Archive for January, 2018

You are spending too long making your game

Friday, January 26th, 2018

I asked on Twitter How long have you been working on your commercial game so far? Sub-question: Do you think that’s wise? and you can see the poll results above.

Shockingly (at least I think so), almost a third devs are on 3+ year long projects.

The comments I received seemed to fall into three camps:
1) I’m working on a short game and it’s nearly ready, so that’s fine.
2) I’ve been working on this game forever and I know it’s not a good idea.
3) I’ve been working on this game forever but it’s part-time and a have a day job so it’s not so bad.

Dev Time vs Hourly Wage

It’s common to hear that a game has grossed $X and if that number is big it sounds impressive. But the reality is that, depending on the actual costs to develop that game, it might not have broken even yet, and might not ever do so!

Let’s look at an example:
- Game has grossed $100K on Steam in first year, wooo!
- Steam and taxes eat up 35% so dev receives $65K, still kinda wooo!
- Contractors were paid $30K for art/audio and game was exhibited at a show for $5K.
- That leaves $30K of “net profit”, which is a bit less wooo.

But wait, what about the coder/designer? Well let’s say they spent one year full-time making it, then that’s a salary of $30K (about $14 an hour based on a 40-hour work week). For some people in the world that’s a lot of money but for others it’s really not enough to survive, especially if you have kids eating up the cash like little cash-fueled monsters.

What if the game took two years to make? Well then the dev earned less than minimum wage. Your locale may not have have a minimum wage, but here in the UK it is about $10.50 at current exchange rate.

What if the game took 3+ years? Yeah it doesn’t look good.

Of course some games can have a long tail and when you start to add up the revenue from multiple years, maybe that hourly wage goes up a bit, and that has happened for some of my games.

But there are a couple of really important things to consider here:

1) My $100K example above is actually REALLY GOOD. Most games will not make that much money in their first year, only a few good/lucky/promoted ones. So your hourly wage could EASILY be 10x less, or, 100x less.

2) Even if your game does earn $100K gross in year 1, it’s likely to not all occur at launch. (In fact I have another blog post lined up that will go into more detail on this topic.) But the launch might only be $20K, and if you have built up debts whilst making the game, that launch money won’t go very far at all.

What about my games?

OK here are three of my games on Steam with the most recent release at the top. Which one do you think has earned me the most $ per hour?

Shadowhand (a $15 RPG card game with publisher support)
Regency Solitaire (a $10 casual solitaire game)
Spooky Bonus (a $10 match-3 game frequently sold at $6.99 or less on casual portals)

The answer, by a mile, is Spooky Bonus. That game has earned me almost $400 an hour but I bet most of you have never even heard of it.

Why? Well it took me three months and was a casual portal hit. It was my 7th match-3 game and each time I made a new one I reused the old engine and changed the theme and added some new features.

Regency Solitaire took a year, and is my second most profitable game of the above three. I have two other older more profitable games that only took me three months to make (maybe you can see a pattern emerging here).

Shadowhand took my wife and I two and half years to make. It’s not a hit but it is selling OK at numbers that many indies would probably be pleased with. In fact it grossed more than the lifetime Steam sales of Regency Solitaire in its first week!

Shadowhand also cost more to make than previous games due to all the art, fancy audio, and marketing. Also the revenue is split with a publisher. So as you can guess, the $ per hour rate is currently very low. Now, to be fair, it was only released in Dec 2017 and it will hopefully have a good long tail with lots of sales and discounts etc. which will push up the $ per hour rate.

However, even with a decent long tail, Shadowhand is basically NEVER going to match Spooky Bonus for $ per hour. In fact it’s even going to struggle to match Regency Solitaire.

Quicker Games FTW!

That’s why in 2018 I’m focusing on making games a lot quicker. I have a 3 month project lined up and a couple of potential 6 month projects too.

Note that quicker doesn’t mean crapper. I already have an existing game engine that I can re-theme and add in new features etc. Also I won’t let quality drop in areas that matter although I do intend to reign in my perfectionism in areas that no one ever notices except me.

