This article contains post-release financial results, thoughts, plans and assorted data for SNKRX. I’m writing this mostly for my own future reference, especially the comparisons with BYTEPATH, since it’s useful to see how differently these games are performing despite being released under very similar conditions.
This article is also being updated over time and continues from the “financial results” section of the lessons learned article.
Day 3 (21/05/19) #
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Based on these numbers the updated projection for SNKRX’s performance is that it will do about half as well as BYTEPATH, which is an improvement from 1/3rd as well. This improves it from $4K over 3 years to $6K over 3 years, which is equivalent to about R$15K rather than R$10K.
Day 7 (21/05/23) #
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Now SNKRX is doing about 0.8 as well as BYTEPATH, which makes it go to ~10K over 3 years, equivalent to R$25K. This is significantly better than what it started with on day 1. I have no idea why the game keeps improving in performance.
Yesterday it got a fairly good Hacker News post but that only improved its performance for that day by about 2X, which is not a lot. This HN post was similar in views to the most popular social media post for BYTEPATH (about 30K total views), but it didn’t generate nearly as many sales because it wasn’t so focused on the specific audience the game is made for and it also links to a GitHub page rather than the Steam page.
So to answer the question of why the game is improving it’s probably a good idea to check where visits to the store page are coming from and compare:
Here it’s visible that in the first week BYTEPATH had a sizable number of visits from “external website”, and most of that was from reddit. SNKRX on the other hand had very few popular social media posts, and most of its visits seem to come from the discovery queue.
Why is it being shown a lot in the discovery queue? I have no idea. Either way, these are good week one stats.
Day 14 (21/05/30) #
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SNKRX is now doing 2 times as well as BYTEPATH, making it go to about $24K over 3 years, equivalent to R$60K. Compared to my day 1 projections, which were at R$10K over 3 years, this is a very significant improvement. The game is now doing WAY beyond any expectations I ever had for it and it’s safely a huge success for me personally.
Now, many things happened since day 7 which helped contribute to this improvement, and it’s worth going over them one by one.
South Korea #
Before that, though, I forgot to mention in the previous days that the game saw a pretty big response to it from South Korea. Here’s what the country distribution looked like on day 3:
This happened because a streamer named cbrace played it and seemed to have a fairly good time. Like most streamers who end up playing it, he played it for like 4 hours in one sitting, which is fairly good. I have no idea where this streamer found the game, but he did find it fairly early (day 1 or 2), so either it was from one of my reddit posts or he just checks new releases on Steam frequently.
It’s also worth noting that this streamer seems to have about ~500 average viewers, which isn’t small but also isn’t super huge. But he seems somewhat focused on roguelites, which makes it so that his audience will end up buying the game at a way higher rate than they would if a more general streamer with more viewers played it.
jwaaaap + Derek Yu #
One day after the Hacker News post, both jwaaaap and Derek Yu recommended the game to their followers. I don’t know where they heard about the game, I can assume either twitter, the lessons learned post I wrote, or something else. Either way, their recommendations directly led to:
Esty8nine picked up the game because of jwaaaap’s recommendation and he really seemed to enjoy it. After that Dan Gheesling played it due to Derek’s recommendation and he really seemed to like it as well.
SLEEPCYCLES was next and he seemed to like it too. Then Wanderbot, who also seemed to like it but had an unfortunate end to his play session due to a design oversight on my end. And finally Celerity who played it yesterday, and who also seemed to enjoy it due to how long he played it for.
If you’re reading this in the future and the links above are all broken, they’re just links to the Twitch VODs of each streamer playing the game. Twitch VODs get deleted automatically after a certain time.
All of these streamers have audiences that are pretty focused on roguelites so the effect that they have on play numbers is pretty noticeable:
From May 17th to May 26th the game didn’t really get played by any sizable streamers other than the Korean one, so the game’s numbers are pretty flat, at around ~20 players consistently. By itself this is still pretty good, because it means that people aren’t dropping the game as fast as I thought they would. But then you start adding streamers into the equation and you start getting these spikes in both concurrent players and purchases that you can see after May 26th.
This very big and slowly decaying rise at the end (May 30th) comes from Retromation who released this video yesterday and drove quite a lot of sales to the game, making it the best performing day for it so far.
It’s also worth noting that Retromation is the first big YouTuber that played the game, and it makes sense that when a YouTuber with a suitable audience plays it it leads to a more constant improvement in numbers as compared to streamers, which seem to mostly lead to an improvement only when they’re streaming the game.
Based on a quick look on Retromation’s channel, it seems that the videos perform better whenever it’s the first upload for a new game, and then they slowly decay over time if more videos are made about the same game. So this was likely the best boost in sales the game will get out of this particular YouTuber, and I wonder if this relationship holds for any other YouTubers that end up making videos on the game as well.
Thinking about it this makes sense too, since people will check out the first video to see what the game is about and then a portion will not watch any further videos on that game if they don’t like it.
In any case, these are very good numbers that I didn’t expect at all and it’s honestly kind of weird that people are responding to the game this positively. Before release both SNKRX and BYTEPATH had a really hard time getting any traction at all, both games released with 200 wishlists only, and for both of them most playtesters didn’t seem to really enjoy the game that much.
But then after release both of them saw some version of success that was way better than expected. This likely means that for these games I’m making that don’t really have good graphics, all they have to rely on for marketing is people actually playing and enjoying them. So my previous strategy of going for a playable demo was likely right in this sense, although releasing an early broken demo is probably still not a good idea.
Either way, these are really good week two results.
As a very sort of off-topic aside, despite the increase in raw numbers of players, there was not a correspondent increase in number of reviews or bug reports. Until streamers/youtubers started playing it the increase in reviews and forum usage was pretty consistent with the increase in purchases, but after that the relationship was broken completely.
This is probably due to the fact that before, most people buying the game were coming from the discovery queue, as mentioned in the post from the previous days. People using the discovery queue are likely more used to using Steam features in general, and so they’ll probably also review games and use the forums more frequently. Whereas people who are coming to the game from Twitch/YouTube are probably less accustomed to leaving reviews or even using the forums for bug reports.
This has no implications on anything other than the fact that when trying to estimate sales based on review numbers I can probably get a better guess based on where most of the audience for the game is coming from. If it’s mostly coming from Twitch/YouTube then it’s probably safe to increase the multiplier.
Now, one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about these past few days is if I should keep updating the game or not. This game has performed way beyond my expectations so far and it seems like people really enjoy playing it quite a lot more than I imagined.
On my lessons learned post I wrote that I thought SNKRX failed when it came to making a long game, that is, a game that lasts the player a long time. I think this assessment was both right and wrong.
At its core SNKRX lacks any ability to keep people playing it for hundreds of hours, there’s just not enough content and the game also isn’t structured to support that kind of length. On the other hand, the game’s basic mechanics - building your snake and moving it around trying to not die - seems to be better at keeping people playing than I anticipated.
There’s some clear evidence for the game’s long potential based on daily player numbers too, especially compared to BYTEPATH:
BYTEPATH had a fairly strong start but no retention at all, whereas SNKRX had a fairly weak start comparatively but seems to be retaining people a lot better.
Given that the failures of SNKRX in terms of its long potential are mostly due to content and structure, it seems like a good idea to try to fix that before moving on to the next game. My idea is that adding a more traditional roguelite structure to it, probably something like Slay the Spire, would really improve the game. Adding some content updates (more units, classes, enemies, bosses, etc) on top of that and a few more general QoL improvements that the game needs, and it would be in a really good spot.
I really wanted to just move on to another game but I know myself well enough to know that I’ll regret not improving this game in these ways and seeing where it goes. I can probably add everything I want in like 2 months, so even if nothing comes out of it it’s still a fairly small amount of time “wasted” all things considered.
So this is what I’m probably going to do next and sadly this means that my “a game every 2 months” plan, as well as my engine refactor, have to be put on hold for a little while. >.<
Day 20 (21/06/05) #
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SNKRX is now doing 4.6~ times as well as BYTEPATH, making it go to about $55K over 3 years, equivalent to ~R$140K. I’m not sure if this math even makes sense anymore as SNKRX has now surpassed BYTEPATH’s lifetime revenue, which is about $12K. It just seems like its own thing and the comparisons with BYTEPATH are probably not that helpful anymore.
One main reason for this is that SNKRX is a game that seems to last each individual longer, so whenever you get a bump in sales, that tends to generate a much better result than it did for BYTEPATH due to those individuals enjoying the game more and thus spreading it via word of mouth. So the actual projection over 3 years is likely way higher than the simple math above which is based on BYTEPATH’s trajectory over its own 3 years.
Either way, these are extremely good results that go way beyond anything I ever expected. Now, let’s go over what happened in these past 6 days!
Player numbers #
Starting from the left of this graph, the bump provided by RETROMATION’s video can be seen between May 30th and May 31st, and this is the last thing that I talked about in the last update. After that, no new big YouTubers or streamers picked up the game, but two of the ones that picked it up earlier, Dan Gheesling and Wanderbot, made several videos about it and streamed the game again a couple of times.
Concurrent player numbers for SNKRX seem to follow a predictable pattern: at 16/17:00 of a given day there’s a peak, then it drops a little, and there’s another peak at 22/23/00:00. It’s useful to know this because then I can more easily notice any peak that’s out place (which will generally mean a new big YouTuber/streamer is playing the game), as well as compare peaks of different days to see if it’s dropping and by how much.
For this past week SNKRX has been peaking at around ~150 concurrent each day, with an increase from May 31st to June 2nd (due to RETROMATION and others making their first videos about it) and a slight drop from then to June 5th. This can be more easily seen on another useful graph:
The game grows in daily active users to 1500 by June 1st, and then remains there with a very small drop starting to form. By itself this is good, because it means that the game is gaining users at around the same pace that its losing them, and as long as this churn remains this slow it means that I have a better chance at keeping these numbers up and preventing the game from dying.
