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Marketing efforts and KPI’s – Week 2

Hello three-parts luck Giants!

Our second week of focusing our marketing efforts to get any kind of sales during launch has come and gone! We’re going to review the current state of things, check for some improvements and then look at what we’re going to do next.

Let’s make one thing clear: For the most part, this week I focused on improving and updating the game. Beta 6 still hasn’t released yet because I overhauled and re-written most of the game systems. So the results reflect that. Our current data puts us just bellow 600 wishlists for the end of the week. Here’s the data:

  • Current wishlists: 588
  • Estimated week 1 net revenue: 1764$
  • Estimated copies to be sold: 294
  • Estimated year 1 net revenue: 8820$

Since last week our wishlists went up by about 100, at an average of 14 wishlists / day. That right on track with our needed wishlists ratio / day in order to reach the target wishlists of at least 1000 during launch.

It’s good to be on track, let me say that! At a 10 wishlist / day rate (our current worst case scenario), we’re looking at about 900 wishlists with one month and one week to go before I hit the publish button.

Wishlist conversion rate

Before we go further, let’s talk about the 0.5 average multiplier (or conversion rate) between wishlist and purchases. As I mentioned in the previous posts, this is what it is. Just an average that Jake estimated based on his research. You can read more about it here.

However, just because it’s an average that doesn’t mean that’s what it will be. For us it can be anywhere between 0.1, the more realistical 0.25 or a huge boon of 0.7+. Let me put it this way, with 1000 wishlists and a 0.5 conversion rate we’re fine! It’s going to allow me to work on another game this year in a similar 2-4 months time frame. It’s good, it means we keep on going. However, if our actual conversion rate will be closer to 0.25 things won’t look so good. In short, it’s barely going to be enough to cover rent for the time spent doing development and would bring us close to almost breaking even, but not really. This would mean that I have to go get a job asap, so a bit of a more cloudy situation in terms of future Bearded Giant Games this year.

An 0.7 conversion rate would pretty much mean that I can take almost up to a year to make and release another game, giving me the option to fail at least once. It would be the best case scenario but it doesn’t seem likely to me at this point.

I’m pretty sure I’m not lucky enough to achieve the 0.7 conversion rate however there is one thing that I can do, and that is, to do what I can do best: Polish the game even more and try to garner more and more wishlists before launch. A 0.25 conversion rate would be the same as a 0.5 at 1000 wishlists if I can reach 2000. So I’ll do my best to push for as many as possible in order to assure I don’t go back to designing free2play games.

Ogh, was I too gloomy? Sorry, here’s another gif from the latest build to make up for it.

As for how development on the game is going, well, I tried my hand at a quick devlog where I talk about the changes the game received since the public demo up to the current (unreleased) beta! You can check it out bellow:

If you like the game and want to help us out, you can do so in a couple of ways:

  • The easiest way is to go to our store page and wishlist the game, so you’ll be notified when it comes out.
  • Another way is to spread awareness of our marketing efforts, for two reasons:
    • First one is that it’s going to help other developers estimate their launch performances
      • Improve their marketing efforts
      • Adjust their expectations
    • Second one is that it’s also going to help boost the awareness of the game to people inside the industry. This doesn’t mean just game developers, but also editors and writers. They might not want to write about the game by itself but they might find an angle about Steam’s state and the game could get some more awareness because of that!
  • In order to help spread awareness about this you can link people to this blog post, the original one or the live data tracking document itself.
  • Third options to become our patrons. For as little as 1$ a month you can help us reach a steady revenue stream. We’re up to 50$ a month right now and, long term, it helps a ton.
  • Forth option is to follow me on twitter and re-tweet my stuff! It’s going to increase my reach and hopefully help get some more people to notice the game!

That’s it for the this week!

Thank you, Giants!

 

 

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Marketing efforts and KPI’s – Week 1

Hello dream-fulfilling Giants!

It’s been almost a week since the previous post were we setup our targets for the Space Mercs steam launch on July 31st! If you haven’t read it, I recommend giving it a quick scan so you’ll know what I’m talking about here. We’re going to look at our KPI’s (Wishlists, traffic, impressions and store visits), see how we generated them (articles, interviews, tweets) and setup a plan for next week!

Let me start this post by saying THANK YOU! In a single week we almost managed to get 50% of the way towards our launch targets! And with about a month and a half to go things are looking really nice. So take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back because it’s you guys who made it possible. Here’s a wip gif from the Campaign and Loadout screen that I’ve been working on (6 mb, might take a few seconds to load). You deserve it.

Now, let’s look at our KPI’s.

Week in review: Results

Last week we were sitting at 189 wishlists. Using the formulas discussed, at that point in time, we were looking at 567$ in revenue on launch with about 100 copies sold. We went further and estimated that we would be increasing at wishlist count by 4 wishlists / day leading to a total of 446 wishlists and assumed we will bank about 1338$ on release while selling 223 units.

So what’s body count at now? Well:

  • Wishlists: 489
  • Estimated week 1 net revenue: 1467$
  • Estimated copies to be sold: 244
  • Estimated year 1 net revenue: 7335$

Safe to say we’ve blown pass our estimated target for launch in the worst case scenario! This past week in review looks like this:

On average, we increased our daily wishlist count by 50 wishlists leading to a total 300 wishlists in 6 days or, better said, a 158% increase in just 6 days. Can I cry now, because I feel like crying.

Let’s look over the data we have from Steam. We’re going to go into a bit more details like: Steam traffic, impressions, visits, CTR and conversion rates – with all the data being supplied by the Steam Dashboard Itself.

