Steam Launch Diary #1: Surviving the First 24-hours

Missile Cards is out NOW on Steam at 10% off this week! Only $4.49 – If you want to support my ongoing gamedev efforts this year, grabbing a copy this critical launch weekend means a lot! Thanks!

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I’m sitting here typing this at the 24 hour mark threshold since launching my new game Missile Cards on Steam, which means I survived launch day! As you’ll see in a moment, there’s still a LONG ways to go before Missile Cards becomes profitable, even for a small game designed to be a minimum risk thing. This weekend is my big push to try to get as much sales traction as possible, and I’ll need all the help I can get.

All-the-while, I’m blogging my way through the ups and downs of launch month, so you can get a window into what it’s like doing this stuff as a solo indie (hint: it’s really not easy). So! 24 hours in. Where do we stand with Missile Cards?

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Missile Cards is OUT NOW on Steam (PC)

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Holy crap: It’s zero day. *Hyperventilates* OK! It’s been an insane 6 months, but my new solo strategy card game Missile Cards is officially OUT NOW on Steam for PC.  It’s only $4.99, and you can grab it during launch at a 10% discount! Every sale, every Steam review, and every bit of help spreading the word during this critical launch weekend means a LOT to me.

Rather than yap on about the game itself (you can learn all about it on the Steam page), I wanted to take a moment to talk about what’s at stake with this launch and how you can help, if you feel up to it.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time blogging this month about struggles I’ve been facing and my quest to break even as quickly as possible by selling 5,000 copies of the game during launch month. I won’t rehash all of that, but that stuff is worth reading if you want a peek into the headspace I’ve been at these past few months.

Bottom line. If Missile Cards hits 5,000 copies sold during launch month, that’s my break even point. It’ll help me pay a few bills and I won’t feel like my time on this was a total loss.

But…if Missile Cards sells double that amount during launch, then we’re talking some potential bigger (and very positive) implications for what 2017 might look like for me gamedev-wise. I’m pushing hard this year to carve out more time making games while not working myself to death. I’ve been juggling too much between my FT freelance work and gamedev, so I’m really….desperately keen to find a better work/life balance.

And if it goes beyond that? Well…let’s just say I’m going to have some SERIOUS FEELS. I have a lot of really neat games in the works but just not enough time to work on them between juggling projects and FT freelancing. If Missile Cards spins into a BIG WIN(TM), then that could potentially let me focus A LOT more of my time on games projects this year.

I’m hoping Missile Cards does well, but I’m not certain what this month will hold for me. Oh, also, here’s the trailer…duh (sorry, I should have posted that sooner).

Plus!

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

So… If you want to help, here are three SUPER important things you can do to give me a much needed boost during this critical launch weekend:

  1. Buy the game – Every 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

Cheers and have a great weekend!

-Nathan

My Quest for 5,000 Steam Sales During Launch Month

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Making a game, even a small one, is challenging as hell. Making a game and having it be financially successful is exponentially harder. This Friday (April 7th), I’m launching my next game, Missile Cards, on Steam, and I’m on a quest. A quest to break even.

I know what you’re thinking: “Woah, woah, hold up! Let’s not get all CRAZY TALK here, Mr. Ambitious pants.”

Break even? Yeah. Break even. That’s my first target with Missile Cards’ Steam launch, and to do that, I need to sell roughly 5,000 copies of the game. My goal is to hit that sales mark in the first month, which would let me pay off a few looming bills and feel not-miserable about spending the last 6 months hustling like a lunatic to code and create this thing.

To some, 5,000 copies — in a month or otherwise — is a super ambitious goal. A lot of small indie games don’t even sell 1,000 copies in their entire lifetime. Yet for others, they break the 5,000 sales mark in a single day. Me? I know better than to set high expectations, so instead I’ve set a goal to work hard towards, and I need your help to hit it.

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Beta Testing Your Indie Game (#Gamedev Audio Blog #3)

Lightening things up a but, episode #3 in my short mini-podcast audio blog series looks at tips and techniques for Beta testing your game as a solo indie — especially when you live outside of the a major population hub and struggle with finding testers for your games.

