So Skyturns was released last november, about a year ago. At that time I was pretty much burned out working on the game for two years. The release went well with a lot of downloads for the first month. Then Google gave up on the game or something and downloads dropped to one tenth, which sucked a bit.
On the other hand the game has been pirated to a very large extent and seen a massive amount of players through that. I had a common bug in the first version, 1.0.1, which caused a lua crash about every 10 “noob plays”, like running straight into a the first obstacle on the first level. Anyway I have crash reporting through HockeyApp, and this particular crash has been recorded about 2-300 000 times. I have no other stats to go by then that, but thats a hell of a lot of plays to cause that many bug reports. I still see about 500-3000 bug reports for that thing in 1.0.1 every day. I fixed the bug and released an update in about a week, releasing 1.0.2, but it seems pirate sites didnt really catch up with that and still had 1.0.1 everywhere. The piracy spread of later versions is pretty much unknown to me.
I released a demo a couple of weeks later that included the first 10 levels, hoping that would be a nice thing for new players to try the game before purchasing the full game. The demo saw about 10 times as many downloads as the full game. But I later removed the demo since it didnt affect the purchases at all (I guess people pirate instead to try stuff). It felt better to me that if you play the game you get the full experience, instead of hitting a wall at level 11.
In the year that has passed I have badly wanted to continue working on the game, but living off savings for 2 years and moving mountains to make a polished game, most of the time alone, took its toll and I felt pretty much physically ill thinking about it. The pressure from motivating the game by making it commercially successful combined with a general exhaustion, something like that. So I did other stuff, some freelance gigs and trying to recuperate. Making money through work again has been a real treat, haha :D
So what about marketing? I knew I wanted to make a demo, that didnt work out. I knew I wanted to make a trailer, which we did, a pretty great trailer in my humble opinion. I think some of the downloads may be from the trailer, since its seen about 19 000 views. (Most of those came in the first month when there was some kind of market priority from Google). But then I didnt want to do anything more. I didnt want to contact press or people or try to spread the game. I hated the thought of doing that. I just wanted to make the game, I didnt want to push it or anyone. The ideal seems to be to push it like mad, but I didnt want to do that. So I didnt..
I’m super happy with how the game turned out, one year later I still find the game super awesome. It was really exactly the game I wanted to make, and the game I wanted to play on my phone. The game I had been longing for and I felt was missing. Depth and skill, and cool and beautiful in one package. But the game has not reached its full potential. I feel its about at one third of the true potential of the game, and there are a couple of major things that are needed to reach that potential:
Global best times list
Oh man, I really want to compete against my friends here. I feel so alone while playing the game. I send screenshots of my best times to my brother so that we can compete. What if this was integrated into the game? And we could share replays? It would increase long time enjoymeny of the game about tenfold.
Public level editor
The editor to make levels is actually really good and easy to use. I wanted the editor to be great, so I could focus on making great levels instead of fussing with the editor. So its easy to use, a bit like Google Sketchup. It takes some skill but I cant imagine what a community would do with the editor. I want a listing of user made levels in the game, and combined with competing for best times on those levels, the sky is the limit (Haha).
Better first levels and tutorials
Its so hard to teach new players the spirit of the game, and how its meant to be played. It takes skill, it takes an understanding of the physics of the flow of the game. Before that clicks in players heads, the game is a bit flat, and a bit boring. Some players survive on the puzzle aspect of the game, but the love of the game requires this understanding of flow. So the first levels right now emphasize teaching of this flow aspect. They do it somewhat poorly, because its very difficult. But a later realization for me was that the levels should be made to be fun instead. Fun even if you dont get flow. You can get flow a bit later, for the first few levels we can give you flow for free, to show the speed and potential of the game, and let new players have fun.
The tutorial system could also be improved. Turning is something every new player misses. They dont get that you are supposed to hold down the arrows. Instead they tap them, and has a hard time hitting the turns. Thats not supposed to be a challenge at all. Somehow the first level should force them to understand this, without being too intrusive. I have some ideas for that, but again, requires time.
Ok what happens now?
Right now I have done some preliminary work on best times list and better first levels. But it takes time and commitment to make these things happen. Everything has to be built from scratch. I’m so sick of building GUI for stuff in the game, it takes way too long time to make simple things. But its getting there. As for better first levels that is also super difficult. How can I know how a new player reacts to the game? I really cant. I have to ask them, see them play. But that is a lot of work. It takes a lot of socializing with potential players, and there is no line outside my door.
The common practice these days is to gather and upload statistics on all plays through some tool like Flurry, but I dont like to spy on people without them agreeing to it. And I dont want to shove a question in their face at first play “Do you want to upload user data?” - I just want them to play and enjoy. I could ask later, but its the first levels that are crucial, once you are at level 5-6 there is already great success. Those that quit on the first level.. I want to see what those players are all about.
… but first I’m going to Finland on a one week silent meditation retreat