April 24, 2018

How many wishlists should you have when launching on Steam?

from Grey Alien Games

Y axis is exactly what the title says it is. X axis is just anonymised game number. This applies to all graphs in this blog.

Well of course the answer is: As many as possible!

I recently spoke to a bunch of devs and asked them to share their wishlist-related data because I wanted to know the relationship between wishlists at launch and sales at launch. I figured that this would help me to calculate the approximate amount of wishlists required at launch for a “decent” launch.

7-day Wishlist conversions at launch

On the Steam sales reporting system you can view a page of details about your game’s wishlists. If you set the date range to a week (or 8 days to be safe) that encompasses your launch day, you will see a small table at the bottom of the page. That table shows you how many wishlist emails were sent out at launch and how well those wishlists converted into sales during the first 7 days. I asked devs to send me their data and they kindly obliged.

Note that if you launched without setting up a “coming soon” page, this table will be missing. Also if your game is more than a couple of years old, the data isn’t available.

I’ve plotted the results from 14 games that had regular or early access Steam launches and the results are at the top of the page. You can see that there’s quite a large range. The average is 10.5% and the median is about 6.9%. Yes, I could do with more data points, so please let me know yours if you feel inclined!

Note that the highest conversion may be an outlier because the dev already had a huge player base for on online game and he encouraged them to wishlist the Steam game. So this may have resulted in a large fanbase buying during the first week.

Note that our game, Shadowhand, converted at 20% which is also pretty high. We also have a decent fan base from previous games and so did the other game on the chart with 19.5%.

If I exlude the possible outlier at the top then the average is 8.9% and the median is 6.2%.

Some games seemed to have a low conversion rate. Perhaps there weren’t many existing fans, or the price was too high, or the initial reviews weren’t positive. All those things and more could affect conversion rate.

Early Access 7-day Wishlist conversions at full launch

What about games coming out of Early Access into a full launch?

Well I managed to get 7 data points for those and I discovered that the 7-day conversion rate is much lower than for EA or regular launches. The average and median are both 2.4%.

This suggests that most “fans” (I’m using this term to mean customers who are prepared to pay close to full price for a game that they really like the look of) have already bought the game and the others are just hanging on for a deep discount. Also I suspect that the length of time a game is in EA may affect the conversion rate because if it’s in EA a long time then probably more fans will get round to buying it, thus lowering the conversion rate at full launch.

Wishlist sales vs total sales

So how many ADDITIONAL sales will a game make during launch week on top of wishlist sales? Well I asked devs that too and charted the results above as a ratio of wishlists sales to total sales. This chart includes regular and EA launches, as well as EA to full launches because there was virtually no difference between them.

The average ratio was 21.8% and the median was 20.5%.

Many things could affect this ratio. For example, a large fanbase who have already wishlisted the game would push it up resulting in comparatively less organic sales. Or the game could get some great launch press/streamers or a Steam main capsule feature which would lower the ratio due to all the extra organic sales.

Sales per Wishlist

Now things start to get very interesting because we can say that if you had 10000 wishlists before launch then approx 10% of them will convert to sales at launch, which is 1000 sales. Then you can expect 4000 more “organic” sales for a total of 5000 sales in your first week (based on the wishlist sales to total sales ratio of 20%).

Which means that each wishlist is worth approximate 0.5 sales!

In fact I charted it (see chart above) and the average is 0.58 sales per wishlist and the median is 0.36. The full range is from 0.14 to 1.8.

This is super-useful info, especially if you plan to spend money on ads to get wishlists.

Of course, there’s a big range in here. Worst case your 10000 wishlists might only generate 2% conversions for 200 wishlist sales which account for 33% of total sales. Therefore total sales = 600 and each wishlist equates to approx. 0.06 sales. A poor result but also pretty unlikely!

Best case would be something like 10000 wishlists converting at 31%, so 3000 wishlist sales which are only 10% or total sales. Therefore total sales = 30000! So each wishlist would be worth 3 sales in an unlikely scenario where everything was fantastic.

How many wishlists should I aim for?

This year at GDC I was in a meeting with some devs and a Valve rep and they said 50,000 wishlists would be a good figure aim for if you want featuring to kick in. Wow, previously I’d heard about devs trying to get 10K wishlists, and we struggled to achieve that with Shadowhand as we only got about 4000!

Ultimately you want your game to make a profit, or at least to break even. So if you know your total cost (and you should) then you can work out how many units you need to sell to break even.

Let’s say you need 10,000 units to break even in the first week, then you’d need about 20,000 wishlists according to my research (using the 0.5 sales per wishlist ratio).

For a $10 game that would mean $100,000 in gross revenue in the first week, or about $65K net revenue after Valve takes their cut and deals with sales tax.

Then you can use my week 1 x5 formula to calculate your year 1 revenue as per my recent blog post on the subject.

Well I hope you found that interesting. Please let me know your thoughts and feel free to email me any data that you want to share in order to improve my results. Thanks!

