Let’s continue where we left off from Part II. If you missed it, then you can go back and read it here. In the last section, we learned about ‘Development, ‘Business and Law,’ and ‘Marketing and PR.’.
In Part III, we will be covering ‘Publishing, ‘Launch,’ and ‘What’s Next.’.
In the last three chapters of GAMDEV. Wlad gives his insights on if you should self-publish or traditionally publish your first video game. This is a difficult decision to make, especially with thousands of games being released in the Steam digital store each year, but you’re not alone in this journey. Just like you, Wlad had to sit down and ask himself if he really had what it took to develop, strategize, develop, market, and engage in his new build or at least up-and-coming community and the many more task to complete.
Either you’re a jack of all trades who can handle anything that self-publishing throws at you *cough* Wlad; or your skills of becoming a great developer have paid off, but your ability to market your game has come to a stand-still. That’s when you should reach out to a publisher, and Wlad guides you step-by-step on how to make your game come to a reality, all the way to launch it successfully, and how to maintain what you built. Let’s dive in.
Chapter 7: Publishing and Distribution
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DARQ’s success was no easy task. Wlad turned down many publishers because of countless reasons, but it all came down to the fact that it was his game, his vision, and he didn’t want that changed. When I first wrote DARQ’s review during its release, I found out about his choice to turn down Epic Games despite being paid much more money. This gave me a sense of who he was as a person- a man of his word. To me, he became an honest human being. In this chapter, Wlad gives his thoughts about how publishing can turn out for some, but not for all. He decided to go the route of self-publishing DARQ on Steam and GOG. He was able to find success without a publisher. Maybe for you, however, a publisher could solve your problems and lead you down your path to success. The subchapters will cover the following: ‘Publishing vs. Self-Publishing,’ ‘Video game content rating,’ ‘Digital Storefronts,’ and ‘Key retailers.’. Let’s dive deeper into ‘Video Game Content Rating’ and ‘Digital Storefronts.’
This shouldn’t be anything new to the gaming community, but for those who do not know, ESRB is like a rating for movies at the cinema (G, PG, PG-13, R) so, games are no different. All platforms to determine the age playability. Getting your game rated is voluntary and comes with a fee. “Every region has its content rating system. That’s why maturity rating is considered a part of the localization process.” The most common age-based rating systems include:
- Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), used in the United States
- Pan European Game Information (PEGI), used in most European Countries
- Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (USK), used in Germany
- Russian Age Rating System (RARS), used in Russia
Let’s use ‘DARQ’ as an example. As of now, ‘DARQ’ does not provide an ESRB, but let’s give it one in this made-up scenario. Let’s say we gave it an ESRB of ‘T’ for Teen. But, with the newest DLC ‘The Tower,’ the release had a little more gore. In most cases, The DLC rating is also assigned to the initial game, so it would still be ‘T’ for Teen. However, if the DLC content exceeds the rating assigned to the ‘core’ product, it must be submitted, and a different rating may be assigned to the DLC. This could potentially hurt consumers that were in the younger age range, but I feel it should be okay since they initially played the main game; however, it should still be considered. You can find out more about the contents of the ESRB ratings here on their website.
Next, in Chapter 7, Wlad covers which digital storefronts you could submit your game. This varies upon what you want from the overall outcome of your game, just remember, not everything is about money. Ask Wlad. He had a chance to make more money from releasing DARQ into the Epic Games store, but he turned it down after making a year or more promise to the Steam fans. Additionally, it’s best to note that PC retail games are diminishing. Seriously, go to Walmart, Target, heck, even Gamestop, and you’ll barely see any on the shelves. Mostly, digital storefronts are most comfortable to work with anyways. Not only do they host your product, but they deal with customer issues, process payments, collect revenue, and pay you a royalty. “They also let you set the price and give you the freedom to run promotional discounts or participate in in-season sales. While digital storefronts won’t market your game, they will do their best to improve its visibility if it proves to be popular.” Wlad then goes over the digital storefronts he recommends and gives his take on the pros and cons of each one. (Steam, GOG, Epic Game Store, and Itch.io.
