Good advice thanks for sharing, great to hear despite the difficulties you are going to push through.
Crumbling World Post-Mortem: The Story of a Failure
Hello everyone! My name is Dani Marti, and I’m the indie game developer behind Dume Arts. It’s been about a month since I launched my first game, titled Crumbling World.
My dream is to become a full-time game developer, and my journey started about three years ago. I’d like to share my experiences and thoughts so other game developers can learn from my mistakes.
I’ve been working as a freelance Graphic Designer/Web Developer for nearly two decades. I discovered indie game development a few years ago and immediately fell in love. Despite my newfound passion for game development, I still have to pay my bills, so I’ve held on to my day job.
This trade-off has allowed me to fund Crumbling World, but it’s left me with limited time to work on game development. To facilitate my career transition, I taught myself 3-D modeling, Unity, and C# programming. While I’m not a full-time game developer yet, I’m enjoying the learning process of this new journey!
What is Crumbling World?
The original concept behind Crumbling World was born as a Game Jam entry. At this early stage, the gameplay was raw, but the key game mechanic (where the world rapidly crumbled below a player’s feet) attracted plenty of attention. Better yet, this early version of Crumbling World won first prize at Game Jam! While it was never my intention to convert Crumbling World into a commercial game, the wave of positive feedback I received after Game Jam made me reconsider.
As a result of this early success, Crumbling World became my first commercial game development project. At its core, Crumbling World is a dark fantasy, action-packed arcade game set in a sinister world covered in slowly decomposing land. It’s inspired by classic games such as Diablo, Ghouls’n’Ghosts, and the original Prince of Persia. If you’d like to learn more, I invite you to check out my itch.io page for the game.
The Starting Point
As a newcomer to the world of indie games, I quickly learned that successful developers must wear many different hats. From creating the story to marketing, indie developers have to do it all. By far, the most challenging skill for me to develop was marketing. Growing an audience before launching a game is essential, so I was proactive in creating a buzz on Twitter and Instagram. While Facebook is a popular platform, I decided to focus on social media sites that hosted a vibrant and accessible gaming community.
One of the best ways to grow a social media audience is to consistently post new content. With daily posts, I was able to grow my social networks to around 2,000 followers on both Twitter and Instagram in 18 months. In addition to social media, I created a Steam page to land Crumbling World on the wishlist of thousands of gamers. In the end, only around 1,900 Steam users added my game to their wishlists.
These low numbers and slow growth rates were discouraging, especially for a new developer. Despite this early setback, I decided to push forward with my project.
Around a year ago, I decided to hire a marketing agency to help me develop a strategy for launching my first game. While I had a strong professional background in graphic and web design, I didn’t fully understand the indie game industry, the process for self-publishing games, or how to rapidly grow my following on social media. All told, I spent around $10,000 on marketing, which is a significant amount of money for a solo game developer. Still, I was passionate about Crumbling World and willing to take the risk.
To their credit, the marketing agency I worked with developed a strong plan. First, they developed marketing studies to understand competing games and help me set a competitive price. Next, they optimized the game’s Steam page and developed three separate marketing campaigns. These campaigns included an Alpha launch, a Beta launch, and the actual launch, each of which included a press release. Furthermore, the actual launch of Crumbling World made use of contacting streamers and influencers in the gaming community to draw buzz to the game.
Before jumping into the details surrounding my sales numbers, I’d like to recap my marketing efforts, which yielded approximately 2000 Twitter followers, around 1900 Instagram followers, and 1900 Steam wishlists in total.
Two weeks before launch, I was lucky enough to have Game Jolt feature my game, which yielded 1,000 additional Crumbling World followers and 600 followers for my own developer profile. Although the rapid growth provided by the Game Jolt coverage was exciting, it didn’t translate into as many social media followers or Steam wishlists as I would have liked.
One week after launch Crumbling World received additional media coverage from itch.io, which was appreciated. However, as with Game Jolt, this media coverage didn’t translate into noticeable traffic. Interestingly, after itch.io launched its Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, the number of page views for Crumbling World increased dramatically for a week before falling off again. While this increase didn’t impact my sales or social media numbers, it did double my followers on the platform.
Finally, after years of hard work, Crumbling World launched May 21st on Steam. For the first week, I offered an introductory price of $10.99, with the list price set at $14.99. Soon after launching the game on Steam, I also listed it on itch.io, GameJolt, and the Apple Store.
After a month, my sales numbers are as follows:
- Steam: 132 units, yielding $1,242
- Itch.io: 7 units, yielding $102.83
- Apple Store: 2 units, yielding $29.99
- GameJolt: 0 units, yielding $0
In total, I’ve sold 141 units of Crumbling World, which have generated $1,380.82 in sales. Needless to say, these are disappointing numbers, and it’s hard not to view the launch as a failure. After years of hard work and thousands of dollars invested in art, voice-over services, and marketing, it’s only natural to feel discouraged as these initial results.
Launch Post-Mortem: What Went Wrong?
There were a few key mistakes made during the launch. Overall, I don’t think that I was ready, and I know that the game wasn’t yet ready for prime-time. I worked tirelessly for the last two months of developing, grinding to add more content and features. Instead, I probably should have focused my efforts on polishing up the version of the game that was already working properly. Committing to launch a certain number of features at a predefined date ended up hurting me instead of helping me.
