So you’re working on your own indie game and you’ve finally got the release date for it. All that is left now is to complete the so called “final 10 %”. I’ve recently went through the same process, about 36 hours ago, I’ve completed my first commercial game and released it on itch.io and I’d like to talk about what I went through and what you can expect as an indie developer working with no budget.
Just as a side note, you can find my game, Heavy Beat, here on the website or on itch.io.
1. As an indie, the final 10% of your game includes EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING that isn’t part of the game but you still need to do in order to release properly.
This includes, updating your itch.io/steam pages, prepping your emailing list, updating your website if you have one, making a trailer for your game, taking in-game screenshots and putting them on social media as well as having a rollout plan about where and how you’re going to promote that your game just came out.
This hit me like a truck when I decided on my release date. I was confident I could finish the game in time and I did, the game itself was no issue, after all its our passion as game developers so most of the time everything about the game will be working fine by release date, however, the part where we don’t shine is battling that horrid demon called marketing that stands above everything we built ready to swallow it all if we don't appease it.
So being the game developer that I am, I just continued working on the game, thinking to myself, "Hey, I still need to finish the product first". So fast forward 2 weeks and a half later and surprise surprise, my game was finished, however, I didn’t have a trailer, my website wasn’t updated, my itch.io page still had the details from the Alpha period and it also had no new screenshots of the updated gameplay. All in all, I had about 3-4 days to get everything in order and thankfully I did after a few sleepless nights. So hopefully this doesn’t happen to you, but please take into account all the other things you need to do in order to release your game properly and not just the game itself when thinking about a release date.
2. Stop the feature creep.
This is probably the main reason why it can feel like running on an endless treadmill when finishing the last 10% of your game. You start sending your game to your friends and family to test and you get some really nice feedback. Some of your friends will tell you that one feature or another sucks, others will praise your innovation and a few of them will tell you to add certain things in order to make the game better.
This is awesome, this is the best kind of feedback you can receive and in most cases you should analyze it thoroughly and make a choice if you want to modify the game based on it, especially since you probably have your own backlog in your mind with countless features you would want to add as well.
My advice is, if you’ve got your release date set in stone and you have so many things that you still haven’t done, so many use cases you still haven’t tested for and the game still crashes around level 3 when the player jumps in a corner weirdly, or you still don’t have a trailer for your game, forget about adding new stuff. Just focus on fixing what you already have. You need to figure out when is the best time to say “stop” to adding new things in the game and start focusing on improving what you already have.
Unless the problems signaled by the testers are completely game breaking then I suggest you put them in your backlog or make a list of them and implement them in a later update to the game. The solution to this issue is testing early and testing often in order to find any critical issues with your game and fix them in time.
With Heavy Beat I’ve been receiving a lot of awesome feedback right up until the release, some of it would’ve made the game better, some of it was just noise. But most of the good stuff meant I would need to push the release date further and further as I implement more and more things in the game, some of these things in turn breaking other things in the game. I could probably spend a year adding new stuff or improving the game and afterwards I could probably still find some features that my game sorely missed.
So when I had my release date I decided to stop adding new things to the game, no new modes, new platforms or new songs and just focus on making what I had so far feel good. Did I succeed? Probably not, the game still looks very different to what I had in mind when I first started but 6 months later from the day I started working it, I now have a completed game with a few unique features in my portfolio that I have released.
So let’s say that in about one year from now I would release my next game. If I would’ve kept adding new things to Heavy Beat, pushing the release date further and further, I would probably still be working on it with the 2nd project nowhere in sight and as we all know, the number of game releases matter a lot more in the industry than work done on a single unreleased project.
3. Stop caring what people think of you when you promote your game.
So you’re thinking about posting your game somewhere on social media but the post you wrote feels “cringe” well sorry to say but everything is “cringe” everything anyone does can be found cringe by someone else to a certain degree.
Even your own game, two years from now, you ll look back on it and go “Oh my god how dumb was I, why didn’t I do this, why didn’t I do that.” It’s a natural learning process that everyone goes through. All you can do is march on and learn from your mistakes.
Now, let’s get back to promoting your game. Let’s say you want to post on a subreddit but you’re worried about the wording of your post and if people will like it and "Oh my god what will people think about me if I do this shameless self promotion, it will forever brand me as an asshole and nobody will play my games". You can see what I mean, its very easy to spiral into an imposter syndrome episode.
The truth is, nobody knows who you are. Nobody truly knows anything about you or your game. You are nobody. And right now your goal is to scream at the top of your lungs, "Hey, here I am, here is my work, here’s how you can play it".
So stop thinking people have these permanent blacklists in their heads that if you make a single tiny mistake they will put you on that list and you will live in obscurity forever on the internet. Most people don’t care, most people forget about your posts after a few minutes of seeing them.
This doesn’t mean you need to start doing things you don’t believe in such as spamming your game every minute or posting in the wrong sections of a community or in general, being a nuisance online in order to gather popularity, I’m simply saying, most of the issues you think about are just in your head. The vast majority of people online will be supportive and give you their truthful opinions on your game.
My experience with promoting Heavy Beat has been pretty good so far. Most people give me honest feedback and wish me good luck on my journey. Some of my posts have been removed by reddit moderators because I wasn't mindful of one of the rules in the subreddit, some facebook posts on indie game groups have been outright rejected because they reeked of self promotion, I’ve even had people chastise me for promoting my game so often, these are all mistakes you need to learn from and they are nothing you need to fear from experiencing.
You and your game will fall to this too, but the only way you can make yourself known without spending a dime is clenching your teeth, pushing through the slog and getting your name out there. Think of any way you can get more eyes on you and your game, contacting youtubers, streamers, posting on reddit, on facebook, on twitter and even the local news. No need to feel ashamed of what you're doing, you're simply going door-to-door trying to sell a product so go get your foot in the door and start selling.