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On August 28th I released my second game on Steam into early access, Dungeons of Edera, a roguelite action RPG, and I wanted to once again to share my approach to release and first week numbers, as I did with my first game, Hold the Fort. TL;DR at the bottom!
For my second game, I wanted to achieve a bigger project in scope and scale, and being an avid RPG fan, I always knew I wanted to create an action RPG game, but I wanted to add a twist to it to have it stand out, and as I started brain storming ideas for a core game play loop, one idea I built upon was having the quests kickoff into standalone environments that can be complete in 20-30 minute intervals. This idea came from the fact that in the past decade, I have not finished 90% of the full feature story driven RPGs I have picked up, maybe this is just part of becoming an adult, having less time to devote 40+ hours into a game, but even when I could devote a good chunk of time to a campaign, I would take a break, come back weeks later and be overwhelmed with where I was and the forgetting what I was supposed to do! So naturally I would restart the campaign, doomed to repeat this cycle until it falls into the back of my Steam library.
I thought of games that players really flock too, Fortnite, CS, DOTA, Risk of Rain 2, Deep Rock Galatic - what did they have in common? A gameplay loop that can be achieved in 30-60 minutes, leaving them satisfied (sometimes) at the end with a sense of accomplishment (lol). Some of my examples above are competitive multiplayer games, but the timing of the loop was what I took away from there - I also looked at Diablo's ladder system end game, which pits players through a series of dungeons in a race against the clock - these were all inspirations for the core gameplay loop in Dungeons of Edera - give a player a town hub to launch out of that is their safe haven, quest givers will launch players into procedurally generated dungeons where they can complete their single quest, slay some baddies, get some loot and get back to town. While there is a campaign mode, it is broken into these small chunks to be easily resumed after a prolonged pause and with one quest given at a time, players will not have to remember which side quest they were on.
The games universe is built on my previous game, Hold the Fort, but the inspiration came from growing up playing the elder scrolls series, which really drew me into the medieval fantasy universe, immersing yourself in this whole culture that they created was awe inspiring, but I would say I was more so influenced by my all time favorite RPG games, Gothic 1 and 2 - made by a small studio, not great graphics for the time, a mess of controls, but the story, background and universe even really stuck with me throughout the years and if you are a fan of the series, you will definitely see the inspiration in my works.
Like my previous project, I worked to get a prototype up and running as soon as possible, and worked out the features that I really wanted to include in various stages and prioritized by Alpha, Early Access, and Full Release. Doing the planning in such a way I made sure I stayed focus on feature development and was always developing on the highest priority items. As you get into the work, more ideas will start pouring in, so ensuring you revisit your planning board, adding in idea and reprioritizing is key to ensure nothing gets dropped. I will also repeat this line from my previous retrospective: Being organized can help with motivation. Break down your work into small enough pieces so you can feel accomplished when you complete it!
For this project, I was able to leverage the community I had built during my development of HTF and get a sizable play test group at various stages in early development, always soliciting for feedback and ideas on how the game could be improved and most of all, ensuring it was fun to play. These play test really helped shape the game as you see it today. Feedback from the community has been so important to ensure I always stayed on the right track.
From my previous game I knew the route to take with marketing, as it is the single most important thing an indie game developer can do.
I got my page up as soon as possible, which was when I had some nice looking screen shots and a basic trailer. Steam is so important to get up early so you can start generating wishlists. I was also able to leverage steam for early access tests, using the key system combined with Mail Chimp to distribute keys to a growing mailing list.
I started a discord with my last game, so this continued to grow. It is, IMO, one of the best ways to directly interact with you community as well as launch play tests and solicit feedback via surveys. Every game company needs to get a discord.
Keeping up with twitter is a great way to drive engagement to your page, though it was negligible compared to other sources used below, Most of the folks on twitter I have found are other developers, but I did find some engagement when participating in #screenshotsaturday. This time around I did not use Twitter Promote mode, as I got very little from it for Hold the Fort.
For Dungeons of Edera, I wanted to take a more aggressive approach on ads, so I decided to try two new sources along with Reddit ads, Google and Facebook. Of the three, according to my analytics, Facebook ads produced the most click through traffic. Some of it may have been bots, but I also saw an increase in wishlist adoption. My ranking of using these ads with about 200$ month limits on each I would rate them in following order Facebook > Reddit > Google. Google ads is simply not worth it for video games, as you cannot attach a gif or image, it's just a text ad.
Keymailer and Woovit are both great tools for distribution to content creators and currators. Once I had a good build up I began distributing keys to anyone who requested one. I once again subscribed to Woovit to utilize their search, for only 50$ a month this is an amazing offer. I did not subscribe to Keymailers 660+ monthly sub, this is not worth it, however, I will say I already had plenty of content creators requesting keys so I did not have to use their paid services.
Launch Day (With Numbers)
When I began development in July of 2019 I always had planned to release into early access in July of 2020. Once May rolled around I knew I was not on track to release a good build in July so I decided to push it back until the last weekend of August, which I am really glad I did, as the extra bake time really help nail down the first part of the campaign with voice actors and much needed optimizations. Was it perfect? No, it was messy as hell based on all the bugs players found - but marketing as Early Access has helped ease the expectations a bit IMO, but since release day I have pushed several patches to address key concerns and have stabilized it for now so I can continue to push on the new feature list.
On August 28th @ 0500 PST I launched into early access. I told myself I would get a good nights sleep before launch, not repeating the mistake of my last release of releasing at midnight EST - I in fact did not get much sleep, but never the less, I streamed for 8 hours upon opening up the game, then swapped with my fellow team members to keep the stream running all day - recording the stream to keep it on replay ever since.
Over the week we got 106k page visits according to our google analytics.
Dungeons of Edera launching into Early Access at 14.99 USD with a 10% discount. We had about 2500 wishlists on August 28th.
On 9/4 my stats were there following: 1824 sold and wishlists are just over 10,000
We had a 7% wishlist conversation rate
Daily Active users is ~250 with a 52 minute median time played
Units returned is about 400 or 20% of steam unit sales
This release so far has been an amazing accomplishment and success, as based on my research of other independent game releases, the units sold and revenue earned puts us in the top percentile of indie games. Even with the EA tag on the game, I have received tons of positive feedback and support from our growing community on Discord and I have a very positive outlook toward the full launch and with 10k+ wishlist I may have a chance to hit the front page of Steam for our v1.
I hope this serves as good information for the other indie developers out there - happy to answer questions on here or join our discord to chat with me directly. https://discord.gg/dungeonsofedera
Price at launch: 14.99 with 10% discount
Wishlists at launch: ~2500
Wishlists as of today: 10,684
Wishlist Conversation: ~7%
Development time: 13 months
External Development Costs: ~6,000
Steam page traffic in first week: 106,000 users
Copies sold in first 7 days: 1824
Returns: ~375 (~20% of steam units)
Current Steam Rating: Mostly Positive 79% of 48 purchasing customers for this game are positive
All Reviews (includes key handouts): Very Positive 80% of 71 reviews for this game are positive