Since it's likely that you haven't heard of it, TILTit is a physics driven falling blocks puzzle game on a see-saw where your performance shape a city over 20 levels. It's also my debut game made in the spare time and on holidays on the side of my fulltime job as a teacher in upper secondary school over the course of the last one and a half years. TILTit released on Steam, October 18 2019.
An example of a fairly high-scoring performance
What went right?
Keeping it simple
Being a self-taught solo developer doing everything in the spare time on the side of a fulltime job teaching upper secondary school social science, I had to keep my game as simple as possible in order to complete the project. After many false starts over the years I settled for a falling blocks puzzle game to keep the project manageable and to keep down the amount of workload on animations as well as the workload in the art and sound departments.
Making the most out of small means
After seeing Tetris Effect around 6 months into the development of TILTit I wanted to make more out of the backgrounds which then consisted of a checkered background that was planned to be tinted in different colors as the levels progressed. I wanted the backgrounds to have a similar variation to that of Tetris Effects various particle systems and animations.
Early prototype after roughly six months of development in the spare time. Notice the lack of a hold block function as well as some of the asymmetrical symbols on the blocks that where later redesigned to symmetrical ones to improve readability for the player.
However I still lack the technical expertise to pull off the amazing particle effects that Resonair and Monstars did with their game. Instead I replaced the checkered background with a with a slow moving retro neon 80:ies style grid with a sunset in the background and started to create color schemes for each level throughout the game. The idea was to have the background shift from warm to cold and darker colors as the game and difficulty progressed throughout players sessions. However the result felt empty. To counter the emptiness I started to think about various ways for the backgrounds to react to what the player where doing in game, as a means to create variation on top of the shifting color schemes. I went from having a graph being built in the background over the course of the gameplay to creating a set of buildings of different sizes from small cubes to illustrate small homes to towers depending on how many blocks the player removed at the same time or if the player built up chains by removing blocks in quick succession after another.
An example on how variance in performance shapes the city in the background.
Keeping to the plan
A key to the success of actually finishing the game was to keep to the plan set out while developing the prototype at the beginning of the project. Ideally the plans should have been set even before the start of prototyping to get a more realistic sense of scheduling and what needed to be done.
What went wrong?
Not planning before writing code
At the beginning of the project I was eager to see results and started to write code without planning ahead on how to accomplish what I was attempting to do, resulting in an unstructured buggy mess of collection of scripts that either had to be rewritten or sometimes felt like a house of cards ready to fold at any time. Its fun to see quick results, but it's not fun to maintain unstructured and badly planned code. Thinking things through before starting to code anything would have saved me a lot of time in the long run.
Lack of marketing and optimistic deadlines
As I was developing TILTit I focused completely on the development part, only showing the game to close friends as things progressed. I intended to start marketing the game and focus only on marketing two months before its release by setting up a steam page, contacting curators and streamers and mailing review keys to the press. However, I was to optimistic with my deadlines and ended up working on the game up until the last week before releasing the game making the marketing content lacking. In hindsight I probably should have delayed the release.
Selecting the wrong niche to work in
If you look at similar games on Steam, it is clear that falling blocks puzzle games is a niche market dominated by Tetris much like the MMO market niche is dominated by World of Warcraft. Even established franchises like Puyo Puyo Champions currently sits at 317 reviews making me believe that this particular niche is too hard to compete in as Tetris probably already is the perfect falling blocks puzzle game. As a contrast to Puyo Puyo Champions, Puyo Puyo Tetris currently sits at 2645 reviews.
When TILTit released on Steam October 18th 2019 it had 41 wishlists. Now two and a half months after its release the current wishlist count is up at 162 wishlists. TILTit sold 5 units during the release week. It has since sold 7 more units during the Winter sale. The lifetime conversion rate on wishlists is 5.4% which seems to be the average number to expect.
The lifetime traffic on the store so far is 185 546 impressions while the click rate is 12.72% at 23 607 visitors. The highest peak of visitors came on January the 5th at 3126 visitors where 3102 of those where by direct navigation, this however did not result in an increase of wishlists or any sales.
When it comes to economics TILTit is looking like a complete failure and in this I'm in no way unique. It might be that the game does not appeal to people in its niche, or is seemingly simplistic while actually being a very challenging game as it requires you to plan ahead while keeping an eye at all times on the physics driven balance keeping the player on its toes and constantly engaged. My guess however is that I completely underestimated the importance of marketing done properly, as well as failing to analyze the market niche before hand. The upside however is that I finally made a game of my own - a dream since I started tinkering with my Amiga 500 during the early 90ies.
Feel free to check out TILTit here:
Thank you for taking your time reading this postmortem.