First off, this is how Steam itself helped us this week. The following screenshot is from the dashboard and shows the amount of Impressions and Visits our steam store page got from Steam. CTR is the conversion rate between how many times our game capsule (little image with the game’s name) was displayed on the store and how many people clicked it to get to the game’s page (where they can wishlist it):

Our game capsule was displayed 15,386 times on the store page (note that this doesn’t mean that people actually saw it. It counts the number of times it was loaded). People clicked it about 1,188 times to access the Space Mercs store page. That’s a 7.72% conversion rate.

Now, let’s look at the total amount of traffic we had in this period:

Woah! External traffic (brought in by our marketing efforts) accounts for almost twice as many visits to the game’s page. Our marketing efforts to steam’s promotion efforts is literary 1.8:1, aka almost double. So much for just release on steam and the store is going to promote you. Impressions in this case accounts for how many times the steam widget was displayed on an external website, while visits is how many people reached the game’s page in total. Our CTR is above the roof but mostly because we’ve directly linked people to the page.

So what can we learn from this? Well, steam has a lot more reach and visibility than anything I’ve done before but targeted traffic trumps it. With a only 7% conversion rate from the impressions steam gave the game I can only take a single conclusion: My capsule (image for the game) sucks really, really hard! I need to step up my steam capsule game a ton.

On the bright side, our marketing push for this week blew us past our worst case expectations and moved us into the “we might make it” territory. But this doesn’t mean we have to stop here. Let’s go into even more detail by looking at all the traffic combined and spit our our visits to wishlist conversion rate:

In total we received about 3,454 visits to the game’s page this week with 300 people adding the game to their wishlist. This gives us a 3,435/300 aka 11.5 visit to wishlist conversion rate. Out of 10 people visiting the game’s store page, 1 will wishlist it. How many wishlists we got from steam vs from direct traffic we will never know, but it’s safe to say that we’re performing better than I initially expected! Now let’s look at who the people who wishlisted our game are or, at the very least, what operating system they are using.

Ogh this is a sight to see for me! Linux is leading the known platform-specific wishlist race with 147 additions. Aka a 1.6:1 ratio Linux-to-Windows. The nerd inside of me is extremely happy because, even if the data will change as we near release, it shows that there’s a market out there. For small indies, like me, looking for low-volume sales Linux is a boon that they should not overlook.

If you’re an indie dev looking at this and thinking “agh cool, yeah I’ll target Linux” listen closely to the following: Test your Linux build, at the very least every week. Test the linux build after every middleware your integrate. Make sure it runs well on Linux and do not skip your QA process. If you’re using Unity, Linux is a one-click export but that’s only if you’re just using Unity and nothing else. A ton of developers wait till the very last moment to do a linux build and discover too late that they can’t do it, or it doesn’t work. I’ll go into more details about this process in the future.

Results Recap – and how we managed to achieve them

In the period between June 10th and June 16th we:

  • Increased our wishlist count by 158%
    • 300 new wishlists
  • Manage to direct 3434 people to our store page
    • 1188 visits being from steam
    • 2246 from our direct marketing efforts
  • Achieved a wishlist to visit conversion rate of 11.5%

It’s been an amazing week for us and it went better than expected! We achieved the results above from (but not limited to) the following sources:

  • An amazing article from the beloved Gaming on Linux website! They covered our new trailer, screenshots and improvements from the public demo – viewed more than 7000 times. As always, lots of love towards Liam and the Gaming on Linux staff – they do amazing work promoting Linux games! You can read the article here.
  • An article from Hardcore Gamer, by James Cunningham, that covers the same topic as GoL! No views data available but it certainly had an impact! Thank you James, I mean it. Article here.
  • Linux Game Consortium who covered the launch date, trailer on both LGC and Linux Game News! Thanks a ton – you have been added to my press list!
  • A /r/linux_gaming post that leads to the GoL article which got more than 160 upvotes!
  • Our new youtube trailer which is sitting at about 859 views! View it here.
  • A viral imgur post we made on monday that brought in about 85 wishlists.
  • Some of my twitter tweets linking to the store page that got a couple thousand impressions and a few tens of link clicks. Not much but they count! Example 1, example 2, example 3.

Going forward – goals, marketing efforts, Beta 6

This week has come and gone very fast. I haven’t managed to get Beta 6 out to my discord community yet! I’ve finished integrating the new cockpit into the game and empowered it with a ton of features – from bullet tracking, to a targeting system and more. We’re also overhauling the game’s UI from a screen overlay to being built into the actual space ship! Right now I’m trying to finish the Loadout screen so I can call the game campaign feature complete before I move onto finishing the content (missions, weapons, ship upgrades).

In terms of wishlist expectations we’re still targeting at least 1000 wishlists before launch. We’re 48.9% of the way there but that’s the minimum amount required for the game’s launch to have any chance of allowing me to make another game this year. It’s either that or I have to get another job doing Free2Play stuff while using evil, anti consumer, tactics!

We’re going to stick to our worst case scenario expectations of about 4 wishlists per day and hope we will never drop that low. At the current rate we are going at we need about 13 wishlists / day leading up to the launch on July 31st in order to achieve our target. Going by our worst case expectations of 4 wishlists / day, we’re looking at 641 wishlists on launch.

