Article Humble tips from a hobbyist

Discussion in 'Game Design, Development And Publishing' started by NazGhuL, Sep 19, 2019.

  1. NazGhuL

    NazGhuL NazTaiL

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    Hi! There is a lot of game makers here. From young rookies to professionals. Some of them wonder how it's like to publish their lovely game and never did it before. I decided to share my own experience.

    I could call this: The anxious path of a hobbyist game developer.

    Anxiety: A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.


    I published a game (Space Ashes), October 8th 2018. To get you in context, I had a full time job and an extra one. That’s around 46 hours a week of work and 14 hours in my car. We are a family of four and I have a house to maintain. What’s left to work on game making is not that much, so the term hobbyist is much more appropriate.

    I dived into the game making (2011) at first for fun then for the challenge. After a lot of work I was able to build some assets and sell them on Gamemaker’s Marketplace. I made a couple of short games and tons of smaller testing projects. It was the right time for a bigger challenge.

    Creating and selling a game is a major milestone for a game developer. I had an idea. I had an inspiration. I don’t have any background in computer science or marketing but I know what a good game is!... Did I? Yes and no…

    After a couple of weeks, the project started to shape and I released a small demo. That’s when the anxiety kicked in. I had a lot of “How much?”.


    How much time would it takes to complete the project? I was very comfortable with Gamemaker. (GM8, GMS then GMS2). I worked fast. The harder part was art. Drawing is not my thing. My early estimation to complete the project was 200 hours. It turned out to be more. The best thing I did was to strip down features. Reducing the number of levels, enemies and powerups. I could add more later if needed. Coding took me around 175 hours.

    How much time will I work on art? Budget was very low so art have to be done by myself. 100 hours. In my opinion, it was the hardest part. I bought some assets. Some of them were modified. I worked hard on certain aspects that I absolutely wanted and asked for help when I was stuck. Size, color matching, darkness, shapes….

    How much time will I work on music? Around 25 hours. I’m a musician for more than 25 years. Creating music for my own game was a fun experience.

    How much time on marketing? 50 hours. What kind of marketing? I tried keymailer. Didn’t liked it. I searched for active Youtube channels that review indie games. I sent them a formatted mail + a custom message. Tried to reach Curators on Steam. (2 reached only). I tried Rock Paper Shotgun and many other review sites. I also dealt with tons of fake reviewers who only want free keys. (You know it’s fake when you read things like: “The senior head in chief of game reviews of Russia want to review your game.”)… I also tried to tweet regularly. I talked about my game each time I could.

    How much people would be interested in my game? I never really find out the answer. I targeted 2 platforms: Steam and Itch.io Steam because… well it’s Steam. Itch.io? Because it’s the place where indies are. (That’s what I was thinking!)


    How much time to fill up all the legal papers? I did that in less than 5 hours. I took this part very seriously. With bank account check, taxes, etc… I didn’t want any surprises.

    You want some math?
    My taxes rate are around 35%. (Canada). My total incomes goes like this: (Job_incomes – 35%) + (sidejob_incomes-35%) + (((marketplace_incomes-30%))-35%) + ((game_sale-30%)-35%). You see. It’s not a joke. It’s reality. Taxes have to be done right.

    How much money will I make? That was THE question. Nobody share this. Well some do but it's like “You have to try it at least once to find out the answer”. Should I make games for a living? Certainly not! As a side-job? Yeah! Why not? I could leave my current side-job and work from home. But will it pays? How much? Of all scenarios that I was expecting, it turned out to be the worst. Space Ashes was a game lost in…space. A needle in a haystack. To the question “Is being on Steam is a sure bet to sell your game?”: NO! Are indie game, well made and nice looking, will automatically sell on Itch.io? NO! (By the way, I’m proud of my game and I believe it’s well made and nice looking. Whatever you create, be proud of it!)


    The anxiety dropped after the release. All those questions were answered. The game started at -15%. I did the winter sell at -50%, the summer sell at -60% and a week sale at -75%. I’m still waiting for my first payment… … Haha. You know, if you do a quick google search, how much money it takes to get your first payment…. It hurts at first but in the end, life goes on and yeeehaaa! I created and sold a game.