Episode 500: Celebration Time!

from Casual Gamer Chick

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After 11 years, VGRT Gaming Podcast, nee “Technical Diversions (TD) Gaming Podcast”, has hit the magic 500th episode, with not only former co-host Paul Nowak joining in on the celebration, but 2Old2Play’s Derek Nolan and former co-host Dan Quick sending their congrats as well. Paul’s presence is the go-ahead to give TJ and Scott permission to razz Jonah to no end, while Parker Brother board games are compared. This week’s Gaming Flashback is World of Goo.

The news for this magical 500th episode includes:

Question of the Week: “If you were a classic Parker Brothers board game, which would you be?”

[Song: “The Field Of Cormallen” by David Arkenstone.]

After 11 years, VGRT Gaming Podcast, nee “Technical Diversions (TD) Gaming Podcast”, has hit the magic 500th episode, with not only former co-host Paul Nowak joining in on the celebration, but 2Old2Play’s Derek Nolan and former co-host Dan Quick sending their congrats as well. Paul’s presence is the go-ahead to give TJ and Scott permission to razz Jonah to no end, while Parker Brother board games are compared. This week’s Gaming Flashback is World of Goo. The news for this magical 500th episode includes: “King of Kong” star stripped of high scores, banned from competition Croteam and Devolver promise a “brutally bigger” new Serious Sam SNK teasing its own classic compilation console Nintendo overhauls parental control app for Switch Question of the Week: “If you were a classic Parker Brothers board game, which would you be?” [Song: “The Field Of Cormallen” by David Arkenstone.]

April 18, 2018

Avalon Legends Solitaire 3 for Mac & Windows released

from Anawiki

And here it is – Avalon Legends Solitaire 3 – a long awaited sequel. Anawiki Games fans have the opportunity to be the first to play it. Please, download it now and let me know what you think.

Read more about Avalon Legends Solitaire 3
Download Avalon Legends Solitaire 3 for Windows
Download Avalon Legends Solitaire 3 for Mac OS

Avalon Legends Solitaire 3 screenshot

April 17, 2018

Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum Review

from Casual Game Guides

Welcome to Dark Tales: Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum! Your detective friend Dupin needs your help! 

» Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum Walkthrough & Forum

» Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum Free Trial & Related Games

April 13, 2018

Latvian gamedev conference

from Grey Alien Games

When my husband and business partner Jake Birkett is invited to speak at a game development conference in Latvia, my interest is piqued. I realise that my knowledge of the games business in this part of the world is extremely limited, and of course I want to find out more.

Thanks to generous sponsorship from GameInsight, the one day event in Latvia’s capital, Riga, is free to attend, and attracts over 100 game industry professionals and students.

What about Latvia?
Latvia is a little country with big ambition. This small Baltic nation has a population of fewer than two million and an interesting cultural mix, partly as a result of historical rule by neighbours such as Sweden, Russia and Poland. Even so, Latvia has retained its own Baltic identity and language.

The Latvian Game Association (LSIA) was founded in 2014, although some of its members had been active since 2007. Its remit is to promote the development of the Latvian game industry and mutual cooperation between game developers, in addition to education. The industry also gets support from sources such as the Latvian Agency of Investment (LIA).

Getting started
Riga is famous for its nightlife and so some of the speakers were out late sampling the local beers and karaoke scene. Our hosts from Gamedev.lv are generous with their time and have the event well organized.

Imants Zarembo kicks off with his recent experience of getting a game on Steam and working with a publisher. Zarembo works at Soaphog Game Studio, a team of eight that spent around four years developing roguelike dungeon crawler Rezrog, which won the Latvian “game of the year” award back in January.

One of his key takeaways is to throw out early prototypes: “we made practically all the mistakes we could make,” he admits, “we kept building on the same base.” He also advises other devs: “be serious about your marketing.” The publisher experience still boosted the project and facilitated localization: despite various twists and turns taken by the business, the game has broken even.

PR and marketing advice

There is no shortage of great PR and marketing advice on hand, like the excellent PR primer for gamedevs by Agnieszka Szóstak, founder of PR Outreach based in Warsaw, Poland, complete with a launch timeline.

Further marketing advice is on hand from 11 Bit Studios’ senior writer, Pawel Miechowski, based on the strategy deployed for standout pacifist game, This War of Mine.

Miechowski has over 20 years’ experience, and goes into detail on how to create a “brand book” for your game title, the significance of selling emotion to create a marketing impact, and the importance of a consistency through all communications.

His strategy paid off in terms of garnering considerable coverage from the mainstream press, he says. The takeaway? Set the marketing tone from the very start of your project and don’t be afraid to market only to a specific audience: “If you try to make a game for everyone, it’s going to be a game for no-one,” he concludes.

A tale of two studios
Next Brjann Sigurgiersson (Image & Form Games) and Jake Birkett (Grey Alien Games) offer contrasting talks on game studio survival and strategy. Sigurgiersson describes using the same game world and intellectual property (IP) and switching genres to create a series of games, as Image & Form has done successfully with its Steamworld games.

