Switching genres and creative struggles

This year has been a particular year for me. Many things happened behind the scenes, and most of them weren’t good things at all! But I’m not here to talk about this in general, but about one thing in particular.

The “other games” dilemma

I hope one day one of my games is featured on Vapor!

One of the main things I’ve doing this year was to review what I’ve done so far as indie, and what else I could do. I’ve already discussed in past blog posts the possibility to do other kind of games. They say that to make a good game you should be passionate about it yourself first. And I think there’s definitely some truth in it. However, it’s not so simple, because even if you like a particular genre, then you also need to be able to develop a decent game (for indie standards at least) in said genre!

For example, as player, I always liked tower defense games. But making one, it’s not so easy as it seems. I’d also love to do a realtime 3D game, nothing complex as a FPS, but something like an adventure, or even a story-based game like those walking simulators.

So during this year I did various experiments, and while I can’t say that I would never be able to do one, the real question is if I would be able to do a good/decent one! And, after some experiments, I think the answer is: maybe, but it’s hard.

Of course, many things are hard to make, not just games! But there’s more: as I was doing those tests, obviously I couldn’t use the engine I love, Ren’Py, to do them. I briefly looked at Gamemaker, Unity and even Unreal tutorials and examples.

I even had some fun prototypes working, but the process was painful. If you ask any indie, they’ll all tell you the same thing: that switching engine/system once you learn it, is really hard! And even doing the same things becomes harder. I know I have personally spoken with some people that moved from Ren’Py to Unity, and they said that to make the same GUI screen (for example an inventory, level up, skilltree screen) it takes you x3 the amount of time in Unity.

Does this mean that Unity is bad, is worse than Ren’Py? Haha of course not! But once you’re used to something, you can get much faster results. Switching engines means switching not just languages, interface, etc but also mentality and losing a series of things you’re used to.

Leaving a “legacy”

Another thing I also considered when I encountered those difficulties is: why I want to make different kind of games? For personal growth, sure. To break the monotony, yes. But it’s because I’m tired of making story-based games? No, definitely not.

Amber’s Magic Shop gameplay could have been better but I still liked doing it

I realized that I can still do things differently even if I stick to story based games, and I stick to Ren’Py. The RPG/VN I’m making, like Planet Stronghold 2 (by the way, it’s going to be content complete soon! I hope to be celebrating it the next blog post) or even various experiments (more or less successful) like PSCD, Amber’s Magic Shop and so on.

And even when doing “simpler” games like VN/dating sims, I can still do things that I enjoy making: comedy games like Roommates, mystery games like Nicole, and so on.

The “secret yuri game” I have been working since last Summer it’s like this. While I can’t reveal too much yet, the game has probably the most diverse cast of all my games: a disabled young lady, a latina MMA female fighter and a MILF 😛

But I have already some ideas about games that mix VN with other form of gameplay, an idea in particular that I think is very original (of course this doesn’t mean that will be surely good).

At the same time, during the recent months, I got a lot of positive feedback and supportive messages! On the social media, by email, as comments to my blog, etc. Thank you, thank you all! It was really enlightening: it was like “what you’re doing now is good, please keep at it!

In summary, people expect me to deliver story-based games and I think I should keep doing this in future. Maybe mix the VN with other forms of gameplay as I always do (and not necessarily RPGs) but keep doing this kind of games. Switching genres completely probably is not the answer to my creative struggles 🙂

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Status update (or: finally some good news)

We’re heading towards the end of the year, and yes I know I only released one game so far – hides in shame – but let’s proceed in order while I try to make the point of situation.

Planet Stronghold 2

Poor Avae is pretending to be OK after PC Lisa told him they’re just friends! FRIENDZONED!

The reality is that Planet Stronghold 2 turned into “my biggest game ever” (once again lol). As I was writing it, I kept adding sidequests and plot events, but also since had so many love interests I wanted each one to be a satisfying path, and hopefully I managed to do that. Not just in words amount but also in quality. And this time I didn’t have an external writer to help me write (as I explained in past posts, this game was just too complex, with too much branching and variables to outsource it). So this is why it wasn’t ready sooner.

In any case, while I’m not sure yet about the final game wordcount (it still needs to be proofread/edited) I think that it will be at least 340-350k words. Let’s assume that the main plot is about half of that (I have no clue honestly but it’s possible) there are around 175k words left. In the game there are 10 romances, which means, on average, each love interest sub-plot has at least 17k words of length, which is definitely not a small amount!