Here are some of the topics I touch on:

  • Building your Beta testing list
  • Running your Beta through Steam
  • Tips for ensuring your Beta runs smoothly
  • Using Steam to deliver + update your Beta
  • How Beta testing improved Missile Cards

     

Enjoy the episode? Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and/or comment to let me know if you’re digging these and want more? Happy to take topic requests or answer Qs in future installments if you have any.

Making Games and Mental Health (#Gamedev Audio Blog #2)

This second short mini-podcast audio blog post covers the important topic of dealing with depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges as a game developer or creative.

Here are some of the topics I touch on:

  • Struggling with depression and anxiety as a gamedev
  • Using games as a positive way to express yourself while exercising inner demons
  • The challenges of working in isolation, far outside of the games industry
  • Work/life balance and the toll that overworking yourself can take
  • The dangers of relying on social media as your lifeline to the world/industry

Enjoy the episode? Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and/or comment to let me know if you’re digging these and want more? Happy to take topic requests or answer Qs in future installments if you have any.

Navigating Pre-Launch Anxieties (#Gamedev Audio Blog #1)

Hey, remember when I used to podcast? Wasn’t that fun? Here’s something sort of like that: The first entry in my mini-podcast-like audio blog series! In this first 12-minute episode, I talk about prepping for the upcoming Steam launch of my new game Missile Cards.

Rather than throw a wall of words at you all the time, I figured I’d be neat to switch things up and use my human voice thing. These short audio posts will be a mix of dev-diary stuff covering what I’m working on, the challenges I’m working through, useful tidbits and takeaways, etc — and some proper topic-focused discussions.

Note: I’ve edited and reposted. This is a tidier audio version. – N

 

The Final Countdown – Reflecting on 6 Months of Missile Cards

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Buckle up, folks! Here’s a personal post about making/launching a game thing in 6 months, what it might or might not mean for my future, and what I’ve learned from the process.

Roughly six months ago, I started creating a quick little prototype for a strategy card game in GameMaker: Studio. I set out to mash-up the retro vibe and bombardment defense gameplay of the classic Atari game Missile Command — a game I played obsessively as a kid — with more strategic turn-based solo card game elements.

Retro inspiration aside, the core concept for the prototype I settled on was this: dangerous shit falls from the sky, you have to arm yourself and blast it away before it annihilates you — except everything is turn-based. You have to make tough strategic decisions on when to play cards, which cards to use, and when to sacrifice some of your base infrastructure to absorb a non-lethal impact.

This quickly led to building a deck of virtual cards packed with three key elements:

  1. A variety of damage-dealing hazard that would trigger and fall from the sky towards your bases.
  2. Basic weapons defenses to deploy, charge, then use to whittle away at the oncoming hazards.
  3. Special / Utility cards that would let you gather resources, influence weapon charge speed, and deal with increasingly complex and challenging hazards.

Surviving a match meant clearing the deck of all hazards while being very strategic about making best use of the cards you draw.

Within a few days, I had a working prototype, but what surprised me, was that it was both a) actually fun to play and b) very “grabby.” It had the “just one more game” feel to it, even in a super rough form. It’s rare that I enjoy playing most of my early prototypes when they’re a couple days old, but this one had me playing match after match for hours. It was enough to make the decision to flesh it out into a proper game.

Missile Cards was born.

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A slightly outdated screenshot from the Missile Cards Beta in action.

For me, the whole point of Missile Cards was to create something small, fast, fun, and polished in a very limited timeframe. To make and launch a game in a few months instead of the year and a half or more (my average larger project dev cycle). I needed to start and finish something, and I wanted it to be a high quality, low risk project. Something I could craft, polish, launch, and feel good about, without taking every second of my time.

That, and hopefully make a little income from it, obviously.

Six months later, the game has REALLY come together into something special, thanks in large part to my great team of Beta testers who’ve given me a lot of useful feedback to improve the game this past few months.

I’m really excited and cautiously optimistic about this crazy thing I’ve created… and more than a little nerve-wracked with anxiety over its impending Steam launch on April 7th.

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IT’S JUST A GAME… BUT THERE’S MORE AT STAKE HERE

Every aspect of Missile Cards as a whole has been designed to keep a tight reign on scope creep, make something small and polished, then hit the finish line and get it out there as quickly as possible.

This is meant to minimize risk, but it also lets me sell the game for a reasonable price tag of $5 — and it increases the chances that the game will become profitable faster, given the short dev cycle and limited (RE: nonexistent) budget. I’ve been bootstrapping the whole thing.

