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Post news Report RSS Why is selling good games so hard? Book of Demons Early Access launch postmortem

Launching an Early Access for Paperverse based hack & slash is a hard task. We are here to reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly of first two months of marketing and sales of Book of Demons, our first ever Steam published game.

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It seems like it was yesterday, but it's actually been two months since we launched Book of Demons on Steam Early Access. Although most of our team at Thing Trunk has vast experience in game dev, this was the first Early Access launch for all of us. So how did it go and did we learn anything?

Warrior in maze.

We've just posted a big piece on our blog including our goals, marketing plan we followed (and unexpected stuff we faced), coverage we got and of course, the sales numbers. You can find the full read under the following link: thingtrunk.com

Special for Indie DB: Here's a bunch of screenshots from features coming in the next update :)

New difficulty modes system:

NightmareNightmare2

Maze tileset improvements

Maze 1BossDeath

Further mprovements in visuals

AntipopeDeathRage

Comments
feillyne

7500 copies is a lot. Some indie developers struggle just getting past the two thousand mark, selling only a thousand copies in the first month then getting nowhere during the rest.

Also, noticed your game is hardly available in any important languages, the most popular ones are Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese and some others (plus the standard European ones such as German, French, and that tech giant's from the East, namely Japanese) yet your game is almost English only so it does not try to appeal to that part of the wider audience who just dislike or hate to play the English version of the game.

No Steam workshop support (modding, level editing, and so on), and no multiplayer support may play a role as well. Too many indie devs are completely ignoring the difficult-to-implement multiplayer side of the game, which expands the fanbase and prolongs the longevity of your game (and it is nice to buy a copy for your friend when you know the game has an actual multiplayer mode, and that is also a good marketing trick, two or four copies bundles and not just a single copy purchase option).

There may be even simpler reasons for that low amount of sales. Price, for example. Yes, the game price may also scare off your potential buyers when they weigh your game price against prices of all other games they are interested in (and not look only at jolly good reviews), but gauging the price would affect how many funds you are receiving back so it may be pointless from the financial point of view.

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ThingTrunk Author
ThingTrunk

Hi feillyne, thanks for encouraging words on the sales, as for the article from Sergey from SteamSpy we're doing pretty good comparing to other EA titles, yet if you take a closer look, EA titles are not having the best time (full read here: Medium.com)

We are planning on translating the game to as many languages as it will be possible when it's finished. As the string tables are still changing on daily basis, we have the game in English and Polish (as we're fluent in these languages). It would drastically postpone updating process if we'd have to order translation every time we want to patch the game.

Modding is something we definitely have in mind as our tech is quite suitable for that. At this point, we are focusing more on finishing the main loop of the game (all 3 classes, polishing quests and so on), but we'll definitely introduce modding in the future. When we feel it's solid, we'll give the fans tools to mess around with it :)

Pricing was a subject of one of the longest discussions in the company, but we believe that's what fits the game best (in terms of visual and gameplay quality, amount of in-game content, replayability, other games of the genre on the market, etc).

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EliteFourJames
EliteFourJames

Great post mortem of your launch, these are really invaluable for all developers. I think in general, the public has a sour taste for most early access games and it's a real shame. Add in the market saturation and it's a recipe for disaster unless you have that massive hype train in your court. And look what happened with No Mans Sky anyway? Massive sales and mediocre ratings. Unfortunately when it comes to really selling an indie game, it seems that marketing is MORE important than depth. It sucks to have to take people away from such a small team for promotion, but just look at the successful games. High sales, mediocre reviews, excessive marketing. Look at Ark even, getting slammed for releasing DLC before their finished product. Doubt it will hurt their bottom line one bit.

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ThingTrunk Author
ThingTrunk

Also doubt it will hit their bottom line. In theory they should have it more difficult promoting their next game, but in reality the press will probably be covering them more (as everyone will be interested to read what's authors of No Man's Sky working on now) or they will just jump start a new company a make it all over again under a different name ;)

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Guest
Guest

Tbh, looking at your video on steam the immediate reason why I wouldnt choose to buy your early access game is the lack of the player animation. It completely put me off and completely took away from the fantastic art style of the game. I wouldn't have thought the game was a hack and slash if I hadn't read the genre at the top of this post. Not to say that your game doesn't look great.

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ThingTrunk Author
ThingTrunk

Thanks for your honest opinion. Quite a few people mention the lack of animations as a down side and this something we understand. I could argue that we wanted a symbolic look and board game feel, but the hard reality is that full animations were out of the question as it was impossible to do them for all 70+ characters in 16 directions in our small team. We’re a 2d game so animating is different than in 3d.

