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Friday, February 16, 2018

Join the Heist: Launch Day (Part 3)

To celebrate the launch of Burgal's Bounty on iOS and Android, I have been publishing a blog series chronicling the development cycle of the game.  This is third and final part of the series.

Making a game is hard enough.  Aside from the development, the asset creation, the music, the sound, the game play, the level design, and the sheer creativity that is often required, you then have to try your hardest to market and promote the game.  There are various avenues you can take to try to succeed in this area and some of it depends on the platform you are developing for.  In short, this process is god awful.  Unless you have an epically large marketing budget, the only way you will make any money from a mobile game is an App Store feature.  Getting featured with Apple is a constantly evolving process.  In the early days, it was possible to just get noticed by Apple without any intense effort on your part.  Once you get featured it is theoretically easier to have future titles featured.  I do not know if this is still true, but you are assigned an Apple contact who you can work with on future apps to help get them featured.  Having that account rep is key.  And how does someone go about getting featured without an account rep?  There are various channels to basically ask Apple for a feature, but none of them are guaranteed.  The next logical step might be to find someone who has a contact already and ask them to publish your game.  That’s right, this next part in this epic story is about my failed attempt at finding a publisher.  I suspect it might be easier for non mobile games as mobile has become such a toxic market (in my opinion).  As of today, launch day, Burgal’s Bounty does not have a publisher.  My attempts to find a publisher started spring of 2016 and ended in November of 2017.  I reached out to numerous publishers.  Some were cold calls, and a few were not.  I won’t include every experience in this story, but I will include the the most memorable ones.  I unfortunately will not mention the names of any publishers.  I signed some NDAs along the way, but I can’t remember which publishers I signed them for, so to stay on the safe side I am going to just not mention any names at all.  I will use creative fake names though :)

Publisher One - WeGameYou:
WeGameYou enthusiastically approached me in early 2016 at a PlayCrafting expo.  They loved the art style and the game play.  We had a couple of meetings and stayed in touch for a few months.  I did some research on them before considering signing with them.  A typical publisher agreement usually has a 70 / 30 split - 70 for the developer and 30 for the publisher (this is of course after the App Store takes their cut).  WeGameYou wanted half.  That seemed a little ridiculous to me and off-putting enough to not want to sign.  Through PlayCrafting I met someone who did sign on with them.  I spoke with him, but unfortunately did not get a lot of information.  Ultimately, his game did not get featured so that was another blow against WeGameYou.  I stopped talking with them in 2017.  The person I was working with at WeGameYou had quit, and someone else from the company reached out to me on a Slack group.  I told them I would be interested if the split were a 70 / 30 agreement.  I never heard from them again which was probably a blessing in disguise.  Given their initial interest I was optimistic I could find others that would be interested in the game.
Publisher the Second - Supreme Leader China:
The next publisher I reached out to hit me pretty hard in terms of how it affected me emotionally and ultimately the course of the game.  I knew someone who had published two games with Supreme Leader China.  They are a Canadian publisher from my home province in Canada - They were recently acquired by a Chinese company, hence the name I gave them.  I literally had 2 degrees of separation from the founder of the company which also made me kind of optimistic as well.  I pitched the game to them using the relationships I had the best I could.  They played it.  They enjoyed the humor in the cutscenes, but ultimately the response was: “Sorry, I just really didn’t get into it.  Good luck with your launch!”  I had built them up a lot in my head.  In my mind I was already super excited about working with these guys, and they rejected me.  More than that - they rejected my game which had “a lot” of me in it.  Needless to say I was pretty shaken by this and needed to regroup.  

The words “Sorry, I just really didn’t get into it” stayed with me.  It really made me wonder if Burgal’s Bounty was a bad game or not.  I spoke with Harry about some possible changes and improvements we could make to the game to hopefully give it a broader base appeal.  Enter:  Panic Dynamic Mode (and as an extension, Boss Mode).  In an attempt to get a broader audience for the game, I took the existing strict puzzle mechanic where you plot Burgal’s course before starting each maze, and made it all real time.  This mode gave more of the addictive game play you might see in some endless runners, and I liked that - and the players liked it too.  I was successful in finding more interest in the game.  Some people ended up liking Panic Dynamic mode more than the Puzzle mode.  This was reassuring to me.  For whatever reason, as I had already let scope blow up, I decided to add in boss fights.  I thought about the boss fight idea for a loooong time - all the way back to when I was working on the previous Android version, but thought it was way too much effort and scope would blow out of control.  As I had already let scope go out of control I thought, “What the hell,” and decided to make some boss fights.  Good god man, it took so much effort to do the bosses in this game (as it does for any game that has complex boss fights).  I almost regret the decision, but they all turned out very well.  After introducing Panic mode, I resubmitted it to Supreme Leader China.  They gave the same response as before and I decided they could fuck off.  Onwards to the next one!

