Fear and Loathing in Game Dev: From First Steps to First Money
We started without experience in gaming companies, which greatly complicated our lives and stretched the process from the start of work to the first money from games for two and a half years. This is a normal time to create a high-quality indie project, but we have one medium-sized mobile game and an income that, although it allows us to at least provide for ourselves, is very far from our goals.
We are R-V Games, a small two-person company.
Max is a programmer and mathematician with more than twenty years of experience in his field. I always dreamed of making games and creating my own business. He worked in companies not related to games, and even tried to initiate the development of races within one of them, but funding was stopped and the project wilted. There have also been attempts to gather people among friends or on freelance exchanges to create your own game, but without much success. However, one of these initiatives marked the beginning of our now-viable game - Fitness Gym. We will talk about it below.
I am responsible for the graphic part and for the most part the game design. From 2011 to 2017, she was engaged in freelance design and graphics. I enjoy it only when I deal with the project comprehensively (from an idea and a plan to a mechanic and graphics), which carries certain problems: it is impossible to know and be able to perfect everything.
We met in the spring of 2013: Max wrote to me on a freelance exchange with a proposal to make a game. The idea quickly wilted, and we reunited only in February 2017.
There was no experience in creating a full-fledged completed project, so we probably drove through most of the possible mistakes of novice developers.
A competent and clear plan was absent in our heads as a phenomenon, so the first “attempts at gamedev” included “picture models” and programming, but not interesting mechanics, competent core gameplay and thoughtful monetization. We had puzzle elements, but were in complete chaos and could not assemble into a single picture.
The first game that has advanced almost to a full-fledged prototype is a 2D platformer with the working name Cosmic Rescuers about a Baxter fox traveling from one planet to another to save other animals from alien invaders. They drew and somehow animated Baxter and several enemies, collected two demo levels and a simple menu from two sections. They even launched some kind of VK advertisement with videos from the game and collected likes.
But, like many developers with no experience in launching projects, "unexpectedly" problems arose. In the middle of development, the question arose: okay, but how can this be monetized? We sat, thought, and realized that together we would not pull the creation of a large amount of content for a full-fledged single player game in which it would be possible to sell, say, access to new planets. More precisely, in the first place I won’t pull it, because I’m not a professional artist and I won’t be able to quickly draw a bunch of levels. Moreover, the hated freelance and the need to earn money hung over me as a black cloud. In addition, with the number of mechanics that were implemented in the prototype, the game is objectively boring and quickly tired. I still like a lot of Cosmic Rescuers, so I do not lose hope of completing (or remaking) it in the future. Of all the projects that we showed to potential publishers, game companies and people far from the game dev, they paid attention to it, despite the clumsy animation and the flaws of the picture as a whole. Perhaps her time will come.
The initiator of the following projects was Max. I did not know anything about game development and the specifics of the market, so I thought: ok, maybe he knows this better than me, especially since the idea with the fox failed. This, of course, was not so. For everything that does not concern the technical part, his knowledge of how to choose a project and how to draw up a competent development plan did not exceed mine. The next game, which also did not go far, was a multiplayer team shooter for consoles.
Conclusion 1: Even if you work in a small team or alone, you need a clear work plan recorded in the document.
This was probably the most stupid of our endeavors: there is no money for the server, there are no similar games from normal companies, there are only two of us, and I still have no experience in 3D. Nothing. Absolutely. Despite Max’s sensible offers to buy assets, I decided that I would learn and do everything myself. I sat down to study Blender and the work began... And, fortunately, it quickly ended when we, albeit not very timely, realized that we could not pull this unfinished building either.
The "project for consoles" was followed by the mobile zombie shooting gallery Deathcrush. This time, in order to speed up the process, we bought some of the assets: zombies and some weapon weapons. This game has advanced beyond the previous ones and was even released to the parties.
Conclusion 2: Adequately evaluate your experience and the project you have swung at. Using third-party assets is not a shame, sometimes this is the only way to bring a project to release in a small team.
Inspired by the success of the game Dead Target, which was a low-quality clone of Dead Trigger, we decided that we would definitely do better, which means we finally earn and wow, we will live! This, of course, did not happen. The zombies in the game moved too slowly, the game was boring. It completely lacked what the shooters needed: action and dynamics. The sides are full of zombie shooters of all stripes. At the same time, the financial cushion was melting before our eyes, and there was no way to complete this game, taking into account the apparent oversaturation of the market and the lack of money for marketing.
