The other day we received an email that caused me reflect on who really matters when it comes to making games. This is something I have long suspected about game dev, and I decided to take a moment to collect those thoughts in one place.
We first decided to “invest” our life savings in starting our indie game studio about seven years ago. As much as I’d like to go back to 2012 and give my overly optimistic self a good smack on the head, I can’t say I regret the decision.
But some days it does feel foolish to still be fighting to finish Unknown Realm…it’s far too easy to only hear the negative voices, or to focus on the things we’ve sacrificed or the mistakes we’ve made along the way. I won’t lie, sometimes it feels like giving up would be the wiser path. But then emails like this come in to remind us: THIS is what we’re fighting for.
We’ve made mistakes on this journey…A LOT of mistakes. We’ve miscalculated and mis-stepped and made rookie moves that hurt us. We’ve had days where felt like our life was completely ruined – we still feel that way some days. Sometimes we’ve wondered how we could ever come back from such huge risks. As a husband and wife team, this journey has brought up issues that have frayed our relationship and bled well past the tidy boundaries of “work” into the rest of our life. This little “adventure” has taxed us emotionally, physically and financially far beyond what we ever imagined.
And yet…Seven years ago, we sat across from each other at the table in our one bedroom apartment, and we said we were going to take the risks and make games for the overlooked game players. The players who are now pulling out their old cloth maps and feelies, and revisiting memories of childhood wonder and the simple pleasures of exploring new digital worlds. We know these people are out there, many of them found us on Kickstarter and and we get emails from more on a regular basis. They are the ones who keep us focused. They are why we started this journey and they are why we’ll see it through to the end.
For the naysayers and doubters: people want what we’re making because it is different and they know it’s made for them. It is different because WE are different. The product (our game) is a direct result of the creative process (the way we work), and we can make something different because we don’t do things the way everyone else does. If you want what we’re creating, you have to recognize that it is inextricably linked to who we are and the way we do things. If you like the product, you should respect the process.
So here’s my little piece of unsolicited advice to any creative person reading this. If you’re trying to do anything in life, please remember: in the end, the people who don’t like what you’re doing or how you’re doing it don’t matter. The people who don’t believe you can do it don’t matter. The only people who matter are the ones who say “Yes!” They are the people who see your stuff and know it’s for them. They probably won’t be as loud as the ones who say “you can’t do that!” or the ones who say “I don’t like it” but if you’re making something good and meaningful to bring joy to others, the people who say YES will be there for you, waiting at the finish line.
They are the ones who matter. Think of them and just keep going!
PS: If you’re reading this and you are trying to figure out if you can still get a copy of Unknown Realm in the box with the cloth map – send us an email (email@example.com), we have a wait list and we’re going to try to find a way to make sure you get one. 🙂
Since the early days of Stirring Dragon Games, we’ve opted to take a different and sometimes unconventional approach with how we run our company and in particular, how we market our projects. In the age of screenshot Saturdays, hyped up trailers and early access, people might be understandably confused by our more quiet approach, especially when we’ve all grown accustomed to consuming content 24/7. Here’s a little synopsis of some of the underlying principles that drive why we do things the way we do them.
We’ve found that it’s all too easy to lose momentum when you spend time telling people about what you’re making instead of actually making it. In our experience, frequent project updates, dev blogs, etc. can be de-motivating for a variety of reasons. They require time to prepare and usually get very little feedback, or (worse) create a false sense of “accomplishment” that leads to lower productivity. Take Kickstarter updates for example, on any given videogame Kickstarter, post-campaign updates usually generate less than 5% engagement. Comments and likes are the only way creators can tell if their updates on KS are even being read, and based off that, it’s pretty clear that most backers don’t read updates. 5% of backers is a small number of people to reach considering the amount of time it takes to create an update worth reading. It’s a more effective use of our time to focus on finishing the game that we know 100% of our backers are waiting for.
During the early development stages of Unknown Realm, we did not publicize our work at all. We didn’t have a dev blog or a website or even a Twitter account. Aside from a public demo of an early engine build at the Commodore Vegas Expo in 2012, and a handful of trusted friends who knew about it, we created this project outside the public eye. This was hard to do because we were very excited about what we were doing and wanted to share it, however we felt it was the best way to stay true to our vision for the game.
To that end, we decided not to do any marketing of the game at all until the very day we launched our Kickstarter. We obviously had to deviate from our approach during crowdfunding, however, we find that our best work still happens in seclusion, without a lot of noise from the various “peanut galleries” on the Internet.
We’re not big believers in showing work-in-progress screenshots or game previews before our game is finished. Crowdfunding our game required showing practically every element of Unknown Realm during our Kickstarter campaign – probably more than most teams would show up front during development. And let’s be honest, folks, when you’re talking about an 8-bit RPG, most people have a pretty good idea of what they’re getting, and if they don’t, they probably backed this project by accident. We feel like we already had to give away so much of our game already during the campaign. We want to preserve some surprises for when people play the game for the first time.
What we are attempting to do is bring back the best parts of that 80’s game experience, which is hard to do in the age of instant gratification. While the standard advice for indie game devs these days is to publish screenshots, trailers and playable demos early and often, we feel this approach puts developers at a disadvantage, and ruins a lot of the enjoyment for the players.
There’s another reason we prefer to keep our sneak peeks to a minimum…pre-release hype is not a friend of developers OR gamers. We were lucky to enjoy a huge amount of enthusiasm for our Kickstarter project, but unfortunately, there is a downside to pre-release hype: it fades quickly if you don’t constantly “feed the beast.” When that happens, things easily turn negative when there is a lull in activity or at the first hint of disappointment or delay. We’ve had a front row seat to some difficult launches and some major disappointments in crowdfunded games. In many of these cases, it’s clear that early hype almost leads to unreasonably high expectations from the community surrounding the game and disappointment in the end.
Put Out Finished Products
We prefer to forego early access or public beta releases. We would rather take the time to finish things internally as much as possible and minimize the external chatter until our product is done and ready for you to enjoy. It may not be as fun for spectators and backers during the development phase, but in the interest of capturing the old school computer game experience we love, we’re trying something different and hope that it will yield a more exciting and memorable experience when everyone finally gets to play the game for the first time.
Our mission is to create new adventures that set you free to follow your imagination wherever it may lead, and to us, that starts with these principles. It starts with allowing you to experience the game without a lot of spoilers or hype. We want to make games that take you back to your youth and remind you of the wonder and joy of discovering new worlds unburdened by expectations or other people’s opinions. We view the decision to develop and market our games as quietly as possible until they’re finished as a feature, not a bug – it’s all part of the Stirring Dragon Way to bring back the golden age of RPGs. It may not be consistent with conventional wisdom, and yes, there’s a chance it may backfire on us business-wise, but if it brings you back to the good old days when you finally play our games, we’ll be happy and we hope you will be too.
This is a little computer Christmas card we created as a gift to our backers and fans in the spirit of some of the festive holiday greetings created by 80’s companies like Sierra Online and Commodore.
Initially, we planned to release this on Christmas Day as a downloadable file for people to play on their C64, but we opted to release it via Youtube instead so it would be accessible to everyone. Someday we’d like to further update, test and release it in a format for C64 users to play on their computers, if enough people are interested in such a thing.