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Steam is a difficult beast to grapple with. It's been nearly a month since the page for "Trail of the Damned" launched. How have things been going? Have I been buried under a lovely pile of eager wishlists? Or is this my own journey through Damnation? Find out!

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One Month Down

So the Steam page for Trail of the Damned launched on June 29th. The last time I posted here, it was July 6th, but as it's July 28th, it's actually been almost a month since the launch. Steam wishlists are an incredibly common topic in game dev these days, but usually you hear about it after a game is released. While I don't plan to do constant wishlist updates, I do want to give this first one so that people get a sense for what other games can do and what might be average.

So after a month of wishlists, what's the verdict?

A "Catastrophe" of Wishes

20210728 indieDB FirstMonth139Wi

Obviously it's not the worst, but 139 over the course of 28-29 days is about 4.96 wishlists per day. Again, not terrible! Unless you read this article which claims "5 wishlists/day is a catastrophe and you need to rework MAJOR parts of your game, marketing or design."

Yikes. Okay.

So let's look at that. How much stock do I put in this and should I be ashamed of my work? Have I made a huge mistake?

arrested development job made a huge mistake

A Huge Mistake?

Well, let's think about that. First off, the game is VERY early stages, so while I haven't had crazy numbers, I have hit a few targets that I'm proud of. Breaking 100 wishlists for example within the first two weeks was great!

But what about the slow down?

I believe that a large part of this is due to the fact that I'm still developing the game and I'm a one-man band that no one has heard of pushing a new IP. As a result, every day I'm working on programming the game, as well as art, music, marketing - it's not uncommon for indies, but it IS a lot to tackle every 24 hours. And generally what it means is that I haven't had a ton of gameplay to show off just yet.

It also means that some things are just not a polished yet as they could be if I was working with a team. One of those things? My capsule image:

TOTD Steam Header Capsule

When Your Capsule Betrays You

Is this terrible? Again: NO. But the reality is that when I spoke to people, they told me that there are issues. Many that I hadn't even considered!

First of all, the hands are janky. They also HEAVILY indicate "Zombie Game!" And while Trail of the Damned will include undead/zombies/walkers - whatever term you want to use - they are not the only or even MAIN evil force that is in the game. The image suggests otherwise.

The lightning bolt that I included felt like a good way to depict branching paths, or dust/sandstorms, or a trail in general, but it left people puzzled "Why is there a lightning bolt?" they asked. "I don't get why the lightning bolt is there." And it's totally fair. Once they said it, I didn't get it either. It needs to go.

Other concerns? The character I show isn't the worst art, but it's not the best either. Also she doesn't look scared or even hardened like I wanted her to - according to most people she just looks a bit annoyed. It's as though she's saying "Ugh. Another day, another group of zombie hands. So annoying!" The game is a horror game, but there's no action and no terror to this depiction of her. The pose is impatient and the look is bored at best. Worst yet, I hadn't even noticed this until they told me. Yikes.

Between the badly drawn hands, the unnecessary lightning bolt, and the vaguely annoyed protagonist image, the capsule seems like it's not doing super hot. But at least it conveys what the game is, right?

Not at all, actually!

When you put all of the elements together, there's no sense that you're traveling by wagon or that you'll be making lots of choices or that there are multiple endings or multiple monsters or that the horror comes from being uncomfortable and not from headshotting endless hordes of zombies for hours on end.

None of this is conveyed. And so why would they click? Why would they look at this if they can't tell what it is?

The answer is they wouldn't. And that's a problem.

According to Chris Zukowski's blog "How to Market a Game," he saw "over and over how important an interesting capsule image was" in his Steam research. Good ones "become magnets" for new customers, bad ones? Well... Basically, if you've got a bad capsule, there are few things that will turn your game's fate around faster than fixing it.

My Next Destination

At the moment, the capsule is my next big issue to tackle. I'm working on my social media challenges and other marketing efforts while still putting the game together, but I don't think any of my numbers will drastically improve until I fix the capsule.

Will I get it right next time? Will it really make all the difference? Only time will tell!

For now, please head over to Trail of the Damned on Steam and Wishlist the Game!

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