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A Mini-Postmortem Roundup
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A Mini-Postmortem Roundup

April 29, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 8 Next

What Went Wrong

1. We Launched on Mobile

With each update we realized that it was getting harder and harder to reach more users interested in an 8-bit RPG on mobile. That's not to say they didn't exist, but it's very hard to inform gamers with more hardcore tastes about mobile games. That, and you can only rely on mobile game sites to cover your updates so many times. We might have potentially had more financial success by doing paid updates, but it would diminish quickly without a larger base.

Lesson one: Finding an audience for a $3 game on mobile is as hard as they say it is, even when your audience is more hardcore than the average mobile consumer.

And, speaking of launching: Our biggest problem, and one that still haunts us with Dragon Fantasy 1 today, is the stigma of mobile games. Our game didn't feel like a crappy mobile RPG, but because a small team on mobile made it, we had a tremendous amount of difficulty getting anyone to pay attention to us outside of mobile. Our Steam submission(s) took months before they were rejected, and one of the other, more indie-friendly stores outright told us they weren't interested in mobile ports. (I was incredibly punchy that day, let me tell you.) Lesson two: If you're making a core game, launch on other platforms first to avoid being called "a mobile port."

2. Easy Porting Led to Undertesting

Since we loved working on Dragon Fantasy and really didn't want to see it end in obscurity on mobile, we started porting it to other platforms. The tech we had built up let us port the game quickly from iOS to both Mac and Windows. Unfortunately, the ease with which we ported the game led to us being overly confident about the state of those ports.

Being primarily a Mac shop meant that the Mac port was pretty heavily tested and has enjoyed a fairly stable existence. On the PC side, our testing simply wasn't sufficient and... Well, it just wasn't a great product at launch. The Windows game needed a lot of things that weren't necessary on other platforms -- things like an installer, runtimes, and checks to make sure appropriate versions of DirectX were installed. Add to that the different versions of Windows, ranging from XP ("just put things wherever, it's fine") up to Windows 7 ("sorry, you can't put those files there!") and we come to lesson three: Just because it works on everything else, doesn't mean you can cut corners on testing.

3. We Were Too Authentic

When we first started talking to the press about the game, we took pride in how authentic we kept everything. We stuck strictly to the range of colors the original NES was capable of putting out, and even limited our artwork to the number of colors-per-tile. The problem is, while as developers we appreciate that, and even a lot of the press we spoke to thought it was great, the masses didn't agree. We learned that what 8-bit games looked like, and what people remember 8-bit games looking like, are two very different things. Some of our maps could stand their ground against the very best-looking NES titles just fine, but still we saw cries about how bad the game looked.

Internally, we brushed these off as people who just didn't "get it" or weren't there in the mid-1980s to play the games we were inspired by. Our choosing to ignore this feedback just meant that we had turned more potential gamers away before we ever had a shot. Looking back over the feedback we received is part of the reason that when preparing our big "relaunch" of the game on PS3/PS Vita (and updates for existing platforms) we went back and updated all of the artwork to much better line up with what people want. There's nothing "not indie" about keeping your vision, but presenting it in a way to get the biggest possible audience!

Final Warrior Quest

If someone were to ask us three or more years ago what platform to develop their indie game for, it's almost guaranteed that I'd have suggested they target iOS. Now we have to face the irony that the platform largely lauded for giving small developers a chance with a cheap entry cost and removing the need for a publisher has so much competition that the best way to be really noticed is by getting a publisher behind your title who can devote a large amount of money to the launch. Finding an audience for your game on any platform is a challenge, but one as smothered by new releases as the iTunes App Store? Unless you're well known or incredibly lucky, don't expect to get a lot of traction.

And so, coming out of Dragon Fantasy we're not abandoning iOS as a platform altogether, but it's far removed from being the first platform we look to when planning our next games. The PC has made a huge comeback, and even the consoles are opening up a lot more to indies (we can speak firsthand about Sony, and from what we've heard Nintendo is a lot easier to work with as well these days). There are a lot of places to put your game. Pick one you can truly make it shine on and go for it. 

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 8 Next

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