The Third Publisher of this story - N & N:
Not to be mistaken for the delicious M & M candies, N & N were another publisher I met through PlayCrafting.  And unfortunately like the previous publishers this one ended up being a negative experience as well.  In early 2017, Burgal’s Bounty was at two large video game expos:  MagFest, and PAX East.  MagFest was a very positive experience, but I met absolutely no publishers there and there was barely any press coverage on the game.  However between MagFest and PAX East, PlayCrafting hosted one of their demo and play nights.  At these nights, numerous local game developers demo their game to an audience and afterwards the attendees have a chance to play.  Here is where I met N & N!  PlayCrafting also partnered with this publisher to organize their presence at PAX East and N & N invited me to attend PAX East with PlayCrafting.  It was my first time going to PAX and it was pretty exciting.  It was also a somewhat overwhelming experience.  In any event, after showing strong interest in my game, N & N dropped me without a rational explanation.  I was told it was too far from being launch ready.  This wasn’t all bad.  They had a Project Manager assigned to me for a few days that did some testing and gave a lot of useful feedback.  Despite the helpful feedback, this was another rejection.  This rejection was more jarring than the one with Supreme Leader China.  I suspended work on the game for an entire month while I let myself have a break.  After the month off I decided to focus on just getting the game done and would not hunt for a publisher again until closer to launch.   And finally in November of 2017 I made one last attempt at finding a publisher...

The Last Publisher - The Ghoster:  
Have you ever been ghosted by a date?  Many people have.  But I have also been ghosted by a publisher too!  By the point I reached out to the The Ghoster, Burgal’s Bounty was virtually done.  All of the content was in the game and it was just series of polishing and fixing a few bugs here and there.  I had considered completely giving up on a publisher and just attempt to self publish (and also hope and pray that maybe it would get featured and get some downloads).  However, I was at another PlayCrafting expo (PlayNYC) and I ran into someone from the game dev community who recommended I reach out to this one last publisher.  So I decided to give it one last shot.  The first indication that something wasn’t right about them should have been that their website submission button to submit publisher requests was broken.  It was sending information to an e-mail address with a domain name that did not exist.  I changed the e-mail address domain to that of their website and sent it hoping that it would be correct.  This time it went to the inbox of someone that had quit the company… We are already off to a wonderful start here.  Fortunately, I had the name of a person who worked there as a result of my PlayCrafting contact.  I guessed her e-mail address and sent it directly to her.  I got an out of office reply, but at least it was a valid e-mail address.  Eventually they got back to me and had me sign an NDA and asked for a copy of the game,  I sent them a copy, and after a week of not hearing back from them I followed up…  They did not respond.  And that was anticlimactic end to my attempts of finding a publisher.

Just because finding a publisher was a crapshoot, it did not mean I gave up on promoting the game.  As the end of 2017 approached, PlayCrafting hosted the 2017 Bit Awards.  Burgal’s Bounty was not nominated for anything, but PlayCrafting was planning on playing game trailers for upcoming games between each of the awards during the show.  I submitted the assets that were requested by PlayCrafting and they confirmed it would be shown during the Bit Awards.  I attended.  I generally enjoyed myself.  I watched every award and every trailer that was played.  The trailer for Burgal’s Bounty did not play.  PlayCrafting apologized to me and said there was a technical mishap and Burgal’s Bounty was shuffled out of the playlist.  Despite being rather angry about this, I did sort of see this as “just another rejection” from the already exceedingly challenging promotional part of game development. 

Edit: PlayCrafting apologized profusely for the mishap and invited me to show at their Demo & Play night on launch day as a pseudo launch party.  It was a very enjoyable night.  Thanks PlayCrafting!

I want to end this on a positive note as this entire last portion of the blog has been defeat after defeat after defeat.  Game creation is hard work and it is not for the faint of heart.  I am fortunate.  While having a full time day job has made it very difficult to make fast progress on the game, it has also allowed me to invest in the game, go to expos, and spend some money on certain things.  Stringent discipline was required to get through this.  I can tell you I have not given myself a lot of time for fun over the last 2 years.  I have barely played any video games, I have committed, by and large, between 10 to 20 hours each week on game development on top of my full time day job which would take up 40 to 50 hours of my time a week.  It would not have been possible if I did not have the flexibility working from home has allowed me.  I truly feel for people who have the passion to do this and quit their day jobs and ultimately end up with a failed game.  I do not need to worry about where my next pay check will come from.  While I very much want Burgal’s Bounty to be successful, if it is not I will not be financially ruined.

This has been a positive, although challenging, experience.  I love making games and I will always love doing it even if I never see a success.  If you are a game developer, I want to tell you never give up on the pursuit of your passion.  It is my opinion that games are the ultimate art form.  Games combine so much talent from so many disciplines in a truly interactive, creative, and often beautiful form of artistic expression.  If you are a game player - please keep on playing and keep having fun.  Games are pivotal to the human experience.  It is how we learn, how we socialize, how we play, and how we unplug from the real world very often.  

Today is the iOS and Android launch day for Burgal’s Bounty.  The game is available on the App Store and on Google Play.  A lot has gone into this game.  It is a solid puzzle/arcade game with unique graphics, fun gameplay, entertaining story, great music, and has a fair monetization model.  I hope you enjoy playing this game as much as I have enjoyed making it!  

Thank you for reading and keep playing!