Wednesday, January 31, 2018

From Prototype to Kickstarter

Remember that Untitled prototype I talked about in my last blog post? It started as a simple idea, a cross between A Dark Room and Starbound, where you'd start out knowing very little and doing simple tasks like collecting wood, and slowly work your way up to a more complicated crafting and mining game with lots of systems and even space travel. This is the story of the beginning of the game Aground.

After finishing up a basic alpha version, I showed the prototype to friends, family, and various work in progress feedback threads, and the reaction was mixed. Some people loved it, some people thought it was boring, and the vast majority of players just didn't seem that interested in the game. While I thought the game was interesting, it wouldn't be the first time I enjoyed a game I made and others thought it was terrible *cough*ADventureLib*cough*.

Not sure what to do in order to improve the game, we tried contacting publishers for both monetary support and for feedback and testing. Once again, we got little interest.

Disheartened, we started wondering if Aground simply wasn't a good game. If the core's no good, no amount of additional features and work will improve it, and sometimes, as sad as it is, the best decision is to trash the project and start something new (it's bad to trash projects too early for some new and exciting idea, but it's also bad to sink tons of time and money into a project doomed to failure).

Not quite ready to give up on the idea, and having already spent a lot of time on the alpha version of the game, we decided to fix it up to the point we didn't mind sharing it publicly and post it for free. Worst case, at least it would be out there and the time we spent on the project wouldn't be for nothing. We launched this version of the game on October 24th.

After our experiences with the prototype, we had no expectations for the game. So, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that the game was immediately well received. Aground quickly took off, and soon had more plays and a better rating than any of our past games! From disheartened, our motivation sky rocketed, and we realized we might have stumbled upon quite the gem.
It's important to remember that just because you haven't found your audience yet, that doesn't mean your audience doesn't exist.
We also learned something important. We were getting luke-warm feedback for the game because the people who we shared the game with weren't our target audience. Because the testers were mainly game developers and people I knew, it wasn't a good indicator of players on portals like Newgrounds and Kongregate. In a way, we got lucky that our last attempt before we gave up on the project found our audience, as there are many other potential audiences that don't frequent those sites. It's important to remember that just because you haven't found your audience yet, that doesn't mean your audience doesn't exist.

While we were only making money from ads and contest winnings (and not enough to support development), we now knew we had something special. With all of the feedback and excitement about the project, we finally had what we wanted before the launch. We used personal savings and went into full gear releasing updates to really make the game shine.

Today, after a big update, we launched a Kickstarter for Aground. Maybe this will be the end of Aground's evolution. Maybe the large audience from the free version will be unwilling or unable to convert to paid players. But I'm hopeful now, and perhaps what I needed most during this entire project was just to believe in it!

Thank you for reading, and I hope you're as excited about the future of Aground as I am!