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Postmortem from an unknown indie dev - First launch on Steam

About a month ago, we (Onion Core) released our first game on Steam, Trials of Azra. In this article I tell you all about the expectations, the process, and the results.

Bruno Bombardi, Blogger

October 12, 2016

4 Min Read

I wanted to make this postmortem and put my case out there, because I think the internet is loaded with success stories of indie games, but I can never seem to find the unsuccessful ones that I needed to read in order to lower my expectations a bit.

The Game

First of all, let's talk about Trials of Azra. Instead of describing it myself, I'm going to quote Co-Optimus:

"Trials of Azra is a co-op puzzle platformer that focuses on inhabiting and manipulating the deceased corpses of your fallen enemies. It sounds pretty gruesome, but actually it's kinda cute. The whole game is drenched in this pixel cartoon simplicity that makes it wildly entertaining, even when you're dying over and over again because that stupid mushroom keeps puffing blasts of poison whenever you try to jump on that one platform. "

(The complete review here)

Or you can watch the trailer.

Our goals and expectations

I'll just say it, we had the goal to sell at least 1.000 copies on the first month. Our expectations weren't THAT big, right? After all, we read that the average game on steam was selling around 32.000 copies on 2015. Yes, we know it's a small game, made by a 2-person team, and it can't quite compete with a lot of production-rich titles out on Steam, but we firmly believe our game is at least close to the average line, in terms of innovation, quality and duration. All the people who played it, liked it. We had just one bad review, and it's from someone that played for 15 minutes and complaint about the keyboard controls.

So... Should we have lowered our expectations even more?

The process

We did everything more or less 'by the book', launching trailers, press releases, website, presskit, posting on facebook, twitter, reddit, indieDB (launched a demo build there too), contacted youtubers. Basically read and followed every article on Indie Game Marketing we could find, and 'How to approach the press' articles as well.

Sadly, no high-profile magazines or youtubers covered us, the biggest one that reviewed our game was Co-Optimus (not to diminish it, we are truly grateful), some local youtubers and magazines (but we are from Argentina, and gaming press is not so relevant here).

Even put out some advertising, on a small budget, around 100 USD. It may seem little, but keep in mind we're a 2 person team, developing games on our own savings.

We also had a brief period on Steam's Early Access, that we did in order to take feedback and finish improving and polishing the game, but being so unknown, we had very few players during that time (around 40 buyers total in a month). It worked for us to sharpen up the game a bit, though. But... Did Early Access damage our full-game sales? We ask ourselves that question, but I don't think we have enough data to answer it.

The results

Finally, on September 15th, we released the full version of the game on Steam, with a price of 9,99 USD and a launch discount of 10%. And again, trailer, press release, website, presskit, facebook, twitter, reddit, indieDB, youtubers, some advertising.

Very little coverage. And around 200 copies sold in a month (100 on the first week). Kind of depressing, isn't it?

What did we do wrong?

Well, we don't have a clue. We know the game is not the next Limbo or whatever, but we do think it's a solid title.

The pricing? We gave a lot of thinking to this one, and believe that for 10 bucks the buyers are getting a solid, fun, and lasting experience, worth every penny, and we are yet to hear otherwise.

Also, we feel it's important that the price is high enough to take advantage of the sales (a 50% discount is not the same on a $3 game than on a $10 one).

If you have any feelings on this matter, please let us know in the comments. Even if it is 'Your game is not appealing enough, the trailer sucks, it should be free'.

The conclusion

Even though we're not doing so well, we are very proud of Trials of Azra, and it's heartwarming every time we get a good comment, a good review, watch a youtuber playing it and having a good time. We WILL keep working on it (next update features russian localization) and try to make it grow little by little. And we have yet to see how it does on a sale or a bundle.

And my advice to every indie dev out there: Keep on it, finish your game, release it, it's worth it. Maybe just consider lowering your expectations a bit, it's always best to do 'better than expected' than 'worse than expected', right?

Bruno Bombardi | Developer on Onion Core

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