Steam Launch Diary #5: Failing Forward and Abandoning the Quest to “Break Even”

Edit: Hi George, thanks for the traffic.

Missile Cards is OUT NOW on steam. Only $4.99! – If you want to support my ongoing gamedev efforts this year, grabbing a copy during this critical launch month means a lot! Thanks!

saleschart

See that chart up there? That’s Missile Cards’ Steam sales since the April 7 launch. That big spike looks pretty exciting…until you learn that this peak represents a mere 55 copies sold during launch day. The rest is all downhill from there. Over the last two weeks, I’ve been averaging roughly 4 sales a day. What does all this mean? What’s next? What did I learn from this experience? Read on, I’ll dish.

I did, however, finally hit a small, tiny milestone: I broke the 200 copies sold mark.

Total Steam sales to date: 203

# of Sales needed to hit my break even point for development: 5,000

Bottom line. That’s not happening at this point. Not with the Steam edition. I’ve officially given up on Missile Cards selling enough copies on Steam during launch month–or anytime soon for that matter–for me to break even on the original six months of development. But that’s not the end of the line for this quirky little strategy card game.

Here are a few lessons I’ve picked up from this experience so far (some of which I knew about going-in and wanted to test for myself).

mc copy

A FEW TAKEAWAYS OF LAUNCHING MISSILE CARDS ON STEAM (SO FAR)

1. Card games aren’t a strong-selling genre on Steam/PC

I’ve heard this before from a few other devs, and now I know firsthand: card games, at least the the non-Magic The Gathering flavor, don’t do particularly well on Steam, sales-wise. Unless you’re Reigns. Retro-tinged games with pixel art also can take a lot of flack from Steam users, who occasionally won’t buy a game simply because it’s pixel art.

The upside, though, is people who did buy the game have been super positive about it, which I wasn’t expecting. That’s encouraging, particularly as I prep a mobile edition for rollout in the coming months. People have been telling me they want to play it on their phones. Ok. Gotcha. Loud and clear.

Launching on Steam first was both a necessity and experiment. I always suspected Missile Cards might find a more welcome audience on mobile, but launching on mobile first, then attempting to launch on PC is the kiss of death for a lot of otherwise quality games. Sadly, it doesn’t matter if a game was specifically designed for PC. What matters to Steam users is their perception of whether it belongs on PC or not.

If your game even looks like a mobile-ish game, a casual game, or something that might be something played on a phone, prepare for an uphill struggle on Steam.

Side note: I submitted Missile Cards to GOG last week, but was (politely) rejected. So once launch month is over, I’ll probably be putting it up on itch.io as well, and then call that a day for the PC edition. Maybe I’ll do better when the next Steam sale kicks in. At least it’s out on the platform and has positive reviews. That gives me some options for down the road to try to generate a little long-tail income over time.

2. Set realistic expectations, then chop those in half

My goal of “breaking even” this month was a heartfelt one. Things have been tough for me lately. I’ve been pushing myself too hard working freelance and jugging numerous gamedev projects–all in the midst of one of the most unimaginably hellish, never-ending money pit home-renovation projects I’ve ever experienced.

I now have a second mortgage worth of monthly bills to contend with, and the damn nightmare project isn’t even done yet. Also, going 3.5 months without a kitchen, bathroom, or running water downstairs…is bullshit. Anyhow. Moot point.

My only real objective with launch was to try to break even on the game’s 6 months dev cycle and make back some of the income I lost from my freelance workload falling apart over the winter Holidays.

5,000 copies sold during launch month on Steam, to me, seemed like a potentially attainable goal. It wasn’t — not without getting major YouTube traction, press coverage, and initial sales traction, at least. I put a lot of time into hustling to line up coverage, get codes out to press and YouTubers, create gifs and content to share throughout launch, prep and tap into my mailing list, and get the word out in other ways.

That generated some positive results, but nowhere near enough to move the needle. What I’ve earned from the game so far (once the check arrives), doesn’t even pay for the time I put in to do some of this stuff during launch week.

The sting of Missile Cards being an utter failure on Steam, income-wise, would hurt me a lot more if I had set loftier expectations. 5,000 sales was a goal…a nice “hey, that’s not too bad” spot to aim for. But I honestly didn’t know what to expect with this launch or my hustle efforts, so I embraced the potential that things might not go so well.

It’s easy to look at other games and go “oh, we’ll DEFINITELY sell at least 30k or 40k or 50k or whatever.” Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t expect ANYTHING. Instead, set different tiers of smaller targets to aim for. Benchmarks to gauge how well you’re doing vs “this is what we expect to sell.”

3. Making smaller games, faster is a smart move…especially if they’re experimental

Missile Cards, from the beginning, was an exercise in constraint: I’m going to make this cool experimental thing, get it as polished and tightened up as I can, and launch it as quickly as possible.