Preparing for Launch
You’ve been up for days on end, creating your masterpiece, exhausted and smelling of Red Bull; you begin to see the doors of light at the end of the cave (DARQ reference). Unfortunately, you still have some essential tasks that must be finished, like renovating your store page, creating keys, etc. Wlad goes over the pre-launch checklist and discusses each job individually. In Chapter 8, Wlad goes over ‘Store Pages & Wishlist,’ ‘Release date,’ ‘Launch discount,’ ‘Early access,’ ‘Press Reviews & embargo date,’ ‘Content creators and streamers,’ ‘Prepare additional marketing assets,’ ‘Test patching your game,’ ‘Create a customer support email,’ ‘Have a lot of extra keys ready,’ ‘Expand your team,’ ‘Prepare for Steam broadcast,’ ‘Write a Steam announcement draft,’ ‘Write a newsletter draft,’ and ‘Get a lot of rest.’ Let’s dive deeper into the subchapters ‘Early Access’ and ‘Press reviews & embargo date.’
Let’s get one thing straight first; early access is the consumer paying for the game, as it is right then. You don’t have to pay for it again once it’s released. It’s not an alpha or beta but will likely include both along with its development. You get to play it the entire time, from the early purchase to release and beyond. Early access is usually released before the 1.0 release patch of your game.
1. Alpha is a very early rough game release that is meant to find significant bugs.
2. Beta is a late release expected to see the last significant bugs on a much larger scale (betas usually involve tens of thousands of users at once).
Many players have been disappointed with early access, which is appalling to me since these rough beginnings are known to be filled with bugs and incomplete codes, and it can cause a close look at your game by the small-minded. However, the benefit of early access is receiving players’ feedback so you can continue to work on your project. Just take it with a grain of salt and trust your experience compared to labels. It doesn’t happen so much for more notable titles, but it is a thin line with some smaller indie games. This allows your community to be part of your development team; the players expect to be listened to when expressing their thoughts and opinions of your title. If you decide not to go the route of getting a publisher or investor and running out of funds, this can help maintain your claim to generate some revenue. “If you think Early Access is a good fit for you, be aware of its potential pitfalls. You will be reviewed by journalists, content creators, streamers, and your customers. If you release a bugger and unplayable build, you will be judged accordingly.”
After you have released your Early Access, Alpha, Beta, and now about to release your final project, you should start sending review keys to journalists up to 3 weeks before your launch day. Some journalists or news outlets might reach out to you before the launch date. “When sending review keys, don’t forget to state your embargo date.” An embargo is a date set to not reveal your project, information, or details until the dedicated time, which most likely would be the release date. “While any press is better than no press, try to get your game reviewed by the most professional and respected media outlets. Why?”
- They are more likely to respect your embargo date
- They won’t try to steal and resell your keys
- Their reviews will likely qualify to be included in your Metacritic score
- Review quotes from reputable outlets give your game legitimacy. You can use them in your marketing materials. Using quotes from unknown sites make your game look unprofessional.
As a game reviewer, I try my best to stay open-minded to various game genres, even though I typically go for more survival-horror and psychological-horror routes. There are times I review a different type of style, but to be honest, I don’t usually seem to enjoy it. I want my adrenaline pumping, and I want a reason to keep the lights on at night. “If you ask somebody who is a fan of family-friendly titles to review a violent horror game, don’t be surprised if they don’t have a good time.”
This is going to be a wild n’ out day for you, and Wlad is here to hold your hand through it all. There are countless hours of learning code, designing your character, and speaking to publishers and investors. Overall, you’ll face improvements after improvements and feedback after feedback. Once you have an active community and your game is wishlisted, this is perhaps the most critical and momentous day in your game’s cycle. But remember, this is just the beginning. “If it doesn’t go as well as you hoped, it’s not the end of the world.” If you are following Wlad’s advice throughout his book, then your games launch day could be filled with revenue., It could also take a different course, gradually increasing through word of mouth and the spread on YouTube and streaming platforms. Don’t be disheartened by the outcome; this is the start of a new beginning for you and your studio. Let’s dive deeper into the subchapters of chapter 9, beginning with ’Understand the goal,’ ‘Excuse the plan,’ ‘Engage with your community,’ and ‘Breathe.’ Let’s dive deeper into ‘Engage with your community.’.
