He’s also overlooking one factor: this kind of art may attract users exactly because it’s ugly. To me it’s a form of signaling. What I read is: we don’t care about the big audience, we care about our niche and you might be in this niche. If you do, you will enjoy this game more than most of the mainstream stuff out there. Nowadays most of the indie developers target very broad audiences and they are as uninteresting as the mainstream, rehashing over and over always the same 3 concepts and stories. When I see ugly ass games I know that there I might find something worth my time.
I’m into strategy games and management games, not really RPG. Dwarf Fortress, Slitherine, Illwinter, they are all ugly as shit but you can dump hundreds of hours into them and be sure to find an amount of content that in a AAA game could never be produced, because scaling art is much much harder than scaling gaming systems.
Dominions couldn’t exist in any other form. Just imagine a planning meeting:
This kind of art to me signals that they are not bounded by the limits of visual representation and can create more freely and it should then be regarded as a selling point.
Actually I think Vogel’s games look great. I also think Illwinter’s games look great. I feel like the modern 3d graphics style is just a trend like Ruffs in the 1500’s. People look at anything without it now and go “aargh, my eyes!” but in the future it may be the other way around.
Other than that I agree 100%. Imagine Illwinter telling their fans “Hey we are removing 18/20 races and 90% of the units for the remaining races. Then we are spending our entire budget on making high-poly animated 3d models for what is left”.
They would get death threats.
They would also be ruining a great game. I wish more studios that have a real budget would spend it on gameplay and depth of content.
Dwarf Fortress, Slitherine, Illwinter, they are all ugly as shit
Dwarf Fortress, Slitherine, Illwinter, they are all ugly as shit
They are all ugly as shit in the same way. They are consistent in their ugliness. Dwarf fortress uses ASCII everywhere - there is zero mixing between ASCII and non ASCII, and the style of ASCII is the same - one character is one thing. The same with other games - the color palette and style are consistent - however ugly they are. In Dominions 5 every unit is 2D - there is no mixing.
Inconsistency is the worst thing about Jeff’s style. It is arguably one of the easiest things to achieve and as screenshots is the thing that I’m likely to see the most while I’m choosing whether to buy it or not. And being inconsistent in style for me says that the game could very well be inconsistent in other aspects too.
He may be exaggerating by saying he’s the cheapest, but I think the problem he describes here & in his previous post is pretty common, not least because I experienced it myself on a smaller scale:
I am not a professional game developer, even by indiesphere terms – I have a day job, and write games very slowly when I have the time & energy to do so. The stuff I make is even more niche than Vogel’s (lots of people remember isometric RPGs fondly, and so the indie sphere has almost as many of those as platformers, while western-made VNs are still a little more exotic and ones that aren’t romance-focused are even more rare), & I don’t have the luxury of spending a hundred grand in total on development.
During the development of my last game, it seemed like it had a wide enough appeal to justify investing more money into. I paid some freelancers to redraw my own extremely-janky art, and paid steam their app credit to host it. In the end, I spent about a thousand dollars of my own money on the game, in the hopes that the boosted investment would boost sales, which it probably did. Nevertheless, I ended up still doing most of the character art myself (I paid more than usual for sketches with the expectation that the fully colored version would be cheaper, but the character artist had a nervous breakdown & disappeared off the internet for years about ten minutes after finishing the last sketch, so I had to clean up & color all the sketches & draw all alternate poses), & the background artist’s style ended up often clashing with the material. (I did all the writing, coding, and music myself – and ultimately, despite my investments, ended up doing most of the art myself too.)
I released the game this past February, after a year and a half of development. I made a total of about $250 on Steam – a number that has evened out, despite generally positive reviews, as I haven’t had a sale in months. Steam takes about 30% & only pays out when the payout quantity is above $100, so I got a single payout for $100 & won’t get the rest of my money out of Valve unless I double my sales. I’ve made something like $30 on itch.io during the same period. I will probably never break even on the investment in art, because despite spending a fair amount of money on it, that brought the quality level up to just below what VN players on Steam expect out of a free game.
I don’t have the same out that Vogel does – with a VN, where the appeal is compelling characters, you can’t flip existing assets for those character images & get anywhere (although you can use stock backgrounds, as 07th Expansion famously did – but even then, I can’t actually afford to buy background art at photostock prices). So, on future games, I’m doing 100% of the art myself – and investing no money in the game, only time. That way, if I make five or ten of them, I will probably eventually recoup what I spent on the first one. My own art is only marginally worse than the stuff I paid for (and in some cases, my sketches were better than the ‘finished’ versions I got, because I have a slightly better grasp of single-point perspective than the background artist).
Getting a game to be profitable is tough for a variety of reasons: big studios put out extremely polished games for free as loss leaders, the biggest marketplaces are optimized for dealing with established studios rather than the long tail, escrow rules designed for a pre-stripe / pre-paypal era mean that unless your game sells a lot of units Steam keeps all your money, and marketplaces like itch.io that are really great for devs don’t attract many players. Unless you’re consistently profitable (either through a big back catalogue or through a dedicated fanbase), you can’t quit your job & do this full time, which means that everything takes four times as long. For somebody who can code, short of voice acting (rare), professional-level art is the most expensive thing in an indie game, and that basically means that an individual can’t afford it. So, unprofessional art is unavoidable unless the main dev just happens to be a skilled artist.
I hit the skills jackpot for VN development – I can code, write, compose vaguely acceptable music, and kind of draw. Luckily, VNs spent 30 years as a mostly-doujinsoft thing, so current trends in art aside, VN players often have a tolerance for unprofessionalism in all these areas. So, eventually breaking even is not totally impossible. In another genre, it would be.
Thanks for this background info. Have you tried contacting Youtubers covering your sort of game to get them interesting in looking at your game?
One guy (who I contacted via steam curation) streamed most of the game on youtube over a period of a few months. (This guy streams VNs exclusively, and is very active, but doesn’t seem to have much of an audience.) I’ve contacted one or two other small-ish youtubers who play similar types of games, with no response.
Ultimately, the title is pretty fringe & I shouldn’t have invested so much money into it. If it actually sold enough copies to break even, it probably would have poor reviews, simply because there aren’t a thousand people on earth who would like it! So, I’m not going to go overboard in bugging strangers to promote it.
I see. It’s a cutthroat business! But cool that a one-person team can actually get something out there!
Yup. As long as I don’t put any money into it in the future, I’ll be making a profit.
[Comment from banned user removed]
I think it’s on-topic, and tagged correctly (it’s about game development, and some financial considerations/trade-offs associated with it). As someone who doesn’t develop games but is an avid gamer, this post informed me of some trade-offs I hadn’t considered.. What makes you think it is not?
I thought it was a good breakdown of the economics of making a game. That said, I see your point about it maybe being a better fit over at Barnacles.
If it had been posted over at barnacles I wouldn’t have read it ;). It is certainly something I found interesting to read relating to indie game development from one of the masters.
I think all of the two dozen active barnacles users would love this post
Thanks for posting this. I found it very interesting, and I’ve never heard of Barnacles.
Haters gonna hate.
It’s a follow-up to an article that got 17 up, 3 down. Looks like it might not be off-topic so much as sniped by the now-2 folks (down by one) working quickly to prevent it from reaching the larger audience that might like it. You were successful this time. ;)
Why are you thinking this is off topic?