My first venture into solo game development, oOo: Ascension launched this morning on Steam and will be out on Nintendo Switch a week today. It has been pretty well received by the few that have played it, earning a place as a TIGA finalist for 'best game by a small studio' and a BAFTA Scotland nomination for Best Game - but it's not all as rosey as it could have been.
A quick summary of how I got here - I had been working in bars for nearly 8 years, before deciding that the only thing I truly wanted to do was make games, so I began teaching myself to make 3D models during the evenings and days off, and eventually managed to get a job working for an architectural company making pre-build visuals. When my portfolio was strong enough I landed a job working for a game developer, and by then I had also taught myself to code so that I could start making my own prototypes and mini-games. Eventually, I entered Ludum Dare 38 and the resulting compo entry became the game that came out today, but I spoke about that in a blog post back in May.
When I look back on this whole journey though, I tend not to focus on the things that I think I've achieved in that time, but rather what I wish I had done differently. By the time the game was finished (at least, there was an end level that you could complete and some amount of polish had gone into it), I felt like I'd completed a near-decade long learning experience, and from here on in I was armed with all of the skills that I'd need going forward.
How wrong I was.
I had missed out one, enormous, gaping skill-set that meant that everything from this point onwards would be an up hill battle: Marketing.
I had read countless articles stressing the importance of marketing, but I always though that it was something I'd get round to 'once this feature is finished' or 'when I get time to put together a video'. I always felt that the game wasn't the best possible version of what it could be so I kept holding of until I felt it looked polished enough. I left everything until the game was nearly finished, and by then it was far, far too late. I want to go back and punch myself squarely in the face for not taking on board the glaringly obvious (well, it seems it now) advice to create a mailing list, discord server and all the other little things that seem like they wouldn't be enough to make much of a difference on their own, but when all put together become the driving force of a community, and as such, generate interest in the game..
The only reason for the awards the game has been nominated for is because by submitting the game the judges actually had to play it, otherwise I doubt any of them would even have heard of it, let alone give it a shot. Every game that has had time and effort spent on it deserves to be seen, and as such I implore any aspiring developer to start talking about it as soon as they have a title, hell even before then you could be sharing sketches, wireframe models, story concepts - absolutely anything that might attract one new fan is worth it in the long run - it all builds up.
Learning how to code, model or design for games is a relatively insular process - it's about you and how you learn best. Marketing, on the other hand, involves constantly putting yourself out there for others to judge, and that comes naturally to almost nobody. However, I cannot stress enough that it is just as important, maybe even more so, than any other element of the indie game development process.
In short, yes, marketing is an uncomfortable, densely packed minefield of pain, but it's one that I strongly suggest you gracelessly bellyflop onto from a great height - and do so as early as possible.