The company increased the price of its later games, such as Steamworld Dig 2 and says the advantages include reusing the same tech, creating for the same, engaged community and continuing to iterate.

The downside of making a game series? “If you aren’t careful then it can be boring, your skills don’t evolve much and it feels like creative suicide,” says Sigurgiersson. “You could be restricting your consumer base.” However as a business model incorporating self-publishing and a growing studio in Sweden, it works well for his team. “Strong IP is key – life is too short to make bad games,” he concludes.

Birkett’s talk drills down into the revenue per hour for indies as a key metric when judging the success of a project. Using data harvested from a large number of other developers as well as from Grey Alien Games’ recent projects such as Shadowhand and Regency Solitaire, he shows that there is considerable risk for many indie developers in over-long development times, and also shows how to estimate future sales on Steam based on the first week of sales. (There is also a version of this talk on YouTube.)

The takeaway is that remaining light and agile and keeping project turnover brisk is a sensible strategy in the current market.

Ari Pulkinen then treats conference attendees to a talk on branding through music, followed by a retrospective on a significant career in concept art by Bjorn Hurri. The final, high-energy talk is by Riga-born Anatolijs Ropotovs, CEO at GameInsight, with almost 20 years of game industry experience.

Leaving on a high note

Ropotovs started out operated his own gaming community site, then went on to develop games and user experience on various platforms, including social city-building games and current mobile mega-hit, Guns of Boom. He manages large teams and has many millions of players.

The key advice from his talk was that it’s OK to fail. Keep innovating and moving forward because anything is possible.

I’d go again
It’s an invigorating message for the developers gathered in Riga. The quality of projects in the prize gamejam is high, and as we spill out to the local bar the talk is animated and the ideas continue to flow.

The afterparty in full swing

For many, the next stop is a similar event in Tallinn in neighbouring Estonia, and after that, Casual Connect in London.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this event in future…I have learned a lot, met some great people and have also caught some of their energy and enthusiasm, which leaves me brimming with ideas and ready to dive in to work when I get back home.

by Helen Carmichael

A bonus picture of Jake REALLY enjoying the Latvian dumplings

Episode 499: A Long Delay

from Casual Gamer Chick

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Yeah, we recorded this on April 2 and are just releasing this on April 12 — because during this time Jonah went to PAX East, then visited his mother in NYC, and things have calmed down about now. This week’s Gaming Flashback is the overly cute LittleBigPlanet… and to think it was a major topic of conversation in the early days of the podcast. How time has passed.

This week’s news items include:

  • You can play de_dust2 in Far Cry Arcade
  • No Man’s Sky coming to Xbox One later this year

You’d think that wouldn’t be enough news for 90 minutes, but that’s ok. We go off on tangents all the time.

Yeah, we recorded this on April 2 and are just releasing this on April 12 — because during this time Jonah went to PAX East, then visited his mother in NYC, and things have calmed down about now. This week’s Gaming Flashback is the overly cute LittleBigPlanet… and to think it was a major topic of conversation in the early days of the podcast. How time has passed. This week’s news items include: You can play de_dust2 in Far Cry Arcade No Man’s Sky coming to Xbox One later this year You’d think that wouldn’t be enough news for 90 minutes, but that’s ok. We go off on tangents all the time.

April 10, 2018

Dark Parables: Return of the Salt Princess Walkthrough

from Casual Game Guides

Our Dark Parables: Return of the Salt Princess Walkthrough is fully prepped with mini game and hidden object solutions to guide you through this exceptional installment of the Dark Parable series. Jump in to figure out how the Old Town turning to salt, the appearance of a mysterious species of dragonflies, the sighting of a girl who resembles a missing princess from one hundred years ago and the collapse of the Grak Kingdom all tie together with a case that you worked long ago. Peril or glory awaits you! Jump in to explore this fresh take on a fairy tale classic and unlock the secrets and back story behind this challenging adventure!

We hope you enjoy our Dark Parables: Return of the Salt Princess Walkthrough.

» Dark Parables: Return of the Salt Princess Walkthrough & Forum

» Dark Parables: Return of the Salt Princess Free Trial & Related Games

April 04, 2018

Sneak peak – Avalon Legends Solitaire 3!

from Anawiki

We’re preparing for the release of Avalon Legends Solitaire 3. Anawiki Games fans have the opportunity to be the first to play it. So please, if you have a Windows computer, download it now and let me know what you think.

Read more about Avalon Legends Solitaire 3
Download Avalon Legends Solitaire 3 for Windows

Avalon Legends Solitaire 3 screenshot

April 03, 2018

Episode 498: Part Men, Part Games, All Podcast

from Casual Gamer Chick

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This week’s podcast is a little late thanks to life interrupting, but better late than never. We discuss the Gaming Flashback, Robocop, and other weird tangeants that have nothing to do with videogames.

