Prophour23 post-mortem, part 2

Here's the first part!

Prophour23 is a fast-paced, replayable real-time strategy about building an organism and defending it from insects. You might call it a permadeath RTS.

In this part I want to focus on what went right and what went wrong. Obviously that's my point of view; perhaps some other issues are visible to you (tell me!).

The good things

1. Shipping the game (and staying true to my original vision)!
Yes, that's the most important thing to me. I'm proud of accomplishing this and I'm very glad that I kept the focus on what I actually wanted to create. Finishing games is hard. Even after creating multiple games it still surprises me how much work it involves. So, I think it's important and appropriate to be proud of it.

2. Using libgdx
I really like libgdx. It doesn't force any specific coding style, it's Java (so it's very performant and sufficiently high-level), it's multiplatform, well documented and it provides a lot of additional helper tools. I used one of them (packr) to prepare builds for Windows, Mac and Linux for different stores - all with a single, small program using the packr API.

3. Aesthetics
I can't recall a single person dissatisfied with Prophour23's aesthetics. In fact, most of the players appreciated it, even when they didn't like the game. I wanted to create an unique look and atmosphere and I'm very satisfied with the outcome. During the development I often wondered whether I'm spending too much time on the aesthetics - but it was worth it.

4. Reception
Prophour23 currently has a Steam rating of 82%. Not bad! There were quite a few people that really got into it and played much better than me. That made me very happy!

The bad things

1. Marketing
No one knows about Prophour23. I sent a lot of emails to press, youtubers and many other people. I gave away hundreds of Steam codes. And yet, there are only a few articles about the game on small blogs (except for the review) and maybe a ten videos on YT.
I followed lots of articles on how to write a good, eye-catching email for the press. I strived to keep them to the point and I attached Steam codes within the first email. I spent lots of time on my trailers, trying to make them short and with a hook. I tried to know as much as possible about the recipient's game interests to target my emails better.
About 95% of my emails got no response at all.
I should probably push further, but that's soul-crushing work and it's a work that never ends.

2. Weirdness + focusing the gameplay on player discovery
I love when games allow me to discover something. Items in Spelunky or Risk of Rain, crafting recipes in Minecraft, everything in Starseed Pilgrim. That's why I decided to focus P23's gameplay on player discoveries. There are no unlocks, everything's available from the beginning. You are limited only by your understanding of organ functions and creativity. A few possible organ combinations are shown in the tutorial, but that's it. I hoped that players would invent different, more sophisticated organisms than mine - and I wasn't wrong! Still, they were a minority. I think that pairing the focus on discovery with general weirdness of the game created a strange cocktail savoured only by a few. Frankly, I don't know how to fix this: I don't want to change the game's focus on player inventions, but I also don't want to lose the unsettling strangeness. And I have no idea how to make that mix less confusing.

3. Festivals
I submitted Prophour23 to IndieCade, IGF, A Maze, Experimental Gameplay Workshop, Rezzed and probably some more contests and festivals I forgot about. I thought that my game would be a good fit at least for a few of these places, as it's a bit different and - ahem - "artsy". P23 wasn't accepted anywhere, so it was a waste of time, money, and a big let-down for me.


Let's get this out: I sold about 1200 copies of my game. That's obviously not enough for me to make a living, so I'm working on a new game in my spare time again.

That's the Steam sales data. The spikes are the christmas, summer and weeklong sales. Currently I sell next to nothing if there's no discount.
The game's available also on IndieGameStand and the Humble Widget on the game's site. I sold a noticeable amount of copies through the Humble Widget on the release, but after that the sales outside Steam could be ignored. I also made a version for Android tablets and sold 14 (fourteen) copies on Google Play.

I didn't expect Prophour23 to be my break-through game. I didn't expect to make a living with it (although there was a small hope). I predicted (hoped?) to sell about 10.000 copies in the first year and that certainly isn't going to happen. So yes, I'm a bit dissapointed with the sales. But that doesn't stop me from working on new games!
Thanks to everyone who purchased it! I hope you liked Prophour23.

Prophour23 post-mortem, part 1

It's been 9 months since I released my game, Prophour23. In case you never heard of it (very likely!), it's a fast-paced, replayable real-time strategy about building an organism and defending it from insects. You might call it a permadeath RTS.
I sometimes call it my first commercial game, which is a bit misleading. I made numerous games in the past, some of them were sold - but Prophour23 is the first game I treat as a complete work. It is (almost) exactly what I wanted it to be and how I wanted it to be.

