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RPG => The Depository => Topic started by: Vince on June 29, 2016, 12:12:35 pm



Title: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Vince on June 29, 2016, 12:12:35 pm
How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps

In the olden days the gaming industry was like a picturesque green pasture, inviting and peaceful. Set up your shop, make your masterpiece, enjoy life. Easy as pie or so the story goes.

(http://media5000.dropshots.com/photos/1181160/20160628/b_112500.jpg)

Sadly, over the decades the landscape has changed a bit…

(http://media5001.dropshots.com/photos/1181160/20100625/b_120232.jpg)

It’s gotten so crowded that some people started thinking that the End has to be nigh for surely God, who sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross to redeem mankind, won’t tolerate this hipster plague much longer and will wipe the slate clean sooner or later. So while we’re waiting for the Grand Finale, I might as well share my thoughts in hope that some people would find it useful.

Step 1 - Design

Your game has to stand out. It has to do at least one thing extremely well, preferably something that hasn’t been done before. Why be an indie game developer if not to try new things, right?

It’s not enough to do a game with tried and true mechanics, because in most cases "tried and true" has been done to death long before you decided to throw your hat into the ring. If all you’re adding to the recipe is new visuals, think twice. Sure, it’s possible that Kim Kardashian might tweet about your game and it becomes the next internet sensation, but Kim’s busy taking selfies, so let’s not rely on dumb luck alone.

Of course, every rule has exceptions. If you’re replicating the tried and true gameplay of something as venerable as Jagged Alliance 2, Wizardry 8, or Shadow of the Horned Rat, go right ahead. If not, don’t bother.

For our first game, we went with Choices & Consequences (C&C) – an "easy" category considering that 99% of games promise meaningful choices but never deliver because it takes a very long time, which is something we’ve learned the hard way after making the game for 11 years. AoD gives you:

  • More meaningful choices than you can shake a stick at
  • Parallel questlines showing events from different angles and points of view
  • Radically different "Craft Your Own Story" playthroughs

For our next 'full scale' RPG, we’ll raise C&C up a notch and add party "dynamics", which will be very different from what you’re used to and go against the established design staples, possibly upsetting some folks in the process (again). It’s a very ambitious design, but as I said, doing what’s been done before – even if it was done by you – is not enough. You have to push forward or you will not survive.

Step 2 – Community

Now that you’re working on your game, you have to build a community around it and spread the word. No matter how well-designed your game is it will fail all the same if nobody knows about it. Yes, that too is your job.

Many indie developers look at what the AAA developers do and take notes. They think that if they act like the AAA boys, you know, professional and shit, everyone will assume they are real developers too and take them seriously.

Don’t do semi-official press-releases where you quote yourself. Don’t ask volunteer testers to sign NDAs as if you have the time, money, or desire to enforce them. Don’t write you own EULA on Steam as if Steam’s EULA isn’t good enough for you. Worst of all, don’t guard your stories and design ideas because someone might steal them. Yeah, Bethesda will decide to postpone The Elder Scrolls 6 and steal your shitty totally awesome ideas instead.

You have to sell people on your vision and you can’t do it if all you give them is a brief summary and Todd Howard’s famous “Trust us, it will be cool” line.

We’ve posted everything we had from day one. If we didn’t show something, it’s because we didn’t have it. We’ve "spoiled" every aspect of the game and answered every question about the game on as many forums as we could, giving people reasons to follow the game.

Go out into the world and engage gaming communities. Don’t hide behind moderators or "community managers". People who give a fuck about your game don’t want to be "managed", they want to talk to the guys making the game.

I made over 10,000 posts on multiple forums talking to people who showed interest and had questions. Oscar made over 6,000 posts. That’s not counting posts on Steam since we launched on Early Access and even more posts later after the game was released. If you can’t be arsed to talk to people who’re interested in your game, don’t expect them to support you in the future. Find time or you won’t stay in this business for long.

A word of warning before we get to the next chapter: when mingling with people you might discover that not everyone thinks your game ideas are as great as you think they are. Some people might actually harbor suspicions that your game sucks and be willing and even eager to share these thoughts with everyone they run into. You’d better get used to it because it’s going to happen a lot. ‘tis the magic of the internet.

Step 3 – Making a Game

Surprisingly, this step isn’t really about making a game. If you can’t make one, this handy guide won’t help you. It’s about the "economics" of it. You see, unless you hit it really big for an indie, like Darkest Dungeon-big, you won’t make a lot of money (for a real studio). Thus you must budget and ration like a lost-at-sea sailor to avoid these two fairly typical scenarios, which happen more often than you might think:

  • You made a good game, it sold well for an indie but now you’re 100k in debt because the costs spiraled out of control. Basically, you made a good game but you spent more than you should have and now you’re dead in the water.
  • You made a good game, it sold well for an indie, you recovered your initial investment and bought yourself an ice-cream but you have no money to continue and now you must try your luck on Kickstarter where you get not what you need to make a game but what you can get, which is anywhere from 10 to 30% if you’re lucky.

