How to Make and Self-Publish a Game in 12 Months



so my name is Matthew Vionnet I'm bound er at some of the sim games and I'd like first uh how many people saw me at flash-forward I'm just curious okay a few so I just want to start with a hypothetical um let's say that you just put your job you cashed out some savings got rid of a 401 K convinced your spouse or significant other that one mortgage is good but to is even better and you're going to use that money to do a crazy or maybe stupid thing which is make your first indie game so from that very first moment you're now on the clock you better get that game done out there and making money before your money goes away there's a lot of other stuff that you have to do and do well in that first year that first while you're making that first game and that's why I'm gonna talk about today is all that other stuff that you need to do to make sure that your first indie game isn't your last indie game so we made our first indie game called 18-49 we released it in May of 2014 it is a city builder sort of in the classic Caesar Sierra impressions late 90s early 2000s genre of game like where city builder and tycoon game sort of run into one another and we've been planning to do this for a while we really wanted to make our own game and make our own studio focused on making simulation games so we plan we talked to friends we got all the information we possibly could saved money and really got ready to release our first indie game and then in April of 2013 we quit our jobs a and our first question was how much time do we have we have this savings realistically how much time do we have before that money runs out and we have to unfortunately go get real jobs again and then how do we make this our first indie game and not our only indie game like I said we really wanted to focus on building a studio based on making these funds of simulation games that we really like so today I'm this is basically when we talk about real fast is the preparation the self marketing and the self publishing that we did while we were making our game and while we were releasing it and I'm gonna have some help from some people who from the time when my country decided to go indie from the British Empire so Ben is right here if you want to arrive at a given point at a given time you have to plan your journey very carefully if you don't do that you're going to get lost and wander around in the woods so we had quit and we were talking about our big game design dreams and we had four or five games that we wanted to make and we very quickly realized that they were just beyond the scope of a year we talked about him and we just couldn't make them work to our vision in that year so I'm going to sign it let's flip that around so we have about a year to make a game what game can we make that we want to make that will inspire us can we make in one year and we did pretty good we plan for a year we made it in about 14 months the first thing I want to talk about is how we got to that plan on that one side of the slide we use something called swag scheduling which I think we took from some friends at Microsoft and swag stands for stupid wild ass guess the first step of making a stupid wild ass guest schedule is you just cut up items into a week or larger and again it's stupid well that's guess just go with your gut approximate like I thought I think it's gonna take about a month to write the scenarios for the game so I said it's gonna take a month to write the scenarios for the game and annotate with costs as well as benefits as well as costs like we were making us campaign based game so that month on the scenarios was really important so it took a lot longer than other things but crucial to the game and make sure you multiply for relative risk if you look at each other and say you know how to do that no do you uh-huh it's going to take longer than you think so give yourself more time for the we were to do that part of the plan process so then we broke everything up into these little chunks and we put them on post-its and then put them on a bigger post-it unfortunately the bigger posters other ones who would have probably done that too and then we sort of ran a meta will some function on all of this and no one behold we came up with about 16 months to make a game that's longer than a year swag scheduling has a tool for that and it is called butchering this is the unpleasant part of swag scheduling this is where you take the design you've lovingly crafted and kneaded and honed and then hack out big chunks of it that big pile of post-its in the bottom there like over there that sort of messy looking pile that's our multiplayer system we've looked at it and said that's four months of work 16 minus 4 is 12 so unfortunately our beautiful multiplayer system and do this early because you know taking out a multiplayer system in a game and changing it to a pure single-player that's a big design to say and if we've done that six months in we could have had a lot of stuff multiplayer but never see the light of day so butcher early which are often and again if you have a tight schedule reduce risk for us that meant tech we knew how to use flash with our eyes closed blindfolded in the dark not the sexiest tech in the world and it wasn't unity which is the new hotness at the time so we just decided let's not worry about learning a whole new engine let's do what we know and that let us take some risks in some other places because we already knew the tech we were going to use and you're probably going to have to have contract work done make sure that you hire carefully hire friends hire friends and friends if your gut tells you that guy's a little cray-cray go with your gut you don't have time for Craig Craig when you only have a year and there's a lot of documentation to keep up with contractors from tax forms to timesheets and checks because contractors they like money and managing contractors is a lot different than working with a co-worker the co-worker goes off on a tangent yeah it's problematic but it's not fatal if you only have the year and a contractors off doing some crazy stuff that's your money in your ear so make sure that you stay on top of contractors it's important to incorporate right away lets you sign documents as a corporation and not as yourself you can sign distribution agreements and all that other stuff as a corporation and not as yourself and get an accountant tax laws and every country are designed to just annoy and frustrate and these are people that specialize in annoyance and frustration so then we went made a game about nine months later we were in beta or alpha and I'm going to skip all of that the ins and outs trial the