How I decided to make a game inspired by Heroes of Might and Magic and lost money (part 1/3)
This story consists of 3 parts because I’ve released three games:
Every article will contain particular figures: how much I invested (spent) in the game I’m talking about, and how much I earned.
I should say, I am a fan of Heroes of Might and Magic (HoMM) and King’s Bounty series. I’ve played almost all parts and addons — except HoMM7 because time goes by, life changes, and there’s no time left for playing games.
I got acquainted with the HoMM series in the early 2000s — it was HoMM3 I played at school. When I got into university, I started skipping classes to play Heroes with my friends on a single computer. The other player’s turn always lasted forever, so we never finished the game =)
Since 2005, I started developing flash games, and the years went by. And when the year 2013 came, I decided to play HoMM 2 once more. So carried away was I! Even though I’d finished the game before, this time I had an idea: what if I make my own game with turn-based battles?!
This article is focused on the first game I made — Beasts Battle. I’ll tell you how it was step-by-step released on different platforms: Web, Mobile (GooglePlay, AppStore), and PC (Steam).
Flash version development
I started developing on April 14, 2013. I made a hexagonal field like it was in Heroes 2 and added 2 types of units: warriors and archers. The units looked like hexagons with the number of troops and type. They moved around the field and fought each other.
I worked on the game in my spare time within a year. However, the development process wasn’t smooth and continuous: I did two long pauses. Actually, it was approximately so:
A week: development of combat mechanics.
Then a pause for a few months.
One more week: development of troops purchase, victory screens, etc.
A pause for a few months. Again.
2.5 months of intensive work without any breaks — and the game is ready =)
The idea was to just make Heroes-like battles, and that’s it. Without any maps, without taking castles, and so on. I was going to make arenas with different units and spells, that’s all. I wanted to do the minimum to see if players would like the game. And if they did, I would’ve continued improving it in the next parts. Working on a game can last forever — many beginners like to do so. =)
After I finished the battle mechanics, I decided to show it to my friend NeexGames. He is an artist and also has his own hits (Heaven or Hell); we have already worked on lots of other games together.
When I showed him my project, he shared with me some sprites of units from his game so that I could add the animation to the battles, and the game would look smoother and more interesting (far better than just watching static hexagons). Lucky for me, he agreed to cooperate further, as long as I finished writing the whole game engine with all the screens — so that he would just make art and insert it into the game.
Thanks to him, the game was improved, it became bright and juicy. He really brought a lot to the concept. I decided not to make stereotypical races and came up with something original, so the theme became “animals”. But still, the demon race appeared in the game. I was excited about the fact he completely redrew the “store” in the game in a way I hadn’t planned. I had to rewrite the mechanics of the entire store, but it was for the good of the game.
I sent the game to the flash games community to get reviews (in those times it was active ‘cos flash was alive!). I got a lot of comments and tips and then spent about a month improving the game.
I added a bunch of stuff I hadn’t planned at the start (because it would make the development process much longer).
What was added:
- Russian localization;
- complexity levels;
- the game plot (I got bored while I was waiting for the art so I decided to take a look at the game Kingdom Rush);
- 2 campaigns instead of one (the artist also had spare time and decided to draw main heroes for both races and the selection screen);
- tutorial (well, of course, it wouldn’t be a good game without it, thanks gamers for reminding me).
The feedback helped me a lot, and the game became much better.
I spent about 4 or 5 months working on the game balance. And still, the game was not balanced — it was often mentioned in comments. At first, the game was difficult (after all, Heroes is a hardcore one), but because of the gamers’ comments I was making it easier and easier. But still, some creatures turned out to be cheap and strong, and some expensive and unnecessary. It was difficult to balance. I’ve played the game hundreds of times.
Time was the most valuable resource we spent. The agreement with the artist was to pay him a fixed price after the game would be sold. The music was completely written by a novice composer, completely free — he needed samples for his portfolio. Lucky for us, he did a good job.
I also ordered an art for the game ending for $20 and English localization for $7. It was my first time spending money on freelancers. It was so difficult to part with money. =) At that time my salary from the main job was $400 a month.
Selling the flash version
Developers used to sell flash games through the FGL platform, where every game was evaluated by moderators and then watched by sponsors. If sponsors liked any game, it would be sold at auction. But, of course, sometimes there were games no one paid any attention at.
So, I put my game on this site for sale. And then came an exciting moment. I wondered if there would be any suggestions? =) Fortunately, there was a bid at $200 on the first day and $500 on the next day from a different sponsor. And that was it…
2 months of silence passed. I mailed sponsors and wrote to admins — how could nobody like such a good game with a good rating?! There were no views at all! I put a lot of effort into getting the game watched. I did everything I could. No one answered, and no one wanted to buy it, except the sponsor who made a $500 bid. The sponsor was the Armor Games Studio.
