A year and a half ago I quit my job (along with my buddy Dave) so we could make some games together. Crawl is our first game- a local-multiplayer dungeon crawler for PC- and the plucky little scamp was released on Steam Early Access around twelve days ago! Here are some thoughts and figures on the whole escapade, along with some photos from our launch party:
Crazy rush for final gameplay features, crazy rush for tutorial info, crazy rush for balancing and polish and bug testing, eighty-hour work weeks trying to make a launch trailer while Dave is going crazy with accountants and lawyers and banks and IRS mumbo-jumbo… pretty much a cake-walk, assuming these cakes are really, really hard to walk on!
We fixed and balanced what we could from player feedback, we did extensive bug testing, made trailers, made a press kit, contacted the press, sent out builds and blabbed like idiots through Twitter, Facebook, our blog, and anywhere else people would listen- trying to tick every box on the indie game-launch checklist.
Our launch marketing was well received, but didn’t really take off like we had hoped. Previous marketing had spread very well, and we’re not sure why the response was smaller this time.
Our Greenlight trailer had 100k views within the first day, our launch delay .GIF spread like crazy and ended up on the front page of Reddit, but our launch date announcement and our “OUT NOW” launch day marketing both fell quite flat by comparison.
The noise around Twitter seemed bigger than previously, but many sites which covered the game announcement and delay did not cover the actual launch. Our coverage has come in a steady trickle rather than the burst we previously experienced, which makes me wonder if our press mail-out missed the mark in some way, or perhaps local-multiplayer and/or Early Access are more of a deterrent for coverage than we had anticipated.
Still, the coverage has been amazingly positive, and has put to bed so many niggling fears and insecurities about how the game would be received!
Let’s just say my life’s secret purpose now has a big red tick next to it! Crawl is a big silly expression of our taste in fun and art- we sent it out into the world and people are having a ball playing it… life purpose complete!
I’ve been grinning madly over the internet- watching people laughing and griefing their friends on Youtube, reading people’s excited suggestions in the forums, hearing anecdotes about “that time I was driven insane”, seeing my pixel guys interpreted in crazy awesome fan-art… it all makes us so happy!
We’ve had compliments and support from so many people we look up to in the industry- shout-outs from Double Fine and Penny Arcade and countless indie developer heroes of ours, this is really so much more than we ever expected. We feel like we’ve been welcomed into this developer community we had been looking up to for so long and it is surreal!
For me the biggest thing is young kids playing with their parents or each other- I remember the games I played as a kid, how the in-game worlds filled my imagination and made up such a big part of my thinking in the “real-world”, and it’s pretty awesome to think Crawl might offer that same inspiration for some little dude or dudette out there
The clear figures and info for Dust Force, Shovel Knight and a handful of others has been extremely useful for us, so I’d like to add our story as another point of reference for indies looking to launch their own games.
It’s hard to make a comparison with the other games we have figures for- Crawl is Early Access and local-multiplayer only, so even with some good stats for reference we really had no idea if we should be expecting a few hundred sales or a few hundred thousand.
At this point, we don’t really know what the numbers mean for us- it all depends how well we can keep Crawl visible and keep these sales coming in, but being a team of two with very low overheads, we are in a good position to make the most of whatever sales we can get.
With regular updates, not to mention full release and potential console ports, we have plenty of opportunities to boost our marketing. With more presence in expos and competitions, and a lot of “let’s play” opportunities with Youtubers, we should be able to continue getting coverage and sales for some time to come.
Barriers to Entry
We knew right from the start we were making a niche game, pretty much started this whole thing specifically to make niche games!
After years in the industry working on games which are so desperate to appeal to as wide an audience as possible- games which end up palatable to millions but wonderful to nobody- I was desperate to make something with its own damn personality, rather than more of those deeply beige, mid-tier knock-offs of knock-offs…
In doing so, we came up with a pretty weird game with some significant barriers to entry. Early Access, PC local-multiplayer, Ultra-low-res pixel art… we really used up all the niches on this one!
The service is very young and lots of websites don’t seem to have figured out exactly where these games fit in their coverage.
We made sure we developed and tested our gameplay to a level we would be proud to sell as a finished product before putting Crawl up for sale, but a lot of buggy and semi-playable games have given the service a bit of a bad name.
Hopefully these are just teething problems, because I think this is the perfect environment to develop a game like Crawl, and the community interaction will lead to a much better game than we would have developed in our own little vacuum!
Local Multiplayer on PC
This is our biggest barrier-to-entry. Not just for gamers, but also for coverage. A given journalist would be expected to organize three extra people (and a good chunk of peripheral equipment) just test the game out and give some basic impressions.
We have been inundated with requests for online play, ranging from people begging kindly that they don’t have real-life friends (poor guys) to people utterly furious with us for making a local-only game and throwing all kinds of insults- we are actually pretty stoked people care enough to be angry with us!
It would have been crazy over-scoping to launch straight into an online game for our first project, but all this noise around the feature, coupled with the positive gameplay feedback- definitely indicates it is worth seriously looking into!
So what does it all mean for us?
The main thing is we get to keep developing Crawl as planned! We haven’t become millionaires, but this really just means we need to keep learning and working hard on marketing!
A year and a half ago, if you told me I’d have anything like this kind of success, I’d never have believed you and I’d probably have told you to get out of my kitchen anonymous stranger, I’m trying to make year-and-a-half-old toast here!