My first indie game: Save the Maidens

12.05.2011

Save the Maidens bannerI’ve been waiting a long time to finally do this and I’m super proud to finally announce my first indie game: «Save the Maidens».

This is a very important moment for me, since I’ve been striving to make my own games for over ten years now. What’s more, this brings me one step closer to becoming an independent game developer, turning my own ideas into neat games and, eventually, make a living from publishing them. At least to some extend… hopefully…

Finished but not published – yet!

However, I’m stoked, this is finally happening, especially, because «Save the Maidens» has come a pretty long way. But before you click on that linked image and ask yourself «Hey, why doesn’t it take me to the game? Where can I play it?» I have to tell you that it’s not public, yet. Still I think it’s a good moment to reveal some details and info about this baby and what we are planning to do with it…

We (that’s me 2D artist Wolfgang Ruf and I) decided to load the game up on FlashGameLicense (FGL) in hope to find a sponsor for it and, thus, at least some financial support for all the hours of work we poured into making this small but neatly polished casual game (the hours of love will not be billed ;) ).

So, in fact, I’m only pre-announcing the game – awwwww… -, which is completely legal in my mind, though, because after three sessions of closed beta testing, lots of polishing, bugfixing and more polishing, we finally pushed the game into something we decided was worth calling «a Final».

Hopes and disappointments

Actually, «finally» has been almost two months ago and the game has been up for active bidding on FGL ever since. Originally, I was expecting the game would be out by now with a sponsor advertising it on his front page. I had high hopes getting a good sponsoring deal after all I’d read on blogs from other indie developers like Andy Moore or Sarah Northway, who apparently sold their games very successfully over FGL (peak at the numbers for Andy’s «SteamBirds», and Sarah’s «Rebuild» – plus follow up post).
Those hopes were additionally fueled by the great feedback we’d received from our beta testers and the initial rating from the FGL staff member, who approved the game. So, we were expecting to see quite some bidding action – but it never happened…

So far,  interest in the game as been surprisingly low and the few bids that were trickling in during the first days were far from exciting. Considering the time we spent on making the game, I’d have to place them in categories ranging from disappointing to absolutely ridiculous.
Being new to the whole FGL ecosystem, I felt I had probably done something wrong. Had I not put enough effort into marketing the game? Had I misconfigured the auction settings or simply overlooked an important check box? The only difference to the other games up for bidding I could make out was that we weren’t providing a game play video. I had considered it unnecessary since the game was right there for everyone to test and try (I might have been wrong there). So, I just waited…

Tries and Errors

After nothing had happened for more than a week, I politely rejected the outstanding offers, explaining that we had invested way to much time into the game’s creation to accept. After that, the whole thing went dead silent…
As a consequence, I decided to open up the visibility of the game to developers with a certain experience status in order to push views and feedback for the game. I thought maybe the game became more interesting to sponsors, if more people actually played it, responded in the feedback thread and talked about it.

The views did go up as expected, but we received only little feedback mainly claiming the game was too hard for beginners – a feedback we hadn’t received from our beta testers, but, as we figured, was very likely to be true: Once you’ve spent hours on refining a game’s mechanics, you’ve gone completely blind towards its initial skill demands. However, not a single new auction bid found its way into my inbox.

Time for plan B: Going mobile

After three weeks there wasn’t any noticeable activity going on, it was clear we’d have a hard time finding an exclusive sponsor. We were still believing in the potential of the game and, thus, decided to take care of publishing the game ourselves. The mechanics of the game – which effectively are throwing stones and other medieval objects with giant slingshots at approaching alien invaders – suggest to be even more fun (and easier) to play on touch devices than on a computer with a mouse. A few quick tests confirmed this assumption, so, it was immediately evident to us, that we had to port the game to the various mobile devices out there.

I had a small discussion with Andy Moore on twitter, where he claimed that shortly after his game «Steam Birds» had appeared on the web, it had been blatantly cloned (rebuild from scratch) and put on the Apple App Store within an incredibly short amount of time. Cloning successful indie games and bringing them into the App Store seems to be new a spreading evil other indie developers like Polygon Toys and their cool skater game «Tiny Hawk» have fallen prey to. If you’d like to get some details, Andy has blogged about this annoying mishap and shares some thoughts on the matter (you should be following his excellent blog on game development anyhow).

However, this all made me realize that I didn’t want my game to be put on the App Store before I even had a chance to do so myself. And I was aware, that in contrast to «Steam Birds», «Save the Maidens» didn’t provide a lot of content, so, it’d be an easy task to clone it once it was out there. Not that I expected this game to be so incredibly good that anyone would find it worth plagiarising, but still, I didn’t want to take the risk.

Consequently I’ll have to wait with releasing the web version until the mobile versions for Maidens (as we internally call it) are ready to be loaded up on the various stores, which has proven to be no simple task – but that’s worth a whole blog post to itself.

To cut a long story short, I did a lot of performance testing in a sandbox, writing lots of new code, only to find, that with my current setup, I won’t be able to make «Save the Maidens» perform sufficiently… bummer.

Starting from scratch

So, this is where I am now: Stuck with a game that’s actually finished, but I’m afraid to release to the web because I don’t want it to be copied. I’d have to go and rewrite the game from scratch, using all the nifty new code bases that I wrote for the tests. It feels cool to already have debugged solutions at hand, but still, it’s a huge pile of work since everything, from basic object control to animation handling needs so be redone.

But that’s one of the reasons I wrote this blog posts – thanks for bearing with me so far: I had to pin down the current situation in order to figure out a route from here. Plus, I want to write more about my game work in the near future, about mobile optimization and all, so I needed a point to start out from. And this is it.

The silence is broken, let’s finish this game!