Treat what you earn from the first game as your operational budget for the second game. So the more you spend making your first game, the less you’ll have to make your second game. You see, the first game is always done on pure enthusiasm. You’re making a game, living the dream, working part-time, evenings and nights for years, because sleep is overrated. Enthusiasm is a great and cheap resource but you can’t run on it forever.

The goal here is to survive the indiepocalypse and build a real studio, right? So you make a game on enthusiasm, use what it earned to make a second game, use what it earned to make a third game, etc.

The Age of Decadence sold over 50,000 copies to-date at $22 average. The revenues aren't our reward for 11 years of hard work (that's done and gone) but our budget for the "Colony Ship RPG", our second project.

Step 5 (yes, we’ve just jumped from 3 to 5 because math is a social construct) – Make Another Game

You made your first game and it sold well enough to continue. Congrats! Now you have to do it all over again, but you need to do it better (see Step 1) and faster. In our case it means making the second game in 4-5 years without lowering quality. We’re aiming for 4 years; 5 is acceptable, 6 isn’t. Granted, the main reason AoD took so long is because:

  • We had no experience, aka time-consuming trial-and-error approach to game design.
  • We had no tools, no systems (things like combat, dialogues, etc), no engine; literally everything had to be done from scratch.
  • We worked part-time for 10 years (enthusiasm doesn’t pay the bills) and switched to full-time only when the finish line was already in sight

... so there's a good chance that we can make a better game in 4-5 years but it's far from certain.

Anyway, the point is that your first game shows that you have what it takes to make an indie RPG that stands out in a crowd and sells enough to keep you in business. Until you do it again, the first game’s success is nothing but a fluke. You have to perform consistently without any margin for errors because the first mistake might kill you.

A second successful game will secure your future and turn that fellowship of geeks that is your team into a real game development studio. That’s the last hurdle to overcome, which is by no means an easy task.

But wait, there’s more…

Step 4 – Recycle

Even if we manage to make the Colony Ship RPG in 4-5 years AND it will be well received by our existing audience AND it will sell enough to make a third 'full scale' RPG, releasing games once every 4-5 years might not be enough to survive.

I wish we could expand our team right now and hire more people but we can’t, otherwise we risk running out of money and releasing the second game deep in debt (see Step 3). We need a reliable revenue booster, so we’re going to recycle and make an inexpensive tactical, party-based RPG using the first game’s engine, systems, and assets. Such a game is relatively easy to make, since we’re using the already existing building blocks, so the plan is to put it together in under a year and hope that it’s well received.

If it works, the revenues will boost the second game’s budget just as it enters production (we’re working on it now while the Colony Ship RPG is in pre-production), allowing us to get a couple of extra people and spend more money on art.

If it works, we can release a tactical combat game after each 'full scale' RPG and boost the next game’s budget.

Bonus Chapter – What About Marketing?

What about it? Marketing is a game of chance that all but guarantees winning IF you have enough money to stay in the game. There’s a famous saying attributed to John Wanamaker who knew a thing or two about marketing: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."

It’s all about effective frequency, which means that you have to have faith and keep throwing money at ads even when they give you no return whatsoever. Harvard thinks that the magic number is nine. Most people have to see your ad nine times before they start responding to it. Thomas Smith thought the magic number is twenty. Krugman was convinced there are three phases: curiosity, recognition, decision, but obviously each phase takes a number of ads.

So what it means is that unless you have enough money to run ads until they start turning profit, don’t do it. You will spend 5k of your hard-earned money, which is the equivalent of a penny in the exciting world of advertising, get nothing and stop advertising, thus wasting the 5k you’ve just spent.

Without a marketing budget, your options are limited: you need the goodwill of the gaming media, which brings us back to Step 1 – design. Unless your game is worth talking about, the media will ignore it. They want to write what people want to read. If nobody wants to hear about your game, well, this brings us to Step 3 – Community: your most effective way of marketing your game and creating that interest that might result in the media gods looking at your creation favorably and blessing your efforts with a preview or a quick impressions article.

Overall, I don't think there was EVER a better time to be a game developer. Sure, the landscape is crowded (12,818 games on sale on Steam right now, which is insane), but the market is HUGE and there's plenty of room for everyone. There are over 125 million Steam users - that's paying customers able to buy a game with a single click, and all you need to do well is make a game that would appeal to 0.05% (or 0.3-0.5% if you like money a lot) of that ever-growing market. It's easier said than done, of course, but far from impossible.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indipocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Sunfire on June 29, 2016, 12:35:42 pm
(http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/03208/meryl_jlo_oscars_3208759a.gif)
 :approve:


Title: Re: How to Survive Indipocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: CappenVarra on June 29, 2016, 02:28:16 pm
 :salute:


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: 098799 on June 30, 2016, 09:23:31 am
It's always great to read articles like that. Keep them coming, it seems to me that they are a great marketing tool.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: DorkMage on June 30, 2016, 09:52:25 pm

If it works, we can release a tactical combat game after each 'full scale' RPG and boost the next game’s budget.


