “fun” since I have some very complex games to finish… but we’ll talk about this on next blog post at the beginning of the year.
Wishing you Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Before I go on with the blog post topic, a small announcement: Love Notes beta is now live on itchio! You can check it out here. The game content is complete, expect only some minor bugs.
Later this month I’ll have my usual “end of year review” post. But today, I want to discuss about two different approaches to storytelling: making a very original story/plot or a mass market product.
Of course, it’s really hard (if not impossible) to come up with a completely original story. So let’s say “original enough” story ! And for mass-market product I mean a product that’s going to appeal to the masses, at expense of originality.
You can obviously have an idea for a product that is both original and appeal to the masses (ie Minecraft) but it’s not like it’s going to happen for 99% of us, right? 🙂
I’m going to take as example some of my games.
Bionic Heart vs Always Remember Me
Bionic Heart was undoubtely one of my most original stories to date. Even the game flow itself, with its many choices and branching, is probably unmatched by my most recent products. Of course it had its problems, for example it was one of my early works, I didn’t use editors or external writers yet, indeed the first draft was even made in italian, my native language! So here I’m not talking about the “writing quality”, but about the originality of that game’s story.
I am comparing it with Always Remember Me, which is a much more mass product instead. Yes it has some originality (the main premise of your boyfriend losing the memory is “moderately” original) but for the rest is a classic dating sim.
Now, Bionic Heart was appreciated, despite its flaws, by a LOT of people. Even fellow indies who normally don’t even play my games, asked me for free keys (we sometimes exchange free copies). Steam reviews are good enough, etc. So, for “the critics” this was a good game at the time (consider that it came out 12 year ago).
Always Remember Me instead wasn’t considered particularly original, or innovative, or anything, and yet, it was way more popular. We need to take into consideration that at the times (was 2011) mobile gaming was still in its early years and most of female players were still on PC (while now I think most of otome/dating sim players have moved to mobile/console). Anyways, it was a huge success. I am not even comparing the two financially because would be insane, since Bionic Heart sold maybe 1/50 of Always Remember Me.
How to explain this? Simple, Bionic Heart was perhaps a more original and interesting story but was for a much smaller target market. Also, it was sci-fi, the worst genre ever to write a visual novel, and since had a male protagonist, also a different target market. Always Remember Me instead had a less original story but it had a much bigger potential market, and for that market the game was good enough.
In summary: you can even make a masterpiece (it’s just an example, not referring to my own games) but if it targets the 0,1% of gaming population might become a sort of cult game, but it won’t make you rich.
An average game instead, but that can appeal the 99% of the gaming population, won’t give you big reviews or appreciation but can still make you WAY more money than a niche product.
For some of you reading this, it might seem obvious, and in practice it’s what happens also in books/movies, but I still wanted to talk about it for those who wonders how it works.
Now with crowdfunding luckily it’s a bit less risky (I wish I could have done one for Planet Stronghold 2 at the times). For example At Your Feet was definitely an original idea (no other foot fetish lesbian game around before I launched my KS) but it will be also a good seller? Early numbers are encouraging but it’s still too early (to see the real potential of a game you need to wait 6 months or one full year): but even if it won’t be, having done a succesful KS has somewhat mitigated the potential losses.
That’s why when you see developers doing yet again the same unoriginal “good vs evil” fantasy story, or short yuri games, or adult only games, etc etc there’s a reason: they are “safer” to do, guaranteeing a minimum amount of sales.
First of all: work on Love Notes is making good progress! I’ve made my mind about the “progression” and gifts screen and I’ve coded them, and also finished playtesting Tristan route.
The progression screen will show at which point of the story you are, all info displayed on a single screen.
Picking the right gifts will increase the relationship and one of the two endinds variants (text only).
And now back to this blog’s topic: some tips and tricks for indie game developers.
Social media marketing
Ahh the, social media. Nowadays, Nobody can live without them, so you MUST do social media marketing, right? Well, short answer is yes. But there’s some things I want to clarify: people are buying your game, not your online persona, your political ideas, etc.
