DoC – looking back and looking ahead

It has been almost 3 months since I launched the Unity edition of Dungeons of Chaos.  About 10,000 sales, exactly 10,000 facebook likes on the page today, and about 400 ratings on Google and Apple store combined, average 4.8.

So what is my verdict on the experience so far?

Let’s look at what I meant or hoped to achieve:

1. Create a game that re-ignites the feeling I got when exploring and adventuring in Ultima 4 or 5, or Phantasie 3.  Those games from the early 90’s basically.

Well, I can’t really be the judge of that and have to look at the fan feedback.  This is a typical facebook comment I got a few minutes ago:

Jared Eleson Purchased and +10hr in. I love it! Reminds me of such great games from the 90s like the Exile series and Realmz. I love the exploration of the world and the customization of my team of adventurers. What a gem of a game.

So I think I nailed it.  VERY happy about that.  It is one thing not to disappoint people that I lured to buy this game making claims that it would, it is another to demonstrate that this type of games can work and hopefully start something here.  If a hobby developer like myself can do it, hopefully this inspires more talented people to make games like these.  Because I want to play them!  Yes, sadly, even though I enjoy playing my game myself once in a while, it is obviously not giving me any enjoy in terms of exploring or finding secrets and puns.  I like the combat challenges and I find playing it soothing after a long day of work.  And I LOVE the music. But to date everyone that wants to relive a retro RPG on mobile has a chance through my game.  Except one person.  Me.  So here is the challenge to all game makers out there, can you make one like this so I can play it?  Much appreciated.

2. Make it work on phone-sized screens.

This was tricky.  I shied away from that in Dec 2014 and released an earlier more clunky game version on iPad only.  and for valid reasons: the user interface for iPads has a known large physical surface, and known dimensional ratios.  So I knew what button size needs to be because I could tell how big fingers will be.  sounded good, did not fully work.  Looked odd on high resolutions, and I forgot about iPad mini.

So after hearing the pleads from iPhone and Android users I started the Unity build.  Main focus was solving that UI challenge, but I also had to port from XCode to Unity so 90% of code was re-written.  Which helped clean it up actually.  I have playtested it on various iPhones as well as on slightly bigger HTC One and GS3.  I find it ok, the main map has a zoom function which resolves issues there, leaving the main problem in the fight arena where you can occasionally miss the right tile with your fingertip.  Overall I have not suffered a fight loss from it yet, so I hope same is true for others.  A tactical fight arena needs to have a certain size, and I debated with myself for a long time what minimum size I should have.  I think it is acceptable.  Have gotten 2 bad reviews because of the phone size usability, that is it.  Everyone else probably also finds it challenging on smaller phones, but the overall excitement drowns that problem out.  And on bigger phones and of course tablets, it works quite nicely now.

So I am quite happy that I have managed to bring this type of RGP to phones.

3. Prove that turn-based 2D is not boring.

It isn’t.  It is befitting for mobile because you need to be able to put it away when you get that scorning look from your wife, and get it back out when you made it to the toilet to finish that battle you started.  And I also find it soothing that I don’t have to pay constant attention to something.  Everything is screaming for attention nowadays.  Every. Bloody. Thing.  TV ads all have musical emphasis added as if you are watching the end scene of star wars or the exorcist.  My game just says ‘hey, you are back. welcome. have a play if you want. remember that lich you need to kill? oh, don’t feel offensive today? fine, look for that mysterious bedroom of the mage that is said to be on this island’.

4. Let people play it the way they want to play it.

Success feels good.  So the game let’s you win quite often.  And does not punish you (too much) for dying, or carrying tons of stuff.  I don’t try to impose realism where realism is not fun.  People can grind, minmax, even cheat.  If that is what makes you happy, fine.  I created long trails, 3-wide, of chests in Ultima 3 which monsters cannot walk on just so I could traverse the land with monsters to the left and right of me.  It was fun.  Took me ages, but it was ages of dedication and then success.  And success = fun.  So why not spend 20 hours building that exorcist with +400% vs. undead from intrinsic ability as well as equipment, letting him fight unarmed (for the fun of it and also because it increases vs. undead damage!), use holy chant, cast holy smite, use determination skill (he was a monk in his previous life), just to see if the resulting powerpunch you can deal 5,000 damage to an undead dragon?  Heck, and make a video of it and post it to the community!  It is called a sandbox.  My game does not look like a sandbox because you cannot alter your surroundings like in Minecraft, but it nevertheless is a sandbox in a lot of respects.

5. Show people that games can be made and monetised without IAP and ads.

Apart from the few “why is it not free?” comments the vast majority really likes this approach.  Coupled with my level of responsiveness I think it creates a good proposition.  When people have posted that they saw the ad but are hesitant to invest US$4, I pointed them to the user feedback and reviews and all of them ended up buying it.

For various reasons sometimes people did not end up liking it, in which case I refunded them.  They really appreciated that.  Works quite well, as I am not trying to make money from people that don’t enjoy the game, and the good feedback probably fuels sales as well.

Now to ‘monetise’, this is tricky.

The only reason this game gets attention is because I pumped a lot of money into facebook advertising, and to a lesser extent Google Adwords (universal app campaign).  A few days ago I scaled both down to a trickle, because I don’t want to overspend and because I was never really sure how effective they were.

Overall, from every $1 of sales the app stores get 30% share and there is another 20-50% spent on advertising.  Hard to say the exact figure.  Have also paid for a sponsored podcast on toucharcade which did not cause as big a spike as I hoped, and tried to be mentioned in various game websites, to almost no avail.  Which is the part that I am kindof angry about.  When my earlier game version came out in Dec 2014 it got a bit of press here and there, and each time it caused a nice jump in sales (though nothing major, +100 or so).  This time, almost nothing of that.  The professional part of the gaming community is ignoring new RPGs like this.  Which saddens me.  And they are not looking out if any of the ones they ignored become worth mentioning later.  At present I have 10,000 sales and a 4.8 star rating.  Coverage? NIL.  That makes me mad.   I understand game websites also need ad dollars, but not having any journalistic ambition to see what is happening around them?  Speachless.  I was in the top 5 selling RPGs in the US and Canada for weeks. Still, no-one from these journalistic circles seems to browse that for good games they missed.

Because here is the deal: I would love to drop my well-paying dayjob and create games for a living.  But the attention-depriving metrics at play in the wider industry and community make that impossible.  Which is sad.  So this will have to stay just my hobby.  You know I care about this hobby, and will develop DoC in the near future, but if there was a more sustainable curation and publication of games, then I would be doing much more than that: I have plans for a DoC-themed true roguelike, I had started “RPG city” (Sim City meets Fallout shelter meets Heroes of Might and Magic ??), so many more games I would like to make.  Alas, not sure they will make it in this decade.

To leave on a happy note, I am very excited about what enjoyment people have gotten out of DoC so far.  Was never thinking that someone would try and make a party of 6 druids and try to learn the unlock skill.  Or farm elder dragons.  Or reach the end of the chaos rift. Or reach a skill level of 130.  People are enjoying it, and that makes me happy.

If you are interested in getting DoC expanded, please check out the Kickstarter campaign, it is the most imminent way how to support this game and what it can become.