It is puzzling to me why AAA houses don't do this.

Release a causal RPG and then have 2 persons use the assets to do a more hard-core version as a separate franchise.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: daveyd on July 01, 2016, 03:34:26 pm
1.  It boggles my mind that AoD only sold a bit more than 50K copies.  I wouldn't expect a classic style CRPG with a massive amount of text to sell in the millions or anything, but there has to be more people who would enjoy such a game out there.  Hell, Torment: ToN had ~75K Kickstarter backers, and I would think that's essentially the target audience.  Anyway, I'm glad this was enough copies for ITS to keep making RPGs, but they deserve success for such making such a great game.  For my part, I recommend it to everyone I can on game related forums etc.  and will continue to bring it up whenever someone asks what the best RPGs of all time are, because it is certainly one of them. 

2.  Would ITS consider doing a Kickstarter for Colony Ship RPG in a couple of years?    As Vince noted here, you're likely to only raise a chunk of the money you actually need, if you're lucky... Still, once there are some screenshots / early gameplay footage to show, I think this game could do pretty well on Kickstarter...    i know the downside is you could potentially waste a month promoting the KS, but since ITS is planning to make the game anyway with revenue from AoD and AoD DC, they could set a relatively base goal and just see what happens.   With some luck, they could raise enough money to hire an extra hand or two.   


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Vince on July 01, 2016, 03:45:47 pm
1.  It boggles my mind that AoD only sold a bit more than 50K copies. 
Could have been a LOT worse.

Quote
2.  Would ITS consider doing a Kickstarter for Colony Ship RPG in a couple of years? 
Probably not.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Assnuggets on July 01, 2016, 08:57:12 pm
Not sure what VD did in AoD that was so original.

• Recycled gameplay elements from Fallout.
• Recycled pagan Roman setting.
• Every character is the same exact asshole personality type.

On the other hand.

• Graphics are okay.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: laclongquan on July 03, 2016, 04:12:26 am
Interesting article.

I learn a few things from it. Magic number, for one. Might be useful in my line of work.

On another note: characteristics of western developers. They are deathly afraid of recyling and build up on it. Everything must be new unique and whatnot. The few things they dare to do it is not bad, but they really are afraid of doing it:

Fallout 1 -- 2 -- Tactics. Yeah, people praise to the sky 1, ambivalent about 2, and diss on Tactics, mostly because 2 and Tactics recyle many parts of 1 and build upon it.

Same deal with Baldur's Gate 1 and Icewind Dale 1, and in some part Baldur's Gate 2. new, first set foot here, is a powerful phenonmenon in the west.

Good examples of recycling: Mech Commander 1/2. Heroes of Might and Magic 1-3, Knights of Old republic 1-2,

It's a matter of cultural expectation, I think.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Vince on July 03, 2016, 08:19:05 am
On another note: characteristics of western developers. They are deathly afraid of recyling and build up on it. Everything must be new unique and whatnot.
I don't think that's the case. While creating "new and unique" has its own merits, the main issue is sales and whether or not you get to stay in business. New and unique have a higher chance of keeping you afloat.

Had AoD sold as much as Darkest Dungeon, for argument's sake, we would be working on AoD 2 right now. It didn't so we have to move on because sequels tend to sell a lot less.

Quote
Fallout 1 -- 2 -- Tactics. Yeah, people praise to the sky 1, ambivalent about 2, and diss on Tactics, mostly because 2 and Tactics recyle many parts of 1 and build upon it.
Fallout 1 was a great game. Fallout 2 was a good game by the virtue of being a sequel to a great game, but it didn't really build anything upon it but introduced a lot of dumb shit that didn't fit the setting. Tactics was a mediocre tactical game that continued shitting on the setting and lore. It wasn't a good Fallout game and it wasn't a good tactical game, falling short from the standards set by Jagged Alliance 2.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Captain Shrek on July 04, 2016, 05:49:28 am
 :salute:

I am no master of business, but this all seems like sound advice to me. I wonder what more marketing could have benefited AoD. Vince, have you considered what you guys will add for the Colony ship on that front?


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Vince on July 04, 2016, 10:15:57 am
I am no master of business, but this all seems like sound advice to me. I wonder what more marketing could have benefited AoD. Vince, have you considered what you guys will add for the Colony ship on that front?
On the marketing front? I'm not really thinking about it yet as it's way too early. For now I'll continue to post monthly updates, which is low-key marketing. The main reason is to get feedback early, which is critical, but it also generates awareness. Until we can present the game properly (first screens and such), it's too early to consider the options.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Scott on July 05, 2016, 11:14:55 am
It wasn't a good Fallout game and it wasn't a good tactical game, falling short from the standards set by Jagged Alliance 2.
In my opinion there hasn't been a game, any game, which meets the standards set by Jagged Alliance 2. And as I like to remind people that developer went under shortly after publishing it.

