Fracture the Flag is my first and only game. Not the only game that I've published. It's my only game, period.
I'm pretty damn proud of FTF. Sure I had dreams of selling 100k copies or 50k copies or even 10k copies. None of which happened, but the real goal was to learn, to build a (small) community and create a game that at least some people thought wasn't total garbage.
By that measure it has been a complete and total success.
While the code base is a mess of poorly written spaghetti code it mostly works. I learned how to better organize my code and how to create more efficient code. I discovered that multiplayer is great idea, but like so many before me, I also learned it's freaking hard to implement. What works well on two test machines on my desk is very different from two players that are on opposite sides of the Atlantic. I figured out a basic workflow from Blender to Unity. I stumbled through the process of creating basic editor extensions to make my game development a little easier. I also learned I had no idea how to set up the lighting in a scene and still don't.
I learned that there is plenty more to learn.
Managing the game and community surrounding the game after the initial Early Access release was stressful, but still more rewarding than I could have expected. I had no idea how buggy the game was. Not really. I had no idea how thoughtful and kind some people would be. So many people were constantly giving feedback and helping make the product better. My biggest lesson in taking a game from Greenlight to Early Access through to Full Release is simple:
Be open. Be honest. Be human.
Folks can smell from miles away a developer that just wants a quick paycheck. While not every interaction in the FTF Steam community was positive I found most can be turned that direction with a little humility and honest listening. Not every customer has a good idea or even a valid complaint, but most do. So I did my best to listen.
Case and point: Two friends each bought a copy of FTF hoping to play together. They quickly found several game breaking bugs that earlier players had simply ignored or hadn't noticed. These two players proceeded to rip FTF to shreds on Steam reviews - yes plural, they each wrote one. Both brutal and brutally honest. I didn't respond to the review, but when they posted in the forums I took the opportunity to start a conversation. After the exchange of several comments I had great feedback from the players and removed several sizable bugs from the code base. They dropped their negative reviews and decided not to ask for refunds. I never saw if they left positive reviews, but the huge negative reviews were gone. That's a huge win for a solo developer and worth every ounce of effort.
Let's talking pricing.
When I first had a vision for FTF I thought surely the game must be worth $10-12. I mean I've worked so hard on it! It's got multiplayer for crying out loud. As it got closer to the Early Access release date I got a bit gun-shy. I refocused on my main goals. Making money would be nice, but it wasn't the primary goal. So I cut the price. I cut it a lot. Down to $2.99 in the US market. This seemly had the effect of lowering expectations and doing so in a helpful way.
The early reviews were incredibly positive. Early on FTF has a 90+ percent positive rating - and not from people who got free keys. The game sold reasonably well in its first week with sales continuing to trickle in as the weeks passed.
I fixed bugs and added features before the full release. I added so much! So many good ideas came pouring in from the community. So I decided to raise the price. To the price of a latte in Aspen... All of $4.99. Sales slowed and expectations seemed to rise while the rating on Steam dropped to what it is now, 78%. Was it a mistake?
Then came release day.
Sales were modest but better than I hoped. The first day as a full release saw almost no exposure on Steam but was still the best sales day in the short history of FTF. More copies of FTF were sold in the those first three days then in the entire first week of Early Access. Not too shabby.
I hear people say you only get one release. Maybe that's true. But I think building a community and getting positive reviews helped to serve up more sales then FTF would have seen had it jumped straight in as a full release. I know I'm more likely to buy a game that has decent reviews and has been "out" for at least a little while. But who really knows, maybe I'm just seeing what I want to see.
7 months after the initial Early Access release FTF is essentially "finished." No, it doesn't have every possible feature. Yes, there are still bugs. And no, I didn't make enough to quit my day job - not even close. Sales are generally within the margin of error shown by Steam Spy but I have often seen the numbers dip too low (but I've never seen them go too high). I made enough to easily pay for a high-end mountain bike and new set of skis and boots. For a guy who's day job requires bikes and skis... Not a bad result.
My hourly wage? Probably didn't make it to minimum wage... No, let me rephrase that. I didn't make minimum wage.
You can see sales spike on the release day and then again during sales and of course the day FTF came out of Early Access.
So now the game is in the long tail. Sales have slowed as expected, but the trickle is still going. At least enough to buy my wife and I dinner out once a week.
So what would I do different?
No multiplayer. While I nearly dipped my toes into that pond again for game #2, a quick read of some FTF comments reminded me of the horrors of trying to sell a multiplayer game as a solo developer. This might be a lesson I have to learn more than once...
For game #2 I want to find an outlet for early builds beyond Early Access. Find a smaller market. Find a community interested in giving feedback and more willing to take risks on a title. Take the time to polish the game before heading to Steam.
As a solo developer I need my games to be more procedural. With FTF building a level took days and the way I built the level meant I often couldn't even make small changes without completely scrapping the level and starting over. Got a rock in the wrong spot? Combined the wrong meshes and can't get good occlusion culling? Too bad.
Game #2 needs to be a game I want to play. FTF started as memories of playing Crossbows and Catapults a kid. I loved that game. Then FTF started to morph. It turned into something totally different. Sometimes for good reasons and sometimes not. It's not even close to the game I first set out to make. As a result I tried to squeeze into an already defined genre and all the expectations that came with it. Slowly, with each added feature FTF became a game I wasn't really interested in. So, now I dream of the game that I simply want to keep working on. Wouldn't that be magical?
Game #2 is next. I have a vision, but not a complete plan. I want to create something different. (Shocking I know). I am fascinated by how poorly we treat each other as humans and how poorly we treat our beautiful planet. I dream of a game that could explore those very real issues while still being fun and challenging. In my head the game is so hopelessly over scoped I worry I may never be able to finish it or if I do it will turn to total shit.
So ignoring common sense, step one is to create a game world that I want to spend more time in...
I know that's ass backwards for most folk, but a world that is pleasant and enjoyable to walk around it seems like the first step in learning to appreciate that world.
The page has just begun to be built, but you can see what there is to see about #2 here.