You can help us out in quite a few ways:

  • The easiest way is to go to our store page and wishlist the game, so you’ll be notified when it comes out.
  • Another way is to spread awareness of our marketing efforts, for two reasons:
    • First one is that it’s going to help other developers estimate their launch performances
      • Improve their marketing efforts
      • Adjust their expectations
    • Second one is that it’s also going to help boost the awareness of the game to people inside the industry. This doesn’t mean just game developers, but also editors and writers. They might not want to write about the game by itself but they might find an angle about Steam’s state and the game could get some more awareness because of that!
  • In order to help spread awareness about this you can link people to this blog post, the original one or the live data tracking document itself.
  • Third options to become our patrons. For as little as 1$ a month you can help us reach a steady revenue stream. We’re up to 50$ a month right now and, long term, it helps a ton.
  • Forth option is to follow me on twitter and re-tweet my stuff! It’s going to increase my reach and hopefully help get some more people to notice the game!

And with this we conclude this week’s marketing efforts and results! I really do hope next week’s post will be even bigger and more cheerful! I’m forever grateful to my lovely giants for helping me get here! I am extremely aware that, if it wasn’t for you guys, our worst case scenario would have become true!

THANK YOU,

Giants!

 

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Let’s talk about publishing Space Mercs

Hello Giants!

I launched the Space Mercs Linux and Windows demo this weekend on itch.io and the Bearded Giant Store. It’s been an amazing weekend for me – the first time I release a game (or a demo) where 90% of the feedback was positive while the rest 10% just focused on improvements needed in the options menu.

People on the BGG discord, reddit and twitter have been very vocal about their opinions in a good way and that tells me something: That I’m on the right track with this game. However, there’s a grim side to it:

Did you spot it? On itch, after 48 hours, I only managed to get 158 downloads of the demo. Those of you who’ve been following me on twitter know that I need about 500 copies sold during launch month in order to be financially secure till the end of the year. At a sell price of $9.99 that’s around $5000. This would cover my rent and mortgage + cat food and the occasional beer with fellow devs in Bucharest.

Looking at how the demo fared in the first 48 hours it’s clear to me that, even with the improvements suggested by the community, on launch I will not be able to reach my target. If I can’t generate 500 downloads of a free demo, I can’t get 500 sales of a paid version. Simple as that.

screenshot - mission 3 - huge battle with lasers flying around. Space Station in the background

And while I’m still going forward with finishing and launching the game at the end of June, maybe with a small delay to accommodate some of the feedback raised during this weekend, something needs to be said: The chances of me being able to release/make another game this year after Space Mercs are going to be grim. The company is not going to close down but things will move a lot more slowly till next year, as I will have to get a job again.

This is why, after thinking about it for a while, I came to conclusion that I need a publisher for the game. There’s no way I can generate enough interest on my own to reach my target. As such I’m calling out to my followers and friends out there: Help me find a publisher for Space Mercs that can bring the amount of attention the game needs.

I’m an amazing developer and designer (references can be given upon request). Been in the industry as a professional for 9 years and worked for a handful of professional studios. However, as much as I try, I cannot handle the marketing and publishing side of the business – not yet at least. As such I require a publisher to handle that.

The game, on launch day at the end of the month, will feature:

  • A 30 mission campaign in which the player, upon each mission completion, upgrades his ship performance, weapon loadout and abilities
    • missions differ in:
      • scale of the battle (from 3-4 enemies up to hundreds of them)
      • objectives that need to be accomplished
        • from destroy X enemies to disable specific ship components on huge enemy ships or stations
      • settings, both Visual (how the universe look, the station types, asteroid field size, etc) and Gameplay (area of play, debris the player has to navigate between)
  • A quick battle mode that puts the player in a team death-match like environment against 50 – 100 enemies which random objectives thrown in based on the unlocked campaign objectives.
  • A survival mode where the player has to jump from Sector to Sector to acquire better weapons and abilities while being chased by a huge enemy ships that aims to destroy him (which ties into the campaign ending)

As for performance and spec, the game is designed to look good and run even on lowspec systems. In it’s current state the game runs amazingly well on Integrated GPU’s (like the Intel HD 4000) or low end dedicated cards (GT 730) even at 1080p resolution with all effects turned on.

With the help of a publisher I believe the game can offer quite a few more things to make the experience even better:

  • Cinematics for the missions at the beginning and end
  • Better audio support – from voice acting (radio chatter) that can offer the player better information regarding the objectives they need to accomplish to a better soundtrack and SFX
  • Localization
  • Proper QA done – not just me spending a couple of hours with the game each build

The game has been in development for barely a month and a half – and the demo is the result of that. I can work really fast and I am extremely efficient at delivering. I’m a game designer who had to learn to code back in 2006 when engines weren’t in my reach to their price of entry.

I need a publisher who can get the game the attention it needs, which I can’t. My only request is that the game needs to come out with Linux support – it’s something I won’t budge out on.

I’m writing this post because I need to focus on finishing the game before the end of June deadline and I cannot afford to chase down individual publishers. Giants, I need your help to get the word out to indie publishers about this post and game. Please tweet about it, share it on reddit and get a hold of your contacts in the industry. I need your help and support in order to continue making premium games the way you like it!

Thank you Giants!

Publishers or interested parties: You can get in touch with me via e-mail or twitter! Let’s talk about how we can make this work! The game can be ported to the Nintendo Switch and I believe it will work really where there. I can’t afford to apply for a devkit at this stage.

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The problem with releasing on Steam

Hello development Giants!

