iZBOT – Indie Game Postmortem

My game iZBOT has been out on Steam now for a little over a year it’s high time for a mortem of the post variety. I’m hoping this postmortem will help other indie game devs out there in a similar situation to mine.

Firstly a  bit about me, I develop under the company name of Ruxar but it’s just me. I’ve got a full time job and a couple of brats kicking around so game development is very much a part time thing.

From start to finish iZBOT took around a year and a half, honestly though that wasn’t flat out. I had a couple of extended breaks in there where I was either playing or creating other games.

I do believe that I’ve have a tenacity about me, in that I REALLY want to finish things I start. This can be good (I’m able to finish games), but bad as well (because I end up binge watching ‘The Walking Dead’ along the way).

Game

The game is a fast platformer however it isn’t breaking any new ground in terms of originality or mechanics. This mostly due to a combination of things, my naivety of the marketplace as well as my limitations as a part time developer. When I started I’d just watched ‘Indie Game – The Movie’ and knew that I wouldn’t be able to put out something the same quality as Super Meat Boy but if I could put out something similar I might be able to grab some sales within the hardcore platforming segment without really differentiating it from the rest of what was out there, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

 

iZBOT Jumping

Game Dev Process

When I was working on the game, I’d usually do 2-3 hours a night. This was a mix of programming, art and marketing through dev blogs, social media etc. If I had to divide my time it would have looked something like this.

Time Doughnuts

Marketing

During development I tried to be as open an engaging as possible. Lots of progress gifs on twitter , #screenshotsaturday as well as keeping a devlog on TIGSource and my own personal blog.  Closer to launch I ramped it up a bit. I sent out press releases to gamespress.com for major announcements green light success, release date etc.

Aside from this I did some paid marketing on Adwords and AdDuplex. I struggled a bit with this, I think the CPA was to high and I didn’t want to throw more money at it when I wasn’t really seeing results.

Ads

Expenses

Probably the biggest expense for the game was the art refresh I commissioned from Shawn (who was awesome to work with). With Art, Ads, Licences, Fees etc the total expenses related to iZBOT were around $1000. I didn’t really account for any of my time, I shudder to think of what my hourly rate calculates out to be.

Original Vs Revision

 

The Bucks

This is the aggregated data across Steam, Humble Store and Itch.io. Steam made up for most of the sales. I love Itch.io, the platform and the focus on indie devs but I only got a single sale from there even when offering discounts greater than what I had in the past on Steam. The game has made bit under 4K at the time of writing.

 

Riches and Units

Discounting and Pricing

My game is currently priced at $9.99 USD, in hindsight I got this wrong. When the game went on sale initially I was trying to maximise the first period, but quickly got into a fairly heavily discounting cycle. It now goes on sales for 80-90% off. I still might try and experiment with a lower price point and less of a sale discount, but currently the game just doesn’t sell when it’s not on sale.

 

Full Priced Sale


Final Comments

So if i could do it all again, would I? I think the answer is probably yes. I do love the fact that I’ve made something, people actually buy it play it and even sometimes like it. If I were to do it again, I’d try and optimise the process a lot more. There are a lot of things that take a heap of time but at the end of the day wouldn’t have made any difference to the total sales of the game. In closing, I hope the data in this postmortem helps other people in their game development journeys.

5 Tips To Make Your Game More Appealing To Let’s Players

There is no denying what a significant impact the likes of Twitch and YouTube are having on gaming at the moment and this in only going to increase going forwards. I’m going to try and show you a couple of tips that I found really useful when trying to engage with streamers and Let’s Players out there.

 

First off, try and put yourself in their shoes, would you show the game if you were running the channel? Will it entertain the audience? If you’re game is quirky and unique it’s going to have a much greater chance to get picked up. Let’s Players are looking to attract views to grow their channel, you want to do everything you can to help them as its mutually beneficial for both parties. Whenever you approach someone keep this in mind. Below are some of the things you can do with the game itself as well as some other tips to help get your game out there.

