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The art and business of making an action-RPG all on your own

September 6, 2017 | By Bryant Francis

September 6, 2017 | By Bryant Francis
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More: Console/PC, Design, Video

If you've heard of the game Songbringer, you might not know that it comes from a one-man band: Wizard Fu Games, aka developer Nathanael "Nate" Weiss.

Shipping a successful indie game is a tall order for a normal group of developers; it's an especially tall order when you're going it alone. That's why we were excited today to talk with Weiss about his success with Songbringer, and some of the important business and design decisions that he made along the way. 

You can watch our full conversation with Weiss up above, but in case you're conjuring up procedurally-generated worlds as we speak, here's a few key takeaways from our conversation. 

There's still power in Kickstarter, but you have to build a fanbase first 

Weiss' Kickstarter campaign for Songbringer raked in $15,000, which is a relatively small pot of cash but proved to be enough to help him finish the game. With the success of video game Kickstarters somewhat in a state of flux, we asked Weiss if he'd return to the Kickstarter well. He said he would, but only because Songbringer has a home-grown community.

As Weiss put it, he saw Songbringer's initial success in 2015 as the culmination of the work he'd done promoting the game with livestreams and other efforts, not just the beginning. If developers want to find success on Kickstarter, he says they'll be better served by trying to build on communities they've built, rather than using it as a fan-finding operation. 

Price aggressively, and with research

Weiss has priced Songbringer at $20 for its debut this week, and the game doesn't feature a launch discount. But as Weiss told us, he came extremely close to pricing the game at $15 before realizing he was potentially undercutting his game. He argued that a $20 price "asserts a certain quality level," and gives him peace of mind about his financial outcomes, because he would be hitting his goals sooner. 

But of course, Weiss was only able to make that decision after doing a lot of market research, and comparing the sales of games relative to their prices with tools like SteamSpy. So if you're hoping to raise the price of your game, be sure to check the data and see if games of similar quality have been able to hit the necessary sales numbers. 

Why Zelda's game design template is so effective

It wasn't all business talk of course. Since Songbringer takes a lot of inspiration from classic Zelda games, we asked Weiss why he thought Zelda's core game design still held up. To Weiss, it's because the design is more accessible than other RPGs, and doesn't rely on grinding. Since progression is tagged to objects that the player acquires, Weiss said that there isn't much reason to backtrack, giving the player time to learn other mechanics. 

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables, and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel. 

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