Ever since I announced the Beta test for Space Mercs (which happens on the 20th of May – click here for details) people have been poking me on twitter, reddit and discord about the possibility of releasing the game on Steam – and I’ve been really vague about it. It’s time to see why.

Let’s look at the facts

As with any game developer that tries to take his job at least a tiny bit serious I have to do some market research to understand what exactly to expect and how much I can stretch with my game. When I started working on Space Mercs (which, by the way is exactly one month old – development time wise, today – yay) I had the following goals in mind:

  • It must be a space combat game with emphasis on fast aerial combat and dodges
  • Allow ease of content production based on a tight core-loop experience
  • Has a linux-centric approach (aka tries to promote Linux as an OS)
  • Should not take more than a month to validate is gameplay
  • Can be categorized as a coffee-break game
  • Runs on a toaster or a 10 year old pc
  • Developed on Linux

The goals I’ve set for the game are mirroring more or less the goals I have for Bearded Giant Games as a studio and game store: one time purchases of, drm-free, premium games with high replay value and tight+exploitable gameplay mechanics. Or, better said, Bearded Giant Games wants to deliver games with decent graphics, that scratch an itch and are fun to play in 5-10 minutes bursts. I cannot, by myself, produce high quality games with a deep and immersive storyline, that can keep you engaged for hours on end, games that also look great and play amazing. It’s just not possible for me as a one-man studio to do that – I know my limits. If I had a huge budget for my games I’d be crazy enough to try but as things are it’s out of my hands.

So what does this have to do with releasing Space Mercs on steam? Pretty much everything at this point.

I’m not sure how many of you are aware of Ebony Spire’s 2017 release? To keep it short – I expected that I could ship at least 700 copies of the game on Steam in two months. The kicker? I shipped over 6000 copies but not after failing, HARD, to achieve my two months goal. And I reached the 6000 copies sold thanks to one of my blog posts exploding all over Hacker News and Gamasutra – not something I can hope to achieve again today. Well and with the help of a bundle that drastically de-evaluated the game but that’s not the point. The point is that two years ago, when the space was less crowded than it is now, I barely managed to sell 100 copies in two months – on Steam. It was a shocking truth to wake up too but I learned my lesson.

So what are the chances that, in a similar situation, I can outsell Ebony Spire on Steam at release? With objectively the same reach (in terms of marketing) as before? If you’re not going to say it – I will: ZILCH, so close to zero it’s basically being floored back to it.

The truth is, no matter how awesome gifs from the game look like on twitter, my Space Mercs account hasn’t even passed 50 followers yet despite getting a couple of retweets from accounts with a huge number of followers for the past few weeks. I want traction – I’m just not able to get it with my reach.

Market Research

I’ve been showing off the game to friends, devs and possible future owners, in preparation for the Beta on the 20th of May. A few discussions that spun off from the game was the price tag. I mentioned I’m going to sell it for about 10$ and that I need to sell about 500 copies of the game in order to afford to not do any more contracting work or get a job till the end of this year. A fellow dev I love and respect, rightfully, asked why not go for a 6$ price tag and hope for ~900 sales and the thing is there’s no way I can achieve that. I think.

Truth is I scouted out my “competition” on steam in the past few days and narrowed it down to this excel spreadsheet. It’s split into two categories: Games on the low-end of the indie pricing scheme (<10$) and the high end ($10+). Each entry on the spreedsheet has a Name, a link, the price, number of reviews and estimated copies sold based on the good-ol’ number of reviews * 50 method. Going by the averages games in the low end category average at 8$ and ~6000 copies sold while those on the high end have a price point around 17$ and >80K copies sold.

Fitting somewhere in there would be amazing but that’s not the objective truth. The objective truth is that if I compare the scope of the games, their production value and features 90% of the games on that list have me beat.

The game I closest come to in terms of features and scope is Strike Suit Infinity but it clearly kicks my ass at graphical quality (production value) and price point (5.99$). So if that game is objectively better than mine (on paper) does supporting Linux and having the game run well even on old hardware warrant a higher price that SS: Infinity? By almost 100% (9.99$ vs 5.99$)?

As a steam buyer – knowing that Strike Suit Infinity exists on Steam why would you purchase Space Mercs when you can purchase that one? And if you already purchased SSI why purchase SM? And the same argument applies to a few of the other games on that list right now. I beat some of them in an area and they kick my ass in the remaining ones. The only, logical, solution is to drop the price of the game accordingly to somewhere between 2.99$ and 4.99$. But that comes with other problems as well: Will I be able to sell enough copies at a much much lower price point in order for me to reach my goal? At 9.99$ a pop I just need to sell 500 copies of the game and I can work on more Bearded Giant Games till the end of the year. At 4.99$ I’d need to sell 1000 copies. At 2.99$ I’d have to sell >1600 copies of the game.

And this doesn’t even take into account the 30% cut Steam takes, the 10% America cut and my own taxes. So in reality at 4.99$ in order to reach the current goal I would have to sell ~2000 copies of the game on Steam. That’s 4 times as much as if I were to sell it on my own.

Surviving on Indie Games is hard yo….

Okay, you can say “Bro, release it on your website but put it up on Steam and you’ll get some extra cash” which might be true however – this requires extra effort. Maintaining the Steam build (this includes Windows) up-to-date with the BGG version, adding Steam features (cloud saves, trading card games, achievements) and managing support on Steam for the buyers. And no, I’d get little to no exposure or purchases on steam without Steam features btw, so just throwing a build up there won’t even make back the 100$ price for a submission – learned that the hard way.

