Category Archives: shadowhand

So we did it at last! Positech & Grey Alien Games managed to push the gargantuan project that is shadowhand through the big shiny gates labelled ‘release’ and put shadowhand on sale a few days ago on steam, humble store and GoG. Plus of course direct from us, although the percentage of people willing to buy a game from a developer is depressingly small, even though my own website has been around longer than…hmmm..let me see….steam, gog or the humble store. I guess they are worried I might immediately go bust (nope).

ANYWAY…

Shadowhand had a pretty strong initial release, it rapidly piled up the positive user reviews, and as I type this, the store page shows 60 reviews and a score of 95% positive. We also got a special ‘recommended’ badge in an extremely positive review in Eurogamer, and we have other big name reviews that will hit the interwebs this week. We spent some money to promote the game on launch, mostly through PCGamesN, and through Facebook, but didn’t go completely bananas. We are still spending a bit of money on ads, but not *that* much, and I think the very high review score, and addictive nature of the game should give us a decent likelihood of getting a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations.

Right as we launched the game, being able to directly contact curators became a thing, and we duly did our bit, but it proved totally pointless, as invariably, every indie developer on steam seems to have spammed every curator they can find with copies of their game, regardless of genre or suitability. TBH pretty much any system that is available at zero cost to every indie developer becomes useless, as there are so many desperate indies, and so many indie games on steam now, that such methods get immediately swamped and rendered useless.

Yup, I’m one of those (many) devs who thinks that the opening of steam submissions to absolutely everyone has…not worked as well as it should.

I have no control over that, so its best to focus on what I do have control of, which is getting eyeballs on shadowhand, and making sure those eyeballs are the right ones, and that they are going to like the game. One theory I have is that our main steam capsule art may be putting some players off. here is the capsule in question:

In purely aesthetic terms I think this works pretty well. The main character is there, a prominent face (good), and a recognizable and legible logo. Colors look nice, its high quality etc. The only concern I have is that because it focuses on one character, the character is female, and we already list the game as being part visual novel, given the impression many people have of visual novels, the image *may* be giving the impression that its more of a dress-up/romance game than a strategy/rpg affair. Because 99% of steam browsing potential customers have not heard of the game, if that is the impression they get from the image, they will not investigate further if they are looking for something a bit more strategic and complex (which the game actually is).

I wonder if something like this would have a higher click through:

And we are debating whether to give this a try. Annoyingly steam does not support A/B testing on such images. The character in this new image looks more angry and threatening, whereas our current image, she looks a little bit like she is posing for a vogue magazine cover, rather than holding up a stagecoach… hmm…

Anyway, thats just one approach. The second is to double down on game-awareness through facebook promotion. Essentially the whole decision is based on two numbers.

X, which is the probability of someone buying the game once they have clicked through to read a glowing article about it and…

Y which is the revenue that we as developers get from the sale of that game at whatever price they end up buying it. For example, lets say that to get someone to read that eurogamer review that is so glowing will cost us $1.10 in ads.  Our profit from doing so is essentially

profit = (X*Y) – $1.10.

I’m guessing that in the super-long term, the average sale price of a game is 50% off, so given $14.99, * 0.6 (for steam cut, refunds, sales tax, chargebacks), the developer earns approx $4.50 per copy sold. At a purchase probability of 10%, we lose money ($11.10 to earn $4.50), At a purchase probability of 50%, we double our money.

Of course we have zero control over the conversion rate form that article, it is what it is, but what we can manipulate is that $1.10 value. At a (I think reasonable) 10% lifetime conversion, we are getting $0.45 per click. if we can pay less than $0.45 we should promote that article more.

This is the kind of calculation I do FOR FUN.

Anyway…shadowhand is awesome, and if you want to know how it plays, here is me fumbling my way through a duel fairly early on in chapter 6:

 

Last day before shadowhand releases

December 06, 2017 | Filed under: shadowhand

Tomorrow at 5pM GMT We release the latest positech-published game ‘Shadowhand‘ to the world, on steam, humble store, GoG and direct from our site at www.shadowhandgame.com. This is a scary time. The game has been longer in development than we planned, and this screwed up our timing a bit regarding PR, but ultimately I think its all going to work out because the final product is just so good. It definitely has that ‘one more game’ feel to it, and despite being married to a game designer, this is the ONLY game where my wife has been saying ‘lets just play one more level’ while I’m saying I NEED SLEEP NOW. This is a good sign. (Not that I’m annoyed that this wasn’t the response to my BAFTA-NOMINATED strategy epic Democracy 3…oh no…)