    I took a break of coding for nearly one year. Doing only support for my marketplace assets. I played a lot. Probably too much! I’m now back at coding for fun, doing smaller projects. I’ll see what’s coming next…

    Some random and humble hobbyist advices: (That represents my own opinion)

    -If you want to live of game making, take it like a business.

    -Innovation of a Genre and Theme are risky. If you want to make money, target popular genres and themes. You can’t change the fact that FPS, MMO and RPG are far way most popular than Puzzle Platformers. You want to do a retro prehistoric simulator? You better add some zombies, crime elements and a survival kit otherwise you’ll lose a lot of potential players. (You can argue a lot on this point!)

    -As an indie developer, you must put passion in your project. If you don’t…just quit!

    -The most powerful weapon you have to sell a game, as an indiedev, is to build a better game. A player who had fun with your game must spread the word as fast as a terrible virus. Players must have so much fun they instantly share it with their friends. Build a better game, crank it and pimp it. First impression must be jaw dropping! Not a “Wait, you’ll see…” Or “Wait until the third level…” No! Instant wow. The first minute is all.

    -Art is not your thing? Investing a couple of hours each month on art is a very good habit. Having a basic knowledge. Matching colors, resizing, drawing basic tiles, etc…

    -Social media. Choose 1 or 2 and use it well. With popular hashtag like: #screenshotsaturday, #madewithgamemaker, #indiedev, #gamedev, etc...

    -Don’t underestimate marketing. As a hobbyist, I would never ever put more than an hour in marketing. And that hour would be to find someone that his job is marketing. (Or a publisher)

    -Final thing: Publishers. I tried to reach 5 of them. Space Ashes was rejected by all. (I thought I had a chance with Yoyogames but nope…) I had the same answer from 4 of them: “We are not interested in your game. Good luck with it and please keep us informed if you do another one.”

    GOG gave me the best answer (seriously):
    I'm sorry for late reply.

    Thanks a lot for your submission and your interest in GOG.

    We’ve taken a look at Space Ashes, it looks like a physics-based sidescroller, with fun mechanics and simple, yet eye-catching graphics.

    Unfortunately, however, we feel that the game would not be a good fit for GOG, as we think that it appears to be too niche and a bit too small in scale in terms of production value for our users, which means that we aren’t confident in its release potential on our site.

    For these reasons I’m afraid we will have to pass on Space Ashes.

    If you have any other games in the future that might be a better fit for GOG, please let us know, and hopefully we’ll be able to work together.

    That was my experience. Good luck with your projects.
    ;)

    ...
    ...oh! By the way:
    [​IMG]
     
  2. fishfern

    fishfern Member

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    Sep 17, 2019
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    There is some really valuable insight here, thanks for this!

    Unfortunately it seems like the sheer size of the 'indie scene' is both a blessing and a curse!

    I have found that game jams are a fantastic way to increase the reach of a game towards interested players/users. That being said, many games submitted to jams are released for free, at it may not be ideal if you are pitching a game commercially.

    Thanks again for the tips, and I hope you continue to make games!
     
  3. Niels

    Niels Member

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    Thanks for the insight!
     
  4. SnoutUp

    SnoutUp Member

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    A couple of points regarding Steam. Your game looks good and interesting enough, but it is very dark, which doesn't help the screenshots. But where I think you completely missed the mark was Steam Capsule image, which is barely readable and has no recognizable art and confuses potential players (I would guess it's a horror game). Also you haven't added proper tags to the store page (dev tags weight more than user tags), which are important food for Steam's recommendation system. Although recent algorithm update completely screwed that up for most.
     
    SnotWaffle Studios likes this.
  5. pixeltroid

    pixeltroid Member

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    NazGhuL thanks for sharing. That's a great post.

    My experience with gamedev has been both difficult and exciting -- difficult because my coding skills are poor... and exciting because I finally got to create a game of my own, which is something I wanted to do ever since I was little.

    After I released my first game some time for free towards the end of August 2019, I focused a bit on marketing:

    - I emailed around 15 indie lets-players on youtube asking if they would be interested in featuring my game, but only 2 of them responded and made a video featuring my game.
    - On twitter, I got like a dozen retweets and likes.
    - I posted links to my game on a few indie game forums and subreddits, but there were very few responses....less than 5.
    - I was within the top 10 on itch.io's platformer genre for sometime.