So what can I do, if I don’t release on steam I KNOW I’ll miss out on some of your hard earned money, my lovely little giants! And it’s not that I don’t want to release on Steam – I already paid the submission fee, it’s just that it’s not worth it at my scale and reach.

But it can be

Hear me out on this one because it’s a doozy and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who ever thought about trying it this way: I’ll setup the steam page and use it to collect wishlists. With the Steam version being the same as the one on BGG (no steam specific features) I can keep the game page there and keep the steam page in coming soon mode to acquire wishlists as time passes. People that purchase the game on the BGG store will receive a key for the unreleased steam version so they can play it through steam.

The game will stay on steam in an un-released fashion until releasing on it will be worth it:

  • the game was purchased enough times on BGG to warrant more additions to it so it will beat out it’s competition in terms of features/producton value
  • or the wishlist number grows a ton and the conversion rate is worth it for a full supported release
  • or something magical happens that screams – do it – release it now

And I believe it’s a good middle of the road scenario. You guys get to have the game on Steam if that’s what you want, I get to avoid headache’s in having to support steam and it’s features and I offer no competition to the games already there. By placing a release date so far into the future I‘m not going to eat any space from the already crowded market so other devs won’t hate me for it. The only caveat being if Valve decides to do something about this and ban me from steam (or the game) at which point, they are in the right to do it. At least you can’t say I didn’t try to please you.

Truth be told that’s the scenario I’m facing right now. I don’t want to do any more freelancing or get another job as a designer doing things that I hate. Free2play is clearly not for me or in my blood – I’m good at it but that’s just because I hate it. But I can’t work on Bearded Giant Games full time unless I earn AT THE VERY MINIMUM 1000$ / month from it.

So that’s my approach to Steam nowadays. I can’t compete in it at my scale, I can’t not release on it because everyone and their grandmother is yelling for a steam release. I believe I found a good middle-ground scenario for now.

Or

You guys can help me take the plunge towards doing a full featured steam release – in two ways:

  • Becoming a patron and moving the bar towards the first target: 1000$. With that I can afford to take steam into account and not have to do ugly hacks that might get me banned from the platform in order to please possible buyers. And by being a 5$ tiered patron you get access to all my current, and future, games on the BGG platform to use and abuse until you decide to remove your Patreon pledge (you can still keep and use the games you download even after that).

  • Another option would be to purchase the games on the BGG store on release and help me reach 100 copies sold on Bearded Giant Games. That’s almost 1000$ for me on release, enough to “pay myself” to add the needed Steam features to incline the balance a bit in my favor and pay for rent during development so I can post-pone picking up more work.

That’s the other options in the current state of things. I support and do development on Linux – it gets me enough good will from Linux users and I’m happy to do that. I love it as a platform, both for development and general usage and I want to see it grow. It’s part of the reason why I started Bearded Giant Games. The other reason is in this blog post. Even if none of the two alternative best cases scenarios happen – Space Mercs releasing on BGG only is still good for the future because it helps me grow my catalogue of games and hopefully amas more fans in the process. And with the next release I’ll see even more purchases and coverage at launch – even if it means just a simple +1.

Thank your for reading Giants! Till next time.

 

 

 

 

 

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Farm life revenue + Patreon Support

Hello Giants,

Farm Life was officially released a couple of days ago and the sales have been going better than I expected. Thank you for the kind words and for supporting Bearded Giant Games, I am immensely humbled by everyone’s reactions. I am glad you are enjoying the game and happy to provide one of the few premium Match 3 experiences for Linux!

Since it’s release Farm Life sold 27 copies totaling about 200$ in revenue. For a small indie that’s publishing a casual game for a platform as small, and lovely, as ours that’s amazing. It doesn’t sound like much but just think about it a little: most indie games releasing on Steam, at this point, barely recoup their 100$ fee to publish on the platform at the end of the month. For me this thought alone is amazing and enough to melt my bearded heart.

Here’s something that happened tho’: Quite a few users reached out to me and asked about other methods of payment for my game since they believe paypal is invasive. And I agree with that statement however, at this point, I cannot afford to integrate another payment method (and Stripe is not supported in Romania). This is why I decided to setup a Patreon page for the store. By pledging to support Bearded Giant Games on Patreon you’ll get access to all the games I release on the store (past, present and future), access to private releases on our Discord channel and many many many other goodies!

This way you can sidestep paypal and use other payment processors, support Linux Game Development (or at least, my little area of it) and put a big smile on this Bearded Giant’s Face. This is also a good way towards establishing a stable revenue stream for the future: The more my income from BGG stabilizes the more I can focus on it instead of doing more freelancing gigs. It will allow me to focus more on creating games like Farm Life and Ebony Spire! So head on over the Patreon page and become an officially pledged Giant! Then join our Discord server and join Sheo in bossing me around.

 

 

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Farm Life launches on Linux on April 23rd

Hello Giants!

Five months ago I’ve setup the Bearded Giant Store as a mean of distributing my games to the world without having to worry about spreading my resources too thin on 3rd party platforms and stores. It’s also back then that I wrote the Linux 1st Initiative – the driving force behind this website existence, and made public my desire to have Linux as a 1st class citizen on this website. At the end of the manifesto I also mentioned that I’m interested in bringing more games to Linux as a platform and now, just five months later, that part of the initiative bore fruit!

Why bring a premium Match 3 to Linux?

