Experimenting and Struggling with Launching your Indie Game (An Update)

sadstockkittyIt’s day 3 of Missile Cards‘ launch, and I’m about to dive into a full day of freelance word slinging to get caught up on some actual human work deadlines. Before I switch gears from intense Steam game launch hustle over into intense “crap I need to pay my mortgage soon” work hustle, here’s a mini-launch update.

In 48 hours, Missile Cards has sold 91 copies on Steam.

That’s not great. Not awful either, unless you compare it to the 5,000 copies in launch month goal I’ve set for myself. THEN it’s awful. Heh. Aside from a few bits of small press and a handful of YouTubers doing coverage, I haven’t had any big spikes yet…it’s all been one sale a time, creeping along.

cat2I’m waffling between feeling pretty good that the game is selling at all and feeling exhausted, mentally tapped out, and frustrated that days of launch hustle hasn’t squeezed out more momentum from the tube. This is nothing new. I’ve launched 8 books and 3 games in the past few years, and in every case I have to pour 4,000 percent of myself into launch to even gain the tiniest bit of traction.

It would be nice, one of these days, to get to the point where I can just launch something and have it do well enough to feel good about the effort without having to kill myself hustling like a lunatic. It’s apparent that’s definitely not happening with this launch. But I anticipated that going into things.

On the upside, the positive reception among players and the steam reviews has definitely helped me from cascading fully into the void of early slow-launch depression — a thing that typically happens when I launch anything. It’s exhausting to launch a thing 100% DIY on your own, without budget to pour into marketing, spending days on end doing anything and everything you can to get traction.

Pouring everything into that, and seeing abysmal results…well, it feels like breaking your body trying to move a giant heavy boulder, only to nudge it 1/18th of a centimeter towards your goal. I’ve wanted to crawl into a hole and die a few times already in the past 48 hours.

At the same time, I’ve also spent (wasted) money on PR in the past and found I was able to get better traction and results from my own DIY efforts. Unless you’re under the wing of a well-connected publisher or have a huge established fanbase, it’s a real struggle with no guarantees of ANY sort. Even if you do wind up with a solid publisher backing you, you’re sacrificing a pretty large cut of your profits with STILL no real guarantees that your game will break even or succeed.

There’s no real easy solution. You either roll the dice and hope the wind blows in the right direction and that your game finds the audience you’re targeting, or you throw a ton of money into marketing to MAKE it happen. I don’t have a ton of money. In fact, I’m pretty well in the hole on a few different levels. That’s why Missile Cards was designed to be a zero budget, bootstrapped, minimum risk, ultra fast/tight project.

Because I can’t afford to keep pouring so much of my time into making games that just tank or fizzle.

Look. I’m not new to this. I’m not naive about the difficulty of making and selling games for a living (one of my ultimate goals here), and I’m not a noob when it comes to the ins and outs of marketing and PR. Content marketing is what I do for a living, freelance-wise (whee fun). And still I’m struggling like crazy to gain a foothold here. Games are tough, man, unless you’re making AAA Johnny Big-Dick Shooter Pew Pew 2000. And hell, even then.

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But 91 sales is still sales. And, when you compare it to a different animal like a Kindle book launch, that’d be a GREAT start for 48-hour sales. So even though I’m exhausted, fried, stressed, and weary, I’m going to keep putting one foot in front of the other this month to see if things pick up, or if slow and steady still gets me to the break even point of 5,000 sales by May 7th. We’ll see!

Headed back to freelance deadline hustle now (what a weekend), so I’m wrapping myself in a forcefield of cute cat stock photos.

Addendum: Experimenting With Game Launches

It occurs to me, now that I think of it more, that ultimately I’m treating this launch like a reverse Kickstarter. I’ve made the thing, paid the time/energy into it, and now I’m hoping to break even at least to have been able to made the thing without losing traction financially.

This is a personal campaign. I’m sharing my guts and meat and no-B.S. about what’s going on and how I’m feeling and what this game succeeding means for me every step of the way. That’s by design, and it’s sincere. Firing a press release into the void just doesn’t work. This is personal to me.

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Sure I made a neato game and I want  you to buy it and have fun with it. But it’s not just a game. Missile Cards represents a small opportunity for me to be able to do MORE of this. I envy those creators who manage to do well enough with their first game that they can just throw everything else aside and pour their energy into their next few things.

Oh the crazy shit I could be making if that was the case. I have some REALLY interesting and super dark games in the pipeline (mostly horror/IF/RPG-tinged narrative-driven projects). I’d have launched and released at least one of them by now, if I didn’t have to struggle so much to divide my time between juggling gamedev with full-time freelance hustling.

That’s the reason, in part, that I made Missile Cards: to make something fast, cool, polished and smaller scoped. To get get something DONE and LAUNCHED…again…FINALLY. To get it out there quickly while still making something I can be proud of. And hopefully in the process generate just enough income to carve out more time to focus on the REAL shit I’ve got simmering away under the surface.

So Missile Cards, at least to me, isn’t just a game I’ve punted out onto Steam. This launch is a chance to carve out more time making games. A stepping stone to try to gain more ground. To try to ease up the mental and physical gauntlet that comes from working full time while making games (also basically full-time) and pushing every other aspect of being a normal person aside for years on-end to reach the next goal.

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP! (Thanks in advance)

Here are three SUPER important things you can do to help during this critical launch period:

  1. Buy the gameEvery single sale counts during this launch period! Seriously!
  2. Leave a Steam review – If you’re enjoying the game, please also take a second to leave a short Steam review as soon as you can! That makes a HUGE difference. Most players don’t take the time to leave them, or they often only do if they don’t like the game.
  3. Tell a friend / Share on social media – I’m doing all of my own DIY marketing, so every little bit of help getting the word out means a lot!

Thanks so much! I’ll be blogging about the game and my progress on the “Quest to 5,000” throughout the month at www.nathanmeunier.com

Best,

-Nathan

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