Hi my name is Nikolas Crisci,
I am a software developer working in the clinical trial business for 3.5 days a week. The rest of the week I am working on the indie game Will Glow the Wisp for around 2,5 Years now. I am having a hard time explaining what Will Glow the Wisp is, which is already my first failure.
Failure 1: Not being able to talk about the game
I am now showing a collection of impressions from Youtubers (some of you might have seen that already), because it shows how hard it is to explain what the game is, while giving you a pretty good overview what the game is.
This video shows my failure pretty well. The Youtubers are all struggling to tell what the game is about, why it is fun ... They just say it is. That is because I did not understand that I need to be able to talk about my game. I am certainly not the first to say this, but it is extremely important that you know how you want to sell your game. I only realized it when I thought about what makes me buy other games. For me there are certain criterias and one of them at least needs to hold true for me to buy/try a game.
1. I am into a certain genre,the game is free and looks polished enough.
2. The game gets great reviews from either all over the place or friends of mine
3.The game does something I have not seen in other games / I always wanted to have in a game
This is my personal list, maybe yours have some more or variants of those points, the thing is other then polish and hope that people find your game, the only thing left is to do something different and being able to tell that to people in a compelling way. When I created Will Glow the Wisp I though I am doing something new and I kind of did. The movement mechanics of the game a very different to other games like it and because I leaned very heavy into the abstract realm, it freed me to implement mechanics however I want. But that is not a good pitch. If you think about it that way, point 3 should probably be more like:
3. The game does something I have not seen in other games, I can understand what it is and I am interested in it.
Most people do not care that I am able to have more freedom when it comes to implementing mechanics, the mechanics themselves should appeal to them. So if you plan your game please try to sell the game to all your friends and see if you can convince them without showing the game. If they say this sounds awesome, when can I play it you are on the right track.
Now lets look at some sales data and see if we can determine something from that. (left is the earnings graph and right is the units graph)
At the time of writing I sold 59 Steam units and a bunch of them only in the last couple of weeks and if you look closer you see that the money earned went down if you think in terms of units to money. This leads us into my second Failure
Failure 2: Pricing your game wrong
The game was priced at 7.99 € when it launched with a 10% discount. To me that seemed fine, I compared my game to platformer games like Super Meat Boy, Thomas was Alone... To me it felt like a fair price and was even lower compared to the initially planned price, but because I decided to decrease the amount of content I also decreased the price. What I did not realize is that steam would show the game to games like these.
I think I got put next to those games because of two things. Two of them are abstract games and all of them are bullet hell games. Will Glow the Wisp also has bullet hell elements and that is why I tagged it accordingly. But now that most people who will get redirected to my steam page are used to paying 1€ - 4€ my 8€ game seems awfully expensive. And you see it in the sales data pretty clearly. I am now in my 4.th discount and the game costs now below 4€. The game sales I did went up from basically nothing to some sales (at least relatively speaking). The sales I did before did not nearly attract as many players and I do honestly believe it is because of the price slash. Obviously there are multiple factors, but if your audience is used to paying a certain amount for a game and you charge double that, it is pretty clear that most people will not buy your game. I did realize this problem shortly after the release, but I decided against cutting the base price instantly. Maybe I should have done that, who knows (at that point only a handful of people I did not know bought the game anyway), but I should have done a better job, researching what prices people would be willing to pay. Taking all your keywords and seeing what the prices for games like that are is not too hard to do and there is no excuse I did not. I also think you should go with the lower price with your first entry, especially if you plan to do more then one game and are not relying on the money (as I did). I am not saying undercharge as a general rule of thumb, but if I where in the same position again I would probably charge like 2.49€, although I think that the value of the game is higher. Once people start to trust you, increasing the price for your next release will be fine.
Success 1: The gameplay
Lets do something more positive now, the gameplay. I think overall people seem to like the gameplay itself. I do not have many reviews, but the view negative points seem to hover around similar things. For one people did not like that I did not tell them what differentiates the wisps. I wanted the people to experiment with the different characters so they find what suits them best, but I should just given some indication of what the characters are doing. Another common thread I hear is that people are expecting to not die if you are the blue wisp and touch blue particles, but I did want to have a clear color scheme for the enemies and also wanted to switch colors for the characters. If I wanted to prevent that I would have needed to shift all colors away from the characters colors, which I felt like would hurt the readability of enemies. Overall though I feel like people are enjoying the game, especially the pacing and movement mechanics. All that did cost a lot of time, but it was definitely worth it.
Success 2: Visual and Audio
Lets stay in the positive realm, I feel like the art style of the game is one of the main attracting points of the game, which I consider a huge success. I am a developer not an artist and for me to have created an art style, that not only I can do myself but seems to be appreciated by most people who play the game, feels great. I also hear a lot of good stuff about the audio, although all the tracks are royalty free and the sfx came from a unity package, it seems that I did enough research and fine tuning for people to enjoy it. Here is a link in case you want to listen to the music.
Failure 3: Marketing
Overall I would consider my marketing efforts a failure. I did so many things wrong that it is hard to pinpoint one specific failure. I did not contact the press early enough with keys, I did not write specific emails to the press (to most of them anyway), I did not keep a good press list to use for later (I used a free trial from a program instead), I did not go to many real life events and I never scheduled any meeting with the press and the list goes on. I think this my biggest failure overall.
Failure 4: The Release Window
I took the time to make the mechanics and everything work, but I could not get myself to wait another half year to release the game. Instead I crunched, finished the game late and released it. This did not help marketing at all and I did not have any reason to do so, other then me finally wanting to finish the game. In my mind it took way to long to make anyway and I wanted to finish that chapter. I am not sure how big of an impact it had on getting press, but I did get a couple of answer saying that the currently just do not have the time to cover the game and since I got soo little press coverage even 2 out of those would helped me out tremendously. So if possible at all, wait for a good release window and if you are like me completely alone, you should save half a year after the development to contact press, do other marketing stuff, build up hype...
What comes next?
I just finished version 1.1.0 and running a visibilty run, including a sale (75% off). I am also working on an Xbox one port, which will be another release where I can try to do some of the stuff better than in the past. After that I will focus on my next game, although I am not 100% certain what it will be. Anyway I hope you enjoyed this read and if you red until this point maybe you want to give Will Glow the Wisp a shot and tell me what you think. I am still looking for feedback, since this was my first game.
Thanks again for reading and have a great 2018.