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Living the Dream (Part II) - from Hardcore Gamer to Successful Creator

Part II of my story of taking a love of games, and turning it into a full-time job, launching a studio and creating a popular (350,000+ copies sold to date) game in its own niche (hardcore medieval life-sim).

Vladimir Piskunov, Blogger

March 30, 2017

7 Min Read

In Part I of this blog post, I talked about going from behing a gamer, to launching my first game dev studio, along with failing at crowdfunding, and then finding other sources of funds to create my dream project. In Part II, I talk about starting building out the studio, and launching our first game on Steam.

Indie developer ...still (January 2014 - September 2014)

After long (and troublesome) negotiations, and many promises, we managed to convince our investor to keep funding our development for a few more months. We did what we could to  double our efforts and finish a playable alpha version of our game!

During this time, I was browsing the reports from the Steam Dev Days Conference in Seattle. I stumbled upon a quote from Valve employees confirming Greenlight to not be as good as it used to be, and that they planned to change it in some way. 

I have to say, a cold chill ran down my spine. 

Greenlight was the only way for us to get on Steam, and suddenly they were planning on changing it! After checking many posts from fellow developers, I figured it would take months and all types of promotion to pass Greenlight. I knew we really needed to hurry.

We put together some cool assets, created a promo video and a cat banner asking for support - because… cats:

support - because… cats:

Our Greenlight page was finally posted on the Friday, 7th of February 2014. 

We were all so overwhelmed with the success so quickly after entering Greenlight; reaching Steam’s top #100 list in less than two days, and becoming #2 in Greenlight in three! We were so excited to realize how many people really wanted to see our game, it was incredibly affirming after the crowdfunding failure. 

(stats: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/updates/224671046/?p=3). 

Next was the waiting: around ten more days after initially entering Greenlight, we received the next round of Greenlight invitations from Valve.

After so many hours, and ups and downs, we finally felt like people appreciated what we were aiming to do. 86% of Steam users liked our game and voted for it to appear on Steam! While surfing the wave of the Greenlight hype, we also launched our first exclusive MMO alpha tests. We even returned our monthly operational costs from voluntary donations and thus relaxed any originally tense investors! 

Celebrations had to be put on hold though, as extensive alpha tests reminded us that we had plenty more work to do before we produced a final version that we could all be proud of. At this time, we still only had about fifteen of us in total, which is obviously a little small for such a large project. We knew we were swamped, and we  come up with an awesome idea: a more private Life is Feudal, where they could let their creative juices flow without potential interference from other online players - and thus, Life is Feudal:Your Own was born. 

It was a bold move, but we knew it was the right thing to do, so we concentrated more on the (affectionately named) ‘Pocket Version’ of Life is Feudal, in which players could create their own private servers. Sharing a lot of the same code, but without the tricky bugs we ran into due to the large-scale MMO "travel the a huge world" coding logic, we knew this was a realistic and reachable idea for our tight-knit team.

We released LiF:YO on Steam during September 2014 in Early Access!

Very nervous indie developer (19th of September 2014)

It’s funny how such small details stick in your mind during big moments in your life. I remember it being the 19th of September, early in the morning. I was walking to our ‘office-flat’ and spotted a coin on the road. Its value was probably around $0.02 back then, and - despite not being a superstitious person - I took it as a sign and kept it. 

That whole day, we were preparing everything for the launch in a very intense crunch time. Since nothing likes to go to plan in the world of game development, things that definitely worked before seemed to want to break, and we were rushing to fix them. 

Finally, around 7:00p.m. we were ready to press the infamous big green button on Steam. I pressed it. We waited. After a while, a ‘server’ error popped up. ‘Not to worry, surely just a blip’ we tried to reassure ourselves, pressing refresh - this time, we received another error, telling us to press ‘back’ and try again. Tensions were rising… moreso! Pooling together our computer knowledge, we did what we only knew how: kept reloading the page extensively until we launched!

But why would the tension stop there, when there could be so much more fun in store for us?! Our next issue: our game was listed as fully released, and not as early access. Yep, for some unknown reason, Steam published our game as Early Access the first time, and then once more (for good measure?) as a fully-developed game. 

“Ahh, sh*t!”

Oh but that wasn’t the end, while I tried desperately to contact Steam to revert our game back to EA, our upstairs neighbours’s sewage pipe burst. Quite literally, sh*t was falling apart..and raining down on us. Despite the stench of human excrement still fresh in our noses, and seeping from our beloved ‘office-flat’ ceiling, we managed to survive the first day of launch! 

Happy Indie Developer and Publisher (20th of September 2014 - Now)

I don't remember how we survived the first day of our release. What I do remember is that we went to sleep pretty late that night, nabbed but a few wonderful hours of sleep, before we were back in early Saturday morning. We were ready to address any bugs/issues that our very first players may have picked up in-game. 

Despite the rollercoaster of a release, we were bursting with enthusiasm and eager to progress - especially seeing our game at #2 in the Top Sales list on Steam. Wasteland 2 was #1, and rightly so; Brian Fargo is an icon in the gaming industry - so you can imagine our surprise when we hit#1 by that same evening! The refresh button had never been clicked so much.

By Saturday evening - precisely 49 hours after launch - we had successfully returned all three years of development costs - it was unbelievable. And by our first month, we had sold over 100k copies.That eventually made us some very happy indie developers.

We’ve since moved to a new office (twice!), ensured we rolled out new patches bi-weekly or monthly. We spent most of our time fixing known bugs and adding new ones in the process! Since the release, our team has grown as we have welcomed members from all over the world. We’ve introduced our game at PAX South and East 2015 and E3 (you should definitely check out our rather awesome castle booth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pFQLOdS0UQ). 

While we continue to add to, and support, Life is Feudal:Your Own (obviously, it’s our baby!), we’re currently in the process of testing the MMO with a selection of our players in the Closed Beta Tests. (play.lifeisfeudal.com). We’ve also published an indie title, ‘Forest Village’ and would love to continue to help indie developers, sharing our experience and new-found knowledge and expertise.

Other cool stuff: we invited Boris, our animal AI script developer to our new office (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9sG49yUCUE

Mr. Sean Bean to voice over our promotional video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8remNyeSAJ4).

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