I'm also convinced AoD could sell many more copies, provided you could get it in front of more eyes, which is almost impossible to do.

One thing people tend to overlook about Kickstarter is that participation is a month-long marketing blitz. The game is exposed in a different market, and potentially gets a ton of free exposure from game sites, *especially* if you're an established studio with two games under your belt. Instead of writing a game review or interview, all they have to do is copy/paste from the description and link to the video. This exposure applies even if you don't get funded!


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: TorQueMoD on July 11, 2016, 01:45:42 pm
A very well written article overall but I think you've missed one very important step... Start Small.
I realize it might be counter intuitive for you to say this considering the size and scope of your own project but to be completely honest, if you've never made a game before you shouldn't be trying to make a fully fledged RPG in the first place as you and your team can probably attest to with your 11 year development cycle. Sure you finished the game and yes, it was successful but in hindsight don't you think a good idea would have been to narrow your scope?
The smarter way to approach an RPG would be the reverse of what you're going to do. Make the simpler action tactical RPG first in a few years and THEN expand it into a proper RPG (though again I say don't even attempt and RPG as your first or even 4th game in the first place). You can't be profitable as an indie even spending 2 years in development (not counting early access).

The best way to get your start in games is to start with something ridiculously simply and then with each new game expand from there. Sure it might not rocket you to epic indie status on your first game, but your first game regardless of quality isn't likely to sell well anyway (again as pointed out by yourself) due to the fact that no one knows who you are. So the best approach is to make something more simple with maybe a unique twist on classic gameplay rather than reinventing the wheel for your first project and then expand little by little for each successive project until you get your legs and have a decent fan base built up. Then you can work on the completely unique and amazing game as maybe your 4th or 5th project. Otherwise you risk not ever finishing a project at all. If you can't release either a playable demo or a beta or early access within 6 months, then your project is too ambitious for a first indie project. And when theorizing how long it will take to create your game, always double the amount of time you think it will take to get even remotely close to the real number. 


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: TorQueMoD on July 11, 2016, 01:55:39 pm
...characteristics of western developers. They are deathly afraid of recyling and build up on it. Everything must be new unique and whatnot...

Not to sound rude, but what amazing western games are YOU playing? I'd love to get my hands on those. Every AAA game I see made by western devs is the same old garbage recycled over and over without hardly any real imagination added in. In fact the annual game franchise is seriously getting out of control. Assassin's Creed, (Shock and amazement, Ubisoft is taking 1 year off!) Destiny, Battlefield, Call of Duty, Battlefront(now), Need for Speed, Grand Theft Auto (not yearly thank god but still) Watch Dogs(new), Mirror's Edge(failed). Not to mention that most indies even try to ride the wake of whatever game type is the new craze... Minecraft (building in a persistent world) and Day Z (survival "emergent" game vs zombies) are two of the most cloned games in existence. And now two new hot features to include are Dinosaurs and Space - hey, why not make a game about Space Dinosaurs! Even scarier is that it looks like after a decade long break, we're going to be heading back to war games for another 10 years!

Western development is all about the trends and trying to be one of the first 5 games to feature the new hotness! Blech!


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: TorQueMoD on July 11, 2016, 01:58:14 pm
Not sure what VD did in AoD that was so original...

He highlights them in bullet point form for you in the original post...
  • More meaningful choices than you can shake a stick at
  • Parallel questlines showing events from different angles and points of view
  • Radically different "Craft Your Own Story" playthroughs

They didn't claim that the gameplay itself was completely unique. You have to have something for people to relate to and familiar gameplay is the best way to do this.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: TorQueMoD on July 11, 2016, 02:06:03 pm
...One thing people tend to overlook about Kickstarter is that participation is a month-long marketing blitz...

My apologies for posting 4 times in a row but I just discovered this thread and there are a lot of comments I want to respond to.

After running my own failed Kickstarter I can tell you that Kickstarter does not provide ANY sort of media blitz that you might think (as I mistakenly did). The total number of people who viewed my campaign that came from Kickstarter was 16. No, that's not a typo. I did everything I could to get people to know about my campaign including spending several thousand on targeted advertising and sending out press releases to every gaming website known to man. The bottom line, if people don't know who you are before you start your campaign, you're not likely to get legions of people backing your campaign on Kickstarter. Granted, you might get lucky or just have an incredibly awesome concept/game but I wouldn't rely on Kickstarter alone to give you any extra attention.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Vince on July 11, 2016, 05:59:25 pm
A very well written article overall but I think you've missed one very important step... Start Small.
I thought about it quite often over the years, thinking that we should have started small and built it up with each subsequent game but looking back I think it would have been a mistake. A small game would have still taken years but gone unnoticed (see Step 1).


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: TorQueMoD on July 11, 2016, 07:34:56 pm
I thought about it quite often over the years, thinking that we should have started small and built it up with each subsequent game but looking back I think it would have been a mistake. A small game would have still taken years but gone unnoticed (see Step 1).

