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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Lessons learned and ideas for Loren 2

I know that Planet Stronghold 2 is not out yet, and it’s definitely too early to do a postmortem. But as I am coding Planet Stronghold 2 I am learning a lot, and it was really a good thing that I did it before embarking on the odyssey that will be making Loren 2.

Too many romances!

Planet Stronghold 2 romance graph. Notice how foolishly hoped to have it done by Q1 2013! lol

If you ask a player, there’s no thing as too many romances! But if you ask me, or any other developer who cares to bring good characters and realistic romance routes to life, they’ll shake their head and say “yes”.

While writing Planet Stronghold 2, I realized how complex is a game that offers a lot of romance options AND also the possibility to continue a previous romance. I will explain better with some examples, because I understand that for players some details aren’t immediately noticeable, but for people like me who are behind the planning and coding, it’s a nightmare!

Let’s not talk about the fact that for each single romance combo (male/female and straight/homosexual) I had a different starting scene in PS2, in that case even if you were loyal or rebel there were different variations (for example, Michelle moved away if you were Rebel).

So that aside, for each scene in PS2, I had text variants depending if the character was in a romance or not. For example, if Rebecca saw Joshua looking at other girls and you were in a starting romance with her, a jealousy scene would follow. Which of course would make no sense if you were NOT in a starting romance with her! And so on. There are a lot of those variants thorough the whole game, and they take time and effort since they must merge with the story well.

A small parenthesis: this is one of the main reasons why I didn’t use an external writer for this game, because either that writer knew very well how Ren’Py / branching games work, or would have been a mess to explain what to do.

But that’s not even the worst – the worst is, that since I offered the option to “change your mind” and break the current romance to pursue a new character, for each starting love interest I had a “break up scene”. Then, for each character I also had an “engagement scene” which would “set” your love interest in chapter 3 and until the end of the story. Phew!

Even for Cursed Lands there was a lot of effort but at least there, all the romances except Leena and Jasper were bisex, removing several problems. And you had no starting romances. Here there are all the previous romances: Rebecca, Tom, Michelle, Rumi, Cliff and Damien, plus the new entries: Milo, Lakadema, Shiler and Avae!

To use a technical term, this amount of work behind the game romances is fucking insane. Lol, jokes apart, at least for the new entries I had “only” to write the engagement scenes since you couldn’t start in a romance with them.

Talking about Loren 2

As I was saying, this experience with Planet Stronghold 2 made me realize once more that all the romances of Loren 2 was a totally reckless decision and I don’t think I can possibly do a good job as it’s currently planned.

My idea (which is not set in stone of course) is to have a full experience with the new romances, I mean like the first game, so that each character has a long, satisfying romance arc. And then, maybe a sort of smaller story or something for the existing romances. It could still be done in form of a DLC, but what I want people to understand is that I simply cannot have both games of same length, also because it’s hard to find new ideas for the existing romances (there’s already 240-250,000 words of texts of the first game after all!).

But beside length consideration, even for Loren 2 I simply cannot have all the combo of Planet Stronghold 2, so probably I will have either a starting romance that will be the same for the whole story (with no possibility to change) or starting with no romance, and then you could romance the new characters only.

Already the change described above would cut a lot of work, making the story much easier to write and I wouldn’t need to have 500 variants of the same scene depending on the starting romances!

In summary right now my idea is that at beginning of the game, the choices would be two: 1) start as “new”, with no pre-exisiting relationship and possibility to engage with the new characters only 2) start with an existing relationship from Loren 1 and keep it until end of the story (this probably would be done as DLC to be released later)

Anyway, there’s time, since after Planet Stronghold 2 I plan to “take a break” and work on Undead Lily since that’s also another game delayed for too long (and that has too many romances problem as well! haha). I’ll also be releasing other “regular” VN/dating sim games along the way since taking 1 year between each release is really too much time and bad for business.

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Your feedback is welcome

PSCD is probably one of the games where I listened more to the feedback

Haha sorry for the odd blog post title! Anyway, the basic concept is this one: any feedback from you is welcome. You, who bought and played my games. You who never bought any of my games and pirated them all. You who have somehow played my games and think they’re awesome and the very likely few of you (really, just a minority, I’m sure of it!) who think they are bad ! 😛

Jokes apart, I always welcomed feedback, even when it was made in a somewhat arrogant/presumptuous way, like “why have you done XYZ when clearly nobody likes that?” and often I laughed looking at the statistics in my possession saying exactly the opposite.