With this in mind, one positive of no one new and big picking up the game is that now that these numbers have stabilized (from June 1st to June 5th), I can actually test what effect I can have on them.
Slay the Spire #
So during this week I was preparing an update that’s bigger than the ones before it because it also added some new content. These flat numbers provided a perfect opportunity to clearly see what effect such an update would have. I’ve watched multiple GDC videos of different devs talking about their approach to updates:
Here Chris mentions that PoE started with weekly updates and that for their game they noticed no effect. The main difference here is that their game at the time had 70K->10K concurrent users, which is about 2-3 orders of magnitude higher than my game which has like 100. While what they learned (that 3 month, bigger updates were better) isn’t useless to me, it’s less useful at this stage of my game than this:
The start of this talk (before the timestamp above) resonates with me pretty well. One of the reasons why I didn’t really do much marketing for this game other than posting on reddit, Hacker News, and a few other social media sites was because I’ve seen so many games that get results exactly like Slay the Spire got from all their effort that it just feels pointless. These guys sent out 600 e-mails for the game they worked on for 2 years and got 0 responses!
Coupled with my newfound detachment from necessarily having the things I do perform well online (which I described here), this resulted in me simply not caring enough to put in that amount of effort into marketing.
Rewatching this talk now and seeing that StS devs had a good experience with Keymailer (there are also other similar services available now), I should probably consider using these to send out a few keys to more streamers and YouTubers, given that they have a pretty good and consistent effect on the game’s player numbers, and they’re probably more likely to pick it up now that it has lots of reviews and most of them are positive.
In any case, I linked the section where Casey talks about weekly updates because it’s a good example of a game that started out slow but had good retention, had weekly patches, and grew substantially. From a quick glance at how much other developers in similar tags update their games, most devs seem to be slower than one sizable patch a week, and while this isn’t a competition, it means that if I can keep this pace up and have good patches every week, chances are players will really like it above most other games, and that kind of good will has a way of generating good things in the long run.
So going into this week this was my thought process. I worked on the update and finished it in 3-4 days, and then released it Friday night/Saturday morning. I tried to make sure that everything I did was communicated well and also shared my plan for weekly updates as well as a bigger update 2-3 months from now.
I’m writing this 1 day after releasing it, so I have the effects of the immediate day after:
The picture above shows the most recent 3 days, with the last being the day after the update. While previous days were peaking at 150 concurrents, update day peaked at around 200, and the lows were also higher than previous days. Similarly, the number of daily active users saw an increase:
While before DAU was at 1500, update day brought it up to 1800! Finally, one last piece of data:
Here it’s visible that the daily number of sales didn’t increase at all, unlike when new YouTubers/streamers made videos about it. This means that this particular increase in player numbers was entirely due to the update, meaning that I did in fact get a pretty good idea of how such an update affects player numbers, and it seems to be about a 20-25% increase.
Going into the following days I’ll try to see how the numbers drop to see how long this increase lasts, but if it lasts 1 week or more then that would be amazing because it would mean that as long as I keep releasing updates the numbers won’t go down, or will go down very slowly.
And the more important thing is that this property probably holds if the game grows, meaning, if the game has 1000 DAU or 10000 DAU, an update should have a 20-25% increase regardless. These are very optimistic results and I’m looking forward to how it develops.
One thing I’ve noticed with doing updates for this game for about 2 weeks is that I’m way more productive now than I was when I was working on it before release.
I don’t know if this is because the game is succeeding and it gave me an extra productivity boost or if it’s because it’s easier to work on a project that’s already established, but it feels really good to be able to do so much with a comparatively way lower amount of effort spent.
I mentioned in the previous update that I’d have to give up doing my engine refactor to keep working on this game, but at this point I’m considering doing both things at the same time simply because I feel like I can handle the workload required.
The big update I’m planning to release 2-3 months from now is substantial enough that it’s basically like rewriting the game, so it makes sense to also redo the parts of the engine that I know need to be redone. I may regret this decision but this is what I’m leaning towards right now.
Day 23 (21/06/08) #
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Northernlion played SNKRX 2 days ago on stream and then uploaded a video about it yesterday to YouTube. I think NL is probably the best YouTuber/streamer who could have played the game because he’s the biggest that generally plays roguelites and that ends up having a very focused effect on player numbers and sales.
From June 7th to 8th the peak when he streamed it is visible, and that was a peak of around 400 concurrents. At the end of June 8th there’s the YouTube video peak, which was higher than the Twitch one by a substantial amount. Unfortunately Steam went down right as that was happening so the actual peak wasn’t captured in this graph, but based on when I was looking at it on the Steamworks app it was around 600:
So here we have a pretty good and clean example of someone’s effect on the game from both platforms, and it seems like YouTube is generally the better one. It could be argued that because NL has been on YouTube the longest that will naturally be the most valuable one, but this property seems to hold regardless of who the person is.
Based on previous YouTubers/streamers playing the game, it seems that YouTube videos just lead to more consistent results with a decline that’s spread out over time, while streams have a sharp increase when the streamer is playing it, but also a sharp decline when the streamer stops. In any case:
Daily active users also increased substantially. Stream took DAU from 1800 to 2200, and YouTube seems to have taken it to almost 3000.
Sales also increased similarly, with the stream taking it from 500 to 1100, and YouTube taking it to 2500.
It’s also unknown how long it will take for the game to decline to previous levels from here, but based on previous similar bumps, should no other big YouTuber/streamer pick up the game, it should take a week for a decline to start to form from these new heights and then I’d assume a more general decline follows from there.
On an unrelated note, I mentioned in the previous post that I was more productive now than before releasing the game.
I thought more about this and I think what’s actually happening is that I’m not actually more productive, but I feel more productive. The reason is that now, each thing that I implement in the game has an actual value attached to it, whereas before this wasn’t the case.
For instance, fixing a bug now feels high value because I know that someone reported that bug and I’m making the game better for them, but also because I know that if 1 person reported a bug it means at least like 10 have also been affected by it before. And I know that if 5 people have reported a bug in the span of an hour, it’s a bug that’s literally affecting everyone, so fixing it feels very high value, despite most bug fixes taking like 5 minutes at most.
This must one of the reasons why devs like Early Access and just generally having this feedback loop between dev and player so much. It just feels a lot better than developing the game mostly on your own.
Day 31 (21/06/16) #
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NL played the game multiple times last week and posted multiple videos to his YouTube channel as well. Coupled with other YouTubers and streamers who also played it and posted more videos, this resulted in an absolutely massive increase in player numbers and sales.
Concurrents peaked at 1223 on Sunday, June 13th, which was both after Friday’s update and after NL released 2 weekend videos on the game:
Peak DAU was on the next day at slightly over 10K users:
Peak sales were on June 9th at 3.7K, which was the day when NL released the first video of the game on his channel:
At around that day the game was also at the top of Steamcharts’s trending games list:
So here we can see the full effect of what a big YouTuber constantly releasing videos on a game can do. If NL had only released 1 video on the game it likely would have peaked at slightly higher numbers than what I mentioned on day 23, but since it happened multiple times for an entire week it led to a gradual increase that doubled or tripled those initial values.
I’m not sure if NL releasing even more videos will lead to further increases because at some point most of his audience that’s interested will already have bought the game, but then there’s also a secondary effect where NL playing it also convinces more streamers/YouTubers to play it, which leads to even more people trying it out and so on. That effect is harder/impossible to measure though.
New and trending #
SNKRX has been at the top of both of these tags (as well as others I’d assume) since it released and I’ve always wondered how Valve’s algorithm works and I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on it now.
Before, I thought it mostly cared about how much money it was making Valve per view, so that, should everything remain equal, more expensive games would have an advantage. This would make sense because these are essentially ad spots, and if Valve wants to maximize their money made per ad view, if two games have the same conversion numbers, it’s reasonable to place the more expensive game higher. This was also roughly how it was explained in this video, so I assumed it was mostly correct:
And maybe this was more right 5 years ago, but now it seems slightly different. I think the money made per view thing still matters, but given how my (relatively cheap) game has gone up and down on this list over this month I’m pretty convinced now that the amount of time people are playing the game for matters A LOT. And it would make sense, because I never knew how Valve handled free games, and those games show up on new and trending lists often.
Essentially, whenever the game got a higher number of concurrent players it would go up on the list, and whenever it got a lower number of concurrent players it would go down. Because it’s a new and trending list there’s also an age effect going on, but it seems that so far SNKRX has been able to offset the age parameter due to how much it’s growing, which means it gets to stays there for a while.
I also think that, for these tag pages especially, there’s a heavy effect based on if the people playing the game generally also play games on that tag. So if most of the audience playing SNKRX mostly plays other games with the roguelite tag, then SNKRX will place better on the roguelite new and trending list.
Overall I’m not sure what the impact of those lists for SNKRX is, because it seems like most visits to the game are still coming from the discovery queue:
Quite a lot of impressions from these tag pages but not that many visits, but this is likely due to the fact that the game just looks bad. There’s also the fact that these are sort of secondary lists, and I don’t think SNKRX has done well enough to be on the main page new and trending, which seems to be the one that can really drive sales.
Overall SNKRX’s performance on Steam seems to be OK, but if not for YouTubers and streamers I think the game would have “died” quite a while ago as Steam’s traffic by itself doesn’t seem to be able to drive player numbers up significantly, and this is likely due to
Graphics and retention #
A better game would have been able to take 1 week of NL exposure and turn it into a positive feedback loop where the YouTuber playing it gives it a better position on Steam, which makes more people play it, which makes more YouTubers play it, which gives it a better position on Steam, and so on.
This happened to this game to some extent, but not like I’ve seen that it can happen to other games.
