Early Dev Notes — Part IV: Building an Audience

(This is the fourth part of a series of notes about the things I learned during the early days of development of Long Gone Days, a modern-day anti-war RPG that focuses on language barriers. Parts I, II & III can be read here.)

In this article I’ll be sharing some numbers hopefully to serve as a reference point, as these numbers are usually not made public.

One of the first screenshots I made, though that part of the story ended up being cut from the demo.

Now that I had a couple of screenshots and concepts, it was time to share what I had been doing, and see if there was any interest in a non-fantasy modern-day RPG.

The first step was to start a devlog. I decided to use tumblr instead of Wordpress or my own domain, so people could easily find those posts and engage with them. It’s important to note that people are less likely to use those Share buttons than to simply like/reblog within the platform.

Starting a Devlog

This is the very first in-game gif I had, with my first attempt of making a bigger exterior map.

It’s common to hear people wondering when is the best time to start posting about their projects. In my opinion, the earlier you start posting, the more time you’ll have to build up an audience, so the earlier the better. In fact, showing your projects at their early stages will allow you to get feedback at a pertinent time.

The first post I made was an introduction to the story and the characters, with some concepts and really early screenshots. All of the art I posted there ended up being replaced in the end, though, like the bridge scene above and this in-game menu below.

Everything seen here ended up being replaced.

Now, even though I said you should start as soon as possible, there are still some recommendations. When you start developing, it’s easy to overpromise, but try to make sure you’ll be able to develop the main features you’ll use to promote the game, otherwise you are off to a bad start.

Reception of the First Public Announcement

In all honesty, I had very low expectations, I hoped I would get at least 10 likes and no hate mail. I panicked wondering if I should really publish it as it is. As it was my first post, even if people hated it, I wasn’t risking too much. If anything, I could always make a better post later.

Contrary to my expectations, within the first day people where liking and sharing the post. Within the first 10 days, there were already over a hundred notes, and some people even took the time to leave some really nice comments. Frankly, the game wouldn’t be the same if I hadn’t posted those screenshots online back then.

Spreading the Word

After the reception on tumblr, I had enough confidence to post about it on more sites. The ones that made a difference were the following sites:

Some of the indie games that had their own devlog on the TIG Source forums.
  • TIG Source: This is one of the most popular forums for indiedevs. Popular indie games like Papers, Please, Owlboy, Rain World and even FEZ had their own threads there during development. TIG Source also has a Screenshot Thread.
  • RPG Maker forums: As far as I’m aware, every game engine has its own forum, so it’s a good idea to start there. In the case of RPG Maker, they have their own rules about the content required to make your own thread, so it’s easier to write an introduction using that as a guide.
  • IndieDB: As the name suggest, this is a database for indie games. It allows you to create a devlog, upload a presskit, and make announcements that will be displayed on the frontpage for a couple of hours. A lot of journalists (and bots) browse the frontpage, so it’s a good place to post if you hope to appear in the media.
  • Reddit (/r/gamedev & /r/rpgmaker): Both subreddits have their own Screenshot Saturday threads. Posting as early as the thread is up is your best bet, as these threads tend to get crowded. There are also genre specific subreddits that are good for big updates.

Now, while the 4 sites listed above are a good place to start, it’s important to keep in mind most of the people who browse the sites above are developers or people who work/want to work in the industry.

From all of these sites, TIG Source was the one were Long Gone Days got more reach. Within the next days, composers, sound designers, voice actors and publishers were reaching out to be part of the project. Soon after, the game got its very own first article on Siliconera: “Long Gone Days, An RPG With A Story 12 Years In The Making” by Chris Priestman.

I was actually surprised with how nice the comments were.

Reaching Potential Players

Unless your game is targeted towards a really obscure niche, your best bet is to use the most popular social media platforms. I initially used Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook, so these are the ones I’ll be comparing.

1) Tumblr (link)

Some of the posts of the first two months. Posts with GIFs are always the most popular ones.

On Tumblr the follower growth was quick. Without much effort, posting once per week, and relying mostly on 3 tags (#gamedev, #pixelart, #rpgmaker), within the first months there were on average 300 new followers monthly, and then it got on an average of 90~150 new followers per month. We also found a lot of loyal fans here, and there’s a big sense of community for story-driven games. By the first semester I was reaching about 1,500 followers here.

I noticed that posting videos or static images on tumblr didn’t go too well. GIFs on the other hand always resulted in at least 100 notes.

2) Twitter (link)

On Twitter, contrary to my expectations, the follower growth was a bit slower. It takes more effort, as you need to tweet more often and you only have 140 characters to get your point across, but there’s a wider audience you can reach. The first months were slow, with a growth of 100~150 new followers per month, and mostly by using tags like #screenshotsaturday, #gamedev and #pixelart. By the first semester I was barely reaching the first thousand followers.

After reaching the first thousand though, the growth was way faster, and nowadays it’s the fastest growing platform Long Gone Days is on. Since numbers on Twitter are public, they affect how people see you.

3) Facebook (link)

Facebook likes during the first half of 2016.

On Facebook, during the first few months, it would have felt like a ghost town if it wasn’t for my friends (thanks ♥!). Checking some Facebook pages of popular indie games in development, things were pretty similar, unless they used the “share+like+comment to win/vote” tactic. By the first semester I was barely reaching the first 800 followers.

Something that really helped me reach more people was to talk about the game on Facebook groups (mostly gamedev or engine oriented groups). I haven’t yet used promoted posts, as those should be saved for big announcements, but I’ll do my best to share the results if we do.

There are of course a lot more things you can do to improve your reach, like taking into consideration the time and day of the week you post, the amount of words you use, using GIFs instead of videos or static images, but I can expand on that on another post if there’s enough interest.

Conclusions

A couple of comments we got during the first two months of development.

Before I started releasing info about the project online, I expected to see the worst, but I was overwhelmed with the support that we got. There were a few hateful comments as well, but they unknowingly gave us tons of useful feedback.

This goes without saying, but avoid getting into fights and be open to critiques. You don’t have to do everything the way some people want it to be, but they might be able to tell you the things your friends are afraid to say.

Releasing something that took you months or even years of effort is really overwhelming, it makes you feel exposed and vulnerable. Showing others your progress as you go really helps to reduce the emotional stress you could have once you release the completed piece.

With all of the feedback I got during the first few month, I had less worries on my mind, and it even motivated me to work even faster so I could share more stuff. Now all I had to worry about was the next big milestone: Releasing the demo.

The next part of the series will be about the release of the demo and the things you should do and expect before, during and after this big event.

Follow @lgdays on Twitter for more updates.