A farewell to demos

You may have noticed that I’ve removed links to the demo from here and elsewhere. And if you hadn’t noticed before then you surely have now after reading that sentence.

It felt weird doing this – like I was trying to get away with something bad – so I started making this post as an announcement. You know, transparency and honesty and all that.

But the more I wrote the more it morphed into a postmortem of pre-release demos in general. If that’s not interesting to you then here’s the important bit: Kickstarter backers will always have access to pre-release demos, but I will no longer be making them public.

If you’re interested in how I came to this decision then read on.

Agile

At my old job we practiced Agile development. In short, this meant frequent (and smaller) iterations that would constantly get released to users. These releases were often incomplete or unpolished, but the point was that you were getting something in users’ hands and they in turn could tell you what worked and what didn’t before it was too late to change things.

There’s a lot of info about Agile elsewhere, so here’s a quick image-based summary of its advantages:

When I quit my job to work on Village Monsters I decided to apply these principals as a solo game developer. I had quick iterations and released frequent demos – longtime followers may remember the poorly-named Were Release, a monthly demo that I did for about a year.

To be clear, I don’t regret any of this. It worked really well for me and was tremendously motivating.

But as the game became bigger the effort to create demos increased significantly. Worse, their usefulness to me as a developer started to drop. Making a new demo public – though still exciting – was quickly becoming a burden.

Master of none

So what changed?

Well, at some point Village Monsters reached a confusing middle ground somewhere between Clearly New and Almost Finished. It was now a Work In Progress… and what does that mean? I couldn’t expect players to know if I didn’t.

I was adding more features with each iteration, but this also meant there were more unfinished features. Old bugs were fixed while new bugs were introduced. The game changed in drastic ways on a near constant basis as I refined my design.

The thing about iteration is that it doesn’t imply linear progression; sometimes features (or parts of features) would actually go backward when something wasn’t working right. Each release was objectively more complete than the one before it, but it was a few steps forward and a couple steps back. It was becoming much harder to cleanly demarcate between what was done and what was not.

This confusion was reflected in the kind of feedback I was getting. I still received feedback and suggestions, but more often than not the messages were closer to support tickets. In some cases I even received pretty hostile emails over the perceived quality of the game as if I charged money or tricked them into thinking it was a finished game.

Perception

There are an enormous amount of games out there. People’s time is limited, their wallets are limited, and there’s no incentive for them to be risky with either.

This means perception of a game has never been more important. And to be frank, pre-release demos are a quick way to kill your reputation.

Consider what beta means for a game like Village Monsters vs. what it means for games like Anthem or The Division 2 or even Gwent. The comparison is, in a word, unfavorable.

For me it means a game that’s anywhere from 25-75% complete. For them it’s a game that’s 95% complete.

It’s completely reasonable for most gamers to assume that a beta game will only change in small or subtle ways before release. If you play a demo that’s janky and has bugs and feels incomplete then it’s equally reasonable to assume it won’t be a very good game come release.

And that really sucks for me. The closer the game gets to release the greater the chance that these perceptions are ‘locked in’ and impossible to win back.

So…

If a demo isn’t truly representative of the final product, and they’re increasingly difficult to create, and players aren’t really sure what to do with them… is it worth making them?

That’s the question I asked myself, and that’s why I’ve made the decision to remove them.

Hopefully this most is transparent and you can understand where I’m coming from. If you’re another indie dev then I also hope it helps inform some of your own decisions with how to handle pre-release demos.

What goes bump in the afternoon?

(The release date of the upcoming demo)

The next public demo for Village Monsters – which you might know as Candy Corn – needs to be bumped to November. The exact release date and eye-roll-worthy nickname will be announced a little later.

Last time I delayed a demo it was because I still had work to do. This time it’s sorta the opposite – I actually want to make the demo contain even more stuff.

I was reviewing my roadmap (and you can too!) and realized that this is the second-to-last demo. Demo feedback has always been immensely valuable to me, so I want to squeeze as much as I can into the release so you have more to play with so you can in turn give me more feedback.

Another (and less flattering) way to look at it is that I didn’t get nearly as much done as I hoped back when I scheduled this release in August. We won’t talk about that, though.