It completely depends on what type of game you make. When I say start small, I don't mean necessarily a simple idea, but one that doesn't require complex systems and loads of assets. A platformer is a good example of this because essentially all you need to do is create the core gameplay mechanics (jumping, dashing, wall sliding or jumping and attacking for example) and then you create maybe 6 level pieces (wall, floor, platform, door, etc.) and maybe 3 visual variations of those pieces (industrial, wilderness, normal) and then you've got the ability to mix an match them into a much more robust set of levels. You make a dozen different missions and you call it complete. On to the next title. You could easily finish this in a year and it could do quite well. As I said, it won't be a top seller, but it'll be enough to keep you working on games and much better than a McJob. And lets say you manage to crank out 3 smaller games in 3 years. It's much more likely that combined, they'll get you more attention and more income than 1 big game. The key is to reign in your ambition.

The problem is that most indie designers look at modern AAA games as an example of what they want to emulate because for the most part we play AAA games most frequently. So you fall in love with a game like Skyrim or Fallout or Shadow Of Colossus and naturally you want to make a game like that. But as an indie designer with anywhere from 1 - 5 people working on the project, you get trapped working on the game for 11 years as you guys did. If you're going to try to emulate any type of game as a first project, you need to go back in time and look at your favorite SNES games or N64 games and see if you can make your own version of one of those. At least that would be more achievable.  I mean, props to you and your team that you had the discipline and dedication to keep working on AOD for as long as you did and actually let it see the light of day but in all honesty its not something that most people can do. Most developers, heck most artists of any discipline will tell you to start small. Its not like you see someone who's only been playing piano for a year trying to write their own equivalent of Moonlight Sonata or the Nutcracker Suite. You'll more than likely fail if you try. And as I said earlier you're more likely to see success with a half dozen smaller titles over a decade than you would 1 or 2 bigger games. I don't think anyone should try to work on a game of any significant scope until they've at least got a few hundred grand to bank roll it.

Then again, I often don't even follow my own advice so take it with a grain of salt :P


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Vince on July 12, 2016, 06:50:14 am
It completely depends on what type of game you make. When I say start small, I don't mean necessarily a simple idea, but one that doesn't require complex systems and loads of assets.
The question is would such a game sell enough to keep you in business and encourage you to continue? How many players would rather buy this particular game with simple systems and few assets instead of thousands of other games?

Quote
A platformer is a good example of this because essentially all you need to do is create the core gameplay mechanics (jumping, dashing, wall sliding or jumping and attacking for example) and then you create maybe 6 level pieces (wall, floor, platform, door, etc.) and maybe 3 visual variations of those pieces (industrial, wilderness, normal) and then you've got the ability to mix an match them into a much more robust set of levels. You make a dozen different missions and you call it complete. On to the next title. You could easily finish this in a year and it could do quite well. As I said, it won't be a top seller, but it'll be enough to keep you working on games and much better than a McJob. And lets say you manage to crank out 3 smaller games in 3 years. It's much more likely that combined, they'll get you more attention and more income than 1 big game. The key is to reign in your ambition.
Is there any data that backs it up? I'm just curious.

From what I've heard, such games usually make money only during a narrow launch window and then during the first couple of sales, then they are dead in the water. The amounts raised often fall short and the competition grows with every year. Sure, you may get lucky but you don't want to rely on luck alone.

Here is another indie game's story:

http://imgur.com/gallery/bGLAQ (http://imgur.com/gallery/bGLAQ)


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Sunfire on July 12, 2016, 08:39:37 am
Here (http://blog.gameanalytics.com/blog/16-reasons-players-leaving-game.html) is an article that may somewhat be related to this topic.

In short:
1. Your game intro sucks
2. Your game’s sessions are too long
3. You are not targeting the right audience for your project
4. You are targeting a saturated fringe of the market
5. You didn’t run enough tests
6. Your tutorial slows down the player
7. Your game is too hard to pick up
8. Sudden rises in difficulty
Uninstalls in the later stages of the game
9. Grosbilling or a backfiring grind
10. The game relies too much on grinding, lacks intrinsic rewards
11. The game requires a big time investment to become enjoyable
The specifics of social and Free to Play games
12. A toxic community
13. Resources are too scarce
14. Your game sessions feel empty
15. Your game punishes inactive players
16. Updates are not coming fast enough

Summary
Players leave your games for 2 key reasons:
-  Boredom
-  Frustration, or anxiety
Those are your greatest enemies as a game designer. The antagonists of flow.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Scott on July 12, 2016, 11:21:20 am
I think if you're planning to make your 5th game your dream game, you won't have a studio by the time you get there. Even a "real" studio, like Troika, was lucky to produce three games before going under, simply because none of them were hits. I don't think many indies running on nothing but sweat and vapors are going to last that long.

Platformers are indeed easier and quicker to make. The part about doing something original and engaging is certainly a must... but then you have to get people to look at your platformer. A quick search on Steam for the tag "Platformer" gives 1959 results. So where are your efforts better spent, in making the game you want to make (or at least a part of it, as you suggested), or in making a series of smaller games with no greater chance of turning a profit?