When most people think of premium games they don’t usually think of Match 3 or casual games so when I announced I’m porting and publishing a game in the aformentioned genres some eyebrows were raised. Honestly there are multiple reasons for partnering with RVL Games and bringing Farm Life to Linux but here’s my favorite one:

Linux as a platform is growing! We know that from Steam’s Hardware reports, from the amount of Help and Hello posts (mostly titled with “Migrated”) on reddit and heck, even Linux Tech Tips started paying more and more attention to Linux. As more and more people jump on the platform and we get some growth so does the variation in taste and types of games. What I’m saying is that amongst new users there are those who love and want casual games and if we, as a platform, can’t fulfill their needs they might just go away. So if you ask me why I’m porting and publishing Farm Life well, here it is: There are barely any quality Match 3 games for the platform and a demand for them might start popping up soon! Heck it looks to me like an underserved niche.

Besides, if the game performs well (and in time it should), I might get some more work porting and bringing new titles to the platform from developers who otherwise would not have it on their radar. In case of RVL Games this is a good tryout and if they like it they might bring more of their catalogue of games here (not necessarily to the BGG Store) . We keep looking at Triple A studios and asking them to bring their big titles over but what about the smaller guys and their audience?

The Linux 1st Initiative doesn’t just mean that I’m exclusively making games for Linux and that’s that. It’s about putting Linux first and doing my best to help it grow. In exchange for that I hope to make a decent amount of revenue to keep me going for as long as possible. Hopefully till there will be no more need for me to do this but hopefully longer.

Farm Life - aunt linda's farmWhat’s up with Farm Life?

The port is done. Last RC is being tested on the Bearded Giant discord server but things are looking sweet. I know from the Steam Hardware survey that there are a lot of low to mid-end machines on Linux so part of my tasks during the porting process was optimizing the game for those machines. The lowest spec I tested the game on is my NAS machine with a Intel J1800 CPU and Integrated Graphics at a smooth 40+ FPS. In order to make sure the game runs on low spec hardware and with Farm Life being a unity game I had to play around with a ton of things ranging from Unity Terrain support, particle effects, shaders and more. It wasn’t as hard to port as it is to make a new game but it did have it’s challenges. Heck I even used my experience in designing match 3 games from my time at Mobility-Games to update some levels a bit for those of you playing through the classic mode of the game.

And the game is great. When I signed with RVL Games I knew they had tons of experience designing casual games but I did not expect to enjoy Farm Life so much. The levels are fun but the storyline and the minor details on the Farm Area of the game are amazing. When I refer to the game as a Premium experience I don’t mean that it just doesn’t have In-App Purchases. I mean the whole package is premium. From the characters and their bios to the birds flying around and the cars stopping near the farm with a subtle halt that imitates a cartoon car braking.

I’m actually happy the original developer decided to take a risk with me and my little store as I believe many will benefit from the game being here (in terms of satisfaction). I really hope the game does well on Linux as that might mean more developers like RVL Games might join the fray (again, not necessarily on the Bearded Giant Store – any new game natively brought to Linux is a WIN for ALL OF US).

So when is the game coming out you ask? On Tuesday, April 23rd. Sometimes at noon in Europe. I want to celebrate the launch with a beverage in my hand and my cats will likely kill me if I start drinking before 5 PM. It’s going to cost you 6.99$ and you’ll get around 10+ hours of fun (likely more if you don’t just skip through the story) and working fullscreen support (learned my lesson with Ebony Spire thank you very much). Ogh and building up the farm is pretty fun. The game looks great, in my opinion at least.

So join me in discord for any last minute drama that’s normally bound to happen with my releases. Worst case you’ll just see Sheo pestering me about something non-essential and get a laugh out of that. Or in case socializing on the new mass-appeal discount-irc discussion system isn’t for you drop us a follow on the Store’s Twitter page to stay up to date. Or just refresh your browser every 10 seconds like I did for the Dragon Age Origins launch a decade ago (no really, I almost broke a keyboard back then waiting for it to launch).

P.S. Some screens from the game

 

 

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New game launch + Thoughts on Unity on Linux in 2019

Hello Giants!

Those of you who keep an eye on the front page, follow me on twitter or are active in our discord server know I just launched a small game for Android today called Retro Sail. It’s cute, skill based, features no ads as lacks any kind of IAP. It was also designed and developed in under five days with Unity. Now those of you who think this is some kind of a praise for Unity as an engine, especially those who weren’t in discord, let me warn you – it is not.

For the past 5 days I’ve been through a roller coaster of emotions due to using Unity and I’ll walk you through the reasons in a second. Before that let me just say that after spending these past days using it on Linux makes me want to focus even more on Pint as my main game development tool. Let’s jump through it.

The most stable version of unity, 2017 LTS would put even a Bethesda game, on release, to shame in terms of crashes and bugs.

Last time I got to try Unity engine on Linux was in 2016 and for a first attempt at supporting the Editor on Linux they were onto something. Yes it wasn’t extremely stable and there were a ton of problems with dragging and dropping but it was also an experimental, fresh build. Fast forward to today and well, nothing much has changed. Unity now comes with a launcher called the Unity Hub and all I can say about it is that it’s a convenient way to manage different versions of the engine. In my case I had the option of installing:

  • Unity 2018.3.4.f1
  • Unity 2018.2.2.20f1
  • Unity 2017.4.19f1(LTS)

Out of the three choices the only one who would open up the editor was 2017 version, the 2018 ones would crash as soon as a project was created and loaded. 2017 isn’t far off from this behavior but at least I managed to do get the editor working.