tribulations of making an indie simulation game or another talk so nine months later and it's about time to start self marketing and self promoting Tom Paine here is correct publicity is sort of voodoo black magic and black magic gets stronger all the time before that sort of nine month in three months from release window we started doing things like building community from scratch and we started on social media Facebook is useless when you want to build a community most you're willing to pay Facebook money you're not going to get anywhere there's no virality on Facebook anymore twitter isn't right above Facebook for one big reason and that is journalists love Twitter they spend all their time on Twitter some of them even have some compensation based on what they tweet and how they tweet so that's a great place to find people who are covering your game your genre and your people in the media reddit can be dangerous one day we decided oh and you subverted that mostly it's great for our game here's a screenshot and some stuff about the game ten minutes later it was gone seems to fit why didn't it go away so we asked the redditor what's up and he said not now so then we asked oh well can you tell us some pointers like what could we do to fit him or the community and he said not now so make sure that you get to know the reddit you're posting in even post there get to know that community where you do otherwise you could get not now we also started a dev vlog and we begin showing that on TIG source cross posting on reddit it was a really good way of getting our screenshots out there if we should our game out there to a wider community doing email and having a mailing list is really important because these are people who came to your site found your signup form put in their name put in their email address they want to hear from you so use your email list sparingly and communicate efficiently and it's a really great tool of getting your game out there screenshots Saturday was also a fantastic way of getting things in front of people if you don't know about screenshots Saturday you should know about screenshots Saturday and it also starts on Friday not Saturday but every time we had new art that came in we put it up every time we had a new game feature we talked about it probably a couple of times a month seemed to us to be about the right time the right amount of time to share on screenshots Saturday and then it comes to doing press outreach and PR in a past life I was a director of communications and I know what it takes to do PR it's a full-time job and I mean any developer now so I have like five of those so we found a really good contractor to handle some of our PR but that still means that there's a lot of work that you've to do on your end the first thing to do is come up with a really tight elevator pitch these few words took about two months of work repeating them to ourselves in the mirror and the shower two friends select they were like yeah I know what your game has already stopped talking to me and 18:49 is a city management game set in the California Gold Rush it's quick its concise and it's modifiable so if we're talking to the mobile press we can say 1849 is a city management game for tablets set in the California Gold Rush one thing that I would avoid is mentioning other games in your elevator pitch at this conference about five people have come to me to tell me about their game mentioning other games that I have never heard of so I have no idea what their game is now and you're also running a ristic what if I hate one of those games um so just be clear on your pitch and game media these are this is where you should start these are the trendsetters tastemakers in our medium get to know who covers your genre talk to them follow them on Twitter we were greenlit about four days after we got featured on Raw Paper Shotgun I don't think that's a coincidence youtubers as anybody who's been at this conference probably knows are a big and increasingly important way of getting your game out there I'm not going to talk about the ins and outs of youtubers but one of the things that is really nice about YouTube is that it advertises your game in a way that screenshots can't people can see the motion of your game they can see what things do they can see how the UI works and that really gets them into your game in a way that a screenshot or text just can't one of the things we used some YouTube we reach out to some youtubers during early access and for us it was really valuable to see our game being played by other people in early access we got to see them do things that we would had never seen any play testers do or like why are they clicking over there what are they building that like that it was a really educational process for an early access and then there's the non game media and I think reaching out to the non gaming media gets ignored in our industry to our own peril our game is set in 20 real cities in California and six real cities in Nevada so we reached out to the media radio stations newspapers TV stations in every market where our game has city in every city where our game is set and we did things like hey we made a game that has stocked in it isn't that cool and the starting record said yeah that's really cool and we got our game above the masthead and Stockton record and then a full parade spread inside so we talked to people from the Sacramento Bee to Nevada magazine to the Marysville mountain Gazette which was big hit and it was actually a lot of fun to talk to these London game media reporters so find out like what is a hook in your game that the media might be interested in and pitch it to them you get a lot more coverage that way we also did early access and green light at the same time so obviously we weren't in early access on Steam we did it on a site called indie game stand and we had a lot of success doing early access this way we've got to really work with that community that they have there we would we basically had a game that was system complete but we still had a lot of scenarios to offer in content to write so we would put out chunks of content and say fun broken just plain sucks and they got back to us and then we release more content and we actually really enjoyed building our game with a smaller community like that and even next time when we do early access we are probably going to start with this community and not with the steam community the steam community has high expectations of polish and refinement in your game and so we're going to try to get that right in early access elsewhere and then maybe do a short period of early access on Steam shows and expose are great if you game has a controller if it's