On this site there was one more opportunity. It was called “The Last Call” which literally meant you can make the last call to everyone interested notifying them you are ready to sell your game.
I wrote to the $500 sponsor and asked if they could get my game for $800 in case the Last Call wouldn’t help. They said OK, and I was very glad because with this amount I could pay my artist.
I did the Last Call with an easy heart. And suddenly one more sponsor appeared. He upped the price to $1000 for the exclusive. Armor Games reacted immediately and offered $1,200. I waited a couple of days and accepted the offer.
When the game launched on the sponsor’s website, it got a 50 points rating. To be honest, I was very upset) But in time, finally, its rating reached 64 points (which is OK). There were 694k views and 600 favorites on the sponsor’s website for a month (it may not look so big, but I was very pleased). In general, I was happy with how the game was perceived (and the sponsor did too). It met my expectations: after all, the game turned out quite simple, despite all our efforts. And I admitted that the project had been too hard for me, I barely managed to cope with it.
After that, I sold a license for my game to several sponsors for a small amount.
Summary for the Flash version of the game
It took a year for two of us to develop the game from the beginning to the release. The game brought me $1,710.
Mobile version development
In the summer of 2014 I received a lot of comments from players of the web version about what I need to improve. I was very passionate about the project, so I got inspired and decided to port the game to mobile phones! For this purpose I decided to use the Corona SDK engine (now it’s called the Solar SDK). I was good at using this engine and spent 4 months porting the game to it from the previous one. I had to rewrite everything in the new programming language. The engine is multiplatform, like Unity or Unreal, so I expected to publish the game on GooglePlay and AppStore.
What was new
I changed the balance of buying troops completely. In the flash version the troops were limited in the store, so at some point you could lose some unit types without restoring possibility. In the mobile version I added a new parameter “leadership” so units in the store became unlimited, but the player’s ability to buy them depended on the number of “leadership” points (as well as on the gold amount, of course).
I also added a third campaign in which you could play the Boss as a main hero — I thought it was an interesting idea and made it just for fun. A player could open this campaign only after clearing the main one.
Also implemented the new HotSeat mode, which allowed players to choose any race and fight with a friend on the same device.
Besides, I added a hardcore mission to each campaign, it was even marked by a skull pic. =)
And moreover, I updated the art from 640p to 720p.
Since this was a mobile game, updates followed the release. I added:
● a new arena
● a new unit for each race
● a new achievement
● artifacts for heroes
The mobile version release
I released the game in 2015.
It was completely free, without any ads or donations. I really wanted to release a clean game, I mean, when else would I have a chance to do this? =) Everyone wants to make money, of course, and, obviously, so do I =) So why would I do a free game without any ingame payments?
I had a clever plan: I knew I was going to make the next part. I expected that since the game is free people would download, play and enjoy it. I would have traffic, fans, and community that would switch to my new game in the future.
BUT! I was naive: without marketing no one knew about the game and nobody even cared. Sometimes gamers found it and even left positive reviews. They wrote what needed to be improved in the game, what content should be added and so on. This was nice and unexpected, because the mobile game development turned out quite simple for me, especially compared to what came later =)
Developing the Steam version
The year 2016 arrived and I decided to release the game on Steam. Back then there was a Greenlight system for indies, so I had to work hard to get through. I was looking for options, people who would vote for the game and so on.
When the game was approved, I created a Steam page. After that, I began to work on API to make leaderboards, achievements and other stuff work.
The game even had Steam Trading Cards!!! Nowadays you need high sales to take part in this program.
● 1080p graphics
● Redrawn global map
● Multiplayer (!)
Yes, I added cross-platform multiplayer, a friend of mine helped me with this one. You could play on Steam with someone using his phone.
Steam version release
First I intended to release the game on Steam for free, because it’s free on mobile phones, but I was dissuaded. They said, free games don’t get cards. So then I released the game at the price of $1. After I added multiplayer to the game (it was an update), I raised the price to $2 — this happened about 4–6 months after the release.
The game was released on June 15, 2016. Within 4 years it has sold out 3,341 copies ($2,642). Among them 2,474 copies ($1,597) were sold during the first year, and 826 copies ($698) were sold during the first month.
This is the total revenue from Steam without deduction of commission, taxes and refunds — so we can safely divide it by 2.
This time I took a profit, without considering all the time I spent.
Developing all the game versions lasted 3 years, from 14.04.2013 till 15.06.2016.
Game was released on the Web, GooglePlay, Appstore, Steam.
A $3031 profit for the entire lifetime of the game in release (2014–2020).
This game helped me to feel the market and find out how everything works from start to finish. It gave me a huge experience. Next, I started the development of a new game called Necromancer Returns…