And regarding Kickstarter, I was referring to Iron Tower's case where they will have published three games (Age of Decadence, Dead State, Combat Crawler) by the time they could approach KS for Colony Ship Game. At that point I hope a dev can get more than 16 hits.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: TorQueMoD on July 12, 2016, 02:58:50 pm
All valid points you guys have made. No idea on the statistics, I'm talking out my @ss as I normally do :P
I'd love to read the article in the first link but it just went to their main blog and I couldn't find the specific article. That game looks amazing though. Love robots!

The 16 reasons why players leave your games was also a good article. Notice though that "Scope" isn't mentioned anywhere. A big or ambitious game isn't what makes a game awesome. Its how much fun you have while playing it. A perfect example, when Skyrim launched I played it for 10 days straight until I had completed the story (opposite of what I did with Oblivion) and then never touched it again. I thought it was an awesome experience though. A few days later I decided to play Limbo. I bought the game on steam and beat it in 3 hours but I was more blown away and impressed by those 3 hours than I was with my 60+ hours in Skyrim.

You absolutely HAVE to be in love with your project otherwise there won't be any motivation to continue working on it (so you definitely don't want to sacrifice on the idea and design to force it to be smaller) which is why I'm sure you guys were able to keep working on AOD for as long as you did. BTW, great work with the little details... I was really impressed with the animation for spearing an enemy that was shown in the Steam video... the little shake when the guy hit the top of the arc was fantastic!

A platformer was just a quick off the top of my head idea. I didn't necessarily mean that everyone should make one, just a game that's a little easier to tackle than an RPG. RPGs are one of the hardest and longest games you could make. And there's a lot you can do with a standard game mode like a platformer to make it unique and stand out against the crowd. Look at Braid and Super Meat Boy and Limbo. You could do similar things with other genres too. Also in this day and age of game design another thing to think about is buying assets from online stores like the Unity store and Unreal Marketplace. I used to have the viewpoint that I didn't want to use assets that someone else could be using in their game because it would make my game less unique but in all honesty for the majority of your items, pre-made assets save you so much time and can be easily modified to look unique. Not to mention how much money you can save.

Ok there's another problem though... comparing yourself to AAA studios. Trokia wasn't an indie studio. They were fully AAA and the reason they went under after their 3rd game not turning a profit was due to the amount of money going into those games which was probably in the millions. When you're a AAA dev, you often have to make a deal with a publisher that essentially see you being pre-paid for your work which covers the development, but not seeing a cent of profit once the game sells. I'll be you that the publisher did end up seeing a small amount of profit from Arcanum and Vampire alike, they just likely didn't clear the amount required by the contract for some of those profits to go back to the devs.

Its a lot easier for an indie studio to become profitable than it is for a AAA studio. On your first project as an indie dev, a lot of the time people are volunteering their time, so technically speaking, any amount in sales is purely profit. Whether or not its enough to pay your employees for the work they did on the game and then fund a follow up completely depends on the company structure. In my case, I'm refusing to work with anyone else on my project so that I don't have to worry about revenue sharing and I know that everything I make on the first game is simply going to go towards covering my living expenses so that I can work on a second. I'm not seeking a profit so much as the ability to keep myself afloat long enough to continue doing what I love. Also something to consider as an indie is not making your team members employees but contract workers. Again the idea of founding a company and hiring employees is something we take from AAA development but it doesn't really make sense at the indie level. You could instead have 2 or 3 main employees and make everyone else contractors. Pay them on a per job basis and let them know that your intention is to continue contracting them for future projects as long as you're able to but there's no benefit to splitting the profits 10 or 15 ways when you could really be throwing most of it back into future projects. Also the idea of Royalty Capped contracts is a great idea for compensating contractors as well. You will be paid 15% of sales until we've paid you $XX. Once the contractor has been paid a fair dollar amount for their work, their royalties stop. Its an idea that a programmer I worked with in the past introduced me to and before hearing it I had always thought that royalty payments would continue in perpetuity which is a really absurd thought in hindsight.

And again looking at Trokia as an example, what kind of games did they dedicate themselves to making? RPGs. The most difficult type of game to make. Its a lot harder to turn a profit on a game that you spend 5 years making than one you spend a year and a half working on.

I just feel that there are a lot of ways that indie developers can shoot themselves in the foot along the way and over ambitious game design is probably the number one way to do so. I've done it to myself many times over the last decade.



Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Scott on July 13, 2016, 09:10:48 am
I have an opinion on this one:
Quote
Also the idea of Royalty Capped contracts is a great idea for compensating contractors as well. You will be paid 15% of sales until we've paid you $XX. Once the contractor has been paid a fair dollar amount for their work, their royalties stop.
That absolutely sucks and I'm having a hard time imagining I would ever agree to such a contract.