Visually the game looks unnatractive to most people, and I know this for a fact because before release it was basically impossible to get anyone to care about it, which generally means that it looks like garbage. I’m not an artist so I’m fine with that, but if the game is to perform better then it simply needs a graphical update to make it look like a proper game. This is something I’m working on, and especially now that the game has done so well it shouldn’t be hard to find someone who can make it look good.
However, I think that graphics are a secondary problem, and the main one is retention:
As it is, this game is really good at keeping people playing for 1-2 weeks maybe? But after they’ve explored enough there’s a pretty consistent drop off that so far has only not been reflected in player numbers because new, bigger YouTubers keep playing it every week. Once that new influx of people stops though, the game will experience an overall drop in all numbers as people simply stop playing it.
Most good roguelites that people play for hundreds of hours have much better retention than the numbers above (although I haven’t been able to compare with anyone to know for sure), so I think this is the main problem that needs to be solved.
I think I mentioned it before, but I intend on solving it by turning the game into a more “traditional roguelite”, with a game mode that plays like a normal roguelite run and less like the arcade game that it is now. On top of that there can also be unlocks, more achievements, daily challenges, etc. Basically everything you’d expect from a normal roguelite.
Doing all this takes time though, and so far I haven’t been able to focus on this higher level goal because
Weekly updates #
I’ve been doing somewhat meaty weekly updates for the game for about 3 weeks now, and as the Slay the Spire devs said in the GDC talk I linked above, these updates are, in fact, pretty paralyzing. It’s very hard to focus on anything else when you have to deliver something sizable every week.
I’m happy with how it’s going so far and I’m not overworking myself, but I think it’s inevitable that eventually, as StS devs said, some weekly updates will have to be somewhat underwhelming so I can focus on actually doing the longer term work that needs to be done to make the game better.
Overall though it seems like people are really enjoying the updates so I’ll probably try to keep them with this kind of scope for a few more weeks at least.
Day 55 (21/07/09) #
|Game||Units Sold||Total Revenue||Wishlists|
Projecting this over the next few years, and doing so very conservatively, and also after all fees and cuts and taxes, this game will likely make enough to last me multiple decades if not the rest of my life pretty much. So thanks to everyone who played it, told their friends/followers/viewers about it and helped make it more visible!
I’d also like to thank Valve for running Steam the way they do and helping make these kinds of results easier to happen. Life changing results like this one don’t happen that rarely and hundreds of them per year have been happening on Steam consistently for years:
This graph is from this 2018 talk:
This talk explains what happened to SNKRX because it looks very similar to what happened to One Hour One Life, and it also explains the more general trend behind it somewhat well. I happen to disagree with the theory of “consumables” vs. “unique situation generators” slightly, but I’ll talk about it in more detail later in this post.
In any case, it’s easy to miss that these kinds of successes are happening all over unless you’re paying attention to indie gamedev more closely, but nothing that happened here is too unusual from a higher level perspective, it’s just the consequences of Valve setting up a very fair and frictionless market for developers and customers because they’re “greedy long”:
And in this case their long greediness will likely pay off, as I’ll keep making games for the rest of my life, these games will likely be of increasing quality, and Valve will keep making their 30% out of each game. I win, they win, and of course, anyone who enjoys video games also wins.
And while this seems like a simple and obvious setup, you only have to look at, for instance, the music industry, to see that the state of indie gaming could be much closer to the state of indie music without a company like Valve having had the foresight in both actually creating a product that makes the experience of buying and playing games on PC good, as well as opening up the store to small developers like me and making the process of releasing a game as frictionless as possible.
So, thanks to everyone at Valve for this.
Now, for some stats. The drivers of this game’s popularity have been mainly YouTubers and then streamers. Since 20 days ago many new people have started playing the game following NL’s featuring of it on both his channels for another 2 weeks or so from the last post. First, let’s look at the main numbers:
DAU hit a peak of 15832 on June 26th, one day after the game was released on mobile. The subsequent drop likely happened for multiple reasons, but the most probable ones are: most people who came to the game from NL started reaching the end of what the game had to offer after about 2 weeks (as I mentioned in the retention section of the last post) and thus stopped playing; the orb update (which was the update released on June 25th) was fairly underwhelming.
The mobile port siphoning away some users might also be a possibility, but it’s one of those things where I’m also winning so it’s not a very useful thing to focus on even if it is the main reason for it (but it probably isn’t).
The bounce back from 8037 on July 3rd to 12805 on July 5th are due to the latest update, which implements a few highly requested features like looping. The subsequent drop seems like a return to the previous trend. It’s possible that if I balanced the looping feature better this second drop would have been softer, but I ran out of time implementing it and now I’m already focusing on the game’s rewrite so that’s that…
Concurrent players tracks DAU somewhat accurately so there’s not much interesting to focus on here. The main one is that concurrents peak was on June 22nd with 1732 players. Around this day the following things happened: NL released 2 (two) SNKRX videos on the same day, MrFruit released his first SNKRX video, Aliensrock released his first SNKRX video.
This day also saw a bump in DAU of about 20%, which is pretty high, and it only wasn’t peak DAU because that came a few days later, as in general YouTube videos by big YouTubers are less “instant” than streams, for instance, and so they tend to increase the game’s numbers slowly over a day or two from being posted.
Another thing that this shows is that now it’s pretty much impossible to tell what effect any particular YouTuber is having on the game’s numbers, as you get these situations where multiple people are releasing videos at the same time and there’s no way to know how much each video contributes in terms of daily users or sales. Speaking of sales:
Sales peak is going to be on the day where most people are introduced to the game, and that happens to be on the aforementioned June 22nd with 4108 copies sold. Also as expected, even though on the few days following the latest update there was a bounce back of DAU, there’s no corresponding bounce back on sales, which makes sense since the update is bringing existing players back and not really introducing the game to anyone new.
As for Twitch, this very useful website tracks data for anything imaginable across all of Twitch and so it’s easy to tell who played the game and how much they played it for and so on. As Twitch generally has a lesser effect on player numbers and it’s also harder to track on a daily basis since VODs get deleted (and Twitch’s search also doesn’t show all VODs that have played the game), I have no idea when each of those streamers played the game and how much they contributed to that day’s concurrent numbers.
Interestingly, I found out through this website that my South Korea section was wrong. cbrace was actually the second Korean streamer to play the game, the first was a bigger one who played it on literally day 1 for 2 hours. I watched the VOD and he stopped playing it because of a crash, so it’s possible that if the game was in a better state on launch it likely would have done even better in Korea from day 1.
Over time it also seems like retention numbers are looking better. Compared to the previous update now almost 10% of players have played the game for 20+ hours, which is a great improvement over the previous number of 3%. Most of this is probably just due to the game being out for longer so people have actually had the time to play it for longer, but I also think the updates probably helped somewhat.
The 1 million page visits mystery #
Another interesting stat is the number of visits the game’s Steam page has received. I only found out about this today because I was writing this post, since I generally don’t check that page, but I still can’t find an explanation for this.
Here you can see the game up to June 24th. You can see the bump from launch, a few bumps after launch due to early influencers picking it up, then a big bump from NL on June 9th, and then it sort of trucks along what you would expect. Interestingly, most of the visits come from the discovery queue, but how much a game is shown on the discovery queue tracks pretty closely with increases in visits from “search suggestions” and “external website”.
This means that Steam’s algorithm is actively listening for games that are getting recommended elsewhere and then using that as information to recommend it further to Steam users, which is a pretty reasonable thing to do.
In any case, this is all great and good and expected, but then this happens:
On June 25th the game’s page gets 500K visits, and this keeps going with these ridiculously high numbers until June 30th where it’s then back where it was previously. It’s important to note that these visits resulted in no additional sales whatsoever. You can check the sales graph I posted above and nothing unusual is happening on this week in terms of sales, in fact, they started declining. If I didn’t check this visits graph today I wouldn’t have noticed that anything had happened at all.
So what possibly could have caused this? Well, the game was released on mobile on June 25th, so maybe that’s it? But mobile data doesn’t support this. The number of visits that the game got on mobile on that day is orders of magnitude lower, there just aren’t that many people paying attention to the game, especially not on such a small time frame.
It’s not Twitter, there’s no super popular Twitter post linking to the game’s page. It’s not reddit either. It’s not YouTube as the biggest YouTube videos on the game have like 100K views, and even assuming that all the watchers of all videos somehow clicked on the game’s link at once on June 25th for some reason, it doesn’t even add up to the total of 500K.
Because I didn’t add Google Analytics to the game’s page, I have no way of knowing where this traffic came from since Steam doesn’t really show it as it counts as “direct navigation”:
I can think of three possible reasons for this. One is that it’s some kind of bug. Steamworks was having issues during that week I think where daily active users numbers weren’t being shown on the backend, so maybe this was related to that in some weird way. Maybe these numbers aren’t even real and they were just logged there due to some mistake, as they had literally no effect on sales or daily number of players.
Another possibility is some kind of attack. As I mentioned in the New and trending section, according to the YouTube video there, Steam likely has an internal number for each game that tracks its visits to sales ratio. And so a possible attack on this setup would be that some malicious actor could just flood a game with fake page visits that result in no sales to tank a game’s internal ranking.
Fortunately, as of at least earlier this year a Steam employee has confirmed that these kinds of numbers aren’t used by Steam despite being heavily speculated by developers such as myself:
And this seems to be true, as I didn’t really notice SNKRX having its presence on the store lowered recently (I’m mostly tracking the new and trending roguelites page).
The third reason, and honestly the most likely one, is because of the Steam Summer Sale. I only found out about this after writing the article, but apparently a sale started exactly on June 24th, and it could explain extra traffic to my game’s page that doesn’t convert into sales, as my game wasn’t discounted at all.