I started working on it in the beginning of 2013. My plan was to make a short, replayable strategy game which borrows some elements from RTS and Tower Defense games. I had an idea for a new mechanics - the player wouldn't build any units, just "buildings". But these buildings could me moved around freely and connected in various ways to produce different effects.
I had a day job (and still do), so I worked on the game on late evenings. After two or three months I had a working prototype, which looked like this:

There's a heart at the center, big circles are "buildings" (with energy and health values inside), red circles are enemies. I don't remember what the yellow circle is.
Looks familiar, doesn't it?
It worked quite well, but required some design changes. In the next month I added "collectable" money and playtested some variations to the mechanics.
The connections have a direction now, so it's important whether you connect node1 to node2 or node2 to node1. The source always has an impact on the output. I also implemented the concept of small, randomized "missions" which give the player a clear goal for every moment.
I spent the rest of 2013 on designing a set of ~10 node types with different connection outcomes.
That's the beginning of 2014:
Every node has a limited number of inputs and outputs now (depicted by arrows on the sides of a node). I introduced the concept of addons: completing a mission rewards the player with an addon, up to three addons could be stored in the inventory on the left side. An addon could be put on any node; every addon has a different effect (e.g. heal the specified node, add a new output...). I was satisfied with the gameplay at the moment and decided that it's the moment to stop adding new things and focus on polish. Numerous node combinations made the game interesting, and the addons allowed me to create an even more different "machine" on every replay.
I already had a theme in mind: nodes would be organs and the player would create an organism. All portrayed as an old anatomy drawing.
But the implementation wasn't easy.
February 2014:
March 2014:
April 2014:

I'm not very good with drawing, so I asked my sister-in-law for making the organ drawings. She also helped me with general art direction. Check out her gallery!
I started adding sounds and thought about the music. I asked another family member (my cousin this time) to create a few tracks for the game. I had very specific needs (the in-game soundtrack is dynamic), but he managed to create these neo-classical pieces exactly like I wanted. You can purchase the soundtrack too!

My son was born in April 2014. You're probably aware that having a newborn baby doesn't exactly guarantee a good sleep every night... I still worked for a company every day, then spent some time with my family and crunched on my game later, while still trying to get a few hours of sleep (which averaged to maybe three hours every night, interrupted in the middle by my little boy).
I still didn't fully recuperate from this period.

But the game was moving forward. I wanted to have it done for August. I thought that would be a good moment to release the game, without any big releases around. But I was so tired that sometimes I wanted to stop working and just leave the game. I submitted P23 to Indiecade to motivate myself and it worked for a while. On another (rare) feel-good day I put Prophour23 on Steam Greenlight. That worked even better! I refreshed the page every few minutes to check for new comments and stats. It had a big impact on me. Suddenly, thousands of people were looking at my game and many of them were interested (or even excited)!
I couldn't sleep that night.
These were the days where I was able to sleep while standing, yet I couldn't close my eyes. Suddenly, thousands of people were looking at my game and many of them started having expectations. I felt some kind of responsibility that was bringing me down. Or maybe it was the permanent lack of sleep?
I blitzed through Greenlight in 10 days or so. It wasn't that common then. I was excited to get my game on Steam, but I was also feeling unwell by looking at other games on GL. Some of them looked much better than mine, I knew some of the developers (and their games) which spent half a year (or more) on Greenlight... I bet you heard about the imposter syndrome, right?
But I worked on. I added starting screens, options, tutorial... I created the game's site, I tried to get my game on GOG and Humble Store, I tried to share some elements of my gamedev process on social media to make people aware of Prophour23. After doing the Steam-related paperwork I started implementing Steam features (achievements, leaderboards) - thanks to the lovely PuppyGames, who shared their library with me!
But I knew I'll miss my deadline. I decided to set a publicly visible release date on Steam to force myself to get it done by then.

And I released it on Oct 22 in 2014. The game was actually done 3 or 4 days earlier, but that's good - I had some time to create a new trailer, prepare build scripts etc. I planned to have a little launch party (that is: spend a calm evening with my wife at last), but it turned out that she needed to leave home that time. So I clicked the release button and got back to looking after my kids.

I'll cover the rights, wrongs and sales data in the second part!

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