Someone who is being paid on contingency (if the game makes money, you make money) is in reality getting paid nothing. You're getting a piece of a "maybe". Plenty of games don't get finished. The carrot in this case is the game not only getting finished but being successful. The only reason to accept nothing for your work is the gamble that it will turn into something. You're suggesting that if the game does make money, the contractor gets paid fairly. If the game is very successful, the contractor.... still gets paid.

It's like playing roulette where the biggest payout is exactly what you wagered.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Sunfire on July 13, 2016, 09:49:50 am
pp.1,2,7,8,11 applies to Dark Souls :)


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: TorQueMoD on July 13, 2016, 11:46:42 am
That absolutely sucks and I'm having a hard time imagining I would ever agree to such a contract...

I can understand that viewpoint but the reality is that if you're working for a studio you'll only get paid $X for said work you do. Why should it be any different just because you're working for a smaller studio. I'm not suggesting contractors should just sign up with any group of developers either. Likely this model would work well for pre-established studios who have already released a game previously and its obviously up to the two parties involved to come to terms that both can agree on. Maybe the amount pays double what it normally would to negate the risk. Also keep in mind that often times you volunteer your time on indie projects to gain experience so I'd think in those cases the contractor would be expecting to volunteer their time anyway and the payout is simply icing on the cake rather than something they're hoping to pay the bills with.
I've been a freelancer on other projects before and this sort of contract wouldn't bother me any. To each their own though.


Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: Euchrid on July 30, 2016, 08:32:03 pm
It completely depends on what type of game you make. When I say start small, I don't mean necessarily a simple idea, but one that doesn't require complex systems and loads of assets.
The question is would such a game sell enough to keep you in business and encourage you to continue? How many players would rather buy this particular game with simple systems and few assets instead of thousands of other games?

Quote
A platformer is a good example of this because essentially all you need to do is create the core gameplay mechanics (jumping, dashing, wall sliding or jumping and attacking for example) and then you create maybe 6 level pieces (wall, floor, platform, door, etc.) and maybe 3 visual variations of those pieces (industrial, wilderness, normal) and then you've got the ability to mix an match them into a much more robust set of levels. You make a dozen different missions and you call it complete. On to the next title. You could easily finish this in a year and it could do quite well. As I said, it won't be a top seller, but it'll be enough to keep you working on games and much better than a McJob. And lets say you manage to crank out 3 smaller games in 3 years. It's much more likely that combined, they'll get you more attention and more income than 1 big game. The key is to reign in your ambition.
Is there any data that backs it up? I'm just curious.

From what I've heard, such games usually make money only during a narrow launch window and then during the first couple of sales, then they are dead in the water. The amounts raised often fall short and the competition grows with every year. Sure, you may get lucky but you don't want to rely on luck alone.

Here is another indie game's story:

http://imgur.com/gallery/bGLAQ (http://imgur.com/gallery/bGLAQ)

I don't think "starting small" is bad advice, but doing so with a game that is very different to your "dream game" would be a mistake. You spend years making the best platformer or linear combat-only RPG you can and in the very best scenario, despite the saturated market, it gets some attention and a decent following. How much of that following would you lose for your next game which is your real passion project? How much of what you learned is transferrable? I think if you're going to start small it should be a small scale version of everything the studio is about. Limiting the content scope not the core game design. This reduces the development time and increases the likelihood of a polished and complete product. With a game like AOD though, this will still take a long time and  you may not be seen as "real developers" until you release a full scale game.



Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: TorQueMoD on July 31, 2016, 03:46:57 am
I don't think "starting small" is bad advice, but doing so with a game that is very different to your "dream game" would be a mistake. You spend years making the best platformer or linear combat-only RPG you can and in the very best scenario, despite the saturated market, it gets some attention and a decent following. How much of that following would you lose for your next game which is your real passion project? How much of what you learned is transferrable? I think if you're going to start small it should be a small scale version of everything the studio is about. Limiting the content scope not the core game design. This reduces the development time and increases the likelihood of a polished and complete product. With a game like AOD though, this will still take a long time and  you may not be seen as "real developers" until you release a full scale game.

I actually agree with a lot of what you say but I have a different perspective.
Absolutely I think you want to work on a game that you're passionate about as it just makes your job as an indie designer easier. That said, it's unlikely that you're only passionate about one type of game or subject matter so I'm suggesting that designers start with something they're passionate about but on a smaller scale as you suggested.
As I mentioned earlier, I think it would have been a better approach to do the opposite of what the AOD team did/is doing. Make the small(er) scale sword play game first and THEN transform it into a full RPG after. This also prevents what you mentioned - not meeting fan expectations. If you start with a small game and go up, then its progress. If you start with a large game then scale back, its often viewed as regression. Granted, I personally wouldn't worry too much about what fans think because something else that people don't often consider is that if you alienate your existing fan base, you'll likely find a new one and really your fan base will only grow overall (old fans may come back for a future game). I digress however, back to the original thought...