Volleyball Heaven

I want to apologize again for the delays on this game but was due to circumstances beyond our control. In any case, even for this game we’re at super-very-good point, basically the biggest thing left is scripting and coding it (and doing some preliminary testing). But since right now I’m in full-immersion mode with PS2, I want first to finish coding that one. I really expect it to be finished early next year, depending how PS2 beta goes.

Secret” Yuri Game

As you might be aware if you follow me on social media I was also working on a “secret yuri game” since a few months. I am not ready to talk about it yet, though I can at least say that the story is basically finished, but still there’s long way to go (after all I only began working on it last Summer!).

As I said, for all future games I’ll announce them officially only when the release is a couple months away at maximum. Which means I have ALREADY coded and tested them (or like I’m missing minor things like achievements, gallery, etc). This because Murphy’s law is always there, ready to strike, whenever you dare to post “I think this game will be out SOON” and soon turns into 2 years X_X

So I’d like to say that the game will be out next year, but I won’t say it! Did you hear me Murphy?? I didn’t say anything about this game! lol

Undead Lily

Since some people asked: after I finish Planet Stronghold 2 and Volleyball Heaven, this will be my next “big project”. It will use same card system of PSCD (with several changes though) but differently from what I wrote in a blog post a few months ago, I might be not doing two versions. Originally I was planning to do a version with shorter cutscenes for those only interested in card games. But I thought that I could just put a skip button at beginning of each scene, or people can simply use Ren’Py built in autoskip after all !

Now in case you don’t know, that game has ten love interests, and male/female protagonist so that’s why I said “next big project”, since it’s basically the same amount of romance as PS2. This game though won’t have a big complex plot like PS2 (also because there wasn’t a prequel, no pre-existing conditions or romances, etc). Still it will probably be at least 180-200k words of plot.

It’s going to be a gameplay oriented game (even if there will be a VN Mode) which means I need to have full control over it to make sure gameplay and story mix well. But differently from PS2 I can outsource the writing (I’ll only need to write down the storyboards) so it shouldn’t take as much as PS2 did.
Hopefully these won’t be my last famous words! I guess we’ll see what happens next year.

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Analyzing Steam stats for my games

After the recent LGTB sale on Steam, I started checking my games’ stats more closely, trying to understand how their algorithm works. Of course nobody except them really knows and mine are just observations and suppositions !

I started looking at my latest RPG, Cursed Lands. It had a good number of impressions (how many people saw the game image in the store) and an average click through (of said image/banner).

Lifetime stats for my latest RPG Cursed Lands released 18 May 2018

This is extremely important because for example as I wrote on twitter, changing the banner image can lead to more clickthrough and ultimately, more visitors to your store page. More visistors means more sales? Not necessarily. For example, below is my other RPG Queen Of Thieves:

Lifetime stats for Queen Of Thieves, released 20 Jan 2017

It seems that I really nailed it with its banner, since it has the highest clickthrough of all my RPGs! Unfortunately, even if the game came out more than one year before Cursed Lands, my latest RPG crushed its sales after one week. Yes, the first week of sales of Cursed Lands were more than 3 years of Queen Of Thieves… but it’s not really QoT fault, as I said I think if a game like Cursed Lands came out shortly after Loren, it would have had almost the same success.

Also, let’s not forget that QoT has only GxB and GxG romances, while Cursed Lands has a bit for everyone, and a better overall story I think (it’s also much longer though not sure if players consider that before buying).

So I decided to compare with yet another RPG, the first Planet Stronghold. This one came out in 2014, so four years before Cursed Lands:

Lifetime stats for Planet Stronghold, released 5 May 2014

As expected, this one had a lot of impression but mainly because back then, Steam was a closed platform and getting in was really a great boost of visibility. But has done better than Cursed Lands? Once again, no – Cursed Lands sold almost twice the first Planet Stronghold!

Conclusions

What conclusions can I draw beside the fact that Cursed Lands ruled? Haha jokes apart, while games like that one are the main reasons why I’m still in business today, it also shows that yes, you can improve clickthrough rate with a better banner, you can get more traffic and visitors, but all that matters in the end is how “good” game is.

