Is my business plan realistic?

Just watched the Marketing & Sales twitch cast and I got to thinking about whether my plan for releasing my first game was realistic. I have experience developing games but I’ve never tried to start my own business or ship a game myself.

My Game: June
A hard science fiction game about 2 planet surveyors who discover ruins during a routine planet evaluation. It’s a story driven exploration game that has you running around 3 different biomes (forest,Island,Desert). Using you’re surveying tools you try to piece together what happened to this society.

The story is told mainly through the dialog between the two surveyors (one on the ground and one in orbit above June). The core game mechnics are complete and makes use of 2 main tools:

  1. A mapping tool to help find the ruins
  2. A reconstruction tool that rebuilds the ruins

Without going too far into my back-story I’m a solo developer and June was a product of necessity that just kind of took off. I wrote the design document based on the first couple releases to the Unreal Marketplace (ruins) and the availability of Speedtree. I’ll get my degree in physics at the end of June (just a coincidence) and I love writing about science fiction. I’m hoping to use this to tap into a sub genre of science fiction know as “hard” science fiction. Basically, it means you try to show more of the science side than the fiction side (Star Trek Vs. Star Wars). I even started a series about how the FTL drive works here.

I started an LLC - Ionized Games and I’m fairly comfident no one has copyrighted the name of a month “June” (please let me know if this isn’t true).
I have the domain and
I have the email as well as all the domain emails.

I’ve been working on this during my free time over the last 6 months and I have saved up enough money to work on it full time through August (Since I’m a solo developer I think I can increase this by a few months if I bottom out my standard of living which I’m totally fine with). My two biggest problems are marketing the game and getting funding for the last couple of months. I hope to be able to release my game on Steam’s Early Access by November of this year for $10 with a solid 4hrs of gameplay (a cheaper derivative of Ethan Carter and Dear Esther).

I planned on doing a kickstarter in July for $5,000 as well as applying for an Epic grant but I don’t want to rely on either of these since there is no guarantee. The vast majority of work that remains is a character model and recording the live action conversations. The story is complete and the vast majority of content is from the Marketplace.

My main concern right now is whether I should continue with my current schedule or try to push the Kickstarter and release date up with a substantially less worthy product because of the risk of depending on kickstarter or Unreal Grants.

Just to give you some idea of the game, here is a video I submitted for the GDC contest in January:

and a more recent one I submitted in April for an epic grant (sorry if the video is to drawn out with more technical stuff. Feel free to skip ahead):

I am incredibly interested in your opinion of the game or how I’m going about the money side of it so be as blunt as you want. I’d rather find out if I’m wasting my time or “doing it wrong” now than put everything into a game that no one wants to play and the business model is unsustainable.

Thanks for your time,

Taylor Loper
Lead Developer
Ionized Games

Well, I am not a good person to comment about business model - I quit a good position and salary after working 7 years at an triple A-studio, to do my indie stuff.
Forfeit the money and safety of a permanent work in the industry for artistic freedom and to challenge myself. Financially, it has been a horrible choice this far,
but as a learning experience and otherwise, great! But was it a good choice in the very long run, and as a business plan, will be seen in the future… ^^;.

But what I can give as an advise, you really have to edit and make the videos more interesting if you are going for Kickstarter, other funding, or applying to a publisher.
Too much technical irrelevant (and common anyway) things said in those, and too little focus on whats “special” in your product. Watch trailers of succesfull games,
see how good tempo they have in them. How they cut (edit the video instead of a long unedited gameplay) at right timings to make some aspects of the game
actually more special than it is in the game itself… Or maybe even ask someone else to cut the trailers/promoting videos for you? It is important!

Well as the saying goes “plan your work work your plan” comes to mind and you sound like someone willing to make adjustments via discovery but when it comes to making a game in general it is by far the easiest to accomplish as a goal as compared to the things that goes bump in the night once you move into marketing mode.