multiplayer if it has VR if you have a simulation game with a tutorial that takes 8 minutes if you're the designer and don't have to read it and really about half an hour to get into the need of the game shows the next post might not be the best place for you to show your game we did it a few of them and there were great experiences but not really right for our game so if I'm not right for your game don't feel like because everybody goes to PAX East you have to be on the plane to PAX East so we did all of that PR all of our marketing and then it came time to see if it was all worth it and going to work it came time for us to release our game and we did a multi-platform a cross-platform multi-platform release simultaneously we sent out a media story that said we made a simulation game that you can play on your tablet and on your PC isn't that awesome and the PC players a vocal small minority of them said now it's a mobile port gross and the mobile audience the cool specie game we're like we don't care if it's a cool piece of game is it a cool mobile game and lesson learned from this is that if you're doing a cross-platform launch make sure you have two distinct game stories one for the PC audience one for the mobile audience we're going to spend a lot more time customizing our UI UX for mobile and for PC to make sure that we're really speaking to the strengths and the expectations of both audiences that sort of leads into picking a price point when you're on PC on Steam you have the luxury of really being able to charge what you think your game is worth you can go hunt about and see other similar games in your genre you can really price appropriately but we'll pricing sucks nuts you can charge $6.99 for your game if you're a Minecraft or Final Fantasy a Final Fantasy game I mean what kind of universe do we live in when a Final Fantasy game cost $8 I mean it's crazy time but we all know that most of these games are free $0.99 the huge variety of those 500 games that are coming out every day on mobile are free or incredibly cheap I don't know about you guys but I can't run a studio on games that costs $0.99 this is all a lead-in to what I call the Kobayashi Maru it's the no-win scenario of cross-platform pricing you can pick a price point on mobile that's close to your price point on PC if you're interested in something no games at all or you can really reduce the price of your PC game but then that's not what your PC game is worth you did that price analysis on Steam and determined it's worth $15 so why would you not charge $15 for it I don't really have a good answer for how you can do a cross-platform pricing except that justify your PC price give the PC player something the mobile players don't have or break out your content for mobile such that eventually to get all the content that they would get on PC they are paying somewhere near that price cross-platform pricing is just sort of an unpleasant situation and it's important to go on really all the stores that you can these are our revenue sources for 2014 we made about 60% of our revenue on PC and about 40% on mobile and really that 40% on mobile if we hadn't done a cross-platform release is probably the difference between us making our second game and not making our second game so it was important for us to be on both platforms I think the best practice now is PC first use that to build up some audience for your mobile game and then release on mobile later after you've had the time to really work out the kinks for a mobile release they're a lot more complicated than a PC release a lot of the time just a little further breakdown about 40% 45% of our PC revenue came straight from Steam Android and was 10% and then iOS was 30 percent this year we're seeing the Android come a lot closer to the iOS and my best is that those started converging get closer as time goes on and also if you look at that indie game stand number um indie game stand is a smaller smallest really small strong community but you really see the impact that our community building and our work with their community had on our sales on indie game stand they're still even what 8 9 months from release a big chunk of our revenues we've got featured EA both Apple and Android but we're a $4 title $5 title I know how much my game is really and so that meant we got released and we were up there for the period of our featuring and because we were more expensive title we didn't have the momentum the buzz that Apple looks for to repeat the featuring so it was really great in getting our first spike of sales up there while we were new and spending some word-of-mouth but it wasn't like raining money because we got featured unfortunately and getting featured isn't like black magic Apple and Google have business biz dev guys who go out look for games that really showcase their platform so we just found a biz dev guy that knows our business guys we said can you talk about our game to them and I said sure and we got featured there are a few annoying things I make sure that you follow all the platform rules like for us that meant the annoying back button on Android was a lot of work to get to do what Google thinks the back button on Android should do so just be warned for little pitfalls like that so then you release your game and this is really you know it's the hockey stick it's what you hope for and dread at the same time so you release the Kraken games out there and then over the first few week with the first week or so you see go like this as you fall off the front pages as the buzz dies down and now it is your job unfortunately to flog the tail forever and ever and ever those little bumps are the regular sales that you see go on just make sure that you're in them they're not automatic you have to opt-in and they're a natural way of getting your game out there an increasing detail that little bump right there was our DLC launch and it was a nice little bump in sales but really I think the impact of the DLC was if you look at the level of the tail after the DLC like that sort of base level and then before you'll see how it's come up so the DLC really helped get just to raise the tide and that one actually just happened and this was cool this was our first out-of-band sale like there was nothing else on sale and it's February like slow month and there's sort of a reservoir of wish lists and recommendations and people build up in their queue and then you go on sale when there's not a lot going on and all of a sudden you have your best month since launch so you know just be aware that that can be powerful and don't schedule it during Christmas another part of logging the tail can be ads we did some ads when there was something going on we had