How I went rightfully unnoticed (play store game probably post-mortem)

So recently I have released my first game. Funny, these words, I have released, but not yet finished it… It ‘s been up on the store for about a month now, gathering all of 2 real players.

Lesson one for app stores : don’t even think about choosing a name that is trying to be funny or witty, by creating a new compound word that looks like a typo of existing compound word! Autocorrect on search engines, and in-store search will fuck you over so hard that you will be about a 100th result even when searching for the exact name, preceded by thematically completely unrelated stuff.

But that’s just a frustrating aside.

To be clear, I haven’t done much marketing or such for it, because I ‘m aware that in it’s current state, it’s not that good. Certainly not good enough to deserve more like maybe 10–20 people’s attention. Current state is called “0.5", but it’s more like 0.3, because… I ran out of time, for several reasons, had to put it out, and haven’t had time or energy to update it since.

But believe me, in its final, ideal form, it would be beautiful, glorious simple yet satisfying flowy fun with subtle magical theme about growth and stuff.

But I did do some marketing, tiny experiments more to test the waters and interact with the system than with any real intention or expectation for it to have any considerable effect.

From the start of the development, this project was a story of successive downscalings. The original goal was a game with about 15 levels, themed from hell, through underground, ground (plains), forest, mountains, sky, space, up to the Zion, heavenly golden city. Each environment was to have its unique enemies, not only in visual design, but also in behavior, up to player-like boss characters with which the player would have longer duels…

Apropos, the player — he was to have more abilities that he would earn from pickups/combos, such as deflective shield, proximity dodge, ceiling slide… The game was supposed to be closer to traditional combat-oriented platformer, with faster, more actiony gameplay, more enemies, mid-air bullet dodging, swinging on enemies, etc…

Or rather, it was supposed to be made in a way that supported a range of gameplay speeds/tempos, from the kinda-contemplative lite-puzzly platformer it is now, to frantic bullet hell matrix ninja samurai action.

At times I was playing around with the idea of adding more standard left/right run movement as well, and open it up to a proper platformer, maybe even adding competitive multiplayer, but I couldn't figure out some of the controls that would need, and I was already on a tight schedule, alone, with a design too big, so I dropped the idea(s), in my surprisingly successful attempt to consistently aim for MVP (minimum viable product).

What went wrong:

Did you know that coping with melancholic/bipolar personality while working under time stress on a project too big, alone, with no budget, is hard?

  • I wanted to record and timelapse most of the development. I made one video and it felt awesome, and it helped motivate me in the beginning, but it quickly turned out to be stressful. I felt “watched”, “controlled” when recording, sometimes it was disrupting my natural work rythm, and it turned out to be quite a lot of work to even keep the files organized for me, let alone make them into publishable videos. So I made one video, it felt awesome, I published it, even got some comments, promised more coming, and… never released any other
  • I had, unsurprisingly, trouble with energy and motivation. Firstly, yes, I would like to make a lot of money, of course — so I don't have to constantly feel stressed about not having enough for normal life. And yes, it would (probably) be awesome to be(come) …known hence kinda influential in the area (although I haven't yet shown I deserve it), but… I really do love making games, I am just unable to do it in a vacuum, “just for the joy of it”, i need to do it because I know there are people who will appreciate the game, I think that would be my biggest motivation.
    So I should have started gathering some audience sooner, should have made the game's twitter account sooner and use it better, to get some of that, some of the feel that “hey, some people are maybe mildly interested”, that would motivate me to continue to make it better to interest more people, and welcome to the good positive feedback loop. But I didn't, because I felt so unmotivated and unsure I can actually do it, that I was afraid to strart claiming and promising stuff to the whole internet, even if the whole internet probably wouldn't care.
  • Time plan/management worked while i used it but I stopped using it.
    Because stupid. It was just a simple excel sheet, todo list, organized into days, just tracking, and another motivation tool, to look at it at the end of the day and see the green fields of finished stuff, however few that was that day. But after a few day-long slip-ups, I felt ashamed to go back to the spreadsheet and make those empty lines there, so I didn't even open it, so stupid, so I fell back into my “standard” and very impractical mid-term work rythm of “several days and nights of marathon coding, several days to a week of doing completely nothing, repeat”.
  • In the end, schedule turned out horrible (mainly because lots of the time there wasn't any). Lots of crunch where there shouldn't and wouldn't have been any if I managed to keep myself motivated and disciplined, if I was able to not work in almost completely isolated, partially self-imposed vacuum.
  • Achieving the wrong goal is kind of the same as failing to achieve your goal(?): I finished what I set out to do. Playable MVP released on android app store, updatable and upgradable to the final awesome form if it turns out someone likes the gameplay. Probably the wrong goal, doesn’t create good feedback loop, but I achieved it. And it didn't help me in what I needed and hoped for, to create some feedback to start me up to upgrade it into the final form where it would be worth at least as much attention as flappy bird (uh-oh… :-D), and I would be sure of it regardless of if it ever got that much attention or not.
    Because “releasing something half-baked to finish it if at least some people notice and like it” …is a goal that is obvious to not make much sense, when you say it like this. Ultimately, so far, I have just added to the craptons of crud that already are decomposing on the stinking landfill that is app store :-D
  • I can't bring myself to update it at all. Since after it's been out and playable, my grand plans of continuing to work on it have dissolved in the disillusion of the game going completely unnoticed, before as well as after about 3000 paid views of post about the game in a gaming group on minds.com . I mean… I wasn't expecting miracle virality, but… 3 to 5 people in response to 3000 post views, maybe? But it got 0. (Not complaining, just a bit surprised).
    The two downloads and… not even real plays it seems, that it got later, within next two months, probably by accident :-D

