How I decided to make a game inspired by Heroes of Might and Magic and lost money (part 3/3)
This story consists of 3 parts because I’ve released three games:
In the previous part, I told you how I came to the development of the hexagonal turn-based game Beasts Battle and how the expenses on Necromancer Returns didn’t pay off.
Necromancer Returns was released in February 2018, but it didn’t fit my expectations, so I got depressed. But in April 2018 an idea popped up in my head: to make the next game based on the same engine, but with graphics drawn in 3D and rendered to 2D isometry.
The idea was to quickly create a new world, draw it, add new units and that’s all. I got in touch with a guy who joined the team at the end of Necromancer Returns development and became the main artist for the game. He redrew the entire interface for the mobile version of Necromancer Returns and also updated it on Steam.
So, the artist drew several concepts of the new world and an approximate Lore, I approved it, and we began trying to make it 3D. We kept trying this for a month but then realized it was too hard for the artist — he couldn’t cope with it. We didn’t manage to achieve the level I wanted to see (Disciples II, III were the references). As a result, I canceled the project, saved a lot of money, and got depressed again for a year.
April 2019. A year has passed, the times of sadness passed, my soul demanded to create! I decided to reconvene my team from the game Necromancer Returns, so I wrote to 2 writers — but they refused. I wrote to the artist with whom I tried the 3D, and we agreed to draw a new arena. We did the concept, but it didn’t go further — it wasn’t what I wanted to see. I wrote to the unit artist, but he also refused due to a lack of time. It didn’t work out. I couldn’t put together the old team — so I started looking for a new one.
New (old) team
I began to look for a scriptwriter, arranged a test task, held a small competition, and found one — we made a good team. He came up with the complete lore, all units, features, and the story. Throughout all the work on the game, he kept being fully into the project and even now helps with its development.
Then I contacted one of the secondary artists of Necromancer Returns, who drew icons. We agreed that he would draw the battle arena and he did great. Then I started negotiating with him about creating a map and he recommended his colleague. It was a new useful acquaintance for me — he drew the entire map!
Next, I needed a person who could draw the interface. I arranged a paid test task, about 6 people participated, but it didn’t work. As a result, I lost money on the test and the initial interface. The artists from my team recommended a guy who is great in UI/UX, I talked to him and we had a deal. We found the interface. I realized then, how difficult it is to draw a good interface for the game, very few artists can do it well. And the price!!! It’s insane!!! I didn’t expect this one)
Then I started to look for an artist who would draw units. I had a few candidates but it turned out that all of them were beginners, not qualified enough. But we found the solution again. The artist who had drawn the arena began sketching units, and all the finalizing and animation was taken by the artist of the original game Beasts Battle game!!! Yes, he’s back!
And finally, the main artist of Necromancer Returns, with whom we tried the 3D project, also joined the team. He started drawing all the icons and helping with the game interface and all the tasks of other artists in general. Another artist who drew the ending for the Beasts Battle drew the title page for the new game. A colleague from my last job drew the game’s logo. And the scriptwriter of Necromancer Returns wrote all the dialogues for the demo version.
So it was the appearance of the new team which also included many of those with whom I had already worked in the previous games. That’s what it means to have a good relationship and keep in touch all the time!
This game is an evolution of Necromancer Returns. I’ve been improving the Necromancer Returns game with updates based on user feedback during a year. And Magicians Legacy will be better by default from the very first day of its release.
In addition to the new story and the world of the game, there are new units: gnomes and mechanisms. Now units are divided into a few types: dwarves, living ones (people and animals), mechanisms, spirits (elementals), undead, dragons. All of them have their features and can work together. For example, goblins can repair mechanisms, spirits and mechanisms have resistance to magic.
We added bosses! In the last game, there was only the final boss (it was not even on the release, I added it as an update). This time there is a boss in each chapter, however, some bosses can be skipped if a player doesn’t want to fight.
The visual part of the game has become more juicy and detailed. New units have more detailed animation, became more lively, and have more different effects. The quality of graphics has increased.
Now magic is also divided into types: chaos, intelligence, light, call. There are more spells. Also, you can look through the spellbook at any time on the map — well, that’s something new =)
In dialogues, players can choose one of a few answers now, and each option has its consequences — so that we give additional variety. And not all answers are unambiguous, some of them may lead to consequences that the player doesn’t expect.
The mechanics of side quests have been improved. Now there is a quest log, and you can find out what you need to do at any time. In Necromancer Returns quests were given out through dialogs, and you could miss or forget them.
The game balance has been completely redesigned. Now units improve automatically when you reach a needed level, you don’t have to spend gold on it. And we removed the grinders, except for the one place at the beginning of the game. But if it’s hard to play or the player wants to upgrade — there is still such an opportunity left, however, it isn’t necessary. In Necromancer Returns, it also wasn’t necessary to grind, but those who found the game difficult had to do it.