What is good?” Baby don’t hurt me, no more – ahem sorry

I know that “good” is hard to define, but basically I would describe it as something like: a game is good if it manages to catch/met the interest of its potential user base, as much as possible.

Then of course depends also how big that user base is – you can make a well received yaoi game (like Heirs & Graces, my game with highest review rating on Steam) but because of the smaller target market it won’t do as well as a game with more diversity of romances.

And that’s why for all future games, with the exception of a few yuri only games (I need to be forgiven from yuri fans for making them wait so much!) will have at least two romance combos (either choosing protagonist gender, or having both male and female romances).

So in summary, the better the game is, the more Steam algorithm will promote it. You can buy ads of course (how many indies can afford that though?) but if your game isn’t good to start with, you’ll be only throwing money away. Thing is, during the launch window, Steam already shows the game to a rather big amount of people. Now, I don’t remember it the exact number but I think it was 1million of impressions (might have changed now though). Considering even a low 1% of CTR, that is still 10000 users to your page, and if your game is “good” they’ll buy it.

Final thoughts: it’s true that the visibility is no longer what it used to be, completely true. But still, if you manage to do a “good first impression”, then the algorihm will help you.

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Surviving the Indieapocalypse

As you might have guessed, I’m writing Lakadema romance in these days

A practical guide on how to – TRY – to survive the Indieapocalypse!

Jokes apart, I thought to write a post about what’s happening in the indie world, it will be mostly focused on business so if you’re here to read news about my games, I’m sorry, probably this post won’t be much interesting!

But I can tell you that Planet Stronghold 2 will feature 4 different endings and many great plot twists so you should definitely be looking out for it, coming out soon!

Also before I get to the topic of this blog, a short reminder that there’s an Halloween sale on itch.io and my games are in it:

The older games are discounted more:
https://itch.io/s/21765/halloween-sale-2019
while the more recent games less:
https://itch.io/s/21766/halloween-sale-2019

If you’re following any indie you’d probably have heard of the latest Steam algorithm change, which lowered even more the revenues of small/medium indies. Of course, there will always be that 1% of top indies that won’t have any problem (or maybe for them the sales are even increased!) but here I’m talking about the other 99%.

First of all let’s do a simple math: let’s say in one day I sell $100 gross on Steam. Their cut is 30% but after expenses,taxes,etc. So the real net amount is more close to the 65%. OK, so we have $65 left, pretty good. Now, unless you evade taxes or live in a tax heaven country, you need to take into account that. Let’s say that is another 30% (but in most modern countries will be more like 40-50%!) and you’re left with about $40 (this is best-case scenario!). Last but not least, there’s currency conversions. Right now from USD to EUR I “lose” only another 10%, but there have been times where I was losing another 30-40% on top of that (crazy, I know).

So depending on external factors, outside my control (exchange rate, govern taxes) from $100 gross I could end up with an amount between 20-35 eur net. Even if was 35 eur x 30 days of a month, would be barely minimum wage here!! It’s not easy to make a living out of this, especially considering that nowadays making $100 gross / day on Steam is … an achievement.

The biggest impact for sure is the 30% Steam cut, which nowadays is barely justified. I think the biggest mistake was Steam direct, but this would require a separate, long discussion. Anyway, what can you do as indie? Nothing, really. If you want to make indie games, you need to use Steam. There are though a couple of extra things you can do.

  1. Sell direct. Yeah I know that “nobody sells direct anymore”. But I do. And I know a few other indies that do. Often people underestimate how much fans can go to support their favorite creators. Since I use itchio, I set a custom percentage (in my case what I was paying before, so 8% of the amount). As you can imagine, from 30% of Steam cut to 8%, on each copy sold on itchio I get MUCH more money. In the end, Steam total amount is always going to be way higher, but if I can get a few sales at fullprice why shouldn’t I?
  2. Use crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. Since they take 5% only, as you can imagine getting $10,000-20,000 there instead of Steam means already gaining several thousands dollar more. It’s not easy to run a KS (I have never done it) but if you’re successful, it’s definitely worth doing. I know currently there are some issues with KS itself but I won’t go into those details, you can take as example any other crowdfunding site.
  3. Use patronage systems like Patreon. In this case, to be successful, you need to provide unique stuff, keep it updated, and so on. You can also do something like funding the development of a complete game through it, providing updates for patrons. It’s very popular, especially with adult games. Of course, you must not make the mistake to look at the top sellers and think you can make that amount! But even in this case, the lower fee makes it an attractive option and even only a few bucks each month help.
  4. Last but not least, cross-platform development. Just be sure to check the super-restrictive rules of other platforms like Google Play (lol you know what happened to me) but diversifying risks is a good idea in general, even if recently seems to be less worth it than was in the past.