The news this week includes:

  • PUBG is “considering” region-locked servers
  • Rare cancels planned Sea of Thieves “death cost” after player complaints
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 leak teases Battle Royale Mode

All this and Listener Feedback.

This week’s podcast is a little late thanks to life interrupting, but better late than never. We discuss the Gaming Flashback, Robocop, and other weird tangeants that have nothing to do with videogames. The news this week includes: PUBG is “considering” region-locked servers Rare cancels planned Sea of Thieves “death cost” after player complaints Red Dead Redemption 2 leak teases Battle Royale Mode All this and Listener Feedback.

April 01, 2018

My week at GDC 2018 – Part 2

from Grey Alien Games

I got persuaded to dress up at the Indie Mega Booth.

This is the second blog post about my 8th GDC trip. The first part can be found here. In this post I will describe what I did each day and link to some of the talks that I enjoyed.


I woke up pretty early and snuck around getting ready for GDC whilst Brian got his beauty sleep and then headed to the conference to pick up my badge. I bought an Indie Game Summit badge because that gets me into the talks I’m most interested in and also the indie summit is a good place to meet old friends and chat.

The first talk I went to was the Failure Workshop in which two devs talked about failed game launches. It was honest and interesting. Then I went to Jeff Vogel’s talk which was basically about his 24 years of making indie RPG games. It was hilarious and amazing. Best talk I saw for sure.

I hung around until Jeff’s fans had all departed and then went to lunch with him and some other devs including Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress fame.

We went to the food court in the Westfield mall which has tons of options, though getting seats for a group of 6+ can be tricky. Jett and Tarn camped out on a two person table and gradually dragged in new tables whilst everyone else ordered their food, which was a valid tactic. I went to a place called “The Loving Hut” which has nothing to do with sex. It’s just a vegan Thai food place. Very nice.

I also got to meet an old friend and casual game dev, Joe Cassavaugh. Since meeting at a GDC dinner years ago we’ve both exchanged info which has made us quite a lot of money in the casual game dev space. Another example of why going to GDC in person is valuable.

Lunch in the food court.

After lunch I went back the indie summit and watched a talk by Erik Johnson about his meta analysis of games that sell on Steam and various correlations. It was good and afterwards I introduced myself to him as I felt we had similar nerdy data interests. He’d read some of my blog posts and we agreed to meet later in the week for a chat.

Then I went to Starbucks with some indies including Gabriel Del Santo who recently organised the online #ProIndieDev conference which I did a talk for. It was his first GDC and Rami Ismail helped get him there at the last minute. He was super-stoked (that’s an Americanism) to be there and meeting loads of indies.

Who is that cool guy in the middle? (photo credit: Cliffski)

I failed to get back to the conference to see any more talks but I can’t remember why. I think I went to check out the Day of the Devs area to look at the games. Then I ended up going to an Irish pub with Geoff Newman, who is actaully Irish, and Paul Kilduff-Taylor, who I always seem to end up having deep conversations with, plus some other indies.

Then Cliffski and I popped into a Thai restaurant to say hello to a huge bunch of indies who were finishing a meal organised by Keith Musenik. This was followed by dinner in *another* Thai restaurant with Chet Faliszek from Bossa Studios and his friend Alex. I really enjoy the food in SF, so much variety and good stuff!

Next up, we took an Uber to an indie party. Cliffski bailed immediately as it was too noisy, but I found a quieter room and caught up with old friends until I lost my voice. I walked back to the hotel with Colin and Sarah Northway, which weirdly I also remember doing last year. They must have the same “time to go” internal clock as me.

So yeah that was just Monday, it was busy as hell, but good.


I got breakfast at the hotel with Ichiro, Cliffski and Alexander Bruce (he made Antichamber). I had a terrible cup of tea, but the buffet was pretty good (and someone else paid, which was nice). I had one course of potatoes and eggs, then another of pancakes with syrup!

Next up was a relaxed chat session in Ichiro’s suite about RPGs. Jeff Vogel hosted it and then we mingled and talked more about RPGs. I probably could have done this all day tbh as RPG stuff is firmly ensconced in my mind since making Shadowhand.

I can’t remember what I did for lunch, it’s possible I didn’t have any. Sometimes that happens if you message all your friends and they’ve already eaten and you don’t want to eat solo.

So in the afternoon I went back to indie summit for a couple more talks. First I saw Tyler and Chris from Redhook Games talk about their parnership whilst making Darkest Dungeon. It was a funny and interesting talk and at the end they mentioned how it was like a marriage, which I found amusing because I *AM* married to my business partner, Helen, and much of what they said resonated with me.

I stayed in the same room for a talk by Zach Gauge about building games that can be understood at a glance. He’s made quite a few solitaire-sytle games for mobile and so I introduced myself to him and he’d heard of my solitaire games too.

Then it was back to Ichiro’s suite for a talk about simulation design led by the guys who made Project Highrise. I haven’t made a simulation game before (well I was part of the team that made one called My Tribe when I worked for Big Fish Games) but I think it’s a genre I might want to explore because a) I find it interesting and b) I think it can do very well on Steam if you get it right.

