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A post mortem of a game you've never heard of

I released my detective/card game on August 4th for mobile and a month earlier for PC. This post is about some of the lessons I learnt and things I'd like to improve upon for my next game.

One Show Only is a detective/card game where you interrogate witnesses to a crime by playing a card game against them. I released it on Android/iOS on the 4th of August and on PC a month earlier. I wanted to write a little postmortem, where I'd evaluate what I've done right and wrong and what I can improve upon for my future games.

The game was born of my dislike of the way dialogue is handled in many games. Many CYOA (choose your own adventure) games strip the player of any agency by giving them no control over the outcome of their decisions. The player is presented with several choices and has no way of knowing what effect they will have. Far too often, the player is then even punished for choosing incorrectly.

I wanted the player to have direct influence over the flow of a conversation and to be able to use their skill to coerce answers out of the NPCs. So I created a card game mechanic, where cards represent your questions and by using those cards in a simple game against the NPCs, you could unlock more information (in the form of cards). This process continues until you find out who had a motive to commit the murder, as well as an explanation as to how the murder was commited.

Each NPC has answers to specific questions and so, sadly trial and error played too large a role in my game in the end. While characters could also give hints as to who might be able to answer a question, there were definite progression bottlenecks, where players didn't know who to interrogate next. These bottlenecks did at least artificially lengthen the game. Which is not procedurally generated, but has a that can be completed in 1-2 hours. I would have liked the game to have more replayability, but didn't find a way to procedurally generate a story.

I'm quite proud of this little game as I attempted to make something quite unique, that I hadn't seen before and pulled it off satisfactorily. There are issues with the game design, but a lot of players and playtesters enjoyed the game.

My satisfaction with the game did not translate well to sales however. I published the game on itch.io first, hoping to get an article on RockPaperShotgun and perhaps a few smaller blogs, to no avail. It seems times have changed and whereas a student project I worked on two years ago had been featured on RockPaperShotgun twice, it was no longer as easy to do so. While my release tweet on twitter got 25,000 impressions and more retweets than I coul've hoped for, this translated into astonishingly few page views on itch.io. And so, the PC version has received an underwheling 11 downloads. I realize that itch.io is a niche website and I wasn't expecting thousands of downloads, but this was sitll a wake up call and reminder of the fact that PC releases without Steam are very hard to do if you don't have a large following to begin with.

The mobile release has fared better, and I've gotten 100 or so downloads within the first week. There's also been one review by  PocketTactics  and several smaller articles mentioning the game. This has renewed my motivations to work on mobile and not PC games. Or, at least to release on all platforms at once if possible, as the initial release tweet for the PC version would've been very helpful in generating mobile downloads.

During development, I also had a hard time getting any traction on twitter and one culprit is the fact that the game's setting is so small, that there are only a dozen or so screenshots I could post. Additionally, although I think the art style fits the tone of the game, it is by no means unanimously pretty.

My next game is going to be an attempt to correct some of the design flaws of this game. It will have a procedurally generated story, where the progression is constant and instead splits off into a branching narrative depending on how you play. The card game will also be replaced with something less original and thus, hopefully more easy to understand. 

I hope this was interesting, thanks so much for reading.

- Tristan

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