Also, I didn’t leave myself enough time to completely test out the game. While the initial launch of Crumbling World wasn’t a huge game (25 levels, three different game difficulties, over 40 enemies, and 7 different player characters in total), the odds of disastrous bugs affecting gameplay were huge. In hindsight, I probably needed around a month to properly test and debug the game, but I was still adding content at the very last minute.
The marketing company that I hired to help manage the launch recommended that Crumbling World be unveiled on the pre-announced date with all of the content that was promised to users. This makes sense when the game is ready, but publishing a game that isn’t ready can be worse than a delayed launch. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way. I felt tons of pressure to meet the deadline, even if I thought that it would be better to delay the launch or release the rest of the content as a free DLC later on.
My initial plan was to publish the full game with a single character, then release the other characters as a DLC package. However, my marketing agency didn’t think that was a good idea, as we had already announced that the game would include multiple characters at launch. In the end, I went against my judgment and published the game on the previously announced date.
I ended up publishing Crumbling World a couple hours later than the pre-announced date and time. Almost immediately, the PC version from Steam started crashing due to a connection issue with the API. It took me two days to figure out why the game kept crashing, which resulted in a messy rollout. This issue hurt sales, with a large percentage of buyers requesting a refund and leaving bad reviews. These reactions are understandable, given the issues at launch. To make matters worse, the version given to streamers and influencers was prone to crashing, so Crumbling World wasn’t able to capitalize on these opportunities for positive media coverage.
Working To Stay Positive
To be honest, the launch date of Crumbling World was one of the worst days of my life. Instead of the excitement and joy that should have accompanied the game’s release, I was under lots of stress to publish the game and fix the issue with Steam. My celebration quickly turned into a weekend full of frantic work.
Despite a frustrating launch, I want to thank everyone who has purchased the game and reported issues. Your feedback was very helpful, even if I felt horrible for selling a game that kept on crashing. Fortunately, I was able to quickly fix the problems and release a version that worked, but the damage was already done.
I felt devastated, disappointed, and depressed after these poor results. It felt as if all of my hopes and dreams were gone. I was left with a game that not only failed to facilitate a change in career, but also left me in debt. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting to become a millionaire overnight. However, I was hoping that Crumbling World would make enough money for me to become a full-time game developer.
This situation has been very hard for me, as it has impacted my motivation to keep working on the game, fixing bugs, and replying to people. I’ve done my best to be active and responsive on Steam Community Discussions, social media, and even email. At the very least, I’ve prided myself on fixing issues as fast as possible, all while delivering great support to those who have bought the game.
Once again, I’m very grateful to those who purchased Crumbling World, as they have been very patient and understanding throughout this process. Believe it or not, constructive feedback and encouragement can mean a lot, especially when you’re feeling down on yourself and your work. Since launch day, I’ve released 9 patches, and after a month the game is nearly free of unexpected bugs. As of today, the game works quite nicely.
If you know me, you know that I tend to be a very positive person. It has been hard to stay positive throughout this process, as I felt nothing besides failure for the first two weeks post-launch. Despite a rocky start to my new career, I can finally say that I’ve finished a game that took me three years. I learned lots about game development, self-publishing, and hunting down bugs along the way. All in all, I believe that I will become a better developer as a result of these experiences.
Right now, I’m working on the mobile version of Crumbling World for iOS and Android. I’m working on getting media coverage and hope that some streamers will be interested in playing the game. At the same time, I’m working on learning Houdini for my next game project. Learning a new tool feels like a breath of fresh air, and it’s providing helpful motivation to continue on my journey as a game developer.
Learning From My Experience
In hindsight, I would recommend that new developers avoid spending lots of money on their first game. Investing money adds more pressure and stress, as you start focusing on getting a return instead of creating an awesome game.
When developing your first game, you tend to underestimate challenges and believe that you’re capable of doing anything. I started with this mindset before quickly learning that game development is very time-consuming. Deadlines are easy to miss, especially at the last moment. Instead of sticking to deadlines, I think it’s better to work at your own pace and launch when you’re ready.
If you opt to hire a marketing agency, don’t let them rush you. Even if you’ve committed to a release date, be honest with them and tell them that the game isn’t ready. After all, it’s their job to rethink the release strategy after delays. In other words, it’s better to launch your game when you’re ready, as opposed to publishing an untested product. While this may sound like common sense now, it’s very hard to see with clarity when you’re under pressure in the moment.
Furthermore, I strongly recommend launching a small game as your first development project. Smaller games are less stressful and easier to test. To be safe, give yourself plenty of time for testing. If you think your game will take three months to finish, double your timeline and add another month or two for testing. Before you know it, crunch time will be around the corner and you’ll thank yourself for allowing extra time.
This has been a very difficult time for me. I’ve learned many of these lessons the hard way. I even considered giving up my dream of game development after the rough launch of Crumbling World. However, I now realize that it’s very difficult to release your first game and that failures can help you towards later successes.
If you’re a game developer who is in a situation similar to mine, then I would love to hear your story. We learn from our shared successes and failures, so please feel free to share!
Similarly, if you are a new game developer and have questions, please feel free to ask me anything. I would love to help in any way that I can!
Thanks so much for reading, and best of luck in your own game development journey!