Luke Hodorowicz (Banished dev) had just arrived in town and so Cliff and I went to dinner with him at a decent Italian restaurant. I ordered 3 sides of chicken, mashed potato and veg. It was epic and healthy! Luke coded Banished, made the graphics and even recorded the sound effects himself by going into the woods near his home and hitting things. Impressive work!

Then I went to the Humble Party where I had a chat to the founders Jeff and John (I knew them from the indiegamer forums before they started Humble). There’s an upstairs bit with comfy sofas away from the noise below, so I went up there and had a chat to John Polson (formerly IndieGames.com editor) about Humble Originals and publishing. This was one of my business goals for GDC. Even though I wasn’t pitching anything specific I wanted to stay on John’s radar. He’s got a knack for finding great games to fund/publish and a couple of my friends are being published by Humble.

Finally I went back to the hotel and up to Ichiro’s suite to just hang out and chat with a bunch of proc gen devs who had just had a session there. I’d have liked to have gone to that session but the Humble party was a higher priority for me due to aforementioned reasons.

Proc gen devs in Ichiro’s suite.


In the morning I went to the top of the West Hall to check out the Indie Megabooth which is where I got my picture taken whilst wearing a ruff (see photo at top of post). Then I bumped into Keith Nemitz and tested out a prototype board game that he is making. I was very tired and feeling a bit under the weather and it was hard to follow the rules, but that made me a good playtester!

Feeling hungry I popped down to the 2nd floor to get a banana from the cafe and bumped into Anatoly Shashkin (@dosnostalgic) and we had a chat.

I had lunch at the tea room in Yerba Buena gardens with Alexis Kennedy and Lottie Bevan who are making Cultist Simulator. The seem like very nice people. Also, this was the *first time* in 8 years of going to GDC that I had a decent cup of tea, although it cost $8, so yeah.

Furthermore, Paul Kilduff-Taylor ate my smoked duck sandwich leaving me with his avocado atrocity. I don’t know how that guy can run a studio when he can’t even eat the right flipping sandwich. Perhaps his TARDIS-like brain isn’t concerned with earthly matters?

Indie speed-dating (networking)

After lunch I spent most of the day in various sessions in Ichiro’s suite. I even ran an indie speed dating session where indies paired up and chatted to each other for 5 minutes about what they’ve done and about how they might be interested in collaborating on projects in the future. There was also a session about funding and I chatted to Ron Theis who is involved with Indiefund.

Then there was an interesting session about Exercise and Mental Health in which Ian Stocker (Escape Goat and more) evangelised about the effectiveness of cold showers. Though I came up with the idea for Shadowhand’s turn-based combat in a hot bath, so I think I’ll leave him to his cold showers.

Dinner was pizza in an Italian restaurant with Cliffski, Paul, and Brian. Brian retold a story from his youth that literally caused me physical pain due to laughing so much when he told it to me the night before. Then Brian and I went to the Darkest Dungeon 5 year anniversary party in a bar’s dingy basement which seemed appropriate.

Finally I ended up in Ichiro’s suite again and tested out someone’s game prototype and gave them some feedback and ideas. I also discovered that Ichiro had a special hot drinking water tap in his kitchenette and so I managed to make a decent cup of tea with my own tea bags that I brought to GDC from England. This was a highlight of GDC for me.


I took Ichrio to breakfast (at the expensive hotel buffet) to say thanks for organising his cool thing all week. Then I checked out of my hotel and was almost late for a meeting with Erik Johnson (to further discuss Steam sales stats) because the woman checking me out told me that “Provinciano” was a really popular show in the Philippines and she was showing me photos of the actors but I didn’t know how to politely extract myself from the situation.

I bumped into Xalavier Nelson, writer and friend, at the Metreon food court.

Then went to lunch with Cliffski and Tommy Refenes of Super Meat Boy fame. We just went to the Buckhorn Grill in the Metreon food court and Tommy got me a chicken burger that was pretty good. It was super busy though and we were lucky to find a seat.

Next up was an important session at Ichiro’s about about Steam. First we formulated a bunch of questions that we wanted to ask Valve and then Tom Giardino (from Valve) showed up and we hammered him with questions. He was very helpful and it was informative. On the way back to the conference we asked him more questions and I herded him and various indies around a human shit on a crosswalk, such are the delights of SF.

At the IGF pavillion with @StarlightSkyes (Photo credit: @StarlightSkyes)

I didn’t have much time left so I dashed down to the Expo floor for the first time that week and beelined for the IGF pavillion. This is a great place to meet devs who are exhibiting games but also just to bump into devs (and press) randomly. I managed to meet lots of old Vancouver friends including Matt Thorson and Noel Berry (who had won the IGF audience award for Celeste the night before), and Alex Holowka who won the grand prize for Night in the Woods. That’s actually his second IGF win because he won it with Aquaria a long time ago.