The only mystery with this theory is that all traffic due to the sale was counted as “direct navigation” rather than from a normal source on Steam. It’s very unlikely that this is traffic from anywhere on the Internet, unless it’s from a really big site that somehow listed my game despite not being discounted, but I find that really unlikely.
What’s more likely is that for one reason or another Steam generated a lot of visits on the game’s page due to the sale and for one reason or another where those visits came from on Steam weren’t logged correctly. Either way, if it is indeed Steam, the amount of traffic that it can generate can get pretty crazy.
Now, moving on from stats, one thing I did that I think was really successful was deciding to update the game every week for a few weeks. I managed a total of 5 reasonably sized updates:
My initial idea was to have these updates while I worked on the roguelite update on the side, but it became clear very early that these weekly updates took all of my energy and that doing that would be impossible. So by the orb update I decided on my plan moving forward after being done with the loop update, which is to essentially have massively simpler weekly updates (mostly bug fixes), while focusing most of my energy on the two next big updates, each 1 month apart.
If I’ll actually manage to deliver these big updates in a timely manner remains to be seen, but my energy to work on the project still feels pretty high. One of the positives of weekly updates is that being pressured to deliver something every week actually makes me more likely to do it, whereas being pressured to release something 1 month from now might make me relax a little too much and thus make the updates take longer than necessary.
Workload wise I didn’t really overwork myself. I don’t think I worked more than like 3-4 hours a day all this time, which is pretty much the same amount of time per day I worked on the game before release. Interestingly, a lot of the work for these updates actually comes from having good enough ideas and filtering bug reports and suggestions based on ease of implementation and impact, rather than actually doing the work itself.
I generally focused on this planning type of work on Saturday and Sunday, and then spent the rest of the week implementing everything. The quality of the patch was highly correlated with the quality of this pre-implementation planning, so again the notion of planning being super important comes back and seems to hold true.
One of the negatives of weekly updates that is very clear to me now is that anything that takes more than like two hours to implement just can’t be a part of the update. This is because I only have like 5 days worth of work to do, and in each day I have like 3-4 hours of brain in me to do it, so if something is taking half a day (2 hours), it really has to be a valuable feature for players otherwise I’m just wasting my time. A recent example of a feature like this is looping, which I’d say took 2 days to do, but so many people asked for it that it makes sense to essentially take half an update to do it.
In a very natural way, once I noticed that the features people started asking for would all not fit into this rule it sort of just made sense to shift to a longer schedule.
All in all I’m both happy and surprised that I actually managed to keep my word and do one of these each week. I’m definitely not the most reliable person ever, nor am I too disciplined, so it’s nice to know that at least when it matters I will actually do the work that needs to be done without too many problems. And one of the main motivations for doing these updates in the first place was that, knowing myself, I knew I would regret not having done them and essentially not seizing the opportunity of having a game that was increasing in popularity and potentially making it go even higher. I definitely won’t regret how things turned out now, so that’s great.
Bugs and suggestions #
My process for handling these has been very simple so far. I just open the Steam forums and read all the unread threads. I take a screenshot of new bug reports and new suggestions that I like and add them to my todo list, everything else is ignored or added to an internal counter of some sort. For instance, if I’m seeing the same bug multiple times in a short time span, like 5 threads in 1 hour, it generally means that it’s affecting quite a lot of people and that this should be fixed as fast as possible.
If I’m seeing the same suggestion multiple times then it depends on the suggestion. But as a general rule if it fits the 2 hour thing I mentioned above then it gets added to the todo list for the next update, otherwise it goes on the list for future more long term updates. Quite a lot of suggestions are repeated so going through most of them is easy.
One of the things I mentioned on the game’s first post and above was that having a plan is really important, and one of the things that really worked well for me was essentially having my todo list being built by the players. As they reported bugs and asked for features it was way easier than it would have otherwise been to create cohesive updates and to focus on the features that were most valuable. I think I mentioned this here as well.
As most devs know, quite a lot of features that people really want sometimes take like 5 minutes to implement, and so when you start racking up those kinds of easy wins one after another it feels really good and gives you a lot of energy. This creates a really nice feedback loop where the more features people suggest and the more you can act on them the more motivated you feel to keep working, which makes you able to act on more stuff and so on.
Youtubers and streamers #
Another good way of getting feedback is through youtubers and streamers. It’s very useful to actually be able to view someone playing the game because you can notice problems as they happen and you don’t have to rely on people’s description of it, which often times is very warped and wrong.
Since SNKRX started being played more I often have either a YouTube video or a stream of it being played on my second monitor as I’m doing something else, and I think being somewhat obsessed like this helped the game a lot, especially in these earlier stages where the game badly needed lots of bug fixes and quality of life improvements.
But as most of those have been fixed over time, the only ones left started being longer term issues that I couldn’t fix now, and similarly most complaints and problems people noticed started also going in that direction, which started to feel somewhat bad. A good example of this is probably NL’s experience with the game.
NL has pretty much stopped playing the game now - which is totally fine, as I mentioned before, the game as it is seems to have enough to it to capture people for 1-2 weeks and both he and his audience have reached the end of this period - but it was interesting watching the process of this happening because essentially the game just got increasingly harder and he started having more and more trouble playing it.
The problem of difficulty is not something that only NL experienced, multiple streamers and multiple players have complained that the game is too difficult, but especially when it comes to streamers you can clearly see the frustration and how it leads to uninteresting content. So there’s this real question you can ask yourself which goes like “these people are making the game popular and they’re having a hard time and not having fun, maybe I should make the game easier?” and there’s this very real temptation to do this. But in my case I largely decided to not do it, partly because I don’t want to, but also partly because I literally can’t.
One of the main problems this game has in its current state is that it’s really hard to balance it properly. Maybe this is due to my own lack of skill, after all this is only my second game. In any case, I mentioned this in the game’s first post. The game has a fundamental DPS/defense check issue which is exacerbated by the fact that you’re controlling multiple characters. What this means in essence is that it’s very hard to balance it in a way other than “you’re either passing the DPS/defense check or you’re not”. This problem leads to situations like this:
Who is in the wrong here? Neither, they’re both right. The problem is that it’s entirely possible for the game to be too easy to some people and too hard for others because all that matters is passing the DPS/defense check, and if you do it will be easy, and if you don’t it will be hard.
If you look at negative reviews now most people are saying that the game is too hard, and that’s due to a conscious choice I made after about 2 weeks of the game being out.
Essentially, on the first week especially, the game was way too easy. Most people who haven’t played an auto-chess game before take like 2-3 runs to fully understand the rules and what’s going on with the game, and early on what would happen was that people would play one run, they would beat that run because the game was too easy, and then they would stop playing it because they completed it without even understanding what was happening.
This is a pretty serious problem because it just made the game a considerably lesser experience and it led to reviews like this (this was the first negative review):
And people are reacting with the jester emoji and saying the review is funny because it seems outrageous, but I can’t even blame this guy. Earlier on this game was a fairly bad experience to a lot of people, and the only reason it didn’t get more negative reviews was because it was so cheap.
So I’ve tried being very careful about making the game too easy because it could easily turn it back into this earlier state where people are just winning without knowing what’s happening, and I really wanted to avoid that.
Unfair difficulty #
Another complaint people often have is that they don’t really have a problem with the game being hard, but they have a problem with it being unfairly hard. Which is a reasonable argument. The game throws a lot of unavoidable stuff at you at higher difficulties and I could fix that.
The problem is that designing fair and challenging enemies and bosses again takes time, and I never could make the argument to myself that doing an “enemy update” or similar would work, because it just doesn’t fit into a 1 week schedule. If I have to choose between bug fixes/QoL + self-contained new content or bug fixes/QoL + enemy/boss redesigns spread over 2-3 updates, then I’ll always choose self-contained new content because it just makes more sense.
And so when you start getting into situations where most players, streamers and youtubers are complaining about difficulty and how unfair it is it can be tempting to try to fix it, but sometimes it just can’t happen any time soon. Sometimes though the players, streamers and youtubers are also just wrong and bad at the game, so there’s some level of being honest with yourself about where you are wrong and where they are wrong that needs to happen too.
One example of this is that healers & psykers were always pretty busted from my perspective, but they were busted in a pretty uninteresting way and also due to a bug. Most players thought both classes sucked so I knew for a fact they were just wrong, regardless, they were asking for changes to both classes so I thought it would be a really good idea to both fix the situation and sort of nerf the classes, but also make their main gameplay more interesting. Overall they would lose power, but since no one thought they were powerful in the first place it wouldn’t have a negative effect, and they would also be more interesting in the end, so it would be a net win.
The problem with this plan is that at some point before the update NL released a video where he won with a good healer & psyker build, and then the “meta” shifted and people started discovering how strong the classes really were. At this point the update was already half done, I was also kind of late with it so I couldn’t refine it as much as I wanted, and so it turned out to be the worst update the game had so far as people didn’t really like the changes from a numbers perspective and also were sad that their newfound OP classes were nerfed so much.
This kind of thing just happens and you can’t really control it. I guess the mistake here was that I was driven by the instinct to nerf something too powerful, when in a game like this you probably want to concern yourself with other issues before making sure that things are balanced. At the same time, I had already experienced the negatives of things being too easy so in retrospect I’m not even sure if being attentive to things being too powerful was a mistake.
Another example of this is the level 24 boss. This boss pulls enemies together and then throws them at the player. I’ve seen many players, streamers and youtubers complain that this is extremely unfair. If you’re playing a DPS build you will kill the boss before he gets to do the attack once, but if you’re playing a defense build you have to tank a few hits, and due to the RNG-ish nature of the attack this can end your run.
This is one example where being able to watch people play is extremely useful because you can clearly see where they’re going wrong. Essentially the strategy for this attack is the same as the strategy for not tanking blue projectiles, which is to be moving away from the attack. If you’re running away from the center of the gravity field only exposing the back of your snake, when the attack comes you will be able to minimize damage taken by your snake.
