Why did you make this game?
Let's be honest here, if you are an indie or a solo developer or someone who is building a portfolio, in most of the cases, you probably had an idea in your mind, hopefully built a prototype, had fun with it and your friends and family liked it. You built on top of it, polished, spent many days, months, (maybe years). Then published your first ever creation. And this is the biggest mistake to make...
Was there a need for your game, was your game truly unique, how many people in the world would have loved to play it? How much money would they have spent on it? Those are the questions, you should have started with, before you even wrote a single line of code. The real question to ask here is, why did you make the game? If it was for learning, growing and getting your name out there - you succeeded, well done. If it was to make tons of money, you should have started with analyzing the business perspective and prepare a business case for your project first, and with a solid prototype.
Why it flopped?
Identify why it flopped? Was it that it was not fun enough? This needs to be tested with your target audience. They are the ones who will tell you if something is wrong with your game and you need data for this. You need to craft an experiment. For example: based on your current information from friends, family, etc. probably they liked your game 8/10. So your assumption would be that the real players would score similar. The methods used here are called Playtesting and Hypothesis Validation (a statement, which is true or false. For example: "I believe that 20% (here put percent, which means something to you - if your audience is millions of players maybe 5% or 10% is a good measure) of competitive gamers age 30-45 (this is your audience), would spend X amount of minutes/hours in my game for chilly pepper eating competition, because they like food competitions and such novelty in this genre.". This is just an example of course and you could make a few hypothesis statements to test different things about your game idea. Then go out there and test those statements if they are true or false. Prepare a prototype (or just use your published game) and some way to measure the minutes/hours of play if that is what you are supposed to test. Give the game out and a few questions about how much they liked it, would they recommend it to a friend, how much would they rate it, what they liked, what did not, etc. Compare your results to the assumptions. You won't be able to capture the whole audience with your test. That is why start small. In other words, your millions of players in the world can be shrank down to a very small group, lets say a forum, in which your target audience is active. If your test works on this small group, it could work at scale as well. If possible by all means provide a discussion after the game session with your playtesters. It is much better than filling a survey, because you will get the chance to ask extra questions. A WARNING here: those two methods should be used BEFORE you even started with your project (with a working prototype), not after you completed and published the project. I am listing them here, because we want to identify why it flopped. If you have done it already, and it was positive, you don't need to do it again.
If everything with your gameplay is fine, then probably the reason is somewhere else. Take a closer look at your marketing strategy (how did you market it, did you even market it) and your competition (are there similar games out there, better ones?). I am not a marketing specialist and there are tons of articles out there how to market your game, so I will skip that part. For an indie with low budget/no budget, all you got against big studios with lots of money for marketing, is the speed to decide and do things and your creativity. What do I mean by that? Big studios rely heavily on data, they have slower responses and would hardly go for something, without measuring how much money in return this would make and what are the costs. You as an indie/solo dev are free from this, to put whatever feature you like and your users like. With a bit of luck you have a fair chance of success. About the creativity, big studios would follow well established marketing paths and campaigns. You are free to choose different route, for example instead of promotion on Facebook, why not let's say, go to the beach and draw on the sand an image of your game/name, etc and shoot it from above? Make a story of it and post it on social media. Or try to imitate the "Nazca Lines" but with your game on a smaller scale and if it is not against the law. Make it look mysterious and funny - "Aliens left a mark on our Earth, what does it mean?". People like those kind of things. Those are just things that I haven't researched or tried, just examples, to explain better what I mean.
What to do now?
What you can do with your failed game? Use it for experimentation. For example - experiment with anything you want with it. You have nothing to lose. For example, if you wanted to test a strategy out there with your marketing messaging - use your game to try the water. With the example about the chilly peppers, why not go to a real chilly peppers competition and get a footage from one of the participants how he/she plays your game while eating chilly peppers, and if agrees, you, to use it for promoting the game? Show it online, did it go viral? Apply the learning for your next project. You have built a code base - reuse this for your next project. Identify and learn from your mistakes.
You've built a game, this is great achievement. Not many devs make it that far and I can say to you CONGRATULATIONS and a BIG THANK YOU for releasing your game to the world.
Don't give up and keep making games. Your next game will be a success. Good luck!!!
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For more information and articles, you can find on my dev log on itch.io.