Making Missile Cards has been fun to make. I’ve approached it with both the hope that it finds a moderate level of success AND the understanding that it might completely flop.

If I’m being truly honest, however, I think there’s a lot more riding on this project succeeding than I’d care to admit.

I’m in a need of a major life change. For the past three years or so, I’ve been doing game development on the side while pivoting my full-time freelance work towards corporate clients out of necessity (you can’t really make games and write about them for games press outlets). Freelancing for those corporate markets pays well and it can be very interesting a times. I enjoy the work for the most part, but my heart isn’t 100% in it of late. At least not when I think of where I want to be long-term.

Games were the entire reason I became a freelancer in the first place, over a decade ago. Writing for a ton of the top games magazines and websites I grew up reading was a dream come true, until I hit the ceiling and realize there wasn’t a lot more for me in that space. (That, and most of the good paying outlets either shut down or cut their freelance budgets).

Making games was an accidental side-track that started around that time, but it’s something that I’ve found is even more rewarding and interesting than slinging words about them. Making shit, in general, is in my blood. It always has been.

Freelancing has empowered me to do a lot of things I’d never have been able to do working a regular 9-to-5, but it still often feels like work. Grindy at times, not always fulfilling, necessary. Gamedev can be the same way, too, but it’s a different animal for me.

My true passion has always been in creating things. Music, books, art, writing, and other projects. I’ve been doing this obsessively since I was a kid, and those who follow what I’m up to know that I haven’t stopped.

When I think of what my life might look like 5, 10, 15 years down the road from now, my happiest imaginations find me making cool shit and being able to sustain myself financially, at least in-part, through these creative projects. I see potential for that to become a reality through game development, but I also am realistic about the hard realities of the industry and in standing out in a crowded market.

I need positive change in my professional life and I’m driven as hell to find it– perhaps to a fault. I know how to fling myself at the wall, pick myself up and wipe the blood off, then do it again and again until I climb higher.

That said…working FT as a freelancer while making games on my own in my spare time AND and running a small indie studio in addition to that…it’s wearing away at me like a millstone. I’ve been juggling too much for too long, and it’s negatively affecting me on many different levels. I’m worn, weary, often depressed and feeling less and less a part of the world. My physical and mental health has not been good these past few years. Things have been rough. I haven’t felt or been my best self in a long time.

I need a win. Or at least something good to happen. A catalyst to spark the momentum I need to gain traction towards positive change. I’ve done this before, with making the jump from a day job to a successful freelance career. I’m trying to do it again. And hoping I can survive the process once more.

Having gone through several game launches – including some utter failures – I’ve experienced firsthand the ultra dark tunnel you can find yourself in when it feels like all the hard work you’ve been pouring into a thing is all for nothing.

No matter how much you steel yourself against this, launching a thing (and a game on Steam no less) is always difficult. I’m ready for the hustle of launching the game itself, but I’m not sure I’m fully prepared for what might happen – good or bad – once the game is out there.

I’m cautiously optimistic. And slightly dreading it.

Missile Cards is one of several games I’m launching this year. I realize it may fail…hell, it’s been designed from the get-go as a minimal risk, minimum viable project, despite taking 6 months to make. But it’s part of a bigger plan to at least attempt pushing towards making games on a more financially stable level.

I don’t have to sell a TON of copies to get a win from this one. But I know that it’s dangerous to set any sort of real expectations with these things before-hand. Instead, I’m setting a goal. A minimum ideal target to shoot for.

Setting goals, amassing small wins, and using that to propel you forward and upward has been a central component of my success as a freelancer. So as I approach the launch of my next game, I’m applying that in a different, very transparent way as part of my launch / marketing plan.

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MY QUEST FOR 5,000 STEAM SALES

To have something specific to shoot for, I’ve set a personal goal of selling at least 5,000 copies of Missile Cards in the first month of its launch on Steam. I’m doing this in part so I can track my own progress with launch efforts, and also potentially give friends and followers a means to see how I’m doing (and hopefully help cheer me on so I can survive the intense craziness of another Steam launch without falling apart).

So…why 5,000 copies and what does that mean?

