Captain’s Log L9·A1: The Dismal Science

Yesterday, after doing my Inktober stuff, I put together an interface mockup and (therefore) the interface graphics for the game I’m making over the next couple of months. I’m pretty proud of this, though it doesn’t run in-engine yet:

Couple of worldbuilding notes: I’ve decided in my game engine/game world that magic/stamina/special attacks use Star Points and life uses Heart Points (nothing too extreme here). Heart Points can be split into quarters and Star Points into 5ths for finer-grained HP/SP applications while keeping the interface readable at a glance.

Money is measured in chips. Which, in universe, each contain one dram aether, with a direct conversion of 12 chips/gil if I want to measure things in a game via gil. It’s a nice way to unify my various fantasy settings. A chip is just a 1 dram coin in the game world.

There are some pleasing coincidences. In my comic, I’ve been bopping back and forth between 320×180 and 160×90 for screen resolutions. The first is the obvious 16×9 retro resolution, the second I did half-size (and with the initial Rainboy palette) and called it the handheld version because I felt production was taking too long.

Anyways, I felt 320p was too big and 160p was too small, so I threw a dart at a resolution splitting the difference. I was aiming for 240p, but I hit 256p by accident.

You’ll notice in this gallery (at least on desktop) that the middle picture is shorter than the other two. That’s because the mockups were done in my tile editor, and assuming 16×16 tiles (which is most convenient for this style), 320×180 and 160×90 are vertically 11.25 and 5.625 tiles respectively.

But 256×144 is 16×9 tiles. Nice. In fact, I’m kicking myself for never thinking, “I wonder what would happen if I multiplied my tile size by the aspect ratio” before today.

Another nice coincidence is I made the interface panel the size that “felt right”. I was originally aiming to make the playable area a square, but that meant the interface would take up almost half the screen, and that was unacceptable.

I landed on doing 4 tiles wide of interface, which reduced the play field to 12×9.

12×9 is one off in each direction from 11×8, which are Fibonacci numbers. Which means the playing field vaguely in the ballpark of a golden rectangle.

Okay, to be honest, I’d want 14×9 to get as close to a golden rectangle as possible. But you know what? I like this rectangle. I find it aesthetically pleasing. I’m going to pretend that’s because it’s in a golden rectangle ballpark.

So here’s some sword animations before I get to the economic bit for which this post is named:

Indie Game Economics

Jake Birkett made a detailed breakdown of the economics of indie games as a public Patreon post. It’s a dismal picture in and of itself, but I read it and felt encouraged. Let’s examine his hypotheticals:

$5 game

Assuming 2 months development, all expenses in house and 1000 wishlists on Steam (unlikely)

Projected revenue $3750 per month of work

$10 game

Assuming one year of development, contracted art or music, and 5000 wishlists on Steam (unlikely)

Projected revenue of $3750 per month of work

Paraphrased from the above link

Now, these are presented as grim numbers, even though most indies are never that successful. But from where I’m standing as a lifelong retail drone, this are actually pretty close to what I would make working for Walmart or Target.

But the thing is, I have a plan. It’s not a good plan, but it’s not the summarized plan either.

I’m working on a sliding scale towards Breath of the Gameboy.

This mockup by someone else, not me.

Step one is a two-month game released for free/cheap on Itch.IO. It establishes the engine and basic combat. It releases in November alongside similar story beats in Hat Trick, in Bunny Trail Junction.

So the comic advertises the game, and the game advertises the comic. Do I expect to make $7K in November off of the game?

No. No I don’t. This game is, for me, training in the Godot engine, and establishing a track record. It is marketing.

It is also an opportunity to lay down a baseline of combat that is intrinsically satisfying, because the game won’t have much else going for it.

I’m probably going to need a day job in October at least, possibly for the rest of the year, because of these shenanigans.

I do expect to get a large boost to traffic on the comic thanks to Inktober, but most of that boost will be curious bystanders and not the superfans who will keep me in business as an artist.

The comic will have a marketing drive in late December/Early January. I’m going to be going on podcasts of allies with audiences who might like my stuff, and really pushing the first annual. This is where I aim to collect the superfans.

Game 2 takes the same engine, adds a couple of mechanics over a couple of months, and ties it to my wife’s character and audience:

She streams. It’s a small audience, but far more than I would amass by doing the same thing because the internet simps for gamer girls. Anyway, if I create a game she can play on stream that features her avatar, that’s a good marketing move.

This is the “2-month $5 game.” As a bonus, it ties into my Therian beastiary on Bunny Trail Junction, and will obviously build on the engine from the Hat Trick game. So the comic and games continue to market each other.

This game concept introduces object manipulation and stealth mechanics, as well as using Therian enemies that will turn up a lot in future games.

This is where I consider my career as an indie developer to properly begin. I think, if I’m careful about marketing and so forth, I can get that grim prediction of $3750 per month. But in this plan, I’m cheating. I’m budgeting a 4 month game as a 2 month game because I’m building on what I did before. And this is where the cheating goes off the deep end:

8 Lives Left is a supremely marketable concept. The internet loves cats. The internet loves John Wick. The internet loves wacky weapons. So the plan here is to take a month or two off after the wife game, then build a vertical slice of 8 Lives Left and run a Kickstarter. This is the one-year, $10 game, although I think I’d actually set it at $15.

By this point I’ll have a track record, a meme-worthy character, and comic crossovers. But also, I’ll have feedback from the first two games. I’ll know how well they did, and that in turn will give me data on how well 8 Lives Left will do.

And the plan will change accordingly. No plan survives contact with reality. But if Mr. Brush is to be believed, I can probably get a year’s salary out of Kickstarter with all this prep.

So this feels tight. But not tighter than I’m living already. It feels hard, but doable. The only trick is: can I stay on target for that long?

To that end, I’m seeing a doctor next week about my ADHD.

The essence of this plan is that it is a slow start towards a long-tail build. Each game builds on what came before. Each game also sells what came before. I’m not just banking on fans of Hat Trick buying 8 Lives Left. I’m banking on the reverse: the audience for each game checking out the previous game.

I’m building on the Kindle Series business model. You make a dozen books and sell the first book for a dollar, in the knowledge that a handful of your fans will binge the whole series. Will this work for vidya?

Not by itself, perhaps. But if the games have comics and the comics have games, perhaps between the two…

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