What went right:

  • I (surprisingly) kept the “minimum viable product” approach, really downscaling, for the first time in my life, instead of letting the project blow up in proportion and abandoning it when I realized it's too big. The game might be unfinished, but at least almost everything in the core is implemented. It doesn't lack functionality, it “only” lacks content and polish. But being able to keep in line with this helped me to release. At all.
  • I finally experienced how much can I do in how much of time, both “normal people's time” ( == net time working) and “my bipolar time” ( == overall time including my productivity swings). I'm starting to have a rough idea how it would be influenced by working with someone, but I'd have to test that out.
  • …kind offinished what I set out to do.
    Playable MVP released on android app store, updatable and upgradable to the final awesome form if it turns out someone likes the gameplay. Probably the wrong goal, doesn't create good feedback loop, but I achieved it. There. Done.
  • I learned that I can do it. That with enough time, discipline, energy, and ideally also people, I can make the games I need to make, in a form they deserve to be made in… despite basically failing to make this first one in a form it deserves to be in

What I learned:

  • I learned that I can do it. Yes, this is here twice, because it's very important. That with enough time, discipline, energy, and ideally also people, I can make the games I need to make, in a form they deserve to be made in… despite basically failing to make this first one in a form it deserves to be in
  • I need someone who knows how to do PR/community management. Because I would have to invest more time and energy than I have/am willing to be effective in it, but I need some way to be effective in it.
  • Therefore, I need a budget.
  • Therefore, I need a design worthy of kickstarter.
    Originally, I wanted to put up a campaign for UpHell as well, but… I realized/thought the design is too minimalistic and simplistic for it to seem worth backing for anyone. But…

What's next:

Last night I realized how to do a sequel. And then I realized it's a bit silly to be starting work on a “sequel” when the first one is… almost still in alpha state. But it's not that kind of a sequel. It's… a game using the same core idea, but expanding it to the whole standard platformer dictionary of running, jumping, blocking, dodging and fighting, in a metroidvania-style world/levels. Possibly with multiplayer, again, because it would be awesome.

In any case, this is an idea full enough, I'd say, to be worth of backing up. Almost full-on pc-like arcade, except with controls natively designed for mobile and touch screens… That sounds like something worth throwing a dollar or two at, for people who like games, no?

Which would provide a bit of budget for a bit of a team for a bit of a less vacuum for a bit of more motivation and discipline and a bit of a less stressful life, and a bit of a more chance to get into the making of some of the real good stuff I have in my idea drawer…

So I've started to work on the tutorial level that explains and implements all the mechanics.

As many wise people say: Failure to succeed is not failure to progress.

…and the name is still free in the app store :)