2017 LTS version of Unity comes without Mono Develop, does not install the Android subsystem needed to build Android projects and crashes every single time you open up a project unless the project folder isn’t cleaned of any Interface or Project setting. But again, at least it works. Barely.

Mono develop can be installed externally but actually getting it integrated properly with Unity 2017 is a tale in itself. Let’s just say that I finally got it working but had to default to Visual Studio Code because:

  • Copy pasting anything from outside Mono Develop into Mono Develop was not an option
  • Trying to edit a script from the editor by double clicking on it would open up a new Mono Develop window and solution
  • Even more so sometimes Unity would point out errors on code lines that weren’t there in a given file.

So if you’re looking to try out Unity 2017 on Linux save yourself some trouble, get Visual Studio Code and install the .NET required plugins for it.

Building for Android is a no-no unless you install p7zip-full.

I needed Unity so I can develop a Android game (still Linux, right?) in a few days to put up on the Bearded Giant Games store. Let’s be honest, the BGG store is lacking content and I’m bleeding a lot of new visitors and old visitors. Might as well design a tight game to keep them busy until Outwarp comes out. Back to Unity tho’. If you try to install the Android subsystem needed to build games for Android and use the Unity Hub you’ll just be notified, after the install, that it failed due to an unknown error. After digging for a while the solution for this was simple, get p7zip-full onto my system because Unity requires it. Ubuntu users can just do a

apt-get install p7zip-full

Again this took quite a few hours to debug and figure out since, from my research, it wasn’t documented anywhere. Thank you who ever tweeted about this, you were a life saver (and the reason Retro Sail is out).

Importing audio files is a no-no in 2017.4.19f (LTS) because it is deployed with the wrong library.

Main mechanics completed it was time for me to focus on sounds and audio design for the game and another what the hell moment came when trying to import some audio files into the game. Long story short Unity would default on importing the Audio Files because of a problem with FSBTool and actively required me to download fmod and copy libvorbis.so.2 from it into the Data Folder (editor’s data folder, not the game’s). However, due to FMOD’s licensing I did not want to touch it. After some more browsing I decided to download Unity 2018.2.2.20f1 and copy the FSBTool libraries from it into 2017 and voila, it worked perfectly in 90% of the cases (the remainder 10% required me to import Audio file into Audacity and Export it again as an .ogg file).

Massive processor hog after a few hours of usage

My biggest problem with Unity on Linux didn’t come from android subsystem and/or the FSB Tool problems. Nor did the lack of MonoDevelop (as I affectionately use VSCode for Pint and my other projects) but the fact that a couple of hours in my little Brix PC would slow down to a crawl. And remember this is the same Brix PC I used Unity on for the past few years on major projects as a contractor/freelancer. The OS is installed on a SSD so closing unity and restarting it to get rid of the proc hog wasn’t a problem. Having to delete the ENTIRE LIBRARY FOLDER, Project Settings, Package Manager and Packages after every restart in order to be able to open up the editor? Now that can drive people crazy.

For those of you asking what’s the big deal here’s a small painting of the situation: At best I could go with Unity editor open for ~2 hours before pressing the play button became an exercise in frustration. Closing down the editor and making sure my changes are saved: 4-5 minutes. Restarting the PC from off state? 35 seconds. Deleting the Library, Project Settings and UnityPackage manager folder? 4 seconds. Waiting for the library to be rebuild? 14 minutes. Time for a FIRST BUILD for Android after a reboot? 23 minutes (with subsequent builds being done in < 1 minute). Also, remember, every new opening of the editor had me having to assign the scenes again and set the proper player settings anew.

So for every two hours of work in Unity 2017 under Linux I would loose 43 minutes trying to get it back up again. Add in a few Random Crashes from trying to change the Editor’s Interface elements and mandatory PC restarts and yeah, I lost almost 40% of my development time without doing anything for the game.

Other Linux specific quirks worth mentioning

One issue I discovered today happened while I was preparing Retro Sail for release on the Play Store. The game’s version for Bearded Giant Games was already up after being spitted out by Unity so that wasn’t a problem and it was deemed to work great by the people on Discord. So I did what any other person would do and spit up a Gradle projects and prepare the release for google Play. And release indeed it did but with a small quirk that I believe cost me a few refunds: The FIRST and LAST SCENES were reversed. That means the Main Menu scene of the game was positioned last (scene 4) in the build and the Game Over scene was the scene that welcomed users to their new purchase.

Another thing to note is that any window that pops up outside of the Unity Editor (profiler, shaders, etc) will not position itself accordingly on the screen. What I mean by that is that the top bar and half of the window in height will be hidden on the upper part of your monitor without the ability to move it. When you are a person that lives and dies with the profiler in it’s hand this can and will be a huge turn off. For this I found no fix and I only tested Unity 3D on Gnome. Not sure if this issue occurs on KDE, Unity (hehe) or any other desktop environment.

Ending Thoughts

I was on the fence about using Unity as a tool for my OWN games. I still have to use it for my legacy client projects but for my own titles I’m not sure I want to touch it again. I made a game in about 5 days with it and that shows it’s power. On the other hand those 5 days could have easily been an extended jam period (48h + 20-ish more for polishing) from conception to publishing. It’s a decent engine but on Linux it’s behaves worse than anything else I ever got my hands on. I recommend staying away from the LTS version if you can. And hopefully you’re not running integrated graphics on your machine or else the 2018 version won’t even start.

