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Postmortem: Wadjet Eye's The Blackwell Convergence
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Postmortem: Wadjet Eye's The Blackwell Convergence

November 12, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

3. The Change in Art Direction

A large advantage of having an episodic series is that you can reuse assets. Two games in, I had lots of art and animations for Rosa and Joey which we could use (for free!) in Convergence, as well as several backgrounds that could be reused (again, for free!). All we had to do was make sure the other characters and backgrounds were drawn in the same style for consistency.

The problem? The original artist who designed and animated the characters was not available. So, the quest was on to find an artist who could match his style. Unfortunately, that proved to be more difficult than I thought.

The first artist I hired tried valiantly for several months, but his designs -- while very good -- were just slightly off when placed next to the original sprites from Legacy. The heads were too big or the proportions were never quite right. In the end, he didn't feel he was up to the job and politely bowed out.

After spending ages trying to find an artist who could mimic the original style, I eventually came to the realization that I didn't have to. The purpose of reusing the original art was to save time and money, and that wasn't happening. So why not just cut my losses, redo the original designs to make them better?

I called upon a sprite artist and animator I had worked with before and asked him if he was up for it. He was, and within a week he sent me new designs for Rosa and Joey that not only looked good, they even surpassed the originals. Within a month they were fully animated and he was on the way to creating the rest of the cast. The problem was not only solved -- it never existed in the first place.

This improvement in art direction also extended to the backgrounds. The game needed nicer-looking backgrounds to go with the new characters, so I called upon an art studio to do the job. Working with a professional art studio to do the backgrounds was a totally new experience for me, and while they were more expensive than my usual freelancers the results were worth it.

The lesson learned? Sometimes starting over from scratch is the best way to go.

4. The Long Tail

I first game up with the idea for Blackwell in 2003, and I knew very quickly that there was no way I could plug the entire story into one game. There was too much back story, too many characters, and way too much... well, everything, for it all to be easily absorbed in one sitting.

I made it into an episodic series instead. The whole "episodic gaming" thing was kind of new at the time, but it made sense. You create one "episode" and you gain a following, which helps fund the second game. The second game then helps renew interest in the first, and so on...

This is a great system for getting games out the door, except of course for when it isn't. The biggest risk in undertaking an episodic series is that the first game might not sell well enough, so the series becomes dead in the water. Fortunately, this never came to pass. While a struggle at first, the first two games in the series have slowly earned a steady following, so by the time Convergence came around there were plenty of customers waiting in the wings to buy it.

The initial short-term sales of the game were more than satisfactory, but once that release buzz and initial flurry of sales winds down, something has to take its place. Which leads me to...

5. Stepping up Marketing Efforts

My knowledge of marketing and PR is only slightly greater than my knowledge of quantum physics.

For years I had relied on word-of-mouth to sell my games, and I didn't do any marketing or PR at all aside from sending the games to review sites and buying the occasional cheap banner ad. I was putting most of my efforts into making the games so I couldn't be bothered with all that sales stuff. How I was able to earn my living for three years doing this is beyond me, but somehow I managed.

Of course, that was before our current economic meltdown. There's only so far word-of-mouth can take you when people have less money to spend. When Convergence was released I knew I had to step my efforts up. I began speaking to every PR person I could find and asked them for advice.

I sent out press releases, I offered discounts, I implemented limited-time offers. Basically, I did everything I could to make some noise and tell people that my games were out there and it would be a darn good idea to give me their cash in order to play them.

In the end, the efforts proved worthwhile. My traffic surged exponentially. My site's Alexa ranking, languishing in the two million range, sprinted ahead to a respectable 300,000 to 400,000 and it continues to gain traction. My monthly income is still enough to pay all the bills and keep me doing what I love. I still have a ways to go, and I'm always looking to PR people to talk to, but putting more time into PR was the best move I could have made.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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