I also met some Shadowhand fans. I met quite a lot during the week, which was really nice. Also several people recognised me from my 2016 GDC talk and they stopped me to tell me how useful they found it.

I bumped into some ex-Vancouver friends at the IGF pavillion.

Then I went back to Ichiro’s for one final session about basically being old and grumpy. Sadly I had to head to the airport mid way through the session. So I made my goodbyes and jumped on the BART.

Btw, I met lots more people who aren’t mentioned here, so sorry if I missed you out, but this post was getting a bit long to mention everyone!

Heading Home

Annoying, I was invited to a bunch of cool things on Friday but I had to miss them due to flying back on Thursday. Oh well.

The flight back was hell. It was cramped and I couldn’t sleep and I had a weird medical episode on the way back which resulted in me lying on the floor to stop from fainting. Then after landing it took a further 6 hours to get home via bus, train and car. I *really* hate that journey and at the time it’s almost enough to put me off going to GDC again, but by the time the tickets go on sale, the pain has faded and I end up going again.

This last week I’ve been getting over jet lag and doing a bit of work here and there and reflecting on my GDC trip. It was great fun seeing everyone again and making new friends, plus I met my business goals of speaking to various people that might be able to help money come my way later on.

Anyway, good times but very tiring as well. I definitely want to go again, but I wish I could afford to fly business class. So yeah, here’s to making some hit games soon!

GDC Verdict: Recommended

March 31, 2018

My week at GDC 2018 – Part 1

from Grey Alien Games

It began to snow on the day I was due to fly to GDC

In this blog post I’ll talk about my 8th GDC trip, how much it cost, and why I went. In the next post I will link to some of the talks that I enjoyed.

To get to GDC I have to get a car to a train station, then a train to a bus station, then a bus to the airport, then a plane to GDC, then a BART to my hotel. It takes a *long* time and costs a lot of money and is not pleasant, so why do it do it? Because GDC is great and I have a blast which outweighs the pain. Also, bizdev etc.

How much did it cost?
- Indie Game Sumit pass = $375 (you can pay way more for other passes, or less and get an Expo pass)
- Flight from London to SFO = $910 (economy class)
- Train, Bus and BART = $140 (plus a bit of car fuel)
- Hotel (1 night solo and 4 nights shared with friend) = $1060
- Food = $175 (lots of people bought me meals so that helped with the cost)

Total = $2660 (£1900)

I only stayed from Saturday night to Thursday night this year but in other years I’ve stayed until Saturday. This was to save money because if you pick flights on certain days they cost less and other busier days cost a fortune (e.g. Sunday to Friday), and of course more days = greater hotel cost.

My company is strapped for cash this year and many people probably wouldn’t have spent the money in my financial situation, but I view it as an investment, and I have enough liquidity to make it happen, so I went.

The one big saving I could have made was to stay in a cheap hostel I guess, but at my age, that’s just not for me. I need a decent quality place to stay in, but still on a budget. So sharing with a friend in a good hotel is a nice way to achieve that. I’ve stayed in some real dives in dodgy areas in the past but I don’t want to do that any more.

Some people asked me why my wife and business partner, Helen, wasn’t there. And the answer is twofold: 1) the cost would double and we simply cannot afford that, and 2) we have two childen that need looking after for a week. Helen could go instead of me, but I basically know way more people and will get more out of it from a bizdev point of view than her, and that compounds itself every time I go of course. Helen goes to UK-based events with me instead, and sometimes to events on her own. In fact we will both be at Rezzed in April, so say “Hi!” if you see us.

What were my goals?

I am between games at the moment since the Launch of Shadowhand in December, and so I didn’t have any new games to show to press, nor any prototypes to pitch to publishers. I didn’t even have a nearly finished build to get feedback on from game dev friends, which is what I did last year with Shadowhand.

So I didn’t set up any formal meetings, but I knew there would be several events I should go to in order to chat to people who may be able to help me out financially in the next year or so. However, I did make a list of people I wanted to meet and who had expressed interest in meeting me, and I managed to meet most of them. Also, I just wanted to reconnect with existing friends and make new ones in case opportunities crop up in the future.

I often explain to people who have never gone before that you get more out of GDC the more you go. This is because you reinforce the connections you make each year and make new ones. Plus you get to know which are the talks and parties most suited to you and your objectives. Also you get to know the “lay of the land” and figure out the best places to hang out and eat, and the places to avoid.

Therefore I don’t GDC as a single event with some kind of tangible ROI because it’s more like advertising in that repeated exposure brings benefits which pan out over the long term. I’ve received invaluable advice about the market and my games, got games in two Humble Bundles (which have paid for all past GDCs), met press/streamers, met influential indies who helped me out in various ways, and just got a big inspirational boost. Plus it’s a nice “holiday” in a completely different place from Dorset (where I live), though it’s not relaxing, it’s hectic!

Peak San Francisco: could this guy be a CEO of a tech starup?