This is also the first game that positech will ‘release’ (if you ignore early access for production line) during the so-called ‘indie apocalypse’, where new games face incredibly high competition, and income from games has been falling at an alarming rate. Thankfully, due to past successes, positech is in no danger of suddenly having to flip burgers if nobody buys the game, but its still a tense moment to have invested a sizeable sum over years and finding out almost immediately if its paid off. Also its the first big step for Grey Alien games into the hardcore / steam game market and is obviously pretty career defining for these two:

Ultimately I think it will do well, because of play-time, and steam reviews. A game that people cannot put down, and which when asked, they say they loved is a game that *will* be a success. You can use advertising and PR as a multiplier effect to snowball that, but ultimately we all know it comes down to the quality of the experience. I think the quality of the experience is very high here, and to explain why, I need to be shockingly honest…

I’m not a very good game designer. I’m really not. Ultimately I’m, more of a Peter Molyneux (there…I said it). I have very good, very original BIG PICTURE ideas about what to make a game about and what it will like. I also know how to sell it, and make a profit from it. You would think thats all you need, but honestly its not. You also have to know whether a French blunderbuss should do 9 damage or 11 damage, and how much gold a pair of boots that give +10 stealth should cost. is it 200 gold? or 250 gold?

I really suck at that.

The amount of time I spent reading forum threads on Gratuitous Space Battles, with heated debates between players over whether some weapons or ships were under or overpowered, or whether or not restricting certain upgrades to a specific race was a really bad idea…is shocking. I was endlessly tweaking that game, and democracy 3, and also production line (although being in early access has been a GODSEND for this). Its only really in the last six months that I’ve really started learning how to get good at what you might call ‘low-level’ game design, the tweaking of the numbers and the arranging of the upgrades and the costs and the economy etc. This is a gargantuan task.

I mention all this because shadowhand does this stuff REALLY well. Much better than the other games I’m playing right now (like star wars battlefront). Also the interplay of the mechanics is REALLY clever. At the start of the game you think ‘ha! solitaire!…so just 1 higher or lower right?’ and then by the end mission your thought process is more like ‘I *could* play the 6, because I have a spare 7 (but should I save that for the next duel???) and the spare 7 lets me then play that 8, which will instantly power-up my musket…OR maybe I should play the 3, because thats a gem card which unlocks the gem lock on the card which i used my owl to detect is actually the torch to set the barrel alight and let me grab that smoke bomb…. hmm….’

In other words its as strategic as playing Civ V, and it really sneaks that up on you rather cleverly and expertly. Its extremely well done, and frankly I wish I’d made it.

I hope, and expect it will do well, but its kind of terrifying because frankly if it does NOT do well, something’s kinda going wrong. Anyway, you can see the game for yourself soon, and in the meantime here is a playthrough by quill18.

The making of shadowhand

December 01, 2017 | Filed under: shadowhand

This is something I have never done before, but thought would be really cool, plus we had fun doing it, and I know some people are very interested in how games are made, and who makes them…

Next week we release Shadowhand, by Grey alien games, and a few weeks ago we got together and made a little ‘behind the scenes’ video interviewing Jake & Helen about why they made the game, what the challenges were, and what the process of making a game in this style is like. I’ve been play-testing the game for the last few evenings and its madly addictive, and incredibly well designed. it makes me realize how sloppy my own games are, even though I have a bit of an excuse right now because Production Line is still in early access…. Anyway I think the game will do very well, and I hope it does well enough that Helen and a pretty stressed looking Jake get to breathe a sigh of relief once the game is released next week.

Here is the video in all its glory:

And if you are thinking of picking up the game, you can add it to your wishlist using the link below. Its also a very laptop-friendly game, so if you are looking for a cool lightweight but cool game to play on the bus/train etc, its absolutely ideal.

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…So I ended up concluding that rolling those two bits of GUI together was not unanimously a good idea, but I think changing the car design one so those horizontal tabs became left hand side list items is a bit of a no-brainer so I did that:

I’m currently working on supporting toggling slot upgrades to be on or off, to allow more player control. I’m in a bit of a ‘usability’ mode where I’m making the game easier to use, and more welcoming, because its easy to get caught up into an Early-Access vortex where all you think about is expanding the game for people who already know how to play it.