 

1. Have separate music and effects controls

Let’s Players generally like to keep the effects on and the audio off. This means that there isn’t any questions of permissions for playing the music in your game as well as the fact that they’re talking the whole time and don’t want to be drowned about by the music.

Turn down the tunes

2. Video Monetization permission

A common request is for permission to monetize the videos that are created. I use a predefined template created by the good people at Vlambeer. This creates a generic page cover all permission for the coverage of your game which you can link to in the initial contact email to save a ‘Yes you have permission’ email back to the content creator.

3. Add transparent logos, character art and backgrounds

Having images with a transparent background makes life a heap easier for generating pretty channel art, again it’s a little thing but each little bit counts. This is a common gripe for the Let’s Play community and it’s a really easy one to fix. I’ve used the awesome presskit() from Vlambeer to showcase the images and talk about the game a little bit.

Transparent Logo

 

First you get the channel art, then you get the views, then you get the power.

Well maybe…

4. Post over at reddit’s /r/LetsPlay

In my experience the Let’s Players in this subreddit are genuinely friendly and there’s a lot of mutual respect going. There are a heap of people trying to grow their channel as well as more established Let’s Players lurking around in this subreddit. Posting here will it make it a lot easier to distribute keys and sell your game, people reach out to you rather than the other way around.

5. Search for Active Let’s Players on YouTube

Use the filter settings within YouTube to search for Let’s Players who have been active within the last month or so and might be interested in your game. Once you find someone use the ‘About’ page to get their preferred contact details. When you do contact people, try and keep it personal but to the point. This can be a massive time sink if you’re going to send out 200 individualized emails to people, just be aware and make sure you’ve got a decent workflow before the last minute when it’s time to get in contact with people. One final point on this one, keep a spreadsheet of you you’ve contacted, their email address and if they’ve gotten back to you. Helps give you a head start for the next game that needs promotion.

Searching for Let's Players in the Sleeping Simulator genre

How to make an animated GIF like a Boss

Missiles

TLDR Version

Gifcam + Screen Recorder + ezgif.com = win

Creating Awesome Animated GIFs

If you’re plugging away at a game and want the world to know about it GIFs are your answer. I’m going to share with you today a couple of tips to get the most bang for your buck in terms of the final output and the workflow for creating the GIFs in the first place.

GifCam

GifCam – I can’t rate this highly enough, it’s such an awesome tool for creating gifs. Not only does it compress the crap out of them so you can sneak in under Twitter’s 3 meg limit but it also gives you editing capabilities from within the tool itself. If you aren’t using this GRAB IT NOW! Ok…got it? Awesome.

I try to record my GIFs at 640×360 at 33fps, you can tweak the size and fps that you record from within the tool. Remember that you’re shooting for the magical 3 meg limit. If you’re not going to put this on twitter you don’t need to worry so much about the limit but be cognisant of the file size, you don’t want to be embedding 50meg GIFs in your site, that’s no fun for anyone.

The recording and editing process is fairly straight forward, setup your variables, line it up, hit record and then edit the required footage and save.

This is all well and good but capturing those ultra-rare kick ass moments in your game can be tricky as you need to continually stop, clear and restart the GIF recording so it doesn’t chew up all your memory.

Screen Recorders

What I’ve found incredibly helpful is to capture your gameplay footage using screen recording software such as Camtasia, ShadowPlay or Fraps these seem a lot more efficient are capturing a longer period of gameplay which increases the chances getting in that double jump to wall slide to triple flip ninja kick. Once you have this footage you can just overlay Gifcam to the footage, record, edit the GIF and you’ve just got an awesome GIF on your hands. In Gifcam you can set the frame delay to be all the same by shift clicking on the time delay in the edit window. This smooths it out a bit.

FrameDelay

I generally capture and bunch of footage and then find the best bits and create a heap of GIFs at one time. Enough for a few weeks worth of #screenshotsaturday posts.

