It’s been almost 4 months since I’ve left the job to finish my game and potentially work on my other projects. I would not say that those 4 months felt like being in an avalanche. Rather, I felt like a small insignificant boat floating through the ocean. Not in a bad way. Except that maybe eventually the boat flips over because of the huge waves, the fisherman drowns and nobody can find him, while his wife is weeping back home and cursing the day he decided to go into an open sea and children become delinquents because they have no father figure which results in a dysfunctional family. Nevertheless, I think this is a good time to sum up some of my results and start writing them down.
It’s hard to focus on what I want to write. At one hand, I want to share my experiences. On the other hand, why should you care? So I am going try to write a small cycle of articles on how I planned, built and marketed my turn based strategy game, Blades of the Righteous. All of them are told from the programmer’s viewpoint and I’m hoping they will give some insights to those that are starting gamedev. I am not a huge fan of vague descriptions: “write to youtubers,” “split your code into smaller parts“ and “get lots of tasks so you won’t procrastinate” – those descriptions don’t usually say much to me. That’s why I don’t try to read self-help books anymore. When I write something, I’ll start with the general example and then describe how I did it.
Some background for the context: I am just an average dude. I’ve developed the game for about 2 years. Past 4 months – I quit my job to develop it full-time. It’s a turn-based strategy game, and has about 2500 activations on Steam (not much), about 90% of those were sold through the bundles (will cover it in separate article). I think this can be achieved by anyone if you work on it. But do you actually need something like that? It’s up to you to decide.
The game idea was born in early 2014. I was playing “Last Remnant” and thought that battle-system there was cool: although being turn-based, the game gave action feel and did not feel slow at all because lots was going on at the same time. So yes, iteration one: turn-based game with indirect ordering, units decide what they want to do on their own.
I’ve spent about 6 months of programming while working full-time and studying in the university. Spoiler alert: the result was as good as a broccoli pizza. Nevertheless, at that time I thought: “Cool, I’ve finished a game.” The same feeling that toddler experiences when he puts on his pants for the first time. The parents are excited, but nobody else cares.
Naturally, the game is done. “Gotta put it on greenlight then!” The first days were easy: you get lots of attention because Steam puts your game to the front page of Greenlight. I also got support from Latvian game developer association (shout out to gamedev.lv, thanks a lot!). Got about 200 ‘yes’ votes from that. After that, the votes were not coming, but I received an email from Groupees bundle. It gave me another 600 votes and the game was still hanging (as of Dec 2014). You get lots of comments: do not ignore them, users often know better. I wrote everything down and then tried to adjust it. The bundle turned out great, but there was still not enough votes. I put the game in that state on itch.io, sold it to one person, felt good “My first dollar, someone paid me!” (remember the toddler comparison). Thought “At least I tried.” Time to bury the dead game like you would bury the hatchet, so I wrote post-mortem (with greenlgiht statistics, in case you’re interested: http://vladimirslav.com/2014/12/blades-of-the-righteous-postmortem/ ). I successfully switched to my studies and was not doing any more game programming. That is, until the game passed the Greenlight in March 2015. Organically. I got ~300 votes just randomly. The game got greenlit with 1079 votes “for” and 1338 votes “against” (45:55 ratio).
Now here’s the catch and the main thing that I want you to understand from this article: if your game is good (or, rather, interesting to majority of the people), you’ll pass the greenlight by itself, I’d say in 2-3 months tops. The best games are much faster than this (2-3 weeks). The greenlight bundles definitely help, but if you don’t get any fans from the greenlight campaign – don’t expect your game to be received well (at least at first). But the fact that the game took 5 months to get greenlit and a special bundle promotion should have probably been my warning signal. But with the state of mind I had at that moment, I’d ignore it even if I saw a harp-playing angel who sang “drop your game m8” while staring directly into my eyes.
My current algorithm to game-development now if I want to make a game (and what you probably should do too unless you know what you’re doing) and get it to Steam:
- Spend no more than 3 months on somewhat-polished prototype with minimal functions
- Show it to my friends and make them play the game. Collect feedback.
- Put the screenshots on twitter regularly, use #screenshotsaturday
- If the game does not get enough traction on Steam and you see why (a lot of users will leave comments) – drop it.
The thing is, the greenlight decision motivated me to spend another year rewriting my game to (what I perceived) a decent level. I love my game and I love developing it, but it won’t be able to sustain me. If you have your game as a pet project – do whatever you want. If your well-being depend on it: do not ignore the signs. I’m going to describe the rework and second life of Blades of the Righteous, as well as what I think makes turn-based games great in my next article.
As a side note, I’ve put another game on Greenlight some time ago and got lots of those “game publishing proposals.” Not going to delve into that, but I think you must read this article (and never agree to those deals): http://morrisonlee.com/2016/05/23/game-publishers-in-2016-how-to-throw-your-lifes-work-away-in-seconds/