The economics of a weekly update

Hey folks!

@fasterthanlime This week I want to have a heart to heart with you on what it means to keep a weekly dev log for a game.

First off, a few facts about the game itself:

  • Jaakan first came out in December 2013
  • It has sold 78 units for a grand total of 427€
  • It was on sale three times: 20% off on launch, then 33% off, then a very special 80% off for new year’s
  • I can remember about three articles about it on game news website
  • There is only one Let’s Play of Jaakan, and it’s in german!
  • Both @bigsylvain & I have full-time jobs, Jaakan is a spare time labor of love

Here’s the analytics tab from itch.io for a typical week:

As you can see, nothing to write home about yet! But it’s to be expected: first, very few games make it, and second, the game isn’t finished.

The impact on development

It’s been an interesting journey, to say the least: starting out as a Ludum Dare entry, the game had a moderately successful submission on HackerNews, which fueled most of the initial sales.

But then, things quieted down. In retrospect, calling it “Early Access” back then was a mistake. As bad as Early Access might sound to modern-day game players, I don’t think it’s a bad concept. However, for it to work, you need a solid foundation, something that’s 80% there and that you will mostly tune and add content too, like Darkest Dungeon.

But that’s not what we had. What we sold initially was more, to be honest, of a prototype. It had few gameplay mechanics, and adding content to it was a long and painful process. I realize as I’m writing these paragraphs that I’m writing a bit of an intra-mortem!

I rewrote the game in Lua shortly after the initial release, and then development lost a bit of steam, due to a new project, The Stanley Enigma. It wasn’t until the end of 2014 that we resumed work on Jaakan, with yet another rewrite.

And here we are, at the 16th weekly update on the state of the game, taking a few steps back to reflect on what’s been accomplished so far. I’d like to say that although I feel like I’ve let down our players at time, I’m still proud of how far we’ve come.

In the past, I have started and abandoned simply too many projects to come. Only ooc, which I started in 2009 when I was still at university, seems to have resisted the impulse to move on to something else. And even then, I have broadened my horizons to other language — for the best, without a doubt.

I have to say that writing these weekly updates has been incredibly stressful for me. The pressure to come up with something interesting every week, often on Sundays when one should be enjoying well-deserved rest after a full week of work, always struggling to make @bigsylvain and I’s agendas line up so that we can release something fresh - it definitely hasn’t been easy.

During that time, doubt has seized me on more than one occasion: is it really worth putting myself through such strain? Does it make a difference? on the game’s progress, but also its visibility to the outside world? Do people even read or care about the updates?

Google Analytics, unfortunately, hasn’t been the greatest of allies in this struggle against discouragement:

Although we’ve sold nearly a hundred copies, in a typical week, only around 10 people read the update. At first, I’ve tried to focus on gameplay or graphical updates, to attract a buyer audience, but eventually I shifted back to a more technical style of writing, realizing that most people reading those updates were, in fact, game developers themselves (among which I count many trusted friends whom support I greatly appreciate).

The subreddit has stayed mostly silent — although we could have spent even more effort to publicize it — week after week receiving updates and not a single comment.

Success

But ultimately, none of that really matters. First off, it’s only been three months since we started regularly writing about the game. Second, we haven’t revealed in detail what the game is actually going to play like, mostly because of personal convictions: having made promises in the past that proved hard to keep, I want to restrain myself and only write about things that are actually done, in the game, even when there’s no public build of it available.

Secondly, these updates have been a way for me to stay focused on the game. Without it, and even with the help of internal milestones, I’m convinced we wouldn’t have made as much progress as we did, even though the end goal still seems far ahead as I’m writing this.

Finally, there is something to be said about carefully considering one’s metrics for success: do you want to get rich from your game? Or do you want to express something? Would you make that game even if nobody but you played it?

Not every game passes that test, nor should they, because every game is ultimately different (even when they borrow gameplay mechanisms from other game, after all, everything is a remix). But for me, I’d rather take the time to tell the story I want to tell, the way I want to tell it, and if it has to remain an obscure indie release that never sees great financial heights, then so be it. I’m content with that.

In conclusion, I’d like to take this chance to thank all those who have supported and cheered us on over the past year and a half. It’s been a hell of a ride, and we’re not there yet, so let’s just keep riding and see where it takes us!

Thanks in particular (and in no particular order) to @locks, @komiga, @mcfunkypants, @geckojsc, @moonscript, @bartwerf, @zapakitul, @wertle, @crackofdusk, @nicolas_goy, @adag_dot_me, @gcouprie, @theninjacharlie, @moshboy, @amijlee, @iamleyeti, @anguaji, @cniangel, @lmaocean, and many many others — I could fill an entire article with all of you!