Conclusion 3: Market Analysis! How many similar games are online? When were they released? How many installations do they have? Do updates keep coming out? How is your game better?
Money is running out
At the end of 2017, I completely curtailed freelance, losing not only my headache, but also my livelihood. Max's stocks were also drawing to a close. Given the financial situation, when developing a zombie shooting gallery, we started trying to find an investor. Most foundations, business angels and publishers either refused, or offered to apply again when the game is completely ready, running, and we’ll get the metrics. Mail.ru Ventures and AppQuantum (which then, it seems, were just starting publishing, so they were open to dialogue more than others) replied that they were interested in a project with movement, and not a shooting gallery. And that is not a fact: you guys have no experience of published games.
There was an attempt to contact the person who first invested in Tacticool. His assistant showed our demo to one of the developers, those games were rejected, it seems, because of the graphics, and the collaboration also did not take place.
After some time, we thought we were fabulously lucky: a businessman from Latvia, familiar with the Max family, agreed to invest in us and even help with relocation. The investments were modest (in fact, the average IT salary in Latvia per person + some agreed amount for marketing). By agreement, immediately after the relocation for a tourist visa, he was supposed to take us to work in his company to legalize his stay, and later we open a joint, already exclusively gaming company.
Conclusion 4: The vast majority of publishers and investors expect project metrics from you. Or understanding that you know what and how you are going to do it.
Relocation took place. We rented one apartment for two in the center of Riga and equipped our home office. We started to work with enthusiasm and the feeling that we were finally getting out of the swamp.The inspiration did not last long: time passed, and the investor was in no hurry with the paperwork. After about a month and a half, everything was finally ready, and we arrived at PMLP (Latvian Migration Service). On the spot, it turned out that the investor's company has debts of several tens of thousands of euros, which means that, by law, he cannot hire foreigners. Then we were fed breakfasts and promises of an early solution to the internal problems of his company, and payments began to be delayed until they stopped at all. Tourist visas are coming to an end. There was no money to keep the apartment until the next half year, so we had to leave the tables and chairs we had bought and leave.
Conclusion 5: All arrangements must be legally enshrined.
Light at the end of the tunnel: first earnings
Before Max and I joined a joint company, he collaborated with freelance artists. Together they made a 2D fitness clicker, but it was not released. In May 2018, at about the same time as Deathcrush, Max decided to release his old game as well, placing only keywords in his name - Fitness Gym. If the zombie did not bring anything at all, then in the clicker sometimes they bought something and even wrote laudatory reviews, which surprised us very much. Of course, these were mere pennies, but at least the minimal interest in such a simple and ugly game made us think: well, maybe at least it will bring some kind of money, is there to bring it into a human form? We were embarrassed that the fitness games in the stores are unpopular: they have relatively few downloads and updates stopped soon after the release. But there were not many options: either to speed up and make another effort in gamedev at your own peril and risk, or to look for work.
In about 3 months, we created a 3D version of this game with little functionality and released an update in the evening of December 31, 2018. Since then, for about six months, it has brought an absolute minimum, until in July 2019, Codigames launched an active advertising campaign for its next fitness game, which at the same time raised our project in the search due to the coincidence of keywords.
Since then, the rocking chair has grown, it has acquired new features, including wi-fi boxing, and at the very least it provides us, but it doesn’t allow us to expand the team or risk investing in servers for introducing the multiplayer. Due to the fact that in the last year and a half it has been the only source of our income, until recently, we could not leave work on it and switch (oh my God, finally!) To a project that we ourselves are interested in. Every time we were ready to start a new game, the rocking chair showed a sudden increase, and greed forced us to "finish a little more."
But recently we made a strong-willed decision: enough to endure it! (c) Enough to make games that, first of all, do not insert ourselves. Due to the approach focused on the desire to “earn at least somehow” rather than “earn through what you love,” years of work were possible only thanks to reinforced concrete perseverance. Neither for maintaining a working mood, nor for the psyche as a whole, it was useful.
We tried to take into account all our experience, exhausted over three years of work, and use it in work on a new project. We hope that our experience can be useful to someone else.
Conclusion 6: Do what you like. Pulling a project that is not interesting is still a pleasure.