nothing to announce nothing to say other than play our game no does it really do so great we found that when we treated ads as a communication device when we had something to say when we had something some kind of urgency they really started to work better so on sale 40% off new game play now this one performed pretty well because it had an urgency and it had a message to communicate and also like ads are you talking yeah you're paying for it but there are you talking to a community of people so make sure that your ads are consistent with your voice and for us that meant bad puns the game writer having me really liked these kind of terrible puns like these ready for a minor distraction or loads of fun we found that the more that we went good that's bad while we were wetting them the better they performed so like the ready for minor distraction ad did great we also had fully loaded simulation and a whole bunch of their bad load puns and then really it's just keep at it we reviews and ratings are important you can't really respond to review two player reviews but just try to keep on top of them you know if you see that you're like up that cusp between mixed and mostly positive see what you can do to get it in to mostly positive it helps your sales a great deal we had some people on our steam forums and community say can we have trading cards sure and connect trading cards I don't know if I can quantify that it bumped sales any but I know it helped the community we had a lot people trading cards cool thank you we also noticed that we were selling a lot of games in Germany but our game was only in English so we did a German localization and Germany went from being sort of three or four in sales to being a really strong number two behind the United States we sell more games in Germany than we do any works at the US and then we also noticed that people in France weren't playing our game very much France is a big country with a big economy and a lot of people in a lot of gamers so we said let's try localizing our game in French and see how that does and that just came out on February 13th so we don't have a lot of solid data but so far anecdotally it looks like we're doing very well in France and french-speaking countries so we are indeed making game number two we sort of did all these things and we are making our second indie game you can go check it out it's very early in the prototype phase and we hope to be talking about it next gec so that's about all I have today I have some steam keys for 18-49 up here if anybody wants one afterwards so yeah if anybody has any questions come to the center and I'll try my best to answer [Applause] hi Esther you mentioned that going to expose wasn't a great way to get test plays on your simulation games did you find a venue to find test players for a sim game that's more appropriate yeah early access like I said was a great help because people played our game a lot there we also bothered a lot of our friends and family that are also in the simulation games the email out the email list helped to like people came to us and said cool game how can I help how can I be involved they said you want to play test a broken game and they say that that was a really good way of doing it oh great thanks if I can go back to your anecdote in the beginning we imagine you just quit your jobs scenario did you guys spend any time looking for investors to help fund your game in the beginning or was it totally self-funded now let's all bootstrapped okay umm yeah we wanted to really wanted to make our first game really our game and you know if you go to investors you might end up making their game got it Thanks hi this was very helpful thank you like I hope this isn't a breach but I'm a composer so if anyone is looking for music for their game I'm staying in this room for the next talk so come CD Thanks I have a question about getting outreach when you say you went out of things like Rock Paper Shotgun and polygon yeah was this like all online you know you're browsing them with emails hitting them up on Twitter or you like meeting them in person or maybe all of the above you know do everything you can yeah really all of the above when you're making this game we still lived in San Francisco so it was possible for us to talk to some of the press more directly but it was a lot of emails a lot of traditional PR where we would do announcement some press releases that they would then follow up on with us and our consultant but yeah everything like if you find out a you know a game journalist just talk about your game talk about what they like to so they get a conversation all right so I noticed this talk was obviously that you did a game in a year um you're now making your second game have you changed that scope to be a large amount of time so you can have things like your multiplayer features now that you're not starving artists or so to speak a little bit better off than you were before definitely one of the second game that we're making is one of the games that we put aside like we don't have something like that in a year so that's one of the games were building next it's all gonna take about two years hopefully but we're keeping the same sort of urgency like it's important to say we have two years to make this game and really like we kind of view it as like we're starting over every time when when it comes to our game we're not counting on that first game to keep us going the second game needs to keep us going now so yeah I'll just keep urgently hopefully this isn't too personal but I'm interested in when you first set out where you venture-backed or how did you put food on the table for a year while you were keeping this going you mentioned savings yeah remember that like after years of planning like we this is something that we sort of I think four or five years ago said that we wanted to do and it was saving and working and keeping like that long-term goal and plan in interview and that's really why we don't had a year because you can only save so much money Thanks okay I'm getting booked so I can do one more quick okay what kind of work did you contract out and then how did you go about finding those contractors it was art and art um you don't want to see any stuff that we draw and really it was like our own personal Network like the artists that we work with work with for the first game and we're still working with we found it through actually her Twitter feed and we just like said we love your stuff would you be interested in working with us and we got lucky essentially and all the other artists was a friend from an old from an old job who was looking for work so yeah we mind our networks thank you everybody you [Applause]