Just remember one thing: all those systems require extra efforts. Especially if you’re just starting out. It’s not like because I make some sales on itchio, everyone else will make same amount too. I’ve in business since 15 years… you can’t expect to have same number of followers in a year or less (unless you make a hit of course, but that’s hard).

So all those things require time investment. But if you do them, you’re somewhat less dependant on just one platform (Steam) and hopefully reduce the risks of an algorithm making you go out of business!

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Subscriptions & Indie Games

only in Planet Stronghold 2 you’ll be able to learn intergalactic laws!

First of all an update: work on Planet Stronghold 2 continues smoothly, I finished chapter 3 and all the “old romances” routes! But I still need to write the last chapter and part of the new romances routes. And of course, the editor needs to fix the game texts. Considering the current wordcount is 280k words, the full story will exceed 300k words for sure lol

Now back to the blog post topic: you might have noticed that subscription programs are popping up like mushrooms recently. Apple has its Apple Arcade. Google Play followed suit with Google Play Pass.

On desktop, we already have the Humble Monthly that for a fixed monthly fee gives you games each month. Microsoft is doing their Game Pass thing too. EA and Ubisoft have already a subscriptions for their own titles. And let’s not forget that Epic is giving away free games every week.

It’s the end of the world and we know it

So, is this the end of the world? How does a small niche indie survives in middle of all this? I will share some thoughts, but of course it’s just my opinion and you should take it with a grain of salt!

First of all, game devaluating is nothing new – since the first bundles showed up, that was a thing. The main difference is that with the bundles you saw the games included and a price, and then you could decide if to buy it or not. With these subscription models in practice you rely on Apple/Google/etc to pick the games for you.

Now I must make a confession: I am both Humble Monthly subscriber and Gamepass too, and maybe I’ve played 10% of the games. But I’m not the typical gamer – I stay subscribed mostly to check the game trends, what’s selling, since games picked for those offers give you (the developer) a good idea of what is popular / is selling.

In case you don’t know – some services pay a flat out fee to the developer. I know some figures and I must say, that if one of my games was picked for them, I would be very happy, since the upfront money would cover the “potential future copies lost”.

So, it’s not necessarily all bad for developers, even if of course you need to be careful about what you sign and how much to ask. No, in this case the main hurdle is getting in. Since they hand-pick the titles, we’re again in a on/off – yes/no situation. Your game is accepted? Good, here’s the cash and you can keep making games. Your game is not? You have to sell it the “old fashioned way”. Which for now, still works! But in future? That is not certain.

Give me a thousand fans!

For a niche game author like me, there’s really not much hope to get in one of those offers. Then, what’s left? the good old “thousand true fans” theory that I borrowed from Jeff Vogel (Spiderweb games), and to be honest I’m not even sure if it’s his own idea, but I heard first from him!

He says that to keep going, you only need to have a thousand of loyal fans that will (more or less!) buy anything you make. Then doing a simple math, if a game is $25 x 1000 fans = $25.000. Which, to be clear, is really NOT a lot of money once portals’ cut, taxes, expenses are taken into account, for a game that took you a year to make. But that is a sort of “safe money”, then there will be also the other non-fans potential sales.

Of course that’s easier said than done! While I am lucky enough to still have many fans, all those enticing offers might take away some, also simply because not everyone has enough money to buy/support all their favorite authors (I know this well since I was a teenager too once!).

Anyway my summary is: those subscription models probably are here to stay. The few titles going in will be blessed and get good money. The gap between the 1% of devs making lot of money and the remaining 99% will grow bigger and bigger. Many companies will go bankrupt, including many indies, but I still think that “pay-once” full price games won’t go away, as well as seasonal sales and discounts. They simply coexist one next to another.

A final consideration

Also a final consideration: people who like games and spend money on them, now with $9.99/month can get most of the AAA titles and famous indies with the various gamepass. Which means they can actually save money. Money they can use to buy niche indie games like – totally random example – mine, which will very likely never end up in one of those subscriptions services! So maybe, there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel.

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