The State of Tux n Tab Games

I know I haven’t talked about Traversal Mobile in a while and there is a reason behind it.  I really haven’t been working on it at all.  Since I put Traversal up for public consumption I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching, contemplating on the course of my career, and the course of these projects.  The current status of things is as follows, Traversal has been out in the wild since July, the core systems of Recovery Quest have been designed and coded up in Unity, and Traversal Mobile builds and runs but you can’t really do much with it yet.  Since then, I’ve moved into a new apartment and planned and had a wedding.  Needless to say, there’s been a lot going on that has kept my mind in other places.  Now that things have settled down a bit I’ve taken some time to re-examine where I’m at with these projects and where I want to go, and I think it’s going to be a bit different than I had originally planned.

Here’s the main issue: I am putting so much time, effort, and money into these projects that I really can’t afford for them not to make money.  I had originally planned for Recovery Quest to be completely free, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to swing that given that its final budget will be in the five figure range.  I can’t spend that kind of money and make nothing back.  My thought was that I could try and make a little extra of other games like Traversal and I could try to offset the costs.  So for a small game that I feel is quite polished with a good concept, positive feedback from almost everyone I put it in front of, and even a writeup from an indie press outlet, you would think that it might make a little bit of money maybe?  Retailing at $2 in an accessible online space, Traversal has netted a grand total of…$13.  That’s really not enough to do anything obviously.  

I’ve continuously questioned what went wrong with this and came up with a couple conclusions.  First, I did zero marketing here.  I can’t stand doing it and I don’t even know where I would start if I had to do marketing.  I knew that I had to try pitching it to a few different press outlets seeing if they would cover it and was successful with exactly one of them that was low traffic.  I also tried doing a couple “free weekends” to see if I could get people playing and/or talking about the game.  Those weekends only got nineteen downloads total.  Not nearly enough to generate buzz.  Again, no real marketing other than trying to shout it from Twitter, getting lots of retweets from people with LOTS of followers.  My wife also wrote about it on her blog with about a thousand followers.  No real sales, nineteen downloads.  Second, my platform was not the greatest.  While itch.io is really open and easy to use for indie developers, it doesn’t get a lot of traffic and isn’t as trusted as a place like Steam, GoG, or Humble.  I don’t know if Traversal would fly on sites like those since they are much more curated than itch.  Traversal was meant to be a small game.  I mean I banged it out in less than three months, but I at least thought it was decent for a three month effort.  Small games like that don’t fly on those other platforms.  Steam requires getting lots of votes through the Greenlight system, humble is pretty heavily curated, and if your game doesn’t retail for more than $10, you have no chance of getting on GoG.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable charging more than $2, because there really isn’t enough content for that.

I had the brilliant idea of trying to port Traversal to mobile platforms with Traversal Mobile.  It would be a great challenge to port the graphics and create a new input system that would allow players to be effective with a touch screen.  Here’s where I run into issues: it becomes an inherently less compelling game.  It’s kind of technical, but there is a lot that’s lost when playing an action game with a touch screen.  On top of that, I have a kind of moral/ethical issue with filling up the mobile marketplaces with even more crap (and yes, Traversal Mobile would be crap).  I also assumed at first that the mobile market would be a better chance to make potential profits.  I was also wrong there.  After doing a lot of research, I found that mobile platforms do have slim potential for MASSIVE success, but they have an even greater potential for MASSIVE failure; like $0 failure.  So rather than put more crap out to the world with a project that would do nothing but occupy space in my portfolio, I’m shelving it indefinitely.

Now the question is, what else can I do?  There is another game idea that I was kicking around a while ago that I had nicknamed “Spare Parts.”  It was an RPG about scavenging for parts to augment player abilities that are randomly chosen.  The idea was very much half-baked, but I decided to try and implement a rudimentary combat system for Ludum Dare.  I spent a lot of hours with pen and paper prototypes to try and tune the system properly, but it just didn’t feel right.  To make it work, I had to redo the core system entirely from my original idea.  When it came time for coding, I was overwhelmed.  I laid down probably close to 1000 lines of code when I just lost all motivation.  I gave up.  It didn’t feel good, there was no way I could get it done for the game jam, and the whole thing just made me depressed.  I thought that this was a good idea once upon a time, but it turns out it wasn’t a good idea at all that had too many inherent problems.

So instead of doing anything productive for the last few months, I’ve been kind of sitting on my ass playing a combination of Hearthstone, Destiny, and whatever is in my “Games to Play” queue on Steam.  I don’t feel inspired, and I don’t feel confident like I was before.  In my career I’ve made a lot of mistakes with giving my work away for free.  I’ve worked way too much unpaid overtime, and I’ve helped on big deals that only garnered me a handshake and a “thank you.”  It feels like a selfish thing to think, but I need to value my work more than I have been.  For how much of me is going into it, I need to be getting a lot out of it to continue.  I don’t want to have to coast through life.  I don’t want to be a lump.  It just feels like that’s what I’m slowly becoming in my indecision and depression.

The solution to this situation is this: I need to find a project that is not crazy in scope, whose end result is something I can be proud of, and that is something I can sell.  I’ve kept a running list of game ideas since college, but most of them have scope that is intimidatingly big.  Recovery Quest is still something that I want to continue doing, but it’s something that I want to really be successful and done properly.  Right now I don’t feel like I can do that, so I need to work my way up to it with small but profitable games that have a scope that a solo developer can do in a reasonable amount of time with not much monetary investment.  On my list there are three games that I may be able to run with.  One of them is extremely small, another requires multiplayer and has more depth, and the last may be difficult to balance.  I’m going to spend some time with pen and paper prototypes and see where it leads me.
Tux n Tab Games will continue to exist; Recovery Quest is still going to be made eventually; I just need time to regroup and rethink some things.