    After all that, my downloads as of today stand at less than 260 (170 on gamejolt and 87 on itch.io) over a span of 21 days. After a brief spike, the download numbers have fallen to 1 or 2 a day. Not very impressive. I now have doubts about my ability to market and sell games. And it stings a bit knowing that I did not get the results I expected. Maybe because I greatly over-estimated how many people would download and respond to my game.

    And while my goal with gamedev is to create the games I want to make, I also want to be able to sell games to earn some extra cash on the side. How I'm going to do that remains to be seen.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2019
  6. NazGhuL

    NazGhuL NazTaiL

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    Yeah... :( That's one of the things I learned. The design department failed on that aspect... :D

    Keep working! Each project makes you better. Each time, you gain a level in game making.
     
    pixeltroid likes this.
  7. Yal

    Yal GMC Memer GMC Elder

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    From my experiences, stupid memes get way too much popularity. If you make a copy of your game named Escape From Area 51, where you just add in a scene of the player character's spaceship blasting off from a military base in the US desert, and change it to an UFO, you'll instantly get hundreds of more people checking it out. (Or, well, if you'd done it before the Alienstock event actually took place - it's probably outmemed now when it's over)

    Basically, appealing to stupid people gives you free attention. I feel that's why the mobile market is so full of some of the worst garbage ever produced, because it has an unproportionately large casual userbase (never does proper research before buying something).

    Totally agreeing on first impressions: tons of people, including commercial devs, make a super low-key intro. Don't. Have the player explode their way through a tropical island while Rules of Nature plays and a giant demon eats the sky, or do like Dark Souls 3 and have them fight a reject final boss after 30 seconds of tutorial. Tell them "see? we can make cool stuff, give us your money!" before you shove the filler content down their throats, and don't have them start off with the buggy maps you made before you got the engine stable, give them the best stuff you got first. Lots of players aren't gonna finish a game even if they like it, anyway, so might as well give them a good impression to remember it by so they infect as many- I mean, spread the word to as many people as possible.

    Also worth noting is that a lot of shareware games did this: they had good fun levels released as a free demo version, then rushed repetitive super-frustrating levels available at a price. Itchio makes this model easy (just upload two files, one of which is a free demo which ends at the first cliffhanger), there's a saying that demos lower player retention but the boost in downloads (from people getting the demo) might make up for it, by boosting your metrics.
     
    pixeltroid likes this.
  8. Desert Dog

    Desert Dog Member

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    Not an accountant, but you might be able to do something about this surely. How is your game registered, directly under you as an individual, or have you registered as a business? Can you claim tax back's on expenses? I.e. laptop, internet costs, office cost, etc.

    Also 35% is ridiculous. And -35% after -30% is insane.
     
  9. NazGhuL

    NazGhuL NazTaiL

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    Of my 'online' revenue I can add some expenses. %of internet, pc, etc. Small amount. (Individual. Not enough revenue to go as a business)
     
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  10. DBenji

    DBenji Member

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    Spot on! Unfortunately, not enough folks realize how incredibly overcrowded the indie scene has become. We need more posts like this to wake them up before they foolishly quite their job or invest life-savings on the near equivalent of a lottery ticket.

    Many of the successful indie developers people aspire to be like have had years of experience with commercial flops before their first truly successful title and even now those same developers are struggling to get anywhere near the amount of traffic they used to.

    In fact, the situation has gotten so bad that this year, it isn't uncommon to see prominent titles - in some cases released by big name publishers or with a very successful kickstarter campaign - get almost no attention at steam launch. Let that sink in...
     
    Lonewolff likes this.
  11. Lonewolff

    Lonewolff Member

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    Income tax is 37% for me. And if the Marketplace asset is purchased through steam it is more like this.

    VAT: ~10% (if purchaser is in the EU)
    Steam cut: 30%
    YYG cut: 30%
    Income tax: 37% on the remainder

    Even if your asset is $100 (sounds friggin huge, right?), you can potentially walk away wth something like $15 - $20 if you are lucky.

    That why it annoys me to no end when people kick and scream about having to pay five bucks for an asset.
     
    SnotWaffle Studios and NazGhuL like this.

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