Lair of the Evildoer in playtest

Quick update to say that Lair of the Evildoer is in playtest over at the AppHub. You need to be a premium member to view the thread or download the game.

I found the previous playtests (under the name “Project Splice”) to be very successful both in terms of feedback and motivation. I feel like I’m on the home stretch for the game now, so hopefully these “beta”-esque playtests will be equally useful.

No video this week, purely because they take a lot of time to produce and that time is currently going towards development. It’s been a while since my last video though, and thus there’s nothing really representative of the current state of the game that I can show anybody. I hope to change that next week with a trailer and an official announcement. Maybe.

Why aren’t you following me on Twitter? That hurts.

Here’s a screenshot for being so well-behaved:

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Do Indies Crunch?

I happen to have a convenient two week block of spare time and a game that needs finishing. I plan on crunching.

But wait you say! Crunching is bad! Yes, I’ve heard that too – here’s a good article detailing why. I’ve also experienced the fun that crunching for a big publisher isn’t.  And yet, free of the shackles, I’ve got my Red Bull on my desk ready to go.

As an independent developer, you basically get to control your own destiny. You pick what game you make, the genre, the platform, the price point and even the release date. You don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck threatening to take away funding. On the other hand, you don’t have that funding to begin with. And you need to eat, so shipping isn’t really an optional part of the job. Crunching to get there is up to you.

My reason for crunching is obviously to accomplish more in a shorter period of time. But I also know that I can afford to take it relatively easy after this stretch. I figure that if I’m following agile methodology and sprinting all the time, shouldn’t I jog at some point? Maybe the interval training analogy is flimsier than I thought.

So indie developers, do you crunch? Why?

Early gameplay video for upcoming title

Oooh, generic post title! I’m not yet ready to announce the title of my next game, but I figure I can start showing off some of the progress I’ve made. Here’s a quick video:

Bear in mind that most of the assets are placeholders. I’m working on honing the gameplay and progression mechanics first and foremost. More to come!

Zombie Accountant Sales, Thoughts

Zombie Accountant hit the Xbox Live marketplace just over a week ago, so I figured it would be a good time to share my thoughts on the process along with some sales data. I’ll also go over the sales of the WP7 version and what I’m working on next, just to keep things interesting.

Peer Review

Zombie Accountant entered AppHub Peer Review on Thursday, Nov 25th. This is my first game, and while I’ve been answering questions in the forums for a while, I don’t have much reputation. With no past releases, I didn’t garner any attention from other peer reviewers and had to wait until my game floated towards the top of the list (as games are sorted in ascending order by date entered into peer review). This was no real surprise, although it is a bit deflating to see games after yours start to get reviews. However, after 6 days I got my first review. Two days later (which felt like an eternity) and Zombie Accountant had accrued enough passes to be approved for the marketplace. This was excellent for two reasons: first, I had finally released a game for XBLIG! And second, it was going to hit the market late on Friday / early on Saturday, which is a beneficial time to appear on the New Releases list.

Sales on XBLIG

First off, my expectations for Zombie Accountant were not high. I’ve followed the “Share you sales numbers” thread for long enough to know that even great games can be buried before they get a few thousands downloads. For me, ZA was more about testing the process of releasing a game and getting over the mental barrier of never-having-shipped-an-indie-game. Getting trials and feedback was the next most important thing. Sales were just gravy.

Too many words! Let’s look at a pretty chart and some actual numbers:

Date Trials Sales Conv
12/04/2010 4258 189 4.44%
12/05/2010 3520 191 5.43%
12/06/2010 1944 126 6.48%
12/07/2010 1229 87 7.08%
12/08/2010 796 60 7.54%
12/09/2010 606 49 8.09%
12/10/2010 631 40 6.34%
12/11/2010 818 74 9.05%
12/12/2010 746 65 8.71%
12/13/2010 479 41 8.56%
Grand Total 15027 922 6.14%

I was stunned when I saw the download numbers. I never thought I’d reach 15K downloads, let alone within 10 days of release. The sales were a pleasant surprise too, though largely as a corollary to the trial numbers. I figured conversion would lie in the 5-10% range, which appears to be dead on. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not satisfied with that ratio. But it is what I expected.

As a nice consequence of these trial numbers, Zombie Accountant occupied the #1 spot on the Indie Games list at Xbox.com when sorted by “Best selling today”. It was like that in the US, the UK, Canada and even Germany. It was like that for three or four days! I’m pretty proud of that. (And no, it’s not #1 anymore.)

However, it’s obvious that “Best selling today” must refer to download numbers, and not actual sales. This is because another game, Epic Dungeon, sat in the #2 spot during a period where its developer shared downloads and sales stats. The number of downloads was just slightly less than that of Zombie Accountant (giving Epic Dungeon second place) while its sales were roughly 8x that of ZA. I believe the dashboard’s Top Download list’s ordering reflected actual sales, but I didn’t keep as close an eye on that.

The decline in downloads, sales and ratings is not surprising. If anything, I expected the drop-off to be more like 50% a day whereas it seems to be closer to 33%. There was also a nice uptick on its second weekend, reinforcing the notion that weekends do matter when it comes to release timing. Overall, I’m very happy.

Sales on WP7

Last week, Microsoft updated the AppHub with reports for WP7. This kinda makes my post on using analytics to track sales a bit redundant, although I think there is a wealth of data that can be gathered using this approach. For instance, I was taken aback at how few people look at the options, help and credits screens.

Anyway, I already had a good sense of how Zombie Accountant was performing on WP7, so the official reports were not a surprise. There are, however, still disappointing:

This chart shows total downloads. Total sales are 19. The reports are a bit wonky, in that they list “Paid”, “Trial” and “Free” numbers. Does a trial that gets converted to paid count for both? What if you just download the paid version right away? What the hell is free? A re-download? One user license on multiple phones? An update? Who knows.

So 19 sales in month. Pointless really. Unless I make another WP7 game, I won’t be getting a payout.

Where Next

So WP7 results are gloomy. Other developers have had some success though, so I won’t write the platform off. I’m not targetting it at the moment though.

XBLIG is where it’s at! I’d also like to make a foray into PC gaming, through a portal like GamersGate or hosted on my own site. I’m sticking with XNA for now though, so that limits the cross-platform appeal for PC.

I’ve been playing around with few things to prototype my next project. First was to grab Farseer physics and mess around with that. Next was to implement 2D dynamic shadows on the GPU using Catalin Zima’s excellent tutorial. Lastly, I’ve been wading through the Procedural Content Generation wiki. I’ve always wanted to dabble with procedural levels, so I think my next project will involve that. I am undecided on whether procedural generation will end up in the final product or if I will just use it as a starting point to help me make content. Either way, I feel I’ll need the help when it comes to producing content. I’ve just implemented some dungeon generation from a series here by Dirk Kok. I’m happy with the initial results.

Take a look: