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A Wizard's Lizard: Postmortem of an HTML5 Game on Steam

Here's an in-depth production analysis of A Wizard's Lizard, a Steam game funded unconventionally and built with web technology.

A Wizard’s Lizard is a twin-stick action and exploration game for desktop computers, released on June 16, 2014 on Steam. Since we recently began seeking funding for the sequel, this seemed like a good time to finally do a postmortem.

 

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A Quick History

 

  • A Wizard’s Lizard was initially created as Crypt Run and was partially funded by a crowd-funding campaign July 12, 2013 where it earned $9,013

  • It was developed by Lost Decade, comprised of two full-time programmers and artists, as well as composer Joshua Morse, and supported on the marketing side by Whippering

  • The first public version launched January 22nd, 2014 on Humble

  • A Wizard’s Lizard: Immortal Edition (same game with new features and content) launched on Steam on June 16th, 2014, where it has sold over 20,000 copies

 

What went right

1. A Wizard’s Raga

 

A Wizard’s Lizard is a name that I find inherently “sticky” because of its rhyming, repetitious nature, and unexpected element (“wizard” is an extremely common word in a game name, but “lizard” less so). Additionally, its main character Raga was designed to be super cute and attractive to the eye.

 

raga.png

 

These elements seem to have resonated with its audience, and has even led to a healthy dose of fan art across the web. With a forgettable name like Crypt Run (the original title), and without the main character Raga, we’re sure AWL would have disappeared into obscurity.

 

raga_by_naoki_wolf-d8s2mna.png

 

2. Timing and Market Placement

 

Usually when players of indie games find A Wizard’s Lizard, they are reminded of The Binding of Isaac, a mammoth hit of an indie game. Although AWL was not inspired by Isaac, but instead shares the same roots (The Legend of Zelda + Spelunky), the similarities are undeniable. Both games have cartoony graphics, overhead projectile-based combat, and room-by-room exploration of dungeon maps.

 

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Our theory is that these similarities, however unintentional, helped AWL attract more players.  AWL was released at a time when Isaac was selling like hotcakes and being promoted heavily across Twitch and YouTube. But it had been a while since its release, and some players were hungry for something new. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth was a long ways off and so AWL enjoyed a brief period of organic discovery.

 

3. Unique Death Mechanic

 

During the time our game was called Crypt Run, the tagline was “Death is just the beginning.” Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? We could have done a better job delivering on that hook, but when a game does something other than end when you die, that’s interesting.

 

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When you die in AWL, you get to wander the world as a ghost, and monsters that were previously hidden in the background join the heat of battle. There are also secret quests that can only be completed using this death mechanic. Having a unique feature like this definitely helped the game stand out, which is something that we feel is nearly mandatory in today’s gaming climate.

 

4. Promotion

 

Across Steam Greenlight, Kickstarter, Twitch, and even YouTube, we were pleased with the response AWL received after its launches on both Humble and Steam. It was Greenlit on Steam in about a month, and Kickstarted during the standard 30 days. Additionally, dozens of fan comics were posted on our forum, showing a sign that we made something that captured people’s imaginations.

 

Prominent Twitch streamers like LethalFrag and CobaltStreak played our game in front of thousands of viewers. Northernlion was also doing a series of AWL videos after the launch, which we’re sure was significant in driving sales on Steam. We lucked out here on the promotional side, something we’re guessing is attributed to #2 (Timing and Market Placement), as almost all of these video content creators are serious Isaac players.

 

5. Solid Core Gameplay

 

All of the exposure in the world wouldn’t have helped AWL if its core gameplay wasn’t fun. Nobody would have made positive video content about it, that’s for sure!

 

zombieFun.gif

The core mechanics in AWL -- moving, throwing weapons -- are pretty solid, and since the whole game is built on that, most of it feels good. It’s probably not until deeper into the game that the bad parts reveal themselves...

 

What went wrong

1. Technology

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