I’m not saying social marketing is useless, not at all. And, depending on the type of game, it can really help (it doesn’t work the same way for all genres/topics). However, you should always remember that what matters is the game, so spending your time improving it is your main priority.
If being on the social networks and posting comes natural to you, good. But I remember that years ago (not too long ago to be honest) I was always thinking “I need to post something before going to bed to increase my followers”. That’s dumb. If you have such thoughts, listen: just go to bed instead, and sleep, and the next day wake up and work on your game!
Using their online tools, I checked the impact of twitter/facebook marketing on Kickstarter, Steam, itchio revenues of the games I released this year: it varies between 3-5%, with regular daily posting over the release month. It’s not super accurate, but even if it was twice that amount would still be a relatively small amount. Obviously, you need to pay ads to get a lot of people. If it was so easy…!
Last but not least: I personally know several devs who have very minimum social presence (like posting once a week or less on social media) and earn mid-six figures a year.
TL DR: keep your online presence, and if it comes natural, post often: BUT remember that your game has the priority and spending too much time on social networks won’t matter so much on the overall success.
Being too much online or being too vocal, or just being online (haha) can expose you to cyberbullying or just people in general wasting your time. When I was at highschool, I was often bullied. I know well what it means. I know the rage that grows inside of you.
While in real life it’s not always easy to react, online is much easier. But it’s also easier for any random idiot to attack you for any reason. Those people are true timewasters. And the temptation to reply is big. I know. You don’t want to leave the other person the last word!
But in the end, ask yourself: why? If someone is a bully, they won’t change their mind no matter what you say. And some people are really there just to waste your time because they have nothing to do in their lives. Do you want to be like them, or finish something?
So, if they start immediately being rude, just insta-block them and don’t even bother to talk. If you think they might listen to reason, sure it’s worth talking. But never spend too much time. You’re supposed to work on your game, you know?
TL DR: there are a lot of bullies out there. If someone comes to you aggressively for no reason, just block them. Nothing else will bring anything good, on the opposite it will just be a waste of time
Vocal minority is of course present also in social media. Someone is sure that if you make a game about dancing pumpkins, it WILL BE A HIT. And they won’t stop repeating it. They might also bring some more dancing pumpkins fans to support their theory.
The temptation of course is to see if they are right. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Because they might be right. I know this well since I have almost done all kind of games, all kind of romances, all kinds of settings, art styles, etc etc.
But the reality is: some ideas work, and others just don’t. And it’s nobody’s fault – it’s the market who decides. What is “the market”? People that pay money for your game ! Because you’re running a business – if you do games just for fun then of course it’s fine to do whatever you like.
However, the dancing pumpkins fans won’t listen – they’ll say that it’s your fault for reason X and Y. You used wrong art, bad writing, the setting wasn’t appropriate, you made mistake 1,2,3.
And they might be right, if you just tried once. But if you’ve tried that thing several times and it brought always same results, then the conclusion is clear. It might just be that doesn’t work for you. For someone else, it can. People think that “if genre/theme X is popular ANY game that uses it WILL be successful”. No. Not at all! There are a lot of aspects in a game that can determine if it will be a flop or a success.
Obviously, the opposite is also true: sometimes good ideas/suggestion can come from social followers. In the last two years after a lot of people complained, I did three yuri only games after ignoring that genre for… 12 years, and I felt dumb for not doing it sooner!
TL DR: beware of people always insisting on you doing thing X. They do it because they like it, it’s not their fault. It’s normal. But ultimately you need to make choices that will let you survive another year. If you can do it and make someone happy, even better.
I hope this post was somewhat useful to you. Ah one last marketing tip: have forums/blogs. They require some minimum upkeep but they really can help with SEO, and they can bring new visitors (and customers) to you business.
Blog about anything, not necessarily related to games. I know a guy who got a lot of traffic to their site because of a Star Trek blog post. They sell space sim/strategy games…