I made Retro Sail from inception to publishing it on the Bearded Giant Store and the Play Store in just five days using Unity 2017 on Linux because I am a masochist and you shouldn’t do it. But hey, if you want to support such masochistic acts get my games. It will only encourage me to keep doing stuff like this.

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January Studio Update – Income report

Hello Giants,

It’s a new year and with it comes my new transparency studio report on our earnings via the Bearded Giant Store, in-development projects and my open source tools/frameworks. I strongly believe in my Linux 1st Initiative and want more people to join in developing for Linux as a target platform. The best way I can raise awareness towards Linux as a viable platform is to publish my earnings in a monthly income report post and have said earnings, hopefully, grow as I release more games. My goal so far is to reach a steady 300$ / month of income from my web store before the year ends.

I get that for some people 300$ is nothing but do keep in mind that I have other income sources from freelancing to game design courses. I want to grow the Bearded Giant brand/business steadily over the next few years. With more games comes a bigger back-catalogue that will earn income passively and, in theory, each new released game should increase the monthly revenue. My hopes are that with each new income report the numbers get higher and higher and more people are attracted towards setting up their own long-term Linux centered side/main business.

Income Report!

I announced the Bearded Giant Store in December and thanks to Gaming on Linux and the r/linux_gaming subreddit the reception has blown my expectations in terms of sales. As such the turnover for December is way higher than what I expect the norm to be and is reflected in this month (January) sales.

The total amount of sales from December:

Ebony Spire Heresy:

  • Linux: 64 copies sold – 447$
  • Windows: 5 copies sold – 34,95$

Rogue Sweeper:

  • Linux: 26 copies sold – 36,14$
  • Windows: 7 copies sold – 9,73$

Total: 527$.

December was a great month for me that blew my expectations, however, it’s important to note that a huge chunk of the sales were from people who heard about the Linux 1st Initiative and wanted to support it. As such December will not contribute to my baseline towards the 300$/month target for 2019. For some more juicy December data check this out:

  • Visits to the Bearded Giant Store: 3.7K
  • Highest referral being GoL’s article with 893 visitors sent this way! (Thank you Liam and GoL’s staff! You are all amazing)
  • Number of requests to delete purchase data: 7 (check out my privacy policy for more details)
  • Most visits by country: US with 712 visits followed closely by Germany (347) and Romania (312)

Moving onto January things are a bit different and more in-line with my expectations for this month.

The total amount of sales from January:

Ebony Spire Heresy:

  • Linux: 6 copies sold – 41,94$
  • Windows: 2 copies sold – 13,98$

Rogue Sweeper:

  • Linux: 6 copies sold – 8,34$

Total: 64,26$

Like I previously stated there’s a huge discrepancy between December’s sales and January and that’s because of the amount of traffic sent my way from news coverage on the Linux 1st Initiative. However I’m not taking this as a bad thing since it’s pretty much in-line with my expectations! Let’s go over the other stats:

  • Visits to the Bearded Giant Store: 263
  • Highest referral being google with 43 unique visitors sent my way
  • Number of requests to delete purchase data: 0
  • Most visits by country: Romania with 97 visits followed by the US with 63 and UK with 27!

The total amount of revenue generated from the Bearded Giant Store so far:

Following up before the end of the month will be a blog post announcing the new game in development for Linux under the Bearded Giant Brand and a progress report on my new game development framework called Pint! If you want to get in contact with me you can do so via our DISCORD server or by sending me an e-mail at contact@beardedgiant.games! You can also follow me on twitter or stay up-to-date with Bearded Giant Games on Facebook!

Thank you Giants and have an amazing year! 

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December studio update and Pint progress report

Hello Giants,

Welcome to the last Bearded Giant Games studio report for 2018! The store has been live for a while now and sales have been steady. I’m happy with how well it performed ahead of my initial launch estimate. Starting with January 2019 I’ll open up a new blog category titled Sales and Transparency report where I’ll go into details on how the studio is performing. Hopefully people will be able to learn from my experience and I can grow both as a business and as a developer.

For the past few days I’ve been bedridden, struck by the flu so I had enough time to work on Pint, my new internal game engine. It’s pretty stable and nice so far and I cannot wait to push it out into full production use soon. In the video bellow I’m rendering ~1400 sprites for both backgrounds + the enemies on screen. All scaled, transformed and translated and the FPS is over 100 even on my little Chromebook 14. The memory footprint itself is also extremely small with the game eating less than 48 mb of ram.

Graphics are all placeholders from google images/oga for testing purposes. I’m using a neat little rendering technique inspired by how the scene/roads are rendered in a game like Outrun and it seems pretty fun. Once I add support for animation frames in Pint I think I’ll have a pretty nice demo to release alongside the engine. It just needs some explosions, some screen shakes and proper animations.

On the game development side I have no new game in progress right now however I am toying with a few ideas. I like the faux 3D and fake perspective usage in other games and I’ll probably play with that for my next title. The goal is to have a working game prototype by the end of January so I can focus on developing that in the upcoming months. I’ve already been throwing out some ideas and started a few debates on this subject with people from our Discord server (you are free to join the server and tag along in the conversations as they happen) so I guess I’m narrowing down the list of possible game candidates from a handful to 3-4 projects. Only one will survive in the end!

That’s all for this Studio Update. Pint development is going great, evolving slowly but steady into a framework I can use and abuse in the future. The discord community has been growing nicely in the past few weeks and more and more people are learning about the Linux 1st Initiative (a huge thank you to GamingOnLinux for their shoutout and the discussion it started on their article).

Thank you Giants and Happy Holidays!