Today my game, Dungeons of Edera, is leaving early access for its 1.0 update. This is my second full game release and I wanted to share my thoughts on how the Early Access period went to help anyone else who is currently developing their game.
You can view my retrospective on my Early Access release Here. https://www.reddit.com/r/IndieDev/comments/invj0k/1_week_retrospective_dungeons_of_edera_released/
Also available is the retrospective to my first game. https://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/bzy3hx/one_week_ago_i_launched_my_first_game_here_is_a/
I know a lot of folks just want some raw data, so let me get this out of the way.
- Development Time: Approximately Three Years (Nights/Weekend Passion Project, I work full time as a TPM)
- Team Size: 1 Developer, 1 Writer, 2 Level Designers, 1 Social Media Manager, 1 Intern
- Gross Revenue: $520,744
- Net Revenue: $383,615 (less returns, chargeback and taxes)
- After Steams Cut: $268,530
- Current Wish lists: 56,628
- Lifetime Conversion Rate: 17.6% (average according to steam)
- Total Units Sold: 38,584
- Total Returns: 6,786 (17.6% - strangely enough, it’s the same as wishlist conversion)
- Median time played: 1 hour 56 minutes (steams return policy is 2h of game play)
- Reviews: 639 80% Very Positive
Okay, if you're still reading this, you actually give a crap about my thoughts. Your mistake.
After one year of development I pushed DOE out into early access. I naively said I would reach 1.0 update within six months. As the title gave it away, I missed my goal - there was just too much to do and I allowed feature creep to happen. This was not necessarily a bad thing though - folks who really invested time into the game, joined my discord and shared their thoughts on how features could be improved and what could be added to really make the game stand out. I welcomed their feedback and pushed to add new mechanics. This was a double edged sword though - on one hand it showed the community my commitment to listen to their feedback and ideas, but the pain was in building new systems and continuing to finish the core experience with just myself developing them. Thus six months turned into two years.
Quite honestly, there is a lot more I COULD do to build this game out more, but after all this time, and everything that I have learned throughout the development cycle, going back through old code is frightening. While I could spend time refactoring, adding more layers of polish, I think my time is better spent on a new project, armed with the knowledge gained. I am pretty much burned out on this project, so I am happy to bring it to closure with at least the roadmap I setout to complete. Now that I've rambled on, let me share some insights that helped contribute to the success of my early access.
A low effort, high value artifact you can easily keep updated with minimal effort - a feature roadmap for your development that you include in every update to let folks know what's coming next and ensure transparency in your timelines. Helps answer questions as well.
This is one of the most important things you can do as a game dev, get a discord going and ensure you have a direct link embedded in your game to bring users to it. Direct interaction is key to building relationships, feedback, and most importantly, bug reporting before they leave it as a negative review.
Keeping up on social is an absolute chore imo and quickly became an annoying distraction. Social posts barely translated to traffic to my site, unless I was running an ad on FB (I'll get to ads next), but I thought it was important to keep up a social presence. I was posting inconsistently and at the wrong time (usually at night). I ended up hiring someone to take on all my social responsibilities, to prepare and post on a consistent schedule to FB, Twitter, and TikTok. I can say it this was a great time saver - One less distraction and thing to think about. IMO still has not translated to a significant increase in traffic, but growing your audience is important for future projects.
If you have a game on steam and you are not putting your game on sale at every opportunity, you are making a huge mistake. These have been my highest traffic spikes where I would see my most sales - barely anyone is buying a game off steam unless it is on sale. Take advantage of this as much as you can.
For Ad management, I ran FB ads only during sale events, and while ads were running (about 30$ a day budget) they would make up about 10% of my traffic in. Avoid twitter and tiktok ads, just not worth it at ALL.
FB still seems to the go to for ads.
Content creation is a strange beast - and can be the single contributing factor to your success. I don't think there is any formula or plan you can make here - you just need a product that looks nice, and if you are lucky enough, someone with a big audience will try it out. Somehow I got lucky enough for two content creators with a sizable audience 500k-800k to pick up Dungeons of Edera and play it. These were some of the biggest spikes in sales I have ever seen when these videos were aired.