I got to the airport early because I was paranoid about snow disrupting my various transport methods, but it turned out the journey there was fine. However the flight was delayed for 2 hours due to ice on the wings and runway. The flight (British Airways airbus from Terminal 5) was fine as I had an aisle seat and no one sitting next to me – result! I watched 5 movies, had a couple of gins, was dissapointed by the tea as per usual, and didn’t sleep.

It’s a bit too expensive to get a taxi or Uber from the Airport into downtown and so I got the BART which is a noisy old train system that runs around San Francisco. It’s so noisy I have noticed locals getting on there with earplugs inserted!

I was most amused in my befuddled state to see the guy in the photo above roll onto the train with his weird skateboard thing at one of the stops. In my mind he personified San Francisco perfectly. He was a bit flustered and his trousers were hanging off his arse revealing some bright red underpants. He had three model aeroplane kits under his arm and he plonked himself down on a seat and began to scoff pistachio nuts and throw the shells on the seat beside him. There was a “no food” sign right next to him.

After he finished the nuts he had a big swig from his 500ml bottle of sprite and then broke into a large bag of gummy worms. At this point, as the woman in the background of the photo began to give him serious stinkeye, I began to theorise that he was probably a CEO of a tech start up. Eventually he got up, red arse on display again, and rolled off to his corporate headquarters.

I got to my hotel about 10pm and thought I’d probably fall asleep immediately but somehow I stayed awake until midnight on my laptop, which was good in terms of keeping me in sync with the 8 hour time difference from the UK.


On Sunday I woke up at 6am-ish and waited until 8am when I ventured out to Starbucks over the road for breakfast. I could have got breakfast in the hotel but the buffet was $33+tax, so er yeah, no I didn’t do that.

I arranged to meet a friend (Matt Gambell, RPG Tycoon) at the mall to potentially buy some new trainers as my current ones are getting a bit old. But when I got to mall but it was closed until 11am and so I bailed on that plan and went to SF MOMA (Museum Of Modern Art), which I really like going to (this was my 3rd time).

I visited the MOMA last year and most of the exhibits have changed since then so that was pretty cool. I used to think modern art was bullshit, and to be fair, I still think some of it is. But I’ve learned to appreciate it now. I just sorta of stand there and let it wash over me and see what it makes me feel. Sometime nothing but other times it can be quite trippy especially the huge orange and blue Rothko in the museum.

After that I met some friends for lunch including Dave and Janet Gilbert from Wadget Eye Games (they make point and click adventure games). It was a quiet Chinese restaurant recommended by Ido Yehieli of Cardinal Quest fame. The portions were huge and I couldn’t finish mine.

Later in the day Ichiro Lambe from Dejobaan Games showed up at the same hotel I’m staying in and showed me the fancy hotel suite that he hired to have “relaxed chat sessions” with other developers in. I ended up going to quite of lot of the sessions during the week and they were great!

Then we hit up the hotel bar and I had a cocktail which contained strawberry and jalapeno flakes. It was awesome. So much so that I had another one later.

Brian Provinciano (Retro City Rampage) showed up at the hotel and because I was sharing a hotel room with him Ichiro and I popped up to the room to say “hi” but Brian was sorta naked in bed chilling out.

So Ichiro and I made a hasty exit and went for another Chinese meal in China town with some friends of his before ending up in the hotel bar again to greet Cliffski (Positech Games) who had just flown in. He was pissed off because he’d ordered some “chips” and got a bowl of “crisps”. A rookie mistake. Matt Gambell and a friend also turned up despite me standing him up on our mall shopping date earlier in the day.

Intending to have an early night I went back to my room but ended up talking to Brian until like 2am. It was good to see him again as we used to hang out when I lived in Vancouver and we get on well.

OK, that’s it for this blog post. In the next post I’ll talk about what I actually got up to during the week of GDC.

If you have any questions, ask away in the comments!

Read Part 2 here.

March 27, 2018

Sequels vs new IP

from Grey Alien Games

Someone recently emailed me to ask my opinion on making indie sequels vs brand new IPs and I thought I’d elaborate on my reply in a blog post.

Caveat: This is just my opinion from what I’ve observed in this business for the past 13 years. It’s also presented from the perspective of being a full-time indie not a hobbyist or someone sitting on a giant pile of cash from wherever.

Basically if you made a list of indie sequels that did well and ones that did not, I suspect you’d find that the list of “flops” (I use that term losely) is a lot longer. In fact there seems to be a generally held view amongst indies that sequels are a bad idea.

Of course, one can always find exceptions, such as Democracy 3. I’m not going to call out any specific flops as that may be unduly cruel but I bet you can all think of some.

Why do sequels fail?

Of course the reasons are legion. But here are some I’ve thought of:

- Only a small percentage of players of the original will buy the sequel. These are the true fans who loved the original and want more. However, any “meh” players certainly aren’t going to buy a sequel, and nor will players who have had their fill of the game and don’t want any more.