And then I would watch people playing that fight and they just wouldn’t do that. The attack comes and they’re just completely 100% exposed having all their units tank it. In a big way this is a clear case of people just having to get good at the game, but I can also try to learn from it to see where I went wrong. And my thinking here is that the right design is probably to have an enemy that somehow teaches the concept of protecting your snake by moving away from the attack source. The blue enemies sort of teach this but I can probably do a better job at it.
In any case, sometimes I am, in fact, 100% wrong. In the item update the game was made way too hard as an accident. Basically when testing the game’s balance I pretty much just check if I can win an NG+0 run in 1 try and then an NG+5 run in a few tries. For the item update I won the NG+0 one very easily and won the NG+5 in 1 try with a normal non-OP build, which is very unusual so I just thought “hey, I guess this will be an easy patch”.
However, 1 hour after the patch was released I see a thread that from some guy and he says that there’s a bug now where projectiles are all dealing double damage. I check it and he’s right, so I fix the bug and immediately I think “hey, I guess this will be a hard patch”. And yea, that patch was pretty hard and where most difficulty complaints came from, but I fixed what I could on the next patch so it’s mostly fine for now.
Roguelite update #
Despite everything, difficulty complaints are mostly fair and I have a plan to deal with them, which is the game’s roguelite update. Essentially, an easy way that will allow me more freedom in balancing the game is to make it so that units die permanently when they die. Right now when units die they get revived, which makes me have to do fairly strong enemies that can 1 shoot you to keep things interesting.
If units die permanently then enemies can be a lot less threatening individually, and since I’ll have more time to design them I can also be more careful to not design unfair encounters. This coupled with the fact that there will be an actual roguelite run happening, the chances that the player will blame the game will be highly lowered.
Mobile ports #
David Khachaturov approach me on like day 5 of the game’s release asking about mobile ports:
I knew who David was because I used his project previously to release JUGGLRX, which was a game I made last year that in many ways gave me the motivation and confidence I needed to make SNKRX a few months later. So by default I had a pretty positive opinion of him, especially because it seems like the kinds of projects he enjoys taking on are the kinds of things that no one wants to do but that are actually valuable.
We quickly talked over things in PM after this tweet and essentially I told him that he could do the port and have 100% of the game’s earnings on mobile. My thinking at the time was that I was projecting the game at like a few thousand dollars over the years, which is practically nothing, and since I’m not really hurting for money, if he actually managed to port the game he could have the few thousand bucks it would likely make there. Plus, him having all of it would likely motivate him to actually finish it, since at the time I was also thinking that the code was a mess and he would end up giving up mid way.
He replied that it should be at least 50/50 and he wouldn’t feel good about it being 100% and I essentially told him to finish the project first and that we could discuss the financial details later. Mainly because I actually just didn’t really think he would finish it and so it was pointless to discuss it further until it was mostly done.
Very quickly after this he got working on it and I was able to see some initial results, and he even improved the codebase and coded a basic run saving system, which I “stole” and added to my own version of the game on Steam. This was a really good start in my opinion and I was very surprised he got something done so quickly.
After this I think he had to focus on his school work and then when he got back he was back working on it again and doing so very fast. By June 20ish he was done with the port and then 5 days later it was released with the orb update. The deal I settled on was 50/50 with him making 100% of the first $20K. This $20K number was chosen fairly arbitrarily based on how the game was doing on Steam, and my thinking was, if the mobile port is doing significantly worse than the Steam version then I don’t really want to bother with any of its earnings, and $20K seemed like a good amount.
This is obviously a very favorable deal to him so he accepted it. I got a few offers from random people and companies that were better, like for 30%, but none of them actually already had a mostly working port like David did and frankly I just trusted him more, despite not really knowing much about him. One of the reasons for this is that I read his blog and similarly to him, I’m also very inspired by an anime where the MC is increasingly doing his best and getting better through his own effort. It’s an unfinished tennis show called Baby Steps:
And it very much runs along the same philosophical lines as MHA. So finding someone so like-minded in the wild is pretty cool, and then also finding passages like this
makes it even better. Reading this kind of stuff is just very comforting when you’re wondering if someone is going to be reliable in a situation like this. The main concern to have after the port is actually done is if he will actually maintain it over time, and pay attention to the community to make sure that mobile bugs are fixed, and add mobile specific features, and so on. Essentially, I wanted someone who wouldn’t need any of my guidance and would just own the mobile ports entirely.
And so when someone says that what motivates them is completely internal and self driven, and you also set the incentives correctly, chances are they’re going to do a good job. And so far David has done an amazing job and it really couldn’t have gone better in my opinion.
In general so far handling the game’s community has been extremely easy. Most people who play the game seem to be extremely relaxed (and often times very funny) and I don’t think there was any instance where I felt like someone was going way out of line. Sometimes you get guys like this:
And you know, as someone who’s spent quite a lot of time on 4chan this guy is basically just looking for (you)s. I’ve seen a lot of devs overreact in situations like this and just ban guys like this, which I think is a mistake. There are three possibilities for Dave here: he is just making a funny joke, he’s baiting to try to start an argument, or he’s mentally ill. In all cases, the last thing you want to do as a developer is to give him any attention, which banning does.
In the case he’s just trying to make a funny joke or baiting people, when he gets banned he’ll probably just move on. But if Dave is mentally ill now he’s making alternate accounts and you’re having to ban them, and then maybe he starts sending you e-mails about how you should unban him, and when that fails maybe he starts stalking you on social media and flooding your Twitter posts with weird replies, and then finally after you’ve blocked him everywhere, maybe he finds your address and next thing you know you’re naked, wrapped in plastic in some basement and your arm is getting cut off. You don’t want that, do you?
So the correct course of action, in my opinion, is to just ignore these kinds of posts and move on. Luckily for me, the extremely high quality and virtuous population of SNKRX Steam forums users also decided to ignore Dave, and so his thread remains there, zero replies, forgotten, dead. His reign of terror ended before it even started.
Fundamentally, I don’t like interacting with strangers that much. I have no problems interacting with people I know, and I have no problems interacting with large groups of people, or giving talks, or anything of that sort. It’s not like social anxiety or anything. I just find it kind of draining to have to interact more closely with lots of people I don’t know on a repeat basis.
Regardless, before the game was released I made a personal Discord server because I thought that since my strategy was releasing a lot of games, with each game a small number of people would join the server and it’d be a way to slowly grow a small community of people. I’d prefer if this community was not necessarily focused on me on or any particular game I made, but just a nice place to chat about games, game development or whatever else people who joined happened to be interested in.
My plan was foiled by the game’s success and even though I didn’t advertise the server anywhere but on my personal page, a lot of people joined over these weeks and I basically just thought it was way too many people too fast to be enjoyable for me personally.
So at some point, I’d say probably 2-3 weeks ago, I decided that I would eventually delete that server, which by then had about 200-300 people, and more forcefully ask the community to create their own Discord servers. I added a message to my server’s readme basically saying “I’ll never advertise this server as an official SNKRX server and you’re encouraged to create your own servers, as I’m not interested in managing people or running a Discord server myself”, and I also replied to a few Steam forum threads asking for a Discord server with the same message.
This worked wonderfully and some time later there was a really good community Discord server up and once it became clear that the mods there were reasonable people and were likely going to do a good job I decided to send more people there via the game and via my original server. So far this seems to have been a good decision but I’ll see how it turns out in the long run.
Developer interactions #
Another way in which I’ve decided to take a pretty hands off approach is with general interactions I have with players. At a base level I think it’s extremely cringe when developers are too active or too responsive with their community in terms of interaction. I don’t exactly know why I feel this way, but I’ve always felt it pretty strongly.
What I mean by interaction exactly are things like doing community events with the devs, devs interacting with streamers, devs being too active on community Discords, or on subreddits, or on Twitter, etc. Whenever I see some developer taking over some streamer’s Twitch chat, or being way too talkative on his YouTube comments it just feels wrong to me.
I think part of the reason why I feel this way has to do with it being unfair in some way. Even though it’s common practice now I never quite agreed with the idea of sending influencers early copies of the game, for instance. Why should they get to play the game before anyone else? Pragmatically it’s because they have an audience and they can obviously make the game popular, so it’s a win-win trade. But it still just feels wrong to me from the perspective of a normal player.
I also think a deeper reason has to do with my personality as well. One of the reasons I really like Steam is that I’m able to release my games on there without having to interact with any human being at Valve. It’s just a completely automated process where I put my game in and then people can play it. This fits my personality very well because it means that I don’t have to have “connections” to get things done.
I don’t think there’s anything I dislike more than “connections” or “networking” or “you have to have a contact at company X” or those kinds of ideas. I just want to interact with a machine that lets me get things done and gets out of my way. This has the added benefit that someone like me, from Brazil, isn’t at a disadvantage because they don’t have the right connections to people in the US. Coupled with a very fair marketplace based on an algorithm and not on things being hand-picked, which again comes back to connections and networking, makes Steam kind of the perfect place for me and so I really really like it.
All of this to say that I don’t want anything getting in the way of that process, and in a way streamers, YouTubers and basically anyone of “influence” sort of do, as they are essentially potential forms of connections and networking that I’d have to care about. I don’t want to have to care about that, so I tried to pretty much have very low levels of direct interaction with influencers in general.
There’s another more practical reason to avoid this kind of behavior too much, which is that when you are a developer you can think of yourself as a power source. The power you have is that you can change the video game, and basically everyone wants to have this power because everyone secretly wants to be a game developer.