By this point, you have launched your game, streamed, posted on social media, and did everything else Wlad told you to do. Now, go find out what the community is saying! Are there any bugs reported? Already negative reviews? If there are, then make promises to fix the issues and keep your word. “If there are any game-breaking bugs that are easy to fix, try to fix them immediately. Releasing a patch on a moment’s notice is the right thing to do.” If I complained about a game that I just spent my money on and nothing was being fixed, then I bet you I would review the game and not be very careful about it. You never know who is playing your game-, always keep that in mind. Not all journalists will reach out to you. One day you’ll just wake up with a good or bad review from a credible source that could make or break you. While it’s common to discover new bugs on the launch day, your ability to address them fast will speak volumes about you and your studio. Religiously checks your social media, messages, email, or whatever it is you are using to communicate to your audience. Once the intense day has been successful, then you can finally breathe. “Have a glass of wine, or a cup of tea—whatever your ritual is, let yourself take pleasure at this moment. I don’t think you’ll be able to stop yourself from checking how many copies have been sold.”
Following Wlad’s advice and rules of dedication and self-discipline will have you longing for more. You have created something much bigger than you. “Your creation will outlive you. It will exist indefinitely, in one form or another. You’ve created a piece of art, something that has value.” You will have created a game that speaks to you, and you never know whom it will touch.
You just launched your first and most successful game. You see positive reviews all thanks to Wlad teaching you the fundamentals. Money is flowing in, and copies are sold one after the other. However, your game still has many wishlists instead of purchases. This isn’t what you hoped for, but that’s okay. “Not many customers are willing to pay the full price for a game unless it’s a highly popular title. Participating in in-season sales and discounting your game on your own can increase your earnings dramatically.” This is the first subchapter of Chapter 10-; ‘Discounts.’
Wlad discusses discounting your game and how there is a buyer at every price point. This is very true. “Others will consider buying at a 10% discount. Some customers never buy games unless they are 50% off or more.”. This is the case for me, especially if I am unable to receive a free key for the game and must pay the full price to promptly complete the review. It is essential to keep in mind that just because your game is on a discount doesn’t mean someone isn’t interested. Life happens; people get busy. Finances come into play, or they are abroad. You never know the circumstance, so don’t take it too much to heart.
The remaining subchapters cover ’Updates,’ ‘DLCs,’ ‘Soundtrack,’ ‘Participate in competitions,’ ‘Update your marketing materials,’ Stay active on social media,’ ‘Giveaways and contests,’ ‘Other platforms,’ ‘Merchandise,’ ‘Bundles,’ ‘Permanent price decrease,’ ‘Licensing,’ ‘Projected revenue,’ ‘Sequel,’ ‘New IP‘ and ‘Buying IP Rights.’
Let’s look at some key takeaways from Part III that are essential for your game to sell from Wlad’s book and this article.
- Learn how major digital stores operate. Steam should be your main priority. It has the largest share of the PC market. Also learn about GOG, Epic Game Store, and Itch.io
- If you decide to partner with a publisher, then hire an attorney to negotiate for you. If you decide to self-publish, then come up with a game plan that covers funding, quality assurance, localization, porting, distribution, market, and other tasks that are usually handled by the publisher.
- Send review keys to press, YouTubers, streamers, three weeks before launch, and state your embargo date.
- Preparing for launch involves many tasks, so make sure you have your website created, press kit, extra reviews keys, and that your Stream broadcast is ready to go smoothly.
- Accept whatever happens on your launch day. It’s a day of celebration; you should feel accomplished and happy. Pop open some champagne!