Tastes are tastes, but stats don’t lie

Doesn’t matter if what you think is “right” or “wrong” (also because we can’t really say that, it’s all about personal tastes), I am interested in hearing it. If you follow me I know that I always try to reply whenever I can, explaining why I do what I do, even if ultimately the main reason of all my choices is that I run a business and I need to make money.

For example, I already said a while ago that I won’t make any more yaoi only games, but this doesn’t mean that there won’t be anymore yaoi romances in my games, especially RPGs. It means simply that there won’t be another Heirs & Graces game, with 4 love interests, all gay. This is not about personal tastes (even if I personally like more yuri) but based on the statistics in my possession. It’s better for me to do a game with two romance combos or even all romances, maybe with fewer love interests or with all characters bisex (like Love Bites) instead.

Anyway, sorry for derailing! But if you have any comment/suggestion to make, feel free to do it, here in the blog, in my forums, on my discord server (even if I sadly I don’t check it often) or in the social networks. Even if I mostly base my decisions on my data/stats, many times suggestion also helped me come up with new game ideas, gameplay or other thing. Small details, big changes.

Indeed, several times I made choices based on people’s suggestions! For example I have:

  • named a main character (Nicole)
  • tried making a game in a new genre (PSCD, Amber)
  • changed an ending/epilogue (Cursed Lands)
  • made a game more “hot/explicit” (PSCD, Roommates)
  • named a game (Heirs & Graces, Amber)

and the list goes on. So as you can see, I take them seriously into consideration! Then maybe of 10 suggestions only 1 gets implemented, but doesn’t mean I don’t care about them or that I don’t read them.

Some examples

PSCD is a good example of features implemented based on suggestions. The manga art update, which increased sales by 300% and showed me to never make again a game with non manga art. Or for the same game, the “quick match” option in the main menu. At first I was reluctant but in the end was probably a week of work more to implement it, and people definitely liked it.

Or for those who beta-tested Cursed Lands and participated in my forums, I changed the epilogue of the game after talking with people and Loren’s original writer to remain faithful to a certain character (I won’t go in more details since is a spoiler).

The only case in which I definitely don’t implement something, is if the idea itself requires an insane amount of extra money or work and I simply cannot afford to do it. If you haven’t, check a post I made a while ago about feature creep and vocal minority.

Keep the suggestions coming and even if I don’t have time to reply to all of them, I swear I read them all!

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Planet Stronghold 2 update

Shiler apologizing to you? this isn’t something you see every day!

So, we’re already at the end of August!

Work on Planet Stronghold 2 is progressing nicely. In case you don’t know, it’s taking me so long to update the beta version simply because I decided to release both the last two chapters, the 3 and 4 at once. While the last chapter has a shorter main storyline, it has all the romance scenes and personal quests, so it’s definitely important!

Getting personal…

The personal quests are optional (you’ll be able to refuse them if you want), but still need to be written and tested. Also, for EACH quest, there’s going to be two variants depending on your alignment with that character (loyal/rival).

What happens if you’re neutral? There will be another choice in the quest itself that will force you to be either Loyal or Rival. So we have two different fights, and then also different texts.

The main reward (usually a powerful item usable only by that specific character) will always unlock, while the variant will provide extra different bonuses (money, epic items, grenade/medikits, special items, etc).

…and getting hot!

The romance scenes, since there are 6 love interests, are taking a long time (I have planned 5 romance scenes for each character for a total of 30 !!) and I’m also putting special care in the “final romance scene” with the CG offering two versions, a suggestive/mature version and a more tame/soft version.

This time since with the suggestive option turned on you can see fully naked characters (depending on the pose you might not see some details of course) I decided to make the suggestive text version much more spicier than any other games I’ve done in the past ! While the soft version will have still undressed characters but not fully naked and the text will reflect this.

All of this, as you can imagine, requires more text (both version must be satisfying to read) so for example one of the romance scenes I wrote is almost 3000 words long!! Even if they’ll be of varying length, if we consider an average of 2k words each for 6 love interests, that’s already 12k words just for that scene for all characters!

I’m currently around 250,000 words of story, and as expected (LOL) it’s going to be another SMALL GAME ™. I remember when I finished Cursed Lands and thought about its crazy size of over 300,000 words I said “I won’t make another game as big as this one”. Last famous words…!

Release date

The downside of all this is that the game will probably be ready during the WORST moment of the year to release a new game, that is end of October/November. I will still release it on itch.io of course, but I will probably delay the Steam release until after the holidays, since I think it might be a bad idea. I haven’t made my mind yet, but it’s very likely!

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