- The game genre doesn’t lend itself well to sequels. In the download casual game market, the games are often short and designed to be played once, like how you’d read a book or watch a movie. Fans are then keen to play the next game in the series. However, some games are open-ended and players can sink many hours into them, such as sandbox simulation games, and so they may not be too bothered about playing a sequel which might not be much different anyway.

- The original launched in the “golden years” of platform X and the sequel launched in the “indieapocalypse”. I’ve definitely seem this happen with some big name devs/games. Some people still don’t believe in the indieapocalypse but I think most devs are now coming round to the idea that certain markets have matured (e.g. Steam and iOS) and that people who got on them earlier had an advantage. I think this will happen to Switch soon like it has for PS4 and XBox One.

- The sequel is too similar or too different. For example, I know of one game that got mixed reviews with players saying it should have been a DLC and felt more like a V1.5 than a sequel. The opposite is also true in that a sequel can feel so different (graphically, gameplay wise, or whatever) that it puts people off. Players have in their minds what a perfect sequel is and it is unlikely to match up with what the developer provides. In fact, some Regency Solitaire fans didn’t get on with Shadowhand (a prequel) due to us adding turn-based combat. We knew this might happen but were OK with it as we wanted to reach a bigger audience on Steam (and it worked).

- Too much time has passed. Things move on; technology and the zeitgeist changes. A game that may have been cool and original 10 years ago no longer turns heads.

Sequels can make a company go bust.

A serious mistake that I’ve seen repeated many times is as follows: a company has a big success and expands their studio and ploughs all their money into a bigger and better sequel (or new IP), which then flops. Or even if it does OK, it’s still not enough money to pay for the expanded team and development time.

This should be avoided at all costs. Thinking you have a magic formula in game dev is a very big mistake imho. Anything can go wrong. The first success may have been an unrepeatable fluke, and in fact PROBABLY WAS. Expecting to repeat that sucess (“catch lightning in a bottle“) is not wise. You wouldn’t expect to roll a double six twice in a row, so don’t bet your house on it.

Not that I’ve been fortunate enough to have a big hit, but if I was, I’d put about 10% of my money into the next game and try again with a relatively quick game in order to trade off the success of the previous game.

Why is new IP risky?

As I’ve mentioned above, there can be a tendency to “go big” for the next game if the first game was a success, which can cause real problems if the new game doesn’t do well.

This is compounded when making a new IP instead of a sequel because (mostly) everything has do be done from scratch (if it’s a new genre too) and not much can be reused which can result in a longer development time. This can severly affect the $ per hour earned from the time spend making the game.

Also fans of your first game may not be interested in the theme or genre of your new IP. They may not care at all about the dev team that made it if the theme/genre is a severe mismatch. I saw this happen in an extreme case recently where a team that made a multi-million selling game released a much poorer-selling game that looked or played nothing like their first game, thus squandering their original player base’s goodwill.

In fact, I’m pretty sure many players just don’t care about studios or “indie rock stars”. Sure, a few do, but I think there’s way more of this sort of “fanboy/girl” stuff in the game dev industry than amongst actual customers. So beware of that too.

Furthermore, your new IP may be moving away from a successful theme/genre into a less successful one. This is very hard to predict especially as what is popular constantly changes.

Is there a compromise?

Now to the point of my article, gosh! So I’ve established that sequels are a bad idea and so is new IP, which leaves nothing left except going out of business. That may be closer to the truth than I’d like to admit, but I do believe there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

I see two main options:

- Make a sequel QUICKLY. If you can make the sequel using the same tech, with a few improvements (based on feedback from the first game or ideas you didn’t have time to implement the first time round), but you control scope to get it done quickly, then I think that can be worth it. This is based on me seeing successful sequels in the casual download space which improved upon the original but not so much as to be a giant delayed project. The undoubted master of this is Jeff Vogel, who has been making very similar RPG games for 24 years.

- REUSE your engine for a new IP. An alternative is to do what I’ve done with my games which is to reuse the engine but for a new IP in the same genre. This gives you the chance to try out a different theme which may be a better market fit (like when I made Spooky Bonus using the Spring Bonus engine). They aren’t simple “reskins” but a proper retheming with different elements and a few improvements. This can be done quite quickly and at low cost so isn’t very risky. Also, if you can name your new games in a way that makes them sound similar to the other ones but not appear as obvious sequels, then you can end up with a bunch of fans who buy them ALL. A friend of mine likes to call this the “franchise effect”. It’s certainly happened with my games.

But I want to make a completely new game!

People often ask me if I get bored reusing my engine and making similar game. Well luckily I enjoy refining the concept for each game that I make, and because it lowers my risk, I get to stay in business. Of course I’d also like to be making cool new things but I sate that desire to some extent by doing game jams and making small games just for fun and to improve my skills.

I realise this approach is not for everyone, and that’s fine. But I have to balance idealism with realism in order to stay in business because I do not have a warchest of cash. Perhaps things will change in the future, but that’s where I am for now.

So this year, expect to see a) a sequel from us, and b) a reuse of my engine with a different theme…