At a price of $4.99 for the Steam edition, Missile Cards is pretty affordable for the amount of replay and content that’s in there. It’s not the biggest game scope-wise, but there’s a lot to unlock and shoot for…and it’s been designed for high replay. I feel comfortable selling it for that, and it’ll be launching at a small limited time 10% discount to encourage early adopters.

5,000 copies is the number of sales I need to hit  at that price point in order to financially “break even” for the time cost of developing the game for six months.

Normally, I work FT freelancing while slinging game side projects. Missile Cards development is a little different, in that I started working on it right at the point just before roughly 90 percent of my freelance gigs evaporated all at once. This tends to happen in some shape or form over the holidays/New Year, but this year I took a big hit when several key clients decided to cut their budget or move in different directions.

So for more than half of Missile Cards’ development, I was focusing on it as my day job while hustling on the side to line up more work. Things have evened out again,  as I’ve solidified a few more opportunities for the moment, but I desperately need to recoup some of that lost time and income.

After Steam takes it’s cut of each sale, 5,000 copies sold in the first month should roughly be enough for me to make back most of what I would have made during that time. It’s a weird position to be in, but that’s where I’m at.

Thus the Quest for 5,000 Steam sales.

To put that in perspective…5,000 copies sold in the prime launch month window is consider an epic failure by most game standards. At the same time, many small indie games don’t even sell 1,000 copies in their entire lifetime. So I realize that my goal is extremely ambitious in some ways, and nowhere nearly as high I need to shoot for to hit the true “success” mark in other ways.

Still, If I can hit that threshold in the first month, I can exhale at the end of April feeling good about the time I poured into making the game. That income would help me pay off a portion of a few looming bills and debt. Going above and beyond that would be amazing, and potentially have bigger implications for what the rest of my year might look like…

Baby steps.

5,000 feels like a not-crazy number to shoot for, and yet realistically, it’s probably going be like pulling teeth just to hit that mark unless the game gets serious traction with press, YouTubers, etc (something I’m not counting on but will be working like hell to try to lock down).

It’s not going to be easy. I’m doing all of my own marketing and PR, and handling every facet of the game’s creation, launch, and outreach. And I’ll be solely responsible for any launch week bug fixes that might be needed (hopefully not!) and responding to players on the Steam forums.

When I launch this thing, that whole week is basically going to be burned by me hustling like hell to get traction during that critical stretch. It’s going to be tough, draining, and who knows what will happen.

Hopefully some of you will be cheer me on and help keep me rolling even when my limbs are falling off and I begin speaking in tongues. Errrr. Yeah.

Moving on.

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A FEW THOUGHTS ON WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM THIS

This has been a pretty personal, gloomy, candid post. But I want to wrap things up on a high note with a few positive thoughts on what I’ve learned from this project so far.

  • Its helped me learn to code better. Missile Cards is the first GameMaker project I’ve done entirely in GML. That’s a big deal for me, especially given how complex the game’s systems are under the hood. I no longer use the drag-and-drop training wheels, and that’s really opened the door to making much cooler things. It’s also inspired me to start tinkering with Unity and wrapping my head around C# down the road.
  • Its been a great exercise in battling scope creep. Setting tight constraints for your game, then sticking to them, is the best way to combat scope creep. I knew I wanted to turn this game around from concept to launch in a matter of months, and that helped me make some VERY tough decisions to trim the fat and limit/focus the content. It also means that if the game tanks at launch, I didn’t spend years of my life on it only to fail miserably (again). If it does well, I can pour more energy into it and bring it to other platforms. If not, I can feel ok about moving on (though I’m hoping for the former vs the latter).
  • It feels damn fucking good to be so close to the finish line. Seriously. Since This Book Is A Dungeon, which only took 3 months to make, all of my other projects have been much bigger, more ambitious slow burning things. The fact I’ve been able to make something as complex, fun, different, and polished as Missile Cards in only  6 months feels really great. It’s not a perfect game, but I feel like I’ve leveled up some of my skills in the process of making it. I definitely plan to aim for making more smaller, tightly scoped projects like this in the future alongside my larger slow-burning things.

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If you want to get notified when Missile Card launches on Steam next month, why not head over to the Steam page and add it to your Steam Wishlist! And stay tuned…I’ll be rolling more details on my Quest to 5,000 Steam Sales and other launch-related stuff soon.

Thanks for reading!

-Nathan