When you leak this power too much by favoring influencers with early copies of the game, showing up in their chat, interacting with certain community members too much over others, and so on, you end up signaling to everyone else that they can actually use this power, as long as they somehow get your ear. On top of this just being simply unfair, this opens you up to all sorts of really bad and awkward situations that I’ve seen happen in lots of other games. Two examples, neither of which have happened to SNKRX so far:
When developers listen to reddit too much and are visible members of the game’s subreddit, what ends up happening over time is that the community learns that the developers are listening, and so they start essentially blackmailing the devs to implement the features that reddit wants. If the subreddit decides that feature X is now the most important thing that needs to be implemented/fixed, this will be at the top of every thread and there will be a thread about it every day or every week until it gets done.
The developer can decide to stand his ground and say no, but because he has leaked his power so much by this point, this just creates a very negative feeling in the community that can’t really ever be made better. It is much wiser to read reddit but be careful to not signal too much that you’re reading reddit. You want people to feel like you’re listening, without knowing exactly where you’re listening to. If you’re just implementing the top threads and top comments every week people will notice very fast and over time you will start getting blackmailed.
It’s also worth noting that reddit upvotes in the comments are awful because they warp people’s perception of the game considerably. I call this in my head the “reddit effect”. Some guy notices that the color of the character’s hair is off when he’s wearing his legendary skin and it’s night on map 5, and he posts a comment and there’s a very good picture that shows the color being off. Now his comment is upvoted to the top because the color is in fact off, and now it’s a problem that everyone notices.
Before the comment, no one notices it, it isn’t a problem. After the comment, everyone notices it, it’s a problem. Now multiply this by every thread every day for years and you just get complete and absolute insanity. So, do not leak power. In fact, to show that you’re not listening, keep that color wrong, and then additionally make the color wrong on also 5 other skins. This will immunize them against the color being wrong and it will go back to not being a problem, and then you can fix it.
The absolute same dynamic applies to streamers. One of the most pathetic displays of this I’ve ever witnessed was a discussion around “stream snipers” back when PUBG first got popular. Essentially, streamers were complaining that they were getting stream sniped and they were asking PUBG developers to do something about it. PUBG developers then decided to start banning people who stream sniped.
Now, I understand the perspective of the developers. Their game was made popular by streamers, just like my game was made popular by YouTubers, so it makes perfect sense for them to make the experience better for streamers. But this constitutes a very ugly leakage of power. Now on top of being a sub to streamers, you’re also making the rest of your playerbase angry because you’re favoring streamers in your game’s rules.
For some games it’s possible to implement anti stream sniping measures fairly easily by hiding names, servers, and so on. But the solution that PUBG developers went for in this case was just the worst possible thing imaginable and this kind of carelessness from developers around streamers and the rest of their community is just very ugly to see.
Similar situations happen a lot with streamers and how much effect they can have over MMOs, as well as pretty much any multiplayer game where one big streamer joining always has the possibility of essentially ruining the existing community.
And of course, it also just happens naturally as streamers/youtubers play the game and developers listen to them too much. In essence, I think it’s important to consider this idea of power leakage very carefully because I think that managing a community of people like this is a lot about incentives, and you wanna make sure that you’re giving off the right kinds of signals so that the community isn’t trained on the wrong kinds of ideas in relation to what they can expect from you.
Dan Gheesling #
I spent a lot of time until now talking about a lot of things, and frankly, I did it to filter people who can’t stand reading lots of words. The real meat of this post starts here.
Until one event happened on June 19th 2021 11:36AM, most of my approach to handling the community was being done on instinct. I was basically approaching it as I explained in the sections above, but it was all happening very naturally and without me thinking too much about it.
So when Dan asked me if I wanted to come on his show to talk about the game I immediately knew that my answer was “no”, but I had to stop and actually think quite hard about it before replying. One reason was that Dan essentially made the game popular, both by convincing a lot of people to play it but also because as far as I can tell he partly convinced NL to play it. They stream together on Wednesdays and I happened to watch those streams, and for basically two weeks Dan mentioned SNKRX to NL multiple times.
So you know, I can’t just go with a “no” lightly here. I essentially owe Dan something. And so before replying I basically spent one hour in my head having this conversation with myself, going over how I’m handling the community, going over this power leakage idea which I was acting on very instinctively, going over my fairly hands off approach with handling pretty much every aspect of the game and so on.
But also, and perhaps more importantly, one of the things that Dan’s invitation represents is the question of “Do you want to be a personality?”
As I mentioned in the game’s first post, there’s this real status seeking tendency in myself that I had to learn to get rid of in order to start finishing games more successfully. I didn’t go into this idea in too much detail in that post, but it feels appropriate here.
Since the start of last year I’ve been really captured by the idea that trying to be relevant, trying to make a difference, trying to create change, etc, are all fundamentally bad ways to act. This is a pretty radical rejection of a natural instinct that all humans have to try to change things around them for the better.
But my thinking here (as a contrarian) is that in our extremely politicized and opinionated society everyone is trying to change things all the time, and all of these people seem very sad and permanently angry, so there must be some value to really trying to not do it at all. Like some form of zen self-imposed exile, except applied to that instinct that everyone has to matter, to have an opinion, and to try to create change.
There are multiple reasons why this made sense to me and I could probably write an entire post on that alone, but in my favorite anime of all time this is a somewhat central idea and I’ve been thinking about it in one way or another for many years, so I finally decided to give it a real try.
What giving an idea a real try entails is essentially letting it sort of sit in your mind for a while and then starting acting on it, in small ways first, and then increasingly more and more until it sinks into your body fully and becomes second nature. Every idea in this post is the result of months and years of continued arguments and discussions with lots of people, as that’s the best way these ideas can actually develop from something abstract into something usable.
At least for me, without a lot of arguing and writing and reading it’s very difficult for this process to happen. And once it starts happening it becomes a feedback loop where you start parsing the world through the lens of the idea, and then more and more situations that occur on daily life fit into that mold either positively or negatively, and then you talk to other people about it and it internalizes more and so on.
Another way I’ve found useful to test how internalized an idea is is via dreams. In general, however the “dream you” acts is how your body instinctively acts, so whenever you start noticing that in your dreams the entity in control of you is acting according to how your conscious mind thinks it should, it means that both are in sync and the idea is deep enough into you that that’s just who you are. On the other hand, if dream you is not acting according to how you think he should act then it means the idea hasn’t been integrated enough yet.
In any case, integrating a new idea like this takes some time, and it’s still an ongoing process for me, but I’d say I started making progress on it to a bigger extent at the start of this year. As I mentioned in the other post, one of the benefits of this coming more naturally is that I became way less focused on results.
If you essentially have no status and you have no interest in having more status - you don’t want to change things, you don’t think your voice matters or that it should be heard, you’re not trying to be relevant - you become very detached from the results of whatever it is that you’re doing. This doesn’t mean I literally don’t care about how any of my projects do, but it means that the motivation for how well it does is more internal.
Instead of worrying about how I’m going to get YouTubers and streamers to play my game, which is a results oriented question, I worry about if I’m doing the best I can marketing wise given my abilities and my limitations. So, for instance, because sending e-mails/keys to anyone about my game to try to get them to play it is something I’m really not comfortable with doing (for the reasons mentioned in previous sections), I just didn’t do it. However, I have no problem posting my things on social media, so I did that, and I made sure that I did the best job that I could.
This mindset shift worked perfectly for me because it allowed me to not worry about so many things that were clearly getting in my way before, like, one obvious one being “how am I going to make my game popular?”.
The moment I gave up on any notions of making any of my games popular and hatched a long term plan that relied on just consistently making games, regardless of how popular they got, I was able to actually finish a game and not drop it like every other one I had dropped up until then.
In retrospect it seems obvious that trying to make games that also were trying to succeed was a harder problem than just making games, and thus I would be more likely to drop them. But when you’re in the thick of it it’s very hard to see things this clearly and to tell what kinds of things are getting in your way vs. what kinds of things are helping.
So from my perspective it’s just 100% the case that rejecting any notions that I was relevant, that I could make a change, that anything I had to say was of any importance whatsoever, and so on, was what allowed me to eventually succeed.
There’s another aspect to Dan’s invitation too which is that adding a voice and perhaps a face to these words gives them more visibility and more weight. You know, this is a very long post, most people who clicked it probably won’t finish it, but if this was a podcast all of these words would happen as a normal conversation, and, in case you didn’t notice, I really like talking and when I get going I can get going for a very long time unless people stop me, so the conversation would probably actually flow really well, and then people would listen to the entire thing.
Maybe after that I would even get invited to another interview, maybe Ryan would randomly just decide to do one. If I said yes to Dan can I really say no to Ryan? Not really. And maybe after that Derek Yu would invite me to his podcast, he has one you know. And if I said yes to Dan and Ryan can I really say no to Derek Yu? He made the game popular as much as they did, so off I go on another podcast. And now why shouldn’t I give a talk at GDC? After all I have a pretty successful game and I’m sure I can share innumerable very deep insights such as this entire post.
And my Discord server that I was going to delete? Nevermind, I actually hired a really good mod and he’s been doing a really good job this year, the server has 20000 users now and I also have 100K twitter followers. Wait, it’s pride month again and my mod decided to ban anyone asking for my server’s icon to be a rainbow? Oh, and there’s a post on twitter with literally 200K likes saying that I’m a transphobic dev because I didn’t fire this guy? But I was sleeping what the fuck I just woke up. Wait, my game is also getting review bombed? Ah yes, I see two very insightful reviews side by side:
And as I’m deep into this scenario in my head it just becomes pretty obvious that I don’t want any of this possibly happening ever because everything mentioned in it, from the talks, to the Discord server, to having 100K twitter followers, to getting cancelled is just random nonsense that is in no way related to making video games. It’s literally all noise, just like worrying about how I was going to make the game popular. So pre-emptively getting rid of all this potential noise just makes perfect sense to me. It is the correct long term decision.
To play devil’s advocate with myself, it’s not like having influence and status is all bad. My game was made popular because Derek Yu has influence and status, so people take his opinion seriously. It also happens that Dan has influence and status, so both his audience and NL take his opinion somewhat seriously too. And then obviously NL has influence and status, which is what made him convince so many people to play the game.
But no power like this comes without its costs, and as I mentioned above, most of the costs related to influence and status are unnecessary noise if they’re not the main thing you’re doing. You can see this affect popular game developers all the time. Some guy makes a really good and popular game, now he’s a big shot, he’s giving interviews, GDC talks, he has takes on twitter for every subject you could imagine, and he also takes like 5+ years to release his next game, and maybe when it comes out it isn’t even that good.
And when you look at how someone like this sees what they’re doing you can very palpably feel, if they’re not saying it out loud, which often times they are, that the game took this long and it ended up being too safe and thus bad because they were scared. They got massive amounts of anxiety because they didn’t want to let their fans down and they couldn’t imagine their next project being less popular than the previous one. And it’s all very sad.
You know what the first thing I’m going to do after I’m done with SNKRX? If I ever feel in myself inklings of thoughts like “I don’t want to let the fans down”, I’ll just release a bunch of shitpost games, if only to tell myself that there are no fans and that none of it matters and these are all problems I’m making up inside my head.
Perhaps this is a little too extreme, there are many very visible and popular developers who can handle their popularity and their game development just fine. They’re always releasing cool games, they genuinely don’t really care if the games are too popular or not, and they keep themselves to a high standard. But I feel like the ability to do this well is probably more of a personality thing than anything else. Some people are just built to be able to do it and others aren’t. It’s very clear to me that I’m not someone able to do both things at once, so I won’t even try.
To end this section, all of these thoughts regarding the community, my relations to it, my position in it as a developer, status, influence and if I wanted to be more visible as a developer or not were things that I was forced to think about more clearly thanks to Dan’s invitation.
However simple it seems, one lesson I’ve definitely learned this year is if you’re going to do something you should do it with a plan and you should do it consciously. Saying yes to Dan implies doing the personality thing consciously and trying to be really good at it. Saying no implies not doing it, but not doing it consciously and consistently.
And essentially everything I’ve mentioned up until now was made more explicit and visible in my head after the invitation. It was only after this that I decided that maybe I should delete my Discord server, because I actually don’t want to be a personality so having a personal Discord server makes no sense. Similarly, that was when I started being more aware of my interactions with the community and paying more attention to if I was giving off the wrong signals or not.
And to Dan’s credit, he managed to salvage my no pretty well and still made a very good video on it, so give it a watch if you can:
Now to switch from all this stuff, one of the things that always gets brought up when successes like this happen is the topic of luck.
These are thoughts shared by many people when they look at what happened here and they try to understand it. NL playing your game is something that doesn’t happen often, and so when a game is made popular by him like this it was mostly down to luck, right?
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it’s one of those thoughts that doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s a thought-terminating thought.
Types of truth #
There are two main types of truth that I think are relevant when it comes to luck: objective truth and pragmatic truth.
Objective truths are the truths everyone in our society is used to, it’s “scientific” truth, 1+1=2, etc. Pragmatic truths pertain to the notion that things are only true enough for us to survive and get along in the world well.
For instance, the idea that porcupines can shoot their quills like projectiles is objectively false, but pragmatically true. If people believe that lie, they’re less likely to be near porcupines, which makes them less likely to get hurt by them.
Rejecting the notion of luck is one of those things that is objectively false but pragmatically true. Believing that your outcomes are not dominated by luck is an idea that, once you train your body to accept, becomes extremely useful in removing unhelpful thought patterns from yourself, and helps you become a better and more successful person in general, in my opinion.
And so when I see people saying that what happened here was lucky I’m like, yea man, that’s true, but it’s not very useful. What can you actually learn from that fact?
NL’s clone #
Here someone else comes to the very logical conclusion that all you have to do is make it so that in some way, NL plays your game. And you know, I understand why this is the natural conclusion people reach. When you’re focused on results and you see “guy make game popular”, it’s natural that you should focus on making sure “guy” plays your game.
But can you even do that? Imagine if you had a clone of NL by your side right now and you could ask him a question any time you wanted. You can now use this clone to make the perfect NL game. This is quite literally a game made by NL #2 for NL #1. And 1 year later the game is done, and because it’s such a perfect fit NL #1 actually picks the game up and plays it, but you know, for one reason or another it’s just not that fun for his audience to watch.
NL #2 was so focused on making a game that he would like to play that he miscalculated how much his audience would want to watch it. He has some idea of what his audience likes to watch, but he isn’t God. He’s bound to their feedback just like I am bound by my game’s player’s feedback. So you know, NL #1 kept playing the game, but he did so offstream. And all you got was a single video that helped with making the game succeed somewhat, but didn’t really help that much. And now you owe some guy 0.22 bitcoins and 500 trillion stable dollars because making a clone is really expensive.
The moral of the story here is that you actually have absolutely no control over NL playing your game or not. It’s not just a matter of the game being good or him liking it or not. If you’ve watched enough streams you know that what makes a good “stream game” is a very delicate balance of a lot of really complicated factors that also vary a lot by streamer. Trying to engineer things so that all those factors align is pretty much impossible.
For instance, NL partly decided to play my game because it was his first auto-battler-like game. If you’re trying to engineer a game for him based on what he has played before or what he knows, you wouldn’t engineer an auto-battler because he hasn’t played those. But if you’re trying to engineer games based on what he hasn’t played yet and just mixing it with a roguelite then chances are he will ignore it because he doesn’t understand that genre, right? There have been auto-battler roguelites before like Astronarch and as far as I know he hasn’t played that.
The more general moral of the story is that you should focus on things you can
Someone on twitter asked me about this subject:
Fundamentally the mistake most indie developers make and that I also made in the past when they’re looking at the problem is that they’re focusing on things that don’t empower them. When you focus on anything you have no control over you’re making yourself weaker, because by definition you have no control over the thing so you can’t change it.
But there’s a reason why people focus on things they have no control over, and it’s because it feels good. It feels good to focus on luck, because then you can avoid responsibility for your situation. If you’re not making it it’s because you’re not getting lucky, and if that guy is making it it’s because he got lucky. It’s a very easy way out, but it’s a lazy one.
Jonathan Blow has a very good Hacker News comment that from my perspective is related to all this, although from his perspective it might be about something else:
And I deeply believe that luck-based thinking is one of those negative belief structures that people will defend vigorously even though it’s obviously wrong.
And it’s worth noting that successful people do this too. If you’re someone who’s successful and you make it, you’re going to use luck as a way to justify your success so that you don’t feel guilty about it. If you don’t fully understand why you succeeded you can’t just say “it was all me” because that feels (and is) too wrong, you immediately think of all the people who seemingly work just as hard as you who didn’t have this level of success, so saying there was some luck involved is a good way of softening that feeling of guilt.
Long term plan #
Someone on twitter commented on my plan to make a game every 2-3 months and build up Steam followers:
It is easy to get stuck in a mindset that you need a big breakout hit to “make it”, when it’s much more reasonable and less risky to just do lots of projects quickly than to spend a lot of time on a single one.
And it’s also very easy to fall into the trap of looking at doing lots of quick projects like a lottery, which is a mistake. When you do this you’re making every decision you make weaker, as if you believe that luck plays a big role into your success, this will subconsciously and consciously make you feel like you have less control over things, which will lead to worse moment-to-moment decisions.
I also mentioned at the start of this post that I slightly disagreed with Jason Rohrer’s idea of consumable vs. unique situation generator games. The main reason for this is that I think people’s success is much more tied to how consistently they can make games and then if they can manage to keep that consistency up while doing it quickly.
Chilla’s Art is an example of developers doing somewhat consumable games, but they manage to succeed because they’re doing it consistently, quickly, and also going for this long term build an audience plan.
Developers of consumable games can likely still succeed just as they could before, they just have to be faster. I can imagine a developer making a story rich linear game that lasts people 3-4 hours every 2-3 months and succeeding, it just takes a lot of experience, practice, and having a well defined type of game being made where you can reuse as much content as possible between releases without having it feel too cheap. A hard problem, but a solvable one.
Unlucky timeline #
One interesting question to ask is, what would have happened if NL hadn’t played my game. In fact, let’s say Dan never played it either because Derek Yu never found out about it. My game just sort of does about as well as my previous game, which made like $10K over 3 years.
In this situation I definitely didn’t get lucky. But would have anything been too different? The answer is likely no. What would have happened was that I would have kept to my plan of doing a game every 2-3 months, I would build up a small audience that would be interested in my games, and maybe after a few years I’d have like 20 games released, a few thousand followers on Steam, these games would be of increasing quality, and I would probably already be making a living off of games too, without any of them being played by any big streamer, just on pure consistent quality.
Of course at some point one of those games would get picked up by NL or by some other big streamer because they’re getting really good, and then all that happened now would also happen then.
This kind of thinking of just being completely sure of what’s going to happen and that it’s only a matter of time before it does is also something that I think helped me a lot. In a way it’s delusional thinking, because you have no way of knowing if it’s really going to happen.
But I was only able to clearly think like this because I’m never thinking that luck matters or that it plays any role in any of it. Even if that’s an objective lie, as far as I’m concerned it’s all in my hands and under my control and all I have to do is do a good job.
This very cool song also talks about this and inspired me a lot:
One of my favorite games recently is actually Artifact (the classic version). I wrote a post about it and in it I expanded on this issue.
Games like Artifact, to some extent PUBG and a few other BRs, a few roguelites, and auto-battlers as well, are games that have very explicitly become “luck conquering training grounds” to me. As you are internalizing the notion that luck isn’t real and your body starts rejecting it naturally, you will feel the urge to play these kinds of games because your body is essentially telling you that it needs to practice this skill more.
And the more you play these games and the better you get at them, the better you also get at rejecting luck in real life and the better the outcomes of whatever you’re doing will be. If games have any positive effect I deeply believe this to be the most important one, which is training people’s bodies at a very deep level in some general skills, like conquering luck, planning better, being more assertive, etc.
You are not a lottery ticket #
To end on this, my thoughts on this issue were formed many years ago and I’d say a big contributor was this talk. I think that it’s still extremely relevant today, so give it a watch if you can:
Another interesting idea is that I believe that competition doesn’t really exist in indie game development. The argument here is way simpler than the luck one, but fundamentally I believe as indie developers we are in a pretty non-zero-sum industry and that the more indie developers succeed now, the more indie developers will succeed in the future, including me. I’m not the only one looking at things like this:
You can test how much you’re thinking of things in these terms by honestly asking yourself how you would feel if you found out someone was making a game that was very similar to yours. I think most people would feel bad. They would feel that that project is copying them, and that it’s unfair, or maybe that it’s so much better than theirs so there’s no point anymore for them to keep working on theirs, and so on.
Whereas if you had this idea that there’s no competition fully internalized, you’d feel excited that someone is thinking about the same ideas as you and you’d take it as a signal that you’re on the right track.
I feel like there’s also big personality differences at play in this issue. Some people seem to get way more emotionally invested in the games they’re making, like if the thing is an extension of themselves. Whereas others seem more detached and view it more mechanically. I definitely fall on the latter camp.
A lot of people mention that they really like expressing themselves through their games, that they are talking through their games, that they put their soul into it, and so on. These are not really things that cross my mind that often, if ever. It’s not like if SNKRX had to have something like lore that I wouldn’t be able to come up with something cool. But would that lore be “an expression of myself”? I guess by definition it would because I made it, but I find it hard to think about it in that way and have it make sense. To me it would just be cool lore.
Similarly, a lot of people say that it really fills them up with joy when people say things like “your game helped me through a hard time”, and that those moments are why they make video games. And I personally really don’t care about stuff like that. When people say these kinds of things to me I think it’s cool and generally I try to reply, but it’s definitely not why I’m making video games.
All of this to say that I think this detachment allows me to think about issues such as competition more clearly. Thinking that competition doesn’t exist leads you to pretty wild places such as, “I should do as much as I can to help other indie developers because this will directly benefit me in the future”. Very few people think of it like this from this self-centered perspective. Most people who want to help fellow indies are doing so out of agreeableness, they want to be nice people, which is perfectly fine.
But from my perspective, my reason for writing posts like this that will help other developers is mostly self-centered and self-serving, because the more people who read this and who successfully put all these ideas into practice in their lives, the easier it will be for me as an indie developer to do well in the future. And I unironically truly believe this.
This is also one of the reasons why I make my game’s code open source, as the more people who can learn anything at all from it, the better it is from both this global win-win perspective, but also because I can then have this pool of people who will be somewhat familiar with my code base and if I ever need additional help I can easily find someone. This also really helped with the mobile port, as David was able to just take the code and start working on it right away without having to ask me for it or anything.
Similarly, and this is something very few devs are doing, making your game’s code open is a great marketing tool:
Hacker News #
I briefly mentioned here that after a Hacker News post both jwaaaap and Derek Yu recommended the game. I attribute their finding out about the game to that Hacker News post, so it’s worth going over the details of it.
The first thing to note is that getting on the front page of Hacker News nets you about 30K page visits on an off-hour or weak day. It is a lot of traffic, so it’s really worth it to try to get a thread to the top of that site if you can. As an indie developer the ways I can think of doing that are essentially by either writing posts like this one, or by making my game’s code open source, as people on Hacker News and on programming boards in general seem to really like when game developers make their code available (as there are so few of them doing it).
So I did this. I posted a thread on /r/programming and on Hacker News and both threads were fairly underwhelming. Compared to my previous posts, the /r/programming one got way less upvotes and the Hacker News one actually got no upvotes at all.
Generally when a thread I make on Hacker News gets no upvotes I delete it after 1 hour or so and try to post again another time, because I’ve found that sometimes how well a thread does on HN is based on when you post it, and most of my threads that have done well there were posted on weekends and low traffic hours. So since I released the game on a Monday I just assumed that that was part of the problem, deleted the thread and saved it for the next weekend.
Another reason why I think these threads did so poorly was that the gifs I had on the repository were fairly underwhelming. I sort of did it in a rush and never bothered to fix it, but basically the gifs were at a lower framerate than you would expect and they just sort of looked odd.
So one week passes and the game gets almost no traction anywhere and I’m basically already moving on to the next game. And then I wake up Sunday and notice this thread on the front page. About 5 hours before I woke up it seems like GitHub released this new feature where they now supported videos on READMEs, and I immediately decided to change my 2 weird gifs for the game’s actual trailer. You can see how that looks on the repository now.
And because the GitHub thread was already sort of falling off the front page and it was a Sunday morning, which is a very low traffic time, I decided to try to post my repository again with this new feature being used. The thinking here is pretty obvious, but because it’s a new feature being used exactly for the purpose it should, people are more likely to upvote it. Even GitHub employees themselves who worked on this feature and were browsing HN would be more likely to upvote it because they would be seeing the fruits of their work being already used in the wild like this.
And that’s exactly what happened. After 30 minutes the thread had a bunch of upvotes, which means that in a low traffic hour where almost no new threads are being posted it quickly shot up to the front page and then it just went from there. And you can also see some people in the thread mentioning the new feature:
When something like this happens and you’re trying to analyze it it’s inevitable that there’s some luck involved. It’s not every day that GitHub releases the perfect feature made for your very specific purposes at just the right time. But there’s also some basic tactics involved, like not “wasting” a thread by posting it at the wrong time, understanding that it’s better to post things in low traffic hours as an indie developer because it increases your chances of making it to the front page, noticing that people really like open sourced video games and that that can be used for marketing, and so on.
This post #
This post and the one before it are also these kinds of win-win things that were used as marketing. The first postmortem’s value is mostly for other indie developers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Derek decided to recommend the game partly because of that post. At least he mentioned it on his initial tweet so it probably had some effect:
As for this post, once I noticed early on that with each day the game was doing better and better than BYTEPATH, it seemed to make sense to start a post like this to keep track of my thoughts as it happened. This is another one of those things that no one is doing but that is actually valuable, although I was also mostly doing it for my own sake (similar to the devlog).
But it very quickly became clear that once streamers and YouTubers started picking up the game, part of the value of this post could easily be telling them what effect they were having on the game’s numbers. And so starting on day 14 I made sure to mention, on each update, everything that I thought was relevant stat wise and related to streamers/YouTubers.
And that also seems to have worked, as multiple YouTubers, including NL, ended up playing the game and mentioned this post multiple times, so it probably was one of those things that partly convinced them to try it out of curiosity to see how it would affect the game’s numbers.
And you know, why are these YouTubers so starved for this information? I have no idea. But it seems like no one is giving them detailed numbers like this. It makes sense that AAA developers wouldn’t give them, otherwise they’re giving up some negotiation power when they’re being charged for coverage. But for indies? In general I don’t think indie developers bother with paying influencers to cover their games, so all this data should be pretty well known by now, like 10+ years after the “indie boom”. But I guess it isn’t and so a post like this actually played a part in getting a few popular YouTubers to try my game.
Win-win trades #
This gets to the broader point which is that even though on a long term basis competition doesn’t exist among indie developers, on a short term basis it sort of does. You’re competing for everyone’s attention, and so to stand out you have to do things that other people aren’t doing, and those things have to be valuable.
In my opinion those things have to fundamentally be win-win trades, such that you get what you want out of it, which is generally your game being shared, but the people on the other side of the trade also get something out of it. And “they get to play your game” doesn’t count as this something, because they can literally play an infinite number of games, so by default your game has almost zero value.
You can see people doing this all over too. Even in this post, Dan’s interview idea is a great example of this kind of win-win trade that I’m talking about. He wins because he gets to interview an upcoming developer who will surely make many more amazing games in the future, I win because I get to be interviewed by Dan, and his audience wins because they get to see some pog content. And because Dan is entertaining even if it turns out that I’m totally socially inept he can still probably manage to make it a pretty good interview. It’s literally free real estate. And no other streamers are actually doing stuff like this. At least I don’t see interviews with devs often, and it seems like an obvious thing to do if you’re an trying to grow your stream.
You can also see people doing this with YouTube gamedev channels. Those channels are perhaps a more zoomerized version of what I’m doing here, because instead of words words words it’s cut cut cut every 0.5 seconds with a meme thrown in every once in a while to keep you awake, but it’s the same concept, and it works. Many popular games are coming out of channels that have made videos on how they made their games, and everyone wins when people put in the effort to document their efforts like that.
In any case, the best way to succeed is by making a game that has such obviously high quality that it’s impossible for people to not play and talk about it. But since as indie developers we’re all lacking and imperfect in our skills, we have to get a little more creative. What I’ve described in the latter half of this post is what worked for me, but you have to try out different things and see what works for you.
People are very different personality-wise and there are always multiple paths to success. So figure out your own path and believe in yourself!
So this is all I wanted to say. I’ll probably not update this post anymore as if I do write other posts about SNKRX they’ll likely be more technical and oriented towards programming, so I feel like it makes sense for them to be in their own posts rather than accumulating here.
From now on I’ll just keep working on SNKRX until people aren’t playing it anymore or I get tired of it, and then go back to making a game every 2-3 months. I have a really long term plan of eventually making an anime MMO but it feels really far off, as I’m not good enough as a programmer yet to tackle a project like that.
Anyway, if you’d like to contact me about anything you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I generally reply faster to that than to anything else.
And if you’ve read this far, thanks for reading and I hope I didn’t waste your time! Bye!