To put some of the following text in context, let me introduce myself. I’m Pascal , a Dutch “indie” developer better known as Orangepixel. I’ve been “indie” since 2004, creating over a 100 games for mobile platforms. I’ve been making a living of these games, supporting my girlfriend, paying for the mortgage, food on the table and everything else that grown ups have to pay. I guess I’ve been lucky and also what I personally like to call successful.
Besides doing all the game development, I often have to put on my business cap and do the horrible thing called marketing. These last few weeks have been a soul-crushing rollercoaster ride: I released enhanced versions of Heroes of Loot and Gunslugs onto Steam, my 2nd and 3rd game on Steam and a continuation of my move into PC games.
This means I’ve been mailing more than a hundred “journalists” and game-sites telling them about these games. With the result that only some of the very small websites (comparable to a personal blog) have been writing about the game in a “general news post” kind of way. It’s soul crushing.
It’s about the story
Looking at the bigger sites, you’ll notice that they only post “stories” these days. If your game, or the development of your game, has no interesting story, your game won’t get posted about. Sites like this need viewers, because viewers sell advertising, and advertising pays the bills. I get that. But it’s soul crushing.
If your game does not have a story, there is one more option: become a snowballed hype. This is completely separated from any marketing efforts you might do tho! It just rarely happens to games. It requires somebody with a good following or multiple people with a following to suddenly rave about your game, a YouTube let’s play person, or somebody famous. Obviously you can try contacting these people and give them a copy of your game, but again, your chances are just as high when you don’t and hope they bump into your game by accident. It’s soul crushing.
When you release on a platform like Steam, you’ll get a lot of people mailing you wanting a free Steam key for various reasons. If it’s a person claiming to be a super-famous You-tuber, it’s 99.9% a fake person. Especially since they always ask for a couple of key’s for them and their friends. Anybody with more than 100.000 followers is nearly unapproachable these days unless you, yourself, are famous. It’s soul crushing.
I brought these two games to Steam / PC because they have been designed, from the start, to be playable with gamepads or keyboards. Both games have a co-op mode which was not created for a phone-touch screen, no it was designed for bigger things. Gunslugs has been released on PS Vita, and both games have been released on AndroidTV, Ouya, and Chromebooks. I know, people laugh at the Ouya, people don’t take AndroidTV serious, but these are consoles no matter what you think about the hardware power: you play, on TV, with a controller. My games were designed for that. So having everybody call my games “mobile ports” is soul crushing.
I usually hand out steam keys to every person contacting me as long as their website looks “pro” enough, meaning it gets updated frequently, and there are at least some comments spread across the postings. One such person was one of the first to leave a review on the Steam page which was negative and told other people not to bother with the game. That’s soul crushing.
The problem, to me, is not that the review was negative, I don’t create games for everyone’s taste. The soul crushing came from me giving somebody a free version, and that person turned around rushing to be the first to write a negative “review” telling other people not to even try the game as it wasn’t worth the money. Where’s the courtesy?
When doing the PR for Heroes of Loot, the 11 second “Doom” trailer went live. Rami from Vlambeer did a fun 11 second video of Nuclear Throne. This got picked up, and posted about, by all the major websites. Think about it.. an 11 second video showing nothing new. This was newsworthy to them. To me it was soul crushing.
So, again, I do get the fact that games can just be crap, and not worthy of writing about. But Heroes of Loot has sold close to 100.000 copies across all formats. And not just mobile. Gunslugs is at around 60.000 with both games having another 500.000 free downloads each. All these versions are rated “4 out of 5” across all formats. These games are not crap, they might not be for everyone, but they are far from crap.
I’m guessing I shouldn’t do 2 releases in such a short period, for the simple fact that my soul can’t handle it. Working towards one release, and going throw all the emotions that come with it is more then enough. So that’s a lesson learned. I understand how game sites work, and why things happen when they happen, but it’s in my nature to find a solution to problems, and there has to be a better way to give more games, more attention.
For now, I’ll go back into game developer mode, the fun part of the job. Working on my next game: a “turn based casual arcade action strategy rogue-like” named Space Grunts, because there might be a story there.