On Thursday, I launched a computer game. In many ways it was an anti-climatic way to celebrate 10 months of hard work (for which my neck will never forgive me), but it's the natural conclusion to the development of any game. Yesterday I put together a demo and made a few tweaks to the website and today, well, today I've had a chance to ruminate over the last year.
You've likely read about Deadnaut a few times here — I haven't had as much time to write about it at the same length I did for our previous game, Zafehouse: Diaries, but it's been just as harrowing an experience as Zafehouse, even more so given what its success or failure means for my continued existence as an independent developer.
2014 is a radically different environment to launch an indie game, compared to 2012 (the year Zafehouse came out). As Spiderweb Software's Jeff Vogel wrote about at length in May, there are strong signs that the indie game "bubble" has indeed burst, the first indicator being the initial batch of 100 games that were approved for sale on Steam via Greenlight — one of which was Zafehouse.
After this, the flood gates exploded and now Valve doesn't bother announcing when new games pass beyond Greenlight, with the last such story posted in early August.
This isn't bad, of course — if anything it means the process has gotten to the stage where indie games are being approved on a consistent, regular basis and that's a marvellous transition from the gruelling spectacle it used to be.
The downside though is that Steam was once an unquestionable bastion of quality — a game that made it onto the distributor essentially had the Valve "seal of approval". Sure, it was an entirely unofficial accolade, but tangible nonetheless and reflected quantifiably in the sales such games would enjoy after launching on the platform.
These days, there's a lot more choice. The discoverability update was a massive, massive step in the right direction, but when a game appears on Steam it's no longer an instant buy.
We've seen the fallout from this gentler grip on curation, with games being removed outright for falsely presenting themselves. Most recently, Value tightened the conditions for Early Access games, as well as making it clear that EA does not guarantee that a finished game will be the end result. It appears Valve is doing what it can to adapt to the needs of both developers and the community; it's not unexpected that it'd be a bumpy ride.
Another, separate issue is that it's harder than every for an independent developer to get noticed with so many titles competing for attention. The various articles you may read about getting your game noticed — even from journalists themselves, are not sure-fire documents to success. The priority is always to make the best game possible, but it's easy to forget the whole marketing thing that comes with selling a product.
Publishers have entire departments to worry about crafting the game's "message", so to speak. As an independent, you have to focus some of that creativity and drive you've reserved for your game and funnel it into promoting yourself. And it can be tiring and draining and sometimes, fruitless. But like any skill, you get better at it over time.
So I look at Deadnaut and see its completion (excluding patches and potential enhancements) as the first part of the game-making experience. There's a second section that doesn't make itself entirely corporeal until the weight of initial development is off your shoulders.
Finally, now, we can focus on talking to people about the game and sharing our enthusiasm for it. We know it won't be to everyone's tastes — Zafehouse was certainly polarising — but we're proud of what we've managed to achieve in 10 months and we're hoping other people do to.
If you'd like to try the game out, there's a demo available for Windows and OS X on the website, or you can purchase it directly. Once we're on Steam, we'll be supplying all direct sales with a key. I know it's something I'd appreciate, so I'm sure others will too!
In addition to his weekend work on Kotaku Australia, Logan Booker works as an independent developer at Screwfly Studios, along with David Kidd. Their first game was Zafehouse: Diaries released in September 2012, and they've just launched a second title, Deadnaut. You can follow Logan and David on Twitter, though they won't be offended if you just check out their games instead.