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TKAzA Staff
TKAzA

Great article thank you!
Early Access take up has dropped in recent years as people keep getting burnt, safe bet is use this period to polish and prepare marketing for when you hit full release. Use the EarlyAcc period to build community via updates, EarlyAcc sales will never be as good as those when your game goes gold.

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ThingTrunk Author
ThingTrunk

This is actually why we are very happy that we went with early access, even though sales are not as good as we’d want them. Without EA we wouldn’t be able to make so many tweaks to the game all tailored to actual players. And we can still hope that once we go gold, thing will get better :)

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inwerp
inwerp

yep, but Sergey Galyonkin's datamining shows that there's still only one launch on Steam. We work full-time 7 days a week to prepare for a release but still there's no guarantee we wont be slipped out from frontpage in the first day because sometimes there are 50-80 games released in one day.

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inwerp
inwerp

The problem is there's so many shovelware titles, trading-card proxies and false advertisement. Passing a game through greenlight is easy if you have some experience in social media. There's no such thing as indie apocalypse, there is just too much noise on Steam.
We had 150k+ sales for our first title and our Early Access launch for the second one gave us literally nothing. Summer/VR Sales, NMS failure (people refunded the game and bought other titles of the genre) gave us 3-5x more sales than whole "launch impressions round".
Greenlight and trading cards - this two inventions literally killing the market. Yep, there are some great titles here, but hey, they could make it on steam 5 years ago without greenlight because there were nice reviewers who manually approved games for release.

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ThingTrunk Author
ThingTrunk

Thanks for your comment. I looked at Polynomial and it looks very interesting. I’m a bit shocked that Polynomial 2 is not doing that great compared to the first part. Do you think that adding VR support is contributing to that? I mean, there is a lot of hype around VR right now, so theoretically it should be easier for you to get press coverage, but on the other hand “normal” players might mistake your game for VR only and skip it. Also, did you try to capitalize somehow your existing audience? Do you know how many of your original audience know about the sequel? Maybe you could issue discount coupons via Steam to let them now and entice them to try the new one?

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inwerp
inwerp

Hi.
We released VR update ~month after EA release, and it actually helps a little bit.
I do not know how to release discount coupons for our P1 audience, would be grateful if you'll explain it in dm.
Steam self-regulation policy is something i can't understand because they already losing VR market to Oculus Home. Yep to get to Oculus Home you have to pass tech review, but there's literally no shovelware around.

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Guest
Guest

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SabreXT
SabreXT

I strongly disagree about Greenlight "literally killing the market". I remember before Greenlight existed, there was constant complaints about how you were either one of the lucky few to get on Steam, or you were doomed to failure. Now Valve has opened the floodgates, people are turning around and complaining that simply being on Steam doesn't guarantee success. You can't have it both ways.

The deleted guest comment was me. I thought I was logged in, but apparently not.

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inwerp
inwerp

Can you name few games "saved" by Greenlight?
Maybe i'm missing something but i see 2-5 card proxies/asset flippers released every day.
You can check Jim Sterling YT channel to get the idea how average greenlight game looks like.
let me introduce scheme we developers have to compete with:
1. bake asset flipper or buy it for 50 bucks.
2. post it on trading card-collectors forum
3. arrange greenlight voting by promising 2-10 game keys for vote+review
4. get to the Steam release(not even early access)
5. get to the "Popular new releases" with "mostly positive" review score. People activate your keys and put the game on background to get cards. To get extra codes they review your game. Thanks god last Steam update removed code reviews from game page score but it's hard to tell if it will really fix something.
6. get money from fooled people who bought your fake game because of "mostly positive"+sale+featuring on Steam frontpage.
By competing i mean sharing the same audience views, charts, market.

do you think having Lemurzin(they even released it twice!), Vindictive drive, omnibus, snow horse, etc on Steam is acceptable?
Game development is a really hard job and Greenlight makes it humiliating job, because you see how years of hard work being pushed from getting even minimum wage-comparable revenue by asset flippers.

Uh and i forgot to say. All this fake developers spam gaming media every day, so you can't pitch your game. Yup, you can google "Snow Horse" positive review on Kotaku right now. You can see "omnibus" on GiantBomb. Some reviewers recommend me to write something "special" in pitch mail.
Yep, getting on Steam was pretty hard before GL. Gamedev is a pretty hard job, you know. Well, unless you're doing card proxies, because you bake one in one day.
I'll repeat my question: can you name even one GL game good enough to compensate things i described above?

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