Also, proud as we are of Shadowhand, it was basically way-overscoped. It takes people about 15-16 hours to beat and many people then play it again on hard mode for another 20+ hours. So it’s super-good value for $15 (buy it!) Too good value in fact. Imagine we had made Shadowhand 1 and 2 and both were 8 hours long? Or Shadowhand was 8 hours long and had 8 hours of DLC?

A caveat

Remember, I’m a full-time indie and I need to earn decent money from my games to support my family of four.

I don’t have any money stored up so I can make a giant multi-year game. There’s nothing wrong with that, if you can do it safely and don’t have anything riding on the outcome, but I just cannot at present. Unless I get a patron that is, so yeah uber-rich indies who want to support a genuis game dev, please send me an email, thanks :-)

So, just please be realistic about your game and don’t fall into the trap of making a giant piece of art that earns you nothing except disappointment.

What about you?

How long have you been working on your game? Is that wise in the current market? Let me know in the comments.

My 2017 Indie Game Picks (Desktop)

Friday, January 12th, 2018

I didn’t play many desktop indie games in 2017 because I was so focused on finishing and shipping Shadowhand. I played some on console when I took a break from the PC, but they aren’t listed here.

Anyway, these are the ones I found most interesting (in no particular order). Note that they may be older than 2017 but I didn’t get round to playing them until 2017.

Evoland

It’s an RPG game that starts off like an old-skool game and gradually evolves into a more modern style game. I thought it was pretty neat.

Fidel Dungeon Rescue

A smart rogue-lite puzzle game with decent pixel art and a certain charm. It’s quite tricky!

Guild of Dungeoneering

A neat RPG where you build the dungeon by laying down cards for rooms, monsters and loot etc.

Hollow Knight

Everyone was talking about this so I thought I’d better try it and guess what? It was good. Metroidvania style gameplay and very polished art.

Kero Blaster

I can’t remember how I ended up with this game but I’m a sucker for old-skool pixel art experiences (if done well). So I probably saw this on Steam and got it, and it was good.

Oxygen Not Included

I got to play an alpha of this and it was so addictive I had to delete it otherwise I knew it would delay my work on Shadowhand. Recommended!

Punch Club

As an Aikido instructor, this game intrigued me and I got hooked as soon as I started playing it. Balancing your job, training and wellbeing is addictive (and too real!)

Reigns

I played a lot of card games the last couple of years as research for Shadowhad. This one wasn’t useful as it didn’t give me any ideas, but it was a clever idea, so it made my list.

Superhot

Yes I know, late to the party, but I liked it a lot. This is the only game on the list that I beat because I have a compulsion to beat level-based FPS games.

Shadowhand in the press

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Our card-battling RPG Shadowhand has been out on Steam, Humble Store and GOG for just over a month now so this is a good time to review how well the game has been received.

At present the game has a “very positive” rating based on 125 player reviews on Steam, with a median play time of just under five hours and an average play time of over 10 hours.

Reviews

We had a particularly delightful review soon after Shadowhand launched from Eurogamer. According to editor Oli Welsh:

“Shadowhand offers no shortage of tactical nuance and good old RPG optimisation to sink your teeth into…a great game and a true original.”

PC Aficionado also praised the game, awarding Shadowhand 8.3/10:

“For a solitaire fan I’m guessing this is Witcher 3; the pinnacle of the artform.”

Gamewatcher gave the game 8/10. Aron Gerenscer said:

“After spending more than a couple of hours with it I find I enjoy it immensely.”

His top game moment:

“After tempering you and training you to get hooked on the “thrill” of solitaire, getting double-digit combos sure starts feeling rewarding – and it peaks when you hit that coveted 40 point combo needed for an achievement.”

We were also happy that, despite coming out at the end of the year, Shadowhand still made it onto several “game of the year” lists, such as this one by Game Wisdom.

Streamers

It’s been great to see coverage of Shadowhand from Twitch streamers and YouTubers.

Here’s a small selection:

Quill18

PCGamesN

GiantBomb

Wardfire (This is a playthrough series of the entire game)

Don’t forget, you can request a copy as a streamer/YouTuber here: https://www.keymailer.co/g/games/37562

We’re pleased that so many people are getting a kick out of playing Shadowhand. If you have already played it, we’d love it if you can take a moment to leave a review. If you haven’t got your copy yet, click the link below ;)