However, that doesn’t mean that I am *not* planning a lot of expansion. I have some more music on order (yay!) and am getting all those untranslated strings sorted so that its a smooth translated experience in French, German and Spanish. I’ve also got some more artwork coming probably in the new year, for stuff like making your own air bags, some new machinery to make slots more distinctive, new animations, and some components like chrome and wood to make plush luxury interiors (plus cabin lighting!).

Basically Production line seems to be going quite well, which is just as well as I have lots of other stuff making demands on my time, mostly Shadowhand and Democracy 3 unicode. We have some teething problems with the windows build of Democracy 3 unicode, in that some fonts are not displaying right. We are aware of this and desperately trying to fix it ASAP, although the earlier build is now available as a steam beta option. We already have some thumbs up reviews in Chinese, which I take as a good sign, and hope to have an official press-release about Chinese Democracy soon :D

Shadowhand has been announced to the world recently, and will ship on the 7th December on Steam, GoG and the Humble store (oops…must set that up…) We have been promoting the game a bit on youtube, reddit and facebook, and our wishlists are thundering higher and higher. The more I play the game, and read peoples comments on it, the more confident I am that its going to do well. If you are wondering what I’m on about, you should go check out the game from the link below…

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Before I go any further in talking about the card-battling RPG/Adventure?Visual Novel/Unique game we are publishing called Shadowhand…check out the trailer..

If you have not heard of the game before, its an interesting mash up of a whole bunch of genres. The basic card game is solitaire, but revved up to the max with power-ups, special cards, and a unique ‘combat’ mechanic version, all wrapped up in a cool story about an 18th century highway-woman with two identities. I recommend checking out our website with more information about the game here.

Shadowhand is being developed by Grey Alien Games and published by me. The game was originally planned to come out about a year ago, but the games scope changed a bit which pushed it to January, and then…well to cut a long story short, it took longer than expected, but the end result is truly awesome and I’m very excited that we are about to release it to the world.

Oh yes…I haven’t mentioned yet that the release date is now 7th December. Thats a proper, public, its going to happen release date, even if I have to break down jake’s door with a bat-leth and grab the final build from his desperate claws to upload it to steam…

Shadowhand will be extremely interesting as a publisher (although TBH I am moving away from publishing games directly now), because it represents a unique experiment. The developers (Grey Alien Games) have a lot of game development experience, but that experience has mostly been in casual games, of the sort normally sold by the big casual sites like Big Fish games, and back-in-the-old-days, RealGames and Yahoo Games, IWIN and so on. It was all those years ago that I first met Jake, who was selling games through those sites (and eventually went to work for a big casual games developer) at the same time I was selling Kudos and eventually Kudos 2.  There was a time back then when a decent, experienced indie game dev could make a reasonable liviung from making casual games and selling them direct, and also through the big portals for casual games.

All that changed with the consolidation of casual games publishers, combined with a shift for that game style to first facebook, and then mobile. This led to lower revenues per game, lower game prices, and a miniscule revenue share for the actual game developers. Suddenly the smart money was in ‘hardcore’ games on steam and GoG, instead of the ‘mass-market’ casual games often sold to ‘soccer moms’.

Thats a long history to explain why the developers behind Shadowhand have so much experience, but so few well-known games on steam. The problem was, selling on steam was ‘different’ to selling casual games through other portals. Also, the level of polish, game design and user experience often demanded by casual games was often actually higher than the typical indie steam game. This is especially true now, where most games launch into early access with bugs ahoy and placeholder stuff everywhere.

So together, me and Jake hypothesized that he could take his design skills and experience of user-interfaces and game-polish, and bring that sort of game design to steam gamers with a suitable theme. The idea for shadowhand was thus born. If it works, it proves there is a gap in the market for taking what casual games do best, and applying them to serious hardcore game designs for the steam audience.

I strongly think its going to be a success.

Shadowhand will be out soon for $14.99, 10% off at launch, and you can add it to your steam wishlist right now, (which might be a good idea, as you will get a reminder on launch day). If, in the meantime you have a need for some similar entertainment, Grey Aliens previous game ‘Regency Solitaire’ is already out on steam…

(Nothing to do with me, this is a game Grey Alien Games made and sold themselves).