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Soul crushing work

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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.

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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.

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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?

11 Seconds

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

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  • Acaratus

    i feel you! im at sort of the same stage with our game Acaratus. It is a soul crushing thing that i am afraid of and hard to keep the feelings away when you work on such a thing for a long time… Good luck with the Space Grunts =)

    • It’s really something to just fight your way through. The worst thing is that you have very little control over it. You can send out mail, can tell people, but what they do with that information is probably nothing.

  • This is kind of sad to read really. But stick to it, you know your games aren’t bad, and 100 000 people knows it too. I got to know of your games because I recognized the gunslugs logo from some site that I had seen it on and downloaded the game on OUYA. Btw, it’s totally rad :)
    Don’t loose hope, usually the ones that are heard are the ones that have negative things to say. There are probably a vast majority that thinks your games range from good to great. Those are the people that matter the most, aren’t they?

    Good luck with Space Grunts, I really like the realtime-turn-based stuff. Looks really cool!

    • Yeah it’s absolutely not a “damn I quit” post. It’s just something that I finally got written down in a good way. Most of my sales come from people who know the Orangepixel logo and name, I’ve been lucky to build something in those 10 years, and I can only imagine for developers who just start out it’s even worse.

      This is just a part of the business that every developer goes through.. then you get back on the horse, and do it again ;)

  • Yeah, this resonates. I remember finishing Discretion back in 2011 and then realising suddenly what I had to do next. I had the same issue, there just doesn’t seem to be a big website dedicated to letting people know about genuinely interesting games. It’s all about ad revenues.

    • It is, and that’s fine, but also very limiting if all these sites are chasing the same few games. As a visitor, I can just follow 1 or 2 sites, and never miss anything big, because all other sites just have mostly the same stuff on it.

      My guess is that it actually hurts most of these sites to only talk about the stuff everyone else is talking about.

  • Just like to add here, that I get a lot of feedback now from people feelings sorry, and thanks! but that’s not necessary! I’ve been doing fairly good so far.

    I simply just keep running into these marketing problems with every release, and every developer out there has them. There are a lot of games, and only a few outlets that talk about it, sadly these outlets are only covering stuff which is already being talked about.

    I’m lucky enough to have build some sort of name for myself, I can only imagine how hard it is on developers without those 10 years and 100+ games building their name/fan-base.

    So don’t feel sorry! just see if you can help us “small” developers out left and right by recommending our games, talking about our games, and not just those games everybody already has heard about.

    • I think I can feel your pain though. Am sailing a very different boat, am not developing games but I organize big video game art collaborations by fans and while the artworks are great, the majority of the big outlets are ignoring news related to something like remix albums, fana rt tributes etc completely while they publish over 450 articles about one single game (Destiny,Titanfall).

      No matter how great your product might be..you have not a big chance to get it on the big gaming sites if it is not made by one of the big publishers, not controversial (Just think at Hatred) and you have no personal ties with some of the editors there or simply luck.

      • I would imagine something original and different like that would get some more exposure for sure. And yes Hatred is another good example, a crappy game from what I read everywhere, but they do get the marketing because of being controversial, having a story

        • Our big Legend of Zelda Art Tribute made it to some of the bigger websites at least but its a bit “soul crushing” that only 2 of around 25 big sites I once contacted cared about it.

          I played Hatred yesterday for an hour. Would say its not as bad as some say but it loks like the developers had good ideas but rather released a short game around the violence instead of putting more time into the game design and 1-2 modes to want to play t again after its played through. The look of the game is pretty great, the anmations, music sound looks all pretty high budget.

          The potential to create something fun like Loaded or even Smash T.V was there but they they did not use it. =/

  • David Erosa

    Pascal, I’m a “solo” game developer too and I’ve been following your games and career since Gunslugs was released on the OUYA. You are a source of inspiration for me and knowing that you are having a bad time with marketing is soul crushing for me :/

    I feel your pain. My own game is meant to be played with gamepads and people keeps on saying that “I should port it to mobile, because it look like a mobile game”. IMHO playing with a simulated on-screen gamepap is a crappy experience (for my game at least).

    I’m totally exhausted from trying to get websites, youtubers and journalists to play my game. No matter how many free keys one sends, no matter how refined the email is written (even “approved” by some marketing fellows), they seem to just ignore anything that comes from small developers.

    But, as you said, let’s keep on trying! Good luck with Space Grunts!

    • getting talked about has always been hard, problem is not having a lot of games out there, problem is that most sites only talk about the same few games.

      and yeah, don’t give up! let’s keep making cool games, and try to grow personal social media reach/network: every person you can reach personally, is one that you don’t have to reach through a game site.