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Project: Ace Pilot 9000

Ace Pilot Game

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So, to get started, the beginning of this project is a funny story:

During Christmas, my brother bought me a hand full of games that he saw on my steam wishlist. Just for a joke, he bought me a game called "Hentai Girl Linda" for $0.99. As you can probably guess, it's anime porn. I played it for about 15 minutes, trying to understand the appeal of it. It's a stupid "game", if you could even call it that. It is essentially a digital puzzle which you assemble by moving image slices together to form a complete image, and low and behold, it's a half naked anime girl. And then you can click a button to make her fully naked. I think looked at the reviews, because usually that's a good indicator of sales numbers. My rule of thumb is to take the reviews, assume only 10% of customers will write a review, and then multiply the review count by 10x to get a rough estimate on sales numbers. This dumb game had 1,125 reviews, and if it was selling for $1, that means the developer made around 11,250 sales, or $11,250 (before steams 30% cut). Wow, that's nothing to scoff at...

So, I forgot about the game and a few weeks later, my friend Stuart (a game artist) is browsing steam and he gets a game recommendation... for the hentai porn game because his friend (me) played it. We both laughed about it and talked about how easy it would be to make a dumb game like this in less than two weeks and cash out $10k. The idea of making $10k in two weeks sounded kind of appealing, but I didn't really want to make an anime porn game. I decided that I could afford a distraction for two weeks though, if it meant that I could make some extra money on the side. Who can't afford to give up two weeks to try something out, right? So I decided to come up with a challenge: Can I make a polished indie game in two weeks and launch it on steam? (Spoiler: The answer is "NO"). But this launched my indie game dev challenge. I have realized that one of the biggest challenges for all indies these days is marketing and visibility. You can launch a great game, but if nobody knows about it, it might as well not exist. And if you're an unknown indie trying to make a game people might enjoy, then huddling in a dark corner in obscurity is 100% the wrong approach.

So, on day one, I began my game by thinking about marketing. How do I market my game? What will sell? What are people interested in? What can I build which people will buy? What promotional material will I use to get eyeballs? Obviously, the hentai porn game has a very clear hook: Sex sells. This really shouldn't be a surprise for me, but it really is. But, if sex appeal is just the gimmick to get eyeballs, what is the substance that keeps people as fans? The $.99 hentai game kept me entertained for 15 minutes and I never played it again, so in my book, that is a failure. No matter what new updates or features the developer implements, I'm unlikely to ever launch the game again to see them. The key conclusion to make is that a game will need a little more substance to get people to be repeat players. And if people are repeat players, they must enjoy the game, and if they enjoy the game, they'll be happy customers who get value out of your product, so if you release additional products with the same or better value, you'll get more customers and a community of loyal followers. The more loyal customers you have, the less of a steep climb you'll need to make for future marketing campaigns for future game releases. That's my reasoning, anyways. Cultivate a reputation for satisfied customers.

Anyways, I told Stuart that I was going to be serious about this. No half-assed efforts from me. Go all the way or don't do it at all. I came up with a few game ideas that I felt I could pull off in two weeks and could market effectively. I worked backwards from the sales pitch to design my product. I think usually, indies do it the other way around: They build whatever they want to make, and only after or near launch, do they start to think about marketing and how to sell the game (if at all!). The risk is that the indie dev will build something that appeals to them personally, but their tastes are so eccentric that whatever they made appeals only to eccentric indie game developers and not to a broad market -- and the sales probably reflect that? Build what sells. Your own personal tastes are not a barometer for market desire (though your intuition can be a source of good hypotheses).

I settled on an idea based off of a half-hearted attempt I made in XNA about a decade ago using sprites drawn in MS Paint. You flew an airplane and shot bullets and dropped bombs. I remember getting stuck on the physics of flight, digging deep into research on wing shapes, aerodynamics, thrust, lift, drag, gravity, angles of attack, etc. I got lost in the complexity and that caused the project to stall. But I didn't stick with it, I didn't have the drive to see it through to the end. I didn't have the maturity or stamina. Now, I'm different. I'm a professional (haha, is that a delusion?). The game concept was fun, so if I take another stab at it, maybe I can make it work this time. It was also inspired in part by a really old game called "Sopwith", so at least someone proved that the concept works. I can dress it up a bit and add a lot of polish. That should be pretty easy to do and still be marketable, right? That should be an easy two week project... right??

Well, I already knew that us programmers are terrible at assessing scope of work and from past experience, I know I'm terrible at it too. Even in professional work, my ball park estimates can be quite off the mark. But, it's still good to try to work with something rather than nothing, because it lets you look at a feature list and think about how long each item would take and then cut features until you hit your desired schedule (or vice versa: increase your schedule to hit your features, but never work harder and longer to add more features under the same schedule).

I figured that this project would be a good litmus test for whether I was actually any good as a developer and entrepreneur. Why don't I make all the mistakes and #*@! ups on a super small project with lower risk, learn a bunch of hard lessons, and then carry those lessons to a bigger project where I have less tolerance for failure? What am I doing wrong? What are the flaws in my approaches to development? flaws to approaches in business? flaws to my approaches in marketing and sales? what can I learn more about in terms of leadership and people management? What are my "fail fast" lessons to learn?

Anyways, as a part of my developer challenge, recognizing that marketing and visibility is going to be my biggest challenge, I decided to document my daily game development progress with youtube videos. It'll keep me honest and accountable to making meaningful daily progress, while also serving as a speck of visibility on the project and providing illumination into the game development production cycle (from an indie perspective, AAA is a very different beast). During the project life cycle, I have added two team members: John, a junior UX designer is working part time on level design and user experience, and Stuart is going to help with art (though I will have to produce programmer art as well). I'm already learning more about managing people and coordinating efforts, which is always new territory for traditionally solo developers. I'm also slowly getting better at talking in video, though my voice is still too soft spoken.

Here are 16 days of video so far (not counting weekends and snow days):
DAY 1:

Day 2:


Day 3: (skipped)
Day 4:


Day 5:


Day 6-10:

Day 11:

Day 12:

Day 13:

Day 14 & 15:


Day 16: (Today)


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Looks pretty cool. I rather like the over the top explosions when the moving platforms are destroyed.

Can you tell us anything about further plans for marketing?

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