As an opinion the scary part is not knowing the things you should be doing with the experience of of more than a few releases under your belt so even though I know how to make a game, as well have the experience of the release, there are always surprises popping up that no one could have anticipated that requires a course adjustment to the original plan.

So sure what you have in mind is doable and at least have a plan to start with and all you need to do is to be willing to change it based on what you learn by discovery.

If I had to do it over again?

I would develop two games.

One would be the flier, simple in design, and intended to test the marketplace so to speak to see what happens and what comes out the other end. It’s intent is to answer the question as to what happens you submit to say Green Light.

The other would be “The Game” the would have a much better chance of surviving the to market road.

@Manatee I see what you’re saying. I really need to work on a trailer type of video.

@Freankie V making a flier game is a great idea. I never thought of doing that just to get my feet wet.

I disagree about the video, I am a game player before anything and I am tireddddd of hyped up trailers making games out to be what there not. it has caused me and a good amount of other people to stop getting behind prereleases and etc. I am by no means speaking for all people but i like knowing what the game is , don’t like being tricked into backing a product. I enjoyed your videos and your game interests me man

First of all, awesome game!
Manatee is right. you need to work on the presentation of your game to make it appealing to more people.
With the current type of video you are not speaking to the masses.
For me the video was interesting but most people only get caught by catchy trailers which dont represent the real game. Thats the reason why games like Assasins Greed sell year after year. They produce some sort of hype with their fake trailers and most people and especially the more casual ones are “stupid” and fall for it over and over.

tl;dr: take a look at trailers/videos from successful kickstarter campaigns or AAA games and try to implement some of their tricks to your next video.

You also need to look at how you will market the game. In the UK, there are meet-ups like Rezzed and GDC, where you can show your game off to other developers and journalists. That will help get your game out there. Network with people like you are the company’s lead salesman. (This is because you are).

Marketing is as much part of the job as developing. Look at Vlambeer’s to help you with spreading the word.

Thanks for the Feedback. I think was I might try to do (at least for greenlight) is a 30 second “trailer” first and then a video going more in-depth into the gameplay for people who are still interested. I don’t think I’ll keep all the technical design decision since I don’t think people would care unless if was in a kickstarter environment.

Thanks for the link Jezcentral I’ll definitely dig through this.

Just my point of view:

I would not recommend you to work on it full-time, because it’s always good to have a regular income or another way to earn money → it could be that you wont be abel to publish the game in your estimated time + probably you wont make any money with your game (when you sell it or with kickstarter/dev grants,…). Always make sure to create a plan from the view of a good case and the worst case!
The advantage is that you have nearly no risk + you can even spend some money on programs, freelancers,… :slight_smile:

When you really want to start to work full-time on this project I would suggest you to create a detailed (real) business plan → rough overview: always include the 4 P’s = Product (what’s special about your product,…), Price (is the price fair? + are you abel to cover your expenses), Place (where do you want to sell it) and Promotion (which social networks do you want to use, how do you want to get attention). Another important point which you should include is an overview about your expenses and your budget (monthly budget - everything that you need like food,…) so that you know how long you can work on the project till you have to get another way to earn money. Also make sure to include the “legal” stuff → taxes, if you need a company (and which type, because all of them have different advanages and start budget → but you have already chosen one ;)), game and company name…
So in short → think about everything carefully!

Start with the kickstarter campaign after you have polished everything (I personally would even recommend you to create custom meshes so that your game is unique) + when you have added more gameplay features or stuff that is more interesting to watch, because the current videos are pretty boring. For example you could create a good cinematic, something funny,… (e.g the promotion video of this game is awesome: Bacon Man: An Adventure by Skymap Games — Kickstarter :D).

As someone in marketing, really don’t feel afraid to pay professions to create good promotional material for you. A lot of products sink or swim based upon marketing. That is the hook of your product. This is where trailer buzz will create game coverage and get youtubers interested in trying your product out then putting a video of it up which generates free exposure & sales growth. The marketing is really key to any social media strategy and if you’re intending to leverage crowd funding then you have to have a social media strategy.

Did you start an actual LLC? Because it didn’t sound like you have. If you have then you’d have known if the name was fine or not as you’d have to file paperwork with your municipality, State, and the IRS paying a number of fees to get yourself up and running. I have an company of my own and it comes wrapped up in taxes, licensing fees, and mountains of official stuff you don’t want to deal with yet still have to. This is the sort of thing that needs to be sorted out before you begin any sort of crowd funding adventure or anything that may incur legal issues.

I’ll vote with Alaan, as I am also a professional game marketing person, that a good promo item is worth the price (or time). I’ll also go with Fighter, in that you may not be ready to go full time yet. Here’s what I see so far from your video & plan:

You’re taking risks you don’t need. The problem is I really don’t know where the fun is in the game from your video. I get the concept and that is neat, but it isn’t a hook. Is the game more like Journey, full of things to explore and discover (obviously with June assisting you when you find something or possibly directing you to specific things)? Is it more like a survival game with the goal to recreate some kind of… well… past that will tell you why you’ve arrived at this abandoned civilization? That kind of thing: This is where a powerful trailer is going to come in handy.

Now, making that trailer may not be free, but it IS important… and once it is excellent at answering the “where’s the fun” question and combining the already solid premise, you THEN go to Kickstarter and raise some funds and state your plan. In this age, for the moment (this will probably change in a few years) why should you take the risk when you can put that burden on the consumer? I don’t mean that in a negative way, that’s the honest situation we’re in from the business sense. At the very least you can keep working, get the trailer ready, get a kickstarter in place (possibly a grant from Unreal as well), and see. If the Kickstarter fails it will tell you something important about the product, which you can then fix. If it succeeds then you know you have a viable product and some extra starting cash to make sure you can get to the end. While all of that is going on you’ll have the additional extra income from your normal job.

It will take a bit more time doing it my way, but in the end you’ll limit your risk substantially in both product quality and cash reserves.

Thanks for the feedback. This has been really insightful. I’m going to think on it a couple days and re-evaluate my plan (and hash out the details).

I understand what you are saying, but I also believe that even you are affected by trailers and hype around them, even if you deny it. I am not talking only about triple A titles with ultra graphic trailers. Also small independent games like Goat Simulator,
Papers Please, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Shovel Knight, Five Nights at Freddy, etcetc, all have very good trailers which helped them to grasp peoples attention. I`d even say that for indie games a hitting trailer is even more essential than for big budget games with huge marketing budget. The 1 trailer is your best chance to show your game is something unique and worth paying attention to. You blow that chance=nobody will talk about your game=nobody will ever see your game.

I’ve been pondering pretty much the same questions, under similar circumstances, and also found this feedback informative. Thanks everyone

Complete a vertical slice first - a single mission you can complete, start to finish, with all of your planned gameplay systems and narrative in-place. It doesn’t have to be 100% polished, but it needs to be functional and representative of final gameplay. This will tell you everything you need to know:

  1. What is the cost to create my game? With one mission complete you can more easily extrapolate how long it will take you to finish, and who you’ll need to hire to help complete it.
  2. Is my game actually fun and compelling to play? You now have something you can test, and more importantly have other people test and give feedback on.
  3. Do I have enough content to start crowd funding? Completing a vertical slice should give you enough content to create a good ‘trailer’ video to get people excited for the game.

Based on what I saw from your videos and write-up, you don’t have enough that I’d recommend going ‘all-in’ at this point. You have some general game mechanics, but no actual game at this point.

As for hype trailers - you have to remember that crowd funding is a sales pitch first and foremost. You have to sell people on your idea and your ability to follow through on it - people don’t necessarily care about the in-depth details about the mechanics of your game, or even the history of your fictional game world. You need an ‘elevator pitch’. People want to see what they’ll be experiencing when they play your game, what you intend to deliver as the final product. If you want to make videos explaining development (such as the ones you’ve posted) those are fine, but peoples first exposure to your game needs to be exciting and immersive.

