It's pretty much do or die for my fledging studio and its first game, Zafehouse: Diaries. Earlier this week we took a massive step — posting Diaries to Greenlight and letting a short demo out into the wild. At this point, emotions are rampant, more than I can describe in a sentence. All I know is that my life is at a crossroads. If we bomb, it'll be hard to recover from. If we succeed, well, that's the dream, isn't it?
Yes, we paid the $US100 and deposited our inside bits onto Steam Greenlight. We also pushed out a demo. It's the first chance anyone outside of the studio (of two people) and a few testers have had to actually see what we've spent the last 10 or so months making.
We were classified not long ago [which I can't link to because the Classification site is down]. Diaries was handed a surprising PG rating, despite the game's content. I suppose we don't really compare to the likes of first-person shooters when it comes to "high-impact" content as it were, but still, we thought an M or MA 15+ was a certainty. The process, all up, took about seven weeks.
But I'm not complaining.
Yeah, publicity! Greenlight has far and away been our biggest source of interest in the game. To be fair, we haven't spent a dollar on any sort of advertising or marketing, so it's not surprising. What is surprising is the response it's received.
And we're on Steam... in a fashion. People might not be able to by the game from the digital distribution service, but we are there, a part of the Valve-created entity. Which is nice.
I'm comfortable saying being on Greenlight legitimises us and the game. We have a product, screenshots and a video. Zafehouse: Diaries is tangible. It's not an idea or a half-finished hunk of code. I can call it "done", even though we have big plans for updates, improvements and expansions.
Completing a game is very satisfying and whatever happens, nothing can diminish or take that feeling away.
Despite being on Greenlight, we may never make it onto Steam. That's a scary thought.
Valve recently changed the way Greenlight displays voting and traffic statistics. For gamers giving out thumbs-up, there are no stats at all. The "rating" bar that once showed how far a game was towards being greenlit was removed. So now you're voting somewhat blindly. As for developers, it's a bit different. We can now see how many votes our game has received over the past seven days, and those numbers sit side-by-side with the average votes for a game in the top 100.
If you're not in the top 100, you get a bar telling you how far you are away from breaking into this exclusive group, while those who have breached the list are given a ranking. To the right you can see how Zafehouse: Diaries is doing so far.
As you'd expect, we had a burst of activity the first day we were published, with numbers slowly dissipating as time wore on. We're hopeful the votes don't dry up completely, but we won't have a better idea for another few days, when we can establish some sort of trend. 44 per cent sounds pretty good, but about 20 per cent of that came in the first two days. It's slowly progressing by about one-three per cent a day now.
When we started on Zafehouse: Diaries, we knew it wasn't going to be a game for everyone. Heck, we wanted it to be niche, in so far that we made a game that we wanted to play, a game that would do things largely ignored by the zombie game genre.
We also knew that making a zombie game was a risk. To say the market is saturated is an understatement. But we were confident our ideas would resonant with enough gamers to make the endeavour worthwhile creatively and financially.
Greenlight has shown that we were right.
But gamers can be harsh. Criticism is something I've grown accustomed to being a writer, but as a developer, I've had little in the way of feedback on my ability to create games, except perhaps a review of the original Zafehouse by Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
We've had over 100 comments on Zafehouse: Diaries on Greenlight and a majority have been positive, either stating they love the concept or played the demo and enjoyed it. But we've had a few detractors too. Some are just tired of zombies games (hey, we are too, that's why we're trying to do something different with the genre to kick it in the arse), others don't find it to their tastes, but there are those that, well, just sound angry. Here are examples of the good, bad and ugly:
The good (joy!):
Dr. Spachek PsyD: I would definetly like to see this one reach its entire potential, meaning put this on steam, pay the creators, and keep up the good work.
Psychohead: Played the demo. Fascinating! Very curious to see where it goes. Thumbs up, yo.
DeadlyFox: This game is amazing, download the beta demo and see for yourself, this is freakin' fantastic.
The Crystal: Very interested in seeing this on Steam. If it doesn't make it, I'll buy it from another source I guess.
Marsilio Raviede: Interesting concept. Nice music, thoroughly dark and twisted. Very nice. Good luck on Greenlight!
Phantom the Space Captain: Very clever game direction and and an awesome spin on the "Zombie survival" senario! This is what greenlight was for! +1
pWEN #Occupy2Fort: Great concept! Zombie stories are always better when they act as commentary on humanity. Good luck on your Greenlight!
tiny_fists_of_fury: OK, this isn't going to appeal to your average shootem up Halo jock... so, I'm excited! Looks like a smart game!
dfactory: A very fresh and interesting take on the zombie/survival horror genre. There is a lot of deep strategic interaction to be made and every action counts. I feel the developers were inspired by old school games like Zork, and I mean that in a positive way. But I don't think this is a game for everyone, it takes sometime to get used to the interface and mechanics, and the most important thing is that you MUST like to read. I am a very avid book reader, so it is natural territory to me, so if you like to read books in general, this game is a must-have! +1
We've also had some constructive feedback, which is great:
Work Horse: This gets my upvote for seeing it on Steam, but I can't say I'd actually pay to play this. It's unique enough on it's own to warrant attention, but seems little more than what flash games have to offer. Still though, as I said, I'd like to see it get on Steam.
Zino: [Regarding our trailer] 55s of logos and tex before gameplay is not ideal. If the concept hadn't been interesting enough from I'd have just downvoted after 20s and moved on.
Space Bullet: [Regarding our trailer] I'd recommend cutting down some of the minute of text in the trailer before we get to even see anything, most people are just going to skip it.
PixelSnader: I feel like you're not using the medium to its full extent. It seems like this could be achieved in a board-game format as well - that's my initial response. Perhaps it's a good idea to try and add more dynamic elements in there, and give it a slightly quicker and more fluid pace.
Then there's just stuff like this:
Vitor677: ohhh yeah best zombie game that u dont play any game u make a diary rly dont try to fuck with the word ZOMBIEGAME the fun of zombie games come from heads blowing out and exploding...what an idea that you have got here my friend
Chris: HORY SHIT, SO MUCH ACTION, -1
But even the really blunt comments I can deal with. What gets me are the comparisons to a game called Rebuild. It's fair enough from a visual standpoint — they do share a certain look — but the original Zafehouse came out in 2008, while the first Rebuild was published in 2011. That's all I'm going to say on the matter. Full disclosure: I myself was influenced by The Last Stand, but Zafehouse turned out to be a very different game.
I'm not sure if we'll ever make it onto Steam. I'm half-confident, half-concerned, but that's just how this business rolls. If you're feeling kind, give us a thumbs-up, but I urge you to give the demo a crack first.
I'll keep you guys updated (especially if we get into the top 100) and we'll obviously be selling the game regardless of whether it makes the cut on Greenlight.