I recently published my first game (Greymarsh) on Steam. Sales have been almost non-existent. Expected for a text-based game, yes, but a part of me yells: “I would have liked, maybe loved, this game! Surely there are some more potential players out there?”
When I was a kid, I played lots of Choose Your Own Adventure-books. The Lone wolf books, for example, but many others too, like those of Ian Livingstone. They were really immersive for a ten-year old. I’m reaching for that microworld, where the complexity of the world is simplified into a few parameters and a short list of what you have in your “inventory”.
Now, just because I can’t let go of the game, I’m planning to add illustrations and music. But before embarking on such a quest, I WOULD like some honest feedback about the language, the game mechanics, and whatever else. So… I’m humbly asking around for someone who has a familiarity with the genre to play-test. You would get a Steam key from me.
I know some IF has been successful on Steam, but that is not at all the first place I think of looking for it.
One suggestion is you might want to also put it up on itch.io which tends to have a bit more of an audience for good text games, especially ones with multimedia. And without knowing the inside mechanics of Steam, I believe you get a bit more control over the game’s presence. Released games can be free or “pay what you want” to download with a suggested fee/donation amount, or can just have a “donate to support this game” button.
It’d likely be possible to put up a browser-playable demo onsite and then charge to download the rest of the story. Or at minimum, authors can place a project in private “Draft” mode which lets you share a secret URL with your testers without the game being directly searchable or promoted on itch. They also have a system where you can offer keys for review copies, but I haven’t delved into that much.
The secret (IMO) to getting noticed on Itch is tagging your game intelligently so it shows up in searches. Especially if your game has a specific niche that people look for such as “character creation” or “Dating Sim”.
I’m actually sort of interested in what the best plan is for this sort of game. I see you’ve got Greymarsh at $3.
I have Hadean Lands up on Steam, but I priced it at $12 – trying to convey “This is a high-quality, full-length game, even though it’s a text adventure and almost nobody will buy it.” Similar, the Shiga interactive comics are priced at $10.
I don’t know whether Greymarsh is the same size, but it’s notable that the first thing Steam suggests as “similar” – at least to me – is Roadwarden, $11. Of course this isn’t a direct comparison, and Roadwarden is a high-profile game with indie award nominations.
Is the $3 price tag working against your game? I honestly don’t have any idea.
I’ve said before that Steam is biased against free games. I’m pretty confident that charging $3 is better than charging $0 on Steam. (Itch is different.) Whether $5 or $7 might be better than $3, I’m not going to venture. If you know more people who have tried this sort of game on Steam, definitely ask them. If anybody else has Steam experience to contribute, please speak up!
My gut says that it’s a mistake to underprice yourself just because you’re new and unknown. But then I’ve never tried to live off of Steam revenue.
Hi! I played through the first part of your game, up to when the highwaymen attacked me.
I really like the writing! It’s clear and evocative, and just the right amount of flowery for my personal tastes (I usually prefer very sparse text in text games).
So far, the biggest pain seems to be that, when you die, you have to start over all the way from the beginning. I can’t figure out how to make “save points” (if that’s possible) so that I can recover after perishing an untimely death. There also seems to be not very much warning when I AM about to die. Each time after I died, I just speed clicked through the whole game from the beginning, not reading any of the descriptions, so that I could get to where I thought I made a mistake and try again from there.
I don’t know what the solution is. It probably depends on your goals for the design. Adding the ability to “save scum” would be one solution, which would allow the player to easily explore many different routes, especially since it seems, so far, like the game is kind of linear with branching paths. You could give more warning before the player chooses an option that leads to death, although honestly dying randomly wouldn’t bother me if I could save whenever I wanted.
I’ll come back and give it another go a bit later. Just wanted to report my first thoughts. I really do love the writing, though! That’s the main thing pulling me forward to experience the rest of the game at this point.
Too late, I reached the same conclusion as you about pricing. For my next project, I will aim for $11.99 or something like that. One can always lower the price later, with the added benefit of anyone on the Steam wishlist receiving an email (reminder) with the discount news, potentially boosting sales.
Then again, if profit was a main concern I would not have written text games, I guess…
Thank you Alex, for your valuable input! It’s funny: the things you mention have been at the back of my mind. When I read your input, its suddenly obvious that a game can’t punish the player without warning as early as I do in Greymarsh.
The game saves automatically after every move/decision. I should communicate that to the player from the start.
There are save spots (integrated into the narrative) later on in the game. I should communicate that to the player from the start.
How much warning the player should get before killing him/her off… that’s a discussion all in its own right I guess.
I was able to figure out that the game was automatically saving after each move/decision. The problem was that, if I made a decision that caused me to die, it looks like the game is removed from the “Load Game” screen, so that I have to start over from the beginning. I managed to try going through the city gates (I died there too), and, at that point, it’s like, 20+ decisions that need to be repeated in order to get back to that same place and try again.
Learning about how the game saves at the beginning would be great, and I would definitely have been less confused when it happened (and know that I have some sort of permanent save spot to look forward to), but I still think I would be disheartened by having to click through 20+ times after dying to get back to where I was.
That said, this seems like a minor design issue in the grand scheme of things, and not a reason I would hold off doing whatever you want to do with it in terms of graphics/sound/etc. I’ll have more to say if/when I finish the game! How many hours do you think it would take to finish the game? Thanks!
Hi Alex! Wow, this is great input! Hard to believe I didn’t realize this stuff myself. OF COURSE no one wants to repeat clicking through the same text screens over and over again!
I’ll put a save spot in the old temple ruin where you find the sword, just before you fight the highwaymen. The first save spot in the present version of the game comes soon after entering the city, but how can any player know that if they aren’t told? Incredible that I didn’t think of that.
Greymarsh will probably take anything from 5 to 25 hours to play through. I’d consider it a “full length game”.
I’m kind of happy that you played and gave me your report. Simply invaluable.
To reciprocate, I find the “spelling errors” indicating intoxication in Upheaval a stroke of genius. I really like the time mechanics, it hits a sweet spot between simple and complex that I really appreciate (and try to hit with the battle system in Greymarsh).
So true. If you put a reasonable price, then you can play with the festivities and sales, for example, if someday Zarf really wants to put his game very cheap, he has to 50% or 75% to even 90%. Everything is possible.
Of course, it depends on your game value. Is it a long, brief, or short experience?
Also, I would say, next time you take advantage of the “fools and friends”. If this game had an entry at IntroComp, I’m pretty sure we would have helped with the initial push on release.