I’m facing a dilemma.
I’m sure it’s a dilemma lots of people (specifically: indie game developers) are facing around the world, but I’m just going to talk about me.
I made a game. It’s called CUBD. It’s a 3D arcade-puzzle game for iOS, and I think it’s pretty good. CUBD plays like a combination of a Rubik’s Cube, Bejewelled and Tetris – it’s fun, colourful, simple and addictive, and I know several people who are hopelessly hooked on it.
CUBD won an nVidia competition while in beta, and has been awarded a prestigious Mobile of the Day award by the FWA (it’ll be featured on the 31st August – check it out!). I’ve got a solid five star rating on the App Store with about 30 reviews, and have been retweeted with praise for the game by people from Mike Bithell to Flash’s own Twitter account to thousands and thousands of people.
All of which has resulted in a grand total of about 170 sales. Not bad, considering 60% of the apps in the App Store have never been downloaded, but hardly on the scale of Angry Birds. To be honest, it’s not even on the scale of Hair Removal (“Oh, my god, there are so many hairs on my face in such a short time. Who can help me, please!”), a frankly shit-looking game that’s currently invading App Store Top 10s around the world, but there you go.
“Oh, my god, there are so many hairs on my face in such a short time. Who can help me, please!”
170 sales equals a lifetime profit of just under £70. Considering I worked on CUBD for about a year (as a side project, not solidly) that’s not a great income. Thankfully I’m not a full-time game developer and I don’t rely on sales of my games to survive. CUBD was a labour of love; the whole project was a Fifty Shades of Grey-ish mixture of pleasure, pain, curiosity and stubbornness.
So what’s my next move?
Apps – thousands of them
I’ve wanted to make games for as long as I can remember, and I’ve started lots of them, but CUBD is the first game that I’ve actually finished – and therefore the first one I’ve marketed. And man, marketing a game is hard work. And depressing. I’ve probably sent about a hundred emails to blogs, magazines, reviewers, editors, and got no replies. Zip. Zilcho. Naffink. It’s not surprising when you consider the scale of the industry and how many apps people are bombarded with (some sites claimed to receive over fifty a day) but it’s still frustrating.
Marketing a game is a full-time job, unless you’ve already had success in the past and have journalists and bloggers queuing up to talk about your next project (and it’s not guaranteed even then – see Size Five’s Gun Monkeys). I’ve read hundreds of tips about how to write good first-contact emails (with journos, not aliens); I’ve included screenshots (not too many, not too few) and links to gameplay videos; I’ve tried to walk the line between being boring techtalk and hyperbolic frothing. The thing is, you can do all of that and still not make it. Luck plays a big part in making it big, but sadly luck isn’t something you can rely on (“luck is a multiplier”, as Mike Bithell recently said) – marketing a game needs a lot of time and effort.
So here’s the question: do I get my head down and keep pushing CUBD and or do I make more games? CUBD was only ever a “let’s see if I can do this” project, not something I intended to “bring to market”, as the business-bots say on the Apprentice. But now I’m here, I really like the game and it seems to be well-received – it kinda does seem worth pushing, right?
Financial success and recognition by your peers are always nice, but at what cost? I’m buzzing with ideas for games that I don’t have time to make now, let alone if I take on the running of a marketing campaign for my own damn game. I got a creative itch, man, and it needs scratching.
So, what next?
As I said at the start, I’m sure this is a dilemma faced by pretty much all indie developers, apart from those lucky few who’ve hit the big time. So what’s it to be: more games, or more marketing?