So many huge and expansive games could be boiled down into a much simpler and smaller game that's still incredibly fun to play with just a bit of thought, and as I also said before I think a real problem is when indie studios (especially for their first title) try to emulate bigger previously established studios. Making a game like AOD is not easy in any sense of the word. Huge kudos to the team for pulling it off, but I wouldn't suggest that anyone else follow in their footsteps as the chance of success is really slim. I'd be interested to hear from the developers if there were any big hiccups that they experienced along the way  during their decade long development period. I'd imagine there were a few in regards to keeping the team motivated, technology changing etc. It's just such a huge undertaking with so much risk involved that a lot of new designers wouldn't even consider before starting development.

Also, I think there's a big misconception in the indie scene (I myself struggled with it for years) that you only get one chance or one opportunity to make your dream game and to "make it" as a developer. Like its some all or nothing scenario. This couldn't be further from the truth. The same can be said of any industry really. You learn from your mistakes. You can't succeed if you don't try and even if you mess up royally, you can always recover. Name a single studio that's never made a bad game. Its pretty much impossible to do. Even the "Gods" of the industry make bad games. Blizzard is my go to example; some would argue that they've never made a bad game. I would say that they've never RELEASED a bad game but they have made them (Warcraft Adventures). Now name a developer that's made a fantastic game after making a piece of crap game... I could name dozens. Rocksteady comes to mind most recently.
So the whole idea of losing your fan base because you didn't make something fantastic or not aiming for the top of the mountain - so to speak - with your first title being this horrible thing is just people giving in to worry and fear. In fact, in my experience working as a developer, I'd say that aiming too high has caused me more grief than good. You can't climb a mountain from the top down, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. This holds true for everything you do in life and even in those rare moments where you aim high and succeed, you'll soon find a higher peak so really its pointless to worry about it.
 
Going back to the idea of starting small, I actually think a really good approach to game design that more developers should take (and more will be due to Early Access) is to build your game out in iterations. This is an idea I had (and wrote into a full business plan) more than a year before Early Access was actually a thing and it came to me from my experience working as a mod designer. Don't try to build your game in one giant stretch before you release it. Break it down into pieces and release each one as you finish them. Counter-Strike is the perfect example of this. As someone who played the game from day one, I remember all of the stages to the game. A lot of people don't know this actually  but CS started as a simple mod for Half-Life Death match. They introduced real world weaponry instead of the sci-fi stuff, they created the money system so you had to buy weapons instead of finding them in the world and they created a single character model that was re-skinned for each team so the CTs and Ts looked almost identical. There was no objective beyond eliminating the other team and earning money for killing enemies so you could buy different weapons in the next round.

Then in another update they introduced hostage rescue and the first new game mode was born. Then they added in new character models and tweaked the weapons. Then they eventually added in Bomb Defusion as an alternate game mode and then Escape and Assassination game modes that were later dropped. The entire game was built from a core concept and expanded upon with each new release. A year later the game was the top multiplayer shooter on the market and arguably it still is. I also think this is exactly WHY the game was so successful because they were able to quickly get a feel for what worked and what didn't and fine tune it into an amazing game.

This is the same strategy that any business professional or life coach will tell you to adopt when trying to achieve a goal. The goal itself should be seen as the final step, the complete picture. You then take the goal and break it into a dozen (or more) smaller goals. Then as you accomplish each one, you cross it off your list and you can see that you're making real progress. This helps to motivate you because you can visibly see that you're moving forward and in the case of game design, it gives your fans a taste of what's to come and something to get excited about. Granted you need to take care that each piece, each iteration, is a good representation of the whole, but it makes the entire process so much easier.

So, if you're absolutely intent on making a huge epic masterpiece, break it into a bunch of smaller more easily accomplished pieces. Figure out what the core mechanics are (melee combat and character leveling for example) focus on getting those systems built out in a rudimentary form, make a few missions and release it. Then keep building on top of that foundation. The game will only get better with time, you'll start to build a fan base early on, you'll figure out what works and what doesn't far more quickly and you'll have the bonus of bringing in money during the development period. I also think the cost of the game should scale with each release. Don't tell fans "we're making an epic, sprawling RPG on par with Skyrim" and then release your first iteration with an hour of gameplay and charge $50 a copy. Tell them what your plan is and release the first iteration for $2. Then up the price by another $2 with each new release until you hit your target price. This means fans aren't going to feel like they're taking a risk with your game because the initial investment is really small. People who don't like the direction the game is going in can walk away at any point, and those who do get more of what they love. Its win win for both parties.





Title: Re: How to Survive Indiepocalypse in 5 Easy Steps
Post by: NewAgeOfPower on August 17, 2016, 10:00:21 pm
From what I've heard, such games usually make money only during a narrow launch window and then during the first couple of sales, then they are dead in the water. The amounts raised often fall short and the competition grows with every year. Sure, you may get lucky but you don't want to rely on luck alone.

Here is another indie game's story:

http://imgur.com/gallery/bGLAQ (http://imgur.com/gallery/bGLAQ)


I bought Brigador because of your post. :salute: