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Indies going all in with self-publishing: an Ethan: Meteor Hunter post mortem
by Olivier Penot on 12/04/13 07:10:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

It’s been more than a month since the release of our first game, Ethan: Meteor Hunter, on PC and PlayStation 3. And, well, we’ve been a bit quiet right? Even the tumblr stopped! This past month has been a bit hard for us, as, spoiler alert, sales didn’t quite meet our expectations. But let’s get back a bit, shall we?

Who are we and what are we talking about?

Seaven Studio is a newborn from some ashes of Hydravision, which closed down in September 2012. Since that day, seven former employees decided to go all in and put all of their time (no holidays at all), money (living on unemployment benefits, no salary) and energy (that’s coffee) into a new 100% independent video game studio, self publishing and self funding its games: Seaven Studio.

Ethan: Meteor Hunter is a project we bought back from Hydravision with our savings as we started working on it there. Main design was almost done, we changed things here and there to make it more enjoyable from what was decided over at Hydravision by our former bosses.

What went right

  • We started a company AND finished a game from what we got from Hydravision AND released it simultaneously on PC & PlayStation 3 (gotcha TRCs) in SCEE AND SCEA, 100% self published and self funded
  • We haven’t killed one each other (yet).
  • Game is enjoyable    
    • Press likes it: average note is 7/10, some gave us 8/10 and only one 4/10 and two 6/10, way better than the 5/10 we were used to at Hydravision
    • Sometimes described as “Super Meat Boy meets Braid” which is very nice
  • Gamers love it (or they’re all very polite):
    • 98% Greenlight comments are positive or very positive
    • Gamers at show were sticking around to finish the demo    
    • At one livestream made with French Team Mortal Gaming, a fan even wrote on her shirt about the game, which is super cool
  • Press coverage:
    • 360+ mentions of Ethan since early May 2013
    • Including Alpha Demo appreciated by RockPaperShotgun and a great article from Joystiq, mentions from Polygon (1, 2, 3)
    • Lot of nice/excellent previews
    • 30+ reviews of Ethan, only missing the very big website (Kotaku, RPS, Joystiq, etc…)    
    • Youtubers side is good too, contacted 200+ of them but same as press, most famous/big ones didn’t reply back

We’re happy on that side from what we would have expected from Hydravision era and also considering we were basically unknown at all.

Publishing

  • 5 different public shows attended: Rezzed, Develop (indie showcase finalist), Gamescom, Eurogamer Expo & Paris Games Week
  • Great great way of meeting players: chatting about what’s good or not about the game. We have changed our tutorial after each show in order to improve it. We added for example the side buttons for better & less frustrating objects positioning.
  • Met a lot of very friendly indie guys (Red Solstice, Hammer Labs hiding from security before Sony Party, shared a room with SwingSwingSubmarine rrrr, Mi-Clos, RunningWithScissors, Nyamyam, etc..)
  • Side note: global publishing budget is 50k€ (18 languages translation, Q&A for PlayStation 3, Age rating, Launch trailer, attending shows with travel and accommodation costs)
  • Couple of articles on PlayStation Blog US & Europe
  • Front of different stores & website for launch (PS Store SCEA, PS Store SCEE, GoG, Eurogamer.fr & GameSideStory

Getting the word out and beeing present at most shows is pretty satisfying; we’ve really done the maximum we could, considering we’re 9 people. Only regret is not been present at PAX, too late to book! Overall we feel like we have a good game gamers enjoy it and we couldn’t have done more to get the word out about the game as a new born studio. Good game with good marketing is what it needs, right?

What went wrong

  • Sales

Well, let’s talk about actual sales numbers. Within a month, we have sold on PC:

127 units

Missing a few 0s, right? When we saw Flippfly post on Race the Sun and its 771 sales we were a bit astonished and were thinking that with all of the shows we’ve been to, all of the communication we done the past months etc.. we should be fine. How naïve we were… Unfortunately we are not allowed to say anything about PlayStation 3 sales, but we are not happy with them at all either, so it doesn’t seem to be a platform problem… Just missing Steam, obviously? With all of games released now on Steam, it doesn’t seem to be as important as it was. Still, can’t be worse than 127 units!

  • Building a community & Steam Greenlight

When we started our communication about Ethan, we planned to have Steam Greenlight in the center of it. We wanted it to be our central hub for communication with the community, rather than setting up our own forum which would have need gamers to set up another account etc… to be where most of our targeted gamers are and already have a Steam account.

I don’t know about other devs but it didn’t work out at all for us. It seems like people spend 30s on each page, vote and then move on. Some stay a bit and leave a comment but we rarely had great chat with gamers over there. We released an Alpha Demo when we announced the game in order to get feedbacks from the community. To this day, demo was downloaded about 2500 times for a 26 000 unique visitors, giving a 9% rate, which is not so bad I’d guess but only a couple of actual feedbacks from it! We definitely need to improve things on this side.

We are still not greenlit and now about 85% way to the top 100… Our major concern about Greenlight is that, imagine gamers who voted “No” back in May and then tried our game at Gamescom in August and loved it? They can’t change their vote unfortunatelyYou can, my bad.

Oddly enough, we didn’t see any spike on Steam Greenlight when we were at showcases (and God knows how much we asked people to upvote us!), let’s have a look:

First July spike? One of my friends forwarded our page to the whole Just Dance team in Paris! Thanks guys! Second mid-august spike? A french youtuber did a video on our Alpha Demo (here). The very small bump right before September 1st is the Rock Paper Shotgun article, enjoying the Alpha demo. The last two spikes around October 1st are a live stream we did with the french team and a tweet asking to upvote us! Hard to tell when was Rezzed, Gamescom or even release of the game hu?

  • Translation on 19 languages

Our core value is gamers proximity, making them part of the development of the game (thus the Alpha Demo). It just made sense then to translate the game to as many languages as possible in order to be closer to as many gamers as possible. Turns out, I’m not sure we had more coverage from these countries and sales are definitely not encouraging us to do the same (Russia aside) if we’re lacking out of money. Not to mention all of the many funny characters to support  : )

  • Good value and focus on Gameplay are not appealing

We put the game at 10$ = 7,5€ which feels for us super fair with 3 worlds and 50 levels and strong replay value with time attacks, leaderboards and secret cheeses unlocking secret levels! That means between 7 to 10 hours of pretty good fun. Bref, we knew it wasn’t the perfect game so we wanted gamers to feel like they didn’t waste their money by having a great value. Did not really worked out. Maybe we should have had it at 13$ and always -20% off ?

Also, having a strong gameplay feature and good variations throughout the game was essential for us.. We strongly believed these two would drive sales but having a good experience (graphics/sounds) seems to be more important even if the length of the game is 2 or 3 hours. Most reviews pointed the lack of “soul” in the game: we should have spent some time on that instead of adding more levels.

Our ideas on why it didn’t sell (at all):

  • Release window

Releasing a puzzle platformer a month after GTA V and a month before next gen consoles is not the greatest idea. Story of the release date is totally linked to GTA V by the way: when we started the company, we wanted to release mid September and  before next gen as our engine was already compatible PlayStation 3 and self publishing has always been allowed there. So it just made sense. Then, obviously, GTA V got delayed to mid September, and we aimed end of August. Just like all of the other games and especially Rayman Legends, a direct competitor. At some point we were considering releasing PC version beginning of August and PS3 in October but we figured it was more powerful to release both versions at the same time. Turned out early August was pretty strong in terms of indie release too.

  • Art / Experience

Finally, the art style was “okay” and clean for us but we didn’t think it would hurt. It would appear the art and the mouse (which is supposed to be a rat, erm) don’t appeal and are not connected with our brutal gameplay. We were pretty satisfied too considering the progress made since the Hydravision prototype:

Conclusion

Are we in this indie bubble where one-good-but-normal-game (= not Stanley Parable) can only sell with sales and bundles, not full price? Not to mention not being on Steam… Or are we just feeling this console transition too where sales always slow down?

So our question is simple: why didn’t you buy the game? Let us know so we don’t do the same mistake(s) next time, if we manage to have a next time.

More about the game over here and upvote us on Greenlight over there.


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