GAMEDEV: 10 Steps to Making Your First Game Successful gives the advice and commentary that was based on personal experience and insight gleaned from a boy with just a dream. He shares his life with you in the hope that you will pursue your ideas and dreams. In my opinion, Wlad and DARQ’s protagonist Lloyd are the same. He was overcoming various difficult obstacles to lead to where he is now while never giving up. This book gives the thoughts and observations from Wlad through his personal experience and having been informed by many of the industry’s most accomplished and storied names, (featuring advice from 15 industry veterans). In this Article, You and Wlad have covered some parts of the following of each chapter: Mindset, Preproduction, Funding, Development, Business and Law, Marketing and PR, Publishing and Distribution, Preparing for Launch, Launch, and What’s next?
I have read a few books on game development, but this one is, by far, my favorite. Rather than cover all development uses, Marhulets covers only the ones that he sees as the most helpful for the beginner developer. While I appreciate the thoroughness, sometimes design books can feel too much the same after a while. It also made the book more streamlined, meaning it was easy to read from cover to cover. Because let’s be honest; When a tech book is almost 300 pages long, there’s a good chance that we abandon the ship before we get to the end.
Each chapter dives into one stage of development. Behavior and game, explaining what it is, giving some helpful, practical use cases for it as well as some sample code. A critical feature of each chapter was that Marhulets also goes over when a development solution for a problem. Like the title implies, examples are put in terms of game development. So, what did I like about this book? First, I loved the writing style, it was simplistic to have even a young reader understand the fundamentals of creating their first game and studio. Also, I could relate to the examples better than most instructional. Most books on development use extreme definitions and are with an overwhelming amount of explanations throughout the book., Wlad does the opposite. He does a great job of keeping the steps brief and easy to understand. Finally, the book didn’t overstay its welcome. Many game development books are incredibly long and include chapters that most beginner and novice developers won’t use that often. It’s 260 pages long, which I assure you, is extremely brief in the world of game development books.
So, who is this book for? First, it’s for anyone interested in game development. The examples are efficient and to the point. When I read this book, it had been a few years since I had read anything about game development, and it helped refresh my memory quite a bit. The steps are concrete, the writing is clear, and it doesn’t overwhelm the reader. If you’re serious about video game development on any platform, then I would highly recommend grabbing this book. Laid out in his book is everything you need to master the development and mindset to make, market, and promote your new project successfully. Much, if any, of the material featured in GAMEDEV won’t be found in any textbook. It’s his thoughts and opinions from experience, which remains the best teacher. The lessons learned attempting to build product demand, whether merely by constructing a web page, or just getting the word out via social media or digital storefronts, are invaluable. As in every professional scenario, whether you succeed or fall short of meeting your goals is unimportant. Rather, it’s merely what you learn from each effort that counts. Therefore, win or lose; you can always try and try again; nothing is ever to be considered a failure.
Wlad creates a relatable protagonist – you. The steps taking towards personal growth will help erase your faults. The willingness to give it your all, even with few resources you may have before you begin the journey is admirable and awe-inspiring leaving the reader to become emotionally confident and satisfied to become the developer and individual that they they are meant to be to find success in their game development journey!
GAMEDEV’ 10 Steps to Making Your First Game Successful was released on July 11th, 2020, and will be available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook formats. While the pricing may vary slightly from platform to platform, this is what you can expect: Paperback: $24.99, Audiobook: $14.99, and Ebook: $9.99. The audiobook will be released closer to the fall of 2020.
Additionally, I received confirmation from Wlad the other day that the release date for the Audiobook will be August 15th, 2020, which will be the one-year anniversary since DARQ released. The Audiobook will be narrated by a major and well-known YouTuber, YongYea.
Last but not least, Wlad’s dedicates this book to John Corigliano, his friend, and mentor.
Moor Insights & Strategy’s video game and tech reviewer Zane Pickett lives in Austin, Texas. He is a lover of all things psychological horror and Star Wars based while possessing an unhealthy knowledge of serial killers and Kingdom Hearts. When not writing, he works as Moor Insights & Strategy’s Operation’s Manager.
Follow me on Twitter: @Zanepickett37
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.
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