Since then I have tried to collect emails from hundreds of youtubers and send them keys. Very, very few responded and it was usually the folks with smaller audiences.
I've previously talked about services like Keymailer and Woovit - These can be useful tools to reach out to a lot of creators, but be warned - once they make a video, its unlikely they will play it again. So ensure its not too early in your development cycle when you share. I pushed heavily into these tools at my early access release, and I can say since then less than ten have made subsequent updates.
Besides those services, I also tried Capapult, which is a service you pay content creators for videos. I got very low results from this service and cannot recommend it. I just didn't see the return in using this, or at least not with the budget I wanted.
One cool event we actually did was submit DOE for the Seattle Indies Expo - and to my surprised we were selected to be featured! This didn't bring in any real spikes in sales, but it was a lot of fun to be featured and interviewed by them - so my advice to you all is submit your game to your local game expo, its fun, free exposure!
Three years, one developer - you might be asking. "Why didn't you bring on more programmers" the answer to this, is that I really didn't want to go through the hassle. At the point where I thought some help would be nice, my project files and design style was in absolute disarray. My filepaths and code shared one thing in common, only I understood it, and it disgusted me. Even as I brought on teammates to help build out the environment and story, I never used a proper repository. I managed it on a Google Drive. I do not recommend this. For the love of cthulhu use a proper repository if you have a team. I had to manually integrate all levels, just wasting time there if I had set it up correctly at first.
Building and maintaining a team is hard. Most of the folks who worked on this project were international, so all communication was done asynchronously on discord. Somehow we got away with less than 10 voice calls throughout the entire project. Which was great because my time on this project was all on nights and weekends - so this was another reason I kept the team small and took on all development responsibilities - minimize management.
One piece of advice I will give folks is use fiverr for voice acting. It made it easy to find everything I needed for my game.
This project was built 99% in blueprints - only the AI movement component was built in c++ (performance reasons). Using blueprints is just too easy, and honestly, I only have a basic understanding of c++ so I could not have been able to achieve the scope of this project with it alone. One of the great things about using Blueprints is access to a host of premade packages on the Unreal Marketplace. If I had an idea for a feature, I would just search there, and more often than not, there was a blueprint for sale that at least set me in the right direction and helped my learning greatly by seeing all of the various ways they were built and integrating it into my own project and building on top of it. Some folks may look down on this, but I do not care - Time is your most valuable asset. Anytime you can spend 20$ to save yourself a week of development, that is a WIN my friend. The unreal marketplace is how I was able to complete this project with such a small team.
All visual assets you see in the game are bought from the marketplace, and again, I know folks have mixed opinions on this, but again, don't listen to them. You will save time and you get exactly what you see - no finding the right artist or modeler and getting varying results in quality. I would say less than 2% of reviews mention anything about the assets, and remember, Game developers are not your target audience. This group is the only one who will know you have purchased assets, unless its like the most popular assets like Synty. Pay the money for the high quality assets on the marketplace, its worth it.
If you made it this far in my rambling you are truly a madman. Maybe you're like me and just refuse to give up, because that is what it takes to finish something like this. The parts where you're learning or programming new features from scratch with knowledge you gain throughout the cycle is absolutely exhilarating, but its not always like this. There are times where it is an absolute slog. Inconsistent edge case bugs, UI, UX, VO coordination, localization - all those things that put the final piece in place to make a game, a game.
Motivation can be killed by these things, because we all just want to be working on the cool stuff, but its important to get all the in between in too. One thing that really helped me stay with it is not doing ANY other projects. I know some folks like to take breaks with pet projects, but I stayed consistent. All energy went into this. Sometimes you have to force yourself just to do ONE thing a day. Fix a bug, reprioritize your backlog, tidy up some UI, something - anything to push it one step closer to the finish line.
So, what's next for me? Depending on the success of the 1.0 launch, I may also explore another title in the Dungeons of Edera universe, but next time. I will ensure I prioritize my scope ruthlessly, three years is a long time to be on a single project. So for now, I've already got another project in the works on something entirely different. Something small and I will force it to stay small. I am wanting to release it in six months, so I naively think.
Stay focused, my friends. Until next time.