I intentionally limited Missile Cards’ scope and left a lot of my initial plans for the game on the cutting room floor in an effort to stick to a lean dev cycle. THAT, at least, paid off, because it would have easily taken me another 6+ months to build out the game as I had originally planned it.

Initially, I planned on three months of dev time, it took me six to get it done and launched, and it would have taken me at least double that had I not made some tough decisions early on.

And you know what? That was the right call. Player reviews have been extremely positive, and no-one so far has complained about the length/scope of the game. It takes an average player, depending on skill, roughly 7-10 hours to beat the game. That feels like a lot of value at $4.99.

Mission accomplished.

The whole mindset of “less can be more” is something I’m keen to experiment more with. I have some larger, more ambitious games in the works. They’re slow-burning along behind the scenes, but getting smaller, less risky projects built and out the door is a big part of what I want to be doing going forward, too…at least until I get to the point where my games start earning enough that I can stop calling this a “full-time hobby” and more of an actual side business I can lean on more.

This jives with my plans to start dipping into mobile games, which is probably a bad move business-wise, but ultimately the only option I have for the strange card-based projects I’m keen on doing more with. There’s a much stronger audience for card games on mobile, as the genre is a great fit for portable devices.

I’m holding off on doing a full proper postmortem until after the game is out on mobile, because I really want to be able to punctuate this entire experience with some solid results about whether the game actually does well on that difficult marketplace.

So yeah, mobile plans…a quick update:

MISSILE CARDS COMING TO IOS

I’ve reached out to a few indie publishers in the mobile space to feel out my options, and while there’s been some interest, it looks like I’m going to be doing this 100% DIY. Which means I get to repeat this entire stress rollercoaster and launch hustle in a few months. I’m not looking forward to it, except for the off chance that maybe…possibly, I’ll get an Apple feature and Missile Cards will gain better traction on iOS.

Again…I’m not assuming that will happen, so I’m proceeding with all of my guns blazing and hoping to do the best I can without it.

Getting things re-jiggered for mobile is a little tricky. I’ve already updated some of the core bits, but Missile Cards was designed layout-wise for a widescreen 16:9 setup. No prob, if it’s on iPhones, but I’m a lot more limited in what I can do to get the resolution to jive on iPad without REALLY tearing the game apart and rebuilding a second interface layout. I’m not keen to do that if I don’t have to.

So I have some things to sort out, including the daunting technical challenge of getting my PC and Mac to play nice long enough to export the GameMaker build into Xcode and get all of that zany stuff setup.

I had hoped to avoid having to do all of this myself, since the last time (with Touchfight Games) was a nightmare, but I’m taking the plunge.

The upside of this…I’ve been wanting to design a number of smaller card games and experimental things — games that would be a great fit for mobile but too weird or small-scale for a full PC version. If I’m shelling out for a solo Apple dev license, then I have to make use of it enough to cover my ongoing expenses of maintaining it. That means…more small, weird, interesting games.

Anyhow. I have an insane few months ahead. Over at Touchfight Games, we’re in the middle of home stretch chaos trying to button up and prep Nuclear Golf for launch later this year:

Meanwhile, I’m also going to prep Missile Cards for a mobile launch in the next few months, chip away at a few secret games projects, and push hard to get my TBIAD follow-up, DEATHWELL, prepped for some kind of Kickstarter…because bootstrapping all of these projects out of pocket is killing me.

I’m still freelancing, too. I had hoped to be able to get out and enjoy summer for a change (I’ve been a shut-in for the last 3 years)…looks like that’s not happening.

But upwards and onwards. One of these days, with one of these projects, something is going to stick. When it does, I’m hoping all of this craziness will have been worth it.

At the end of the day, though, I feel great about making a game I’m proud of, that people also seem to enjoy. Here’s hoping things go better on iOS, yeah? We’ll see.

3 WAYS TO HELP MISSILE CARDS KEEP ON KEEPING ON

  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! Have a pal that likes retro pixel art or strategy card games? Maybe pass the link along! And I always appreciate signal boosting or Twitter/social media support.

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.

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3 thoughts on “Steam Launch Diary #5: Failing Forward and Abandoning the Quest to “Break Even”

  1. Hey buddy,

    I’m waiting for the game to come on sale!!

    Just kidding..

    I do like the game, but for me, it isn’t something I’d play on my computer, I’d be more inclined to play it on mobile.

    Just a question really why only iOS, what about Android, from my knowledge I think it’s easier to get your app onto the Google App store, I also think it’s a lot cheaper.

    If it comes to Android I will certainly pick up a copy.

    • Hey! No prob at all. I’ve been getting that a lot. 🙂

      I’m actually hoping to do an Android version, too, but I’m less familiar with that market. I’ve heard there’s a bit higher piracy rates and folks aren’t as keen for premium priced games ($4.99), but I’m definitely going to look into it. Focusing on iOS first, as I’ve done that before in the past (even though it’s a hell-process, yeah).

      Once the dust settles there, I’ll see how things go and then probably get it out on Android, too.

      Cheers!
      -Nathan

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