And one more innovation of the game is the building of a magic tower! Yes, this is not a complete castle, as it was in HoMM, but it is a step forward for us. Now we can build a magic tower using the scrolls that can be found on the map. Every level of the tower will open new units or spells. And we can also hire some units there.
I’d like to say that life does not teach us anything =) I had a clever plan as usual. The plan was to write a new scenario, come up with new units. Then I wanted to place them everywhere on the map quickly, make battles — and that’s it. And I thought that I would do it in a short time with investments 2–3 times less than in Necromancer Returns. I counted on that the game to pay off its and the previous game investments so that I would break even or — better — get a profit.
But it’s so hard for some reason!!!
Every team member has a main job, including me. Everyone works only in the evenings after work, if they still have energy and there are no deadlines at work, or on weekends. It turns out that people do not rest, they burn out, then disappear for months, me too. Therefore, it is difficult to predict when the game will be ready. The first release date was set for February 2020, and I successfully blew it.
Almost all the art for the game is ready. I still have to program half of the units and their AI. Making the balance of the entire game is extremely difficult and takes much time, even though I have formulas for the balance of the unit, and I’ve made quick fights so that I don’t have to pass them manually hundreds of times (like I did in Necromancer Returns). I also need to get rewritten all the dialogs from scratch, localize them and do the voice. Also testing. And then I need to promote it somehow — PR has always been my weakness. If anyone knows how to help me, please write in the comments. Promotion is one of the things that I waste money on and get depressed. I will be glad to hear your advice =)
As for the budget ($23.800), it is already higher than it was for the previous game Necromancer Returns ($17.000). Even with it, the content of the game is completed only by 70–80%, the gameplay is ready by 15–20%. Why is the budget higher and the game still isn’t ready? That’s because the quality of the new game is higher, and the prices for outsourcing increased during this period. I also started hiring programmers for my project, because I have no time and energy left to immerse myself in programming after work (I arrive home at 21:00). Two hours in the evening fly like 5 minutes: you’re just getting started, but it’s already time to go to bed.
In October 2020 I started looking for a publisher. You can find various lists of publishers’ contacts in the gamedev community — I used them to send emails. I also opened the Steam pages of the games similar to mine, watched who published them, and went to their sites for contacts. Most of the publishers didn’t write me back at all — not sure if it’s common or the emails I wrote to weren’t relevant. Some of those who answered refused me, but there were also some who were interested.
Publishers who are interested ask about the market and numbers and this is really sobering. I mean, I am just a usual game developer thinking like “I’ll make a game, sell it and become wealthy”. Why would people play the game? Who would buy it? How many copies do you need to sell to recoup? All these questions are really important — and if you wish to make gamedev your business, you need to ask this yourself before you start the development, not after. But if you’re just a fan of doing such stuff and think about games as a hobby — then, sure, you would get some new experience, make new mistakes and draw conclusions. What about money in this case? 50/50. Maybe you get some, maybe not.
I’m not good enough as a Product Owner and with counting and analysis. But I had to prepare a presentation for a potential publisher, so I tried hard and made such calculations. They let me look clearly at the situation: what exactly I’m doing and what I can expect.
As I already wrote in previous parts, I have problems with marketing. This time there is a junior marketer in my team. This situation has its pluses and minuses. The good thing is that there is someone who thinks about how and where we should promote the game. The problem is there still would be nothing without me. There is no one who knows the project better than me, so I have to write articles and posts — it takes me a lot of time. I don’t like doing such things at all, still, I keep putting myself through it because I know this is necessary.
This article is about the teamwork of a few people. First, I wrote the text, then it has been edited, translated into English, then a video version was made (in Russian) and after that, finally, we posted the article on different platforms. It took about 2–3 weeks for each article (keep in mind that all the team members have their main job).
Fun fact: this article went really well in the Russian community, but its English version has not become any popular. If you have some good ideas about where else could we post it, we’re all ears — we could have missed something.
Also, I bought a ticket for DevGamm 2020 to tell there about my game too. I’ll find out the effect of this very soon.
You have received my story very warmly. I got tremendous support so I’m really happy and thankful. Some readers wrote to me directly and offered their help, shared ideas, and showed a desire to participate in the project. Some offered me to work with their cool teams. The consequences of telling my story turned out far bigger than I could expect.
One more important thing I want to mention — readers on many platforms reacted negatively to the game’s visual style. So I decided to conduct an experiment: order some concepts, fake screenshots of my game in another style, for example, like in The Banner Saga or Darkest Dungeon. I want to test your hypothesis that the game would look more pleasant for players and make them want to play it. As proof of its correctness, I’ll take an investment from a publisher who will believe in the reskin of the project.
I really appreciate your advice, and now my approach has become more practical. Instead of hastily redrawing everything, I’ll try to test the hypothesis faster and at a lower cost.
Thank you for reading to the end, for your comments and support. I hope you were also interested in learning how indie developers live and what they face in creating their game.
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