Optimize

Once you have the GIF and you’re hosting it yourself or it’s slightly over twitters limit I recommend using:

http://ezgif.com/optimize

This can bring down the size of an already compressed GIF to give you the quickest load speed or squeak it in under Twitter’s limit.

Game Art Commisions

I’ve recently commissioned some box art for my 2D platformer iZBOT. This was my first time commissioning art, I wish I’d done it sooner. I’m really happy with the result and the overall process has been very smooth. Below are the steps I went though and a couple of tips to get something you’re happy with.

Decide on a style

What sort of game do you have? This is going to drive the style question somewhat. This is something you have to come up with yourself and is a key decision as its going to drive artist selection and the end result somewhat. Check out what other people are doing in similar genres if you’re stuck.

Find your artist

This step is something that I struggled on for a while. I’d come across great artists or commission pages that hadn’t been updated since 2012. I ended up using a bit of GoogleFu to get the result I was after. If you search for the keyword ‘commisions’ and then only search specific sites like tumblr or deviantart using the syntax site:tumblr.com . One final thing is to go into the advanced search settings make sure that you’re only returning results that have been updated in the last month or so. Then select images and browse away.

Rough Draft

I was really lucky to have the artist who did my box art guide me through this one, but I sent over a heap of pixel art, gifs of the game fonts etc. Anything to give her more of a sense of the character that they are going to draw. She came back with really good ideas here and I ended up changing what I had in mind.

Compare

And below is the finished result, I’m really happy with the results. The overall process has been great and it makes iZBOT look like a proper game 🙂 The artist who created these goes by Ruba and here is a link to her Tumblr. I can’t recomend her enough.

 

Awesome new box art from the awesome and very talented Rubalotl.izbot-commission

Indie Game Marketing – Tools

This is a collection of tools that has made my life a lot easier when marketing my collection of shitty games. Not a definitive list by any means but hopefully some that you haven’t seen or used before. If you’ve got any that I’ve missed hit me up at @escdev

Buffer

Engaging with like-minded peeps is a great way to build interest in the games that you’re working on.

Buffer is awesome in that it allows you to quickly and easily post to multiple social network sites. Which is enough to use it, in and of itself but it goes a lot further than that. Buffer also allows you to:

Schedule Posts – By queuing up and posting at different times you’re expanding your reach to other time zones and markets.

Link Shortening – Yes I know that twitter does this on its own now, but it’s very seamless using the buffer plugin for chrome. Just hit the button on any page, article etc, select then networks you wish to post to either post right away or allow it to be scheduled.

Analytics on Posts – By using buffers link shortening you’re also get the benefit of single point of contact for anyone clicking on that link. Buffer is kind enough to provide some simple analytics (in the free version anyways) on clicks, shares, +ones.

buffer

Trello

I’m sure everyone has their preferences when keeping organised when trying to track  what your plan is for marketing and what you’ve actually done. Spreadsheets are good for tracking the details of certain tasks like who you’ve emailed but I find Trello is great for keeping track of the tasks themselves at a very high level. In Trello you create ‘boards’ and then assign tasks within them you can drag these around as you start and complete each task. I have one board for each game I’m working on as well as any external tasks like marketing.

Trello’s interface is excellent and is really simple to start getting benefits out of it straight away.

Trello

presskit()

Presskit is the brain child of Rami Ismail, one half of the indie studio Vlambeer. It allows you to easily create a website around yourself / studio and the games you are creating in a easily readable and consumable format. Most of the work here is around collating quotes and reviews and filling out the XML template that drives the website rather than any sort of website creation. Here is mine, it’s a work in progress, but I’m really happy with it so far:

 http://ruxar.com/press/

Promoter

Promoter saves you from doing a Google search every other day scouring for articles that may have picked up your game. The site also has a few other features like an extensive contact list, and some tracking functions (who you sent out emails to). The site has a free version which allows you to track a single game with some limitations.

Gif Cam

Showing dynamic screenshots with actual snippets of game play goes a long way into enticing potential users. Gif Cam allows you to select a portion of the screen and record, really easy, really good quality.

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