You could simply ask “why don’t you just release what you have now and make an extra demo later?”, and it’s a fair question, but the answer is that releasing a demo is a lot of work. Time is at a premium these days, so creating fewer (but bigger) demos just fits my schedule a lot better.

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

sleep safe, ghost dog

Open Dev Policy

One of my favorite trends in video game development is how increasingly open its become. It used to be that game creation was (to players, at least) an unknowable and arcane process that you could only catch glimpses of in magazines or websites.

These days you can find all sorts of examples of refreshingly open development – there’s Dwarf Fortress’ extensive roadmap and dev logs, Subnautica went and made their whole Trello board public, and even big companies like Fortnite are letting everyone see progress on feedback and suggestions.

I’ve been creating developer diaries and public demos since I started Village Monsters, but I wanted to do even more – I wanted to be as transparent and candid and naked as possible.

So I decided to do just that. Not the naked part, I’m still mostly clothed.

Keep Reading

Arrested Development

For some, summer is about fun vacations, trips to the beach, and picnics. For others…

After looking at the heat maps of the US this past week I think I’m with Mock on this.

Unfortunately I have some bad news, so let’s rip it off like a band-aid.

I need to delay the release of Village Monsters. The new release window is now Spring 2019, with a final date coming as soon as I’m sure it won’t slip again.

The rest of this post is a detailed explanation for the need of a delay, but the takeaway is that there’s enough money to finish the game and that Village Monsters isn’t in trouble, I just need more time to finish it.

Reasons for Delay

Toward the start of the year I sat down and heavily reanalyzed the key features of Village Monsters. I actually wrote about this process in the January 9th update. This process was similar to editing a book or script, and the end result was a design that was much tighter and would result in a better game.

There was a downside: it made me realize I had a lot more work to do than I thought.

For example, villager dialogue ended up playing a much larger role in the game than I once anticipated. My old dialogue system was far too lacking to bear that responsibility, so I had to gut it and redo it from scratch.

I was confident I could still get things done by October, but I didn’t have much room for error. Unfortunately for me, things erred almost immediately.

A number of complicated technical bugs forced me to rewrite the collision, camera, and loading system. Then the tool I used to write dialogue became so unwieldy I had to spend a large amount of time finding a replacement (I eventually just built my own solution). Soon after that my website broke and I had to spend time fixing it so people could download the game.

It was one interruption after another, and they soon began adding up. Then, in March, my son was born. I won’t use him as an excuse as I knew what I was getting into with a baby – they’re hard work!

But what I didn’t anticipate were the unique challenges working from home with a baby presented. Even with my door closed and wife on full time baby duty it was incredibly easy to get pulled from work. As my available time shrunk I focused on smaller / easier tasks, but this just meant that my backlog became full of complicated, time-consuming tasks.

By the start of June I realized that a delay was my only option to deliver a properly finished game.

I hope this makes sense. I am incredibly disappointed in myself, and the last thing I wanted to be was yet another indie game Kickstarter that didn’t release on time.

But I’m not worried about Village Monsters. Thanks to frequent financial planning I know I have enough cash to see this through the end. The shame in missing my release date has made me even more motivated than before, and with my new pipeline I can put this motivation to maximum use.

Thank you for your support and love, villagers. See you all next update!

On Alpha 2, Too

We’re barreling toward the first release of the post-Kickstarter demo of Village Monsters, so I wanted to take some time to talk about what that means.

First, the release date: Alpha 2 will be made available on December 11th, 2017!

Following Alpha 2 will be several Feedback Releases which will come out between the 11th and the end of December.

Keep Reading

Village Monsters has Launched on Kickstarter!

Help Me Build a Village

Oh, hello there! Village Monsters is now live on Kickstarter!

Nearly nine months ago to the day I quit my job to create games. When I left I was excited and nervous and happy and anxious – and these are all the same emotions I feel today!

I’m having the time of my life doing this. This Kickstarter represents the first opportunity to make this new life sustainable, but there’s plenty of cool things coming down the road. I want to thank everyone who has joined me along for the ride!

Let’s go make a game, yeah?