The development of Gemcrate was smooth and without much issue, all truth be told. The result of a combination of the ease of development of 2D games in Godot, and the limited scope of the game itself. So this postmortem will just touch on the actual development, but will mostly be focused on the release. Particularly, what I expected, what actually happened, and how it should temper our expectations as small indie-devs going forward.
I must make it clear that I'm not a graphics artist nor audio technician. I'm a programmer first and foremost, but developing a game yourself requires you to stretch your intellectual and creative muscles, and push yourself to develop in areas you may not be comfortable in.
All the sprites and art in the game were developed over the course of a couple of weeks, using Aseprite exclusively. While I'm sure an actual graphics artist could produce all of it without issue, I found that I often had to walk away and give myself time to look at my creations with fresh eyes.
I would work on a sprite until I was comfortable with it, and then move on--I refused to look at them again until they had thoroughly left my mind. Later, I would go back to that original sprite and use my reaction to gauge the level of work it still needed. Sometimes I just needed to alter the colors to be happy with it, other times a few changes to shape, and with some, completely throw them out and start over.
This iterative process continued until finally I could look at every sprite and think
I think this looks pretty good.
With audio, I know even less than I do with graphic design, but still I had to move forward and develop something I was happy with. All audio work was done using Audacity. Unlike Aseprite where I'm content with it and will likely continue to use it, I feel that I should explore other options in future projects instead of just using Audacity again. Every time I looked up how to do something, every commercial alternative seemed to have an easy way to do it, where Audacity required a lot more trial and error.
As for actual audio work, I used the same iterative process as I did for the art, but instead of developing from scratch, I decided to take stock music and sound-effects, and modify them to meet my needs.
The music is stock music I purchased, that I proceeded to modify. I slowed playback speed and applied some audio effects to produce a different mood to the music.
All sound-effects are a layering of different tones of a Gamelan along with the occasional other sound-effect to produce something I couldn't get with just the instrument recordings.
Release & Promotion
As initially discussed in the release announcement for Gemcrate, I created it mostly as a personal project, and decided on a public release near the end of development. As such, I didn't make any public posts or announcements to build up towards release; instead I released it and made a handful of posts to show it to the world.
All told, the total promotion done for Gemcrate consisted of multiple reddit, twitch and itch.io posts, as well as a Youtube video of gameplay. On itch, I made full use of the announcement forum and game tags. Discoverability on itch isn't as great as I'd like, but I think they do more than other marketplaces. Especially since they provide nice, easy to use guidelines that direct you on the steps you should take towards promoting your release.
For reddit, I posted in every relevant subreddit that would allow me to promote the game, which at 3 subreddits, was actually much less than I initially expected. Most indie-game and game-dev subreddits are not open to promotion. I certainly don't disagree with their positions as they'd otherwise be drowned in promotion with little in the way of actual content, but it did limit the number of audiences I could get in-front of.
Twitter fortunately has better analytics than reddit, so I could get a feel for how many people I was reaching. The short answer is: not many. In total, I had 85 impressions and one interaction, which was actually just me adding a follow-up. Youtube was no better; 55 views in total and a single spam comment from someone promoting their channel.
What Actually Happened
So altogether, what does that mean in terms of actual views of the game and downloads? Well, let's put it this way:
In one-month time, I have garnered 41 views of the actual game-page, and received 4 downloads. Three for Windows, one for Mac. The collection it belongs to is a "Games to play" collection, which I can respect, because I personally have a massive one, filled with games I'd love to play, but realistically will probably never get around to.
What I Expected
I can say I didn't expect much. I figured the game has a niche market, which is specifically people interested in and whom prefer old-school match-3 games, in contrast to the flooded market of modern match-3. I also did limited promotion, which I knew would limit the reach of the game, but in the end I wasn't looking for a wide-spread audience, so I felt like I wasn't gaining much by trying to promote it everywhere I possibly could.
Still, I was under the impression that I would probably net a couple hundred downloads, a couple thousands views, and maybe a comment or two on the game. I mean, we are talking about a free game that is otherwise well-polished. As you can see, reality was a couple orders of magnitude off from my assumptions.
How to Temper Expectations
I must say, it was a bit of a sobering revelation, and I now certainly better understand the danger in even hobby indie-dev. I want to make games to share them with others, not so much to make money off them. But even then, it has become clear that even sharing a game with others is an uphill battle.
Based on these results, few have played and enjoyed my creation and its likely that few ever will. I think it remains relatively obvious that the level of promotion was largely responsible for this, as continued updates during development and more widespread promotion would have reached more people.
However, I have seen stats and postmortems from other indie-devs with actual commercial releases (that had much stronger promotion and advertising campaigns than mine) still flounder with double-digit downloads. I think it's a gross understatement to say that the indie game market is flooded--it's more like we're drowning in games. It goes right back to this thought, which highlights the entire issue:
The collection it belongs to is a "Games to play" collection, which I can respect, because I personally have a massive one, filled with games I'd love to play, but realistically will probably never get around to.
Of course, Occam's Razor: It's very possible people just don't like the game. Although, I certainly hope that's not the case. Now that I've written all this out, I do have to wonder. For a game nobody played and very few even looked at. How many are actually going to sit down and read a postmortem of said game?
Feel free to email me if you got this far! Maybe I'll create a post of your collected thoughts on the current state of discoverability for indie-devs.