36 thoughts on “How to Make and Self-Publish a Game in 12 Months

  1. Isn't "no self-promotion" an official rule of Reddit? That's probably why you got deleted.

  2. Lots of great small points, but holy crap does their studio have great leadership. People who actually want to plan, are creative in using social media and smaller avenues, and who have connections.

  3. Well ofcorse a middle age baldie with no sense of the current culture or market would talk about Facebook and twitter and then go on to recommend polygon in an age where nobody reads gaming journals (yes this was the case in 2017 as well). They are written by ppl who are click bait generator first, activists second, journalists third and gamer forth. If they got fired they would be working for dog balls digest within a week and would know as much about dog testies as they do about games, aka nothing. Fuck gaming media. Otherwise some good info but mainly if you want to shit out an other bad Caesar 3 clone with updated graphics for the mobile market.

  4. "Never trouble another for what you can do for yourself."
    -Thomas Jefferson, a well-known slave owner.
    I suppose I still agree with the quote.

  5. I'm looking for like minded individuals around the same skill level as me to create a group where we create short comics (2-5 panels), music, clothing designs, art and more. Reply if that's something you'd be interested in joining.

  6. why do men still keep using the shavaround goatee? have a beard, or don't. you don't get to choose in between and still look presentable

  7. I'm so sorry but for 1 years work, I woudn't buy this game. Age of Empires has more depth than this. I see how the mechanics (under the hood, maybe be complex with trading etc) but the graphics are repetitive and watching the same characters (same look and animations) just insn't my style. Did you build the engine yourself?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5ZhIx5KLqc
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tjd1nmBg_Og

    While I'm being critical, I myself would never design a game like this, so maybe this your Thing! Great! However the Animations are keyframed 3 times, I would hope that each character wouldn't take less then 2 hours each. Again, I must ask, Did you make the Engine from scratch?

    I did enjoy the speech. Thank you for the Insightful information.

  8. Even though I'm not fan of the guy trying to do comedy as if he was doing "TED talk" there are useful tidbits such as:
    – (anti) Social media is not only often useless but it can be in fact dangerous (you know social media teens and millenials can be very opinionated)
    – Squenix can be real assholes to fanboys. (well if he can do comedy so can I)

  9. Great talk! Did watch it twice – once before and again after starting to work on a serious project – and I earned valuable things twice 🙂

  10. That's what I always said about mobile games – no reason to port them, because price never equals efforts.

  11. Word of advice, if you're serious about this, don't listen people like this.

    If you haven't heard the game, nor the developer, pay no mind.

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