FrankieV, I took your advice about making two games and kept working on one I made for the gamejam this month. June is the game I really want to develop but I agree that it’s very naive to spend all my time developing my dream game with no experience in actually getting it greenlit. The whole purpose of this trailer is to spark interest so I purposely didn’t focus too much on telling the story or showing much game play. My plan is to make this the first video and use it as a hook. In the second video and description (for whoever hangs around that long) I’ll go into the story and game mechanics. Basically, You play as a drone who gets separated from his partner in a mining accident. The drone’s sensor can uncover clues and tracks to help you reunite before he runs out of oxygen. The game takes place on a harsh alien world that is being terraformed and consists mainly of cave systems and outposts. If you have the time I’d love to know what you think and thank you for all the awesome advice.

The best think you can do is to learn from the experience.

Forget about plans, strategies and so on, make a list of what you want to accomplish, reduce it to simple tasks and start doing them.

In reality is as simple as that, results will come and they will answer all the questions you may have.

Stop worrying about meaningless stuff and start doing.

Do you want a Kickstart campaign? GO FOR IT!
Do you want to apply for Dev Grants? DO IT NOW!

You’re asking in the wrong place, why? because it’s the marketplace who will give you the best answers, and unless you expose your creations and yourself to it it will remain silent.

How can you get an answer from the marketplace NOW?

If I were you I would go to places like Newgrounds and Kongregate and put the game there, just put it everywhere.
Contact Desura and talk with them, maybe you can put the game there, just create a free demo.
You can have it on Google Play too, it’s only 25$, and you can have every game you want there.

Just spread the word, pay attention to the feedback and act accordingly.

Edit: I forgot to mention that you’ll be better off keeping your job and working on your free time instead of going full time.

Think about this, how would you feel if after all that work and after the good feedback we gave you the market isn’t interested in your games?

The marketplace is your friend, just talk with it and THEN make decisions.

And don’t forget that good words mean nothing, the language of the market is $$$, if people is not willing to pay for it, do something else.

Edit 2: Watch Jim Sterling’s Youtube channel, there he has many videos commenting about early access and greenlight games, there is so much cr*p that if that doesn’t motivate you to go all in with your game nothing will.

There are a couple of people funded through Kickstart that have literally nothing to show except for a hyped video made from a concept prototype, and sooooooo many greenlight games are just plain ludicrous.

If your game is OK it will stand out, and you can have a great video just getting a Fiverr gig.

Yeah, I’m really starting to see that I have to put myself and my work out there. I feel like feedback from these forums is a little more personal and I’ll keep posting here but feedback from the “market” is equally important. If you guys get the chance check out my greenlight page:

There is definitely a lack of cats in that Cat Interstellar trailer there.

But let me ask you to take a step back and look at that trailer. Not as your baby project, but as someone who wants to put down money on a product.

Those sand textures are uniform. What does that speak of the overall texture work?

The principal character (the UAV) that we are asked to care about looks entirely untextured. Does a game centered around something that isn’t even fleshed out really something that shows any sort of direction?

There shows promise. The mechanic of highlighting objects with the UAV if used for more engaging aspects than following an already linear trail is an enticing one. You could emphasis that more, but by that point in the trailer I’m always well past disinterested.

Lol, that is true. The name came from the game jam and is the company that is terraforming the planet. You’ll see more of it in the actual game and there is also a demo on the may gamejam forum here. You’re right about all the details and I’m actually working on the textures for the drone right now. I understand what you’re saying and I completely agree but based on the advice from the Marketing twitchcast I don’t want to wait until the game is finished to try to get it greenlit. With that being said the game mechanic of highlighting objects with the sensor is the core of the game. I’m not trying to blow people away with my first game I just want to make a reliable (bug free) game with an interesting mechanic and compelling story. Hopefully we will get a chance to see how well I pull that off.