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Master Spy Postmortem - We didn't make a Million Dollars on Steam (But that's Okay)

How did our stealth precision platformer with retro cutscenes do during its launch month, and what's next?

Yo! It’s been a month since we’ve released our first game Master Spy, a stealth precision platformer with old school cutscenes, and I thought I’d share our experiences and thoughts so far in a sort of postmortem/reflection thing. Also, we might even talk about the INDIEPOCALYPSE, because it seems to be the en vogue thing to do.

And because I had intended to make a mini-postmortem and ended up writing a whole thing, here’s a TDLR:

  • Expections were a little higher than real numbers.
  • But that’s okay.
  • We broke even, and now we have a cool game out on Steam, which is pretty wild!
  • INDIEPOCALYPSE, FACT OR FICTION?
  • Long Tail will probably be a good thing.

 

Master Spy Infiltrating a den of Assassins, NBD.

 

Who are we?

Master Spy’s team consisted of three people - John Coxworth and myself (who make up TURBOGUN), and our musician, André Allen Anjos/RAC.

John and I worked on this game in our spare time over the last 2.5 years, with full time jobs to actually pay the bills. We actually started the game after I had my first kid and John moved halfway across the world to Bangkok. With a 12 hour time difference between us and little sleep, it seemed like the perfect time, so why not?

We had a musician who was doing an awesome job, but sadly he couldn’t continue due to time constraints. André , a college friend of mine, came on board at the end of last year to create an OST for Master Spy between tours and working on his solo releases.

 

Expectations vs Reality

Going in, this was something that was tough to gauge. My personal pessimistic goal was 500 sales over the first month, with the optimistic being 1000 sales, but I really had no idea what to expect. About 200 sales would recoup our meager financial costs (we didn’t expect to make back our hundreds of hours of time).

Without revealing exact numbers, I can say that we haven’t quite met the pessimistic goal, but I’m super pumped that we’ve at least broke even on our costs.

 

Sharks, a Spy's natural predator

 

Pre-release Promotional Work

We tried to start promotional work early in the development cycle, showing gifs of the game at regular intervals and releasing and maintaining an online demo that people seemed to enjoy. We weren’t able to make it to any larger events to demo the game due to costs.

Two weeks before launch, we went live with the Steam page, shared the release trailer, opened up pre-orders, and started sending out emails. Over the week period we sent about 250-300 individual emails and keys out to press and Let’s Players/Streamers. We ended up getting a fair number of reviews from smaller sites and quick looks from Let’s Players (the largest one garning 40k views). We even had a couple of streamers play through the entire game around release day, which was amazing to see (one even managed to unlock the alternate cutscenes!).

 

How to land the job.

 

Day 1

I took the day off from work, knowing full well that I’d be too distracted to do anything the entire day besides refreshing our stats page. At 11:00 AM CDT, I pressed the magic buttons to release the game to the world.

We had a minor hiccup where the OST DLC’s price was marked at what the Game + OST package should have been for a few hours. Valve was able to help us get it fixed and I don’t think that had any major impact on our numbers.

Steam gives you a certain amount of impressions of a thumbnail on the front page once you release. How well your game performs determines whether you get more views there, and whether or not you get in the main banner. We ate up our impressions in under 3 hours, and we weren’t able to get any banner time. I was mostly bummed I never got a screenshot of Master Spy on the front page of Steam!

We ended day 1 with approximately a hundred sales between Humble (on their storefront and on the game’s website) and Steam.

 

Is this a sign of the times?

Is this a result of a so-called “INDIEPOCALYPSE”? We may have not exceeded expectations, but I’m not drinking the koolaid (and there are many articles to back this up).

I do think a race to the bottom exists - not in the form of a game’s price, but in how we’ve been training players to wait for bundles and deep discounts before buying a game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing - in fact, this is pretty much the only way I’m able to afford most games, so I completely understand the mentality. The low price also mitigates risk on the player’s part, since if they are buying a game from an unknown dev it’s tougher for them to determine if it’s worth the full price or not (which I’m hoping that Stream refunds help alleviate).

What does this mean as a game dev? I think this shows that it’s important to shift your focus from not just your launch but also to your long tail. Master Spy is on what I would consider a large number of wishlists, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we do during the upcoming Steam Sales.

A side note: I absolutely think bundles hurt the goal of organic growth (and early ones are disrespectful to your customers), and as such we don’t plan be doing any unless we can work a deal out with Humble that’s fair to early adopters.

Other things to keep in mind is the market that your game fits into. There are hundreds upon hundreds of platformers out in the wild, and you have to compete against 30+ years of games in the genre. Our game is a precision platformer, which makes it even more niche. I think we’ve got a lot going for our game, but it’s a tough market.

 

Maybe in the sequel you can drive those cars.

 

What I think is Cool

I’m super proud of what our team was able to accomplish.

The OST is a phenomenal 60 minutes of synth and guitar work.

On the art side, the game features over 30 minutes of cutscenes, and every background is custom pixeled as one piece in photoshop to give each level a unique look.

In terms of gameplay, it seems that our current players have been enjoying the game, and it’s gotten some comparisons to Super Meat Boy in terms of difficulty, which was exactly my goal.

Another thing that has been amazing is the support surrounding the game - from our families, friends, fellow game devs, and fans. I can’t stress it enough - don’t develop in a bubble. Talk to other people doing the same or similar things. It’ll come in handy when your game silently fails to load and you need to vent (yes this anecdote might be based off of true events).

 

 

What’s next for TURBOGUN

Releasing the game was, in a way, liberating. I fixed a couple of bugs and have continued to try to contact press, but it’s allowed some time to play some games, reflect on why we makes games (short answer: because it’s awesome!), and think more about our next project.

We’re already in the early stages of our next game, which will be a pretty big departure from Master Spy in terms of genre, but I’m really excited about its potential. There was a ton we learned from making Master Spy that I hope allows us to make an even better game.

As far as Master Spy goes, I believe it’ll have a decent life ahead of it, and we have a few updates planned that we’d like to get out within the next year to expand on that. We feel the character and world has a lot left to explore, so it’s quite possible that down the line we’ll revisit Master Spy.

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